Friday, August 16, 2019

Anne and Matt Go to the Video Store: The Power Rankings

For a visual aid, here's a look at the power rankings in this week's episode of the podcast:

  1. Searching
  2. Best of Enemies
  3. Green Book
  4. On the Basis of Sex
  5. The Girl in the Spider’s Web
  1. Searching
  2. On the Basis of Sex
  3. Green Book
Unranked: The Best of Enemies (didn’t watch it)


      4. The Girl in the Spider’s Web

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Heeeeeere's Howard!

We talked about Howard on our podcast and promised some photos! You'll find a few of the little guy below.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Six Stones to Peggy: A Marvel Cinematic Universe Story

You can listen to an audio version of this story on iTunes or ShoutEngine

Bucky was right, Steve Rogers mused, he was taking all the stupid with him.

But Bucky would understand. He always did.

Always would.

And Sam…

Well, maybe not so much.

But, in time, maybe.


He was sick of thinking about time. Talking about it. Scott Lang’s idea for the “Time Heist”—it still sounded so stupid—shouldn’t have worked, but Bruce and Tony figured it out. They brought everyone back. They beat Thanos.

They used time to do it.

Thanos had taken so much from the world, and from them. First, half the universe. After that, Nat. Tony.

He allowed a slight smile as he thought about Nat. 

Black Widow was the best of them, even though she never thought of herself that way. Most people looked at Steve Rogers and saw the perfect soldier with perfect manners and perfect teeth. She saw the flaws and challenged him to be an even better version of himself. 

The world owed as much to Nat as it owed anyone else. 

Thor had a hammer, Tony had a suit of armor, and Hulk had the strength to casually toss a house halfway around the world.

But Nat and Clint didn’t have any of those advantages. They survived through wits and courage, always dependent on a special bond forged in the battlefield. As much as Steve didn’t understand monsters and magic, he understood that type of bond. He shared it with Bucky and the Howling Commandos, and with Nat and Sam after the Sokovia Accords, when they traveled the world to stomp out the stubborn remnants of Hydra.

But Nat was gone now. A soul for a soul, as Clint explained it. She gave her soul to Vormir, and Vormir gave up the Soul Stone in return. He couldn’t imagine Clint’s pain; Hawkeye would’ve gladly given himself up so the world could go on with Natasha Romanoff at the helm.

She wasn’t the only fallen Avenger.

Steve remembered standing face-to-face with Tony—he thought of him only as “Stark” back then—on Fury’s Helicarrier, telling him he was just a “man in a suit.” He knew guys with none of Stark’s wealth or genius worth ten of him. He told him that, straight and true, like he always did. 

Steve thought himself a good judge of character, but his judgment lacked something back then. He hadn’t been out of the ice that long. They never really saw eye to eye on things, but fate brought them together and they managed to smooth things out, at least until Zemo broke them.

Bucky was always his weak point. What if they’d worked things out before Thanos? Would the Avengers have stood together to defeat him the first time?

In the end, Tony made the sacrifice play. He brought back the kid and everyone else, but he left his daughter and Pepper behind. Rhodey and Happy. The Avengers. Everyone else.

He was Iron Man.

Steve underestimated Tony because Tony overestimated himself. He was a “genius billionaire playboy philanthropist” who wore his feelings and vanity on his sleeve. Steve didn’t think to dig deeper, and he should have. 

The wizard guy—Strange—told him later that there was only one way to beat Thanos and bring everyone back. That one way, Steve realized, required Tony’s genius and his sacrifice. Strange knew it because he saw it—one of the many things Steve didn’t fully comprehend about the superpowered world he lived in—and Strange couldn’t say a damn thing to Tony because it could’ve meant defeat.

If Tony knew he had to die, maybe he would’ve hesitated to snap Thanos and his army away. That hesitation could’ve allowed Thanos to make his latest insane idea of “balancing” the universe a reality. If Tony knew he had to die, he wouldn’t have wanted to abandon the kid or leave Morgan.

In the end, Tony Stark had a heart.

And a family.

That was something Steve hadn’t had in a long, long time.

He had a chance to change that, to live the kind of life Tony talked about it.

A simple life.

Only a few tasks remained.







Six Stones to Peggy.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

A guide to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for my poor brother

This post is for my brother, who has only a passing interest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and a son who really wants to see Avengers: Endgame.

He's only seen a handful of MCU movies, including the first Captain America, The Avengers, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Black Panther. 

Those of us who've seen all the MCU movies know how much impact Endgame can have. I can only imagine confusion from anyone who hasn't seen all the movies. This handy guide is intended to help my brother get the most out of his viewing of Endgame. It's a noble goal that's probably futile, but hey, I like to write stuff.

MCU vital statistics:

  • The MCU spans 22 movies so far, if you count Endgame (the 23rd movie will be Spider-Man: Far from Home in July)
  • There are three phases of the cinematic universe
  • Phase I includes Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Avengers
  • Phase II includes Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Ant-Man
  • Phase III includes Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2., Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnorak, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War; Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, and Spider-Man: Far from Home
  • There are six Infinity Stones: Mind, Soul, Power, Space, Time, and Reality
Simplified plot summaries

Iron Man: Arms manufacturer and billionaire Tony Stark is wounded during a kidnapping attempt in the Middle East. He escapes by making a suit of armor and becomes obsessed with upgrading that armor to become a superhero. His best friend is James "Rhodey" Rhodes. He harbors a great deal of affection for his assistant, the put-upon Pepper Potts.

In this movie, he perfects the Iron Man armor and reveals to the world that he's a superhero, dramatically declaring, "I am Iron Man."

At the end of the credits, a man named Nick Fury approaches him about "The Avenger Initiative."

The Incredible Hulk: Dr. Bruce Banner can't contain the anger inside, which manifests itself as a green creature full of rage known as the Incredible Hulk. You know the story.

This mostly forgettable entry is notable for introducing us to General Thunderbolt Ross, who later becomes the Secretary of State in the MCU. 

Iron Man 2: The sequel is notable for introducing Natasha Romanoff, the spy/assassin better known as "Black Widow." Tony continues to upgrade his Iron Man armor and runs afoul of a villain named Whiplash and another weapons manufacturer named Justin Hammer. Ultimately, Iron Man wins the day and his friend, Rhodey, gets a suit of armor of his own and becomes "War Machine."

Pepper and Tony further enrich their relationship.

Thor: Thor is a prince of Asgard, a technologically advanced society based in Norse mythology. His hammer, Mjolnir, can only be wielded by someone who is worthy. He has a brother, the clever but unbalanced Loki, who is adopted and resents Thor's status as heir to Asgard. Their father is Odin.

After ticking off his father, Thor is banished to Earth without his powers and unable to wield his hammer. He falls in love with a woman named Jane Foster, becomes worthy of Mjolnir once more, and returns to Asgard to face Loki. Loki, who has plotted to gain the throne and prove himself worthy of being a king, loses their battle and drifts off into space.

Captain America: The First Avenger: Scrawny guy Steve Rogers keeps trying to enlist in the Army to fight in World War II even though he's physically weak. His best friend, Bucky Barnes, heads off for war. A doctor sees something in Steve and offers him a chance to become a candidate in the Super Soldier Program.

Steve takes the Super Soldier Serum, which turns him into a "peak human" with exceptional size, strength, and speed. He remains a "good man" at heart and never gives up. After the doctor dies, Steve tours the country as "Captain America" to raise money for the war effort.

He eventually makes it to Europe, rescues a bunch of soldiers (including Bucky), and fights a bad guy named Red Skull, the leader of a Nazi offshoot called HYDRA. His reunion with Bucky is short-lived however, and Bucky dies during an attack on a HYDRA convoy (he's not really dead, though).

Steve also falls in love with a British agent named Peggy Carter, but their story is cut short when Steve sacrifices himself by crashing a plane filled with explosives in the Arctic. 

He remains frozen for 70 years before he's revived and brought to the present day.

Also, there's a very important object known as the Tesseract, which is the Space Stone.

The Avengers: Thor's brother Loki comes to Earth with a scepter powered by the Mind Stone in order to steal the Tesseract. He's working for a being called Thanos to take over the Earth. Only the Avengers stand in his way.

The team includes Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and the Incredible Hulk. Also along for the ride are Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow, the spy introduced in the second Iron Man) and Clint Barton (Hawkeye, an expert archer). 

Captain America and Iron Man, in particular, have trouble connecting. Although I didn't mention it in the Captain America summary, Cap worked with Tony's father, Howard, who had a lot of respect for Cap. Tony has a strained relationship with his father, who died in a car crash in the 1990s.

The team doesn't work well together at first but eventually gets it together and defeats Loki. 

The Mind Stone is turned over to SHIELD while Thor takes Loki back to Asgard with the Tesseract/Space Stone.

Iron Man 3: Tony Stark defeats a villain called the Mandarin in a movie that's more of an action comedy than a superhero entry. Nothing major really happens that affects the overall MCU.

Thor: The Dark World: A Dark Elf lusts after the Aether, which is the Reality Stone. The Aether attaches itself to Thor's girlfriend, Jane Foster, who must be taken to Asgard in order to be cured.

Thor's mother, Frigga, is killed in the movie (important for Endgame). She's played by Rene Russo...Tom Berenger's girlfriend in Major League. 

After some interdimensional shenanigans, the Aether is removed from Jane Foster and taken to a safe place. Loki fakes his own death and assumes the identity of Odin.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Cap learns that SHIELD has been infiltrated by HYDRA for decades. He manages to stop HYDRA's plan to kill millions of people perceived as "threats" to HYDRA's new world order.

Cap also meets the Winter Soldier, HYDRA's top assassin, who turns out to be the not-so-dead Bucky Barnes. Bucky has been brainwashed for years and doesn't know who he is. They fight at the end but Bucky ultimately prevents Cap from drowning and then disappears into obscurity.

Guardians of the Galaxy: An idiot from Earth named Star-Lord teams up with a talking raccoon, a talking tree, a green alien woman, and a warrior who takes everything too literally. It's better than it sounds.

This movie is notable for introducing the Power Stone. Thanos makes an appearance here as well. He's the "father" of the green alien woman (Gamora) and her sister (Nebula). These relationships are very important for Infinity War and Endgame.

Avengers: Age of Ultron: This movie is notable for introducing Vision, an android powered by the Mind Stone, as well as Wanda Maximoff (the Scarlet Witch) and her brother Pietro (don't get too attached).

Strains appear in the relationship between Cap and Iron Man. Black Widow and Hulk have an ill-fated romance (important for Endgame). Iron Man creates an advanced AI named Ultron that tries to destroy the world and kills several people in a country called Sokovia.

And, very important to Endgame, we learn that Hawkeye (the archer) is a family man. Only Black Widow is aware of this.

The Incredible Hulk blasts off into space at the end.

Ant-Man: Thief Scott Lang finds a suit that allows him to shrink down to the size of an ant. He works with Hank Pym and his daughter, Hope Van Dyne, to stop a generic CEO-ish supervillain from misusing a similar shrinking suit. HYDRA goons are also involved.

Notably, Scott is a convicted thief who has a daughter named Cassie. She means everything in the world to him.

This movie is one you should probably see because it's a light-hearted comedy. It also introduces the concept of the Quantum Realm, a plane of existence where the rules of time and space work differently than they do in our world.

Captain America: Civil War: After the disaster in Age of Ultron, world governments want to hold the Avengers accountable with the Sokovia Accords. Iron Man wants everyone to sign up, but Cap refuses, creating a rift that splits the Avengers into factions.

Vision and Scarlet Witch have a romance. Bucky is framed for a bombing that kills the leader of Wakanda, whose son is the Black Panther. Hawkeye comes "out of retirement" to fight for Cap's side. Falcon recruits Ant-Man for Cap's side. Iron Man recruits a kid named Peter Parker (you know Spider-Man!) to help him.
  • Team Cap: Cap, Bucky, Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, and Ant-Man
  • Team Iron Man: Iron Man, War Machine, Spider-Man, Black Panther, Black Widow, and Vision
In the end, Iron Man learns Bucky was framed for the bombing. However, he discovers that Bucky is responsible for killing his parents when HYDRA brainwashed him. Cap knew but didn't tell Iron Man, creating a rift that won't heal for years and leaves the Avengers splintered when Thanos puts his plans into action.

This movie does a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of character work leading up to Infinity War.

Doctor Strange: A brilliant but arrogant surgeon severely injures his hands and seeks help through "alternative therapy" (um, it's magic). He learns to become a sorcerer and stops a plot from the "Dark Dimension" to take over Earth.

Dr. Strange possesses the Time Stone, which grants kind of unspecific abilities regarding time. This means we've now encountered the Mind, Space (Tesseract), Reality (Aether), Power, and Time Stones, leaving only the Soul Stone undiscovered so far.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2: There are no more Infinity Stone shenanigans here, but we learn more about Star-Lord's background. All the Guardians are back, though Star-Lord and Gamora are in a relationship now (important for Infinity War and Endgame).

Also, Gamora and Nebula, the "daughters" of Thanos, start to repair their fractured relationship. There's a lot of entertaining stuff in this movie, but not much of it impacts the overall MCU.

Spider-Man: Homecoming: You've seen this one, so I won't go into too much detail. Just remember that Iron Man recruited Spider-Man, who is kind of a surrogate son to him. Spidey looks up to Iron Man and is eager to please.

Thor: Ragnorak: Thor and Loki learn they have a sister named Hela who's bent on taking over Asgard once their father, Odin, dies. Thor and Loki end up on a backwater world where Thor is forced to become a gladiator. He fights the Incredible Hulk, who ended up on the same planet after Age of Ultron.

They eventually escape and return to Asgard. However, Thor's home planet is destroyed and Hela is killed. Loki, because he's Loki, takes the Space Stone (Tesseract) from Asgard.

Thor takes the remaining Asgardians into space in order to find a new home. Unfortunately, they run into Thanos instead.

Black Panther: You've seen this one, so I'll keep it brief. Black Panther is an awesome hero with awesome allies. He's working to deprogram Cap's friend Bucky. This movie also gives us a compelling villain in Killmonger.

Avengers: Infinity War: You have to watch this one to understand anything about Endgame. Thanos collects all the Infinity Stones. He kills Loki and half of Thor's Asgardian survivors, acquiring the Space Stone (Tesseract) along the way. He already has the Power Stone.

He wants to collect all the Stones and embed them in his Infinity Gauntlet. He sees overpopulation and inadequate resources as an obstacle to the continuation of life in the universe and plans to snap half of all life out of existence. This dude is completely committed to the cause.

Thor joins up with Star-Lord and the Guardians of the Galaxy. They eventually split up; Thor goes to acquire a weapon that can kill Thanos while Star-Lord and his friends go to retrieve the Reality Stone (Aether). Star-Lord and his friends encounter Thanos, who already has the Reality Stone and kidnaps Gamora.

Thanos sacrifices Gamora to acquire the Soul Stone, the only Infinity Stone we haven't encountered yet. In order to earn that one, you must sacrifice something you love. This plays another major role in Endgame.

Dr. Strange refuses to give up the Time Stone and tells Iron Man he will do anything to keep it safe, even if it involves letting Iron Man or anyone else die. He eventually relents when Thanos is about to kill Iron Man, giving up the Time Stone in a surprising move that speaks to Iron Man's importance in the future.

Meantime, Cap, Black Panther, and their allies mount a furious defense in Wakanda, where they're trying to keep the Vision safe (he has the Mind Stone embedded in him). They face an onslaught from Thanos' army and hold them off for a bit.

Despite their efforts, Thanos kills Vision and gets the Mind Stone, giving him a complete set. Thor makes a timely appearance and almost kills Thanos. Still, the villain manages to snap his fingers, using his Infinity Gauntlet to harness the terrible powers of the collected Infinity Stones.

Half the universe dies as a result.
  • Snapped Heroes: Bucky, Falcon, Black Panther, Spider-Man, Scarlet Witch, Star-Lord, Groot (talking tree), Drax (literal warrior guy)
  • Unsnapped Heroes: Iron Man, Captain America, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Hulk, Thor, War Machine, Nebula (Thanos' other "daughter"), Rocket (talking raccoon)
  • Dead Heroes: Loki, Gamora, Vision (all died before the Snap)
Ant-Man and the Wasp: As a whole, this movie is simply another fun Ant-Man caper filled with humor. The end credits scene, however, introduces us to the concept of "time vortexes" within the Quantum Realm. Ant-Man becomes trapped in the Quantum Realm after Thanos' Snap.

Captain Marvel: Notable for introducing Captain Marvel, who plays a small but important role in Endgame. She's a super-powerful hero originally from Earth who has spent the last couple decades patrolling in space. She's a friend of Nick Fury and inspires his idea for "The Avenger Initiative."

The MCU hits the Endgame...and what an (Avengers) Endgame it is!

NOTE: The following post contains massive spoilers for Avengers: Endgame. You've been warned!

I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I've seen every movie in the theater, most of them on opening weekend, most of them multiple times. I'm well versed in the mythology of the movies and love the characters inhabiting the expansive comic-book-inspired universe.

There have been ups and downs. While the first Iron Man is fantastic, The Incredible Hulk didn't grab me and Iron Man 2 was a disappointment. I've always liked the first Thor and Cap movies, and The Avengers remains one of the strongest entries in the series.

I enjoy much of Thor: The Dark World while acknowledging its shortcomings. Basically, other than The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2 (movies my wife and I skip during MCU rewatches), I'll sit and watch any MCU movie at any time.

I love Captain America. Iron Man. Thor. Black Widow. Hulk. And, yes, I love Hawkeye (some people think he's useless, but I firmly disagree). I concentrate on these original Avengers because they're the ones Avengers: Endgame is most interested in telling us about.

Infinity War left us on a down note, with half the universe snapped away in Thanos' insane plan to "balance the universe." It's hard to say his "heart's in the right place," but the guy's got his warped convictions, at the very least, making him a very compelling villain. But the weight of that act--with so many beloved characters fading into ash--was devastating.

We lost so many great characters, including Spider-Man, Star-Lord, Drax, Falcon, Groot, Bucky, Black Panther, etc. All gone in a snap with the entire rest of the universe. As a fan, it destroyed me to see them go; Cap had just gotten Bucky back, Iron Man had bonded with Spidey, Black Panther had fought so bravely to prevent Thanos and his forces from carrying out their plan.

And then they were all gone. The only feeling of hope we had came in the form of Nick Fury's space pager after the credits rolled.

That sense of loss and failure continues in the first act of Endgame. Our characters get one spark of hope when they discover Thanos' location and go to reverse the Snap. But then they learn Thanos, committed to the end, destroyed the Infinity Stones so no one could undo his work.

Five years pass, and the Avengers are essentially broken. As an audience, we're broken, too.

But then along comes Ant-Man, who may not be the smartest or strongest of the team but makes up for it in heart and much-needed optimism (along with his charmingly dorky "I'm just a regular guy along for the ride" demeanor). He's experienced a few hours in the Quantum Realm, which passed as years in the real world.

And he comes up with the idea for a "Time Heist" to recover Infinity Stones from different points in the past. Yes, the Avengers will travel through time in a mind-bending, heart-wrenching, thrilling, and often hilarious quest to set things right. It's a critical mission that will require tremendous sacrifice for our heroes but allows us fans to relive some of the greatest moments in MCU history.

With that setup out of the way, here are some of my thoughts on Avengers: Endgame.

Emotional payoffs. If you're invested in these characters, it's hard not to get choked up. The fates of Nat, Tony, and Steve are touching. Each deserves its own entry (and will get one shortly). We see Thor's fall into self-doubt and unworthiness, Clint's loss of his family and its cataclysmic effect on his inherent goodness, and Bruce's final acceptance of his two personalities.

You suck, Vormir. When Thanos sacrificed Gamora in Infinity War, it was one of the most powerful moments in the movie. It showed that while Thanos was a monster, he was truly committed to his cause and capable of love, no matter how warped the concept was for him. The alarm bells started ringing when Nat and Clint were dispatched to recover the Soul Stone because I knew one of them wasn't coming back.

I don't think anyone in the movie really knew how the Soul Stone worked, not even Nebula. The audience, however, did. I didn't want either one of them to go. For Clint, it would've meant making amends for his fall into reckless vigilantism. For Nat, it would've meant giving herself up for something greater and sacrificing the Avengers family she'd come to love. I like that they stepped back to discuss it and then fought with each other to make the sacrifice.

Also points to the movie series for giving us two characters who truly loved each other without making it a romantic connection. We'll never forget you, Nat. No, you're tearing up while writing this.

So that's why Dr. Strange gave up the Time Stone. Obviously, when Dr. Strange surrendered the Time Stone to Thanos to prevent him from killing Tony, it meant Tony had a major part to play in the "endgame." However, we didn't know it meant the Sorcerer Supreme knew it meant Tony had to die until this movie.

I mean, Dr. Strange could've simply turned over the Time Stone because he knew Tony was the only person who could figure out the quantum shenanigans required to undo the Snap. We know better now. Yes, the plan needed Tony to figure out the mechanics and build a new gauntlet, but it really needed him to steal the Infinity Stones from Thanos and snap away the Mad Titan's army.

It was the only way--and Strange knew it. More importantly, he knew he couldn't tell anyone, not even Tony.

The callbacks. My goodness, did this movie reward longtime fans of the series! Some of the cameos were jaw-droppers! Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford!). The Ancient One. De-aged Hank Pym and Howard Stark. Frigga. (Sort of) Jane Foster. Peggy Carter! Rumlow and Sitwell. Loki.

They were all fantastic.

Get a Bowflex, Thor. One thing that underwhelmed me during Endgame was the treatment of Thor. He was so great in Ragnorak and Infinity War, and I initially thought what they did to him in Endgame was a disservice to the character that simply made for some easy jokes.

Then I thought more about Thor and his character arc. He was a brash and bold warrior who needed to learn humility. He did that in the previous movies. He regained some swagger in Infinity War and, I believe, started to think he had everything figured out.

When the Avengers failed to defeat Thanos--and he had a chance to end it but didn't--Thor went dark. So dark, in fact, that he killed Thanos with little thought at the beginning of Endgame. Despite that, self-doubt sprang in, perhaps for the first time in his life. He felt unworthy of his weapons and his title. He felt himself a failure to his people and the entire universe.

When viewed from this perspective, the Lebowski act made a lot more sense. He lost himself and was so desperate to prove himself useful, even pleading with the others to let him wield the new gauntlet even though it was clear he wasn't ready for it. His conversation with his mother and his ability to still summon Mjolnir were vital moments in his development, helping him become the "old Thor" in some ways and the "new Thor" in others.

I'm still not completely sold on the look and the jokes, though.

Finally got that dance. Peggy Carter is one of the best characters in the entire MCU, and the movie series has made sure to keep her, if not front and center, then at least present. She had her own TV series and has made cameos in several movies, including both Cap sequels and the flashback in Ant-Man.

Her tragic romance with Steve is something not easily rectified. Cap spent 70 years on ice while Peggy moved on and had a family of her own. Even if they were soulmates, nothing could come of it.

However, when you add in some time travel and Infinity Stones, just about anything is possible. Cap gets the chance to grow old with the woman he loved--and to enjoy the kind of life he never thought he'd be able to experience.

Peggy--or at least a version of Peggy from a branched timeline, it's really not clear--gets to have the dance that fate denied her. It's poetic and cathartic. The next time I watch Captain America: The First Avenger, it should be interesting to see how Endgame gives new context to their relationship.

Tony makes the sacrifice play. Some of the original Avengers were going to die in this movie. It's the only way to give weight to the grand stakes of the MCU and close out story threads that started with Iron Man in 2008. The obvious choice was Captain America--almost too obvious.

Also obvious: Tony Stark. I thought either Tony or Steve would say goodbye in this movie, and in a way, they both did. Steve returned the Infinity Stones, lived a fulfilling life, and then returned as an old man to complete the mission. However, it was Tony whose act of sacrifice allowed for the ultimate victory against Thanos.

At the beginning of the movie, he was embittered after surviving his trip into space. He blamed Cap for fracturing the Avengers and weakening them against Thanos. He isolated himself from the team, built a family, and pretty much swore off further superheroics. He told his colleagues he wasn't interested in helping them even after Ant-Man returned.

But Tony's Tony--so the idea of mastering quantum mechanics won't go away. It's kind of like his obsession for upgrading Iron Man's armor. He cracks the code but tries to convince himself it won't matter. He talks to Pepper about it and realizes everyone who lost something in the Snap deserved the chance to have that back.

So, the crazy Time Heist works with a few unexpected miscues and the Avengers face down Thanos once again (Thanos from 2014, by the way). Thanos gets a remade gauntlet and snaps--only to discover Tony stole the Infinity Stones. We saw what two snaps did to the Thanos of 2018 and what one snap did to the Hulk--both super-strong beings.

Imagine what it would do to Tony Stark, a regular human being.

Yeah, Tony doesn't survive. He defiantly says, "I am Iron Man," snaps his fingers, and then dies, surviving just long enough for Rhodey, Peter Parker, and Pepper to say their goodbyes. Most affecting, to me anyway, was Pepper giving him reassurance that everyone would be all right and he was free to rest.

Tony Stark, the self-centered genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, gave up his life and everyone he loved to save the world.

The ultimate sacrifice play.

No, you're tearing up while writing this.

The secret MVP. Since Nebula survived the Snap and knew about Thanos and his plan, I thought she'd have a pretty big role in Endgame. I didn't think, however, she'd be one of the darn MVPs of the movie! Nebula, next to the original Avengers, is probably the biggest key in the whole thing.

She leads them to Thanos at the beginning, ends up being "entangled" with her past self in 2014 (allowing for a dual role), and convinces 2014 Gamora to switch sides. She did a lot of heavy lifting in this movie and showed a tremendous amount of growth from her one-note appearance in Guardians of the Galaxy. I was really impressed.

So many memorable moments. We lost Nat, Tony, and (effectively) Steve in this movie, so let's lighten the mood a little bit with some of my favorite moments from the film.

Hail Hydra. The elevator fight in Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one of the best action sequences in the whole 22-movie series. The callback on this scene, with future Steve stuck in an elevator with a bunch of traitorous SHIELD/Hydra agents, is terrific. Instead of getting into another fight, he utters, "Hail Hydra," and gets the Mind Stone.

Also points for Ant-Man pointing out that all the traitorous SHIELD/Hydra agents all looked like bad guys to him.

Two Caps. When the team returns to the Battle of New York, 2023 Cap faces off against 2012 Cap, who reminds him that he "can do this all day." I love 2023 Cap's reply, an exasperated "I know."

On your left. With all hope lost, Steve steels himself for a one-man confrontation against Thanos and his entire army because Captain America never gives up. It looks like he's about to make the big sacrifice when he hears Sam Wilson's voice over the radio.

"On your left" is another callback to The Winter Soldier, and it's so satisfying! Within a few seconds, the entire landscape of the battle against 2014 Thanos shifts to even odds. Black Panther appears. Spider-Man appears (the crowd at my screening went WILD over both of these). Falcon's back, Bucky, Wasp, the Guardians, Dr. Strange--all the snapped heroes come back and Cap knows the final battle won't be futile.

A Worthy Super Soldier. Captain America wields Mjolnir and conjures lightning. It's spectacular and pays off the "hammer party" scene from Avengers: Age of Ultron. Even better was Thor's excited shout of "I knew it!"

Taco buddies. In a brief, sweet moment, Professor Hulk gives Ant-Man a couple tacos after Ant-Man's were obliterated by a returning spacecraft.

Father and son. Tony's conversation with his father in the 1970s was another great moment. His excitement in telling his father that he "has a daughter" was emotional, even though Howard Stark didn't know the context. We did.

Lost love. The same 1970s scene brought Peggy Carter to the forefront; Steve gets a glimpse of her but doesn't say a word. The photo on her desk of Steve before the Super Soldier Serum speaks volumes (it's the same photo of him from the end of Captain America: The First Avenger).

An idiot sings on Morag. Going back to Morag for the Power Stone was a fun scene with Rhodey and Nebula. I loved how they showed Star-Lord singing to himself while recreating the opening from Guardians of the Galaxy.

Valkyrie, Korg, and Miek. Thank God they're alive!

Avengers, assemble! He said it. All is well.

I'm sure there are several moments I'm forgetting and I'll probably add to the list after a second viewing.

A few lingering questions/comments. Endgame is perfect as a crowd-pleasing coda to the first phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I do have a few questions and minor nitpicks. Let's go through a few of them.

Half the world is five years older. Due to the rules laid out in time travel, those killed in the Snap came back to 2023 without having aged while the rest of the world is five years older. This creates a lot of headaches, including the fact that Cassie Lang (and her mom and stepdad) is five years older while Scott Lang and Hope Van Dyne are not. Also, since Peter Parker and Ned reunited at the end and appeared to be the same age, both were snapped while about half their classmates are five years older.

What about Coulson and the Agents of SHIELD? Look, we were never going to see Phil Coulson. Due to his death in the Agents of SHIELD TV show, he wouldn't have been around for the Snap. The decision to go back to the Battle of New York in 2012 meant a Coulson cameo wasn't possible because Coulson had died in Avengers before then.

Still, I would've liked a reference somewhere in there for Clark Gregg's character, who appeared in Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, and The Avengers. The movie world never acknowledged his return in the TV show, which is frustrating but understandable. I simply wanted someone in the movie to mention Fury's "one good eye" because he was there at the very beginning--and that beginning is ultimately what led to Endgame.

Where was the Nick Fury-Captain Marvel reunion? Introducing Captain Marvel so late in the MCU meant she couldn't have a major character arc in Endgame. That's fine--we got about as much of Carol as we could get and then she sort of disappeared "for reasons" before returning at the end. I get it.

I understand the movie is overstuffed and the ending reflects more on the legacy of Tony Stark and the Avengers than it does on Fury and Carol. However, those characters hadn't seen each other for more than two decades. Couldn't they have shared a hug or something?

Some missed cameos. This isn't a complaint at all, I swear! I will say I thought maybe we'd get a moment from Odin, Korath the Pursuer (they were right there on Morag!), Pietro Maximoff (the timelines chosen for the movie didn't allow for it--and with Scarlet Witch snapped, it wouldn't have had an impact on anyone except Hawkeye), Arnim Zola (the 1970s scene), or the Warriors Three and Lady Sif (seriously, where the heck is Sif?!).

Well, that's about all for Avengers: Endgame for now. It's an incredible movie, especially if you're invested in the 21 previous entries in the MCU. All the characters you love have big moments, there are huge payoffs for story beats that began in 2008, and it's immensely fun and satisfying.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Studicus Selects 2018

Once, long ago, I posted on the internet as Studicus, an in-joke nickname related to a skit from high school. When I first started blogging, I called my year-end entries "Studicus Selects." The tradition has continued since 2005...although I skipped 2006 for some unknown reason.

You'll find past entries here (scroll down for the 2018 picks):

Studicus Selects 2017
Studicus Selects 2016
Studicus Selects 2015
Studicus Selects 2014
Studicus Selects 2013
Studicus Selects 2012
Studicus Selects 2011
Studicus Selects 2010
Studicus Selects 2009
Studicus Selects 2008
Studicus Selects 2007
Studicus Selects 2005

By far, my favorite photo of the year
Leopard geckos can be remarkably cuddly
Biggest Family Addition, Leopard Gecko Category. In May, we welcomed Lenny into our lives. His formal title is Lord Leonard Attenborough Adams, Viscount of Quail Run. He's a leopard gecko we've adopted--super sweet and a lot of fun to have around.

Unlike our turtle, Willy, Lenny is more or less nocturnal. He's most active between the hours of 7:30 p.m. and 7:30 a.m. and stays hidden away in a little hut during the day.

I can't help thinking he's judging me
Adorable sleeping turtle is adorable
Best NBA Head Fake, Turtle Category. Willy will climb anything. He loves to climb. You let him out of his tank, and he'll run around the house to see what he can climb into. He'll try to climb the walls, furniture, his food bin, the stairs--you name it.

We've had our Christmas presents wrapped and under the tree for a couple weeks, and Willy's been curious about them. The other day, he wanted to climb them, but I stood in his way. He looked up at me, slightly disappointed and mildly perturbed. Then he head-faked like he was turning around and MADE A RUN for the presents! I intercepted him just in time.

Is it in you?
Best NBA Pitchman, Fake NBA Player Category.  I bought NBA 2K19, which was kind of a mistake. Don't get me wrong, I love the game. It's just that I love it a little too much. The MyPlayer feature is back and as much of a grind as ever. Still, as a rookie for the Sacramento Kings, things are going pretty well. I won Rookie of the Year, led the team to an NBA title despite a serious challenge from the overpowered Golden State Warriors, and also promoted Gatorade.

Anne looks like she just caught the big one!
Unexpected Christmas Purchase, Replacement TV Category. My parents needed a new TV. My brother and I thought it would be the perfect Christmas gift for them (it was). However, while I became obsessed with looking for TV deals, I accidentally found one for myself at Target when they marked down a 49" TCL and took off an additional 15%. Welcome to 4K!

Photo courtesy Samsung
Unfortunate Failure, Phone Upgrade Category. Anne and I liked our Samsung Galaxy J7s, but their cameras were terrible. We decided we wanted to upgrade, so I bought a Huawei Mate SE on Amazon. The phone was amazing--super thin, fast, good battery life.

It had one drawback: it did not have dual-band Wi-Fi. I thought I could live with this limitation, but the phone repeatedly failed to connect to the Wi-Fi at work. I sent it back--the Huawei phone was no more. But this story has a happy ending...

Best Eventual Decision, Phone Upgrade Category. Anne decided to upgrade to the Samsung Galaxy S9+, and it's a great phone. Good battery life, nice camera--flagship stuff. She ended up with the purple model. After I sent back my Huawei, I decided to upgrade to a Galaxy S9+ as well. Mine is blue and it's a great phone.

I should've started there in the first place!

Much-Needed Upgrade, Home Computer and Printer Category. The old PC was chugging along and I really couldn't do much to upgrade it. I'd maxed out the RAM (and that was 4GB!)  and couldn't do much in terms of upgrading the processor.

So I decided to get a new computer--although it's not exactly new. I found it on eBay; it has a Core i5 processor, fourth generation, with 16GB of RAM. This is so much better for editing podcasts and doing some light video editing!

Bonus: I bought it from the Blind Center of Nevada, which sells refurbished electronics to raise money for its various programs!

Embed from Getty Images

Most Unexpectedly Not Terrible Season, NFL Category. Some idiots predicted the Colts would be one of the worst teams in the NFL. I'll admit my expectations weren't high given the roster revamp, but predicting the team would only win two games was ludicrous. I thought, with Andrew Luck healthy, the team would hover around .500 and maybe finish at 7-9, 8-8, or 9-7 if things went exceedingly well. After a rough 1-5 start, they caught fire down the stretch and ended up in the playoff hunt.

Darius Leonard should've made the Pro Bowl.

Embed from Getty Images

Best Early or Late Christmas Present, Depending on How You Look at It, Football Coaching Category. Stay away, Josh McDaniels. We don't want you here.

The Patriots offensive coordinator flaked out on the Colts after the Patriots lost the Super Bowl (poor Patriots). This meant the Colts ended up hiring Frank Reich, who's terrific. His only weakness is a penchant for going for it on fourth down a little too often, but I'll take some aggressive play-calling over a former Patriots coach with a punchable face any day.

They had no idea their football team wouldn't be completely terrible
Best Game Day Experience, NFL Preseason Category. My dad, my brother, my nephew, and I got to see the Colts in person this year for a preseason game. I haven't been to Lucas Oil Stadium for several years, and it was the first time my dad and nephew had ever been there. Luke really enjoyed the game, and as a bonus, the Colts walked away with a win!

Three Amigos!
Best Day at the Ballpark, Reds Still Stink Category. Even though the Reds aren't good, it's always a great time at Great American Ball Park. I went with my dad and my brother.

Unfortunately, the game followed the usual script--the Reds got way down early and couldn't come back (even worse: it was against the St. Louis Cardinals).
On the plus side, I found a stylish bucket hat.
Best Weekly Timesuck, Podcast Category. In February, I decided to get into podcasting. I've really enjoyed it--sort of takes me back to the days when I did radio in college. I talk about movies, sports, and whatever else comes to mind. "Special Correspondent" Anne Adams also drops in frequently for movie reviews and analysis.

I've produced more than 50 episodes this year and am nearing the one-year anniversary of the show. Oh, you can find The Matt Adams Podcast on iTunes and Shout Engine.

Image courtesy AMC
Best Value, Movie Subscription Category. Anne and I go to the movies quite a bit. I'd looked into MoviePass before, but the service has its problems. Thankfully, AMC started its own movie subscription program called the AMC Stubs A-List. It's $20 a month for up to three movies a week.

The service definitely paid for itself from June through August--and then AMC made some money off me from September through November, when new releases slowed down. We'll get our revenge in December, when Aquaman, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Mary Poppins Returns, Bumblebee, Welcome to Marwen, and Holmes and Watson hit theaters.

We did use it to see a few movies recently, including Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 and Creed II.

Most Overwhelming Movie Experience, MCU Category. Avengers: Infinity War was almost too much to process in one viewing. Anne and I saw it a couple times in its first week of release just to get a handle on it. That movie had everything: humor, heart, action, tragedy, and stakes (it didn't, however, have Hawkeye).

And they punched you in the gut from the start. The Asgardians who'd survived Thor: Ragnorak couldn't escape from Thanos--not even Loki, the god of mischief himself. And then--the Snap.

Yes, I realize Spider-Man has a new movie coming out in July. I know Black Panther is getting a sequel because you have to make a sequel to a movie that makes $1.3 billion at the global box office. I know Bucky and Falcon are getting a show on Disney's streaming service.

That does not detract from the power and spectacle of it all--or from Spidey's desperate pleas to Tony Stark as he's swept away.

This is a cover mock-up because I like to do these sorts of things
Writing Year in Review. Honestly, I started off strong this year and didn't finish strong. I decided I wanted to make a book series about a turtle detective based on Willy and got about 75% finished. Then I put it aside to complete another project I'd abandoned called 16-Bit Heroes. 

I did finish 16-Bit Heroes, which is a love letter to the Sega Genesis and kind of Tron-esque in basic premise (people get sucked into a video game). The first draft was absurdly large at 114,000 and I cut it down to 95,000 words. I still need to get this out to some beta readers (if you're interested, let me know).

Movie Year in Review. As usual, Anne and I went to see plenty of movies in 2018. Here are some capsule reviews (you may encounter some SPOILERS):

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Technically, this was a 2017 release we saw in January. So much fun! The Rock was hilarious, as were Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan. The villain was forgettable, but the movie worked so well that I didn't even care.

The Post. This one opened in limited release for the 2017 awards season but saw its nationwide release in January. Given the era in which we live--one in which people in power constantly lie about everything and will cover up anything--this was a timely movie reminding us why journalism is so important.

Deadpool 2. I think I enjoyed the first Deadpool more, but you'll definitely get some real laughs out of this one. Too little screentime for Vanessa was a real shock and a buzzkill; I did like the X-Force and how the movie subverted your expectations on its formation and competence.

Solo: A Star Wars Story. Poor Solo. Disney decided to release this one a couple weeks after unleashing Avengers: Infinity War upon the world, and Solo suffered for it. The thing is, it's a rollicking adventure set in the Star Wars universe that's way more fun that it should be. It's not perfect--the "origin" of Han's last name is so freaking stupid--but the friendship between Han and Chewie and their interactions with Beckett and Lando make it worth it. Plus, Darth Maul!

Really feel like Disney should've saved this one until December to give it more space between it and The Last Jedi. I miss having a December Star Wars release.

A Quiet Place. The hidden gem of the year in a genre I don't typically like, people kept talking about A Quiet Place and Anne and I finally went to see it. Wow, Jim from The Office. I didn't know you had it in you. It's a tense movie that's incredibly well done. You care a lot about the characters and want them to get out alive (not always the case in these types of movies). And when the dad makes his fateful decision at the end, it's heartbreaking. Highly recommended.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Not as good as Jurassic World, this sequel still brings plenty of dino action. We get a little (and I mean a little) Dr. Ian Malcolm in this one, which is always nice. The leads are solid, the dinos pretty good (Blue especially), but the bad guys are a little one-note (still feels great when they get eaten, though). The movie messes with Jurassic Park history a bit by introducing John Hammond's "secret" business partner and redefining how we view InGen's genetic engineering program. Still an entertaining watch.

Ant-Man and the Wasp. Though the Ant-Man movies have made money, I still feel like they're kind of Marvel's best-kept secret. What's nice is that these movies have lower stakes--no real world-altering, we're-all-gonna-die stuff here. The stories are smaller (so is the hero!) and I feel like they really nail down the relationships with a great cast. The movies have a lot of heart and humor--and they're accessible to people who aren't highly invested in the MCU.

Ocean's 8. All good fun as Danny Ocean's sister puts together a ragtag team to steal some stuff. It's pure heist movie hijinks with a charming cast and a tense finale. They threw in a couple little nods to Ocean's 11...but I'm not truly convinced Danny Ocean is really dead. I don't know if we'll ever find out, not that it really matters.

Mission Impossible: Fallout. What a great run from Tom Cruise! His last three M:I movies are incredible, and this one is no exception. Ethan Hunt and company have to stop another grand scheme from another evil cabal with seemingly unlimited resources. Hunt gets kicked around, punched, and clobbered as usual. He's resourceful enough to save the day--even though he gets the snot knocked out of him. Nice villainous turn by Henry Cavill, too...yes, he of the sinister mustache (it's an easy joke).

Disney's Christopher Robin. A sweet movie starring one of Anne's favorites (Ewan McGregor), I enjoyed this one quite a bit. Some people can't deal with the "realistic" versions of Pooh and company, but I found them charming. I kind of wish Hayley Atwell had a little more to do, but the denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood are cute enough. The movie's only drawback is some predictability, but you'd expect that from a family movie.

Operation Finale. It's okay. I felt like this movie should've been more of a potboiler, a real edge-of-your-seat type of movie, and I didn't feel that way. It's still an interesting story about the hunt for a Nazi who escaped to Argentina and the Mossad team tasked with hunting him down. It didn't feel as visceral as something like Munich. Still worth a watch, though.

The House with a Clock in the Walls. I'm not usually a fan of these types of movies, but this had kind of a Harry Potter meets The Sandlot vibe to it. Jack Black and Cate Blanchett clearly had a lot of fun with this one, and it does have a spooky vibe at times. I dug the setting and the house--it's a perfectly acceptable way to spend a couple hours.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Anne and I podcasted hard about this one, the latest release in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Overall, I liked it, though I didn't love the way the movie treated some of its characters (mostly Queenie). I would've liked to see some more creatures like the first Fantastic Beasts, but clearly that's not the direction the franchise is heading. Jude Law's great as a young Dumbledore and Johnny Depp is fine as the antagonist. The movie also contains a major revelation about the Dumbledore family that shocked a lot of fans.

Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2. Entertaining and funny, I like how the movie explored the relationship between Ralph and Vanellope. The scene with all the Disney princesses is worth the price of admission alone! I don't think this one will be as fondly remembered as its predecessor because many of its references are extremely "now" and probably won't age well even within the next decade. It's still a fun watch, though, with a lot of heart and some great characters.

Creed II. I didn't know I needed a reboot of Rocky IV, which this is in some ways. I loved seeing Dolph Lundgren back on the big screen, and his fallen idol version of Ivan Drago is incredible. He makes the most sensible and heartfelt decision of the movie at the end. Stallone is great in a role he's played for so long, and Michael B. Jordan returns as the titular character. This time, he rises, falls, and rises again. I just wished he would've taken Rocky's advice earlier in the movie! Oh, and Tessa Thompson is spectacular.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Crimsonstreaking is back!

After a long hiatus, Crimsonstreak and company are back!

New ebook editions of I, Crimsonstreak and II Crimsonstreak are available through Hydra Publications!

III Crimsonstreak is forthcoming--and I'll have the details once I know them.

You can check out my bio on the Hydra Publications website or learn more about the press at its homepage.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Kindle Scout: The Studio System

With 2018 here, I'm working to build my brand as an author. That's my most significant goal for the New Year.

Nothing's going to happen overnight, and it's not like I've been sitting back doing absolutely nothing over the last few years. I've written several books (I have 17 finished novels, 14 of which I would say are polished enough to submit somewhere).

I've submitted, I've been through the query trenches, and I've come close a couple times. I'm not giving up on that--seriously, I'm not.

However, as publishing changes, I'm changing my approach as well. I've dipped my toes into independent publishing (aka self-publishing) with a Kindle and print-on-demand version of an anthology of superhero stories. I'm learning the basics of formatting a book and cover design (shameless plug: you can get the Super Anthology on Kindle here or order the print version here).

I have stories I want to share, and I need a way to get those stories out.

Now it's time to try another new tactic: Kindle Scout. I'd describe Kindle Scout as American Idol for books. You take a finished manuscript, come up with some cover copy and a one-line description, and submit it. You then get 30 days to convince people that they should nominate your book. The more nominations you get, the better the chance that someone from Kindle Press will notice it. That could lead to a publishing contract.

I'm giving it a shot with my book The Studio System. Here's the description:
Everyone tells Will Evans he looks “just like” Trent Cary, the Oscar-winning star from Hollywood’s Golden Age. The unassuming video store clerk has never been able to explain his affinity for Cary’s work—especially the regrettable action schlock he made in the twilight of his career. When private eye “Rock” Morrison shows up at his doorstep, Will experiences a twist worthy of a Hollywood thriller: he doesn’t just look like Trent Cary, he’s a clone of the silver screen icon. And he's not alone.
Here's the link to nominate the book!

I'll see how it goes. After the campaign ends, you have to wait a while to see if it made the cut. If the folks at Kindle Press end up selecting it, everyone who nominated the book ends up with a free early release copy on Kindle, which is pretty cool.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Studicus Selects 2017

Once, long ago, I posted on the internet as Studicus, an in-joke nickname related to a skit from high school. When I first started blogging, I called my year-end entries "Studicus Selects." The tradition has continued since 2005...although I skipped 2006 for some unknown reason.

You'll find past entries here (scroll down for the 2017 picks):

Studicus Selects 2016
Studicus Selects 2015
Studicus Selects 2014
Studicus Selects 2013
Studicus Selects 2012
Studicus Selects 2011
Studicus Selects 2010
Studicus Selects 2009
Studicus Selects 2008
Studicus Selects 2007
Studicus Selects 2005

Biggest Family Addition, New Baby Category. On November 29, we welcomed little Lily into the family! She's my newest niece--the daughter of my brother-in-law Tom and sister-in-law Tiffany--and the first grandchild on my wife's side of the family. She is absolutely precious and absolutely loved! I once held her for nearly an entire hour and she didn't cry, which is a major victory. My other nieces and nephew had a tendency to cry whenever Uncle Matt held them.

Biggest Family Addition, Sister-in-Law Category. In July, the family hiked up to Charlotte, Michigan, for the grand wedding between my other brother-in-law and his bride-to-be. Matt and Leah's wedding was wonderful, even if my car's brakes went out on the way to Michigan (we made it safely and got them replaced when we got back). I even dusted off my old radio voice and served as emcee for the wedding reception, which was kind of a last-minute thing but worked out really well. It truly was a special event.

Biggest Family Addition, Reptile Category. In October, we added Willy to the family. We used to have a frog named Prince, but he died a few years ago. It's taken my wife and me a bit to get to a point where we wanted a new pet, but we reached that point this year. We first considered getting Russian tortoises, but then we discovered one of Anne's cousins had a 15-year-old turtle in need of a new home.

I never thought I'd reach a point in my life in which a turtle was walking around the house, but here I am. Willy likes to be fed by hand and enjoys burrowing under the Darth Maul inflatable chair. He's been a lot of fun and is easy to meme:

Biggest Indiegogo "Scam," Turns Out a Raspberry Pi Would've Been a Lot Easier Category. A company touted a retro gaming system that was "plug and play." They lied. Like--a lot. But I didn't know what I was doing and bought the RetroEngine Sigma, which was an Orange Pi slapped inside a Sega Genesis-like shell. The included OS sucked and I tinkered with the thing before ultimately installing RetrOrangePi, which is superior in every way. I've gotten tons of enjoyment out of it, but I would've been better off buying a more powerful Raspberry Pi.

See, I bought the RetroEngine Sigma because I didn't think I'd be smart enough to mess with a Raspberry Pi. I was completely wrong. The controllers included with the RES were cheap and the included software was buggy as hell. Thankfully, a bunch of RES users formed a Facebook group and I learned how to get the most out of the system.

Writing Year in Review. I finished three novels this year and, late in 2017, decided to self-publish an anthology of superhero short fiction I had lying around (you can find the Kindle version here or the paperback version here). My Crimonstreak series will come back in a big way thanks to Hydra Publications, which will publish all three books, including III Crimonstreak. That means those of you on the edge of your seat about the cliffhanger in II Crimsonstreak will finally get some answers. I'm still looking for a literary agent for some of my other books.

Most Surprisingly Polarizing Movie, Star Wars Category. It sounds like Star Wars: The Last Jedi was not everyone's cup of tea. That's fine. I need to see the movie a few more times to really get a feel for it. My initial impressions are mostly positive, though I didn't care much for the Canto Bight (casino world) stuff or any of the new characters (I'm referring to Holdo, Rose, and DJ--not the awesome characters introduced in The Force Awakens). I didn't get the Luke Skywalker I wanted to see--but then again, the Luke Skywalker I wanted to see wasn't in his 60s. The movie subverted all expectations and took some major risks, and you have to give it credit for that.

Most Pleasant Surprise, I Guess the Pacers Didn't Get Swindled Category. When Paul George's agent let everyone know the "beloved" Pacers star wanted to play in Los Angeles, the Pacers found themselves in a bind. It's kind of hard to trade someone when you have no leverage. However, the Pacers worked a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder that shipped PG to OKC for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. NBA analysts said the Pacers got swindled. In reality, it's worked out really well: Oladipo has turned into a freaking star and Sabonis has been fantastic. I've loved watching this team play.

Most Peyton Manning-esque Injury Season, Indianapolis Colts Category. The Colts were an absolute mess this year. I thought Andrew Luck would probably play at some point this year, but I was 100% wrong. Shoulder surgery and lingering issues with the shoulder injury relegated him to the injured reserve in November. The Colts, in the midst of a rebuild, kept most games close but usually screwed something up in the end to lose most of their games. Props to poor Jacoby Brissett, the young quarterback/tackling dummy the Colts traded for when it became clear Luck wasn't coming back soon--and that Scott Tolzien wasn't gonna cut it. May he spend all of the offseason in a Jacuzzi or bacta tank. At least Indy will have a high draft pick.

Best Star Wars Accessory, Vintage Inflatable Chair Category. Earlier this year, I related a story to my wife about the Darth Maul inflatable chair that I had in college. I set it up and used it a lot, but the chair got a puncture somehow and I had to throw it out. What did Anne do? She searched for a Darth Maul chair on eBay and bought one! He now sits proudly in the living room. Oddly enough, he's one of Willy's favorite hiding spots. The dude loves to burrow beneath the dark lord.

Best Membership, Large Retail Warehouse Category. It's safe to say Anne and I love our local Costco. Her parents bought us a membership for Christmas last year and we finally activated it in January. There's just something about buying six months' worth of toilet paper that I find immensely satisfying. They also sell a fantastic bottled root beer--and it pairs well with "The Mix" popcorn, which is sold in giant bags. Okay, well, everything at Costco is sold in giant quantities.

Most Laborious Installation Process, Basketball Goal Category. In June, my brother assembled a team to put together a new basketball goal for his "son and daughter." That team, coincidentally, consisted of him, my dad, and me. It took us hours to put the darn thing together. Seriously, it fought us every step of the way. We played a few games of HORSE on it, and then took a little break. Dad and I then watched as my brother shot baskets by himself and realized he'd completely scammed us. The basketball hoop wasn't for my niece and nephew at all. Hope you're enjoying it, Greg.

Most Necessary Upgrade, Upstairs Bathroom Category. It's safe to say Anne and I pretty much hated the way our upstairs bathroom looked. Thing is, we're the only people who see it so we didn't do much about it. Then one day Anne's dad decided he was going to redo the upstairs bathroom. He and my brother-in-law Tom worked on it for a month or so. It turned out great! The only drawback: having to trudge downstairs to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Best Concert, Anne's 2016 Christmas Gift Category. Anne and I went to see Neil Diamond in May at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. It was her Christmas gift last year. The man still knows how to put on a great show! Our only complaint was that our seats were in a section of Bankers Life that was under renovation; as a result, the stadium seats were replaced with folding chairs. That didn't put a damper on the concert, however. Diamond, 76, sang all his hits and saved his best for the encore ("Sweet Caroline," "Cracklin' Rosie," "America," and "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show"). He also brought a nice touch to the Indy show, singing "Back Home Again in Indiana." His piano player, Tom Hensley, grew up in the Bloomington area.

Movie Year in Review. As usual, Anne and I went to see plenty of movies in 2017. We saw a lot of comic book movies. Here are some capsule reviews (you may encounter some SPOILERS):

Logan.  Since X-Men continuity is pretty much broken, you can do pretty much anything you want with a character like Wolverine. This movie felt more like a pseudo-Western than anything, but we got some great performances from Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart in what is supposed to be the swansong for Logan and Charles Xavier. Ultra violent, my only nag would be the use of a cloned Logan in the third act.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2. I enjoyed seeing Star-Lord and the gang back in action, but I think Vol. 1 is the better film in the series so far. Make no mistake, this one was packed with some great moments and Kurt Russell and Mantis were welcome additions, but it didn't feel quite as solid as its predecessor. It did have one of the best lines of the year: "I'm Mary Poppins, y'all!" RIP, Yondu Udonta.

Wonder Woman. The DC movie universe introduced us to Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman in haphazard fashion during last year's laborious Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, but we finally got to see Wondy in her own movie. This movie basically serves as the Captain America: The First Avenger of the DC universe, eschewing the WWII setting for WWI. Gadot was pitch-perfect as the titular character and brought Chris Pine along for the ride. The final battle devolved into that Doomsday/CGI-heavy fight thing the DC loves, but the movie was thrilling and charming enough that a weak final battle can be overlooked (kind of like the final fight in Iron Man, which, let's be honest, wasn't that great of a battle).

Spider-Man: Homecoming. Want some Tony Stark in your Spider-Man? No? Too bad! I really like what Marvel did with the latest theatrical version of Spidey. Tom Holland was a lot of fun in Captain America: Civil War (if introduced a little haphazardly, like Wonder Woman), and he shines in this movie. Add in some Tony Stark, a little Happy Hogan, a great villain in Michael Keaton, and it truly was a memorable homecoming for the web-slinger.

Thor: Ragnorak. Probably the most fun you'll have in theaters this year, Thor: Ragnorak brought back the god of thunder and his brother Loki (he's adopted) for an intergalactic romp packed with lots of laughs and plenty of "Hulk smash!" Most of the gags landed, with my favorite being the "Get Help" scam Thor and Loki have obviously run tons of times. Too bad about Asgard, though. Wait...I hear it's a people and not a place or something? Also, we hit peak Goldblum in this one.

Justice League. The tone was all over the place, the product of two different directors with divergent styles and goals plus lots of interference from Warner Bros. That said, I thought Justice League was a lot of fun. The movie had lots of ground to cover and felt rushed because of the two-hour runtime and the number of characters smashed into the plot; it needed some more time in the cooker and a little longer runtime to make it all coalesce. I liked the new characters (the Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman) and was glad to see Superman return. Audiences didn't respond that well to the movie or poor Henry Cavill's CGI'd upper lip.

The LEGO Batman Movie. Pretty much a series of extended Batman-ish skits, this one was a lot of fun. I loved Robin in this movie ("Hello secret camera!") and all the shout-outs to the different past versions of Batman. The only complaint: this movie could've stood to step back for a minute to take a breath.

Assassin's Creed. We saw it although I barely remember anything about it.

Beauty and the Beast. Disney hits another remake out of the park with this live-action-ish version of its Best Picture-nominated animated musical. My favorite part of the movie was Luke Evans' Gaston. Most of the big moments landed, and I even liked the new songs.

The Boss Baby. Alec Baldwin voices a baby. Another one I barely remember.

The Fate of the Furious. Charlize Theron had weird hair. Bad guy Jason Statham is now one of the good guys. I don't know any of the characters' names aside from Vin Diesel's, whose name is Dom. Everyone else I refer to as the actor who plays them. Oh, and The Rock threw a torpedo. On the ice.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. There were a couple Game of Thrones actors in this one, including Littlefinger. Jude Law had fun. I'm not sure anyone else did.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. This one felt more like the first one, which is a compliment. They wisely tamped down on Johnny Depp and let some of the other characters take the spotlight.

Dunkirk. In many ways, Dunkirk is the war movie you don't expect. Christopher Nolan tells the story in multiple parts that are shown chronologically out of order and then come together near the end. Artfully done and masterfully acted, you'll be disappointed if you expected something a little more traditional from a narrative standpoint like Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers.

Despicable Me 3. I liked the first two, but when a movie series goes the "secret twin brother" route, you know they're out of ideas.

War for the Planet of the Apes. Astounding visuals and surprisingly compelling characters make this an incredible finale for the three-film rebooted Apes series. Andy Serkis will probably never win an award for his work as Caesar, but he totally should.

The LEGO Ninjago Movie. Like LEGO Batman, this is pretty much a series of extended skits in LEGO form. Pretty entertaining but also kind of forgettable, although I did have a pretty good time.

Murder on the Orient Express. This adaptation of the classic Agatha Christie boasted an A-list cast. A couple relatives of mine said they fell asleep during the movie, but I found it pretty compelling.