Tag Archives: Steven Spielberg

CINEMA REVIEW: WEST SIDE STORY (2021)

CINEMA REVIEW: WEST SIDE STORY (2021)

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Screenplay by: Tony Kushner

Based on: West Side Story by Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents

Produced by: Steven Spielberg, Kristie Macosko Krieger, Kevin McCollum

Cast: Ansel Elgort, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Rita Moreno, Rachel Zegler etc.

Cinematography: Janusz Kamiński

Choreography: Justin Peck

Music by: Leonard Bernstein

*INEVITABLE SPOILERS WITH THIS STORY*



Well, if you removed all the songs and added more dialogue to West Side Story (2021), then I guarantee it would make an amazing stage play. Oh, it has already. I thought it felt extremely familiar. Silly jokes aside, one often hears the decrying of originality in Hollywood cinema. Sequels, prequels, remakes, adaptations and reboots are plentiful as big business. Known quantities are a better bet to executives than original never-heard-of speculative screenplays. And not everyone is averse to re-doing fully developed properties. Thus, one of the most talented filmmakers of a generation, Steven Spielberg, has delivered a stunning remake of a film adaptation of a stage musical that was developed from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

You know the story. If you don’t, stop reading. Young star-crossed lovers fall in love against their families wishes. Their romance explodes into unbridled passion as war escalates between the two rival factions. As the lovers attempt to find a way to be together the conflict brings about eventual tragedy. Shakespeare was a genius and knew how to structure and spin a yarn. No surprise his works have been adapted infinitely to much success. One of the greatest was the musical West Side Story (1961). Exchanging Verona for New York and pitting the Puerto Rican Sharks against the local firm, the Jets, the play and film contain some of the most incredible numbers ever sang and danced to. The original play won awards and broke box-office records. The film West Side Story (1961) deservedly won many Oscars. It is considered almost a perfect musical. How could it be improved?



West Side Story (2021) cannot possibly be classed as better than the original because Jerome Robbins, Arthur Laurent, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, plus their incredible team, had already done all of the challenging work crafting the production. But with this new version Steven Spielberg has once again proved he is one of the great genre directors. Assembling an ultra-talented team including Josh Peck as choreographer, Tony Kushner as screenwriter, Janusz Kaminski as cinematographer and an effervescently wonderful cast.

Everything about the film screams colour, energy and movement. The dancing and editing and swinging beats take you on a breathless journey through the romance and street war. Tony (Ansel Elgort) and Maria’s (Rachel Zegler) love story is bounced effortlessly between the expertly devised gang battles. Moreover, West Side Story (2021) keeps all the memorably catchy songs such as: Maria, Tonight, America, Cool, and Somewhere, capturing the heart and imagination in equal measure. If there is a better directed, choreographed and edited set-piece all year in the Gee, Officer Krupke number then I haven’t seen it.

The cast are uniformly excellent with Ansel Elgort, while lacking slightly in the vocal department, more than making up for it with his magnetic screen presence. Rachel Zegler is charming if bland as Maria, but Ariana DeBose absolutely steals the scenes with her all-round performance as fiery Anita. The cast all deliver Tony Kushner’s excellent dialogue and the iconic songs with aplomb. Lastly, West Side Story (2021) is an absolute tour-de-force as cinematic entertainment. However, there is a sense that it is a missed opportunity for Steven Spielberg and his team to perhaps update the themes for the modern day. Kushner’s script hints at some analysis of racism that ultimately only scratches the surface. Spielberg is satisfied emulating a classic adaptation of a classic play, remaining trapped in a shiny post-modern time-warp full to the brim with powerful nostalgia.

Mark: 9 out of 11


SIX OF THE BEST #34 – AMAZING FILMS I DO NOT LIKE!

SIX OF THE BEST #34 – AMAZING FILMS I DO NOT LIKE!

Are there box office hits, cinematic phenomena and damned fine films loved by critics which you DO NOT like? That isn’t to say they aren’t great films, but subjectively you just don’t enjoy them? I mean some people dislike much of Christopher Nolan’s work! What!? Okay, Interstellar (2014), was not his best, but hey that’s just my opinion. It’s all just opinions.

Now, I like to be positive on this blog and have critical balance when writing my reviews. In fact, some films I choose not to review because I don’t want to slag something off which is just not for me. I also generally avoid reviewing films I consider terrible because I prefer to avoid negativity.

Thus, this article is not about having a pop at classic films or saying they are over-rated for attention. The truth is – I AM IN THE WRONG HERE! But I think it’s interesting to examine why I don’t like these six excellent films. After all, many talented people have worked passionately on them, so in no way do I want to disrespect their craft. Which is why, I repeat, I am wrong!

*** CONTAINS SPOILERS ***



AVATAR (2009)

James Cameron is one of the greatest genre filmmakers of all time. He is also a technological innovator and genius. In Avatar (2009), he truly topped himself in regard to creating not only the beautiful world and inhabitants of Pandora, but by using never-seen-before motion-capture cinematic techniques. Moreover, the film would go on to make over $2 billion at the box office, so I’m not worthy enough to criticise Avatar (2009). But the script is incredibly flat and derivative. The lead characters are mostly unlikable and I genuinely found the amount of blue on show irritating to the eye. Worst of all is the hypocrisy that a film this expensive, and with a carbon footprint this big, is critiquing capitalist corporations who destroy the natural world.

Avatar' once again highest-grossing film of all time at the box office

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)

Yes, this horror film had one of the smartest and ingenious marketing campaigns of all time. Yes, I should be praising it because I love horror films and also get excited when indie filmmakers hit the big time with low budget films. But, The Blair Witch Project (1999) has no real story as it just a clever series of jump scare set-ups. More importantly, it has no characters you can root for as they are so stupid and obnoxious. Worst of all it wasn’t scary or suspenseful. That’s because I wanted the bickering trio to die. I mean, who throws away a map. They were morons! Plus, this expertly crafted movie committed the worst crime of all – bringing back the found footage film! Now, don’t get me started on THAT cinematically moribund subgenre!

Film Review] The Blair Witch Project (1999) — Ghouls Magazine

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977)

What’s not to like about an award winning, box office smash directed by arguably the most brilliant director of a generation? Furthermore, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) also contains some of the most breath-taking and ground-breaking special effects. So, with the Oscar winning cinematography and majestic score, why don’t I enjoy this Steven Spielberg sci-fi masterpiece? In short, I cannot stand the choices Richard Dreyfus’ character makes. I did not believe his journey. Why would you want to go to space and connect with aliens? Why would you abandon your family and head off on some frantic search for something from the sky? Eat the mash potato! Don’t make mini-mountains out of it. I get that there is pseudo-religious metaphors going on, but why were we meant to care? Amazing spectacle, but devoid of emotional connection and an ending that didn’t make much logical sense to me.

Film Review: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) – Kieran's Thoughts,  Previews & Reviews

THE MASTER (2012)

I really love films and documentaries about cults. Especially where religion is used to control human beings and make them do crazy things. What possesses another person to want to control others? They are often extremely charismatic and talented people too, so always fascinating to explore. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (2012), and while this has been denied, he studies the relationship between a lost soul drawn to a movement that may or may not be a reflection of Scientology. Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a World War II veteran is pulled toward Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman), a leader of a cult known as “The Cause”. But not much happens other than Quell having a series of breakdowns amidst post-traumatic stress and alcoholism. Anderson is one of the great humanist and existential filmmakers working today, but The Master (2012) was too impenetrable and alienating for me.

The Master (2012) | MUBI

MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)

I am a massive fan of David Lynch’s oeuvre. He is one of the most incredibly idiosyncratic and original voices is cinema. Lynch is visually, aurally and cinematically able to deliver both coherent and surreal narratives that blow your mind and heart out. After bamboozling audiences with Lost Highway (1997) he delivered an emotionally moving road movie in The Straight Story (1999). After that I’m not sure what was in his damn fine coffee when Mulholland Drive (2001) was devised. My understanding was it was a rejected filmed pilot which transmuted into a feature film. Crossing many genres including thriller, detective, horror and romance, the narrative splinters via many characters in Hollywood, notably Naomi Watts portraying an actress experiencing a career and identity crisis. That’s just the tip of an extremely enigmatic iceberg and the bottom line was I just didn’t care. Critics love Mulholland Drive (2001) and it often tops best film lists. I have absolutely no idea why.

David Lynch's 'Mulholland Drive' Explained


THE WITCH (2015)

My filmmaking and screenwriting career is more a hobbling hobby these days. Other than not getting on the right career train, or getting lost in the smoke of an overcrowded creative platform, one main reason I may not have succeeded is because I arguably don’t have an original vision. Maybe I am just too generic. One cannot say that about Robert Eggers. This is one truly talented filmmaker. His debut film The Witch (2015) was a low budget folk horror masterpiece which became a sleeper hit at the box office. Set in 1630s New England, it is an authentically designed and brilliantly acted period drama with Anya Taylor Joy standing out. But aside from the historical accuracy of the language, locations and costumes the story was SO slow. I realise The Witch (2015) is an arthouse classic, but I just did not connect with the characters and was bored all the way through. There are some occasional scares, but it’s more a film which draws horror from underlying dread and enigma rather than the classic horror style I prefer.

The Witch — Linda Muir

CINEMA REVIEW: A QUIET PLACE PART II (2021)

CINEMA REVIEW: A QUIET PLACE PART II (2021)

Directed by: John Krasinski

Produced by: Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller, John Krasinski

Written by: John Krasinski

Based on characters created by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck

Cast: Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Djimon Hounsou and John Krasinski

Music by: Marco Beltrami

Cinematography: Polly Morgan

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Ah, the difficult second album. Well, how do you follow up a genuine classic horror thriller such as A Quiet Place (2018)? I mean, it had everything, including a simple but devastating premise and an imaginative set of rules for the monstrous dangers facing the Abbott family. With hardly any fanfare or major marketing campaign the original film really got audiences flexing their “word-of-mouth” muscles. Throughout  A Quiet Place (2018) my heart was literally living in my mouth, as my fingers and knuckles clenched and whitened during the whole tense escapade. Plus, Emily Blunt and John Krasinski’s “every-couple” and their three children brought a believable humanity to the characters, with Blunt especially on phenomenal form in her reaction and character work.

The sequel opens with a prequel sequence which illuminates how the world descended into chaos. Sadly, and not surprisingly, we only get a short time with John Krasinski’s action-dad, Lee Abbott, before he dives back behind the camera to direct this rattlingly good and highly tense horror/sci-fi mash-up. Thus, the weight of part two is left with Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds and the less effective, Noah Jupe character. Once again, the trio, plus baby, rely on dead silence in an attempt to remain uneaten by the blind-but-deadly alien creatures hellbent on making Earth’s inhabitants lunch. Along the way they bump into an apparent loner, Emmett, portrayed by Cillian Murphy. His jaded, shell of a man, hides a tragic secret and the last thing he wants is other people around to attract more devourers.



The story develops as the relationship between the Abbott’s and Emmett, while initially distrusting, becomes less hostile. However, he still wants them gone, much to Emily Blunt’s frustration. After all, any good mother wants to protect her children, as evacuating the factory setting could mean certain death. I have to admit I felt Emily Blunt’s major acting talents were not as well utilised as the first film. Indeed, it was Simmonds’ character, Regan, who had more development and heroic moments. It is Regan who is determined to discover a way out from the dark recesses of the filthy basement and clanking pipes. She may be foolhardy to some, but Regan has guts and makes important life-changing decisions for her family. Simmonds is compelling as she gives another mature performance in the role.

Overall, A Quiet Place – Part 2 (2021) is not as much as a surprise as the original film. How could it be?! I mean we now know what defeats the monsters, yet that doesn’t stop them being fierce predators and foes. Moreover, the use of sound design that was so brilliant in the first film is presented equally superbly in the sequel. While the film lacks for a decent plotline, as anyone who has their fill of zombie apocalypse films could testify, there remains some incredibly exciting chases and well directed set-pieces. Krasinski clearly had the Spielberg playbook to hand and that is certainly not a criticism, because I think he is definitely a talent to keeps tabs on. Thus, as my first film back at the cinema after yet another lockdown, I can definitely recommend A Quiet Place – Part 2 (2021), to take one’s mind off the horrors of real life for ninety-odd pulsating minutes.

Mark 8.5 out of 11


CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #14 – RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) – GUN VERSUS SWORD!

CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #14 – RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) – GUN VERSUS SWORD!

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Produced by: Frank Marshall

Screenplay by: Lawrence Kasdan

Story by: George Lucas, Philip Kaufman

Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliott etc.

Music by: John Williams

Cinematography: Douglas Slocombe

*** CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS ***



It’s Saturday morning in London, so what better than to conjure up memories of classic weekend film entertainment. Because I recall, one Saturday, watching the monumental adventure classic, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), when I was eleven at the ABC Cinema in Fulham with my nine-year old brother. Nothing like a great film to bring back happy memories. After the film ended, we were exhilarated and hungry. We decided that rather than spend our remaining money on bus fare, we’d prefer to walk home to Battersea and share a bag of chips in the rain.

The three mile walk lasted no time at all as we were full of excitement about the incredible film we’d just witnessed. Gigantic rolling balls, snakes in cockpits, treacherous monkeys, villainous Germans, a hard-drinking heroine, unforgettable fights, shootouts, chase scenes galore, and a whip-cracking, charismatic, never-say-die archaeology Professor as our leading protagonist. Those Nazis never stood a chance chasing the ultimate McGuffin in the lost Ark of the Covenant.

With a film like Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), you essentially have one classic scene after another. So much so you could do a top twenty easily. I have chosen to focus on an earlier middle act chase sequence which ends with one of the greatest punchlines ever committed to celluloid. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is chasing baskets around the marketplace searching for Marion (Karen Allen). It’s an incredibly well directed and edited scene. Moreover, it’s funny, exciting and full of twists; including that darned monkey! John Williams music is utterly wonderful to boot. Mid chase Indy is faced with a swordfighter from his pursuers. The fighter displays an amazing set of skills and we wonder how our hero will escape certain death. Well, Indy just shoots him!

The story goes that a massive battle was planned but Harrison Ford had food poisoning, thus the scene was rewritten. Thus, movie magic was conjured, not from expert planning, but from having dodgy guts! They should have stuck to sharing a bag of chips. But then we wouldn’t have this amazing end to a magnificent movie sequence.



CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #11 – JAWS (1975) – QUINT’S U.S.S. INDIANAPOLIS SPEECH

CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #11 – JAWS (1975) – QUINT’S U.S.S. INDIANAPOLIS SPEECH

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Produced by: Richard D. Zanuck, David Brown

Written by: Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb, Howard Sackler (uncredited)

Based on the novel by Peter Benchley

Main cast: Roy Schieder, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**



I have genuinely lost count the amount of times I have watched Jaws (1975). It is one of my favourite films and has one of the tightest written screenplays of all time. There is not an ounce of fat in the lean human versus monster thriller. The story as everyone knows finds a gigantic great white shark attacking beachgoers, tourists and locals at a New England summer resort town. Sheriff Martin Brody (Roy Schieder) is tasked with stopping the shark, but due to pressure from business owners and the Mayor he cannot close the beaches.

Spielberg, in only his second feature film cinema release, directed this classic thriller amazingly, filling it with a series of gripping set-pieces, fearful jump-scares and bloody carnage. He’s ably assisted by John Williams iconic score, Bill Butler’s impeccable cinematography, and sterling character acting from Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Schieder. However, amidst the suspense and heart-pounding scenes, arguably the best moment of the film is Quint’s speech that related to his experiences on the U.S.S Indianapolis.

The monologue itself comes as Quint and Hooper share “war stories” from their past experiences at sea. The men share a laugh before Brody asks Quint about a particularly nasty scar. Then the mood darkens and the old sea dog recounts a story about the U.S.S Indianapolis on which he was aboard when it sank in 1945. The chilling tale of a sinking ship and over one thousand men at the mercy of the sea, hunger, dehydration and shark attacks, is eerily recounted by Quint; loss and bitterness in his eyes. Shaw is incredible during this classic monologue as he not only establishes why Quint hates sharks, but also builds palpable suspense prior to the frenzied final shark attack on the doomed Orca.

Lastly, many writers have sought to take credit for the amazing monologue and the debate is almost as famous as the scene itself. An excellent article outlining who wrote the speech can be found here.



STRANGER THINGS (2019) – SEASON 3 – META-BINGO REVIEW

STRANGER THINGS (2019) – SEASON 3 – META-BINGO REVIEW

Created, Written and Directed by: The Duffer Brothers

Produced by: The Duffer Brothers, Shawn Levy, Dan Cohen and Iain Paterson.

Director(s): Shawn Levy, Ute Briesewitz, Duffer Brothers

Writer(s): William Bridges, Kate Trefey, Paul Dichter, Curtis Gwinn

Cast: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, Sadie Sink, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Maya Hawke, Cara Buono, Joe Keery, Cary Elwes and many, many more.

Number of episodes: 8

Original Network: Netflix

**CONTAIN MASSIVE SPOILERS**

When Season 1 was released, Netflix’s phenomenally popular sci-fi-rites-of-passage-comedy-adventure-drama proved an excellent nostalgia-fest. Indeed, it evoked the 1980’s perfectly in design, sound and look, wearing Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, John Carpenter and George Lucas influences, not so much on its sleeve, but as a whole darned fashion show.

Written and directed by the Duffer Brothers, it centred on the search for a missing child in (where else) Indiana, an ultra-dimensional netherworld and a telekinetic kid called Eleven, who’s on the run from a nefarious US Government facility. Archetypal characters such as embittered drunken cop (David Harbour), distraught nutty mother (Winona Ryder), Gooniesque geeky teens all try and track down their missing friend during eight episodes containing weird and monstrous moments throughout.

I thought Season 1, while full of great design, style, suspense and mystery, was over-rated. It was still a fine work of entertainment but I found the story seriously padded out and stretched. While Season 2 is more generic it was a marked improvement as we got more pace and action. Season 3, though, is even better in terms of story-lines, pace and humour. Some may lament the move away from the mystery and darkness of Season 1, but Season 3’s humour, action and romantic sub-plots are turned right up to Eleven (pun intended).

Furthermore, amidst all the teenage romance crap, there is some fantastic gore and visceral monster goo on show. The Mind Flayer nemesis is an absolutely fearsome creature creation and way more convincing than the cartoon Russians. So, overall, I think this was my favourite season as it didn’t take itself too seriously. It just went for pure adrenaline and mind-bending chases and fights throughout. I didn’t even mind the John Hughes-style soppy romances.

Lastly, Season 3 isn’t perfect as it often verged on parody. This is notable in Episode 8, where we get a viral-bait version of The Never Ending Story (1984) theme song. Quite frankly, it was tonally inappropriate given the kids were being hunted down by Russian soldiers and an inter-dimensional monster at the time. Aside from this crime against genre occurring Season 3 is great because it featured a cavalcade of film references and homages. Well, let’s be honest, they basically stole a load of ideas from other movies.

So, rather than do a traditional review I will mark Stranger Things (2019)Season 3, and then pick a TOP TEN movie homages or steals that featured prominently as a fun meta-bingo review. Obviously, I’ve probably missed loads out, so, if you care, let me know which ones.

Mark: 9 out of 11


TOP TEN META-REFERENCES IN STRANGER THINGS (2019)


RUSSIAN BADDIE — THE TERMINATOR (1984)


BILLY AND TOWNSFOLK ‘DOUBLES’ — INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956 / 1978)


THE MIND FLAYER – THE BLOB (1958) / ALIEN (1979) / THE THING (1982) / TREMORS (1990)


STEVE AND ROBIN’S “WILL THEY, WON’T THEY ROMANCE?” — ANY JOHN HUGHES FILM!


THE BLACK WATER VOID – UNDER THE SKIN (2013)


USA VERSUS RUSSIA — RED DAWN (1984), RAMBO 2 (1985) & ANY COLD WAR FILM!


BILLY’S DREAMS — DREAMSCAPE (1984) / NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)


ELEVEN’S TELEKINETIC POWERS — CARRIE (1976), THE FURY (1978) & SCANNERS (1981) ETC. . .


KIDS ON A MISSION TO SAVE THE TOWN/WORLD (AGAIN) — THE GOONIES (1985)


FANTASY OLDER WOMEN DYNAMIC — RISKY BUSINESS (1983) / WEIRD SCIENCE (1985)


THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014) – FILM REVIEW

THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014) F

**THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD**

“Hence, once again, pastiche: in which stylistic innovation is no longer possible, all that is left is to imitate dead styles, to speak through the masks and with the voices of the styles… means that one of its essential messages is… the failure of the new, the imprisonment in the past.” Frederic Jameson – POSTMODERNISM & CONSUMER SOCIETY (1983)

starwars

I loved this film for so many reasons.  It’s a nostalgic rush and push of music, action, fantastical creatures, space operatics, zinging one-liners, knowing humour, spectacular effects and in Chris Pratt — a new cinema star (lord) for the millennium is born.  Let’s be honest there isn’t an original bone in its body but the fleshy pastiche and meaty cultural references Guardians of the Galaxy wears proudly on its sleeves take the audience on one hell of a journey.

guardians4

Marxist and cultural theorist Frederic Jameson spoke of the rise of the “Nostalgia” film and postmodernist movies such as Star Wars (1977) and American Graffiti (1973) in his seminal essay aforementioned above.  The Nostalgia film harks back and references the past drawing influences not from reality but rather cultural artefacts such as films, comics, radio, TV and music etc.  Guardians of the Galaxy involves an orphaned hero — with mysterious father — who must do battle against an evil empire, save a “damsel” in distress, all the while accompanied by a motley crue of intergalactic misfits.  Sound at all familiar?  Yes, finally the kids of today have their Star Wars. They have a new hope, kind of; a pastiche of a pastiche of a pastiche based solely on the cultural fossils of yesteryear.

guardians1

Watching this film on IMAX 3D at Wimbledon Odeon Screen 4 (my favourite cinema screen by the way) made me feel nostalgic in so many ways. It felt more like the comic books I read as a child than any film I’ve seen recently. Further, I felt a surge of history as the film opened taking me back to 1977 when my Dad took me to see Star Wars (1977).  I recall the massive queues waiting to go see Lucas’ classic and the giddiness and excitement I felt as a youth rushed through me; even more so when the film started and my consciousness was treated to one impressive set-piece after another.  I felt young again and all because of a movie!

In a major ironic twist I too felt nostalgic for my University days and my discovery of postmodern theorists such as Jameson, Baudrillard and Foucault while studying. While it served no purpose in the real world my academic life was a great time for me.  The knowledge of postmodernism I gained enhanced further this funky fusion of comic-book anti-heroes blowing stuff up to a 70s soundtrack. Indeed, I was at peace with the world.  A bomb could have hit the cinema and I would not have cared.  It was cinematic heroin. I was happy.

Guardians is the 10th Marvel Universe movie to be produced and is based on a lesser known product from the uber-comic overlords’ oeuvre. Young Peter Quill is not having the best day. At the beginning he suffers the loss of his mother. As he runs away from the hospital he is then kidnapped by a gigantic spaceship which airlifts him to a life with the Ravagers; a group of space cowboys and outlaws – led by Michael Rooker’s Yondu.  Flash forward some many years to a galaxy far, far far away and an older Quill (effortlessly charismatic Chris Pratt) is on the hunt for a mysterious orb in order to make a few intergalactic dollars.  Quill proves himself a decent dancer and well as fighter as he uses hi-tech weapons to outfox his foes.

guardians6

The opening action sequence is a sheer joy and essentially riffs on the opening of Raiders of The Lost Ark (1981) while using Blue Swede’s funky classic Hooked on a Feeling  also used in Reservoir Dogs (1992). Let’s be honest it is all very silly but I am not watching this as a fortysomething man but rather a young boy living in the warmth of the past bathing in the nostalgia of recalling Star Wars, Raiders, Reservoir Dogs and MIXTAPES!!   I used to do mixtapes and it was such fun before the devilish digital age took over.  Anyway, the orb Quill has stolen turns out to be one of those END OF THE WORLD plot McGuffin thingy’s and a whole host of benign and nefarious characters are after it notably evil Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin), Kree mentalist Ronan (Lee Pace) and the Collector (Benicio Del Toro) etc.

So, Quill consequently finds himself pursued and caught and thrown in prison by the Nova Corps (basically humans with funny hair.) He then unwittingly becomes part of a bunch of misfits including: Rocket (Bradley Cooper) – a feisty raccoon and weapons expert; Groot (Vin Diesel) – a tree-like humanoid; Gamora (Zoe Saldana) – Thanos’s adopted assassin daughter; and finally Drax (Dave Bautista) – a giant blue alien muscle guy. Together these unusual suspects form an uneasy but at times hilarious alliance as they fight and argue and bicker and eventually accept each other and combine to overcome the villains before them.

m7

If The Avengers (2012) was a remake of The Magnificent Seven (1964) then this is a remake of the Dirty Dozen (1967) (minus seven). Moreover, the film follows the successful Marvel template of superheroes (or in this case anti-heroes) saving a very Earth-like world from destruction from said poisoned destructive orb (see Tesseract).  But what makes this Space-Western such fun is the oddball off-centre characters which director James Gunn and his fellow writers clearly gave a lot of time developing. While special effects reign over the production the likes of Quill, Rocket and Groot are given a humanity and humour which adds heart to story.  Indeed the script is full of empathetic backstories and themes including: fatherless, motherless and adopted children, genocide, slaves, nature v. technology, medical experimentation, grief, tyranny of dictatorship; all of which add some depth to the otherwise fluffy frivolity of the script.

Gunn was an interesting choice of director as he had written some mildly successful screenplays and directed two low-budget movies: the hilarious horror Slither (2006) and anti-super-hero oddity Super (2010).  But he marshals the army of cast and crew with a great sense of timing and while Guardians is generic in structure, the delight is in the incredible visuals and action, character detail and witty dialogue splashed throughout. The tone almost tipped over into farce in a dance off scene near the end and Del Toro is disappointing underused as The Collector. Plus Zoe Saldana’s character Gamora is gutsy and kick-ass until she turns to type and is saved by Quill. Although I forgave this stereotype because the scene was so memorably rendered and realised in a kind of space version of Jean Vigo’s poetic classic L’Atalante (1934).

The film finishes with a lovely post-credit kick in the nuts with an appearance of another comic-book-anti-hero. Marvel once again has delivered the goods and their standard template will continue to be a success if they choose off-centre directors such as Gunn, Whedon and the Russo Brothers. These are young (ish) guns like Lucas and Spielberg who while they wear their cultural influences proudly on their sleeves, jackets and underwear they paradoxically retain some originality amidst the pastiche and intertextuality. Thus, Frederic Jameson’s theories seem even more valid today. He himself argued that postmodernist culture was linked to the rise of late capitalism from the 1960s onwards and as the Marvel money-making monopoly marches on who can disagree with him.