What Stan Lee Meant To A DC Fanboy.

The pop culture world has been mourning the loss of Stan Lee this last week after he passed away on Monday at the age of 95. The internet is still flooded with social media posts paying their digital respects to the man who will be remembered for co-creating some of the most iconic comic book characters ever to exist. Stan’s influence had an immeasurable impact on my life as well, and I wanted to write about that briefly.

Avengers #1. Art by Jack Kirby.

I definitely read plenty of comics as a kid, but some of my earliest memories interacting with the Marvel Universe are actually from watching two of the most legendary cartoons of the 90’s: Spider-Man and X-Men. Cartoons like these played a key role in getting me hooked into comics and cultivating a love of art in general. I remember buying several books over the years from school book fairs that detailed how to draw the Marvel characters, and for a long time I even considered becoming a cartoonist or comic book artist.

The X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons of the 90s were the best.

If you were unfortunate to have missed these animated gems growing up, the animation in both were top quality while also doing a fantastic job of capturing the essence of the comics. Both shows had memorable opening themes as well, with music that screamed 90s. Once either of these two shows started, nothing else mattered until the episode was over.

Do yourself a favor and check out the opening titles to both Spider-Man and X-Men.

Honestly, whenever forced to choose I’ve always leaned more to the DC Universe. My parents named me after Superman actor Christopher Reeve (a tale for another day), which naturally made me gravitate to that side of the superhero aisle. That being said, I wholeheartedly believe there is enough geek love to go around for both companies’ cast of characters.

Marvel and DC have always offered 2 sides of the same coin for me, allowing me to jump back and forth depending on what kind of story I’m in the mood for. And who was the person responsible for differentiating Marvel from the rest of the superheroes at the time? In large part it was Stan Lee of course.

The DC Universe roster has been around longer and excels at telling entertaining stories that provide an escape from reality. These heroes live more in the realm of fantasy and mythology as the universe is crowded with super powered beings from other planets who always do the right thing to protect their imaginary cities from the forces of evil. They are truly larger than life.

Stan saw this even back in the 60’s and decided to tell his stories from a different angle. He created characters along side legendary artists Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and others who at their core were every day humans, based in real cities, dealing not just with bad guys wanting to wreck everything but their own real life dilemas as well.

This famous panel drawn by Steve Ditko was paid homage in Spiderman: Homecoming.

This artwork from iconic artist Steve Ditko was paid homage in Spiderman: Homecoming.

The Marvel characters don’t just provide entertaining escapism, they also resonate with readers. They’re not just tireless do-gooders who always do the right thing. They make mistakes. They fail. They give us hope that it’s possible to do great things while also struggling with every day life. I’m not saying these qualities are completely absent from the DC Universe; only that Stan set up Marvel to consistently do a far better job.

The X-men constantly face prejudice and racism from a world that doesn’t understand their mutant abilities. Tony Stark is his own worst enemy with a monster size ego and inner demons of alcoholism. Mathew Murdock, a nobody from Hell’s Kitchen, turned his crippling disability into one of his greatest strengths as a hero. Peter Parker is constantly forced to juggle the pressures of his personal life with crime fighting. The list could go on for pages.

The immense success of the Marvel movies over the past decade is also proof of how much these characters resonate with the world. I was 23 years old when Iron-Man released and now at 33, married, and a baby on the way the franchise is 20 movies in and still going strong. I, like so many others have been to every single opening weekend, and have collected each film as it came out on DVD/Blu ray. I absolutely love and am fascinated with how these movies all contect together and reference each other as every iteration builds the universe just a little deeper, just like issues of comic books.

President of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige deserves a large amount of credit for crafting films that appeal to the masses, but the heart of the these characters wouldnt exist without Stan. Honestly, seeing Stan’s cameo in every single film is also part of the experience that will sadly end after his last cameo in the upcoming Avengers 4.

Despite all of this, I don’t find myself overly saddened thinking about Stan’s passing. He had a long and fulfilling life, and is now at rest after accomplishing more with his life than most ever think is possible. He has inspired countless artists and creators to leave their mark on the world and will continue to do so as future generations experience his universe for the first time.

My wife and I meeting Stan at Awesome Con.

I’m beyond grateful to have met Stan a year or so ago at Awesome Con in DC, but as incredible an experience as it was, I was surprised at how little he resembled the comic book rockstar from my childhood. He kept reminding me of someone’s grandfather that should probably just be at home, resting. I think it was in that moment that I knew and accepted this marvelous man (see what I did there) wouldnt be with us much longer.

However, this is not how he will be remembered. He will be remembered for all the things previously mentioned in this post; as the man that revolutionized not just comics but art, TV, and film as well. He will be remembered for his bombastic story telling, a knack for alliteration, and his trademark sunglasses and mustache.

Never fear true believers. Though he is no longer among us, his legacy on pop culture will continue to be enjoyed for generations to come.

Excelsior.

Our Geeked-Out Star Wars Baby Announcement!

It’s no secret that my wife and I love movies. Sure we have different taste in genre sometimes, but it’s a fun thing to share.

At our wedding reception last year, we decided to give it a movie theme:

our favors were movie candy:

Our seating cart had a different movie poster at each table with guests’ faces photoshopped into the poster:

and our photo booth had a movie theme:

It’s been a great year (Michelle didn’t make me say that I swear) and this week we announced excitedly that we are pregnant with our first baby.

When we first found out, we went back and forth on how exactly we should do the official announcement on social media. We kept coming back to keeping the movie theme from the wedding going, but we couldn’t agree on how exactly to do it.

That is until our first sonogram, where we found out the due date: May 4th. Star Wars day. Suddenly it all became clear, almost as if a light came down from geek heaven: A Star Wars baby announcement.

The first part consisted of creating our own unique version of the “crawl” featured at the beginning of every Star Wars movie. There’s a great little app called “Star Words” that is very simple to use: just type in whatever you want the text to say and it takes care of the rest.

We also decided (aka Michelle allowed me) to take our picture in Star Wars themed shirts as you see below. Thanks to our friends Katie and Christian for playing photographer for us!

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The final part was to include our sonogram in the announcement. Michelle got very good at photoshopping faces for our wedding seating chart and she quickly created this little master piece:

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While it’s not likely that the baby will actually be born on May 4th, it is still a pretty awesome due date and was a blast putting together the announcement for our first kid. Hopefully they’ll appreciate it one day. Either that or they’ll think it’s the most embarrassing thing ever. Most likely both.

Why AMC Announcing Their Own Subscription Plan is The Best News Ever.

Gargantuan news yesterday as AMC unveiled its new movie subscription service they’ll use to compete with their arch nemesis, MoviePass.

Andy-Dwyer

AMC has not been shy when it comes to stating how they feel about MoviePass; even threatening to bring a lawsuit against MoviePass to ban them from AMC theaters. “[MoviePass] is not in the best interest of moviegoers, movie theatres and movie studios.”

The two companies even got into an argument over how much of AMC’s ticket sales were attributed to MoviePass subscribers. However, with the unveiling of this new plan, I have a feeling the numbers are higher than AMC wanted to admit.

They even took shots at MoviePass in yesterday’s press release, calling out right at the top that their model featured repeat viewings of the same movie at the “sustainable” price of $19.95 per month.

When stacked up against it’s main rival, AMC’s plan actually sounds competitive:

Plan AMC MoviePass Sinemia
Cost? $20 per month $10 per month Tiered Plans
Where can you use? Only AMC Most theater chains Most theater chains
Movie cap? Up to 3 per week 1 per day unlimited Depends on plan: 3 per month is max
multiple movies per day? Yes No No
Premium movies (3D/IMAX)? Yes No – announced as upcoming Yes
Same movie more than once? Yes No Yes
Buy tickets online? Yes Minimal # of theaters that support it Yes
Buy tickets in advance? Yes No-same day only Yes
Use reward points Yes – only at AMC Yes – anywhere Yes
Family plan? No No – announced as upcoming Yes

Now, I don’t plan on switching plans any time soon, however, this is just about the best news movie fans could hope for. Why you ask?

Because this is evidence that what started as a seemingly temporary fad has hopefully changed the movie theater business forever. Even if MoviePass goes belly up, never to be heard from again, the subscription service model they started is here to stay in one form or another: as it should.

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With the ever increasing popularity of in-home services like Netflix, Hulu, etc, theaters have been all but helpless to stop the declining theater attendance. I firmly believe that the subscription model is the best solution and the future of movie going.

More and more people have accepted the Netflix monthly subscription model as the standard, while refusing to spend $100+ for a family to go to just one movie. Most theaters really only make a profit on concessions sales anyway. If you can get people in the door by making them feel like they are getting a huge deal on the tickets, they are more likely to drop money on food and drinks more often. I know this is true, because I have to literally stop myself from getting popcorn every time I see a movie with MoviePass (That’s a lie, Michelle is the one who stops me).

The other piece of this news that is good for movie goers, at least long term is the creation of competition. The more companies that offer subscription plans, the more they will all have to fight to be on top by offering the best value possible to the customer. MoviePass is already hurling insults at AMC’s new plan:

MoviePass

Of course, what actual affect this has on the movie industry remains to be seen. However, it is definitely good news for consumers who enjoy the movie going experience.

Movie Review: Tag

Director: Jeff Tomsic

Cast: Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Jeremy Renner, Hannibal Buress, Jon Hamm, Annabelle Wallis, Isla Fisher, Rashida Jones, Leslie Bibb

Runtime: 1hr 40min Rated R

Watch the trailer

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Every group of friends has their own traditions that they hold on to in order to stay in contact with each other. Some like meeting for dinner regularly, others maybe stay in touch through Skype or social media. One real group of friends from Spokane, Washington have been playing tag for one entire month out of the year for the past 30 years.

The movie, Tag is based on this incredible true story that was first published in the Wall Street Journal back in 2013. As a way to stay connected, the group made a pact to play this game from their childhood for an entire month every year. The normal rules of tag apply, however the length at which these 10 friends go to tag someone are pretty intense. They even have drafted their own rule book to keep things somewhat in check.

Image via the Wall Street Journal

For the movie adaptation, the group is condensed to only four friends, three of whom scheme to tag the 4th member of the group, Jerry (played by Jeremy Renner), who is about to retire from the game having never been tagged.

Just from an initial reading, it looks like the actors in the movie aren’t playing specific people in real life, more like caricatures from the group. For example, Jon Hamm plays Callahan, who is the CEO of a company. The real life counterpart is Brian Dennehy who, at least at the time the article was written, is the chief marketing officer for Nordstrom. That’s part of what makes this story so interesting; these are successful adults with wives and families who are playing this children’s game every year. Of course Jake Johnson plays the other extreme to round out the cast: a divorced, jobless, pothead who lives with his dad.

Tag is a fun, adult comedy overall that will have you laughing more times than not. It even manages to be touching at times. Many of the jokes are funny; some do feel a little forced and don’t quite hit their mark though.

This is definitely not a movie for kids as a large amount of the humor is derived from dick jokes and other forms of crude humor. If that’s not tour style of comedy, there may be large sections of this movie that you find hard to tolerate.

Most of what I found myself laughing the hardest at was the physical, slap-stick comedy of the movie. Tag at times feels like an R rated Tom and Jerry cartoon with a touch of Home Alone. Things get hilariously rough often, and you’ll need to suspend reality just a bit to enjoy the movie as they get up and brush off serious injuries. Each character would have certainly died in real life before reaching the end of the movie. Ironically, Renner actually broke both arms chair surfing during one of the scenes.

jeremyrenner-broken-arms

Speaking of Renner, his character, Jerry is one of the highlights of the movie, despite being in it the least amount of time. It’s obvious why he has never been tagged; he’s always one step ahead of the rest of the group, constantly waging psychological warfare on his friends.

He’s also a master strategist, and there are a couple hilarious scenes where you see him mentally think through a few of the many ambushes he finds himself in. It reminded me of the Robert Downey Jr Sherlock Holmes movies, where something very similar happens. Thankfully, the movie uses them sparingly, which succeeds to keep the joke from getting stale.

tag-jeremy-renner-jon-hamm

Isla Fisher is also notably funny as Anna, the wife of Ed Harris’s character, Hoagie. “Over competitive” is an understatement for her, and while women are not allowed to play (according to the friend’s official rule book), she is far more aggressive with the group’s tactics than some of the friends actually playing.

Most of the other actors were great as well. Unfortunately, Annabelle Wallis and Rashida Jones both felt like they were in the movie only because they had to be. I don’t think that was necessarily their fault; they just weren’t given much to do.

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The ending takes and unexpected shift in tone that feels a bit out of place for the rest of the movie. It leaves you asking if it was “real” or just another strategy to attempt to tag Renner’s character. I understand why it’s there: to inject a little drama and bring home the idea that above all else, continuing to play this child’s game keeps this group of adults close. I just think there was probably a better way to get that message across without derailing the laughs quite so much.

Without spoiling too much, one of the best parts of the movie was actually seeing the video montage at the end with the real group of friends. You discover that much of what you thought was exaggerated or made up to make the movie funny was taken directly from the playbook of the real friends playing tag.

Final Verdict


Cinematic Quality: 6 out of 10

  • Pretty standard fare for what you would expect from the genre.
  • Most of the stunts were well executed.
  • Many of the injuries inflicted, while funny, were a little too brutal to be believable.

Fun Factor: 8 out of 10

  • Watching these adult friends play this extreme game of tag is hilarious and at times touching.
  • Some of the dick jokes did feel a little forced.
  • Shift in tone at the end of the movie felt out of place and stops some of the laughs.

Worth the price of admission: 4 out of 10

  • This is a great movie to see with Movie Pass or on a discount night. If not, you won’t miss anything waiting until it’s out on DVD.

Re-watch Value: 6 out of 10

  • Moderate rewatch-ability.
  • Worth getting on DVD to watch when you’re in the mood for slap-stick laughs.

Overall Score – 6 BFF’s out of 10

Trailer Round Up: The Grinch, Mary Poppins Returns, and Christopher Robin

A few new trailers have come out over the last couple weeks and you can check them out below.

The Grinch

Yes, it’s another remake of this Dr Seuss classic, this time with Benedict Cumberbatch voicing the vile green meanie. I feel like this story has been retold more than enough, but I guess there’s always a new generation of kids to cash in on. Cumberbatch is a good choice for the role, though.

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The Grinch tells the story of a cynical grump who goes on a mission to steal Christmas, only to have his heart changed by a young girl’s generous holiday spirit. Funny, heartwarming and visually stunning, it’s a universal story about the spirit of Christmas and the indomitable power of optimism.

Mary Poppins Returns

The sequel to another classic movie…that no one really asked for. That may not be a bad thing as the trailer looks promising. Emily Blunt looks great as Poppins but its going to be difficult to fill Julie Andrews shoes for sure.

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In Depression-era London, a now-grown Jane and Michael Banks, along with Michael’s three children, are visited by the enigmatic Mary Poppins following a personal loss. Through her unique magical skills, and with the aid of her friend Jack, she helps the family rediscover the joy and wonder missing in their lives.

Christopher Robin

Ewan McGregor plays as an adult Christopher Robin who is visited by his childhood friend, Winnie the Pooh. Seems like an interesting concept that should make for a heartwarming, Disney tale. I can’t help but think of this as a Disney version of Ted. Don’t lie, you did too.

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A working-class family man, Christopher Robin, encounters his childhood friend Winnie-the-Pooh, who helps him to rediscover the joys of life.

What is a “Good” Movie? – My Quest to Find The Best Review Rating System

“What makes a movie good?”

If you ask 10 people that question you may get 10 different answers. Why is that? I think many times it has less to do with the movie than it does with the person viewing it.

We come from all walks of life, with different experiences, and have various tastes and interests. This is true of not just movie goers, but those who create the movies we love (or hate) as well. All of those things come into play with the movie experience.

While there are universally accepted rules, cinema in and of itself is an art form. Similar to a painting or a piece of music; movies are subjective, meaning different things to different people. It’s part of the reason I love movies so much. Two people can sit beside each other watching a movie and have completely different take-aways.

This subjectivity makes for great discussion, but it also makes it difficult to decide whether a movie is worth your time. Honestly, I’ve struggled with this in my movie reviews so far. At first, I did not want to give any type of numeric score, and now I’ve switched it up and decided some type of ranking system is inevitably necessary.

The problem is that giving one numeric score doesn’t comprehensively say everything you need to know about a particular movie. Sometimes, a movie may be horribly made, however it’s still enjoyable to watch. A recent example for me is xXx: The Return of Xander Cage. This movie, on a technical level, is hilariously terrible. However, it is so over the top and absurd that I had a blast watching it. I can’t bring myself just to give it a 3 out of 10 and move on. However, I also don’t think it deserves a high score just because it was fun. There needs to be more of a breakdown.

xXx Movie Vin Diesel & Deepika Padukone Stills
Vin Diesel and Deepika Padukone have a weird way of flirting in xXx: Return of Xander Cage.

So here is what I’ve come up with for my movie reviews going forward…at least until I change my mind again!

Feel free to give me your input: what are the deciding factors for you as to whether a movie is “good” or not??


Cinematic Quality – score range: 1-10

Is this a well made movie from a technical standpoint? story, acting, cinematography, music, visuals, etc.

Fun Factor – score range: 1-10

Despite whatever the quality of the movie is, how much fun will you have watching?

Worth the price of admission? – score range: 1-10

Plain and simple; is it worth it to pay good money to see in the theater, wait until it hits second run theaters or just Rebox it?

Re-watch Value– score range: 1-10

Some movies can be watched more than once, while others you wish you could get that time back.

Overall Score – The average of all of the above categories

Red Sparrow Review

Directed by: Francis Lawrence

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeremy Irons

Rated R / Runtime: 2hrs and 20mins

Watch the trailer


Many people have been calling Red Sparrow essentially the more adult version of the Marvel comic character Black Widow. However, while there are some similarities, this movie is most definitely its own thing.

Jennifer Lawrence plays a talented Russian ballerina named Dominika Egorova who takes care of her sick mother. However, Dominika’s career is quickly cut short by an injury, and is desperate to find an alternative means to continue to afford her mother’s care.

Dominika’s uncle Ivan, a high-ranking official in Russian Intelligence (Matthias Schoenaerts) approaches her with what has to be the most bizarre offer of assistance from a family member ever. If she will agree to seduce an enemy of the state and switch his phone out for a government provided duplicate, Ivan promises to ensure the medical care for her mom will continue.

She reluctantly agrees, however the State’s real plans are revealed when during the encounter the man is brutally murdered while forcing himself onto Dominika. To eliminate any witnesses, she is soon given a choice by her uncle: death or agree to become a Sparrow. Great family.

Sparrows are government spies that agree, or more often forced, to commit their entire bodies to the State. Their main assignments are usually not to assassinate targets, but rather seduce and sleep with them in order to extract information.

They are trained in multiple areas of espionage including psychological manipulation, infiltration, and weapons training. Her first assignment is an America CIA agent (Joel Edgerton) who knows the identity of a mole in the Russian government.

First and foremost, this movie has a very hard R rating. Not only are there numerous scenes of graphic nudity, but there are some brutally violent scenes; both physically and emotionally. Many critics are even condemning this movie for the light in which Lawrence’s character and others are portrayed.

That being said, while many parts of the movie are graphic and even shocking, it feels like an accurate depiction of what the life of a “Sparrow” would be like. Movies give us the incredible ability to see and examine life from different points of view, even if those viewpoints are sometimes disturbing. The film definitely fails to have any message or deeper meaning, but it doesn’t glorify the lifestyle either. It merely puts it on display and viewers are able to think what they want.

In a bizarre way it was humourous that despite all the brutality of the film, the characters seem able to survive the most extreme of beatings. More than once Lawrence beat the shit out of someone and I was convinced, based on what I have seen in any other movie ever, ” yup, they’re dead.” Only in the next scene to discover; nope, they’re fine, only injured.

The story itself is a very slow burn and only has a few mins of action. Most of the 144 mins are focused on Lawrence interacting with other characters and us trying to figure out which side she’s really on. Honestly, the movie is about 30 mins too long and needs to be cut down. After the first hour and a half, you really start to feel how long many scenes seem to drag on.

There is a satisfying ending that gives a nice “ah-ha” moment. However, especially with the longer runtime, once you know the ending, there’s not enough depth to the story to warrant more than one viewing.

Whether or not you enjoy this movie, Jennifer Lawrence is hands down the best thing about it. Her Russian accent is on point, and she gives an incredibly complex performance which draws you into the character’s story.

This was a bold choice for her, and though it may not be the greatest movie, it is one of her best performances so far. As a side note, she’s worked with director Francis Lawrence (no relation) before; last time on the Hunger Games trilogy.

Everyone else gives the performances they need to for the movie, however nothing you’ll remember a day or two after watching the film.

Red Sparrow is a visceral adult spy thriller that is worth watching for J.Law’s stellar performance. However the shallow story combined with its long runtime and slow pacing make for a “one and done” viewing scenario.

See it in the theater if you’re a Jennifer Lawerence fan, otherwise I would wait for Redbox or Netflix.


Final score for Red Sparrow:

6 Soviet sex spies out of 10