Myth of the Great American Prizefight

  
Boxing once was a thing of gloriously brutal beautal. Two guys would enter the ring, and one guy would emerge a winner. No one won tonight’s bout between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao except perhaps their bank accounts.

Prize fights are BIG business. Truckloads of money changed hands for this fight. But was it worth it? No. No it wasn’t.

The crowd was a who’s who of celebrity boxing enthusiasts. Twitter nearly exploded from the hype. And it was all for nothing. Floyd Mayweather Jr. “won”  a statistical victory. He won a financial victory. But boxing still loses.

It was a lame fight. It was boring in every respect. It was exactly what we have all deep down in our hearts come to expect from the world of pugilism. Long gone are the days of Ali’s “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” and George Foreman’s telephone-pole jabs. I’d even take bat crap crazy Mike Tyson over this stuff. Now we have Mayweather. A guy who hits his wife more than his opponent and hugs his opponent more than his wife.

In the build up and hype it was hailed as the “fight of the century” and with a delivery like that it could very well be the final swansong in a long list of over-hyped under-delivered fight cards. It could be the last big fight of the century. A prizefight did indeed take place tonight, but it was not much of a prize, or a fight. It certainly wasn’t great.

Avengers: Age of Ultron [NO SPOILER REVIEW]

Total disclosure: I’m an absolute Marvel fanboy. I knew 18 months ago that this was going to be a movie I was going to love. My review of this film comes from a bias that’s been building issue by glorious spandex-clad issue for nearly 30 years. So if you’re looking for an objective review from a film critic you’re in the wrong place. However, if you’re looking to find out if this movie lives up to the expectations of a longtime Marvel-ite then keep reading.

It was fun. It was spectacle. It was special-effects. It was action wall-to-wall. It was not disappointing. This is the first true summer blockbuster of 2015 serving up super hero mayhem in its finest form.

In this film The Avengers are a team and they fight as a team. We get to enjoy the glorious spectacle of it all. And it’s kid friendly. Sure there are minimal curse words, but my son will easily hear worse on an average trip to the grocery store. This is not the dark little corner of the comic book movie universe where guys like Batman, Superman, and Daredevil hangout these days.

Director Joss Whedon handles each of the returning characters extremely well while bringing in several new ones. However, the real stars here in terms of sheer acting prowess are James Spader as Ultron and Paul Bettany as the Vision.

This movie was a ton of fun. It’s essentially the third Act of the Phase 2 Marvel films. As such, it is a wonderful payoff. It pays homage to all that came before and paves the way for a very interesting future in the Marvel movie world. I can’t wait to see it again with my wife.

In a word, Avengers: Age of Ultron was excelsior. What did you think? Let us know in the comments below.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (No Spoiler) Review

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was a fun movie. Don’t expect the nostalgic joy of the first film. It is face-paced action adventure all dressed up in typical Tolkein-faire.

In the time since Peter Jackson first returned us to Middle Earth last year the nostalgia has worn off. The colorful good-humored tone of the first film has matured into the serious adventure we all expected. In terms of fantasy fun and thrills it does not disappoint.

Across the board the latest foray into the Jackson-born-Tolkien cinematic universe has escalated. The acting: better. The action: better. The effects: better. For me, The Desolation of Smaug was in almost every possible way a better movie than An Unexpected Journey.

However, in terms of sheer story I think Bilbo described it best in The Lord of Rings: Fellowship of the Ring when he said he felt “like butter scraped over too much bread.” There is a thin thread of a plot. I suppose that is what we should expect from a modern adaptation of a nearly century old children’s tale. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed it, but it is light on drama.

I am a lifelong fan of Tolkien’s world and every time I get to visit I am left pleased by the trip, even if this particular outing did leave me wanting more. I am genuinely looking forward to going There and Back Again on December 17, 2014.

“Thor: The Dark World” No Spoiler Review

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Thor: the Dark world was in a word, Awesome. I loved it. It improved on every aspect of the first one. From the opening sequence to the closing credits The film captured the essence of Marvel’s mightiest warrior in a magical way. It is bigger, bolder, and better in nearly every way. For me it hit all of the right notes. A hearty blend of scifi-action-fantasy heroics that crossed genres in a way that only the rarest of stories can, while at the same time remaining the super hero story it is intended to be.

The returning cast was on point. They nailed the familiar characters and fleshed our their new adventures with humor, emotion, and the high adventure we have come to cherish from Marvel Studios. The clever banter and humor echoed with all of the nice little nods that make the Marvel cinematic universe uniquely connected.

I could go on but at the risk of leaving the land of opinion for hyperbole I’ll wrap this up by saying that I was genuinely pleased. Marvel continues to satisfy this life-long fan. Oh, and stay tuned after the credits….twice.

Man of Steel Review (No Spoilers)

My friend Jason is the biggest Superman fan I know. After catching an early screening of Man of Steel this is what he had to say about the film.

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Historically speaking, the Superman film franchise has been a flop. Don’t get me wrong, the days of George Reeves and Christopher Reeve were great in their respective times, but they never really came close to exposing the raw power of the almighty Superman. Not that it was the fault of directors or actors, but of the times. The limits of technology. The limits of cultural expectations. Superman has always been limited on-screen, and let’s face it, understandably so. No son of Krypton could ever be paid a worthy tribute…until now.

First, a little bit about me. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a huge Superman fan. My mother always kept a box of pictures from my childhood, and most of them featured me in my Superman undies, red towel tied around my neck. I can’t rattle off the entire House of El, or quote every super-villain’s last words, no…my love for the Hero wasn’t based solely in the comics. I just wanted to be Superman. I wanted to fly. I wanted to harness unlimited strength. I wanted to date Lois Lane…..To me, Superman has always been an icon. A majestic all-powerful god-like dream that I could aspire to become more like. Well, let’s keep this short….I really love Superman.

When I first heard (sometime in 2010, I believe) that there would be a Supeman reboot, I almost cried. Half out of hope and excitement, half out of sheer terror that someone else would completely RE-destroy my favorite do-gooder. Then the news came that Zach Snyder was directing, and Christopher Nolan was co-writing. Now we’re talking. I shouldn’t have to go into the work history of these two men. You know their work. I was pumped. I purposefully didn’t watch any trailers for this movie. I wanted to be surprised, whether in a good or bad way.

I digress…Let’s talk about the movie.

I was fortunate enough to see the film in 3D, which I typically despise being that a lot of 3D movies use gimmicky camera moves and tricks, almost as if the movie studios are still trying to convince themselves that 3D is worth it. I was very impressed with Man of Steel in 3D though. Every shot seemed expertly planned and choreographed from beginning to end. I witnessed some of the most beautiful cinematography I’ve ever seen. Action sequences were smooth and highly detailed. The darker, more emotional scenes were…well, dark and emotional. I could really feel the sad duty of Lara El as she said goodbye to her newborn son. The anger of General Zod was raw and unbridled. These emotions were very much aided by skillful techniques of the scores of people behind the camera. All in all, it was truly one of the most beautiful films in recent history. See it in 3D if at all possible.

A quick note about the action sequences while I’m on the subject of cinematography…I’ve always thought it lazy when, in a large-scale fight scene, the camera juts about in the shaky-so-you-can’t-tell-what’s-going-on manner. It’s almost like they’re trying to hide something (probably the lack of budget). In Man of Steel, every fight sequence was crystal clear. Without the blur and shake, how could they illustrate the immense speed of each character? I honestly have no idea how they made it look so good, and so fast. I’m a motion graphics design professional and I deal with video and special effects editing on a regular basis, and I still don’t understand it. It was that good.

I especially enjoyed the depiction of Krypton. This is one location that I don’t really remember learning much about, although it has been featured in short bursts in other Superman films. The dying planet was given much thought and respect. Beautiful creatures, beautifully tragic end. I won’t go further here, but to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the representation. Highly creative.

I’ve always had an issue with the on-screen representation of flight. Not solely because it often looks so fake (which is does), but more because there’s a disconnect. I have no idea what it feels like to experience unaided flight. When I see a character fly in a movie, my thought is always, “wow, that must be really cool for them.” Man of Steel employs an awesome means for giving the viewer a sense of flight. I won’t go into detail, but you’ll know it when you see it. It just feels right. And that’s a really awesome thing. You gotta get that stuff right.

The movie might seem a little confusing to some viewers at first because of the jumpy storyline. More than twice I found myself ‘stepping outside the movie’ to figure things out. Turns out that the story is really solid as a whole, but a few scenes seem a little out of place until you’re able to catch up. Not in an “Inception” sort of way, but more like a “I wish they would’ve smoothed that out” sort of way. The scenes of Clark as a child brought a tear to the eye. I’m not sure if it was because of the great acting or just the fact that I was so stinkin’ excited about the film. Either way, the casting director deserves a double high-five for finding the younger versions of Clark. Spot-on.

Speaking of casting, I don’t know that I would’ve picked any better actors for the film. Everyone seemed to have a nice grasp of their character. For my pick of most-accurate (at least according to what my imagination would have the characters look like) was General Zod. The guy just looks right. Everything from his slightly offset eyes to his crooked demeanor just screams Zod. Surprisingly, my biggest disappointment in character choice (if I absolutely HAVE to pick one) would be Henry Cavill. Don’t get me wrong, I think he was the best choice to wear the suit, but there was just something missing. Maybe it was the Christopher Reeve eye twinkle? All of that is easily forgiven though, and really shouldn’t even be mentioned. I just feel like I need to throw at least one negative remark in my review. Really, he makes a great Superman…no question.

The superhero genre seems plagued by cheesiness (thanks for nothing, Marvel), but in Man of Steel I never felt like my comedic sensibility was being berated. There were a few funny moments that had the entire theatre laughing, but at no time did I feel like I was watching a Spiderman movie (dear lord…).

One of the things about Superman that I’ve always loved is his sense of nobility (or rather being noble). Not in a prideful sense, but more of grace and “doing the right thing”. Superman is powerful enough to destroy almost any foe, terraform mountains, and rule the earth if he wants to. But his humble nature keeps him on track. Maybe it was the farm, or Jonathan’s subtly imparted wisdom. Man of Steel does a great job of showcasing the humility and mercy of the son of Krypton. Slow to anger, quick to forgive, which brings me to…….

Superman has oft been compared to Christ. A single son comes from an other-worldly realm, endued with amazing powers, to be the savior of humanity. Outcast, downtrodden, despised…you know, Jesus stuff. One scene had me almost rolling in the aisle but I seemed to be the only one in the theatre who got the reference.

I could go on for hours about how much I loved this movie. I hope it goes on to be very successful and spawn at least a trilogy. I will indeed watch it again and again. Great story, great actors, great action, great film. Overall score, 9.5/10.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Jor-El.

“You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you. They will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time you will help them accomplish wonders.”

Thanks for reading.

Review: Oz the Great and Powerful (No Spoilers)

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I have a seen the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz more than any other film. I don’t think it would be any kind of a stretch to say that I have probably seen it over a hundred and fifty times. Growing up in my house it was a regular affair to watch the annual broadcast, and once we owned a copy of our own it was viewed even more regularly. So it was with great anticipation and the glassy eyes of nostalgia that I took my seat today to see Sam Raimi’s interpretation of Frank L. Baum’s wonderful world of magic and munchkins. It did not disappoint.

In a way I feel sorry for the creative collaborators for having undertaken a project that carries so much history. In my opinion they did a good job. It’s not a perfect movie, but it is a perfectly delightful movie.

From the moment the opening credits dawned in an otherworldly 4:3 screen ratio, complete with black and white color pallet, I was hooked. The story unfolded with charm and pointed story telling that never felt like it was too much for kids, but connected with my adult sensibilities just as well. In a film where every shot is essentially a special effects shot the characters must truly sell the picture. The characters were at the heart of the story, with Oz (the land itself) being inasmuch a character as any of the others. What stole the show for me was the color. I have never seen such a visually pleasing movie. It was vibrant, imaginative, and delightful.

I’ll not go on about plot elements or boring details. I enjoyed the movie. I have been traveling to Oz via books, movies, and cartoons all my life. Oz the Great and Powerful was the best trip yet.

Review: The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey (No Spoilers)

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A spoiler free review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey from a lifelong Tolkien fan.

I grew up with hobbits, goblins, elves, and dwarves. Early in life I had the chance to see the classic Hobbit animated film, a movie which still holds a special place in my heart. Ever since the final credits rolled on Peter Jackson’s 2003 version of Return of the King I have deeply desired to see The Hobbit get the feature film treatment. In anticipation of this film I have watched The Lord of the Rings trilogy in its entirety twice in the last month. I was excited for tonight. So how did The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey hold up against my nearly lifelong expectations?

Thematically An Unexpected Journey sets a familiar tone for fans of Peter Jackson’s previous forays into Middle Earth, at least at the outset of the film. Fans of the written fiction who expect to find a more light-hearted approach need not fret, this movie does not stray far from its roots. There are embellishments, alterations, and frequent expoundings upon but all serve to enhance the story being told.

The tale itself is one that instantly feels incredibly familiar, and yet fresh. The cinematography is what you might expect from a journey to Middle-Earth; full of wide shots and stretching landscapes. What you might not expect is all of the color. Where The Lord of the Rings trilogy was frequently washed in grayish drab color, An Unexpected Journey rarely gets lost in greyscale. The special effects were top notch, although I chose to view the film in 2D for my initial viewing. My biggest delights in the film were the soundtrack and the frequent nods to the written fiction. For the former there are familiar tunes and to the latter it put a smile on my face every time.

This is a well adapted tale, that at nearly three hours long, never felt slow or dry. It is a grand adventure that somehow manages to continue the legacy for Jackson’s interpretation of Middle-Earth while preceding that which has come before. All in all The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was almost exactly what I expected it to be; a charming fun adventure full of both nostalgia and suspense for what’s to come. It feels good to spend time in Middle-Earth again.