Let the hate mail begin!
In the grand tradition of Cinefantastique (dating back at least to the magazine’s review of STAR WARS), Lawrence French and Steve Biodrowski rake the blockbuster box office hit GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY over the coals in this week’s Dossier Fantastique Podcast. Sure, it’s far from the worst movie ever made, nor does it deserve the unqualified adulation heaped on it by fans and critics alike. But at least Rocket the Raccoon is cute – and funny!
Afterwards, the CFQ podcasters offer a 50th anniversary appreciation of the low-budget science fiction film THE EARTH DIES SCREAMING (1964), directed by Terence Fisher. And of course there’s the usual rundown of the week’s home video releases, including DIVERGENT, OCULUS, and 30th anniversary Blu-ray disc of Brian DePalma’s PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974).
Welcome to August, the month when studios, having already fired off all their high-profile (not to mention high concept) summer guns, unleash what amounts to their second tier of releases, the stuff that doesn’t automatically trigger broad media attention, things with a more… “culty,” shall we say?… appeal, and things that are, let’s just say it, no durn good. However, since even the big tent-poles can now be somewhat inconsequential in their story-telling and quality (AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, anyone?), it’s become less surprising that a dog-day release could have been just as welcome, if not more so, in the weeks preceding.
Such is the case with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, a fun space adventure based on a Marvel comic book that racked up record box office in its opening week, and earns its goodwill in a number of ways. I take a look at the film in my latest review for Jim Freund’s HOUR OF THE WOLF — click on the player to hear the segment, or right-click on the title to download.
LISTEN TO HOUR OF THE WOLF
EVERY THURSDAY AT 1:30 AM
ON WBAI 99.5FM IN NEW YORK CITY
To be perfectly blunt about it, big studio blockbuster releases typically don’t fail as spectacularly as THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2. Oh they can be bad, but a comforting buffer of test screenings, focus groups, top-level executive intervention, and directorial and editorial wisdom tend to at least modulate them into some form of narrative coherence. Watching them isn’t akin to witnessing a trained chimpanzee trying to explain quantum physics.
Between the two super-villains, the romantic troubles between conflicted super-hero Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and his ambitious girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), the ongoing corporate espionage/missing parents story-arc, a new will-Spidey-share-his-blood-for-a-dangerous-but-possibly-lifesaving-procedure subplot, the ever-present exploration of the with-great-power-comes-great-responsibility theme (featuring a guest appearance by Denis Leary as Dolefully Glowering Ghost), Paul Giamatti in a tragically wasted role, and somewhere on the order of 23 discreet endings, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 is one astoundingly awful mess. This is BATMAN AND ROBIN-grade disaster, so stunningly bad that the Cinefantastique Online team of Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons get a little giddy trying to suss out what went wrong. Click on the player to hear the show.
Well, they can’t all be NOAH, but then again, they all don’t need to be VAMPIRE ACADEMY, either. On the spectrum of the Marvel Comics franchise films, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER doesn’t reach the cinematic heights of the Raimi SPIDER-MANs (oh, okay, the first two SPIDER-MANs) or Whedon’s THE AVENGERS, but doesn’t crater out anywhere near the THOR or (shudder) FANTASTIC FOUR efforts. Filing my review for Jim Freund’s HOUR OF THE WOLF, I was happy (relieved, even) to note the not inconsiderable pleasures of this new chapter in the chronicles of America’s most patriotic superhero, even if I also feel duty-bound point out the ways it could have been better. Click on the player to hear the review.
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LISTEN TO HOUR OF THE WOLF
EVERY THURSDAY AT 1:30 AM ON WBAI 99.5FM IN NEW YORK CITY
And so commences the Marvel Onslaught of 2014. Four movies, three studios, and more opportunities for the true believers to nudge each other knowingly when Stan Lee makes his expected cameos, even though your great-great-grandmother could probably recognize him by now. That said, there are far worse ways to kick off this flood than CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, a well-mounted, surprisingly well-acted (hey, you’ve got Sam Jackson and Robert Redford in there), and all-around entertaining actioner that finds the stalwart Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) facing a test to his WWII-bred notions of right and wrong as he finds himself suddenly at cross-purposes to his masters at S.H.I.E.L.D and confronting a formidable assassin called the Winter Soldier.
The Cinefantastique Spotlight crew of Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons are no little grateful that THE WINTER SOLDIER goes down as easy as it does, but are in accord that there were ways it could have been much better. We compare notes in this latest episode — click on the player to hear the show.
Take THE WOLVERINE (Hugh Jackman) out of his standard setting, plunk him down in Japan, give him a lovely heiress (Tao Okamoto) to protect, another lovely young mutant sidekick (Rila Fukushima) to join in battle, and no end of yakuza and ninja to fight, and what do you get? A unique and exciting opportunity to catch up with a character in the aftermath of X-MEN: THE LAST STAND and travel through his turmoil as he rediscovers his heroic nature? Or a scenario that holds considerable promise for putting a distinctive character in a setting that ideally contrasts his nature, but that never quite exploits the opportunity? Come join Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons as they explore this second attempt to give one of Marvel’s most beloved characters a film worthy of his stature.
Also: What’s coming to theaters next week.
Logan does not find a safe haven in Japan… Roger Corman finds evil ghosts in China… Russian soldiers find creepy zombots in FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY…
From the luxurious Cinefantastique Online studios in NYC, Dan Persons brings you up-to-date on what’s happening in the world of fantastic film & TV.
FULL-SIZE VIDEO IS BELOW
Nothing like using the patriotic holiday of the Fourth of July to re-introduce the U.S. to a beloved New York Commie liberal. Or THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, if you will: Big Apple native and irradiated-arachnid-bit crime fighter. Sony has decided to punch the reboot button for what is actually the fourth installment of the franchise (but should we start counting from one again?). Gone is the post-college, working-joe Peter Parker; the revenge-obsessed Harry Osborne; and romantic shuttlecock Mary Jane. Here instead is Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), humble high-school student; big bad villain, the Lizard (Rhys Ifans), and alt love-interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Plus the wrinkle of a whole new conspiracy theory added to the tragic death of Parker’s parents and his eventual transformation into the cocky web-slinger.
Come join Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons as they determine whether going back to square one was worth the effort, how director Marc Webb’s approach to the legend varies from Sam Raimi’s, and whether there are limits to Chekov’s observations on introducing a gun in the first act. Then, Dan will give his takes on the indie horror comedy SOME GUY WHO KILLS PEOPLE, and the cult animated kids show, ADVENTURE TIME: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON. Plus: What’s coming to theaters next week.
There are so many ways a grand conglomeration of super heroes could turn into a car wreck (case in point: THE FANTASTIC FOUR), that we should be grateful when a film manages just to clear that bar. Fortunately, and quite happily, THE AVENGERS not only manages that base-line feat, but goes far beyond it, becoming a rare example of a top-notch comic book movie. Granted, the team-up of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), aided and abetted by Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), doesn’t boast much more than a bare-essentials plot — demigod Loki (Tom Hiddleston) wants to take over the Earth ‘cuz… well, just ‘cuz — but under the direction of Joss Whedon, the proceedings offer enough kick-ass action and delicious character moments that plot barely matters.
Come join Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French and Dan Persons as they break down the first official blockbuster of summer 2012 to find out what makes it pop and where it fizzles. Also: What’s coming to theaters.
In a pair-up as enticing as a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE combines the rich, nutty goodness of Nic Cage with the tasty junkiness of the Neveldien/Taylor directing team. Transporting Marvel’s tortured, soul-sucking biker to Eastern Europe, the sequel has him joining forces with Idris Elba and Violante Placido to save a young boy from the clutches of Satan — here portrayed by Ciarán Hinds — and his minions. As befits a GHOST RIDER story, much road-based action ensues; as befits CRANK-masters Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, much frenetic craziness gets layered onto that.
Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons rally together to discuss whether the Neveldine/Taylor style is enough to overcome the script’s stock elements, and whether even the extensive depth of the 3D screen is enough to accommodate a Nic Cage performance. Also: Steve gives his capsule review of THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY; and what’s coming in theaters and on home video.