At The Movies: Tomorrowland

I was really looking forward to “Tomorrowland.”

Not because the trailers looked all that exciting. And not because I’m a big George Clooney fan. And certainly not because I wanted to see a movie about a Disney theme park attraction.

No, I was in it for Brad Bird. Bird doesn’t have a large filmography — he’s only directed four films — but they’re such wonderful films. “The Iron Giant,” “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille” rank among my favorite animated films and “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” proved Bird could bring his magic to live action.

So where did it all go wrong? Oh, “Tomorrowland” isn’t a bad film. It looks good, the special effects are nifty, the cast is fine, the first half is very promising. But it gets too preachy and to be honest I had a hard time following just what was going down by the end.

But worst of all, it just doesn’t have that spark of magic I’ve come to expect from a Brad Bird film.

Tomorrowland_posterBritt Robertson stars as Casey Newton, a spunky dreamer who is the daughter of a soon-to-be-unemployed NASA engineer (Tim McGraw). One day a mysterious girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) slips a pin into Casey’s belongings. Touching the pin instantly transports Casey to a futuristic wonderland. When the pin runs out of juice, Casey goes looking for answers.

Athena shows up and drops her off at the home of Frank Walker (George Clooney), an eccentric and reclusive inventor. Frank had been a visitor to Tomorrowland while a young boy (Thomas Robinson) but had been kicked out many years ago.

Reluctantly, Frank joins Athena and Casey in their attempt to return to Tomorrowland. Once there they learn that the future isn’t necessarily all bright and shiny.

Like I said up front, there’s a lot to like about “Tomorrowland.” The future world design and effects are impressive. There are some clever twists and turns. Clooney and his young cohorts are properly charming and cranky.

But whether you agree with the film’s analysis of our planet’s future or not, you can’t help but feel it’s all too preachy. And confusing. The ending is fairly inspiring but I was expecting much better.

 

 

From The Home Office In St. Charles, Missouri

The year was 1980. The day: July4. It was still early for the family reunion to begin so I turned on the television. There was this guy doing a talk show. And it wasn’t Phil Donahue.

He was excitedly having someone shoot off fireworks on the streets of New York. It was daytime. You couldn’t see them. It was stupid. It was ridiculously stupid. Ridiculously, hilariously stupid.

And that’s how I first encountered David Letterman.

tumblr_n3ili9jsdV1qdpulbo1_1280The morning show didn’t last very long and then Dave was shipped off to late night where he thrived and became an institution. And now he’s gone.

Like all antisocial smart-asses I loved David Letterman because he was an antisocial smart-ass. Or at least that was the image. Dave probably loves people in the way that all antisocial smart-asses do.

Dave’s brand of comedy was an acquired taste. While it was a shame, it wasn’t a surprise to me when NBC screwed him out of “The Tonight Show” in favor of Jay Leno. Jay was bland, safe, sure to get higher ratings. But Dave was funnier.

I’ve always found “The Tonight Show” debacle to be the most fascinating aspect of the Letterman story. Don’t let people tell you that if you work hard and do your best and have the talent that you will get what you deserve. It didn’t happen to Dave. For all his awards and success, Letterman never got the one thing that he wanted most out of his professional life — hosting “The Tonight Show.” There’s a lesson in there for all you high school and college graduates. I’ll let you figure out what it is.

I didn’t watch a lot of Dave in the old days. I am not a late night person. Once I got a VCR I became a regular viewer. So many great bits. So many wonderful guests. And now he’s gone.

While these last few weeks have been terrific, I can’t really join the chorus begging Dave to stay. It really is time to go. Dave has been coasting for quite some time. It’s been fun and a little sad watching these past weeks as they pull out great comedy bits from the past. Why doesn’t Dave do that stuff anymore? Has he been chained to that desk these past few years? Sure, nobody’s as funny as Dave when he’s behind the desk and he gets on a roll about something, but I miss him annoying people at the McDonald’s drive-through or cruising town in a convertible filled with tacos.

ls_topten_20090616Then again, the man is 68 years old. And a gazillionaire. Who can blame him if he wants to repeat a joke every night for a week in the monologue, or tell stories about his son and never leave his desk?

Still, it’s been an awesome run.  I do not envy Stephen Colbert, but I’ll give him a shot. I don’t know what I’ll do come Christmas without the Lone Ranger Story and Darlene Love and Paul Shaffer singing “Oh Holy Night” as Cher.

But those are my troubles. And I wouldn’t give them to a monkey on a rock.

 

 

The Things I Do For Friends

Sorry I haven’t been around lately. In the meantime, enjoy Ed Helms at the University of Virginia.

Walk It Off…For Cancer

You may recall that some years ago I was a regular participant in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. It was someone else’s idea, probably Mel’s, but I was intrigued by the idea that walking around a track all night would somehow have an effect on cancer (or affect, I can’t be bothered to look it up, grammar nerds).

Anyway, we did it for a couple of years and it was a nice experience. Then we stopped. I assumed because we had walked cancer to death, but it turned out we just had all gone our separate ways and got busy with other stuff. You know, life.

10702137_10153240212055550_5954505178156435432_nI hadn’t given any thought to the Relay until Mary Beth brought it up a few weeks ago. Ah, Mary Beth. She joined the ARC staff around a year ago. She’s young and sweet and full of love and compassion. Pretty much the opposite of me. Just the kind of person you want working with the developmentally disabled.

A few months ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Now she’s dealing with all the crap that goes with that. So when she asked me if I’d like to join her team for the Relay For Life my first response was, “They still do that?” followed by “Sure, count me in.”

So, we’ve been through this before. You know where this is headed. Go to Mary Beth’s page:

http://main.acsevents.org/site/TR?fr_id=69137&pg=team&team_id=1850670

press the “Donate Now” button and give until you think you’ve given enough to cure cancer. If you don’t think you have that much money, then give whatever amount makes you feel comfortable.

Don’t worry about the walking. I’ll do all the walking for you. Although if the idea of walking around a track in the dark all night appeals to you, join me Friday, July 17, at Fort Zumwalt South High School in St. Peters.

Thanking you in advance.

 

Free Food Beats Free Comics

We wrap up Avengers Week with my annual trek through Free Comic Book Day.

Last year I started off at Star Clipper in University City. They were well-known for offering the best deal on free comics (10) and the best spot for people watching. And it’s important that you have people to watch as the line takes an hour to get through.

Anyway, as reported a few months ago, Star Clipper was blown up after several weeks of “Going Out of Business” sales. It was in all the local news. But then it turned out that Lockjaw had teleported the comic shop out of U City at the last moment and relocated it on Washington Avenue in downtown St. Louis.

The stupidity of this probably deserves its own column. The owner of Star Clipper claims he’s losing money operating out of a very popular pedestrian business area. He sells the shop to another guy who moves it to downtown St. Louis. Who in their right mind thinks they’ll make more money operating a comic book shop in downtown St. Louis as opposed to the Delmar Loop? Driving downtown is difficult, parking is more difficult, parking is not free, oh, and you might get shot. Good luck, Star Clipper. You’ll need it.

Furthermore, according to my email from Star Clipper, they were only giving away 5 free comics this year. I can match that at Fantasy Shop and not leave St. Charles (I assure you it’s just coincidence that the new owner of Star Clipper is the person who owns the Fantasy Shop chain). I decided I would not be making the trek to the Clipper.

STK666877Instead I started off at Comic Relief across town. They were doing their usual 2 free comics, more if you buy stuff. They had nothing I wanted to buy so I picked up the free Marvel books (Avengers and Secret Wars) and headed to the other side of town to Fantasy Shop. There was a line but it wasn’t that long and moved fairly quickly. They were offering 5 comics. I picked up the DC book, looked around, and struggled to pick out 4 more. Where’s the Archie comic? I always get one for my sister. Where’s Atomic Robo? Sigh. I grab a Simpsons comic, a Teen Titans GO, one with a dinosaur on it and one other.

Next door to Fantasy Shop is a Slackers, where they sell new and used video games, movies, comics and etc. They were also taking part in FCBD, so I thought I might as well drop in. Mmmm, what’s that smell? It’s not nerd smell or used video game smell. It’s pizza! There on the counter were several boxes of pizza and a sign inviting everyone to have a slice. Now that’s good marketing. I didn’t walk out with a comic but I did have a piece of pepperoni. Stefanina’s makes good pie.

At this point I’m pretty much done and I’ve only been out an hour. I decide to go by the mall. Two of their shops — V-Stock and another Slackers — are participating in FCBD. Maybe this Slackers will also have food.

Went to V-Stock first (it’s similar in purpose to Slackers). There was a female Thor going through the long boxes but I didn’t see where the free comics were located. Some guy asked me who the symbol on my shirt was for. I get that sometimes. I found the free comics — displayed on a shelf behind the counter. Bad move, V-Stock. Most nerds, and kids, don’t want to have to ask the clerk at the counter for their free comic. And the nerds that do want to talk — you don’t want to talk to them.

Walked a few doors down where Deadpool was greeting customers at the mall Slackers. Inside they had sub sandwiches from Mr. Goodcents. Slackers is my new favorite store. I had a turkey sandwich and no comics.

2000ad_2000adFigured the day was still young so I made a short hop down I-70 to 270 to Dorsett in Maryland Heights to Newcastle Comics. This is a place I just found out about a few months ago. I’d been there once and was very impressed. Large, nice layout, nice selection of material. Too far to drive to every Wednesday but it’s a special occasion.

Sure enough, they had a few tables of stuff, including stuff I hadn’t seen elsewhere, and were generously offering 5 books. I got my fill and was ready to call it a day.  But on the way home I passed by The Mills mall and realized they also had a Slackers, and I was still a little hungry, so I thought I’d give them a shot. i was greeted by a rather hefty Flash and behind the counter was an equally hefty Spider-Man. This shop had cookies.

I  got home exhausted with a dozen comics that I had no strong desire to read. I’ve been through this before, you know. The thrill of Free Comic Book Day is in the hunt, not the prize. But who knows, maybe this year would be different.

MArvelI begin to read “Secret Wars,” a prelude issue to this year’s big Marvel event. It features a lovely Alex Ross cover with several Marvel characters from several Marvel universes engaged in battle. Open it up and it’s 10 pages of kids talking about the end of the world and recapping what’s been going on in “The Avengers” books over the last 3 years. Sigh. Oh, and not drawn by Alex Ross.

Because, you know, it’s Free Comic Book Day. Thousands of people who only pick up a comic once a year are going to pick up this comic, drawn by the powerful image on the cover and the Marvel brand. And they’re going to get home, open the comic, and see 10 pages of kids talking about the end of the world. Boy, will they be thrilled.

There’s also an 8-page Avengers story in which they fight a bunch of giants for 7 pages and then the Guardians of the Galaxy show up in the last panel. I’m guessing it’s leading to something but I don’t know what. Pointless.

Which brings us at long last to “The All-New, All-Different Avengers,” because we gotta tie this in to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes somehow and because I’m not going to review the other 10 comics I got. I don’t even know when I’m going to get around to reading them.

For those of you who haven’t been keeping track of Marvel Comics, they are currently on a path to destroying the Marvel Universe, which will lead into the Secret Wars story and what comes out the other end — who knows? But All-New, All-Different Avengers is apparently something that comes out the other end.

STK666507As you can see from the cover, the New Avengers features black Spider-Man, black Captain America, She-Thor, Teen/Muslim Ms. Marvel, white Nova, red Vision and Iron Man (may or may not be Tony Stark in the armor). If this is the future of The Avengers, I am glad I am old and going to die soon.

Once again you have to admire the marketing geniuses at Marvel. At the same time they’ve got a movie in theaters breaking box office records starring Thor, Cap, Iron Man, HULK, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and Vision they give everyone a free Avengers comic featuring…well, the Vision and Iron Man look familiar.

Truthfully, I’m not too worried about these newbies replacing my beloved Avengers. Marvel currently publishes Four different Avengers titles so I’m sure there will be a more traditional Avengers book showing up alongside this one. It’s also always good to keep a lot of characters I don’t care about in the same book so I don’t have to put up with them taking up space in a book I do care about.

As for the story, it’s nothing to speak of. It’s 10 pages of The Avengers fighting Radioactive Man and the kids learn a lesson. It’s a split book with “The Inhumans.” I found that half slightly more interesting only because I like Medusa and the Human Torch and was not expecting to see them make out in the last panel.

And so ends Avengers Week 2015. Of course, in reality every week is Avengers Week if you’re willing to assemble. See you in July for Ant-Man week.

Well, maybe Ant-Man weekend.

Read More About It: The Ultron Collection

As you might imagine, Marvel Comics has published a boatload of Ultron stories over the years, many collected in book form. Not all Ultron stories are the same, of course, that’s why I’m here. I read them so you don’t have to.

Age-of-ultron-01Age of Ultron, by Brian Michael Bendis and a number of artists — chief among them Bryan Hitch, Brandon Peterson and Carlos Pacheco — was published in 2013 and bares practically no resemblance to the movie that stole its name.

This is a time-travel story in which Ultron has taken over the world and made life miserable for humans. Wolverine (yes, that Wolverine) decides to go back in time to kill Hitler — I mean Hank Pym, before Pym can create Ultron.

Time-travel stories are often confusing and disappointing but I rather enjoyed this one. The art unfortunately goes downhill once Hitch leaves after five issues.

Don’t confuse “Age of Ultron” with Rage of Ultron (see what they did there?), an original graphic novel that came out earlier this year by Rick Remender. The first half isn’t bad and features sweet art by Jerome Opena and a classic Avengers lineup. But it all falls apart in the second half with a lot of talk and a ridiculous ending.

Female UltronMighty Avengers: The Ultron Initiative is probably the strangest Ultron story ever told. In it Ultron appears as a woman for no apparent reason other than cheesecake artist Frank Cho is doing the illustration. It’s a pretty silly story but did I mention Frank Cho did the art? Any comic where Cho does the art is at least worth looking at.

Lots of folks like Ultron Unlimited by Kurt Busiek and George Perez from their late ’90s run on “The Avengers.” I think it’s overrated but I’ll toss it on the pile since it turns up high on a lot of “Best of Ultron” lists. My favorite Ultron stories were from the late ’70s run by Jim Shooter and George Perez. One story can be found in the Bride of Ultron collection (#162) but it doesn’t feature the follow-up story from #171. You can find that issue as part of The Korvac Saga, which is also a good story but it has nothing to do with Ultron.

9780785191650I guess I should recommend some good Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch stories but I can’t think of any. That sounds harsh, I know, but it’s true. There’s a new book out that collects several Scarlet Witch stories but they’re all plagued by bad art and the kind of wordy, incomprehensible gobblety-gook that always goes with stories about magic.

If you’d like some good Silver Age Vision and Ultron stories, check out Avengers Epic Collection: Behold…The Vision. It features the first appearances of Ultie and Vish and several stories that make up the high water mark of the Roy Thomas run.

 

At The Movies: Avengers: Age of Ultron

When it comes to The Avengers, I cannot be an unbiased reviewer.

When it comes to The Avengers, I am 10 years old and walking into Wood’s Supermarket and pulling the team’s 100th anniversary issue off the spinner rack and saying goodbye to boring old DC Comics.

I can’t go back in time and be 10 years old again. But thanks to Joss Whedon, Marvel Studios and all the talent involved in “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” at least i can feel 10 years old again. And that will do quite nicely.

This over-stuffed, over-ambitious, superhero free-for-all fixes the first film’s major flaw (more Hawkeye) but gets bogged down in too many characters and too wonky of a plot. Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? If so, then “AoU” would be a good example.

The movie starts out with — what else? — an epic action scene as our heroes start tearing up a Hydra base in Eastern Europe to recover Loki’s scepter. Now you may be asking yourself, why did Thor leave his brother’s powerful scepter behind with S.H.I.E.L.D. at the end of the first movie? It doesn’t make any sense once you think about it. Apparently he left it there to set up this film.

avengers-age-of-ultron-alternateThe Avengers — Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) — get what they’re after and go back home to party.

Left behind in Sokovia are the super-powered twins Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who were being experimented on at the Hydra base. They want nothing to do with the Avengers as they blame Tony Stark, or rather the weapons his company made, for the troubles in their homeland.

Thor agrees to let Tony run some experiments on Loki’s scepter (again — why would you do that, Thor?). Tony discovers some kind of alien artificial intelligence inside the gem and decides to use it for a planetary defense system he’s designed named Ultron. Ultron (James Spader) becomes self-aware and decides the best way to protect the earth is to eliminate the human infestation.

But before enacting his kill-all-humans plan, Ultron decides to build a newer, better body. The Avengers decide that’s a bad idea and steal the body, whereupon Tony downloads into that new body the brain patterns of his computer buddy Jarvis. Behold…The Vision (Paul Bettany).

avengers-age-of-ultron-collageIt all ends with — you guessed it — one more cataclysmic action scene as The Avengers rush back to Sokovia to stop Ultron and his robot army from causing an extinction-level event.

And that’s just the bare bones. There’s so much going on here and I haven’t even touched on all the personal drama. Trust me, there’s plenty of that too. Some of it may even surprise you.

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” simply has too much good going for it. Too many characters, too much action. Even at 2.5 hours, there’s not enough time to develop a dozen major characters and come up with a coherent story.

The originals are given plenty of room — even Hawkeye — this time it’s the newbies who suffer. James Spader is wonderfully creepy as Ultron but sadly he’s not given much to do. He’s simply not fleshed out, so to speak. But that’s also true for Wanda, Pietro and the Vision.

The first film had a tighter focus. This one goes off on odd tangents — like Thor in the puddle of mystery. Was that scene just there so Hemsworth could take his shirt off? I know many people won’t mind, but still, it seems like there should be a reason.

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” is another comic book success story for Marvel Studios. “Ant-Man” has some big shoes to fill come July.