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To be honest, I was less than impressed when Marvel Studio first announced its intention to make a Guardians of the Galaxy movie. The original concept art that accompanied the press release (above) certainly did not help the cause. The main concern was Rocket Raccoon (an intelligent, anthropomorphic raccoon, who is an expert marksman and master tactician!) and the feeling that if the film-makers got Rocket wrong in making him believable, then that would destroy the movie’s credibility.

Of course, so far Marvel Studios have not failed to deliver with each of its films and in bringing in James Gunn (Slither, Super) to helm the first movie adaptation of Marvel’s outer space characters, it revealed an intention to tap into the director’s distinctive quirky style. And this is clearly evident from the first full trailer which presents a comic tone that works very well. I especially like the way that everyone makes fun of Star-Lord’s name.

And… Rocket looks awesome. Take a look!

Guardians of the Galaxy opens on 1st August. Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bastita, Bradley Cooper & Vin Diesel.

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JUSTICE LEAGUE: WAR

I suppose I am a bit late to DC’s New 52 concept which rebooted the company’s entire superhero line but the very idea repulsed me back then, so you will forgive me if I decided not to indulge when it all went down in 2011. The direct-to-video animated movie, Justice League: War, represents the first movie adaptation of the New 52 series (in particular, Justice League) and thus, I thought it would be an appropriate time to give my 2cts worth on this latest reboot.

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PoP RECOMMENDS: 12 MONKEYS

12 MONKEYS (1995)
Dir: Terry Gilliam
Starring Bruce Willis, Madeline Stowe, Brad Pitt & Christopher Plummer.

Synopsis: In a future world devastated by disease, a convict is sent back in time to gather information about the man-made virus that wiped out most of the human population on the planet. (IMDB)

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If you have never watched Paul Verhoeven’s classic RoboCop (1987), then you might find this reboot to be entertaining fare. Nothing special but passable movie entertainment nonetheless. Whilst the original film came across as a visceral satire of the role that powerful corporations play in the USA and worldwide, Brazilian director Jose Padilha’s re-imagination renders any such social-political commentary inert and most of the time, his RoboCop comes across as safe, family-friendly entertainment.

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REEL TO REAL

her-movie-poster

Is Spike Jonze’s Her a geek film? One could argue that it is a scifi movie but the elements are so marginal that in fact it’s probably more of a romantic comedy-drama with superficial scifi tropes. BUT. This last week, I have been speaking to my students about the purpose of setting in a story and I could not help but be distracted by the setting of Her.

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THE DOORS: R-EVOLUTION [DVD REVIEW]

Suffice to say that The Doors is one of the most important rock bands ever and if you’re a rock lover/scholar then one just cannot get enough of this seminal outfit. This DVD strings together The Doors’ use of the visual medium to convey not only commercial messages but also the core values of the band. From its earliest music with awkward TV appearances (John Densmore has hardly enough time to get behind his drums when “Light My Fire” kicks in on American Bandstand!) and innovative music film, The Doors quickly realize the potential of the visual medium as an additional promotional and creative avenue – Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek were film students after all. Bonus material include outtakes and a documentary recounting how The Doors began to use film to highlight their talents. Essential.

CARO EMERALD IN CONCERT [DVD REVIEW]

Alright. In the booklet insert, there are claims that Caro Emerald‘s music is some unique hybrid of jazz and hip-hop. But clearly, it isn’t! Which is a pet peeve of mine when it comes to bios and press releases that do not tell the truth! C’mon!! At best, Emerald is a jazz-pop singer, and regular visitors will know that that is one ‘genre’ I find particularly risible. It positively reeks of entitlement, designer clothes and 1 percenters. Of course, these are all gross generalizations but I guess you should not have started this argument with this talk of a jazz/hip-hop hybrid then!?!?! Sorry if this is a negative review (something I personally try to avoid) but this is such pretentious bullshit. Avoid.

 

 

 

CLIFF RICHARD: STILL REELIN’ AND A-ROCKIN’ – LIVE IN SYDNEY [DVD REVIEW]

There’s little doubt that Cliff Richard is the one true Peter Pan of pop music. Now in his early 70s, he still looks and sounds good enough to belt out his famous hits in his own inimitable way. The set list on this performance video is dominated by his earliest numbers, like “Livin’ Doll”, “Move It”, “Young Ones” and “In the Country” etc but as well as the obligatory 70s songs like “Devil Woman”, “We Don’t Talk Anymore” and “Wired for Sound”. Naturally, unless you are a diehard Richard fan, there is nothing much here for even the most studious of rock scholars. It’s all rather glitzy and entertaining – not necessarily a bad thing but Richard represented the musical establishment that the likes of The Beatles, the Stones, the Kinks et al would soon overturn and by now, it’s appeal is limited at best.

REEL TO REAL

The premise of Thanks for Sharing is promising enough as it centers around three people undergoing a 12-step process to recover from their sexual addiction. In addition, the strong cast – which includes Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Gwyneth Paltrow, Josh Gad and Alecia Moore (aka P!nk) – flesh out this intriguing premise well. However, the main problem lies in the third act where the various plotlines descend somewhat into cliche.

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DREAM THEATER – LIVE AT LUNA PARK [DVD REVIEW]

This live performance film from Luna Park, Bueno Aires, captures Dream Theater Mark II as the band tours 2011 album A Dramatic Turn of Events. After having drummer Mike Portnoy leave the band a year earlier, as explained in the documentary bonus feature, Dream Theater was revitalized with the recruitment of Mike Mangini and the subsequent release of A Dramatic Turn of Events. Judging from the album and this concert film, Mangini has assisted to reshape the band’s sound towards progressive metal, which has certainly not hurt the band’s reputation. Mangini in facts takes centrestage quite a bit with his enigmatic style. No slouch in the virtuosity department, Mangini more than keeps up with his illustrious partners viz. guitarist John Petrucci, bassist John Myung and keyboardist Jordan Rudess. That all said, it does seem at times that singer James LaBrie is unsuited for this change of direction but there’s little doubt that he still makes the material his own. Dream Theater fans will not want to miss this as the band goes from strength to strength.

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MOVIES TO WATCH IN 2014

What are the ‘genre’ flicks we are looking out for in the coming new year? Top of the list just has to be Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past (May). Somehow managing to be a sequel to both X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: First Class, DOFP is an ambitious endeavor, not only does it pool together two generations of X-Men characters but it is adapting one of the most significant X-Men comic stories of all time. When you also consider the stellar cast viz. Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender, Patrick Stewart, James McAvoy, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Jennifer Lawrence et al, there’s little doubt that DOFP is one of the most anticipated blockbusters in 2014.

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BRYAN FERRY – LIVE IN LYON [DVD REVIEW]

When Bryan Ferry burst onto the UK scene as Roxy Music’s leader/singer in the early 70s, the band found itself branded as somewhere between art-rock and glam. However, as the band evolved from a progressive rock to a sophisticated pop outfit, its image would also change from quirky to glamourous and chic. Ferry himself has always been the epitome of rock cool – inspiring numerous followers in the 80s New Romantic movement – and even though he is in his late 60s, he has lost none of these indelible qualities as evidenced by this live performance recording. Naturally, the man has put on quite a few pounds and there are wrinkles all over his visage but there’s no mistaking the fact that Bryan Ferry’s stage presence and attitude is still able to capture the attention of a modern audience. This solo performance finds Ferry and band (not forgetting sexy dancers and backing singers!) cherry picking from his illustrious career including Roxy Music hits, solo favourites and interpretations of the Dylan songbook. Bonus feature – Making of Olympia (Ferry’s most recent album).

SPRINGSTEEN & I [DVD REVIEW]

The true measure of a rock star is the kind of fans he or she has. Springsteen & I is a documentary with a difference – it was made for Springsteen fans by Springsteen fans! By the end of the documentary, you will be convinced about the depth of love and passion that Springsteen fans hold for their icon. Judging from the diversity in age and nationality, it’s clear that Springsteen’s appeal covers a broad range of fans. This special connection is what makes this documentary unique. Also worth checking out – numerous previously unseen archive footage of performances from throughout Springsteen’s career. The DVD bonus features include performances from 2012’s Hard Rock Calling (including two songs with Paul McCartney) and fan homemade video submissions.

REEL TO REAL


David O. Russell has done it again! After the director’s success with last year’s romance-drama Silver Linings Playbook, Russell puts his own spin on “ABSCAM” a well-publicized scandal from the late 70s. The storyline behind American Hustle is quite complicated and difficult to summarize in a sentence or two but I will try my best.

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Keanu Reeves is back in a genre film – his first since the conclusion of the Matrix trilogy. 47 Ronin is a re-telling of the classical Japanese tale of honor and revenge as a sword (or katana in this case) and sorcery fantasy.  An additional twist is the inclusion of Kai – Reeves’ half-breed protagonist – to highlight the Japanese prejudice against outsiders and to provide a doomed romance.

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REEL TO REAL

Man’s inhumanity to his fellow man. Does this sad fact of life really need to be shoved down our throats by movie entertainment? Yes, as many times as possible so that hatred, bigotry and prejudice will be marked and branded as atrocities and crimes against humanity and not justified in the name of religion, economics or self-preservation.

Director Steve McQueen has, with two feature films viz Hunger and Shame, demonstrated a razor sharp ability for telling the unflinchingly unblemished truth about the unsavory aspects of life. Now with this adaptation of Solomon Northup’s 1853 autobiography – Twelve Years a Slave – McQueen turns his keen eye on a dark chapter in American history – slavery.

The plot is straight-forward enough. Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) was a free negro plying his trade as a carpenter and violinist in Saratoga, New York in the mid-1800s. He was kidnapped and sold into slavery at New Orleans. He remained a slave for 12 years before finally re-gaining his freedom. Throughout those 12 years, he had to confront and endure physical and mental abuse – not to mention the despair of losing his family and his own identity, and in the latter case, for the sake of survival.

The story itself may be simple but the making of the film is anything but. Everything – from the cinematography to the acting performances, from the art direction to the costume design – demonstrates an attention to detail. McQueen is renowned for the realism of his films and 12 Years a Slave is no different. The locations – four historic antebellum plantations – come alive on screen and one is able to experience what it was like to live in those times.

The excellent cast flesh out these historical characters with conviction. Apart from Ejiofor’s sympathetic portrayal of Northup, special mention must be made of Michael Fassbender’s sadistic Edwin Epps, Lupita Nyong’o’s tragic Patsey, Paul Dano’s petty John Tibeats and Benedict Cumberbatch’s benevolent William Ford.

Not an easy or comfortable ride the moment Northup discovers his horrible plight – McQueen takes aim at the American South and Christianity and lays bare the monstrous attitudes that gives rise to the worst kind of behavior – that one segment of mankind is superior to the rest – demonstrated in Epps’ response to Northup’s accusation of sin – “A man does what he wants to his property” – even as he lashes the slave girl Patsey to an inch of her life.

Definitely a serious contender for best film of the year. Do not miss it!

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THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG

Regular visitors will be aware that I didn’t like the first installment of this bloated adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The Unexpected Journey ironically had too many familiar elements and tropes taken from The Lord of the Rings trilogy, as if director Peter Jackson was at pains to remind us of the association between the two trilogies!

(Spoilers appear below!)

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THE FREDDIE MERCURY TRIBUTE CONCERT DVD [REVIEW]

Virtually impossible to watch this without the inevitable lump in throat and teary-eyed response. The measure of love, admiration and respect that the late great Freddie Mercury and Queen engendered amongst their peers is plainly obvious judging from the stellar lineup of this tribute concert.

This 3-DVD collection contains the whole shebang – the opening acts (Extreme does an awesome Queen medley), the main event itself (simply mind-boggling from start to finish) and a bonus DVD of extras (10th anniversary documentary, rehearsal performances and photo galleries).

Simply essential for the diehard Queen fan.

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ENDER’S GAME (Directed by Gavin Hood)

I read Orson Scott Card’s scifi masterpiece when it was first published in 1985 and at the time, I was thinking that it was a superb cross of Starship Troopers and Lord of the Flies. It’s one of my favourite stories and you can imagine my emotional state as I was watching this film adaptation. Yes, I was crying like a baby. The adaptation is very faithful (I believe Card made that a condition of the option and license) and director Gavin Hood did a fairly reasonable job in getting the main plot points and themes of the book across. This achievement is aided by the strong cast with Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley and the young Asa Butterfield giving solid performances.

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THOR: THE DARK WORLD (Directed by Alan Taylor)

Funny how Thor (the mightiest Avenger) is probably the weakest and least interesting character amongst the stars of the Marvel Studio flicks. The first movie spent time introducing Thor and like most origin stories, the interest was kept at a respectfully high level most of the time with the key being the character development of Thor himself.

This is where the sequel falls flat. Once you understand that Thor is arrogant, brash and headstrong (and loves Jane Foster), there is nowhere else to go unless you spice things up and the writers of Thor: The Dark World fail to do that completely. Thor is utterly boring (despite Chris Hemsworth’s best efforts) and predictable – lacking any edge whatsoever. Thor’s flaws and weaknesses (evident in the first movie) are glossed over and somehow he becomes the least interesting character in his own movie.

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MORRISSEY: 25LIVE [DVD REVIEW]

MORRISSEY 25Live

Halfway through this concert film before singing The Smiths’ classic, “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want”, Morrissey announces to his rapt audience that he loves them and definitely the sentiment comes across as genuine and heart-warming. Which summarizes the appeal of the English singer, 25 years since he first launched his solo career after the demise of his legendary former band.

This memorable gig – filmed at Hollywood High School in Los Angeles (where Morrissey currently resides) – finds the 56 year old in fine fettle performing solo faves like “Alma Matters”, “November Spawned A Monster” and “Everyday is Like Sunday” and of course, Smiths classics like “Still Ill”, “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore”, “Meat is Murder”, “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” and “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side”.

Morrissey showcases four new tracks on the bonus feature, live recordings of “The Kid’s A Looker”, “Scandinavia”, “Action Is My Middle Name” and “People Are the Same Everywhere” produced by Tony Visconti. By the sounds of things, the next Morrissey album is going to be one to look out for…

REEL TO REAL

Reel to Real is a new feature to cover non-geek films over here at Power of Pop.

Machete Kills (Directed by Robert Rodriguez)

The first Machete flick was fairly good fun as the unlikely anti-hero (Danny Trejo) cut a swath through one-dimensional bad guys with OTT cartoon violence, surrounded by buxomy babes and a host of well-known actors e.g. Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, Lindsay Lohan, Steven Seagal etc. Inspired by 70s action exploitation movies, Machete did fair business at the box office.

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RIDDICK

To sum it all up, Riddick was rollicking good B-movie fun! What else do you need to know?

Well, after the critical and commercial mauling that the previous movie Chronicles of Riddick received, writer/director David Twohy and star/producer Vin Diesel had to re-think and brought the franchise back to basics. Meaning that this is more a sequel to Pitch Black (2000) than anything else.

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FILMWATCH

A quick wrap-up of non-geek films that I had the chance to watch in the last week or so. No detailed analysis, merely impressions. 

I was pleasantly surprised by this. I mean, for the first 30 minutes it really seemed so cliched but then a significant plot point was delivered and The Place Beyond the Pines became a totally different film. Ambitious storytelling that moved from one lead character to another, I loved how the film communicated the role of fate (or destiny) in our lives and how the sins of the father do sometimes visit the sons. Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper were competent and Ray Liotta does what he does best. Was disappointed with Eva Mendes though and Rose Byrne was non de script as well. Maybe the parts written for them did not do their abilities any favours. Recommended.

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