The Case Against 3D

On this blog I generally try to keep things positive. But once in a while I will get on my soapbox. This is one of those times. This week I will make the case against 3D movies. There are so many reasons why 3D needs to go. Ever since James Cameron’s Avatar was released and did gangbusters at the box office in 2009, it seems everything has been released in 3D. What Avatar did it did very well. That movie was thoroughly enhanced by 3D. The technology really made me feel like I was part of the movie experience. In the scenes on the planet Pandora, I really felt like I was transported to another world and flying through the air with the characters. James Cameron knows how to use special effects intelligently in his films. If you need further proof check out Terminator 1 and 2 as well as his underrated gem The Abyss. But enough about Avatar. Why do I hate 3D? Let me count the ways.

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1. It’s a shameless cash grab

Just recently it was reported that movie tickets are now more expensive than ever. The average price is $7.96. If it’s a 3D movie it’s about three dollars more. Add in your popcorn and soda and a night at the movies is about $20. Basically you pay more money for the stupid 3D glasses. Especially with the economy being what it is, this is just shameful. The magic of the movie going experience should not be a luxury. 3D just exacerbates this problem.

2. Most 3D movies don’t need to be in 3D

Did The Hobbit really need to be in 3D? Lord of the Rings was released and 2D and looked pretty spectacular. Middle Earth’s magic doesn’t need a silly gimmick like 3D to make it a wondrous place on-screen. We already have the wizardry of Gandalf after all. Another recent example of misuse of 3D was Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. Does F. Scott Fitzgerald really need 3D? Gatsby is one of the greatest works of literature ever. The magic is in the story itself. Baz Luhrmann is a master when it comes to energetic and beautiful visuals. But the story and atmosphere of this amazing film did not need the 3D treatment. I highly recommend the film. But see it in 2D! Then there are movies that just shouldn’t have anything to do with 3D due to their subject matter. In 2009, the same year Avatar was released, a film called My Bloody Valentine was released. Yeah, a horror film in 3D. What could possibly go wrong? Then there’s this trend of classic films being re-released in 3D. Once in a blue moon they work. Jurassic Park in 3D was a real treat! But that transfer was done with a lot of care and the movie was already groundbreaking technologically. That movie holds up because when the film was made they spent equal time on the story and the effects and they worked seamlessly together. But now we’re getting classics re-released that don’t need to be ruined by shoddy 3D technology. Later this year The Wizard of Oz is being released in 3D/IMAX. I’m all for a new generation seeing a classic on the big screen. But don’t ruin it with 3D! You’re better of renting a projector or buying a big screen TV to watch the classics on.

3. 3D makes things darker

I have seen 3D films at many different theaters, so it’s not just the fault of the projectionists in my area. Once those 3D glasses go on the visuals become more murky. It greatly detracts from the overall experience. As an example, I saw Star Trek Into Darkness in 3D/IMAX. The IMAX part of the experience was worth it. The 3D part? Not so much. The movie already takes place in outer space so the visuals are going to be dark to start with. It hurts the visuals of one of the year’s best films. The action sequences in particular look better in bright 2D. You can boldly go and enjoy Star Trek the old-fashioned way.

4. New movie are becoming all about the 3D effects and not the story

There are movies about story and then there are movies that are special effects vehicles with bits of dialogue thrown in. I like a good special effects sequence as much as the next person. But it should enhance the story, not overshadow it. The sad part is, often 3D effects often aren’t even that great to look at. Sometimes you blink and miss where the 3D in the movie was. Even the last Harry Potter film had this problem. I saw it in the 3D/IMAX format. The result was what I usually get: the IMAX is great, but the 3D I can do without. And this year Iron Man 3 was released in 3D. While it was a god film, I felt too much time was spent on CGI and 3D. That’s not to say the story didn’t have great moments and the overall experience was enjoyable. I was just left wondering what would have happened had they put the same amount of money as they did into special effects.

5. It gives some people headaches

It takes more effort to watch a 3D movie. As a result some people have gotten headaches. 3D messes with your mind! The only thing worse than a bad movie is a bad movie that can make you sick just by the effort it takes to watch it. You think the shaky camera work of The Blair Witch Project is the most nauseating experience you’ll ever have? Think again!

There you have it! What are your thoughts on 3D movies? Sound off in the comments section!

Good vs. Bad Slasher Films

As of late there are two genres of film that tend to produce really great or really awful films. One genre is romantic comedies. The other is horror. Romantic comedies are a topic for another day. This week I would like to focus on horror films, specifically the sub-genre of slasher films. How can you tell a good one from a bad one? Let me explain.

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For the purpose of this piece I will focus on two slasher films: “Halloween” (1978) and “Friday the 13th” (1980). “Halloween” represents everything a good slasher film should be while “Friday the 13th” illustrates everything that is wrong with slasher films. Here are just a few of the reasons.

First, there are the characters. In “Halloween” the main characters are babysitters. They’re very relatable. The main character of Laurie Strode, played brilliantly by Jamie Lee Curtis, is the girl next door in every sense. When she’s in danger we are terrified for her. All of her friends from high school are people we probably knew in our high school days and we can relate to them and their archetypes (the jock boyfriend, the cheerleader, etc.). Contrast this with “Friday the 13th.” It’s about a bunch of teens who go to Camp Crystal Lake and get picked off one by one by the mother of a boy who died there. The only character I really remember other than the mother of Jason Vorhees (who becomes the killer in the sequels) is Jack (Kevin Bacon). The only reason I remember him, aside from the fact that the character is played by Kevin Bacon, is because he died a memorable death (killed in bed by an arrow). It’s a bunch of stupid people being killed at a haunted camping area. Who cares? I had some sympathy for Mrs. Vorhees, but the rest of the characters had no personality. They were there to be chopped to bits. How original!

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The next thing that separates these two films is the storyline and the dialogue. In “Halloween,” a group of babysitters are being stalked by a serial killer on Halloween night by a serial killer. The story is straightforward but effective. As I explained above, having babysitters as the main characters was a genius move. Everyone knows what a babysitter is. Next is the idea of setting the film on Halloween night. Director John Carpenter does a great job using all the elements of things that happen on Halloween to enhance the story. The scares of Halloween make film all the more scary. Consider the scene where a boyfriend of one of the babysitters goes downstairs to get them a beer, is killed off, and then the masked killer comes back to the bedroom dressed as a ghost with the boyfriend’s glasses over the costume. Terrifying! The dialogue is also very good. The girls sound like real high school girls. The girl talk feels very real. But my favorite line of the movie comes from the doctor of the serial killer. It sets up the whole movie.

I met him, fifteen years ago; I was told there was nothing left; no reason, no conscience, no understanding; and even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.–Dr. Sam Loomis

On the other hand, give me one memorable mine from “Friday the 13th.” You cannot! Other than the fact that it’s about a mother avenging the death of her son, there’s nothing to write home about in terms of story or dialogue.

Next, there’s the fact that “Halloween” is just a film made with a love of film making. There are so many examples. One is the use of lighting. There’s a scene where Laurie Strode thinks she’s finally taken out the killer. She’s sitting by the couch in the living room and you can see the killer in the shadows as the light is brought up on a dimmer. Then there’s the scene where Laurie hides in the closet and you see the light coming through the slats as she tries to escape. Finally, there’s the music. The score is one of the most memorable things about “Halloween.” It was composed by director John Carpenter. It’s simple: 5/4 time on bongo drums. It’s so simply and so menacing. It has the same impact of the score in “Jaws.” Where “Halloween” was made with style and craft, “Friday the 13th” was made to be nothing more than a teenage bloodbath. People  get killed off that you don’t even care about. At the end, what are you really left with? There’s no lasting impact. It’s a very generic dead teenager movie.

Finally, there are the endings of both movies. “Halloween” ends with Dr. Loomis shooting the killer and him falling out the window supposedly to his death. A few seconds later however, we see that his body has disappeared. What we’re left with are cutaway shots to where the murders took place in the house with the creepy music in the background and the idea that this indestructible killer is on the loose. Terrifying! “Friday the 13th” ends initially with what we think is a happy ending of a boy in a canoe on the lake. Suddenly, boom! He gets pulled under by the resurrected boy who was killed there all those years ago. It takes you by surprise, but it feels cheap. All the movie was able to come up with was shock value. And therein lies the problem not just with slasher films of today but with the horror genre in general: all blood and guts, no imagination. All slasher films that come out today seem to be nothing but bloodbaths. You see the killing and there you are. There is no imagination whatsoever. While “Halloween” is a slasher film, there is very little blood in it. Much of the violence is implied. I’m not saying scary movies can’t have blood in them. All I ask if that they do it with some style.

10 Films for the 4th of July

Normally I write these blog entries on Thursdays. But this week I’m writing a few days early. Why? Because I want to give you all a chance to go and rent one of the ten best movies to watch on the 4th of July! There are so many great options to celebrate the birth of our nation. Here are a few to watch before you go see the fireworks.

10. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t that excited about “Captain America” when it first came out. I didn’t see it until my local theater showed it as part of a Marvel movie marathon leading up the midnight screening of “The Avengers.” Boy was I pleasantly surprised! “Captain America” is a great origin story. It tells the story of Steve Rogers. He is repeatedly turned down for military service. Rogers wants nothing more than to serve in World War II. He volunteers for a science experiment that turns him into a super soldier. The rest as they say is history. Chris Evans is very affective as Rogers and there’s a bonus of a great score my Alan Silvestri.

9. Glory (1989)

It’s astonishing to be that “Glory” is rarely mentioned in lists of great war movies or great movies period. In the movie, Matthew Broderick plays Robert Gould Shaw, an officer in the Federal Army during the American Civil War. What makes him unique is that he volunteers to lead the army’s first company of black soldiers. In that company are a gravedigger played by Morgan Freeman and an escaped slave played by Denzel Washington. The movie does a great job of telling a little known part of history. The battle scenes are done with enormous attention to detail and the production design of the whole movie is absolutely stellar. The movie also benefits from its cast, especially Freeman and Washington. This is a hidden gem worth checking out.

8. The American President (1995)

Before Aaron Sorkin created “The West Wing,” the quintessential political drama, he wrote the screenplay for a great film called “The American President.” Directed by Rob Reiner, it’s the story of President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas), a recently widowed President running for re-election. He is very popular with the public and seems on his way to an easy re-election. But then he meets Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening), a paid political activist for the environmental lobby. They fall in love and then the relationship becomes political fodder for his opponent. It’s a smart political movie and also a great love story. Look closely and you’ll see a lot of actors who ended up with roles on “The West Wing.” Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay gives us a script that shows us some of the greatness we can expect from him later.

7. Born on the 4th of July (1989)

Oliver Stone is one of the most polarizing directors in Hollywood. That’s really a shame, because he has directed some of the most compelling films in recent history. I grant you that he has a tendency to play fast and loose with the facts. But if it’s not a documentary I don’t expect it to be 100% accurate. That aside, his movie “Born on the 4th of July” is a true masterpiece. It’s the story of Vietnam War vet Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise). He wants nothing more than to be a Marine. Kovic goes to Vietnam and gets injured. When he gets home he becomes involved with the anti-war movement. It’s interesting how his ideals change throughout the course of the film. This is one of the best performances Tom Cruise has ever given. Whatever your feelings about Stone or Cruise, this one is worth your time.

6. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

One of the great crimes in the history of the Academy Awards is “Saving Private Ryan” losing best picture to “Shakespeare in Love.” Both movies are great, but “Saving Private Ryan” moved me like no other film in 1998. Directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks, it’s one of the best war movies ever made. Tom Hanks plays Captain Miller, who, along with a group of other soldiers, sets out to find a paratrooper whose brothers have been killed in action during World War II after the Normandy invasion. “Saving Private Ryan” is great for so many reasons, but chief among them is the story it tells. It’s about how soldiers in battle not only fight but look out for the person next to them. The opening sequence where the D-Day invasion is recreated in gory detail is one of the most amazing openings to any film. There’s also a great score by John Williams that includes the beautiful and haunting “Hymn to the Fallen.”

5. Yankee Dooodle Dandy (1942)

James Cagney is best known for the myriad gangster pictures he starred in. But Cagney was also a song and dance man. Before starring in the landmark gangster movie “Public Enemy” in 1925, he had a career in vaudeville. “Yankee Doodle Dany” is the story of American composer/writer/actor George M. Cohan, played by Cagney. The movie was directed by Michael Curtiz who also directed “Casablanca,” my all-time favorite film. Cohan starts off as a child-star in his family’s vaudeville act to making a comeback as a writer/composer/actor (often performing in his own shows), to the end of his career when he receives a special medal from the President for his contribution to the United States. Some of the great songs include the title song, “Over There,” and “Give My Regards to Broadway.” If this one doesn’t make you want to wave the American flag and cheer I don’t know what will.

4. All the President’s Men (1976)

Before 24-hour cable news, newspapers and the nightly news were the primary source of information for the public. “All the President’s Men” is the story of the two newspaper reporters who broke the Watergate story that eventually led President Nixon to resign. It’s based on a book of the same name by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the reporters who lived the experience. In the film Woodward is played by Robert Redford and Bernstein is played by Dustin Hoffman. It’s a great detective story and for my money it’s the most accurate movie ever made about newspaper reporting. The film is slow and methodical, but if you give it time it will be one of the most satisfying film experiences you will ever have.

3. The Patriot (2000)

Roland Emmerich is famous for directing mostly disaster pictures, but in 2000 he directed a gripping story about the American Revolution. “The Patriot” is about Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson), a French-Indian war hero with a tumultuous past. After that war all he wants is to live peacefully on his South Carolina plantation and be with his family. When South Carolina decides to join the fight for independence against the British, his sons eagerly enlist in the Continental Army. Then the Martin plantation is attacked by a British soldier notorious for his brutal tactics. Benjamin is torn between wanting to protect his family and wanting to get revenge. One of his sons is Gabriel, played Heath Ledger. In Ledger’s brief career this was one of his best performances. The screenplay was written by Robert Rodat who also wrote “Saving Private Ryan.”

2. Forrest Gump (1994)

“Forrest Gump.” Do I really need to say much more than that? Tom Hanks stars in the title role of a simple man whose story is set against the backdrop of many of the biggest events in US history, including the Kennedy Assassination and the Vietnam War. All through the story he pursues his childhood sweetheart Jenny (Rob Wright) and is inspired by his tenacious mother (Sally Field). There are so many great aspects of this film. but my favorite is the relationship between Gump and Lt. Dan (Gary Sinise). Lt. Dan comes from a military family and is convinced his destiny is to die in war. When his legs get blown off in Vietnam, Gump saves him against his protests. Their relationship starts off rocky due to Lt. Dan initially feeling resentful towards Forrest for saving him. Eventually they become really good friends and even go into the shrimp boat business together. This is a truly inspirational film!

1. Independence Day (1996)

And the grandaddy of all 4th of July movies is… “Independence Day.” It’s not the 4th until Will Smith punches the alien and utters one of his best movie lines: “welcome to Earth.” At the beginning of the film, communications systems around the world are sent into chaos by inexplicable atmospheric interference. The military finds out the interference is being caused by alien spacecrafts that have descended on the United States. Eventually it comes down to a fighter pilot (Will Smith) and an ex-scientist (Jeff Goldblum) to stop the aliens by programming a virus into the mother ship. This is definitely a cheesy disaster movie to be sure, but it’s a lot of fun! The great special effects, along with the performances of Smith, Goldblum, and Bill Pullman (playing President Whitmore) set this one apart. Sit back and enjoy the action and some great one-liners.

That’s my list. What are you watching on the 4th?