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Directors Joe and Anthony Russo (Captain America: The Winter SoldierArrested DevelopmentCommunity) returned to the Marvel Cinematic Universe this week with Captain America: Civil War, the highly-anticipated follow-up to The Winter SoldierCivil War marks the beginning of Phase Three in the MCU, and what a beginning it is.

Civil War is loosely based on the comic book event of the same name, and, like most of the Cinematic Universe entries, incorporates elements from several other storylines in addition to original material. However, it comes as no surprise that this film utterly transcends the rather mediocre source to become something incredible.

The action begins in Lagos, Nigeria. Steve “Captain America” Rogers and his new team of Avengers are following the movements of Brock Rumlow, AKA Crossbones, former SHIELD operative and Hydra agent. Crossbones, last seen at the end of The Winter Soldier recovering from having a large portion of SHIELD headquarters collapse on him, is out for revenge. He leads his own team in an assault on the Institute for Infectious Diseases, stealing a biological weapon to draw out Cap’s Avengers. In the ensuing battle, Crossbones detonates a bomb in an attempt to kill Cap, ultimately failing thanks to the timely intervention of Scarlet Witch. Her powers save Steve, but numerous nearby civilians are still caught in the blast, injuring and killing several.

Enter Secretary of State Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross. Best known as the general in charge of taking down the Hulk, Ross is now coordinating with the United Nations to bring the Avengers under international oversight. Reminding the team of the collateral damage they caused in their previous battles in New York, Washington D.C., and Sokovia, Ross invites the Avengers to sign the Sokovia Accords, which would require them to act only when authorized to do so by the UN. The members of the team are clearly conflicted. Tony “Iron Man” Stark is wracked with guilt over his involvement in various incidents, including the deaths of civilians in Sokovia, and feels that signing the accords is the only safe move for the superheroes. Cap, on the other hand, can’t help thinking of the failure of similar initiatives in the past, including Project Insight and the way that people with personal agendas can manipulate and control others. Other Avengers begin to choose sides, with nobody wanting to have to go against their friends.

The rift between Tony and Steve only grows wider at the meeting to sign the accords. A bomb goes off at the UN, killing King T’Chaka of Wakanda, who had been on a diplomatic mission following the use of his country’s greatest resource, vibranium, in the disaster in Sokovia. Steve’s best friend, Bucky, is blamed for the explosion. The ensuing manhunt spirals out of control as Captain America, Falcon, Hawkeye, and Scarlet Witch go rogue in an attempt to clear Bucky’s name, and Iron Man and the remaining Avengers follow orders to bring them in. Fear, paranoia, and doubt begin to gnaw at them all as the two forces clash, and a new enemy, Helmut Zemo, works to drive them to destroy one another.

This film is easily the pinnacle of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, at least at this point. The Russos prove that they are more than worthy of inheriting Joss Whedon’s mantle for the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War films and that the wild success of Captain America: The Winter Soldier was no fluke. Civil War takes us around the world, from Lagos to Bucharest. Our returning heroes and villains sport new gear and strategies that enable them to continue to surprise allies and audience members alike. And while the overall tone of this piece is rather somber, the banter between characters prevents things from getting bogged down. Every major character gets considerable screen time (an impressive feat, considering the sheer number of heroes returning or being introduced), and no one feels like they’re being left out. Chadwick Boseman rules every scene he’s in, balancing the solemnity of T’Challa’s royalty with the ferocity of a man bent on revenge. Tom Holland nails the role of Peter Parker and Spider-Man, capturing the exuberance of the adolescent superhero. I have great hopes for both Black Panther and Spider-Man: Homecoming, as Civil War left me wanting more of both of these characters. I’ve honestly been burned out on Spider-Man for a long time after the last, you know, five movies… but now I’m honestly excited about the character again. As for Black Panther, there’s no doubt in my mind that the new king of Wakanda will be the king of the box office as well.

In short, Captain America: Civil War was everything that I’d hoped for and more. The only true low is that, as the first film in Phase 3, it had to leave a lot left partially unresolved. With Doctor StrangeThor: RagnarokBlack PantherSpider-Man: HomecomingCaptain Marvel, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, Ant-Man and Wasp, and Avengers: Infinity War all on deck, there’s a lot to look forward to. We’ve gotten a very brief taste of what’s to come, and I need more. If you’ve loved the Cinematic Universe thus far, there’s no reason for you to wait any longer to catch this film. All of the action and humor you’ve enjoyed is there in abundance. And as always, stay through the credits. You won’t regret it.

The massive cast includes the return of Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America, Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man, Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanov/Black Widow, Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye, Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/Falcon, Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch, Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier, Paul Bettany as Vision, Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man, Don Cheadle as James Rhodes/War Machine, Emily VanCamp as Sharon Carter, and William Hurt as Thaddeus Ross. Civil War also introduces Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther, Martin Freeman as Everett K. Ross, Daniel Brühl as Helmut Zemo, and Tom Holland Peter Parker/Spider-Man.

No, it hasn’t been a writing day. However, I’m getting caught up on lots of other things today. Paperwork is already done for both “real” jobs. I finished the last of my Christmas shopping (and all of my Christmas shipping) just in time. Everyone else on the list is getting a homemade gift, which is ready to go but requires packaging. That’s just fine, as it can wait until just before the holiday to hand out. There’s still gift wrapping to be done all around, and some finalizing of plans for the day to still take place, but I’m effectively ready for Christmas.

And I went to go get my tires checked, because I’m an adult, and it’s winter, and I’m trying to be somewhat responsible about things. My car is far more content with me now, though, since I bought an outdoor extension cord for the engine block heater. No more cold starts!

I’m rewarding myself by going to see The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies and having dinner with forgottenmoon after work, and then maybe drinks at home. Because again. Adult.

Yesterday afternoon, I had an opportunity to catch a screening of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Based on the 1939 short story by James Thurber, the film tells the story of a seemingly ordinary man who encounters the extraordinary via “zoning out” into elaborate and fantastic daydreams.

Ben Stiller plays Walter Mitty, a sixteen-year veteran employee of LIFE Magazine in charge of processing photographic negatives. Unfortunately for Walter and his coworkers, LIFE is in transition from print media to an online presence, and massive downsizing is taking place. As the staff prepares what will be the final printed issue, Walter receives a set of photos from Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), an elusive freelance photographer who still works with film. Sean requests that negative #25 from the set be selected as the final issue’s cover photo, but much to Walter’s dismay, negative #25 is nowhere to be found. When clues from the rest of the photographs in the set point to Greenland, Walter sets off to save his job by finding O’Connell, in the hopes that he might still have the missing negative.

As a fan of Ben Stiller’s work in comedy, I was very excited to see him taking on a far more dramatic role than he usually plays. As Mitty, he presents a man whose life is so dull and dreary that his fantasies are initially his only likable quality. They give glimpses into the man he could become. Interactions with his coworkers, family, and crush, Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) quickly prove that there’s more to Walter than meets the eye. As his attempts to find the last photo lead him around the world, Walter Mitty learns that his “secret life” in his dreams is nothing in comparison the beauty and splendor that can be found in reality.

With a soaring soundtrack to match the vivid cinematography, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a solid and thought-provoking film. Transitions into and out of Walter’s daydreams are brilliantly done, to the point where Walter himself has trouble distinguishing fact from fiction as his adventures grow. As the film goes on, the motto of the magazine becomes more and more relevant. “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life.” 

I loved this movie, plain and simple. If you have the time, give it a shot.

2013 is going to be the best year yet. I say that every year, but that’s because it’s true. Yeah, I’ve had fantastic experiences in the past, but each year that I’m still here, still reading and writing and doing what I love is an even better year than the one before.

What I’m looking forward to:

Books: Halo: Silentium  comes out this year, wrapping up Greg Bear’s Forerunner Saga, a sweeping epic prequel to the Halo franchise that ties in to last November’s Halo 4 release.

Dr. Sleep should hit store shelves this year as well, in late September according to Stephen King’s web page. Shining fans rejoice as we finally get to find out what happened to little Danny Torrance when he grew up.

Movies: Holy shit, have you seen the trailer for Pacific Rim? Guillermo Del Toro is back, and he’s bringing his incredible energy to what seems to be a bit of a love letter to giant Godzilla-esque monsters and massive robots built to take them down.

Iron Man 3 drops in May. I can’t wait to see Marvel’s first follow-up to The Avengers in a few months. Let’s see how Tony Stark handles dealing with one of his oldest comic book foes, The Mandarin.

We get to see J.J. Abrams’ follow-up to Star Trek with Star Trek Into Darkness. Best part about this? Benedict Cumberbatch gets to play a villain again. I can’t wait to see the crew of the Enterprise back in action.

Television: Arrested Development returns at last! Having a Netflix account would be worth it if only for this show. We’ll be seeing an entire season released exclusively via the streaming service sometime this year.

Game of Thrones is back this year as well, with the HBO adaptation of George. R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series beginning a third season in March.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. It’s going to be a good year, dear readers. What books, movies, etc. are you looking forward to this year?

The Hobbit is coming. I have had my tickets for a month. That is all.

Over the weekend, my girlfriend and I took the opportunity to catch a couple of the latest theatrical releases. First up on the schedule was the latest Bond film, Skyfall.

Caught up in development hell (primarily caused by a bankruptcy filing two years ago), this film has been four years in the making. Franchise fans can rest at last, knowing that every day of waiting has been worthwhile. Daniel Craig is back as James Bond, his third film as Agent 007. The ever-graceful Dame Judi Dench reprises her role as James’ boss, M, making her seventh appearance in a Bond film (a role she first assumed alongside Pierce Brosnan’s Bond in Goldeneye in 1995). Starring as the antagonist of Skyfall is Javier Bardem. Bardem brings an eerie boyish energy to the role of Raoul Silva, a computer hacker with a dark connection to M.

Skyfall’s release marks the fiftieth anniversary of the film series, and I can’t imagine a more perfect present to mark the occasion. Daniel Craig’s performance is emotional and sincere as the movie’s plot forces Bond to revisit his past and secure MI6’s future in a rapidly changing world. When hacker and cyberterrorist Silva attacks the security agency’s headquarters, James must return to England to protect M, who is now facing queries and pressure from oversight organizations. Can 007 succeed in a world where a man can “do more damage on [his] laptop in [his] pyjamas than [Bond] can do in a year in the field”? Is everything as black and white as it seems? Bond travels around the world, from England to Macau, leaving no beautiful woman unseduced and no martini undrunk, and he does it all with impeccable fashion, but as Silva chases M and Bond chases Silva, there’s no telling who might get caught in the crossfire.

Skyfall had a lot to live up to, given the delay and the hype that always surrounds a new James Bond film, and the script and cast do not disappoint. Neither do the breathtaking visuals, fast car chases, intense action sequences (Craig has always been a more physical Bond, as he proved in his free-running intro back in Casino Royale), and beautiful score (headlined by Adele’s “Skyfall” theme). Ladies and gentlemen, break out the suits and cocktail gowns and dust off your martini glasses. Bond is undeniably back.

After braving the cold of a November evening in Colorado to make a trip to the nearby brewery (delicious local stout was had, as was, of course, a martini), we returned to the theatre for the second film of the evening, Wreck-It Ralph.

Wreck-It Ralph is the latest animated feature from Disney, and it is a wonderful tribute to video game lovers everywhere. The film is set inside an arcade, where some games come and go, but others, like the (sadly fictional) Fix-It Felix Jr. remain popular decades after their release. Ralph is the villain of Fix-It Felix Jr., and as such, he spends his days climbing to the top of an apartment building (built over his bulldozed forest home) to destroy it, threatening the homes and lives of the Nicelanders until Fix-It Felix Jr. can come to the rescue with his magic hammer. When the arcade closes for the night, however, Ralph and the other video game characters are free to gather in the Game Central Station, a massive terminal where the characters can mingle, have a beer at Tapper’s, or pass through the power cables into other arcade cabinets.

On the eve of the 30th anniversary of his game, Ralph leaves a support group (hosted by Clyde) after hearing from other villains, and realizing that he’s not thrilled with the idea of remaining a villain. After crashing a party thrown by the Nicelanders in Felix’s honor, Ralph sets off to a first-person shooter to win a medal, believing that becoming a hero in another game will earn him respect. While initially somewhat successful (Ralph does get a medal), his quest is derailed when he accidentally ends up in the racing game Sugar Rush. The childish Vanellope Von Schweetz steals Ralph’s medal, and working alongside her is the only way for Ralph to get it back. Unfortunately, Ralph’s game-jumping could spell disaster for his own game (what happens when the villain doesn’t show up for work?) and potentially the entire arcade.

Wreck-It Ralph is a fun ride, filled with great cameos and background events taken from the long history of video games. You’ll find yourself cheering for Ralph from the get-go, and learn that being a bad guy doesn’t necessarily make you a bad guy. The animation is phenomenal, as we get to see the evolution of gaming graphics from 8-bit to high definition (animators apparently had the most trouble making certain characters move jerkily, having trained their whole careers to strive for fluid motions). The voice acting is spot-on, with John C. Reilly as Ralph and Sarah Silverman (in what may be her most sincere and heartwarming role to date) as Vanellope, and the soundtrack includes catchy 8-bit-inspired tracks by Buckner and Garcia (of Pac-Man Fever fame) and Owl City. By the time the credits roll, you’ll be wishing you could put another quarter in the machine and do it all over again.

This morning I had the pleasure of viewing the local premiere of the latest foray into Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, The Avengers. I’ll warn you all in advance. This review may contain spoilers of the tie-in films, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, and Iron Man 2. If you’ve not seen any of them, odds are that you’re not that interested in The Avengers anyway. However, your Avengers experience will remain spoiler-free. See? You can’t say I don’t care about you.

Chris Hemsworth as Thor. Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man. Chris Evans as Captain America. Mark Ruffalo as The Incredible Hulk. Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow. Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye. Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. Tom Hiddleston as Loki. Written by Joss Whedon. It’s geek heaven.

Whedon directed an all-star cast and managed to give every one of the heroes (not to mention Hiddleston’s delightfully evil grinning villain) a good deal of screen time.

The Tesseract (the Cinematic Universe name given to the Cosmic Cube) used by HYDRA scientists to develop weapons during WWII was lost in the ocean during the events of Captain America: The First Avenger. Eventually, it was recovered by Howard Stark while he searched for the body of Steve Rogers and brought back to America. In the modern day, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents are experimenting with the cube in an attempt to harness the potentially unlimited clean energy that it could provide. Soon, however, the Tesseract is activated from elsewhere in the universe, and Loki arrives on-scene at the S.H.I.E.L.D facility, mindcontrolling Dr. Selvig and Hawkeye and fleeing with the cube.

After surviving the destruction of the S.H.I.E.L.D. facility, Nick Fury pushes the reactivation of the Avengers Initiative, gathering heroes from around the world (and beyond, in the case of Thor) to defeat Loki and reclaim the Tesseract, which Loki wants to use to open a portal to another world, so that an alien army can conquer Earth. Pretty standard comic book fare. The heroes in question, however, don’t necessarily want to work together from the start, and a good portion of the film is dedicated to the working out of their own issues with one another before they can form a team strong enough to defeat Loki and his Chitauri army.

Along the way to the climactic showdown between the Avengers and Loki’s army in Manhattan, we’re treated to brilliant humor, courtesy of Joss Whedon’s writing, and graphics that rival everything that we’ve seen in the tie-in movies thus far. The Avengers is solid, with cohesive storytelling and equal emphasis on every character who has been a part of the buildup. I highly recommend going to see it. Go see it multiple times, because odds are that you’ll be laughing so hard at one of Whedon’s jokes or cheering so loud at the heroic action that you might miss something subtle.

Please be prepared for more sequels and tie-ins in the future, as well. Sequels to Captain America and Thor are in development, along with a 3rd Iron Man film, potentially Black Widow and Hawkeye movies, and Avengers 2. Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is just getting started, ladies and gentlemen. The Avengers is a fantastic step forward for Marvel, and for superhero movies, and cinema in general. Go see it. Watch through the credits. You won’t be disappointed.

The countdown is on. The Avengers premieres at midnight, and I’m going to be there. The question is not whether I will be providing my wonderful readers (psst! That’s you!) with a review tomorrow, but whether or not I can get my hair to look like Tom Hiddleston’s. This man is talent. Not only is he the delightfully conflicted villain, Loki, he is also F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I’ve been looking forward to The Avengers since Samuel L. Jackson’s cameo as Nick Fury at the end of Iron Man back in 2008. This movie has a phenomenal cast, and superstar writing in the form of the inimitable Joss Whedon. I can’t wait. Ten more hours.

Woody Allen has had a long, very…um…interesting career. I’m normally a little bit wary of his films in general, though the last one I saw was for class, and that was involving Gene Wilder and his less-than-typical affection for a sheep. That was back in the 70s, though. He’s come a long way since then. Allen’s latest offering is Midnight in Paris, a tribute to the titular city during what some would consider its best age: the 1920s.

Owen Wilson stars as Gil, a successful screenwriter who desires more than the typical Malibu life that his fiance has in mind for them. He wants to live la vie de bohème, and write the great American novel, as so many of his heroes did before. One night, while visiting Paris with his fiance and her parents, Gil goes for a walk in the middle of the night. After finding himself invited into a passing car for champagne, Gil arrives at a party where a young woman introduces herself as Zelda. The two discuss Gil’s career as a writer, and Zelda says that he should meet her husband, who is a writer as well. Gil is introduced to Zelda’s husband, Scott, and realizes that somehow, he has found himself in a club with the Fitzgeralds, watching Cole Porter playing the piano in the 1920s.

Gil returns to the past several nights in a row, discussing his manuscript with Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway, meeting the great surrealists, and musing over his own happiness with his upcoming wedding. Throughout the film, exceptional performances from a stellar ensemble ensue, and Allen’s love for Paris is evident. All in all, I’d have to give the film 5 out of 5 stars, and rank it very high on my list of personal favorites. It has a romantic charm that I’ve not seen since Moulin Rouge. It may very well have supplanted Moulin Rouge as my all-time favorite movie. There’s something irresistible about films about writers. I can’t wait to see how Midnight in Paris performs at the Academy Awards next month, when it goes up for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Art Direction.

Pick it up, if you have the chance. If you have any fondness for the Lost Generation, you owe it to them to see this movie.