Film

The Top 10 Reasons Why 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Is Awesome

Leave it to Marvel to save the Summer 2014 movie season with this amazing slice of popcorn entertainment. Here's 10 reasons why this unusual group of heroes is blockbuster boon.

It shouldn't work. It doesn't have the standard issue super heroes on display. It starts off in pain and continues to mine said subtext throughout while adding a healthy dose of irreverent humor. There's a questionable villain with what appears to be a religious fervor mentality to his plotting and terrorizing. Most tellingly, one of the main features is a diminutive raccoon with a sassy, salty mouth.

So how did James Gunn do it? How did he manage to make what is arguably one of the Summer of 2014's best films? Easy: he followed his own amazing muse, and Guardians of the Galaxy is the result. Spinning several fringe Marvel characters into a cohesive whole is one thing, but to do it without the mandatory pre-Avengers origins films is another. To make something that rivals Joss Whedon's billion dollar baby is proof of the talent both in front of and behind the lens.

Instead of offering a traditional review, we figured we'd go a little rogue and deal with the movie's many endearing elements. We could mention Zoe Saldana's sexiness under a glorious green disguise, but she already mastered that in Avatar (where the color du jour was blue). And, so as not to be chauvinistic, we will also mention that Dave Bautista is one helluva hunk under his unusual tribal scar tattoo make-up job.

We could comment on the ancillary cast (Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, Djimon Hounsou, Peter Szymon Serafinowicz) or the various cameos, but instead, we'll just focus on the big stuff, the ten main reasons why you will absolutely love this film (minor spoilers ahead). Granted, that may seem like unnecessary hyperbole, but when you've sat through three months of dour doom and gloom, a little levity goes a long way.

 
#10: The Stunning Visual Imagination on Display
While the vast majority of the Marvel movies are grounded in a kind of extended reality (our world, just pushed to certain limits to allow superheroes to exist within), Guardians of the Galaxy gives us a completely alien universe, and it's a wonder to behold. From the various factions and their visual make-up to the little details in the corners (both flora and fauna), we are enveloped in something that not even George Lucas and his ILM mavericks could create. Every frame is filled with wonder and optical awe, a space opera fantasy that constantly leaves you wondering what it's like to live in it every single minute you are there.

 
#9: Character Depth and Emotional Involvement
Again, it's sometimes hard to get to the heart of a superhero's personal issues. Bruce Banner is badgered by his shape-shifting Hulk alter-ego, but for the most part, it's a problem, not a psychological scar. Here, all the Guardians are given over to moments of grief and dark reflection. Peter Quill lost his mother to cancer, while Gamora is the daughter of an evil space overlord with destruction on his mind. Drax lost his family while genetic anomalies Groot and Rocket are the only friends each other has. Brought together, they become a band of "losers", in that they have each lost something. It makes for moving, memorable characterizations.

 
#8: Michael Rooker as Yondu
This Avatar-like extraterrestrial with a wicked Southern drawl and a mind focused with laser-like intensity on his various nefarious missions might just be Guardians of the Galaxy's secret weapon. Granted, he himself is holding a undisclosed truth about Quill, but he's not allowing that to get in the way of his otherwise questionable business. And then there's the issue of his weapon of choice, a deadly arrow which reacts exclusively to his whistles and hoots, leading to a last act moment of destruction which is simply amazing to behold. Director James Gunn has said he wrote the role with Rooker in mind, and it shows. Both men are having a blast with it.

 
#7: Chris Pratt
He's been a fixture on TV since his guest shot as Ann's slacker ex-boyfriend on Parks and Recreation turned into a regular gig. He's also been seen in films like Zero Dark Thirty and Moneyball. But 2014 was truly the year for this 35-year-old. After starring as the voice of Emmet Brickowski in the brilliant Lego Movie, he adds to his ascending stardom with his turn here as Peter Quill. Funny, dorky, and capable of playing both champion and chump, he's the truly human center of a situation that surrounds him with out of this world allies. Even his dopey dance moves are adorable.

 
#6: Groot's Expressive Dialogue
As a character, he's a living tree with the ability to alter his shape to attack/defend his enemy/position at will. When it comes to vocabulary, however, all he can say is "I am Groot". That's it. Yet director Gunn makes it very clear that, once you get to know the walking lumber yard, those three words take on a whole different dynamic. Toward the end, when it looks like the odds are against our heroes and all is lost, Groot utters his by now familiar line and we too begin to see the nuances in the deceptively simple statement. Never before has one phrase meant so much.

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In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

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Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

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