Archive for the ‘Message from M.A.C.’ Category

Confessions of a Laserdisc Fiend

Tuesday, May 21st, 2019

I collected laserdiscs for years.

I loved them. The LP-sized video discs represented a real step up in quality over VHS and almost always presented movies in their intended widescreen format, long before 16″ by 9″ flatscreen TVs became the norm.


Photo by Shenanigan87

They were expensive, though. Thirty to fifty bucks a movie! Sales popped up now and then, however, in particular at the Camelot chain, which had a store at Mall of America where Barb and I and our young son Nate would go several times a year. Camelot stores turned up on other trips, and they would often have laserdiscs on sale for an astonishing twenty bucks per – sometimes even ten!

As my fixation worsened, I would tip a Camelot sales clerk to let me go through the backroom stock, and several times came out sweating and grinning with a box of the beauties to the amusement and dismay of my wife, waiting patiently in the car. Many of these discs remain sealed to this day, wrapped in plastic, like Laura Palmer on Twin Peaks.

The late lamented QED Laser in the Chicago area became a monthly trip for Barb and me (well, Barb went to the nearby Oak Brook mall). My writing partner Matt Clemens and I made several mammoth day trips to that store for blow-out sales. I got to know the staff. I was allowed into the backroom, to see the new shipment before the discs were put out. I was a shivering laserdisc junkie.

When I was writing draft after draft of the film The Expert, much of the effort taking place in Hollywood at director William Lustig’s apartment, Bill – a fellow laserdisc collector – would keep me going by interrupting these work sessions with trips to Tower Records and other exotic sellers of lasers, including one that was frequented by actual Hollywood directors. I bought discs where Brian DePalma bought his! It kept me going through countless drafts of what became a Jeff Speakman movie. (As James M. Cain said of Mignon, his years-in-the-works historical novel, “So much effort and a kind of mouse is born.”)

When I made the two Mommy movies, I was determined to get them onto laserdisc, which I did – widescreen versions. Thank you, Cary Roan.

Gradually, laserdiscs were phased out as DVDs came in, initially not as good as lasers but soon surpassing them. Then came HD DVD and Blu-ray and high resolution TVs. Laserdiscs looked lousy on the new flatscreens. Just horrible.

And I owned hundreds of lasers – also, four laser disc players, including several late models that also played DVDs. Gradually I moved into DVDs and finally into high definition discs.

Allow to interrupt this fascinating memoir with a sort of sidebar confession. I have a notorious history of choosing the wrong format for my video collecting. I say “wrong,” but actually I would pick the wrong format in the sense that a lesser format won out. I chose Beta over VHS. I chose laserdisc over all competing formats. I chose HD DVD over Blu-ray. My friends would see whatever format I chose and then choose the other one, since I was a sort of video-collecting kiss of death.

Of course, I did move into DVD, and I did shift into Blu-ray, which is holding on for dear life despite my having chosen to collect that format.

Whither my hundreds of lasers? As I gradually upgraded titles to DVD and Blu-ray, I would haul them to a Half Price Books, where I would be diddled without even an offer of a cigarette after. (I don’t smoke, but still!) Then I hooked up with a collector in St. Louis who would buy several boxes of the discs and give me about fifty cents per disc. It was like finding out that old Playboys were worthless.

Still, certain discs I held onto. Some titles just didn’t appear anywhere else. The long versions of John Wayne’s The Alamo, the uncut Ken Costner Wyatt Earp, the full-length Slingblade, the chronologically assembled Godfather box set. The Expert in widescreen remains available only on laserdisc, if you can find one. Tons of music, mostly New Wave acts in concert. I would religiously hook up my laserdisc players to the various flatscreens in the house and then rarely play any of the discs, and – when I did – shake my head at the awful quality.

Now I am embarking on a new journey. Learning from Nate that CRT (tube) TVs are popular among gamers who want to play their early video games (which suck on flatscreen TVs), I have decided to buy a CRT for my office. I am not replacing my flatscreen – rather, I am expanding my set-up by hooking up a 20″ tube TV to a late-model laserdisc player. I have perhaps 150 laserdiscs that have been moved to my office and a cabinet designed for LPs s they – and I – await the delivery of an early twenty-first century model tube TV later this week. (Another 150 discs are elsewhere in the house.)

I will report back to you, since I know you will be dying to hear for what is probably my next video defeat.

* * *

Here is a lovely review of Murder, My Love.

And, finally, another good Girl Most Likely review.

M.A.C.

Powderkeg for Under a Buck and Zombies Rock the Planet

Tuesday, May 14th, 2019

E-Book links: Amazon iTunes Nook Google Play Kobo

Before I get to blathering, here’s a nice piece of news, particularly for those of who have not yet acquired the definitive edition of Red Sky In Morning, now under my original (and preferred) title, USS Powderkeg.

For 24 hours, on May 17 (this coming Friday), the novel will be available for 99 cents on every e-book platform – Amazon, Apple, Nook, Google Play, and Kobo. This is a Bookpub promotion.

Brash Books has supported me incredibly, bringing both “Patrick Culhane” bylined novels back out under my own name, and publishing all three books in the Road to Perdition prose trilogy, even getting permission to publish the complete version of the first one, previously available only in a short, butchered edition.

Thank you, Lee and Joel!

* * *

The time has come (you might say the time of the season has come) to discuss Zombies, not the Walking Dead variety but the Rocking Live variety.

After four nominations, the British band the Zombies has finally been inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Here is the Hall of Fame bio, for those who came in late:

The first wave of the British Invasion carried a startling variety of sounds and styles from old world to new, but not all of the bands presented successfully emerged during that heady halcyon era. The Zombies, with their intricate arrangements and sophisticated atmospherics, stood apart from the raw, blues-drenched disciples of American blues and R&B. Their band’s sound filled space gorgeously and completely with jazz-inflected electric piano and choirboy vocals, endearing themselves overnight to a sea of fans.

The classic lineup of The Zombies fell back to school days at St. Alban’s: Keyboardist and singer Rod Argent met guitarist and vocalist Paul Atkinson and drummer Hugh Grundy as schoolmates. Bassist Chris White and lead singer Colin Blunstone joined shortly after.

Their second and final album Odessey And Oracle has earned its reputation (and its spot inside the Top 100 on Rolling Stone’s list of the “500 Greatest Albums Of All Time”) alongside such masterworks as the Beatles’ White Album and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. Rod Argent’s eponymous band gave majesty and definition to the ’70s, but the Zombies, which he and Colin Blunstone have been helming on records and tours for the past decade, are truly a rock band for all seasons.

At the end of the day, it always comes back home to the triad of career defining hits by the band that beg the question: Where were you the first time you heard “She’s Not There” or “Tell Her No” or “Time Of the Season”? For many, those songs swept away fans, inspiring decades of allegiance or even the impulse to pick up an instrument and play.

HBO is showing a condensed version of the concert. While a good number of the acts I could not have cared less about, it was worth the wait to hear a lovely Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles introduce the Zombies.

“My love affair with the Zombies may have started in the ’60s, but the 60-year-old me loves them even more,” Hoffs said. “I listen to the Zombies every day…I need a dose of their particular sonic alchemy, it never fails to inspire me. It reminds me of what it is to be alive, to be human and the power of music to connect us all.”

Original members Rod Argent, Colin Blunstone and Hugh Grundy gave fine acceptance speeches, and were joined by members of their current touring line-up to perform four songs, “Time of the Season,” “This Will Be Our Year” (sadly omitted from the broadcast), “Tell Her No” and “She’s Not There.”

I was not surprised that they killed. Barb and I, a few years ago, saw the current band perform at a club in the Chicago area, and both Argent and Blunstone were spellbinding and almost otherworldly in their shared gifts. If I were one tenth the keyboard played that Argent is, I would still be ten times better than I am now. If I sang half as well, and with as much passion and abandon, as Blunstone, I wouldn’t have spent all these years writing mystery novels. Up to you whether that’s a good or bad thing.

I’ve mentioned here that, as a survivor of open heart surgery, I have occasional bouts of weepiness. That was pronounced during the first month or so of my recovery, and very, very occasional since. (This actually has a medical name, but I don’t recall it.) But seeing Argent and Blunstone, older even than I, performing in such an amazing, moving manner did bring me to tears, smiling though I was.

It swept me back to my high school days when playing rock ‘n’ roll in a “pop combo” became just as important to me as writing crime fiction. I didn’t replace the latter with rock – I was already caught up in music, specifically chorus and, earlier, band as well – but made room for it in my enthusiasm.

The British bands were my initial obsession. The Beatles, of course, but also the Animals, Herman’s Hermits, Them, and the Zombies. It took me a while to warm to the Rolling Stones, but of course I did, though to this day I prefer Eric Burden to Mick Jagger, and Them to the Stones. I knew Herman’s Hermits was fluff, but it was fun fluff and I was in high school, after all. And Peter Noone did some lovely work – his “Jezebel” is great. “No Milk Today,” too.

But I think I knew the Zombies were special. Their output was fairly small, though, so as some of the American bands began to join the Brits in my personal rock hall of fame, I shifted to American bands, like the Beach Boys (who I’d liked since junior high, after all) and Paul Revere and the Raiders and countless garage bands. I have an inexplicable love for Question Mark and the Mysterians, for example.

In the mid-‘70s, when some collections of Zombies material reached both vinyl and audio cassette, my love for their work expanded. I would now rate them number two, after the Beatles.

I got into playing rock ‘n’ roll – garage band rock – fairly late. The Beatles came along in ‘64, and a ton of garage bands turned up around then in small towns like my Muscatine, Iowa. My local heroes were the XL’s and the Rogues, but I was impressed by the Roustabouts and Coachmen as well. Really envied and wanted to be one of them. In the mid-sixties, we counted thirty-some combos in the Muscatine area…all vying for those sock hops and house parties and homecoming dances and prom gigs. My first band, in 1966, which lasted maybe three months, was the Barons – the spelling should have been Barrens, frankly.

My initial thought was to be a bass player. I’d had a few guitar lessons and it looked easier than having to play chords on a six-string. My uncle, Mahlon Collins, was a district sales manager for Chicago Musical Instruments. He had been a legendary high school band director in Iowa, just as my father (the real Max Collins) was a legendary high school chorus director. Both left their beloved professions, after ten years or so, to get better paying jobs.

Mahlon – a slender, handsome guy in glasses who I am pleased to say people used to say I resembled – was smart and tough and knew his shit. He would stay with us when he was calling on clients in our part of the world, and when I told him I was putting a rock band together, he asked me what instrument I was going to play. Whatever it was, he would get it for me at cost.

“Bass,” I said, and told him why.

I recall, for some reason, that we were sitting on the couch in our little family room, waiting for my mother to serve up supper. He looked at me with shrewd eyes. You see, Mahlon was a kind of a know-it-all, but you didn’t mind, because…well, because he knew it all.

“Didn’t you have piano lessons?” he asked me.

“A couple of years,” I said. “I never hated anything more.”

My father directed a male chorus, the Elks Chanters, who won national championships, and he’d insisted that I take my lessons from the chorus’s accompanist, an old gal named Stella Miser. Her name was right out of Dickens and so was she.

“But you did take piano,” Mahlon insisted.

“Yeah. That’s true. I was terrible, and never practiced, but I did take lessons.”

He got conspiratorial. “These combo organs are the latest thing. I can fix you up with a Farfisa.”

“But I hated piano.”

“Still, you did have lessons. You would be starting pretty much from scratch, with the bass. I can get you a bass, if you want. A nice one. But these combo organs? They’re the big thing.”

Thus did I become a keyboard player. And my band played its first gig two weeks from the day my Farfisa arrived. I went through several Farfisas – the double keyboard version was used on “Psychedelic Siren” – though I preferred Vox and, for the latter half of the existence of my band the Daybreakers, I played a Vox Continental. Double keyboard. Reverse keys – the white notes black, the black notes white. Beyond cool. Alan Price played one in the Animals. (Paul Revere used Farfisa.)

So, 53 years after my uncle talked me into buying a combo organ at cost, I am watching Rod Argent play the most fantastic, beautiful leads on his Hammond portable, and I am brought to tears. That, and Colin Blunstone reaching those high notes on the chorus of “Time of the Season,” full voice, not falsetto.

And right now my second band (the Barons don’t count – only the Daybreakers and Crusin’) is rehearsing for a season of around eight gigs this summer, and the intention of recording an album. We have been working on originals, which is of course an insane thing for an oldies band to do. The last thing an oldies audience wants is original material.

But I feel like we’ve earned the right. We’re in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, too, after all. Twice. Okay, the Iowa one, but it counts.

To me it does.

* * *

This article at World Geekly News considers Road to Perdition the best comic book adaptation ever.

M.A.C.

Hey Kids! Book (and Audio) Giveaway!

Tuesday, May 7th, 2019

Hardcover:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes
Digital Audiobook: Amazon Kobo
Audio CD:

Hardcover:
E-Book: Google Play Kobo
Digital Audiobook: Google Play Kobo

Digital Audiobook: Amazon
MP3 CD: Amazon
Audio CD: Amazon

We have a giveaway again of two books – the new Trash ‘n’ Treasures mystery, Antiques Ravin’, and the new Caleb York western, Last Stage to Hell Junction. Ravin’ is a finished hardcover book and Last Stage a nice, trade paperback-style Advanced Reading Copy, including the color cover. Nine copies of each are available. State your preference but also your willingness to look at the other title as a substitute (or your lack of willingness/interest in doing so).

As usual, the idea is that you will write a review at Amazon and/or Barnes & Noble, or at your own blog (multiple appearances encouraged). I ask only that if you hate the novel you receive in the giveaway, you consider not reviewing it at all; but that’s up to you, of course.

Write me directly at macphilms@hotmail.com. If you have won before, don’t assume I already have your address – you must give me your snail-mail info in that e-mail. No foreign (and this includes Canada) entries.

Ravin’ is out now, so reviews can appear immediately. Last Stage isn’t out till the end of the month (May 28 to be exact), and Amazon won’t run reviews until the book is published. So wait before you submit. Not sure what the Barnes & Noble policy is.

Now for my first audio giveaway. I have three CD versions of Girl Most Likely and three MP3 CD audios of it, as well. You must specify which format(s) you can use. Your review will appear with the regular reviews of the e-book and “real” book write-ups, so I’d encourage you to mention you are reviewing an audio and address the quality of the narration, as well.

Speaking of reviews, Murder, My Love has a rather skimpy number of reviews (although very good ones) at Amazon, and if you’ve read and liked the book, I’d appreciate you weighing in there. Reviews need not be lengthy – you can go long and detailed or short and sweet, as you like.

It occurred to me to do my first audio giveaway here because Barb and I just finished listening to Girl Most Likely as read by Dan John Miller. Dan is a terrific reader, and – as some of you know – he has been the “voice” of Nate Heller for years now. He’s also narrated a Quarry and two Mike Hammer novels, as well What Doesn’t Kill Her and the Reeder and Rogers political thrillers by Matt Clemens and me. He’s a fantastic narrator and in much demand, and I’m lucky to have him.

Remember when I said I wouldn’t talk about Girl Most Likely reviews here anymore? Did you really believe that? Truth is we’ve had many very good reviews (I’ll link to one really nice one below), and continue to hold at four stars on Amazon, with 72 reviews currently. What is different about the Girl Most Likely reviews is the nastiness of the outlying bad reviews, which – as I’ve said – seem largely to come from fans of my more overtly noir-ish material (like Quarry, Heller, Hammer) and from young women with politically-correct agendas.

When the novel came out, I kept track of the reviews at Amazon and Goodreads (including the bizarrely nasty ones from the UK, where readers had access a month early). I did this because Girl Most Likely is published by Amazon – actually, Thomas & Mercer, their mystery/suspense line – and I am keen to keep working with them, so I needed to know what kind of response they were getting.

So, in the process, I got a little battered by the occasional snarky, nasty reviews. This made hearing Dan John Miller read Girl Most Likely (Barb and I listened to it on a recent Chicago trip) a pleasure and, frankly, a relief. It reminded me that I’d been proud of the book when I delivered it, and allowed me to be proud of it now.

I did understand some of the negative response better. Some readers were really put off by the cover labeling the novel “A Thriller.” What a thriller is, exactly, no one really knows. Like noir, it’s a term that everyone defines for themselves and then holds others to that definition.

Otto Penzler, for example – a mystery fiction expert if ever there was one – holds the ludicrous position that no private eye book or movie can be considered noir. Okay, but nobody told Chandler that when he wrote the Marlowe novels and certainly nobody told Mickey Spillane when he created Mike Hammer. One Lonely Night isn’t a noir novel? Kiss Me Deadly isn’t a noir movie? Otto, you prove that an informed opinion is still just an opinion.

The closest I can come to defining the modern thriller is that it has, well, a lot of thrills in it – action and suspense – and the antagonist is known to the reader and the protagonist. In other words, not a mystery.

But I conceived Girl Most Likely as a hybrid of thriller and mystery. The killer would get point of view chapters, but I would withhold the killer’s identity and add a mystery aspect to the plot. This seems to have wildly confused certain readers. (By the way, the killer’s chapters are not “first person,” as many reviewers have stated – they are in second person.)

A good number of reviewers – both amateur and professional – have gotten hung up on the thriller definition provided by the cover. One particularly smug reviewer at Amazon said the novel was a “cozy.” Right. A cozy with three on-stage butcher knife slayings by a maniac, and a nighttime chase in the woods by said butcher knife-wielding maniac of the two protagonists, with the maniac (SPOILER ALERT) dying a graphically bloody death, as well. Yessir, a cozy. Pass the tea and cookies.

Probably what hearing the audio did for me was remind me that some of the things certain people don’t like about the book – the lack of a tough guy hero, the somewhat abrupt (Spillane-style) finish, the clothing and physical descriptions, the setting descriptions, the Chicago mob sub-plot – were all very deliberate choices. And I don’t regret one of them.

A writer of fiction, as I’ve noted here before, is collaborating with each reader. I always assume that the reader is at least as smart as I am, and this has never really failed me. Yet not all readers, even very smart ones, know how to meet a book (or a film or a piece of music) on its own terms. And, of course, not everyone’s taste is the same.

Take Antiques Ravin’. There are four “trade” magazines in the publishing business, and these days it’s rare for a book in a long-running series to get reviewed at all. Just scoring a notice from one of these publications – even if it’s a negative review, and these are all tough places to get good reviews – is a big deal these days, for a novel in a series.

But take a gander at these (all of these originally included lengthy plot summaries):

“The melodramatic Vivian and pragmatic Brandy play off each other like foils in a 1930s screwball comedy, and Poe puns, witty asides, and quirky townspeople keep things light. Series fans and newcomers alike will have fun.”
–Publishers Weekly

“Plenty of plausible suspects make this one of the best in Allan’s long-running series, which is always humorous and full of tips for antiques hunters.”
–Kirkus Reviews

“Framed effectively by the antique business, and including plenty of details about Poe and his work, this satisfying, humorous cozy – with its well-drawn, quirky characters – is a hoot. Chapters end with tips on how to collect rare books.”
–Booklist

“Wordplay and fun references to Poe combine in this humorous cozy follow-up to Antiques Ho-Ho-Homicides. The humor is doubled with two narrators, Brandy and Vivian, who are supposedly writing a ‘nonfiction true crime account’ of this latest mystery.”
–Library Journal

That, my friends, is a Grand Slam, and I don’t mean at Denny’s. I can’t think of another time in my career when I got reviewed by all four of these trades, and favorably, in one fell swoop.

And yet the Lesa’s Book Critiques blog finds the humor too broad in Ravin’, complaining about the wordplay, even though she admits, “Their characters certainly are original, and, as I said, the mystery is actually well done,” but she “won’t be picking up the fourteenth in the series, but I know this cozy series has a devoted following.”

Is Lesa wrong?

No, Lesa knows what she likes, and her review is well-written and thoughtful. But we are not to her taste. Humor is a very personal thing. So she doesn’t make a good collaborator for us. But she does not go off on a hissy fit about it, or a snarky rant either.

Barb and I knew from the beginning that the Antiques novels would not be to everyone’s taste. I knew the same thing about Quarry, even back in 1972 when I created him. What I wanted to do – and what Barb and I, as “Barbara Allan,” wanted to do – was create something of our own. Something distinctive.

When you do that, you won’t please everybody. Of course, nothing pleases everybody, but with Quarry, and with the Antiques series, we knew that we would turn a certain number of people off. But we also knew, instinctively, that the people who connected with us – who were good and, well, worthy collaborators – would love what we were doing.

Now, the tricky thing for me is that I have rather broad tastes, and somewhat oddball ones at that. So I have had to come to terms with the fact (and it is a fact) that very few readers out there are going to like everything I do. That within my readership will be groups who only like this, or only like that.

Here’s an example. A good number of Quarry fans won’t read Heller because the books are long. If you read both series, you know how compatible they are, thematically and stylistically and so on. But a Heller novel is a commitment for the reader (just as it was to me). And some fans of a certain style of novel – think Gold Medal Books – just don’t know how to handle a book that’s 100,000 words long.

Here’s another. Some readers of comic books (okay, graphic novels) are not anxious to read prose novels. They are fans only of my comics work. To me, the idea that you would love Ms. Tree, but not gravitate as well to Quarry and Nate Heller is nonsensical. But there it is. And even more common is the reader of my novels who disdains comics. Look at the Amazon reviews of my graphic novels and you’ll see outraged one-star reviews – “This is a comic book!”

As we say in the funnies, sigh.

So what can I do about it?

Not a damn thing. Somebody once said something about following a quest and following a star. Of course, hopeless was in there, too, but what the hell.

Anyway, no more talk about reviews.

I promise.

* * *

At J. Kingston’s Pierce’s wonderful Rap Sheet, he announces the honor that A. Brad Schwartz and I have received for Scarface and the Untouchable. Very cool – do check this out.

A lot of you seem interested in my appearance (and my Scarface co-author’s) in the Dick Tracy strip (thanks to my pal, writer/cop Jim Doherty). This link will take you to a nice write-up about the continuity, with more links to read the entire thing.

Here is a lovely review for Girl Most Likely.

Check out this nice review and interview with me for Girl Most Likely. This was an actual phone interview as opposed to the usual e-mail one.

Another nice Girl interview here, with fun graphics.

Finally, I don’t exactly know what this is, but it looks like a good deal – a “book bundle” that includes some titles of mine.

[Note from Nate: I’ll copy Humble’s explanation below. The short version is: DRM-free highly discounted bundles of eBooks that benefits charity. This bundle includes The Consummata and the Mike Hammer and Quarry’s War graphic novels at the $1 tier, The First Quarry at the $8 tier, and Seduction of the Innocent at the $15 tier.]

The best in hardboiled crime fiction. Ranging from lost noir masterpieces to new novels and comics, these ebooks feature jaw-dropping cover paintings and hold your attention from the first sentence to the last page. With determined detectives, dangerous women, vengeance seekers, and fortune hunters galore, you won’t be able to put these novels down!

Pay $1 or more. Normally, the total cost for the comics and ebooks in this bundle is as much as $333. Here at Humble Bundle, you choose the price and increase your contribution to upgrade your bundle! This bundle has a minimum $1 purchase.

Read them anywhere. The comics in this bundle are available in CBZ, PDF, and ePub formats, so they work on your computer, e-readers, iPads, cell phones, and a wide array of mobile devices! The ebooks in this bundle are available in PDF and ePub formats, so they work on your computer, e-readers, iPads, cell phones, and a wide array of mobile devices! Instructions and a list of recommended reading programs can be found here for comics and here for ebooks.

Support charity. Choose where the money goes – between the publisher and the ACLU via the PayPal Giving Fund. If you like what we do, you can leave us a Humble Tip too!

M.A.C.

An Un-Likely Miracle and a Marvelous Movie

Tuesday, April 30th, 2019

I am reporting a small miracle, which is that Girl Most Likely turned up on the shelves of the Davenport Barnes & Noble. Sightings of Thomas & Mercer (Amazon) titles in B & B bookstores is pretty rare. So this was fun to see (evidenced by way of the pic included here). This is, I believe, a result of an upcoming book signing Barb and I will be doing in June at the Davenport store for Antiques Ravin’.

Girl Most Likely seems to be doing well, and holding at four stars at Amazon with 66 reviews as of the last time I checked. The first flurry of reviews, which came from the UK, were at times mean and often ridiculous, but those have been overwhelmed by positive responses among good ol’ USA readers, often young women, who are welcome additions to my readership.

The negative reviews seem to fall into two groups (and both are outweighed by the positive ones): male readers who want Quarry and maybe Nate Heller and Mike Hammer and are outraged that the novel is something of a change of pace; and female readers with agendas – sort of feminist but really just odd (like finding the word “attractive” offensive). One UK reviewer complained that I had noted that a couch and two chairs were in a room and a chair was selected to sit upon (“Thanks for telling us she didn’t sit on the floor!”) (you’re welcome!).

Which brings me to Avengers: End Game.


[Note from Nate: mild spoilers follow.]

I just read a Huffington Post essay complaining about how hollow the “girl power” moment rings in the film’s final epic battle. This is in the context of a lot of complaining about the boys in the film getting more time than the girls. I thought the moment was a kind of nice if heavy-handed reminder of the number of strong female characters that have been developed at Marvel, particularly in recent years. Why has nobody complained about Black Panther charging through the battlefield, with the Infinity glove, weaving and dodging like a running back? How stereotypical is that?

Or maybe we should all just lighten up.

The bottom line – other than that nothing satisfies anybody these days, particularly when political agendas come into play – is that Avengers: Endgame constitutes a remarkable achievement, a coming together of talent and skill on a staggering scale. The actors play the intimate moments just as well as the more epic ones, the visuals are eye-popping even in this jaded atmosphere, and the screenplay assembles so many Avengers, giving them meaningful and often funny moments, that it’s easy to forget just how difficult that task was. We’re talking, after all, about a cast that encompasses more name actors than any in history – where Robert Redford and Natalie Portman get walk-on roles. The original basic cast, of course, has plenty to do; but what about the newbies like Captain Marvel, Black Panther and Antman? One can imagine the difficulty of satisfying this line-counting bunch with the assurance of a least one really good scene.

As for us moviegoers, it helps to first revisit at least Avengers: Infinity Wars before heading to Endgame, and Barb and I did that – we re-watched several other Marvel movies, as well, including both Guardians of the Galaxy movies (our favorites of all the Marvel films).

I grew up on comic books, and bought Amazing Fantasy 15, Spider Man #1, The Fantastic Four #1, The Hulk #1, Avengers #1 and X-Men #1 off the stands. I gobbled up every superhero comic book Marvel put out, until Jack Kirby stopped drawing Fantastic Four. I was a charter member of the Merry Marvel Marching Society. And though the specific comic books being referenced by recent Marvel movies are largely lost on me, I was a pig in shit at Endgame. It’s clearly the best superhero movie ever made.

If you pay attention to this update/blog, you’ll know I haven’t always liked Marvel movies. Barb and I have walked out on several, including (somewhat notoriously) The Black Panther. But in retrospect, the care that has been taken, over a 22-film cycle (!), to plant narrative seeds to grow and then harvest in these last two Avengers movies is an impressive, even unparalleled achievement.

Over these last several decades many comics fans have resented my insistence that taking superhero/costumed-hero stuff too seriously is to deny the childhood roots that spawned them, to ignore that the creators were mostly kids and their audience kids, and unsophisticated ones at that. To those fans I say, it is humor that has saved the Marvel universe.

Actually, the Marvel universe was built on Stan Lee’s quirky way of being pompous and then kidding himself about it. The Fantastic Four save the city, and then get thrown out of their penthouse superhero digs because being a superhero doesn’t pay anything. Peter Parker is Clark Kent but with all the funny and tragic foibles of being a teenager, his capeless hero “your friendly neighborhood Spiderman,” with Perry White lampooned as Jonah Jameson, “Spidey” up against overt-the-top villains earning their own silly nicknames, like “Doc Ock.” The comic books knew they were absurd at heart and didn’t care – in fact, reveled in it.

What made the Marvel movies work, from Iron Man on, is Robert Downey Jr.’s deft touch with throwaway sarcasm. He deserves an Academy Award nomination for this Endgame performance, because – while some of that flip sarcasm remains – he brings a tragic, human edge to the proceedings that remind us that he is an incredible talent, and a human being who has experienced both triumph and loss on a rather grand scale.

The comic aspect of the absurdity of a time-travel attempt to turn back the clock on an epic tragedy comes across in many moments in Endgame. Give an MVP award to Paul Rudd, who brings just the right humanity and humor to the party. So does Chris Hemsworth, whose first two Thor movies were turgid and humorless, but who revealed in Thor: Ragnarok a comic touch comparable to Ricky Gervais. And in Endgame he’s a beer-bellied, dissipated god of thunder, a wonderful characterization from the writers carried out with aplomb by Hemsworth.

The Guardians movies paved the way for allowing in more humanizing humor than even Downey delivered, and just in time. Ironically, much of the Guardians cast is benched until the final reel or so of Endgame, but the strength of their influence and of the characters established in those films comes roaring back, in so beautifully familiar a fashion.

My wife, accidentally, summed up the film perfectly: “It’s a marvel.”

Nuff said.

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Wild Dog gets an ESPN shout-out.

Here’s a nice Girl Most Likely review.

Another Girl review, also nice.

And, finally, another.

M.A.C.