There’s plenty of action in Guardians of the Galaxy, the latest Marvel cash cow to enter the multiplexes, but what might really win you over is the lighthearted, often funny nature of the enterprise.
The plot is kind of a variation on the “McGuffin,” only played out on an intergalactic scale in the not-too-distant future. Our intrepid rapscallion space-adventurer/hero Peter Quill (a very engaging Chris Pratt), gets hold of a mysterious orb that everyone in the galaxy wants—the evildoers led by Ronan (Lee Pace) want the orb for, well…nefarious purposes, such as using it to destroy the good peace-loving people of Xandar (led by Glenn Close, assisted by John C.Reilly). At the same time, Quill’s gleefully unscrupulous mentor (Michael Rooker) would love to get the orb for his own mercenary purposes—meanwhile, the fate of the galaxy hangs in the balance.
Under the direction of James Gunn, Guardians of the Galaxy delivers the goods in many ways: the special effects are consistently top-notch; the screenplay (by Gunn and Nicole Perlman) gives room for a nominal degree of exposition, plenty of action and humor—as well as opportunities for the quirky characters to have some breathing room. Amidst an early onslaught of unfamiliar terms and names, you’ll soon get a pretty good idea who the good guys and the bad guys are. And yes, the god guys must go through a cycle of reluctance, distrust, and eventual mutual respect before they can save the world (that’s a given in genre movies–think of this as The Magnificent Five), but what an entertaining bunch they are: Chris Pratt’s Quill, torn between honor and profit, clinging to the memory of his late mother (by way of a cassette Walkman prepared by Mom, playing the Eighties’ greatest hits) which leads to some inspired acts of heroism and frequent funny bits of business; Zoe Saldana’s dazzling Gamora, green-skinned, acrobatic and lethal—both in action and words; Dave Bautista’s Drax, excellent as a grieving brute on a literal, single-minded quest for vengeance. Alongside this very human element, many of the biggest laughs (as well as some surprising emotional heft) play out in the friendship between the two bounty hunters who join them—and who happen to be a raccoon and a tree. Vin Diesel voices Groot, a creature notable for his bravery and compassion, as well as a limited, if eloquently delivered vocabulary, while Bradley Cooper makes a meal out of his role as Rocket, a fast-talking, smart-aleck raccoon fond of huge weapons, coarse humor—and absolutely devoted to his best friend Groot. Theirs is the relationship to root for.
Woody Allen’s latest Magic in the Moonlight, is a thoroughly entertaining concoction, a beautifully filmed romantic comedy complete with period (1920s European) flavor, an inspired soundtrack, and some clever dialogue skillfully delivered by a terrific, well-cast ensemble of expert players. The premise is simple: worldly, jaded magician Colin Firth is summoned to a chateau on the south of France to expose the so-called machinations of young psychic Emma Stone—who seems to have some positively uncanny powers of clairvoyance-as well as a degree of youthful charm—none of which is lost on Mr. Firth, even if he is a bit slow on the uptake..
Now some critics have taken Woody to task for this movie, looking at each line and situation as being analogous to the Woodman’s personal life, and condemning the movie practically outright as a result (or because of the belief that for every “masterpiece” like Blue Jasmine, there has to be the requisite minor work). However, I contend that Magic in the Moonlight, lightweight bauble it may be, is Allen’s most enjoyable film in many a moon (and I’m including Midnight in Paris). Allen’s screenplay is full of wit, clever payoffs– and thankfully free of the head-scratchers that seem to impinge on Allen’s recent work; the cinematography is gorgeous and the musical choices (both popular and classical) are sublime; and the performances excellent throughout. Hamish Linklater is charming as a wealthy, naïve, perpetually serenading swain; Emma Stone is radiant and winning as the psychic; Colin Firth is nothing short of superb as a magician who knows all the tricks—yet won’t close himself off entirely from life’s infinite possibilities; Firth has a way with dialogue that makes the Allen wit seem even sharper, and manages to make what could have been an unpalatable character very appealing indeed. If you try to see Magic in the Moonlight with an open, slightly romantic mind, you might discover a very enchanting movie that would not have been out of place among the works of Lubitsch, Sturges, and Wilder.
Luc Besson’s Lucy begins as Scarlett Johansson’s wary student in Taiwan is coerced into delivering a suspicious suitcase to some very deadly characters. The result is beatings, torture, and the unintended absorption of a very, very potent experimental drug that, in essence, turns Lucy into something akin to a superhuman-and much, much more. If you’ve seen the trailers, you may expect Scarlett’s Lucy to kick some serious butt—and she does (not nearly enough) in a few brutal, nicely choreographed scenes of mayhem. You may also expect Morgan Freeman to be the audience’s stand-in, both expressing awe at Lucy’s endeavors, as well as explaining certain scientific developments. Lucy also acquires a valuable ally in the form of a French police official (nicely played by Avr Waked) who can’t help but be astounded by her. However, you may also feel slightly let down by the enterprise—it begins well, gains some traction, then branches off into Lucy meets Altered States, generally lacking suspense along the way. The pace slackens when it should accelerate, giving time to meditate on some preposterous plot developments. However, Ms. Johansson is splendid throughout, managing to make us care about a character whose humanity is diminished as she becomes superhuman. The best scene is early on, as an altered Lucy–while undergoing some fateful surgery—takes the time to make a heart-to-heart phone call to her mother. The scene is a reminder that while the action is fine—one might wish there was more of it—but it’s Scarlett Johansson’s skills that make us care for this Lucy.