Thursday, August 28, 2014

TO BUST THOU SHALT RETURN

Happy National Ghostbusters Day!

No, really…at least Sony says it is. There’s a new Blu-ray edition, and they’re re-releasing the film throughout the country for a week, because—get ready for this…


Ghostbusters is thirty years old this year.

Yes, you heard right. Ghostbusters is thirty. Freaking. Years Old.

So…

Monster-of-the-Week: …this week the nod goes to one of the oddest giant monsters of the movies, The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters’ climactic scenes, here seen visiting The Today Show on the occasion of Al Roker’s birthday...



He seems cheerful—perhaps somebody followed Bill Murray’s conciliatory strategy with regard to him: “He’s a sailor, he’s in New York; we get this guy laid we won’t have any trouble..."

Monday, August 25, 2014

HEARTFELT DADNESS

After reading my recent column in which I listed ten of what I regarded as particularly underrated or neglected films of the late lamented Robin Williams, a friend of mine got in touch to say that I had missed one: World’s Greatest Dad, written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait.



Longtime fan of both Williams and Goldthwait though I am, I had to admit that I’d never heard of it. So my friend sat me down at his house the Friday evening after Williams died, and ran it for me.

He was right. This very dark comedy, (barely) released in 2009, was a significant omission, a striking movie in its own right, and loaded with troubling resonances in light of the star’s sad passing. The title has the ring of Disney-style pablum, but that’s hardcore irony.

Williams plays Lance, a high school teacher and prolific but frustratingly unpublished writer. His teenage son Kyle (Daryl Sabara) is an intolerable jerk—a selfish, mean-spirited, ignorant, disrespectful pervert who either rebuffs or exploits every single one of his dad’s attempts to bond with him. Nonetheless, when Lance finds the boy dead from an embarrassing accident, the result is one of the most heartbreaking minutes of acting Williams ever gave onscreen—and, of course, it has an additional level of sadness in light of its parallels to what the actor’s own family must have gone through.


Lance alters the scene of Kyle’s death to make it look like a suicide, and writes a fake note and diary for him that, when made public, turn the cretin, near-friendless in real life, into a posthumous hero among his schoolmates. It also turns Lance, for the first time, into a successful published writer, albeit anonymously, and he’s soon at the center of a Million Little Pieces-style hoax, though only Andrew (Evan Martin), Kyle’s shrewd sole friend, suspects anything.

Even without its retroactive tragic overtones, World’s Greatest Dad takes a satiric pitilessness towards its title character that makes it painful to watch. Goldthwait is to be credited for humiliating his protagonist so ferociously, though he’s also smart enough to give us some relief—he allows Lance a cute if obnoxious girlfriend (Alexie Gilmore) and a few other consolations.

Goldthwait also deserves credit for the general sharpness of his dialogue and structure. Funny though parts of his 1991 cult item Shakes the Clown—in which Williams had a cameo—undeniably were, World’s Greatest Dad represents an impressive advance.

Both as a performer and a writer, Goldthwait has always seemed to have zany outrageousness as his object—I interviewed him once, and he told me about a screenplay he’d written called Teen Jesus (somehow he’d never gotten a major studio to commit to that one)—but World’s Greatest Dad suggests a mature and reflective sensibility. Kyle’s apotheosis is a bit fuzzily dramatized, perhaps, but the characterization of Kyle is a small, appalling masterpiece: Goldthwait and Sabara (who played one of the title characters in the Spy Kids movies) collaborated on a devastating portrait of a parent’s worst nightmare, shy of actual criminality (for which Kyle would probably lack the initiative).

But the speeches Goldthwait gives Lance are his real triumph, strikingly plaintive and epigrammatic, and Williams responded to them with one of the best, most restrained—and, in its way, funniest—performances of his later career. The movie’s depiction of familial grief over a preventable loss does deepen the anger—however unfair it may be—at the fatal choice Williams made. If it was a choice.

Friday, August 22, 2014

LIVING IN THE PASTA

New this week:


The Trip to ItalyIrritating though the term “postmodern” has become, it’s probably valid to call the British TV comics Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon a postmodern Hope and Crosby. First of all, like Hope and Crosby, they travel together, bantering, flirting with women and obsessively one-upping each other. Secondly, their comedy in no small measure derives from being irritating, from pushing every joke too far.

In 2010’s The Trip, adapted from a TV series, the conceit was that “Steve Coogan,” a glum and dour English comedian played by Steve Coogan, was touring dining establishments in northern England’s Lake District for a series of Observer articles, in company with his insufferably cheery and chatty Welsh friend “Rob Brydon,” played by Rob Brydon.

The point, of course, was not their journey but their conversation along the way, an endless duet of mild aspersions and competitive celebrity impersonations, often quite bad—their badness, combined with their persistence, is part of the joke. It’s the sort of silly chatter that passes the time agreeably between friends on a trip but would generally puzzle and annoy an outsider, but Coogan and Brydon give it a comic tension by showing us the underlying rivalry between the buffoonish fictitious versions of themselves—their prattle is an envy-fueled low-level combat.

Directed, like the first film, by Michael Winterbottom, and gloriously shot by James Clarke, The Trip to Italy takes the same shtick to the land of pasta. The two men cruise, in a Mini Cooper, through incomparably beautiful settings, eating incomparably beautiful food at incomparably beautiful restaurants and staying at incomparably beautiful hotels. All the while, they’re imitating everybody from Michael Caine to Al Pacino to Hugh Grant to Robert DeNiro, and spouting off about the poetic merits of Byron, Shelley and Alanis Morissette with roughly equal passion.

The film can give rise to mixed response. Scene for scene, I found it very funny, often riotous—an extended riff on the comparative incomprehensibility of Christian Bale and Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises was a particular highlight. But in the aggregate, I confess it was a little tiring for me, and I was ready for it to be over by the time it was.

The Trip to Italy is also a curiously reproachful species of food porn. Winterbottom often cuts away from the nattering of his stars to the kitchen staff wherever they are, expertly preparing their exquisite-looking meals. At times it made me want to yell at Coogan and Brydon to shut up and pay attention to their food.



If I StayIn this screen version of Gayle Forman’s successful 2009 novel, Chloe Grace Moretz plays Mia, an Oregon teenager who finds herself out-of-body after a horrible car crash leaves her in a coma. In this state she scurries around the halls of the hospital, following her stricken family and friends, and tries to decide between waking up or Going to the Light.

A key to this decision, drearily but believably, is her boyfriend Adam (Jamie Blackley), with whom she was on the outs before the accident. Mia’s a cellist, you see, and she’d like to go to Julliard, and Adam’s a rocker whose band has a record deal, and can these two kids from different musical worlds somehow make a long distance relationship work?

This is the real meat of the story, which unfolds in flashback as Mia tries to answer The Clash’s eternal question “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” As a teen love story, it has plausibility, which is to say that its conflicts seem overwhelming to the pair involved, and fairly tedious to onlookers. But the luminously-photographed young Moretz is touching as she lopes along the corridors or gazes down at her unconscious physical self, and her acting is heartfelt. Indeed, Moretz, painfully vulnerable in the overlooked Texas Killing Fields and funny in Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, carries this sweet showcase vehicle like a true star.

Some of the other actors have charm, too, especially Mireille Enos, unmemorable in the thankless role of Brad Pitt’s wife in World War Z, but much livelier here as Mia’s cool ex-rocker-chick mom, and Joshua Leonard (of The Blair Witch Project) as her drummer-turned-music-teacher dad. Stacey Keach turns up, too, as Mia’s adoring grandfather; his short speech to his comatose granddaughter was the one moment in the film that jerked a few of my tears. All of them, and pretty much everybody else in the cast, have one job in the movie—to worship Mia—but they manage to maintain their dignity while they do it.

I’m not sure if the real-life loved ones of coma patients will all appreciate the story’s seeming implication, repeated several times by an angelic-seeming nurse, that coming out of a coma is always and entirely the choice of the patient. But if you accept the premise, your choice, as an audience member, will probably be to stay in your seat, and not to head for The Light of the Lobby until the end credits. And you probably won’t regret it.


Island of Lemurs: MadagascarThe blank, fixed, wide-eyed faces of lemurs suggest minds perpetually blown, and it’s hard not to find them endearing. This IMAX documentary, which runs well under an hour, offers a pleasant dose of these most ancient yet somehow most alien of primates, and of the paradisal, sadly threatened forests of their country of origin.

It was directed and shot by David Douglas, with narration scripted by Drew Fellner and spoken by Morgan Freeman—all part of the team behind the similar 2011 IMAX flick Born to be Wild. That film focused on two animal orphanages, one in Africa for elephants, one in Borneo for orangutans, both run by formidable middle-aged women. With Island of Lemurs, the filmmakers evidently saw no reason to depart from this structure—their central figure is Dr. Patricia Wright, an American who runs a lemur preserve in Madagascar’s Ranomafana National Park, and whose researches in the ‘80s led to the rediscovery of the Greater Bamboo Lemur, thought extinct.

Island of Lemurs is a little diffuse; it might have been a bit more engaging, for children especially, had it focused on a specific lemur or family of lemurs. But it’s full of delights: The big Indri, largest of the lemur species, indulging in their weird and beautiful choral howling, a Bamboo Lemur ripping apart a stalk of its namesake plant with relish, elegant Sifakas romping sideways from tree to tree. And, as in Born to be Wild, the film has unusually good music, including selections by Madagascar band Tarika. In short, it has lemurs, the voice of Morgan Freeman, and “I Will Survive” sung in French. What else could you want, in less than an hour?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

THROWS LIKE A GHOUL

The zombie romantic comedy (zomromcom?) Life After Beth, starring the ever-adorable Aubrey Plaza, opens this weekend here in the Valley. This puts me in mind of a few weeks ago, when The Wife and I had the displeasure of seeing our beloved Diamondbacks get clobbered by the Pittsburgh Pirates, 8-3. It was a fairly dismal spectacle, but the evening had a bright spot…

Monster-of-the-Week: …in that we were among the 20,000 fans given this week’s honoree, the Diamondbacks Zombie Bobblehead…



Among the mysteries surrounding him: Why is he missing a shoe? Are we to gather that he was zombified while on the last step of dressing to go to a D-bax game?

Friday, August 15, 2014

GIVEN LAME

New this week:


The GiverIn the future, people live in a homogenized, insipid “Community” in which life is carefully programmed and deep emotions, positive or negative, are suppressed through daily doses of medication. An adolescent boy, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), is assigned to be the new “Receiver of Memories,” the repository for the recollections of the human race from which everybody else is protected, and which are transmitted to him in psychic blasts from the current repository, an old man called “The Giver.”

The great Jeff Bridges plays this title role in this adaptation, directed by Phillip Noyce, of a much-honored young adult novel by Lois Lowry of 1993, and there’s nothing especially wrong with his sly, growling performance. There’s plenty wrong with the movie, however. I can’t speak to the quality of the novel, but what made it to the screen is a rehash of Huxley’s Brave New World, with dashes of Logan’s Run, The Island and a couple of episodes of Twilight Zone.

It’s less enjoyable than any of these, however (even The Island!), and toward the end, as Jonas flees the community in an attempt to rescue what appears to be the world’s most durable baby, the story simply collapses into a pile of implausibility and absurdity and vagueness. Jonas calls this baby “Gabriel,” but his Mom (Katie Holmes) refers to him as “Uncertain,” which I thought was a particularly kick-ass name.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

SHELL IS FOR HEROES

With Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tearing up the box office this past weekend (Friday, June 3, 2016 has already been announced as the opening day for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2) a chelonian creature seems in order, so…

Monster-of-the-Week: …here's the gigantic Archelon (“Ruler Turtle”) animated by Ray Harryhausen in 1966’s One Million Years B.C.:



Many years ago I read an anarchist comic with an uncharacteristic streak of self-deprecating wit in which the old professor had a tiny pet turtle, complete with dish and little plastic palm tree, named “Anarchelon.”

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

ROBIN'S BEST

Like everyone else, I was shocked and saddened by the death of Robin Williams, apparently by his own hand after a lifelong struggle with depression and addiction. I’m a big fan, but his signature hits—Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting, Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Morning, Vietnam—aren’t, on the whole, my favorites. Some of what I think is his best, funniest, least sentimental, most ebullient work was in films that were ignored by audiences and panned by critics.

Below are some examples of the underrated or neglected “other” Robin Williams, which I would encourage you to give another look.


The Adventures of Baron MunchhausenIn his brief role as The King of the Moon, whose head and body are disconnected, in Terry Gilliam’s uneven but fascinating 1989 fantasy, Williams may have taken his fast talking, haywire routine as far as he ever did; he was like Mork squared, or like a live-action version of the Genie in Aladdin. This is one of several films on which Williams worked under a pseudonym—Bob Goldthwait’s notorious Shakes the Clown was another. Under his own name, Williams later gave an immensely touching performance in Gilliam’s The Fisher King.

HamletWilliams was just right for the foppish, fawning courtier Osric in Kenneth Branagh’s full-text version of Shakespeare’s masterpiece. Pity he didn’t get to do more Shakespeare. He was also terrific in a funny, quietly intense turn as the psychiatrist in Branagh’s Dead Again.

One Hour PhotoMark Romanek’s odd little thriller about a lonely, alienated snapshot developer who becomes fixated on a seemingly picture-perfect family of customers is sad, unsavory and ultimately unsatisfying. But Williams brings so much gravity and pathos to the part that it’s essential viewing.

The BirdcageThis hilarious and sweet American version of La Cage Aux Folles was a hit, certainly, but much of the attention went, rightly, to Nathan Lane as Albert, the maternal drag queen. It’s possible that the quieter excellence of Williams as the father posing as straight for his conservative future in-laws was a little overlooked. His scene with Lane on a bench, while a ship passes behind them, is one of the best he ever played.

Being HumanBill Forsythe’s reincarnation drama, in which Williams played five people—or rather, the same person in five different lifetimes—doesn’t quite add up, but Williams is great in all five. As a prehistoric man in the opening segment he has a shattering moment, screaming “Mine! Mine!” as he sees his family being abducted.


Cadillac ManWilliams is a philandering, hustling car salesman who finds himself frantically trying to manage a hostage situation when jealous husband Tim Robbins brings a gun into the car dealership where he works. This 1990 comedy with dramatic overtones from director Roger Donaldson shows Williams as an irresponsible but essentially humane guy trying to stave off disaster.

Moscow on the HudsonWilliams plays a Soviet circus musician who defects in the middle of Bloomingdale’s in New York in Paul Mazursky’s comedy-drama. This performance was one of the first to demonstrate his remarkable range.


PopeyeWilliams is buried in the title character’s persona in Robert Altman’s live-action version of the cartoon. But he gives amusing, stoic line readings, and his warmth and sweetness shine through the makeup.


The SurvivorsMichael Ritchie’s satire of survivalists and gun nuts was poorly received, but its picture of the sort of chaotic modern life that breeds such reactionaries is mercilessly funny and original—it starts with Williams getting fired from his job by a parrot. Williams was rarely as precise in his manic style as he is here, and he seems all the crazier with Walter Matthau as his straight man.


The Best of TimesThis football comedy, directed by Roger Spottiswoode from a script by Ron Shelton, is my favorite Robin Williams movie, but it doesn’t seem to be anybody else’s. It’s about a group of middle-aged men who get bamboozled into replaying a high school football game in Taft, California, by the bank manager (Williams) who dropped what would have been the game-winning pass back when. Williams is at his very best here. He never seems to be self-consciously playing the sad clown—something that, for all his great talent, he was quite capable of doing—and thus he’s truly lovable and poignant. And, of course, magnificently funny.

Friday, August 8, 2014

CURRYING FAVOR

New this week:


The Hundred-Foot JourneyIf Oprah likes your book, you’ve got it made. A few years ago she took a shine to Richard C. Morais’ tale of a rivalry between an established upscale restaurant in provincial France and the upstart Indian place a hundred feet across the road, showed it to Steven Spielberg, and now it’s a lavishly produced movie directed by Lasse Hallstrom, with a cast led by Helen Mirren and Om Puri.

After leaving Mumbai under tragic circumstances, and a brief stay under the flight path at Heathrow, the Kadam family settles in a small town in southern France, mainly because the brakes on their wreck of a vehicle fail there. Gruff, handsome Om Puri plays the widowed patriarch, who insists on opening “Maison Mumbai” in the ruin across the road from Le Saule Pleureur, a classical-French place with a Michelin star. It’s presided over by Mirren as the elegant, imperious Madame Mallory, who at first attempts to sabotage the new enterprise. But the star of the Kadam family is Papa’s son Hassan, a culinary prodigy so gifted that Madame Mallory wants him to cross the road and learn the Ways of the Heavy Sauce, in hopes that he can help her to a long-coveted second star.

Lushly photographed by Linus Sandgren and goosed along by another rousing score from A.R. Rahman, The Hundred-Foot Journey is, I suppose, the most calculated and shameless sort of unthreatening cross-cultural feel-good/foodie movie. But it gives good value as such; the setting is idyllic, the cast is splendid—not just Puri and Mirren but also Manish Dayal as the open-hearted Hassam and the charming Charlotte Le Bon as his besotted love interest—and there’s just enough conflict to keep the story going but not so much as to spoil the pleasant atmosphere. And, of course, the food looks wonderful: The movie left me with a serious taste for sea urchin.


Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesLike the Transformers, the TMNT came along in the mid-‘80s, when I was already old enough to find them annoying, so I don’t have a nostalgic attachment to them. I was surprised, therefore, to find myself sort of enjoying this new film version.

Concocted by artists Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird as a send-up of by-the-numbers comic book clich├ęs, the Turtles were soon turned into the very kind of marketing and merchandising juggernaut they originally sought to spoof. The four are sewer-dwelling New Yorkers, each named, for some reason, after a Renaissance Old Master: Raphael, Leonardo, Donatello and Michaelangelo, and parented by a sagacious old rat, Splinter, who trains them in martial arts, he says, as an alternative to the distractions of pop culture—the best, and nerviest, joke in the movie.

The lads are pitted here against a villain in hulking robotic samurai armor and his legions of henchpersons, who are trying to do something terrible to the Big Apple for some stupid reason that doesn’t matter. Their clashes provide headlong action, and their jabbering and antics, while they aren’t exactly on the Oscar Wilde level of wit, keep the energy level high.

The Turtles also have allies, especially in their Lois Lane equivalent: plucky TV reporter April O’Neill, played in the new film by Megan Fox. In what appears to be an attempt to market the film to girls, April is very much the lead role here, and this approach proved effective with regard to my own 12-year-old, who grumbled about the prospect of sitting through a movie for boys but got caught up in it all the same.

This TMNT is also a minefield of really bald-faced product placement. Pizza Hut and Orange Crush are the most heavy-handed, but there’s a surprising—and amusing—nod to Victoria’s Secret, in anticipation, presumably, of the fast-approaching days when the target audience loses its interest in turtles.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

CROCFIGHTING

RIP to Marilyn Burns, departed at 64.



A native of my beloved hometown of Erie, Pa., she was unforgettable as the hapless heroine of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and as Linda Kasabian in the original Helter Skelter TV miniseries. She also appeared in Tobe Hooper’s lurid, little-remembered giant crocodile shocker of 1977, Eaten Alive. So…

Monster-of-the-Week: …in her honor let’s give the nod to the hungry leading reptile of that bizarre swamp melodrama…

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

TANK STOP

Screening Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, as part of No Festival Required’s “Summer of Suburbia Films” series, is Cul de Sac: A Suburban War Story.


Garrett Scott’s 2002 documentary, which runs less than an hour, chronicles the sad end of Shawn Nelson, an Army veteran who, one evening in May 1995, stole an M60 tank from a National Guard Armory near his home in Claremont, California and took it on a joyride through the neighborhood, trashing dozens of vehicles but, miraculously, injuring no one except Nelson himself, who was shot to death by the police.

A broke, unemployed meth user on the verge of losing his house, Nelson had dug a 15-foot hole in his back yard earlier that same year, in the delusion that he could mine for gold there. Scott’s film consists of news footage of the tank rampage and its aftermath, intercut with talking-heads footage of Nelson’s friends and family, who seem like they’ve stepped out of a Sam Shepherd play. In the manner of a non-facetious Michael Moore, Scott also presents a sketch of the social and economic history of Claremont and other San Diego-area communities, former defense-industry boomtowns declining to meth-infested near-slums since the Cold War, in an attempt to link Nelson’s weird tragedy directly to the Military-Industrial complex.

I think it’s possible to share the political sentiments implied in this approach (as I do) and still find this an overreach. But Cul-de-Sac is nonetheless an absorbing and painful story, well told.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

HOT AUGUST BLIGHT

Happy August everybody!

While The Kid hung out at a pal’s house for the evening, The Wife and I betook ourselves to Chase Field last night for Zombie Bobblehead night, to watch the Diamondbacks take on the Pittsburgh Pirates. Despite a pretty solid performance by starter Chase Anderson, it ended up a wretched 8-3 rout of the reptiles by the Bucs. Reliever Randall Delgado plunked poor blameless Andrew McCutchen in the back in the 9th inning...


...apparently in retaliation for Ernesto Frieri’s pitch that broke Paul Goldscmidt’s hand Friday night, but we even missed this bit of ugly spectacle, having left in disgust by that time. We heard it on the car radio on the way home. But it was a fun evening out anyway, and since the Pirates were my Dad’s beloved team it was nice to picture him smiling at the outcome.

I was pleased, anyway, to see that the local boys managed a 3-2 win over the Pirates this afternoon, albeit on a controversial walk-off play.


Speaking of August, check out my story on page 98 of this month’s Phoenix Magazine, on hot Valley neighborhoods.

Friday, August 1, 2014

DEBUNKER MENTALITY

New this week:


Magic in the MoonlightColin Firth plays Stanley, an English stage magician, in this latest from Woody Allen, set in the late ‘20s. Stanley buries himself in the disguise of a stereotypical Chinese—he looks like Henry Brandon in Drums of Fu Manchu—and performs his spectacular tricks in high style, to the strains of Stravinsky or Ravel or Beethoven. But, like many of his trade, he doesn’t buy into magic in any sense beyond the theatrical. He’s a hardcore nonbeliever when it comes to the metaphysical, and he’s sneeringly contemptuous of faith in any form.

Stanley is invited to the south of France to debunk Sophie, a young American clairvoyant played by Emma Stone, who has enchanted a wealthy American family there. Sophie’s manner is corny and unconvincing, but her revelations are startling, and Stanley finds his skepticism beginning to waver.

It’s a perfectly good set-up for a romantic comedy, and, as usual with Allen’s work in this mode, there’s much to like in the movie. The period detail and settings are sumptuous, Firth and Stone are funny, and the supporting cast is full of capable types like Simon McBurney, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver and Eileen Atkins, who’s especially good as Stanley’s doting aunt. Also memorable, as the ukulele-strumming rich kid infatuated with Sophie, is Hamish Linklater, who seems to be flawlessly channeling the young Bradford Dillman.

But Magic in the Moonlight isn’t quite magical. It starts off wonderfully, and for about a half-hour looks like it’s going to be a real gem. And Allen does come up with some inventive flourishes. But the dialogue dithers and dawdles, and the romantic connection between Firth and Stone never becomes urgent or convincing. Allen’s movies don’t always come off, but I can’t remember one, at least in the last twenty years or so, that was this uneconomical.



Guardians of the GalaxyThis is the movie with the talking raccoon you’ve been seeing TV ads for recently. It’s based on some Marvel comic series I never read, and is about a motley quintet of minor league space fugitives who band together under that rather grandiose title.

Chris Pratt, excellent in Moneyball and as the voice of the everyman hero of The Lego Movie, is the earth-born leader, a bland, less-than-brilliant ladies man with a fondness for ‘70s-era soul-funk-pop connected to a trauma he suffers in the film’s prologue. Zoe Saldana is the gorgeous and much smarter green-skinned warrior-woman, and Dave Bautista is a literal-minded strongman seeking revenge. There’s a guileless ambulatory tree voiced by Vin Diesel, and Bradley Cooper is the fast-talking raccoon. There’s a talking raccoon in this movie.

The villain is a standard, growling Darth Vader type. The McGuffin they’re all chasing, called “The Orb,” is staggeringly uninteresting, and the long, explosion-filled climactic battle is almost—but only almost—as tedious as the similar finales in the Thor and Iron Man movies and The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the other superhero flicks of recent years.

But I still found Guardians of the Galaxy, co-written and directed by the gifted James Gunn, very entertaining, because of its central joke: The unassuming, colloquial manner of these characters against the backdrop of all this cosmic bombast. It would be hard for me to dislike any movie in which the hero dances to “Come and Get Your Love” on the surface of a distant planet under the opening credits. Or, for that matter, a movie with a talking raccoon. Did I mention that this movie has a talking raccoon?