Tag Archives: IMAX

Black Widow (2021)

I have only a handful of thoughts about Black Widow, I think because it’s been in a holding pattern for so very long. I know practically nothing about the next several movies, and I’ve known practically nothing about the onslaught of Marvel TV shows, but this one: it’s just been hovering in the atmosphere, out of sight but you knew it was there. It’s had to be there, somewhere, for just years now.

As imdb sparsely has it: “A film about Natasha Romanoff in her quests between the films Civil War and Infinity War.” And it is definitely that. It’s the best kind of retcon, where you can look at it from every angle, and it just fits.[1] It has a well-realized version of a villain that I would not have expected to work, it has a solid dynamic between every character, and it has… well, okay, the plot was fine, at best.

The thing is, the movie is not about its plot, and is instead about its characters. It’s a love letter to the Black Widow, in the midst of a film about what family means. There simply haven’t been many quiet, homey movies in this series, and maybe there should have been? I like about the comics that you always eventually get to see the characters on their days off, and this was like that, even though there were like two huge set piece fights and several more small set piece fights.

Not that you asked, but I also think I’ve talked myself into liking this better as a retcon than maybe I would have had it come out in sequence between other movies as indicated by its place in the timeline. It just works better retrospectively, I think?

And finally, in response to a lot of talk I’ve seen along the lines of “too little too late”: a) I will definitely not argue about too little. I think that Winter Soldier was always halfway about Natasha, and while I won’t defend her taking this long to get a movie, I do think her character got solid development over the course of this long series of movies. (Way more than, say, her non-powered counterpart Hawkeye.) But intent matters, and visibility matters, and she never got much. b) I will 100 percent argue about too late, though. In addition to my thoughts above that this maybe plays better here as a retcon in the first place, I also solidly reject the idea that it can be too late to care about something, or to do the right thing.

Very very lastly: IMAX is still pretty cool. People buying tickets adjacent to ours, however, is wildly uncomfortable. I think I’ll have to find emptier theaters or stricter policies, now that I’ve experienced that misery.

[1] Well. The coda that was designed solely as “and then she re-entered previously established canon” was about as forced as I made it sound just now. But otherwise!



MV5BMTc1MDQ1MDI4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzgxNjg0ODE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_This is good, because, finally being caught up on reviews, I can finish reading the top secret book of awfulness I’ve been slogging through for the past month. (It’s possible, possible that hate-reading is a bad idea. Like, if I were mortal or something, I’d have a lot of regrets eventually.)

Note: what follows appears to have tons of spoilers, but really I’m just describing the premise as established (for the most part) in the first 20 minutes or so. Honest.

Anyway, though, yeah, I saw Warcraft on Friday. And I saw it in the way that a lot of people who get paid to do this see most fantasy movies, which is without the faintest clue of what’s going on. I played Warcraft 3 back in the day, so I know from Lich Kings or whatever, but this is apparently set generations before that. See, there are these orcs[1], composed of multiple tribes banded together into a Horde, and the one with the glowing green eyes has figured out how to open a comically oversized portal into a new world, but only long enough to send out a roving warband. See, the comically oversized portal requires death magic to operate it, and the warband is going to capture enough people on the other side to perform more death magic so the support people, you know, the orc smiths and orc farmers and orc nannies, can come across next time. Mind you, if the portal had been like 12 feet high instead of a thousand, maybe the death magic would have burned through more slowly and they all could have made it in one go? But then again, the orc with the glowing green eyes is kind of a dick, so maybe it was comically oversized on purpose so he could use more death magic.

On the other side of the portal, a bunch of humans, composed of multiple tribes banded into an Alliance (also some dwarves, and a couple of elves with comically oversized breasts who, unlike the dwarves, seem to serve no other purpose in the film) are hanging out congratulating each other on everything being peaceful for the first time in forever. Only, not so much anymore. Then the orcs and the humans (and sort of the dwarves, but decidedly not the elves with the comically oversized breasts) start fighting each other, like you’d expect in a movie named Warcraft, and in the meantime some things that make no sense at all happen, and I was prepared to throw my hands up and sound like one of those reviewers who get paid by saying that this movie was fantasy tripe bullshit, but it turns out that patience is a virtue and all the things that didn’t make sense do make sense after all, I was just missing some information at first.

Long story short, it’s a very pretty and entertaining (if maybe less entertaining than it is pretty) fantasy movie where a whole bunch of people beat up a whole bunch of other people, and several of the characters have fascinating motivations, and the ones who have dialogue without having fascinating motivations at least have a kind of handwavy excuse for why their motivations are cartoonish instead of fascinating, and pretty makes up for a lot. If you don’t believe me, go find a review of Snow Falling on Cedars written by the kind of person who gets paid for this type of thing.

[1] Okay, I lied. I had at least a few clues as to what was going on, in that I know what an orc is, while the kind of people who get paid to write reviews are allowed to pretend they don’t, since it’s been more than 10 years since The Return of the King was released.

Guardians of the Galaxy

MV5BMjA3ODU4MDUyMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTE2OTkzMTE@._V1__SX1859_SY893_The crazy thing about how far behind my reviews have fallen isn’t that the backlog is huge, but that it’s so very, very small. There’s the movie I saw before this, which I have finally accepted won’t be served by a useless review and which will therefore have to wait until dollar theaters pick it up so I can purge expiate my sins, there’s this one, and there’s one book I finished almost at the same time. Nothing else.

I haven’t exactly been avoiding the theater? I have most definitely been avoiding books though. Which is to say, boy howdy have I read a ton of comics over the past month. None of that has anything to do with anything, except oh wait, it totally does, since I just remembered that the movie I am reviewing is Guardians of the Galaxy. If you were to guess I had seen that comic in the mid ’70s, the answer would be, sort of? I did, but just the premiere issue so far, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the characters that populate this movie. I did read a handful of issues of Adam Warlock which introduce Gamora, making her, so far as I can tell, the oldest of these characters in Marveldom. This is not only pretty cool, but it definitely puts a pleasantly ironic spin on a situation I read about a few weeks ago where someone was selling kidshirts of the characters and left her off because she wouldn’t appeal to boys enough. That’s already dumb on the face of it, obviously, but man oh man is it five times as dumb with the added knowledge about their collective history in comics.

None of which has anything to do with how good the movie is, I know, but… it’s been out more than a month. I kind of missed the boat on that one already, y’know? But let’s pretend I haven’t, and someone who can see this hasn’t actually seen the movie yet. It’s like this. A misfit kid with the soundtrack of the ’70s and ’80s as his sole possession in life winds up in space because that’s how comics work sometimes, only now he’s a cool thief[1]. Then he gets caught up in a galactic civil war[2] between the Kree and some other people who are not the Skrulls and who I would probably know more about if I had read comics from the ’80s, meets up with the daughter of the baddest dude in the galaxy[3], not to mention a psychotic raccoon, his pet tree who has a lot to say but only the raccoon can translate, and an angry tattooed giant out for revenge because the second baddest dude in the galaxy killed his entire family one time.[4] Then, they… well, the point is, literally any damn thing could happen, and if you aren’t desperate to know what, we are entirely different people, you and I.

[1] Not the Danny Ocean kind of thief, the Indiana Jones kind, if Indy had ever acknowledged that he’s totally a thief but for museums, which by the way is 100% what he is. I mean, it’s not his fault, it is colonialism’s fault, but think about it.
[2] It’s more complicated than that, but at some point I’m just writing a spoiler-filled summary of the movie instead of a review; plus also, if I break it down, the movie sounds less like Star Wars.
[3] Who we last saw financing the destruction of the earth for unknown reasons.
[4] “For you, the day Bison graced your village with his presence was the single most important moment of your life. For me, it was a Tuesday.” Oh Raul Julia, we miss you still.


And then I finally saw a new movie, for the first time in I really don’t want to look up how many months. Gravity pits George Clooney (charm amped up to 12) and Sandra Bullock (charm amped down to 5 or so) against space in a nailbiter of an escape movie. See, there’s an exploded satellite that, post-explosion, has become a debris field, but not to worry, that won’t stop either Bullock’s specialist repairs on the Hubble nor Clooney’s “you didn’t have to be there because I’m so good at painting the picture” stories that everyone in Houston has heard dozens of times before. ….until it does. Debris fields can be a real bitch that way.

What follows is 60 minutes of sheer adrenaline broken up by 20 minutes of philosophical musings, gorgeous tracking shots of the earth and space and the tiny objects floating above the former from within the latter, and occasional bursts of tension-relieving humor. Do you want to see it? Probably, as long as you like solid acting and are not allergic to being tense for long periods of time. Do you want to see it on an IMAX screen in 3D? Yes, unless you have that motion-sickness problem some people get, and even then, still probably yes unless you can find it in IMAX 2D, because you’ll be a pretty sad panda if you see it on some middling five-story screen. I mean, it’s space. Space is supposed to be big! Y’know?

But seriously? It was good. And absurd once or twice in the best kind of way, where you are saying to yourself, “Come on! That’s not fair!”, but you are not thinking “Come on! That could never happen!” Also, in the interests of full disclosure, I grew up in the ’80s when the shuttle program was in full swing, and was raised by a man who built parts for it for basically his entire career. So I may be more than usually locked into the idea that space missions matter, among the non-scientist set. But that said, I’m pretty sure this was a really good movie on its own merits, and not just because space is cool. But that said, it was definitely as cool as it was[1] only because space is as cool as it is.

[1] “Cool” and “good” are not the same thing, obviously. But it’s always better when they intersect.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

It occurs to me that, if I am to go to the bother of seeing a midnight movie premiere, I ought to at least have the common decency to get my review up before release-day proper has begun. I would try to defend myself by pointing out the incredible lack of sleep I was dealing with, but if I’m being honest, well-rested Chris would probably not have written his review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, Part One of Many yet either.

So, let’s see. Was it good? It was, but at the same time… here’s the thing. One of the great strengths of the Lord of the Rings trilogy in cinematic form was that it pared Tolkien down to manageable levels. Because not everyone wants to watch dwarves dance around a kitchen making fun of their host to song and dance collectively written on the spot, is why. And so I want to grouse and complain that some degree of editing should have occurred, yet I really cannot do so in good conscience, because it’s fair to say that there are 13 potentially identical characters out of the 15 that are central to the plot, and Jackson has avoided that trap pretty neatly. And I doubt he could have without paying careful attention to every beat that Tolkien provided. Plus, the small hints of what was going on that Bilbo could not see (that will certainly provide a great deal of meat in future movies) were absolutely worth adding. So, in summation, this trilogy will be way too long and way too Tolkieny, but Jackson has made a compelling case for why he did it this way, and I cannot ask for more. (If I had not enjoyed myself, I could, but, yeah. Good movie. With internal-to-this-entry character growth in multiple places, even! But the rock fight was kind of dumb.)

I would be remiss, at this point, to not mention that this is a kid-movie. It’s less obviously so than many, but, y’know, kid-book, kid-movie. That is how the formula works. So don’t be surprised by your memory that it is a classic instead of a kid-book. I mean, it’s both, but you’ll only accidentally forget the one. ….and then there’s the technology.

So, the 3D? Quite good. The IMAX? Always dandy. 48 frames per second, which is the shiny new tech introduced by this movie? I believe that it was successful. The image was hyper-real, and I have no idea if this is what people want in the theater, but there’s no question now that it can be done. The biggest problem was with speed; several action shots seemed to be on a slight fast-forward, like when you turn too fast and the world lurches just a little bit. Which is to say, I’m pretty sure The Hobbit will be looked upon as a really clumsy implementation of 48fps in a few years, but for ground-breaking, you really could not request a better representative. (However, if that’s just how it will always work, then I kind of expect the experiment to fail.)


So, no tension here: I really liked Skyfall. I mean, yes, James Bond movie, cars, girls, guns, explosions. But I especially liked it, because of what a personal story it told. Mostly Bond is the opposite of personal, right? And Daniel Craig’s Bond moreso than most, nevermind how tragic that one Vesper Lynd scene might have been. If anything, it sealed his “no personal stuff”, er, persona.

Anyway, it seems some years have passed since the first pair of movies. Bond is a seasoned agent and M is nearing retirement in the wake of a pair of pretty large disasters. But when MI6 blows up, everything is suddenly much closer to home. And to put in perspective what I mean about it being a close, personal movie: blowing up MI6 is about the smallest of the personal things that happens, and it’s not even the first one in the movie.

What Skyfall reminded me the most of was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. And no, Bond does not get married. This is a tone issue, and I was grateful to see it, because Lazenby was the most underrated by history of the Bonds thusfar, and it’s nice to see someone finally pull off that degree of empathy for a character who is usually a sociopathic, albeit cool, cipher; even nicer to see it done by a Bond already ajudged to be a success.

Otherwise, there’s little I can say other than pure spoilers, but I must add what a delight it was to watch Javier Bardem chew the scenery. It’s been a while since there was a really solid Bond villain, you guys. I am, as usual, relieved that James Bond will return. Pretty weird that he turned 50 this year, though. (I mean, the cinematic version of him did. The book version is, of course, older.)

The Dark Knight Rises

I hate it when I have to review something that I want to reveal basically nothing about. Okay, let’s start with premise, that’s always safe ground. The Dark Knight Rises is set some eight or ten years after the events of The Dark Knight. Batman has not been seen in all this time, after having been branded a public enemy for his alleged murder of district attorney Harvey Dent. On top of that, Bruce Wayne hasn’t been seen much more often, which hasn’t exactly spelt sunshine and puppies for his various financial holdings and charities. And then, of course, something intriguing happens and something terrible happens, and our various characters are suddenly knocked out of their stasis.

Okay, and that’s enough. As with my previous review, there’s nothing in there that doesn’t happen in the first fifteen minutes or so. I will say only a couple of more words before I send you on your way to the theater, unless you are wiser and more appropriately unbusy than I. Although the first one is a little bit of a story: someday, I may choose to re-read a series I first caught as a young teen, Stephen Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever. People have left me with the impression that I may fail catastrophically, but I’m interested to see how it goes, so I may. Anyway, the point is that as the second trilogy opens, Thomas Covenant, storied “hero” of a faraway, possibly hallucinatory land, has a terrible life. Sure, he may have defeated some dark lord or other, but back on earth he’s still a miserable leper. And one of his foes has an opinion on how to strike out at him that has always stuck with me. “What do you do to hurt the man who has lost everything? Give him something back, broken.”

It seems to me that Christopher Nolan has taken that advice to heart here. He doesn’t give Bruce Wayne something back broken so much as he gives him everything back broken, starting with his body, continuing right through his city, and stopping…. well, in theory, nowhere. You’ll have to see for yourself, of course. While this singular focus leaves me with an impression that some pieces of the plot are contrived, none were so glaringly contrived as to detract from my overall enjoyment. Plus, he made that bleakness up to the audience by also giving us the second thing I had wanted to mention, Anne Hathaway in a leather catsuit.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

The bad thing about the new Mission: Impossible flick is that the plot felt occasionally rushed. I’m not talking about one of those things where reviewers say, despite being paid actual money by actual media organizations to have no other job besides sitting in a dark room with popcorn watching magical images appear in front of them and then talking about those images, that they were confused because the plot of the movie was too hard to follow.[1] There was definitely no point where I said, “Wait, what, they left something out!” I’m just saying that, now and again, you could tell that there was room for more backstory and it had been squeezed out. (I am thinking here specifically of Bogdan, who was really given nothing to do except have a goofy smile and be a plot catalyst; but that is not the only example of what I mean.)

The good thing about Ghost Protocol is you don’t have to care about any thin areas in the Pattern, because everything else was in fact really pretty cool. Was the mission actually impossible? Pretty much! Was the gadgetry really cool? Yes, yes it was, and on top of that it was involved in an unacknowledged-by-the-dialogue running joke that I will not spoil because it has plot implications. Did Tom Cruise smirk his way through the whole movie? I mean, obviously he did since that’s what he has done in every movie he’s ever been in[2], but it’s not like his smirk is off-putting, and it conveys a whole range of emotion beyond general punchability. Which when you think about it makes him an incredible actor. And the rest of the cast had generally good chemistry, and character development beyond ‘helps Tom Cruise do the Impossible’. So I’m saying, there’s very little not to like here. But none of these are the reason I’d recommend the movie.

Go see it in IMAX, because just about every action scene is put together in a way to showcase the immensity of that screen, and frankly very few IMAX films that come out have that particular sensibility. It was close to as good as a nature documentary, in those terms. And it had rather more explosions per capita than a nature documentary generally does, so you can see how this would be a win-win. IMAX or not, though, I wish more action movies were put together on this scale. Big is not a necessary thing by any means, and look no further than Die Hard before you consider disagreeing. But it should happen more than it does, is all I’m saying. Most of these kinds of movies are not designed to be small, but they’re filmed that way anyhow.

Okay, digression over. Review, too.

[1] Not that I’m bitter.
[2] Maybe not Eyes Wide Shut. Maybe.

Final Destination 5

The Final Destination series is in its own way every bit as comfortably broken in as Friday the 13th was by this point in the ’80s (which is to say, apparently, 1991); I know all the rules, better than the characters do, and even though of course there are new twists and turns, there is a fair amount of comfort in being able to settle back and enjoy the upcoming squirm-fest unencumbered by analysis about how things may or may not work. Is there more to say about Final Destination 5?

Nah, I guess not.

Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D

Today was supposed to be disc golf day, but then Eric’s kid was sick and the weather was drizzly. Not to worry, we found a kid-watcher and the weather turned into a downright beautiful 60s extravaganza, so that part worked out okay, except for where I played really badly. But that’s not the point. The point is how, in the meantime, we headed off to the IMAX to see the Tom Hanks produced Magnificent Desolation, which is all about taking a bunch of astronaut quotes and voicing them with famous actors (including, obviously, Morgan Freeman) while Tom Hanks narrates and the astronauts keep kicking moon dust right in your face!!!

No, seriously, it’s pretty cool. Lots of magnificent, if desolate, scenery to gaze upon. Plenty of 3D, even if a lot of it was screen with data superimposed over the moonscape. A sidebar on how the landings themselves were faked. An examination of how they might have dealt with an emergency situation if they had one. (They did not; everything was pretty much blowjobs and funnel cakes.) Glimpses of the future. But mostly, people walking around on the moon in 3D. Let’s face it. If you go for that at all, the visuals with a completely silent soundtrack would have been sufficient to cover the price of admission.