Book Review: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

In this book Mary Roach addresses the question of what happens to us after we die. Not in a “is there a heaven? Or are we reincarnated?” way but in a more literal sense. What happens to our bodies after we die? It turns out, that a lot of stuff can happen, especially if you decide to donate your body to science.

stiff

You could end up being cut up in an anatomy lesson, or sat in a car to help improve vehicle safety. Or you could just be left outside in the sun so that they can study decay, which will help them work out how long bodies have been dead.

It’s a fascinating, if morbid book, and provides plenty of “well, I never!” moments as Roach reveals little secrets and facts that the regular Joe doesn’t spend much time thinking about. And she does it all in vibrant, engaging writing which is full of wit and humour. Roach is always able to see the surreal or absurd moments in the processes she investigates and her mind goes off on weird tangents which are highly amusing.

It won’t be for everyone. Death is something a lot of us find hard to talk about, let alone read a whole book about and we probably don’t want to think about what might happen to us, or has happened to people we know, after we shuffle off this mortal coil. And there are a few moments that the more squeamish might struggle with.

Personally, I loved it. Roach goes through all the different ways donated bodies are used, including organ donation, which focuses on one patient who’s organs are collected to aid others. As a card carrying organ donor, I found this to be an inspiring and positive section of the book, with Roach sharing my view that organ donation is the way to go. I also found it odd that the term “organ harvesting” has been dropped because people thought it sounded too celebratory, when really it should be celebrated, as lives are being saved.

Some of the sections are just weird- eating human flesh and juices as medical cures, not only in history but more recently was a touch odd. And the bodies converted into art works was a little bit creepy sounding.

bodyworlds

She also investigates new ways of getting rid of bodies, not cremation or burial but a form of composting, where the body is frozen and then mulched, buried in a biodegradable coffin in order to replenish the world around it. Personally this sounds pretty good to me, and let me go on record that this is what I want to happen to me after I stop being Chris and become the Body Formerly Known as Chris. Mulch me up, plant an apple tree over me and let me live on as delicious cider.

The book ends with Roach discussing what she wants to happen to her body after she dies. It’s interesting, she’s pro-donation and giving her body to science but she raises an interesting dilemma- how far should we go in honouring the wishes of the deceased? If the idea of dissection is painful or unsettling to the relatives is it fair to continue? Should we put more emphasis on the feelings of the living as opposed to the wishes of the dead?

It’s a tough one to call, especially when it comes to how the body is disposed of. In terms of organ donation I think it should go with the dead person’s choice. Apparently around half of families refuse to consent to heart transplants, which is sad as that means we’re only aiding around half of the people we could be.

It’s a book that made me laugh, that shocked me and most importantly made me think. We don’t dwell on death, which is probably healthy, but it’s coming and we should probably think about what we want to happen to our remains after we pop our clogs. There are plenty of ways that even after death we can aid others, and I, for one, think that’s pretty damn cool.

Verdict: A fascinating and wonderfully entertaining book about something we don’t often talk about but will all have to deal with. Roach finds the humour throughout without being disrespectful and it revealed a lot of new stuff to me. Quality science writing that the average Joe can understand. 8/1o.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: The Expendables 3

Common Hollywood theory states that sequels are an exercise in diminishing returns, possibly due to the plethora of witless and by-the-numbers follow ups in the horror and action movie genres during the 70s and 80s (for the best example of this rewatch Jaws and then suffer through the sequels, or the Halloween series, the last one I watched featured Busta Rhymes for crying out loud, and he wasn’t even the worst part of it). But sometimes this theory is rubbish and the superhero genre in particular has thrown up several sequels which match, or even surpass, the original.

Back in the day Sylvester Stallone was the face of the “bad sequels” idea, with his two most popular characters, Rocky and Rambo, having some shaky follow ups (Rambo III is pretty dire, even if it is in a fun way, and Rocky’s II and V are weak). But in the 21st century he’s become the king of the sequels, Rocky and Rambo both returned and in some style, Rocky Balboa may be the best in the series after the original and Rambo is far superior to III.

The Expendables series would seem to be primed for disappointing sequels, of stars taking the cheques and laziness seeping in, but somehow, they’ve actually got better too. The first one was quite good fun with Stallone leading a gang of action heroes into battle for some standard action heroics, and the sequel was lots of fun too, thanks in part to a better villain in Jean Claude Van Damme and giving Schwarzenegger and Willis more to do than just chat in a church.

In a way the third might be the best of the series so far, even if the action has been toned down to 12A levels. A large part of this is down to some new faces to the franchise, some familiar and some less so.

expendables 3 pos

The movie kicks off with Barney Ross (Stallone) and his squad (Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews and Randy Couture) staging a daring rescue on an armoured prison train to rescue a mysterious figure. The man they rescue turns out to be Doc (Wesley Snipes), an old friend of Ross’ and an original member of the Expendables. Doc is a slightly unhinged dude who joins the squad on their next mission to take down an arms dealer.

The mission hits a snag however when the dealer is revealed to be Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), a former friend of Ross’ and Expendables teammate.

Best villain yet- Gibson takes aim as Stoneback

Best villain yet- Gibson takes aim as Stonebanks

 

During the ensuing firefight Stonebanks deliberately targets one of the team to hurt Barney, leaving them critically injured. Barney’s new CIA handler, Drummer (Harrison Ford) is unhappy with the failed mission and reflecting on his injured friend and having to face Stonebanks again, Barney fires his team.

This does not go down well, especially with right hand man Lee Christmas (Statham). The four uninjured members struggle to come to terms with being out while Barney recruits Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer) to build a new, younger team (Kellan Lutz, Victor Ortiz, Glen Powell and Ronda Rousey). Another prospective member is rejected when Bonaparte realizes it’s actually an older mercenary, Galgo (Antonio Banderas), who’s former team cut him loose and is eager to return to fighting, the one thing he can do.

The team are skilled in modern tech and fighting and Ross leads them after Stonebanks, however, the mission fails and the new recruits are captured. Stonebanks calls out Barney to come and get them, and he returns to the US to tool up, reluctantly agreeing to take on the talkative, enthusiastic Galgo. His former teammates arrive and volunteer to stand with him, and the six man crew head back to Stonebanks’ Eastern European base.

The rescue team

The rescue team

Meanwhile, Barney’s former rival Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) decides to go back them up, assisted by Yin (Jet Li), a former Expendable, and Drummer volunteers to come with them.

Can they save the younger crew or are they walking into a trap? Can Barney defeat a man who knows him so well?

I bet you can figure out the answer to those questions. But while this film may be predictable it still works as a hugely entertaining action film, and is probably the most fun of the three, and this is down to some of the new characters, particularly Antonio Banderas’ crazy Spanish soldier, who talks a mile a minute and manages to make the character entertainingly flamboyant but human underneath. His backstory is one you see coming, but there’s something wonderfully sweet about the way he acts around the others and he’s a breath of fresh air among the scowling action heroes.

Breath of fresh air- Banderas

Breath of fresh air- Banderas

Another good addition to the mix is Snipes, who is a charismatic on screen presence and has wonderful chemistry with Stallone and Statham. Statham and Snipes’ characters are rivals but there’s a bantering side to it all that I felt really worked.

Statham and Snipes work well as rivals

Statham and Snipes work well as rivals

It also helps that in Gibson the series has it’s best villain yet. Gibson’s trademark barely contained lunacy works masterfully here, he’s a more cynical, jaded and extreme version of Stallone’s character, less morally conflicted and with a nasty streak. He switches between demented swagger and icy, ruthless evil to great effect and he appears to have beefed up a bit meaning that the inevitable showdown with Stallone seems like an even match.

The young guns are good even if a tad underdeveloped, although it is nice to see a female join the ranks and MMA fighter Rousey does rather well, holding her own in the middle of all the testosterone and taking part in a fantastic fight scene. The only problem is it feels as though Lutz’s character was meant to build a relationship with Barney, but its never realized properly.

The young guns

The young guns

Ford is the weakest of the new additions, never really getting in the mix and Willis is written out in harsh style (“He’s no longer a problem”). Not given much to do Ford looks out of place and even among the older heroes seems past it, it doesn’t bode well for the new Star Wars flicks (assuming he survives past VII).

But it’s not all about the new faces, the major draw is still Stallone. I’ve always found him to be a likable on screen presence and here he’s near his action hero best, and the older he gets the more badass he looks. Stallone also manages to show some acting chops, with one scene after Stonebanks takes out his man standing out for me. It’s subtle, while flying the plane the camera closes in on his eyes there’s a shift from sadness to cold, steely resolve in his face.

Stallone plays Ross just right, we see the effect his chosen career weighs on him, his heroism and his fears, pushing his team away to save them and prepared to die in order to rescue the kids he’s got mixed up in a private vendetta with Stonebanks.

The other standout among the returning members is Statham, probably the cast member who’s career is strongest at the moment. He and Stallone share easy chemistry and their bantering, bickering interplay is one of the series’ strongest assets. Statham has less to do here, but its a typically solid, charismatic performance.

Crews, Couture and Lundgren continue to be underused, which is a shame, but in a cast this big inevitable, but all three do their jobs. Jet Li by this stage is just cameoing, and when he does show up barely does any kung fu fighting.

Arnie gets more screen time in this addition and seems to relish it, he and Sly work well together as friends/rivals and with his stubble and cigar chomping Arnie looks quite badass as he blasts his way through the final battle.

expendables 3 arnie

Basically everyone does what they do, but if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. It’s great fun, especially for action fans and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. The action might be rather bloodless, but it doesn’t stop the movie from being an immensely entertaining action flick, and with fresh blood added I suspect we haven’t seen the last of the Expendables, especially as there’s mention of the team containing up to twenty guys at one point (who’ll turn up in part four? Kurt Russell, Nicolas Cage, Ice T, Ice Cube, Samuel L Jackson, Chow Yun Fat? Just please, no Busta Rhymes)

Verdict: A solid and entertaining action movie which benefits from some new blood (particularly Gibson, Banderas and Snipes) but some of the cast get lost in the swelling ranks. Sly and Arnie fans will love it and there’s enough banter and gags to keep it ticking over. Best so far? Maybe. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Man Who Would Be King by Rudyard Kipling

I’ve never read any Kipling aside from “If” and the only work I’m fairly familiar with is The Jungle Book, and even that is from Cubs and the Disney version.
I went in with a few preconceptions about Kipling, imagining that as a Brit writing about India he might treat the locals with the same condescension that Haggard shows Africans. There is a little bit of this, but not as bad as I feared.
The story is told by a young journalist working in India during the Victorian era. Aboard a train he meets a fellow Englishman who asks him to convey a message to a friend, albeit a short and enigmatic one. Our narrator complies and some time later meets both men again, when they outline their plan. They intend to travel to Kafirstan where using guns and by training the locals they hope to raise themselves to be kings.
Some years later one of the group, gaunt and babbling finds our narrator once more and tells of the disastrous endeavour.
It’s quite a gripping book, and clocking in at around 100 pages on my Kindle a quick read, and I blazed through it in less than two days (probably possible in one if you’re riding a train or inside all day). Kipling ensures that he keeps the action moving and succeeds in capturing the two distinct narrative voices, the journalist and the more working-class, mentally damages survivor.
The story is handled well, mystery building in the early stages (will they succeed in becoming kings? What lies ahead in Kafirstan?) and then revealing all from the babbling survivor.
What happens is an interesting tale, with the downfall of the would-be kings coming from their own overconfidence and failings.
They set themselves up as gods to the natives, which seems doomed to failure and then their baser urges prove to be their undoing.
There’s a bit of patronising, but in a way it feels of the time. These colonialists believe themselves naturally superior and smarter, as though intended to rule. When they seek to praise their new subjects they do it by stating how they are like the English.
Kipling’s writing is never overly showy or flowery, which feels right given the narrative voice used, and he does a magnificent job in capturing the ensuing madness of the conquerors and building the tension. A fine, gripping quick read.
Verdict: A brief but engaging piece, Kipling tells a good story in a gripping and successful way. Good for a quick read. 7/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Food For Thought

Channel 4’s on demand service continues to be a mine of documentaries worth checking out and this weekend I watched My Big Fat Fetish, which was a look into the world of BBW (big beautiful women) and their admirers, focusing on a handful of BBW models. It was quite interesting although I felt it wasn’t really about men who like BBWs and more about a subset of this group, feeders.

Cards on the table time, I’m a fan of the curvier girl, my gorgeous girlfriend is a curvy girl. I’ve never really brought into the idea of anyone other than serial killers having “a type” when it comes to the opposite sex, I like lots of different types of women but I would say that voluptuous girls are probably the most consistent type of woman I find attractive, that’s just what I find appealing.

Like April Flores for example

Like April Flores for example

I think there are probably quite a few guys out there like me who like their girls on the plumper side, and they would have been a bit disappointed that their liking of BBWs was presented in the way this documentary did. The documentary seemed to skew towards the extreme and niche side of the market, which is understandable as it’s a more interesting story than just someone who fancies chubbier girls. But there was something of the freak show about the doc and the handful of “fat admirers” they featured were all involved in the feeder thing.

For those unfamiliar feeders are a group who are attracted to the idea of their partner gaining weight, which they do by encouraging their girl to eat food and charting her weight gain. One of the girls involved, Kitt, is in a relationship with one of these guys and admits that she feels better when she’s bigger because when she was skinny she felt sexless and her curves make her feel feminine.

This is okay, and if it helps both of them feel better about themselves and each other, more power to them, but throughout I couldn’t shake this weird vibe the whole feeder thing gave me. One of the women featured, Goddess Patty, had got up to 44 stone to entertain her fans to severe detriment to her health and life. Patty made a slightly pathetic figure, struggling to live a normal life and relying on her son, who seemed (no pun intended) weighed down by the responsibility and the things he has to do.

The weird vibe comes form the whole question of how much they actually want to gain weight and how much is pressure from a partner or their fans. In Kitt’s case I think she wanted to fill out a bit, but where would she stop. Would it end when she felt comfortable with her body, or would her boyfriend want her to keep going a bit more?

In a way I like that these women can find people who like their bodies and might help them feel more comfortable and positive about themselves, but the feeder things less about how the woman feels and more about the guy changing someone for his pleasure or liking the control aspect. Imagine it in a different context, a man preparing meals or charting his girlfriend’s food intake because he wants her to be skinnier? Or a big boob lover talking about getting his girl enhanced to be more like what he has a fetish for.

My girlfriend is curvy, and I love her body, but she has talked about wanting to lose a bit of weight in order to feel more comfortable and confident. I reassure her that I think she is beautiful already, and try to help her with her insecurities, but I know that in the end the decision is hers. If she decides to lose weight I will support her in this and help where I can, so that she can feel better about herself. I would be a massive bellend if I was to say “no, don’t lose weight, I like you chubby”, because it’s not about what I like, it’s about what makes her feel good about herself.

I’m sure in some relationships it works fine, and both reach a stage where they’re happy, but I fear in some cases it can go too far, especially in cases like Patty’s. It was heartbreaking to hear her talk about when she started to gain weight, speaking of an ex who like bigger women, Patty states that she’s always been “a man pleaser” in relationships and it seems that drive to please the men in her life has outweighed her attending to what would actually make her life better and happier.

There are some vulnerable people out there, and I just worry that some of the feeders will latch onto some of these women and push them to gain weight beyond what they feel good about.

I also feel the documentary was ridiculously biased in the way it treated those involved, focusing on a niche and making out that this world of excessive gain and feeding was the only avenue BBW models had of making it. The fact is that many men prefer curvier women without getting involved in the feeder lifestyle, and this show seemed to suggest that models like Lizzie aka Sailor Rose had to gain weight to make an impact when she would have found fans in her original voluptuous appearance.

Lizzie aka Sailor Rose, one of the BBW models featured on the show

Lizzie aka Sailor Rose, one of the BBW models featured on the show

It’s an interesting doc, but it did seem to push that liking bigger women was weird and slightly unhealthy, where it could have just been an insight into the fact that the internet has enabled people to discover and express things they find attractive outside of the cultural norm. That might have offered reassurance and confidence to anyone who’s body doesn’t fall into the mainstream idea of beauty, whereas I’m unsure how this would effect the larger women in the audience. If you are a plumper woman who watched this doc let me know.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Old Patagonian Express by Paul Theroux

Reading travel writing is a masochistic pleasure, you read about far off lands and interesting sights as you sit in bed or drink coffee staring out at the same old high street. You can easily resent a travel writer for swanning about looking at the world’s wonders and hopping from place to place, but not with Paul Theroux.

Theroux is a travel writer who doesn’t just gawp at old buildings or get into exciting scrapes, he’s someone who travels for the sake of it, sure, but he does it in a far from glamorous manner. In this book from the late ’70s, he decides to travel from Boston in the US all the way down to Patagonia at the end of South America, all by train.

patagonian

He rolls out on a commuter train and moves on to shabby, rattling relics, overcrowded sleepers and dusty, windy carriages on his rail odyssey South. From the window of the train he observes the landscape change, but also different characters of the countries he passes through and their peoples. His fellow passengers provide him with conversation and local insight, sharing the national attitudes and prejudices.

Of course, he gets off the trains, viewing churches, meeting other writers and attending a football match in El Salvador that ends in a riot. Here he explores the insular, slightly ’50s atmosphere of the Panama canal zone and the Americans who reside there, arguing that the canal should not be turned over to the Panamanians and rarely leaving their compound, regarding the locals as untrustworthy savages.

It’s an interesting snapshot of life in every country, and Theroux is never shy in giving his opinion. His own bias seeps in, but for the most part he appears fair and well balanced, and it’s interesting the way he discusses his fellow passengers. Particularly good is the passage in which he addresses backpackers in Peru. He talks about how these travelers are obsessed with saving money and getting the best deals, and as such they don’t contribute to the society they visit. They don’t bring extra wealth to the impoverished area, and Theroux argues that in a way they are more detrimental than the package tourists.

Theroux’s writing is clever, insightful and glorious and there’s a sly sense of humour throughout, acknowledging the odder characters and events of his trip. Of all the travel writer’s I’ve read, Theroux is probably the most talented. He doesn’t just tell stories of his exploits, he reflects and interprets what he sees, and that’s probably the best thing traveling offers people.

What makes him a great writer is that he perfectly captures the emotions of a traveler. The initial excitement and joy of travel is replaced as he rolls on down the tracks, a mix of homesickness, loneliness and frustration, that’s not to say he’s miserable, but he captures the way that your feelings change over the course of a trip, and how small factors can effect that- the weather, chatting to a fellow passenger, altitude, the food, the conditions on the trains. There’s a sequence where he describes the freewheeling, daydreaming chain of thought that he has while looking out the window and it’s similar to one that most of us will have had, reliving memories, scripting perfect comebacks for old fights and crafting fantasy worlds. It’s one of those wonderful moments you have when reading when you realize that you’re not alone in thinking.

All in all a great read, albeit one that made me jealous and my feet itch.

Verdict:  A wonderfully written book about an incredible journey, Theroux is lucky to get to go on these trips and skilled enough to make them fascinating to read about. Insightful glimpse of the different countries he visits and how they appear to the traveler. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Life is a lemon

I’ve been to two different Costa Coffee’s this week and in both I saw the same challenge set forward- “Balance a 20p on a lemon, get a free coffee”. It was for charity and I thought it made a nice change from just having a little pot for donations. You should give to charity anyway, but it’s always a bit more appealing when you get something out of it too.

Next to the sign was a lemon floating in a large mug of water, a couple of 20p pieces at the bottom. I had a few in my pocket and figuring I’d do a good deed and maybe win a free coffee I decided to have a few goes, it might be a bit tricky but with a steady hand and some logic, how hard could it be?

lemon

My first attempt was a disaster. I dropped it from a little too high and this meant that the whole lemon bounced in the water and it went right in the drink.

For the second attempt I waited for it to stop bobbing about and decided to softly lie it down on the fruit. No dice, it slid off.

The third went the same way.

I was about to dig into my pocket for more change, but luckily I was snapped out of it by having to order.

A couple of days later at a different Costa in a different town they too had a lemon floating in water.

I only had one single twenty pence left, but I slowly tried to slide it onto the surface of the peel.

SPLOOSH!

Right into the water.

I knew the chances of doing it were slim but I’d had to try. It’s the old gambler’s folly- “I know I probably won’t win, but what if?”.

I began to wonder if it was even possible, apparently it is.

lemon2

The fact is despite knowing that it’s really hard if I was to see a lemon in water on my next visit I’d have another pop.

I could probably find that some kid’s show or internet nerd has done a video showing how to do it, but that would be cheating. And defeat what is the major draw of this challenge.

It’s not the free coffee, although that would be nice.

It’s the fact that I really want to prove I can balance a 20p on a stupid lemon. I know I shouldn’t care, I know I should accept that most people would fail, but I want to be one of the few who succeeds. If I’d managed it I’d have walked out with a smug grin on my face and that little victory would have carried me through the day.

That’s the genius of this kind of fundraiser, first it capitalizes on people’s desire to get something in return and then it hits that gambler zone of making you want to just keep playing, because you’re bound to win sooner or later, aren’t you? But the third stage is the real killer. You’re about to walk away when you feel a slight sting. That’s pride messing with you.

You feel you should be able to do it. You’re a smart guy, you can figure this out. And splash, there’s another 20p at the bottom of the mug.

Those charity guys are sneaky, but we’ll see who has the last laugh when I finally get that free coffee.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

It’s a sign of Marvel’s confidence in their cinematic universe that this, the tenth installment revolves around a lesser known title and is only loosely linked (so far) with the other movies. While the other films all built up to the Avengers team up and were Earth based this follows a separate team far across the cosmos.

guardians poster

It’s a gamble but it pays off magnificently, resulting in a ridiculously entertaining sci-fi romp which is easily one of the funniest films I’ve seen in a while. Humour has been a key component in the Marvel movies, and I think is part of the reason for their success, but this is definitely the closest they’ve come to an all out comedy.

The plot revolves around Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), who we see being abducted from Earth following the death of his mother in the late 80s. Twenty six years later and light years away, Quill operates as a petty thief and outlaw styling himself as Star-Lord. However, the theft of a mysterious orb lands him in higher stakes. Turning on his boss Yondu (Michael Rooker) he decides to go alone in selling it.

The orb is actually sought by Ronan (Lee Pace), a fanatical Kree who wishes revenge on the Xandarians, a rival race. If he can give the orb to Thanos (Josh Brolin) then in exchange the Xandarians will be destroyed. Ronan is assisted by Thanos’ two adopted daughters Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan), and sends Gamora to retrieve the orb.

Baddies- Ronan (Pace) and Nebula (Gillan)

Baddies- Ronan (Pace) and Nebula (Gillan)

Gamora tracks down Quill and attempts to get the orb back. Her attempts are hindered as Quill is also the target of a pair of bounty hunters seeking the reward Yondu has offered- Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a cynical, sarcastic genetically engineered raccoon and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a humanoid tree. All four are arrested and transported to a maximum security prison space station.

At the prison Gamora’s association with Ronan makes her a target for many of the inmates, including Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a hulking brute who seeks revenge for the death of his family. Quill intervenes, saving Gamora by arguing that keeping her alive is probably a better way of getting to Ronan.

Gamora reveals that unable to go along with Ronan’s plan to murder billions she intended to betray Ronan and had found another buyer. She joins forces with Quill, Rocket and Groot to escape and get the orb away from Ronan and Thanos. They escape and Drax joins them.

Meeting the buyer they discover that the orb contains one of six infinity stones, immensely powerful and destructive objects that can only be wielded by the strongest beings and can destroy whole planets. Drax, drunk and desiring revenge gives away their position to Ronan, who discovers what the orb contains. After defeating Drax in one-on-one combat Ronan leaves.

Quill calls Yondu in order to be captured to save a stranded Gamora. Groot and a remorseful Drax want to rescue their comrades, and convince Rocket. When they reach Yondu’s ship, Quill’s fast talking has got him and Gamora out of trouble. The five are reunited and knowing that Ronan now knows about the infinity stone will head to destroy Xandar and other worlds, Quill suggests that they need to stop him, despite it being seemingly impossible.

Can Quill unite the misfits and rally them to make a stand? And will it be enough if they and Yondu’s ships do face down Ronan? And will the forces of law believe that Quill and the others are telling the truth and want to help?

I freaking loved this movie, the plot is a fairly standard sci-fi adventure, and the idea of misfits having to team up to save the day is hardly new, but it’s executed brilliantly. The script by Nicole Perlman and director James Gunn is a delight filled with nice ideas and great touches, and Gunn (Slither) has serious comedic chops, but also handles the action brilliantly.

The characters are realized wonderfully, especially the CGI duo Groot and Rocket. Groot, despite only uttering three words (“I am Groot”) is strangely endearing and the sarky Rocket is a delight. This is the third Dave Bautista movie I’ve seen, and this is the best performance he’s given (underused in Riddick and just there as muscle in The Man with the Iron Fists),  but here not only does he bring the muscular presence to Drax but he’s gloriously deadpan as a character who inteperets everything literally. It’s a sign of the film’s class that despite these ridiculous characters you warm to them all and get genuinely invested in them.

A talking raccoon and a walking tree, and yet you still care about them.

A talking raccoon and a walking tree, and yet you still care about them.

Zoe Saldana also deserves praise for her role, capturing Gamora’s ferocity but also a bizarre naivety. Raised as a weapon she seems uncomfortable with emotions and experiences confused irritation towards Quill. Saldana does a good job of slowly allowing the character to develop and reveal her emotions and form relationship

As Quill, Chris Pratt is the stand out. Coupled with The Lego Movie (review coming soon) this is definitely his year, I’d been impressed with his work in the show Parks and Recreation and supporting roles like in The Five Year Engagement, but I was really surprised by how well he handled the leading man role here. Slimmed down and buffed up, Pratt looks the part but his winning quality is the way he marries Quill’s cocky swaggering with goofy failure. It could have made the character look utterly delusional, but Quill is just about talented enough to justify the confidence, even if he sometimes emerges victoriously by luck rather than judgement.

Pratt’s easy charm carries much of the film, he’s constantly out of his depth and his roguish facade, and “Star-Lord” posturing is blatantly a cover for a man who is lost and basically a decent bloke. When the chips are down he rises to the challenge, however long the odds, with a combination of fast talking, courage and fluke. He’s clearly cut in the Han Solo, Indiana Jones, Malcolm Reynolds mode but far goofier. There’s something almost childlike at times in the character, or at least adolescent, and this extends to his relationship with Yondu, who despite constant threats gives him a lot of slack and treats him like a favoured, indulged child.

Pratt in action as Quill

Pratt in action as Quill

The back story adds some mystery, (why was a small child abducted? And why is his father so shrouded in mystery?) but also gives the movie one of it’s nicest, most idiosyncratic touches, the soundtrack. When he’s abducted one of the few possessions Peter has is a walkman with an mix tape in, which includes a plethora of great, cheesy 60s and 70s hits, including Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling” which appeared in a trailer. During the opening robbery Peter dances and lip syncs with Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love”. It’s a hilarious sequence and sets up the movie’s quirky, fun tone and had the audience I was with laughing, which they continued to do throughout.

I know I’ve pushed the comedy side, but it’s still a rollicking adventure, with great fights an intimidating villain and a class supporting cast. I eagerly await the sequel, and seeing if they have a Guardians-Avengers crossover.

Verdict: A goofy triumph, Gunn mixes humour, action and sci-fi with great skill and the cast are sensational. A brilliant soundtrack and weird, but endearing characters makes this one of the most fun movies I’ve seen in a while and up there with the best of Marvel’s cinematic output, and in the mix for my favourite movie of the year. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


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