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Gangsters, Strippers, and Space Guns

I am a sucker for a coming of age tale. I am a sucker for an adventure film. I am a sucker for anything science fiction. So when I saw the trailer for Kin, which looked like kids on bikes, explosions, and alien-tech – you know I had to go see the movie. And I regret that I did.

Kin is not a bad movie, it is a terrible movie.

The failure of the movie is that the plot is completely nonsensical. It is almost as though every ten pages of the screenplay a new writer was brought in to write. They just didn’t know the plot of the film, and were instructed to write the film, just a film. Any film their heart desired. Spoilers below.

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“Eighth Grade” is Great

The film Eighth Grade (2018) is the recent coming-of-age tale about adolescence. The film is the feature film debut of Bo Burnham, comedian and YouTuber. What the film does masterfully, is capture the anxiety and awkwardness that we all experienced as we transition from childhood to adulthood.

As teens, we often felt unease and discomfort in our changing bodies. The film captures this beautifully. Remember feeling nervous walking into school? Or walking in front of class to make a presentation. Burnham finds a way to bring these feelings to the screen, through an understanding of pacing and deliberate cinematography. He traps us in our middle school classroom, forcing us to relive some of the most anxiety-provoking moments from our youth. He doesn’t do it alone; his filmmaking is accented by a stellar performance from Elsie Fisher who captures feelings of teenage awkwardness and insecurity without even saying a word.

One of the best scenes in the film is when the main character Kayla shows up at a pool party (one she doesn’t want to go to, and isn’t wanted at in the first place). As the camera follows her on her journey from the bathroom to the pool, you would think she was on a march to her execution. Never has a group of thirteen-year-olds at a pool party seemed so terrifying.

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Denzel is back!

The film, The Equalizer 2, is the continuation of the first film. Again, following the adventures of ex-government black-ops operative Robert McCall (Denzel Washington), and he tries to ease his conscious of the sins of his past by righting wrongs and protecting the innocent. Along they way, he transforms his community, helping and inspiriting those around him to live up to their potential. Sounds promising right?

In the sequel, again Antoine Fuqua returns in the directors chair. The movie has the same visual-style as the first film. The plot is confusing and the pacing feels off. It takes the film a little while to really get rolling. The convergence of multiple story lines in this one is a slow and ardent process. But no one goes too see The Equalizer films for the plot. We go see the films for the creative ways McCall delivers vigilantes justice to “the villains” of the world.

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Go See Your “Uncle Drew”

Growing up a kid in Hoosier Country, we had a phrase we used to use, “basketball is life.” This phrase, simple and elegant, is the premise of the new film starring basketball superstar Kyrie Irving Uncle Drew. The film is based upon the character created in the Pepsi Max ads (if you have no idea what I am talking about, that’s what Youtube is for) following a geriatric basketball player who has no problem putting “young-bloods” in their place. For Drew, basketball is life. The game rules all, because it teaches us how to live together, and work together, and solve any problem.

Uncle Drew follows the title character and blacktop-basketball-legend as he assembles his old team to help Dax win The Rucker streetball tournament in Harlem. After Dax loses his team, Drew agrees to help recruit his old streetball team – despite their falling out – for one last ride to win the tournament. As Drew recruits his team, he teaches Dax about the game (and life) and discovers he hasn’t been as true to his principles as he thought.

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Not as Good as The First

Sicario: Day of the Soladado, is a crime-thriller offering a grim view of reality. It is uncanny that a film playing off America’s greatest border fears, has been released in the midst of renewed political debate surrounding border security and immigration reform. For movie-goers, the film is essentially everything that they have come to expect following the first Sicario film released in 2015. Spoilers below.

Following a terrorist attack in Middle America, and discovering the terrorists used the Southern Border as a point of entry into the United States, a covert operation is implemented to institute a war between the drug cartels in Mexico. The plan is a simple one, used whatever means necessary to instigate the cartels against one another, just make sure that the United States maintains plausible deniability. This brings Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and Alejandro Gillick (Benicio del Toro) back together, to continue the crusade against the cartels they started in the first film.

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Worth the “Upgrade”

Upgrade is the most recent film from director Leigh Whannell (of Saw fame). The Science Fiction film seems to be flying slightly under the radar, likely as a result of its microscopic budget. In an era where Sci-Fi films like Blade Runner 2049 are produce for upwards of $185 million, a $3 million-dollar sci-fi film seems to pale by comparison.
But Upgrade gets back to the basics of science fiction. In true Asimoff style, the story is a collision between mankind and technology. Set in the near future, the film explores life in the perpetual surveillance state. The film also explores implants and augmentation, and when we combine the human body with tech, where does one end and the next begin. For a Luddite like me, this is the most terrifying film I have seen in a long while.

Spoilers.

The film follows Grey (Logan Marshall-Green) an auto mechanic who makes a living in the digital-world of the future by restoring classic cars. He is a man desperately out of touch with the rest of the planet. After his wife is murdered in a car-jacking and he is left a quadriplegic. After contemplating, and then attempting, suicide, Grey ends up hospitalized where he meets a tech-billionaire who promises to restore his motor-function. STEM is how he does it, an AI spinal cord implant which help to reconnect his nervous system.

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‘Deadpool 2’ is Ten times better than ‘Logan’ Was

Deadpool (aka Wade Wilson), would tell you that “Deadpool 2 is ten times better than Logan was.

The first Deadpool, was unexpected bliss. Studio-heads and comic-book fan-boys fundamentally misunderstand each other. Nowhere is this clearer than with that three-letter-studio holding rights to the X-men. When the first Deadpool film came out in 2016, we were blown away – they finally managed to give us the comic-book film [we] the nerds had been begging for. So naturally – and skeptically – I wondered, would Deadpool 2 deliver to the same extent? How much of the euphoria delivered by the first film was the result of pop-culture references, unrestrained violence, and pure unadulterated shock value? Could they catch lightning in a bottle a second time?

They did. Spoilers below.

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Photo: IMDB

Tomb Raider, The Video Game Film They (Sort Of) Got Right

As a nineties child, I spent a great deal of my money, and an even greater deal of my time, on the Tomb Raider games. We loved the games because they were fun and walked the perfect balance difficult puzzles and great action. I remember being disappointed in both 2001 and 2003 – with the release of the first two Tomb Raider films (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life). While these films were entertaining and highly stylized, the films were unmemorable. And they lacked the genuine qualities which made the games so damn good.

Film’s based upon video games have always sucked, and the bar is set perpetually low. Whether we were watching Resident Evil, Doom, Silent Hill, or Hitman; regardless of how great the gaming franchises have been, these films have all turned out to be disappointing. Part of the reason is, that video game inspired films have, and always will have, the challenge of condensing a story told via twenty-six of hours of game play into a two-hour feature film. This is not an easy task. But Tomb Raider shows us how it is not as difficult as we previously imagined.

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Why We Hate the Prequel Trilogy

Last year, remember how traffic felt a little lighter on December 16, 2016? Or how there were a few less colleagues in the cubicle next to you crunching away on their Doritos? Or how our nations GDP dipped three points because everyone stayed home.

No, it was not because of the approaching holidays. No, it was not because of the wet winter weather gripping both coasts. It was because Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was released in theaters and America took a collective national sick day as the hardcore Star Wars faithful, casual fans of nerd culture, and the allies of geeks everywhere took a day to visit a galaxy far, far away.

Why do I remind you of this? Because on Friday, December 15, 2017 this will all happen again. This time, in response to the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

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A Scanner Darkly

There is a new drug out and it is called D. It splits the right and left hemisphere of your brain when abused too much. An undercover cop who is addicted to this new drug comes under investigation when suspected of drug abuse. The film involves several themes but most is the use of drugs and the war on them. There is an eerily familiar theme of government over-watch for our protection. This idea that they can keep us safe from ourselves. This world is faced with potential dangers such as drugs and addiction and in order to combat this the government assumes it must sneakily watch and attempt to control our lives. It is this endless cycle of the government creating drugs, people getting addicted, citizens begin arrested for said drugs, then the government rehabbing those individuals.

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At least one reviewer liked “The Circle”

What would happen if everyone was connected via social media? What if all their information was public? What if there were cameras literally everywhere to make sure that any and every experience was accessible to all? What if people voluntarily agreed to this world because a slick talking ceo convinced them it was better? These are just some of the questions raised by “The Circle.”

While many critics didn’t like “The Circle,” I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. I think some of those issues came from the marketing of this movie, as the film isn’t really worthy of the title “gripping thriller” that it claimed. “Thought-provoking drama” is more appropriate. The story starts when Mae (Emma Watson) gets a job at “The Circle,” which is like the love child of Apple and Facebook.

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Wonder Woman Trailer: Top Ten Fake Spoilers

Top Ten Fake Spoilers from the latest (and last) Wonder Woman Trailer:


10 - Warner Bros. went out of its way to hire a female director to make sure Wonder Woman got that touch of Baywatch young girls can look up to.
10 – Warner Bros. went out of its way to hire a female director to make sure Wonder Woman got that touch of Baywatch young girls can look up to.

x - Little Wonder Woman: "Where do babies on "Hot Chick Island" come from, Mommy?" Wonder Woman's Mother: "Uh..."
9 – Question: “Where do babies on Hot Chick Island come from, Mommy?”
Answer: “Uh…”

Wonder Woman: The feminist icon who doesn't leave the house without her favorite accessories.
8 – Wonder Woman: The feminist icon who always accessorizes before leaving the house to fight crime.

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Forming, Storming, and Norming – A(nother) Guardians of the Galaxy 2 Review

I like to laugh. I like action. I like smart-ass characters and clever dialogue. Needless to say, I loved the “Guardians of the Galaxy 1” Like so many others, I waited with joyful anticipation for “Guardians of the Galaxy 2.”

I’ve read other reviews that weren’t very positive and all I have to say is, It’s based on a comic-book and it’s only a 2-hour 18-minute movie. It’s longer than the average movie but there is only so much character development you are going to be able to cram into 138 minutes, but for what it is, the writers did a hell of a job. The story reveals more well-rounded characters and yes, I felt the attraction between Quill and Gamora even though it was just one of many character relationships forming. As far as pacing, there is a lot of story going on in this movie. The writers are trying to tell an important back-story about Quill and his origin, bring us to the major conflict in this film and set up for the next movie all the while giving us more character development than you would expect in a movie based on a comic-book starring a variety of alien creatures.

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You May Have Missed: “Whisper of the Heart”

You may have missed this Studio Ghibli film since it is approaching its twenty second anniversary in July, but you still have time to seek it out, and it is well worth the search.

The first film produced by Ghibli that was not directed by either Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata, it is much quieter than some of the studio’s better known films. The story focuses on fourteen year old Shizuku dealing with two big coming-of-age moments: realizing her passion/dream to write, and navigating her first love.

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Literature (and Movie) You Should Know: The Hiding Place

Monday, April 24, was this year’s Yom HaShoah–Holocaust Remembrance Day. There are a great many books on the subject, from The Diary of Anne Frank to MAUS and beyond. But one of my long-time favorites is the story of a family recognized by Yad Vashem as “Righteous among the Nations” for their work in saving Dutch Jews: The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, with John and Elizabeth Sherrill.

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“Enemy of the State” Movie Review

This film is about a lawyer who gets trapped up in a government conspiracy. The director of the NSA is involved in killing a man and he was caught on camera. The man who filmed it is found out through NSA spying and runs the video over to his friend who is a lawyer before jumping into traffic. The lawyer now is on the run from the NSA hit-man and cleverly gets the mob involved to “kill two birds with one stone.”

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From Page to Screen: The Amityville Horror

The Amityville Horror is a classic in the world of horror, both on the page and on the screen. After the ordeal the Lutz family went through their story made national headlines. It drew the attention of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, now famous because of the Conjuring and Conjuring 2, also based on cases they investigated. Within a year a book had been written (Jay Anson, 1977) that was an instant national best seller, and two years later the film (dir. Stuart Rosenberg, 1979) was released which quickly became the biggest indie hit to date. James Brolin was reading the book when some clothes that were hung on his closet door and scared him witless for a moment; at that point he said he knew there was something to this story. Clearly, it is a story worth the time to both read and watch, assuming you enjoy both claustrophobia and dread.

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When is the house warming?

The movie is a very faithful adaptation of the book. From the grand incidents, like Jody, to the little incidents or details, like the missing money or the mirrors in the bedroom, the movie knows and respects the source material.

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Trailer of the Year Awards – The Big Short

It’s Trailer Tuesday here at SCC and also time for another nominee in the Trailer of the Year Awards.  Director Adam McKay (Step Brothers, Anchorman) takes a break from the Will Farrell comedies to take on the rather ludicrous true story of the events leading up to mortgage crisis of 2008 and those characters who predicted it and profited from it.  Adapted from the best-selling book of the same name by Michael Lewis, the film looks to become the definitive answer when best explaining why you and your neighbor lost half the value of your home and watched your 401k vanish. Unfortunately, as Anthony Radanzzo points out in his 2010 review of the book for Reason:

Lewis falsely assumes that the perfect storm of failures at mortgage brokers, rating agencies, Wall Street firms, and regulators is the outcome of free market “hypercapitalism.” But in fact those problems are all symptoms of a government-manipulated market that didn’t allow for failure and had government subsides favoring housing investments over other sectors of the economy. One of The Big Short’s biggest shortfalls is failing to examine how federal policy drove investors to get things wrong while Lippman, Eisman, Burry, and the Cornwall Capital boys managed to get it right.

Still, with an all-star cast made up of Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt and Steve Carrell and McKay behind the lens The Big Short is sure to make a big gains when released this Christmas and heading into Oscar season.

While the trailer an obvious attempt to capture the same audiences that made The Wolf of Wall Street a hit, modeling your trailer after a Scorcese film ain’t a bad thing. It offers up the perfect blend of one-liners, set pieces, and a tone all in sync to the classic Led Zeppelin song “When The Levee Breaks.”  For that alone, it deserves the nod.



2015 Trailer of the Year Award nominees so far:

Mad Max: Fury Road

Black Mass

Cop Car

Joy

Trumbo 

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Movie Review: Straight Outta Compton

compton-posterThough I normally would reserve my film reviews for SmashCut Culture, I recently got asked to do an in-depth review of Straight Outta Compton for Liberty Unbound and took the opportunity to dig a little deeper into the surprisingly libertarian messages in the movie.

Get the gist here:

There are very few movies I would describe as explicitly “libertarian,” but as unlikely as it may seem, F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton is high on that list.

The film interweaves the stories of legendary hip hop artists Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.), and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and chronicles their rise out of violence and poverty to fame and fortune as the groundbreaking gangsta rap group, NWA (“Niggaz Wit Attitude”). This is not, as you might imagine, a film for children or even most teens. It depicts a life experience steeped in drugs, gang violence, and police brutality in one of the poorest, most dangerous parts of Los Angeles in the 1980s. Against this backdrop, three teenagers looking for a way out created one of the biggest entertainment acts of the last three decades, and irrevocably changed the face of the record industry.

At its heart, Straight Outta Compton is a great entrepreneur story, but more in the tradition of The Godfather than Tucker: The Man and His Dream. Nearly all of the business dealings that occur throughout the film are built on threats and violence, and certainly not what libertarians would endorse. But contrary to what a lot of people might assume given NWA’s music, there is no glorification of gangs or gang culture in the film. In fact, a major theme is the drive to escape violence, even though it swirls around every character in the movie.

But the theme of commerce over violence was not the only libertarian quality to the film. It also depicts a fascinating period of American culture when actual government censorship (and threats of censorship) were on the rise. While the movie touches on the way censorship affected the growing gangsta rap scene around the country, I think few people today are fully aware of how extensive the governmental push against free speech really was back then.

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Trailer Tuesday – The Peanuts Movie

In 1950 cartoonist Charles M. Shultz debuted what would become arguably the great American cartoon strip – Peanuts. Gracing the pages of nine different newspapers for the first time on October 2, 1950 was a bald headed boy named Charlie Brown. His faithful beagle, Snoopy, made his appearence just 2 days later. 65 years, and 2,600 newspapers later, Charlie Brown, and the more popular, Snoopy, would make up an marketing empire that could rival the one based on some Mouse. But Peanuts had a far more, albeit subtle, impact on the culture than Disney’s band of animal characters ever would. What Schultz and the comic strip did in the 60s and 70s really helped foster forth an era of a new normal, one that centered readers on what real diversity meant – a melting pot. And like a true melting pot, it was a slow cook.

From Hogan’s Alley

Characters like Franklin, Peppermint Patty, and even Pig-Pen helped acknowledge that race, gender and social status shouldn’t be the focus of societial relationships. Individualism and free association is the best path to achieving a harmonious community – even if Lucy pulls the football every time. It wasn’t all Schultz’s idea though. Like many advancements, sometimes it takes some outside persistance. For instance, Schultz was nudged into introducing the Franklin character by a school teacher who insisted the time was right to introduce a black character that was just as adorable as the others. With literally the stroke of a pen, or many strokes, Schultz agreed and without ever overtly acknowledging such an introduction of a minority character, Franklin appeared and fit right in with the rest of the Peanuts gang.

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Kelo v. New London is Coming to the Big Screen as the Little Pink House

ReasonTV’s Nick Gillespie sat down with writer/director Courtney Moorehead Balaker to discuss the adaptation of Jeff Benedict’s book Little Pink House into a major motion picture scheduled to begin filming this fall. It’s been 10 years since the SCOTUS decision decided in favor of the city of New London over homeowner Susette Kelo in an eminent domain abuse case that sent shockwaves throughout the country.

See the interview below and read more here.

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Trailer Tuesday: “The Intern”

Don’t click away just yet…this isn’t that aimless, laughless comedy about Google that you’ve probably never seen…or at the very least never remembered.  No, this is something different entirely. Trust me, that’s a good thing!  “The Intern” brings together a very unlikely duo in Robert DeNiro and Anne Hathaway, which is only the beginning of the genius behind this comical concept!

The first shot sets this “buddy dramedy” up perfectly.  A young, successful interviewer aintern-screenshotsks the dreaded and most contrived interview question of all time, “Where do you see yourself in ten years?”  Sitting opposite him is not another young and hungry interviewee hoping to land a big first job. No, it’s 70-year-old Ben (DeNiro), whom retorts with the best answer…”When I’m 80?”  Hilarious.

Cut to Ben entering his new internship working for Jules Ostin (Hathaway), whose chemistry here is immediately undeniable.  As the two begin working together, we see Ben completely immersed in a world he doesn’t understand with new age millenials running the show.  Jules is the CEO of an online fashion site and although she’s seemingly Ben’s successful superior, her dramatic arc seems to center on the fact that she might not be as experienced and cut-out for the job as she thought.  You’re sure to laugh and cry and be horribly offended at the cross-generational jokes that are understood by some, and over the heads of others.

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Film Review – The Connection (the French one)

2-la-french-film-2015-habituallychicReleased in US this past weekend, the French-Belgian production, The Connection (La French in Europe) is based on the infamous French Connection heroin drug scheme of the 1960s and 70s.  This plot brought the opiate from Turkey into the US by way of France, thus the name, the French Connection.  The story was first popularly dramatized in the 1971 American film, The French Connection starring Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider and directed by William Friedkin.  While both films only claim to be loosely based on the actual drug trade, this latest incarnation is focused solely on the French investigation (versus the NYPD investigation focused on in the Friedkin film) and is set a number of years later.

The film points out early on the devastating impact that the drug was having on western cultures in the seventies and into the eighties and even uses archive footage of then US president, Richard Nixon first declaring the “war on drugs,” to set the stage.  What of course followed in the US has been written about, fictionalized on film, studied in academia and debated on endlessly for over four decades. The creation and rise of SWAT raids and the over-militarization of police, the highest incarceration rate in the world, and a blackmarket that has lead to tens of thousands of deaths due to gang violence and innocents fleeing their homeland for better living conditions.  While the film doesn’t address the lasting impact this war on drugs has had over the years, it certainly gives us a familiar look into the underground world, the power struggles and the dangers associated with trying to combat it all. From warrant-less (or at least bending the rules) wiretaps, crooked cops and judges, and politicians who turn a blind eye in order to secure their political futures, The Connection brings home the fact that corruption throughout the system and questionable law enforcement tactics in the war on drugs isn’t just an American problem.

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Film Review – Child 44

[Editor’s note: The following is a guest review by Brian Watt originally posted in the members only section at Ricochet. It has been posted here with permission from author.]

Only a handful of theaters around the country are still showing the Ridley Scott-produced and Daniel Espinosa-directed Child 44. It is available for pre-order on Amazon and iTunes now, so should be released for sale or rental within a month. If you search for reviews of the film you’ll find a mix of opinions and several of them negative though IMDB does display an overall rating of 6.4 out of a possible 10, which isn’t that bad. Most critics and moviegoers have complained that as a thriller Child 44 is just not taut or thrilling enough and instead is too dark, brooding, oppressive and ponderous — essentially not akin to other flashier blockbusters in the genre – any of the films in the Bourne series or even more realistic and slow-paced spy thrillers that probably tread more closely to actual spycraft, like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

If you want extreme car chases through the streets of Moscow, motorcycles racing over rooftops, explosions hither and thither or endless and preposterous martial arts fights where good guys and bad guys leap onto walls and do back flips and break each other’s kneecaps, then Child 44 will surely disappoint — though it does have three intense fight scenes, particularly one aboard a train, that all appear much more realistic and chaotic and less choreographed than anything you’ll see in a Bourne or Bond film.

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Chikatilo mugshot

It seems to me that the more salient reason Child 44 will disappoint is because it is not a spy thriller at all and I would argue is not intended to be a thriller but more of a detective story while also a graphic indictment of how dehumanizing communism is when practiced. The film is based on the Tom Rob Smith novel of the same name (which admittedly I’ve yet to read), but which I understand is loosely based on real-life serial killer, Andrei Chikatilo, also referred to as the Butcher of Rostov or the Rostov Ripper, who was active between 1978 and 1990 and who sexually assaulted and brutally murdered 52 women and children that authorities know about in Russia, the Ukraine and the Uzbek regions during the latter years of the Union of Soviet Socialist states.

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Film Review – Avengers: Age of Ultron

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Even the poster is crowded.

Within about 36 hours of its American theatrical release, Avengers: Age of Ultron has already grossed over $424 Million dollars worldwide (update: the final tally for the weekend is $626,656,000) and it earned the title of having the second-highest grossing opening day of all time, just behind Harry Potter’s final installment. Marvel Studios continues its Hulk-like rampage across the American cinematic landscape. Having now seen both the 2D and 3D (not worth it) versions of the film, I feel like I’ve done my part.

But I guess the real question is, “Was it worth it?”

The short answer is yes, absolutely.

The longer answer is, this is a film that has a lot of heart, goes out of its way to show its heroes actually being heroes, further develops key characters that haven’t had as much of a chance to be seen in other films, has a pretty compelling villain (almost entirely thanks to James Spader), and unsurprisingly features some phenomenal action sequences.

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