Category Archives: imax

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.

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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2012

2012 ~ A close friend of mine said the other day that she would watch John Cusack read the phone book. I have to wonder if she’s seen this gem…

The real star here is the special effects. It seems like co-writer/director Roland Emmerich just didn’t get to destroy the world enough in Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow (and that’s not even mentioning how he destroyed Godzilla, grrr…) and had CGI effects leftover. That said, this wannabe Irwin Allen has created stunning disaster imagery that is almost worth the price of admission (or rental), if only a story went along with it.

The film’s structure revolves around the solely Western idea that the world will end when the Mayan calendar ends in the year 2012. To me this always seemed absurd. The calendar ended because the guy carving it got tired and just ended it on the last cycle. Remember no keyboards or pencils then, just chisels – it was hard labor. Anyway, the world’s going to end, cue special effects and let your butt get numb.

John Cusack is writer Jackson Curtis (who just happens to have written a book about Mayan ‘prophecy’) who struggles in the midst of the disaster to save his estranged family. The hilarity, and unbelievability factor, ensues from there. I have to wonder however if John had some gambling debts or alimony payments we don’t know about he had to cover with this flick. It certainly couldn’t have been the script that lured him in. Woody Harrelson, on the other hand, is actually quite a hoot as an ersatz Art Bell type radio show host.

The chase scenes will certainly make your heart race, and if only this would have been in IMAX… See it for the effects, and only if you don’t have to pay for it.

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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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Monsters, Aliens and Other Animated Things that Go Bump in the Night

Monsters Vs. Aliens ~ What starts off as B-movie homage ends with superhero sensibility in this surprising 3-D entry this weekend. Using templates from Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Fly, The Blob and even Mothra, this flick espouses the idea that monsters have been kept top secret by the government for decades, and when aliens attack, they are unleashed to save the world.

DreamWorks does it again, keeping up with the technology and with Disney/Pixar here, and even presents a new form of 3-D that’s better than anything that’s come before – and if you see it in IMAX, it’s just that much better. The voice cast is terrific, Reese Witherspoon and Stephen Colbert especially. This was one of the more fun flicks I’ve seen this year, recommended.

Hoodwinked ~ This computer-animated twist on the Little Red Riding Hood story wants so badly to be Shrek it hurts, yes, it literally hurts the viewer. It tries far too hard to be different and irreverent when it could have simply told the tale with a few clever in-jokes and modern music, but they just went for trying to one-up the big green ogre instead. Good for free or if nothing else is on.

Coraline ~ A very interesting and creepy fantasy from ‘one of the directors of Nightmare Before Christmas’ (not the one you think), and a lot of fun – for adults, and even then it might be a little scary. Hollywood seriously needs to bring more of the work of Neil Gaiman to the big screen. And I will never understand these parents who bring their kids to a movie just because it’s animated or has a child in it thinking it’s okay. Read about films before you go. The idiots who brought their infant children to the theatre for this one probably would do the same thing with The Omen or Fritz the Cat. Recommended, but not for kids.