Top 10 Films and TV Shows of 2018

This year had a splendid offering of memorable films and TV shows. We are truly living in a golden age of geekdom with so many films and TV shows to choose from. These are the best of 2018; keep in mind this list is purely subjective and if you have your own list, be sure to leave a comment.

Films

10. Incredibles 2:

incredibles 2

It took over a decade but it was worth the wait! Like the original film, Incredibles 2 delighted us and had us laughing with its family situations and high-octane superheroics.

9. Hereditary:

The creepiest horror film of the year unsettled us with its haunting imagery and scenes. This tale of demonic forces assaulting a fragile family will keep you up late into the night.

8. Ralph Wrecks the Internet:

This joyful sequel to Wreck-It Ralph takes the oversized and loveable video game titular character to new digital frontiers. His humorous journey into the Internet was fantastic to watch with all the puns and satires about the world wide web.

7. Black Panther:

black panther at wakanda

Marvel Studios delivered another stirring superhero film that was highlighted with its political/royal drama and was a genuine cultural phenomenon when it was released. Michael B. Jordan’s turned in a bravura performance as Killmonger, the bitter challenger to King T’Challa/Black Panther’s (Chadwick Boseman) throne.

6. Solo: A Star Wars Story:

solo and chewie at bar

Too bad the backlash over The Last Jedi and other factors doomed this Star Wars spinoff film that explored Han Solo’s early days. It captured the adventurous spirit of Star Wars that was missing lately thanks to its adventurous tone, Ron Howard’s expert direction and inspired performances. This included Alden Ehrenreich who pulled off a near impossible task of emulating a younger version of our favorite space pirate.

5. Aquaman:

Aquaman and Mera

The DCEU’s sole superhero film of 2018 was bold, splashy, action-packed, outrageous (cue the octopus playing drums!), but most of all fun. Aquaman singlehandedly resurrected the DCEU with this sprawling epic.

Its bright color palate, sweeping underwater landscapes, and breakneck pace made it stand out from the other DCEU films with imagery that captured the spirit of Avatar and Star Wars. Aquaman proved that DC and Warner Bros. can deliver a popular and crowd-pleasing superhero movie just like their competitor.

4. A Quiet Place:

Director and star John Krasinski kept audiences petrified in their seats with this sci-fi/horror classic about a family living in an Earth overrun by voracious alien creatures that hunt by sound. The premise of the family not being able to make noise underlined the unbearable tension throughout the film.

At the same time, A Quiet Place was memorable because it endeared us to the family in the film as they struggled to survive such a situation.

3. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse:

The greatest animated film of the year was a true surprise given how little it was regarded when it was first announced. After all, this was not Disney who was behind this film. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse popped out immediately with unique animation that literally brought a comic book story to life.

However, its involving story about Spider-Man’s successor, Miles Morales, learning the ropes and struggling to live up to a legend just crushed it. Hands down, it’s one of the best Spider-Man films to date.

2. Ready Player One:

Director Steven Spielberg shows us that he still is the master of cinema with this adaptation of Ernest Cline’s book about a young man adventures in the virtual world that is bursting with countless pop culture references and Easter eggs. How many viewings will it take to spot them all?

Ready Player One is a loving ode to geek and gaming culture that respects and celebrates it. The film is also a noteworthy addition to Spielberg’s impressive library of genre films as it displayed many of his visual touches and directing techniques that catapulted Spielberg to prominence.

1. Avengers: Infinity War:

The culmination of ten years of the MCU was certainly an unforgettable epic. It captured the mood of those sweeping comic book epic storylines with its all-star cast of actors and characters that was any fanboy and fangirl’s dream come true.

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo pulled off a miracle by keeping the pace smooth and intense while giving the heroes their own engaging moments. Any praise for Avengers: Infinity War is not complete without mentioning the chilling, menacing presence of the film’s villain, Thanos. Josh Brolin and the effects masters brought to life one of the greatest comic book film villains with an unforgettable mo-cap performance. More importantly Avengers: Infinity War presented a complex character study with Thanos’ mad quest to kill half the universe.

Honorable Mentions:

Annihilation, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Bumblebee, Deadpool 2, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Isle of Dogs, Rampage, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, Venom, Upgrade

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Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse Swings & Soars!

Sony’s latest entry into their burgeoning Spider-Man cinematic universe, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, is a boon not just for the film studio but for Spider-Man films in general. This is not a small feat given Sony’s recent spotty record with their own Spider-Man films.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse follows the adventures of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a young middle schooler who gains the spider-like powers of his hero Spider-Man (Chris Pine) in a universe similar to the Marvel-616 and the live-action films. This universe’s version of Spider-Man is killed after trying to stop the Kingpin’s (Liev Schreiber) dangerous machine which breaches dimensions. As Miles struggles to honor his hero and grow into his role as a new Spider-Man, other versions of the hero from different universes start appearing. He forms an uneasy teacher/student relationship with an older, jaded version of Spider-Man/Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), who has suffered a series of downers in his life like divorce, poverty, and is out of shape. Together, the two work with other Spider folk like Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) and Spider-Man Noir (Nic Cage) to find a way to return to their proper dimensions and destroy the machine before it irreparably destroys all universes.

The film has a wild and kinetic animated style that carefully combines 3D animation with conventional line and dot comic book art to create an organic and  moving comic book come to life. Adding to the effect were numerous word panels that conveyed characters’ thoughts and complimentary sound effects, just like in the comics. Producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller (remember them? They were the directors fired by Lucasfilm), along with directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman, pulled off this loving ode to Spider-Man and superhero comic books that will be remembered for a long time.

But as great as that sounds what makes Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse soar are its characters and story. It is too easy for a story like this about parallel universes and derivative characters to go off the rails, but the film gets us involved with not only Miles, but the other versions of Spider-Man, particularly the older Parker. Even though he is jaded, Parker is still a heroic person and is protective of Miles, though the younger Spidey wants to prove himself. What is impeding Miles, are his own insecurities stemming from his awkward relationship with his father and his inexperience. What was great to see is that Miles does not become an instant hero, he has to grow into his role and learn not just how to swing, but about responsibility and sacrifice. Remarkably, in this crowded film, the other Spider heroes have their own moments to stand out and shine, and this goes for the supporting characters. The only exceptions to this and a nitpick about the film, are the villains, who are a bit one-dimensional. But they server their purposes and help move the plot. Overall, the film moves along at a brisk pace and is quite exciting and fun.

As expected, there are too-many-to-list references to Spider-Man films and his history. Many of them will leave you on the floor laughing, especially with the recreations of infamous dancing scenes from Spider-Man 3. Of course, the Stan Lee cameo was one of the better ones and there is a loving, heartfelt dedication to the departed Lee and Steve Ditko at the end that is worth hanging around for. Adding to that is a hysterical post-credits scene starring a couple of versions of Spider-Man that features Stan Lee voicing J. Jonah Jameson. It has to be seen to be believed, it’s that great!

It’s hard to believe, but Sony delivered quite possibly the best Spider-Man film since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. After the debacle of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, it is safe to say that the film studio has found an amazing (pun intended) avenue for their own spin on Spider-Man films.  Hopefully, this can be the beginning of classic animated films that rivals anything that their competitors can come up with…just as long as Lord and Miller are left alone to work their magic. I already look forward to seeing other versions of Spider-Man joining the fray in a sequel.

This animated film is the best surprise of the year not only with superhero films, but films in general. As 2018’s most dazzling animated film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse will make any true Spider-fan smile and rejoice. Do not take this statement lightly, in this year of outstanding animated and superhero films, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is an instant classic.

José Soto

Personal Reflections About Stan Lee

Heroes aren’t born they’re developed, and Stan Lee created a universe full of Superheroes. It’s sad we have lost the greatest mind in the history of comics.

When I was young, I wrote to Mr. Lee with a storyline and an idea for a comic. Basically, it was about a cabbie who picks up Spider-Man characters like J. Jonah Jameson and Robbie Robertson and gets different viewpoints of Spidey. I also gave him an idea about doing a comic on how to create your own versions of Marvel costumes. I was surprised that Stan personally wrote back to me and actually liked my ideas. He gave me the names of the people I should contact at Marvel Comics. It was too bad that nothing came of it but I was grateful for Stan’s input and advice.

Years later, I actually got the meet Stan the Man at Shea Stadium, the former home of the New York Mets. Spider-man was getting married to Mary Jane Watson in the Marvel comic books and in the newspaper comic strips that Lee was writing at the time. He decided to have a wedding ceremony for the super couple the same week the wedding happened in the print versions. Back then I worked at Starlog magazine and we ran stories covering Spider-man’s wedding in Starlog and Comics Scene magazines.

I spoke to Lee after a photo shoot inside the stadium. I told him I had written to him and that he personally replied. He shocked me by saying he remembered the letter.

Stan wrote to us and said he enjoyed the stories and really loved the photos especially the one of him on the shoulders of his superheroes. He asked if we could send him a print copy, and we sent him a few 8x10s of the photos he requested. We were more than happy to do so, and it turned out to be a blessing. From that moment on, Marvel Comics always sent us press materials at a faster rate than before.

I later gave him copies of the other pictures when I saw him years at a NY Comic Con. I was thrilled that he loved them all.

Below is the story with some photos of our coverage of Spider-man’s wedding that appeared in the September 1987 issue of Starlog:

“Webbing Bells, It’s a Marvelous Life

He has escaped the villainous clutches of Dr. Octopus, the Kingpin, the Hobgoblin, the Green Goblin and even Kraven the Hunter, but the friendly neighborhood Spider-man was finally snared on June 5, 1987 before a sellout crowd of 51,402 at New York’s Shea Stadium.

The superhero’s co-creator Stan Lee was there to join the web-slinger to his longtime love, model/actress Mary Jane Watson in weblock. The wedding party included Spidey super friends Firestar, Iceman, the Hulk and Captain America. The Green Goblin made a rare return-from-the-dead appearance. The bride and groom entered through centerfield in separate limousines, making their way to the white heart-shaped altar from which Stan the Man presided over the ceremony.

“Now, in the sight and presence of a coterie of our other costumed crusaders, please prepare to recite your vows,” announced Lee. “Do you, Spider-man, being of sound mind and super body, take Mary Jane to be your lawfully wedded bride, forsaking all other superheroines? Do you promise to never leave footprints on the ceiling, or cobwebs in the corners? And do you agree to pinch-hit for the Mets if they ask you?” Spider-sense tingling, the groom replied, “I do.”

“Mary Jane, do you, being of sound mind and spectacular body, agree to forsake other masked Marvelites,” Lee continued, “to never, ever swat a spider, and to hug, comfort and kiss away any bruises incurred after a long day of bashing bad guys—and stay out of the Mets’ locker room?”

After a moment’s thought, Mary Jane echoed, “I do.”

“The rings please,” said Lee, “Repeat after me—With this ring I thee web,” and both participants did so.

“By the power vested in me by Marvel Comics,” said Lee, “I now pronounce you Spider-man and wife. You may kiss the bride.”

With this, Spidey carried the new Mrs. Peter Parker off to their limo and they drove off to tumultuous applause. The remaining superheroes and villain hoisted Stan Lee on their shoulders and carried him off the field.

Jim McLernon”

I’ve always treasured those memories of meeting Stan and am touched that he loved those photos. It was a small way of giving thanks to him in person for all that he has done for us and the Marvel Universe.

Thank you, Stan for creating a whole universe.

Jim McLernon

 

More Reflections on a Comic Book Legend

Stan Lee was the greatest superhero pop culture celebrity and the last of the great original co-founders of Marvel Comics.

He gave us characters and stories that strongly resonate with us even to this day. He was a powerful storyteller whose literary ideas and words would pair up with talented visual artists. Together, they would come up with colorful heroes and wild adventures that are recognized all over the world.

On a personal note, I met him a couple of times in the comic book conventions.  On both occasions he was as we always saw him to be—energetic, and quite inspirational.

I first met him at a NYC convention in the mid 80s. There was a huge line to meet Stan even back in those days, but I didn’t wait for long. When I finally had the moment to say hi and take a picture with him, he also gave me some great advice about improving my little art sketches and doodles.

For someone who changed the course of pop culture, Stan enjoyed being playful about his celeb status. He really was both insightful and self-deprecating, and sincerely enjoyed being with the fans.

Thank you, Stan for providing more than seventy years of heroes winning the day.

Rest In Peace.

‘Nuff said.

GEO

Stan Lee—The Man, The Legend

We’ve been expecting this for some time now given his frail age, but today’s sad news that Stan Lee passed away still hurts. Why? Because Stan the Man is a comic book legend and his influence not just in comic books, but in our culture resonates so powerfully. That may be a bit hyperbolic, but appropriate given Lee’s penchant for promoting the Marvel Comics superheroes he co-created.

Most of us know his biography better than our own. Born Stanley Martin Lieber in 1922, Stan Lee was introduced to the world of comic books when he began working for Timely Comics in 1939 and soon started writing for the company. Before long, he became an editor and worked on numerous titles and was quite prolific. During his tenure he came up with the pseudonym “Stan Lee” (a playful jib of his first name) because he wanted to use his real name when he got around to writing his Great American Novel. Although that never happened, what he created would have more of an impact in American pop culture than any old Great American Novel.

Eventually, Timely Comics morphed into Marvel Comics and in the early 1960s, Lee wanted to help boost sales for his company’s books. Seeing that the best-selling title in rival DC Comics was the superhero team book Justice League of America, he decided to create Marvel’s own superhero team. He teamed with his longtime collaborator, artist Jack Kirby, to create the Fantastic Four, thus the Marvel Age of Comics was born.

Comes the Marvel Age

From there, Lee and Kirby quickly grew the Marvel Universe and introduced such iconic characters and teams like the Hulk, the Avengers, Black Panther, Thor, Silver Surfer, Iron Man and the X-Men. Lee also worked with other artists, which resulted in his greatest creation and contribution to pop culture. That being Spider-Man, who he co-created with Steve Ditko.

What set his creations apart from traditional, square-jawed superheroes was that the Marvel heroes were flawed and relatable. This was best seen with Spider-Man, who broke the mold of a superhero, and was Lee’s favorite character. His alter ego, Peter Parker, was an insecure everyman type who like us had to grapple with real-life, ordinary problems like paying the rent or trying to get a date. It seemed like the more Spider-Man won a battle, the more Peter would lose a war in his personal life. Other superheroes and even the supervillains were just as conflicted and dimensional.

Lee’s books introduced novel concepts and explored themes of bigotry and social strife and issues as seen with The X-Men and The Amazing Spider-Man. His works also ushered in more diverse characters such as Black Panther, the first black superhero, and Daredevil, a disabled superhero. Readers reacted positively to these innovative comic books and the result was that Marvel Comics exploded into the pop scene.

Lee’s bombastic personality and prolific writing helped promote the books. During his time as editor and editor-in-chief, Lee helped create the “Marvel Method” of creating comics that would become controversial when it came to designate whom was actually responsible for Marvel’s success. Being that he was writing so many titles and pressed for time, Lee would come up with a basic plot and pass it on to the artists. They in turn would flesh out the stories and when they were done, Lee would add the snazzy dialogue.

Over time, many artists were irked over the growing perception from the outside world that Lee was solely responsible for Marvel’s success. This would eventually cause Kirby and Ditko to leave Marvel. They went on to work on their own creations but looking at their post-Lee work it is easy to see how much of an impact Lee had in the Marvel works since the artists’ solo efforts lacked the pizzazz and sharpness that Lee’s dialogue added.

As the so-called Marvel Age of Comics began, the superheroes became a large part of popular culture when the heroes appeared in cartoons and were featured in merchandising. As this went on, Marvel’s biggest spokesperson and cheerleader continued to be Stan Lee himself. He always came off as energetic and jovial in interviews, appearances, and his column, which appeared in Marvel Comics. Often his posts were lettered with his memorable one-liners like “Face front, true believers!” “’Nuff said!”, and “Excelsior!”.

Marvel Mascot

Eventually, Lee stepped down from his day-to-day writing and editing duties at Marvel and took on the ambassadorial role for Marvel full time. During this period, the 1970s and 1980s, Lee worked to bring the Marvel heroes to live-action medium. The results were not great with many movie projects stalling out and TV efforts being sub-par, although The Incredible Hulk was well received. Regardless, his efforts paved the way for the later success of Marvel films years later.

Still, Lee would continue to write when time permitted and penned several comics for Marvel and even did a notable stint for DC Comics where he re-imagined heroes like Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman.

In recent years, Lee’s status and standing with fans grew and grew as he embraced his role as a mascot for all things Marvel. These were best seen with his numerous cameos in Marvel films like Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, the Spider-Man films, and the Captain America films. Many of these appearances were crowd-pleasing scene stealers.

By this time, Marvel and comic books grew out of their niche and became a prominent part of our culture. The phenomenal success of superhero films and the cultural presence of superheroes can be attributed to Lee’s efforts.

As we look back fondly on Stan Lee, it is best to keep in mind that while we mourn him, it’s best that we continue to celebrate what he has created. For truly his works will endure for generations to come.

Thanks, Stan. Rest easy now.

Excelsior!

José Soto

Top 10 MCU Villains

mcu villains

The films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) are beloved by many but one complaint lodged against the MCU is over its villains. Critics point out that the main flaw with the MCU films are its lightweight villains. This is a valid criticism since many times the MCU films featured forgettable foes that didn’t resonate with viewers. However, there are some truly outstanding villains in the MCU, and some underrated ones, as well, that have broken this mold lately. Here for your consideration are the best MCU villains. Needless to say spoilers will follow.

Thaddeus Ross

10. Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (The Incredible Hulk)

Obsessed and prejudiced against superpowered beings, Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) has proved to be a hindrance to superheroes in the MCU. First as a general in The Incredible Hulk, Ross played a Javert-type by relentlessly chasing Bruce Banner throughout the Americas. His actions led to the creation of the Abomination and fractured his relationship with his daughter, Betty.

Ross next turned up in Captain America: Civil War as an obtuse Secretary of State determined to bring all the superpowered beings of the world under control by imposing the Sokovia Accords. This truncation of freedom and individual rights put him at odds with Steve Rogers and his teammates, which ultimately led to the Avengers breaking up.

Hela

9. TIE: Hela (Thor: Ragnarok)/Red Skull (Captain America: The First Avenger)

These two are prime examples of villains crazed with world conquest. Hela is the Asgardian Goddess of Death who destroyed Thor’s hammer, conquered Asgard and helped cause its destruction. More than a match for her half brother, Thor, she was portrayed with great gusto by Cate Blanchett.

Born in the fires of World War II, the Red Skull/Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) outgrew the Nazis and formed the Hydra terrorist organization thanks to his severe nihilistic mindset and access to superweapons. While not as layered as other villains on this list, the Red Skull in the first Captain America film was quite memorable and his recent reintroduction into the MCU sparked new interest in him.

8. Aldrich Killian (Iron Man 3)

Despite the controversy surrounding the third Iron Man film, it can’t be denied that Aldrich Killian (Guy Pierce) was not only the best Iron Man villain to date but one of the MCU’s top foes. Not only was Killian a notorious business competitor to Tony Stark, but he was the mastermind behind A.I.M. and the Mandarin. His machinations to topple the U.S. government and destroy Tony Stark by implementing the Mandarin’s terrorist campaign are nothing short of genius.

However, it was his vendetta against Stark that made Killian somewhat relatable. Years ago, Killian was a nerdy scientist who was dismissed by a pre-Iron Man Stark. This inspired him to achieve Stark’s level of success and fueled his hatred for Stark. This bit of history also illustrated how Stark’s callous past had caught up to him in Iron Man 3 and nearly undid him.

7. Alexander Pierce (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

As the U.S. Secretary of Defense (the MCU is a fertile ground for evil politicians, isn’t it?), Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) developed a S.H.I.E.L.D. project using preemptive strikes that targeted world leaders and important figures like Tony Stark and Stephen Strange.

What is worse is that his actions against Steve Rogers and his supposed friend Nick Fury revealed that Pierce was a Hydra leader who had infiltrated and corrupted S.H.I.E.L.D. to its core. A big factor in his successful infiltration was his charming exterior which hid his cold interior. What made Pierce even more frightening and formidable were his immense resources and clout. He actually had the law on his side, which he used to take out to try to take out Captain America and his allies.

6. The Winter Soldier (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

Nowadays it may be difficult to think of Steve Rogers’ BFF as a villain, but that was not the case in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In the first Captain America film, James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastain Stan) was Steve’s Depression-era buddy and joined him in World War II before ultimately dying in the line of duty. Or so we thought.

The second Captatin America film resurrected Barnes as a vicious and brainwashed Hydra assassin who was more than a match for Captain America. He even caught Cap’s famed shield in mid-air as it was thrown at him! The level of ruthlessness and deadly skills he displayed was as intimidating for us to watch as it was for the film’s heroes to endure. At the same time we felt for Steve and Bucky because of their past history and the fact that Bucky was forced by Hydra to carry out heinous acts.

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