Union Pacific's Great Excursion Adventure

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Sunday – 14 September 2014
For the past week, I’ve been on vacation. It’s been pretty amazing.

Last weekend, Salt Lake Comic Con was in town. I went (of course), as did Sara and Team DiVa. I think that the girls’ highlight moment can be summed up here:

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They were pretty ecstatic to see Wonder Woman. I thought that Diana was going to try and knock people over to get to her. Unfortunately, by the time I finally got this picture, they were starting to run out of people juice. Click here to see more pictures of the outing.

Sunday afternoon, we packed up and headed to Redfish Lake for a long-anticipated family vacation. As Sunday and Monday were the girls’ birthdays, we had a small to-do for that:

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We spent three-and-a-half days at the lake; it was a nice change of pace and it was a lot of fun to see the girls interacting with a new environment. There was a bit of a love/hate relationship with the lake: Temps were mostly in the 60s and 70s, so the lake was… brisk, to say the least. But, the girls had fun wading in the water and trying to catch minnows:

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Sara! also introduced them to fishing. With hooks and bait and the whole nine yards. The fish weren’t biting, but they still liked it. I even managed to sneak in a bike ride while we were there. Click here for more pictures of our time in Central Idaho.

We came back to Salt Lake City to prepare for the last hurrah of the weekend: Team DiVa’s third birthday party (yes, that’s a picture link):

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Yes, the girls are in their Comic Con costumes – it was a superhero-themed party. We invited some of the girls’ friends from daycare and a few other kids they know. The birthday party was a big hit. My mother, sister, niece and uncle flew in for the weekend to help celebrate. After the party – and a couple of much-needed naps for the girls – we had a family dinner in the back yard. (I think we’ve used the yard more in the past two months than we have in the past two years. Go figure.)

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This morning, we saw Mom, Kris and Kennadi off at the airport.

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My uncle had a early flight, so we said our goodbyes to him last night. It was nice having them here for a few days, as we haven’t seen them since last summer.

After that, we headed to breakfast at Millcreek Cafe. From there, we stopped to pick up a copy of Cinderella for a family movie morning. The movie went over with a mixed reaction, but the girls watched the whole thing. And from there, it was lunch and nap time.

Tomorrow, the working world awaits. But that’s tomorrow. For today, I still have a few hours to spend with Sara! and the girls. And there are Slurpees in our future.

And that’s just fine with me.

Namaste.

September 11th, 2014

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September 11th, 2014

Thursday – 11 September 2014
It’s been a busy day, but I wanted to try and get something up before the day was out. (Hey, I’m on Mountain Time. I still have almost two hours!)

It has been thirteen years since the terrorist attacks in New York, NY and Washington, D.C.

I hope that people took time to remember those who died, both in the attack and those who gave their lives trying to rescue/save those in the affected areas.

Today, Joe – a friend and a former New York native  - posted a few pictures of the World Trade Center, including a couple of him at the WTC. He also took this picture of me, atop 2 WTC (the South Tower):

Even after all this time, it’s still a little odd to see this picture, remember visiting the towers, thinking about the 1993 attempt to fell them and realizing how it felt to see where they were intended to fall… while standing inside and atop 2 WTC…

…and to know that they are not there any longer.

Again, for my thoughts on the attacks and the aftermath, refer to these posts.

Remeber the past.
Cherish the present
Look with hope to the future.

Namaste.

Salt Lake Comic Con 2014

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Salt Lake Comic Con 2014

Monday – 08 September 2014
Before I forget to post this… again…

This past weekend, Salt Lake Comic Con happened in… um… Salt Lake City, appropriately enough. I went as part of the Dr. Volt’s Comic Connection cavalcade.

Team DiVa (as Wonder Woman and Batgirl) at Salt Lake Comic Con

Team DiVa (as Wonder Woman and Batgirl) at Salt Lake Comic Con

I even managed to take a few pictures (click here).

Namaste.

Happy birthday, Vanessa!

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Happy birthday, Vanessa!

Sunday – 08 September 2014
Three years ago, this little lady was born.

The Birthday Girl and her Aunt Missa!

The Birthday Girl and her Aunt Missa!

Happy birthday, Vanessa!

Happy birthday, Diana!

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Happy birthday, Diana!

Sunday – 07 September 2014
Three years ago, this little lady was born.

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The Birthday Girl

 

Happy birthday, Diana!

May your life be full of surprises. (Or, “Follow-up to the video I posted earlier.”)

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May your life be full of surprises. (Or, "Follow-up to the video I posted earlier.")

Sunday – 24 August 2014
There’s an adage about being careful what you wish for.

Saturday morning, I was watching cartoons with the girls and decided to check out what was new and exciting on the Internet. One of my stops was, of course, Facebook. I saw that a friend from college, Mark, was taking the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. (I’d watched this video a few days ago and it put me over the edge about wanting to make a donation to the campaign.) If nothing else, I figured that Mark’s challenge would be entertaining.

As I got ready to watch it, I remember thinking: I know a lot of people who have done this but none of them have put me up for the challenge…

A few seconds in, I heard him challenge me. Well, then. That’s that.

Not being one to back down from a challenge – at least not a worthy one – I decided to “suit up” as Tony Stark said [indirectly] to Bruce Banner. It was just a matter of deciding what to do.

It went something like this:

Challenge: Accepted

.

Namaste.

Thanks to Sara!, Team DiVa, and Steve & Bonne Kelly for helping to have a bit of fun in the name of a good cause.

Just checking something…

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This is merely a test. Please feel free to overlook this post.

Vanessa

End test.

Where in the world…?

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Where in the world...?

Thursday – 21 August 2014
I’ll just go ahead and apologize up front for this post now.

I found the last picture in this post – HEY! No skipping ahead! – a few years ago. It still makes me laugh. I found the other pictures over the past week, while looking for something totally unrelated.

Separately, they all have their amusing points.

Collectively, they tell something of a story.

I imagine it going a little something like this…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Namaste.

Suits me.

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Suits me.

Wednesday – 20 August 2014
Suits. It’s no secret that I like them and that I like wearing them. Sure, there are occasions for wearing suits, but for me, said “occasions” are “practically anytime.’” That sentiment is considered “a little” odd for someone working in a non-management position in IT, where the assumed standard is often t-shirt and jeans or, at most, business casual. But, that’s just the way I’m wired.

This morning, I opted to wear my navy pinstripe suit (with white shirt, red jacquard tie, cordovan loafers, and my Superman braces). Just because.

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It's a bird, it's a plane...!

It’s a bird, it’s a plane…!

I arrived at the office at the same time as my coworker, Nicole. She noted that I was wearing a suit and that it looked nice – for which I thanked her – and asked if there was any particular reason that I chose to wear a suit. I offhandedly said, “It was clean.” Then I amended that statement with, “…and it’s a day that ends in ‘y.’” She laughed and nodded. A few moments later, we parted company, heading to our respective parts of the office.

A short while later, she sent me the following message:

http://vimeo.com/37855064 – this is the song that came to mind when you commented on your suit. 

I didn’t have a chance to check it out when she sent it. After lunch, I remembered that I had the URL still sitting in a message window. I clicked it and watched. The title, “Nothing Suits Me Like a Suit,” made me grin like a fiend. The video itself actually made me laugh.

Nothing Suits Me Like a Suit from Livia Gondim on Vimeo.

…and I might just have a new theme song.

Namaste.

Twenty-one minutes and thirty-eight seconds about Ferguson, Missouri

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Twenty-one minutes and thirty-eight seconds about Ferguson, Missouri

Monday – 18 August 2014
There has been A LOT said about the situation in Ferguson, MO on the air – and on social media – over the past week. I actually think that far too much of it has been the reporting equivalent of static. I’ve intentionally stayed rather absent and quiet about it, trying to glean facts from all of the information/sensationalization.

The bottom line for me is:

  • I am sorry for the senseless loss of Michael Brown’s life.
  • It is wrong for a young man – of ANY race – to be killed for simply being suspected of committing a crime.
  • It’s sad and disheartening that in an age where we (as a society) pat ourselves on the back for being so educated and enlightened, far too many people are still judged simply for their skin color. Or their religious beliefs. Or, even something as mundane as the clothes that they are wearing or patterns of speech.
  • It’s telling when some of the best coverage of the news comes from a news satire show, be it The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, or Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

That said, listen to what Mr. Oliver has to say about the Ferguson, MO debacle and tell me that he doesn’t make sense.

And then listen to this and tell me if it rings true about the state of the media in America, if not the world, today.

Be good to each other. We’re all we have.

Namaste.

Phase III: Complete!

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Phase III: Complete!

Wednesday – 13 August 2014
Last night, in the rain, we finished Phase III of #CrashingOurYard!

I went to Home-Away-From-Home Depot for sod…

Neal before sod!!! (And anyone who didn't expect that just doesn't know me...)

NEAL BEFORE SOD!!! (And anyone who didn’t expect that just doesn’t know me…)

…and, by the end of the evening, we had a new total of 260 square feet of grassy yard!

Instant Grass! (Complete with 2' border for planting)

Instant Grass! (Complete with 2′ border for planting)

And that’s One More Thing: DONE!

Next up: Phase IV - Flagstone patio, which should be the last thing we need to do back there. But, I think we’re going to take (at least) a few nights off before heading up that project. (Arguments could be made that Team DiVa’s play area could be considered “Phase V,” but really it’s just figuring out what toys go there, so I’m good with saying that their area was done when Phase II was done.)

Namaste.

Welcome to Level Seven… I mean “Phase Three.”

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Welcome to Level Seven... I mean "Phase Three."

Tuesday – 12 August 2014
We’ve done it.

We’ve already started on the next two phases of the #CrashingOurYard project. You’d think that after busting our butts for a week and a half, we’d want to sit back and enjoy the fruits of our labors from the first two phases of yardwork.

Yes and no.

Sara! and I were talking about how much we’d done and how nice it was to be done… and what we wanted to do with Phase Three and Phase Four. Eventually. Last week was relaxing, given that we didn’t have to rush to get things done after work – and after dinner… after the girls were fed… and in bed. In fact, we had talked about leaving any other work until next spring.

Then, we took a trip to our local Home Depot and looked at some of the things we’d need to make the next parts of the project happen. We realized that what we wanted to do wasn’t terribly difficult, it would just take a bit of time and some work. We started looking at timetables for getting things done.

Over the weekend, we talked with Sara!’s dad about the flagstone from his patio, that he was getting rid of; he said that we were welcome to it. Sunday morning, I picked up the first load and picked up the second load after dinner. It’s currently in an impromptu staging area.

Last night, after work, I headed to Home-Away-From-Home Depot – twice – to pick up twenty pieces of sod. My sister-in-law commented on my second check-in at the ‘Depot:

Melissa: Wait, you finished the back yard. Why do you keep returning to the hardware store?

Me: No, we didn’t finish the back yard. If you go back and read carefully, you’ll see that we just finished the first two phases of the back yard.

I bought twenty pieces, but it turned out that I could only get ten or so pieces in the truck. Thus, two trips. I brought the first ten pieces home; Sara and I started arranging them. I took a quick break to watch a couple Schoolhouse Rock cartoons with Team DiVa, before they went to bed. Then, I went back to Home Depot for the second set of ten pieces; we laid those out in the dark.

I went out this morning to get a few pictures of our progress:

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Wait… is that… grass?!

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By Jove! That is, indeed, grass!

As a frame of reference, here’s what that section looked like before Sunday evening:

It's the section between the fence post and the tree.

It’s the section between the fence post on the left and the tree.

Depending on the weather (and little girls’ temperaments), I’ll be picking up the last eight (give or take) pieces of sod, to finish off Phase Three.

To quote Cyborg: Booyah!

Namaste.

“Up, up, and away…”

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"Up, up, and away..."

Sunday – 10 August 2014
Saturday morning, Sara!, Team DiVa and I got up (far too early for a weekend) and went to see the Sandy Hot Air Balloon Festival.

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To see more pictures, click here.

Namaste.

“Crashing My Yard” or “How I Spent the Past Week-and-a-Half After Work”

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"Crashing My Yard" or "How I Spent the Past Week-and-a-Half After Work"

Monday - 04 August 2014
Over the past week and a half, Sara! and I undertook steps to transform our yard from “Wow, you actually call that a yard” to something that would be functional as the setting for the wedding of a couple of our friends.We had to make at least half of our yard – nearly 800 square feet of space – which we had effectively let go into something that was both not an eyesore, but was also usable.

How would we make this happen?

  • By getting truckloads of dirt from the construction site around the corner from our house to fill in the depression that was left under the spot where the gazebo we tore down in 2012 formerly stood.
  • By getting a LOT – nearly four (4) cubic yards – of mulch.
  • By putting in a lot of hard work.

In a move that may have been inspired by my affinity for DIY Network, I started referring to this as #CrashingMyYard. I even tagged my favorite Yard Crasher, Ahmed Hassan, in a couple of Tweets. (He even responded to a couple of them!) Unlike the Yard Crashers show, we had neither a TV host/professional landscaping contractor nor a motley crew of people helping on this; it was just Sara! and me – with occasional help from Team DiVa – doing the work.

We borrowed a friend’s pick-up truck, so that we could haul dirt and mulch. We felt that would be much easier – and potentially less back-breaking – than trying to do it all in wheelbarrows and/or Sara’s car. And, far less messy, too. Friday (25 July 2014) after work, I headed to the construction site around the corner from our house to get fill dirt; Sara had secured permission from the site foreman earlier in the week. After spending what felt like an eternity filling the bed of the truck, I drove it around the corner and backed into the yard to unload it and start filling the pit left from The Great Gazebo Demolition of 2012.

Saturday morning, I woke up, had a bite to eat and headed to the site for more dirt. I unloaded about half of it before I needed to leave for a prior engagement; Sara unloaded the rest. Saturday night, more of the same. By the time it was all said and done, we’d filled, compacted and leveled the hole.

Sunday saw the first of far too many trips to Home Depot for mulch. I brought home twenty-one (21) bags that night. By the way, one bag of mulch, not so heavy. Twenty-one? Heavy. And, to make things even better: After I’d loaded the last bag into the truck, about ten bags on the display decided that they didn’t want to be part of the display anymore. *sigh* So, I had to pick them up and put them back in some semblance of order.

By Monday night, following another Home Depot run, the first third of the yard was mulched. Tuesday, about two-fifths. Wednesday, we changed things up a bit, installing a new fence post, with the kind assistance of my father-in-law. (We had a double-door gate that never seemed “just right,” so we took it down to one door and a gate-turned-fence section.) Thursday, after another trip to the ‘Depot, we enlisted the “help” of the girls to put down more landscaping fabric and mulch. Friday, I made the last trip for mulch and by nightfall, there was just one small section left to mulch on Saturday.

Saturday brought lawn mowing, some general clean-up, spreading the last bits of mulch and securing the fence section to the new post.

Sunday, we were ready for a wedding. And it was good.

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The Yard.

Click here to see pictures of the overall process, from start to finish.

Last night, after the festivities were done and the girls were down for the night, Sara! and I sat outside in our newly landscaped yard and enjoyed the evening air. With cocktails, of course.

This was a lot of work, but was very much worth it. And gave us a massive boost in the direction that we want to take the yard, which includes, but isn’t necessarily limited to:

  • Grinding down three stumps (there was just no time for it with this go-round),
  • Creating a flagstone patio in one third,
  • Sodding the middle third of the mulched area, and
  • Creating a playspace for the girls in the last (not-quite) third.

Some of that might have to wait until next Spring, but, we are very happy with where the yard is at this point.

Namaste.

“You said it yourself: We’re the Guardians of the Galaxy!”

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"You said it yourself: We're the Guardians of the Galaxy!"

Saturday – 02 August 2014
I saw Guardians of the Galaxy Thursday night.

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I’ve been eagerly anticipating this movie for about a year. At the same time, I have also hoped that it would not only be a good movie, but also a good fit for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

In the same way that I did for Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen Suckage and Man of Steel this is going to be a two-part review:

  1. The first part will be more of a synopsis and spoiler-free.
  2. The second part will be more in-depth and might contain a spoiler or two.

Consider yourselves duly warned.

Part One: Synopsis
I enjoyed this movie. It’s a great space action movie with a fair bit of humor thrown in. To quote my friend, Brad:

My thoughts on Guardians of the Galaxy: The cast is amazing, Dave Bautista was one of my favorites, but I’d have to say Chris Pratt has a screen presence not seen since the Will Smith action films of the 90s. This movie is the Han Solo movie you would have dreamed of in younger, more optimistic days.

That is about as pure – and succinct – a description as I can think of for the film.

gotg-logogotg-logogotg-logogotg-logogotg-logogotg-logogotg-logogotg-logogotg-logo

Part Two: In-Depth Observations

And now, for the more detailed look at the film.

I had a great time watching this movie. The only other feature of James Gunn’s that I had seen was Slither, which I rather enjoyed. Mr. Gunn did a fantastic job of bringing a team of somewhat obscure characters from the Marvel Comic Universe to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

As to the (major) performers:

  • Chris Pratt: I liked his portrayal of Peter Quill, a mid-30′s guy from Earth… who, to quote James T. Kirk is : “…from [Earth]. I only work in outer space.” Quill is a man who’s charted his own course as something of a rogue and is quite happy doing his thing – and occasionally “the right thing” – and going about his business. Something that I didn’t expect was seeing how well he would emote the rare glimpses of Quill’s sense of loss and how he expressed it.
  • Zoe Saldana: While I think that I’ve seen Gamora in a comic or three over the years, I can’t say that she really stuck in my head. If I was going to pick a reference with which I’m familiar, I’d have to go with the HeroClix figure that came out in the “Secret Invasion” set. She was pretty badass. I’d heard tales of Gamora in the comics as well. Again, badass.

    Watching Ms. Saldana’s performance, I didn’t feel the sense of “The Most Dangerous Woman in the Universe,” aside from others’ reactions to her. This was through no fault in acting. If anything, I would say that it was a slight lack of bodies that needed killing. She did come off as resourceful and a very adept fighter, though. I did enjoy learning her motivations for her actions in the movie, as well as her turn from “villain” to (anti-)hero.

  • Dave Bautista: I know that Mr. Bautista is a wrestler. That is pretty much the sum of my knowledge of the man… until seeing this movie. That said, I really enjoyed his Drax. His character wore his motivations on his sleeve. Wait. Shirtless. Um… on his… shoulders? Waistband? Boot heel? However you choose to put it, it was there. Drax was a man with a singular purpose: To exact revenge against the man who wronged him. Even to the point of somewhat reckless abandon. And, as far as his line delivery? Golden. And he was just fun to watch.
  • Vin Diesel: I made a joke on Four-Color Coverage a few weeks back about people giving Vin Diesel flak about a/another wooden role. I’d say they’re barking up the wrong tree. (Yes, I thought about just how bad that was as I typed it and decided “I don’t care.”) You’d be amazed at just how much feeling a person can wring out of just three words, with a little inflection.
  • Bradley Cooper: As if “gun-toting talking raccoon” wasn’t enough, Bradley Cooper did a good job of bringing the smart-assed and occasionally trigger-happy Rocket to life. A lot of people expected him to steal the show, and while I won’t say that he necessarily stole it, he was definitely in on the heist.

On the antagonist side of the equation…

  • Karen Gillan – In the comics, Nebula is rumored to be the grand-daughter 0f Thanos; in this incarnation, she’s his “daughter”. And she has some daddy issues… as well as a couple of sibling rivalry issues. Ms. Gillan did a fine job of portraying Ronan’s lieutenant with a sense of dread ability and purpose.

    And at no time would you associate her with Amy Pond. Ever.

  • Djimon Hounsou – Unfortunately, Korath didn’t get a lot of screen time, but his determination in his dogged pursuit of Peter Quill made it apparent that his title, “The Pursuer,” was well-earned. And, let’s face it, Djimon Hounsou has yet to disappoint in a role.
  • Lee Pace – Ronan the Accuser. Man with a big ax to grind hammer to smash against the Nova Empire. His primary motivation was also one of revenge, and his role as Thanos’ right hand afforded him the opportunity to exact said revenge.

    If I had a complaint, it would be that the build-up of Ronan didn’t quite live up to what we got. In my opinion, he was (slightly) underutilized, in much the same way that Darth Maul was in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. He had a great presence, and in his fight scenes, presented a formidable foe, but in the end… seemed to fall a little too quickly/easily.

  • Josh Brolin – Thanos. This is another role that I’ve seen in which Mr. Brolin was not “there,” having been supplanted by the character he was portraying. (For me, the most recent notable role was his turn as the young Agent K in Men In Black 3.) And his Thanos was well-represented. I hope that Marvel is driving his character in the direction of acquiring the Infinity Gauntlet and that we get to see “The Mad Titan” in action.

And a couple of the cameos…

  • Glenn Close – She was fun to watch as Nova Prime. You bore the mantle of leadership well. (Of course, I could have just succintly put it: “Glenn Close. ‘Nuff said.”)
  • John C. Reilly – I’ve long been on the fence about Mr. Reilly, only recently seeing him in roles in which I’ve really appreciated his everyman. This is one of those roles. We got to see a facet of his character in trailers over the past year, but in the full feature, we got to know a little more about his character, Corpsman Dey.
  • Michael Rooker – This was not the Yondu I expected to see, but it was nevertheless a very fun Yondu to watch. And, to be fair: There was more than “a little” Merle Dixon in there, which also added to this characterization’s appeal.
  • Benicio Del Toro – We got to see a little behind-the-curtain of The Collector’s day-to-day life  - he’s fairly demanding and not always a nice person. But, he loves… reveres… his collection. And his reaction to a possible new addition to it – sheer glee/giddiness – was excellently portrayed. By the way, be sure to stay after the credits to see one of the more “unusual” pieces in said collection.
  • Nathan Fillion – If you can pick out his cameo, good on you. It’s pretty funny and one that I would not have guessed, had I not been tipped off to “who” he was, beforehand.

One of the best things about this movie: No single character was the tentpole. James Gunn did a fine job of balancing an ensemble cast. Everyone on the team had a good amount of screen time and everyone had something to contribute. In talking with a few people, we agreed that Marvel now has two people in their stable – Gunn and Joss Whedon – who can direct ensemble pieces and make them work.

Clocking in at a full two hours – actually, two hours and one minute – the movie never felt like it dragged. The slower, dramatic scenes were well-paced and the action scenes, at least to me, didn’t seem like they were overly long. I saw it in IMAX 3D and was glad that I did. The 3D wasn’t used just to throw things at the audience, although there were enough splodey bits to be flung at viewers. It was utilized to enhance the environment and give it depth of field, much like in Avatar. And it came off beautifully.

In summation, I will say that the movie was a great ride and would have made an excellent Fourth of July weekend release. Go see it. And if you have the opportunity to see it in IMAX 3D, do yourself a favor and spend the extra money to do so.

Namaste.