Five Cool Things and the Grateful Dead

As noted in last week’s entry, I spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s at my in-laws spending time with my wife’s family. They are lovely people but not very pop-cultural savvy. We tend to spend our time playing board games and chatting with each other rather than watching movies and television. Luckily, I always get a few comic books for Christmas and as you’ll see I’ve already read a few of them.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron (comic book)

In the comics, Ultron has existed since the late ’60s and appeared as one of the great Avengers’ villains periodically since then. He was created by Hank Pym. Designed as the next level of artificial intelligence, Ultron ultimately grew too smart and decided humanity was better off never existing.

Age of Ultron came out in 2013 as a massive crossover event. It has very little in common with the 2015 film of the same name. In this version, Ultron, after having been missing for years, returns with a host of Sentinels, who quickly destroy most of Earth, wiping out numerous superheroes within minutes. Those who are left are spread out throughout the country, desperate for survival. Nick Fury hatches a plan to use one of Doctor Doom’s time platforms to go back in the past and be ready for the attack. Others think it best to go farther back and warn Pym not to make Ultron. Wolverine, knowing Pym won’t listen to reason, goes back to kill Pym.

There’s lots of cool time travel and the butterfly effect it has upon the future. It’s always fun to see how various classic characters relate to one another (even if I’m not all that well versed in their comic versions). As a big crossover storyline, there are at least a couple of ways to read it. I chose the less thorough path, leaving out lots of side trips and one-offs as I’m just not interested in reading how characters I don’t know are barely affected the main story, but it’s there for those who want that sort of thing.

This was my first real dive into Avengers comics and I’ll definitely be coming back to them.

Batman – Dark Victory

Last Christmas, I got a copy of Jeph Loeb’s take on Batman with the very excellent The Long Halloween. This Christmas I got its sequel, Dark Victory. The stories are actually very similar with Batman in full detective mode moving his way through a large section of his rogue’s gallery and contending with warring mafia families all the while trying to catch a serial killer who murders only on holidays. This time the killer is hanging cops and former cops, sending cryptic hangman letters as clues.

But while the story structures are very similar, the book is never boring. Loeb has a great feel for the characters and keeps the action moving and interesting. Batman as a detective is my favorite kind of Batman and Loeb writes a good mystery. Tim Sale’s art is as vibrant and interesting as ever.

Daredevil by Ed Brubaker & Michael Lark

I’m a big fan of the Netflix Daredevil show so I’ve been dipping my toes into the comic books. I’ve previously read some of the iconic Frank Miller Daredevil books and over the break I started in on Ed Brubaker’s take on the blind crime fighter.

I’ve not read any of the previous books of this incarnation of Daredevil (which started in 1998 as a sort-of reboot and was initially written by Kevin Smith) so I’m not entirely sure why we find Matt Murdock in prison as the story opens. Apparently, the DA thinks Murdock is Daredevil and that’s enough to get him locked away pending an ever-delayed trial. Whatever the reasons, putting Murdock in prison makes for some good pages. Not wanting to prove he is Daredevil, Murdock takes a low-key approach to his time behind bars until someone he is close to incurs something tragic while visiting Murdock. I don’t want to spoil that event but it’s quite impactful and spurs Murdock to lash out in some really enjoyable ways.

The rest of the book has Daredevil playing detective as he tries to figure out who did that to his friend and why. There are battles with Kingpin, a prison riot, and an escape plan hatched with the help of the Punisher. Brubaker’s gritty hard-boiled style works perfectly with Lark’s nourish style and they both make for some excellent Daredevil comics.

The Field of Blood

I really enjoyed Peter Capaldi’s run as Doctor Who. Now that it’s over, I’ve been searching out other things he’s been in. My AcornTV app notes that he starred in this series alongside David Morrissey so I gave it a go. Descriptions can be misleading and as it turns out, Capaldi is hardly in it. Like a lot of British crime shows, this one was split up into two longish episodes that together make something like a full-fledged film. Capaldi is just barely in the first episode, only appearing in the background winking at the main characters (and the audience too). He plays a much more significant role in the second half but his screen time is still small.

Morrissey fares a little better but his role is still much smaller than expected. The real star is a little-known actress named Jayd Johnson. She stars as a teenaged “copy boy” working for the Glasgow Daily News with dreams of being a real journalist. It shares some common DNA with Prime Suspect (and I just realized Peter Capaldi played the cross dressing Vera Reynolds in Season 3 of that show) as it depicts a woman fighting her way to make a career in a very male dominated and very sexist work place.

It’s set in 1982 and does a nice job of depicting the period and the darker, grimy Scotland city. The story is pretty basic crime stuff, but its well made and Johnson holds her own with her more seasoned actors.

231 movies in 2017

For ten years now, I’ve kept a list of all the movies I’ve watched each month. The first year I kept track, 2007, I watched 100 movies. That seemed like a nice round number and a pretty good goal to reach for. It rounds out to roughly two movies a week, 10 movies a month (well okay its more like eight movies a month but I was never good with math, and 10 is easier to remember). I’ve mostly maintained that number of viewings each year and it’s served well to keep me watching films when I might rather throw on old episodes of Cheers.

This year I blew my goal out of the water with a whopping 231 movies watched. That’s pretty good for a guy with a full-time job that isn’t titled “movie critic” and who has a wife and young daughter. There are various reasons for the number increasing including a daughter who can not watch a movie in one sitting and who, if not interested in the film, will entertain herself without needing Daddy every five minutes. I also very intentionally slowed down my normal TV show binge watching in order to watch more films. I’ve missed some great shows, but I’ve been able to see some really interesting films. I plan to keep it up in 2018. If at all interested, you can see my full list on my Letterboxd profile.

The Grateful Dead – “Turn On Your Lovelight” New York, NY (02/11/70)

One of the (many) highlights of a Grateful Dead concert in their early days was when Ron “Pigpen” McKernan closed a show out with this song. Pigpen was a big biker looking dude who loved the blues. He’d sing the song with gusto and then as the band started to kick it into high gear with improvisational jams, Pigpen would lay down a high-spirited rap (in the talking-blues sense not the more modern hip-hop definition). On this night, the band was joined by a couple of Allman Brothers, Peter Green, and Mick Fleetwood.

“Lovelight” comes out of a pretty stellar “Dark Star” turned “Spanish Jam” and lasts for a full 30 minutes. You’d think with five different guitar players things it would get messy pretty quick but somehow they pull it off, each getting in distinctive licks without ever playing over each other. Duane Allman and Pig trade off on vocals and the whole thing is just glorious. An absolute must-hear for Deadheads.

Mat Brewster

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