Tag Archives: 3D

Guardians of the Galaxy

From the very beginning, I have always talked about how the movies I saw as a kid shaped me and my interests today.  I am thankful that I grew up in an age where watching movies at home wasn’t easy to do.  I grew up reading interviews with Lucas and Spielberg where they cited inspirations being the old serials that they would watch at the local theater.  No matter how it was described, going to the movies for these directors and countless others like me was an event that was treasured, no matter how good or bad things were.

For me, the first science fiction movie I saw on the big screen was Star Wars.  Even with all of the normal things people point to, what captured me from the beginning was that this was a ride:  a rollicking ride through the universe with Luke, Han, and Chewy as our guides.  It was this fun I looked for in science-fiction movies then and now.  While my tastes may have matured over the years, sometimes I just want the Flash-Gordon, Han-Solo fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants fun that can be one of these movies.  Sadly Hollywood is fixated that everything must be a space opera with great importance.

This does science fiction a disservice.

Why?  Think back to why many kids grew up reading Tom Swift and Jules Verne; watching Buck Rogers and Captain Kirk; and waiting forever to see Han Solo crack that cocky grin and blast his way out of trouble.  We thrilled to the excitement of their adventures and couldn’t wait for the next one.  Comics helped fuel this with superheroes that not only took care of Earth, but the whole universe.

While I am familiar with the Guardians of the Galaxy, I have never really read anything except the Infinity Gauntlet trade paperback that Amber grabbed for me as a thank-you for taking her to the 6-movie Marvel marathon when The Avengers came out.  So unlike some of the other Marvel and DC movies, I had no preconceived notions of what to expect over the past 2 years as production began on this project.  I also made it a point to not really read a whole lot about this movie, choosing to remain spoiler-free as much as possible.

That said, I still kept up with basic news: casting, director assignment, etc.  I was intrigued by two casting choices:  Chris Pratt as Peter Quill, and Bradley Cooper as Rocket.  I had not watched any of James Gunn’s work, but the general vibe was one similar to how people felt about Joss Whedon directing The Avengers:  it will; either be tremendously good or tremendously bad.  When the first trailer hit and I heard “Hooked on a Feeling” as part of it, I knew that this was not going to be a typical sci-fi/superhero movie.  This had the potential of being a great entry in the genre.

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-IMAX-poster-700x1024In early July, I got lucky enough to score a pass to a special IMAX preview of the movie.  In the 17-minute screener, I got to see one of the major scenes that highlighted what the movie would be:  a rollicking good time.  The 3-D looked amazing, and the casting was dead on.  As a bonus for going, everyone got a special poster to take home.  All I could think about on the way home was how good this movie was going to be when I saw it completed.  For something that I had minor interest in before, I was now rabid for more.  Yet I still avoided spoilers – I knew that to indulge now would ruin what could be a truly fun experience in the theater.

I did get to see it on the Thursday night before opening, but I had to settle for the AMC Dine-In theater.  I say settle because it is not outfitted as an ETX screen.  I chose the dine-in option due to not knowing when I was leaving work and the ability to reserve my seat.  AMC was running a promotion for Stubs members that gave them a free random pin with ticket purchase; I got Gamorra.  I settled into my seat, ordered dinner, and waited for things to unfold.

For once, I had not built this movie up too much in my head before seeing it.  There is a lot of good to enjoy, enough to offset any bad.  So what did I like:

  • Chris Pratt – He brought the wholesomeness of Andy from Parks and Recreation and gave him an upgrade on intelligence.  This movie works because of Pratt’s acting.
  • James Gunn – What unfolds is a master class on how to make a fun space movie.  Even with the stakes being high, Gunn drops the angst and focuses on why we have loved Tom Swift, Flash Gordon, and Buck Rogers for decades.
  • standard_fantasticThe soundtrack – Gunn once again shows the importance of a choosing the right songs to tell a story.  It’s easy to do when someone is composing; Lucas used to brag that you could watch Star Wars with just the Score audio track and no dialog.  But choosing songs that people know to help tell a story is infinitely more difficult.  Over the past 10-25 years, very few movies have had a soundtrack of songs that essentially became another cast-member: 10 Things I Hate About You; Garden State; and Love Actually all spring to mind as solid examples.  Gunn’s use of the songs in Guardians can be summed up with the tile of the tape: Awesome.
  • Bradley Cooper – His voice work for Rocket sold the character.  Time and again people think voice work is easy.  It isn’t and done poorly, it can ruin a movie.  Cooper did it quite well.
  • Visuals – Even with limited locations, one never feels cramped in this galaxy.  It is expansive and beautiful and ugly, all at the same time.
  • Story – For the most part, a fairly simple story that does not require any knowledge of the comics or even the rest of the Marvel cinematic universe.  This can be a stand-alone movie and last for decades.
  • “Stingers” – There are two scenes during the credits and are worth staying for.  I will not spoil either of them.

So was there anything I did not like?  Some minor quibbles, but nothing that kills the enjoyment – here is what I noticed:

  • The Collector – For a character that seemed to have a lot of hype, not much other than him explaining the infinity stones.  Granted there was a lot to cover story-wise for the movie, but this character is going to need some type of development if it is going to continue being a through-thread.  This was the second time seeing him, with the first being during Thor: The Dark World.
  • Homages – Now that the first movie is done, let’s ease back on the homages to Indiana Jones and Captain Kirk.  Some of the best scenes for Pratt’s character were original ones that did not try to make the same tired jokes of the “rebel sleeping with every female alien” or the “mystical quest”.

My Advice:  Pay full price and see it in 3-D IMAX; well worth the money.  I anticipate seeing this movie 1-3 more times in the theater.  It is on my top 10 list for the year, top 5 for Marvel movies, and one of the top in the genres of Science-fiction for me.  I anticipate enjoying this one for years.


Captain America: The First Avenger

I am going to do something with this review that I have not done before….

I am going to put the My Advice part first because there is a lot I want to mention about the movie, but it will contain a lot of spoilers.  So consider yourself warned if you read beyond the My Advice part…

My Advice:  See it on the big screen and pay full price; 3D was ok, but the gritty war feel is better in 2D…

At this point, you are entering spoiler territory – I bear no responsibility if you haven’t seen the movie and keep reading.

In 2008, I compiled a list of what I thought were my top 10 Superhero Movies of All time.  Number 7 on the list was The Rocketeer.  In reviewing my archives, it appears that I have not actually written a review of the movie – I shall have to fix that.  I bring it up because it was directed by the same person who directed Captain America, Joe Johnston.  I loved how he captured the feel of the time and kept the action moving, despite some lulls in the script.  While some of his other ventures were not well received (Jumanji comes to mind), I still had hope that he could do well with this project.

I was also not sure of the casting of Chris Evans as Steve Rogers.  Like most people, my exposure to his work was limited to his run as Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four movies.  Then I saw him in The Losers and I realized that he did have potential to pull it off.

But this isn’t any ordinary hero.  Marvel only had one shot to get it right.  After all, Cap is viewed in similar light as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Spiderman.  High visibility and high risk – get it all right and earn fanboy love forever.  Get it wrong, and you will be forever known as the people who ruined a hero.  Want proof?  Ask Brandon Routh how he’s been doing since Superman Returns….

Then there’s the story…

Unlike most “origin” stories, there is not an easy way to update Cap’s.  He has to be a product of WWII, our greatest generation.  Otherwise, his motivations do not make sense in our modern world.  There is also the fact that unlike many heroes, he is truly a symbol, an inspiration to those moreso than Superman or Batman.  I give the writers a lot of credit for holding true to the story of Cap’s origin and making it plausible that he could be found in ice, alive, after 70 years.  For long time readers of the comic, this is his origin.  Some updates and tweaks were made, but overall the writers stayed faithful.

What did intrigue me was the influence of scenes from Star Wars on the overall movie.  And before anyone gets in an uproar – yes, I know, Star Wars was a retelling of The Lost Fortress.

Moving on…

In the opening scene, we have Red Skull looking for something in a Norwegian church.  The way it is framed and the dialog, I was instantly reminded of the scene where Tarkin is questioning Leia about the Rebel Base:

Tarkin: Tell me the location

Leia: Never

Tarkin: Target Alderaan

Leia: No, they are peaceful

Tarkin: You prefer another target? A Military target? then give me the rebel base

Leia: Dantooine

Tarkin: Continue the targeting of Alderaan…

Now the church scene in Captain America:

Skull: Give me the item

Old Man: No matter what you do to me, I will never tell

Skull: True, but there are other targets; your friends, family, children (tank spins to target town)

Old man gestures to hiding place

Skull retrieves object and gives the order to continue destruction of town.

So that is in the first fifteen minutes.  The next time it hit me was when Red Skull was talking to the three generals.  One of them mocks him and his “nickname,” while criticizing his lack of ability to produce items for Hitler.  Very reminiscent of the scene in the Death Star where one of the generals mocks Darth Vader and the Force.  The difference between the two: Tarkin prevents the completion of the choke hold, whereas no one can stop Red Skull from killing the men.

The third scene that brought comparisons was when Steve is talking to the doctor over a bottle of schnapps.  As the explanation was revealed as to why Steve was chosen, I couldn’t help but think of the scene in old Ben’s house as he begins to explain the Force and the origin of Darth Vader.  You could even see the same sadness as Tucci discusses his failures with Red Skull.

There were other scenes, but I am not remembering them as well as these.

The casting ended up being very good.  Dominic Cooper made it easy for us to believe that he could be the future father of Robert Downey, Jr.’s, Tony Stark.  He even copied a couple of mannerisms from Downey.  Tommy Lee Jones was much better suited for his role as a US General here, versus his turn as Two-Face in Batman Forever.  Hugo Weaving was masterful as Red Skull and really allowed you to forget about his iconic villain role in The Matrix.  Finally, Stanley Tucci brought a great touch to the doctor’s character.

The music is also similar to The Rocketeer.  Both had sweeping movements with great undertones.  Alan Silvestri did a masterful job.  This is a must on for any soundtrack lover.

My Advice: See it on the big screen and pay full price; 3D was ok, but the gritty war feel is better in 2D…

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Over the years of writing reviews, I have often lamented the fact that studios, in pursuit of the easy box office dollar, let franchises linger on far too long.  I mean, really, did we need 12 Police Academies?


I wouldn’t mind the practice so much, if the studios would actually put some of the dollars they swindle out of us towards hiring good, inventive writers.  Yet, that would cut the bottom line too much.  So we end up with movies like Matrix Reloaded, Superman IV, and Pirates 4.

Gore Verbienski wrapped up his run with Pirates 3, and seemed to have the good sense to run away from the stacks of money Disney was offering him.  So in steps Rob Thomas, of Chicago fame.  Johnny Depp, forgetting what it was like to have roles that neither involved Tim Burton or Jack Sparrow, returns for a by-the-numbers performance.  Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightly had the good sense to stay away as well.

So I found myself in Gainesville evaluating hotels for a conference.  With time to kill, I went to see Pirates at the local Regal (shudder).  Of course the only option they had was in 3D, so I was stuck paying extra for a movie I wasn’t convinced about.  Interestingly, the theater has cell signals jammed inside – I guess that is one way to kill texting in movies.

The plot has something to do with Blackbeard and the Fountain of Youth – but we never really understood why any of it was important.  Throw in Penelope Cruz as this movie’s wench, and we are off and sailing.  The first half of the movie felt like I was watching someone playing a video game – all action, rube-goldberg machinations, and no story.  The second half had a love story forced in that could have been completely removed and not hurt the movie.  As a matter of fact, it might have made it a tighter, leaner movie.

3D was awful for this movie.  You lose brightness due to wearing glasses similar in design to sunglasses.  So combine that with a movie that has the second half occur at night, and well, you’re stuck relying on your auditory senses.

Of course, with the inflated 3D box office, Disney has already announced not 1, but 2 more Pirates to come – all with Mr. Depp.  At some point, the movie audience is going to have to tell Disney that this franchise golden goose is dead, gone, and decomposed.  The only way they stop making more is when we stop paying to see them.

My advice: matinee, if you have to; definitely save the money on the 3D.  Totally unnecessary…

How to Train Your Dragon

Lisa here, back after a hiatus, to help Matt with some reviews…

I’ve been mainly against CGI kids movies ever since Finding Nemo (and yes, I still loathe that film). But Pixar has been changing my attitudes since Wall-E and I’ve started broadening my horizons.

How To Train Your Dragon was actually a DreamWorks film, and I have a love/hate relationship with many of their movies, too. Liked Kung Fu Panda, hated Madagascar, and Shrek I was meh on. I went in to see HTTYD not really caring about the studio, I just wanted to see a decent movie with a good friend (hi Peter!).

So HTTYD was actually a first for me, it was my first 3D movie actually created for 3D (I had seen the Nightmare Before Xmas 3D enhanced film, not impressed). We saw it at a real IMAX (Museum of Discovery and Science in Ft. Lauderdale) and let me say it was amazing.

I was worried that the 3D would be too gimmickey and feel forced like it did on Nightmare, but it really didn’t. I think they blended the 3D effects in perfectly with the story, using them only where appropriate. It all just felt…natural, which is how I think 3D needs to be used. Just enough to give that WOW factor without getting stale.

The story was actually quite enjoyable. It was serious enough to keep me intrigued, but light hearted to not be boring and dry. There was plenty of humor, and the characters were well developed and not too stereotypical. It had a good, rustic feel with the Norse theme they had, which honestly I’ve yet to see a good viking kids movie, so I was quite pleased.

My Advice: So is it a kids’ movie? Sure, take the childrens. Is it entertaining enough for an adult? Yep. It’s just a generally all around good film that has enough action and humor for kids, but enough development and plot for adults.

P.S. — There’s a sequel in the works, and yeah, I’ll most likely go see it. Heck, I bought a Happy Meal for a HTTYD toy, they’ve sold me on the franchise (I got a green dragon that flaps its wings, forgot what it was called…I’d never make it as a dragon trainer).

A Christmas Carol (2009)

Charles Dickens is one of those authors that I can not remember a time where I wasn’t reading some version of one of his “big four” novels: A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, and A Christmas Carol.  Given my addictive trends to subjects that I like, it is no surprise that I always found time to watch the various versions of Scrooge’s tale.  One of the earliest versions I remember watching was with Rich Little, who played all of the characters.  I also remember the Henry-Winkler made-for-TV version, An American Christmas Carol.  Of course most of us are familiar with Bill Murray’s comedic vehicle, Scrooged.  About the only version I haven’t seen is the Patrick-Stewart version from 1999.

Now, I usually have a strict policy about not doing Christmas-based stuff prior to December 12-15.  It annoys me that stores and others start pushing it in October and November.  I am always amused that Mom will call me Scrooge whenever I voice this opinion.  It’s not a case of hating Christmas; I just want it to be the same month.

Back to our story…

After leaving EPCOT where I was enjoying the final weekend of the Food and Wine Festival, I realized I had time to catch a late movie at a theater where I had 3 free passes.  So after grabbing my ticket for the 3-D spectacle, I grabbed some concessions and headed to my seat.  Now, I understand that if I go to a “family-friendly” movie in the afternoon or early evening, that I will more than likely have kids in the audience and must have tolerance for them.  After I settled in a mostly-empty theater, three LOUD families walked in and took the seats surrounding me.  First off, what parent thinks that taking under-5-year-olds to ANY movie at 10:30 at night is a good idea? Then you had the teenagers answering and talking on cellphones — yet I get the dirty looks for telling the kid to hang up the phone.  It may take a village to raise a child, but don’t glare at me if you are irresponsible as a parent in teaching your kids manners in a theater and I step in.  Just be glad I didn’t ask the usher to kick you and your family out.


The movie continues Robert Zemckis’s grand experiment with MoCap (Motion Capture); one he started with The Polar Express.  Jim Carrey is our Scrooge this time around, and is supported by Colin Firth, Carey Elwes, and Gary Oldman.  I love the look of the movie; Zemckis did a great job of capturing Victorian England.  The casting was excellent and the animators did a tremendous job in disguising the fact that the same actor was playing multiple roles (although I still flash-backed at times to the Rich Little special).  This was an improvement over The Polar Express, where audience members were sometimes disturbed by the “creepiness” of the multiple Tom Hanks.

My main criticism is one for animated movies coming out lately.  I love the offering of 2-D and 3-D options; and, for the most part, the 3-D has actually enhanced the movies.  What I am getting annoyed with is the inclusion of scenes that are there purely for 3-D purposes; had it been a strict 2-D movie, much of the scene would have been cut.

My advice:  Don’t be a Scrooge — see it at full price and enjoy it with the family….