Synopsis: A witch conspires to teach important lessons to various characters of popular children’s stories including Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel.
Release Date: December 25, 2014
Thoughts: The anticipation is certainly building for the big screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim & James Lapine’s 1987 Broadway musical Into the Woods, with Disney carefully releasing nice bits and pieces in recent days. After dropping some dreamy looking pictures earlier this week of the star heavy ensemble all fairy-tale-d up, the first preview is finally at hand and it’s a nifty little teaser that pleasantly keeps some of the bigger names in shadows while predictably avoiding any musical cues hinting that the film is largely sung. No matter, with Meryl Streep (August: Osage County), Johnny Depp (The Lone Ranger), Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow), and Chris Pine (People Like Us) leading the cast the stage is set for a lovely transition from stage to screen.
Synopsis: An ex-CIA operative is brought back in on a very personal mission and finds himself pitted against his former pupil in a deadly game involving high level CIA officials and the Russian president-elect.
Release Date: August 27, 2014
Thoughts: Though he’s now three films removed from the James Bond series and a sequel to the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair is stalled in development hell, Pierce Brosnan is back on the big screen in full action hero mode with The November Man. Looking like a nice mix between his 007 days and a Mr. Crown adventure, I’m disappointed that the slick but lengthy trailer seems so full of spoilers but am willing to reserve judgment on the overall experience based on Brosnan’s track record. Reteaming with his Dante’s Peak director Roger Donaldson (Cocktail), and joined by former Bond babe Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) and newcomer Luke Bracey, we won’t have to wait until November to see if Brosnan’s still got what it takes.
Review: If I’m being honest (and c’mon, we’re close enough friends that I’ll always tell the truth) I’ll admit that at first I just didn’t know what to make of Guardians of the Galaxy. After several years of recognizable Marvel comic book properties making their way to the big screen (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3, Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Thor, Thor: The Dark World, and The Avengers) I wasn’t certain where this new franchise film would fit in. Not being well acquainted with the source material, I couldn’t quite warm to the first jokey preview that set fan tongues a waggin’ but had me scratchin’ my noggin. And what was up with the raccoon and talking tree?
So I find myself hunkering down for a screening of Marvel’s latest attempt at superhero domination a little grumbly and prepared for my worst fears onscreen: an overblown yuk fest of an actioner with copious one-liners and inter-galactic battle sequences that pummel you with lots of noise and digital effects. Who knew that’s exactly what this summer needed?
If the previous Marvel superhero films equate to a stretch limo with your cool aunts and uncles, then Guardians of the Galaxy is the party bus transporting your crazy cousins. I ask you…which ride would you rather take?
Starting with an emotional Earth-bound prologue that segues into a silly credits sequence showcasing the first of several 80s musical hits, Guardians of the Galaxy hits its stride early on and never lets up as audiences are taking to various points throughout the solar system. When overgrown kid/space pilot Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, Her, now primed for A-List stardom) steals a mysterious orb that looks like the Omegahedron from 1984’s Supergirl, he gets into all kinds of hot water from blue hued baddie Ronan (Lee Pace, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) that wants to use its powers to do some planetary damage. Additionally, Quill has a bounty put on his head from another Smurf colored character (Michael Rooker) that sent him to retrieve the orb in the first place.
Bounty hunter raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper, The Place Beyond the Pines) and deciduous sidekick Groot (Vin Diesel, Riddick, in possibly his best performance…heard not seen) aren’t the only ones after Quill. Sent by Ronan to fetch the orb, Gamora (Zoe Saldana, Out of the Furnace, trading her Avatar blue for wicked green) may have plans of her own for the strange object. It all turns into your standard case of multiple people wanting to possess the orb for numerous purposes. From prison breaks to narrow escapes, the movie has a breathless pace but never feels rushed or out of balance. It’s a full meal of a film that blessedly doesn’t wind up feeling like a franchise jumping off point (which of course it is).
Director and co-screenwriter James Gunn packs a lot into his film and there’s a welcome point of view sorely lacking in films made from comic book tales. He backs up strong characterization with an assembled design team that should get ready for Oscar nominations in visual effects, make-up, and costume design. From the mechanizations of the evil Nebula (Karen Gillan, Oculus) to the body art of logic driven He-Man-esque Drax (Dave Bautista, who maybe would have been a better choice for Hercules), there’s a follow-through and attention to detail that acts as the sprinkles on top of Gunn’s visual sundae of a film.
Did I mention it’s incredibly funny as well? I was worried that the laughs would trump logic but from Gunn’s clever music selection and his willingness to capitalize on Pratt’s comedic gifts, there’s the sense that everyone is on the joke and relishing their chance to participate. Gunn doesn’t let the humor rule the picture but instead picks wise moments to break up some of the overly nerdy bits.
In a summer of ups and downs, Guardians of the Galaxy emerges as the most satisfying big studio film I’ve seen all year (my favorite films of the year, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Boyhood, don’t count seeing as they’re independent endeavors) and goes a long way in saving the Summer of 2014 from being remembered as three months of mediocre-to-terrible offerings like A Million Ways to Die in the West, Blended, Jersey Boys, and the cinematic Ebola virus called Tammy. It’s a mammoth sized two hour superlative treat – the one film of the summer worth seeing twice.