Category Archives: 3-D

The Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man ~ I have to confess, when I first heard they were rebooting Spider-Man for film, I couldn’t believe it. As my friend Andy Burns has noted in his spoiler-free review, it was “too soon.” But alas to the Hollywood folks and their revolving teenage demographics, sadly the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy may have been decades ago.

While I hated Raimi’s third Spidey movie with its pseudo emo goth Peter Parker making an ass of himself in the jazz club (I’m not even going to mention Venom), I still would have liked to have seen John Malkovich as the Vulture, Anna Hathaway as the ironically catty Felicia Hardy, and finally to see Dylan Baker portray the Lizard. It was not to be. Apparently like Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin, Spider-Man 3 was a franchise killer.

Hearing about the new film was one thing. I knew Andrew Garfield from the stage, and thought he looked the part, but was still unsure. When photos began to surface, it seemed there were going for a much younger demographic, and that the emo Spider-Man was going to be done seriously, not for irony or laughs. When I further heard that major characters like Mary Jane Watson and J. Jonah Jameson would not be involved, I was further repulsed. I had no interest in this film, perhaps, just because it was a superhero movie, I would eventually see it on DVD or on cable, if at all.

Then I saw the previews. The previews, both in 3D and 2D were incredible. They had found a way to take what was cutting edge technology in 2002 and blew us away with Spider-Man swinging through the streets and make it more mind-blowing. Much like a new rollercoaster or a new attraction at Walt Disney World, I had to see this flick. Emo be damned, I was on board. So much so that when The Bride suggested, on a whim, that we see the 1:45 AM showing of The Amazing Spider-Man the night before the Fourth of July, I was like aw yeah baby.

This was the full-on bells and whistles version I should note, and it has quite a bit to do with my enjoyment of the film. Counting snacks, IMAX, and 3D at an AMC Loews theater (a place regular readers know I have sworn off for the most part), this late night evening out came to well over sixty dollars. This movie had better be damned good.

Marc Webb, whose only other theatrical film is (500) Days of Summer does an amazing (pun intended) job at direction, especially when it comes to Peter Parker being a kid in high school. I dare say he may have even been bullied as well. This is a very real picture of the high school feeding frenzy hierarchy. Even though his Parker is a skateboard shredder science geek outcast, a nice updating here actually, Andrew Garfield breathes more life into the role than Tobey Maguire ever did. I honestly would not have thought that possible. Garfield also brings that smart ass Spidey personality out in a way Maguire never did.

Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy is a conundrum. At first I did not like her at all. She was sooo not Gwen Stacy. She seemed too old, she seemed too smart, she seemed, well, not poor doomed Gwen Stacy. As the movie went on, I did warm to her, and started to root for her. The movie Gwen was a different entity, and in the just over two hours I experienced her, I started to like her. And then, the script fell into the toilet. More on that later.

Rhys Ifans was a decent Curt Connors, although somehow I didn’t expect him to have that sort of accent. Maybe a southern accent being from Florida and all, but British never occurred to me. Ifans is suitably troubled as Connors but having the same well-spoken voice, clear of stereotypical but expected lisps, as the Lizard was quite a surprise. The Lizard’s maniacal super-villain turn surprised me, as its specifics didn’t seem in line with any version of the character I had seen before.

The connection between Dr. Connors and Peter’s parents, a plotline nearly promised in previews (there are posters calling this flick ‘the untold story’), is left hanging and vague, obviously hopefully waiting for sequels. With the Lizard, is where the film starts to fall apart for me. Why a lab in the sewers? How did he get all that equipment down there? We see at one point that some points in the sewers are too small for the Lizard to get through. Why are lizards attracted to him? These things are never addressed, never explained, and frankly pretty silly.

Webb’s casting of notably younger and quite famous actors as Aunt May and Uncle Ben is an interesting one, perhaps to bring the older fans in who would be alienated by the casting of Garfield and Stone, actors they might not have known. Sally Field, despite her real age still seems much too young to play Aunt May, although it must be said she does a wonderful job, everything on mark. I really have no complaints. But. She’s no Rosemary Harris.

Martin Sheen as Ben is an interesting choice. He looks the role, and I can never say ill of any performance he gives, as he’s one of my favorite actors. I thought it an interesting coincidence that both Sheen and the previous Ben, the late Cliff Robertson, had shared a role before – John F. Kennedy. Sheen is wonderful in the scenes he has, but I have one complaint, and it’s a big one. He never says “With great power comes great responsibility.” Blasphemy! That’s like telling Superman’s origin and not having Krypton explode. It’s essential.

The rest of the cast is rounded out well. Nice transformation of Flash Thompson, as played by Chris Zylka from “The Secret Circle.” I also liked Denis Leary as Captain Stacy, although he essentially plays himself throughout the movie. That could be construed as a complaint, but it’s not. I like Denis Leary, and he’s at his best when he is himself. His fate here is a bit convoluted when compared to the comics, but it is what it is.

There is much to like about this new version of the Spider-Man legend. I liked the various updates, especially in the technology. The origin is brought into the present a bit. I really liked that we have the web-shooters back despite how much the organic ones from the Raimi trilogy made more sense. I didn’t like that it seemed like he stole them from Oscorp however. Overall this was a great flick for the first hour or so. And the visuals are stunning, especially in 3D IMAX.

And then, in the third act, it crashes, hard. I’ve already mentioned my problems with the Lizard, or at least some of them. He seems to also have the same CGI dilemma that Sean Connery had in Dragonheart, he changes size and shape depending on the circumstances. Sometimes he is man-sized, and sometimes dinosaur-sized. Make up your mind and stick with it.

Gwen, likable as she is by the third act, is quite the little heroine herself. She stands up to Flash Thompson, her father, and even the Lizard, but at the end is told to ‘wait in the car,’ like a good little girl. What? What?? And then she does. Wow. That’s where that sixty dollars missing from my pocket started to hurt.

And then there is Garfield himself constantly taking off his mask. I understand the actor’s need to emote, and be seen, but let’s face it, if the role you are portraying is Spider-Man, it should be understood you will be wearing a full face mask throughout the film. If that’s not good for you – guess what? This role is not the role for you. It’s called a secret identity for a reason, Andrew.

When the crane workers of the city somehow got to their vehicles in the middle of the night, the have their cranes ready for a wounded Spider-Man to web and make his way to the Oscorp building… I was livid. How did they get through one of the largest and most populated cities on Earth to do this while it was being evacuated? And how did they know Spider-Man was going to the Oscorp building? And why couldn’t Spidey just web buildings as he usually does? It was his leg that was injured, not his arms. And if the police were on his side at that point, and they were, why couldn’t they just give him a ride with their helicopter? We do know that Stacy was going that way too.

All of the good will toward the movie was draining away at that point. Sixty dollars and an hour and a half of great movie with stunning visuals – and it falls apart in the last twenty minutes? I’m sorry, folks, but a wonderful dinner can be ruined and forgotten easily if you choke to death on the last bite.

The Amazing Spider-Man is a good movie up to a point. It’s definitely worth seeing in an Avatar to see the effects, but be prepared not to get your money’s worth with the script logic. Don’t forget to stay through the credits for a teaser for more Spidey movies. See it, but be warned.

The Lorax

Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax ~ I learned to read very early, thanks to my big sister, starting with Dr. Seuss favorites like “Hop on Pop,” “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish,” “Fox in Socks” and of course the classics like “The Cat in the Hat” and “Green Eggs and Ham.” And although I quickly graduated to comic books, and then real books, I never lost my love of the Doctor (in this case, Seuss, not the guy with the TARDIS).

Though I had never actually read the book I do distinctly remember my first encounter with “The Lorax.” The night the animated version premiered on CBS I was allowed to stay up later than usual to watch it. I was interested but not very because I thought that previous TV versions of Seuss’ work, excepting the Grinch, we’re inferior to the source material. Yes, even at seven, I was nurturing a critical mind.

I had not just a critic’s thought process, but I was also pretty hip to propaganda, even if it was positive propaganda. I had seen the Justice League fight pollution and promote ecology in the comics, and it had hit a sour note with me. It’s not that I don’t believe in the causes, I do, it’s just I’m very against being fed a message in lieu of a story or characterization. I saw that hand at work in “The Lorax.” The bottom line is I don’t mind being educated while I’m entertained – I just don’t want to be preached at.

Which brings all the way back to 2012 and the movie Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. The Bride and I saw it in 3D, so we spent far far too much to get in. By my estimation, this would have been fine in just plain 2D. There’s still a message here in this expanded tale of the Lorax, but really not enough to annoy me. Trust me, it’s still there, but nothing like Lou Dobbs and other conservatives have exclaimed (and did I read right, did they call “The Lorax” a novel?). It is clear, not at all subtle, but not overbearing either.

Instead I got to enjoy the fun relationship between Ted (Zac Effron) and Audrey (Taylor Swift), watching Ted escape the city in interesting ways, and hearing the moral yet endearing story of The Once-ler (Ed Helms) and the appropriately annoying (here at least) Danny DeVito in the title role. There is also the predictable role for Betty White. No offense, honey, I love ya, but it’s getting old. There were a few pointless scenes, like the chase at the end with the seed. I almost wanted to yell at the screen, “Give it to Wall-E, he’ll keep it safe!”

All in all though, it was good, and non-offensive. Add a fun original soundtrack (no excuses for only two nominees in the Best Song category at next year’s Oscars) and you have yourself an entertaining hit movie. I don’t have a good record with Seuss properties turned into films (note the Grinch and Horton), but this one’s a winner.

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Puss in Boots

Puss in Boots ~ Each time there has been a Shrek sequel, even when I’ve enjoyed it, I find myself hoping it’s the last one. With this Shrek spin-off film about the fairy tale cat portrayed by Antonio Banderas, I find myself hoping that the hardest.

A prequel to the Shrek movies, this details Puss’ life before meeting up with the famous ogre and his friend Donkey. Salam Hayak is on board as Puss’ rival/romantic interest but adds little as do the rest of the talented cast who bring to life other fairy tales like Humpty Dumpty, Jack and Jill, and Jack and the Beanstalk in typical but unfunny manner. When you have Zach Gilafianakis, and he’s not funny, you’re doing something wrong.

The animation is good, as is the score, but everywhere else, it’s a fail. Aside from one of two chuckles, and an inside joke or two, and of course the few fleeting good seconds that we have all seen in the previews and commercials, this is a wash. It’s predictable, and where it tries to be an homage to other ‘real’ films, it fails.

Also, if you must see Puss in Boots, save yourself twenty bucks and see it in 2D as opposed to 3D, there’s nothing to see here. Wait for free TV. No matter how hard the kitty gives you the eyes.

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Green Lantern

Green Lantern ~ My earliest memory of the superhero Green Lantern is from the Justice League of America comics, and he was awesome. Hal Jordan was a space hero who had a Power Ring that could do just about anything – shoot an energy beam, make a force field, allowed him to fly, and he could make stuff with it, just about anything he could imagine. Like I said, awesome.

This will date me, but Green Lantern also seemed inextricably linked to Green Arrow and Black Canary and they were always doing something political or with social relevance (a big word back then) and other stuff I wasn’t old enough to understand. Also I knew he was buddies with the Flash, they were a team like Superman and Batman, maybe not as old as them, but they were friends and teammates. Such good friends, that when GL’s comic got canceled, Flash let him appear in the back of his comic – now that’s friendship!

Green Lantern has been through some changes since then. He’s been replaced, replaced again, turned evil, killed, brought back to life, and turned into a moneymaker by genius comic writer Geoff Johns. With that last turn of events, we all knew it wouldn’t be long before Green Lantern hit the big screen. The wait is over.

Being a comics geek, I usually look forward to most films based on comics, Green Lantern was no different. If you ask The Bride, she’ll tell you I’ve keeping a mental countdown clock. Advance reviews were not good however, and as I waited until Saturday to see the flick, I can tell you I was a little bit worried. Now, having seen it, I have to wonder what film the critics saw.

This isn’t Iron Man and nor is it the first two Superman films – it is so not the perfect superhero movie, but it is great. Personally I think Pat Travers of Rolling Stone must have lost a bet on this flick the way he ravaged it – it’s really not that bad. As a matter of fact, I thought it was pretty good.

The story is pretty simple, close to the comics with a few differences. Hal Jordan is a reckless test pilot who finds a dying alien whose Power Ring has chosen him as the new Green Lantern. He trains on Oa with other Lanterns and eventually faces off against the villain Hector Hammond and the evil alien entity Parallax. There are spoilers coming, so some folks might want to skip to the end.

Ryan Reynolds is good as the clunky Hal Jordan but even better as the hero Green Lantern. This is a facet of the reason I like origin stories in movies. I don’t want to see the young, reckless untrained hero – I want to see the complete good guy fight for right hero, and in this case, I am validated. Reynolds is so much better at the latter. Blake Lively is just pretty, and other than that, not believable. I wanted more of Taika Waititi as Tom Kalmaku. And Angela Bassett – wow, who would have ever thunk that Amanda Waller would have shown up in a Green Lantern movie?

Peter Sarsgaard is properly creepy as Hammond. But, while he is good, it’s the make-up and the CGI that goes too far with the character. Does Hector Hammond need to be a drooling monstrous maniac? He’s just got a big head in the comics. Really, for me, that would have been disturbing enough. Parallax, is all CGI, and basically a Galactus cloud with the Wizard of Oz’ face crossed with the Akira monster. This is not pretty. Again, a reference to the comics – Parallax’s real form, that of a giant insect is also pretty monstrous and scary, and of course accurate. The Guardians too could have been less scary. Details like this might put some folks off this flick, and sequels if it goes to franchise.

The voice acting of the CGI characters is dead on. Mark Strong is fantastic as Sinestro, playing him with just the right amount of contempt and menace. I loved Geoffrey Rush as Tomar-Re (one of my fave Green Lanterns) and Michael Clarke Duncan is a perfect Kilowog. I didn’t think I would say that after I loved Henry Rollins in the role in the animated Emerald Knights, but it’s true.

There are as many plot holes in this flick however, as there are Easter eggs for comics fans. Unfortunately the former seems to overshadow the latter. The plot jumps rather quickly from the main story with Hal to the subplots with Hammond and Parallax, which is fine, but too much time is spent on minor details that could have been deleted for meatier bits with other characters. Did we really need the flashbacks of Hal’s father in a bad homage to the opening of Speed Racer? Did we need to know all of Hal’s family? I would have rather had more interaction with Carol, Tom, Sinestro and the other Lanterns quite frankly.

I would have rather had more of a fight against both Hammond and Parallax, their defeats seemed too easy to me, and the fact that Hal doesn’t even really defeat Hammond is very bothersome. Come on, he’s supposed to be the hero here, ya know? But I suppose these are things that happen when a film has so many writers credited. The 3-D, while in the previews it made me want to see it in 3-D, was unnecessary. Save your money.

All in all, I had fun, and with a movie that cost upwards of thirty bucks all inclusive, that’s what counts. I came out of the film excited and hoping for a sequel. Not a great film, but a great superhero adventure, visually stunning. And for the folks who liked Thor and Wolverine for certain reasons – Ryan Reynolds is shirtless quite a bit. Recommended.

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A Tale of Two Trons

I was never that big of a fan of the original Tron, yeah, I know, blasphemy, and I have to turn in my nerd license. Other than the cool (at the time) effects and the arcade game “Discs of Tron,” which I enjoyed on an almost daily basis for hours on just a few quarters, it never really did much for me.

The thing about Tron, is that like the cyberpunk work of the legendary William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, contemporary to the flick, it’s an idea, a fictional concept, that has been washed away by reality. The world of ‘the grid’ is over, like the rocketships and rayguns of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, it no longer even makes sense. That doesn’t mean I didn’t like it, or this sequel, mind you, it just raises the suspension of disbelief a hundredfold is all. Trust me – Gibson, Sterling, Rogers and Gordon all still rock my world in a major way – it’s just harder to do these days.

What I remember and respect most about the original Tron is its simplicity of style. A true grid world accessible and relatable to the videogames of the time was realized and endeared itself to a generation. That’s a real feat. It was visually exciting and forward-thinking for its time, and even today remains a very unique vision, separating it from much of its science fiction competition.

I also remember the music, a Journey song “Only Solutions,” that I liked – at a time when I wasn’t all that fond of Journey. Of course, life with The Bride has changed that. I like Journey and she likes comics – the concessions of love. The soundtrack however was mostly composed by the wonderful Wendy Carlos (formerly Walter Carlos), one of the first musicians to seriously work with the synthesizer as the next wave in sound. The soundtrack is memorable for that sound. Daft Punk more than does the job for the new century in the sequel. I recommend both soundtracks highly.

If 1982’s Tron posits a world called The Grid where programs compete in videogames for their users, the sequel Tron: Legacy represents a current day return to that world. Shortly after the events of the first movie, Kevin Flynn, played by Jeff Bridges, makes it big in the computer and videogame industry, and then after beginning to act erratically, disappears, leaving his son, Sam, alone.

Sam gets a page from his Dad and returns to Dad’s arcade, and in a flourish of 1980s nostalgia, punctuated by vintage videogames, Eurythmics music, as well as Journey, in a nod to this film’s predecessor, he ends up in The Grid. This is a much darker Grid, and a world that exhibits every strength today’s CGI special effects can avail. In this, the hype is true. This is the movie that 3D and IMAX were made for, it’s just a shame that not all of it is in 3D. As cool as these visuals are, the half 3D, half 2D of it damages it. All or nothing, I say.

As I said, this is a very dark film. Dark in the same way Disney’s Return to Oz was to MGM’s The Wizard of Oz, so in some ways it’s not a good thing. The idea of a sequel to Tron is essentially a return to a world of wonder, a world of adventure, a world we enjoyed. This new fascist Grid, under the thumb of Flynn’s evil computer counterpart Clu is not a happy place. The problem, spoiler alert, is that even though the good guys win at the end, we never actually see anything but the bad place.

Rather than this dark vision with spectacular effects, I think I would have much rather seen a remake. It’s been almost thirty years after all, and one of the legitimate reasons to remake a film is that the special effects have gotten better – and they surely have. The Light Cycles are amazing and realistic. The Recognizers are gigantic and menacing. And Clu, wow, let me tell you about Clu. Clu is a haunting CGI effect of the younger Jeff Bridges from 1982. This ‘effect’ is both stunning and disturbing.

Cast-wise, it’s fun to see Bruce Boxleitner as Alan once again, Garret Hedlund is promising in his first major role, and Olivia Wilde is definitely someone to watch. Jeff Bridges, mostly as his older current age self, is the unfortunate weak link. He seems to channel The Dude from The Big Lebowski to the point of ridiculousness. While humorous, it pulls me completely out of the film whenever he does it. And it even ruins the strong dramatic moments like when he finally connects with his estranged son. Sorry, The Dude is one of my heroes, but he doesn’t belong in Tron.

Like Avatar, this is a film you must see for the special effects at least once. In this case, the 3D and the IMAX are worth it, even though I have railed against their cost and worth before. It seems to be doing well so I suppose a sequel is possible – maybe we’ll see more of Dillinger’s kid, which I’m sure all the Tron nerds wanted as well. Despite my reservations, Tron: Legacy is recommended, and don’t forget to check out the original too, first if possible.

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Megamind

Megamind ~ When I saw the first preview of this film months and months ago it seemed like a sly parody of the Superman mythos and a more original super-intelligent foe, sort of a Luthor/Brainiac hybrid. As clever as it seemed, the previews that followed as the release date got closer seemed to reveal more and more of the plot. So much was given away that I feared that I had not only gotten the gist of the flick, but perhaps no longer needed to even see the film.

The truth of the matter was that I felt I no longer needed to see it. I got the point. I could wait for the DVD or even for regular television. Bottom line, the only reason we did see it was because we had several gift cards for the theater and decided to make a night of it. Free goes a long way toward making things more enticing. Unfortunately the gift cards were for Loew’s, and you folks know how much I like them. The quality or relevance of Megamind completely aside, I could not believe how much it cost to see this flick on a busy weekend night, in 3-D, and in IMAX. It was enough to put me off first run movies for a while. Thank the gods for gift cards.

Now I’m not going to give away any details of Megamind for the sake of the folks who have yet to see it, but suffice it to say that what I said and believed above was not true. The whole movie, nor the entire plot, is not revealed in the previews. There’s a lot more to this than meets the eye. And it is clever, and rarely goes where you think it is. This is a smart superhero parody for the whole family, working on several different levels, and it’s also the best use of the new 3-D I’ve seen in quite a while. David Cross steals the flick, and even Will Ferrell is good here, and I usually don’t like him. Recommended.

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Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3 is a good film. It could have been better, but it’s still a heck of a lot better than some of the crap we’ve gotten so far this summer. I might have some complaints about it, but don’t get me wrong, I liked it, a lot.

First things first, as with all Disney/Pixar features, this one begins with a short, and as always it’s just amazing. This short, Day & Night is just brilliant. Not just brilliant as most Pixars are, but also innovative, just pure genius. This is the type of thing that Pixar excels at – conceptual genius. Do not miss. For me, this alone was worth the price of admission.

We paid through the nose to see this flick in both 3-D and IMAX, but unlike many recent offerings, this was fully worth it. Toy Story 3 picks up years after the last sequel. Andy is leaving for college and hasn’t played with his toys in years so they are awaiting their destiny – a trip to the attic or being donated to a local daycare center. The queues for crying in the audience are a bit obvious and manipulative unlike the last two films

The theme is pretty much the same as Toy Story 2 – that kids are never as good as they seem, and abandon their toys when they get older. It worked for the last movie, but gets a bit creepy here the second time around. More than that, this is a much darker episode of the movie series. The Buzz and Woody Go to Hell sequence is especially scary, and downright frightening for the little ones. We’ve had bad kids and bad toys before, this time out we actually have evil toys. It’s a bit disturbing.

These problems may stem from the fact that what we are seeing is actually the original, rejected script, albeit rewritten, for the first film, and that a better concept had to be abandoned due to legal issues. It’s a shame, because it was good. The movie we got is still good. Ken (when he’s not being evil or creepy) is a hoot, and the highlight here. Some bits, like the rebooted in Spanish Buzz, seem out of place, but are still fun.

As I said, this is still the best movie so far this year, despite its flaws, and the ending is sweet and sincere as opposed to manipulative. I liked Toy Story 3 a lot. Recommended.

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Clash of the Titans 2010

Clash of the Titans ~ Okay, I was all ready. I had watched (and reviewed) the original Clash of the Titans earlier this week, dinner plans were made and tickets purchased ahead of time – I was psyched to be knocked out by state of the art 3-D effects and mythic storytelling. Man, did I have the wrong number. At least dinner was good.

The concepts of remake and source material seemed to have been thrown out right away as this new version bore only a vague resemblance to either the 1981 film and even less so to actual mythology. I always thought that the tale of Perseus and Andromeda was one of the great romances of Greek mythology, but apparently somebody forgot.

That said, it was quite a spectacle, had the filmmakers actually allowed us to see any of it. There is a lot of fast motion camerawork and superfast quick cutting so little of the special effects are actually seen. They did however make sure that every time Sam Worthington as Perseus struck a fighting pose or jumping in the air, we saw it in slow motion. For a special effects movie, they sure didn’t want us to see those effects.

The Kraken, which it should be noted is not a creature of Greek mythology at all, was one of the big reasons I wanted to see this film. Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis knows I’m a sucker for giant monsters, and the Kraken as shown in the previews had great potential. However, the cold hard fact is that that monster really only appears in the film for a few minutes. Quite honestly, if you’ve seen the preview, you’ve seen pretty much all the Kraken you’re going to see. Shame, it could’ve made the difference in a bad film and a bad film with great special effects.

Sam Worthington is adequate as the reluctant (here at least) Perseus. Liam Neeson makes a better Zeus than Sir Laurence Olivier, but not much better. I do like the blinding shining armor though, even its gleam fades as the film goes on. Whether this is on purpose or not, it’s disappointing. This new version gives us a new villain in Ralph Fiennes’ Hades. I almost didn’t recognize him after so many turns as Voldermort, this different make-up again made him into another person almost. Shame his special effects (these we got to see) overshadowed his acting.

Polly Walker, notoriously Atia of the Julii in HBO’s “Rome,” is wasted in what should be the rich role of Cassiopia. She gets barely a few moments screen time, and she could have not only been brilliant but saved the film. Similarly cast aside is Alexa Davalos as Andromeda. But someone behind the scenes decided to ignore one of mythology’s greatest stories and do something else. Instead we get Io as the romantic pairing to Perseus, whose background is rewritten drastically for the film. She is played by the beautiful and charismatic Gemma Arterton, one of the highlights of the film.

The cast was filled out by character actors playing the traditional sidekick template roles, seemingly from the old Sinbad films. There was the fat guy, the comic relief and the mysterious stranger – likable all, but again, like the special effects, we never got to see enough of them.

All in all, I thought it was much better than the original, but that’s not saying much considering how much I was disappointed by the 1981 film. It felt there was conscious effort throughout to be different from the original, just for the sake of being different – Pegasus is black not white, pretty Medusa not ugly, etc. And there’s also a fun cameo by Bubo the mechanical owl that did make me smile more than anything the blasted thing did in the original film.

The musical score by Ramon Djawadi is powerful and another highlight of the movie, so good I’m thinking of buying the soundtrack. I did wonder why this film was in 3-D however as there wasn’t much that needed 3-D, except to hike the already elevated ticket price. Worth seeing, but wait for DVD or OnDemand.

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Alice’s New Adventures in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland ~ This 2010 edition of the Lewis Carroll stories was masterminded by Tim Burton and presents a tale that is both a sequel and a re-imagining of the Alice saga. It’s been highlighted with the best special effects CGI and Disney Digital 3-D and IMAX can offer.

There’s been a lot of hype about this movie, and just like its creative predecessor, Avatar, I had the same thought leaving the theatre – where did the money go? Oh, don’t get me wrong, it’s up on the screen, but it’s neither in the writing nor in the acting. The plot is at times slow and boring and at best predictable. Title player Mia Wasikowska and Knave of Hearts Crispin Glover aside, the cast sleepwalks through this special effects extravaganza. Wasikowska is someone to watch.

And those that don’t drift through – Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter and Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, both day-glo nightmares given CGI life – overact and hog the screen mercilessly. And none of it is pleasurable. I cringed when either of these two were on screen. Depp is really only likable for a few moments toward the end, but by that time it was too late.

This is a good film, and a visual spectacle that must be seen – preferably in 3-D and in IMAX to get the ful effect, but I couldn’t help thinking it could have been much better. I mean, if you’ve already spent, let’s say, $300 million, why not invest another five mil to get the script up to snuff? The all-too-brief bright and shiny scenes in which we see the young Alice experiencing the original Wonderland adventures made me yearn to have seen more. Perhaps half that and half this dark Burtonesque Wonderland with the adult Alice would have worked better both visually and storywise.

All in all, this is recommended, but on the whole a disappointment of what could have been. The battle at the end is a sight that is on a scale with the end conflict of Avatar. Definitely see it, despite my small quibbles, and see it on the big screen.

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Avatar

Avatar ~ Movie fans have waited a long time for a new film from writer/director James Cameron, and I’m sure many haven’t been disappointed with his newest reputedly $280 million offering Avatar.

This is a good movie, a really good movie, but I think the hype may have killed it for me. I had friends rave when they initially saw the trailer. I read much about the money spent and the effects process involved. I was impressed, yes, but I’m unsure if the product really lives up to the hype. Based on box office (phenomenal, but surely not as phenomenal as the producers might have expected, or wanted), I have to wonder if I’m alone.

The plot has Cameron taking a pseudo-political stance, and its preachy bits are one of the places where he loses me. The human race in 2154 is strip-mining the planet Pandora where the indigenous population is psychically linked to every living thing on their world. A paraplegic takes on the role of one of the genetically created inhabitants to live among them and learn more about them – and eventually leads them against the human oppressors. I’m not giving much away, as predictability is one thing Avatar excels in. That’s not bad though, there’s a lot that makes up for it.

Other nitpicks would be that the deus ex machina at the end is a literal deus ex machina, which is a bit of a letdown. I like to see characters triumph against impossible odds on their own – after all, that’s what makes them heroes. And the prayer scenes almost made me break out in laughter as I was reminded of old kaiju eiga – the way they were chanting I kept waiting for Mothra to show up.

It’s not all bad though, by no means at all really. Visually, Avatar is stunning. The special effects of having actors shine through their CGI forms is mind-boggling. Truly alien constructs display and react as the real actors would and look like their puppet masters flawlessly while maintaining their fantasy forms. The backgrounds like the floating islands are staggering. I wouldn’t recommend not seeing this film in IMAX or 3D – it must be seen in full effect.

This is an outstanding film, a definite must-see for the eye candy alone, but the battle sequences go on much too long and my eyes really started rolling when the it got preachy. It’s no Terminator or Aliens or even Titanic. I’m glad I saw it, but in hindsight, I wish I’d seen Sherlock Holmes Christmas night instead, or maybe even The Squeakquel.

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