A List of Podcast Recommendations For Your Summer Travels


With all of the traveling I’ve been doing and will continue to do over the next couple of weeks, listening to podcasts is the easiest way to pass the time on the road or in the air. Over the last year or so, I’ve narrowed down my podcast listening to the following shows. Consider this my official endorsement and I encourage you to check them out.

  • 1951 Down Place: Once a month, Derek, Casey and Scott take a look at one of the many Hammer classics (and sometimes not-so-classic). Slick production values and a lively conversation make this a monthly must. Typically 60-90 minutes.
  • B Movie Cast: I’ve been a fan of this show since day one. Vince Rotolo, his wife Mary, Nic Brown and a rotating cast of supporting characters (myself included from time to time), discuss the movies we all grew up watching. He also loves to pick a movie we’ve never heard of, which can be a good thing or a bad thing. A weekly highlight for me. Typically 2 ½ hours.
  • Doctor Who Tin Dog Podcast: I love Doctor Who but hate the shows that get overly critical. I’ve eliminated several in recent years and this one is the last man standing. It’s short and sweet with a good balance of fandom and honest review. Typically 10-15 minutes.
  • Dread Media: Desmond Reddick, Devil Dinosaur Jr. and all the rest provide a fun weekly show that typically runs about 75 minutes. A lot of horror mixed in with comic book highlights and occasional genre flicks make for a personal favorite. 300 episodes and going strong.
  • Horror Etc.:  Another show that’s hit the 300 mark. Admittedly, there have been some bumps in the format with Anthony D.P. Mann’s burgeoning film career leaving him absent more often than there as of late. However, Kingstown Ted and Doug are keeping things on track. I don’t always agree with these guys but it’s still an enjoyable conversation. Been there since the beginning. Shows vary from 90 minutes to 2 hours.
  • Martian Drive-In Podcast/Paleo Cinema: Terry Frost offers up two unique podcasts about film. He often veers away from the mainstream, which is why I love these shows. A man, a mike and his random thoughts on film and music make these a refreshing break from the norm. Typically an hour.
  • Monster Kid Radio: Derek Koch aka Brother D put a bullet in the head of Mail Order Zombie but he’s not taking a rest. He’s going back to his roots for this new show. Based on Derek’s track record with MOZ, this one is a must. And you just might hear me on the show in the near future. Just started but is expected to be an hour on average.
  • Kaijucast (all about Godzilla and friends) and Naschycast (all about Paul Naschy) are two honorable mentions. I don’t have the time to listen to these shows every week but from what I’ve heard, I definitely enjoy them.

A Trifecta of Horrific Birthdays


It’s no coincidence that three of the all-time legendary horror greats celebrated their birthdays within two days of each other. Peter Cushing would have turned 100 this May 26 while Vincent Price would have been 102 on May 27. Sir Christopher Lee is still among us and celebrating his 91st on May 27. So, in celebration of these true masters of horror, let’s take a look at three of their lesser-known flicks.

The Flesh and the Fiends (1960)
Cushing Flesh and the Fiends 1Peter Cushing was just beginning to earn a reputation amongst horror fans by 1960. This was due to his relationship with Hammer Films and roles as Van Helsing and Dr. Frankenstein. In this movie, he plays Dr. Robert Knox, a surgeon desperate to study on fresh corpses. Not quite a mad scientist but certainly working outside of the normal and accepted ways to practice medicine. Throwing the rules out the window, he stumbles upon the services of William Hare (Donald Pleasance, Halloween) and William Burke (George Rose). Yes, here we have a telling of the classic Burke and Hare, real-life killers who, after finding a lack of fresh corpses, did the next best thing and started killing people for the good doctor. Pleasance is about as young as you’re going to see him in a horror movie, yet the creepy factor is already turned up to 11. There’s a romance sub-plot between a medical student and a dance hall girl that slows things down a little but ultimately plays a big part in the climax. This definitely worth checking out. It is out-of-print on DVD but shop around and you should be able to find it for a reasonable price. It contains both the UK version and the continental European version, which has a little more violence and nudity. It also contains the opening credits for the US version, where it was known as Mania.

War-Gods of the Deep (1965)
War Gods of the DeepVincent Price starred in many adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s literary works. And most times the script strayed quite far from the source material. No surprise that this is the same case here. The story is set in 1903 on the Cornish coast. David Tomlinson (Mary Poppins) plays a comedic character named Harold and Tab Hunter, just beginning to see his star status begin to diminish, plays adventurous Ben. His love interest is Jill (Susan Hart, The Slime People), who is captured by mysterious gill-men (think cheap versions of the Creature from the Black Lagoon). They take her to an underwater city ruled by the Captain (Vincent Price, in all his screen-chewing glory). It seems the Captain and a group of smugglers have lived underwater in a lost city, never aging due to a mixture of gases. However, the city is on the verge of destruction due to an underwater volcano. Basically, think of this as 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea meets Roger Corman and Poe. Not a bad way to spend 90 minutes with some cool underwater sequences. It was originally released under the title City Under The Sea, the name of the Poe poem. Noteworthy that is was the last film for director Jacques Tourneur (Cat People, Night of the Demon). It too is out-of-print on DVD but can be found for about $15 used, either by itself or paired with At The Earth’s Core. However, you can check it out for free on YouTube (at least as of this writing).

The Face of Fu Manchu (1965)
Face of Fu ManchuChristopher Lee is known for many iconic horror films, including his seven Hammer Dracula appearances. One year before returning to the role as the famous count, he started another series of movies, bringing Sax Rohmer’s Chinese villain Fu Manchu to life. Fu Manchu is a criminal mastermind, known worldwide for his web of terror and is a master of torture. For every villain we must have a hero, ever in pursuit of bringing his foe to justice. Sir Denis Nayland Smith is that man, played wonderfully here by Nigel Green (Sword of Sherwood Forest). This movie begins with the “execution” of Fu Manchu but it becomes quickly apparent it was all a ruse as the death toll mounts. The plot centers around a killer spray made from rare berries in Tibet. Yes, having Lee play a Chinese role is not politically correct. But you must admit he does it as only Lee can. Aside from Boris Karloff’s The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), Lee is the best Fu Manchu, which led to four more appearances before the end of the 1960s. Readily available from the Warner Archive Collection, check out a preview clip to see if this is something for you. I really enjoyed it and will be bumping the next four movies up on my list to watch.

Hang On, It’s Going To Be A Bumpy Ride


That’s one of the most famous and misquoted Hollywood lines ever. Bette Davis actually said “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” in the 1950 classic All About Eve. Whatever the line, it’s quite apropos for my schedule over the next three weeks. Between helping some family move from one state to another, a trip to corporate headquarters for my day job, celebrating my daughter’s 21st birthday and a 23rd wedding anniversary with my lovely wife, I’ve decided to essentially put this blog on hold until I can catch my breath. Over the next three weeks, if time permits, I will write something to celebrate Peter Cushing’s 100th birthday. I might even sit down and finally watch Inchon as my Memorial Day war movie of choice this year. But, no guarantees.allstarsuperman

However, I will definitely be back big time on Monday, June 10, for the Krypton Kountdown, a six-part look at the Superman franchise. I’ll start with the 1978 classic and work my way through the latest, this year’s Man of Steel. Until then, check out the latest trailer and we’ll see you in three weeks, if not once or twice before then.

Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) Offers Up An Entertaining Journey Through Some Well-Known Territory


Last summer, I came to the realization that while I loved 2009s Star Trek, the ongoing Star Trek comic book title from IDW was becoming a bit of chore to read. I had come to accept the new Kirk and Spock as alternate universe versions of the characters I grew up with. However, I had grown tired of the writers simply rehashing old storylines. An occasional trip into alternate realities can be fun but I really wanted some creativity, new characters and new situations. That brings us to the 12th theatrical entry in this beloved franchise, Star Trek: Into Darkness.

Star Trek Into Darkness 5There won’t be spoilers here. In fact, I’m not going to go into too much detail of what the movie is about. It does deal with a terrorist-like attack on a secret Section 31 installation. Section 31 was a very interesting concept introduced in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine; a covert group within Starfleet that operates behind the scenes. I loved the fact they brought this into a theatrical movie. We soon discover that our main antagonist is a mysterious individual known as John Harrison. Benedict Cumberbatch is amazing in this role and joins the ranks of all-time classic Trek villains. A battle of wits ensues between Captain Kirk and Harrison resulting in some epic space battles between the USS Enterprise and a mammoth Dreadnought-class USS Vengeance. There are a few twists along the way that tie in with characters and events we’ve seen before. For the most part, these events generally play out differently enough that I thoroughly enjoyed the story. I also liked how old characters were revisioned (Alice Eve playing a younger and sexier Dr. Carol Marcus), which is something the comic book has tried but not been entirely successful at.

Okay, here are a couple of spoilers. We do get Leonard Nimoy back in a cameo as Spock Prime, reminding us that this is the Star Trek universe, just seen through different eyes. I loved the trip to the Klingon home world, setting up a plot for a very likely third movie. However, one scene towards the end of the movie really bothered me. It’s almost a word-for-word rehash of an iconic scene that ultimately comes off as cheesy and lazy. That aside, the ending ends up being a different twist and does work. If we could just eliminate that one scene. It wasn’t a jump-the-shark moment for me but it will be for some long-time Trekkies. It just made me groan as the whole scene seemed forced.Star Trek Into Darkness 4

I enjoy Chris Pine and what he brings to the cinematic table. His version of Captain James T. Kirk, while different than William Shatner’s, still works for me. I’m still not convinced that Karl Urban and DeForest Kelley aren’t related somehow as he really is Dr. McCoy, with a slight edge. John Cho and Anton Yelchin are back as Sulu and Chekov, getting more to do than George Takei and Walter Koenig usually got back in the day. I’ve also accepted that Zoe Saldana is bringing Uhura to the forefront in ways Nichelle Nichols only dreamed of. I’m glad to see her move beyond the “Hailing frequencies open Captain” script redundancies. However, Simon Pegg isn’t quite right as Scotty. The comedic lines are sometimes over the top. He’s funny and the original Scotty was too but it needs to be toned down a notch. It’s just a little off and leaves me missing the late James Doohan. And then we have Zachary Quinto. Visually and vocally, he is Spock and he really can channel Leonard Nimoy. Spock has always battled internally between his emotional human side and his logical Vulcan side. Due to the death of his mother and the destruction of his home planet, those struggles are playing out a little differently in this new universe. I’ve even accepted the Uhura relationship. I just sincerely hope that in the inevitable third movie, the writers tune Hollywood out and realize you can’t take away Spock’s ears and logical nature. It’s not who Spock is and doing so treads dangerously close into turning this new version of Star Trek into something I’m not entirely comfortable with. Alienate your audience and you’ll send the franchise back into cryogenic deep freeze.

Star Trek Into Darkness 3Visually, the movie is stunning. I’ve accepted the lense flares and the brighter bridge as they do look great on the big screen, even if they aren’t quite as comforting as the old series. The engine room…not so much. Michael Giachinno gives us another amazing score, which really is an integral part of a good Star Trek movie. The musical tie-ins with the last movie are comforting. He succeeded in 2009 and hits it out of the park again here. Really, the only stumbling blocks are a script that tends to veer off-course a time or two.

That said, I really did enjoy Star Trek: Into Darkness and I’ll be seeing it a second time with my 81-year old father. I grew up watching Star Trek with him. We’ve seen the first six movies together and four years ago saw the 2009 movie, which he really enjoyed. I’m very curious to see how my dad reacts. There is the hope that the five-year mission the Enterprise crew has finally embarked on brings strange new worlds. But there’s also a little fear that we’ll be visiting too familiar planets and altered versions of classic villains. I hope we move towards something new. Meanwhile, I know that if things get bumpy, I can find comfort with my old friends, the Shatner and Nimoy versions of Kirk and Spock, as they are always just a DVD away.

Star Trek (2009) Offers A Revised Universe Without Forgetting The Past


My earliest Star Trek memory dates back to 1970/1971. I have a vivid recollection of watching “Who Mourns For Adonais?” in our living room on our black and white TV on a weekend afternoon. I’ve been a Star Trek fan as long as I can remember. In those dark years of the 1970s, I collected the Mego figures (still have them), the Gold Key comics (still collecting), model kits (damn I wish I still had those), View master reels and just about anything else. I watched it on Saturday afternoons and geeked out when we got cable in 1978, discovering that channel 41 out of Kansas City offered it up five nights a week. I’ve been there opening weekend for every movie and I’ll be there on May 16 to see the newest entry, Star Trek: Into Darkness. However, before I look at the latest adventure of the Enterprise crew, let’s go back to 2009 and the bold revisioning that was Star Trek.

Star Trek 2009 pic 1Don’t get me started on how Rick Berman over-merchandised the Star Trek franchise into a coma (coffee, really?). Star Trek: Nemesis was a horrible way to send off our Next Generation crew into the sunset and the Star Trek: Enterprise finale remains the worst 45 minutes of Trek ever made. The franchise needed a rest and by 2008, the well-deserved slumber was ended by the bold vision of J.J. Abrams. No, we’re not going to take about his notorious lense flare issues. What we are going to look at it is how he successfully took some of the most popular science fiction characters of all time and brought them to life with new actors and actresses.

There’s no denying that William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy are Kirk and Spock. They always will be. Abrams knew that he couldn’t simply reboot the Star Trek universe without the Trekkies (I still prefer that name) going into a full-blown warp core breach. Upset them, and your film is a flop of mammoth proportions. No, he opted instead to essentially create an alternate universe where some things are the same and others are clearly different. Throw in Leonard Nimoy as the original Spock (for the first time since 1991) and you establish that connection so needed if we’re going to buy into his concept. Having Nimoy worked for most, myself included, and set the franchise back on track (take that Rick Berman, under whatever rock you currently reside).Star Trek 2009 pic 2

Chris Pine played James T. Kirk in his own way while channeling his inner Shatner at times. All the elements of the man are there: he never gives up, cheats death and romances any female, green or otherwise. Zachary Quinto also gave a great performance as Mr. Spock, if not a little different than what we were used to. His relationship with Nimoy is real and continues via commercials to this day. This Spock followed a path of embracing his emotional side a little more. Purists don’t like this and many had a coronary when Uhura (Zoe Saldana, giving life to that character in a way I’m sure Nichelle Nichols is proud of) entered the picture. However, it is what sold Nimoy to Abrams vision, itself a stamp of approval. Karl Urban nailed the role of Dr. McCoy. I’m still not convinced he isn’t somehow related to the late DeForest Kelley. Simon Pegg offered up a slightly more comedic Scotty, which I hope gets some more serious engineering screen time in his second film. Sulu (John Cho) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) don’t have too much to do but never stray far from what George Takei and Walter Koenig have given us over the years. Bruce Greenwood gives us a different take on Captain Christopher Pike and I appreciated what he offered. We even see a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth finally bring Kirk’s father George to life. Not to mention our resident bad guy, Romulan Nero (Eric Bana, Hulk). The battle sequences were classic Trek and the music of Michael Giacchino took us into a bold new direction that I thoroughly enjoyed.Star Trek 2009 pic 3

There are some flaws along the way. It does take a while to get used to the much brighter bridge. I’m still not sure what is going on with engineering. Taking characters I’ve loved for some 40 odd years and putting new actors in their place was a bit jarring at first. But Nimoy was there to help us understand that the old adventures did indeed take place. They haven’t been wiped clean. However, we get to see an altered universe where events are following on a different path (such as the explosion of Vulcan and the romance between Spock and Uhura). After all, some of our most favorite stories have always been the alternate universe adventures (“Mirror, Mirror” and the ongoing arc in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). Abrams didn’t take away the stories I’ve revisited time and again. He is offering us bold new tales. And if Star Trek: Into Darkness continues on with what Star Trek established in 2009, then I’m on board for the duration. Star Trek 2009 pic 4

Marvel Phase 2 Kicks Off With Iron Man 3 (2013)


The Avengers (2012) was a tremendous success and established that our Marvel superheroes are here to stay. With phase 1 complete, it is now time to start building to the second Avengers movie, scheduled to arrive in 2015. And as we did way back in 2008, we turn to Iron Man to gets things started. But does Iron Man 3 accomplish that? Warning, if you read on there are spoilers so hold off until you’ve seen the movie. Well, we’ve warned you.

Iron Man 3 pic 1Going into Iron Man 3 expecting it to top The Avengers is a huge mistake that I fear many comic book movie fans are making. Let’s be honest, this movie has only two superheroes (Iron Man and War Machine aka The Iron Patriot) and we’re not dealing with an intergalactic invasion. What we are given is a very interesting look at how a once-normal guy named Tony Stark is dealing with the fact that he traveled through a wormhole to the other side of the galaxy. The sights he saw have forever left him changed and he has to deal with that before he can truly move forward. That’s what Iron Man 3 is really about. A superhero’s journey back from the brink. While this may be an idea best suited for the comics, I think Robert Downey Jr. and director Shane Black pull it off.

Our movie begins with a 1999 flashback sequence that establishes the character of Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce, Memento and Prometheus) as a disabled scientist trying to get the attention of Tony Stark, who is really more concerned with the beautiful scientist Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall, The Prestige). Hansen seems interested in what Killian has to say but Tony dismisses him and leaves him waiting on a rooftop as the new year of 2000 rings in. Yes, this will come back to bite him later on.Iron Man 3 pic 2

Flash forward to now and we see a broken Tony Stark. He can’t sleep and his tinkering with new versions of the Iron Man suit has him up to Mark 42. His latest suit doesn’t quite work well, which goes with the fact that he himself isn’t firing on all cylinders. His relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is suffering and ever-present bodyguard Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) has moved on to work for Stark Industries. This Tony is having panic attacks and has him almost on the sidelines as a terrorist calling himself the Mandarin continues to become an ever-increasing threat. Rhodey (Don Cheadle) has rechristened himself as the Iron Patriot and appears to be the one the government has dealing with the threat. But things aren’t quite what they seem as these simple terrorists possess mutant-like powers. After Happy Hogan is severely injured while investigating a physically altered Aldrich Killian, Tony challenges the Mandarin and gives out his home address. Yes, not a good idea at all. Tony’s world comes crashing down even more as his home is destroyed and he is believed dead. This is a great sequence that brings Tony to his lowest point (and we get to see Pepper briefly become Iron Man, which I enjoyed).

This is the point where I admit the story waivered a little for me. We’re introduced to a little boy who really seemed unnecessary. He ultimately plays a role in helping Tony get his mojo back but I was just a little annoyed by him. I liked how they adapted the Extremis storyline. I also didn’t have a problem with the multiple Iron Men battle at the end. Now, the Mandarin storyline is going to upset the pure comic book fans. However, there’s no way they can do a 100% faithful adaptation in today’s world. But I do think they could have taken him in a different direction rather than turn him into a simple actor in a role. I like Ben Kingsley’s performance both as the Mandarin and as actor Trevor Slattery but I was a little let-down as they could have done more. The only aspects of the film I didn’t like was how quickly Pepper is cured of her Extremis powers and how Tony “fixes” the shrapnel near his heart. Yeah, a rushed wrap-up with an odd twist. I also felt that some of the comedy was too much. I enjoyed the more light-hearted approach but, at times, I wished they had taken things just a little more seriously.Iron Man 3 pic 3

Knowing that Iron Man 3 is more so about Tony Stark and that Iron Man isn’t nearly the superhero he was in the first two flicks or in The Avengers will help you enjoy this latest journey. It’s about a man dealing with the crazy events he experience and his road back. Iron Man 3 isn’t without its flaws but hardly the atrocity some would have you believe. It is my least favorite so far but not bad considering how much I liked the first two. It doesn’t really get things going for the next Avengers movie as much as a bridge between the two phases. We do get a post-credit sequence with Mark Ruffalo reprising his role as Dr. Banner. It’s funny and works to establish that our superheroes have stayed in touch after they saved the world. Definitely worth checking out but you must go in with your expectations in the right place.

Will It Ever Be As Big Again As The Avengers (2012)?


2012 saw three movies featuring Marvel characters. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance gave us a truly bad start to the year. The Amazing Spider-Man was good even though it gave us another origin story that was quite unnecessary. However, in between these two movies was one in which the bar has forever been raised. With Marvel’s The Avengers, we were presented with no less than seven superheroes and the universe was forever changed.

The Avengers pic 1In 2011, we were introduced to both Captain America and Thor, as well as given a brief look at Hawkeye. These movies continued to build on the stories started in the first two Iron Man films. In post-credit scenes, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) would reach out to Steve Rogers (Chris Evans, Fantastic Four), calling upon his patriotic values. We’d also see Fury contact Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) in Thor and show him an object we would later come to know as the Tesseract (better known as the Cosmic Cube to long-time comic book fans). The stage was now set but would it all work?

Our movie early on establishes that Nick Fury is going to be more involved as we see S.H.E.I.L.D.’s attempts at harnessing the power of the Tesseract. This results in opening a portal through which Loki comes through to begin work on an ultimate invasion. Loki (Tom Hiddleston), thought dead at the end of Thor, has been found by the Other, leader of the Chitauri (an altered version of the Skrull from the comics, sort of). Loki uses his scepter to enslave Dr. Selvig, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, The Bourne Legacy) and others. Fury reactivates the “Avengers initiative” and begins calling in the troops. First up, agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) visits Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), who resists at first until Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) convinces him. We see that the two are now romantically involved, carrying on an idea presented in Iron Man 2. Fury visits Captain America (in a scene lifted from Captain America: The First Avenger). Agent Coulson calls in Black Widow Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), who in turn is assigned to bring in Dr. Bruce Banner. Banner is now played by Mark Ruffalo after contract negotiations broke down with Edward Norton. While I liked Norton’s performance in The Incredible Hulk, Ruffalo really nails the duality of Banner and Hulk.

Our heroes are reluctant at first to join the bandwagon but after Loki appears and is too easily apprehended by Captain America and Iron Man, it seems they’re ready to hear what Fury is saying. This is where we finally see Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who arrives to bring Loki home to Asgard. What follows is our first inter-superhero battle between Iron Man, Thor and Captain America, which surely resulted in nirvana for many comic book fans. As our story continues to develop, we see a battle between Thor and the Hulk, Tony Stark bantering as he does best and, ultimately, the battle in New York that has forever set the bar for future superhero movies to a ridiculously high level.The Avengers pic 2

Some of our heroes fair very well in The Avengers while others not as much. Tony Stark/Iron Man gets quite the screen time and sets up ideas that are carried through into Iron Man 3. The Hulk has never been better and shows that he may work best in a group setting. Thor has several key scenes and Black Widow, while limited in what she can do, holds her on. Captain America always seems a step behind the others, which leads us to hope he turns it up a notch going forward. Nick Fury is a commanding presence but I think everyone wants to see him do a little more in future outings. Hawkeye really has very little to do but turns out having a bigger role than one might expect in the final battle. I think he’ll clearly only have a supporting role in this universe and I don’t see a standalone movie for him anytime soon. All-in-all, a nearly perfect blend of talent entertains in ways that only a few truly imagined could happen. Sure, there are a few nitpicks along the way but really, this movie is fun and entertaining. Leave your overly-critical eyes at home and escape into the movie. The battle sequence is amazing. If you find yourself wanting more, go back and watch any of the Marvel movies from the 90s. You’ll see that you’ve become quite spoiled and just need to enjoy the visual treat that The Avengers delivers.

The Avengers pic 3After a domestic US gross of more than $623 million, it remains the #3 box office hit of all-time. As well, it remains the biggest opening weekend flick. It’s success assured we would see much more of our superheroes. With Thor: The Dark World arriving in November 2013 and Captain America: The Winter Solider in 2014, all roads are beginning to lead to the inevitable second Avengers movie in 2015 (as if that credit scene with Thanos wasn’t already a  clue). But first, Robert Downey Jr. has to take center stage again in Iron Man 3.

Iron Man 2 (2010) Keeps Up The Momentum


At the end of 2008s Iron man, Nick Fury showed up in a post-credit sequence to talk to Tony Stark about the Avengers initiative. It established the ground work for an idea that quickly swept across all of comic fandom. Multiple movies introducing multiple superheroes, all leading up to one movie in which all of these heroes would unite. A bold concept and a bit risky at the time. And less than two months later, the next piece of the puzzle was released with The Incredible Hulk. An even bolder move considering how disappointing Ang Lee’s Hulk was some five years earlier. However, with Edward Norton assuming the role of Bruce Banner, and staying closer to the Marvel comic, it was a big success. And this time around, the surprise cameo came from Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. It worked to connect the two films and set up that we were headed towards something even bigger. In 2010, Iron Man 2 continued to build this universe by expanding some characters and introducing others.

Iron Man 2 pic 1Iron Man 2 picks up essentially right at the end of the first film with Tony revealing to the world that he is Iron Man. He’s become a superstar, living on the edge and bringing peace to the world. However, it is at a high cost as the palladium core in the arc reactor keeping him alive is also slowly killing him. He decides to be reckless as he’s given in to the thought that he’s going to die. His relationship with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) begins to suffer, especially as he promotes her to CEO of Stark Industries. Tony hires Natalie Rushman as his new assistant, who is in reality S.H.E.I.L.D. agent Natasha Romanoff (played by the incredibly lovely Scarlett Johansson).

Meanwhile, we’re introduced to Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke, The Expendables and The Wrestler), whose father co-created the arc reactor with Tony’s father Howard Stark but never received the credit. Ivan never really establishes a name for his villainous role but comic book fans with recognize comparisons to Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo. Ivan attacks Tony in Monaco, which eventually leads him to jail and a breakup thanks to future partner Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), an arch rival of Tony’s. As Tony slips farther and farther, Ivan’s planning revenge that will ultimately lead to the climactic battle of the movie that entertains just as much as the first movie.Iron Man 2 pic 3

We see some great interactions in this movie. Tony’s confrontation with Rhodey (now played by Don Cheadle), which results in the creation of War Machine, essentially a militarized version of Iron Man. Samuel L. Jackson is back as Nick Fury in an expanded role doing what he does best and Clark Gregg is once again S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson, who also appears in the post-credit sequence that sets up Thor (2011). Director Jon Favreau is still bodyguard Happy Hogan and Paul Bettany provides the wonderful voice of Jarvis, Tony’s computerized man Friday.Iron Man 2 pic 2

Iron Man 2 was a great sequel that fits in seamlessly with the first. Same cast (well, except for Don Cheadle) and same sets, the two movies, when played back-to-back, really work as one long epic. While lacking the originality of the first movie, it also lacked a little bit of the fun, which would be some of the more consistent complaints about the movie. Ironically, Iron Man 3 (2013) has had some complaints that there is too much humor. With the box office success and two more super-hero epics on the horizon (Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor), Robert Downey Jr. was ready to carry Tony Stark and Iron Man through some life changing events in The Avengers (2012).

Iron Man Changed The Playing Field in 2008


By 2008, the first wave of Marvel superhero movies had essentially come to an end. Spider-Man had been brought to life in two hugely successful flicks before dying an unfortunate box office death with the third. We also met Daredevil, Elektra, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men. But Iron Man (2008) was something different. This was a second-tier superhero but after this first movie, he became one of the all-time biggest at the box office.

Iron Man 2008There’s no denying that, even with the occasional disappointment, Marvel knows how to put together a big box office superhero movie. A combination of action, good characters, great writing and appeal to a universal audience. You have to make the comic book guys happy but you also need to appeal to those who have never picked up a copy of Iron Man. And a first movie in a franchise is always a little tricky because you have to either establish that your hero already exists or you need to do the origin story. In most cases, you have to adapt ideas because certain elements that worked in the comic book, both because it is a written form as well as the time period that it was originally created, may not work today. Iron Man is a good case-in-point. He was created during the cold war at a time that everyone hated the concept of war and those who benefited from it. Tony Stark was modeled after Howard Hughes, a multi-billionaire inventor and ladies’ man. His overall story has been modified over the years but he’s always remained essentially a less-than-ideal superhero model.

Robert Downey Jr. symbolized the less-than-perfect Hollywood leading man image. Years of drug abuse had led to jail time and made him a pariah in the film community. He was certainly an interesting choice to headline a summer blockbuster but it worked. Downey brought to life the character of Tony Stark in a way that will make it virtually impossible for anyone to replace him should he ever decide to move on or at such time Hollywood decides a reboot is needed. He starts off as a guy without a care in the world. He aggravates his serious military friend Lt. Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Terence Howard), uses his bodyguard Happy Hogan (played by director Jon Favreau) to check out potential ladies and keeps his assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) busy cleaning up his potential messes. All of these characters were perfectly brought to life by the actors and actresses playing them and helped to visualize the Iron Man universe.Iron Man 2008 3

The core story centers on the birth of Iron Man and his eventual battle with Obadiah Stone, the man in charge of Stark Industries when Tony is off doing what he does. Originally a much bigger character in the comics, Obadiah is played in excellence by Jeff Bridges (Tron and Tron: Legacy), who turned in a great performance. I only wish we could have seen more from him. The background of Vietnam was replaced by Afghanistan, which worked just as well. Yinsen, the Chinese physicist who kept Tony alive in the comics became an Afghan and, again, the change worked to be accepted in a modern film.

Robert Downey Jr. owns the role of Tony Stark. Iron Man is really just an extension of that character. It’s hard to believe that actors such as Nicolas Cage and Tom Cruise were once considered for the role during its’ very long development process that dates back into the early 90s. I can’t imagine what it would have looked like if it had been made back then. Think David Hasselhoff as Nick Fury and you may begin to get some bad ideas.

Iron Man Nick Fury Post CreditWhat ultimately brought a lot of buzz to this movie was the introduction of some characters and ideas that this was the start of something much bigger. We are introduced to the idea of S.H.I.E.L.D. and agent Coulsen (Clark Gregg) as well as Nick Fury. Samuel L. Jackson’s appearance after the credits has now forever established the fact that there could be a final scene. I know I’ve stayed until the end of many movies wondering what we might see and Marvel almost never disappoints.

Needless to say, I highly recommend this movie even after multiple viewings. It’s out there on DVD and Blu-ray but not Netflix (why am I not surprised). Netflix does offer up some Iron Man animated adventures and there are more out there to choose from, including an interesting anime version. Most of these are a direct result of this movie. If for some odd reason you still haven’t seen this, go watch it now. It is the start of a fun ride that five years later is still going strong. The question in 2010 was whether or not lightning would strike twice.

RIP: Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013)


For those of us hitting middle age, many of our childhood heroes are passing away every year. Horror legends such as Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Peter Cushing died either before I was born or before I truly began to appreciate their film contributions. With Christopher Lee turning 91 on May 27, each year and film released is a piece of cinematic gold that will soon be gone. Besides the great actors, a film requires writing; directing and special effects to help it become burned into our memory. And there was none bigger or better than special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen, who died today, May 7, at the age of 92.

Ray HarryhausenThere is no way I can do justice to a legend like Ray Harryhausen in one small article. There are those with more background that will surely do a better job than I can. What I’d like to do instead is simply take a quick look at some of his most remembered films and give a few thoughts on each.

Mighty Joe Young (1949): This classic is almost always clumped together with King Kong and Son of Kong. A truly fun film that I remember watching back in the 1970s before the days of cable television when I anxiously waited for classic horror and sci-fi flicks. Ray worked as an assistant animator on this one, considered his first major motion picture. In reality, he did most of the work.

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956): One Saturday afternoon in the late 70s, I was glued to the TV screen watching flying saucers attach Washington DC. One of the great features in this movie was the falling bricks from destroyed buildings. A Harryhausen touch that impressed me then just as much as it does now.Ymir

20 Million Miles to Earth (1957): While the name was never referenced on screen, everyone knows this one for the creature Ymir. Ray had wanted to shoot this one in color but budgetary constraints made that impossible. However, with the advent of modern technology, Ray worked with Legend Pictures and endorsed a colorized version in 2007. While I am a purist, it truly does look amazing.

ArgonautsJason and the Argonauts (1963): When I was in 5th grade, a friend gave me the Dell comic book adaptation as a gift. For the longest time, it was the oldest comic in my collection. Ironically, I had never seen the movie until at some point in the 80s. Does it get any better than the fighting skeletons? A stop-motion masterpiece!

Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977): The third and final Sinbad film from Ray. While entertaining, it isn’t necessarily the best. However, it was my first Harryhausen flick in the theaters and, therefore, was amazing. I remember watching this one with my Dad on a Saturday afternoon at the Fox Theater in Newton, KS. In fact, it’s waiting on my DVR right now after the recent airing on the Sony Channel last month.

Clash of the Titans (1981): In many ways, this is the crème-de-la-crème. The Kraken and the Medusa are two iconic Hollywood images. It was his last motion picture that he produced and what a way to go out. You can do amazing things with CGI but there’s no way they will ever match the memories I had of watching this one time and again on HBO in the 80s.Medusa

There are far too many books and movies to mention them here. Search YouTube for trailers and images, go to Amazon and start ordering them now. I have two Sinbad movies on my DVR right now in addition to the 2011 documentary, Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan. I know what I’ll be watching tonight. Rest in peace Mr. Harryhausen, the cinematic screen is a little darker today with your passing.