Hey, all. It’s been a while. I think my last post was over a month ago, and that is mostly due to the insane amount of chaos I’ve been dealing with over the past few months.
Since March, I’ve dealt with moving to a new apartment and adjusting to life there, a death of a friend, a prolonged sickness my grandmother was dealing with that resulted in her passing away, my job being stressful and on the rocks, and my wife cheating on me.
It’s been a rough road and I barely made it out by the skin of my teeth. I traveled from Maine, to Cambridge, Mass – to Salem – to Boston – back to Maine, on to Vermont, and then I stayed in Vermont for a few days before making a three-day train ride with my good friend Frank from Vermont, to NYC (where we hung out for a day) and then on to Hattiesburg, Mississippi. From there – we drove over to Mobile, Alabama where I’m staying on vacation for a bit until I get my head on straight.
I hope to get back to blogging regularly soon, and since I’m down in the south I also figured maybe I’d start posting about that as well. We’ll see. Just wanted to drop all of you a line and say that I’m doing fine and maybe I’ll have a new blog post or two soon.
Thanks for reading!
It had been a rough night. Not rough as in end-of-the-world, but annoying and depressing and monotonous enough to make me want to get out, so I finally did. Damn the consequences. Damn my job. Damn the world.
I had it in mind that I would find something – some sort of an adventure – something to take away from the mind-numbing existential crisis that was the retail experience of my work life. I wanted a story to tell. It was my Friday, after all. Weekends were for creating stories, and that had always held true for me.
With adventure in mind, I left the confines of my claustrophobic and overpriced apartment in the West End and went out into the open air of Portland; My city. In doing so, I inadvertently ran into a couple of my friends who were going bar hopping together, and they burst into greetings when they saw me from across the street.
Franklin was a cosplayer friend of mine, and he was a good ten years older than me. But he was funny and down to earth. Spencer was a former landlord of mine, renting out a room for me in his home when I’d needed it most – referred by Franklin, actually. I liked them both and hadn’t seen them in a while.
We chatted, we caught up. I found myself first in a bar with them called The Bearded Lady, drinking absinthe and dancing by myself in the corner to some music in between conversations with my friends. I met a man who introduced himself only as Zafir. He spoke with a thick accent I couldn’t place and had a pencil mustache gracing his upper lip. He had his eye on two ladies, or so he told me as he raked them with his stares. They were gorgeous, and I knew they were out of my league. I sucked in some of my drink as I took in their curves, and then ultimately pushed them out of my mind as I silently wished Zafir good luck in his endeavors.
He asked me what brought me to The Bearded Lady.
“Chance,” I said, taking another swig from my potent absinthe cocktail and shrugging.
He seemed to like that, and gave me the faintest smile. He supplied me with his own story of how he had met three of the other people upstairs with us at another bar called “Sonny’s” and that they had all sort of been bar-hopping ever since.
“I love him” he pointed at a man with white hair and glasses, wearing a Hawaiian shirt. “And her,” he said, pointing to an attractive young woman in a dress barely covering her skin, drunkenly tapping keys on a typewriter. “And him,” he said, pointing to a suave-looking man in a purple suit, fashionable, sitting on the couch and regarding everyone else with a curious and discerning eye as he swirled his drink in his free hand, the lamp next to him casting a glow on one side of his face.
And then, when Zafir was gone and I was by myself – indulging in the music – a woman with long dark hair and even darker clothing came to stand next to me. Without a word, she slid her hand softly over mine, like we had been in a relationship for years. Silently, she stared at me, grinning, daring me to do or say something. I disappointed her. “Sorry,” I said. “I’ve got a girlfriend.” She dropped her grip from my hand and gently patted it as if saying “Your loss, friend” before letting it go. We both stared at jewelry in a case in front of us – (an art exhibit) – for a long while before she moved on to easier prey in the room.
And then, there was more conversation, scattered around The Bearded Lady. I talked with an older gentleman about E-Class cars, though I mostly just listened. I had a discussion about body image with a young woman who was fiery and angry and at war with the world. I spoke about fidelity, about life and what it all means. I shared stories with complete strangers. I helped the DJ clean up stray cans and glasses other people had left upstairs when the party was over and it was time to go home, though I wasn’t sure why I felt the need to.
When we finally decided to take our leave from The Bearded Lady, I took a last glance at it before we set off – my body warm and buzzing from the alcohol.
On the way home, I saw a friend of mine named Emily and her boyfriend Jason coming back from hanging in the Old Port. When Emily saw me, she shrieked my name and ran to me, throwing her arms around my neck. We hugged, and I hugged Jason as well, and introduced the both of them to Franklin and Spencer and we resolved to hang out again soon. They were the type of friends I never hung out with again soon, but it felt good to say anyway. I continued on with Franklin and Spencer.
We trekked through the West End, people watching and cracking jokes. Franklin was now renting out a room at Spencer’s, and the two of them invited me over to watch Star Wars fan films and have some beers with them. I accepted. We watched the films on a projector against the broad side of a shed, and we laughed as someone nearby took offense to the volume of our entertainment and cranked up their own music to drown out the audio from the movie. We didn’t care, because although the movie was playing, we were thinking about the night behind us and talking about our individual experiences at The Bearded Lady.
I returned home eventually, enjoying the brisk air and laying in the dark of my room in the apartment. My awful day was made tolerable by night, and even enjoyable with the kindness of friends and the random chaos of strangers in Portland. I totally forgot my troubles, and didn’t pay for a single drink the entire evening – and this is why I count myself lucky most of the time. It seems like whenever I seek out an adventure or a story – one is there waiting for me, across the street, in a cozy bar, or coming back from downtown.
It was hard saying goodbye to my home of six years. I’d come to almost think of the little house on the corner as my real home, as someplace I would stay for years to come. But as is the case with any time I let myself feel too comfortable in the past, it was not to be.
The entryway I’d helped build with my father in law, the plastic I had put over the windows to keep the cold out over the winter, the water heater I’d helped to install – these would soon only be a memory. Wasted efforts on a material possession that was never mine. Instead of patching the windows or the piping under the house, I should have been patching my marriage.
I loaded the last of my things into my slowly-deteriorating green Subaru hatchback, the sun casting a ridiculous happy glare over everything as the reality of the situation finally began to settle in, like a rock in the bottom of my stomach.
I looked around at the lawn as I held a box full of my possessions, never unpacked from when I first moved in. I had mowed the grass one final time not too long ago. That was something I didn’t think I’d really miss, but I did already. Who knew when I’d have a lawn to call my own again?
Our two dogs stood on their hind legs and watched me leave from the window looking out over the driveway. I had already said my goodbyes to them, but I didn’t think they understood. My dog Ludo had licked my tears from my cheeks as I sobbed, earlier. Wednesday stood next to him, and both of them had ears perked, neither thinking I would never return.
I revved my engine, pulled from the dirt driveway I’d shoveled out during six winters past and I reversed onto the road.
I drove away that day not angry, but sad. Not sad that things had changed, not sad that I’d failed, but sad that life could be so tragic as to allow two young people to meet, fall in love, and then become strangers.
No Room For Regret
By Janeen Ann O’Connell
326 pp. Creativia, $12.99
With No Room For Regret, author Janeen Ann O’Connell has crafted a personal take on the trials and tribulations of James Tedder and his mate James Blay – two young men who are exiled from London, England in 1811 and sentenced to work in Van Diemen’s Land – an unforgiving penal colony located in what is now present day Tasmania. Separated from their families and ostracised from their friends, the men try to navigate the complex politics and new way of life presented to them once they land on Tasmania’s shores.
Though the story is centered on the two James’, the women in their lives also take center stage. No Room For Regret is the first book in the Cullen-Bartlett Dynasty series, and fans of historical fiction should find plenty to sink their teeth into. Though O’Connell takes some liberties in order to construct a compelling tale around the lives of the people involved, it’s clear that she’s done her homework and the historical details pop through the page. Indeed, you will find family trees and photographs of locations within the book to reference when needed.
The world in which James Tedder and James Blay find themselves inhabiting is at once full of hope and naive gumption but is also full of routine violence, unfettered avarice, and keen desire – and all the best and worst traits of the human species as a whole. O’Connell breathes life into these two characters and their supporting cast and leaves you wondering about them long after the book has been read, while at the same time setting up an introduction to book two in the series – Love, Lies, And Legacies.
So, with the recent close of the Infinity Saga in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with the final entry being Avengers: Endgame – I figured that now would be a good opportunity to not only make another Top Ten list (because I haven’t done that in a while) but also to make it about my own favorite films in the MCU’s roster.
Please note: These are my favorites as of now, June 2019 and are probably going to change around at some point in the future. Also, these are MCU films – not any other Marvel films like the disastrous Fantastic Four flicks that have come out in recent years or films like Venom, which don’t tie into the MCU as of yet or even the excellent animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which is probably the best Spider-Man film I’ve ever seen but doesn’t fit into the MCU proper.
So, with that out of the way – let’s get started. Here are my Top Ten Favorite Marvel Films:
10. BLACK PANTHER (2018)
PLOT: Still reeling from the death of his father in Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to his home of Wakanda – an advanced African nation hidden from the world by superior cloaking technology of Wakanda’s invention – to take his rightful place as King, and to don the sacred mantle of the Black Panther. However, T’Challa must defend his position as ruler against M’Baku (Winston Duke); leader of the Jabari tribe and also against an American mercenery going by the name of Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) – who both want the mantle of the Panther for their own ends.
WHY I LOVE IT: Black Panther was a film I was super-excited for when I heard it was going to be released. The character of Black Panther has been one that I’ve always thought was uber-cool, and I hoped that the filmmakers could do the character justice on the big screen, though with a character like Black Panther, I knew there was lots of room for failure. I was not disappointed. Ryan Coogler hit it out of the park, for the most part. With its surprising depth, its focus on myth, and its stunning visuals – Black Panther definitely earned a top ten spot on my list. It lags behind some of the others on this list due to my own perceived problems with its pacing and energy (the film really loses momentum in the middle, in my opinion), but overall I thought it was really, really well done. Killmonger has got to be one of the coolest villains in the MCU and Klaw (Andy Serkis) was definitely worth the price of admission alone.
09. MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS (2012)
PLOT: When the God of Mischief, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), sets his sights on Earth for an invasion – Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) must bring together the band of heroes he’s been collecting for the Avengers Initiative. Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey JR), Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) must overcome their differences and work together to take down Loki’s army of alien warriors hell-bent on destroying New York City.
WHY I LOVE IT: All I really have to say about this film is that it was the very first time that all the heroes of the MCU up until that point came together under one banner (no pun intended) and kicked ass. I went to the theater on opening night by myself and I went through so many emotions. I bawled my eyes out, I laughed myself hoarse, and my heart went into overdrive multiple times. There was a sense of surreal acknowledgement that I was witnessing something that I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. The only reason that this film is lower on my list than some of the others is that there were simply more intriguing stories to come into the MCU in later years and from later films. But for a brief window of time, this film was king in my eyes. Loki was the best villain before he became more of an antihero and it was neat to finally see all the heroes play off one another after all that buildup. It’s hard to describe the feeling of finally seeing all these characters together on one screen if you weren’t there for the initial release in theaters. I never thought I’d see the day, and yet here we are and it’s not even the top film on my list. What a time to be alive.
08. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)
PLOT: When the United States Government deems the Avengers Initiative too dangerous to move forward anymore without being under their control, the personal morals and beliefs of the individual Avengers clash and it causes a rift in the team which leads to all-out civil war. One faction, led by Iron Man (Robert Downey JR), is pro-government control while the other faction, led by Captain America (Chris Evans) believes that the Avengers must act independently. Who will prevail?
WHY I LOVE IT: Most of the Captain America films, to me, are middling at best. He’s never exactly been my favorite Avenger on or off screen – but Chris Evans does a great job portraying him on screen regardless. In Civil War, Captain America’s choice to be anti-government control finally makes his character more complex and rich in a way that some characters like Superman from DC are not. And with that and his feud with Tony Stark, and the great action sequences where the Avengers square off against each other – this is a bit above the ensemble we got back in Marvel’s The Avengers in 2012. Plus, it’s the first time the new Spider-Man is introduced into the MCU – and also when we first get to see Black Panther in action. Definitely an MCU milestone. The reason this film lacks compared to later entries on my list is that as a stand-alone film, it doesn’t exactly stand alone. Despite having the Captain America label on it, it’s really more of an Avengers film – or else that’s how it feels as you’re watching it. So with those two factors going against it, I couldn’t lift it higher in my top ten although it’s still an excellent entry.
07. DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)
PLOT: A brilliant neurosurgeon named Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is involved in a horrible car wreck which irreversibly damages his hands, and thus his career. Out of options and feeling desperate, Strange hears about a mystic in a far-off land who may be able to help him. Soon, he finds himself drawn into the chaotic and beautiful world of the mystic arts as he attempts to heal not only his hands, but his soul.
WHY I LOVE IT: I’ve always loved the character of Doctor Strange, and I even sat through the entirety of the trippy and laughable made-for-television movie that Doctor Strange appeared in during the 1970’s. We used to watch it on VHS when I was a boy. So when I heard they were doing an updated version in 2016, I couldn’t wait. The movie is an origin film, so there was a lot to unpack – but I think the filmmakers did a good job. I also think Benedict did a great job portraying Strange, and I look forward to the next installment. With amazing visuals and a slight foray into Marvel’s mystical realm, it’s a nice and refreshing departure from the other superhero fare that Marvel has to offer. Still, with its weird backstory and powers – Strange is not palatable to some, and inconsistencies within the MCU and Strange’s realm were prevalent in Endgame, so I didn’t move this up as high on my list as others. Definitely one of my favorites, though, and I wish Strange had had more time to interact with the original Avengers before the Endgame finale to the story arc. Here’s hoping he’s a major player in the decade of Marvel films to come.
06. IRON MAN (2008)
PLOT: When billionaire industrialist Tony Stark (Robert Downey JR) is ambushed in a military caravan in Afghanistan by rebel fighters, he is held against his will in a cave as prisoner by insurgents who demand he build them weapons of mass destruction. Instead, he secretly crafts for himself a suit of armor and unwittingly becomes the Invincible Iron Man in the process.
WHY I LOVE IT: How can you not love the film that essentially kickstarted the entire MCU? I mean, sure – we had a Hulk film right before this starring Edward Norton – but that one didn’t catch on and was sort of reluctantly added to the MCU roster as soon as they knew that the MCU would be a thing. RDJ is pitch-perfect as Tony Stark, and honestly I don’t know if there’s anyone else who could have played the role as well as he did. Although Iron Man’s later outings weren’t the best, his character is one of the strongest in terms of story and without Iron Man, we likely wouldn’t have seen the birth of the MCU as we know it. Also, as far as story and acting goes, even being an origin film, Iron Man has charm to spare.
05. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)
PLOT: When an intergalactic despot by the name of Ronan (Lee Pace) seeks out a mysterious orb which is the key to his dominance of the universe, he discovers it’s been stolen by a Ravager named Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt). To survive Ronan’s wrath, Quill must join forces with Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Groot (Vin Diesel), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and form the Guardians of the Galaxy.
WHY I LOVE IT: I was never a huge fan of the characters found in Guardians of the Galaxy when they were only in the comics. Though I like comic books set in space, to me the space characters aren’t as relatable to me as, say, Spider-Man – who has adventures set on Earth. It’s largely why I stay away from DC Comics for the most part. However, when I first watched James Gunn’s version of their story – I fell in love. Not only does the film have a great soundtrack, but the team is also a neat tie between a character like Thor and the rest of the Avengers who mostly come from Earth. Through Star-Lord, we experience the cosmos and a new area of the MCU previously off-limits. The reason it’s a bit lower on my list than other entries is simply that I thought some of the other films were better, story-wise, later on in the MCU. No other reason. I look forward with great anticipation to Gunn’s return in Guardians of the Galaxy 3.
04. SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)
PLOT: When mild-mannered teen Peter Parker (Tom Holland) goes viral as his alter ego Spider-Man, billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey JR) investigates and inducts Spider-Man into the Avengers. However, as the events in Civil War cool down – Peter must return to his normal life until a tech-thief going by the name of Vulture (Michael Keaton) shows up and makes Spider-Man’s neighborhood not-so-friendly.
WHY I LOVE IT: Out of all the Spider-Man reboots to come down the line over the years, I had no reason to think Homecoming would be anything worthwhile. The only thing to give me even a glimmer of hope was that it was somehow going to tie into the MCU. While I thought Tobey Maguire made a great Peter Parker, I didn’t exactly think he made the best Spider-Man. Then, when Andrew Garfield took the reins – I thought he made a great Spider-Man but a pretty poor Peter Parker (say that five times fast). In Tom Holland, I believe we have a great Spider-Man AND a great Peter Parker. Since it wasn’t a straight-up origin film, it actually had some surprising depth and compelling story as well, which is why it scores higher than many others on this list for me. I can’t wait to see what the MCU’s version of Spider-Man has in store for us in later films, especially since Spider-Man: Far From Home is out soon.
03. AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)
PLOT: When the “Mad Titan” Thanos (Josh Brolin) begins collecting the Infinity Stones, he sets his sights on Earth. To stop him, the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes – The Avengers – must put aside their differences and join forces to stop him at any cost. But can he be stopped?
WHY I LOVE IT: Coming into Infinity War, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. On the one hand, Civil War delivered some pretty heavy emotional blows, and on the other – this film was marketed to look sort of grim and high-stakes. I wasn’t really thinking that much more could happen in Infinity War to up the emotional stakes, and boy was I wrong. I could write an entire post on why I think Infinity War is one of the greatest superhero films of all time and maybe I’ll do that at some point, but for right now I can tell you that the only reason this film wasn’t number one on my list was solely due to the fact that it’s not really watchable for multiple viewings too close together for me. The emotional weight of the film is too much to just sit and have fun and enjoy watching, unlike the other two films I have left to discuss on this list. I would honestly make the comparison with this film to the Empire Strikes Back in terms of how superb the tension and the story beats were hammered out by the writers. Not to mention the incredible performance we got from Brolin as Thanos. Unlike Endgame, Infinity War is compact, which is why Endgame is not on this list and Infinity War is. Both films are good, but Endgame is exactly as it is named – the culmination of 20+ other films, so to me – watching it by itself is not an option and the top films on my list are more of a stand-alone nature, or at least part of their own respective team-or-characters films. Endgame is just pure brilliance.
02. THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)
PLOT: When Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns to Asgard, he finds that his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is missing. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) reluctantly helps his brother locate their father on Midgard, but when they reach him – it’s too late. He passes on, and when he does – their sister Hela (Cate Blanchett) is freed from her magical exile and attempts to kill them both right then and there. In the ensuing chaos, Thor is thrown through a dimensional portal and finds himself on a gladiator planet where he must fight his one-time friend Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in order to be free.
WHY I LOVE IT: I love Thor in the comics. He’s always been a sort of Conan the Barbarian type of character – misogynistic and charming at the same time, full of brash outbursts and strong-arm tactics. I mean, he’s a viking basically. So, when I first saw Thor appear in the MCU – I was vastly disappointed to find that Marvel had decided to turn him into a Superman clone, devoid of most of his personality defects and interesting character quirks. Then, when he returned in Thor: The Dark World – it was even worse, and he was actually sort of unlikable. Luckily, Marvel came to their senses and kept Taika Waititi on board and as a result – Thor actually became interesting. Granted, he had to lose everything first – including his brother, his father, his hammer, and even his eye. Yet now, he’s one of the best characters in the franchise and that’s really saying something. With the quirky direction, the tongue-in-cheek approach to the character, and the Guardians of the Galaxy sort of flavor – Thor: Ragnarok is easily my second favorite Marvel film to date. Plus, we actually get to see Hulk kick ass for once, making Ragnarok also the best Hulk film we’ve got and are probably ever going to get, especially since the Russo Brothers have said that Hulk’s arm damage from Endgame is permanent.
01. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: VOL. II (2017)
PLOT: When the Guardians of the Galaxy settle back to their former ways after saving the galaxy from Ronan (Lee Pace) – they begin to experience family drama amongst themselves, especially once Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) is sought out by his father, Ego (Kurt Russell). However, with tensions on the rise within the group, they must join together as the Guardians of the Galaxy once again to battle against what could be their biggest challenge yet.
WHY I LOVE IT: What don’t I love about this film? First of all, in the same vein as the original Guardians of the Galaxy – this franchise and this movie is just all-out fun. From the soundtrack to the character interactions to the actors themselves and to Gunn’s brilliant direction – there’s nothing not to like. Kurt Russell was probably the only choice to play Ego, and he’s very good at it. The emotional beats in the story are very poignant, at least to me – although I think almost everyone can relate to Peter Quill’s plight in this film. Not to mention Yondu’s character arc and how well he’s played by Michael Rooker. This film was so good, in fact, that it felt strange to see Peter Quill in Infinity War and Endgame because he’d already sort of been through the ringer in the first two Guardians of the Galaxy films, which sort of makes his breakdown in Infinity War make a bit of sense when you look at it in the context of the bigger picture. This film is endlessly rewatchable for me, which is why it’s high up on my list. I love to see Kurt Russell perform, I love the “Guardians Inferno” disco track that David Hasselhoff was on board for the film which plays during the end credits, and in general I just can’t say enough good things about this movie, so I’ll stop here and eventually I’ll just write an entire blog post on Guardians of the Galaxy. Suffice it to say, Guardians of the Galaxy 3 has a lot to live up to.
Okay, folks – so there you have it…my Top Ten Favorite MCU films. I hope you’ve enjoyed the discussion, and if you have a different list, feel free to share in the comments. Like I said, mine will likely change as new Marvel films are released and old ones begin to show their age.