Nerds Assemble! Summer movies we're excited about

It’s that time of year again when temperatures are warm, skies are blue — and we want to go sit in the dark with a tub of popcorn and watch flickering images.

Hurray!

Here are the movies we’re looking forward to seeing this summer:

Nerd: Andy Smith

Movie: “The Avengers”

In theaters: May 4

Somewhere around the mid-2000s, Marvel had finally gotten around to reading my diary and announced that Earth’s Mightiest Heroes were coming to the silver screen. I have been camped out beside the restrooms of my local cineplex since then, and this Friday marks the culmination of years of anticipation for a live-action Avengers film and backaches from the lobby floor.

Some have been waiting since that pivotal after-credits scene between Tony Stark and Nick Fury in “Iron Man.” This is our reference point for “The Avengers,” followed by “Incredible Hulk,” “Iron Man 2,” “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger.” For others, it goes back further than the inception of the so-called “Marvel Cinematic Universe” and into the comic book films of the early 2000s. They would say Bryan Singer’s “X-Men” lit the wick (and others would push up their bifocaled lenses to say that 1999’s “Blade” was the first great comic film of this generation). Preceding those were years of sporadic comic films with entries that are both treasured and shunned. Moviegoers, obviously, have been up for this film for some time.

And then there are folks like yours truly — a comic nerd from the time he knew what a comic book is (and figured out it wasn’t a tiny band inside his parents’ car radios making them pretty noises). It seemed so simple as a kid: Just make a great movie out of this great comic book.  Just take any of these classic arcs — Stan Lee’s original run, “Trial of the Yellow Jacket,” and toward adulthood, Mark Millar’s “Ultimates,”a reimagining of the team. And, as weird as it is to say, they actually ended up doing it.

It’s a brilliant concept, really: release all of these solo films, providing a foundation for each primary member of the team. Though we all have our misgivings, I stand by the casting of each Avenger. If any of these films has to be truly great, it’s this one. Thankfully, they gave the keys of this magic carpet ride to Joss Whedon. Whedon has dominated just about every entertainment medium short of puppet theatre (though I hear something’s in the works). His “Astonishing X-Men” comic book run is one of the best superhero stories ever crafted. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” has a lore and television fanbase that rivals many of the genre (though to be honest, vampires are super lame). And though he hasn’t been truly tested as a director, he’s an immensely successful film scribe.

So let’s hope “The Avengers” is as good as all of those early reviews claim. I know I haven’t anticipated a film more than this one, and I’ll be counting down the minutes until that midnight showing. And mostly, I just want to go home and get this popcorn smell out of my hair.

Nerd: Ashlee Maddy

Movie: “Dark Shadows”

In theaters: May 11

Tim Burton is known for giving a unique spin to all of his projects. You know immediately when you’re watching a Burton film. His adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland, for example, have changed the way we see the classic stories. For his latest project, he has chosen a slightly obscure soap opera with a cult following.

Burton will collaborate once again with Johnny Depp in Dark Shadows, which opens nationwide May 11. The gothic Shadows originally aired from 1966 to 1971 and featured an array of supernatural creatures. Burton and Depp have both admitted to being fans and were thrilled to bring the show to the big screen. The film focuses on the most famous inhabitant of Collinwood, who made his appearance one year into the series, a vampire named Barnabus Collins.

Depp’s Collins awakens after 200 years to find himself in the middle of the 1970s. Although the initial trailers give off a campy vibe, all the reviews and interviews I’ve read have assured diehard fans of the series that the movie has the perfect balance of eccentricity and darkness we’ve come to expect from Burton’s films.

I’ve watched the original Shadows recently on Netflix and am really looking forward to Burton’s take on it. With Depp anchoring the cast, I’m sure it will at least keep my attention.

Nerd: Me (Brad McElhinny)

Movie: Prometheus

In theaters: June 8

It would be easier to say why I’m excited about this movie if I could describe what it’s about.

The trouble is, I have no idea. It might be a prequel to “Alien” or it might not — but there are hinty hints that it exists in a universe where space predators with big teeth come crashing out of chest cavities.

I’ve gotta admit, part of my excitement about this movie has to do with my curiosity about what’s going on here.

The Ridley Scott film has familiar elements — Charlize Theron as a corporate heavy, Michael Fassbender as a synthetic life-form crew member and Noomi Rapace as a badass archaeologist. Sounds like an Alien-ish cast to me.

Even if there’s only a sliver of relation to “Alien,” the premise sounds pretty chilling: a group of adventurers headed to a distant planet in search of a civilization that visited earth long ago — and the events that go wrong in a dark corner of the universe. It promises to be a chest-buster.

Nerd: Duane Maddy

Movie: “G.I.Joe: Retaliation”

In Theaters: June 29

As one of the dozen-or-so people who enjoyed the prior Joe flick, ‘Rise of Cobra’, I am eagerly awaiting this Jon M. Chu movie. I must say, for the record, I could live the remainder of my days and never see Channing Tatum or Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in another film, but the anticipation for seeing Zartan, Jinx, and Snake Eyes on the screen makes me happy.

Bruce Willis plays a character named General Joe Colton, or G.I.Joe, who heads up the top secret missions associated with the Joe team in the imaginary G.I.Joe universe, but it’s unknown how big of a roll he’ll play in the movie. Ray Park revisits the roll of Snake Eyes. Park’s always excellent at bringing action – single handedly making Star Wars Episode 1 tolerable – so his ability to bring Snake Eyes to life was a great choice.

The brilliant success of the G.I.Joe comic books and cartoons of the 1980s was the nearly science fiction type atmosphere of the villains. This movie is said to have more of a relation to that style of storytelling as Cobra Commander gets a helmet a little closer to resembling his original and Zartan has more of a diabolical roll. This movie should provide all the action of a Summer blockbuster while offering some avid Joe fans something to keep their attention.

Nerd: Summer Shelton

Movie: “The Amazing Spider-Man”

In Theaters: July 3

While Tobey Maguire’s Spidey only ended his run in 2007, I’m pumped for another take on this classic comic book hero.  With Mark Webb ((500) Days of Summer) in the director’s chair, The Amazing Spider-Man is set to have a more realistic and contemporary feel.  A guy named Webb directing the latest Spider-Man installment? Yes, please!

Add a Brit in the mix, Andrew Garfield (The Social Network), as Spider-Man, and you know that I am game.  The only thing that would have gotten me more excited about the movie is if Donald Glover (Community) would have been cast in the role.  However, as a nod to the internet campaign that tried to get Glover cast as Peter Parker, there will be something hidden in the set design of Peter’s bedroom that will be a shoutout to Glover.   Everyone remember to keep your eyes peeled!

Further adding to my excitement for The Amazing Spider-Man is the absence of Mary Jane Watson, who was played rather annoyingly by Kirsten Dunst.  Peter’s love interest in this movie is Gwen Stacy, who will be played by the gorgeous, funny, and talented Emma Stone.   Gwen is Spidey’s first love in the comics—her relationship with Peter in this movie has been described as having a Hepburn-Tracy dynamic.   If this is so, I look forward to some fast and witty Adam’s Rib-type dialogue.

The casting of Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Uncle Ben and Aunt May is also intriguing.  The villain is Dr. Curt Connors, a.k.a. the Lizard, played by Rhys Ifans.   Not being a devoted reader of the comic book, I have little name recognition with the Lizard, so I hope it means something to you nerds.  I do know that he is missing an arm and his past has something to do with Peter’s dead father.

Fans of the comic will be pleased to know that Garfield was a devoted reader himself.  He grew up loving Spidey, pretending he was him, and identifying with the nerd-hero.  It is safe to say that this beloved character is in good hands, hands equipped with the original artificial web-shooters.  

Nerd: Zack Harold

Movie: “The Dark Knight Rises”

In Theaters: July 20

The movie I’m really looking forward to this year doesn’t come out until November. That’s “Skyfall,” the new James Bond flick. But this summer, I’ll get to my second-favorite fictional hero in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises.”

“Rises” is the last of Nolan’s Batman trilogy, which started with 2005’s “Batman Begins” and 2008’s “The Dark Knight.” Both were fantastic films and huge blockbusters. I doubt “Rises” will break that trend.

Take, for starters, the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GokKUqLcvD8

Bane, the super-villian who first appeared in 1993’s “Batman: Vengeance of Bane” comic book series, is back. And unlike his last live-action film appearance (1997’s “Batman & Robin”), he looks really freaking scary. I mean, he blows up a stadium full of football fans after that little boy sang the national anthem. Can’t get more evil than that.

The tagline for “Rises” is “The legend ends.” I don’t know what that means, exactly–Bane breaks Bruce Wayne’s back in the comic books, though Batman eventually makes a comeback–but Nolan has said previously that this movie will end the trilogy.

What does that mean? Will Bruce Wayne die? Or will he rid Gotham of its bad guys once and for all? Both scenarios are unlikely, I think. Guess we’ll have to wait ’til July 20 and find out.

Nerd: Josh Work

Movie: “Brave”

In theaters: June 22

I’m a fan of traditional animation over computer animation for the same reason that I don’t care much for 3-D movies – that is, I don’t feel that movie makers should compensate for poor story and lack of character development by throwing in flashy visuals. That said, Pixar has done a good job of not disappointing me in the past with cinematic marvels such as “Wall-E” and “Up.”

From everything that I’ve seen of “Brave” so far, I’m pretty excited. It promises a great mixture of goofiness and drama, with a fiery young heroine to boot. It brings to mind another animated film, “The Secret of Kells,” a Celtic tale that touches on the art of illumination, though I would bet that “Brave” will prove to be a more accessible – and therefore more enjoyable – movie.

It’s also kicking off a few firsts for Pixar. The heroine of “Brave,” Princess Merida, is the studio’s first female protagonist. My nerd sense tells me I should point out the random fact that Pixar has some ties to the Japanese (traditional animation) company Studio Ghibli – Pixar executive John Lasseter is good friends with Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki, whose films tend to star young girls with short haircuts. Is that detail relevant? Who knows!

“Brave” is also Pixar’s first fairy tale, and as such, it has the potential to take a darker turn than the studio’s usual fare. Early synopses make mention of  a breaking of sacred customs and a curse that must be undone. This film has the potential to draw deeply from Scottish mythology while maintaining enough humor and action to keep audiences entranced to the end.

The Day The Music Revived

Had boy bands never happened, had rappers not ran out of ideas to rap about, and had pop music not become such a lousy expression of mindless culture – we would still have music videos.

The mid-1990s literally destroyed the idea of the music video by exposing us to reality television and low quality music with no cultural relevance or substance.  MTV began the trend with The Real World, which was a cheap way to get musicians to give up on their dreams of making a difference and teenagers to realize how pointless MTV thought their generation was.  I blame Viacom and Clear Channel for most of it.  There was never a focus on quality, talent, or art.  Remember, Viacom is the team that decided TV Land and Nick at Night should replace Mary Tyler Moore, Laugh In and Mr. Ed with Joan Rivers on How’d You Get So Rich?.

Soapbox aside.  Today, the music industry is dead and cheap reality television is dying.  TNT, AMC, HBO, and Showtime have seen the void and filled it with shows like Breaking Bad, Dallas, Franklin & Bash, The Walking Dead, Weeds, and Mad Men.
The music industry is returning to the musicians, regardless what these top 40 stations proclaim.  Sirius/XM actually gives listeners an alternative to the nonsense Clear Channel expects listeners to swallow with stations like The Spectrum, Alt Nation, and others.

The internet has provided an alternative for music as well.  Pandora, Spotify, and Youtube have come in handy lately with unsigned and genuine talent.

That brings me to my actual reason for writing a blog today.  This band is incredible, their videos are incredible, their harmonies are incredible, and their talent is incredible.  If Viacom or Clear Channel had their way, I would have never heard of them.


or this incredible artist:



How do you make a WV crowd go wild? Country Roads!

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Ramps — they're a good thing.

Martha Stewart just might show up at the next local ramp dinner.

Daytime TV’s queen of entertaining keeps mentioning her fondness for the regional springtime treat on her hourlong show, where she’s joined by celebrated chefs who are doing more than just sauteing the onion-y bulb in bacon fat (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

First, she helped restaurateur Geoffrey Zakarian (of the Food Network’s ‘Chopped’) create a Grilled Ramp and Asparagus Quiche. When Zakarian told the audience to use their wild leeks, Stewart was quick to correct him. “I call them ramps,” she said.

A few days later, Stewart and her audience were taught to make a Springtime Morel and Fava Bean Crostini, an appetizer featuring another springtime delicacy hunted by woodsy West Virginians — morel mushrooms (sometimes called Molly Moochers). While the “gnome-like” (Stewart’s term) fungi are often consumed simply floured and cooked in butter, James Beard Award-winning chef Larry Forgione adds them to other ingredients — including diced ramp leaves — for a party-worthy snack.

Despite the frequency with which the wild ingredients are appearing on her show, it’s unlikely the hostess with the mostess will be making a  trip to the Mountain State to forage anytime soon.

She told Forgione that both ramps and morels grow freely in the woods of her 150-acre Bedford, N.Y., farm.

“And I’m not telling anyone where,” she quipped.

I haven’t had the opportunity to try ramps, nor morels, so I can’t say if Martha’s means of dressing them up makes them all the more appetizing. What do you think? Is simple better when preparing these hard-to-find items?

Allons-y, Anglophiles!

In recent weeks, I have had to defend my love of British television to an ever-incredulous group of friends.  It saddens me that they do not know the joy of the great comedy, science-fiction, and drama programming that the United Kingdom produces.

But how does a girl from a small town in West Virginia develop a love for British culture?  One of the defining moments for me was when I read Bridget Jones’s Diary in high school.  Ms. Jones references the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice mini-series with THE Colin Firth as the ever prideful (or is it prejudiced?) Mr. Darcy.  I had to know why Bridget destroyed her videotape of the mini-series by rewinding the scene in which Mr. Darcy emerges from a lake in a sopping wet shirt.

From there, I discovered Ricky Gervais’s and Stephen Merchant’s series, The Office.  I forced high school friends to watch it with me when they just wanted to drink and go muddin’, or participate in some other rural teenager activity.  Later, when the U.S. version was created, I was continually disappointed to learn that those who watched the U.S. version did not seek out the, in my opinion, superior source material.  Gervais’s and Merchant’s follow-ups have also provided nothing but delight for me.  Check out Extras, a personal favorite.

It was also during this time that I realized most of my favorite reality t.v. shows started in the U.K.  The TLC program Trading Spaces was based on the BBC’s Changing Rooms, American Idol was a spin-off of ITV’s Pop Idol, and BBC also created the original What Not to Wear.  You think Stacy and Clinton tell it like it is? You haven’t heard anything unless you’ve seen Susannah and Trinny dish it out to some sad-sack in pajama bottoms.

My love for U.K. produced television hasn’t waned.  The dramas are amazing and are almost unmatched by what we have in the U.S.  Luther is the show that first comes to mind.  You think Dexter is a twisted serial killer? You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen Luther’s Alice descend into madness with the calculated killing of her parents.   Fans of The Wire’s Stringer Bell will recognize Idris Elba in the title role.

Downton Abbey is another splendid show for those wanting to experience how the haves and the have-nots experienced life before and during World War I.  Lucky for us, the show can be seen in the U.S. on PBS.

Also on PBS is the brilliant Sherlock, which places the world’s only consulting detective in the modern world of texts and blogs.  Sherlock is played by the most Englishy of English named actors, Benedict Cumberbatch, while Watson is played by the loveable Martin Freeman (Tim, NOT JIM, from The Office).   You will be amazed by the skill of writer and co-creator, Steven Moffat, who is also the lead writer for the current series of Doctor Who.

Aah, Doctor Who.  Some might remember this from the original run in the 1960s that sometimes made its way across the pond via PBS.  I’m only familiar with the current run which began in 2005.  Trying to sum up my love for the Doctor in one blog post is impossible.  If you like your superheroes to be time-traveling, pacifist aliens, then this is the show for you.  The one wish for every Whovian is to hear the whirring sound of the Doctor’s TARDIS (time machine, “Time and Relative Dimension in Space”) that will take you away to a time and place far from the current one.   Come for the science fiction, stay for the emotional weight of the characters and stories.

Doctor Who also has its own spinoff, Torchwood, a slightly more “adult” show.  Notice the letters in both programs.  The Torchwood Institute, started in 1879 by Queen Victoria, works to defend the earth against extraterrestrial threats.   I’ll direct newbies to check out the third series (not season) entitled, Torchwood: Children of Earth, a five-part serial dealing with aliens coming to take Earth’s children.  It also provides the explanation for the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic (a plot point also covered in Downton Abbey).

Finally, there are the comedies.  The two that I am absolutely infatuated with are The IT Crowd and Gavin & StaceyThe IT Crowd, starring Richard Ayoade, Katherine Parkinson, and Bridesmaids’ Chris O’Dowd, centers around the information technology employees of Reynholm Industries that have been condemned to toil away in the basement.  This show is like comfort food; I can re-watch episode after episode and laugh with and at these “standard nerds.”   Episodes featuring Noel Fielding of another great BBC show The Mighty Boosh are always a treat.

Gavin & Stacey is more akin to an American sitcom.  The show focuses on the relationship of the title characters, Gavin from England, and Stacey from Wales.  When they arrange to meet in person for the first time, they fall madly in love and have to figure out how to deal with their long-distance relationship.  I’m not doing it justice, because that sounds sickeningly sweet.  I love this show for its heart. I feel like I know these characters, and I want so badly to pop over to Gwen’s house for an omelet or go down to the pub with Smithy.

I’ve only scratched the surface of the great programming the U.K. has to offer.  If I haven’t sold you on trying out a new British show (or eleven), then let John Oliver persuade you:

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My completist tendencies would have me mention these other wonderful programs: Coupling, Absolutely Fabulous, Spaced, Merlin, Robin Hood, and Being Human (with Being Human, the British version is unmistakably the better version).   And wonderful mini-series like North & South, Lost in Austen, and the Red Riding Trilogy.

So what British programs do you watch? And which are you thinking about checking out? Once I renew my Netflix subscription, I am going to check out Peep Show, which is described as a sitcom about two dysfunctional flatmates who reveal all their inner thoughts – whether dark, stupid, or embarrassing.  Or occasionally, all three.

Warrior princess Barbie with kung fu grip

Katniss Everdeen makes her Mattel debut.

Barbie, the iconic porcelain skinned, perfectly coiffed doll, is undergoing a Panem makeover. The unattainable hourglass figure will be donning the famous Mockingjay pin as the doll is re-imagined for battle in the Hunger Games arena.

No longer a perky blonde, Mattel’s Katniss doll includes Jennifer Lawrence’s hooded jacket and military style pants as well as her trusty bow and quiver –perfect for slaying diminutive Tributes.

Although I’m excited to see a 12-inch version of Katniss, I was a little surprised by Mattel’s partnership with the series. It’s hard to envision young girls who haven’t read Suzanne Collin’s books re-enacting the graphic battle scenes. Let’s face it, the Hunger Games arena is a far cry from the Pepto-Bismol pink of the Dream House. Given the mass popularity of the books and film, however, it’s a sound financial investment for the company and they have reiterated that the doll is intended for adult collectors. Rabid fans like myself will likely snatch up the doll quicker than supplies at the Cornucopia.

The doll led me to think of some other female characters that are unlikely to join Mattel’s lineup:

* Uma Thurman as Mia Wallace in “Pulp Fiction” complete with Jack Rabbit Slim $5 shake, adrenaline shot and bloodied nose.

* Hit Girl from “Kick-Ass” — a deadly pre-pubescent assassin complete with butterfly knife, guns and a smattering of potty-mouthed phrases.

* Lizbeth Salander — main character in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo– complete with Taser gun, bondage equipment and tattoo needle.

* Daryl Hannah’s character, Elle Driver, in “Kill Bill” would come with syringe, nurse’s uniform and with or without both eyes.

The Katniss doll made her debut April 9 and is already backordered until August, so evidently the retail sale odds will be ever in Mattel’s favor.

Reserve yours here! http://www.barbiecollector.com/shop/doll/hunger-games-katniss-doll-w3320

Is Johnny Depp really starring as Jesco White?

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Welcome back to Southfork

 

There’s something special happening on television.  Great writing and acting have made a comeback.  Reality television is dead and the decay is blowing away like dust.  While the major networks attempt to hold on to cheaply processed reality programs in an attempt to spend as little as possible, neglecting the quality viewers expect, cable channels (like AMC, USA, HBO and TNT) have decided to stitch the wound of what was thought to be a dying medium, television.

DALLAS on TNT

You’re already aware of the established series of programming on AMC.  The Walking Dead, Mad Men and Breaking Bad have audiences waiting on the edge of their couch with weekly cliffhangers that bend the mind and plot twists that actually involves literal jaw dropping.

The latest series to arrive is scheduled for release on Wednesday, June 13 at 9/8c.  Dallas makes its triumphant return to television with the Ewing family of today.  JR and Bobby renew their rivalry – but that’s only the beginning.  JR’s and Bobby’s sons are trying to lead the family business in two different directions and the backstabbing from 25 years ago is illuminated once more.

The storyline immediately sets the stage for a great season in the pilot, “Changing of the Guard”.  The character development for John Ross (JR’s son) is really well done because he’s enough like his father for the viewer to hate, but leaves enough room for him to learn a thing or two from ol’ JR.

Look for appearances by the former Ewing troublemakers throughout the series as well.  For those keen on nostalgia, you’ll really enjoy the opening credits and theme – one of the most iconic of the 1980s – has changed just enough to let the viewer know it’s a new day in Dallas.  For TNT, this may very well prove what JR says is true, “blood’s thicker than water, but oil’s thicker than both.”

 

Barbarian for a night: A maiden "D&D" voyage

On Saturday night, I wasn’t Andy Smith, 20-something nerd. I was Wulfgar, human barbarian.

Last weekend was my first foray into the world(s) of Dungeons & Dragons. Though some may consider the classic role-playing game a rite of passage for geek culture since the game’s 1974 inception, I had always considered the arena of paper fantasy games to be too weird or silly to tackle. I was always content to just be a comic book nerd. Comic-collecting is a hobby that don’t require me to so brazenly embody a character. With “D&D,” I would have to state something like, “I, Kaweezilybub the Elven Paladin, shall fire this magic missile upon your persons,” or be told by some dungeon master that I had been ensnared in a goblin trap just because this Cheetos-scented, awkwardly-mustached tyrant felt like making it so.  Or at least, that’s what I thought it meant.

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Recently, a well-adjusted and reasonably hygienic friend asked me to come over and play something called “The Legend of Drizzt.” Drizzt, it turns out, isn’t some high-caffeine soda but actually a mainstay character appearing in several of the “D&D” offshoot novels. The board game we played —  like several novels, comics and toys — is just another extension of the “Dungeons & Dragons” brand. It’s part of a series of board games that includes such titles as “Wrath of Ashardalon” and “Castle Ravenloft.”

The always helpful BoardGameGeek website explains the process of the playing the board game far better than I could:

“Designed for 1-5 players, this board game features multiple scenarios, challenging quests, and cooperative game play. Players explore the game world, which is built during the game by laying out tiles, using ready-made player characters and encountering enemies with corresponding miniatures. Encounters are generated by drawing cards and resolved using a D20 die. All players win together, depending on the scenario, by escaping, saving others or overcoming a threat.”

Easy enough, right? To be honest, between the two quests my party and I braved, I went from feeling very confused to only slightly confused. I credit the fact that we were successful in both endeavors to the skill of my fellow heroes. Though, my handling of Wulfgar was nothing to sneeze at — unless, of course, you were allergic to the bear fur the barbarian wears around his neck — as I bested many a pointy-eared assassin and water-based creature. And the best part? It was fun.

The weekend was a great reminder that making broad generalizations about any aspect of geek culture is never productive. Even if we had played that classic version of “D&D,” I could at least appreciate the passion and fun players have in depending on pure imagination and strategy. And, let’s not forget that amazing ability to keep accurate tally of armor class and hit points.

After all, when people think of comic book geeks, what do they think of? Something tells me that Cheetos are involved.

Photo courtesy of Wizards of the Coast.