Saturday, May 30, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: T2 (1991)

Schwarzenegger returned to one of his most thrilling roles in 1991, but this time out his Terminator got to be the hero of the picture.  I actually think the first Terminator movie is more entertaining primarily due to Arnold's magnificent presence as the villain, a vicious machine programmed to kill, and the lean runtime doesn't hurt either.  Having said that, those who claim this bigger and far more dramatic sequel is superior to the original certainly have a strong case.  This isn't just one of Schwarzenegger's better movies, it's definitely one of the best action movies ever produced.  The effects are incredible, the choreography is splendid, and the performances are top-notch.  It is a bit long, but it never drags--the movie is overflowing with riveting sequences that must be seen to be believed.  Arnold's fearsome Terminator is now programmed to protect John Connor (Edward Furlong in perhaps his only role of note, though I thought Brainscan was okay) from a more advanced killer machine from the future.  This new baddie, the T-1000 (played to perfection by the underrated Robert Patrick), is a shapeshifting and seemingly invincible assassin made of "liquid metal."  The creativity that James Cameron brought to the table provides this frightening nemesis with an abundance of cool things to do and Stan Winston's supreme effects work was nothing short of amazing.  Upon its release, T2 was widely regarded as the finest special effects extravaganza ever lensed, and it has certainly aged well--it still towers above most science fiction movies, to include many recent releases from major studios.  The chases and throwdowns that populate the picture are executed to terrific effect and there are few directors who could depict such carnage as well as Cameron.  I prefer The Terminator but I can't take anything away from T2, it's a terrific successor that is surely worthy of all the praise and acclaim that it has generated over the years.

Final Grade: A
T2 isn't just one of Schwarzenegger's best movies,
it's one of the best action movies of all time.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Conan the Valorous by John Maddox Roberts (from 1985)

Conan the Barbarian is one my favorite movies, weathered copies of The Savage Sword of Conan from the 70s bring me great joy, and paperback novels centered on everyone's favorite Cimmerian are always welcome in my home.  I have been reading these books for about as long as I've been reading and I still enjoy them.  The worst of the lot are trashy and formulaic, but Robert E. Howard did such a fine job of bringing Conan to life (as well as detailing the era in which he lived and defining the geography of this daring barbarian's world) that many of the books are definitive examples of what the fantasy genre is capable of producing.  Robert Jordan's take on the character is almost as revered as Howard's in this day and age, and I feel that Leonard Carpenter also had a real knack for detailing Conan's adventures.  John Maddox Roberts is another worthy author who has contributed to the cause, and his Conan the Valorous is of some significance to me because it's the only tale I've read that required Conan to return to Cimmeria.  It's a fun story that is a bit episodic in nature, paying homage to Howard's work with his brawny creation.  The real highlight of the book may be a fearsome clash between Conan and a magnificent bull that was imposing enough to be worshiped as a god.  This tense battle came hardly halfway through the book and had little to do with the primary thrust of the tale, which quickly gave way to a robust conclusion pitting Conan against armed soldiers, fantastic creatures, and demented sorcerers--another nod to Howard's approach to the genre.  Conan's eventual victory in this climactic showdown came a bit too easily in my humble opinion, and it was a bit strange to read such a book where someone other than our rugged hero got the girl at the end.  Still, Conan the Valorous was well-written and neatly plotted, and it was cool to see our fearless barbarian return home.  My favorite aspect of this novel may have been the way Roberts used the the hero's journey back to his homeland to show how Conan's youth in Cimmeria had shaped him.  Roberts allowed the character to reflect on his past while providing us with a look at his people doing what they do best--making war.  Most importantly, even as he paid tribute to Cimmeria, he did a fantastic job of showing us why Conan's passions would never allow him to settle down and remain among his people.  Canon the Valorous wasn't a great Conan adventure, but it was a solid book that benefited from its focus on Cimmeria. 

Final Grade: B-

Short Attention Span Review: Silent Rage (1982)

An attempt to blend a slasher film with a Chuck Norris action flick, Silent Rage is surely a mixed bag, but it is a highly entertaining mixed bag.  It does many things extremely well and it does many things just as poorly.  Thankfully, it starts and finishes with grand flourishes and this makes the movie's shortcomings easier to digest.  In the interest of full disclosure, I will note that some of these shortcomings do venture into the realm of unintentional comedy; the romantic subplot is a genuine disaster, and the Stephen Furst stuff* is damn near unbearable.  However, the horror bits are both the backbone and the best parts of Silent Rage.  In addition to some quality suspense and a handful of nifty jolts, the slasher aspect of the picture yields several wicked action scenes pitting our man Chuck against a murderous madman who cannot be killed.  Of course, there's also a totally needless subplot pitting Chuck against a biker gang in the early going that leads to one quality brawl but ultimately seems out of place.  Like I said at the start, it's a mixed bag.  After that rock solid opening sequence, the movie flounders until psycho killer John Kirby (played by Brian Libby) rises from the dead as the result of a forbidden experiment gone awry.  This unstoppable madman proceeds to wreak havoc and there's a significant portion of Silent Rage where Kirby stalks Ron Silver (in a rare sympathetic role) and his wife.  These sequences are incredibly intense and boast the film's biggest scare.  There's a bit of cat-and-mouse shortly thereafter in a hospital that is also riveting, and the big finale is very satisfying.  The final shot is a standard genre trick, but it is executed to perfection and ends the film on a horrific note.  If the movie were more focused on delivering on its premise and less interested in forcing romance and comedy into the mix, Silent Rage might have been a minor classic.  As it is, it still stands as one of Chuck's very best, and I would honestly rate this one as my favorite movie in his catalog given my horror jones and the strength of the parts of the movie that work.

Final Grade: B+

*As Charlie the dopey deputy, Stephen Furst bombs in a big way.  His efforts at providing comedic relief fall flat and the very presence of his character is easily the movie's biggest shortcoming.  I can't be the only one who shakes my head at the way Chuck Norris constantly assures this poor excuse for a human being that he has what it takes to be a good lawman.  Making matters worse, the end result of this exercise in poor judgment is a gruesome demise for Charlie that subsequently requires Chuck to tenderly cradle the big dumbass in his arms for a tearful goodbye.  If you can imagine that scene being anything less than an affront to acting, you have a fabulous imagination and you should definitely start your own blog.

Chuck Norris may be the film's big selling point, but the tense and
frightening aspects of Silent Rage are the picture's biggest strengths.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Bloodsport (1988)

I was young once.  In fact, I was very young and very foolish once, and it was around that time that Bloodsport was released.  Now, my father practically raised me on kung fu flicks, so this wasn't my introduction to Jean-Claude Van Damme.  No, I had already met him in 1986's No Retreat, No Surrender, a terrible movie that I greatly enjoyed.  However, my affection for JCVD would grow exponentially with Bloodsport, which was probably far worse than No Retreat, No Surrender even though I enjoyed it far more.  Okay, okay, Bloodsport is probably better than No Retreat, No Surrender, but that's the only movie that it is superior to.  Seriously, Bloodsport isn't really that bad.  Well, actually it is, but movies can be a lot worse, and most bad movies aren't all that fun to watch.  Bloodsport is the epitome of an atrocious motion picture that is extremely entertaining.  Now, I have the benefit of age and maturity at my disposal as I write this review, but I should note that when I first encountered Bloodsport I felt that it was the very definition of a masterpiece.  No, it hasn't aged well, but then it is a product of the 80s, and few things that were deemed exceptional in that loud and zany decade have managed to age well.  Also, as I noted previously, it wasn't any good to begin with--I was just young and foolish when I first saw it.  Anyway, in Bloodsport Van Damme plays Frank Dux, a man who has spent much of his life training to compete in the ultimate martial arts tournament, a gruesome spectacle known as the Kumite.  We know this because we are treated to glimpses of JCVD's training courtesy of flashback sequences highlighted by the sort of filmmaking prowess that wouldn't be deemed worthy of inclusion in a Hallmark movie of the week.  Anyway, Kumite participants have been killed in this vicious test of skill, likely due to the fact that anyone (see Donald Gibb as Ray Jackson) is welcome to compete.  The tournament allows various martial artists (mostly portrayed by actors who don't seem to have a solid grasp of martial arts) to strut their stuff, and many of them display impressive fighting abilities until it's their turn to square off against our limber star.  Then they simply look on in disbelief as Van Damme unleashes his trademark acrobatics, decimating one opponent after another with a series of leaping and spinning kicks.  These haplesss foes cannot block these assaults because blocking Van Damme's trademark spinning kicks isn't in the script.  The movie isn't entirely rooted in thrilling hand-to-hand combat, however, as audiences are also treated to an epic foot-chase where our fit star must somehow outrun Forest Whitaker.  There's also romance, intrigue, and lots of stretching--and the stretching sequences are actually believable.  If it sounds like I'm shitting all over a childhood favorite, well, I guess that I am.  However, I want to make it very clear that I strongly believe that Bloodsport is an entertaining piece of shit. 

Final Grade: C

Bloodsport is an entertaining piece of shit.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Short Attention Span Review - The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I (2014)

The latest Hunger Games outing is a much different animal than it's action-packed predecessors.  Whereas the first two entries in this series were thrilling efforts boasting lots of violence, Mockingjay Part I is far more dramatic and favors political intrigue over archery and kooky wardrobes.  This may be difficult for many viewers to adjust to.  Honestly, this approach didn't necessarily excite me, but rich performances and an exciting plot make it palatable enough.  It does seem to be a bit of an appetizer that is designed to whet our appetite for Mockingjay Part II as opposed to existing as a satisfying entree in and of itself.  Yet there is a lot happening and I didn't find the movie to be padded or dull.  Jennifer Lawrence continues to shine in the starring role as the plucky heroine Katniss Everdeen, and her performance alone is enough to keep things interesting.  Several newcomers join the cast in this third entry in the series and none are more impressive than Julianne Moore as President Alma Coin.  Josh Hutcherson is incredible as Peeta, and his work with this tortured character looms large throughout the picture despite the fact that he is given precious little time on screen.  Liam Hemsworth continues to devote himself to a lackluster role, while Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman greatly enhance the picture in limited parts.  Perhaps the biggest surprise these movies have given us thus far is the master study in arrogance and villainy that Donald Sutherland is providing.  I greatly admire his work and President Snow is the richest and most imposing character that he has thrown his considerable talent behind in quite some time.  In the end, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I doesn't suffer all that much for substituting the opening gambits of a budding rebellion and a wealth of character development for bloody mayhem and colorful costumes.  The action may be infrequent, but the mood and atmosphere are charged and the plot is riveting.  It may not hit the bullseye, but it's close enough to be worthwhile and it does everything it can to set the stage for a stellar conclusion.  

Final Grade: B

You won't see Lawrence doing this much, but her acting chops on full display.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Meet Luke Wilson and Devil Wood (Baller excerpt #2)

The pitch is simple enough: Baller is an Agatha Christie mystery on acid, with a suspended NBA player and a porn star filling in for Hercule Poirot.  These unique pals are attending a private party at a posh resort in the mountains when a blizzard rolls in.  The lights go out, a murder is committed, and things quickly spiral out of hand.  None of the prestigious guests who have gathered at WinterCrest are safe.  A game with no rules is being played and deadly gifts have been scattered throughout this remote retreat.  Can our pair of unlikely heroes figure out who is responsible and save the day, or will they suffer a gruesome fate?
I provided an excerpt in my previous blog on Baller that details what happens when one of the deadly gifts mentioned in the pitch is opened by one of the guests at WinterCrest.  You can enjoy that excerpt here.  Today, I'm sharing another excerpt that provides an introduction to the main characters of Baller, Luke Wilson and Devil Wood.

An excerpt from Baller (Warning: Adult Content)
Jagged black spikes loomed on either side of the winding road, proud monuments of earth and stone thrusting up into a bleak winter sky that was all but obscured by the falling snow.  The road was narrow and curvy, a winding strip encompassed in metal guardrails that would give way upon impact, spilling into the rocky crevices that beckoned below.
Luke tightened his grip on the wheel; he still had complete faith in the Jeep and his ability to operate it in these conditions, but he had never seen a storm gain strength and tenacity with such speed.  He was reminded of a dog devouring food at a frantic pace, eating as though such an opportunity may never present itself again.  As they continued on, a white haze seemed to overtake them, the blinding mist swelling as the snowfall intensified.  The wind ripped through the night, driving the precipitation into swirling torrents that danced through the air. 
“Dude, can you even see to drive?”  His passenger wondered.
Luke smirked.  “It’s not so bad.”
“Shit.   It’s a good thing you’re the one behind the wheel.  It’s really coming down.  These roads will be covered in no time.”
“They salt these roads.”  Luke continued to crane forward, focusing on the narrow stretch of pavement that was quickly being blanketed. 
“Well, they don’t salt them enough.  I think we’re going to wind up spending the night at this bullshit affair.  If we even get there.” 
“We’ll get there.  We grew up in West Virginia, man.  Bluefield’s our hometown.  This ain’t nothing new for either of us.  As long as we don’t brake too hard or yank the steering wheel, we’ve got no worries.”
We?  Ain’t no we, man.  It’s all you, I’m just watching.  And praying.”
“We’ve got no worries.”
“Maybe you don’t.”
“I always thought you were fearless.”
“Shit.  That was before I moved to California.”
“Well, this ain’t California,” Luke said, straining to see.  He let off the gas a little, squinting as he peered through the falling snow.  “We’ll be there in no time,” he said, but there was a trace of uncertainty in his voice that made it seem as though he was trying to convince himself as much as his passenger.
“If you say so.”
“You know you didn’t have to come.”
“Yeah right.  The invitation you received was issued for you and a guest.  If you show up by yourself, everyone there will think you’re an asshole who doesn’t have a girl or any real friends.  And anyways, it’s been far too long, man.  I want to hang out with you.”
“Yeah,” Luke agreed.  “It has been a long time.  A lot has changed.”  He was clad in a pair of jeans and a black sweater.  He hadn’t shaved his beard in almost a month now and it was becoming unruly, but it suited him.  His leather jacket was in the backseat and he was wearing his favorite boots.  No matter how many zeros they put on his checks, Luke would always be a country boy at heart.   The private party they were en route to was a first class affair, but this was as nice as he cared to dress on a trip to the mountains.
As he veered into a curve, Luke worked the wheel a little too hard and the tires lost their grip on the slippery pavement for an instant.  “Shit,” he muttered, gingerly tapping the brake pedal as he nudged the wheel.   
The tires regained their traction and they came through it without a hitch, but his friend was shaking his head. 
“Yeah,” he said with a grin.  “No worries.”
Luke shrugged.  “That was nothing.”
His passenger responded with a chuckle. 
“Look,” Luke said, eager to talk about something else, “I was thinking about something.  Do I really have to call you Devil?  I mean, is that what you’re going to call yourself tonight?”
 “Why not?  That’s what everyone calls me now.” 
“Well, I mean, why not just go by Ricky around me?”
“Ricky?  Who the fuck is Ricky?  It would be Rick by now anyway, wouldn’t it?  We’re not kids anymore, dude.  Nobody calls me Ricky.”
“What does your mother call you?”
“She stopped talking to me a few years back.  But in her letters, she refers to me as Richard.”
“Well, maybe I could call you Richard too.”
Devil shot him a dirty look.  “Get the fuck out of here.  Richard is my father.”
“What does your mother call him?”
“They haven’t said a word to each other in over three years, but that’s another story.  He calls me Dick, but only because he knows that I hate it.  You can imagine how thrilled he is with my new life, but it is what it is, bro.  Shit, it’s not like we were the happiest family on the block anyway.”
“There’s an understatement.”
“Like I said, it is what is.  I’m fine with it.  I’m Devil, man.  Fuck it.  You are what you do.  It ain’t a bad gig, I’m telling you.  Fuck man, we can’t all be ballers and shit.” 
Luke couldn’t suppress a chuckle of his own.  “What the fuck are you talking about, man?  We’re both ballers.”
Devil thought this over for a moment.  “Yeah, but you play ball in the big leagues and I ball chicks while the cameras roll.  Both are fantasies, but only one of them will make you rich.”
“You’re not doing so bad.”
“I’m doing okay.  What?  Am I supposed to think this will last forever?  Shit, man.  I’m on the road to nowhere and I’ve got my foot on the gas.  I mean, yeah, Randy Spears is still kicking, and hell, I used to jack off to shit with him in it.  Not because of him, you know, but I’m just saying.  He did this scene with Raylene in a bathtub that I used to blow up, man.  I totally wore out that spot on the tape.  Who knew you could bust a nut that big?  It was like he opened up a fire hose on that poor girl.”  Devil stopped talking long enough for a wistful longing to creep into his eyes.  “I loved that scene, man.  It was on a collection I had, one of those tapes with nothing but six hours of scenes.  Those were the best, man, just get rid of the lousy plots and enjoy the fucking.  Plus, they were funny because the scenes were taken from various movies so there would be little bits of dialogue that didn't make any sense taken out of context.  It just sounded like ridiculous dirty talk.  'Damn, baby, you're one hell of a good landlord.'  Shit like that.  Anyway, I think that one was called Hosed and it was probably the best collection I ever had.”
“You share too much.”
“Always have.  That probably says a lot about my career path.  Regardless, Randy Spears is an exception to the rule.  Most of us don’t make it nearly that long.  Guys, I mean.  A lot of us wind up impotent, broke, and strung out before we get to have a midlife crisis, and that’s no lie.”  This potential candidate for such a woeful fate was wearing pressed khakis and a delicate knit sweater with tan loafers.  His short blonde hair was carefully styled and he was clean-shaven.  He looked like someone who should have been featured prominently in the Ralph Lauren winter ad campaign.
Luke was forced to slow the mighty Jeep to a crawl as the road wound upward in a precarious series of wicked curves.  As he deftly worked the brakes and nursed the steering wheel, he found himself wondering why he had agreed to bring Devil along in the first place.  He had wanted to reunite with his boyhood pal, but his friend had changed a lot over the years.  This could turn out to be quite embarrassing if his old chum didn’t do a better job of censoring himself at the lodge.  His friend had obviously been in California for too long.
Devil was still prattling on, explaining some of the finer points of his lurid profession.  “It’s different for girls.  They last longer in the industry, and they’re the real stars anyway.  They make the real money and on most sets they call the shots.  If you’re doing a flick with a slit with clout and she ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy, man, you better believe that.”
“No shit?”  Luke wondered, immediately chastising himself for encouraging his friend.
“No shit.  Hell, some of the best directors are aging starlets who don’t want to lube up for a paycheck anymore.  They’re the real players in this industry.  Maybe one day I’ll get my chance to get cozy with one of them.  If you’re lucky enough to dazzle one of those dames and she starts using you steadily, that’s your ticket to the race right there.  That’s what I’m shooting for.  Who knows?  Maybe one day I’ll get there.”
Luke restrained himself from commenting, hoping the conversation would end there, but Devil continued, absorbed in his commentary.  “Like Nina Hartley, man.  Nina’s a golden oldie, she’s been doing this as long as I can remember.  I bet my dad used to jack off to her.”
Luke shook his head.  This was definitely going to be interesting.  Censorship didn’t appear to be a concern for Devil.  Luke was starting to think that the aloof country boy he had grown up with had been irreversibly altered by his vulgar profession.
“Forget it,” Devil continued, though Luke had lost track of whatever it was that he was supposed to be forgetting.  There wasn’t a point to this winding opus, there was a random series of points.  Undeterred, the porn star poet marched on, gesturing boldly as he spoke.  “It doesn’t really matter. Though Nina is definitely one of the hottest blondes of all time.  That ass?  Terrific.  A perfect ten.  Maybe the best ass of all time, and certainly the best ass I’ve ever seen.  You could decorate your house with pictures of that woman’s ass and no one would ever object.”
Luke arched his eyebrows.  “I know a few people who probably wouldn’t like it all that much.  Like my mom, for instance.”  
"Your mom might surprise you." 
. . . 

Short Attention Span Review: Prince of Darkness (1987)

Prince of Darkness is one of horror maestro John Carpenter's most underrated fright flicks, which is a bit surprising to me as I feel that it is easily his most terrifying movie.  It isn't a big budget affair, but that doesn't lessen the impact of this nightmarish battle between good and evil.  The cast is game, the effects are solid, and the plot is gripping.  The movie slowly unfolds, steadily growing in intensity on the way to a hellish crescendo, and the final frame is one of Carpenter's finest moments.  The picture may not boast as many jump scares as the legendary director's biggest hits do, and the sinister nature of Prince of Darkness doesn't really allow for much in the way of his trademark wit, but this one does do everything possible to get under your skin.  In that regard, it is incredibly successful, and there are a number of scenes that will stick with you long after you're done watching it.  The nightmare sequences are particularly noteworthy, striking a surreal tone that is brimming with dread and terror.  The score is another gem from this superb director and composer, and it's nothing if not appropriate for the material.  It's a bit subdued and it builds slowly, drawing the viewer into a stark web of terror--just like the film itself.  Donald Pleasence hams it up a bit as a weary priest, but he's terrific as always and his boisterous performance is a welcome presence in this grim affair.  Jameson Parker does a fine job as the lead, and while he doesn't necessarily light up the screen, it certainly seems as though he warranted more attention from the industry.  Alice Cooper is on hand for a nice part that's really more of a cameo, and Dennis Dun (who killed it as Wang in Carpenter's beloved cult classic Big Trouble in Little China) is also a joy to watch in Prince of Darkness.  There's a scene where he loses his shit that stands as one of my favorite Carpenter moments, and I'm a bit of a Carpenter devotee*.  If you somehow missed this one, don't fret, you're not alone.  However, if you're a fan of the spooky stuff, you owe it to yourself to check it out.  It's not my favorite John Carpenter film, but it's a damn fine motion picture that will scare the hell out of you.

Final Grade: A+

*But you already knew that.  If you didn't, you must have missed these blogs:
Top 5 John Carpenter Films
Top 5 Main Themes from John Carpenter Films

Prince of Darkness isn't my favorite John Carpenter movie,
but it is his most frightening motion picture.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Slow West (2015)

Some of the best movies ever made are westerns, yet that's a genre that doesn't yield many motion pictures in this day and age.  Given the short supply, the odds of landing upon a quality western has greatly decreased, but then along comes a movie like Slow West.  While both the pace and the brooding nature of this movie are staples of the genre, the humor and the keen wit that permeate the piece make it unconventional enough to emerge as a distinct creation.  It doesn't really feel like modern fare and yet it is a far cry from the type of picture that Clint Eastwood or John Wayne would have starred in despite some potent similarities.  Director John Maclean takes his time with the tale and it's hard to believe that the sometimes leisurely and wildly unpredictable journey that we're treated to is confined to a mere 84 minutes.  At the forefront of the picture are Kodi Smit-McPhee as Jay Cavendish, a curious lad who is traversing foreign soil in search of his beloved, and Michael Fassbender as the wily bounty hunter who decides to chaperone this lost cause of a human being.  The film belongs to these two actors and they both offer up stirring performances.  Even as a series of flashbacks clearly display Jay's affection for Rose Ross (Caren Pistorious), those same glimpses of his former life lead us to believe that his heart is leading him astray.  Fassbender's Silas Selleck has his reasons for leading the lovestruck young man across the country, and it becomes obvious that what he decides to do when Jay and Rose are reunited will define him as a man.  Jay and Silas cover a lot of dangerous ground and meet some interesting people, all while a band of outlaws that Silas once rode with lurk in the background.  In the bloody finale, Maclean manages to deliver several surprises, a couple of delightful sight gags, a bit of meditation on the meaning of life, and a worthy conclusion to an intriguing western that I greatly enjoyed.

Final Grade: B+
Fassbender oozes cool as a gritty survivor type who could easily be confused
with Eastwood's "Man with No Name" if he wasn't so talkative.
Well, it would also help if he could hold his liquor.  That too.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Kelly's Heroes (1970)

I dig Clint Eastwood.  Who doesn't?  He has starred in so many wonderful movies and he has made quite a name for himself as a director as well.  Few performers have ever had such a presence and managed to piece together a career so ripe with quality ventures.  While I treasure his westerns and his gritty thrillers, some of his lighter films also rank among my favorites.  One of the Eastwood pictures that seldom gets its due that I'm particularly fond of is Kelly's Heroes, an irreverent gem.  While we live in an era where the very notion of a comedic and borderline absurd take on WWII might sound downright blasphemous, it should be noted that Kelly's Heroes isn't all fun and games.  In addition to poking fun at the establishment and lampooning the military, it does have a bit of heart, and there are some serious themes buried under all the bluster.  Yet Eastwood's cool lead (his Kelly may be totally fearless--or maybe he just has a serious hard-on for gold bars) and the fantastic supporting cast never fail to entertain and the movie consistently drops big laughs on us while the Germans do their best to drop bombs on our heroes.  Telly Savalas is fabulous as Kelly's hard-nosed commander and Don Rickles is equally captivating as Crapgrame.  However, the true star of the show is Donald Sutherland as Oddball.  Yes, the character belongs to another era, but Kelly's Heroes is far more interested in entertainment than plausibility--though it never grows so outlandish that it becomes an outright farce.  Sutherland is a joy to watch in Kelly's Heroes and I'm pretty sure that he is the only performer to ever steal the show from Clint Eastwood.  Lee Van Cleef was surely Clint's equal and B-movie veteran William Smith made a game attempt at upstaging Clint in Any Which Way You Can (another of Eastwood's lighthearted yarns--as well as another of my personal favorites), but I can't think of anyone aside from Sutherland who flat out walked away with an Eastwood vehicle.  Purists probably don't favor Kelly's Heroes as much as I do, and modern audiences who are more familiar with films like Saving Private Ryan or Fury (read my scathing review of that one here) may not appreciate this quirky romp either.  I also enjoy gritty and realistic war movies, but I may enjoy a quality satire even more.  Kelly's Heroes is a fun movie with several major stars firing on all cylinders and I highly recommend it.

Bonus Points: I find the opening reel to be among the best title sequences of all time.  The way the images and the music clash set the stage for something totally unique.  Additionally, the big tank showdown that closes out the picture is equally impressive and even takes the satire to another level by managing to pay homage to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Final Grade: A+
Attempting to steal the show in a Clint Eastwood film  might sound
like an impossible dream, but Sutherland does just that in Kelly's Heroes.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Marvel's Secret Wars (2015) - Issue #2

It wasn't all that long ago that I posted my review of the first issue of the 2015 Secret Wars.  I wasn't very kind, so it was with some trepidation that I finally sat down to read the second issue.  Now, I was hoping for more this time out, particularly after my man at Fanboy Comics (the best place to score your superhuman reading material in Wilmington, North Carolina) insisted that issue #2 was the best book that Marvel has produced in several years.  While I don't necessarily share his enthusiasm, it was a vast improvement from the convoluted mess that was the first issue.  While that issue crammed enough material for several issues into a single comic, the pacing was much better in the second issue, allowing the players involved to do more than provide readers with a quick series of cameos.  Additionally, while the destruction in issue #1 should have made that comic absolutely monumental, the clumsy storytelling and the rushed nature of the book greatly lessened its impact.  The second issue offers up some really groundbreaking stuff and takes the necessary time to knock us on our ass.  I love the original Secret Wars and my favorite thing about that mega-event was the way that it transformed Dr. Doom into a glorious baddie who was daring enough to go toe to toe with gods and tough enough to win.  Suffice it to say that anyone who shares my love for Doom will be greatly pleased with his presence in this issue.  I still think there's a bit too exposition being dumped on us and I miss the fantastic clashes that the original Secret Wars was overflowing with.  The violence is a bit more realistic (and thereby a bit more mundane) in the 2015 version.  Marvel may feel that this will lend more urgency and drama to the proceedings, but thus far it has merely succeeded in replacing the epic throwdowns of the original with minute bursts of action that aren't nearly as satisfying.  Still, it was a terrific leap forward after an abysmal start, and if the tale continues on this trajectory, maybe we'll wind up with a series that deserves to be called Secret Wars.

Final Grade: B

Monday, May 18, 2015

Baller excerpt (Warning: Adult Content)

Baller revolves around a suspended NBA player and an old friend of his who earns a living starring in pornographic videos.  These unique pals are attending a private party at a posh resort in the mountains when a blizzard rolls in.  The lights go out, a murder is committed, and things quickly spiral out of hand.  None of the prestigious guests who have gathered at WinterCrest are safe.  A game with no rules is being played and deadly gifts have been scattered throughout this remote retreat.  Can our pair of unlikely heroes figure out who is responsible and save the day, or will they suffer a gruesome fate?

Here's a neat little excerpt from Baller that details what happens when a party guest who is up to no good stumbles upon one of the deadly gifts mentioned above:

An excerpt from Baller (Warning: Adult Content)           

Tommy shrieked.  He didn’t know what he had expected to see, but it certainly wasn’t a nest crawling with massive hornets.  To make matters worse, by opening the box he had disturbed an amber vial that had been rigged to spray.  He had been doused with a colorless liquid with an obnoxious smell.  Though Tommy couldn’t have known this, the chemical was known as 1-Pentanol.  It was the primary ingredient in the liquid commonly known as “hornet alarm pheromone,” and it was driving the big insects crazy.  Like many of their social peers, hornets can attack with the strength of the entire nest, identifying their prey with the pheromone.  
This agitated bunch was composed of some extremely large hornets, some over two inches long with heads as big as one of the rotund man’s fingernails.  The fat hornets were burgundy in color and they had thick yellow bands on their swollen abdomens. 
He reached for the lid, but it was too late.  They were coming for him, quickly vacating the box and buzzing angrily as they swarmed toward the startled man.  He abandoned his perch on the bed and screamed.
The alcohol in his bloodstream had made him jumpy.  Without thinking, he raised his weapon and fired three quick shots at the hornets that had taken flight before he emptied the clip in the box. 
He may have killed a couple of them, but that was debatable.  One thing was certain, he had definitely agitated all of the survivors even further.  Tommy flung himself at the door, knocking it open and slamming it so hard that it didn’t latch and instead rebounded back toward him, the hornets gliding through the opening.
“Son of a bitch!”  He screeched.
He turned and jumped for the stairs, landing awkwardly and flailing for balance.  He lost that battle and went tumbling down the staircase with a series of muffled shouts.  In addition to accumulating an array of bruises on his torso, he sprained his left ankle, tweaked his left knee, and nearly dislocated his right shoulder in the process. 
As he tried to stand, collapsing to his knees with a moan, one of the hornets finally caught up to him, stinging him on his hand as he flailed at it.  Another hornet stung him on his forehead.  The pain was instant and Tommy squealed even as he clapped his hand down on the hornet, trapping it against his flesh.  The little fucker stung him again and even bit him as he started to squash it, the bulging abdomen crunching loudly as yellow fluid that looked like mucus oozed out. 
Tommy seethed as he ground the hornet into mush.  Another hornet stung him on the back and he flailed again, disrupting the angry horde.
“Motherfuckers,” he roared.  “You dirty little motherfuckers!”
He dove and rolled, scurrying toward the money stowed by the front door.  The hornets continued to bear down on him, attacking as one, a buzzing monstrosity that thrived on rage.  One of them stung him on his lower back and he screamed again.  The stings were agonizing, far more painful than any that he had ever suffered before. 
Tommy was clawing his way forward, screaming.  He grabbed the money and thrust his shoulder into the door, knocking it open as he lunged out into the cold.  He slammed the door, spittle flying from his lips, but two of the hornets were out there with him, zipping around his face as he ducked and fell, sinking into the snow. 
The hornets were obviously disoriented by the cold and the gusting wind, but they were still coming.
“Damn you!  Damn you to hell!”  Tommy was in great pain and he was losing it.
He ripped his jacket off and used it like a whip, downing both of the vicious insects with a single clumsy strike.  He beat the jacket against the snow and stomped the area in which the hornets had fallen, dancing on their corpses as he trampled them, burying the big bastards in the compacted snow.
“You don’t like that shit, do you?  No, you don’t like that at all.  Lousy motherfuckers!  What in the fuck is going on here?  Son of a bitch!” 
For a few minutes he could do nothing but pace, furious, his body running so hot as a result of his fury, the multiple stings, and the booze coursing through him that he didn’t notice the brutal wind or the frigid cold. 
He was lost in a flurry of emotion, his beautiful plan marred by a situation so absurd that he couldn’t believe he had fallen for it.  Worse yet, even though he had been effectively victimized by this ridiculous scheme, he had no idea as to the intention behind such a ludicrous ploy.  He still had the fucking money and no one was moving in to take it at this, his greatest moment of weakness. 
Was it mindless terror?  A sick joke with no greater meaning?  That wasn’t likely.  It seemed like too much of a coincidence on this particular night, the night he had made his play and took his rightful place in this world.
Tommy was pondering what to do next when Lamont Fields finally eased the big double-deuce into the driveway.  Tommy was so out of sorts that he hadn’t even heard that gigantic machine’s engine rumbling as it approached.
Fields stepped out to greet him, concerned by his grave appearance.  “Damn, man, you all right?”
“No,” Tommy fumed.  “I am not all right.  I am not all right at all.  I am very, very pissed off right now.  As a matter of fact, I am so pissed off that if I were you, and I liked having my teeth in my mouth, I would probably just shut up and get back in the fucking truck.  And I probably wouldn’t say another word tonight if I damn well didn’t have to.  Do you understand?”
“Yes, I-“
“I said shut the fuck up and get back in the fucking truck!  Mouth closed, asshole!  Do you understand?”
Lamont could only look perplexed.
“Answer me!  Do you understand?”
“But I-“
Tommy slapped him.  Hard.  Fields wasn’t a man accustomed to such treatment and the indignation in his eyes was hard to miss, but Tommy couldn’t have cared less.  “Nod your motherfucking head, asshole.”
Lamont glared at him, but Tommy knew his place in the grand scheme of things and he was unafraid.  “Do you understand?”
Fields took a step back and nodded his head.

Short Attention Span Review: The Terminator (1984)

As we gear up for a new entry in the the Terminator franchise, I took the time to revisit the 1984 thriller that started it all.  The Terminator is my favorite entry in the series (T2 be damned) and it is still vastly entertaining some 30+ years after it hit the scene.  I think it has more heart and soul than the first sequel, and though Robert Patrick was awesome, no one has topped Arnold's showstopping performance as the villainous machine the series is named after yet.  Yes, T2 is amazing, and even if I don't agree, I understand where the people who think it improves upon the original are coming from.  The third movie was okay, the fourth was pretty okay too, I guess, though it didn't seem to fit.  This latest attempt at reviving the property looks pretty kickass, but I'm not here to speculate, I'm here to heap praise on Cameron's breakout hit.  The Terminator is a lean picture with several stellar action setpieces and three noteworthy stars owning their parts while an able supporting cast rounds things out in style.  Hell, Lance Henriksen is on hand in a true throwaway role, so you know The Terminator had talent to spare.  Michael Biehn is a revelation as the gritty hero who is greatly outmatched, Linda Hamilton is fantastic in a tough role that requires a lot of emoting and physicality, and Arnold is a supreme badass.  Who else could have played this part?  Stan Winston's effects are stellar and surely played a pivotal role in The Terminator's success, but Arnold is the biggest special effect in the movie.  Not only is his physical appearance so damn imposing, but he does a wonderful job with his lines and his handling of the various weapons he uses throughout the film is truly impressive.  Everyone involved deserves a lot of credit, but this franchise was launched on Schwarzenegger's broad shoulders to tremendous effect.  Whether you classify it as an action movie or a science-fiction thriller (it's actually both), this is a genuine classic.

Final Grade: A+
He may not have played a villain often, but this superb action film
proves that Arnold could nail such a roll when programmed to do so.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Ghost Child by Duffy Stein (from 1982)

There are few things I enjoy more than the smell of an old paperback.  I love visiting used book stores and searching for treasure on shelves that are packed tight with vintage books, many of which are all but forgotten.  I'm an equal opportunity reader who enjoys literature from a variety of genres and eras, and I'm am fully willing to delve into an intriguing non-fiction title or something a bit more fantastic.  Of course, my love for the horror genre is no secret, and curious gems like Ghost Child by Duffy Stein are my favorite sort of book to enjoy.  In many ways, this haunted house/possession/ghost story hits many familiar beats.  Yet it is also inventive and unique, and the author's unwillingness to pull any punches in the grim finale makes the more familiar aspects of the novel feel like an elaborate set-up in retrospect.  Yes, I thought I knew where we were headed, and I was mostly right on the count.  However, when it came to who would fall prey to the horrors lurking within the creepy old house in Vermont that the likable Talman family had moved into and who would survive, well, I guess I was being a bit too optimistic.  The violent and shocking conclusion was incredibly savage and far more diabolical than I anticipated.  I kept waiting for certain characters to wise up and they kept getting cut down, and I kept waiting for someone to arrive to save the day, but the characters who attempted to do just that weren't very successful.  The book got off to a slow start, but was creepy throughout, making deft use of standard horror fare (an old house with a gruesome history, spooky toys, and even a secret room) and sound characterizations.  Given the power and the sheer terror of the conclusion, I'm more than willing to recommend Ghost Child to those who enjoy this stuff as much as I do.  It doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it is solidly entertaining, and the ending is a vicious assault on the senses.

Final Grade: B-

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Faith No More - Sol Invictus (Review + Track Notes)

Fans of artists who partner incredible talent with vision and a powerful need to think outside the box (that's a pretty short list, right?) can circle May 19 on their calendars.  That's when Sol Invictus arrives, and the first Faith No More album since 1997 is absolutely delightful.  It may have been a while since these alternative innovators have produced an album, but you wouldn't know that by listening to Sol Invictus.  This brief yet stirring smorgasbord of sound surely warrants a piece of premium real estate on the island of misfit records FNM has provided us with.  It's obvious that these guys have grown as musicians and yet it is amazing how in sync with their overall approach and their impressive catalog this release is. 

Faith No More is my favorite band and there was surely a point when, like most fans of this vastly underrated act, I didn't really think a reunion of any sort was ever going to happen.  Then they shocked us all by getting back together to play some shows, but most of the dates were on foriegn soil and there was no talk of another record.  Lo and behold, new songs began to emerge, and then there came a most blessed day when the band announced that they were going to create another sonic odyssey for the faithful (faithless?) to enjoy. 

If I were to say that I was eager to listen to Sol Invictus, well, that would be a bit of an understatement.  The first time I gave it a listen there were moments where my smile grew so wide that it was almost painful.  It was a joyous experience, truth be told, and some of the music is rather joyful--though much of it is tongue-in-cheek and there's enough cynicism sprinkled throughout to give the feel-good elements of Sol Invictus an edge.  These light and tender sounds frequently give way to some of the most forceful and jagged landscapes the band has created, and the range of material is pretty damn epic (forgive me).  A few days have passed and I have listened to Sol Invictus maybe a dozen times, but that estimate could be a bit low.  Who's counting?  One thing is certain: Faith No More is back and these lovable weirdos have dropped a fabulous album on us.

Final Grade: A+

Bonus Points: I'll be at the show in Raleigh on 7/31.
That's bucket list stuff, peeps!

 Track Notes

1. Sol Invictus - warm and incredibly rich, this is a perfect way to get things started

2. Superhero - fierce, fun, and very catchy

3. Sunny Side Up - maybe my favorite track on the album, this one is incredibly lighthearted with just a hint of malice to keep you on your toes

4. Separation Anxiety - this is probably the heaviest song on Sol Invictus and it is one hell of a rollicking ride

5. Cone of Shame - there's something a little spooky about this slow burn with a thrilling transition and Patton at his most metal

6. Rise of the Fall - this is one of those trademark "impossible to classify yet incredibly groovy" gems that have made FNM such trendsetters

7. Black Friday - take my thoughts on "Rise of the Fall" and multiply by 2

8. Motherfucker - the first single that the band released for Sol Invictus (only Faith No More would release a single called "Motherfucker" to promote an album that legions of fans have been waiting nearly two decades for) aims to take my thoughts on "Rise of the Fall" and multiply by 10--seriously, it's one of the coolest and most bizarre songs that these guys have ever created

9. Matador - my bad, "Sunny Side Up," "Matador" is probably my favorite track on the album--it's incredible, it's kind of operatic when it isn't too busy being totally badass, and it allows everyone in the band ample opportunity to shine

10. From the Dead - the title may not make it sound like a soft and gentle way to close out a marvelous album with the sort of diversity that one doesn't expect from any band but FNM, but that's just what it is

Are FNM back and better than ever?  Well, they're back and they're as good as ever.
Honestly, with their eclectic output, ranking their albums is a bit of a fool's errand.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Marvel's Secret Wars (2015) - Issue #1

So, I just sat down to read the first issue of this epic throwdown that Marvel has been building toward for some time now, the 2015 version of the Secret Wars.  We've been told that the Marvel Universe as we know it ends here, and we're supposed to leave this event with some sort of combination of the standard Marvel universe and their Ultimates universe.  Yes, those universes will no longer exist separate from one another.  Allegedly, some of the characters we know and love won't exist at all (and could potentially--though it's unlikely--actually stay dead), and most of them will be forever changed, and so on and so forth.  If you dig comics, you've heard a similar pitch before.  Yet this crossover bears the name Secret Wars, so maybe the shit really is about to hit the fan.

Having finished the first issue, I think it's safe to say that big things are happening.  I also think it's safe to say that the big things that are happening are incredibly convoluted.  Honestly, after I read issue #1, I found myself thinking that if you took the contents of that comic book and spread it out over three or four issues, it might actually wind up being something you could read and enjoy.  Unfortunately, aside from a few key players who hung around for more than a single panel, we wound up with little more than a series of cameos.   Additionally, aside from a few crisp pages that nearly made sense, so much clunky exposition was offered up that I felt like I was reading an Alan Moore comic where he had been ordered to double up on the text.  "We need twice as much, Al, and make sure it's complicated."

Now, it's only the first issue, and I've found that many of Marvel's latest attempts at blowing our minds get off to uneven starts.  So maybe things will sort themselves out.  Unfortunately, I've also found that many of Marvel's most recent super crossovers fell well short of my expectations.  The superb Avengers vs. X-Men arc from 2012 is the only such event that I've really enjoyed since they damn near topped the original Secret Wars (which many credit with creating the crossover on an epic scale way back in 1984) with their Civil War in 2006.  So, I'm going to hope for the best, but man oh man, we are off to a rocky start. 

Final Grade: D-

What do you think?  Am I being too hard on the new Secret Wars?  Am I failing to understand this stuff because I'm reading the wrong comics?  This is possible, as Marvel and DC both quickly cancel titles after realizing that I've added them to my reading list.  Maybe you think it was even worse than I did--though, for that to be the case, you probably would have thrown that shit in the trashcan before you finished and you probably wouldn't be reading this particular blog.  Whatever your take on the 2015 Secret Wars is, feel free to clue me in.  I'm searching for answers here.

There's no topping the original Secret Wars.

Bonus Points: the original Secret Wars featured
what is probably my favorite cover of all time.

Short Attention Span Review: The Shining (1980)

I'm a big fan of Stephen King and The Shining is one of his darkest and most powerful novels.  My respect for the book initially kept me from appreciating this wonderful film from one the greatest directors ever, Stanley Kubrick.   If I had written this review a decade ago, I may have given this one a "C" or worse.  Truthfully, if one reads King's book and then views the film expecting a faithful adaptation, disappointment is on the horizon.  Kubrick took the basic premise from the novel and did his own thing with it, making a great many substantial changes along the way.  Yet time and my appreciation of quality filmmaking have dramatically softened my stance on this landmark horror movie from 1980.  Despite taking a different approach to the material, Kubrick delivered one hell of a fright flick that is greatly enhanced by Jack Nicholson's most impressive performance.  The energy and the menace that he brings to the role of Jack Torrance is legendary.  I know some think he hammed it up a bit too much, but I can't criticize his work here.  Who has seen this film and somehow managed to avoid quoting it at some point?  Anyone?  Okay, give me an example of a scene in the picture where Jack isn't entertaining as hell.  Go ahead, I'll wait.  No, it isn't a nuanced performance that plumbs the depths of an alcoholic's descent into madness, and I understand why that ticks some people off.  Let's just not ignore the fact that it's a brazen take on a demented character that is incredibly intense and wildly compelling.  Opposite Nicholson, Shelley Long also delivers the goods as Wendy, and it's her excellent portrayal of a battered wife, a role that is ripe with torment and misery, that serve to embellish Jack's reckless abandon and his demonic zeal.  It's also this disparity that pulls the audience in, heightening the struggle taking place in the creepy hotel.  Speaking of the Overlook--man, is this film atmospheric or what?  The cinematography is amazing, the music is full of dread, and the sets are wonderful.  The end result is an ominous and scary film bolstered by rich performances and a director who was a true master of his craft.  It may not be faithful to the book, which is an iconic terror yarn, but this visionary film is also a legitimate masterpiece.

Final Grade: A
This is what you get when you make out with strange women in haunted hotels.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Short Attention Span Review: Dragon Squad (2005)

Dragon Squad (a.k.a. Dragon Heat) is film that was released with lofty expectations in 2005 and failed to generate a lot of buzz.  I'm not sure why, as I think this even blend of martial arts mayhem and gunfire is a thrilling feature.  The pacing is a bit off-kilter, but the plot is pretty straightforward and the movie is easy to follow.  Sure, some of the stylish tricks Daniel Lee pulls out of his bag are duds, but I can't fault the guy for swinging for the fences, and in doing so he also produces some really cool moments and a hell of a lot of excitement.  Most of the hand-to-hand combat comes courtesy of Sammo Hung and Huh Joon Ho, who square off in a pair of excellent battles, the second of which is probably the highlight of Dragon Squad.  The gunfights are riveting, and there are car chases, foot chases, and even a sniper duel to keep things popping.  Michael Biehn is on hand to play the lead villain, and he's one cold but charismatic dude.  I thought he brought a lot to the picture and I genuinely enjoyed this action-packed movie that underperformed when it was originally released in Hong Kong.  Maybe many were hoping for standard kung fu fare or a straight up shoot 'em up, or perhaps the director's creativity and flair were a bit too much for most audiences.  I'm not sure, but I have no qualms about recommending Dragon Squad.

Final Grade: B
Stylish and energetic, Dragon Squad is a solid action film.

Short Attention Span Review: Halloween III (1982)

Here we go again.  I know, I know, Micheal Myers isn't in this one and it's all kinds of cheesy.  I'm supposed to hate it, right?  Well, apparently this is yet another of those movies that I'm not supposed to like that I actually do like.  Apparently, Carpenter had this idea that they could churn out a new Halloween every year, but he wanted each to be an individual horror yarn taking place on the ghoulish holiday.  I think that's a great idea, but neither Michael Myers nor his legions of rabid fans were interested.  So, we got lots of Halloween movies revolving around the psycho killer in the bleached William Shatner mask and this one oddity that strays from that formula.  And what an oddity it is!  The plot features such bizarre elements as robots, mad scientists, Stonehenge, and killer Halloween masks.  It's a bit of a departure from standard slasher fare, right?  Halloween III stars underrated genre vet Tom Atkins, who does a fine job in the lead role, though the the pointless love story inserted into the mix doesn't do him any favors.  Not only is he far older than his female co-star, but they lack chemistry and we're supposed to buy into their efforts to find time to scrog when they're supposed to be saving all the little children.  Of course, there are other elements of the movie that make less sense, so I digress.  There's also the Silver Shamrock commercial that appears repeatedly throughout Halloween III and is guaranteed to drive the audience mad.  Yes, it's a bad movie, but it's fun to watch and it has moments.  Hell, given all the crazy shit being thrown at the screen in this 1982 romp, some of it was bound to entertain.

Finale Grade: C
"Robots?  Stonehenge?  No Micheal Myers?  What the hell is this shit?"

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Top 10 Marvel Movies

So, this list doesn't simply refer to the movies that Marvel has produced, but I'm also including any movie featuring a Marvel comic book character.  X-Men are welcome here, as well as Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, and Blade.  I am excluding Conan, but that's pretty much it, and I think it makes sense to leave Robert E. Howard's beloved barbarian out of the mix.  Additionally, I'm not looking at box office results or other people's reviews.  These are my personal favorites and I'm sure that many people will see things differently.  I'm aware that I'm pretty heavy on the new stuff when we get to the top of the list, but I think that Marvel has recently upped the ante in a big way.  I'll also point out that if I felt that the Daredevil series on Netflix was eligible for consideration, it would surely own a spot on this list.  Please check that show out if you haven't already done so.

Verily, I say unto thee, these are my Top 10 Marvel Movies:

10 - Blade (1998)
I think a lot of people have forgotten about Blade.  This movie was a big hit and it totally rocks.  When I hear people talk about how either the X-Men or Iron Man started this current comic book movies craze, I wonder if they've seen Wesley Snipes killing it as Marvel's premiere vampire slayer.

9 - Spider-Man (2002)
I'm a big fan of Sam Raimi's work with your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.  More on that later.  Like many, I wish it would have been possible to utilize the Green Goblin's classic look from the comics, but Willem Dafoe was amazing in the role despite a clunky outfit.  Great story, great effects--great movie!

8 - Iron Man (2008)
Hello there, Robert Downey Jr., welcome to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  This perfect exercise in casting brought these movies to another level.  Having Jeff Bridges along for the ride was a pretty good call as well.  Fun, quirky, and action-packed, this one definitely paved the way for the movies sitting at the top of my list.

7 - X2: X-Men United (2003)
X-Men was cool.  X2 is amazing.  I love the villains, I love the script, and despite numerous attempts to do more with the character, this is the best representation of Wolverine that we've seen on the screen to date. 

6 -Spider-Man 2 (2004)
It is entirely possible that the big brawl pitting Spidey against Doc Ock atop a moving train is still the finest fight scene that we've seen in any comics-inspired film, but that's not the only reason I put this one on my list.  The story is first-rate, the acting is spectacular, and this is one of Raimi's best features.  That's high praise.

5 - X-Men: First Class (2011)
Incredibly cool, riveting, and witty, this is the best X-Men movie we've gotten thus far.  I know that a lot of you enjoyed X-Men: Days of Future Past a lot more than I did (don't get me wrong, I liked it a lot) but it just didn't do as much for me as this thought-provoking and ass-kicking thrill ride. 
Bonus points: Michael Fassbender is superb.  I love Magneto's storyline in this film.  Ian McKellan was also incredible in the role, but Fassbender absolutely steals the show in First Class.

4 - The Avengers (2012)
If you didn't experience a nerdgasm while watching Earth's Mightest Heroes join forces in 2012, you're not a true nerd.  At the time, I thought there was no way that Marvel could top this magnificent blockbuster.

3 - Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Then we got this splendid thriller.  The plot is wicked, the action is relentless, and somehow Marvel found a way to improve upon The Avengers.  This feat grows even more impressive when you consider that they managed to do so with Captain America front and center.  I love Cap, but I thought that his first film wasn't one of Marvel's elite productions.  It was good, but it wasn't in the same league as many of their other efforts.  Then they brought in the Winter Soldier and blessed us with this gem.

2 - Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Last week, Marvel hit us with their second Avengers movie, and they somehow crafted a sequel that was bigger and better than the first one.  This is officially the first Marvel movie that I watched twice on opening day.  I've watched several of these flicks more than once in the theater, but this one was so awesome that I went back for a second helping. 
Bonus points: the second time out I got to enjoy Avengers: Age of Ultron in IMAX 3-D.  Holy wow.

1 - Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
When this film was first announced, I was curious.  When they named James Gunn as director, I figured it would be pretty cool.  Yet I never expected it to emerge as Marvel's coolest cinematic offering.  Truthfully, Guardians of the Galaxy is about as entertaining as movies get.  It's energetic and joyous, and it somehow topped everything else on this list while drawing from an obscure property. 

. . .

Please feel free to chime in on my choices and offer up your own.