Monthly Archives: June 2011

Review: Green Lantern / Super 8 Double Feature!

My parents came out for the weekend, which means (among other things) free babysitting. That, in turn, means movies!

My wife and I saw two movies in a row tonight: Green Lantern and Super 8.

Expectations were split for these two. I’ve been looking forward to Super 8 since the first trailer (which, btw, showed absolutely nothing taken from the movie). I had initially been looking forward to Green Lantern since it was first announced, but since its release and shockingly bad reviews my expectations feel into a pit.  So I was hoping that the night would average out to a decent time.

Super 8 was really well made, and looked and felt almost exactly the way I expected it to. The Goonies meets E.T. meets Cloverfield. That’s just about a perfect description. You could completely feel the input from both Speilberg and J.J. Abrams. Abrams’ signature lens flares and shaky cams are used liberally. The set designers did an awesome job – they absolutely nailed 1979. The kids were great, especially the two leads. This isn’t a kids movie, though. It’s for adults who saw The Goonies and then grew up. It’s got a lot of “jump” moments, it’s scary, and there’s some significant language. I don’t think they nailed the fatherhood reconciliation thing they were going for, but it was good enough and didn’t detract from the film significantly.

Stick around during the credits to see the finished version of the movie the kids are making in the film. Really funny.

Best line: “Drugs are so bad!”

Easily a solid 4 out of 5 stars. Very good stuff.

I was almost scared to go see Green Lantern. I’ve wanted this movie to rock since it was first announced in 2008. Close to three years I’ve been anticipating this film with excitement and dread. If they pulled it off, it could be pure awesome. If they screwed it up, it would fail miserably. I’ve followed the releases of trailers and clips, and I’ve been riding a roller coaster of emotions. The first trailer looked horrible. The second trailer looked way better. The third trailer looked better yet. Then a few released clips from the film dashed my hopes. Then, when it was finally released this month, the critics stomped the ashes of my hopes, ground them into the dirt, threw water on them, and spit on them for good measure. This film sits at 26% on Rotten Tomatoes as I write this. No one I know has said anything good about this.

I’m almost afraid to say it: I liked it.

I had a good time at this film. I may even like it better than Thor.

Were there problems? Absolutely. Interestingly, one of the places it failed was the same place Super 8 failed – the fatherhood angles. It just didn’t work the way it was intended. I think I would have structured the film differently, if I were in charge. I think it would have played better if we discovered everything along with Hal Jordan, for example. I also probably would have done away with paralleling the growth of Hal into Green Lantern and Hector Hammond into Parallax’s pawn. Hector just wasn’t interesting enough and there was some undeveloped backstory that was referred to as if we already knew it, too.

I also had some preconceived notions of who Hal was and this film certainly didn’t match them.

So those kinds of problems existed, and it’s not that I was unaware of them, but in the end I really didn’t care. I came out having had a good time. Even the released scene from the final battle that went a long way to convincing me I wouldn’t like the movie, came out looking fine within context (well, except for one bit, but I can let that slide). I’d see the sequel in a heartbeat.

I’ve been using Fantastic Four recently as my low watermark for barely watchable superhero movies. I was afraid I would have to start using Green Lantern in its place, but as it turns out that will be unnecessary. I really don’t understand why the general public hasn’t gotten behind this film. My wife enjoyed it. Why didn’t you, Mr. Public? I can see this film landing between 40% and 55% on Rotten Tomatoes, but 26% is too low.

As for me: 3.5 stars out of 5.

My Utah trip, or how I could have died at 6400 feet

Salt Lake City - distant storm at dusk (click for bigger view)

Last week I went on my first trip to Salt Lake City, Utah. I will probably repeat this later… that is one beautiful part of the country.

But before I got there, I had to get on a plane 1800 miles away. And that plane was 2 hours from my house. And it took off at 7am. That means I had to leave my house at 4:15am to have enough time to get through security.

Let’s be very clear about this: I am not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination. 8am is very early for me. Getting up at 3am to be ready to leave the house by 4am is like inhuman torture. Of course, that assumes I’ve gone to sleep by that point, which is not a given.

I did try, though. I got in bed by 10pm. I tried to sleep. I think I dozed off periodically somewhere between 12-1:30am. Then I was awake from 1:30-2:53am. Realizing that the alarm would go off in 7 minutes, I miraculously fell asleep – and woke up at 4am. Yes, after an entire night of staring at the ceiling waiting for sleep, I ended up in a mad dash through the shower 15 minutes before I had to walk out the door.

A lovely start to the trip.

I thought I would sleep on the ride to the airport, or on the plane, but I didn’t. Amazingly, I wasn’t tired. Aside from sitting in a crowded plane next to a rather large young man who did fall asleep, the 5-hour trip went smoothly. I even ended up in a plane that had an interactive TV in the headrests, plus I had loaded up my iPod with the final episodes of West Wing to keep me occupied, so that was cool.

When the person in the window seat in my row finally lifted the blinds, we were descending below the tops of the snow-capped mountain range. It looked like I could walk out on the wing and touch the mountain. A glance across the aisle to the other window revealed the optical illusion of a mountain growing downward – a perfect reflection of a mountainous island in the polished glass of the Great Salt Lake. What a great entrance to the city!

Thanks for the photo, Julie!

Click for huge size view - this is looking south from a neighboring mountain

I made it to the hotel by 11am local time, and then I had a conundrum. I could succumb to fatigue and take a nap, do some work, or take advantage of the unbelievably nice weather and scenery. As I almost never have this kind of opportunity, I opted for door #3. And now, over a week later, I’m still thrilled that I did, and somewhat surprised that I made it out alive.

Unfortunately, I did not heed my 6 year old’s advice and take the cell phone with a camera in it, so I don’t have direct proof of what I accomplished, but I still remember how it looked and how it felt. It was awesome. And scary.

I was staying at the University of Utah, which sits at 5000′ above sea level and backs right up on the mountains. I live at approximately 400′ above sea level, so at 5000′ the air is already comparatively thin. But the promise of the view from the side of the mountain just minutes away was too much for me. So I took my sad, out-of-shape body out for a walk. I stopped and picked up a bottle of water, a sandwich, an apple, and some chips, and walked up the road past the Red Butte Nature Research Center, into the pass between two mountains.

Walking up the road I saw some random people, not many, jogging or walking their dogs. Looking up the hill on the left were the paths obviously more traveled, on hills that rolled into their height, catering to the foot traffic of those out for exercise and beautiful scenery. On the right were the wilder, steeper, more challenging trails that I imagine were favored by mountain bikers. Not impenetrable, but certainly more difficult.

Had I actually thought about the fact that I was working on a broken 2 hours worth of sleep, have bad knees and a bad back, and get winded walking across my back yard at home, I probably would have gone the easier route. But I was taken in by the promise of the vistas I would see on the higher mountain to my right. It was too tempting to pass up. Besides, I’m an Eagle Scout; I’ve hiked in the Rockies before; “I’ll know when to turn around – I’m not that far from other people.”

I picked a plateau overlooking the city as my goal. Somewhere around 5300′ I started having to concentrate on my breathing. I took lots of little rests and small drinks. By the time I reached that plateau at 5500′ I thought I had reached the top of the world. I was panting and my legs were tired, but man… what a view. I could see the airport and the lake all the way across the city. In the distance, a plane was flying below me headed toward the airport. I rested on a rock surrounded by wildflowers, ate my lunch, and called my wife to brag about my achievement.

It was awesome.

Then my wife asked me how much of the city I could see.

The route I took as seen on Google Earth (click to view in Google Maps)

“All of it!” I said, looking around. Then I realized that, well, there is technically more city beyond that ridge just to my south. “I could probably see over that if I got a little higher,” I thought. All I would have to do would be to follow that path behind me to the next rocky outcropping. Yeah, it was steeper than what I had just climbed, and more rocky, but it looked possible. And I was starting to feel my strength coming back after eating my lunch. “Why not?” I reasoned.

So I walked up the path, slipping once on a loose stone early on. Though there was increasingly more panting, it actually wasn’t as difficult as I expected, at least until I got to just below the rocky outcropping. There the path started hugging the edge of the steeper side of the rocky slope. One misstep could easily see me rolling down the side of the mountain, seriously bruised or worse. I reached a small tree growing out of the side of the rocks, the trunk leaning toward the path, the branches just over my head. It was as I reached for a branch to steady myself and rest for a moment that I realized I was pretty dizzy. I had to concentrate to aim my hand at the branch. The thin air had really begun to take its toll.

I contemplated turning back at this point. Safety had begun to demand attention. But I was sooooo close to my new goal. All I had to do was climb over or around the rocks supporting this tree. So I did, after a rest just long enough to stave off the dizziness. Looking back to my lunch plateau, it seemed a long way down. I was at about 5900′ now, about 400′ higher than my last stop. The view (and sense of accomplishment) was tremendous—but I still couldn’t quite see over that south ridge. Almost, but not quite.

There was another rock outcropping a bit further up. The path itself was steeper, but had angled a bit away from the steepest slope at this point, though there was much more loose rock. If I stayed just off the path, however, on the edge of the small vegetation, it wasn’t too bad. So after another rest, I slowly made my way up another 300-400 feet, sometimes using my hands to help climb. NOW I was high. I could see everything, even over the south ridge.

All kinds of bliss. Just pure beauty. Awesome.

And kind of cold. And my bottled water started tasting funny. And I was dizzy again, and it didn’t go away after I rested.

Then I looked up the hill. The top of the ridge was right up there. Maybe another 200 vertical feet. But it was steeper again. And more loose rock. And narrower. But so close.  “I might be able to make it.”

I called my wife again and bragged about where I was. I told her I was close to the top. “I can probably make it.”

In the end I decided it was stupid to risk it for a couple of hundred feet and bragging rights, when I was already noticeably affected by the thin air. Even if I made it to the top, I’d still have to turn around and come down the same treacherous path. As it was, I had a hard time getting down those first 400-600 feet again. But as I descended I got less dizzy, and my water started tasting more like water again. Even though my legs were more tired, my footing was more sure. By the time I reached my lunch spot I was feeling normal again.

A view of the mountain I hiked. (click to embiggen)

Another view, closer to the base. You can see the plateau I stopped at for lunch between the electrical lines. (click to embiggen)

By the time I got back to my room, I was completely re-energized. I still don’t really understand that. I should have been dead tired after going through that much exertion following so little sleep.

The rest of my week had some great moments (and some dead boring ones, too), but nothing topped that hiking experience. The whole time I was there I kept looking up that mountain surprised and proud at how close I came to the ridge, yearning to take another shot at it.

I’ll tell you three things I learned from the experience:

  1. I might not be in quite as bad shape as I thought.
  2. For some reason, water tastes weird when there’s not as much oxygen.
  3. Never go up an essentially treeless mountain on a cloudless day with no hat or sunscreen. Even today in the shower, my head still hurt a little.

Have you ever accomplished something that surprised you?

All photos provided by Julie Lesch – thanks!

Star Wars: The Old Republic – cinematics

This is the kind of stuff that keeps sucking me back into the world of Star Wars gaming. I LOVE this stuff.

I have no idea how the actual game experience will be for “The Old Republic” – all I know is that these cinematics look Awesome, with a capital “AWE”. There are three now, that I’m aware of. “Deceived”, “Hope”, and “Return”.

Here’s everything I know about the story these trailers introduce:

  • The Old Republic time period is at least 1000 years prior to the Star Wars movies. There are a lot of Sith and Jedi running around.
  • The Sith “homeworld” is Korriban – the retaking of Korriban by the Sith is shown in “Return”.
  • Darth Malgus is the pale bad guy who’s apparently running the show (at least by the end of “Return”).
  • The Sith, under Malgus, are making rather good headway against the Jedi and the Republic forces.
  • The woman Jedi seems pretty important. She’s got a lightsaber blocking skill I’ve never heard of before, shown in “Hope”.
  • Coruscant is the capital of the Republic, and the Jedi Temple is there as well. That’s where the “Deceived” trailer takes place.

Bioware makes a heck of a trailer. They do a great job of pulling from the movies to put enough familiarity in to draw in a fan of the films (most prominently in “Return”), throw some more subtle references in for the deeper fans, and then blow it out into a visual explosion of pure cool that reflects what a lot of fans wanted the movie prequels to provide. In the films we got a taste of it with the fight against Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace, and these trailers take that tease and expand it into a satisfying feast of a battle.

Here they are in the order I think they should appear (based on the development of Malgus) – which is the opposite of the order in which they were released.

Feast your eyes….

Return

Hope

Deceived

I’m telling ya… these trailers make me want to run out and buy The Old Republic. They also annoy me for showing me what “Revenge of the Sith” could have been. But that’s a whole different post.

Why isn’t the theater filled?

I went to see X-Men: First Class over the weekend. It was opening weekend for that film. Typically, a big film like that would have a huge audience in their first few days, and I’d be worried about it being sold out by the time I got there. But I was surprised to find that there couldn’t have been more than 30 people at the Saturday evening showing I attended.

I’ve been surprised more than once over the last few years with small audience sizes for big movies. I’m talking about audience sizes 60-80% smaller than I remember from years gone by. It’s a shame, because that affects my cinema experience – usually negatively. I enjoy hearing the audience reactions to a film – it enhances the experience for me to hear the “Oh!”s, laughter, and breathless silence the films elicit from the viewers around me. That was really brought home to me with Thor, where there was a decent sized audience, and they got swept up into the film. It makes the film more fun.

(I should note here that, large or small, I’m not talking about a rude audience that just makes noise throughout the film or is otherwise distracting from the experience. I’m talking about audiences that are having a shared, respectful experience.)

So why aren’t people filling the theaters the way they used to? Here are a few of my thoughts:

  • Theaters are having more showings than they used to, so the audience is spread out into multiple presentations.
  • Ticket prices are keeping people away. (I wonder if anyone has ever done an analysis of ticket prices as a percentage of average family income over time. Are the prices really more of a burden or is it mostly psychological? Anecdotally it’s a significant burden for me, but I wonder what the data says.)
  • Home theaters are acceptable substitutes for many people. (It would have to be one heck of a system to be comparable for me – at least for the big movies. Plus you lose the community aspect I mentioned above.)
  • Movies aren’t as good/engaging as they used to be. (I don’t think that’s true across the board, but it seems to be a common perception.)

What do you think?

Best X-Men movie?

In light of my most recent post, and the fact that I’m putting the Polls back in the right sidebar, I thought I’d open up a new poll question…

[poll id=”10″]

I’m still going with the original X-Men. I think it showed the teamwork aspect better than the others, though really X2 and First Class are really close for me.

Feel free to discuss your reasons in the comments.

Review: X-Men: First Class

Magneto, Professor X, Mystique, Beast, Banshee, Darwin, Angel, Emma Frost, Havoc, Azazel, Sebastian Shaw, and… um… tornado dude.

That’s a lot of characters to pull together in one movie. They did a pretty decent job of using them all. But the focus here is obviously with the top 3 (arguably 4) names.

After coming out of this film, it’s obvious that they started writing “X-Men Origins: Magneto” and said “holy crap, we have an opportunity to do a bigger film here.” They were right.

As an origin story for Magneto, I think this was excellent. As an origin story for the Magneto/Xavier relationship, I think it was very good. As an “origin” story for Mystique, I liked it well enough. As an origin story for Xavier? I’m on the fence. It was good, but I really don’t like how they handled the college years period. Seemed like a bit out of character, and then a pretty abrupt turnaround to full serious. It could also be that James McAvoy doesn’t hit the mark for me. He did a good job, but it just didn’t have the same feel as I was hoping. Could just be me.

Overall, though… good film. A good story, well presented.

Being the geek that I am, though, I do have to complain about some nitpicky details. If you read further, recognize that there will be some major and minor spoilers. Either way, recognize that I thought it was a good film. To put it in perspective, I think it was better than Thor in both story and execution, though Thor was more fun.

So… on to the complaints (and the SPOILERS):

  • Most of the big visually impressive scenes were shown in the trailers. I hate when they don’t leave anything a surprise.
  • I really, really liked the way they shot Sebastian Shaw’s murder. But that was tempered by confusion over how it was successful (the murder, not the visual). Shaw’s power was absorbing energy of all kinds, including kinetic. Did Xavier incapacitating him block his power as well? Or was it that the coin was moving so slowly that he couldn’t absorb its power?
  • I don’t know if it was part of the original comics or not, but I’m on the fence about Mystique living with Xavier for so long.
  • Not sure I like the Russians having developed Shaw’s/Magneto’s helmet. The impression given from X2 is that Magneto created it.
  • Along the same lines, X2 establishes that Magneto helped build Cerebro, but unless that happened off-screen during the training time, that seems to be contradicted here.
  • Given that he calls it “Xavier’s School for the Gifted” it seems like it would be pretty easy for the CIA to get a bead on him again pretty quickly.
  • I do have to say that I liked the inclusion of Moira McTaggart.
  • The cameo was cool, but played more like a deleted scene than a cameo.
  • I liked that the end credits graphics had a ’60s feel to them. Nice touch to stay in the time period.

Have you seen it yet? If so, what did you think? If not, are you looking forward to it?

Christianity on TV

This is funny, but not what I'm after.

I saw an article today stating that the BBC ran a survey and received results showing it was “anti-Christian” and ageist. I don’t live in the UK, nor do I watch any current BBC shows other than Doctor Who. This article doesn’t give any numbers or specifics, either, so I really can’t confirm or deny the veracity of what it says (though I can’t say I doubt it). However, it did start me thinking: can I think of a single scripted show anywhere on TV that I think accurately portrays Christians? I couldn’t come up with one. I certainly don’t have a lock on every show out there, but it’s interesting to me that I can’t think of any that even come close. The closest I can come up with from the past are 7th Heaven and Touched by an Angel, but I never really watched either of those shows so that’s just based on inference – it’s more likely that they’re just feel-good shows with a saccharine-Christian overtone.

What I’m trying to come up with, though, are characters who represent real Christians struggling with real everyday problems. Not marginalized, caricatured, superficial, weak, clichéd, Bible-quoters, but characters treated with the same respect as other characters as they go through life trying to make decisions based on their beliefs. People who struggle, and sometimes fail, to live their life according to God’s will as revealed in the Bible; who try to deal with others, including (and especially) those they vehemently disagree with, in love even when it hurts them to do it. Part of the key there is “struggle.”

I’m not even looking for a show that centers on such a character, necessarily, but just includes one.

Something closer to the characters in the movie Second Chance, really, which shows the conflict within the church community as vastly different approaches collide. I’ve reviewed this movie before. It’s got arrogance, profanity, selfishness, humility, love, forgiveness, short-sightedness, integrity, and self-sacrifice – and that’s all just one character: the pastor. (Understand that I’m not saying that the film itself is an example of what I’d like to see on TV. As one reviewer said: “It feels more like an exhortation to the Christian Community and I wonder how someone on the outside would be able to follow it.” I’m just pointing out that the characters here are examples of real people and Christians.)

Seems odd that Christianity is supposedly so prevalent in America and the UK, and yet our media really doesn’t seem to reflect that much – and in fact could be said to skew toward its marginalization.

As I said, though, I don’t know every show out there. It’s certainly possible these characters exist and I’ve just missed them. Can anyone think of a well-rounded portrayal of Christianity on scripted TV?