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?


Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing (2012) is a modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s play for the screen by Joss Whedon. Mostly true to Shakespeare’s original play, Whedon’s revision of the text is sexy and delightful, underscored by an incredible attention to detail and a fresh sparkle.

The cast brings together all of Whedon’s favorite actors from his various projects. For most audiences, the cast is a hodgepodge of unknowns, but for Whedon fans, it’s the ultimate all-star cast. The film stars Amy Acker as Beatrice and Alexis Denisof as Benedick. Sparks flew between them in their previous roles on Whedon’s Angel, yet it’s refreshing to see them create a new and equally natural relationship in Much Ado. Acker gives an amazing performance of Beatrice, weaving together elegance and fortitude into a sexy and sharp woman. Denisof creates a charming bachelor, a witty gentleman who desires not marriage. His performance perfectly embodies the Barney Stinson of Shakespeare: incredibly charismatic and quite reluctant to embrace love and marriage. The banter between the two of them is exciting and engaging, and their budding feelings of love are tender and satisfying.

The entire cast is incredibly versatile. Known mostly for science-fiction and fantasy environments, they excel in Shakespeare. They own their characters and every word uttered is saturated in personality and life. They speak in such a way that everyone watching will be able to understand, even if some audience members are not familiar with Shakespeare’s vocabulary. Fran KranzThe Cabin in the Woods, plays a lovestruck Claudio, emanating a light of giddiness and innocence while instantaneously switching into a cold bad boy. Fellow Dollhouse actor Reed Diamond gives a delightfully mastered performance of Don Pedro. Firefly star Sean Maher embraces his dark side as Don John. Castle’s Nathan Fillion and Buffy’s Tom Lenk give hilarious portrayals as Dogberry and Verges, policemen of Messina. Clark Gregg from The Avengers performs a cheerful and bubbly father to Beatrice and Hero, Jillian Morgese who performs a soft and innocent cousin to Acker’s hard and strong Beatrice.

The film’s modern setting is in upscale Los Angeles, complete with Sprinkles Cupcakes! Whedon’s choice to saturate the film with booze and sex, along with it being filmed in black and white, creates a ne0-1920’s aesthetic. With night-long parties with booze, live music, more booze, acrobatic dancers, and even more booze, the film has a looseness and carefree air about it that ties into Much Ado’s comic delight. The setting’s extravagance actually brings out the silliness and faults of the characters; as well-to-do men and women with power, poise, and money, they still get caught up in games and plots. Similarly, the film being in black and white shines the focus on the color and luster that the actors bring to the words.

A special part of Whedon’s adaptation is how the film opens. Benedick sneaks out of Beatrice’s bed as she pretends to sleep. In this remake, Benedick and Beatrice have been together before. Some posit that they fell in love before and the movie is how they finally come together again, but it seems more likely that they had a night of drunken debauchery. The way that he leaves and the way that she lets him leave signifies a kind of negative end to a night of pleasure, which is perhaps why their interaction thereafter is heated and aggressive. During Act II, Scene I, Beatrice talks about losing her heart to him, and it’s during this exchange where Whedon cuts to images of Beatrice and Benedick together intimately, implying another meaning to her words.

The list of remarkable things about this movie is quite long. Whedon secretly filmed Much Ado in his own home in only 12 days. The project was secret because he was on a contractual vacation after finishing up The Avengers. He even scored the film himself, creating a lovely soundtrack. Shakespeare had two songs in the text for Much Ado About Nothing, and Whedon ingeniously orchestrated them as two lovely songs in the film, featuring his beautiful sister-in-law Marissa Tancharoen and his brother Jed Whedon. Whedon’s other brother, Zack Whedon, was also included in the film. The film is an incredible revision of Shakespeare’s play. The comedic mastery and timing from Whedon and the cast is impeccable. Audiences will be cramped in laughter by the end of the film. Whedon masterfully weaves together sentimentality with wit and humor, creating an exquisite and entertaining film.