Friday, May 4, 2012

What I've Been Waiting For

I have never attended a midnight movie premiere before. It’s just not something that’s ever been on my radar. And, frankly, I was hard-pressed to think of a movie I’d want to see a midnight premiere of. It wasn’t until we were leaving the theater after watching Captain America: The First Avenger that I realized it, but Marvel’s The Avengers is that movie for me.

Seeing this movie at the midnight premiere and sharing it with my wife and kiddo is an experience I'll always appreciate. The atmosphere was unbeatable. We arrived at the theater around 8:30 and found our line. It wasn’t bad at all, and th
ey ended up letting us into our theater right around 9pm. We were fortunate to not have to spend the next three hours on the floor, and instead were able to settle into our oversized XD theater seats where Jack read the movie prequel comics, Tracy read The Walking Dead, and I bounced between tweeting, meeting up with friends who were still waiting out in the hallway to get into their theater, and getting pwnd by the kiddo in many rounds of Zombie Dice on the iPad.

There were plenty of folks in costume, and our theater was completely packed by 10:30. When the house lights eventually dimmed, I couldn’t
believe I was actually about to see an Avengers movie. And I was rewarded for my decades-long patience.

The crowd made this an event. Cheers for the first 3D trailer we got – Amazing Spider-Man – and for Prometheus. Cheers for the feature presentation’s main titles. Someone yelled, “Cleveland!” during the first on-screen scene shot here in the hometown and the place erupted.

I’m not a fan of Marvel’s Ultimate Universe, which birthed the reimagined Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, but I have completely bought into it over the course of the last five movies leading up to this. And I am a huge fan of Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson. Brilliantly conceptualized, he is to the Marvel Movie Universe what Boba Fett could have been to the Star Wars Universe. Where Boba Fett was a background character whose cachet was based solely on the mystery of his presence then squandered with a pandering, sloppy origin and overexposure in the prequels, Coulson was grown organically to provide real weight to the character’s actions and importance to the story. Nothing wasted. Nothing easy.

That consistency carried over to Robert Downey, Jr.’s Tony Stark. By far the biggest star in this thing, writer-director Joss Whedon matched the tone of Jon Favreau’s first two solo Iron Man movies seamlessly. Similarly, Chris Evans was surprisingly believable as the man-out-of-time Captain America who ascends to the leadership role over the billionaire Stark and Asgardian God of Thunder by earning their respect. Thor’s entrance elicited cheers from the sold out crowd, and rightly so. It was a brilliant moment that Chris Hemsworth pulled off effortlessly.

As expected, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow really shone under the contradictory hand of Whedon, known for not only his strong female characters, but also his penchant for framing his leading women’s posteriors in shots. I would have liked more screen time for Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill, but it was great to have her on-hand in any capacity (and, again, more ass shots).

Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner was much more thoughtful than Ed Norton’s previous run at the character (and I really enjoy the underrated Norton Incredible Hulk movie). Ruffalo pulls off the tortured scientist in every way. Hawkeye is one of my all-time favorite Avengers. (See my loving look at the character's history in issue #56 of BACK ISSUE magazine.) And the glimpse of him in Thor was great, but I have to say he’s not the standout for me in The Avengers. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to pick any one character as my favorite. This is truly a super-hero ensemble movie.

There was actually only one moment – a split-second gag – in the movie I didn’t care for. It was the only time while watching the film that I was jarringly aware I was viewing a "Joss Whedon film," and the moment was completely unnecessary and didn’t serve the story.

And there was one thing that took some getting used to: The rendering of the Green Goliath. I remember a lot of press about how you would be able to really see Ruffalo’s Banner in the Hulk onscreen. And you could, in the face and upper body, almost to a fault, but it has grown on me the more I think about the movie and the representation. And this was more than balanced by the personality infused into gamma-irradiated giant. Hulk truly shines in battle. Given what was revealed in the eight-issue Avengers Prelude: Fury’s Big Week comic book miniseries about the fate of Dr. Samuel Sterns (Mr. Blue) from the Norton movie, I really hope they pick up that thread and run with it in another solo Hulk movie.

Whedon nailed the character cameos, and Loki – Wow. Tom Hiddleston takes his performance to its scenery chewing limits, then dials it back just enough to keep you grounded. A wonderfully realized villain that builds progressively on the character we saw in Thor.

As far as the stingers go, Avengers comes packed with two of them. One at the beginning of the credits and one before the final fade out. Both are great in their own way. The first for its nod to fans of the comic books, and the second for the way it releases the tension of the previous two hours. Brilliant.

Marvel’s The Avengers is the movie 12-year-old me has waited 30 years for. This is the movie I would wait in line for. This is the movie I would sacrifice sleep to discover unspoiled on the largest screen in the area, in 3D, with my wife and 10-year-old son beside me. If I have ever been gobsmacked, it was during the two hours shortly after midnight on May 4 when I saw The Avengers for the first time. There were so many moments that made me cheer, or my jaw drop, or simply sit there with the biggest damn grin plastered across my face, it was a completely satisfying experience.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Fine Time

New Order, with Public Image Ltd. and The Sugarcubes
05 July 1989: Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio

My senior year of high school we had a foreign exchange student from Germany. I was pretty smitten with her, even asking her out a few times, but she shut me down quickly (and repeatedly). As the school year wore on, I met and fell hard for another girl who would set me on the path that helped shape me into the person I am today, leaving indelible fingerprints all over my creative outlets and musical tastes. Something was in the air our senior year, because my best friend John had also found love, falling harder than I’d ever seen him fall before – for our German exchange student, Julie.

Somewhere between Monsters of Rock and Lollapalooza, in the music festival no-man’s land that was the summer of 1989, New Order toured with Public Ima
ge Ltd. and the Sugarcubes. Firmly in my wheelhouse (both then and now, I have to admit), this was the must-attend show of the year. But by that summer before college, my girlfriend had moved on – figuratively and literally – dumping me and heading to San Francisco. So not only did I have to borrow the $15 from John in order to buy my ticket, I was third wheeling it to the show with him and Julie.

I only saw three shows at Blossom before moving to Florida in August of 1990. The New Order/PiL/Sugarcubes show was bookended by the Beach Boys with Roy Orbison and John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band (of Eddie and the Cruisers fame) in the summer of 1988, and Jimmy Buffett in the summer of 1990. Being relatively broke high school and college students during that era, it was exclusively lawn seating for me and my friends. I remember wandering the grounds and getting into all kinds of trouble during the Beach Boys show, and I remember very little about the Jimmy Buffett show (read into that what you will).

For the New Order concert, my memory puts John,
Julie, and me right in the center of the lawn with a view straight into the pavilion and stage. I remember being pretty well anchored to our staked out plot of lawn for the duration of the show – even for the Sugarcubes’ set, despite never having been a huge fan of theirs.

The PiL performance was by far the most dynamic of the day. Johnny Lydon is nothing if not an entertainer. They were supporting 9, their most
commercial album and one I thoroughly enjoy. The headliners were touring behind Technique, an album I have on vinyl, cassette, and CD. Publicly, New Order played to type by remaining completely impassive behind their instruments. Privately, the band was falling apart. This show took place about a month after Bernard Sumner announced to his bandmates that he no longer wanted to continue as New Order and was forming another band with Smiths’ guitarist Johnny Marr.

I’ve heard recordings of New Order’s set from this night, and the music itself was fairly solid, but lyrics were mangled or forgotten throughout the set (making one wonder if it was internal band strife or *ahem* recreational activities that resulted in the lyrical casualties). It was a visually sterile show, more impressive for getting to hear this music I love played at incredibly loud decibels than for any sort of stage presence by the performers.

More remarkable than anything else about the night, though, is the fact that virtually everyone from my future close college circle of friends and lovers attended that show, and then some. Some combination (or maybe all) of the people John and I would find our freshman year at Bowling Green just a few months later were there.

The alternative music culture of the late ’80s was an amplified version of the feeling I had of gaining entrĂ© into an exclusive club after wearing my first concert t-shirt (David Lee Roth) to school the day after the show. Musical tastes were visible in the costumes we wore day-in and day-out: dyed black hair, black eyeliner, thrift store chic. We might have found each other anyway, but because she was wearing a black PiL concert t-shirt I was prompted to strike up a conversation with Erin at college orientation a month or so after the show. I’m pretty sure Jeff was at that concert, and maybe Jen was, too.

Just as extraordinary, and like so many other shows in our shared history (David Bowie at the Richfield Coliseum springs immediately to mind), Tracy was in the house this same night. Although I wouldn’t meet her for another six-and-a-half years, while I was on the lawn, my future wife was in the mosh pit down front getting gobbed on by Johnny Lydon himself.

PiL is rumored to release a vinyl EP and full length album of new material this year, and a partial reunion of New Order has been teasing live shows overseas since late last year. The frenzy around the latter should only increase with their scheduled performance at the closing ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics. I’m not sure if I’d go to see New Order or PiL, though, if they ended up touring the U.S. (I didn’t go out of my way to see a reconstituted PiL a couple of years ago when the closest they came to Northeast Ohio was a 2010 show in Pittsburgh.) I just have too much history mixed up in these groups, and it’s probably best if I just leave those memories unaltered.