Music Video of the Day: Got My Mind Set On You by George Harrison (1987, directed by Gary Weis)


There were actually two videos released for George Harrison’s cover of Got My Mind Set On You.  I shared the better-known version yesterday.  

The other version features Alexis Denisof, trying to win the heart of a young woman at an arcade by winning her a toy ballerina.  George and the band appear in a hand-cranked movie viewer.

Like the other version, this video was directed by filmmaker Gary Weis.  Along with the videos for Got My Mind Set On You and several short films for Saturday Night Live, Gary Weis also directed the videos of Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al and Walk Like An Egyptian by the Bangles.

Horror on TV: Buffy the Vampire Slayer 3.20 “The Prom”


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This episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer made me cry the first time I saw it. And it’s made me cry every time that I’ve watched it since.

(Along with She’s All That, It also left me with a totally unrealistic expectation of what my senior prom would be like but that’s okay.)

The Prom originally aired on May 11th, 1999.

(10/13/2015 update: Oh my God, y’all! I am so pissed off at Hulu right now! This entire show was available when I first created this post. And now, that I’ve actually published it, Hulu suddenly just wants to provide a 90-second preview. Please accept my apologies.)

Horror on TV: Buffy the Vampire Slayer 3.18 “Earshot”


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In this episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy gets infected with the blood of a demon and develops the ability to hear other people’s thoughts. Along with allowing her to discover that Xander is obsessed with sex (like she needed telepathy for that) and that Giles and her mom did it twice on the hood of a police car, it also allows her to discover that one of her classmates might be planning on doing something violent.

This is one of my favorites episodes of Buffy, largely because it uses the paranormal as a way to expose a very real issue and to explore everyone’s shared humanity. Plus, I’ve always felt that, even after playing Buffy and starring in the wonderful guilty pleasure Ringer, Sarah Michelle Gellar remains a sadly underrated actress. This episode features her at her best.

For Your Consideration #10: Guardians of the Galaxy (dir by James Gunn)


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As of right now, as far as I’m concerned, Guardians of the Galaxy is the best film of 2014.

Now please understand, I live in fly-over country and that means that there’s still quite a few films that I need to see.  Next week and through the new year, I plan to see Foxcatcher, Inherent Vice, Into the Woods, Wild, and quite a few other films.  And any one of those films could, potentially, become my new favorite of 2014.

But, as of right now, Guardians of the Galaxy is my favorite.

Of course, Guardians of the Galaxy is not the type of film that will ever get a major Oscar nomination.  It’s unfairly dismissed as being pure entertainment or just a summer blockbuster.  A few critics group have been nice enough to mention it but, for the most part, Guardians of the Galaxy is not the type of film that’s going to be given serious consideration for the big awards.

Except, of course, by me.

Below are ten reasons why I think Guardians of the Galaxy deserves serious consideration:

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1) Never underestimate the importance of escapism.

Usually, when a film is described as being “escapist entertainment,” it’s a back-handed compliment.  The implication is that the film may be entertaining but it has nothing to do with real world issues and therefore, it’s not as important as other films.  We’re allowed to enjoy it but we’re supposed to feel guilty about it.

But you know what?

Sometimes, we need to be able to escape.  That was certainly true this year.  2014 will not be remembered as a great year for humanity.  From January to December, it’s been an endless parade of cruelty and intolerance.  And no, we should never pretend that we live in a perfect world.  We need to be aware of what’s happening outside of our own little corner of the world.

But that doesn’t mean that we haven’t earned the right to escape for 122 minutes.  In fact, I would argue that 122 minutes of pure entertainment is something that we need to make time for if we are going to remain strong enough to face and perhaps change the realities of the world.

In short, when I walked out of the theater after watching Guardians of the Galaxy, I felt better than when I had first taken my seat.  I felt happy.  I felt enthusiastic.  I felt ready to face this fucked up world of ours.

There is a place for pure, unadulterated escapism in cinema.

Not every film has to be a somber, self-important mess like Man of Steel.

Thank God.

2) The unappreciated subtext of Ronan

However, Guardians of the Galaxy is not pure escapism.  Much as in this case of The Purge Anarchy and Capt. America: The Winter Soldier, there is a deeper subtext to the film.  You just have to be willing to look for it.

One of the more frequent complaints about Guardians of the Galaxy is that the villain, Ronan (Lee Pace), isn’t particularly interesting and it is true that, when compared to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki or Iron Man’s villains, Ronan does seem to be a bit bland.  His goals and his motivation are pretty simple.  He destroys stuff and he kills people.  Why?  Because he’s the bad guy.

But, let’s take a closer look at Ronan.  Ronan is a fanatic who believes that only his way is the correct way and only his beliefs are pure.  Anyone who has different beliefs must be unpure and therefore, if they don’t agree to convert to his way of believing, Ronan is justified in destroying them.

Does that sound familiar to anyone?

For all the complaints that Ronan was a one-dimensional villain, the same can be said of Joseph Kony, Kim Jong-un, and Jihadi John, and Fred Phelps.  The same can be said about a lot of evil people but that does not make them any less evil or dangerous.  Ronan may be a simple villain but he’s also the type of villain that we can find all over the world.

The one thing that all Ronan-style fanatics have in common is a complete lack of imagination and humor.  When Peter Quill stood up to Ronan by dancing, it was more than just a crowd-pleasing scene in a big action movie.  It was a call-to-arms to not allow ourselves to be held hostage by the Ronans of the world.  It was a plea to not let the fanatics among us steal our imagination and our right to find joy in our own individual way.

In short, it was a lesson that the entire world needs to learn.

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3) I Am Groot

Yes, yes, I know.  At this point, we’ve all had to listen to hundreds of friends, relatives, and strangers who have gotten it into their heads that they can perfectly imitate Vin Diesel saying, “I am Groot.”  But, seriously — there’s a reason why everyone fell in love with that catch phrase and that’s because both Diesel and the film do more with those three words that most actors can do with a four-page monologue.

And if you didn’t tear up when you heard, “We are Groot,” then I’m sorry.  You may be too cynical for your own good.

4) Introducing … James Gunn!

If you’ve read my review of Super or Arleigh’s review of Slither, then you know that James Gunn has long been a favorite of ours.  One of the joys of the success of Guardians of the Galaxy has been watching him become a favorite of everyone else as well.  And he deserves every bit of that success.  Working within the confines of the summer blockbuster genre, Gunn has created a film that works as both a superior action movie and as a quirky comedy.  With Guardians, James Gunn proved that it is possible to make a mainstream film without selling out your own individual style.

5) Introducing … Chris Pratt!

Even before he played Peter Quill, Chris Pratt was one of those actors who I have always been happy to see on screen.  He just has such a naturally likable presence.  But nothing he had done previously had prepared me for the pure joi de vivre that he brought to the role of Peter Quill.  Whether he was trying to convince people to call him Star-Lord or hilariously attempting to “rally the troops” or daring Ronan to a dance-off, Chris Pratt was a joy to watch.  If nothing else, Guardians of the Galaxy is the film that proves that Chris Pratt is a star (perhaps even a Star-Lord).

6) And let’s not forget Michael Rooker and Benicio Del Toro

Michael Rooker and Benicio Del Toro are both such quirky and unpredictable actors that I’m always happy to see either one of them on screen.  Having both of them in one movie is even better.  Rooker is perhaps the only actor alive who could not only be believable as a blue-skinned alien with an Alabama accent but who could also make that character into one of the most compelling in the film.  As for Del Toro, I know that his defiantly eccentric performance was controversial but personally, I loved the strange energy he brought to all of his scenes.

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7) And …. everyone else!

One thing that I really loved about Guardians of the Galaxy is that there were no wasted roles.  Every character — from Peter to Zoe Saldana’s Gamora to John C. Reilly’s upright military guy to the people who only had a line or two — felt real.  For a lot of viewers (including me), Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) was an easy favorite.

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However, if I had to pick a best performance, I’d go with Dave Bautista as Drax.  Bautista did so much with so little.  As written, Drax is a physical dynamo with a need for revenge and absolutely no sense of humor.  That’s a pretty standard character for a film like this.  However, Bautista did so much with that character that poor, literal-minded Drax ultimately became one of the most intriguing characters in the film.  My favorite Drax moment came when, in response to hearing that everything goes over his head, he explained that nothing could go over his head because he would reach up and grab it.

8) That soundtrack

I have to admit that I didn’t care as much for Interstellar as some people did.  One of my big problems with the film came down to Hans Zimmer’s score.  It was so loud and overbearing that I actually found myself covering my ears.  But what really bothered me was how unnecessary it was.  Whenever Matthew McConaughey or Anne Hathaway made a profound statement or the spaceship started to shake, the music would suddenly blast in my ear.  It was like having Hans Zimmer in my head, repeatedly shouting, “IMPORTANT!  IMPORTANT!  EXCITING!  EXCITING!”

BLEH!

And it made me appreciate how much I loved the soundtrack of Guardians of the Galaxy.  By using songs that you would never expect to see in a science fiction epic, that soundtrack both mocked the genre’s natural tendency towards self-importance and also forced us to take another look at familiar scenes.  From the minute Peter started dancing to Come and Get Your Love, I knew that I was watching a special movie.

9) The Prison Break

From planning to execution, this was without a doubt one of the best action sequences of the year.  From Rocket laying out his overly complicated plan while Groot tries a much simpler method in the background to Peter asking for the guy’s leg to the use of The Pina Colada Song, this was a perfect scene.

10) And finally … Dancing Groot!

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And those are just a few reasons why I think Guardians of the Galaxy is the best film I’ve seen this year so far.

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(For a differing opinion, check out Ryan’s review here.)

 

Movie Review: The Avengers (dir. by Joss Whedon)


I’m almost certain that this won’t be the only review for Marvel’s The Avengers here on the Shattered Lens. Arleigh is watching it as we speak, and while I can give my thoughts on the film, they won’t be from a comic insider’s point of view. It’s not my strong point. You see, I grew up on Spider-Man comics, and totally shunned the Marvel Team Up / Group stories. Never read an X-Men comic until after that film came out and The Avengers overall are new to me. I know who they are, but I can’t tell you if the movie gives you everything the comics were. Keep your eyes open for the other reviews to help build a better picture of things.

What I can say is that the movie easily touches on everything that Disney / Marvel has built upon with the movies before it. Starting in 2008, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger were all pieces of a larger puzzle. After 4 years, The Avengers does its best to utilize all of it, to a great success. That’s the amazing element of this movie. You aren’t essentially required to watch the other movies to enjoy The Avengers. In 2 hours, you’re given a film that stands completely on it’s own if you’ve never seen the other films, yet is an added bonus if you have. Even better, the characters that didn’t have a chance to get their own films still have moments where we can learn about them and where they get to shine. One could maybe say the same about The X-Men in that you have a group of heroes that have to work together, but you’ve never really had a set up to display all of their abilities and background the way Disney/Marvel did this.

Warner Brothers and DC should be crying right now at the missed opportunity here. All of their comic creations were already under one roof, and they really should have been able to have had a Justice League film by now if they wanted to. I wouldn’t be shocked at all if they tried to mimic Marvel Studios right now.

When I first heard that Joss Whedon was doing the directing, I groaned. I have a love / hate relationship with Whedon’s work. I was never a big Buffy: The Vampire Slayer fan, but I really enjoyed Angel when it went into syndication, seeing all of it’s seasons more than once. Of course, everyone loves Firefly, but the film based on that, Serenity, tanked at the box office (I was there at the first Friday to support it, though). I wrote off the Avengers as something that was destined to fail, because Whedon loves to inject pop culture references at every given and small bits of humor into things that are usually serious. I felt the only saving grace would be that Whedon is something of a master when it comes to ensembles, which is why I figured Marvel Studios went with him. It may work for something like Cabin in the Woods (“When did you start reading science books?!” / “You! I learned it by watching you!”), but for a superhero movie, come on.

And yet, here I sit, feeling I owe Whedon the biggest of apologies. The Avengers has equal parts humor and action and it comes together so well that I’m not sure I know who else could pull this off. Let’s put it this way. The only true lull in the whole movie is at the beginning of the film, because it still needs to set up the big problem for the Avengers to handle. Other than that, the movie moves very well for a film with so many characters.

Previously on The Avengers…

Without giving much away, The Avengers is basically the story of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who has to bring a group of heroes together to face a foe that’s too powerful for one good guy to handle on their own (or so that’s how they sell it). However, before they can take on the battle they’re supposed to, they have to find a way to get along with each other and that’s the building point of this tale. The action, when it happens is fresh and fast and there isn’t a slow moment that passes without pushing the story forward. For as long as the movie is, it moves very well.

The Character Study…

Like I said, One of the marvels of The Avengers is that all of the characters are given their time to shine. Since this is the big story we’ve all been waiting for, the film does take it’s time to give the characters brief explanations of where they’re from and how they fit into the entire scheme of things. These summaries give the audience just enough to be satisfied without turning the movie into a set of background dossiers like Watchmen. Of particular note is Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner / Hulk, who may have had the hardest duty here, playing a character that most people associated with Edward Norton in The Incredible Hulk. He makes the role his own, and just like with Bana in Ang Lee’s version of the green guy’s story, Norton’s quickly forgotten (or was for me, anyway). Ruffalo’s version of Banner is very hesitant, almost scared of what he can unleash. Norton pulled this off as well, but I have to admit that I felt a little sad for Ruffalo’s Banner at the start. He keeps his distance because of how dangerous he can be, and I can’t imagine how rough that would be. Still, he and his alter ego get their spotlight moments, too.

None of the characters veer off from how they were established in their own films. Robert Downey, Jr’s Tony Stark is just as much of a wise cracking ass as he was in his movies, and Captain America is just as noble. Chris Hemsworth carries Thor without a problem. If there’s any one character that has a tough time fitting in, it would have to be Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye. Though he had a blip of a cameo in Kenneth Branaugh’s Thor, and manages to have some presence here, but if he wasn’t in the story I don’t think he’d be terribly missed. The story manages to cushion this by having the Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) be something of a fighting partner with him. For a character without anything super about her, she holds her own amongst the team, even better in some occasions.

Most superhero movies have gone the route of adding villains as the number of films increase. Superman had Lex Luthor in the first film and then the three Kryptonians. Spider-Man 3 had both Venom and the New Green Goblin to deal with. Even the Dark Knight had Joker and Two-Face. One would think that given the number of superheroes on board, you’d have just about the same number of Arch villains to deal with. The Avengers spins this notion on it’s ear by just giving you one main enemy in Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, and as a demigod, he’s as formidable as one could expect. I thought that was a great touch, considering what we usually get in superhero movies.

One thing about The Avengers that helps it move along is the humor that’s injected throughout the film. It’s not so heavy that you can’t take the film seriously, but there’s just enough to find yourself accidentally chuckling or downright applauding at scenes. Of course, this is classic Whedon. Even his Astonishing X-Men comic line had the same elements. Just when you think everything’s becoming a little too dramatic, the film throws a comedic curveball that breaks the tension. What felt like overuse in Buffy The Vampire Slayer turns out to be really fun here. This doesn’t mean that the film avoids being serious. There are moments where it’s incredibly so. It’s just that the story knows when to laugh at itself. I applauded and laughed out loud too many times during this movie. Were it not for the audience laughing with me, I’m pretty sure I’d be that guy getting shushed down in front. Wow, it was just fun!

…But What about the Kids? 

Can kids go see The Avengers? Of course. It may get a little scary for the littlest of viewers, but overall, it should be a fun ride for anyone who enjoyed the other films in Marvel’s arsenal. There’s no time for anything steamy (unless you want to count a little flirting between two characters anything), but maybe the violence may be something to be wary off. Then again, it may not really be that bad. It’s up to the Parental Guidance and all that. They will probably love the 3D version, which is actually used well in the aerial sequences but can tend to fade as one watches it. It definitely has a great look to it, but the 3D isn’t exactly required here. That’s up to the viewer to choose.

Overall, The Avengers is a wild ride and a great triumph when looking at what was built to reach that point. It’s easily the Inception for me this year, that film that I know I’m going to be running back to a few times before it’s had it’s run, and as of right now, I’m far less excited about Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises at this point. My movie year’s pretty complete at the moment and the Summer officially starts with this film, the way I see it. I wouldn’t mind seeing another Marvel team up like this.

Oh, one more thing. Stay when the credits roll. There are 2 tidbits that need to be viewed. One just after the credits start and one at the very end.