Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) a (mildly) belated review

Bear with me here…I know I’ve written about this before, but I think its pertinent.

Back in 1977 I was an 11 year old boy who absolutely loved science fiction.  I couldn’t get enough of the then in syndication original Star Trek, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Wild, Wild, West, etc.  I was heavily into reading sci-fi books and equally, if not more so, into reading comic books.  And science fiction films?  I was head over heels for them, catching whatever I could whenever I could.

I don’t recall the exact details but word got out back then in 1977 that a brand new science fiction feature film was THE hot ticket to catch that summer.  The movie was Star Wars.  I headed to the closest cinema on, I believe, the first or second week of that movie’s release, sat in my chair, and waited to be blown away.  The lights went down, the movie started and the crowd around me, for the most part composed of younger boys like myself, went wild.  They whooped and hollered.  They clapped and screamed.

And I sat there as the movie played out and wondered what it was I was missing.

Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t hate Star Wars.  But despite my age (I was an ideal age for the movie’s release), my interests (ditto), and the euphoric crowd around me which should have at the least pumped me up, the film just left me…cold.  So little did Star Wars thrill me that I skipped that movie’s highly anticipated sequel, The Empire Strikes Back when it first appeared in theaters.  I wouldn’t see that film until a couple of years later, when it aired on TV.  I thought Empire was OK but my feelings regarding it were on par with the original.

Fast forward to this year.  I’m a whole lot older but many of the interests I had back in 1977 remain with me today.  I still love science-fiction.  I still love to watch sci-fi on TV or in the movies, and I’m always on the look out for genuinely good sci-fi fare.

So this past summer, THE big movie release proved to be Guardians of the Galaxy.  After all was said and done, not only did the movie have the largest box office of the year, it scored an genuinely impressive 90% positive among critics and astonishingly strong 94% positive among audiences according to

I didn’t have the time to catch the film when it was released theatrically, though there was at least one occasion where I almost saw it.  When the film was finally released to video, I quickly snatched up a copy of the BluRay.

Yesterday, I finally had time to watch this film.

Oh brother.

…oh, brother…

History, it would seem, has a habit of repeating itself, no?

For what is Guardians of the Galaxy but a modernized updating (and for the most part remake) of Star Wars?  Think about it: Our hero, Peter Quill, aka StarLord (Chris Pratt), is essentially a dual/hybrid version of both Luke Skywalker and Han Solo.  You had your Princess Leia-ish character in Gamora (Zoe Saldana), your Chewbacca in Drax (David Bautista), C3P0/R2D2 in Rocket Racoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Obi-Wan Kenobi in Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel).

As for the bad guys, you have your “Emperor” in Thanatos (his appearance in this film, IMHO, was a complete waste), your Grand Moff Tarkin was Ronan while your Darth Vader was Nebula (the usually very delightful Karen Gillian, virtually unrecognizable under a ton of makeup).  Nebula, like Darth Vader, (SPOILER!) escapes death at the end of the feature to appear, of course, in the sequel to come.

The plot involves the bad guy trying to get a hold of a Infinity Gem which will allow him to destroy a world (another Star Wars concept, no?), and through the course of the adventure our heroes even wind up breaking out of a prison.


I have to ask: If you are like me and didn’t care all that much for Star Wars, what do you suppose the odds are you’d would like a virtual clone of that film?

By this point in time, it’s silly to either recommend of urge people away from this film.  Audiences have spoken with their wallets and with the critics’ adulation.  Still, despite some humorous lines here and there, I really didn’t like this film.

I know, I fall into a very small group, the 10% of critics and 6% of audiences that didn’t like Guardians of the Galaxy.  Yet there you have it.  Unlike the vast majority of people out there, this film just didn’t do it for me.

Oh well.

10 Best and 10 Worst Sci-Fi Films of 2014

Yesterday I posted a list of 10 Worst Films of the year (read it here), today I found this list featuring a 10 Best and 10 Worst Sci-Fi Films of 2014:

In the Best Of category, I’ve seen a whopping 5 of the 10 listed and have a sixth film (Guardians of the Galaxy) waiting for me to see on BluRay.  Of the ones I’ve seen, I concur that Edge of Tomorrow, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Snowpiercer, and The Lego Movie were all outstanding pieces of entertainment.  The order in which I’d place them in, however, varies.

Still, if you’re hunting good sci-fi films from 2014, you can’t miss with the four listed above.

The one I disagree with is Under The Skin.  I reviewed that film a while back (read my review here) and thought the film was decent but, in the end, flawed.  Since seeing it I haven’t changed my opinion and, therefore, would not consider this work a “Top 10” release for 2014.  Strangely, IMDB lists the film as being made/released in 2013.  Based on this alone, I’m not sure why this film found its way onto this particular list.

Anyway, more food for thought for movie fans!

Worst Films of 2014

One can quickly list several films from the previous year one really, really enjoyed, but there is a weird fascination I have -perhaps it’s a bit of sadism- for worst film lists.

I’m certain the people behind these particular works tried hard to make the best film they could with the money/time/talent they had at their disposal but for whatever reason, the project, in the eyes of many, simply failed.

Perhaps spectacularly.

So, in honor of these failed works, a roundup of “Worst Films of 2014” lists, starting with the AV Club:

In this particular list I’ve seen a grand total of…one film: 3 Days To Kill.  I didn’t hate that film but freely admit it wasn’t an earth shattering experience.  Still, #2 worst film of the year?  I don’t know about that.

Next up, Drew McWeeny’s list, presented in

In this case, I’ve seen exactly…none of them, though I admit being curious about Sin City: A Dame To Kill For.  I thought the original Sin City film, if nothing else, was an incredibly faithful adaptation of Frank Miller’s comic books/graphic novels.  Unfortunately, while I love the artwork and general “look” of those books, apart from the first Sin City graphic novel each subsequent story Mr. Miller presented was a little -sometimes a lot– worse than the one that preceded it.  By the time Mr. Miller reached the last of the books, which I believe was released well before the first Sin City film, whatever muse he was following had long ago abandoned him.

Mr. Weeny’s brief description of why he chose this particular film as one of his worst for 2014 touches upon some of my fears as to what to expect in this work.  Perhaps I won’t be seeing it any time soon after all…

Next up, Rolling Stone’s list:

Again, saw only one film on this list: The Expendables 3.  Like 3 Days To Kill, I didn’t absolutely hate the film but can certainly understand why someone might.  It wasn’t a great film but I feel that had the other two Expendable films not been made this film would have received more positive word of mouth.  Still not saying anyone would have looked at the film as some kind of cinematic nirvana, though.

Finally, USA Today’s list of 2014 Turkeys:

The Expendables 3 makes this list as well and the others…haven’t seen ’em.

Finally, offers the following list of worst films based on a polling of ratings:

While looking over the various lists, what stuck me most interesting is how many right wing/christian conservative works were released in the previous year and how it appears most, if not all of them, were so ill-regarded.  In this particular list, the “worst” film is Left Behind, but in other some of the other lists above you’ll find such right wing fare as God’s Not Dead, Atlas Shrugged III, Saving Christmas, and America: Imagine a World Without Her.

I wonder if next year we’ll see even more such fare?

The Cat o’Nine Tails (1971) a (wildly) belated review

I’m fascinated with the similarities between old time murder mysteries and modern day horror films.  As “elegant” and relatively bloodless as the murder mysteries of author Agatha Christie were, if you push any one of her stories into a slightly more gorier mileiu, you have your modern horror feature.

I first realized this while watching the 1945 film version of Christie’s And Then There Were None.  In that movie, a group of disparate people are brought to an isolated island and, one by one, are killed off.  It occurred to me while watching that film that a more modern “take” of the story could highlight the messy deaths of the various characters over the tone and mystery of the story itself.

Director Dario Argento, best known for his “giallo” horror films, further proves my point with his second major work, The Cat o’Nine Tails.  The story goes like this: A blind man named Franco Arno (Karl Malden) and his adopted daughter live near a high tech research facility specializing in genetic mapping.  While walking back home one evening, the duo pass by a parked vehicle.  Inside, one of the scientists from that institute is talking to an unknown and shadowy individual.

Arno’s heightened sense of hearing picks up the fact that the scientist is trying to blackmail his mysterious companion.  That night the scientist is indeed killed, and Arno, with the help of reporter Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus), set out to find the killer…even as the bodies start to pile up and the killer targets them.

By today’s standards, The Cat o’Nine Tails is a dated piece of work.  I saw the American dubbed version and it is my understanding the original Italian version is a better overall film.  Still, what I saw was engaging enough but never got my pulse racing.  The mystery is rather hard to follow as the various suspects are given only short screen time before, for the most part, they’re killed.  The story picks up a bit when the murderer puts Arno, Giordani, and Arno’s adoptive daughter in his crosshairs, but we’re talking about the later stages of the film by that point.

What is intriguing is that you see what I was talking about before, the evolution of the murder mystery towards horror in this work, in this film.  The story could easily have been an Agatha Christie type mystery involving all the standard Christie-type characters.  The old blind man is effectively a character like Christie’s Ms. Marple.  The dashing and handsome reporter is your typical mystery hero type…on the job and, when the time comes, more than willing to use his fists.  Oh, and he’s a hit with the ladies (in this movie’s case, lady) as well.  The suspects, too, form a typical Christie circle of well-to-do’s who on the surface appear elegant and well-spoken yet underneath lurk some very dark secrets.

The murders, compared to the movie version of And Then There Were None, are much more “in your face”.  There is more blood and gore, though again by today’s standards nothing terribly shocking.

In the end, if you’re in the mood for some cinematic archeology and would like to see a movie that bridges the gap between the older, more “polite” murder mysteries of yesteryear and the gorier, more “in your face” horror films of today, you might find The Cat o’Nine Tails an interesting curio.  This applies double for fans of the works of Dario Argento.  Otherwise and given the movie’s dated tone and pace, you may want to stay away.  The Cat o’Nine Tails might have been strong stuff back when it was released, but by today’s standards is a far more sedate experience.

The Expendables 3 (2014) a (very mildly) belated review

Back in 2012, while reviewing The Expendables 2, I wrote the following regarding the first Expendables film:

So you have this old friend who tells you a new story involving people from your youth.  This story plays on nostalgia and features plenty of old faces in familiar situations.  By the end of the story, you smile.  You’ve enjoyed yourself perhaps a little more than you would have because of the nostalgia value.  The story presented, after all, wasn’t all that earth-shattering or, to be blunt, particularly good.

I went on to state that while I enjoyed the first Expendables film and felt the second was an overall better work, the problem with The Expendables 2 was that it didn’t benefit from the lure of nostalgia as much as the first and therefore didn’t appeal as much as the first.

Fast forward to 2014 and the release of The Expendables 3.  This time around, one big name (Bruce Willis) is gone, replaced by an arguably bigger name, Harrison Ford.  The villain of this piece, played by Mel Gibson, is also a far better known and accomplished actor (if more controversial) than either Eric Roberts (E1) or Jean Claude Van Damme (E2).

So, is The Expendables 3 any good?

For my money, this is the best of the three Expendables films.  Having said that, it still isn’t all that great a film.

The movie starts off quite horribly, with a very unimpressive (and filled with absolutely terrible CGI) action set piece involving an Expendables raid on a prison train carrying Doc (Wesley Snipes), one of their “lost” members.  Thankfully, that terrible opening leads to a far better action sequence involving arms dealers in Somalia.  It turns out the Expendables’ target, Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), was the co-founder of the group and one time best friend/partner of Stallone’s Barney Ross.  He is a man Ross thought he killed years before and the hatred between the two is palpable.  It is their hatred that raises this movie’s stakes higher and makes what follows more personal than what we had in the previous two films.  Stallone and Gibson are given wonderful opportunities to play off each other, something the other Expendable films never had.

The hatred between Ross and Stonebanks leads to the Expendables leader dropping his co-horts and hiring a new crew because he’s more willing to risk their lives than his “family’s”.  A cold blooded decision, certainly, but it is a cold blooded business.

But Ross grows to respect and, yes, love this new group just as much as the old and when they fall prey to Stonebanks he is forced to rescue them with the aid of his old team plus a new entry (Antonio Banderas, delightfully wacky).  Much mayhem follows.

Strangely, I had a Wild Bunch feeling for the later half of the film and was hoping we were headed in that particular direction.  Alas, the film goes too soft in the end and the triumph is never quite matched with sadness.

A further note:  It was fun to see Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jet Li in their smallish roles in the film.  I thought they were used just enough to amuse us but not too little (E1) or too much (E2).

In conclusion, if you enjoyed the first couple of Expendables films you should enjoy the third.  The draw, once again, lies in the nostalgia factor and seeing several icons of yesteryear inhabit the same movie frame.

Too bad the film goes a little too soft in the end.

Long Lost Works of Literature…

Fascinating article by Paul Anthony Jones listing ten literary works that, more than likely, have been lost forever:

For some of these works it is quite clear they are indeed lost for all times as we know the only copy(s) of them were destroyed…and we know who destroyed them and have a good idea as to why!

There are others, though, that one might have some hope of eventually finding, like Homer’s Margites and, perhaps, Shakespeare’s Cordenio.

There are also those that frustrate as they are likely lost for silly reasons, like the near complete early works of Ernest Hemingway which, unwisely, were all stored in a suitcase which was either lost or stolen from a train station back in 1922.

Where’s the cloud when you need it!?!

Best/Worst Movies of 2014

Yeah, we’re not quite done with 2014 yet, but Entertainment Weekly already has their 10 Best and 5 Worst Films of the year:,,20326356_20879243,00.html

As usual, my interest winds up being just how many of these films I’ve seen…or want to see.

In this year’s case, I have not seen any of their “worst” five.  My wife caught Monuments Men on a long flight and thought it was “ok”, but I never had much of a desire to see it.  For that matter, the other four movies on this list are also films I have very little desire to see and, given the huge amount of stuff I would like to eventually like to get to, doubt I’ll catch those particular films.

As for the 10 Best, I’ve seen a grand total of two, Grand Budapest Hotel and Snowpiercer.  I loved, loved, loved Snowpiercer (#8) and thought it was one of the more ambitious sci-fi films of recent vintage.  Grand Budapest Hotel was fun and often laugh out loud funny, but as much as I liked it I don’t know if it was worth being considered the #3 film of the past year (opinions, as they say, are subjective).

I have Jodorowsky’s Dune (#10) on BluRay waiting for me to see it when I have the time and am interested in seeing Guardians of the Galaxy (#6, missed it when it was making a ton of cash in theaters), Gone Girl (#7), and Birdman (#9).  The remaining films on this list also look interesting but, again, I don’t know if I’ll find the time to see any of them.

Off to look for other “best/worst” of lists!

Dead and Buried (1981) a (very) belated review

Back in the late 1970’s and into the 1980’s, horror cinema appeared to be on a crusade to push the envelope regarding gore.  Unfortunately, many of the films released at the time were either inferior productions or, after a few years, myriad sequels that repeated ad nauseam popular hits from yesteryear.

There are few horror films from that era that stick with me, but those that do, like the original Alien, have stuck with me for a very long time.  The 1981 film Dead and Buried boasts being made by “the creators of Alien“.  Does it come anywhere close to that classic?

Well…not quite, though the film does offer some good, Lovecraftian inspired chills along with some gruesome early Stan Winston effects.

The plot?  Well, that winds up being the movie’s biggest problem.  Not that the story presented is bad, necessarily, only that once it plays out one realizes this was maybe a one hour Twilight Zone/Outer Limits type story stretched out -too far!- into a feature length film.

Basically, the story goes like this: In the very small seaside town of Potter’s Bluff (a place that looks like it could be found in your typical H. P. Lovecraft story), a man goes to a lonely shore and takes nature pictures.  He is surprised when a beautiful blonde (Lisa Blount) appears and becomes very friendly with him.  But all is not as it seems and he is attacked and, it appears, killed.

When his torched vehicle shows is found, the town’s Sheriff, Dan Gillis (James Farentino) investigates along with quirky coroner William Dobbs (Jack Albertson, in one of his last movie roles) what happened to the man.  As the investigation goes on, strange things happen in and around the town.  Further, Gillis finds himself growing increasingly suspicious of the extra-curricular activities of his wife (the gorgeous Melody Anderson).

As I said before, all is certainly not as it seems and before the story is over Sheriff Gillis will uncover the eerie secrets of his hometown.

I don’t want to elaborate any more but suffice to say that despite an obvious very low budget Dead and Buried maintains a good level of suspense and delivers on its shocking gore.  The story, as mentioned, wasn’t enough to sustain a feature film and therefore the filmmakers had to add more victims to the story to fill out time.  Given the conclusion, one couldn’t help but wonder why there was such a need to have each victim so brutally killed..

Still, for a 30 plus year old film, Dead and Buried remains a decent enough horror feature with some still quite good special effects.  For those who enjoy the horror films of this era, this is an easy recommendation.

Hickey and Boggs (1972) a (very) belated review

So Kino/Loder decides to release the cult noir/detective 1972 film Hickey and Boggs this past week to BluRay aaaaand…could their timing be any worse?

After all, the film stars Robert Culp and….Bill Cosby.  Yup.  That Bill Cosby.

I ordered the film when its release was first announced several months ago, before the current Bill Cosby media blow up.  I guess if this film was in the planning stages for release at this moment, the studios would have scuttled it completely.  Which I suppose means fans of the film should be happy it was released at all.

Now, I happen to be a big fan of good film noir/detective dramas.  I’m also a very big fan of the early works of Walter Hill, the movie’s screenwriter.  I might have seen Hickey and Boggs many years ago.  Maybe not the whole thing, perhaps no more than a scene or two, and I remembered next to nothing about it.  Still, I had to get it, if only for Mr. Hill’s contribution.

I’m glad I did.

Having said that, let me address the obvious: Yes, it is uncomfortable to watch Bill Cosby, even this very young Bill Cosby, given the current stories surrounding his alleged behavior.  I know there are those who refuse to see any films, past or present, featuring Mel Gibson because of his well documented meltdowns and bizarre behavior.  The same will most certainly be the case with Mr. Cosby.

Having said that, if you can divorce artist from art, which is what I had to do, you will probably love the hell out of Hickey and Boggs.

The film’s story involves the two very much down on their luck private detectives (Culp, who also directed this film, and Crosby) and what happens to them after they are hired to find a woman.  The man hiring them is sleazy but in the case of the two detectives, beggars can’t be choosers.  Hickey and Boggs follow their sleazy client’s list of associates the woman might have ties with and sink deeper and deeper into an increasingly violent hole that, in the end, involves much more than a simple missing woman.

The rapport between Culp and Crosby, who had starred together from 1965 to 1968 in the popular I Spy detective show, is what makes this movie hum.  The two act and talk as if they have known each other for a long time (which by that point they had in real life) and their on screen relationship is easygoing and natural…just as their character lives are a disaster.

Taking on this particular case eventually puts them in the bullseye of both hired thugs and the police while tempting them to find a missing stash of money.

As I mentioned before, I enjoyed the hell out of this film and would easily put it up there with some of my favorite noir/detective dramas.  The action is good, the plot interesting, and Culp and Crosby are fascinating to watch as they warily pace the streets of a not so-sparkling L.A.

If you can forget for a moment the terrible stories associated with Bill Cosby and give Hickey and Boggs a try, you will not be disappointed.  If you can’t ignore the stories surrounding Mr. Cosby and find it difficult to separate the artist from his art, then you best stay away.