Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

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Movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe keep getting better and better. The Iron Man trilogy was tremendous, The Avengers was thoroughly satisfying and Winter Soldier was amazing. When I first saw the trailers to Guardians of the Galaxy, I thought it looked pretty good. Then, the overwhelmingly positive early reviews started pouring in. There’s no way this film could live up to the hype, right? Actually, yes. Yes, it can.

Far be it for me to say I’m any sort of real comic book geek. I have some familiarity with the X-Men (mostly through the Fox animated series of the 90s) and I know who Thor, Hawkeye and Captain America are. However, aside from seeing Rocket Raccoon in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, I really didn’t know anything about Guardians heading into this movie. And maybe it was for the best that I didn’t go in with any sort of pre-conceived notions about an anthropomorphic tree or some green-skinned female warrior.

The true strength of Guardians of the Galaxy is the tremendous sense of balance that they were able to achieve. The “oldies” soundtrack is killer, the action sequences are thrilling, and the comedy is truly top-notch. If you like intergalactic space warfare, there’s a lot to like there too.

The biting humor of Rocket is an absolute treat–the voice acting of Bradley Cooper is utterly unrecognizable–and Chris Pratt’s portrayal of “Star-Lord” Peter Quill should really be commended. I loved the balance between the gritty feel of the film with the light-heartedness of the comedy. You never feel bored throughout the over two-hour runtime of the film as you’re constantly engaged with whatever is happening at the time.

From the cuteness of a “baby” Groot to the foreboding presence of Thanos, Guardians of the Galaxy is a complete film in every sense of the word. It’s no wonder that they already green-lighted the sequel (scheduled for July 28, 2017) even before this movie was even released.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

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What happens when a guy loses it, lands himself in a mental institution, gets discharged into the care of his parents, and tries to reconcile with a wife who has put a restraining order against him? And to further complicate things, he meets a girl who just might be as messed up as he is? Apparently, we get Silver Linings Playbook. That’s what.

Even if you’ve never had to stay in a mental hospital, you can’t help but to empathize with Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) as he tries to get his life back on track. For practically the entire movie, his sole motivation is to get back together with his wife and the only way he can do that is if he demonstrates that he’s “good” again. Meanwhile, he meets friend of a friend Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence) who appears to have plenty of problems of her own, though she’s never had to spend time in a psychiatric ward herself.

You can probably predict how their relationship ends up, as they continue to match “crazy with crazy.” It’s heartfelt, a tad cheesy and definitely a little weird (particularly Lawrence’s character). The characters feel authentic, in their own messed up ways, and we just want them to be good again. You can find happiness in dysfunction.

From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)

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For decades, Studio Ghibli has captivated the hearts and imaginations of people all around the world. I’ve said before how I prefer the films with a supernatural element, like My Neighbour Totoro or Spirited Away. For better or for worse, From Up on Poppy Hill is not one of those kinds of films.

Instead, much like the teenage love affair we saw in Whisper of the Heart, Poppy Hill depicts a teenage girl who falls for the somewhat mysterious boy at her school. One part of the narrative explores their relationship (and the apparent connection between their parents), while the background action follows the efforts of the students to save the school’s aging clubhouse. The movie is as visually stunning as any other great Ghibli movie, but it lacks the whimsy that I desire. Even so, this is a cute little movie that feels honest and pure.

It’s a shame that Studio Ghibli may not produce any more feature length films. Even ones like Poppy Hill that aren’t their best are still miles better than many other animated films.