Thursday, May 14, 2015

Trailer for "Legends of Tomorrow" -- New DC Comics based TV series

Vintage movie marquees

Pop stuff: Avengers - Age of Ultron, While We're Young

What I'm watching, hearing, reading, etc.

Avengers: Age of Ultron hits the ground, literally, running. Our heroes, who we now know so well from the first Avengers movie and their various solo films, are on the move through a European forest, closing in on castleful of Hydra hold-outs. The action, and the funny quips, fly furiously.

Those previous films have done their job. Millions of people are now Marvelmaniacs, even if they've never cracked open a comic book. They no longer need to be told that Captain America was given a serum that made him a super soldier, or that the Hulk was hit by gamma rays, or that Thor is a Norse God. We can skip the background and leap straight into the adventure.

For an old comic book reader, the experience of a film like this is similar to picking up one of those great super-sized summer annuals of the 1970s. You'd grab it off the spinner rack, bike home and sit under a tree and be entertained for a good hour or so.

There's no deep thinking here. It's a summer popcorn movie of the best sort. Just lots of action and laughs and the feeling that you're a welcome member of a fun club. Just as the Marvel Comics of the 1960s and 70s made you feel part of something special, so does this film. You get credit for having kept up with and seen all the other films, and maybe even the S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter TV series. There are cameos by characters from the various solo films (along with you-know-who) and references to Wakanda, the infinity stones and even the Invaders. The Marvel Universe on screen has become a real place.

It's all fun stuff, and the only bad thing about it is that it might be too fun. For all the great aspects of the movie the movie--the sharp quips and dialogue, a funny set piece where everyone tries to pick up Thor's hammer--we're never really placed in suspense. And the plot, which concerns Tony Stark creating a mechanism aimed at protecting Earth from pretty much any threat, is too similar, but not as compelling as, the last Captain America film, which was a commentary on the security state.

With nearly 20 films on its upcoming docket, Marvel will need to work harder to keep all the plots and characters from blurring into a big, colorful mush. It's the same deal as in comics: Heroes always need a challenge, a threat. And it's tough to keep coming up with something new, that seems perilous and is emotionally resonant, and which makes your characters grow and change. If the films start becoming too similar, too routine, that fun feeling is going to fade.

As a sidetrack, I know there's a lot of debate currently regarding Black Widow, sexism and Marvel's failure to slot a female-led movie in its lineup. I have a daughter who's interested in superheroes and comics, too, and am frustrated that there's--still--such a lack of strong females heroes on screen and in comics.

So far as "Age of Ultron," though, I didn't come away feeling that Black Widow had been treated poorly, or was diminishing or offensive to women. As played by Scarlett Johansson, she is strong and smart. In the film, there's more going on for her storywise than say, Thor or Captain America, who mainly stand around and hit stuff. We get a glimpse into her back story and emotions. The same is true in this film for the other non-powered member of the team, Hawkeye.

It's true that Black Widow is captured at one point, but she's never a damsel in distress. She doesn't panic and isn't shown as weak. The sequence is unnecessary and too predictable, but I don't think it was intended to a send a message that women are in need of "rescue" from men. But I'm not a woman, and I can see how women viewers must be pretty damned sick of this sort of thing.

On the more positive side, I'm encouraged that the film introduced a second female Avenger, and that "Agent Carter" will be back for a second season. We'll also see Wonder Woman on screen soon, first with Batman and Superman, but eventually in her own film. Plus there's a Supergirl TV series on the way. DC and Marvel have also both announced initiatives to publish more comics and other books intended for female readers. All this is much too slow in coming, but a sign of progress.

While We're Young might've been a pretty funny, broad comedy about the onset of middle age, but it's smarter and more clever than that.

Yes, the story centers on Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts), a couple in their late 40s who befriend a couple of young hipsters, Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), who are about half their age. Predictably, Josh and Cornelia try to skew younger. Josh buys a hipster hat and starts riding a vintage bike. Cornelia takes up hip-hop dance. 

But the film takes aim at the younger couple, too. They have a chicken in their apartment, indiscriminate musical taste (along as it's on battered vinyl, it's cool), and they are always busy looking at their phones when the restaurant bill arrives, allowing the older couple to pay the tab.

More than a comedy about age, the film is a study in authenticity. Both Josh and Jamie are documentary filmmakers and we're provided a debate about what's real and what's artifice, both in terms of creating a film, but also in our daily lives.

Why is some behavior "young" while other behavior is "old"? What's age appropriate? Do we adopt behaviors at particular ages because it's natural, or because we're trying to "be" something? How can we be real?

Josh and Cornelia are friends with another couple, who have become parents in middle age. They've adopted their own new worldview as a result. Josh's father-in-law, played by Charles Grodin, is a documentarian of an older generation, and his views of what is acceptable in creating documentary film--staging or helping create events vs. merely observing--has grown more relaxed.

The result is a film that, certainly, will make you laugh. But it may make you think even more.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Coming up: The Immortal Doctor Fate

Out Dec. 15, 2015.
Originally introduced in 1940, Doctor Fate was reinvented and modernized in these 1970s tales written by Martin Pasko. In these stories, the golden-helmet wearing Doctor Fate, who draws his powers from the ancient spirit known as Nabu, faced numerous mystical threats to our world. But what happens when the spirit chooses a 10-year-old boy to become the new Doctor Fate?

Collects 1ST ISSUE SPECIAL #9, stories from THE FLASH #306-313, THE IMMORTAL DOCTOR FATE #1-3, DR. FATE #1-4 and DC CHALLENGE #11.

Original comic book art: Jack Kirby and Vince Colletta from Forever People #2

Via Heritage Auctions.

New comics May 13, 2015: Robin; Rip Kirby; Star Slammers; Hulk

Click the links to order discounted items from Amazon.

Robin The Boy Wonder: A Celebration of 75 Years

Monday, May 11, 2015

Coming up: Absolute Green Lantern/Green Arrow

Out Dec. 15, 2015.
This stunning Absolute Edition of Green Lantern/Green Arrow collect the early 1970s, featuring classic team-ups written by Dennis O'Neil with art by Neal Adams!

In these stories, Green Lantern Hal Jordan continued his usual cosmic-spanning adventures, as he used his amazing Power Ring to police Sector 2814 against universe-threatening menaces. Meanwhile, on Earth, Oliver Queen, the archer known as Green Arrow, was confronting menaces of a different kind: racism, poverty, drugs, and other social ills!

This Absolute Edition will include additional script and character development pages as well as character sketches.

Coming up: Here Today - Songs of Brian Wilson

Out June 30, 2015.
It's hard to believe 12 years have passed since Pet Projects: The Brian Wilson Productions, one of Ace's first releases in their much-admired Producers series.
Wilson now joins such greats as Randy Newman, Laura Nyro, Goffin & King, Dan Penn, Bacharach & David, Jackie DeShannon and Serge Gainsbourg in their equally high profile Songwriters series.
The collection opens with 'Do You Have Any Regrets?' by Darian Sahanaja of the Wondermints, a rare composition from Wilson's unissued Sweet Insanity album of the early 90s.
While Wilson's version was a rather frantic latin-styled piece, Sahanaja's recording is an homage to the 1965-era Beach Boys.
Along with collectable tracks by Johnny Wells, Basil Swift, the Castells, Joey & the Continentals, Keith Green and Peggy March, Sahanaja's luxuriant cover makes its legit CD debut here.
Other highlights include heavenly versions of songs from the Beach Boys' masterpiece Pet Sounds by Kirsty MacColl, Carmen McRae, Nick DeCaro, Betty Everett, Bobby Vee and Louis Philippe.
Those who own a copy of Kirsty MacColl's harmony-drenched 'You Still Believe In Me' single might have noticed a message etched into the run-off groove: God Bless Brian, an emotion seconded by all lovers of great music. Compilation and notes by Kingsley Abbott, Mick Patrick and Harvey Williams.
 Track listing:

1. Do You Have Any Regrets? - Darian
2. Here Today - Bobby Vee
3. Guess I'm Dumb - Johnny Wells
4. Don't Worry Baby - The Tokens
5. Farmer's Daughter - Basil Swift & The Seagrams
6. Help Me Rhonda - Bruce & Terry
7. I Do - The Castells
8. The New Girl In School - Jan & Dean
9. Time To Get Alone - Redwood
10. Don't Hurt My Little Sister - The Surfaris
11. My Buddy Seat - The Hondells
12. Move Out, Little Mustang - Rally-Packs
13. She Rides With Me - Joey & The Continentals
14. The Girl From New York City - Tony Rivers & The Castaways
15. Surf City - The Tymes
16. My First Love - The Super Stocks
17. Things Are Changing - Jay & The Americans
18. Girl Don't Tell Me - Keith Green
19. Aren't You Glad - Peggy March
20. God Only Knows - Betty Everett
21. Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder) - Carmen Mcrae
22. Good Vibrations - Hugo Montenegro, His Orchestra & Chorus
23. Caroline, No - Nick Decaro
24. I Just Wasn't Made For These Times - Louis Philippe With Dean Brodrick
25. You Still Believe In Me - Kirsty MacColl

Vintage Jack Kirby Boy Commandos art

Music new releases May 12, 2015: Avengers Age of Ultron soundtrack; Orphan Black soundtrack; Graham Parker; Thelonious Monk; Marvin Gaye vinyl, more

Click the links to order discounted CDs, vinyl or downloads from Amazon.

Avengers: Age Of Ultron