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Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy

Marvel Studios

Marvel Studios is still new. Based on their track record, that’s almost hard to believe. Of the nine movies they’ve put out, all of them have performed considerably well, if not completely gangbusters, at the box office. Considering their latest film, Guardians of the Galaxy, is on track to make over $70m this weekend, their luck will continue. At this point, we may have to stop calling it luck and start calling it smart business decisions. One of the people responsible for Marvel’s success is, of course, the president of the studio, Kevin Feige, and he’s fully embraced the spirit — and often downright weirdness – of the characters and their worlds.

Feige gambled on an untested formula that’s paid off. Few people expected Iron Man, and with it Marvel, to succeed the way that it did, but he was one of them. Six years ago, it was clear he believed in their ambitious plan from the start. “It’s a little bit of planning, a little bit of luck and you end up with a studio that has the film rights to Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk and Ant-Man,” he said in 2008. “And clearly, when you put them all together, you know who you get.”

He meant The Avengers, as well as a whole series of successful solo superhero films around it.

Guardians of the Galaxy is the one that now puts Marvel’s brand to the ultimate test. Iron Man wasn’t a very well known character to the general public, but the Hulk, Thor and Captain America were all pretty familiar faces. It’ll take some convincing for people to see a story about a human (Chris Pratt) and his alien misfit buddies saving the galaxy. But if this movie is a hit, its success proves Marvel’s name is all that’s needed to sell these movies. That would mean the studio doesn’t have to pay actors boatloads of cash because the stars in the superhero suits aren’t the the main draw. Iron Man nearly proved that. Captain America: The First Avenger, as well. Guardians of the Galaxy could cement the fact.

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The Almost Man

Big World Pictures

Henrik (Henrik Rafaelson) likes to play pretend. He likes to yell made-up stories in the grocery store (loudly and often of the shockingly impolite variety) and to engage people in conversations about things that never happened and to jump out from behind things to scare people. Fortunately for Henrik, his girlfriend Tone (Janne Heltberg) likes to play pretend with him. At least, until real life becomes a lot more interesting and full than all those pretend games.

The couple is already in a state of upheaval when Martin Lund’s The Almost Man opens, though it seems to be a mostly cheery one (at least, it’s one that includes dancing to Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” in the middle of the day, which seems like a solid signal that things are peppy). Henrik and Tone have recently moved (they’re still unpacking boxes) and Henrik is about to start a new job, but the real news is that the tiny, flame-haired Tone is pregnant with their first child. She seems remarkably nonplussed by the news – happy, but not unhinged – while Henrik, our “almost man,” is slowly starting to break down under the pressure of impending adulthood, despite the fact that he really should have grown up quite a long time ago.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Obscene Gesture

Marvel Studios

In Guardians of the Galaxy, Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill slowly unwinds his middle finger like a jack-in-the-box as men gaze at him from the other side of smart glass warning of his imminent “obscene gesture.” Flipping the bird has now become interstellar, the latest in a long history of imaginative fingering.

The gesture has evolved beyond a simple way to say “fuck you.” It’s the obvious and subtle threat between the fingers, no longer happy to simply pop up, now it dances in many forms. Some fling it in anger, some let it tease, and some see theirs blown off. It can be bloody, robotic, disembodied, Tank Girled and adamantiumed.

If Hollywood put half as much effort into storytelling as they put into creative uses of the middle finger, many of the industry’s problems would be solved. For now, we have the following 10 birds, some of which are part of the “Movie Middle Finger”video montage featured way down. Is your favorite missing?

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Masaharu Fukuyama in 'Like Father, Like Son'

IFC Films

August is hot and sticky, to the point where many days it gets too uncomfortable to go outside even after the sun has gone down. That’s where a reliable air conditioner and a Netflix account come in handy. There’s bound to be at least a couple days out of this month where you just want to draw the shades, crank up the AC and avoid the sun.

But what movies to stream while you’re in seclusion? Start with this list of new additions to the service, which are all worth a look.

As always, click on the films’ titles in order to be taken to their Netflix page, where you can add them to your My List.

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Chris Hemsworth is The Huntsman

Universal Pictures

Now let’s just hold our horses and keep away from the “who asked for this?!” talk, because you know who asked for a sequel to Rupert SandersSnow White and the Huntsman? Every single person who paid to see the first film – $400M worth of ticket sales, worldwide – probably including you. It’s okay, we all have to learn from our mistakes, and perhaps now we’ll get a new revisionist fairy tale (heavy on the revisionism) that doesn’t feel so bizarrely dark and boring.

Back in June, we learned that director Frank Darabont was indeed set to helm the newest film and, what, we’re sorry, Kristen Stewart, no, we don’t need you for this one, thanks though. Now we’re getting still more information, thanks to Deadline, including a release date for the film (April 22, 2016), the news that both Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron are indeed set to come back and that we’re calling this thing The Huntsman because why not. We also have a better idea of what we’re dealing with in terms of plot, though little of it should surprise us, considering the title of this thing, the news that it’s a prequel and its pair of returning stars. It’s about the Huntsman (Hemsworth) and Queen Ravenna (Theron). Sure. The film will reportedly focus on “how the fates of two characters — The Huntsman Eric and Ravenna — intersected before they met Snow White.”

Hey, what a great idea—wait. Wait a second. We already know how their lives intersected before the film, and a large part of the first film is all about, well, their lives intersecting.

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Down and Dangerous

The Sabi Company

The other day I saw a discussion on Facebook about whether or not filmmakers should watermark the screeners they send to film festivals. Filmmakers generally seemed to be for it. Festival personnel seemed generally opposed, some citing it as a red flag for the filmmaker’s naiveté – like the people who ask you to sign an NDA before reading their screenplay. In the past, I never felt that obscuring the picture with some text was going to stop the sort of person who was set on pirating my movie, so I didn’t bother with it. Besides, I might argue I had yet to make a movie someone would want to pirate.

However, with my latest feature, Down and Dangerous, we had a genre picture with muscle. Its potential to garner eyeballs was greater than anything we’d produced before. So if it were to appear on torrent sites, I wanted at least to know where it came from. Following the studio’s method of placing those “little dots” on film prints, I added a bit of unique text to a single frame of the movie for every screener we sent out. This was imperceptible to the viewer, but if you knew which frame to look at, you could plainly see the initials for the festival or distributor hiding in the shadows.

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A Most Wanted Man

Roadside Attractions

When artists die young, their legend often grows disproportionately to their record of accomplishments. When James Dean passed away after making just three films, he was posthumously anointed as one of the greatest actors of his generation, a claim based mostly on his promise. Maybe he would have become Marlon Brando, or maybe not. In our struggle to make sense of our own mortality, we find tragedy more palatable than uncertainty. In this way, death creates limitless potential.

A good portion of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s potential had already been tapped when he died at 46 earlier this year. If there were an Actors’ Hall of Fame, they could have begun measuring him for a bust there somewhere around Capote. Still, there was reason to believe he had room to grow. After all, arguably his best performance came just two years ago when he played cult leader Lancaster Dodd in The Master.

As such, there is a lot of baggage surrounding A Most Wanted Man. It is Hoffman’s last starring role, so his fans will come to the theater with competing instincts: there is plenty of goodwill out there, fueled by our persistent urge to see all things end on a high note, but there is also the danger of unreasonable expectations.

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Get On Up

Universal Pictures

Tate Taylor’s Get on Up starts off with a literal bang. We first meet James Brown (as portrayed by Chadwick Boseman) while he is wielding a shotgun and preaching about the best practices for using someone else’s bathroom. An idiosyncratic start to a film about the Godfather of Soul, sure, but it works to show how the mighty may have (temporarily) fallen.

Brown is clearly a charming and charismatic man (two traits that are played to the hilt by Boseman), but after a rough childhood in the rural outskirts of Georgia and a meteoric rise to fame, it is clear Mr. Brown is struggling with some very real demons. Get on Up aims to show us why, but falters along the way.

Growing up in a broken home where love and violence were often one and the same, Brown’s father (Lennie James) runs off his mother (Viola Davis) and then gives Brown to the town’s madam Aunt Honey (Octavia Spencer). Brown learns crowd-pleasing showmanship bringing in business to Aunt Honey’s, but thanks to an eye for the finer things (and no way to afford them), Brown eventually finds himself locked up in jail with no hope for parole. Brown may get frustrated when things do not go his way, but he never gets down on himself, and even in jail finds himself drawn to what makes him feel good: music.

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Fantasia 2014

Fantasia 2014

Fantasia International Film Festival 2014 runs July 17 to August 6. Follow all of our coverage here.

We’ve all been there. Up late perusing Craigslist you come across a request for something you’re pretty sure you can do for the money being offered, but when you actually get there you realize that “eating spotted dick” isn’t always a reference to pudding. The point is the internet is a scary place and in need of better regulation.

Aaron (Patrick Brice) appears to be learning this the hard way when he responds to an ad looking for a videographer for a day’s shoot at a semi-remote cabin. He arrives and meets the man who hired him, Josef (Mark Duplass), who proceeds to explain the job. Josef has cancer, and with a baby on the way (and inspired by Michael Keaton in My Life) he wants to record a day with himself that can be shared with the child after he’s gone. Seems easy enough, but Aaron immediately senses something is a bit off with Josef. And you will too.

Creep is a miraculous mash-up of found footage and mumblecore that by all rights should be the most unappealing thing caught on video since, well, pick just about anything involving a Kardashian. Instead it’s a smart and charismatic film that walks a fine line between thriller and comedy by constantly shifting and subverting expectations. Our experience with the genre tells us the film is about to zig but Duplass and Brice zag instead. It’s a wonderfully unsettling experience that you can’t help but smile throughout.

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Return of the Jedi

LucasFilm

In what universe could Minnie Mouse fight crime with The Hulk? In our own. This week on the show, Geoff and I will toss around a few ideas for movie universes to collide — legally based on which global conglomerate owns which intellectual properties. Get ready to see Donald, Darkwing and Howard the Duck team up for an adventure with a terrible title.

Plus, since we’re retuning from break, we wanted to talk about the phenomenon of and meaning behind adding “The Return of” to your hero’s sequelized journey. What kinds of movies boldly ask us to return and why?

Double plus, we’ll speak with Landon Palmer about The Blair Witch Project and how we’ve been judging it unfairly all these years.

You should follow Landon (@landonspeak), the show (@brokenprojector), Geoff (@drgmlatulippe) and Scott (@scottmbeggs) on Twitter for more on a daily basis.

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Into the Woods

Walt Disney Pictures

Everybody loves musicals, right? Yes. Let’s go ahead and say that everybody loves musicals. But there is a caveat to this fact I’ve just gone ahead and made up. A musical is only warm and lovable if you explicitly know you’re watching a musical. Say you put on what you think is an ordinary film — let’s go with Blade Runner – and out of nowhere Rutger Hauer belts out an “Attack ships! On fire off the shoulder of Oriiiiiiiiiiiiiiooooooooon!” while a chorus line of Harrison Ford replicants shimmy across the background. That’s sure to put a lot of people off (although for the record, I would pay any sum of money to witness such a thing).

Yet Into the Woods has just gone and played that same maneuver: the “singing robot surprise.” The first trailer for Rob Marshall‘s seemingly-ordinary fairy tale film has finally arrived, and it’s stuffed full of all sorts of fantasy teases. A girl in a red hood skips merrily into a wild and extremely unsafe-looking forest. A boy climbs several stories beanstalk without any visible safety gear. Also there’s a witch, a wolf-thing, a Rapunzel and a big mess of Maleficent quick-growing thorns.

The only thing missing is the one thing that’s kind of crucial to Into the Woods: vocalized musical tones. Check out this strange, song-free trailer below.

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Total Recall Mars

Columbia/TriStar Pictures

This month, NASA tweeted a great bite of optimism about the future of space exploration: “1st humans to step on Mars are alive today.” The statement was followed by a link to what they’re calling the “Next Giant Leap,” a loose plan compiling their expected missions over the next few decades culminating in a manned trip to the red planet. The tweet, however, may not necessarily refer to American humans or a NASA operation. With the United Arab Emirates announcing, also this month, that they’re sending an unmanned mission to Mars by 2021, and with at least Japan, China, India, Russia and the European Space Agency all currently involved in the planet’s exploration, we’re experiencing a new space race.

Will we see humans on Mars by the 2030s as NASA proposes? Or even in the lifetime of today’s newborn infants as was promised on social media? The answer won’t be known until then, obviously. How such a trip will be achieved isn’t even certain yet. But maybe the movies can help us with transportation options.

For more than a century, cinema has provided us with stories of man traveling to Mars. Many were released in innocent times as far as knowledge of both the planet and space exploration are concerned, and those are quite preposterous. Yet unlike Moon landings in movies (which have a real counterpart to compare to) there’s really no way for us to tell yet what is completely credible. Some examples are currently known or at least believed to be genuinely implausible, but to some degree every mission to Mars we’ve seen on the big screen is probably wrong. So take the following methods (spread over 13 movies) each with an equal grain of salt, regardless of whether they seem totally ridiculous or totally convincing.

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Guardians of the Galaxy

Marvel Studios

In a few hours, Guardians of the Galaxy will descend into theaters, and people will see it. Many people. Great hordes of people, in search of inventive sci-fi or just drawn to the scent of anything that appears Avengers-related.

But Guardians is different. It’s not just a combo pack of the movie heroes you’ve already seen. It’s new and weird and complicated, involving words like “Sakaaran” and “Xandarian.” To know everything there is to know about Guardians before Friday would be a full time job, and let’s face it, you don’t have time for that. Life is calling, and life doesn’t let you to sit around and sift through piles of old comic books, trying to figure out what the hell a Xandarian is.

So for convenience’s sake, here’s everything you need to know about the history of the Guardians of the Galaxy, condensed into one easily digestible format.

You’re welcome.

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