Avengers: Endgame

Posted on April 24, 2019 at 10:42 am

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language
Profanity: A handful of swear words including one said by a child
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended sci-fi/fantasy/comic book action, peril, and violence, battle scenes, characters injured and killed, very sad deaths
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 25, 2019
Date Released to DVD: August 12, 2019

Copyright 2019 Marvel Studios
Marvel Studios sticks the landing with “Avengers: Endgame,” a completely satisfying conclusion to the nearly two dozen films, bringing together the stories of a wide range of characters with complex, varied mythologies extending back over decades of stories in comics and other media.

We need to all take a moment to pay tribute to Kevin Feige of Marvel Studios, who has produced them all with a deep understanding of the characters and the fans and a truly remarkable ability to find a nuanced balance between canon and innovation. His willingness to let the individual stories of the characters develop in such different genres and still bring them together when it is time for the Avengers to assemble is an essential element of the success of the series. It would be like having separate film series for Harry Potter, Hermione, Ron, Draco, Professor McGonagall, and Dumbledore, one a romantic comedy, one a thriller, one a crime drama, one a political allegory, and then brought them all together every so often to continue the core story.

I am going to do my best to continue this review without spoilers, but there is one I am sure no one will mind. You do NOT need to stay through the very end as there are no extra scenes following the credits. That seems right for a movie that is such a resounding conclusion and I know you will be happy to get those ten minutes of your life back instead of sitting through the names of the personal chefs of the stars. Now, if you want to see it without knowing anything more than whether I liked it, let me just say here that I thought it was great and you can come back and read the rest after you’ve watched it and want to let me know what you think.

To answer the most frequently asked question: no, three hours does not seem long. It’s really three movies in one, and — fair warning — I could feel my objective critical faculties dissolving after about forty minutes when I realized that it was combining three of my very favorite movie genres in one. First is Marvel superhero stories, of course, with great effects and action, both one-on-one (and I really mean ONE) and big, BIG, battles. Then there’s getting the band back together, with a group of people who once worked together very closely but were not always in agreement (the “Civil War” debate comes back) seek each other out and try to form a team again. And then a heist, or rather, several heists, as the Avengers’ favorite McGuffin is very much a part of the story. There’s a fourth major theme as well, but that’s something I will not spoil except to say that even though they make delightful fun of the way that theme has been portrayed in many other movies, I strongly advise you not to think too deeply about whether the way it is portrayed in this one does any better in terms of consistency or logic.

To answer the second most frequently asked question: yes, you have to have seen the previous movie and as many in the series as possible to get the most out of it. This movie was made by fans for fans and there is tremendous depth that shows how thoroughly this world has been studied and imagined (though only one of the very knowledgable group I spoke to following the film could identify a briefly glimpsed teenage boy toward the end). To confirm the most frequent speculations of those anticipating the film, yes, we will be saying goodbye to some characters, every one of them in a supremely satisfying way, but bring a handkerchief. Yes, we will see some we thought were lost back again, sometimes in a flashback. One of the elements I loved most in this film was those flashbacks, which might give us a different look at scenes we thought we knew.

And the answer to a question that maybe fans forgot to ask, after all these movies: Yes, someone does say, “Avengers, assemble!” I admit it, my heart skipped a beat. It also thumped pretty hard several times and I cried more than once. The skill it takes to fight with Thanos is nothing compared to the skill it took to bring this series to such vibrant, thrilling life, and I am grateful to Stan Lee (yes, he gets a great cameo), Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Kevin Feige, Disney, the Russos, and especially to each of these actors, who bring their A game every time, for assembling this joyous finale.

Parents should know that this film includes extended sci-fi/comic book peril, action, and violence with monsters, battle scenes, explosions, very sad deaths including death of a parent and fatal sacrifices and a handful of bad words, including one said by a child.

Family discussion: Did Cap make the right choice? What did the characters learn from their past experiences? Which Avenger is your favorite?

If you like this try: the other Marvel movies, especially “Black Panther,” “Iron Man,” “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” and “Avengers: Infinity War”

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3D Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel DVD/Blu-Ray Fantasy IMAX movie review Movies -- format Series/Sequel Superhero

Interview: Drew Fellman and Jake Owens on the new IMAX Film “Pandas”

Posted on April 1, 2018 at 10:15 pm

Copyright Warner Brothers 2018

Pandas are, as someone notes in the adorable new IMAX documentary simply called “Pandas,” “the King Kong of cuteness.” Kristen Bell narrates the story of an ambitious and daunting Chinese project, to take panda babies bred in captivity and release them into the wild, to repopulate the endangered species. The Chinese panda specialists consult with an American from New Hampshire who has a similar program for bears. And we get to watch as a panda named Qian Qian leaves the only home she has ever known. I spoke to director Drew Fellman and American panda expert Jacob Owens, who worked with Qian Qian and appears in the film.

Why are humans so drawn to pandas?

Fellman: I know, it’s a mystery, isn’t it? There is so much about that that really is so unknown, part of it I think is that pandas are still so new to us. Pandas were unknown to the West until about the 1860’s and the first panda showed up in the U.S. in 1920. Once people were introduced to pandas there has been a panda mania of some sort. From the very beginning they just captured the public imagination and I think part of that was because they seemingly came out of nowhere and they’re so big and so adorable and they look so unlike any other animal. The physical answer as to why they’re so adorable is because they have the strongest jaws you can imagine so they can bite through solid bamboo and that gives them these huge jaw muscles which give them a big round head like a giant baby.

Owens: Yes, babies are cute because they have big eyes and they have round heads, they’ve got disproportionate ears; and so you look at the pandas and it’s got big black spots that look like big eyes and big ears and a big round head, also they roll around more than any other animal I’ve ever seen. They love rolling. So not only do they do look really cute, they’re also really silly goofy animals.

In the film you say that the three qualities you were looking for in finding the right panda for the release program were courage, curiosity, and climbing ability. Why were those were the key skills and how do you look for them?

Owens: There is a lot of research that goes into this that we can draw from. It starts off with genetics and health; we want healthy individuals who have the right genetics for the places that we’re looking to release them. The next thing is looking at the behavior. We introduce novel stimuli to see how they respond. If an individual panda sees something new and instantly runs towards it that’s not necessarily the quality we need because we want them to be curious but also careful but you also don’t them to be so wary of everything that they won’t explore. They’ll need to explore their habitat, being able to find food on their own; things like this, so having in moderation being exploratory but also being cautious, being really vigilant; vigilance is a big thing always looking out for new dangers, those are the key features. And they have to climb well because they have to spend a lot of time in trees. They flee predators up trees and so being able to walk around and climb and do that well at a young age is a good indicator.

Did it feel like leaving a child at school to say goodbye that way?

Owens: Yeah, worse. As scientists you try not to get attached to the animals that you’re studying but this is very different than just strict science; this is reintroduction and release of individual animals and so we are doing all this research but then you’re also dealing with an individual and their own personality that’s unique and so you can’t help but personify and you can’t help but get very attached. You really care about them as an individual and also what they represent for the species. As a conservation biologist, I’m focused on making sure that there are individuals of species in the future. But at the same time just like anybody else, just like if you have a human child you want them to go off on their own and be able to be successful. It’s just that how you prepare them is a bit different. I don’t ever refer to it as training because I can’t train a panda to be a panda because I’m not one. So I call it conditioning or preparing, letting their natural instincts come out progressively through increasingly wild conditions and eventually to the point when they are ready to go out. We open the gate and she can make that decision when she wants to go out and when she wants to come back and, when she’s ready, just to be out fully.

What was the most important thing that the project learned from Ben Kilham, the man who has been raising bear cubs and releasing them successfully in New Hampshire?

Owens: Ben has been doing black bear rehabilitation for more than 20 years and so he’s just got a huge amount of knowledge about bears in general and pandas are bears. They are very different bears but they’re still bears. He also knows so much about rehabilitating and releasing animals. I’ve worked on reintroduction programs before with different species. People think that you should avoid all human interactions. Ben takes the opposite approach. He says there’s no real way to do that because these black bears don’t have a mom so you have to hand raise these cubs and you have to give them a safe environment to progress into the wild. Our pandas are born in captive care. Their mothers are also captive-born individuals so they don’t have the wild skills to teach their cubs. So for Ben the biggest thing is that human interaction has a real advantage, because once they trust you that provides us the access to keep on learning more about their biology, to keep on learning more about their conservation and also monitor them. I can change Qian Qian’s GPS collar just as Ben can with Squirty as you see in the film, and that’s a huge advantage because we can monitor her, we can follow her, we can see where she’s at, see how she’s doing. As technology increases we can do a lot more with that technology but if you don’t have access to them and they don’t trust you, then you’ll have to take other measures. You have to capture them in some kind of trap or use sedation and so because they know and trust us it’s a lot easier for us to do those things. Using those human interactions for those advantages is the biggest thing that I have learned from Ben in terms of our project.

Fellman: Also from the panda’s point of view is the positive interaction with the humans as opposed to being trapped or tranquilized which can be dangerous and can frighten them.

Owens: There is also the misconception that I had coming into this that if a panda or black bear gets used to one individual or a handful of individuals then they’re used to people and then they’re going to be a nuisance animal then there’s going to be a real problem and they’re not going to do well when they go out. But pandas and black bears are really smart and they can identify individual people very easily by the sound of their voice, by the smell and also by vision somewhat when you get close. It was a big learning thing for me to learn that we were wrong in thinking that this risk of them trusting a few human individuals is going to lead to touching every human. My dogs don’t do that in the States and most people’s dogs don’t do that in the States. Most animals just don’t do that.

What’s the most important thing that you want families to learn about pandas when they watch this movie?

Owens: I want people, especially families with young kids, that people around the world can work together really successfully and use their own combined strengths to work on an endeavor that’s really challenging. We’re really dedicated and I think that’s the big point — all of us globally working together to achieve a difficult goal.

Fellman: And another important message is that pandas are much more than just adorable animals; they are very smart, occasionally fierce, a bear with a mind of their own and they’re all individuals. It’s going to take a lot to create a better future for them and it’s something that’s really worth fighting for.

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Animals and Nature Directors Directors IMAX Interview

Should We Close Museum IMAX Theaters? My Views on the Kojo Nnamdi Show

Posted on August 10, 2017 at 3:02 am

Many thanks to the Kojo Nnamdi Show for inviting me on to talk about a tough issue–the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum has announced it will be tearing down its IMAX theater to make room for more space for its cafeteria and some exhibit space. I love IMAX nature films and old-school IMAX screens that create a fully immersive experience. But the Smithsonian found that the audiences were shrinking and increasingly the films were playing to empty seats. I discussed this issue with IMAX filmmaker Jonathan Barker and then talked about why local theaters still matter, even in a world of very fancy home theater settings, with non-profit Avalon Theater manager Bill Oberdorfer. Listen here. And if you want to join those opposing the demolition of the Smithsonian’s IMAX screen, visit Change.org.

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Media Appearances

Interview: Brian Bonnick Explains the Stunning New Technology of IMAX Laser Projection

Posted on May 4, 2015 at 3:28 pm

The Smithsonian calls it a “reimagination of the movie-theater experience.” Its Arbus IMAX Theater at the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum is one of only four theaters in the United States and the only one on the East coast to feature a stunning new leap forward in the technology of projecting a film onto the screen. I had a chance to see it up close and personal when I went to see “Avengers: Age of Ultron” a second time in four days so that I could enjoy it again without having to take notes and also to check out this new toy. I can report that it is well worth the trip, with unprecedented brightness, focus, and clarity, even with 3D glasses on.

I spoke to engineer Brian Bonnick about what the new projection system is and how it is different from some of the mechanics that have been at the literal center of projection since the Edison days.

Give me your description of what films look like through this new system.

It looks awesome. I guess the way we would put it is – this new laser technology that we developed I think, completely revamps the movie-going experience. We started this development well over two years ago and our intention initially was to find a solution to replace film based projection systems because films are eventually going away. We didn’t want to just replace them. We wanted to be able to surpass the quality of Imax 1570 film which up until now, has been the world benchmark in cinematic experience as being the best quality presentation you could ever have. And that all came about because we had to do literally a ground up development.

So we threw away parts of digital projectors that had been in every single digital projector, whether they are xenon or laser for the last 25 years. It’s such a radically different design, which is a little scary in the process of doing them. But the benefit that it gave us was that we were able to address all the problems that plagued digital projectors and have not allowed them to compete with IMAX 1570 film. So we are able to get contrast levels well in excess of our film-based systems. The sharpness is just crazy sharp because we have been able to cut down a lot of optics. The blacks are black, the whites are white. Historical digital projectors have always had problems where in a scene, a white object kinds of bleeds into a black and turns the black object into grey. You can think of it like a bride and groom; the white dress bleeds into the black. Well by throwing away all the past optics that were used in the system and going to a different type of technology using some materials called invar which is one of the most internally stable materials on the planet, we were able to get really sharp contrasting black saturated images.

I’d go to look at it and then then they would go “What do you think?” and I’m going “You know what? We have got to run it again, I got so tied up watching the content I completely forgot to look at it like an engineer,” which is really exciting. It is such a game-changer in my mind, that you don’t have to have golden eyes to see the difference. You might not be able to verbalize exactly what it is, but you know it is improved and different than anything else you have ever seen.

What were some of the specifics of the old system that you were concerned about?

There were two big issues that affected every projector in the world. Our Imax Xenon projectors were designed to help reduce these problems but they didn’t eliminate them. Every digital projector whether it is laser or otherwise except for our new laser, uses a prism we call it the engine, so if you literally considered the engine of the car, the engine of the projector, and these special chips are mounted into this glass prism and the xenon or laser light sent into this prism and bounces off this chip, the red green and blue and then they have all the little pixels in them. And the lights bounces off them, its superimposed on each other and heads out the lens onto the screen.

The prism is used to align the images coming out of these three chips. So that you have got red, green and blue pixels. You have got 4000 by 2000 of them, so you’ve got well over 8 million pixels, but if we take a look at one, there is a red green and blue pixel. And through those 3 pixels, in the 3 colours, I can create any colour I want for that particular pixel on the screen. One of the problems with this prism was that with xenon it worked okay, but think about when you are using laser, and you have got this concentrated power coming out of laser light. It causes these chips to expand and contract and when they do that, the pixels on the screen between these 3 chips don’t align perfectly. So now you might see at the edge of an object there might be a magenta line on it or your focus goes out. So the two biggest problems that plagued these products through these massive amount of glass and prisms was the contrast was very low because stray light is bouncing around in the prism and effectively these chips are closer to each other, they are thermally unstable and hence they are moving, so your sharpness is affected.

So we decided to throw this prism away. So here is the part core to the design for 25 years and we have thrown it away. So it is a big risk from the development standpoint and part of our way to deal with that was through the acquisition of 120 patents from Kodak in this area. That was coupled with our own intellectual property and we were able to replace it with this sort of metal frame box. I’m being simplistic about it. But with the metal frame box made out of this material invar, we could then cool the chips on both front and back, they are on this unbelievable thermal metal frame, so they are not moving relative to one another. We are talking about movements at the micron level. We are talking of microscopic movements but then if you think about it, the image coming out of that chip is magnified hundreds of times to get onto the screen.

So the fact that we were able to get rid of the glass stopped those reflections. The fact that we were able to cool the chips, and maintain thermal stability between the three chips, meant the pixels were not moving any more. And the fact that we were able to move the chips farther apart in this frame meant that there was no stray light from one affecting the other. If you think about contrast, most digital projectors have contrast in around 1800 to 1 to 2001 while IMAX xenon up until now is the highest in the world up to about 2600 to 1. The highest ever known to man is IMAX 1570 film which was in around 4500 to 1. IMAX laser is multiples better than IMAX 1570 film. It’s off the chart. So that means that when you are watching a movie, you get the nuances of the shades of black. If you are looking at a black cat, you can see the textures in the cat. You are not getting the blurring. There is one shot in the movie “Interstellar” where a truck breaks through a fence. On a normal projector, the side of the truck facing you is overpowered by the background sky and it looks like one uniform kind of bland colour. On the IMAX laser, you can make out the gaps between the door, the various colours on the door. These things suddenly pop out that you never saw before.

So it is providing this level of realism that never existed before. We have substantially more brightness in the system. So there is no loss of brightness in 2D or 3D. But the combination of the sharpness, the increased colour gamut where the range of colours is bigger now, it colour saturation, the black blacks and the white whites. They all work collectively together to give you that feeling that it is a real image that you are looking at with your own eyes. It’s not something that has been reproduced. From an engineering standpoint, that’s what we have always wanted to be able to achieve and until now, the knowledge, the technology and even the manufacturing techniques didn’t exist. Some of the parts of our system in our first design, we couldn’t find anybody in the world, who could manufacture them, so had to go back to the drawing board and redesign them so that somebody had the technology to actually make some of the parts. So it truly is a state of the art system.

So you are addressing the biggest complaint about 3D, the dimming and darkening effect?

Yes, and in our case we have always been 50 percent brighter than everybody else. The DCI spec calls, which is the standard, I don’t know if you know of it or not, but it is the standard that everybody has to follow, calls for 14 foot lambert and we are 22 foot lambert. So we have more than adequate brightness in both 2D and 3D. In fact I have the capacity to crank it up even more. But through our experiments we have found that this is the right setting and there is a balance because if you put more light up, your lasers cost more and you need more lasers. So what we looked for is a sort of diminishing return. The other benefit that we have that nobody else does is that with all these movies coming to these theatres, we are involved with the filmmaker from the very beginning. So unlike others who just get a film handed to them from a studio, we work with the filmmaker, we time the prints specifically to play on our system. We virtually re-master both the sound and visuals in conjunction with the filmmaker and we create our own DCPs that only play on our system and we can play a standard DCPs, a standard movie on our system. But ours are all customized with special meta-data and all sort of information. And if you think about your studio makes a movie, that movie goes out there, and it is going to have play on the best of theatres and the worst of theatres, and whatever devices people have. So they make it kind of one way to try and be the best for everybody, which in my mindset is a compromise. When they are working with us to make it for our system, we know exactly how the system performs. We know what its parameters are. So we know that they can make it to play on this projector in their lab if we are in their recording studio, and we know it’s going to play the same on every other system. We are all about quality presentation so that it is great. And we are constantly checking so you get the same great picture the fifth and fifteenth week it is in the theater that you do the first night it plays.

So what we have is, we have an industrial camera that looks at the screen as if it was your eyes. It collects data, provides that back to a supercomputer in our system that is custom built and we call it image enhancer. And that device does a whole bunch of magical things. It makes sure that the brightness between the projectors is identical. It makes sure that the brightness is at the right level, it does a whole bunch of other things to ensure that the quality of the presentation is exactly what it should be. And then secondly, we have the suite of microphones that are permanently mounted in the theatre, and every morning when the system boots up, the visual and audio go through calibration process where we make sure one, that the sound is working perfect, no loudspeaker has been damaged in any way, nobody has turned down the sound or turned it up.

It sets exactly where it should be, so that the frequency response is exactly what it should be. So the whole point being that, we can not only do this calibration in automated mode every single day but our network operation center that runs 24 hours a day is monitoring all of these. So as an example is. The system will automatically set itself back to the standard because that is the way the film was made by the filmmaker.

About 92 percent of all problems that happen in the field, we are able to resolve remotely through our network operation centre and correct from there. So it is all the whole point of how do we differentiate ourselves when we get involved with the filmmakers at the front end and we manage every piece of the food chain right through the presentation. And then we have to monitor the presentation and if we do that and do it right, then every single show at every single IMAX theatre should look and sound the same and have an element of repeatability so that it doesn’t matter whether you are going for the first show or 10th show. The lamp is not going to dim on you, it is going to be just bright as it was. You have got the quality and if we do that then the experience is going to continue to be immersive and you are going to become part of the story. You get pulled into it, and that’s the whole idea of those big screens and without the high quality systems, is that we don’t want you to think that you are in the theatre; we want you to think that you are actually experiencing the event right then and there.

What’s coming next?

After “Avenger,” we have “Tomorrowland.” It was really beautifully filmed and some of the scenes in that one just pop off the screen and they are so vibrant and sharp. If I sound a little bit exuberant, it is because as engineers we are always trying to do something that we can be proud of. A lot of it has to do with you wanting to contribute to society. I got to tell you that when you are going to a theater and you watch an audience, a non-biased consumer audience who are not technical geeks or whatever, and you hear them walking out going “Oh my God! That was the best thing I ever saw!” even if they cannot verbalize exactly why they thought that. It is such a satisfaction to see them like that and know the work that you spent 2 1/2 years killing yourself over is actually paying off, and actually it does have an impact.

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Behind the Scenes Technology

Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Secret Ocean 3D

Posted on March 20, 2015 at 7:00 am

Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Reference to predators
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: March 20, 2015

Jean-Michel Cousteau begins this dazzling underwater documentary with archival footage of his father’s pioneering work in showing us life in the other two-thirds of the planet. And then he uses the latest technology to bring those flickering monotone images up to date with spectacular visions of exquisite sea animals shaped like plants, a 30-pound snail that eats food to make it taste bad to predators, a creature that looks like a pile of twigs and has no head and no blood but can regenerate its appendages, a candy-cane striped shrimp, all in a world exotic, strange, and wondrously interdependent with our own. Plankton, we learn from narrator Dr. Sylvia Earle, is not just the source of food for many of the creatures who live in the sea (and who themselves are food for other animals), but the source of much of the oxygen we breathe. The environmental message is subtle, but powerful. These creatures cannot survive without us and we cannot survive without them.

The images are stunning beyond words, but it would have been nice to get more information about the locations and habits of the animals we are observing. Still, this is as spectacular a series of images and as provocative a series of characters as you will see on any screen this year.

Scheduled venues for Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Secret Ocean 3D:

01 – DIGITAL3D – February 20, 2015 – Oregon Museum of Science & Industry, Portland (OR)
02 – IMAX3D – February 27, 2015 – The Henry Ford Museum IMAX Theatre, Dearborn (MI)
03 – DIGITAL3D – March 6, 2015 – Moody Gardens 3D Theater, Galveston (TX)
04 – IMAX3D – March 20, 2015 – Indiana State Museum IMAX 3D Theatre, Indianapolis (IN)
05 – IMAX3D – March 20, 2015 – Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History Samuel C. Johnson IMAX, Washington (DC)
06 – IMAX3D – April 3, 2015 – Montreal Science Center Telus IMAX 3D Theater, Montreal (QC)
07 – IMAX3D – April 16, 2015 – New England Aquarium Simons IMAX Theatre, Boston (MA)
08 – IMAX2D (DOME) – No later than April 20, 2015 – Planetario Puebla Omnimax Theater, Puebla (Mexico)
09 – DIGITAL3D – May 22, 2015 – Houston Museum of Natural Science 3D Theater, Houston (TX)
10 – DIGITAL3D – May 23, 2015 – New Mexico Museum of Natural History Lockheed-Martin DYNA Theatre, Albuquerque (NM)
11 – DIGITAL3D – June 12, 2015 – Milwaukee Public Museum 3D Theater, Milwaukee (WI)
12 – DIGITAL3D – July 10, 2015 – American Museum of Natural History 3D Theatre, New York City (NY)
13 – IMAX3D (DIGITAL) – No later than August 30, 2015 – Challenger Learning Center IMAX, Tallahassee (FL)

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3D Animals and Nature Documentary Movies -- format
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