NEVER HAVE YOUR DOG STUFFED AND OTHER THINGS I’VE LEARNED By Alan Alda Is A Lighthearted Look at Life

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Never Have Your Dog StuffedWhat I’m Reading – Never Have Your Dog Stuffed And Other Things I’ve Learned  By Alan Alda

Book Review by MICHAEL ARRUDA

 

I recently started re-watching the TV series M*A*S*H on Netflix Streaming.  I was never a faithful fan of this classic show during its eleven year run.  I watched an episode here and there, but that was it.

Watching— and enjoying— M*A*S*H on Netflix got me in the mood to read one of Alan Alda’s memoirs, and I selected his first one, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed And Other Things I’ve Learned, written in 2005.  He would follow this up with Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself in 2007.  Both of these books became New York Times bestsellers.

In Never Have Your Dog Stuffed And Other Things I’ve Learned, Alda, who played Hawkeye on M*A*S*H, recounts his early years in great detail and spends considerable time on his upbringing, on times well spent with his actor dad, and on the difficult years with his schizophrenic mother.  His childhood was a complicated one.  Alda adored both parents, but because of his mother’s mental illness, the times spent with her were tumultuous.  Needless to say, his childhood was more colorful than most.  Indeed, the first line of the book reads “My mother didn’t try to stab my father until I was six.” Alda describes dark moments in his childhood, yet he never deviates from his sharp wit which makes these sad events easier to digest.

Growing up around the stage was a hoot for Alda.  His father was a successful stage actor and bought young Alan Alda with him during the productions.   Alda shares lots of fun stories from this period in his life, and they provide a nice slice of life of what it was like for a child to grow up around stage performers and comedians.  Alda loved it and said early on, by the age of nine, he knew he wanted to become an actor.  In contrast, the years spent with his schizophrenic mother were difficult and painful.

Alda’s road to becoming a successful actor is full of interesting stories and anecdotes, like the time he agreed to star in a movie filmed inside the Utah State Prison using real inmates as extras.  Alda recalls the scary ordeal when two of the prisoners took him hostage in order to escape the prison.  It turns out it was joke, as they were put up to do it by the film’s director, only Alda didn’t know it was a joke, nor did a prison guard, and for a brief time, things grew incredibly tense.

Alda would meet his future wife, Arlene, a clarinetist at the time, and now a photographer and children’s book author, while he was working in Paris.  The two would be together throughout Alda’s career.

Alda almost said no to M*A*S*H.  He loved the script from the beginning, but he hesitated because he lived with his wife and daughters in New Jersey, and to do a weekly series in Hollywood would mean either moving or an awfully long commute, but his wife Arlene encouraged him to go.  In fact, Alda did commute, travelling back and forth from Hollywood to New Jersey during his years on M*A*S*H.

 

Alda also worried that the script might become too silly and make the war seem fun, which was something he didn’t want to do, but he decided to trust the producers and he signed on.  The M*A*S*H years are glossed over quickly in the book, filling just one chapter.

The book goes on to tell poignant stories of how he dealt with the deaths of both his parents, probably the most emotional sections in the memoir.  He also chronicles his year on the PBS science show SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN FRONTIERS, and he finishes with the harrowing tale where he nearly lost his life in Chile, South America when he had to have emergency intestinal surgery and nearly died.

Never Have Your Dog Stuffed And Other Things I’ve Learned  is filled with neat moments and memorable lines.  Early on, when writing about his dad working on the stage, Alda shared an insight into his dad’s philosophy that struck a chord for me and is relevant to those of us toiling in the entertainment industry.  Whether we’re acting or writing, we want the same thing:  for our work to be noticed.  Or, as Alda wrote of his dad’s belief, “And if you could capture attention, that was an accomplishment.  It was the accomplishment.”

I reflected on that thought for a time and realized that’s the key to an author’s success as well as an actor’s.  We just want to capture people’s attention.  We want our work to be noticed.  That’s what it’s all about.

Alda shares a humorous story of when he was acting in a movie being shot on an island in the Bahamas.  The director encouraged the actors to ad lib from the script to give the film a flavor of spontaneity.  To keep in the mood, one night, Alda recalls how he and another actor were in a bar, with folks who didn’t understand English, and so they decided to improvise and put on an entire show in gibberish.  It was a smashing success until they went too far and found themselves fleeing the bar for their safety.  Sounds like a scene from M*A*S*H!

Alda describes what it was like to be nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in Martin Scorsese’s THE AVIATAR (2004).  He writes how he was showered with gifts, things like a cell phone designed specifically for nominees, a watch designed specifically for nominees, and even a trip to China.

And the title of the memoir, Never Have Your Dog Stuffed, comes from a story told early on from Alda’s childhood where his beloved pet dog died, and because he was so sad, his parents decided to have it stuffed for him, but unfortunately, the taxidermist did a terrible job, and Alda’s loving pet came back looking like murderous rabid beast, and frightened everyone who looked at it.

Never Have Your Dog Stuffed And Other Things I’ve Learned  By Alan Alda is a lighthearted witty look at both happy and dark moments in the life of a successful actor, writer, and entertainer, and like M*A*S*H, the iconic TV series Alda is famous for, it balances the light and dark with ease and makes for a captivating read.

—Michael

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Print Edition of My Novel TIME FRAME Now Available!

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time frame coverTIME FRAME – My Debut Novel Now Available!

By

Michael Arruda

It’s time for some happy news.

My debut novel, TIME FRAME, previously only available as an EBook from Necon Ebooks at www.neconebooks.com, is now available as a print on demand paperback edition.

There are several ways you can get a print edition of TIME FRAME.  You can order it at https://www.createspace.com/5487293, you can order it at Amazon.com, or you can order it directly through me.  Just send me an email at mjarruda33@gmail.com with your request and we’ll take it from there.  The print edition is on sale for $14.99.

The Ebook remains available for $2.99 and can be ordered at www.neconebooks.com.

TIME FRAME is a story about time travel.  I love time travel stories, and I set out to write one that played with multiple timelines and had some fun taking traditional time travel tropes to the extreme.

I wrote TIME FRAME with the spirit of time travel movies and TV shows in mind, films like THE TIME MACHINE (1960), TIME AFTER TIME (1979), and any number of STAR TREK episodes.  If you enjoy time travel adventures, chance are you’ll enjoy TIME FRAME.  I hope you decide to check it out.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

THE HORROR JAR: Movies starring Vincent Price and Christopher Lee; And Movies starring Vincent Price and Peter Cushing

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THE HORROR JAR:  Movies Starring Vincent Price and Christopher Lee; and Vincent Price and Peter Cushing

By Michael Arruda

 

Welcome to another edition of THE HORROR JAR, that column where we feature lists of odds and ends about horror movies.

 

Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Vincent Price all share birthdays in May:  Cushing on May 26 and both Lee and Price on May 27.  Last year to celebrate this occasion we looked at movies in which all three stars, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Vincent Price appeared together.  It was a brief list, since it only happened twice.

This year to honor their birthdays we’ll look at movies starring Vincent Price and Christopher Lee, and movies starring Vincent Price and Peter Cushing.  This list is brief as well.

Here we go:

Movies starring Vincent Price and Christopher Lee, without Peter Cushing:

Believe it or not, there’s just one.

THE OBLONG BOX (1969)oblong box poster

Directed by Gordon Hessler

Screenplay by Lawrence Huntington, with additional dialogue by Christopher Wicking, based on the story by Edgar Allan Poe

Julian:  Vincent Price

Dr. Newhartt:  Christopher Lee

Edward:  Alister Williamson

Running Time:  91 minutes

Lurid tale about premature burial, voodoo, and revenge in this story about a vengeful brother who goes around terrorizing the countryside while wearing a red hood.  Vincent Price plays the lead, the man who tries to control his lunatic brother but constantly does more harm than good.  Christopher Lee is solid in a supporting role.  This film would have been so much better had Lee been cast as the evil brother Edward.  Still, as it stands, this flick is a heck of a lot of fun.

 

Movies starring Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, without Christopher Lee:

PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972)

Directed by Robert FuestDoctorPhibesRisesAgain-poster

Screenplay by Robert Fuest and Robert Blees

Dr. Phibes:  Vincent Price

Captain:  Peter Cushing

Darrus Biederbeck:  Robert Quarry

Running Time:  89 minutes

Sequel to THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971) isn’t as good as the first one but comes darned close!  Barely counts as a Price/Cushing pairing, since Cushing’s role is only a cameo.  Blink and you miss him.  Once again, Price steals the show as Dr. Phibes.  Robert Quarry adds fine support as Phibes’ rival.

 

MADHOUSE (1974)

Directed by Jim ClarkMadhouse poster

Screenplay by Ken Levison and Greg Morrison, based on the novel by Devilday by Angus Hall

Paul Toombes:  Vincent Price

Herbert Flay:  Peter Cushing

Oliver Quayle:  Robert Quarry

Running time:  89 minutes

Price, Cushing, and Quarry are reunited in this effective yet flawed thriller about a horror actor (Price) making a comeback in the midst of a series of murders which seem to implicate his famed alter ego from horror movies of old, Dr. Death.  An odd movie.  At times, it’s really good, but at others it’s aimless and without direction.  The best part is finally, at long last, both Price and Cushing have sizable roles, Price as the haunted horror film star, and Cushing as his friend and screenwriter. They get to spend considerable screen time together.

 

And just for fun, here’s a reprint of last year’s list of the two films which starred all three, Price, Lee, and Cushing:

SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (1970)

An Amicus Production

Directed by Gordon Hessler

Screenplay by Christopher Wicking, based on the novel The Disoriented Man by Peter Saxon

Dr. Browning:  Vincent Price

Fremont:  Christopher Lee

Benedek:  Peter Cushing

Running Time:  95 minutes

 

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS (1983)

Directed by Peter Walker

Screenplay by Michael Armstrong based on the novel Seven Keys to Baldpate by Earl Derr Biggers

Lionel Grisbane:  Vincent Price

Corrigan:  Christopher Lee

Sebastian Grisbane:  Peter Cushing

Lord Grisbane:  John Carradine

Running Time: 100 minutes

Sadly, neither of these movies is very good.  But you can’t beat the cast!

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

Thought-Provoking THREE KINGS (1999) Quirky and Intense

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Streaming Video Review:  THREE KINGS (1999)

By three-kings_movie-poster-01

Michael Arruda

 

With the upcoming release of George Clooney’s latest movie, TOMORROWLAND, due in theaters on May 22, 2015, I decided to check out an earlier Clooney film that I had missed the first time around.  THREE KINGS (1999), a movie about the first Iraqi war, starring Clooney and Mark Wahlberg and now available on Netflix Streaming, takes place in the waning days of the Persian Gulf War.

When Major Archie Gates (George Clooney) learns that three soldiers have discovered a map leading to massive amounts of gold which Saddam Hussein had taken from the Kuwaitis, he decides to steal it.  He enlists the aid of these three soldiers, Sergeant First Class Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg), Staff Sergeant Chief Elgin (Ice Cube) and Private First Class Conrad Vig (Spike Jonze).  They set out in secret for the gold, but along the way they witness the Iraqi Republican Guard executing an innocent Iraqi, an action which Major Gates can’t let stand.  He retaliates, and in the process, rescues a large group of Iraqi prisoners, a group that includes women and children.

Suddenly, Gates’ objectives change, as he finds himself responsible for this group of prisoners, and he agrees to help them reach the Iranian border, a quest that puts him and his men up against Saddam Hussein’s forces and his own American army.  And then there’s the matter of the gold, which Gates still has no intention of giving up, setting the stage for a thrilling journey through the Iraqi desert as they attempt to escort Iraqis to freedom.

I really enjoyed THREE KINGS, both its story and its quirky tone, which for the most part works as a black comedy.

It was interesting to watch a movie about the first Iraqi war, made before the events of September 11.  So many recent movies have focused on the second Iraqi war and the events following 9/11.  Events depicted in this movie, while still disturbing— it’s a war after all— still don’t play as intense as recent films on the second Iraqi war and the war in Afghanistan, movies like AMERICAN SNIPER (2014) and ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012), and THE HURT LOCKER (2008).  Our collective consciousness is much darker now than it was when this film was made in 1999.

But that’s not to say that THREE KINGS doesn’t have its share of intense moments.  It does.  The execution of the Iraqi woman in front of her young daughter, for example, is a jarring sequence, as is the torture sequence where Mark Wahlberg’s Sergeant Barlow is captured by Iraqi soldiers and tortured with electric shocks and is eventually forced to drink motor oil.  These scenes are not for the squeamish.

I also had to keep reminding myself that this was about the first Iraqi war.  For instance, when the film makes reference to Saddam Hussein and the influence he wields over his Republican Guard, I found myself scratching my head questioning, “Saddam Hussein?  Isn’t he dead?”  Of course, then I’d remember that the objective of this first war was only to oust Hussein from Kuwait, and that he wasn’t removed from power and eventually executed until after the second Iraqi war.

Writer/Director David O. Russell has made a hard hitting war movie that effectively makes its point that although Americans largely viewed this war as a “clean” war, in that not a lot of American soldiers lost their lives, and that its objective was largely met, it’s still a war, and for the people of Iraq, there was nothing “clean” about it.  It disrupted their lives and caused death and destruction.

Russell keeps things from being too bleak with a quirky tone that generates laughter, albeit mostly of the uncomfortable variety.  Spike Jonze’ Private Vig is humorous in his naivety, even though his ignorant views are as sad as they are funny.  His banter with Walberg’s Sergeant Barlow is the liveliest part of the movie.

Russell would go on to make THE FIGHTER (2010), also with Wahlberg, and SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012), two films I liked better than THREE KINGS.  Russell also directed AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013), the overly ambitious 1970s con artist tale which I liked but didn’t love, and I think that while THREE KINGS is a less ambitious film than AMERICAN HUSTLE, I liked it more.

As screenplays go, Russell’s work here with THREE KINGS is very good, as the story remains compelling throughout and actually gets better and more exciting as the movie goes along, and the dialogue is first-rate.  It makes its points about the Gulf War and provides plenty of entertaining snappy dialogue that is riveting and real.  That being said, it’s not quite as good as his screenplay for SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012).  That one was a grand slam.

George Clooney is terrific as Major Archie Gates.  At first, the jury is out on this character, as you wonder what kind of a man he is since he’s willing to steal gold from the Iraqis, but when he steps up to intervene on the innocent Iraqis’ behalf, you see firsthand what kind of a man he is, and he’s all the better for it.  Clooney is effective throughout and makes Gates in spite of his early actions a man you can root for.

Reportedly, Clooney and director Russell feuded on the set, so much so that Clooney declared he’d never work with Russell again.  Not sure if this is true or not, but Clooney’s Gates certainly seems like his he has a chip on his shoulder throughout this movie.

Mark Walberg is also excellent as Sergeant Troy Barlow.  There’s a youthful exuberance about Barlow, a naivety that nonetheless is balanced with a sense of responsibility and leadership.  Barlow takes the even more naïve Private Vig under his wing and looks out for him throughout the story.  It was fun to see a younger Walberg, and while he’s very good in this movie, he’s gotten even better over the years, improving to the point where he’s one of the better actors working today.

 

Spike Jonze is memorable as Private Conrad Vig, although I wanted to give the character a library card and a newspaper with the instructions to start reading.  Vig is a backwards but well-meaning character, and Jonze does a nice job capturing these traits.  Ice Cube is also notable as the religious Sergeant Chief Elgin.  He provides the moral conscience for the group.

Nora Dunn is also very good as reporter Adriana Cruz, who spends the bulk of the movie getting the runaround from Clooney’s Gates, but we get to know her well as she shares her lamentations about the war, wondering what this war was really all about.  And at the end, when Gates needs the help of the press to get his job done, it’s Cruz that he turns to.

I really liked THREE KINGS.  It’s a thought-provoking exciting movie about a war that nowadays has been largely overshadowed by the traumatic events which were soon to follow it.

—END—

SNEAK PREVIEW: TIME FRAME By Michael Arruda – Chapter 5

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My science fiction novel TIME FRAME is now available as an EBook from NECON EBooks at time frame coverhttp://www.neconebooks.com. Previously on this blog I featured Chapters 1-4 of the novel.  Today the sneak preview continues with Chapter 5.

This could very well be the final sneak preview.

And remember, if you like what you read, please spread the word and feel free to post reviews on Amazon as well.

Hope you enjoy it.

Thanks for reading! —Michael

 

 

CHAPTER 5

“Kathryn, where’s your mother?”  Papa asked.

The question hit Adam in the face like a brick.  He looked across the living room at his mother, and she looked as mortified as he felt.  He wanted to ask his grandfather, you don’t know?

“Ma?”  Kathryn said.

Papa nodded.  His eyes were expectant, but Adam also saw fear in them, as if he knew what Kathryn was going to say.

“Ma died,” Kathryn whispered.  “Three years after you.”

“Died?”  Papa said, his voice barely audible.  He closed his eyes, squeezing them tightly together. His bottom lip quivered.  His cheeks flushed red, and as he sat there, with his eyes shut tight, he looked like a child blocking out the world.

“Daddy, are you okay?”  Kathryn asked.

He opened his eyes.  They were puffy and swollen.  He sniffled.

“How?”  He asked.

“Just old age,” Kathryn said.  “She went peacefully, in her sleep.”

“Good,” Papa muttered.  He sighed.  “I really wanted to see your mother.”

“I’m sorry,” Kathryn said.

Adam thought about his grandfather’s words and wondered, “Why didn’t you?”

“If you don’t mind my asking,” Adam said.  “Why didn’t you pick a date when Nana was still alive?  Why come back when she’s— how come you didn’t know?”

“I don’t mind your asking,” Papa said.  “I didn’t pick an exact date because I couldn’t.  The machine I used worked with decades.  I couldn’t pick one date.  I couldn’t even pick an exact year.  I had to pick a decade.  I chose the first decade after I died because I didn’t want to come back while I was still alive.  You’re not supposed to do that.  I don’t really understand the reasons why, but supposedly you’re not supposed to travel to a time in which you exist already because with two of the same people in the same time frame, I think that’s what they called it, a time frame, it would have a dangerous effect.  You’d both be sick, and they say, you’d both die.  I didn’t want that.”

“What kind of a time machine doesn’t let you pick an exact date to travel to?”  Adam asked.  It was a rhetorical question.

“A cheap one,” Papa answered.  “It was the only model I could afford.  Yes, even five hundred years from now, everything still comes down to money.”

“I w-want to go for a ride in one,” Sandy slurred.

“No can do,” Papa said.  “The machine doesn’t exist anymore.  It disintegrated.”

“Did you have an accident?”  Kathryn asked.

“No.  The cheap model also happened to be the one way model,” Papa said.

“What’s the one way model?”  Adam asked.

“It only goes one way, then disintegrates.  It’s like a paper plate.  Use it once, throw it away,” Papa said.

“What’s the point of that?”  Adam asked.  It didn’t seem to make much sense to him.

“It’s just cheaper,” Papa said.  “Most people don’t use them because you can’t get back.  I didn’t want to go back.”

“But why even make them?”  Adam asked.  “If you can’t get back, what’s the point?”

Papa shrugged.  “Why make a Slinky?  Because it’s cheap and someone will buy it.”

“Sounds like they’d be illegal,” Adam said.

“In some places they are,” Papa said.

“So, you’re stuck here, then?”  Kathryn asked.

“I wouldn’t put it that way.  I want to be here.  But no, I won’t be hopping back into my time machine to revisit history, or to see your mother.  I can’t do that.  I’m here to stay.”

—END Chapter 5—

And that also ends today’s sneak preview of my novel TIME FRAME ( available from NECON EBooks at time frame coverhttp://www.neconebooks.com.)

Once again, thanks so much for reading!

-Michael

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: ISLAND OF TERROR (1966)

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The following column— reprinted this month in the May 2015 HWA Newsletter— on the science fiction flick ISLAND OF TERROR (1966) starring Peter Cushing was originally published in the May 2008 edition of The Horror Writers Association Newsletter

And just a friendly reminder, if you like this column, my book IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, a collection of 115 horror movie columns, is available from NECON EBooks as an EBook at www.neconebooks.com, and as a print edition at https://www.createspace.com/4293038.

—Michael

IN THE SPOOKLIGHTIsland of Terror - poster

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

For those of you who like numbers, this review marks my 75th original “In The Spooklight” column.  I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride.

To celebrate the occasion, I’ve chosen one of my favorite Peter Cushing movies from the 1960s, ISLAND OF TERROR (1966).  The film was directed by Hammer veteran, Terence Fisher, who helmed some of Cushing’s best work at Hammer, including THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) and HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).  Interestingly enough, ISLAND OF TERROR was not made by Hammer.  It was produced by Planet Productions and was the first of back-to-back very similar science fiction movies made by the company, both set on an island, and both starring Peter Cushing and directed by Terence Fisher.  The latter film, ISLAND OF THE BURNING DOOMED (1967), also known as NIGHT OF THE BIG HEAT, starred Christopher Lee as well.

Also of interest, ISLAND OF TERROR was produced by Richard Gordon, a man who also produced horror movies starring Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, and Bela Lugosi.  There may not be anyone else in the business who can make that claim.

Three things come to mind immediately when thinking of ISLAND OF TERROR – pacing, performance, and writing.

The screenplay by Edward Andrew Mann and Allan Ramsen is solid.  It tells a good story and is full of clever dialogue that remains fresh throughout the film.

It’s the story of cancer research gone wrong.  A group of scientists on a quaint little island attempt to create an organism that will devour cancer cells.  They fail, instead creating creatures that eat human bone.  The creatures slide along the ground like giant amoebas, wielding a single tentacle which they use to wrap around their victims and suck out their bones.  And, oh yeah, they duplicate every hour or so.  Not good.

Peter Cushing plays Dr. Stanley, a London pathologist who is called to the island to investigate, along with his friend Dr. West (Edward Judd), a bone specialist.

The performances are all first-rate.  Peter Cushing, as he always did in his movies, shines like the star that he was.  His gift was his ability to bring characters who aren’t real to life, and to make the impossible and the fantastic seem real.  Cushing did this always in his movies, and he made it look easy.

Peter Cushing and Edward Judd hunting the bone eating creatures known as the silicates in ISLAND OF TERROR.

Peter Cushing (right) and friends hunting the bone eating creatures known as the Silicates in ISLAND OF TERROR.

His Dr. Stanley is somewhat of a change of pace for Cushing.  Usually Cushing’s heroes were played straight, a la Dr. Van Helsing in the Draculas.  But here Dr. Stanley is a wise-cracking witty man who is constantly spewing one-liners.  As a result, Cushing gets the best lines in the movie.

The pacing of ISLAND OF TERROR is quick and efficient.  There’s no time for boredom.  Things start before the credits roll and keep on going till the end.  The climax of the film is extremely exciting as the villagers barricade themselves inside the town hall and prepare for an all-out “last stand” against the armada of bone-sucking creatures.  And when the heroes contemplate suicide as their last option, you know things are looking bad.  But alas, this is a family friendly horror movie, and so don’t expect an ending like last year’s THE MIST (2007).

Where the movie doesn’t hold up today is in the special effects department.  Even for 1960s standards, the effects aren’t so hot, and the film works much, much better when the creatures are off screen.

A silicate, not looking all that scary thanks to the tepid special effects.

A Silicate, not looking all that scary thanks to the tepid special effects.

ISLAND OF TERROR is a neat little horror/science fiction movie, the type that will always be with us, as long as scientists the world over continue to experiment with the unknown and dabble with things that make the rest of us uncomfortable and nervous.

—END—

YOUR MOVIE LISTS: THE AVENGERS MOVIES

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YOUR MOVIE LISTS:  Marvel’s THE AVENGERS Movies avengers-age-of-ultron

By Michael Arruda

Welcome to another edition of YOUR MOVIE LISTS, the column where you’ll find lists of odds and ends about movies.  Today we’re looking at Marvel’s THE AVENGERS Movies.

 

Wait a minute.  Isn’t AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015) which opens in theaters on May 1 only the second AVENGERS movie?  Technically, yes, AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is only the first sequel to THE AVENGERS (2012)  but anyone who’s seen THE AVENGERS knows there are a lot of superheroes in this movie, and each of them have appeared in prior films leading up to these AVENGERS adventures.

Here’s a look at these movies:

IRON MAN (2008) – The film that started the AVENGERS journey.  Phenomenal movie, probably my third favorite superhero movie of all time, behind THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) and THE AVENGERS (2012).  This is the film that introduced us to Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark aka Iron Man, one of the most entertaining and fascinating superhero personas ever.  Directed by Jon Favreau, this is a worthy film to kick off the franchise.  Also introduced Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, as well as first appearance by Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson.

THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008) – Edward Norton makes for a credible and intense Bruce Banner aka The Hulk, and Tim Roth is even better as the main baddie.  Excellent movie, much better than Marvel’s previous HULK (2003).

IRON MAN 2 (2010) – Robert Downey Jr. is back as Tony Stark/Iron Man, as is director Jon Favreau, but this sequel is inferior to the first film and never really hits its stride.  Most notable for introducing Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow.  Both Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury and Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson return for this sequel.

 

CAPTAIN AMERICA:  THE FIRST AVENGER (2011) – Chris Evans is perfectly cast as Captain America in this handsomely filmed origin tale of the World War II superhero.  Nice IRON MAN tie-in as story features Tony Stark’s dad Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper).  Samuel L. Jackson returns as Nick Fury.  Well-made adventure, solid from beginning to end.

THOR (2011) – Uneven but colorful film by director Kenneth Branagh.  The best part of this Thor origin story is Chris Hemsworth as Thor.  He’s phenomenal and provides this one with its best moments.  The scenes on Earth work better than the scenes on Asgard.  On hand once more are Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury and Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson.  The first appearance by Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye.

THE AVENGERS (2012) – The biggie.  Arguably the best superhero movie ever made, although I give a slight nod to Christopher Nolan’s Batman masterpiece THE DARK KNIGHT.  This epic film by writer/director Joss Whedon brings together Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye as they battle Thor’s troublemaker brother Loki.  Fantastic cast includes Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, and Jeremy Renner, each doing their thing, each incredibly entertaining, especially since they don’t get along for anything and sound more like a bickering family than a group of superfriends.

Mark Ruffalo takes over the role of Bruce Banner/the Hulk from Edward Norton and does a fine job, immediately making the role his own.  Also features Samuel J. Jackson as Nick Fury and Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson.

If there’s one weakness, it’s that Loki is a somewhat lame villain.  The Avengers deserve a worthier foe.

Still, THE AVENGERS is grand entertainment from beginning to end, by far the best of the Marvel superhero movies.

IRON MAN 3 (2013) – Robert Downey Jr.’s third turn as Iron Man is better than the second film but not as good as the first.  The twist involving the villain Mandarin may not be for everybody, but all in all this is a very entertaining superhero film, a worthy installment in the IRON MAN franchise.  Gwyneth Paltrow, who has played Tony Stark’s love interest Pepper Potts in all three IRON MAN films, probably enjoys her best moments in this third film.

THOR:  THE DARK WORLD (2013) – Chris Hemsworth as Thor is once again the best part of this THOR sequel.  As in the first movie, the scenes on Earth are compelling while the fantasy-injected scenes on Asgard in spite of their dazzling look fail to resonate.  The villains here are Dark Elves.  They should have stuck to baking cookies.

CAPTAIN AMERICA:  THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014) – This Captain America sequel is even better than the first.  This time Captain America (Chris Evans) teams with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) as he becomes a fugitive from the law while investigating the “murder” of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).  Darker entry than the first film, this Captain America sequel is yet another high quality well-made Marvel superhero movie.

AVENGERS:  AGE OF ULTRON (2015) – With writer/director Joss Whedon back at the helm, all your favorite Avengers return for this action packed sequel where Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye take on the all-powerful Ultron, voiced with nasty conviction by James Spader.  Topnotch cast includes Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.  Also introduces Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch.

Okay, that about wraps things up here and brings us up to date, but the story is not yet finished, not by a long shot.  Marvel has more adventures planned.  It looks like another Captain America film will be out in 2016 followed by another Thor movie in 2017.  And of course, the Avengers will be back in their own third movie, so as of right now, all is well with the Marvel universe, and since these movies continue to provide quality entertainment, that’s fine with me.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael