A part of my local movie theater is undergoing renovations, and there was a sign blocking off a construction area that irked me. It said that a new bar was going to be installed where people could order alcoholic drinks.

    This my friends, is what I like to call a concerning development. I am guilty of being a hypocrite, in the sense that I’ve showed up sloshed to the movies, and have experienced a movie theater bar. The drinks were terrible, and I could tell the bartender was trying to get me to spread the word about HOW AWESOME THIS NEW FEATURE WAS. When that happened, I grabbed my drink, shoved more sour gummy worms down my throat, and left Penny the Would-Be Marketing Expert clutching her brass ring. I hope she got promoted to better opportunities 

    I’ve done a total 180 on this topic. It wasn’t long ago when I pre-gamed at a bar/pit of humanity then shuffled down the streets of Phoenix to heckle at a movie screen. But the countless stories of the past I have should be just that, stories of the past. They’re not instruction manuals, unless the instruction is how not to live your life. 

    Hearing my friends respond to my tales of drunken idiocy with god, you’re so dumb and you’re such a lightweight is like being told nicely to grow up. I won’t divulge publicly what other friends have done under the influence while at the movie theater. 

    That doesn’t mean abstain from alcohol; it just means don’t take Captain Morgan to a function where you’re supposed to critique a product. Drunk criticisms need to be molded into sober, coherent thoughts. If I thought The Martian was boring, I should’ve thought it instead of yelling out THIS IS ABOUT NOTHING, JUST LIKE SEINFIELD! It got a laugh, but I’m sure the local Matt Damon fan wanted to smack me in my numb head.

    If I wanna consume food and drink at the movies, let me incur the wrath of diabetes and do it with candy and soda! ON TO THE MOVIES!

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

    I’ve come to the conclusion that the best Marvel movies are nothing like Marvel movies. In other words, we need to stop seeing movies like The Avengers and instead have more like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. This is a better film than it’s predecessor in every way possible.

    I know, that one is a modern classic. The mix of hilarious writing, sci-fi action and glorious 70s rock and soul is impossible to resist. What that movie missed however was an emotional beating heart. Sure, people learn to work together, but in this film they learn to understand and yes, love each other.

    Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) fights bad guys with his fellow guardians Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). They’re a group, but not yet a family. They still fight and make decisions that screw them over. One of them occurs when Rocket steals some batteries from a group of angry gold aliens; the ensuing plane crash leaves them stranded on a planet.

    That’s when Ego enters the equation. No, not the emotion, but the actual character (Kurt Russell), and he claims to be Star-Lord’s dad. Russell is so wonderful here, and I don’t know how he made such an underwritten character still work. Ego alternates between being a nurturing figure to a mad-man to a killer to someone that always loved Star-Lord’s mom, and everything in-between all of that. But Russell makes that bad writing work, because he can spin the worst line with irony. He’s having fun here, and so are we. On a side note, between this and Michael Douglas in Ant-Man, Marvel needs to de-age old movie stars for flashback scenes more. It’s freaky but fun.

    Eventually the group is split up, and Rocket meets up with bounty hunter Yondu (Michael Rooker). The two realize what evil Russell’s character is up to around the same time as Gamora and Drax. Star-Lord is of course the one to find out last.

    It’s a testament to how well the rest of the screenplay is written that the occasional lulls and predictable plot doesn’t wear on you. It’s masked over with a killer soundtrack and wonder jokes. Drax in particular is a giant man child; every word is says is both awkward and hilarious. Even though it’s existence was likely mandated by Disney to market to children, I also didn’t mind Baby Groot as I thought I would. The pop culture references are amusing, and seeing Pac-Man not the big screen for the second time in two years (2015’s Pixels) was cool to see.

    I also appreciated that Marvel finally killed off a major character that wasn’t a villain. That’s a low bar to clear, but doing it finally gives the story stakes and keeps these comic book films from becoming glorified TV episodes. When the massive destruction our heroes had to stop finally showed up, I didn’t audibly groan like I have in the past. I’ll call that progress. 

    But I keep thinking about that ending. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 finishes on a note so bittersweet, you would swore it wasn’t a superhero film. Again, there’s been others that can hit a tragic note (The Dark Knight, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man), but not a sustained powerfully sad feeling like here. It’s like being surprised that a cartoon can make you cry. 

    To put it another way, this is the Toy Story 2 of the franchise. A sequel that finds emotion and meaning in a world that was already compelling when it was simple. Bring on Volume 3; I can’t wait till we get Marvel’s version of the incinerator scene.

The Circle

    I’ve never seen a film with so many interesting parts fail to put any of it together. The Circle is a conspiracy thriller until it’s not, an inspirational message with no oomph, a story of a small-town girl in a big environment where…nothing happens.

    I mean, in a basic sense there is a plot. Mae (Emma Watson) works a boring job in a call center, and gets that opportunity when her friend Annie (Karen Gillan) gets her a job at The Circle. It’s Apple on steroids, the Silicon Valley-esque company that wants to make our lives better with technology. Their intentions have unforeseen consequences, or were they meant to be that way?

    It’s two hours after watching this film and I still don’t understand what exactly was going on here. We get an odd mish-mash of The Truman Show and a couple of nastier episodes of Black Mirror, mixed with the fictional equivalent of TEDTalks. Nothing about that combination works, and it’s evident on-screen.

    Various characters exist in this film, all of whom are pulling it in a different direction. Watson’s kind, beguiled face (with a poor American accent) suggest an inspirational movie about a woman learning to claw her way to the top of a tech giant. John Boyega (Star Wars) lurks in the shadows, looking like he needs Watson’s help to uncover a conspiracy. Other characters monitor Mae’s progress to get her social score up by going to parties and talking to theory employees; which is lighthearted and fun, if shallow. What we’re getting at is the movie version of the cafeteria Catholic, somebody that picks various little things they like but never goes deeper with it. That might be good for the soul, but it’s bad for film.

    Eventually, the company worms their way into Mae’s life. They provide health insurance for her parents, including her sickly ill father (Bill Paxton, who’s appearance in this makes me a lot less surprised he died a few months ago). They attach a bracelet to her to gauge her physical well-being. The company chair (Tom Hanks) and his partner (Patton Oswalt) encourage her to wear a camera to document her life 24/7.

    All this technology doesn’t work out so well when Mae attempts to contact her ex-boyfriend Mercer (Ellar Coltrane), but their story could’ve been its own movie. It doesn’t belong here. There’s also allusions to the Circle attempting to shut down a US Senator that wants to investigate them. Interesting plot point, but nothing is done with it beyond being seen on a TV screen for a few seconds.

    It’s not good to see Tom Hanks has officially entered the Bruce Willis/Robert De Niro phase of his career, where he shows up and half-acts his way through scenes playing a very important figure. When he struts around with a cup of coffee, I couldn’t help but feel that director James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) captured him walking out of his trailer.  He’s been making the wrong career moves since 2004, and this is another one.

    What did this movie want to be? Wikipedia calls this a “techno-thriller”, but where are the thrills? Is it when Watson inexplicably goes out kayaking in the middle of a storm? Or is it a scene with her and Boyega sneaking down to the basement where he says computers to store cloud data will be installed? Those were the tensest moments I can think of, and describing them that way is a big stretch. 

    There’s a lot of techno-babble here, but none of it is interesting because there’s no attempt to go deeper. If you wanna make a movie where Hanks is an evil CEO that wants to take over the world with his technology and only Watson can stop him, then do it. Otherwise, you’ve got a product that’s middling and needs to be rejected on the spot.

    This film never should’ve made it out of the boardroom where it was pitched.