Mini-Movie Review: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Ever since I saw Captain America make an appearance in the Spider-Man animated series from the mid-1990s, I’ve been a fan of Cap. There’s something about this red-white-and-blue soldier out of time that gives him a compelling story whether you learn about him in World War II in his battles against the Red Skull, or when he’s a part of the modern Marvel Avengers squad fighting alongside Iron Man, The Hulk, Hawkeye, and the rest.

When I heard that they were working on a live-action movie for Cap, I was excited but not sure that actor Chris Evans could pull off the role. Evans, who played Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, in a couple of Fantastic Four movies always seemed to be more of a smartass than a true soldier. After seeing him in The Losers, I gained a little hope for Evans in the role of Steve Rogers, the man who would become the super soldier Captain America during World War II.

I can say the cast and crew actually did pull it off in Captain America: The First Avenger, though I think I enjoyed Thor from earlier in the summer more. But the use of the extended flashback to show Cap’s origins worked great and we were able to see Cap fight the good fight in WWII against the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving from The Matrix and Lord of the Rings).

They did an amazing job of making Evans look puny for the scenes prior to his character getting the super soldier serum and I think Evans remained in character and serious all the from beginning to the end. If I have a couple of complaints, it’s that the film was a little long (at 124 minutes) and the sequence where Cap was used to sell war bonds in America through stage shows and film clips dragged things out more than a little.

I’ll give the film a definite B+ and be picking it up on Blu-ray when it’s released in a few months.

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Book Review: Black Blade Blues by J.A. Pitts

Ok, I’m a bit perplexed…

What is it about sexual hangups in more mature fantasy offerings these days? I’ve run across shame about homosexual feelings, marital infidelity, and spousal abuse in two recent novels from Robin Hobb (The Dragon Keeper and Dragon Haven) and now I’ve hit the social and personal stigma of developing a lesbian relationship in J.A. Pitts’ debut fantasy novel – Black Blade Blues. I’d say it was just my imagination, but I don’t think so…

Anyway, Pitts’ novel is an urban fantasy set in the Northwest United States that centers on the life of Sarah Beauhall, a blacksmith by day and a movie props master by night with a love of medieval weapons and armor. As a collector of such forged materials, she has been known to prowl antique auctions offering swords, axes, knives, and such for sale and occasionally acquiring a piece for herself. One such piece is a beautiful black bladed sword.

When the sword is accidentally broken on the set of the latest movie Sarah is helping with, it begins a bizarre chain of events in her life. Offered help by an extra who claims to be a real live dwarf, Sarah is thrust into a world where dragons are real and magic exists. When she fixes the sword on her anvil, she becomes the central figure in a new cycle where myths and legends not only walk the Earth, but threaten the very lives of Sarah and her friends.

In recent years, beginning with Neil Gaiman‘s American Gods, the upcoming Thor movie from Marvel in 2011, and most recently with Jim Butcher‘s latest Dresden Files novel Changes, Norse gods such as Odin, Thor, Loki, and Sif have found their way into modern works of fantasy. And I have to admit that I absolutely love this trend. For far too long the gods of Asgard have remained dormant and it’s great to see them stalking the pages of fiction once more.

But back to the sexual revolution in modern fantasy for a moment… Sarah is estranged from her father, a devout believer in the Christian God and a misogynist who seems to believe that women should serve men and not get in their way. And she’s dealing with the new love she feels for her girlfriend Katie, a schoolteacher who knows who she is and what she wants – and that is Sarah. Sarah unfortunately isn’t so sure and struggles with feelings of shame brought on by her father’s intolerance for anything other than the union of a man and a woman…

I think I get it now that I’ve had time to consider it a bit. Finding yourself and your loves is a quest all of us is on throughout most of our lives. And weaving the storyline of self-discovery into the novel as Sarah goes from self-doubt about her relationship with Katie to somewhere nearing acceptance balances out the supernatural story elements surrounding the sword. It’s just interesting to see that these more modern relationships, unbounded by the “traditional” union of man and woman, are working their way into what I think of as mainstream fiction. Really it’s probably overdue.

Honestly, I was surprised to discover that this was a debut novel. The 400+ pages of Black Blade Blues went extremely quickly. As I learned more of how Pitts intertwined interpretations of Norse myths into a modern setting, it picked up speed and didn’t let me go. I can’t wait to see what’s next for Sarah Beauhall, Katie, and the rest of their friends as they deal with a world of dragons, dwarves, and magic. If you like urban fantasy and are looking for a female answer to Harry Dresden, be sure to check it out at your favorite bookstore!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up Black Blade Blues from Barnes & Noble today!

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[DVD Review] Wolverine and the X-Men: Revelation

Hi all…

Yes, my view of comic books is probably different than other folks. Growing up with two English teachers as parents, comic books were not high on the list of approved reading materials. So when I found the old box of comics at my grandparent’s house, I was in heaven. It belonged to my uncle and I devoured every image with glee. They were the classic Marvel Comics properties like Spiderman, The Fantastic Four, and yup, you guessed it – the X-Men. Ever since, when I’ve seen a new animated project featuring a Marvel property, I tend to watch whenever I can.

The X-Men is a group of mutants led by Professor Charles Xavier (aka Professor “X”), a powerful telepath who runs a school to help mutants come to terms with and learn to control their abilities. Professor X tries to work with, not against, the government to help let mutants and humans work together in peace. As always, there are those people who fear, resent, and must destroy the things they don’t understand. Because of this, humans are divided on whether mutants should be locked up or remain free.

On the other side of the equation is Magneto, a powerful mutant who controls magnetic energy. He feels that mutants are the next level of evolution of humans and should therefore control their less evolved brethren. He and his Brotherhood of Mutants seek to goad world governments into attacking mutants overtly, thereby triggering a war between mutants and non-mutants to settle the matter once and for all.

Wolverine and the X-Men started a couple of years ago and aired on the Nicktoons channel. The series began with an explosion at the Xavier school, leveling the mansion and somehow spiriting away the Professor and Jean Grey, a telepath and telekinetic with the X-Men. The remaining X-Men disband and go their separate ways without the leadership of the Professor. The first season then focuses on getting the group back together to figure out what happened and stop the coming war.

Though they find the Professor early on, he is in a coma and cannot help the team directly. Instead, they find that he wakes up several years in the future in a world destroyed by the war between mutants and non-mutants. Professor X works in this future Earth with a group of mutants to figure out just what happened and what Wolverine and the X-Men can do to stop it.

The DVD Wolverine and the X-Men: Revelation features five episodes centered around the X-Men learning that the world will end in eight days, leading to the destruction that Professor X finds in the future. These are classic stories where the real reason for the mansion explosion is revealed… The Phoenix, a malevolent force of pure psychic destructive energy, lives inside Jean Grey and only comes out in time of intense emotional stress. What led the Phoenix to destroy the mansion and hurt the Professor in the process?

The episodes included are “Guardian Angel,” “Breakdown,” “Rover,” “Aces & Eights,” and “Shades of Grey.” These episodes bring many classic X-Men characters to the fore, including Angel’s evil self created by Sinestro – Archangel, Gambit, Apocalypse, and the Hellfire Club. Each of these adds something to the equation and the eventual conclusion of the first season…

Among my favorite episodes was “Rover” where we are introduced to Rover, a Sentinel robot saved and reprogrammed by Marrow (a mutant who can create bones outside of her body). Rover can only speak one word due to a broken voice box – “Destroy” – but that one word is said in many different ways from comedic to sad, from inquisitive to angry. Rover ultimately sacrifices himself to save his friend Marrow, but Marrow was not ready to lose him and turns on the future X-Men to exact her revenge.

Unfortunately, the series does not look like it will continue with a second season. Marvel Animation recently announced that financing had fallen through and they were unable to work out alternate financing arrangements. It would have been very interesting to see where the plot would have led in a more open battle against Apocalypse.

However, we still have DVDs such as Wolverine and the X-Men: Revelation in beautiful wide-screen format to enjoy. If you liked the series on TV, be sure to check it out again on DVD when it is released on May 4, 2010!

For more information about the X-Men and other Marvel properties, check out the Marvel.com website.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other X-Men DVDs at Barnes & Noble below!

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