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?



“We are only here briefly, and in this moment I want to allow myself joy.” — Amy

“The past is just a story we tell ourselves.” — Samantha

Her (2013) is a Spike Jonze love story starring Joaquin Phoenix. Set in Los Angeles in the future, Her is a story about lonely Theodore (Phoenix) who spends his time at his letter writing job, playing video games at home, and using his futuristic smart phone. The new OS1 is released, boasting that it is the first artificial intelligent operating system. Theodore purchases it, decides to give his OS a female identity, and begins to interact and bond with his OS: Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). Samantha is an entity of great intelligence, but Theodore is surprised by her sensitivity and her capacity for emotion. They create a very intimate bond with each other and eventually fall in love. While he and Samantha are “dating”, Theodore is finalizing his divorce with Catherine (Roony Mara), his childhood sweetheart, and he finds solace and comfort with his friend Amy (Amy Adams). He is both excited and doubtful about his relationship with Samantha. He’s never felt so close to someone, but is Samantha actually “someone”?

While Her is a love story, the film is also a masked science-fiction commentary. Her is cautionary tale about smart phones and the problematic over-reliance and over-consumption of technology in general. As Theodore commutes home from work, he has his earphone device continuously in his ear, listening to e-mails read aloud to him, checking up on constantly updated news, etc. The other commuters around him also are constantly engaged in their smart devices that you never see people interacting with each other. It’s hard to think that technology could actually become more ingrained into daily life than it already is, but Her offers up a possibility for what may happen if mankind continues down the road it is currently on. I, myself, felt the impact of its message when the film ended: I attended a Oscar Movie Showcase in Chicago but went by myself; when the film ended, I immediately reached for my phone so I could talk about the film with a friend, but I felt awkward going straight for my phone.

Her is a beautifully artistic film. It’s so refreshing to see a film that steps outside the usual reservations. Her is a colorful film, saturated in bright warm colors, primary colors, oranges, reds, cyan. Theodore almost always wears an orange shirt. It seemed that the city and all its settings were sleek and patterned, a reflection of the modernity of technology and this advanced operating system. I love the idea of a future world improving itself just as technology improves itself. Los Angeles in Her is much bigger, but it is also much cleaner and more glistening than it is today. The wardrobe also played an interesting part in the film’s aesthetic. While set in the future, the style was vintage, evident by all the high-waisted pants. It’s a strange juxtaposition: cutting-edge, forward-thinking technology with classic and reinvented style. I think it contributes to the romanticism of the story — adorning the unconventional love story with color and patterns and paradoxes.

Joaquin Phoenix performs beautifully in Her. I say he was robbed of an Academy Award nomination, because he truly embodied the sweet and sensitive Theodore. Theodore has many flaws, but he is a sincere and earnest man, who found love and doesn’t want to give it up. He wants to believe in love and wants to lose himself in the comfort of partnership. Phoenix expresses these qualities so tenderly. When doubtful, he speaks with a hesitant honesty, and when he is happy, he laughs an unrestrained and liberated laugh. I connected very much to Phoenix’s portrayal of Theodore; I connected with him because he was a real person, a man whose goals and ambitions I understood.

Her is a gorgeous film, challenging us to redefine what love is. Among a backdrop of beautiful and bright colors, sleek patterns, and Arcade Fire’s fantastic score, Joaquin Phoenix shows us what it’s like to fall in love — an honest look: with both the good and the bad. Love with an operating system can very well be a metaphor for any unconventional relationship (i.e. a gay relationship, polyamory, etc), something real and beautiful but difficult to embrace among social pressures — but Amy’s above quote is the answer to any doubt or restraint: “We are only here briefly, and in this moment I want to allow myself joy.”