Marvel Double Feature: Avengers Age Of Ultron & Ant-Man

avengers the age of ultronRight off the bat, I’ll admit that I did not actually watch Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Ant-Man as a true double feature. We probably watched the latter a month ago and just peeped the former yesterday. But, since I didn’t write about the Avengers sequel, it seemed liked a proper time.

I went into Joss Whedon’s Ultron with fairly low expectations. It seemed like a lot of the people I follow on Twitter and actually communicate with weren’t super into it. The general feeling I was picking up on seemed to be that, while it’s got all kinds of spectacle, it didn’t live up to the original.

And that was my experience as well, but then again, this is a different kind of blockbuster super hero movie. The original — which I love — seemed custom built to show that all of these series-leading, mega stars could come together, fight the bad guys and look good doing it. Meanwhile, this film seemed built with a different goal in mind: showing how said group (plus new members) can work together even when times are tough.

It’s also clearly a bigger piece of the Marvel Cinematic Universe puzzle leading up to Captain America: Civil War and the Infinity War movies. To me as a viewer, the first felt like it was worked into the bigger tale while this one was more obviously built to lead to something else. This is something I’m not usually a fan of in comics and even less so in comic films and it all just boils down to a feeling I get while watching.

And yet, I still found myself enjoying this darker take on team superheroics. Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Vision all make interesting additions to not just the team, but the universe at large. Plus, it’s not all dark. I could watch an entire TV series about the Avengers hanging out like they did at that party. I also just adore James Spader (as I mentioned here) so watching and listening to his take on the killer robot Ultron was a treat as he’s basically Blacklist‘s Raymond Reddington but crazy and a robot.

I think that the problem with this movie as related to the first one comes down to this fact: I don’t want to rewatch it a bunch. I probably could have sat through another showing of Whedon’s first Avengers film right after the first one and even stop flipping or pop in for a few minutes every time I see it on TV. I don’t see that happening here. In other words, it’s not nearly as fun as the first one, which it clearly wasn’t supposed to be, but it’s still a bummer.

ant-man posterAnt-Man is far from a bummer, though, which is great. I admit, my feelings towards these movies have been a bit tainted by elements from beyond the movies themselves. I’m not sure how I feel about every single film moving forward painting towards this gigantic epic that will end Phase Three. I love the inter-connectivity between these films, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I want them all to be about this one big thing leading forward.

And then I watched Ant-Man and it felt like a nice step away from all that intergalactic craziness to just tell the story of a few people trying their best to not make the world a worse place. I love the approach of using this intelligent thief to wear a potentially fatal suit in an attempt to stop tech from ruining the world. It’s perfectly comic book-y, but also fits in so well with this universe and Paul Rudd just kills it. I also really enjoyed watching Michael Douglas who seemed to break the rule that every old dude in a Marvel Studios movie turns out to be bad. Oh, and how fun is Michael Pena? And how bad ass is Lilly? More of both of them please! Basically, everything came together to give me a beautiful mix of heist and hero that gets a major thumbs up from this guy.

However, all respect to director Peyton Reed who did a great job, but I still wish we would have been able to see Edgar Wright’s version of this film which we reported on all the way back in the days of Wizard and ToyFare. Yes I bet it would have been an amazing movie, but it more so bums me out that a relatively slow filmmaker like Wright spent ALL that time on a movie that just didn’t happen. He’s got such an amazing vision for what he makes that I want him to make all the movies he can and this felt like a major entanglement that resulted in a great vision for Ant-Man, but not a full-on Edgar Wright movie.

And, yes, I still remain a bit nervous about Marvel tying up too many of their films to Infinity War, but then I must remind myself that Guardians Of The Galaxy did a great job of incorporating some of that into its movie and this one basically skips over all of that. Back to what I was saying above, it feels like Ant-Man is its own thing that will get incorporated into the larger goings-on of the MCU instead of the other way around. I like that and as long as that’s the way these things go, I’ll keep enjoying them.

Ambitious Summer Reading List 2015

ambitious summer reading list 2015The other day I was cleaning out the garage and came across a few boxes of unread books that I was able to combine, but only if I pulled a few out. I figured that was as good a reason as any to try my hand (and eyes) at another Ambitious Summer Reading list. There’s just something about the warm weather that makes me want to stay inside and read, I guess.

As usual, I’ve got a pretty eclectic selection here. From the top, Ghosts And Things is a spooky anthology from 1962 that includes stories by Henry James, Ambrose Bierce and others. I’m thinking about reading these stories in between other books, but the James story was SUPER boring, so I’m not sure if I’ll stick with that plan.

Below that is the 1979 Avengers novel The Man Who Stole Tomorrow by the awesome David Micheline. In the 90s I read a lot of superhero novels and am curious to see how this early example is. Then there’s Freddy Krueger’s Tales Of Terror #2: Fatal Games. My buddy Jesse sent me this and I’m pretty excited to read it because I love Freddy and this looks like the Christopher Pike novels I read in grade school.

You can also see Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger. I’ve heard a lot of different things about this series over the years and made sure to get the pre-revised version of this book, so we’ll see how this goes. Switching gears completely, I’ve also got Chuck Klosterman’s Fargo Rock City. I listened to the audiobook version of Klosterman’s IV a few years back and picked this up not long after. I’m a sucker for music related autobios, so I’m sure this will be awesome.

I know absolutely nothing about Twilight Of The Superheroes by Deborah Eisenberg other than the fact that it was like a dollar at one of all time favorite discount stores that’s no longer around. But, hey, it’s about superheroes, so it should be in my wheelhouse (I hope). At the bottom of the pile you’ll see another comic-related book, this one Mark Evanier’s column collection Comic Books And Other Necessities Of Life. For some reason I thought this was a collection of interviews, but I must be thinking of ANOTHER book in one of my boxes. Evanier’s one of the best comic historians around, so I’m sure this will be an interesting read.

That brings us to the last three books. Trevanian’s The Loo Sanction is the sequel to The Eiger Sanction, a book I read last year and really enjoyed. There’s also my first Raymond Chandler book Farewell, My Lovely and The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl. I must have read about that last one ten years ago and always wanted to check it out, but haven’t gotten around to it until now!

As you can probably tell, there wasn’t much rhyme or reason to these selections. I tried to balance out longer books with shorter ones just to take it a little easy on myself. I haven’t been taking much time to read actual books lately, but I’m hoping that this will push me in that direction. I’m kicking off with The Loo Sanction because I actually started it like six months ago and want to finish it. I’m about halfway through and trying to spend more time with good books, so I’ll hopefully be posting about that one soon!

Toy Commercial Tuesday: The Avengers

Over the weekend, I introduced my daughter to a bunch of Avengers toys I was sent years ago as a way of hyping the toy tie-in line from Hasbro. Everything came in a super cool, locker-like box but the toys inside proved to be a lot more interesting three years later. My daughter’s just at the right age to actually play with the smaller scale figures and get a kick out of things like a Hulk mask and Iron Man repulsor ray. We’ve also got that shield-slinging Cap which is fun, but the real highlights are the 3 3/4 inch figures which have made their way with us on various outings.

Personal story aside, I forgot how crazy the rap was in these Avengers toy commercials. Wowzers.

Christmas Stories: 2012 Geek Ornaments From Hallmark

IMG_2185I actually snapped these pictures at our local Hallmark weeks ago, well before Thanksgiving, but forgot about them until now. Hopefully you’re all set on your Christmas shopping, but if not, the geek in your life will surely enjoy something from this line-up (assuming they’re still available, I really have no idea). Either way, I’d love to get my hands on the giant cardboard Darth Vader wearing red cloves and cape AND a Santa hat!

It seemed like there were a lot more available this year, which is pretty cool. I guess geeks like to go all out when decorating their Christmas tree. Of course, I know this. A few years back, we only had a tiny artificial tree that I decorated entirely with the superhero, movie and TV ornaments I’ve been given over the years. Speaking of superheroes, considering the huge summer they had at the box office, it comes as no surprise that they’re featured so heavily. You’ve got Spidey, Catwoman, Batman, Iron Man, Thor, Captain American, Green Lantern and of course Lion-O. That last one is the most exciting to me as it seems to come out of nowhere (especially because it’s in the classic style instead of the new-but-failed style of this year’s excellent remake). IMG_2184

Of course, you can’t have a giant cardboard Vader and not have a goodly offering of Star Wars ornaments. Looks like you’ve got your choice between a TIE Fighter, Hoth Han on Tauntaun, General Grievous, Darth Maul and a pair of Lego dudes. I have a longstanding love of Hoth Han, so I really should get my hands on that ornament.

I’m also a big fan of the movie and TV ornaments they make. I’m as much a product of the thousands of comics I’ve read as the hundreds of movies I’ve watched over and over again, so I’m just as, if not more excited by the Ghostbusters Stay Puft Marshamallow Man, ET with flowers and Caddyshack groundhog dressed like Rodney Dangerfield as I am about the superheroes. Looks like a pretty darn good crop of ornaments to me!

The Dark Knight Rises Versus The Avengers

One of the hallmarks of the geek community is comparing things we love and seeing how they stack up. Of course, the problem with doing this is that we wind up comparing things that don’t even match up. Back when The Dark Knight came out the big question was whether it was better than Iron Man and I thought it was incredibly annoying. It’s like comparing Die Hard to The Usual Suspects, they’re both somewhat dramatic action films, but that’s where the comparisons end. One’s a balls-out auctioner while the other is a really serious, more cerebral outing…with punching and costumes.

The same thing happened this year when people started comparing The Avengers to The Dark Knight Rises and I thought it was an equally foolish comparison. However, while watching Avengers for the second time at the drive-in last night I realized a few things about the two movies that made me like one over the other and, seeing as how this is the internet, I figured I’d share them with whoever will read them.

Right off the bat (heh, PUN!), Avengers is more fun and a more enjoyable watching experience. It’s the perfect movie to check out on a Saturday or Sunday. It also has a lot of great moments that made me geek out, but I realized something while watching Avengers again. The moments in that movie that I dug the most (Iron Man reflecting his blasts off of Cap’s shield, Hulk sucker punching Thor after a team up) were great moments that reminded me of ideas from comics, but those same kind of things in Dark Knight Rises reminded me of specific moments from Batman comics. This is obviously completely subjective, but I can’t separate those very personal moments of awesomeness form my childhood, so why not embrace them? It doesn’t discount anything from Avengers, but just gives DKR a leg up in my book.

I know a lot of people thought DKR was bleak and sad, but I actually found it really uplifting. The character of John Blake completely embodies the never-give-up attitude that’s kept humanity alive for all these centuries. That same attitude is something Batman had to rediscover and use to his advantage to save the city he loves. There’s some of that in Avengers, but I never really thought they’d be in trouble. That wasn’t going to happen, but with rumors swirling that Batman would die in this flick and Christopher Nolan being an incredibly ballsy filmmaker, there was a small part of me that thought it might happen and even that it should have happened. I left Avengers feeling pumped up and fueled by geek-love, but I actually felt good about humanity after watching Rises.

So, Dark Knight Rises has the leg up in my mind, but that doesn’t mean I like Avengers any less. They’re both hallmarks of filmmaking that should be appreciated by all kinds of audiences. It’s amazing the kind of things that can come from comic book source material.

Ad It Up: Taco Bell Marvel Toys

Sorry about the poor quality and small size of this ad. I took a bad photo of it and then shrunk a bunch of my files down a little too far in hopes of saving some hardrive space. Anyway, I have zero recollection of these Taco Bell kids meal toys based on mostly X-Men. You’ve got Sabertooth, Iceman, Mystique, Cyclops, Captain America and Hulk. I just realized how strange of a group this is. When I started typing the list I automatically wrote Wolverine’s name and then realized he was nowhere to be found.

I was about to write about how strange it was that I don’t remember these toys existing, but they presumably came out in either late 2001 or early 2002 (the ad is from 2001’s Defenders #10, which I reviewed over here). While I usually would have been all over any Marvel kids meal toy, especially one at my beloved Taco Bell, I was in college at this time without a car and thus very limited access to Taco Bells. Doesn’t look like I missed too much, though, does it?

Casting Internets

Didn’t read a lot last week, but here’s what I dug.

First off, my stuff. I wrote about Pathfinder for CBR and Iron Fist’s costumes for Marvel.com.

Next time I make a mojito, I’m going to use Ruhlman’s recipe, I don’t think I’ve been muddling enough.

I’m not much of an Alien fan (only seen it once), but I really dug this pulpy Alien cover I saw over on One Cool Thing A Day.

I have not yet read this very long The Believer interview with Marc Maron, but will…probably.

I’m also planning on reading this THR feature with Oliver Stone. His new movie Savages actually looks really good. Hope the dude’s still got it.

Lastly, a pair of Expendables links. First up, you can see the “final” poster for Expendables 2 above. (via Spinoff)

And finally, here’s a picture of Diamond Select Toys‘ upcoming Expendables 7-inch figures. I am very excited about theseas well as the Expendables 2 MiniMates below. I gotta catch them all.

Casting Internets

My ridiculously talented friends over at Marvel.com made this awesome video starring Howard The Duck demanding Lucasfilm celebrate the film’s anniversary. As a longtime fan of the movie, I wholeheartedly agree.

Speaking of Marvel and Howard, Marvel.com ran this interview with the movie’s star Lea Thompson and it was pretty interesting. I dig her for sticking up for Howard…and also for Caroline in the City. Another ridiculously talented friend took there rad photos of the Expendables MiniMates out in the wild for the Art Asylum blog. I absolutely must get my hands on these figures.

I really, really, really want The Perks Of Being A Wallflower movie to be good. Please be good. I’m not sure what to think of this trailer I saw on THR though. Gotta read the book again.

I don’t live in the city, but I do hear a lot of the news living fairly close. The most recent infuriating bit of nonsense to come out of there is Mayor Bloomberg’s desire to limit the size of soda people can buy. Seriously? This is the biggest problem in the city at the moment? It’s not the government’s job to keep people skinny, so cut it out commie. This Economist piece paints it in a different view: the mayor doesn’t think poor people can handle making the decision to drink less soda on their own and need the government’s help. Bleh.

The Detroit News talked to Colbie Smulders, Joss Whedon and Sam Jackson about her role in The Avengers. Interesting stuff, especially what she did to train for the film on her own.

Jared Harris talked to THR about last week’s episode of Mad Men. I only read a few sites about the show, but have there been any “Down Memory Lane” posts? There should be.

Jeez, Anthony Bourdain is not slowing down. In addition to getting a book turned into a movie and moving from Travel Channel to CNN, he’ll also be judging a food competition show on ABC. Dude’s gonna be busy. (via Eater)

I love reading about cocktails, so this Esquire piece about the cocktails of summer definitely had me interested. I’m particularly excited to try that Scotch Whiskey Punch. That’s on my summer to-try list. There’s a new James Bond book called James Bond Unmasked with new interviews with all six Bonds. It will be mine, oh yes, it will be mine.

I am a gigantic fan of Fox’s New Girl, especially the ultra douche, but really a nice guy on the inside character of Schmidt played by Max Greenfield. As such, I enjoyed this LA Times interview with him.

I got a big kick out of watching The Totally Rad Show’s Alex Albrecht interviewing Snoop Dogg about the new Tekken for G4. Finally, this MC Escher Lego Star Wars diorama seen on io9 is just too damn cool.

The Box: Hawkeye High Hard Shaft #1, X-O Manowar #18 & Meridian #22

Like the last batch of random comics out of The Box, this one was 2/3rds great. I started off with the hilariously named and sure-to-get-some-interesting-Google-search-results Hawkeye: The High, Hard Shaft #1 (2003) by Fabian Nicieza and Stefano Raffaele, which I hadn’t heard about, but really enjoyed. There’s a type of superhero comic book story that I really like where we see some of our favorite heroes doing their thing out of costume and in the normal world. Ed Brubaker did some fun things along these lines in Daredevil and Nicieza does the same in this issue.

The comic finds Hawkeye traveling around on his bike and running into trouble with some locals. Well, he kind of inserts himself into trouble because he’s a rougeish hero, but you get the idea. Anyway, the comic has a kind of super-powered Road House feel to it as the guy who runs the town also has a few superpowered dudes on the payroll. The issue ends with Clint stocking up with gear at a sporting goods store seemingly ready to take care of things. Seeing as how I love Road House and those movies where the hero walks into a town run by a jerk and helps save the day.

The art didn’t really do it for me as it’s a little undefined and muddy. I get that they’re going for a noir-type feel, but I contend that that is a much more difficult thing to pull off in comics than artists or editors do. It’s not bad art, mind you, though there were a few times I wasn’t sure who I was reading about (the downside of reading out-of-costume superhero comics, I guess). At the end of the day, I really did enjoy this comic. I did a little looking around just now and it doens’t seem like these issues have been collected, so I guess I’ll have to look around for issues if I want to see how it ends (I bet he wins, but it turns out to be just a bit hollow).

Unfortunately, Valiant’s X-O Manowar #18 (1993) by Jorge Gonzalez and Jim Calafiore was the book in this lot that didn’t really do it for me. The long and the short of it is that I had zero idea what was going on in this book and it doesn’t help that it’s the third part in a multipart story. I’m sure it’s important if you’re already a fan of the series, but if you’re a new person like I was, you’ll be mostly lost which is the problem I’ve had with every Valiant comic I’ve come across in The Box so far except last week’s Turok, but that was a first issue.

I do want to talk about the art a bit. I’m a big, big fan of Jim Calafiore’s artwork. He first came to my attention on Peter David’s Aquaman and had a really big effect on me as a comic reader. He was one of the first guys whose style I really noticed and liked. He has a kind of blocky angularity that still looks sleek that really appeals to me. However, in this book, that doesn’t really come through. I’m not sure if he just hadn’t developed his signature look by this point or if he was instructed to stick within the house style of Valiant at the time (which seems to be very basic, “realistic” depictions of people colored in a way that makes everything look a bit light). There were a few panels and faces here and there that I saw him peeking through, but otherwise, it wasn’t the Caliafiore I know and love. By the way, he’s a super nice guy in real life too.

The last comic I read for this week’s installment might have turned out to be the most surprising one in the batch. Crossgen’s Meridian #22 by Barbara Kesel and Andy Smith really surprised me by showing me a world that I really wanted to get invested in. The idea behind this book is that a world has flying pirates and that one girl–who has the Crossgen sigil–leads a group of good guys against marauders and other bad guys. I know there’s more to it than that, but that’s what I remember without going back and reading the entire thing. It actually reminded me a lot of Avatar: The Last Airbender where I was equally as interested in the characters as I was in the world.

This issue itself lets me in on some of the main character’s powers and explains some of her relationships. It’s a great taste of what’s going on. It also has a few ties to the larger Crossgen Universe which I obviously didn’t understand but it wasn’t overly distracting.

I liked the book so much, actually, that I ordered a few used copies of the first two trades from Amazon. I haven’t gotten into them just yet, but I look forward to when I’m done with a few other things I’m reading at the moment. That purchase makes Meridian officially the best reading experience of The Box as far as turning me on to something interesting that I otherwise wouldn’t have read. Thanks again to my pal Jesse for sending it to me!

The Avengers (2012) Is Awesome

I’m 29 this year. When I was a kid and falling in love with comics, I didn’t have a lot of good comic book movies to fall in love with. I didn’t really get into Batman, but wound up loving Batman Returns. The Superman movies never did it for me because they were just so far away from the Superman I knew from the comics. Heck, I remember getting excited about the Generation X and Nick Fury TV movies. Then we got Blade and X-Men and things changed. Eventually X2, Batman Begins, Dark Knight and Iron Man really made the comic book-based movie a thing to be reckoned with both in the box office and compared to other movies.

As the movies got better, I found the mediocre ones less interesting, but a little more disappointing. If you know how to do these things well, why not just keep doing them well. Is it so difficult to get someone who understands the material to make something good on a proper budget? Christopher Nolan did it, Jon Favreau did it and god damn, did Joss Whedon do it with Avengers.

My wife and I decided to head to the drive-in with some friends to see it. It kind of snuck up on my how excited I wound up being for this flick. I really like the Iron Man movies, didn’t like Ed Norton in Incredible Hulk, kinda sorta liked Thor and had a pretty good time with Captain America: The First Avenger, but the ad campaign, plus the fact that I wrote about the movie a bit for Spinoff Online got me pretty excited. Then I started hearing people I know and respect coming back raving about the movie. People were comparing it to Return of the Jedi and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Note that both of them are die hard Marvel fans and, like me, never thought they’d see a movie like this in the real world, on the big screen, done this well.

And man, this movie is done well. Whedon did an amazing job trying together the very different movies, bringing in new characters, pumping up ones we’d only seen briefly and making them all work in ways that make sense. It just makes sense that Tony Stark’s flip attitude toward everything would eventually rub Captain America the wrong way or that Thor would find the petty complaints of mortals well, petty. But, this movie is so much more than great character beats. The action is spectacular in every sense of the word. The attack on the hellicarrier? Wow. I wasn’t sure if the rest of the movie could top that, but the end battle was magnificent. Those long tracking shots that don’t cut away moving throughout the city from small battle to small battle with different characters flying in and out and wrecking shop in different ways was one of the coolest things I’ve seen. Ever.

I could go on and on. The moments with the Hulk? Amazing and hilarious. Possibly my favorite Hulk of all time. That small moment where Iron Man shoots his repulsors off of Cap’s shield or the shockwave sent out when Thor hit the shied? So awesome. Hawkeye calling the shots and using his ingenious bow and quiver? So cool. My wife poked fun at me for giggling with excitement throughout half the movie. I wasn’t sorry, I reveled in it. I really can’t remember having more fun at a movie in a long time. It was basically Expendables, but instead of starring actors I’ve known forever, this was characters.

Okay, now someone needs to get me a Justice League movie.