“I’m just a kid from Brooklyn.”

“I’m just a kid from Brooklyn.”
My review of Captain America: The First Avenger

As a kid I was never a big fan of Captain America. He wasn’t as cool as the X-Men or Spider-Man. He was a guy who ran around with a shield and was, well, boring.

Mr.-Always-Do-Right just wasn’t that cool. He didn’t seem to have the same edge as a Batman or James Bond. As a result I didn’t pay much attention to him. The thing was I didn’t understand the heart of Captain America.

Every other character’s story seems to be “I can do this thing, so I will.” Iron Man knows how to build an awesome suit of armor, so he does and uses it to beat up bad guys. The X-Men all have special powers to they use them, again, to beat up bad guys. You’ll see the same pattern over and over again throughout classic super hero stories. I can do this thing, so when a situation arises, I will.

The heart of Captain America is, “I can’t do anything, but I will anyway”. Steve Rogers was a hero before he ever had any powers. I saw that as a kid, but didn’t understand it. I’ve grown up in an increasingly cynical world. And I’m probably humanity’s representative when it comes to being cynical. There is no cynicism in Captain America, the character or the film. His focus is doing what is right and helping others. That’s tough to find these days.

The film, Captain America: The First Avenger, is a blast to watch with a crowd. What you’ll find is that Rogers is a hero you can root for from the very first frame. He starts as a scrawny kid who stands up for what’s right, even if that involves getting the crap kicked out of him, multiples times. The focus of the beginning of the movie is showing us his character. Honestly, with modern Hollywood in charge, and Chris Evans in the part, I assumed we’d have a wise-cracking full of himself Captain America. You know, a cynical smart aleck. That didn’t happen though. Evans does a masterful job of making us root for Rogers. He brings the character’s awkwardness but earnestness to life. I genuinely liked Evans in this. Even after his transformation he’s still the same scrawny but heroic kid inside. That’s no small feat. If I looked like Evans, I’d be full of myself. Heck, I’ve got the exact opposite look of Evans going on and I’m still full of myself. He plays the part perfectly and, I think, proves a lot of people wrong who doubted him (myself included).

The heartbeat of the film itself feels very much like Raiders of the Lost Ark. I’ll have to see it a few more times, but director Joe Johnston might have created a modern Raiders. Everything from the grand adventure story, peppered with humor, to the period setting and rousing score. This is old-school Hollywood and calls back to great adventure films.

I’m honestly not sure how this picture was ever released in today’s times. Who releases a super-hero movie set in World War II? I’m not sure I would have been as excited if the origin of Captain America was told in modern times. I’m not sure he’s a hero that could be born today. Always doing right. Utterly selfless and patriotic. That’s a tough sell. But coming from the 40s, it just works. I want my kids to enjoy a hero who is always looking out for others and does right because it’s right. He doesn’t have to go on some journey of self discovery to figure it out either. The body can be enhanced but Cap is who he is because of what’s in his heart.

I bought Alan Silverstri’s score for the film the day before seeing it. I listened to it once and then heard it during the movie. I can’t stop humming it, just from that little exposure. I buy a lot of film scores and this one is unlike most of what I’ve heard in the past few years. Again, most recent scores are dark and foreboding. The score for Captain America feels like it was written for a film forty years ago.

And sticking with the modern-movie-feeling-old theme, never once did I say, “wow that’s a dodgy CG scene.” The CG blended well and was used to perfect effect; enhancing the movie without letting me know it was there. That’s my biggest complaint with modern filmmakers—CG has become a crutch. So many shots are done in computers now that could be done practically and without looking so jarring (this was my main complaint with this summer’s X-Men film). Johnston and his team did an amazing job with this. The gist of Cap’s origin is he’s a scrawny kid who’s given a “super-soldier serum” that pushes his body to the limits of what the human body can be. Can he fly and pick up entire buildings? No. But he can run as fast as a car and if he hits you, you’ll feel it when you finally land. I was afraid on both of these points. Any time in the past a character in a film has been able to run fast, it has just looked crappy and fake. Somehow they made it look like he really could run fast. I’d have to go back and examine those scenes a few times to see the editing required, but they pulled it off. The first scene where he uses his power, we feel the same exhilaration he does.

My only complaint I could level at this film, is that it could use another half hour of running time. Like Thor earlier this summer, it’s clear that they were trying to tell a sweeping story with a limited budget. It just seemed like it could have used a little room to breath. I wanted to spend more time with these characters.

This film as is perfect as any I’ve seen in recent memory. I don’t normally get too caught up in what movies make at the box office (except wishing this particular film had died on release) but I hope Captain America makes a killing. I hope people take their kids to see it in droves. I hope grandparents and teenagers alike will line up to see this. It’s exciting to see a hero like this on screen. I wish my parents would see it. Neither of them are even close to liking super-hero movies, but I honestly think they would like this one. It’s that good.

Netflix causes virtual riot (flip a DVD over and set it on fire!)

I received an e-mail from Netflix notifying me that my current subscription plan was going away. In its place will be two separate plans. Both of these together would cost me roughly 60% more than my current rate. Of course, I wasn’t the only one. The rest of their subscriber base received the same e-mail, causing the internet’s collective head to explode (for some free fun, check out the 5,000+ comments on the Netflix blog post; most of the “burn in Hell, Netflix” variety).

While it’s always annoying to have prices hiked so drastically, and my first instinct is always to just cancel, I’ll probably stay with them. We watch a ridiculous amount of movies and t.v. shows via Netflix streaming. There is honestly no other way we could get that much entertainment for $7.99. And while we’re being honest, I’ve had the same DVD sitting on my desk for about four months. Obviously I’m not really going to miss that part of the service.

So they’ll continue to get my money. What they won’t get is my unadulterated love. They had it before. If you provide me with an incredible service at an incredible price, I’ll tell everyone about it: Why hello, Mr. Postman, do you have Netflix?

If, however, you try to hit me with a 60% rate hike out of the blue, well that puts you squarely in the category with other services I must have but who’s providers I vehemently detest (I’m looking at you telephone and health care industries).

While this may be a net positive for Netflix’s balance sheet, I think in the long term they burned a lot of goodwill. Maybe they had it in spades to burn, but it’s not easily earned and certainly not something to be wasted.

Welcome to the third dimension. Watch your step.

After hating 3D movies since they started their resurgence, I finally saw one last week with Transformers 3. Whether you thought the movie was great or terrible, the general consensus was it contained some of the best 3D work ever.

Having never see other films in 3D, I can’t say how it compares. That being said, I give it a solid “meh”. There were a handful of shots that I thought looked spectacular. For the other 95% of the running time, it was just kind of there. It didn’t seem to add anything to the film. Knowing this is about as good as it gets with this gimmick, I’m not inclined to pay the higher ticket price ever again. I guess if you’ve seen a few movies that had terrible 3D conversions, it might allow for more enjoyment of the format in Transformers. I just wasn’t blown away by it.

Could it be my utter hatred of the film itself or my previous dislike of the format contributing to my overall negative thoughts on the gimmick that is 3D? Probably. But I’m okay with that.

Asking more of summer blockbusters

I’ve received a lot of feedback on my review of Transformers 3. Most agree it’s just a terrible film. I’m surprised, though, at a shocking number of people who not only think it was great but go on to defend the second Transformers film, which happens to be one of the worst entertainment-related atrocities ever visited on mankind.

Some have said I’m asking too much of a summer blockbuster. The majority of the cinema-going public are just looking for some razzle-dazzle that doesn’t require any thought. And I’m all for that same thing sometimes, but I draw a line between “not requiring any thought” and “downright insulting.”

Let’s even look to Transformers director Michael Bay to make my point. His film, The Rock, is a masterpiece of brainless manly-man moviemaking. It doesn’t require anything of the viewer in the way of brain usage. And yet, the characters are not only well defined, they are likable. By the end of the movie, you genuinely care what happens to them. All the actions and movements in the movie make logical sense. When a character says “we’ve got to go to X and do Y,” I never once thought, “no you don’t.”

Transformers 3 is the exact opposite of that. By the end I was just hoping every human in the movie would be wiped out. Not only were they all completely unlikable, the movie had insulted my intelligence (and loudly) for almost three hours. The big McGuffin on the movie were these “pillars of power” (or whatever they were called, I think at this point my brain is trying to actively erase all memory of the experience). All they had to do to end the threat was destroy the main one. We managed to fire a volley of Tomahawk missiles into the city and destroy bad guys. Why exactly couldn’t see just fire those same missiles toward the Giant Pillar of Doom (man, my memory is really going on this one)?

Now imagine those same logical failures for over two and a half hours. I don’t think it’s asking too much that a “summer blockbuster” can make even a little bit of sense. I fail to believe that the only writers who know how to do this are working exclusively for Christopher Nolan.

I think we should expect more not less, even from mindless pictures.

Note: Once again, yes, this is a moot point. Despite the horrid reviews, Transformers will rake in hundreds of millions (a billion?) dollars. There will be the contingent of people who see it and hate it followed by a large and maddening group who will genuinely love it. And Bay himself will cash one paycheck that dwarfs the combined lifetime income of everyone that ever reads this. Then he’ll go blow something up in his back yard.

“We have to wingsuit in!”

“We have to wingsuit in!”
My review of Transormers 3: Dark of the Moon

I had hope going into Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon. Why did I have hope? God only knows.

The first Transformers was okay at best. The second was the most awful piece of trash I’ve ever paid money to see. So why the hope? Well, the consensus amongst every nerdy movie reviewer was that it wasn’t a great film overall, but the last hour was the best action film ever and made it all worth it.

I set my internal alarm to go off in the last hour so I wouldn’t miss all the action. And I waited. And I waited. And I waiting some more. And then the credits rolled. I just turned to my friend, David, and laughed. Was it as bad as the second film? I don’t think it was but I hate it more because I thought it might be good at some point.

It’s not often I see a film that actually enrages me just for having wasted my time. I can enjoy just about anything. This was just so insultingly dumb I couldn’t handle it. Terrible acting (from every human and robot on screen) aside, the logical flaws throughout make it impossible to enjoy any of it.

With the large part of my brain that wasn’t engaged in trying to understand the film, I invented a new Michael Bay drinking game. Every time anyone in his films utters a line (any line will do) just ask “why?”. If you can’t answer that question, take a drink. I give even the most ardent alcoholic ten minutes of this film before they are curled up in the fetal position wishing they had never been born.

Let’s look at some examples. Note: These might spoil parts of the movie for you but that’s okay because you shouldn’t see it anyway.

The Decepticons (Transformer bad guys) have taken over Chicago. They shoot down every military aircraft we send in. So how do we get troops on the ground? “We’ve got to wingsuit in!” Why? Take that drink.

See, wingsuiting involves dressing up like a flying squirrel, and jumping off something really high. We can’t fly planes into the airspace without being shot down. So what do we do? Fly a flippin’ plane into the heart of Chicago. But I thought we couldn’t do that? Shut up. We’ll fly a plane into the heart of the city and jump out. These planes can do vertical take off and landing. If we can actually fly into the middle of the city (even though we’re told we can’t), why not just fly to the middle of the city and land? Then everyone walks off the plane and we don’t have to endure this jumping out of it silliness. You, sir, get a bonus drink.

And this brings us to Bay’s newest fetish. Back in the good ol’ days, he just enjoyed panning the camera around the main characters in dramatic slow motion. Now his new thing is apparently men jumping off of things. I’ll see if I can convey the stupidity of this in words. It will be difficult. I’ll use small words.

There’s a military team on the ground. There are Decepticons on the ground. The military team splits up. Half stays on the ground to attack the Decepticons. The other half runs all the way to the top of a skyscraper. They then jump off the building to parachute back down to the ground to fight said Decepticons. Why? Bottoms up, my friend.

But wait, they have to be parachuting down with some awesome weapon that has to be deployed from above, right? Nope. Just parachuted straight down, landed and started shooting. Oh, wait, one of the parachutes did land on a Decepticon, thereby blinding him. I guess that was worth risking the lives of half the team. Sure.

You may think I’m focusing an awful lot on flaws involving scenes with humans. That would be because these are magical disappearing robots. Out of a nearly three-hour running time (don’t even get me started on that) at least half of the film is just humans running around doing dumb crap. All the robots disappear. Humans get themselves in trouble. Robots reappear to save the day. Lather, rinse and repeat for three hours. At some point in the big finale, Megatron, the Decepticon leader, just completely disappears. The next time we see him, he’s literally sitting in an alleyway, like a homeless guy. Battle happening all around and he’s just sitting there. Why? Aren’t you getting a little tipsy yet? Even the computer-generated robot wants nothing to do with this movie.

In what is meant to be a big dramatic scene, Bumblebee, one of the few recognizable Transformers is captured along with a few other Autobots (Transformer good guys). The bad guys then begin to execute them one by one. Line ‘em up. Shoot ‘em in the head. But wait, haven’t we watched Bumblebee for two and a half films now, turn his arms into guns and blow things away left and right. Well, yeah, but he’s not going to do that here until after the first Autobot is executed. Why? Drink up.

So he just stands there and let’s his friend get executed despite the fact that he has the power to stop it? Yup. Kind of a jerk move if you ask me.

Of course I really should have seen that one coming. Turns out the Autobots, instead of being heroes, are just complete turds. The point of the bad guys’ plan was to invade Earth and tell the government that if they send the Autobots away, they won’t destroy everything. The Autobots leave the planet and the bad guys destroy everything anyway.

Only the Autobots don’t really leave (who didn’t see that coming?). They show up again after Chicago is completely destroyed. At which point, Optimus Prime (the Autobot leader) gives what I’m guessing was supposed to be the big ra-ra speech as a preamble to much butt-kicking. However, roughly translated, his speech was “hey, we saw this coming so we let them kill millions of people in Chicago so you’d see how much you needed us. Stop whining, you’ve got plenty more cities.” The Optimus Prime of my childhood was an unadulterated hero. Now he’s the galaxy’s largest robot jerk.

I’m just done with Transformers. I know, being 30, I should have probably been done with them long ago. But this was just embarrassing filmmaking. I’m all for dumb fun. This was just dumb. Bay and the studio should be ashamed (I’m looking at you Spielberg). I’m not complaining because it didn’t pay tribute to something I enjoyed as a kid. I’m complaining that it’s just a terrible movie on every level. I know it’ll make a billion dollars (which is so, so sad) and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it.

Why?

Gulp.

Edit: A few things I forgot to mention that come back to me in moments of pure rage.

They felt the need to make computer-generated versions of JFK and Richard Nixon. These were the worst computer animated humans I’ve ever seen. Just awful.

For about five minutes, Optimus Prime hangs from a bunch of cables on a crane. Just hangs there? Yup, the hero of the film just hanging there waiting for someone to come untangle him. What a jerk.

3D needs to go the way of the dodo

I’ve about had it with this resurgence of 3D movies.

Have I actually watched a 3D movie at the theater?

Well, no, and yet it manages to annoy me all the same. This last weekend’s release, Thor, is a prime example. First of all, about half the showings of the film were in 3D. I’m taking at least four people. That would be an extra $20 to experience the joy of the third dimension which, if all the reviews I read are to be believed, added little to the film. This means it severely limited the times available for us to go see the movie. That led to us seeing it later in the week rather than opening weekend. Not a big deal, I know, but in a world where opening weekend grosses make or break a film, I’m sure they would have rather had my cash on Saturday instead of Wednesday.

The real reason for my deep hatred of the format, however, is how much it stinks up a traditional showing of the film. Thor was originally shot for 3D, and it shows. Multiple times, while thoroughly enjoying the film, I was ripped out of it when a shot would come up that was so obviously made for 3D but doesn’t work as well in 2D. “This is a really cool sequence,” I’m thinking to myself, “Oh, wait, look at that crappy shot there. I bet if I were wearing those vaunted 3D glasses that fake looking guy falling through the air would feel like he was going to land on me.”

3D is expensive, doesn’t seem to add a lot to most films* and looks really bad when viewed traditionally. 3D needs to go the way of the dodo.

*I suppose I should add a disclaimer excluding James Cameron from this blanket statement. Judging by the number of people that lost their minds over Avatar**, he did something right with 3D.

**I am not one of said people who lost their minds over Avatar. I gave it a review of “meh,” and continue to wonder why people go nuts over it.

Hollywood is catchphrase crazy

Captain America: The First Avenger is the movie I’m most excited about this year. First, because it’s Captain America. Second, because it takes place almost entirely in the 40s during WWII. How could that not be amazing?

They just released the poster above and you know what’s wrong with it? The catchphrase. Avenge. Really? Not only is that awkward phrasing, it just looks out of place. Except for that word, this poster is a beautiful work of art. I’d hang it in my office.

Hollywood, not everything needs a catchphrase. Sometimes you just create an emotionally powerful image and let it roll.

Great, now we’re “those” parents

“We had so much fun at church tonight,” Conner said with an excited smile on his face.

Colton chimed in, almost talking over his little brother, “Yeah, we had a graham cracker eating contest and I almost won. I ate ten in one minute but I lost by one. How could I not eat that last cracker?”

We smiled at their enthusiasm.

“And then they played a song,” Colton continued, “They said it was from a movie and we had to guess what it was from.”

My fatherly pride momentarily swelled. “Of course they got it right,” I thought to myself, “How could my kids not get a movie trivia question right?”

“What was the answer?” I asked, ready to take credit for my children’s extensive cinematic education.

“I don’t know,” Conner said.

“Oh, well what did you guess?”

Undercover Brother,” Colton said.

“What?!” Rebecca and I both exclaimed collectively.

Inception

As is usually the case with Christmas, one of my favorite gifts are iTunes gift cards. My first purchase this year was the film Inception, which I’d never seen until now (my review of it: amazing). My second was the soundtrack to the film. It is absolutely perfect. I’d recommend it for anyone who is a fan of Hans Zimmer’s work. It’s been the soundtrack behind a short story I’ve been working on and makes great music to write to.

Gone bad

It’s safe to assume green is not the proper color of a hot dog frank.

As a public service I’m going to let you know it’s best to discover this fact before biting into the hot dog.