Now Playing: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Would Beat ‘The Avengers’ in a Dance-Off

Which of these Guardians of the Galaxy has an awesome mix-tape on their Walkman? (Marvel / Walt Disney Studios)

Which of these Guardians of the Galaxy has an awesome mix-tape on their Walkman? (Marvel / Walt Disney Studios)

It’s big, it’s everywhere, it’s somehow much better than your average Marvel output—even Joss Whedon’s The Avengers. Guardians of the Galaxy is playing now throughout the known universe; check it out.

My article “Guardians of the Galaxy out-Whedons The Avengers” is at Short Ends & Leader:

There’s a lot to appreciate—and maybe even love—about Guardians of the Galaxy. The oozing and eager-to-please sprawl of Gen-X references, from Mom’s ‘70s pop music mixtape to hero Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, surfer-dude sly) romancing the green-skinned assassin babe Gamora (Zoe Saldana) by referencing the “legend” of Footloose. Banter threaded slyly through the action instead of airdropped in by executive committee looking for humor beats. A talking raccoon skilled in jail-breaks and bomb-making. David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream”. A genocidal villain thwarted by a dance-off. The two-hour running time, practically unheard-of brevity for modern blockbusters. Howard the Duck…

You can see the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction’

Nastassja Kinski with Harry Dean Stanton in his signature scene from 'Paris, Texas.'

Nastassja Kinski with Harry Dean Stanton in his signature scene from ‘Paris, Texas.’

harry_dean_stanton_partly_fictionWith over 100 credits in everything from avant-garde 1970s Westerns to Wim Wenders arthouse films to The Avengers, Harry Dean Stanton is one of those character actors they don’t seem to make much anymore. And they certainly don’t make movies about. Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction is one of those rare treats that true movie fans are tossed every now and again which almost makes up for the vale of iniquity that is modern cinema.

It’s playing now in limited release. My review is at Film Journal International; here’s part:

When Sophie Huber’s downbeat and jazzy Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction works, it’s almost by happenstance, like catching a glimpse of something beautiful out of the corner of your eye. Of course, as with most works of art that seem to be beautiful accidents, it’s artfully crafted down to the smallest detail…

You can watch the trailer here:

Or, for a real treat, check out his full climactic monologue from Paris, Texas:

 

New in Theaters: ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

Alexis Denisof  and Amy Acker play Benedick and Beatrice in Joss Whedon's 'Much Ado About Nothing'

Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker play Benedick and Beatrice in Joss Whedon’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

much-ado-about-nothing-posterWhen Joss Whedon finished with his 2012 megahit The Avengers, he had some time off. How to fill that time? Well, obviously, make another movie! He brought a passel of actors over to his Spanish-style mansion and spent a few weeks filming a modern-dress, black-and-white adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing on his own dime. The result is a superbly fresh and winsome comedy that opens on Friday.

My full review is at Film Journal International; here’s part of it:

While cleaving away some of Shakespeare’s more dragging plot points, Whedon hews to the original text. He also lets the plot breathe and move at its own quick pace, trusting the audience not to require the anxious pushiness of Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 version. This refusal to juice the material with gimmickry pays out handsomely, as Whedon’s crackerjack cast, drawn mainly from his troupe of TV actors, spins as fine a web of delicate comedy as will grace movie screens this year…

My interview with Whedon ran last year; you can read that here.

You can watch the trailer here:

Now on Sale: ‘Eyes Wide Open 2012′

looper1

It’s only about a week to go before the Oscar Awards broadcast. In and of themselves, they don’t matter, even for serious movie fans. Not a bit. Given the wild richness that can be found in just one year’s worth of American studio and indie (for whatever that distinction is still worth making), identifying one particular film or performer as the “best” is an exercise in futility.

Eyes Wide Open-coverSo why do we care? If nothing else, the Oscars (like the Golden Globes) serve as an excuse to look over a year’s worth of cinema and determine what was most noteworthy about it. Or, more commonly, to argue about what those out-of-touch types in the Academy foolishly considered the best.

To help continue that argument, we offer for your consideration: Eyes Wide Open 2012: The Year’s 25 Greatest Movies (and 5 Worst). It’s a compilation of some 100-odd pages’ worth of material that I wrote over the past year (as well as some new pieces written for this book) about the films of 2012—the good, the bad, the preposterous, and the utterly forgettable.

In addition to the best and worst lists (The Hobbit made one list, and Cloud Atlas made the other; try guessing which), there’s also some essays, DVD reviews, and even some awards lists of my own (because, why should the Oscars have all the fun?). It covers everything from the strange genius of the late Tony Scott to the yawn-inducing mediocrity of The Avengers and the stark political attack contained in Brad Pitt’s Killing Them Softly.

You can get the ebook here and here; there’s also a print-on-demand paperback here.

If this works out, it might become an annual thing. Let me know what you think.

At the Movies: Cold Reality in 2012

killingthemsoftly1Although the biggest earner at the box office in 2012 was the tidy teamwork adventure of The Avengers, the year’s films were by and large afflicted with a grimmer worldview. This was as true of blockbusters like The Hunger Games to star vehicles like Killing Them Softly and micro-indies like Compliance.

My end-of-year wrap-up is at PopMatters:

The year’s most brutal indictment of this system comes in Killing Them Softly. Andrew Dominick’s chilly, vaguely over-satisfied crime film is based on George V. Higgins’ profane novel of life and talk (and talk, and talk) amongst the underworld demimonde. Some hack crooks knock off a card game for what they think is easy money. Word gets back to the organization in charge of the game and Jackie (Brad Pitt), a hitman with a soft touch, is dispatched to relieve a few people of their lives….

The film’s steady march towards execution plays out against the sturm and drang of the 2008 US presidential election. A skittery title sequence jumbles up shots of a trash-strewn tunnel with audio of Obama’s soaring rhetoric—a road to nowhere. Asked whether he has room for friendships or loyalties, Jackie can only scoff, “Don’t make me laugh.” He nearly snarls the film’s last line, briefly agitated rather than utterly smoothly professional, as he’s been to this point. Now, he lays it out: “I’m living in America, and in America, you’re on your own.”