My Free Comic Book Day 2023 Results, Ranked

The nine free comics I picked up.

The reading pile, alphabetized by publisher.

It’s that time of year again, but delayed on my part! Saturday, May 6th was the 22nd Free Comic Book Day, that annual celebration when comic shops nationwide offer no-strings-attached goodies as a form of community outreach in honor of that time-honored medium where words and pictures dance in unison on the printed page, whether in the form of super-heroes, monsters, cartoon all-stars, licensed merchandise, or in rare instances real-world protagonists. It’s one of the best holidays ever for hobbyists like me who’ve been comics readers since the days when drugstores sold them for thirty-five cents each and comic book movies were shoddier than actual B-movies.

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Yes, There Are Scenes During and After the “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” End Credits

Rocket mid-speech, surrounded by his friends' legs.

Guardians Origins: Rocket. This time, it’s fursonal.

Just as the Fast and the Furious saga proudly demonstrates found-family pop-culture franchises aren’t just for whitebread folks, James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy series has demonstrated they aren’t just for humans, either. Whether you’re a little-league space hero, the daughter of a genocidal madman, a 1950s kaiju, a funny-animal gunslinger, or some other kind of ill-formed misfit who’d never be invited to apply for Avengers membership (okay, maybe the Great Lakes Avengers), these losers gave us hope that we too might find the right motley crew out there who needs us on their team so we can all become all-stars with our own action figures.

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Yes, There’s a Scene During the “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” End Credits

The four main cast members in an arena, gazing upon the surrounding audience and awaiting potential doom.

The film begs a variation on Gene Siskel’s old rule of thumb: is this film more entertaining than, say, watching the same four actors at a table playing a D&D session?

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: I played Dungeons & Dragons as a kid, served for years as our neighborhood’s Dungeon Master and owned all the Advanced D&D hardcover manuals published through 1986, by which time all my friends had moved far away, found other pursuits, or quit me specifically. Our group breakup was slow in coming, and the final session ended acrimoniously through no small fault of my own. Eventually my subscriptions to Dragon and Dungeon Adventures magazines expired, and I stopped keep track of updates and new products in the world of TSR’s classic tabletop RPG, unless you count the handful of time my wife and I attended Gen Con and were surrounded by the company’s products. One silver lining: my departure left me with no reason to see the misbegotten 2000 film that took its name in vain.

My attention wandered so far away from the game that years passed before I was aware TSR had been acquired by Wizards of the Coast, the Magic: the Gathering masterminds. Still more years passed before I learned they in turn had been gobbled up by Hasbro, thus moving D&D under the same corporate umbrella as G.I. Joe, the Transformers, and, arguably the source of their company’s best film to date, Clue. I likewise had virtually no emotional investment when trailers began popping up for Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. Once it was released and word-of-mouth picked up momentum, then I gave it a chance. I entered the theater, I mentally rolled a d20 saving throw vs. Awfulness, and the imaginary die blessedly came up a 19.

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Yes, There’s a Scene After the “John Wick: Chapter 4” End Credits

Keanu Reeves' John Wick sits outdoors at a shiny table with two rows of glass cards in front of him, and two identical rows in front of the unseen opponent seated across from him. Off to one side, Ian McShane in sunglasses looks sternly at the game. Blurry doves fly by in the background.

Our Hero prepares for an expensive game of Concentration.

Previously on John Wick: the third chapter (the one with the vestigial subtitle) ended with Our Hero Keanu Reeves mostly dead yet slightly alive (again/still/more than ever), the Continental’s sacred hotel-for-rich-assassins charter revoked, and the audience left wondering how director Chad Stahelski and his Grand Stunt Army of the Republic could possibly top all that, which of course they’d have to because they ended on a cliffhanger as if to triple-dog-dare themselves into doing it all again. Hence John Wick: Chapter 4.

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“Creed III”: Fighting It Out vs. Working It Out

A giant CREED III theater standee with Jordan and Majors' characters sitting in their corners, glowering, ready to fight.

Killmonger v. Kang. Two villains walk in, one champion walks out.

Previously on Creed: Michael B. Jordan from The Wire IS boxing champion Adonis “Donnie” Creed, the lost son of Carl Weathers’ Apollo Creed, himself a champ as well as a frequent opponent to, and later best friend of, immortal contenduh Rocky Balboa. In the first Creed, Adonis emerged from his childhood turbulence to seek purpose in the same sport that defined his dad’s life, directed by the great Ryan Coogler (who then moved on to Wakanda). In Creed II Our Hero took on Viktor Drago, son of Ivan Drago, the wrecking machine that murdered Apollo, as overseen by director Steven Caple, Jr. (whose follow-up will be the next Transformers flick). Old man Stallone hung around to show the kid the ropes and assure folks all this was canonical in the Rocky Cinematic Universe.

Next up is Creed III, the RCU’s ninth entry. Rocky is out of the picture and Jordan has taken over the director’s chair, but he’s far from alone in prepping for his next title bout.

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Yes, There’s a Scene After the “Scream VI” End Credits

Most of the cast of "Scream 6" looking straight at us viewers.

I will not drop spoiler hints in the caption, I will not drop spoiler hints in the caption, I will not drop spoiler hints in the caption…

Previously on Scream: I’d given up on Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven’s meta-horror series after the trilogy-capping Scream 3 sunk into chaotic, anti-postmodern soap-operatics back in 2000 sans creator Williamson. In recent times the horror genre in general hasn’t been a frequent go-to for me, but in 2022 curiosity about the fourth and fifth ones got to me when they showed up in my streaming subscriptions and outshone #3 by a wide margin. Thoughts regarding the fifth one:

The meta-META-prologue neatly and hilariously resets the stage and tone, the stabby-stabby is not always kind toward those we assumed were untouchable, and once again the killers’ motives are perceptively Too Real. My chief nitpick is one character’s sad attempt to make the term “requel” happen. STOP TRYING TO MAKE IT HAPPEN. A “requel” is a just a sequel that had to wait a decade or more for another generation to pick up the baton and sprint with it. Now that Craven is no longer with us, successor directors Matt Bellinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett are more than poised to hold that baton high and poke some eyes out with it.

The same directing duo returns with Scream VI, another round of dancing with one or more devils in the pale moonlight, who may or may not have favorite scary movies. The scenery is all-new and the knives are sharper than ever, but the meta-commentary that makes or breaks every episode’s whodunit solution could’ve used a few more strokes against the whetstone.

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Yes, There Are Scenes During AND After the “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” End Credits

Zachary Levi as Shazam, sitting at a park table and looking scared and confused while Helen Mirren (offscreen) says menacing things.

“Wait, what do you mean THEY FIRED HENRY CAVILL?”

Previously on Shazam!: TV’s Chuck, a.k.a. Zachary Levi, was DC Comics’ choice to play The World’s Mightiest Mortal, as Fawcett Comics once billed him before DC Comics swallowed them and the Big Red Cheese whole back in the ’50s. My thoughts in sum:

It’s the role Zachary Levi was born to play! The best DC Comics film of 2019 does a better job than current comics of recreating that classic CC Beck/Otto Binder magic, the heroic misadventure and the endearing innocence. Sivana’s partners-in-evil are disproportionately horrific as if there were a minimum mandatory Zack Snyder threshold to be met, and Billy Batson’s newly-adult, frequently actionable shenanigans are spared a lot of deserved consequences, but the film’s found-family core and ultimately encouraging vibe have such a puppy-dog charm that it’s hard to stay mad at it.

Levi’s magically adult Billy Batson, his teenage counterpart Asher Angel, his seven foster-family members, and five identically super-powered counterparts are back in Shazam! Fury of the Gods, which is all of the above twofold: the rules-free magic, the wacky misadventure, the thick-skulled innocence, the disproportionate horror, the frequently actionable shenanigans, and the complete lack of consequences on every level. This time the meek attempts at encouragement and puppy-dog eyes tested my patience too far.

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Yes, There’s “The Quiet Girl” After the Oscar Quest ’23 End Credits

A quiet Irish girl stares ahead with her deep blue eyes, expression hidden, her inner monologue unknowable.

If you’re not watching out for the quiet ones, you can bet they’re always watching you.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: I basically finished my annual Oscar Quest and watched as many of the Academy Award-nominated works as I could access between the nominations announcement and the ABC ceremony. As of eight days ago I’d seen 50 of this year’s 54 total nominees. As it happens, one small holdout from across the ocean finally reached our local theaters the same weekend as said ceremony, just barely in time for inclusion.

Writer/director Colm Bairéad’s The Quiet Girl slipped unassumingly and mostly unseen onto the Oscar scorecard for Best International Feature in the shadow of Netflix’s much-ballyhooed All Quiet on the Western Front, sidling next to other small-scale fare like Close, EO, and Argentina, 1985. It’s one of three deeply Irish films synchronously joining the festivities, along with homeland fellows The Banshees of Inisherin and the live-action short An Irish Goodbye. Apropos of its main character, the film has its group memberships yet seems to prefer hanging out on its own.

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The Oscar Quest ’23 Grand Finale: All the Other Nominees I Could Catch

Tobey Maguire as a rich, Mob-connected ghoul in "Babylon"

Peter Parker #2 declares, “THIS IS CINEMA!”

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

It’s that time again! Longtime MCC readers know this time of year is my annual Oscar Quest, during which I venture out to see all Academy Award nominees for Best Picture, regardless of whether I think I’ll like them or not, whether their politics and beliefs agree with mine or not, whether they’re good or bad for me, and whether or not my friends and family have ever heard of them. I’ve seen every Best Picture winner from Wings to CODA, and every Best Picture nominee from 1987 to the present, many of which were worth the hunt. You take the good, you take the bad, and so on.

In addition, this will be my third annual Oscars Quest Expanded Challenge, which was inspired by that darn pandemic — to see not just all the Best Picture nominees, but as many nominees as possible in all the other categories as well…

That was January 24th. Fast-forward to today, and I’ve watched all I can watch, for better or worse. A grand total of 53 different works are up for Oscars this year. As of this writing I’ve watched 50. Of the four irritating omissions:

  • Ireland’s The Quiet Girl is coming to Indianapolis theaters March 10th, at the eleventh hour before the ceremony when we have an extremely busy week planned. [UPDATED 3/12/2023, 1:40 p.m.: I did fit it in and wrote about it in the nick of time.]
  • The documentary All That Breathes is exclusive to HBO, which we don’t normally have. (Our cable company had another “Watchathon” weekend recently; this film’s HBO debut was the following Tuesday. Grrrrrrrr.)
  • The international feature Argentina, 1985 is exclusive to Amazon Prime, which we’ve never had.
  • The documentary short How Do You Measure a Year? has no streaming plan announced yet.

A perfect record would’ve been nice, but I’ll cope. I can mentally file it as “a Delaware Problem” and my heart will go on.

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“Close”: Can Two BFFs Hug a Lot and Still Be Just Friends?

A boy smiles and holds up his sketch of his BFF, who didn't realize it would be intentionally crappy.

“Please don’t laugh. We spent our entire effects budget on just the one drawing.”

Dunno about you, but for me 13 was the worst. Everything was confusing and awkward and lonely and humiliating and uninhibited and oppressive all at once, and the noisy sweatbox that was junior high school cranked every negative emotion up to 13. Our mandatory classroom viewings of the “changing bodies” video were two years earlier — laughable and boring, outdated and technically informative compared to The Talk that some of us never heard at home. With all the peer pressure and social panic, the misery and self-loathing, the cliques ruling the open spaces and the nerds staking claim on the deserted corners…honestly, it’s a wonder we as a species ever make it to 14.

Not much has changed. Teens gonna teen. Society hasn’t found the cure for puberty. Big Pharma might have tools to procrastinate it, and various addictions might drown out its screams, but sooner or later it comes for us. Anyone with their defenses down when it hits is doomed, which was pretty much all of us. From Belgium’s version of the life phase I miss least, director/co-writer Lukas Dhont brings us together with Close, one of this year’s Academy Award nominees for Best International Feature, which just reached Indianapolis theaters last weekend and broke every heart that ventured out for the occasion.

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