Sunday, August 24, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014): Movie Review


Commons - WikiMedia
For being the designated underdog of superhero movies, “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014) comes out swinging like a top dog—putting to shame some of the larger more well-known Marvel superhero flicks like “Iron Man 2” and “Thor 2”—sequels that lumbered to the ground from the weight of their own overblown egos. We all love a good underdog story, and this was excellent.

Once again the reactionary disclaimer lives in the level of entertainment one anticipates. If one strolls into the theater looking for medium to light entertainment, thou shalt be rewarded profusely. If one struts in, however, nose in air, expecting another Nolan-ian epic—then strut back out, please—because you must be really thickheaded to not know what you’ve come for in the first place.

The movie is an amalgam of many idiosyncratic parts that work. The diverse cast is solid, and their chemistry blossoms. What the flick does right is juggle its varieties like a seasoned clown, tossing emotion, humor, action, music and story up in the air in fluid spirals to create the appealing effects of feel-good summery entertainment. Ultimately, we find that we respect this clown when we clap for applause and stand for our ovations.

Chris Pratt - Wikipedia
Directed by James Gunn, “Guardians” begins with the story of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a child in the 80s who faces an early tragedy with the loss of his mother to cancer. This is then followed by his alien abduction by space rogues. Zoom 26 years ahead and we have a hunk of a Quill whose main appeal is that he is, just, downright “cool”. He’s witty, rebellious, handsome, coolheaded and capable. Soon he is joined by stars Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Bradley Cooper (Rocket), Dave Bautista (Drax) and Vin Diesel (Groot) who then team up to prevent Lee Pace (Ronan), the manically genocidal dark lord, from mowing down planets via an Orb—a conveniently super powerful object that can help a loon to do this (kind of reminds you about nuclear warheads getting into the wrong hands doesn’t it). These characters are weird; yet they work. The weakest of them is Ronan, who is a bit cardboard-ish for a villain, looking like some misbegotten cross between Dan Brown’s albino monk Silas, and George Lukas’ Darth Vader. Unfortunately he inherited neither their brains nor impressionable auras.

Buried in this story, like a nugget, is an allegory. It is for our present day, and it touches on: weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, genocide, diplomacy, war and more. Strewn across are also some fantastic lines that resonate deeply with the human condition. So this movie does have a sub-level of serious content, but this is then quickly caked with light handed entertainment and baked for blockbuster digestion.

Pixabay
Not as overly reliant on slow-motion and freeze frames, the action sequences were good. Fast and snappy, it kept with the lightening pace of the movie. Quick edits at times did rob the movie of chances to explore character development (like in the initial scene of the two sisters where we are robbed of the deeper context) but it also kept us zipping through the story without any time for yawns. With all the time for laughter, the humor was witty, self-deprecating and genuinely funny—this could be the funniest Marvel flick yet, head-to-head only with “The Avengers” (2012). Originally, I was under the impression this would be a satire on superhero movies, but it turned out to be more meta critical of itself. Sympathy kills comedy, but “Guardians” was still able to make the movie rather touching at times while allowing us a grin or two, helping build on our fondness for Quill (or Star-Lord), Groot, Rocket and the others. The fact that this movie successfully pulled off two four minute emotional scenes was commendable, unlike the zero count seen in some other Marvel movies.

Public Gallery - Space
I’m not much of a space sci-fi fan, so the backdrops and interstellar landscapes might have passed over my head. The trailers too didn’t pay proper homage to the essence of this movie and I think it does remind us to not judge movies based on their trailers, if at all. But when, of course, you hear sounds like “Hooked on a Feeling,” “The Piña Colada Song,” and “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” all seems forgiven. The soundtrack is fantastic as it tastefully loops in some pleasantries from our bygone decades. I mean seriously, when you have the good ole music from the 70s and 80s playing in the background, you use them used for unconventionally awkward scenes by Star-Lord (you’ll see/remember what I mean) there’s not much you can do wrong, regardless of how out of place it all feels.

And with that, “Guardians” merits a solid 8.7 for doing things right, with its own crazy antics. Not your typical Marvel movie, but with the stack of stale units Marvel has given us recently, that really isn’t a bad thing. Adieu.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Shopping Thrifty in our Shared Economy




“Hey, Macklemore! Can we go thrift shopping?” squeaks the excited little darling at the thought of being taken by the grownup to the thrift store down the road to shop for secondhand treasures.

For a song about being cheap “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis went on to be the most successful track on Billboard's Hot Rap Songs Chart (source: BET). With over 6 million copies sold in the U.S. alone, this anthem for thriftiness made everything but spare change. Apart from all the thumping bass, the rhymes, the lyrics and euphonic melodies, what fascinates us and beckons our appreciation is how savvy the song really is. Every time I hear: “Only got twenty dollars in my pocket” I chuckle at the honesty. You and I both know what that is like: to scratch inside empty pockets. In a pop culture landscape plagued with the flashy shine of materialism, product placement and ostentatious pageantry, finally, arrives a musical message that is street-smart and sings difference.

By Moxlyn
The song is a social critique, and it jabs at how mindlessly we acquire the “things” we want. Commercialistic market forces in conjunction with mainstream media and consumerism constantly reinforce our ideas on how to buy “things”. They keep telling us that we only want something that is the “latest”, the “greatest” and the “newest” product and brand; and that to do so we also only need the Amazons, the Walmarts and Saks Fifth Avenues. Macklemore’s song grabs this notion by the collar and turns it inside out. He gives us a jarring way to think about how fun and cool it might be, instead, to shop elsewhere with bags studded with wisdom and thrift.        

In an interview with MTV, Macklemore says: “Rappers talk about, ‘Oh, I buy this and I buy that,’ and ‘I spend this much money and I make it rain,’ … [but] this is the kind of record that's the exact opposite. [The song “Thrift Shop” is] the polar opposite of it. It's kind of standing for, like, ‘let's save some money, let's keep some money away, let's spend as little as possible and look as fresh as possible at the same time.” Elsewhere, he remarks “[It’s about] how much can you save? How fresh can you look by not looking like anybody else?”

This revisionist thinking is so refreshing! It speaks to the idea of the peer-to-peer economy, or the “sharing economy.” This is an economic and social system that is built around the sharing of goods and services. It removes the “new” purchasing aspect and brings in the love of reusing to the equation. Some estimates put the value of this economy at almost $30 billion. In college we had book swaps to rebel against the hefty price tags of shiny retail shrink wrapped textbooks. At home we’ve had yard sales. And in the papers we still have classified ads. “Thrift Shop” reminded me of the same concept. The skyrocketing fame seen of Uber, Lyft and Airbnb are the result of harnessing the power of the shared economy. 

Wikimedia
“I’m gonna pop some tags” he sings. Well, why not? Why not save money by getting what you need for cheaper? Why not save the planet by reducing the waste from newly produced goods by reusing the stock of existing goods? Why not feel good from finding a steal of a deal? Why not feel refreshingly satisfied about helping someone else with a clean swap? Why not contribute to earthly sustainability in your own micro way? Exactly. There is no reason not to.        

When I read about WasteGate the first thought that came to my head was this song “Thrift Shop”. It helped me imagine the possibilities that could await us. Technology reduces transaction costs and makes sharing easier. This beta version makes me hopeful that we truly are in the midst of something larger than ourselves; if anything, about what this unique platform can unleash by tapping into our own, ever expanding shared economy—the same thrifty economy that Macklemore raps about.

Snap. Show. Swap. Earn. Do it again.

S. Jones - Flicker
With platforms like WasteGate, no longer will little darlings have to ask “Hey! Can we go thrift shopping?” No. With innovations like this the “can we?” disappears and the “we can” appears. Now it’s simply “Hey! Let’s DO thrift shopping” without all the extra effort of the physical going. This is the revolution of technology—the revolution that allows us to go forth and better ourselves and our communities in ways that are simple, doable, and user-friendly.

This is why we hope; and this is also why we WasteGate.

To learn more about WasteGate visit: http://www.wastegateapp.com/

Visit WasteGate's official blog here: http://wastegating.com/ 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) - Movie Review


While a transformer might be at its best when assembling, this movie is most deft at collapsing. “Transformers: Age of Extinction” (2014), directed by the one and only Michael Bay, begins somewhat promisingly but then quickly corrodes in front of our eyes from rusty writing, tin hollow plot, awkward jokes, and mechanical acting.

Megavalve
I have never not liked a Transformers movie until, possibly, this one? In the past, when critics would criticize previous versions and hurl barbed jibes at Bay I would gawk at their audacity. What could one not like about these movies? You come to watch a movie series like this to see things blow up and robots fight; to stare at the ultra cool machines we knew as kids and see how they morph, clink and blast their ways through to entertain us like big blockbusters damn well should. If you wanted intricate drama and plot complexity go watch “The Hours” (2002). To me the Transformers series were well filmed, sexy, witty, and had much to appreciate. But maybe now I can possibly see why it could also disappoint. This one lacked the spark.

It goes beyond dealing with change management, I promise, although, all the changes in casting do have an effect. Is it just me or after SNL made fun of Mark Wahlberg (Cade Yeager) is he hard to take seriously anymore? Did we ever take him seriously? For the life of me I keep blanking out on his past performances because they all seem to be replicas of one another: angry, suspicious, macho and eyebrow-frowning. There were as many flat jokes and failed one-liners in this movie as there were artillery misfires. Nowhere near as witty and loveable as Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), Wahlberg was onerous and painful to watch: ever ranting and ever unable to go beyond a 2D cutout. We blame bad writing as well Mark, not just you.

Aaron Escobar
Pelt away Nicola Peltz (Tessa Yeager) and bring us back Foxx—at least she had some spunk to her character and not a helpless “Daddy! Help!” talking mannequin. And the wimpy character of Shane (Jack Reynor) who reminds you of a lesser version of Christopher Hemsworth was more of a liability than a hero. How could you write a character so badly; and in what earthly logic would a father accept “that”, a surrendering buffoon who can only race, for a daughter. Meanwhile Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) is too preoccupied dragging around the Seed from place to place like a sack of potatoes which was an outrageous waste of a good actor. The best performance goes to Optimus Prime, because that’s probably the aggregate level of quality we got from this cast. His deep archaic voice, mythic sounding words and his flashes of assaulting action pleased, reassured and comforted me. I like him; he’s badass.  

Operation Upshot-Knothole - Fed.
Someone should also call a plumber because the plot holes were dripping story matter with spillage seeping all over the theater. One moment the car goes through a store glass window only to blast out of a building’s garage? Another moment they race through a corn field and miraculously take some green exit to the local highway? I'm surprised at Bay’s sloppiness with logic and transitions—these are the basics folks! The flow was so choppy we could see the chops hack into the film. Equally audacious was the orgy of product placement. Product placement is best used when viewers internalize the marketing subliminally, not when someone thrusts a Beats Pill speaker by Dr. Dre in your mouth or when blue Bud Light bottles start rolling on the road and the protagonist has to do a “bottoms up” on it. And of course having a burnt Victoria’s Secret bus come crashing through will make women load up on lingerie.  

But still loyal to its core, the redeeming qualities of this disappointment resided in the A-grade line of specials effects. Michael Bay is a master and here he did deliver. It consisted of much of what we’ve already seen and that’s fine with me. The attention to detail paid by the CGI complimented by the aspect ratio: 1.90:1 (IMAX version) and 2.35: 1 made for a fine viewing. I could watch the Autobots thrash and wrestle all night. From the days of “Transformers” (2007) we were most fascinated by the transformations themselves—the sounding of metal clinks, vehicle parts making up the mass of the robot and how they click, lock and interlock, doubling in themselves to make the machine—all very realistic.

Akatsukirocket854
And yet, even with this, Bay pushes himself too much. By the second hour and the seventh explosion one can tell the clumsy difference between a staged runway blast sequence consisting of stray fireworks and what a real explosion caused by multiple demolition triggers must look like. Also distasteful was the look of “extinction” themed robotic dinosaurs. I liked the concept but when one looks at how badly designed they are, with an abnormally swollen head for the T-Rex and a ball of steely spikes that one could barely make out for a Stegosaurus. Poor Megatron meanwhile looked like the equivalent of a bumbling middle aged pot bellied man armored in Transformium with uncanny resemblance to Iron Man’s hole. There was something degradingly insipid, stocky and short about him that robs him of his previous towering grandiosity.  

For someone who loves these movies, this was a scrappy disappointment. We know of another to come, our only hope is that Bay will listen and improve come the time. At the time of this positing this will be the lowest rating given for a movie: 5/10. Adieu. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Godzilla (2014): Movie Review


Godzilla is the only thing good about “Godzilla” (2014). The Guardian's Paul Mainnes etches it brilliantly when he writes "at least they got the monster right" for his opening line. The trailer teased; the film teased even more. Too many times we were taken to the edge of the cliff, always at the cusp of glimpsing the legendary kaiju, and then forced to look away into darkness. Seductive is the spectacle’s enormity, and the anticipation of the gaze. The larger-than-life scale of the movie, with a budget of over $160M, commands a mouth-opening awe from gawkers like us: the tiny individual tots that look up greedily with necks craned like wide-eyed New York City tourists bewildered only by greatness.

It begins with historic flashes of atomic milestones followed by spots of folklore and legendary sightings of the prehistoric King of the food chain. Directed by Gareth Edwards, and starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Ford), Ken Watanabe (Dr. Serizawa), Elizabeth Olsen (Elle) and Bryan Cranston (Dr. Joe Brody), the story stretches open with Dr. Brody’s conspiracy drenched hunches. The truth-knowing scientist is on a mission to unveil government secrets and go behind the long list of past nuclear test cover-ups. His son, Ford, grows up to lift the weight of the movie, becoming the designated Hollywood heartthrob whose sole aim is to keep alive the unrelenting agency of Man’s perseverance against adversity.

Excavated from Ishiro Honda's 1954 film “Gojira”, this present day rendition has the creature from the legends shaken and woken from his deep cozy sea bed, but not alone. No sir, instead, he is joined by Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms (MUTOs) that have their own separate agendas for survival. Godzilla awakes, knows his mission, and heads to location after location—Tokyo, Hawaii, San Fran and Vegas, all perfectly crowded metropolitan areas, to devastate and save. But this Godzilla, to our delightful surprise, has a more complex role (as complex as you can thrust upon on a gigantic swimming mutant dinosaur-dragon). What I liked most is that it all rips into a different storyline, reminding one of that 1998 cartoon series which aired on Fox—“Godzilla: The Series” where Godzilla has an affinity of sorts with the humans. 

While the 1998 version that starred Matthew Broderick gave us a Godzilla that was almost stealthily graceful, looking more like a limber Tyrannosaurus rex magnified by 10, Edward’s beast is different. More loyal to the origins, he is reminiscent of those Japanese versions we can instantly recall from back in the day: bulkier in the stomach, stockier in the body, while smaller and boxier in the head. The meticulous CGI, expended in reviving him, is fantastic. His menacing look is what terrifies and also entices us. It really is a misinterpretation, stemming from our own biases, to judge what good and bad looks like with first impressions. While we know that Godzilla is a metaphor for the humanistic and environmental repercussions of nuclear acts of the past, the paradox of fascination and terror intertwine tightly. The etched scars of ancientness are evident on his aged face, allowing him to exhibit a prehistoric terrifying magnificence, spurred by human contamination. If one thing is for sure, he certainly doesn’t seem thrilled about being woken up by them MUTOs—we know.

Thick in the point-of-view filming, there is so much of veiled storytelling it’s almost as if the movie is concealing him till the very end—which both works and frustrates. Most of what we get to see are from the eyewitness accounts of the characters. For audiences who only want to see the beast all the time—prepare to be left hungry and shivering in the cold. For viewers wishing to be titillated a bit more by multiple moving pieces of the movie, they will find this rendition to be entirely fulfilling, an all you can eat buffet of kaiju destruction.

Acting, however, is a stale claim. Quite frankly—atrocious! The screenplay was partly to blame alongside the upset of seeing amateur acting from a well-seasoned cast. Elizabeth Olsen. Her vacated performance made me want to punch myself—the only way any sinew of emotion could arise from that deadpan recital. Overacting subtleties and underplaying tantrums, Olsen was painstaking to watch. For an army wife robbed of physical love and a mother threatened with the loss of her son, she delivers seething with misdirection. Real emotion arises from innate expression, timed to reaction, not falsified cringes, chokes and whims that kill any semblance of verisimilitude. Closely followed for “just stop, please!” acting that was equally as bad was the doddering Wantanabe. I had the utmost respect for him until I saw this stroke-inducing display, pumped even more by his frazzled ever gawking assistant Vivienne (Sally Hawkins). Can someone please jab Wantanbe with some adrenaline for Godzilla’s sake? All he appears to do in this movie is unhelpfully mumble gibberish, say “GOJIRA!” once, and stutter some more.

Kick Ass’s Taylor-Johnson on the other hand gives a somewhat mediocre performance. Not extraordinary but nothing to be too reproachful of. He does what he is told to. Some heroes drag us through their movies to ensure we meet the rolling credits at the end, and other heroes step beyond our expectations by immersing us in novel experiences, broadening our understandings while accompanying us to the end. This was the former.

With all this barbed commentary you must wonder why I will give what I give this movie. The only reason I rate this above average is because the movie saves itself and pays off. It starts slow and ends with a blow; a blow that leaves your hair on ends. The final battle is aesthetically rich and indulgently active on many levels. One example is when Edwards, as per his own commentary, touches deftly on Danté’s Divine Comedy for the High Altitude- Low Opening (HALO) shot of angels (the army) descending to hell (an apocalyptic San Francisco). With chokingly thick cloud cover, and ominous doom in the air, it makes way for splendid cinematic storytelling. The suspense is heightened by the shadows of the unknown and limited range of vision in the dark. We feel lost, and individually lonely, in a world of giants: be they skyscrapers or beings.

Conclusively, there is nothing much to say but that it is Godzilla who comes chomping through, pulling badass electrifying surprises and on the fly moves left right and center. He makes you cheer and get cozy in your own excited goose bumpy skin as you watch. Godzilla is so good he could live up to our dreams of the epic ideal, but isn't allowed to in this movie by the limitations of an overly drawn out screenplay. But for Godzilla’s sake alone, “Godzilla” receives a complimentary 7.0/10. He alone is too cool not to see. Adieu.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) - Movie Review


Ultimately, at its reactive mutant core, “X-Men Days of Future Past”
(2014) is a film that successfully plugs into the direct story-telling current of existential dualism. A well-charged magnet for binaries, it entertains audiences with a selection of tasteful thematic powers that burst asunder: Existentialism vs. Humanism; Fate vs. Choice; Hope vs. Despair; Addiction vs. Rehabilitation; and Sameness vs. Otherness. To say that Director Bryan Singer provides ample material for the X-Men to wrestle with will be the understatement of this summer.

"Days" begins in its bleak end: A destroyed future washed with an overcast of fog, fear and human desolation. Mutants are being hunted and the humans are seen enslaved by their own genius—the Sentinels. The Sentinels, given enough upload time, can now replicate their mutant-prey's abilities at the molecular level. Sinisterly different, they are not the Bumblebee Transformer-types from the comics. Evolution has furnished them with agile builds and sleek metal-scaled skin that pay homage to their queen muse—Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).

Empire
"To save the present we must go back" is the urgency for our remaining X-Men who unite under the crushing weight of their impending doom. Kitty Pryde’s (Ellen Page) new ability to transport consciousness along the thread of time is convenient enough to facilitate the task. The bearing of it, however, falls on our world-weary Logan (Hugh Jackman). With the elderly blessings of Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen), Logan’s consciousness (not bodily time travel) zings back to 1973 to stop Mystique’s assassination of Dr. Bolivar Trask (Game of Throne’s Peter Dinklage): the act that nourishes the birth of the Sentinel program.

In “Days”, reconciling human conflicts rooted in psychology proves to be the heaviest lift for Logan, especially when assisting young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) combat his inner struggles. Then rescuing Eric Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) from the Pentagon, and repairing the bromance gone sour between Charles and Erik is even more grueling for the temperamental Wolverine who needs them united to stop their common love interest—Raven/Mystique—from triggering world annihilation. Meanwhile, in the future-present, the last remaining X-Men: Storm, Bishop, Blink, Sunspot, Warpath, Iceman and others continue defending the ongoing operation, knowing that holding off these new Sentinels is as hopeful as saving water with a cupped hand.

The competing urgency of future-present and past-present leaves viewers at the mercy of the film’s solid writing, penned by Simon Kinberg. With suspense and empathy levels at record highs, we are a split audience concerned for the fates of our beloved mutant brethren caged in two distant time periods, 50 years away, each of them reciprocally influencing one another’s fate.

Set mostly in the ‘70s, we don’t complain. The attention paid to mise-en-scène to recreate a believable ‘70s world is terrific. While we enjoy Logan’s over-sized vintage tinted sunglasses and the old-fashioned muscle car, the camera work excels further. Select shots featuring old TV camera footage recreate believable throwback experiences while low-angle tracking shots over emphasize the action. The pace of motion has a Handycam home-movie feel at times. For once, The Washington Post's review gets it right. It was a pleasure to see the switch from “high-level video-game look of the modern sequences to a style that resembles the movies of the time.” What O’Sullivan from the Post doesn’t tell us is that the technique transports the audience through time itself: both in terms of the '70s movie experience, as well as escaping the gloom of the future for the renewed excitement of the past.

Overly star-studded movies can go flaccid quickly—Batman and Robin (1997) and Valentine’s Day (2010) anyone? Yet with “Days” we need not worry. If at all, our only complaint is that we don’t get enough of the other characters we love: Storm, Jean, Scott, Rogue etc...

The British quadruple-threat of old and young Professor Xaviers and Magnetos are too good to share the same screen. McAvoy’s shouting of “I don’t want your suffering! I don’t want your ‘futcha!’” (that’s what it sounded like to me) will be stored in viewer memory forevermore. His muddled enunciation of a man suffering is performative art. Similarly, Stewart’s Gandolf-ian wisdom on love, tolerance, hope and second chances, echoes through time with obedience inducing magnetism. His message resonates with audiences for multiple reasons—1) their love for the character who knows the human mind better than anyone, and 2) their respect for Patrick Stewart as the granddaddy actor of popular culture fandom. When the older Professor X speaks we almost feel him rewiring our minds to listen.

Ian McKellan’s performance is warmly touching; he’s the best friend here, though somewhat feeble looking when in action. Blame Fassbender’s commanding performance of the younger more robust Magneto for this. Fassbender is perfect. He has the right sturdy body to be magnetic; his costume is a stylish dark red, not too bright to look like Red Riding Hood (as in the comics); and his poker face renders him unreadable. Fitting for someone who is Charles’ best friend and worst enemy—a true bromance with psychotic “it’s complicated” issues, really. His only mistake is lifting RFK stadium for no good reason. It didn't pass me that the move was to make a statement about mutant power to the world. It did. But it also begs the question if the motivation was more for the spectacle in movie making than for plot? I thought they would bring in the Air Force to give it reason but guess not. Either way, the chemistry of Erik and Charles is iron solid; it leaves us feeling safe with the younger counterparts. So much so it feels almost okay to hand over the batons from Stewart and McKellan to McAvoy and Fassbender. And that’s saying a lot.

Jackman’s Wolverine is also flawless. His self-perceptive humor with one-liner galore  pleases audiences with a healthy supply of comic relief right throughout. His reaction at the end (no spoilers here) when he sees what we see, sends for goose bumps. The X-Men franchise has done such a great job of elongating his yearnings through Wolverine’s elastic storyline which stretches from the days of 2000 in “X-Men” up until today. It was truly an emotional tug teased to satisfaction, leaving viewers feeling fuzzy and warm at first, and then salivating for more.

Star performance: none other than Evan Peters who briefly plays the young Quicksilver. In “Last Stand” we had Callisto. She was so fast we could see her blurry residue when she moved. Peter’s Quicksilver, however, is light-years ahead of her. We don’t see him; we feel him. In a stunning scene filmed in stop-time freeze frame shots, Singer gives us the extraordinary pleasure of Quicksilver’s point of view. Logan and Charles are breaking Erik out of the world’s most secure prison when—time stops; and Quicksilver starts. His laidback “meh” type personality, in conjunction with his music choice of Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” is a highlight moment of the movie that is burnt crisply into our mental vault of Best Movie Memories of All Time. Quicksilver jogs lightly, rearranging bullets, soups, guns, and punches at leisure to create a comic scene. The cinema exploded with laughter and broke into applause after panting; I hope yours did/will too.

Overall, when compared to the “The Avengers” (2012), as Dana Stevens points out, the X-Men appear to be a more mature bunch of sorts. They possess an acute emotional sensitivity to their internal musings as well as to the larger themes that affect those around them and the audiences that come to watch them. Their story of discrimination and rejection functions as an allegory for us to absorb. When “X-Men” was released in 2000 it paved the way for the sagas of superhero movies to come. Though the series stumbled on its own ends with disasters like the “Last Stand” in “Days” we find salvation in Singer’s return. He hits the Reset button. Time meddling leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions, like: How is Professor Xavier even alive after Jean vaporized him? And yet, the questions aren’t as itchy. This is what happens when a movie is done this well; you learn to trust in it. When one’s satisfaction is sky-high, the inkling to bring it down is swatted. 

And so, we’ll wait. And we’ll believe that the comic universe has a way of sorting itself around and explain itself when needed. It is a form of faith in its own right—that everything will make sense, or already does; besides, not knowing is not likely to bring about an apocalypse in our lives so why worry. For its multiple successes “X-Men Days of Future Past” receives an applaud-worthy 8.7/10. Adieu. 

Rob Keys

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Movie Review


While critics find it to be “generally favorable”, you and I will most likely find it to be more of a “general favorite”.

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (2014) is an action drama that begins like clockwork. After a rushed back-story on the death of Peter Parker’s (Andrew Garfield) parents, we find Spider-Man on a sunny urban morning, zinging through a jungle gym of New York skyscrapers in pursuit of Russian criminal Aleksei Sytsevich (Paul Giamatti), the soon to be Rhino. Spidey is a first-class showman here—his action, quick, and his humor, quip. While on the streets we also slam into the nerdy Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) whose nervous shakes are later electrocuted away to bring us Electro.

If you remember, at last sight Peter and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) were bid farewell with uncertainty. Gwen’s disapproving father (Denis Leary), the Chief Police Commissioner, extracted a promise from Peter to leave her be as his dying wish. So of course ASM2 provides us a Peter mentally torn between duty and love, foreshadowing the depth of character psychology and emotional turmoil that this sequel explores. Harry Osborn, played by a steely-eyed Dane DeHaan, then arrives on cue, stepping on-set to visit his dying father Norman Osborn (Chris Cooper). Harry learns his health is doomed by the genetic “Osborn Curse” and desperately seeks a cure, while at Oscorp (the largest brewery for villainy) our bespectacled oily-haired Max conveniently falls into a tank of super electric eels and—Electro!

Peter battles on with his personal struggles while also trying to 1) fight crime, 2) diffuse Electro, 3) be a good best friend, 4) be a good boyfriend 5) be an even better nephew 6) diffuse Electro (again), and 7, 8, 9…) subdue the extra villains who keep jumping off Marvel’s overly excited assembly line—Rhino, the Green Goblin, and the soon to come Sinister Six.

The terrific writing trifecta are also back: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner, who revamped miracles such as Star Trek and the Transformers. Unfortunately though, in ASM2 they plummet from the glorified pedestals of their reputations. While the movie has many strong points, plot complexity and villainous dialogue are not some of them. Sadly, the screenplay is rigged with clichés like a fertile minefield. Raggedy sentences and cardboard villains like Electro, Green Goblin and Rhino— who just keep blurting out “I WANT to kill Spider-Man!” will not cut it.

The film, however, gains a momentous swing only after the mid-way point and a series of highflying upswings near the end—more due to the chemistry of the actors than from a success of sharply provocative writing. Relative to Raimi’s versions, casting for Webb’s Spider-Man is definitely an improvement. It is somewhat like chemistry—it’s not how big the names are, but how well they react onscreen to their roles, and to one another. Garfield’s Parker is more likable and utterly relatable. He reminds you of that angst-ridden teenager you saw every day by the locker. Immediately, we get that Garfield’s version of Marvel’s beloved character is more loyal to the comics than some of those mopey performances by Tobey Maguire. He strikes the right notes when we need him to, and he is just emotional enough to not make him a wimp.

Jamie Foxx’s Electro, on the other hand, was dreadful, diffusing before even hitting the ON switch. We understand the limitations of mediocre writing, but we also understand that great actors can turn “okay” characters into Legends. Apart from cool pyrotechnics and loud bluish electric surges, from Foxx we received not even a memory worth saving. Villains like Heath Ledger’s Joker, or Tom Hardy’s chilling Bane, make audiences sweat and lean forward, suspended by real belief of the unreal that they watch. Electro on the other hand we forget, easily overshadowed by the true heroes of the movie—the couple.

It is the emotional tug of this movie that strings it together and catapults it over to the side of our good graces. Gwen’s flirty blushes, laced with her smart lines served with a side of Peter’s awkward humor and slapstick mishaps is a recipe baked just right. I’m sure their real-life romance helps but we can’t deny them their due credit for good acting. Two-time Academy Award winner Sally Field also comes in with all guns blazing. That scene when Aunt May thinks she isn’t enough for Peter and breaks apart in front of him, and both are on the verge of being stabbed by grief as Field’s jaws begin to shudder? Ah, it is just too human to watch. Effortlessly conveyed by Field, and so well reciprocated by Garfield, it will make your heart want to turn in and hug itself.

When an audience’s empathy is reeled in by the performances of the actors it becomes the recipe for viewer-movie lovemaking. Everything else that doesn’t do this is “meh”.  This was the problem with the “Toby-Kirsten” duo, and I’m sorry I keep bashing them (it’s just the result of something new done better than its predecessor). The “Stone-Garfield” match we genuinely like out of choice. The body language, the expressions, the humor etc. contribute to this appreciation of their coupling. For “Toby-Kirsten” though, we reacted mechanically: like “okay they are happening, so guess we are meant to like them?” Yeah, no thank you, that won’t work.


Apart from great casting, ASM2 also does wonders on the eyes with crafty cinematography. The tasteful use of hyper-slowed frames, known as “bullet time” shots, zone in on the minutia of the action. In essence the point being to give the audience a view from inside the mask, to experience scenes how Spider-Man would. Today’s films rely so heavily on CGI and slow-motion it’s either a hit or miss—this was a homerun. It works especially well for fans wishing to be immersed in every gracefully acrobatic detail of their high-swinging hero.

The purpose of the opening CGI shot, where spinning microscopic cogwheels and widgets work one another rhythmically, is to set in motion the most central, yet also understated, theme of this movie: Time. At an emotionally action-packed 142 minutes, even one of the last climactic scenes in the movie, ornately filmed from the perch of an old clock tower with tumbling cogwheels and widgets, recounts the importance of Time as a significant marker of life. Over 40 prominent critical reviews raid on and on, dripping with opinions, and yet none of them touch on the artistry of Marc Webb’s (Director) visual attention to this message—that time is of the essence; and that as it ticks by, one should never miss out on the moments as a second’s miss might be a lifetime’s loss. The shot of the disassembling structure, where time itself is dying by the very collapse of the mechanical clock tower’s parts is filmed deftly, as Webb leave’s everything in suspension: audience, villain, hero and all.

In the end though, we appreciate mostly the risks that this movie takes. For a PG-13 kids-friendly production, this is a brave step forward in storytelling. I can’t even remember the last time a Marvel movie does what this movie does (the spoiler section can be found below to explore the meaty details). Thereby, Webb’s tale on Spidey earns a solid 8.4/10 for doing it differently. If anything, at least Spidey sure caught me by surprise. Adieu.









!!!SPOILER SECTION!!! For those who’ve already seen the movie, read on:

They say when you lose someone your first reaction is denial. That was exactly the hopeful emotional air inhaled in one collective breath, and then let out with disbelief and depression. We saw the smack, heard the crack, and yet we hung onto that sliver of hope, on that one string of web that reached out for salvation. Webb’s direction of the scene is applaud-worthy. Hearing the sniffles and tears around me in the theatre, slosh to the floor, was evidence enough.

One of the reasons the reaction was so great was also due to Emma Stone’s evocative performance. In my opinion, she is much more lovable that Kirsten Dunst. If Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson had got the smashing crack I honestly don’t think audiences would have been as sympathetic. Stones’ Gwen Stacy is not as inscrutable, and therefore commands a greater affective reaction.

It is an ending done well. I’m not saying it’s nice that it happened; I’m saying I admire the fact that the creators went for it even though they didn’t have to. They could have easily sandwiched her end between two movies as invisible back-story material but they didn’t. Having the scene elevates the credibility of the movie, setting it apart from movies that would normally cower under the norm, like Iron Man or Thor where Pepper Potts or Jane Foster clichéd-ly cough themselves back to life and then all is well. The End. ASM2 goes beyond this line and paves a new path of possibility for this genre to explore.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Unbuttoning the Mystery of Dry Cleaning




Since as far as I can remember, I recall that I never knew what actually happened inside our dry cleaner’s store. The blank thought of what follows soon after our clothes were pushed over the counter, to the eager strangers who lived at a tiny blue and white store named “Shine N Bright” located down our neighboring road, reminds me that the answer remained colorless for this long due to procrastination of inquiry than due to difficulty of question.

I knew who he was, but never knew how he did it. He was small-made and ever-smiling, with a side part of jet black dry hair. The shop, always, smelt a bit too clean, as if it had frolicked a little too much in a mountain of freshly washed towels before my father came to its front counter. As he would feel out and take our clothes from the bag, one by one, from behind him I’d feel it coming. It was this slow movement in the air that kept subtly greeting you, coming from the back and carefully making its way to the front. It wasn’t a breeze; a breeze you could recognize from its soothing feel. It was more like a wave of air, almost a moving heat wave, only heatless and sharply pleasant, similar to a whiff of Febreze.

The clothes were then counted, labeled and bagged. The cash came out, and the register went “ting”. Soon after, we’d leave without a second glance, entrusting our cottons and linens to him. When the car door would shut I’d sometimes look back at the quaint establishment, stripped in its bold blues and whites. For a fraction of a millisecond, the question would pop up: “What do they do in there?” And before I can pounce on it, the wheels would turn to roll me away, the thought dissolving, unanswered. Their secret—my best guess.

So the answer then, finally dragged into the light years after, I'll hang here to rest—ironed, pressed and finished. It is as follows:

Once upon a time...
Knight Daniels - Ridgway Women by the Stream Washing Clothes
French dye-works owner Jean Baptiste Jolly observed his table cloth turning ultra super clean one day, upon his maid clumsily knocking over the home’s kerosene lamp on it. Now this was in 1855. Rumor has it that it was then that modern day “dry cleaning” was birthed into the world. Historically, the Romans used ammonia (derived from urine) and fuller’s earth (a type of clay) for their cleaning purposes—which was a no-go for the rest of us at the time.      

It turns out that dry cleaning is the cleaning of clothes without water. Normal washing, like at home (laundering), involves water, force, and soap/alkali to clean your materials by ridding them of dirt. The Alkali in the soap saponifies (converts a substance—usually fat, into soap), and then dislodges that dirt. The “soapy agent holds soil in suspension as it [dirt] becomes loose during the wash cycle, and is subsequently flushed away during the rinse cycle and centrifugal spin” (Luhring, 2000). As you might assume, this type of washing is most effective for water-based stains.

Now yours and my dry cleaner, on the other hand, use a different fluid to clean. Since that fluid is not water the process is called “dry”. As from the Parisian story above, it began with kerosene and gasoline. Their flammable nature, however, led to many tragic dry-cleaning incidents through the early 20th century. This gave way to carbon tetrachloride and trichloroethylene being modified into a more familiar solution known today as tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene), or "perc".

A nonflammable, synthetic solvent, Perc soon became the go-to product of the industry—especially for clothes too delicate for laundering. The density of Perc makes it 70% heavier than water, and unlike alkali the solution dislodges oil-based stains. Basically, water combats “wet stains (a stain that had water in it)” while a solvent combats “dry stains (a stain that has grease or oil in it)” (Luhring, 2000). Some research finds that Perc might actually be a carcinogen (a substance that is directly involved in causing cancer), but dry-cleaning usually gets rid of most of the perc in clothing during the spin cycle (hopefully, for our sake); I guess maybe don’t dry clean too much? Movement has been made to more non-toxic and environmentally friendly solutions such as GreenEarth, but this is still in the process gaining traction.

The process

The exact process for dry-cleaning varies but this is how it goes:

After you leave they take your clothes to tag and sort. This helps identify the owner, and categorize how the garment will be treated. If you’ve noticed the multi-colored tags punched into your dry cleaned clothes, this is why. After this, they usually pre-treat your clothing. Pre-cleaning varies from scrubbing stains out to solvent-blotting them to make the dry-cleaning easier.

Then comes the dumping of clothes into the mammoth drycleaning machine(s). This beast of a machine has an accelerating basket that does 350-450 rounds per minute (rpm) and can hold anywhere from 20 to 100 lbs of clothing. The basket inside is perforated, and clothes are sprayed with 200 gallons of solvent for a typical 8 minute cycle. New machines also filter the solvent for reuse. The rigorous spraying inside the machine is the force that provides the cleaning action, like when someone smacks your clothes against a wet rock by the river (who does that? Some people I know). The holes in the basket allow the solvent to circulate through its own cleansing cycles, and impurities are captured in the machine through micro holding tanks that use filters, and I assume, nets.

Once the cycle is complete, staff will do a post-inspection of the clothing (or they should). If it passes their quality control process, the garments are then sent for “finishing”. Like a used car that goes through detailing at your local car dealer, your clothes go through a process of finishing. Here they are steamed, pressed and/or ironed to perfection and left ready for pickup. Finishing may be done with water, steam, air and even vacuum (Luhring, 2000).

Well, that’s the secret folks: Perc and a crazy violent machine that makes your own machine at home look like a sissy. If you want greater detail about the process to satisfy your thirst for knowledge, I’d encourage you to read some of the citations below. Until then, next time you handover those clothes to your dry cleaner down the lane, give them a knowing wink. They might think you mad, but you would be mad not to—now that you “kinda” know. Adieu.

Works Referenced

"13 Things Your Dry Cleaner Won't Tell You | Reader's Digest." Reader's Digest. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2014

"Drycleaning & Laundry Institute." What Is Drycleaning? N.p., n.d. Web. 05 May 2014.

Luhring, Debra, and Nate Marks.  "How Dry Cleaning Works"  01 April 2000.  HowStuffWorks.com.  05 May 2014.