Star Wars: The Force Awakens Impressions (No Spoilers)

Star Wars Force Awakens

So, I wanted to wait a little bit before posting because I wanted to make sure that I thought about what I wanted to say and phrase it carefully because I didn’t want to spoil in any of things in the story & also because I wanted to make sure of my own feelings toward this movie.

STAR WARS 101

I think that this movie is great!  If I was grading it, I would give it an A (95-98).  It wouldn’t get an A+ for reasons that I will discuss later (no spoilers), but this is an Excellent movie (going by the “grading scale” of many universities).

No offense to George Lucas (as creator of the world and characters), but this is the Star Wars adventure I was hoping the Prequel trilogy was going to be when it released.  This one had old characters and new merged into an exciting new adventure.

THE FORCE IS STRONG WITH THIS ONE

I love both the old characters and seeing them return, but I also like the new characters.  I like the characters and the actors portraying them.  I think that they have enough depth to carry them through a trilogy and the story definitely gave them room to grow in future episodes.

I won’t reveal any of the characters twists, but I will say that BB-8 has probably become one of my favorite droids.  Like R2, the audience can’t decipher what his “beeps” mean without another character translating, but as expressive as R2 is, BB-8 is more so.  They convey a surprising amount of emotion through the droid and it is well appreciated.

LAUGH IT UP, FUZZBALL

As many internet reaction videos will attest (and you should watch NONE of them until you’ve seen the movie for yourself), the humor is really good in this one.  I think one of the reasons that I like Star Wars so much is the use of sardonic humor.  Rather than slapstick, SW has this wry humor that pervades the action.  From the “cheesy” dice in the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit in SW, to the way Vader “disciplines” Star Destroyer commanders & the “hyperdrive” subplot with both Han & Lando, to Han’s outlandish comments to Chewie during the tense scene when they are trying to pass themselves off as a shuttle crew when they are sneaking to the moon of Endor (“I knew it was going to work,” Han says.  He had just told Chewie moments ago to fly “casually”).

Again, without spoiling anything, I think that the wry humor is back and updated for the “new” generation.  I could definitely see some humor that would appeal to Millennials, but there were also some nods back to Gen X’ers like myself.

Whatever you do, keep a close eye on BB-8.  For a CG character, many of his humor beats are pure comedic gold.  He’s a scene stealer almost every time he is on the screen (can you tell I really like this droid?)

THERE IS A DISTURBANCE IN THE FORCE

Now, I’m not going to lie and say that this is the best movie EVER.  When we were leaving the theater one young lady was remarking to her friends, “that was the worst movie ever–they way overhyped it.”  My mother was in instant disbelief.  Myself, I could only shake my head as it wasn’t the marketing folks who overhyped it–it was the young lady herself.  She went into the movie with the wrong mindset.

It is not an revolutionary movie like the original SW was, but an evolutionary one.  It takes the SW series back to the path it was on BEFORE the Prequels.  The Empire & Death Star were such an engaging conflict, of course we want to find out what happened AFTER those events.  SW:FA gives that opportunity.  It also gives us new characters with which to continue the adventure–just as Lando added history to the Millennium Falcon and Han’s backstory in Empire & Jedi, so to do these new characters give the audience a way to into the story.

The reason why I personally wouldn’t give this story an A+ is for 2 reasons: 1) while I like it and think that the movie is well worth the admission price, it isn’t my favorite SW movie.  I’d still have to rate the original series higher (nostalgia is coloring my perception, probably, but there it is).  I think this is the BEST movie I’ve seen in 2015, but I still like the original series of movies (as a whole) better and  2) they do have a lot of story elements from the original series as both a callback and as a structure.  If you have the original SW movies memorized like I do, then it will be EASY to pick out the story structure.  In one of the final plot elements, I had to willingly suspend my disbelief CONSCIOUSLY in order believe an element that happened.  Luckily, it was the only time and I felt that they were trying to appeal to nostalgia rather than just poor plotting, but I did have to do so.

THE FORCE WILL BE WITH YOU, ALWAYS

Still, even with those distinctions, I have no problems recommending this movie.  If you are a SW fan, you’ll love this movie.  If you’re not, or aren’t a Sci-Fi/Fantasy fan, you’ll be fine as long as you keep your expectations in check.

Remember, there can only ever be one REVOLUTION.  Everything else that follows is an EVOLUTION of the original.  Sometimes that evolution can be misguided and lower the value of the original (the Prequel trilogy in my opinion) or it can raise it to new heights (Empire and Jedi, again in my opinion), or it can reset the bar and establish a new course and new bar for the original (and that’s where I think SW:FA comes in and accomplishes wonderfully).

In short, if you haven’t seen it, run, don’t walk to the theater.  For myself, I can’t wait to see it again to pick up on the things that I missed during the 1st viewing.

May the Force (Awakens) be with you!

Dream Chattanooga

Chattanooga,_Tennessee_Skyline.jpg

I’ve lived in Chattanooga, Tennessee for most of my life and I like the city–it’s large enough to have everything that a mid-size city should have (attractions, businesses, etc.), but not so large that it is impossible to move around and get things done in a timely manner.  It is familiar.

However, being the Fantasy/Science Fiction writer that I am, I tend to dream about Chattanooga being a more fantastic place than it already is–or perhaps I should say, “fantastical.”  I’ve noticed that I tend to dream of the city and when I incorporate it into my dreams, the results seem to mirror the “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” in some respects.

THE STRANGE

A particular theme of my dreams when I incorporate the city is the idea that I’m looking for something, well, in a word . . . fantastical.  There is an element akin to something like Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, where it looks real, but in fact harbors the Strange and the Wonderful.  Another thing that I’ve noticed is that I always seem to be looking for some artifact in the dreams about the city.  I either find it and it is the best thing ever, or I go into the “dream world” remembering where it was and I’m always trying to find it again somehow, but (usually) it isn’t there anymore.  Dream interpreters, make of that what you will–I have my own thoughts about that however.

One dream that I can remember clearly where this happens is a dream that I’ve had at least twice since I was a child.  McCallie Avenue is a major artery into the city (downtown area).  When I was a child it was even more so as it was four lanes into the downtown area (about 14-15 years ago they changed it to a two-way in & two-way out to accommodate the increased college expansion on the other side of McCallie.)  When it was a 4 lane there was a small store/deli at the very terminus of the road where it split going to the left and the right.  Now in real life, I’ve never been in that deli/store, but it looks like a 1 story construction.  In my dream it was two stories and underneath was this mall-like area and there was a store that sold the most amazing things.  What were they?  I don’t know–can’t remember that part of the dream, but the impression was that they were awesome.  I made a promise to myself that I would come back and then I woke up.

Sometime later, I did dream that same dream, but when I went down to that area, and the “mall” area was still there, but the store that sold the “amazing” things?  Gone.  Nowhere to be found.  But, I would find it again . . .

DREAM GEOGRAPHY

Something else that I’ve noticed is the way my mind constructs the Dream Chattanooga.  It seems to meld places together.  As a child, my parents used to take my “around the mountain” to Tiftonia to buy fireworks.  Now, there’s no way to get there from Navajo Dr (a street off of Brainerd Rd and S. Germantown), but in my Dream Chattanooga there is and it will lead to this most amazing group of stands and stalls.  Imagine a farmer’s market, but instead of fruits and vegetables, you have trinkets, magic books, amulets, and the most amazing collection of fantastical “stuff” that you can think of.  This is where my store had gone.

Again, one night I found myself dreaming and on this same fictional road so I remember my dream-self saying, “Okay, let me see if I can find this store again.”  And I drove down the road, but where it should have been, it wasn’t.  And I continued to drive and drive, but could not find it again in that spot.

STILL DREAMING

So this “store” has popped up in many different locations all around the “dream city of Chattanooga.”  From a fictional “bookstore” located at the base of the McCallie Tunnels where the road splits and allows you to get on to Dodds Ave (there is no real bookstore there), to a fictional merging of Red Bank and Dodds Avenue where it appeared as a “superstore” (these two areas are on the opposite sides of the city.)

As late as two or three weeks ago, I dreamed of the store again.  It was on a fictional hill that is an amalgamation the “Ridge-cut” in the city along with Shallowford Rd blended with St. Elmo community.  All of these places are nowhere near each other (although St. Elmo and the Ridge-cut areas are not too terribly far from one another now that I think of it.)

THE DREAMERY

I’m writing this post for a couple of reasons.  1) I wanted to get this down in a fixed form because I’d like to write a story that features this “amazing store” in some way.  This idea of a “fantastical store” that disappears and reappears is appealing to me, and 2) to show that story ideas come from the unlikeliest of places.  I don’t know why my mind amalgamates streets and neighborhoods in the city like it does, or why when I revisit places in the dreams, the “amazing” things that I’m looking forward are no longer there.  I don’t know what any of this means, but I’m hoping that a story about might help me to figure it all out.

GOOGLE MAPS

Chattanooga natives will probably know where all these areas are, but if you’re reading this blog and you’re lost, I’d just google or google map some of these names and it will give you an idea of the places mentioned in this post.  🙂

  • McCallie Ave. (Across from the Memorial Auditorium)
  • McCallie Ave. (Dodds Ave)
  • Navajo Rd
  • Red Bank
  • St. Elmo
  • Brained Rd
  • Shallowford Rd
  • The Ridge-Cut

Concepts

2016-Audi-R10-Concept-Cars

CONCEPT CARS

Check out this fabulous Audi 2016 concept car.  I happened across a Wall Street Journal video on their app on Apple TV covering the 2016 Japanese car show and they showcased quite a few concept cars.

I started thinking about the idea of concept cars and how car makers use them as a “test bed” to test out various ideas and technologies.  I wondered why I, as a writer, couldn’t try something similar.  I have multiple ideas for projects in various different genres–short stories, novels, graphic novels, and screenplays.  However, the only thing that I’ve put together consistently are short-stories.

CONCEPT WRITING

I have notebooks full of ideas (what writer doesn’t, after all?), but they are all still just ideas.  I’m not really happy with not writing even though I know that the GRE and applying for Graduate programs are important, but I feel like I just figured out how to tell a great story with “Here Be Monsters,” and I don’t want to lose what I’ve learned.

I’m going to see if I can’t take half an hour (about all the time I can really spare these days 😦 )and try to generate as many “Concepts” as I can each day–probably only 1 per day if I’m realistic.  This way I’m still writing and creating, even if I’m not formally working on a draft, and if one of them really strikes me, I can work on a rough draft while prepping for the GRE and Grad school admissions.

ANNE MCCAFFREY

Now this idea isn’t really novel or unique.  I feel that I must give a shoutout to the late Anne McCaffrey as this idea is really just an extension of her “Tunings” that she Melony explain in her Harper Hall Trilogy.  What?  Haven’t read this trilogy by Anne McCaffrey?  Run, don’t walk, to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or the library and find this trilogy.  I put it far above the depressing stuff that passes for fantasy these days (yes, Song of Fire & Ice, I’m looking disapprovingly at you when I say this).  Anyway, my “Concepts” are a lot like Melony’s “Tunings,” just little practice pieces that will allow me to get a handle on themes, characters, settings, plots, and emotions that I want to display in the piece.  Possible epigraphs, snatches of dialogue, potential scenes, and hinted resolutions should find their way into these “Concepts,” so that when it is time to start writing again, I (hopefully) won’t have to relearn all the lessons that I learned from HBM all over again. 🙂

Potpourri ( . . . a little bit of everything)

holiday-stove-top-potpourri_small

So this blog post contains a little bit everything (hence the title).  I will try to keep this post shorter than normal; it (hopefully) will be just an update post.

WRITING

I was really happy with the way “Here Be Monsters” (HBM) turned out.  I haven’t heard a response from the 1st market that I sent it to yet, but having the setting allowed me to focus on the characters in a way that I haven’t been able to since “Dragonhawk” (DH).  I actually like HBM a quite a bit more than DH although they have a lot in common.

READING

Finished “Conquistadors” (finally) after struggling to read it all summer and fall.  I shouldn’t complain because it gave be the initial idea and setting for HBM.  I loved learning about the Conquistadors and the Aztecs, Maya, and Inca.  It’s just that I’m so stressed from teaching that it is hard to pay attention to an in-depth non-fiction work. For the past couple of years, I usually read Fantasy (David Eddings, Brandon Sanderson, and Diane Duane) or Science Fiction (David Weber, Elizabeth Moon) in order to “de-stress.”

Picked a new “history” book from the back of the Conquistadors.  It is the Condottieri. Hopefully, lightning will strike twice and I’ll be able to find an awesome story from this time period.  I just ordered a used copy from Amazon.com today.

REVISION

I plan on revising Rocketman for my next project.  It will follow the same 3 act structure (beginning, middle, end) as HBM, but I think I need a short half a page prologue/epilogue to completely get it where I want it.  I think I’ve settled on an epigraph to highlight the theme.  More on this later.

SCHOOL

I really want to see if I can raise my game and go back to school.  I’d like to perhaps teach in Higher Education and for that I’ll need a PhD.  I’m going to apply to PhD programs this year in hopes that I will be accepted.  Much of my “free” time will be spent studying for the GRE and preparing applications for various schools, so my writing output will be reduced temporarily as I try to accomplish this goal.

NEW STORY

The creative process will not wait, however.  I’ve begun to write down ideas for my next story.  I don’t have a title yet (although I have a tentative grasp of some of the characters and some of the plot.)  All I can say at this point is the inspiration that inspired me to start planning out the story.  One was a dream that I had last night with a gunslinger.  The other was a phrase that I wrote down about a month ago while still working on HBM: “Jedi Gunslingers.”  More on this later!

That’s all I have at the moment!

Author’s Note: Here Be Monsters

conquistadores

I finished a new short story!  It is entitled “Here Be Monsters.”  I tried several new things with this story, so I wanted to do an in-depth Author’s Note about the story to detail some of the things that I tried.

AUTHOR’S NOTE – HERE BE MONSTERS

Title

“Here Be Monsters” is the title of the story that I said that I was working on under the name “Project Monster.”  I’ve always had HBM in mind as the title of the story, but I used Project Monster as a code-name in case I decided to call it something else during the creation of the story (I rarely change titles once I decide on one, but it has happened.)  My concern that the title, when paired with the epigraph, may make the story’s theme too on the nose, but I like the way it works with the theme, so I’d rather not change it if I can avoid it.

Theme

This is the first story that I’ve called out what I think the theme is based on an epigraph (quotation of a famous person at the beginning of the story).  I’ve only used an epigraph once before–an article that I wrote on rough drafting–but I like the fact that Brandon Sanderson uses made-up epigraphs in his Stormlight Archive books.  Every story that I can find a suitable epigraph for it will probably have a epigraph from now on out.  I will definitely create a theme for every new story in the Rough Draft phase–I really like the way I create when I know the theme ahead of time.

Length

So, this story isn’t the shortest that I’ve done, but it is the shortest that I’ve done recently.  This story clocks in at approximately 4,100 words.  HawkeMoon was 5,600 words by comparison.  Considering that quite a few markets have a 5,000 word cap, this story would be able to be submitted, while HawkeMoon wouldn’t.  It has a beginning, middle, and end, and that is the way I created it.  I didn’t try to do a 5 scene structure and I think the story works better for it.

Time to Create

So, this took as long to create as other stories–but that was because I was sick for most of the month.  I finished the 1st scene right after Labor Day and then didn’t come back to it for nearly 3 weeks.  I finished it in the last week of Sept., and 1st week of Oct.  I think that I would have finished it in about 2-3 weeks.

Research

Conquistadores

So I’ve mentioned it before, but this book is one that I’ve been reading that directly influenced this story.  I minored in History, but I don’t think that I’ve really used my history degree.  I have quite a few books on history, but this is the shortest one that I own, so I thought I’d try to give it a read to cut down on the stress of teaching.  I really liked the book and the series and I’m looking to buy more on Amazon.  I have a book on Florentine history (much longer) and a book on Scandinavian history, so I can definitely try to mine those for ideas, but this was a revelation.  Instead of trying to create everything from scratch and ending up with a generic pseudo-european mishmash fantasy, I was able to give specific names to armor and weapons, the setting was influenced by real life and I was able to really get into the characters and their emotions.

Characters

So, I limited myself to 3 characters–the protagonist and his 2 companions.  I tried to keep the enemies fantastical, but keep the characters grounded in reality.  As I mentioned above, I wanted to really go deep into my characters and emotions.  I think these characters are as complex as the ones I wrote for Dragonhawk.  The characters have an arc and they seem to react appropriately based on their natures.  What I didn’t want to do was be disrespectful.  The culture is not my own, so I wanted to portray the conflict in an “everyman” kind of way, so as not to be disrespectful to another culture.

UP NEXT

I liked writing this way so much that I plan to revise a story (Rocket-Man) and put it in this 3 scene structure and give it a theme (already looking for an appropriate epigraph).   Once finished, I’ll start submitting it again.  Then I’ll start on a new project (probably a Weird West project that has been percolating since I started Here Be Monsters).

Sidney




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New Month, New Project

Coming Soon

It’s a new month and so far I’m still on track with my writing goals (yay!).  So I’ll be starting a new short-story this month.  It is a Fantasy story set in a made up secondary world based on the time period of the “Conquistadors.”

I think I have a title for it, but for now I’m calling it “Project Monster.”  It is an entirely new story inspired by a book that is on my Goodreads Currently Reading Shelf: The Men-At-Arms Series #101: The Conquistadores by Terence Wise and Angus McBride.

Conquistadores

I’ve already done the “rough outline” for it and will begin the “rough draft” after I submit Skin Deep.  I have the theme, characters and plot fleshed out in my mind, so I’m hopeful that the creation of the story will be strong.

New Story, New Style

I’m noticing a new trend.  It is much harder to sell longer stories.  Many sites have a firm word limit and these word limits tend to be shrinking.  I know of at least 3 markets that will not take stories over 3,000 words long.  For me, 2,500 words is about the bare limit that I can do.  About half of the markets are about 5,000 words firm and then the other half let you go up to 7,500.  I can only think of a few that will allow 10,000 words or more (and they are very slow responding markets, some take as much 9-10 months to respond).

I normally write stories in 5 scenes (kinda’ like a 5 act play).  With “Project Monster,” I’m going to shorten my scenes to 3 (beginning, middle, end).  I don’t intend to be locked into this; I’ll let the story dictate the ultimate form of the story, but “Project Monster” definitely lends itself to this form.  I want to experiment to see what the word count is on this story because if it is under 4,000 – 5,000 words, I may find myself gravitating to projects that lend themselves to 3 parts to maximize my chances of selling them to markets.

Author’s Note: Skin Deep 2.0 (Rewrite)

Jamaica

I finally finished Skin Deep’s rewrite this morning, so I wanted to take a moment and do an Author’s Note on this project, so here goes:

AUTHOR’S NOTE: SKIN DEEP 2.0 (REWRITE): 

I finished the original draft of Skin Deep a while ago, but never submitted it because I thought that the character wasn’t as strong as she could have been (she had a generic name) and that the story’s setting was totally generic.

As I mentioned when I started the revision, I know of two people who are from Jamaica and they had told me about the island in conversation.  One thing that I took from what they said about the island is that there is almost a “small town” vibe to it in that most people on the island know what is happening in their neighbors’ lives.  While they may not know everything that’s going on, they would know more than a typical big city community might.  They know where the good parts of the island’s towns are and where the bad spots are and so forth.

I wanted to set the story here for this reason.  I moved it to 2086 to explain the advanced science in the story.  I changed the protagonist’s name and expanded the story so that it made more sense.  It grew from 3,500 words to 4,000 words and seems to be a stronger story.

I will start submitting it next week when I send it for submission to Rhonda Parrish’s Magical Menagerie series: Sirens.  I’m not sure that it has a chance as she’s looking for Fantasy stories and this is sci-fi, but it does seem to fit her guidelines, so I plan to try anyway.  I intend to spend the next week polishing it and making sure that it is as good as it can be before I submit it to Rhonda Parrish.  Wish me luck! 😄

World Weaver Press

Fatigue and the Writer (or, How Writer’s Block Actually Works For Me)

Writer's Block

So, this will be a shorter blog post.  School has started for me and I’ve been “dog tired” over these past two weeks.  One thing that I’ve learned is that fatigue affects my writing.

Normally, when I’m rested, any time when I concentrate, I see “movies in my head.”  My stories play out in the back of my head as if there is a movie projector spooling a film (old school) or a blu ray player playing movie discs (new school) inside my mind.  My challenge as a writer is to try to replicate what I’m seeing behind my eyes with words on the page.

(FULL DISCLOSURE: This why I’m so abstracted when socializing or why I seem so “scatterbrained” or “absent-minded.”  In most social situations, I’m disengaged and at least part of my brain is working on whatever story I have playing inside my head at the moment.)

When I’m tired, however, all of that goes away.  Imagine that someone has taken off the film roll from the projector or taken the disc out of the blu ray player.  Yet, the projector/BR player is still projecting a blank screen.  Worse, there’s an actual physical “pressure” (not unlike a low-grade headache/fever that takes the place of my “inner movie,”) when I’m fatigued.

For me, fatigue = Writer’s Block.  Stress & worry = Writer’s Block.  Conventional wisdom says that you should put your behind in your chair every day and write.  But, for me, that won’t work.  All I end up doing is sitting in front of the computer, iPad, writing pad, and sitting and sitting, not getting but maybe a word or two down.  Then I end up getting frustrated because the movie’s not playing and words aren’t flowing and from there, it becomes a vicious cycle.  I get even more stressed because I feel time flowing away but I’m not being productive.

That’s why it is so important to “know thyself.”  Conventional wisdom, especially when applied to creative endeavors, MUST be tempered with an understanding of your own unique creative processes and MUST be altered as necessary.  I’m much more productive when rested and working on/completing sections rather than trying to force myself to work daily when I’m fatigued and then getting frustrated when I can’t put words on the page.

Ranking Marvel’s Cinematic Universe Movies–My Take (2018 Edition–now updated with Thor Ragnarok & Black Panther)

marvel_cinematic_universe_wallpaper_by_theincrediblejake-d8lx9om

Writer’s Note: Rather than creating a new blog post, I’m going to continually update this one.  You can always tell the latest Marvel movie I’ve seen based on the last movie in the title.  So if X Movie in the title isn’t the latest Marvel movie, I probably haven’t seen it yet. However, the last movie that I’ve seen will be in the title, so hopefully I won’t be too far behind.

Writer’s Note 2: Missing Marvel Movies–So far, I haven’t seen 

  • Avengers: Infinity War.

A while back, IGN did a feature on ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in light of the fact that Marvel has finished its “Phase II” movie slate.  Mine differs from theirs however, so I thought I’d do my own take on the list.  Now I’m fully committed to seeing the new Fantastic Four reboot, so I will probably assign a new number to it and then “push” all the other movies under it down by 1 number. (EDIT: Still haven’t seen the FF reboot based on reviews–I probably won’t include it here when I do see it as it isn’t technically in the MCU. I’m thinking of doing another list for the non-MCU Marvel movies    (X-Men, FF reboot, etc.), but I’m not sure when I’ll get to it at the moment).

A Note on Spoilers: Now, I tried to be as “Spoiler Free” as possible and not get into too many specifics and just give a general impression of why I felt it belonged where I placed it on the list.  I tried not to go into any plot discussion whatsoever (just in case), but I can’t guarantee that if you haven’t seen the movie, that these listings will be completely spoiler free.

17. Iron Man 2:  On this one, both IGN and I agree.  This one was the weakest of the Marvel Universe films.  IGN says that it is because they were trying to set up other movies in the Universe, but for me, they lost the through line of Tony Stark’s character.  Tony finding out that his life’s work was causing misery in the world in Iron Man 1 was one of the revelations of the character.  Not having that type of character introspection was a missed opportunity.  It was like the filmmakers wanted to do the whole “Demon in a Bottle” storyline here, but decided that it was too dark and then stripped it out while leaving Tony’s erratic behaviors in place.

16. Thor: The Dark World:  Missed this one in the theaters and saw it on Blu-Ray.  For some reason, this one missed with me.  I loved the 1st Thor, but the storyline on this one just seemed to not make a lot of sense.  I pride myself on being able to follow plot, but many of the scenes seemed to lurch from one “element” to another without the tight narrative flow throughout the movie.

15. The Incredible Hulk: I liked this one more than the critics and if not for the strong showing of other Marvel Universe movies, this one would be much higher.  I liked the “Hulk on the run” motif as it mimicked the TV show from the late 70s-early 80s (which I watched religiously as a child).  I also liked the Hulk vs. Abomination fight.  What really sold the deal for me with this movie was the awesome cameo by Lou Ferrigno and the fight choreography that called back to the Playstation 2 era Hulk video game.

14. Iron Man 3: Actually, liked this one quite a bit when I saw it in IMAX 3D.  Several scenes lose their punch when viewed 2D via Blu-Ray, but it is still a great movie.  This one worked better because (unlike IM2) they actually did use elements from the storyline “A Demon in a Bottle” (albeit they substituted PTSD for alcoholism) and that worked to explain Tony’s increasingly erratic behavior.   I didn’t like the Mandarin’s portrayal all that much, but if you are not going to allow Mandarin to have his rings then a significant change to the Mandarin character is necessary.

13. Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron: Okay, I was expecting to like this one a whole lot more than I did.  I think that the final climax and set-piece was fine.  For me, the interactions did not ring as true as they did in the 1st movie.  This one was more set piece to set piece, but the interactions seemed forced for some reason.  Take the hinted Widow/Banner romance for instance.  Widow seemed to have much more of a rapport with Captain America based on the chemistry and camaraderie displayed in The Winter Soldier than she had with her interactions with Banner in both of the Avengers movies.  I think, though, what ultimately I didn’t like is that Ultron was “creepy,” almost horrific like a good classic horror villain.  Just like Winter Soldier was a mix of superhero and political thriller, I think Age of Ultron should have mixed superhero movie with horror movie elements, with Ultron “picking off” the Avengers one-by-one.

12. Spider-man Homecoming: I liked SPH, but I felt that it drifted into just the place that I didn’t want a new Spider-man movie to go: high school.  The high school elements were the worst elements of the previous Spider-man movies and this one was no exception.  I know Peter Parker was portrayed as a high school student for much of his “early” run, but really, Peter Parker is much better as a character when he graduated high school and was working at the Daily Bugle under J. Jonah Jameson.  There are elements of that (without J.J.J.), but it is still a high school narrative and those are probably one of the least interesting tropes for me.  The action was good, the story was pretty good, and the humor was very much in keeping with Spider-man, but at least half of the movie (perhaps more) is about Peter Parker’s high school life rather than Spidey and/or his life outside of high school.  That’s the only reason I’m rating this so low–I actually liked it quite a bit, but not as much as the movies above it (& that’s mainly because of the high school segments).

11. Thor Ragnarok:  I really liked the 3rd Thor movie, but not quite as much as many of the stand-alone movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  I found the action of the movie to be really well done–there are three set-pieces in the film that are standouts (beginning, middle and end), while the humor really made the movie fun.  If there was a downside, it was perhaps that Marvel already has done this with the Guardians of the Galaxy, and this is perhaps a little too close to the same “schtick” that Marvel has already done in that movie.  Still, on the whole, I liked this one much better than I did with the 2nd Thor movie Thor The Dark World, so Marvel is doing something right.

10. Ant-Man: Now we’re starting to get into territory where ALL of the following movies are good, but it just depends on individual preference.  Even in this grouping, I’m making fine distinctions between the movies.  Let’s just say that if any of the movies from here above are playing on TV and I have the time, chances are good I’d just sit and watch to the conclusion.  I liked this story–it was a fun movie.  It was also a “heist” movie and I’m not personally a big fan of those.  Luckily, the heist was part of the movie’s climax and it was pretty interesting.

9. Thor: So the first Thor movie doesn’t get a lot of love, but it set’s up the first Marvel Avengers movie, it features great performances from the leads (Tom Hiddleston owns the role of Loki), and has some great comedic moments.  I really like the earnest approach to the story–both in terms of acting and the story itself.  It is the “Fall from Grace” story, but because it isn’t a Tragedy (aka GrimDark), the hero is given the chance to redeem himself and learns what it means to be a hero.  The cynic in me says that this why the movie isn’t universally loved–it is hard to be a hero because a true hero isn’t a jerk or an anti-hero.  A true hero has to be willing to sacrifice.  And in America (and the world at large), that just isn’t a very popular idea (Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones, I’m looking at you).

8. Captain America: First Avenger: I really like this movie.  This is mostly a period piece movie, but I like it more for its message than its out-and-out action sequences.  This the quintessential American movie–the little guy with a heart of gold who becomes not so little and stands up to those who would oppress others.  Again, not a popular sentiment these days.  I didn’t grow up in the time period the movie describes, but as someone who minored in History, I love the period piece behind the movie.

7. Doctor Strange: Okay, I liked this one just slightly more than I did the first Captain America movie, but less than I did the first Iron Man movie.  I think that Benedict Cumberbatch was an awesome choice to play this role because of his time with Sherlock and that gave him the right “timbre” for playing the narcissistic Stephen Strange.  I also thought that the change from selfish to selfless was well earned, and unlike the critics and masses, I liked the conclusion and final fight.  I thought that it was well earned and concluded the story well, but was also darkly humorous.  I loved the special effects and Doctor’s Strange’s cloak was a great character all by itself!

6. Iron Man: This one’s special to me as it is the first time that I realized that Marvel was really serious about “Universe-building.”  I’ve always been a Spider-Man and X-Men reader (on the Marvel side), but it was impossible ignore the other heroes.  I would see references in other comics about Iron Man and had a comic that was the precursor to the Marvel Handbooks that described the tech of Marvel’s heroes.  It diagramed how Spider-Man’s web-shooters worked, how Falcon’s wings and flight apparatus worked, how Mandarin’s rings did their thing, and so on.  As I recall, the comic showed several variants of Tony Stark’s armor, including the “gray Iron Man” suit.  Seeing that suit on-screen and then seeing Tony reworking it into the “contemporary” suit blew my mind!  If nothing else, I realized that this batch of Marvel movies (unlike the 1st batch in the mid/late 80s) intended to get it right and treat the source material with respect.  I was hooked on Marvel’s movies with this one.

5. Guardians of the Galaxy: So this one was one of those movies that I decided that I really loved the Trailer and that I was going to see no matter what.  To understand my reasoning, you have to understand that I had been talked out of seeing World War Z at the theaters by the lukewarm reviews.  When I saw WWZ on Blu-Ray, I loved it and wished that I’d seen it via Imax (as I’d intended before watching/reading reviews).  I made up my mind that if I ever saw a trailer that I liked, I was going to see the movie no matter what.  I saw the trailer for GG in March/Apr. and liked it.  I expected the critics to hate this one or at least be lukewarm with it like WWZ, but to my surprise they liked it and so did I.  WWZ taught me that if I’m already predisposed to like the movie, to go see it, otherwise I might miss out.  I was doggedly determined to see GG no matter its critical reaction–and I’m glad I did.  It was both a good Marvel movie and a good Sci-Fi movie as well.

4. Captain America: Civil War: I thought this would go to number one based on the fact that even though this is a Captain America movie, it is essentially an Avengers movie because the plot line revolves around the fracturing of the Avengers based on ideologies. When I saw this in the theaters (IMAX 3D), it was by far my number one movie.  However, after purchasing it and rematching it multiple times, I’ve found that after the first major scene, the pace really slows until spectacular sequences in the middle.  I think, however, what keeps this one lower than CA:WS and Avengers is the fact that while I liked the ending, the reason why both Cap and Tony fracture, while set up earlier in the movie, seems forced.  It was almost as if I could see the screenwriters pulling the strings in order to put Cap and Tony at each other’s throats at the end.  Neither CA:WS or Avengers gave me that feeling.  I love this movie, don’t get me wrong.  The “airport” scene alone is one of the best scenes in movies, but I just can’t help feeling that the two heroes were “manipulated” into their final fight, not by the villain of the story, but by the screenwriters reaching too hard to wring pathos out of the audience.

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier:  If not for the 1st Avengers film, this one would definitely be my favorite.  It had everything that I look for in a movie.  Spectacular fight sequences and choreography, tight plotting, reversals, betrayals, secrets, spy vs spy, secret organizations, two leads who work well together, cats and dogs living together in harmony (okay, so I threw that last one in there from Ghostbusters, but I wanted to see if you were paying attention).  For me, this one paid off the promise made in the first Captain America film.  A man of a different era now has to come to grips with the modern world and all its perceived faults.

2. Marvel’s Avengers: Off all the Marvel Universe movies released so far, this one is my favorite.  It has all of the elements that I enjoy (strong characterization, tension between teammates, heroism, and teammates banding together against a common foe).  The fight sequences were astounding and more importantly, seemed real and engaging, and the character interactions were spot-on.  The final sequence was jaw-dropping in its scale and intensity.  I almost ALWAYS stop and watch this one out to the end whenever I run across it playing on TV.  They got this one perfect for me.

1. Black Panther: So, I’m not sure if this is going to stay here, but for now, this is my personal #1 Marvel movie so far.  Political? Not really.  I’m an Action Movie junkie who secretly wants to marry the action of an Avengers movie, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, with the same heart and skill of Sci-Fi and Fantasy Writers like Robert JordanTad WilliamsElizabeth Moon, and (my personal favorites) David Eddings.  The number and quality of characters and characterizations really push this one up for me.  If you’ll look at Avengers or CA: Winter Soldier, you’ll see that these stories have a characters who feel real and grounded.  Now take this and multiply it by (pretty much) the entire cast.  Now add in the Marvel trademark humor and action scenes and you have a stellar movie.  I’m also putting it at the top in that it is also “aspirational” for me.  I would like to get to this level of writing for myself (& I would like to see more of a market for this type of story).  I also, from a Sci-Fi point of view, love the Afrofuturism aspect where Africans/African-Americans find a balance through technology and futurism and I really like this and wish there were more stories in this mode.  Characters, characters, characters–then great setting, then great plot, then great action–then characters, characters, characters.  And that’s why Black Panther is my new #1.

There you have it–my top Marvel movies, so far.

Sidney




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