Exploring the adventures of a lesser-known team from the Marvel Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy was something of a surprise hit. The plot is well worn, almost clichéd, as a group of disparate beings learn to work together, and we can spot the few twists light-years away. Perhaps the filmmakers are acknowledging all that has come before but have chosen to enliven this tale by infusing a vast quantity of smart-ass humor. And that decision pays off remarkably well, yielding one of the most entertaining space operas since Star Wars.
Surely Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are two of the more interesting people working in Hollywood right now. With his diverse mile-long résumé and her Oscar nomination (for co-writing Bridesmaids) and indie cred, plus their shared Saturday Night Live pedigree, we never know quite what we’ll get next from them. The Skeleton Twins is not their first big-screen pairing, but it’s their most significant, as they play same-age sibs Maggie and Milo, estranged for the past 10 years and now suddenly reunited as they grapple with their own issues.
Sin City: You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. In A Dame to Kill For, the second big-screen adaptation of the works of writer/artist/director Frank Miller, we find that stripper Nancy (Jessica Alba) has been driven cuckoo-bananas by the events surrounding the death of her hero and one true love a few years ago. She now finds herself shadowed by the ghost of Bruce Willis (where have I seen that before?)
Has the iconic villainess of Sleeping Beauty gotten a bum rap all these years? In this grand live-action reimagining of the classic tale, we learn of the longstanding hatred between a human kingdom and a nearby realm of magical beings. Maleficent, the most powerful fairy and their de facto leader, begins life full of wonder, but after she is bitterly betrayed by the only human she ever cared for, she becomes the angry, formidable opponent we thought we knew.
After the apparent suicide of a key player at a major investment firm, up-and-coming financier Jane Porter (Sarah Butler, 2010’s remake of I Spit on Your Grave) is racked by grief but also struck by the strange behavior of her bosses. They seem to be increasingly interested in some recent high-level investments, but also in who might know about them. Were more sinister forces at work? And if so, will she be the next employee to meet a sudden end? Tensions mount with the after-hours arrival of the company crisis manager (D.B. Sweeney, looking like Chris Cooper), whose friendly interrogation grows more insistent. The building is locked down for the night with almost no one else inside; Sarah finds herself on the run for her life but is soon trapped inside the elevator, and a twisty game of cat-and-mouse ensues.
You’d think that the unique power to control metal, or the weather, or other people’s minds would be awesome, but no. In the world of the X-Men, mutated superhumans with such gifts are feared and hated and—in one possible future—will be hunted to the brink of extinction by an army of killer robots. Even worse, these deadly machines will also begin targeting us ordinary human beings, and the world we know now appears doomed.
Million Dollar Arm thankfully falls into that welcome category of sports movies that don’t demand a love of sports in order to click with audiences. Based on a true story, it introduces us to J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm), partner at a small sports agency in desperate need of a break, lest their doors close forever. He decides to think globally and soon cooks up The Big Idea: to hold a well-publicized contest in India with the intention of converting a cricket bowler into a baseball pitcher, with a seven-figure prize at stake. J.B. will secure some undiscovered talent, bring his winners home, and teach them the good old American pastime. Simple, right?
Yes, it’s been 30 years since the original Ghostbusters, the first movie to strike upon that irresistible balance of big laughs and big scares. The story is built around the ridiculously fun idea of professional trackers/capturers of wayward spirits, brought to life by the undeniable comedic talents of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis. The Oscar-nominated special effects also helped Ghostbusters become the biggest box-office hit in a year full of blockbusters. Although young Mr. Murray’s effusive wiseassery dates the movie somewhat (much like the remarkable amount of smoking on display), watching it anew reminds us of his consummate ability to find often subtle ways to make every moment his own—and so many of his lines worth quoting.
I don’t always watch my favorite movies and television series. But when I do, I prefer to watch them on Blu-ray. Thankfully, the studios have provided home theater enthusiasts—people who shop for them—with a bounty of exciting new sets, likely to elicit that elusive “Ooo…” as the ribbons and bows tumble to the floor. From film canons to entire classic TV series to the sort of inspired little tchotchkes that can be proudly displayed, these selections go beyond the ordinary, as gifts that will be enjoyed well beyond the holidays.
Peter Parker’s a recent high school graduate with an awesome girlfriend and—thanks to a bite from an experimental spider—has become the super-powered guardian angel of New York City, and quite the folk hero. But Pete’s good fortune seldom lasts, and the return of his boyhood chum Harry Osborn quickly takes a dark turn—or is that just the new villain Electro sucking all the juice out of the Big Apple?