By Robin E. Simmons


Guardians GalaxyAs of this writing, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is just opening around the world. The first showings are sold out, theaters are packed and word of mouth, both in person and via social media, is incredibly strong.

The source story is a lesser-known comic book from decades ago about space outlaws. The heroes and villains are not widely known. If you ask random passers-by who Drax is, I doubt anyone would know. The one thing this big, loud, funny, eye-popping epic has going for it is Marvel. There was huge, global audience satisfaction with Marvel’s previous film adaptations, especially THE AVENGERS. It made a billion bucks. Literally. The solid expectation that is propelling massive audiences to shell out for this one (including extra $ for the 3-D experience) is that the magic of Marvel will strike again, this time with a cluster of funny, fighting, bigger than life comic creations including the tough talking genetically designed replicant Rocket the Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper).


Clearly, the really big news is that audiences have such pre-sold faith in the Marvel brand, that even with unknown second-tier characters, they will flock in droves in the hope of experiencing a crazy quilt of extremely well crafted insane action involving glib, self-referencing characters. And when that satisfaction is exceeded upon delivery, box-office records are broken and the path is cleared for more non-derivative, original movies! Anyway, that’s the hope. And that hope alone is great news for movie lovers.
I’m not sure I can compress the plot into a few sentences. Maybe it doesn’t even matter. Here goes:

Chris PrattHuman Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) has stolen a strange orb thing and is the subject of a cosmic bounty hunt. Ronan is the villain who I think wants to rule the universe. He really, really wants and needs the orb to fulfill his plans. Rather desperate, the irreverent Quill forms a kind of alliance with team of misfits. There’s Rocket the heavily armed raccoon, Groot (a sweet voiced Vin Diesel) the bark skinned humanoid tree with a very limited vocabulary, the mysterious and deadly green assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and the single-minded vengeance driven Drax the Destroyer. Will Quill be able to save the galaxy as the final showdown looms? That’s the big question the movie poses. But far bigger news is the Marvel brand has revealed itself to be a built-in draw. Marvel’s the real cinematic super hero with a big flashing green dollar sign on its chest. Now playing.



Chadwick Boseman ignites the screen with his electrifying performance pieces as the gravelly voiced Godfather of Soul. But the movie itself is a sometimes disjointed, non-linear pastiche that is less than the sum of its often-confusing parts. A great music track utilizes James Brown’s recordings as he rises from abject poverty to global fame — his gigantic ego intact. Boseman’s Oscar© nomination is a done deal. Now playing.



Oculus PosterOCULUS

By far the best of the sub-genre horror movies about haunted, supernatural mirrors, OCULUS is an intense, psychological fear fest that relies on nearly unbearable trepidation as opposed to mere bloodletting. I am betting this is the start of a new franchise. The story is about siblings who a decade earlier experienced the horrifically brutal murder of their parents. One of the sibs, Tim, was convicted of the killing. Now in his 20s and just released from prison, his sister Kylie is determined to prove Tim’s innocence and locates an antique mirror that was “witness” to the killing –and, uh-oh, other deaths. Well, as you might suspect, in short order ordinary reality merges with nightmares that are absurdly unnerving. And of course hovering over everything is the fear that their terrible dreams are not dreams at all and the killing is about to begin again. Nice extras include deleted scenes and a fascinating commentary from writer/director Mike Flanagan. 20th Century Fox. Blu-ray.



I had a craving for even more speed in this loud adaptation of the eponymous video game. Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) is a mechanic who is forced into an impossible race to save his garage. I like Aaron Paul (BREAKING BAD) and enjoyed chatting with him when he was at a Cinemas Palme d’Or for a special screening a while back. I think he’s on the road to big screen stardom (look for him as Joshua in Ridley Scott’s EXODUS movie).

The cross-country race is a boring, derivative and rather silly plot. Revenge becomes redemption. Yawn. The cardboard characters are predictable. Even so, I like car culture flicks and any excuse to watch muscle cars race gets my attention. And yes, the movie does capture the feeling of the video game but as if it were injected into a more real world. Just know that in the end, this movie is a minor and modest diversion. I suppose the movie does what it set out to do. Just don’t expect the minimalist existential DNA of something like Monte Hellman’s 1971 TWO-LANE BLACKTOP. Disney. Blu-ray.Need for Speed