Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) is an American superhero film released by Marvel as part of its Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It’s directed by James Gunn and written by Gunn and Nicole PerlmanGuardians of the Galaxy takes place in a different galaxy altogether than the rest of the MCU films, introducing a more fantastical side of Marvel comic books and featuring an exciting and fresh new team of superheroes.

Guardians stars Chris Pratt as Peter Quill AKA Star-Lord, the rebellious bad-boy space pirate. He’s the only character in the film from Terra, who has a homey and charming quality we can all relate to — many times embodied by the 1970s and 80s music he listens to on his Walkman. It both reminds Quill of Earth and his roots as well as reminds the audience of Earth in a galaxy filled with unfamiliar worlds and peoples. Pratt has made quite the ascension to stardom. He consistently knocks it out of the park on NBC’s Parks and Recreation as the lovable but oftentimes clueless Andy Dwyer, yet he’s also been in a couple Oscar-nominated films like Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty and Spike Jonze’s Her. He’s an incredible actor, who has yet to be adequately recognized, in my opinion, for his flawless performance in Parks and Rec, but his charisma and finesse is finally getting acclaim in Guardians. He plays the rugged, rule-breaking smuggler that we can’t help but love. He mixes up a delightful cocktail of humor and badassery into his performance as he stumbles his way throughout the galaxy. He kicks ass and dances with proportionate ease. He’s stated that Han Solo and Marty McFly were inspirations for his portrayal, but there is a lot of Captain Malcolm Reynolds, played by Nathan Fillion in Firefly, in Peter Quill, too — evidenced by his affinity towards guns and brown coats.

Zoë Saldana plays Gamora, the lethal adopted daughter of super villain Thanos (an uncredited performance by James Brolin). Saldana is firmly established in the science-fiction film genre, with roles in James Cameron’s Avatar and the rebooted Star Trek films. She champions strong female roles in a genre that’s very male-centric. She is a raised and trained assassin, but she also has a strong sense of righteousness. Saldana’s performance weaves together the hard and cold nature of a killer with the shy receptivity for goodness, which blossoms along with her friendship with Quill.

The rest of the Guardians are an eclectic and dynamic mix: Drax (Dave Bautista) the insanely ripped and heavily tattooed prisoner who takes things absolutely literally; Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper and acting contributed by Gunn’s brother Sean Gunn) the genetically engineered and talking raccoon bounty hunter; and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) the nurturing yet lethal tree-like humanoid (AKA the Ent) who can only say “I am Groot”. There characters are absolutely amazing and bring such spirit to the film. The combination of all these characters make for an unusual fellowship, but out of it burgeons friendship and many, many laughs.

The universe of Guardians is colorful — both in its visuals as well as with its characterizations. It’s a marvel (no pun intended) to experience a world bursting with color — from nebulae-backdropped space battles to the Infinity Stone erupting in amethyst power, and from brightly tinted skin to effervescent worlds saturated in color. It’s beautiful to watch, comparable to the visually striking Pandora in Cameron’s Avatar. One of my favorite scenes is when Groot produces the fireflies to light up the darkness. The music and visuals intertwine so seamlessly to produce a tender moment in a mostly active and funny film.

Groot, while not “vocabulistically” gifted, is the heart of Guardians. While the rest of the team has baggage and motives, he’s mostly innocent and tags along with Rocket. He also contributes to a visual motif throughout the film. The Infinity Stone resides in the orb throughout the entire film. While ornately forged, the orb houses a tool of great power, a fossil of great creation but a threat of total destruction. The sphere shape in the film begins to signify that ominous doom, destruction in a pretty package. After Quill has seemingly killed Ronan (Lee Pace), the great monolith of a ship is tumbling out of the sky. Groot envelops the Guardians in a sphere of branches and leaves. He becomes an orb of warm natural beauty and heart, in an age of rigid technology and industry. While crudely made, his orb encircles friendship and righteousness, an inspiring icon in the face of death.

Guardians of the Galaxy provides an exciting and refreshing introduction to a new world of superheroes. Bringing together an incredibly talented cast, sharp and amusing writing, striking visuals, and engaging characters, Guardians is a completely entertaining experience. Can anyone really turn down an intergalactic ride with the lovable and hunky Chris Pratt?


American Hustle

Quote of the film: “You’re nothing to me until you’re everything.” — Sydney

American Hustle (2013) is an American character film loosely based on the ABSCAM operation of the 70s and 80s. Directed by David O. Russell (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook), the film focuses more on character relationships between an all-star cast.

Christian Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, a businessman and conman, who makes money by feeding off desperate lowlives who need loans and by selling stolen and forged art. He is quick-witted, charismatic, and quick-tempered. He’s an aggressive businessman, loving father, indifferent husband, and tender lover — and Bale shifts between each side of Rosenfeld with ease. Bale even gained 40 pounds for this role, literally embodying his character.

Amy Adams plays Sydney Prosser, lover and business partner to Irving. She’s a seductive and alluring woman, struggling to turn her life around — managing to turn from stripper to con-woman. Her con is as Lady Edith Greensley, an English woman with bank connections in London. She’s a sharp and intuitive woman, who puts up a strong exterior to hide her desire to be loved. Adams, who tends to play a wholesome character, knocks it out of the park with this sexy role. She’s uninhibited, showing off her body in slinky dresses, and owning every space she enters.

Bradley Cooper plays FBI agent Richie DiMaso. He’s innately a good man, truly wanting to do a good job for the FBI and bring justice to “corrupt” politicians, but his good nature is carried out through a hot head, aggression, and impulse. Cooper does a great job mixing innocence and naivety with instability and drive.

Jennifer Lawrence dazzles as Irving’s wife, Rosalyn. Written specifically for Lawrence, this role is parody of the typical misinformed and mistreated housewife. She is accident-proned, fearless, and unintentionally hilarious. She’s selfish, more concerned about her needs than those of her husband or son, looking to fall in love. Lawrence nails a Jersey accent, and she portrays an unstable housewife with finesse. And, as always, every time Lawrence cries on screen, hearts break.

Jeremy Renner plays Carmine Polito, mayor of Camden, New Jersey. Polito is an honest-to-goodness politician. He works earnestly for the people in his city, doing his best to restore Atlantic City and create jobs for his citizens. Targeted by DiMaso, he’s brought down in the end by the FBI for bribery and corruption, with the utmost honest intentions at heart. Renner plays an incredibly charismatic and compassionate family man and the most respectful politician. The incredible switch that Renner delivers from optimistic hero to devastated and betrayed friend is powerful.

As David O. Russell has said: “I hate plots. I am all about characters, that’s it.” This film truly embodies that sentiment. The plot is engaging and interesting, but it’s nothing to the play between the characters. At almost 2.5 hours, the film feels a touch slow towards the end, but it’s worth the character dynamics that Russell takes the time to develop. The acting between this all-star cast is incredible. The most striking moments are scenes with pairs of actors: Irving and Sydney, Rosalyn and Irving, Sydney and Richie, Carmine and Irving. These moments delve into the cores of the characters, perpetuating the emotional gravitas of the plot. The way Irving is touched by Carmine’s friendship leads to heartbreaking shots of guilt on Irving’s face. The way Rosalyn is disgusted by Irving’s “whore” leads to a shocking kiss and maniacal laughter. These moments are the meat of the film, what make it worth the watch.

The film starts with a bang as the words “Some of this actually happened” display on the screen. Loosely based on actual events, Russell is able to play around with his extraordinary characters and incredible actors. The film is suspenseful, engaging, and funny all in one. The masterful acting in this film is inspiring and powerful, sure to be acknowledged and rewarded this award season.