Thursday, August 28, 2014

Time Out! The Top 15 Most Ridiculously Stupid (But Awesome) “Saved by the Bell” Episodes

On September 1st, the Lifetime network will air a made-for-TV movie about Saved by the Bell unimaginatively titled “The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story.” It sounds and looks utterly ridiculous. And you know why? Because the former Saturday morning teen sitcom was, and remains to this day, utterly ridiculous. If you need help remembering why you hated to love this awesome cornball of a show here is a list of the series’ most ludicrous episodes. Now it was actually pretty difficult to narrow down this list as nearly every episode has some kind of utterly preposterous element (like how about Zack scoring an impossible 1502 on his SATs or what about Screech’s unbelievable invention: a self-aware robot named Kevin with AI that would make the T-1000 jealous). This show is so amazingly awesome and stupid and here are fifteen reasons why:

15) The Teacher’s Strike (Season 4)
Premise: A teacher’s strike puts the annual Academic Bowl competition in jeopardy.
Why It’s Ridiculously Stupid: I can’t imagine a realistic scenario in which the teachers at a high school would go on strike in the middle of the school year causing kids to miss classes. It just isn’t seem like it could really happen. Meanwhile, the guys go on a ski trip, where Screech catches a bad cold, where he ends up in the hospital, nearly delirious, and then Zack takes his place. This is one of those episodes where the big final competition literally lasts for 2 minutes and literally 4 questions are asked. And yet Jessie and Lisa spend days on end studying. And since when is Lisa the intelligent one?? They never even asked any fashion or gossip-related questions, geez.
Dumb Dialogue:
Screech: “All right, astrophysics. First, think of Astro, the Jetson's dog. Jetson's means ‘jet propulsion,’ with properties A, B, C ... C ... see ya real soon!”
Jessie: “Oh no, he died!”
Implaus-O-Meter: 5

14) The Video Yearbook (Season 4)
Premise: Zack is in charge of shooting the school’s “video yearbook” and gets an idea to make a video dating tape instead.
Why It’s Ridiculously Stupid: First of all let’s slap Mr. Belding upside the head for allowing the school’s most notorious troublemaker to be in charge of the video yearbook. And does a high school student really have the means and funds to make and edit this video, make lots of copies, and travel around to other schools and sell the videos? And why would Zack let SCREECH of all people be in charge of picking the prettiest girls? Doesn't he know Screech would think a giraffe with lipstick would be attractive to him? Or how about the school’s principal allowing the other students to get even with Zack after he wronged them? That just seems like a bad, bad idea. Also, Showgirls fans should note the foreshadowing as Jessie, stressed about delivering a quality yearbook to Belding, scarfs down a hamburger and French fries in true Nomi fashion.
Dumb Dialogue:
Zack, on last year’s yearbook: “Yeah this is a real turkey, got any gravy?”
Implaus-O-Meter: 5

13) Driver’s Education (Season 2)
Premise: The gang learns how to drive, but Zack gets jealous when he realizes that Slater is about to turn sixteen and get his license before him.
Why It’s Ridiculously Stupid: Oh where to begin? First off, how about the fact that THEY’RE LEARNING TO DRIVE A CAR BY DRIVING A GOLF CART AROUND A CLASSROOM. Geez, who is in charge of this program? I don’t even have to mention how Slater is able to buy a junked up car that looks like it’s been through a Michael Bay movie and yet the gang is able to make it look brand spankin’ new in an afternoon. Yeah right. Zack’s scheme to get Slater kicked out of driver’s ed is just stupid and results in the car being wrecked and Kelly getting a bump on the head.
Dumb Dialogue:
Mr. Tuttle: “Pushy pushy, move your tushy.”
Implaus-O-Meter: 5.5

12) Love Machine (Season 4)
Premise: Slater is distressed because his ex-girlfriend from Germany is now magically attending Bayside; meanwhile Screech invents a love machine in Mr. Tuttle’s science class.
Why It’s Ridiculously Stupid: On the surface, this episode doesn’t appear to be too unbelievable. But then when you get into it, you realize none of this, like most episodes, is even plausible. Slater’s ex-girlfriend Jennifer shows up one day, and he apparently never broke up with her? As if one day he would just magically move back to Germany or something. So apparently he’s been cheating on her with Jessie. And then Jennifer and Zack start going out which makes Slater jealous and then they use Screech’s love machine invention which can apparently test compatibility between two people or objects (important lesson learned: peanut butter has no feelings for jelly). This is one of those episodes with a complicated plot that doesn’t need to be complicated. Oh, and did I mention the old people cross dressing? (For LITERALLY NO REASON).
Dumb Dialogue:
Jennifer: "When Albert left, we made one of those promises that we wouldn't go out with anyone else ever."
Implaus-O-Meter: 6

11) Screech’s Spaghetti Sauce (Season 4)
Premise: The gang works on a public access show for their Communications class and they begin selling Screech’s grandmother’s spaghetti sauce.
Why It’s Ridiculously Stupid: So apparently principals can just teach whatever class they feel like in the world of Bayside High so Mr. Belding has decided to teach Communications. They decide to do a public access show that’s “like The Today Show but for teenagers.” I don’t know about Zack but is it weird that I liked Good Morning America when I was like 12? But I digress. Screech appears in a cooking segment where he makes his grandmother’s spaghetti sauce. It tastes really good apparently and so they decide to bottle it and sell it to their classmates. Now here’s where the ridiculousness comes in. Why would the entire student body actually want to buy spaghetti sauce? Did these kids bring it home to their parents and say hey mom I got dinner! WTF? And let’s not forget the nearly racist spaghetti sauce commercial featuring really bad Italian accents. And then the “Betsy Crocker” company finds out about the sauce, somehow, and serves Screech a cease and desist letter in the middle of the school hallway. And I haven’t even mentioned the gold digging character Robin (played by a sluttier version of Punky Brewster) who thinks Screech has enough money to buy her gold jewelry. This episode is a classic and epically retarded.
Dumb Dialogue:
Screech: “The sauce-a you can have, but the secret she’s-a-mine!”
Implaus-O-Meter: 6.5

10) Rockumentary (Season 3)
Premise: The gang (sans Jessie) become a famous rock band but not before breaking up in true rock band fashion.
Why It’s Ridiculously Stupid: When you think about it, this should really be #1 on this list. But when you learn the episode’s obvious twist – it’s all a dream! – you have to knock it down a few points. This is a glorious episode that is yet again absent Jessie. Even she was like, WTF guys a rock band, really? I’m gonna go become a stripper instead. Just playing around one day in the garage, a record producer named Brian FATE happens to be jogging by and likes their sound. He offers them (they're called the Zack Attack) a record deal obviously. And then he introduces him to their publicist Mindy who looks thirty years older than Zack so obviously they start doing it. She’s sort of the Yoko Ono of the group and insists that he go solo. Zack becomes “Mr. Madonna” but ultimately decides it’s not quite his look. Oh did I mention that they win Grammy Awards that are handed out by bad Madonna and Michael Jackson look-a-likes? Oh and they make it to the top of the Billbox charts. Ugh. This episode is utterly and epically ridiculous. I love it. And I forgot to mention the whole episode is narrated by Casey Kasem. Somewhere he’s doing “the Sprain” in Dance Party heaven.
Dumb Dialogue:
Kelly: “Are you really interested in us?”
Brian Fate: “Does Bart Simpson have animated zits?”
Implaus-O-Meter: 7

9) Jessie’s Song (Season 2)
Premise: Jessie can’t do her school work and be in a hot girl group so obviously needs to take caffeine pills, which she becomes unrealistically dependent on.
Why It’s Ridiculously Stupid: Yes people, this is THE episode, the Saved by the Bell episode to end all Saved by the Bell episodes. It’s the one you remember the best, the one you quoted the most, the one that is just utterly terrible and yet so freaking amazing all at once. And it was more than just about Jessie getting unrealistically hooked on caffeine pills it would rank much higher on this list. But this is a list of ridiculous Saved by the Bell episodes, not the BEST Saved by the Bell episodes. In fact, I’m willing to argue that the fact that “Hot Sundae” is such a hot prospect of becoming an actual popular singing group is way more unlikely than getting hooked on caffeine pills. Although, Elizabeth Berkley overacts the hell out of the part which deserves most of the ridiculousness credit.
Dumb Dialogue:
Slater: "Those pills are dangerous."
Jessie: "Yeah? Well so's Geometry!"
Implaus-O-Meter: 7.5

8) Close Encounters of the Nerd Kind (Season 2)
Premise: The gang is shooting their own alien movie and come across an ad that will offer a reward for proof of alien life. Take a guess at what happens next.
Why It’s Ridiculously Stupid: This is one of the more outlandish early episodes. The gang decides that they could easily fool a government official into thinking that Screech is an alien. So they rig up an impossible device that makes all the school’s lockers open at once (a gag recycled from the Lisa Card episode). This is easily the most implausible moment. I mean if every locker has a combination how are the characters able to open whichever lockers they want at will. So stupid. Just the IDEA that they think they could get away with this – though it turns out the government official isn’t exactly who he says either. This episode is just utterly ridiculous even by Saved by the Bell standards.
Dumb Dialogue:
Mr. Belding's Secretary: "Mr. Belding, please report to the gym. The water polo team has a horse in the pool again."
Mr. Belding: “Kids love horseplay!”
Implaus-O-Meter: 8.5

7) Model Students (Season 2)
Premise: Zack makes a calendar with Bayside’s prettiest girls, which obviously catches the attention of a world renowned fashion photographer.
Why It’s Ridiculously Stupid: So Kelly is working at the school store, which up until this episode never even existed (or existed thereafter if you’re keeping track), and business is slow. Because it’s run by nerds and they sell things like clocks made from shells and Mr. Roger’s autograph. And by the way, if extra-pale flesh colored band-aids are the store’s best seller how can there be no sale records? But that’s not even the ridiculous part. To help business Zack has Screech, in full scuba gear, sneak photos of the girl’s swim team while in their swimsuits so Zack can make a Girls of Bayside calendar. Which begs the question: How did he get full high-quality shots of the girls posing if they didn’t know they were being photographed? How does the girls swim team not notice Screech swimming around in the pool with a camera? Just one of many implausible moments at Bayside High. Let’s not forget the fashion photographer who wants to select one lucky girl to be whisked off to Paris to start a modeling career. Oh this episode just gets better and better.
Dumb Dialogue:
Adam Trask: “The lucky girl is Kelly.”
Jessie: “Kelly?!”
Lisa: “With those hips?!”
Kelly: “What hips, shorty!”
Implaus-O-Meter: 8.5

6) No Hope with Dope (Season 3)
Premise: A random celebrity just walks into Bayside High in the hopes of shooting an anti-drug commercial there. Obviously.
Why It’s Ridiculously Stupid: Did you even read the last sentence? Anywho, Saved by the Bell was never cornier than when it was trying to be preachy and teach a lesson. Here we learn that, I know I know: drugs are bad. Yeah I know you’re not supposed to do drugs and I never had and never will ,but I didn’t need Zack and the gang to tell me not to. Johnny Dakota (think Johnny Depp meets New Kids on the Block) just happens to stumble upon Bayside and is convinced by Zack and the group that it would be the perfect place to shoot an anti-drug commercial. Johnny’s biggest fan just so happens to be Kelly. Oh and did I mean that, cue the twist, Johnny is actually a pothead. But what’s so improbable in this whole episode is that Johnny, who is obviously way older than high school, invites the gang to his house to party and they’re actually allowed to go. Um, where’s the parenting in the Palisades?? And to top it all off Mr. Belding just so happens to be BFFs with the head of NBC programming cue the obvious meta jokes. Boy this one is too much.
Dumb Dialogue:
Screech: "Wow, my first Hollywood party. I wonder if the Simpsons are gonna be there?"
Implaus-O-Meter: 9

5) Fake IDs (Season 3)
Premise: The gang is taking a photography class and they make fake IDs so they can hang out at an over 18 dance club called The Attic.
Why It’s Ridiculously Stupid: This episode is unbelievable for one reason: the fact that Screech knows how to actually recreated a realistic photo ID from TAKING A HIGH SCHOOL PHOTOGRAPHY CLASS. He sits there, pushing around a photograph in some liquid, in classroom with the lights on, and out pops an instant photo ID. The writers weren’t even trying with this one. Meanwhile Zack has the hots for a college girl so he must pretend to be college too. His excuse for why he’s never on campus is that he’s always in the darkroom (he’s a photography major). So what’s his excuse for why he’s always hanging out with high school kids? And on a different subject, are we really supposed to believe that Kelly would mistake Shamu the Whale for Mr. Belding’s wife?
Dumb Dialogue:
Screech: "You know Slater, through this lens, your nose hairs look like the Amazon Rainforest."
Slater: "If you don't get that camera out of my face, I'm going to have the natives come out and eat you!"
Implaus-O-Meter: 9

4) Cream for a Day (Season 1)
Premise: Screech unintentionally invents a miracle zit removal cream in chemistry class, though it comes with a catch. Meanwhile, Kelly  is on her way to being crowned homecoming queen.
Why It’s Ridiculously Stupid: This is another one of those episodes where Screech invents something impossible and Zack tries to make money off it. The extent of my actual high school chemistry class involved boiling hot water over a Bunsen burner, if we were lucky. Probably one of the coolest “experiments” involved chewing Wint-O-Green Lifesavers in the dark. I don’t think we ever actually used any genuine “chemicals.” So the fact that Screech even had access to anything that could eventually become a miracle zit cream is as farfetched as they come. How exactly do Zack and Screech have the means or funds to package the cream into tubes? Of course the twist is that in a day or two the cream causes a maroon colored rash. Which just so happens to be one of the school’s colors…
Dumb Dialogue:
Screech: “Zack! My worst nightmare has come true!”
Zack: “You found out that ALF is a puppet?”
Screech: “He is?!”
Implaus-O-Meter: 9.5

3) The Gift (Season 1)
Premise: Screech gets STRUCK BY LIGHTING and then gains the power to SEE THE FUTURE, which will come in handy for Terrible Testaverde’s impossible midterm exam.
Why It’s Ridiculously Stupid: If Screech getting struck by lightning isn’t stupid enough (or the fact that he seems physically fine except for puffed out hair) the fact that it gives him the ability to see the future is just utterly ludicrous. It just so happens to be the week of midterms and everyone’s in a panic for Mr. Testeverde’s history exam. You see, he’s the guy from the Micro Machines commercial and he talks really fast so no one can understand him. I’m pretty sure he would have been fired if he talked like that in real life. But remember, this is Bayside High which is practically an alternate universe where band members walk through the hall in full uniform in the middle of the day and students get ESP when hit by lightning. Screech can apparently “see” the answers to Testeverde’s test and Zack decides, obviously, to make a monetary wager with Slater that he can ace the test. The loser has to be other’s slave. I’m going to spoil it right now by saying Zack ends up with an F minus which I’m pretty sure isn’t an actual grade given out. And not to mention that Slater’s first task for Zack is to order him a pizza, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SCHOOL DAY.
Dumb Dialogue:
Jessie: "You know, you guys, I just remembered, there was one time that I did not get an A. I was in the fourth grade, Mr. Simmons had a nervous breakdown and gave the entire class L's and Q's."
Implaus-O-Meter: 10

2) The Zack Tapes (Season 1)
Premise: Miss Wentworth gives a lesson about subliminal advertising (what kind of class is this?) which Zack uses to his advantage to trick Kelly into asking him to the school dance.
Why It’s Ridiculously Stupid: If you can get by the fact that a teacher is showing her class how to insert subliminal messages into standard music tapes then you’ll have no trouble buying into Zack easily mind controlling literally the entire school. He slips a message into Kelly’s Bo Revere tape (“it’s radical”) which she lets her friends borrow, effectively brainwashing them too. This episode is great for the moment in which Screech, posed as a girl, enters the girls’ locker room to switch Kelly’s tape and when confronted by Jessie the first name he could think of to say is Barbara Bush. And silly Jessie completely falls for it. Eventually everyone comes on to Zack’s scheming, and so Miss Wentworth, Mr. Belding, and the rest of the school get revenge on Zack to teach him a lesson. Crash landing, Top Gun. Boy, if I had a dime for every time the students in my high school were brainwashed by subliminal messages, I would have zero cents. PS – How exactly did Screech rig that balloon with his face on it in Lisa’s locker? Life’s big mysteries.
Dumb Dialogue:
Zack (on tape): “Zack Morris is a ten.”
Kelly: “Ha! Two fives is more like it!”
Implaus-O-Meter: 10

1) Pipe Dreams (Season 3)
Premise: While putting in a new goal post on the football field, oil is struck, effectively making Bayside the richest high school on the planet.
Why It’s Ridiculously Stupid:  Even though I said Jessie’s Song is the episode to end all episodes, “Pipe Dreams” remains the definitive ludicrous Saved by the Bell episode. There is literally not ONE plausible moment in the ENTIRE episode. Oh but it’s glorious, simply glorious. Where do we even start? So the gang is taking biology class this semester and they’ve all been assigned animals that have been selfishly taken from their natural habitat, the school pond. Meanwhile, a construction team working on the football field magically strikes oil. At first they think it’s just a pipe but they “struck it rich” according to Screech. Cue the fantasy sequence in which they all ponder what it would be like to attend a rich high school including Screech’s offensive Middle Eastern characterization that somehow made it past the Standards people. And apparently being rich has turned Lisa British. A class assembly is held to discuss what to do with this awesome discovery including a newly planned Bayside because obviously when natural oil is found underneath a high school the high school gets rich. But Jessie isn't buying it, she hates oil, even though it’s used in the plastic earrings she wears. Oh snap. The kids put their animals back in the pond and literally minutes later an oil spill occurs killing all of the salamanders and frogs and turtles. And even Zack's duck, but according to Screech she's "Where the oil can't hurt her now." How comforting. Later, during another assembly, in the matter of one 2 minute presentation by goofball high school student Zack the entire school board is convinced to stop the drilling - because Zack “accidentally” covers the oil guy with oil – (to which Kelly keenly observes, “At least you’ll be alive when you clean it off”) and leave the plans for a “bigger, better Bayside” as a distant memory (And that wondrous flow of oil is shockingly never mentioned again). Is any of this even remotely realistic? Not in the slightest. And what about the protest scene in which Jessie, Kelly, and a nerd strap themselves to a rather well-made oil derrick that probably looks like it took weeks to construct. This is the most preposterous episode of Saved by the Bell ever. It’s so goofy and self-serious and yet utterly amazing.
Dumb Dialogue:
Jessie: “Quiet Belding, I’m tracking down environmental polluters. I’m gonna tie their noses to exhaust pipes until they go solar.”
Implaus-O-Meter: Off the charts

What do you think are the most ridiculous Saved by the Bell episodes? 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Suck Zone: “Into the Storm” Offers Decent Tornado Action and Not Much Else

Well at least there are no sharks in these tornadoes. “Into the Storm,” a new “found footage” style disaster film from the director of “Final Destination 5,” gets a lot wrong. The idea of shooting a weather disaster movie like this isn’t necessarily a stupid idea but even director Steven Quale sort of gives up half way through, presenting us with shots that are very clearly not from any character’s point-of-view (and surprisingly a non-diegetic film score). I’m willing to forgive that sort of stuff, but what I’m not willing to forgive is the utterly stupid characters that are presented before us and we’re forced to endure for the brief 89 minute runtime. It’s hard to not make comparisons to the almost nearly as critically trashed tornado opus “Twister” but this film, while offering some stunning if not particularly memorable action scenes, has some just downright awful things going for it and is hardly able to recover.

There are several sets of characters we’re forced to follow along until they eventually all randomly join together for the film’s climax. First we have Donnie (Max Deacon) a high school junior, who’s commissioned with making a video time capsule for his school. He’s tasked to also film the upcoming senior graduation, which is set to take place outdoors even though the weather forecast looks dreary. He has an obnoxious younger brother Trey and a widowed dad who “just doesn’t understand him.” Donnie goes against his father’s wishes and ends up in an abandoned factory with his coed crush Kaitlyn (Alycia Debnam Casey). Meanwhile, filmmaker/storm chaser Pete (Matt Walsh) shows off his tank-like vehicle which is impervious to winds up to 170 mph, even though many strong tornadoes have winds in access of 200 mph, but I digress. (For those interested, tornadoes are now rated on an EF scale – Enhanced Fujita – while in “Twister” they used the now outdated regular Fujita scale). Pete’s goal is to film inside a tornado. He has a team of cameramen and a meteorologist Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies) tagging along. And then there are the clichéd redneck hillbillies who are “YouTube” daredevils who film themselves doing stupid things. They’re in a totally different movie.

I still don’t care about any of these people or the pathetic makeshift plot that screenwriter John Swetnam has come up with. In the end it doesn’t really matter because what anyone who sees this movie comes to see are the tornadoes. These twister scenes are intense and powerful, but here’s my one gripe: the tornadoes have no real personalities. “Twister” for all its stupid plot elements and silly characterizations, it has some pretty memorable twister scenes. Each twister was bigger than the last and each felt one felt distinct from the other. Here we’re given tornado after tornado which doesn’t really amount to anything too memorable besides one that is literally ON FIRE. And then there’s the obligatory EF-5 finale twister which is always the one that’s nothing like anyone has ever seen. Pete, like Dorothy in “Twister,” really gets to fly here in a sequence that is utterly ridiculous and yet startling and disturbing. Let’s just say it would make a good theme park ride someday.

So if we can finish things up here, these are my final thoughts. The movie is all about cool special effects, and for a lower budgeted movie they’re pretty decent. Some of these scenes are pretty intense. Any scenes that don’t include CGI tornadoes are downright terrible. The shaky cam effect does feel rather forced and is altogether abandoned in parts probably because this particularly style of filmmaking has become simply inane. “Twister,” for all its faults, is definitely the superior tornado extravaganza.  There just isn’t the same level of talent (on screen and off) involved whatsoever. If we can learn anything from “Into the Storm” it’s this: when a tornado is heading your way put the camera down and seek shelter immediately.  GRADE: C+

Trailer for Into the Storm on TrailerAddict.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

About a Boy: The Outstanding “Boyhood” is a One-of-a-Kind Cinematic Achievement

Is there such thing as a tiny epic? That’s what I would use to describe the film “Boyhood.” It’s larger-than-life yet extremely intimate. Director Richard Linklater, a filmmaker I have never personally found a real connection with, has crafted a superb once-in-a-lifetime motion picture that follows a young boy through adolescence into young adulthood. Linklater cast a seven year old boy named Ellar Coltrane and wrote a story that would check in on the boy every year for a twelve year period, filming for a few weeks each year from 2002 to 2013. Onscreen this works wonders as you see the cast age twelve years and you really get to know this boy and his family. It’s a rare, landmark achievement in narrative filmmaking.

Coltrane is Mason Jr a six year old boy living in Texas with his single mom (Patricia Arquette) and his older sister Sam (Lorelei Linklater). His dad (Ethan Hawke) is notably absent except for those rare appearances where estranged fathers show up to spend a day with their kids. Soon mom gets remarried to a college professor, who has two young kids of his own. This guy turns out to be a rather frightening monster of a stepdad. He’s all the more scary because we’re constantly being shown the world through the young Mason’s point-of-view. Eventually they move away, one of many times throughout the film’s story, where eventually mom is way better off and dad even shows up more often. Mason eventually grows up, makes it through high school, and heads off to college and we’ve witnessed a journey we’ve all been through, albeit with obvious differences.

Richard Linklater knows one thing very well: No two childhoods are ever the same, and yet they’re all relatable. And that’s what makes “Boyhood” such a powerful piece of filmmaking. He shows us the regular stuff, the mundane stuff: rides in the car, hanging out with friends, playing video games. And the more intense moments many go through like parents fighting and getting picked on in school. There’s nothing particularly fancy about the way these moments are captured (this isn’t any kind of abstract film like “The Tree of Life” for instance). It is these moments that feel so real it’s mostly because the film is filled with many non-actors and people who aren’t already established stars. Only Hawke and Arquette remind us we’re watching something that could only be made by a guy who has worked both in and out of the Hollywood system. We’re constantly shown this experience through Mason’s eyes, if Mason doesn’t witness it, we don’t see it.

What else can be said about this terrific film that hasn’t already been said? The performances are uniformly excellent, especially Arquette who is a revelation here. Her brief emotional breakdown as Mason heads off to college feels real and earned and isn’t emotionally manipulative or melodramatic. Hawke is also wonderful as the cool but unreliable dad who we also see mature into a more solid adult human being. His relationship with Mason is one of the film’s strongest elements. Linklater’s real-life daughter Lorelei as Sam is relatively amateurish, but feels authentic. Seeing all of these actors grow and change and literally mature over the course of nearly three completely absorbing hours is simply fascinating to witness.

“Boyhood” is almost like the most fascinating reality show ever conceived, except it always feels real and legitimate and never prying or exploitative.  Linklater’s almost insane decision to shoot his film over the course of twelve years has added so much to his simple yet poignant story about family and growing up. He’s managed to capture a boy’s entire childhood with striking precision and relevance and realism. It’s relatable, touching, funny; in other words, it’s something special.  GRADE: A

Trailer for Boyhood on TrailerAddict.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Rise of the Guardians: Marvel is at it Again with the Spectacular “Guardians of the Galaxy”

Now I know what it must have been like seeing “Star Wars” for the first time all those years ago. It gets harder and harder each year to be truly blown away at the movies these days. And after ten Marvel movies spanning the past six years it seemed unlikely any of the best ones (Iron Man, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) could ever be topped. “Guardians of the Galaxy” is a comic property that is not very well known and director James "Slither" Gunn and his entire team have crafted a glorious space adventure. I was hesitant going in that this other worldly saga could be a bunch of nonsense like the underwhelming “Green Lantern” movie or even the snoozefest that was “JohnCarter.” However, “Guardians of the Galaxy” with its superb cast, effects, and killer soundtrack offer yet another winning comic extravaganza that is worth every Marvel Cinematic Universe fan’s time.

I’m the last person that enjoys movies set in other worlds or on other planets. But when we’re introduced to Peter “Star-Lord” Quill as a young boy who runs off after losing his mother and gets abducted by an alien pirate spacecraft we immediately have someone to identify with. It also helps that, even as an adult (now played by the charming Chris Pratt) the rogue outlaw carries around his 80s Walkman filled with catchy golden oldies and is constantly throwing out familiar pop culture references (and even an funny not-very-subtle masturbation reference) that tend to confuse his alien companions. He’s exactly what Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman have used to help us Earthlings relate to this story of intergalactic intrigue. And it works like a charm.

Soon Peter, er, Star-Lord, finds an orb artifact that everyone and their mother seems to want to get their hands on (including main baddie the blue-faced Ronan played by Lee Pace). We don’t care about it but everyone else does, but I digress. Soon Peter, who insists on being called by his Star-Lord moniker, is imprisoned with a pair of bounty hunters: a wise-cracking raccoon named Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and a tree-like creature named Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). Assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is also after the orb. This unlikely group of misfits hesitantly join forces to escape prison, along with fellow strongman inmate Drax (wrestler Dave Bautista), and into a plotline that eventually involves guarding the galaxy. Oh and there’s Glenn Close and John C. Reilly. 

I’d be lying if I said that I fully grasped every single plot element and wasn’t confused here and there, but you know what? I never really bothered me. There are so many weird characters but they all get a moment to shine and you always get a sense as to what everyone’s deal is. The chemistry between all the actors works wonders. Rocket, who has some great lines, and the nearly wordless Groot (his lines are mostly limited to “I am Groot!”) might be the best onscreen pair of the year. The best part of “Guardians of the Galaxy” is that it’s just plain fun. The plot almost seems to take a backseat so that the audience is never bored. If you begin to pick apart the plot you may get a sense that most of it is all generic nonsense. It basically comes down to bad guys want device to destroy the galaxy for no other reason because that’s what bad guys do in movies like this.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” is amazing even though it’s already the tenth Marvel film and whatever number comic book film in general of the past few years, due to Gunn’s snappy direction, it still feels fresh and different. It uses pop music to great effect, and because it’s a property not widely-known it never has a “been there, done that” feel, yet it feels familiar and just like all the movies you really love whether it’s Star Wars or Indiana Jones or any other popular franchise. It’s funny and witty, exciting, and dare I say touching. I’m the last person who tends to enjoy movies sent completely in galaxies far, far away, but I totally dug this. Who knew that such a well-done comic book movie could find a place in a summer overcrowded with other comic book movies… and it just may be the best one yet.   GRADE: A 

Theatrical Trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy on TrailerAddict.