Monday, May 26, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

Marvel and Disney promise that "Guardians of the Galaxy" will be an action-packed, epic space adventure;
"Brash adventurer Peter Quill finds himself the object of an unrelenting bounty hunt after stealing a mysterious orb coveted by Ronan, a powerful villain with ambitions that threaten the entire universe. To evade the ever-persistent Ronan, Quill is forced into an uneasy truce with a quartet of disparate misfits -- Rocket, a gun--toting raccoon, Groot, a tree-like humanoid, the deadly and enigmatic Gamora and the revenge-driven Drax the Destroyer. But when Quill discovers the true power of the orb and the menace it poses to the cosmos, he must do his best to rally his ragtag rivals for a last, desperate stand--with the galaxy s fate in the balance."

This new direction of the Marvel Universe stars Chris Prat ("Parks and Recreation") as Peter Quill aka Star-Lord, Zoe Saldana  ("Star Trek Into Darkness," "Avatar") as Gamora, WWE's Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer, and the voices of Bradley Cooper ("Limitless," "American Hustle") and Vin Diesel ("Riddick"), as Rocket Raccoon and Groot respectively.  

Also starring along with the Guardians are Lee Pace ("The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug") as Ronan, Karen Gillan ("Oculus," "Dr. Who") as Nebula, Djimon Hounsou ("Gladiator," "Blood Diamond") as Korath.  In addition, supporting the cast are character actor John C. Reilly ("Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant:," "The Perfect Storm") as Rhomann Dey, and the ever versatile Glenn Close ("The World According to Garp," "Fatal Attraction") as Nova Prime Irani Rael.

Marvel has been hinting around since the "Avengers." and in "Thor: The Dark World," about Marvel's foray into the "Guardians of the Galaxy" universe. Now, Marvel movie fans are aware that you don't leave the theater until all the credits have rolled. There was a scene at the end of "Thor: The Dark World" which features Lady Sif and Volstagg entering "Knowhere," the sanctuary  of the immortal known as "The Collector."  Benicio del Toro plays the Liberace-esque character, "The Collector," akaTaneleer Tivan.

Marvel studios presidentKevin Feige, is producing while James Gunn ("Super") is directing this fun Sci-Fi, action - adventure space romp.

If G.O.T.G. actually include the Blue Swede cover of the 1969 B.J. Thomas hit, "Hooked On A Feeling," or Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit In The Sky," I would be extremely happy.

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures  is releasing "Guardians of the Galaxy"  in the U.S. on August 1, 2014.

Movie Data
Genre:  Action,Adventure, Sci-Fi 
Year:  2014
Staring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace
Director: James Gunn
Producer(s): Kevin Feige
Writer: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 122 minutes
Release Date:  8/1/2014

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow: D-Day Approacheth

Edge of Tomorrow - Live Die Repeat | A Constantly Racing Mind

On the 70th anniversary, of the great invasion of World War II, Warner Bros. is releasing  director Doug Limon's "The Edge of Tomorrow."

More violent than "Groundhog day," more Sci-Fi technology than "Source Code,"  "The Edge of Tomorrow" will probably appeal to the "First Person Shooter" and the readers of Anime or Manga. Just remember "Live, Die, Repeat."
The synopsis goes something like this.
Edge of Tomorrow - poster | A Constantly Racing Mind"The epic action of “Edge of Tomorrow” unfolds in a near future in which an alien race has hit the earth in an unrelenting assault, unbeatable by any military unit in the world. Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is an officer who has never seen a day of combat when he is unceremoniously dropped into what amounts to a suicide mission. Killed within minutes, Cage now finds himself inexplicably thrown into a time loop—forcing him to live out the same brutal combat repeatedly, fighting, and dying again…and again. But with each battle, cage becomes able to engage the adversaries with increasing skill, alongside special forces warrior Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt). And, as Cage and Rita take the fight to the aliens, each repeated encounter gets them one step closer to defeating the enemy."
As much as I am looking forward to seeing Tom and Emily in action together, my fear is that the story and the characters will fade into the background of special effects.  "The Edge of Tomorrow" is a great opportunity, to delve into the philosophy of reincarnation.  

From Battlestar Galactica:
"All this has happened before, and all this will happen again."
Warner Bros. is releasing "The Edge of Tomorrow" to theaters in the U.S. on June 6 (D-Day), 2014. 


Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Year:  2014
Staring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Jeremy Piven, Brendan Gleeson
Director: Doug Liman 
Producer(s): Jason Hoffs, Gregory Jacobs, Tom Lassally, Jeffrey Silver
Writer: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 113 minutes
Release Date:  6/6/2014

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Godzilla : The Kaiju We Deserve

Godzilla - Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind
“Let them fight!” 

6 0 years ago in 1954 Japanese director Ishiro Honda and Toho production company introduced audiences to a monster film called “Gojira.”  In 1956 the United States got their first glimpse of the creature we call “Godzilla.”  The franchise spawned numerous other giant creatures and to the cheesy delight of kids of the 1960’s and 70’s we had our version of “Lucha Libre” or the fake wrestling adults now call "WWE".  Those days are back with some updating of time, place, and origin. We have a new monster that is taking names and kicking ass.  Although the film boasts names like Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad Breaking Bad”), Juliette Binoche (“The English Patient”), and Ken Watanabe (“Inception,” “The Last Samurai”), make no mistake, the true star of this film is the legendary, prehistoric, radioactive behemoth: Godzilla.  “Kick Ass” actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson and the only Olsen sister who can act; Elizabeth (“Martha Marcy May Marlene,” and “Silent House”) are along for the ride to give the film a point of view.  “Godzilla” is PG-13, and runs a fast 2 hours.

Sci-Fi fan and director Gareth Edwards, starts the story in 1999, setting up the story that will eventually culminate in present times.  Nuclear Physicists Joe (Cranston) and Sandra (Binoche) Brody find themselves in midst of an emerging crisis at the nuclear plant in Janjira Japan.  Never mind that it is Joe’s birthday, and their young son Ford (Taylor-Johnson) is excited to celebrate his dad’s birthday.  Unbeknownst to the Brody family, today is not going to be a good day.

Horrible things happen, reminiscent of “The China Syndrome” at the plant, and thoughts of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster come to mind.  As tremors increase, like birthing contractions and the Brody’s arrive at the plant, at a mining facility miles away in the Philippines, a cave-in in a quarry unearths a prehistoric graveyard.  Scientists Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) arrive to find to giant “Alien” like pods, and one has hatched.  The tremors felt in Janjira are related.  Arriving at the plant the Brodys split up, Joe sends Sandra to check seismic monitors, while he goes up to control central and manages things from above.  The tremors increase and it is obvious that whatever creature hatched and is attacking the nuclear plant.  The lower sections are breached and Sandra and her team race back before the blast doors close.  Joe, takes it upon himself to wait for his wife, and manually close the doors once they are safe. This doesn’t happen and Joe rolls the hard six and shuts the door moments before the nuclear fog reaches the exit.  His wife arrives a moment later, behind the door filled with radiation, just to say good-bye.

Edwards knows that the star of the film is the creature and people play only a secondary part, however, he wants this family to be his point of view, his lens through which we see the destruction that follows.  15 years later, Ford is now a husband, a father, a Navy lieutenant, and a bomb disposal expert.  It is through his eyes that we see the obsession that the death of his mother has driven his dad to.  The once loving father is now a paranoid, conspiracy theorists who believes that there was more to the Janjira incident than the government is letting in on. Joe was arrested for trespassing in Japan and now Ford must go and get his father out of jail.  As a foreshadowing of events to come and a cue to the veteran movie goer, Ford’s wife, Elle says, while saying her goodbyes to her husband, "You know you're only going to be away for a few days… it's not the end of the world,"

Godzilla - Ken Watanabe - Sally Hawkins  | A Constantly Racing Mind
Based on a story by Dave Callaham (“Doom,” “Expendables”) and a screenplay by Edwards’s collaborator Max Borenstein, The Godzilla they present is the Gojira that evolved over the years to become the defender of human kind.  In the late 50’s and early 60’s Godzilla took on radioactive mutated giant, pterodactyls (Rodan), flying turtles (Gamera), and the infamous Mothra.  As it turns out, Joe Brody was right, there was a conspiracy, and after he and Ford return to Janjira, to collect some ancient disks and a picture of his wife, they are captured by Serizawa and Graham’s team who for the last 15 years been monitoring the Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism (MUTO)  situation.  It also turns out that a deep sea expedition in 1954 (The year the original “Gojira” movie debuted) awakened the larger creature, that Serizawa calls Godzilla, and Graham says, "a God for all intents and purposes."  Edwards pay homage to the original was the name of Ken Watanabe’s character.  In the original, the hero scientist’s name was Dr. Daisuke Serizawa. 

Remember, the two most important elements in any modern day film are sex and violence, and “Godzilla” has both.  With both a male and female MUTOs in search of each other it is love at first sight. Like salmon they have the need to fulfill the basic urge to reproduce, humankind is in trouble.  But wait, Godzilla to the rescue.  Never mind the destruction to the cities of Honolulu, Vegas, San Francisco, and the Golden Gate Bridge, Tokyo had its turn 60 years ago.  We seem to forgive our superhero’s collateral damage to cities and people. 

Godzilla - MUTO  | A Constantly Racing Mind

As the story and the destruction evolve, we see the same military nonsense that was in the Japanese originals. That of man’s arrogance to subdue and have dominion over all creatures of the Earth.  David Strathairn ("The Bourne Legacy") plays Admiral William Stenz, who pretty much stands around in the safety of his CIC on the carrier USS Saratoga, pretty much as he did in the war room during the two Jason Bourne films we was in.  As a tactician he leaves much to be desired.  But that was always the nature of the Japanese films.  Nature over technology.  For instance, in the evacuation of San Francisco to the other side of the bay, a school bus with a bunch of kids, Ford and Elle's included gets trapped by the military taking up defencive positions against the MUTOs on the bridge itself. In doing so, they are trapping hundreds of people stuck on the same bridge that is in peril of becoming monster fodder. Need I say more. Watanabe, plays the cautionary scientific advisor, who the military, of course, ignores all of his advice is ignored. 

Aaron Taylor-Johnson fulfills his cardboard cutout role as he follows the creature around and joining military units as he loses one and finds another.  A minor hero he is, but an action hero he is not.  He watches over a young boy who lost his parents, he jumps out of airplane HALO style, and he makes a crucial decision in the future of the MUTOs (watch the movie to see what I am talking about).  The same can be said about Elizabeth Olsen.  It is not that her performance was bad, or flat, but the character of Elle is one-dimensional. She is Ford's reason to return. Binoche’s role was short and served the only purpose of giving Cranston’s a reason to kick-up his already top-notch performance.

Godzilla - Godzilla | A Constantly Racing Mind

Unlike “Cloverfield,” which I disliked because of a severe lack of visible monsters. And the “found footage” style of film, photography that got in the way of the narrative.  Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, working with a team of visual effects companies, including WETA digital, does a great job of catching the emotions and the pandemonium.  As in Spielberg's  “Jaws.” Edwards, waits about an hour before revealing his main character.  All the time the MUTOs play havoc on Pacific Rim cities. We can clearly see the winged male creature flying around, while the larger female stomps on humans and buildings without care.  When Godzilla does make an appearance, he is larger, more radiation scars, and just more fun.  The battle scenes reminding me of a tag team wrestling match and the outcome is always in question. The CGI was far better than I expected and Alexandre Desplat's score left me with chills, while Erik Aadahl’s sound design left the hairs on the back of my neck standing.

Godzilla -  Aaron Taylor-Johnson - Elizabeth Olsen | A Constantly Racing Mind
This is a US – Japanese production. Warner Bros and Legendary pictures produced this epic film and in my mind bring back the nostalgia of monster from my childhood, yet this is a new and improved version. I saw “Godzilla” in 2D, as I am not a fan of the 3D format.  However, if you are not adverse to 3D, do yourself a favor and go see it in that format. I liked the story, the effects, the score, and the monsters.  Godzilla is the star of this show for sure but the school bus driver has my vote as the film’s hero.

Movie Data
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-F
Year:  2014
Staring: Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Ken Watanabe, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen
Director: Gareth Edwards
Producer(s): Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, Brian Rogers, Thomas Tull
Writer: Max Borenstein, Dave Callaham
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 123 minutes
Release Date:  5/16/2014

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Oculus: A Trick With Light and Mirrors

Oculus - Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind
The term oculus is a misnomer. An oculus is not a mirror, but a round or eyelike opening or design.  The film "Oculus" is just plain deceiving, but in a good way.  Like many recent horror films, the protagonists are a family under siege from a malevolent supernatural force.  Written and directed by Mike Flanagan (“Absentia”), "Oculus," is a suspenseful, scary horror film in the same vein as "Insidious," or "Sinister."  This latest offering from Blumhouse productions is about an ancient mirror that unleashes an evil force in the lives of a typical American family.  "Oculus" follows many of the horror genre tropes that have made Blumhouse productions a household name when it comes to modern family-horror.  Although not necessarily gory, "Oculus" is rated R for the violence and language.  Look for one hour and forty-five minutes of interesting, disturbing, and at times a confusing peek at your normal everyday family haunted by an ancient evil.

Our family, by the name of Russell, comprises of a self-employed software developer, a mom, a redheaded, pre-teen daughter, and a dark haired son who is about two years younger.  Rory Cochran, once a starring cast member of the now defunct "CSI Miami," plays Alan Russell,  the father, who 11 years previous, allegedly murdered his wife.  The doomed wife and mother, Marie, is played by Sci-Fi star Katee Sackhoff.  Widely known for her role on television's "Battlestar Galactica,” Sackhoff is no stranger to the horror genre.  In 2000, she was in "Halloween: Resurrection," and she started opposite of Nathan Fillion in "White Noise 2," and the more recent "Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia.”  New to American horror movie audiences, but not to "Dr. Who" fans, playing the now grown daughter of this family, is Karen Gillan while Annalise Basso playing the 12 year-old Kaylie.  Rounding off the cast, playing the 21-year-old Tim is Australian, Brenton Thwaites, and American actor Garrett Ryan plays his younger self. 

Oculus - Rory Cochran: Kill her!  | A Constantly Racing Mind

Now 21 years-old, Tim (Thwaites), is conversing with his psychiatrist, Dr. Shawn Graham played by "Medium" co-star Miguel Sandoval.  Tim has come to terms with demons and recognizes that he is responsible for shooting his father when he was 10 years-old.  His older sister Kaylie (Gillan) is another matter.  Over the past 11 years, Kaylie, was left to cope with the devastation that came to visit their family when their dad, bought an antique, almost grotesque, full-length mirror with an ornate wooden frame.  The mirror is over 300 years-old and once sat in Balmoral Castle in Scotland.  The mirror we are told, has had numerous owners who all have died horrible deaths.

Kaylie's fiancé Michael Dumont (James Lafferty - "One Tree Hill") runs an auction-house and Kaylie has throughout the years been tracking the mirror through its various owners and via the auction-house purchased the mirror on the same day that her brother is being released from the mental hospital as a "cured" individual.  The question of sanity is one that is not only asked by the audience to the characters and events in this film, but the audience may also ask that question of themselves as well.  Memory is a tricky thing, and looking back 11 years and trying to remember certain events in a certain way, is at best circumspect.

Oculus - Karen Gillan & Brenton Thwaites & the Mirror  | A Constantly Racing Mind

Setting up cameras and having a rigid plan, Kaylie and Tim venture to their old house where the gruesome death of their mother and their father's murder took place.  The goal is to somehow prove that the mirror is to blame for Alan's death and not Tim.  After carefully reviewing the history of all of the deaths that have been recorded throughout history in relationship to the mirror, Kaylie has a plan that includes hydration, check-ins by the fiancée, and tracking of paranormal activity with the use of plants. Gillan plays Kaylee with determination that is quite obsessive and believable. On the other hand Thwaites, is a little less convincing, but that changes closer to the end.

In telling this story, Flanagan chose to interweave scenes from the past as the two surviving children return to the house they once lived in.  The past unfolds like Stephan King’s "The Shinning," we see a father's quick descent into madness and followed very quickly by the moms, leaving the kids to fend for themselves.  The story is clever, as Kaylie has set up video cameras, à la "Paranormal Activity."  What happens in the house in one night is both predictable, and yet not.  Karen Gillan portrays Kaylie with a solid sense of purpose in defeating the thing in the mirror, and with the help of her brother, hoping show the world that her brother isn't a murderer, but killed their dad in self-defense.  I never got a sense of creepiness from Rory Cochran when he was on "CSI: Miami.”  However, in "Oculus" he portrays the dad, not only the sense of creepy, but also as time goes on, a certain sense of doom and dread.  Like the film itself, Rory plays dad much more subtle in his madness than Jack Nicholson does in "The Shining."  Katie Sackhoff's character Marie, succumbs, like her husband, to the effects of the mirror.  The slow rumble just below the surface, tiny voices in the back of your head with the millions of tiny whisperings play on the character’s minds as well as on the audiences.  The images in the mirror are deceiving and at times confusing.  Katee Sackhoff plays Marie as if she more like Regan in the "Exorcist.”  At times, she raves like a demon when the mirror possesses her.

Oculus - Katee Sackhoff  | A Constantly Racing Mind

This is not Flanagan's first trip out with a film about an evil mirror.  In 2005, Flanagan did a short film titled "Oculus: Chapter 3 - The Man with the Plan.”  This short seems to be the seed of what this new and improved film is about.  "Oculus" is more subtle than the 2007 film "Mirrors" starring Kiefer Sutherland.  With "Oculus," the art of building to a climax is more than the horror that arrives at the end.  That is this film's strength and its weakness.  In trying to build up a climax that hopefully allows the audience to say "Wow."  Although that doesn't quite happen, "Oculus" isn't a total letdown.  The story is almost too clever, but not quite, the acting is solid, and the ending is decent, but not what I was hoping for.  Overall, "Oculus" is worth watching at some point on DVD or Blu-ray.

Movie Data

Genre: Horror
Year:  2014
Staring: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff, Rory Cochrane
Director: Mike Flanagan
Producer(s): Marc D. Evans, Trevor Macy, Jason Blum
Writer: Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard 
Rating: R
Running Time: 104 minutes
Release Date:  4/11/2014