The Avengers: The movie I have waited for my whole life

Sometimes when writing an article things just don’t come out the way you want.

I’ve tried three times to write about the Avengers movie. In the end what stymied me was that with it’s phenomenal success. Everyone has written about it, about the effect it will have on future Marvel movies, future comic book based movies and the careers of the creative people involved.

If you are reading this blog I am going to assume you have seen the Avengers, are going to see the Avengers, or ended up here by mistake.
So this is not going to be a review of the Avengers.
This is going to be a personal examination of how I felt watching the Avengers.
As I am sure I have stated before I grew up reading comics. As far back as I can remember my dad would read me comic books at bed time. He used comics to teach me to read. So I have been literally reading comic books all my life.
And I never thought I would get to see a movie like the Avengers.
As I was growing up, any translation of comic book heroes to live action were lack luster at best. The 70’s and 80’s had several Marvel heroes on TV, Spider-man, Hulk, Captain America and Doctor Strange. Of all of them Spider-man was the closest to making the character I grew up with.
Really the first two Superman movies were the gold standard for years.
And getting multiple heroes together in one movie, forget it.
There was one attempt in the in 1979. It was Legends of the Superheroes. It started Adam West as Batman. I think right there you can guess how bad it was.
In 1997 there was an attempt to make a Justice League TV show. It was an adaptation of the Giffen and DeMatteis run, which was already humorous. They cast David Ogden Stiers as the Martian Manhunter. Here is the result.
So I pretty much gave up on a cool team up happening.
Then Marvel decided to start making movies.
The moment Nick Fury showed up post credits in Iron Man a sense of excitement started. Could they really pull it off?
And as we have seen, the answer is yes.
As Nash Bozard of Radio Dead Air (an online show you should be watching) put it, it was the best possible Avengers movie that could be made.  
Watching it I realized that I had been waiting my whole life for this movie. It was true to the characters, it had action, it had story, and it had heart.
The bar has been raised and I for one cannot wait to see where we go from here.
Oh, and this is for you Nash

Dinner at the movies

I think we can all agree on one simple fact, the vast majority of geeks love films. That almost all of the top ten grossing films of all time are geek focused, or at least geek friendly attest to that.

And going to see films in the theater is still a big deal. My friends and I are already making our plans to go see the Avengers.
Unfortunately there is a sad truth we have to face. Movie theaters are an at risk industry. First off you have the competition for entertainment dollars with Streaming movies, rental, and gaming. Add to that that theaters don’t see much profit on sales. The truth is that in most cases the theater only gets 10% on the ticket sales.  It’s considered a general truth that movie theaters are in danger and you see more and more closing due to this. Theater owners are left trying to find ways to keep in business.
One model that is seeing some success is combining movie theaters with full service restaurants.
If you are not familiar with this concept it works something like this. You come to the theater, buy your ticket and go sit down as normal. There is often a cabaret style table in front of your seat and a menu. After you are seated a server will come and take your meal order. Food will be delivered directly to your seat. Many also have a way to order during the movie using slips that does not interfere with the viewing experience. About a half hour before the movie is over they will bring you the bill.
No, really.
There are two national chains that I know of that are doing this right now. The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and Cinebarre. There is a theater called Gold Class Cinema which is a subset of Village Cinema that does this, with a twist. More on that later.
Right now Alamo Drafthouse has theaters in Texas and Virginia; it is looking to expand shortly to New York, California, and Colorado. Cinebarre has locations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington.
Before going forward I want to point out that I have been a regular at the Puget Sound Cinebarre for the last two years, but I have never been to an Alamo Drafthouse. Cinebarre was formed by a former Alamo Drafthouse co-owner so I imagine that the experiences are similar, which my research backs up..
So will this model help keep theaters alive. Right now the potential is certainly there. The big thing here is the revenue source. Having a full restaurant and a bar that can serve beer and wine provides a good profit margin. The other thing a theater like this can provide is customer loyalty.
Both chains are very proactive about in theater etiquette. Alamo Drafthouse has made national news about the ways they have dealt customers who will not stop talking or texting. I have personally witnessed Cinebarre ejecting a rowdy group that would not shut up. I don’t know about you, but right there you have my vote.
Another advantage is there is no need to sell commercial space. Nether chain has commercials on screen other than previews and the occasional promo for things like local film festivals. Instead you get shorts, often themed to match the movie.
And let’s be honest here, we have all had that experience were you go out and get dinner before the movie and due to slow service you start worrying you will miss show time. Obviously not an issue if dinner is served at the theater.
Speaking of dinner, let’s talk about the food. Again, I have not been to Alamo Drafthouse so I have no personal experience, but my understanding is that it is very similar to what I have had at Cinebarre. The food I have had is good quality diner food. It is burgers, pizza, sandwiches, and chicken strips. I have always stated that it is the exact quality I expect for what I pay. I took a friend there once and he was expecting to just tolerate his burger. The quote when he took his first bite was “holy crap, this is a good burger.”
Also this model can take advantage of another sad trend. Multiplexes are closing down. Well that leaves open buildings perfect for a remake. The Cinebarre near me use to be a Lowes multiplex. They just took out one theater and made it the kitchen, and remodeled the rest to include the tables and space for the servers to walk. Every time I hear about a theater closing I think here is a chance for a new theater/restaurant.
I mentioned earlier about Gold Class Cinema and that there was a twist to how they do it. In their case they are prompting themselves as a luxury movie experience, with recliners in place of theater seats, state of the art technology and high end food. But this comes with a price. At Cinebarre I pay the same for a ticket as I do at most other theaters in the area. At Gold Class I would need to pay $30.00 to get in.
I feel I have been spoiled by the Cinebarre in my area and in the two years since I discovered it I have seen all of three movies elsewhere and two of those were IMAX. And in the third case I found myself becoming annoyed by the commercials and the crowd.
So in the end I am going to admit I like this trend. It is a way to keep the theater going experience alive and thriving. I fully expect that in about five years we will see this trend expanded and much more common. I have yet to take someone that has not loved the experience and now have several friends where it is our default theater.
Of course I really want to get a chance to go to an Alamo Drafthouse at some point to compare the two.

Review: John Carter

John Carter is a movie that has one of the oddest handicaps to overcome, the legacy of its source material. Edgar Rice Burroughs first Barsoom story was published in February 1912 so we are talking about a story that is literally 100 years old.  And it is more importantly one of the most influential science fiction series ever. Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, and Carl Sagan were all inspired by the novels in their work. You can see the influence in Flash Gordon, Buck Rodgers, Superman, and Star Wars. 

This legacy has led many reviewers to label the story derivative. That’s sort of like someone slamming the Lord of the Rings films as a Dungeons and Dragons rip off. I would prefer they get the order of their chickens and eggs correct.
Ignoring all of that, there is one question that needs to be answered, was it a good movie?
Let’s find out.
The movie uses the same framing device that the first novel used, Edgar Rice Burroughs reading a journal left by his uncle John Carter that details his adventures on Mars.
The movie takes a while to get going setting up the basic Martian conflict, the Burroughs framing device, and where Carter’s life is, before eventually getting him to Mars. It does get points for making the means of transportation make more sense and even a plot point.
Once Carter is on Mars or Barsoom as the inhabitants call it the movie kicks into gear. As is my habit, I will not get into a scene by scene breakdown. But there is a lot to call out.
The script on this movie is pretty strong. There is an actual story happening, not just excuses for action scenes. The characters have motivations that make sense and can but people into conflict without forcing it. It’s not an overly complex story, but it is there.
As John Carter Taylor Kitsch has to basically carry the whole film and overall he does a good job with it. While he is not going to be lauded as the next great action star from his performance he does well and if there is a major flaw it is that there is not a lot of humor in Carter and all his lines are delivered with a great deal of earnestness.
Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris steals just about every scene she is in. True to the books Dejah is a strong courageous woman who can hold her own. The Damsel in Distress aspect from the books is toned down for the movie, but is still evident. Collins plays her as an intelligent woman who is not content to wait for someone to come rescue her, but is not above relying on Carter do help win the day.
Williem Defoe has a harder performance to put across as Tar Tarkas, Carter’s Thark ally. All the Tharks are CGI so Defoe has to use his voice. Reports are that he and the other Thark principals were on set as is the current practice for CGI characters, so he is credited with the full performance, not just voice.
The movie also is a mini reunion for the HBO series Rome. Ciaran Hinds who played Julius Caesar plays Tardos Mors King of Helium and Dejah’s father (at least I think he is. In the books he was her grandfather) James Purefoy, who was Mark Antony plays Mors’ right hand man Kantos Kan, and Polly Walker who was Atia plays the Thark Sarkoja.
Mark Strong as Matai Shang, the antagonist that is motivating most of the action. I like that he opted to play his character as sincere without cruelty. It works better than being a mustache twirler.
Dominic West as Sab Than probably suffers the worst of the entire main cast. As Matai’s pawn he has the weakest motivation of any characters.  Frankly he is a bit of a mustache twirler.
Overall I feel this was a good movie and worth seeing. The major flaw I see isn’t with the movie itself, but how Disney has marketed it. It was presented as a standard action flick. A better campaign would have celebrated the history of Barsoom and the legacy of the story.  The fact that the title is just John  Carter, not John Carter of Mars, shows that they had no idea what to do with it.
I recommend this movie and hope that we see more of Barsoom in the future.

Review: Chronicle

I finally saw Chronicle last week.  I know, I call myself a fanboy and yet it took me two weeks to get around to seeing a movie documenting a geek fantasy come to life.  All I can offer in my defense was that I had to go with my sister to see Woman in Black, and then I got really sick.

But enough about me, I have a request to review this movie, and damn it, that is what I am going to do.
Basic set up: Three high school students come across a mysterious object in the woods. After this encounter, they slowly develop telekinetic powers.
 The hook: it is a found-footage movie.
When ads came out about this movie I had a mixed reaction. On one hand, I am a leery of the whole found-footage genre. I think it is getting overused and you always have the sense that all the characters you are watching are doomed.  On the other hand the trailers looked like it was going to be a good movie.
So which hand won?
First, I think we need to look at what kind of movie we are looking at. Strip away the found footage aspect, and this is at its heart a superhero origin film. But even that is over-simplified, as it does not follow the normal conventions of an origin film either. 
I don’t want to give too much away, but basically this is a superhero origin film that does not focus on the person destined to be the hero. In pure geek terms this is like a Spider-man movie that focuses on Harry Osborn.
They also give a good reason why it is a found-footage film. In most films of this subset, it does not make sense why the characters would keep filming as the events progress. Here, Andrew, the main focus of the three leads, is heavily abused and bullied. He starts filming things as a coping mechanism, and as the film progresses it becomes clear that his filming has become obsessive.  Also since he is telekinetic he can be filming and still be in the shot.  It is a good hand wave and makes this movie much more interesting than a lot of others have been when this technique is used.
The heart of the movie is the main characters and their relationship. Andrew, played by Dane DeHaan , as our camera man is also our main character. As I said above, he is dealing with his father who is an abusive drunk, a mother who is dying, and he is a target of bullies in his neighborhood and school.  His retreat behind his camera makes perfect sense. His only friend is his cousin Matt, played by Alex Russell, who is more popular, and has been growing away from him. Rounding out our trio is Steve, played by Michael B. Jordan; a friend of Matt’s who is running for class president.
The first act of the movie is about the three boys bonding after they start gaining their powers. It plays true because I honestly believe that any group of teenage boys in the same circumstance would act the same way. 
The second act starts to turn dark as the first signs of strain from Andrew start showing. An abused kid starts getting power; the tragedy is almost a forgone conclusion.
In the third act, when things fall apart you still feel for them, because so much time was spent showing who they are and how they ended up there.
The films weakness comes from the supporting characters. They are just not well-developed. Andrew’s father is just a stereotype, a drunken abuser with no redeeming qualities. There were a couple of chances to give his character some depth, but they were not taken; instead just driving home what a horrible person he is. Andrew’s mother has no character beyond being sick and dying.
I wish a little more depth was given to Matt’s romantic interest, Casey. She is a video blogger, which gives Matt a chance at scenes that do not involve Andrew.  It is implied she is into social causes, but really she is there to give Matt someone to relate to beyond his buddies.
As a movie about superpowers it works great. They set the rules the powers obey, and stay consistent to them. They do fall prey to psychic nosebleed trope (please read the rebuttal to this trope here). As previously stated I think the depiction of what the boys do with their powers is very realistic. They do not start out as very powerful, and so they test what they can do, and largely use it to screw around in novel ways. The special effects are fairly effective, especially in conjunction with the home video style.  The way they handle the characters flying is especially effective.
Final verdict: This is a very good movie that every self-respecting geek needs to add to their collection once it has its DVD release.

Universal Horror: Frankenstein



Say it and an image immediately pops into people’s heads. The flat head, the electrodes in the neck (that everyone mistakenly calls bolts), the green skin, the heavily lidded eyes, and the lumbering movement.

And not one bit of that description appears anywhere in Mary Shelly’s original novel.

No, you can thank the 1931 motion picture for the popular image of the Frankenstein monster, and for cementing him as an icon of our culture.

To be fair the movie is also largely based on a stage play version, written by Peggy Webling.

One of the challenges in attempting to review this film is to separate it from the very pop culture it spawned.

The movie has an interesting opening. A well-dressed man steps out from behind a curtain. Speaking directly to the audience he warns them that what they are about to see may shock and horrify them.

Then we go to credits. I’ll be honest; I’m not sure what is up with the credits. Behind the title of the movie is the top half of someone’s head and beams are shooting from the eyes. The next part where the cast and crew credits are shown have a swirling kaleidoscope of eyes.

There are two interesting notes in the credits. First is that the monster gets fourth billing and is billed as being played by “?”. These credits are given again at the end and “?” is replace by Boris Karloff.

The other odd credit is “Based on the Novel by Mrs. Percy B. Shelly”. I have not found any reason that Mary Shelly was referred to this way. I have to assume it was just the casual sexism of the 1930s.

I’m not going to do a scene-by-scene break down, so here is the summary:

The first part of the film details Dr. Henry Frankenstein’s efforts to create life by building a body from recent corpses and animating it by way of a new wave length of energy he has discovered. Once he succeeds, the film details the struggle of the Doctor with this new life he has created, and his creation’s attempt to understand the world he has been born too.  This spirals out of control as the creature becomes violent due to abuse at the hands of Frankenstein’s assistant Fritz. Tragedy ensues leading to the monster’s demise and the Doctor nearly dying himself.

So let’s start with what works. And the first thing I want to point out is the performance of Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein. I think this role gets glossed over often, due to everyone focusing on Karloff’s performance as the monster. But the movie is as much about Henry as it is the creature. He is a man obsessed, but the foundation of what he is doing is sound. Clive has a great speech shortly after the creature is brought to life about scientific exploration and how its boundaries need to be pushed if anything is to be achieved. However, he has moments that show he is not as well hinged as he wants others to believe. He has bouts of mania and despair. A more modern film would probably come right out and say was suffering from bipolar disorder. While a little over the top for modern tastes, for the era it was a really good performance. His lines “It’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive” and “Now I know what it feels like to be God” are classics, and often quoted. This performance set the precedent for all film mad scientists that would come after.

Another stand out is Dwight Frye as Fritz, Frankenstein’s hunchbacked assistant. If Clive set the mold of the Mad Scientist then Frye set the mold for deranged lab assistant. While the level of Henry’s obsession is a slow burn at first, that something is not right with Fritz is clear from the beginning and has nothing to do with his physical deformity. Frye portrays Fritz’s madness well, and walks a fine line in playing big yet never going over the top. Every Igor that followed owes Fritz a debt.

And of course you have Karloff as the monster. There is a reason that this role became an icon.  Aided by the amazing make up work of Jack Pierce, Karloff portrayed the creature to perfection. The creature is both innocent and menacing. Karloff wanted to make sure that there was more going on than just a lumbering beast and he succeeded. There is a reason the creature is often portrayed as the good guy in many of the stories and adaptations that followed, and it all goes back to Karloff.

You also have a fine performance from Edward Van Sloan as Henry’s mentor Dr. Walden (he also played the well-dressed man at the opening warning to the audience), who is horrified at what Henry has done, and yet can’t resist the fascination of the science, and a decent performance from Marilyn Harris as the little girl who befriends the monster only to be killed because the creature doesn’t know how strong it really is.

A lot of credit for the success of the movie has to go to director James Whale. His pacing keeps the audience’s attention even 80 years later.

But not everything holds up.

Mae Clarke as Frankenstein’s fiancée Elizabeth is a throw-away part. Her whole purpose in the movie seems to be to worry about Henry and in turn to have him worry about her.  While the subplot of their wedding helps drive some of the action, she is not a compelling character.

But even worse is Frederick Kerr as Henry’s father Baron Frankenstein. He is basically a blustering old fool. He adds little to the plot, and at best seems to be comic relief.

The Baron also brings up another point that does work now.  Just where the hell is the movie set? In the original novel it was Switzerland, and the movie has hints of this, but it might also be Germany. That would be great but the various characters have a wide range of accents. I’m sure it comes down no one carrying about the accents that much. But if you think about it for a minute it is just weird.

The sets are another issue. Specifically several outdoor scenes are clearly filmed in-studio and you can see streaks on the back drop.

There was also the tacked-on happy ending. It is pretty clear that originally Frankenstein was going to die at the hands of his creation. The studio was not happy with that and had a final scene added that showed Henry convalescing with his father doddering about. In fairness, this scene left the door open for the sequel which many feel is a superior film.

The legacy of this film more than makes up for the short comings I have presented. As I said before, the image of the monster from this movie has become iconic.  Every Frankenstein’s monster that has come after is compared to Karloff’s. Also many of the trappings we associate with the story were started here. Nowhere in the Shelly novel is the means of the monster’s creation detailed. But the use of electricity has become common due to the films influence. The same is true of the lab assistant. In the novel, Frankenstein worked alone.

I would also argue that the misunderstood monster came from here. Early scenes with the creature show that it was not inherently aggressive, and that it even wanted a connection with its creator. It was abuse from Fritz and the revulsion of Dr. Walden that made it lash out. Even the death of the little girl was not intentional and clearly upset the creature greatly when he realized she was dead.

And again, Dwight Frye’s Fritz set the tone for the horror film henchman. You see this from Ygor in Son of Frankenstein to Willy Lomas in Dark Shadows and even Riff Raff in the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The same is true of Colin Clive’s Dr. Frankenstein. It’s not even worth listing them all. Look at a crazed or obsessed scientist in any move since and you will see echoes of Clive’s performance.

Another influence is in the torch-wielding mob. This has become as much a staple as the gothic castle. And speaking of gothic castles, while this movie did not originate that, it was the first use of the castle thunder effect, and that trope it did start.

I think it also needs credit for kicking off the career of Boris Karloff. His contribution to film and television is significant, and had James Whale not seen him in the Universal commissary, we would have never had him as the narrator of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Finally, this movie is what truly kicked off Universal Horror. Even though Dracula came first, it was Frankenstein’s success that proved to the studio that there was an ongoing audience for horror.

Speaking of Dracula, next time we delve into the Universal Horror vault, we will take a look at the 1931 film with Bela Lugosi.



A Fanboy guide to The Universal Horror Movies

Last weekend I finally scored DVDs of Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolfman. These are the digitally remastered Universal 75th Anniversary series from 2004. I have wanted them for a while. I still need to get the Mummy, Invisible Man and Creature from the Black Lagoon to complete the set.
You see this is all part of a grand scheme.
I grew up a huge horror fan and this was a major part of my development into the fanboy I am today. I remember watching old horror movies, sometimes between my fingers or hiding behind the coach. The advantage of growing up before the cable network explosion, I could watch the classic on the old creature feature shows on the local TV stations.
And there was nothing better than the classic Universal Monsters.
So my plan is to start a periodic series of reviews of Classic Universal Horror.
For those not as familiar with what I am talking about, here is a primer.
The Universal Horror era is largely acknowledged to have started in 1923 with the release of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. When it ended is up to some debate, but I say it was 1958.
Universal Studios was a struggling company in the early 20’s. I won’t get into all the details here but one of the things that saved the studio was signing Lon Chaney. The legendary man of a thousand faces became a huge draw for the studio. His performance and make up design for the Hunchback of Notre Dame thrilled audiences who had never seen its like. He followed it up with other great horror films such as The Phantom of the Opera and London after Midnight.
Besides Chaney’s films Universal also had success with The Cat and the Canary and the Man who Laughs. The latter has added fanboy significance as its main character Gwynplaine served as Bill Finger’s chief visual inspiration for the Joker.
One point of interest is that during the silent era none of Universal’s horror films had any actual supernatural elements, in fact no film from Hollywood did. They either featured characters that were disfigured or someone that was employing trickery to appear supernatural.
That all changed in 1931 with the release of two films that changed film history, Dracula and Frankenstein. Now the supernatural and the inhuman were fair game.  Both films launched horror franchises and made stars out of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. The next two years saw the release of the Mummy and the Invisible man.
The next great horror franchise did not come about until 1941 with the release of The Wolf Man Starring Lon Chaney Jr. With this the trinity of Universal horror was complete. To this day Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolf Man are ingrained images as horror icons, forever associated with Karloff, Lugosi, and Chaney.
Throughout the 30’s and 40’s Universal set the standard for the horror genre, creating many of the tropes that have come to be associated with it. Creaking staircases, Cobweb infested castles, fields filled with mists, the secret passage behind the bookcase and mobs with pitchforks and torches, all were introduced, or at least made popular, by Universal.
By the end of the 40’s Universal’s desire to milk every last drop out of their horror franchises seem to have spelled the end of them. The release of so-called Monster Mash movies where Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula and the Wolf Man all appeared, while still popular, seemed to be the final curtain for the classic monsters. With the release of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein the trinity of horror icons was retired.
But Universal Horror was not done yet.
In 1954 the last great Universal Monster was unleashed, The Creature from the Black Lagoon. A total of three Creature films were made in the 50’s. 
However even the coming of the gill-man could not keep the franchise going and with the release of Monster on Campus in 1958 the Universal Horror era ended.
But the influence did not.
Think about it, when someone says Frankenstein, what image comes to mind. I’ll bet it isn’t the creature design Christopher Lee wore in the Hammer Horror films, or Robert DeNiro’s version.
Our expectations of these iconic characters have been formed by Universal and are the widely accepted version.
And Universal has not forgotten this. They make periodic attempts to revive the Universal Horror franchises.  While none have been the restart the studio hopes for, one cannot help but figure it is just a matter of time.
Add to that the fact that every Halloween Universal Studio’s theme parks host their Halloween Horror Nights event where the parks are turned into massive haunted houses. My wife and I attended the 20th year of the event in Florida. It was one of our best vacations ever and proved why we are the perfect match (I’ll cover that adventure another time.)
Universal is still the name that will forever be associated with classic horror.
Going forward I will start the actual reviews of specific movies. In these reviews I will go over what makes the movie work, what are its flaws, how well they hold up over time, and what influences it has had on pop culture. These will be spaced out as I need time to review the movies and I don’t want them to dominate the blog. Also I need to track down copies of more of the Universal Horror catalog.
But I will leave you with this, first up will be Frankenstein.

Review: In Time

I imagine that when the Occupy Wall Street movement started gaining steam the producers of In Time must have high fived each other, and did so again when the 7th Billion human on the planet was born.  
In Time continues the time honored tradition of science fiction using an alternative setting to examine the world we live in. It’s also a fairly standard action movie.
The central premise is quickly established. At some point in the future genetic engineering reaches a point where it is possible to stop the again process. Once a person reaches 25 (the point where people reach physical peek maturity) the aging process stops. To combat overcrowding each person is equipped with a timer that starts counting down one year. When it reaches zero they die.  They can get more time added to keep going. Somehow time has replaced money as standard currency. So when you work you are paid in time, so yes time is in fact money.
Our hero Will, Played by Justin Timberlake, is a poor man who rarely has more than a day’s worth of time at any point in his life, comes into possession of over a hundred years thanks to a suicidal rich man. When his mother dies he tries to infiltrate high society to take them for all they are worth. He meets an heiress Sylvia, Played by Amanda Seyfried, who is intrigued by him as he is not as lifeless as most people she meets. When the Timekeepers (think police), lead by Keeper Raymond Leon, played by Cillian Murphy try to arrest Will on suspicion of murder and time theft, Sylvia is at first his  hostage to escape and later his partner in crime when her father refuses to pay a ransom.
Much of the movie is taken up with Will and Sylvia as they rob her father’s time banks and distribute them amongst the time poor while Raymond hunts them down.
As an action movie In Time is fairly standard. The concept of the life timers helps add tension to as the characters have to find ways of getting more time to just stay alive.
Justin Timberlake does a fair job as an action lead, giving off the feel much like Matt Damon when he first did action. Cillian Murphy is always reliable in these kinds of movies and his presence as a somewhat noble adversary really brightens up the film. Amanda Seyfried seems a bit out of her depth, but this does work for her character that is also a fish out of water. One note is that no matter what happens in the movie her makeup is always perfect.  There are also good supporting performances from Olivia Wilde, Matt Boemer, Johnny Galecki, Vincent Kartheiser and Alex Pettyfer.
Speaking of makeup, one thing I noted was that all the rich people in this movie have an appearance of being somewhat artificial. This helps add to the feel of the class separation in the movie. The rich, who are affectively immortal, are truly ideal since they fear having an accident as that is the only way they can die. The poor are generally active as they have to be on the go at all times to make more time to stay alive.
A phrase used throughout the movie is “for few to be immortal, many must die.” This is meant to convey that it is in the interest of the rich to keep poor people on short time and dyeing regularly in order to support their own extended lives.  Working as an allegory of current economic times is where the movie plays the strongest. It is also something of a weakness as the need to keep the action going once it starts means we do not get to explore as much of the world as we would like.
Use of language in this movie is a lot of fun. Phrases like “got a minute” “I’ll clean your clock” “I haven’t got the time to play poker” and “Don’t waste my time” take on a whole new meaning.
There is a subplot involving a criminal gang of regularly steal people’s time. They want to find Will and Sylvia because they want the time they have taken for themselves.  There is also a point about prices being artificially inflated to counteract the extra time Will and Sylvia are giving the poor.
And here is where I have questions. The central premise works great in the confines of the movie when you can willingly suspend disbelief, but it does not hold up under any kind of scrutiny.
Is the entire world using the time based economy? What is backing this economy? How did we go from our current currency standard to using time?  How did they get people to agree to limit their life spans?
And how long has this been going on? You have one character state that he is over one hundred years old. Technology is not that much more advanced then now, except for the time transfer tech and that fact that all cars are electric. It is never stated how far in the future we are.
So in summery I would say that In Time is an ok action movie with an intriguing and timely premise.

The Eighth Avenger

At New York Comic Con the big buzz was about next year’s Avengers movie. Several of the stars were there to promote the film.
During an interview Tom Hiddleston who plays Loki was talking about being the main villain against all the heroes. Specifically he talked about going up against all eight heroes.
All eight?
Wait a minute is that right? Let’s check.
First we have the heroes that have had their own movies. That gives us Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and the Hulk. Ok that puts us at four.
Now let’s look at the heroes who appeared in other movies. Now we add Black Widow and Hawkeye. This brings us up to six.
If I leave Nick Fury off of this list Samuel L. Jackson will probably track me down and kick my ass. This brings us to seven.
So who is Avenger number eight?
I guess the first question is simply is there an eighth Avenger or did Hiddleston just count wrong. He says it a couple of times so for the sake of argument let’s assume he was right and there are eight.
So again who is number eight?
My first thought was that it would be someone we have already met. This led me directly to War Machine from Iron Man 2. A quick check of IMDB shot this down. Don Cheadle is not listed in the Avengers cast nor is anyone else listed as playing James Rhodes. You also have none of Thor’s fellow Asgardians listed so they are out.
Maybe he is counting someone in the cast who is not normally considered an Avenger. Maybe he is referring to Agent Coulson. Coulson has appeared in Both Iron Man movies and was a significant character in Thor. Marvel has also built him up by making short features featuring him. He has become a fan favorite. In fact since director Joss Whedon has a habit of killing fan favorite characters there is already a save Agent Coulson campaign going to ensure his survival for future marvel movies.
The problem with it being Coulson is while he is a cool character, he is not s superhero, and is not played in a way that suggests he is an Avenger.
There is one other possibility. Joss Whedon loves to sneak one over on fans. Do a misdirection to make fans think one thing and then spring a surprise. Maybe there is another character from the comics hidden in there that we have not seen yet.
Maybe there is a scientist working for shield named Hank Pym. Near the end of the movie he uses an experimental process to grow in size and become Giant Man.  Or Maybe they will sneak in the Wasp. Both were founding Avengers in the comics.
Or maybe I am just reading too much into this.
But isn’t the speculation fun?
So what do you think, who is the eighth Avenger?

Superhero Movies. What works, what doesn’t

After a week delay my wife and I finally got around to seeing Captain America: The First Avenger. The movie sits in an interesting position. While it can certainly be looked at and enjoyed as a stand-alone movie, it is the fifth movie in the Marvel Universe franchise (Preceded in order by Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, and Thor). 

Like all superhero movies it has a balancing act to perform. It has to appease the long term comic fans well versed in the history and mythology of the characters, like me. At the same time it has to appeal to the general movie going audience who are not even sure which characters belong to which company, like my wife.
Thankfully Captain America pulls this off.
Sadly Green Lantern earlier in the summer did not.
But why? How do you make an engaging movie out of decades old characters that brings in both these audiences?
Looking at these two movies there are some points that may hold the clues.
Both movies hold true to the comic book origins of the characters. Their powers and supporting cast are basically translated straight across from 4 color to film.
So let’s look at two areas where they differ.
First off is story.
Green Lantern was basically a paint by numbers Hero’s Journey.
1.       The hero is called.
2.       He refuses the call.
3.       He picks up the call again.  
4.       He faces evil and is defeated.
5.       He goes through a time of doubt.
6.       He makes a leap of faith.
7.       He faces evil again and is triumphant.
 It’s a plot structure everyone knows and many early superheroes used. This unfortunately makes the story predictable and thus not as engaging.
Captain America, while a heroic tale, was not the standard hero’s journey. Steve did not have to be called. He wanted to serve and had to struggle for the chance, not once, but several times. Not once did he refuse to face the challenge, even during a time of doubt and pain. The story was not as predictable and thus was able to better engage.
Next we have our leads, Ryan Reynolds and Chris Evans. Both actors are known for playing cocky characters that spout one-liners. The characters they are playing are traditionally serious men who have a job to do and don’t rarely make wise ass remarks
Green Lantern Hal Jordan is a stock Ryan Reynolds character. Cracking wise, sleeping around, and taking nothing seriously.
Captain America Steve Rodgers is a sincere soldier who wants to do the right thing, a major departure from the characters Evans usually plays.
So what do we take from this.
With Green Lantern it looks like Warner Brothers wanted to formulaic summer block buster that happened to be based on one of the comic book characters they own.
With Captain America it appears that Marvel Studios wanted to make a movie that was worthy of the characters history and bring new fans into the fold.
Marvel does have one other advantage that I have brought up before. They are creating a common continuity for their movies, just like the comics. This allows them to build up momentum over several films in a relatively short amount of time. Right now Warner Brothers and DC do not appear to be going in that direction so every film has to build its own momentum.
Time will tell if both stay there courses.