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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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Ed Wood

Buena Vista Pictures

With the popularity of films like The Room, Birdemic: Shock and Terror, and Sharknado (now with a 2 behind it!), it seems that some people tend to like bad movies more than they like good ones. However, long before Tommy Wiseau or James Nguyen were directing films, and before Tara Reid was even born, there was a magical man named Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Even with his terrible sense of plot, sequence and cinematic structure, Ed Wood managed to give his own flavor to his films, culminating in the granddaddy of all bad movies: Plan 9 From Outer Space.

In 1994, Tim Burton directed Ed Wood, telling the story of the infamous director and how his friendship with horror movie legend Bela Lugosi helped breathe some life into both of their careers. The 2004 DVD release of the film includes a commentary with Burton, edited together with his filmmaking cohorts, which delivers a comprehensive look at the film’s creation.

It has been 55 years since the release of Plan 9 From Outer Space, and it’s been 20 years since the release of Ed Wood. Before Burton really hit the skids with movies like Planet of the Apes and Dark Shadows, here’s a brighter (even in black and white), more inspirational time in his career that we can all learn from.

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Fox Searchlight Pictures

Fox Searchlight Pictures

CalvaryThe place of the skull, wound through Latin into English from the ancient Aramaic name Golgotha. This is the place, outside the walls of Jerusalem, where Jesus was crucified. It’s not exactly a light title for a movie, but writer/director John Michael McDonagh isn’t interested in levity. He opens with a quote from St. Augustine: “Do not despair; one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume; one of the thieves was damned.” Referring to the two men crucified next to Christ, it’s an ominous declaration of ambiguity. This film does not aim to end on a note of simple closure.

That said, this is not a sober and humorless cry of despair from the heart of Catholicism. That St. Augustine quote has cropped up once before in the work of an iconoclastic Irishman, Samuel Beckett. Waiting for Godot, in its god-killing irreverence, evokes the two thieves as an example of the unpredictability of paradise (we’ve all got a 50/50 shot at heaven) and the questionable nature of the bible (the second thief is only saved in one out of four Gospels). These weighty concerns weigh heavily over Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson), the grizzled hero of Calvary. What is the usefulness of a priest in a world where people have stopped waiting for God?

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SpongeBob SquarePants movie

Paramount Pictures

Our dedication to figuring out just what the hell is going on in The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water continues unabated. Next up in the case of the “what is going on in this movie?,” it’s the film’s first trailer. Fortunately, two minutes of this is enough to put aside some fears, but we’ve still got more questions than we’re comfortable with when it comes to a film about a beloved animated kitchen sponge.

Let’s look at what we have so far: a creepy first look picture (included up top, because we’re sorry) that looked like the nightmarish marriage of an off-brand theme park and a superhero movie from The Asylum. Are those people in those costumes? Is that possible? What is this film going to look like? Why is this the best first look available? Rest assured, it’s not, and the film’s first trailer does assuage some fears when it comes to what the finished product will look like. SpongeBob and his pals will indeed stay animated. But they will be changing during the course of the feature because, as it turns out, even SpongeBob can’t escape the pull of the superhero movie. Take a look:

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Well Go USA Entertainment

Well Go USA Entertainment

Early on, Child of God signals to you how it’s going to go about its business. Main character Lester Ballard (Scott Haze) abruptly stops his foraging in the woods to pull down his drawers, squat, go to the bathroom and use a stick to wipe his rear. All in plain view of the camera. This movie is going to literally show you shit… and much worse. The story goes on to include sexual assault, murder, the mutilation of corpses, and necrophilia, none of which the audience is spared from witnessing. That right there is likely to tell you whether or not you’ll be at all interested in watching this film. I’ll understand if you lose all interest, though this graphic ugliness comes hand in hand with some truly great artistry.

I know it’s a cliche for a critic to praise explicit, difficult work as “artistic.” I doubt that the debate over the value of smashing taboos will ever be settled. The best we can expect is that people become inured to what they previously never dared to look at or talk about, only for new unspeakables to come into vogue. Or maybe we’ll develop into a society without limits. I’d be interested to see what that looked like. But for now, there are certain things that we are conditioned from birth not to talk about or look at too much, and it can be incredibly uncomfortable when an artist forces us to do so (and I think that, the way cinema works, there is an element of force in how you experience what it has for you). The instinct, then, is to dismiss such works. A common refrain is that these movies only do what they do “for the shock value.” It’s a tricky area, because that is indeed all that some of them are trying to do (though I’d argue that there are ways for that strategy to be artistically valid). But I believe everything deserves full consideration. Look beneath the surface of some of these films, and yes, you’ll find an empty need to shock. But with others, you’ll find messages that will truly make you think or feel.

Child of God belongs to the latter camp.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Obscene Gesture

Marvel/Disney

At the start of Guardians of the Galaxy, “A Film By James Gunn” flashes on the screen, and that’s exactly what we get. For a big Marvel movie under the Disney banner, this isn’t the kind of story we expect to see from them, so when the end credits roll, Gunn’s name seems to shine brighter than the audience-magnet brand and the internationally beloved corporate entity above them both. His style survived the blockbuster process.

Of course, once you know the director behind Super and Slither made Marvel’s latest, it’s not much of a surprise. The drama is unexpectedly sincere, while the jokes are wonderfully dirty — a tonal blend he can’t get enough of — while staying strangely innocent in the face of serving a story about lovable misfits finding a higher purpose. There’s no mean-spirited marrow in the movie’s funny bone.

Gunn has managed to top the comedy done by the likes of Joss Whedon, Shane Black and Jon Favreau in past Marvel movies, so when we spoke with him recently, we asked him how he’d pulled it off.

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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.

Once upon a time the Filipino film industry was second only to Hollywood in the number of films they released per year. That time was the ’70s and ’80s, but the odds are slim that you can even name a single locally-produced movie during that period. Pre and post Apocalypse Now the Philippines was the go-to locale for film productions looking for cheap crews, crazy stuntmen and geography that included everything from gorgeous jungles to bustling slums, but while foreign visitors churned out memorable features of varied quality local filmmakers struggled to make their mark beyond their own borders.

That changed in 1981 with a little film called For Y’ur Height Only and its even smaller star, Weng Weng. A James Bond spoof ostensibly for kids, the lead was a 2’9″ man trained in karate and the art of wooing the ladies, and it turned Weng into a sensation… for a while. He made millions for his producers and was the face of Filipino cinema, but he seemingly vanished as quickly as he had appeared. What happened to him, where had he come from, and how many of the stories about him — he was a stand-up comedian, a secret agent, an airport greeter — contained anything resembling the truth?

Australian film-lover and video store-owner Andrew Leavold needed answers to these questions and set off on a seven year journey to find them, a journey captured in the new documentary, The Search for Weng Weng. In case you’re wondering, of course his quest for information on a diminutive exploitation action star led him to celebrating Imelda Marcos’ birthday with her at the ex-First Lady’s mansion in the Philippines. I mean, obviously.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2014

Paramount Pictures

The best movie culture writing from around the internet-o-sphere.

There will be a quiz later. Just leave a tab open for us, will ya?

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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.

Amelia Brooks (Beth Grant) is gone. Presumed dead, the accomplished swimmer went missing on a dive in the very lake she had been campaigning to preserve in her final years. Her three adult daughters arrive at their childhood home near the water to reminisce, console each other and make plans for their mother’s belongings, but their time together soon takes an unsettling turn.

Dead birds begin appearing on their doorstep, an incident with a camera suggests a possible intruder and the local legend of Spirit Lake — a lake that reportedly has yet to reveal its bottom — begins to fill their imagination. Long ago seven sisters walked the water’s shore only to drown, one by one, and like the Pleiades of Greek mythology they’ve come to symbolize a sad state of grace that’s eternally out of reach. Are the legendary sisters reaching out for fresh blood? Has their mother returned from her watery grave? Or is something all together different haunting their waking hours?

The Midnight Swim creates an ethereal state of unease in its atmosphere and characters, but more than just an unsettling thriller the film captures a sisterly slice of life with an effective ease. If only the film’s unnecessary insistence on a found footage-ish format wasn’t so damn distracting.

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Every Runner Has a Reason Short Film

Heist

Why Watch? Busting through like Rocky without the gray sweats on, Ronnie Goodman flies in slow motion down the streets of San Francisco like every sports documentary subject of all time. Just to hammer the standard tropes home, his low voice provides an autobiographical voiceover while chill wave music crawls in the background.

At first, this short film is hallmarked by gorgeous photography and calm, simple sentences telling an athletic story as common as 110% showing up in a post-game, locker room chat. Then, Every Runner Has a Reason shifts, and shifts again.

It’s due completely to Goodman and his personal story, marrying a common documentary method to a worthy, compelling subject. At less than 3 minutes long, it also manages to offer facts about Goodman in a specific order that challenges preconceived notions, purposefully letting the audience make assumptions about a man who is (within seconds) going to push hard against them.

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Interstellar

Warner Bros. Pictures

Here is a takeaway from this latest trailer for Christopher Nolan‘s Interstellar: Matthew McConaughey is going to cry a lot in this thing. The star of the upcoming sci-fi space opus already teared it up in the film’s first teaser, and now he looks like he’s back at it. This time, though, it looks like he’s crying in space. Here is another takeaway from this latest trailer for Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar: we’re going to space, you guys!

This new trailer gives us a much better and wider look at what Nolan’s spacey stuff is going to look like — cold, watery, very cool — alongside McConaughey apparently sobbing at every turn. As it so happens, when you decide to go save the world and leave your family in the process, you get emotional about it. We’re right there with you, big guy. Take a look:

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Shirley Clarke Productions

Shirley Clarke Productions

Shirley Clarke grew up wealthy, the daughter of a manufacturing magnate and a family fortune. She had an extensive education between four universities, and married to escape her father’s tyrannical control of her adult life. At first Clarke pursued modern dance in New York City but, failing to secure a future for herself in one art form, she began making experimental, avant-garde and documentary films in her mid-thirties.

Over the next several decades, Clarke produced fiction films that looked like documentaries, documentaries that flirted with the boundaries of fiction, some of the first video art projects, and movies that possess an incredible energy to them that few filmmakers have mastered, then or now. She studied under Hans Richter, inspired other New York filmmakers like John Cassavetes, helped co-found the Filmmakers’ Co-Op with Jonas Mekas, yet the important role that she played in the New American Cinema scene has risked becoming stuck between the pages of cinema history.

Thankfully, Milestone Films has restored some of her groundbreaking works, including The Connection, Portrait of Jason, and Ornette: Made in America, all due for a home video release sometime this year.

So here’s some free film school (for fans and filmmakers alike) from an artist who never stopped challenging herself.

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The Goldfinch

Little, Brown Company

At 784 pages, Donna Tartt‘s “The Goldfinch” is a hefty chunk of book, the kind that’s hard to tote around and read during off times, impossible to lazily prop up on the beach and difficult to casually read on the bus or the train or the whatever. It is, however, extremely rewarding for any reader who plunges past the first hundred or so pages and keeps on going through a sprawling story that zips between emotions and times and places with crisp regularity.

Tartt’s book has been the talk of the book world for months now, bolstered by its Pulitzer Prize win and a steady spot on the New York Times bestseller list (it has also garnered some major detractors along the way, as Vanity Fair reminded us earlier this summer), but its length and skipping narrative may have scared some potential readers off. So how about a movie version then? Entertainment Weekly reports that Warner Bros. has now picked up the film rights to the book, so you better start reading now, lest you be left behind when this thing goes cinematic. Still on the fence? Well, let’s talk about it.

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