‘Age of Ultron’ and our Marvel movie future

ultron avengers age of ultron

It’s probably an understatement that most of us geeks are looking forward to when “Avengers: Age of Ultron” opens in May.

There are a lot of comic-book movies coming – with more likely to be announced by Marvel in a mysterious event set for Tuesday – featuring Marvel, DC and other favorites.

But “Age of Ultron” is the one that everybody’s thinking about right now, in part because the teaser trailer was released this week and tens of millions of people have watched it.

I would guess that a few million of those people who watched the trailer were doing more than marvel – no pun intended – at the menace in James Spaders’ Ultron voice or the glimpses at Iron Man’s Hulkbuster armor.

The little hints at the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are beyond tantalizing.

We’ve been watching so closely, in recent Marvel movie credits scenes, for clues to what would happen with villain Ultron in the third “Avengers” movie.

Then Marvel didn’t dispute reports that the third “Captain America” movie would feature, alongside Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark and would likely follow at least some of the comic book “Civil War” storyline, which pit two groups of heroes, led by government skeptic Steve Rogers and government control freak Tony Stark, into a battle that would eventually lead to Rogers’ death and replacement, for a time, with Bucky Barnes.

avengers age of ultron poster

It all seems likely and seems to fit with Marvel’s ambitious plans.

We might know more Tuesday. In the meantime, we can continue to puzzle over the “Age of Ultron” trailer and what we’ll see when the movie opens in May.

Today in Halloween: Skulls under glass

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Have you noticed how much skull stuff there is out there this year?

These guys remind me of the invaders from “Mars Attacks.”

Chelsea Cain returns with ‘One Kick’

one kick chelsea cain

Starting a new series can be a tricky thing for an author. Will readers follow you to another series, especially one that’s very different from the old familiar one?

Chelsea Cain needn’t worry. Since 2007, she’s been writing a series of twisty and twisted thrillers about Portland cop Archie Sheridan and Gretchen Lowell, the serial killer who seduced and nearly killed Archie. Cain’s books are grim and fun at the same time, throwing great characters like young newspaper reporter Susan Ward into the horrific dance between Sheridan and Lowell to lighten the tone occasionally.

Cain is trying something very different with “One Kick,” a new books that kicks off a new series following Kit “Kick” Lannigan, a 21-year-old with a horrifying past. As a child, she was kidnapped by a stranger who held her in captivity for five years, molesting her and making her the star of many child pornography movies that live on a decade after she was rescued from Mel, her captor.

As a 21-year-old, Kick is training her body and gathering weapons for … something. She doesn’t know quite what, but she goes into high alert every time a child turns up missing.

Finally, after the disappearance of a young boy named Adam, Kick is approached by Bishop, a frustratingly smug and enigmatic man, apparently independently wealthy, who recruits her to help him find Adam and other missing children.

With the life of Kick’s brother threatened by a predator from their childhood – and Kick’s life and sanity in the balance – Kick goes to work, an emotionally frayed but lethal avenging angel, striking out to save children from the same fate that befell her.

Cain’s readers will find some familiar elements in “One Kick,” including an annoying mother and some unhealthy relationships. And there are some queasy moments of visceral gore.

But “One Kick” and Kick Lannigan are very different animals from Archie or Gretchen or Susan. As personal as Gretchen’s assault was to Archie, there’s nothing as horrible, as cruel, as the toll that child exploitation takes on its victims. It’s to Cain’s credit that her story adequately conveys this weight at the same time it turns the characters and situations into fodder for a gripping crime novel.

Today in Halloween: Hello there!

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Regular readers of the blog know I love Halloween and like to share items old and new.

Above, first time I’ve seen this piece of decor.

My thought: Sure, everybody likes it when it’s for Halloween!

‘Wrinkle in Time’ deserves another look

a wrinkle in time

I think I’m going to have to re-read “A Wrinkle in Time.” Seriously, this time.

Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 story, about young siblings and a friend who journey through space and time to rescue their scientist father, was a favorite of mine when I was a kid.

I was a little romantic, you see, and the book’s earnest tone and loving characters appealed to me.

I read one or two of L’Engle’s sequels but the first book really stuck with me.

And then I tried to read it again a year or two ago.

I couldn’t get through it. I couldn’t even get very far into it.

I grew up on a steady diet of science fiction and I still love some Young Adult books, especially “The Hunger Games” trilogy.

But re-reading “A Wrinkle in Time” almost made me swoon from all the saccharine dialogue and heartfelt feelings.

I’ll try reading it again because I want to experience this favorite story again before the movie comes out.

Yes, apparently Jennifer Lee, who wrote and co-directed “Frozen,” wants to write a screenplay for a long-planned movie version of “A Wrinkle in Time.”

I haven’t seen “Frozen” but it seems like Lee is the right person to add some bite to “Wrinkle.”

So I’ll try it again and see if anything can re-ignite my love for this old story.

Classic TV: ‘Superman on Earth’

the adventures of superman

It’s hard to overstate just what an impact “The Adventures of Superman” had on America in the 1950s.

Kids were comic-book crazy back then and comics had sold millions of copies a year for more than a decade. Superman was one of the most popular and when the DC Comics superhero hit TV, a generations-long love affair with the Man of Steel became as solid as steel bars, breakable only by Superman himself.

A great deal of the credit for the impact of the series goes to “Superman on Earth,” a lean and sturdy telling of Superman’s origin directed by veteran helmer Tommy Carr. The series – which started in black and white, as befits a show that revolved around gangsters, hoods and other film noir staples more than science fiction – sparked millions of Superman toys, Halloween costumes and, eventually, more movies and TV shows over the course of six seasons beginning in the fall of 1952.

The debut episode hews surprisingly closely to the Superman mythos as they’d been created and fleshed out in the comics and radio show.

superman on earth jor-el rocket

The story opens on Krypton, as scientist Jor-El tries to tell the Kryptonian ruling council about the eminent destruction of the planet. They scoff at his forecast as well as his plan to build rocketships to transport the population to the planet Earth.

Before Jor-El can complete a rocket to take him, Lara and baby Kal-El to Earth, Krypton begins to tear itself apart. Jor-El and Lara wrap little Kal in a blanket and place him in the rocket.

in these first 10 minutes or so, the show plays like a “Flash Gordon”-style space opera – complete with, legend says, “Flash Gordon” leftover costumes.

After the rocket gets to Earth, it’s the heartfelt but hokey Smallville portion of the story, with Eben and Sarah Kent finding the rocket from Krypton and deciding to keep the baby. Flash forward to Clark at age 12, asking Ma why he’s different from the other boys. Then flash forward to Clark’s 25th “birthday” and Pa’s heart attack. As is familiar from so many iterations of the story, Clark decides to leave Smallville and go to Metropolis.

There’s a funny shot of George Reeves as Clark, “walking” down the sidewalks of Metropolis, putting on glasses as a disguise and deciding to become a reporter because newspapers were where the action is and Superman would know immediately when trouble broke out.

One of the strengths of the series was that Clark was a sharp guy who leveraged his powers as Superman in his everyday life. After gruff Daily Planet editor Perry White brushes him off – even after Clark shows initiative by entering his office through the window, 28 floors up – Clark hears Lois tell Perry about a man hanging from a dirigible out at the airport. Clark bargains with Perry: If he can get the man’s exclusive story, he’ll get a reporter job.

Superman shows up, rescues the man – played by Dabbs Greer, later memorable as the minister in “Little House on the Prairie,” and gets his story – frustrating Lois and winning the job.

The show wraps up with a customary joke by Clark – “Maybe I’m Superman” he taunts Lois – and bang, in less than a half hour, the show has introduced America to the the world’s greatest superhero.

‘Longmire’ canceled; book series hits new peak

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I’ve got good news and bad news.

Despite its status as A&E’s top-rated drama series, “Longmire” has been canceled by the cable channel.

We heard a variety of explanations given when the news broke a few days ago. A&E didn’t value the older-than-the-most-coveted-demographic age of the audience. A&E didn’t own the series and thus made less money from it.

TV is a totally screwed up industry.

So with the finish of the third season still fresh and the possibility that the series might continue on another channel or even online, we’ll mourn “Longmire” and hope for more adventures of the crusty Wyoming sheriff and his posse.

Longmire Season 2

“Longmire” the TV series had a great cast and average-to-above-average stories that settled into author Craig Johnson’s characters and settings more as the series progressed.

But the series never topped Johnson’s stories. And I don’t think I’ve ready any 10th book in a series that felt as assured as “Any Other Name,” Johnson’s latest Longmire novel.

Sure, Robert B. Parker’s Spencer series and Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books are dependably, consistently fun. And maybe Johnson just hit a high point with “Any Other Name.” But the book series feels like it’s gotten a second wind, so compelling and accomplished does “Any Other Name” feel.

Johnson can’t go too far wrong when he focuses on Walt Longmire, of course. Select members of his supporting cast bring a lot to the stories, and he includes three of them here: Walt’s longtime best friend, Henry Standing Bear; Vic Moretti, Walt’s chief deputy and sometime paramour, and Lucian Connally, Walt’s predecessor as sheriff.

Lucian asks Walt’s help in finding out why his old friend, a cop in another county, killed himself. Before long, they determine that the cop’s death was caught up in a scheme involving missing women and human trafficking.

Johnson’s writing is so heartfelt but so wry, so funny but so hard-nosed, that it didn’t seem likely that he could top his previous books.

But I really think he did with “Any Other Name.” The story has the quirky charm of all of the author’s previous modern-day westerns with a clear and concise mystery.

And it feels like Johnson had a hell of a time writing “Any Other Name.” I just hope he had as good a time writing it as I had reading it.

‘The Musketeers’ and ‘The Three Musketeers’

the musketeers bbc america

I’ve always loved Musketeers stories.

I’m pretty sure I read Alexandre Dumas’ novel of 17th-century Musketeers – the king’s guard – when I was still young and certainly before the 1973 Richard Lester movie version. I really loved Lester’s movie and its made-at-the-same-time sequel, “The Four Musketeers,” which was funny and slapstick and swashbuckling all at the same time. The movies clinched my love of the story and characters, a love that deepened when I saw the very different but equally thrilling 1948 version starring Gene Kelly and Van Heflin.

So I’ve enjoyed getting a double-dose of Musketeers lately with a BBC America series, “The Musketeers,” and a repeat viewing of Lester’s first movie.

“The Musketeers” is a handsome version of the story of young French farm boy d’Artagnan, who goes to Paris on a mission of revenge but soon finds companions in three of the king’s best Musketeers, suave Aramis, tragic Athos and brawling Porthos.

The series has the court intrigue, double-crossings and mysterious motives familiar from the story. The four Musketeers are stalwart but portrayed as men with faults and secrets.

Peter Capaldi as Cardinal Richelieu in the BBC's The Musketeers.
A nice bonus is the presence of Peter Capaldi, who just last night began his tenure as the Doctor in “Doctor Who,” as Cardinal Richelieu, often portrayed as a villain but given some interesting shading here.

The series finishes up tonight, but I’m sure you can catch it streaming or on demand.

As for a recent chance to re-watch Lester’s original “Three Musketeers,” with Michael York, Raquel Welch and the amazing Oliver Reed, I rediscovered my love for the movie again.

the three musketeers 1973
But I hadn’t remembered how goofy parts of the movie were.

And for all the talk about modern-day movies hinting at or previewing future movies in a series, “The Three Musketeers” ends with scenes from its sequel.

It was a practice the producers, the Salkinds, pioneered here and tried to do again with the first two “Superman” movies. In the latter series, the producers threw out much of the footage shot for the sequel. With the “Musketeers” films, some members of the cast sued because they had been paid for only one movie.

Pretty sure Peter Jackson worked out such details with the “Lord of the Rings” cast before the fact.

Classic: ‘Night of the Hunter’

night of the hunter horseback

I forgot how crazy “Night of the Hunter” was.

I saw the 1955 Charles Laughton-directed film, starring Robert Mitchum as a murderous preacher with a series of dead wives in his wake, in my movie-crazy adolescence way more than 30 years ago. It was during a period I was soaking up every movie I could find on TV – this was before the VCR era, even – and reading about everything, from the old Universal horror movies to classics like the Marx Brothers and Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory.”

But in the decades since I saw “Night of the Hunter,” my mind had pretty much rendered it to its single-sentence plotline: Woman-killing man of the cloth has murderous intentions for his adopted family.

I forgot how subversive, how darkly funny, how outright odd much of the movie is.

Set in rural West Virginia in the 1930s, the movie starts out with a shock: Children playing in a yard begin a game of hide-and-seek, only to discover the body of a dead woman in the opening to a storm cellar.

night of the hunter mitchum love

We quickly discover she’s the latest victim of Harry Powell, a traveling preacher and serial killer. As he tools along country roads, Powell talks to God about his mission: Kill women and steal their money to fund his religious crusade.

Powell’s travels are interrupted by his arrest for auto theft and he spends a few weeks in jail. While inside, he meets Ben Harper (Peter Graves), a family man awaiting execution for murder. After hearing Harper talk in his sleep about the existence of $10,000 in stolen cash – and following Harper’s execution – Powell is released and goes to find and befriend Harper’s widow Willa (Shelley Winters) and her children, skeptical John (Billy Chapin) and loving Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce).

Powell talks his way into marriage with Willa – with the help of town busybody Icey Spoon (Evelyn Varden) – and then sets out to find the $10,000, murdering his new family if he must.

The movie is full of menace and performances that range from subtle (Mitchum, usually) to over-the-top.

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“Night of the Hunter” has been cited as an influence on the filmmakers that followed it, but watching Laughton’s movie, it feels like he was influenced by everything from homespun small-town dramas (the town gossip) to horror films (the moody lighting, the lurching figure of Mitchum when he’s chasing the children, images right out of a “Frankenstein” movie). Laughton puts a satirical spin on all this, however. The gossipy neighbor who practically forces the widow into Powell’s arms literally leads the lynch mob after Powell’s head at the end of the movie.

There’s a drinking game to be played watching “Night of the Hunter,” and it involves taking a drink every time Mitchum sings a verse of a hymn or emptying your glass every time he calls out, “Children …. ” in a spine-tingling sing-song tone.

Alternately, “Night of the Hunter” could almost be recut as a 1980s sitcom, with Mitchum as the bumbling dad, forever tripping over things in the basement.

‘The Strain’ a gooey mess, but fun

the strain david bradley

“The Strain” is an odd bird. Even besides the whole “vampires projecting fleshy six-foot-long stingers out of their mouths” thing.

It’s odd because it’s a TV series drawn from a series of three books that began life as a TV project.

Published in 2009, “The Strain” was written by movie director Guillermo del Toro and top-notch crime drama writer Chuck Hogan, who wrote “Prince of Thieves,” the hard-bitten Boston thriller made into the Ben Affleck movie “The Town.”

The two based “The Strain” and its two sequels, “The Fall” and “The Night Eternal,” on a TV series they wanted to develop.

The first book – and this is the plot familiar to viewers of the FX series, which is five episodes into a 13-episode first (?) season – follows the efforts of a small group of people – a couple of Centers for Disease Control scientists, an exterminator and a sword-wielding survivor of a World War II death camp – to convince authorities that New York City is the breeding ground for a deadly type of virus, It’s a disease that turns people into grotesque vampires, spreads rapidly – and has been deliberately released into the population after most of the passengers and crew of an airliner turn up dead on the runway at JFK.

“The Strain” is also odd in that, having read the books, I can’t quite imagine how the show can play out like Hogan and del Toro’s series of novels.

I won’t get into spoilers here, but suffice it to say that it would be an odd series indeed that starts as a medical thriller with supernatural overtones and morphs into … well, something else entirely.

“The Strain” is not what it seems. I’m not sure at what pace the plot will play out – and I’m pretty sure the series will be more faithful to the books than the adaptation of Stephen King’s “Under the Dome” has been – but it’ll be very interesting to see what happens by the end of this season. Or next, if there is one.

And those stingers. Sheesh.

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