Monthly Archives: May 2013

Star Wars vs. Star Trek (new movies) – Inspired by Star Trek: Into Darkness

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I’m hoping to put a new twist on a 35 year old debate. Which is better, Star Wars or Star Trek? I’m actually going to push this debate, but I’m only limiting it to the 3 new Star Wars movies and the 2 new Star Trek movies because frankly, nobody cares what happened 35 years ago. So here goes.

Last Friday I went to see the third of the movies that I am planning to see in ten consecutive weeks. It was Star Trek: Into Darkness. In short, the movie was a solid 8 out of 10. Benedict Cumberbatch (John Harrison) stole the show but Chris Pine (Kirk) and Zachary Quinto (Spock) were right there with some stellar banter and quality action scenes. If you’re a fan of the original Star Trek, then you’ll appreciate the contributions of Simon Pegg as Scotty and Karl Urban as Bones. They provided the comedic breaks within the action filled movie. I would even consider seeing it again at the movies which is rather rare. The story was terrific, but I do think the viewer needed to be exposed to the previous movie or at least the original series to have some context of the jokes.

So the question is, how did this movie and the previous Star Trek, compare to the most recent Star Wars movies? Well, it’s a close call for me. Both sets of movies are prequels. Both were cinematically appealing, much more so than the original series. Both included technologies that were far more advanced than what was available in the earlier movies making for some inconsistency when strung together in the appropriate order, but that was to be expected. However, there is one thing that sets one apart from the other…Jar Jar Binks.

Back in 1999 when Star Wars Episode I came out, I was thrilled that they were relaunching the franchise because it had been 16 years since Return of the Jedi came out and I was only 9 at the time. So this was a chance to re-engage my childhood memories of the characters we had all played with as action figures. Luke, Han and Darth with their kung fu grips and light sabers and laser guns. R2D2 with wheels and the Millenium Falcon. Ahh…good times.

SW figures

This time around however, the technology in the film industry had been so far advanced that there was no need for mini scale models of the death star or the stop motion technology of the At-At Walkers (giant robot camels). CGI technology was going to take the franchise in a whole new direction. But for some godforsaken reason, they decided to use a puppet once again for Yoda and they wasted the technology on a mind numbing character like Jar Jar Binks. Inexplicable. Aside from Jake Lloyd, who played young Anakin, being a terrible actor and some of the character flaws within the movie, I loved the idea that we would get the backstory to the biggest mystery from the original three movies, Darth Vader. Sure we all knew Darth was Luke’s father, but why did he turn to the dark side and how did he become a robot? (Incidentally, the line “Luke, I am your father” was never uttered in that fashion in Return of the Jedi. That was only the line in Tommy Boy when Chris Farley was speaking into the fan.)

I like the development of Anakin’s character over the 3 movies and the answers to many of the questions we had as to why there was so much animosity between him and Obi Wan Kenobe. I was happy to see that in Episodes II and III they went with a CGI of Yoda and finally phased out Jar Jar. But the big moment that made me really like the new series and gave it some credence was the final fight scene between Obi Wan and Anakin on Mustafar. It was epic. Every time that movie plays, I have to watch it through that scene. Their hatred for each other overshadowed the fact that they were battling on a crumbling station at the bottom of a lava pit.

Star Trek’s relaunch opened up the franchise to a whole new generation of fans. However, I don’t think the original series may have been as popular with the targeted demographics as compared to Star Wars. But I think they did a great job in making the new movies stand on their own and telling a story that new Trekkies could appreciate without having been exposed to any of the original 6 movies. Did anybody even know that there were 6 previous Star Trek movies that were released between 1979 and 1991? The younger characters of James Kirk and Spock were more appealing and charismatic than the original Shatner and Nimoy versions. I don’t recall seeing most of the original 6 movies and I could never really get into the TV series. This time however, I thought the story lines were compelling and the action scenes and intricate characters, though few, were better understood than those of the Star Wars counterparts.

So which is better in my opinion? I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but the new Star Trek takes the cake. Partly because of what it is and partly because of what Star Wars shouldn’t have been. In terms of cinematography and graphics, Star Trek wins out mostly because they are newer and the technology to make these movies is always getting better, including 3D and IMAX 3D. The story lines were both compelling, but Star Wars was much more diverse and focused on multiple characters at a shallow level where as Star Trek focuses on 2 main characters but at a deeper level. Sure we know Anakin needs to save Padme and that’s where all his angst comes from. Obi Wan wants to do what’s best for the Jedi Council and is a loyal Soldier. However, Kirk is trying to find his place as a leader in the Starfleet and Spock is trying to adapt to new surroundings in Kirk’s world of emotions and gut instinct which is counter intuitive to Spock’s nature. This is where the separation lies between the two franchises and the character that tips the scale one way is the annoying, intrusive and inconspicuous use of a character like Jar Jar Binks.

Jar Jar’s role in the films was simply to provide a conduit from one encounter to the next at the level of a 5 year old. The way he speaks, acts and the role he plays in the success of the Rebels in fighting the evil Empire is absurd. He takes all credibility out of the importance of the Jedi and their battles with the Sith utilizing the ways of the force. The movies build up the characters on both sides to be superhuman with abilities to control thoughts, move objects and choke someone simply by waving a hand. With that supreme power at their disposal, along with thousands of droids, here is Jar Jar turning the tides simply by falling and stumbling his way through a battlefield destroying powerful combat technology along the way giving the Rebels the advantage they need. It is truly absurd.

So until Star Wars Episodes VII, VIII and IX are released beginning in 2015, my preference lies in the Star Trek franchise for sheer entertainment value. Rumor has it that they are already planning another Star Trek. Here’s to hoping they go somewhere even bolder.

She said: (through the eyes of my 14-year-old co-blogger.)

I went to see Star Trek this past weekend with a friend of mine. We’d already known about Benedict Cumberbatch being in the film because we’d seen his previous works and thought we should go see this too. But it wasn’t just about that, I am a major nerd about special effects and I was very keen on seeing it anyway. The acting in this one was particularly great. I loved Chris Pine’s interpretation of Kirk, Zachary Quinto’s Spock and I fell in love with Simon Pegg’s Scotty. After seeing this film I went home and had to see the 2009 film again. I am also planning on going to see Star Trek again with another friend of mine. I would definitely recommend going to see it because it was freaking awesome!

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My Top 10 Actors of the Last 20 Years – Inspired by The Great Gatsby

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This past week I went to see The Great Gatsby. This is the second movie in my 10 week run of new releases I plan to see. I won’t get into a review of the movie other than to say that it was decent, but Leonardo Dicaprio was excellent. It got me thinking about all the terrific roles he has had over the years which logically lead me to think if there have been others that would eclipse his run of classic characters.

The following is a list of my favorite 10 actors over the past 20 or so years. The criteria I used includes 1) Star power 2) Movie recognition 3) Breadth of characters 4) Overall likability. I want to be clear. These are my favorite actors and this should not be confused with any Oscar Award Winner list as you will see.

Honorable mentions: Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Bruce Willis, Russell Crowe, Kevin Bacon, Ben Affleck, Will Ferrell, and John Travolta.

#11 Robert Downey Jr. – Iron Man, Sherlock Holmes
Given that Iron Man may be my favorite character of all time, I had to find room for him on this list. However, his portfolio of solid movies and characters is weak compared to the rest to crack my top 10. So I added #11….it’s my list and I can do what I want.

#10 Matt Damon – Rounders, Good Will Hunting, Oceans 11-13, Bourne Identity
One of my favorite movies is Rounders. Most poker players can recite dozens of lines and Damon nailed his scenes with John Malkovich though Ed Norton gave the movie some life. Throw in his versatility to pull off both action and comedy roles and you have a well rounded entertainer.

#9 Mark Wahlberg – Boogie Nights, Four Brothers, Invincible, The Fighter, Ted, Broken City, Pain and Gain
When Hollywood needs a thug from Boston, he’s the man. He’s not extremely versatile but the one thing he does well…he’s great at it. His more recent movies have made me appreciate him more now than years ago. His venture into comedy may pay off again as they will be shooting Ted 2 soon.

#8 Will Smith – Bad Boys, MIB, Independence Day, Ali, I Robot, Hitch, Fresh Prince
He’s the definition of consistency with a unique flare for combining comedy with action, but can take on the serious roles when needed. He’s great with one liners and has rolled out several big budget flicks through the years. He obviously recognizes the path to success through sequels with 3 more in the works now…I Robot 2, Hancock 2, and Bad Boys 3.

#7 Vince Vaughn – Old School, Dodgeball, Wedding Crashers, The Break Up, Couples Retreat
The guy just makes me laugh. He’s the guy everyone would want as a friend. His roles are not a big stretch, but he’s good at what he does. He can deliver one-liners that are quoted forever with the best of em. I can’t wait to see The Internship on June 7th.

#6 Jim Carrey – Ace Ventura, The Mask, Dumb and Dumber, Liar Liar, The Truman Show, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Bruce Almighty, Fun With Dick and Jane
There was a time not so long ago that Carrey was the hottest commodity in Hollywood. You might not know it these days, but in the late ’90s he was the putting out hit after hit. He’s the king of slapstick comedy and a chameleon when it comes to creating characters. Somewhere along the way he got too serious and he would have been higher on my list years ago, but he’s filming Dumb And Dumber Two soon and it should be another classic.

#5 Tom Cruise – A Few Good Men, Jerry Maguire, Mission Impossible, War of the Worlds, Oblivion
Admittedly, my inclusion of Cruise this high on my list is in partly due to his run of hits in the ’80s  that included Top Gun, Color of Money, Cocktail and Days of Thunder. He has been nominated for 3 Oscars but amazingly he has never won. He is the king of big budget films along with Kevin Costner who I couldn’t find room for on my list. At only 5’7″ he somehow is the go to leading man with an edge actor in the business, this according to IMDB. As crazy as he may be in real life, he is equally as cool in all of his roles.

#4 Adam Sandler – Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer, The Waterboy, Big Daddy, 50 First Dates, The Longest Yard, Grown Ups
Like Jim Carrey, Sandler could do no wrong in the ’90s. So many memorable quotes from his movies that I still recite early 20 years later. He’s still producing hits and Grown Ups 2 will be one of the 2 best comedies this summer along with The Internship. I am not a fan of his serious roles and he should just stick to comedy. When he does, I am guaranteed to go see it.

#3 Tom Hanks – A League of Their Own, Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, Toy Story(s), Saving Private Ryan, Cast Away, The Polar Express, The Da Vinci Code
A 5 time Oscar nominee and 2 time winner, he was just voted Reader’s Digest Most Trusted Person. I haven’t liked all his movies, see Cloud Atlas, but he has delivered several memorable roles and you almost always get your money’s worth. Unlike many of the others, Hanks makes you feel what his character is about. There are probably only 2 actors that could make me shed a tear if I did that sort of thing. Hanks and my #1 actor.

#2 Leonardo Dicaprio – Titanic, Man in the Iron Mask, Gangs of New York, The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island, Django Unchained, The Great Gatsby
He can play any role as a leading man, aside from comedy. He seems to be thriving on period pieces lately and crushing it. His last 2 movies were what put him this high. As Calvin Candie in Django, there is a scene where he cuts his hand and he rubs it on Django’s wife…the story behind it is that he really did cut his hand, it wasn’t scripted, and never missed a beat. His portrayal of Jay Gatsby is an instant classic. He has never won an Oscar but I think that could change this year. I can’t wait to see what epic movie comes next.

#1 Denzel Washington – Malcolm X, Philadelphia, Courage Under Fire, He Got Game, The Hurricane, Remember The Titans, Training Day, Out of Time, The Taking of Pelham 123, The Book of Eli, Unstoppable, Flight
The definition of a movie star, “Denzel” is synonymous with any reference to being a great actor. It seems like every movie he is in is worthy of an Oscar, of which he personally has 6 nominations and 2 wins. It seems that everyone wants Denzel to play them in the story of their life. For me, he is the most believable actor I have ever seen. Who else could pull off a whole movie on a subway only to follow it with another movie on a train? His inclusion of sports-themed movies is icing on the cake. If you don’t appreciate Denzel then you’re just un-American.

That’s my list. Feel free to agree, disagree and debate. We all have our favorites for various reasons, but the one thing these guys all have in common is they make me love movies even more.

Superhero Movies – Inspired by Iron Man 3

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Plain and simple, I love superhero movies!  Iron Man, Superman, Batman, Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America…they’re all great.  Of course the best of them all is The Avengers.  There are only 3 movies I have gone to the theater to see twice…the Avengers was the last one.  The other two you ask…There’s Something About Mary and Avatar, both of which are in my top 10 movies of all time, but I digress.

So what is my fascination with superhero movies?  I wish I had some profound answer that was both philosophical and meaningful in nature like “I’ve always dreamed of flying or having super strength”.  However, the reality is that they are just really cool.  The spectacular  animations, the special powers, the creative villains who always get an edge but ultimately in the end the superhero always prevails.  There’s something reassuring about that.  Sure I act like a 12 year old and get all giddy when they announce the next installment of the Marvel series or any superhero movie for that matter, but that’s me.  

I can remember being about 8 or 9 years old and using a towel or a yo-yo to move around the apartment like I was Spiderman.  I couldn’t move to the next spot unless I landed one end of the web on a doorknob or counter and pretend to swing to the next place.  I would challenge myself to move around the whole apartment.  The funny thing about it is, there weren’t any superhero movies out when I was 8 other than Superman.  No Batman movies were made and Spiderman was on Electric Company.  I can still remember going to my Memere’s apartment and watching TV on UHF.  I’m sure some readers have no idea what that is, but I digress once again.  I didn’t know who Thor or Captain America were but I had heard of them.  However, I had never heard of Iron Man.

Somewhere along the way I remember hearing the name Iron Man, but I never really knew much about him.  That is until the first Iron Man movie came out in 2008.  Admittedly, when I heard about it I thought they were referring to the Iron Giant.  By this time the first two Spiderman movies had come out, the first of 3 Dark Knight movies was out and the Incredible Hulk reboot was already out (the Ed Norton version).  Iron Man was the first of the Marvel Phase one movies to come out and I was amazed at how much I loved it.  He had abilities that I had only seen before in Superman.  He can fly, he has super strength with the suit, and he can shoot lasers.  But Iron Man had something Superman never had…style.

Clark Kent was nerdy and unassuming, lacked confidence and pined over a mediocre woman who was a smoker and talked like a sailor.  Tony Stark on the other hand is a “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” as he so eloquently told Captain America.  What guy wouldn’t want to be Tony Stark?.  He’s MacGyver, Hugh Hefner, Bill Gates and Superman all wrapped up into one.  They couldn’t have picked a better actor to play the part than Robert Downey Jr.  He’s perfect.  He’s quick on his feet with a witty comment, his comedic timing is perfect and he makes for a dynamic Iron Man.  If I had any preconceived notions of what Iron Man was supposed to be, maybe I would feel differently.  But at this point, there can never be another Iron Man.  I don’t know if I can say that of Christopher Reeve and Superman.  Until this Iron Man series had come out, I was a Superman guy all the way..but I think I’ve crossed over now.  That being said, I can’t wait until The Man of Steel comes out in June.

So what about this Marvel Phase One I was talking about.  Well, you can watch a 3 minute video here that sums it all up.  In short, Marvel set out to introduce a handful of superheroes beginning with Iron Man, then The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America and finally it all culminated in The Avengers.  Without even knowing it, I was hooked on all of these and it all paid off in the end as The Avengers may be my most favorite movie of all time.  I’ll save my top ten list for another time.

What’s next you ask.  Well, Marvel has announced Phase Two of the series beginning with the release of Iron Man 3.  November 2013 Thor – The Dark World; April 2014 Captain America – The Winter Soldier; August 2014 Guardians of the Galaxy (various odd characters); and it ends with The Avengers 2 in April 2015.  I won’t ruin it for my readers by disclosing any spoilers from Iron Man 3 in case you haven’t seen it already.  However, if you have a chance to see it IMAX I strongly recommend it.  These movies are what IMAX was made for.

In any case, I hope that you’re like me and you can step out of your reality every once in a while and enjoy the fantasy that is a good superhero movie.  It’s OK if you own 2 Superman shirts, a Batman shirt and a Captain America shirt and wear them to the movies…your kids will only make fun of you for a little while…even though, I know they secretly love it.

For more information about upcoming movies and specifically superhero movies, here are two of my favorite sites to visit.

www.superherohype.com
www.comingsoon.net

Movie Escape

With all the stresses in our lives, everyone is looking to get away from it all even for just a little while.  Admittedly, my life isn’t all that stressful.  For the most part I spend my days traveling back and forth to work almost an hour each way, sitting at my desk or in meetings at work, and playing cards when I’m not.  I’m married, have 2 teenage children, a mortgage, 2 car payments, and a proportionate amount of debt.  Aside from being the victim of a sedentary lifestyle and very poor diet choices, my life is pretty ho-hum.

So what gets me excited…it’s pretty simple really.  Well, it’s 22 x 52 feet of fantasy and fiction supported by 100 decibels of sound effects that can change the way you feel in an instant.  Simply put, movies.

I love going to the movies.  Whether it’s with my family or friends or even going alone (I’ll have a whole conversation on the solo movie experience at a later date) it’s just a fantastic time.  Sure I get made fun of for going alone on occasion, but deep down everyone wishes they had the confidence to stroll into a theater and plop down with their soda and candy for 2+ hours of unadulterated enjoyment.  I’m not one to shy away from laughing out loud all by myself in the middle of a theater either. Yes,  I’m a middle of the theater movie-goer.  I don’t like sitting way out back or way up front.  Sitting in the middle is a perfect combination of screen ratio and sound mixing optimization.  For movies with surround sound, sitting on extreme sides or ends of the theater give a distorted account of all of the movies sounds to be heard.

There’s a strategy to picking your seat that a casual movie-goer might not understand.  Ideally, you want to arrive about 10 minutes before the movie is schedule to start allowing for 5 minutes of getting the ticket and snacks before choosing your seat.  Any earlier and you are very likely to eat all of the popcorn throughout the previews before the movie even starts.  Once you enter the theater, you need to look for 2 things…central location and a staggered seating pattern.  Yea, that’s right, a seating pattern.  Ideally, you’ll find at least 2 more seats than what your group needs for a buffer zone.  If you can find a space where a seats are occupied in front and to the side then you’ve hit gold.  See, what you need to do is sit on seat immediately to the side of occupied seats in front of you.  That way, it’s unlikely that anyone will sit directly in front of you because they would be too close to the other people already seated.  Most movie-goers just want free space. But a clear view with a small chance of being obstructed is best.  Of course, most new theaters are now stadium style so the staggering is not required.

Now that you’ve located your seat, sit back and enjoy the next 20 minutes of previews.  Arguable, this is one of the best times of the movie going experience.  If you’re with someone, it’s a chance to discuss and determine whether you want to see the movie that is being previewed.  You shouldn’t talk during the movie, so this is the last chance.  I’ve sat through preview sessions that I have counted to be 10 previews on occasion.  Most people get annoyed with it, but those are just people who don’t know how to relax and enjoy themselves.  Going to the movies is an experience.  This brings me to my second rule of movie-going, duration.

Movies need to be at least 2 hours long.  Gasp!  Yes, in order for a movie to be worthy of consideration it needs to be at least 2 hours long…or as they list them, over 120 minutes.  Why you ask?  Well, with the rising cost of going to the movies, it’s the best way to get the most bang for your buck.  Now I don’t want all filler to get to the magic 120 minute mark.  I want special effects, some back story, character development and at least one “wow” moment to give you something to talk about on your way out.  Throw in some memorable one-liners and now you have a recipe for a solid move-going experience.

I would estimate that I go to the movies between 60-70 times per year.  There are times during the year that I have seen every movie that was currently playing at the theater.  That even sounds a little crazy to me.  However, we are just approaching the heart of the movie calendar in terms of blockbusters.  Spring and early summer are usually the times when all the hyped up movies come out and I can’t wait for it.  Starting this week, we have a string of 8 weeks of releases of my most anticipated movies of the year including Iron Man 3, The Great Gatsby, Star Trek, Hangover 3, After Earth, Internship, Man of Steel, and World War Z.  It will surely be a great next 2 months at the movies and I’ll be sure to share my thoughts on each of these and others that I see.  Stay tuned.