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Thursday, August 25, 2016

My Top 10 Superhero Movies

Recently, a friend asked me what my top ten comic book movies were. I looked at this as a mental exercise, because my typical answer is "it depends on my mood". This time, though, I set out some criteria for my choices.

  1. The character(s) had to originate in comic books or comic strips. So, characters like Zorro (books), The Lone Ranger (radio), or the crew of the Enterprise (TV) aren’t allowed.
  2. Comic book adaptions of movies (i.e. Star Wars) don’t count, even if they came out before the movie itself.
  3. Theatrical releases only, no TV movies.

So, with all of that in mind, here's my list.

10. Batman (Warner Brothers, 1989)

One of the first times I saw a "serious" Batman on the screen was when my friends and I went to the two screen movie theater in town and waited in line for THE EVENT of the summer of 1989. I remember being one of the people that wasn't all that convinced that Michael Keaton could pull off a serious role, but I was wrong. This is still one of the great examples of a non-origin movie, even if they had to link the Joker & Batman.








9. Guardians of the Galaxy (Marvel Studios, 2014)

This is one our whole family enjoyed when we saw it. Kira loved the visuals, and the talking raccoon. Michelle loved the story and characters. I was just reveling in the "comic-ness" of the whole thing. I mean, there was a scene with a Celestial for crying out loud! Plus, this was just a fun movie that didn't take itself too seriously.









8. Iron Man (Marvel Studios, 2008)

You want an example of how to turn a comic origin into a movie? Here you go. Updated for the more modern day technology (no, transistors didn't do everything) and a location change, but pretty much everything from the Tales of Suspense issue is here. Plus, Robert Downey, Jr. did an amazing job which has, fortunately or unfortunately, informed the character since.









7. Batman (20th Century Fox, 1966)

Yes, I rank Adam West & Caesar Romero higher than Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson, and that for the simple reason that we have the Silver Age Batman characters on screen in a hugely fun romp. I love the original Batman TV Series in all it's tongue-in-cheek glory, and this movie is that ramped up to 11. We recently rewatched this for it's 50th Anniversary and I'm happy to say that it's still one of the most enjoyable movies I've seen, right down to the Bat Anti-Shark Spray.







6. Thor (Marvel Studios, 2011)

Marvel puts out, essentially, a movie about Walt Simonson's Thor directed by one of the best Shakespearean actors/directors of the modern age and you can be assured that it will be on my top 10 list. This was the perfect way to approach the idea of a god as a superhero, and bringing the whole humility thing in without resorting to Donald Blake just gets bonus points.









5. The Phantom (Paramount Pictures, 1996)

Look at Billy Zane in this movie and you'll see someone who's just having a blast in the role. Prior to this movie my entire experience with The Phantom was on "Defenders of the Earth", which isn't exactly the best introduction. This film, barring the stupid "Slam Evil" tag, is just great stuff. Keeping Kit Walker in the 30's/40's is probably the best way to handle it. Heck, I'd love to see The Ghost Who Walks run across Indiana Jones. The Nazis wouldn't stand a chance.







4. The Incredible Hulk (Marvel Studios, 2008)

I have no problem with Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner. In fact, I like what he's done with the role very much. Ed Norton, though, was a great amalgam of the comic book & TV Banner and I will always prefer him in the role. The nods to every version of the Hulk in this movie are terrific, as is the story. Banner's still on the run and trying to find a cure, & in trying to combat him General Ross unleashes an even worse monster. Great stuff!








3. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (Warner Brothers, 1993)

The single best interpretation of Batman, in my opinion, is Batman: The Animated Series. Bring all of that to the big screen, with a take-off on Batman: Year Two, and you have my attention. Kevin Conroy & Mark Hamill will for all time be the voices that I hear when reading Batman & The Joker, and they are at their absolute best in this movie. Add a possibility of Bruce Wayne NOT becoming Batman, and you have one heck of a film.








2. Superman: The Movie (Warner Brothers, 1978)

You look at this picture and just hear the John Williams score, don't you? There's no doubt about it, Christopher Reeve was the absolute BEST at portraying both Clark Kent and Superman. His earnestness just sells it to the point that you do believe that a man can fly. This isn't a perfect movie, between the "can you read my mind" stuff and the flying back through time deus ex machina, but it's still one of the best out there.








1. Captain America – The First Avenger (Marvel Studios, 2011)

I put Christopher Reeve & Chris Evans in the same club, because Superman & Captain America are in the same club. These are the men who do the right thing, no matter how hard it is or how much they have to sacrifice. I whole-heartedly believe Evans as Steve Rogers, a man who doesn't want to kill but to protect. This is Captain America, the hero that everyone in the world, American or not, can look up to and admire.








What do you think, dear reader? With the criteria above, are there any that I should have had on here? Should Flash Gordon have replaced the 1966 Batman? Should Iron Man 2 be on here in place of something? Let me know your opinion.

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Evaluating Vacation Options - Disney Dining

As anyone who knows me well can tell you, I'm a planner. I like to know what I'm going to be doing on such and such a day pretty early on. It should be no surprise, then, that I'm already into planning our 2017 vacation. Right now the plan is to head back to Orlando, but this time we're going to visit Universal and possibly Kennedy Space Center, as well as Walt Disney World. We won't be going for two weeks this time, but we will be down there for more than one week.

Since we have our timeshare already booked for the first 7 days, we had a couple of more nights that we needed to take care of. Since I have never stayed On Property at WDW, we thought that this would be the perfect opportunity. So, I contacted the experts at Earning My Ears to get their opinions on hotel choices. We've more or less settled on where we're going to stay, but I had another question for them. Staying On Property gives you the opportunity to get a Dining Plan, and I had heard things both for and against this. It also turns out that the Scotts were split on it.

In any case, the discussion came down to comparing costs. All WDW restaurants have their menus online, so all you need to do is a little research. I started out with what would the dining plan add to the cost of our stay. Here are some numbers for you to consider for your trip.

First, the basics. We're talking about two adults and one child under 9 staying two nights. Each Dining Plan has two Snacks per person per night, as well as a beverage cup that can be refilled at any resort. For purposes of this exercise, I'm going to use the price of a Mickey Bar (~$4) as the base cost for a snack and the cup is approximately $17 each*.

That means the snacks for the stay would be $4 * 2 nights * 2 per night * 3 people = $48, and the total cost for the cups would be $17 * 3 people = $51. So we need to subtract $99 from the plan cost to get the cost of just the meals.

Now for the plan breakdown, based on the 2017 options:

Quick Service Dining Plan
(2) Quick Service Meals
Cost for our stay ~ $228
Cost without Snacks & Cup ~ $129
Cost per Meal ~$33

Disney Dining Plan
(1) Quick Service Meal
(1) Table Service Meal
Cost for our stay ~ $320
Cost without Snacks & Cup ~ $221
Cost per Meal ~ $56

Disney Deluxe Dining Plan
(3) Meals, Quick Service or Table Service
Cost for our stay ~ $492
Cost without Snacks ~ $393
Cost per Meal ~ $66

For comparison sake, let's look at Lunch at The Liberty Tree Tavern and Breakfast at The Riverside Mill Food Court.

At Lunch, we'd likely have the Kids' Pasta ($9.50), Angus Cheeseburger ($16.00), and Pilgrim's Feast ($19.00), possibly having the Boston Cream Pie ($8.50) and Johnny Appleseed's Tart ($8.00) for dessert. Plus 2 drink ($2.99 each) Total cost of the meal = $67.00

At Breakfast the likely choices would be Kid's Mickey Shaped Waffle ($4.99), Bounty Platter w/ Waffle ($9.49), Grits ($2.99), & Create Your Own Omelet ($8.49). Plus Iced Coffee ($4.69) & whatever juice choice they have (not listed). Total cost of the meal = $30.65

Using these numbers as a basis (~$49 average for the two meals), it wouldn't make sense to get any of the plans. However, if we were to possibly go to Chef Mickey's for Dinner, which is a more expensive restaurant, something else might fall in line.

Let's look at another example, just to be complete. This time it's Dinner at The Liberty Inn. Here we'll probably go for the Kids' Chicken Breast Nuggets ($6.49), The All American Burger ($14.49), and the Classic Cheeseburger ($12.99), as well as a Large soda ($3.69) and a Regular soda ($3.29). Total cost of the meal = $40.95

Combine both of our Quick Service examples and we have an average cost of $35.80 per meal, which is greater than the cost of $33 per meal of the Quick Service plan. In this case, it would make sense to have the Quick Service plan and then pay out of pocket if we want to do Table Service somewhere.

So we need to scope out where we want to eat and the likely cost of the meal, we can see if any of these plans would make sense. If that a bit of work? Yes, it is. However, I'm the guy who not only plans out where we're going to eat but, where ever possible, I make reservations for us, so I'd have to do some of this work anyway.

Will this kind of planning be helpful to you? I hope so. Yeah, you have to put some time and effort in but, really, you'll need to do that if you want to get the most out of a WDW vacation.

Speaking of which, I can't recommend this episode highly enough for planning your trip.

* If you don't think they'll lose money on me having a refillable cup for soda during my stay, you don't know me very well. ;-)

EDIT: We ran the numbers this weekend and it looks like the only plan that would make sense for us would be the Deluxe. There's a caveat to that, though. Since the plan only takes effect when we check into the hotel, that means that we would have to eat all the meals On Property for those days, essentially locking us into visiting only WDW. Since we are planning on meeting up with other people, possibly somewhere else, and that hasn't been finalized yet, this might not work for this trip.

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Animalypics

One of those cartoon "events" that I remember from being a kid is Animalympics. A movie about anthropomorphic animals completing in their own Olympic games. What's not to love?

I remember this being on HBO every Olympic year, and my sister & I would make sure to catch it. I didn't get all the references, but I remember loving it.

Now I get the references to Howard Cosell, Muhammad Ali, Mark Spitz, John Travolta, and all the other celebrities. I also get the paradoy of Olympic coverage, as I have watched a number of broadcasts of the games.

This is definitely a cartoon aimed at adults*, but with enough stuff for kids to enjoy, in the best Termite Terrace tradition. Also, since the Olympics are currently going on, what better time for a re-watch? I've added the video below, for your convenience.

* No, I'm not talking about Kit Mambo or Brenda Springer. Not that I'm complaining about them, mind you. ;-)


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Thursday, August 4, 2016

Thunderbirds Are Go!



We recently finished watching the new series called "Thunderbirds Are Go!" on Amazon and, as anyone who follows me on social media knows, I LOVED it! One of the reasons for this is that I'm a huge fan of the original, Supermarionation version. That's something that my father introduced me to when I was a kid and, since this was in the days before video on demand, it was always a special event when we got to watch it.


The new series can be seen either as a re-imagining or as a sequel to that series. I prefer to see it as a sequel, just with updated tech for International Rescue. There are differences in the series, the most major of which (and this is a spoiler) is that Jeff Tracy, the father, doesn't appear in the show. We have the boys all running things, more or less, by committee.

Another difference is that Tin-Tin is no longer on the sidelines (or called Tin-Tin). Now she's known as Kayo, for her strong KO punch, and is an operative. I like that she's given something to do in this show and I understand the name change, as Tintin has been copyrighted. She's still the niece of the main villain, though, and the object of Alan's affections.

Once nice bit of continuity is a couple of the voices. You'll notice that the countdown and the line "Thunderbirds are go!" in the two videos below are the same. That's because they lifted the audio from the late Peter Dyneley (voice of the aforementioned Jeff Tracy) from the original series. You have no idea how thrilled I was when I first heard that.

Another returning voice is that of David Graham, who reprised his role as Parker, Lady Penelope's Man Friday. Parker is one of those characters that is just fun to watch. He's got an interesting back story, which is carried over from the original, and Graham is obviously enjoying his role here.

Whether you're a fan of the original or someone who's never watched the show before, I would highly recommend it. It's got some great stories and the premise, a group that rescues people who would have been killed otherwise, is something that we could use more of today.




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Thursday, July 28, 2016

It's A Mad House! A MAD HOUSE!

OK, so it wasn't really a mad house. In fact, the theater was pretty sparsely populated, but that didn't matter. What mattered is that we went to the movies this past weekend and saw the original "Planet of the Apes" on the big screen. I can't explain why, even though I've seen this movie countless times, that this screening was special.

Maybe it was the fact that this was my first time seeing it on something other than a television. The cinematography on the movie is glorious and can really only be appreciated larger than life. Scenes that would normally be riffed on MST3K for being nothing more than walking are rivioting and give you a sense of desperation of these men, lost on an alien planet.

Maybe it was because, even though we weren't in the same theater, I knew that my buddy Scott Gardner was also watching that same showing down in sunny Florida. Scott and I had a long talk on the Apes movies when we first met, face to face, back in 2014. We agreed to disagree on the repair of the space ship for the beginning of "Escape from the Planet of the Apes", but we did agree on our mutual love of this film.

Maybe it was because Michelle and Kira were with me. Michelle has seen the movie before but she said that she liked it a lot better on the big screen. Kira, on the other hand, has seen bits of the cartoon (yes, I'm the guy that watches the cartoon version), but has never seen the movie. We made sure to not tell her the ending, but she wasn't too shocked by it. That's probably because she's had a good amount of science fiction viewing over her short life, and the twist at the end, while unexpected, made sense to her.

Whatever it was, all three of us had a great time.

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Nightwing

Inspired by a recent episode of Trentus Magnus Punches Reality, I have dug out my old Nightwing comics and have started a reread. While I by no means have a complete run, I have a rather large chunk, especially of the Dixon/McDaniel/Story team. Doing this has reminded me just why Nightwing is my favorite member of the Bat-Family.

That's right. Not Batman. Not Robin. Not even Dick Grayson as Robin. No, my favorite member of the Bat-Family is Nightwing. Specifically the Nighwing as written by Chuck Dixon and illustrated by Scott McDaniel & Karl Story.

That I like the character under the pen of Dixon is a no-brainer. He's one of the writers that "gets" these characters and it's a joy to read any of his work. Having Dick go to another city, where he doesn't have the Gotham support systems, is wonderful. Not only that, we get some great supporting characters and Dick is able to finally find his own way.

What doesn't jive is that I like the art so much. Those that know me understand that I don't like impressionistic or "wonky" art. Not suprising when my first ever comic was drawn by Sal Buscema, a master. Even Walt Simonson's art, which is a bit more stylized, still is workable.

McDaniel's art, however, with it's odd sight lines and movable anatomy, doesn't fit into my normal box. However, it just WORKS for Nightwing. It kind of works for Robin, and I don't think it works for Batman or Superman at all, but it's just a perfect fit for Nightwing. The Flash/Spider-Man multiple images is terrific (see the image on this post) and allows you to see the grace at which Dick moves through his city. It's just some great stuff.

So the writing and art on this series is great, but why Nightwing? Well, that's pretty simple. Here you have one of the 2nd generation heroes who has grown into his own man. Unlike Wally West, who is my favorite Flash, Dick didn't take over for his mentor. He stopped being Robin and, after a bit of a search, found his own path. He's obviously inspired by Batman still, but also by all the other heroes who he's worked with. Nightwing isn't Batman 2.0, and he isn't Robin in long pants, he's his own hero who's grown into this role. That, and his ability to still smile & joke, is why I like Nightwing the best.

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Thursday, July 14, 2016

My Batman Wears Blue and Gray

From Batman-Online
Whether you're talking about Neil Adams, Jim Aparo, Adam West, or Olan Soule, the Batman that I grew up with wore blue & gray. I'm not going to get into the whole "he was originally intended to be in all black" or "blue can look darker than black at night" arguments. Nope, I just wanted to state that when someone says "Batman" to me, this is the costume that I picture.

Is it realistic? Not in the slightest, but, then, neither is Batman as a concept. The idea that a grown man, dressed as a bat, would go out and fight crime while not being killed isn't realistic at all. However, I've written about that before, so I won't get into it again.

This is a Batman who is The Dark Knight Detective. He's not the world's greatest fighter, but he can hold his own. He doesn't have a plan for everything, and has been tricked and beaten before. However, he never gives up and will eventually triumph through his keen mind and relentless will. This is a Batman who is not afraid to smile or crack a joke, but can be deadly serious when the occasion warrants it.

Your favorite Batman may be different, and that's great, but this is mine.


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