Birthdays: Milestone for Paul; candles for Meryl, Angelina, Michael J., Morgan and The Beaver

Reaching birthday milestones in June:
40: Selma Blair
50: Paula Abdul, Ally Sheedy, Eric LaSalle
60: John Goodman, Carol Kane, Isabella Rosellini
70: Roger Ebert, Mick Fleetwood, Michele Lee, Paul McCartney,Brian Wilson
90: Eleanor Parker

Birthdays in June (age in parenthesis)
Paula Abdul (50) 6/19, Isabelle Adjani (57) 6/27, Danny Aiello (79) 6/20, Tim Allen (59) 6/13, Maria Conchita Alonso (55) 6/29, Kathy Baker (62) 6/8, Adrienne Barbeau (67) 6/11, Kathy Bates (64) 6/28, Jim Belushi (58) 6/15, Sandra Bernhard (57) 6/6, Selma Blair (40) 6/23, Yasmine Bleeth (44) 6/14, Pat Boone (78) 6/1, Klaus Maria Brandauer (68) 6/22, Amy Brenneman (48) 6/22, Mel Brooks (86) 6/28, Gary Busey (68) 6/29, Timithy Busfield (55) 6/12, Bruce Campbell (54) 6/22, Linda Cardelini (37) 6/25, Jack Carter (89) 6/24, Dana Carvey (57) 6/2, Michael Cera (24) 6/7, Thomas Haden Church (51) 6/17, Brian Cox (66) 6/1, Courtney Cox Arquette (48) 6/15, John Cusack (46) 6/28, Johnny Depp (49) 6/9, Bruce Dern (76) 6/4, Peter Dinklage (43) 6/11, Vincent D’onofrio (53) 6/30, Julie Duffy (61) 6/27, Olympia Dukakis (81) 6/30, Griffin Dunne (57) 6/8, Nancy Dussault (76) 6/30, Roger Ebert (70) 6/18, Robert Englund (63) 6/6, Chad Everett (76) 6/11, Harvey Fierstein (58) 6/6,Mick Fleetwood (70) 6/24, Michael J. Fox (51) 6/9, Morgan Freeman (75) 6/1, Rocky Gervais (51) 6/25, John Goodman (60) 6/20, David Alan Grier (57) 6/30, Jon Gries (55) 6/17, Andy Griffith (86) 6/1, Michael Gross (65) 6/21, Julie Hagerty (57) 6/15, Charles Haid (69) 6/2, Neil Patrick Harris (39) 6/15, Mariette Hartley (72) 6/27, Lisa Hartman Black (56) 6/1, Sean Hayes (42) 6/26, Helen Hunt (49) 6/15, Elizabeth Hurley (47) 6/10, Ice Cube (43) 6/15, James Ivory (84) 6/7, Anglina Jolie (37) 6/4, Tom Jones (72) 6/7, Louis Jourdan (93) 6/19, Carol Kane (60) 6/18, Stacy Keach (71) 6/2, Sally Kellerman (75) 6/2, Minka Kelly (32) 6/24, Kenny G (56) 6/5, Nicole Kidman (45) 6/20, Greg Kinnear (49) 6/17, Heidi Klum (39) 6/1, Bernie Kopell (79) 6/21, Kris Kristofferson (76) 6/22, Shia LeBeouf (26) 6/11, Martin Landau (84) 6/20, Eriq LaSalle (50) 6/23, Cyndi Lauper (59) 6/22, Hugh Laurie (53) 6/11, Michele Lee (70) 6/24, Juliette Lewis (39) 6/21, Richard Lewis (65) 6/29, Mark Linn-Baker (58) 6/17, June Lockhart (87) 6/25, Tobey Maguire (37) 6/27, John Mahoney (72) 6/20, Barry Manilow (66) 6/17, Juliana Margulies (46) 6/8, Mary Stuart Masterson (46) 6/28, Jerry Mathers (64) 6/2, Paul McCartney (70) 6/18, Frances McDormand (55) 6/23), Malcolm McDowell (69) 6/13, Laurie Metcalf (57) 6/16, George Michael (49) 6/25, Alanis Morissette (37) 6/1, Jim Nabors (82) 6/12, Chris O’Donnell (42) 6/26, Ashley and Mary Kate Olsen (26) 6/13, Milo O’Shea (86) 6/2, Eleanor Parker (90) 6/26, Jason Patric (46) 6/17, Will Patton (58) 6/14, Joe Piscopo (61) 6/17, Natalie Portman (31) 6/9, Prince (54) 6/7, Jonathan Pryce (65) 6/1, Phylicia Rashad (64) 6/19, Lionel Richie (63) 6/20, Joan Rivers (79) 6/8, Isabella Rosellini (60) 6/18, Gena Rowlands (82) 6/19, Zoe Saldana (34) 6/19, Mia Sara (45) 6/19, Boz Scaggs (68) 6/8, Ally Sheedy (50) 6/13, Carly Simon (67) 6/25, Nancy Sinatra (72) 6/8, Andrew Stevens (57) 6/10, Jerry Stiller (85) 6/8, Meryl Streep (63) 6/22, Sherry Stringfield (45) 6/24, Richard Thomas (61) 6/13, Jean Tripplehorn (49) 6/10, Kathleen Turner (58) 6/19, Joan Van Ark (69) 6/16, Lindsay Wagner (63) 6/22, Mark Walhberg (41) 6/5, Ralph Waite (84) 6/22, Keenan Ivory Wayans (54) 6/8, Peter Weller (65) 6/24, Kanye West (35) 6/8, Gene Wilder (79) 6/11, Brian Wilson (70) 6/20, Noah Wyle (41) 6/4.

“MIB3″ has misfires, but Brolin is great

“Men in Black” had a promising beginning. The premise of the
stereotypical, stoic, no-nonsense government agents in black suits
working to keep the space alien population on Earth and elsewhere in
the universe in line was fresh, with massive potential for follow-up
adventures.

Will Smith, with a huge screen presence emerging, thanks
to “Bad Boys” and “Independence Day,” was perfect as the new
up-and-coming Agent J, and teaming him up with the deadpan Agent K,
played by Tommy Lee Jones, was inspired, as Jones, not known as a
comedic performer, used his dour persona to masterful humorous effect.

It was a smash, to the tune of more than $300 million at the box
office in 1997. Then came the sequel. Not so good. Thus followed a
long period of getting a part three off the ground and on film. It
finally came to fruition this year.

“Men in Black III” has its fine moments but also its misfires and
with its release early in the blockbuster season, it already feels
dwarfed next to “The Avengers,” and there are the subsequent
“Spider-Man” and “Dark Knight” movies soon to hit the theaters.
“MIB3″ could be long forgotten by August.

“MIB3″ initially focuses on Smith and Jones as Agents J and K, and
their partnership that is a clash of the unfazed versus the excitable
feels dated and strained, like a marriage gone bad. So it is such a
relief when the meat of the plot kicks in: Agent J travelling back in
time to alter history in order to save the world and alter the fate
of Agent K.

At that point, the highlight of “MIB3″ appears in Josh
Brolin, who is perfect in absorbing Jones’s mannerisms, facial
expressions and even accent as an Agent K, circa 1969. Here, some of
the chemistry that worked so well in the original is revived with
Smith and Brolin, a feat that lifts “MIB3″ from mediocrity. Although
it is unlikely, Brolin should get an Academy Award nomination for a
performance that so eerily captures what Agent K really would be like
40 years ago.

On the minus side, the villain, an extraterrestrial, revenge-minded
hitman named Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) is paper thin. He
growls, he laughs maniacally, and his signature line is “Let’s agree
to disagree.” A major mistake in the script by Etan Cohen was to have
him dispatch his girlfriend (Nicole Scherzinger) so early in the
movie after she helps him break out of a lunar prison. Seeing him in
a relationship might have added some depth to his character.

Emma Thompson takes on the role as Agent O, the obligatory upper
management person with whom Agent J can butt heads. While she does
have one totally un-Thomson-like scene, her character is mishandled
by having her in some kind of an unofficial relationship with Agent K
that is inconsistent with what was presented in the original
“MIB” regarding K’s romantic life. Also, Alice Eve, recently seen as
Edgar Alan Poe’s kidnapped girlfriend in “The Raven,” plays the
younger version of O and is totally unconvincing as a youthful Emma
Thompson.

Then there is the issue of a revelation at the end of “MIB3″ that
changes the dynamic of the relationship between J and K. I met it
with an ambivalence. While it has a sweetness to it, the idea just
does not mesh with what makes the pairing of J and K click so well.
It undoubtedly will spark some discussions among “MIB” fans on
whether it should have been incorporated.

History Channel looks at costly feud in “Hatfields & McCoys”

History has its dark side, and on May 28-30, the History Channel will
be presenting a new look at the lengthy post-Civil War family feud
that has made two names — Hatfield and McCoy — synonymous with
revenge and murder.

Hatfields & McCoys” will be broadcast at 9 p.m. for three
successive evenings starting Memorial Day. The six-hour miniseries
has been divided into three two-hour segments.

Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton lead a cast that also includes proven
performers Powers Boothe, Tom Berenger and Mare Winningham in
retelling the story of how two families and their respective friends
and allies suffered tremendous losses as differences over Southern
loyalty, properties and even young love fanned flames of vicious and
escalating enmity.

Costner as Devil Anse Hatfield and Paxton as Randall McCoy are
hardy men, each devoted to their large families. As “H&M” begins,
Hatfield and McCoy are side by side, fighting for a losing cause as
Confederate soldiers in the final days of the Civil War. Devil Anse,
seeing the futility of the South’s effort, gives up and goes home.
Randall, meanwhile, stays in the fight and eventually is captured.
When the South surrenders, Randall returns to his Kentucky home,
beaten and embittered over his friend Devil Anse’s desertion.

Devil Anse, who resides on the other side of the Tug Fork River that
borders Kentucky and West Virginia, makes overtures to Randall but
is rebuffed. Later, when Hatfield wins a legal battle against
Randall’s cousin Perry Cline (Ronin Vibert) over timber rights,
whatever chances of reconciliation between the two family patriarchs
is dashed.

Eventually, another legal battle between family members over the
ownership of a pig spills out of the courtroom and results in
several murders. Thus the war begins.

Not helping matters is Devil Anse’s uncle Jim Vance (Berenger), a
grizzled old guy and a loose cannon, vindictive and blood-thirsty. On
the McCoy’s side is Bad Frank Phillips (Andrew Howard), a private
detective hired by the McCoys and deputized by the governor of
Kentucky. He is smart and tough and becomes effective at hunting down
Hatfields.

And there are other complications — like the Romeo and Juliette
angle. Devil Anse’s son Johnse (Matt Barr) falls in love with
Randall’s daughter Roseanne (Lindsay Pulsiphar), testing the family
bonds, especially when Roseanne becomes pregnant with Johnse’s child.
While Roseanne is mercilessly banned from her home, Johnse, though
not quite as harshly treated, nevertheless falls from his father’s
favor.

As “H&M” progresses, it gets more difficult to keep track of who is
who. There are more than two dozen characters in this presentation,
some of them not around much as swift justice is served. Viewers
may need a scorecard to keep track of all the characters and which
side they are on.

The task of keeping all this flowing chronologically fell on Bill
Kerby and Ted Mann, who co-wrote the story, and Mann and Ronald
Parker, who collaborated on the teleplay. Kevin Reynolds as director
keeps the pace going.

Costner and Paxton actually share very little screen time together
– their families and loyal friends almost serve as a buffer between
them. But each views the other as a mortal enemy.

When guns are not blazing or people are not being strung up by lynch
mobs, the battles move into the courtroom with Cline being the savvy
lawyer for the McCoys and Boothe’s Wall Hatfield, a judge and older
brother of Devil Anse, trying to be a voice of reason on the Hatfield
side.

Other sympathetic characters include the faithful wives of the
patriarchs — Sarah Parish as Levicy Hatfield and particularly tragic
is Winningham as Sally McCoy. Both women stand by their men in the
increasing madness, seeing their children die needlessly. Another
victim in this bloody mess is Cotton Top Mounts (Noel Fisher), the
illegitimate son of Devil Anse’s brother Ellison. He is a
simple-minded young man of no animosity but soon is drawn into the
battle and may be the most innocent victim of all.

Johnse, meanwhile, merits sympathy while needing to be slapped
upside the head. Even after his relationship is doomed with Roseanne,
he starts it up anew with Roseanne’s cousin Nancy McCoy (Jena
Malone), marrying her in a sincere but ignorant attempt at cooling
the feud between the families. Instead, Nancy turns opportunistic and
her loyalties are hardly unpredictable.

“H&M” clearly focuses on the paradox of life in America in the
latter 1800s, a time when civilized behavior was stressed yet a
brutal eye-for-an-eye mentality continued to haunt the culture.
Costner presents a steadfast and dignified Devil Anse, a man who
clearly sees himself in the right with no qualms over taking justice
into his own hands when the law falls short.

Paxton and Winningham are wrenchingly showcased in the final segment
as Randall and Sally face mounting losses of their children.
Brutalized by Jim Vance, Sally becomes a damaged shadow of herself,
while Randall, once a man of great faith, turns against his religious
beliefs as his world falls apart. Soon he is a babbling, wayward
drunk.

“H&M” is an emotional exercise through its six hours. Viewers may
see their sympathies switching back and forth between the feuding
family members. Ultimately, one can only sigh and wonder how this all
escalated into sheer insanity.

Coming up on DVD:
Just in time for summer — as if there is not enough going on in movieland these next couple of months — will be “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.” Robert Downey Jr., currently on screen as Iron Man in “The Avengers,” is featured in his other signature role as Sherlock Holmes, teaming up with Jude Law as Dr. Watson. June 12.
Fans of The Beatles’ big-screen shenanigans can pick up “Yellow Submarine” starting June 5.
“Project X,” the latest in the “recovered video footage” genre, will be out June 19.
June 26 will mark the DVD releases of two films that seemed to have been in the theaters about two minutes ago: the cop buddy film “21 Jump Street” with Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill; and Sam Worthington reprises his role as Perseus in “Wrath of the Titans.” The other springtime Worthington vehicle, “Man on a Ledge,” will be available May 29.
Big Oscar winner “The Artist” will be released June 26.

Aliens arrive and go BOOM in “Battleship”

What does the movie “Battleship” have to do with the ever popular
board game, other than attaching the game’s maker Hasbro to the film?
Not much, really. The game itself is a masterpiece of simplicity,
putting pegs into a grid with holes in it to determine where your
opponent has deployed a fleet of five war ships. In the
non-electronic version of the game, one had to rely on the integrity
of the opponent to honestly declare hits or misses.

The closest “Battleship” comes to this concept is the sequence
wherein the war ships, unable to use radar, employ buoys to detect
where the foe is lurking, thus gaining a strategic advantage.

So, in order to expand this one-dimensional game into a full-blown,
noisy summer movie, screenwriters Erich Hoeber and Jon Hoeber, who
brought us the enormously enjoyable “Red,” concocted yet another
hostile aliens yarn. It appears the Spielberg-esque era of
cute-friendly visitors from outer space is over.

The Hoeber boys throw the usual aliens-visit-Earth elements into the
pot:

1) Earth decides to beam signals into outer space, hoping to contact
some planet with similar environments or life forms (see: “Contact”
and “Starman”)

2) The response turns out to be not so friendly (see the Big Daddy
of alien invasion movies “Independence Day”)

3) Spearheading the seemingly overwhelmed counterattack of the
Earthlings is the reluctant/unlikely hero, usually an underachiever
thrown into the role of Earth-saver (recall Jeff Goldblum’s David and
Randy Quaid’s Russell Casse who join an eager hero, Will Smith’s
Capt. Steven Hiller, in “Independence Day”)

4) Have adversaries toss aside their differences and band together
to save the planet and in the meantime develop respect and
friendship.

5) An odd assortment of other heroes step up to provide integral
parts of Earth’s desperate but ultimately successful effort to
survive.

The opening moments of “Battleship” introduce the viewers to the
hero, Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch, at first looking like he just
stepped off the set of “John Carter,” his earlier mostly unseen
starring role). Hopper is celebrating his birthday in a bar with his
older brother, Naval Commander Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgard),
who tries to motivate Alex into using his vast potential and making
something of his life. Instead, Alex focuses his energy on trying to
impress a beautiful woman, Samantha Shane (Brooklyn Decker). She’s
craving a chicken burrito but the bar kitchen is closed. So Alex, in
a scene right out of TRU TV’s “The Smoking Gun Presents the World’s
Dumbest Criminals,” breaks into a convenience store, to messy
results. Oh, he gets the burrito — and the girl. And he gets tazed.
He also finds himself in the Navy, thanks to big brother Stone
trying to change Alex’s wayward course in life, and in another
complication, Samantha is the daughter of Admiral Shane (Liam
Neeson), who obviously believes no man is suitable for his daughter,
and especially not this misfit Alex Hopper.

Meanwhile, in the techno-geek sector, to great fanfare, signals are
being transmitted deep into space, directed to a planet that seems to
have similar characteristics of Earth. It is called Planet G.

Well, Planet G must stand for Planet Grumpy, because inhabitants of
this planet drop in, and without so much as a respectful bow, begin
wreaking havoc. They set up shop initially in the Pacific Ocean near
Hawaii, where the Earth transmissions are jettisoned to a satellite that
then slingshots the signals into the cosmos hinterlands. Nearby,
several nations are engaged in naval war games, where Admiral Shane,
Commander Hopper and Lt. Alex Hopper find themselves suddenly in a
this-is-not-a-drill situation.

At this point the special effects take over, with powerful artillery
being exchanged, and ships — both Earthly and alien — and other
things blowing up.

To no surprise the task of saving the world falls on the shoulders
of Alex. He does, however, get some ample support from Rihanna as
Petty Officer Cora Raikes — she sounds good when she says “boom”
as explosives hit their targets; Jesse Plemons, in the role that
Phillip Seymour Hoffman used to assume, as Seaman Jimmy Ord, the
milk-cheeked young man who comes up with a vital observation on a
possible alien weakness; Hamish Linklater as the nerdy transmission
specialist Cal Zapata; and notably Gregory D. Gadson , a real life
Iraq war hero who lost his legs while serving in the Middle East as Mick
Canales, playing a war vet who, with Samantha, has to fend off aliens near
the transmission towers on Oahu.

In addition to Gadson, a shout out also is given to several Navy
veterans, who despite their age turn out to be instrumental in the
final confrontation between humans and aliens.

This is vintage summer movie stuff. If there is significant value
here, it is for the benefit of the aliens: Think twice before you
come to Earth spoiling for a fight. Those Earthlings get a little
testy when visitors from outer space start blowing things up.

A hotel that reinvigorates life

“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” could be this summer’s “The
Avengers” for the seniors crowd, judging by the near sellout Mother’s
Day audience, consisting mostly of older people, where I viewed the
movie.

Focusing on seven British senior citizens, “Marigold” is often
funny, sometimes touching, and ultimately an invigorating story of
seven lives, that despite years of experience, still have more room
to reach out and learn.

Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy and Maggie Smith, well known
and proven English performers, form the nucleus of this group that
comes together to stay at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in India. As
expected, most of these people are going to experience culture shock,
and how they adapt, or fail to do so, forms the emotional foundation
of the movie.

Although an ensemble piece, Dench’s Evelyn Greenslade is at the
core, as her blog observations serve as the voice-over narrative.
Evelyn is recently widowed and along with coping with the sorrow of
losing her husband of 40 years, she discovers that all the trust she
had put into her husband to take care of her was betrayed by his
flawed handling of finances.

Also reeling from financial setbacks are Douglas and Jean Ainslee
(Nighy and Penelope Wilton), a couple whose marriage really has been
over for a long time.

Also in the group are two people, Marge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie) and
Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup), hoping to find and renew a romantic
glow in an exotic location.

Wilkinson’s Graham Dashwood is a retired judge and the only member
of the group with a history long ago in India, but it was a blot in
his life of which he hopes to atone.

And finally, Smith’s Muriel Donnelly is a wheelchair-bound woman in
need of a hip replacement and clearly the fish out of water with the
usual bigotry that makes her initially scared and unpleasant.

The owner of the hotel is Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel from “Slumdog
Millionaire”) an overly optimistic dreamer hoping to turn the hotel
into the success that eluded his father. Sonny’s cheery nature and
ambition outweigh his skills. In the meantime, his love for Sunaina
(Tena Desae) is meeting family resistance.

“Marigold,” directed by John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”) and
written by Ol Parker based on the novel “These Foolish Things” by
Deborah Moggach, weaves through the new challenges of these people,
who arrive to find the hotel not nearly as pristine and luxurious as
the brochure indicates.

For a person so trusting and protected most
of her life, Evelyn adapts well in the new environs, getting a job
and breaking down language and cultural differences. Graham goes off
each day in pursuit of reconnecting with his past. While Jean
sequesters herself at the hotel, immersed in self-pity and
negativity, husband Douglas embraces a tourist spirit and soon finds
himself drawn to Evelyn.

Marge and Norman offer the lighthearted aspects of the movie as they
go on the hunt for love and excitement. Muriel, of course, learns
valuable lessons about the unreliability of stereotyping, shocked
that what she viewed as boorish behavior on her part is
misinterpreted and actually appreciated.

Sonny grows too as he must summon the self-confidence to confront
those standing in the way of his objectives and his love for
Sunaina.

There are a few surprise resolutions and others that were quite
predictable. In the end, the lessons are not earth-shattering
revelations, just reinforcements of things already known if not
entirely accepted. These people emerge knowing a little bit more
about themselves, acknowledging that older age does not mean the end
of schooling.

“The Avengers”: Loki/Zod cyber chat; Hulk’s comedic career, etc.

With $200 million banked on its opening weekend, “The Avengers” has
ushered in the 2012 summer blockbuster season, which this year also
will be revisiting The Men in Black, Spider-Man, The Dark Knight aka
Batman, and Sylvester Stallone and buddies known as The Expendables.

“The Avengers” is the latest showcase in the expanding universe of
film versions of Marvel comics heroes. At its core it is another
good-versus-evil epic, laden with spectacular special effects, and
left wide open for sequels and spinoffs. The hook in this movie is
that these superheroes, previously seen going up against villains on
their own or with some semi-reliable mortal allies, instead team up
to form a formidable group. It’s called The Avenger Initiative, and
when the world is in peril of being overrun by hostiles, Nick Fury
(Samuel L. Jackson), the head of the security entity known as
S.H.I.E.L.D., activates the initiative, against the will of the
directors.

Thus, brought together are Captain America aka Steve Rogers (Chris
Evans), Iron Man aka Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Dr. Banner aka
The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, taking over for Edward Norton who took over
for Eric Bana in previous depictions of the character), Natasha
Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Thor aka Norse God of
Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) and Agent Clint Barton, no aka (Jeremy
Renner) , the latter who needs a good thump upside the head from
Black Widow to get his act together and join the good guys.

Naturally, the adventure requires a strutting, overconfident bad
guy, and stepping up is Loki (Tom Hiddleston), aka exiled Norse God and half-brother
of Thor. Loki is one of these guys who gets off
having the vanquished masses kneel reverentially before him, and one
can just imagine, in prepping for this objective of conquering the
world, that he had a digital chat with General Zod, the fellow who coveted the
same goals in “Superman II:”

Loki: Hey, Zod. I plan to conquer Earth and have them kneel before
me. Any advice?

Zod: Yeah. Don’t do it. While it’s a rush initially, all this
genuflecting gets old real quick.

Loki: Ah, it can’t be that bad.

Zod: I’m telling you brother, I learned the hard way. But I guess
you won’t listen. But DO take this advice: Don’t bring along any
excess emotional baggage, like wanting to extract revenge or
anything. That just messes up the works.

Loki: Oops.

Zod: By the way, we shouldn’t be chatting. You’re with Marvel and
I’m with DC. This kind of fraternization could get us in trouble.

Loki obviously will not heed anybody’s advice. With the volatile
Tesseract power source in his possession, with Dr. Selvig (Stellan
Skarsgard) under his spell and building a portal opener, and with a
Chitauri army ready to use that portal to drop in on Earth and do
battle, Loki believes he can smile triumphantly.

Meanwhile, The Avengers comprise of heroes of different walks and it
is evident these people are not likely to get together to watch
Monday Night Football or form a book club. A lot of bickering ensues
although they all step lightly around Dr. Banner, not wanting to rile
him up and have him turn into the nasty Hulk. Even Fury’s pep talks
are fruitless. It takes a tragedy to bring them together, whereupon,
look out.

As usual, Stark has a monopoly on all the humorous quips throughout
the movie, but it’s the Hulk of all things who gets all the big
laughs (those who have seen the movie know what I’m talking about).
Also livening things up are great cameos by Stan Lee, especially
Gwyneth Paltrow reprising her role as Stark’s able
assistant Pepper Potts and Harry Dean Stanton appearing in a brief
nod to a classic of 30 years ago, “Alien.”

Writer-director Joss Whedon does a good job of allowing each Avenger
a chance to showcase his/her skills or interact with one another. In
particular, a good mismatch of personalities is that of Tony Stark
and Steve Rogers, Stark being the self-absorbed partier and not known
to be a team player while Rogers is the total soldier, dedicated to
looking out for his fellow fighters.

Savvy fans of these Marvel movie adaptations have learned to sit
through the credits for an epilogue that will hint of things to come.
Such is the case with “The Avengers,” except there is not one, but
two taglines, so stick around to the end. The final scene is
wonderful in its simplicity.

Poe’s final challenge explored in “The Raven”

In 1849, Edgar Allan Poe, one of the most well-known of American
writers, died under mysterious circumstances. He was found in a park,
wearing someone else’s clothing, delirious and incoherent, and was
said to be repeating the word “Reynolds.” He later died at a
hospital, and without the benefit of modern pathology, the cause of
his death never was determined.

Director James McTeigue (“V for Vendetta”), based on a script by Ben
Livingston and the interestingly named Hannah Shakespeare, offers a
fictionalized look at those final days of Poe’s life, crafting an
intelligent murder mystery in “The Raven.”

Poe, known as the “Godfather of Goth,” had written what are now
classic and grisly murder tales, notably “The Masque of the Red
Death,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,”
“The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.” He also
wrote poetry. Today, any serious fan of horror literature would have
Poe’s collected works at hand.

John Cusack tackles the role of Poe in “The Raven,” picking up in
those final days of the writer’s life. Living in Baltimore in the
1840s, Poe is past his writing prime and now barely makes a living
writing poems or critiques. He finds solace in drinking and seems to
have conceded he never again will produce the horror tales that made
him famous.

Possibly the only thing in life that keeps him from being a total
washed out drunk in his love for Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve), the
refined daughter of the wealthy Captain Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson),
who by the way despises Poe.

A baffling double murder of a woman and her young daughter proves
puzzling to the investigating officer, Det. Fields (Luke Evans), who
soon realizes the killings seem to have been inspired by one of Poe’s
stories. Poe is ruled out as a suspect but Fields drafts the services
of the writer to try and get inside the mind of the killer.

It soon becomes apparent the murders are a direct challenge to Poe,
especially when Emily is kidnapped and confined to a coffin at some
unknown location.

The killer leaves various clues in his subsequent murders, usually
in reference to one of Poe’s writings, forcing Poe and Fields to try
to piece together where Emily might be. “The Raven” keeps the viewer
guessing too.

Emily is shown in claustrophobic scenes inside the coffin,
buried, with only a small hole providing ventilation. Eventually, in
order to unravel the mysteries of the killer and save Emily, Poe must take pen in
hand again and write his dark prose.

It is of interest that although the story takes place in Baltimore,
the movie actually was shot on locations in Serbia and Hungary. The
gloomy climate during which the story takes place adds to the dark
tone of the film. Also, there are graphic depictions of violence, so
a strong stomach might come in handy when viewing “The Raven.”

One can see why Cusack was eager to play Poe. It is an inviting
challenge to portray a brilliant if tormented talent like Poe, shown
here as being ambivalent about his body of works, certainly
acknowledging their impact on his life while not being eager to
continue such writings.

Beautifully photographed with a musical score by Lucas Vidal that
captures the urgent and chilling tone of the story, “The Raven” is a
must-see for fans of Poe’s stories. Those familiar with his works
will enjoy seeing how the writer’s stories tie into the what the
killer is doing.

Poe’s stories have been adapted to the screen: “Murders in the Rue
Morgue” in 1932 featuring Bela Lugosi; “The Fall of the House of
Usher” (1960) and “The Masque of the Red Death” (1964) both featuring
Vincent Price; a definite adult-oriented version of “The Pit and the
Pendulum” in 1991 starring Lance Henriksen and Jeffrey Combs; and in
post-production is a film version of “The Tell-Tale Heart” that will
include Rose McGowan in its cast.

And even Clint Eastwood offered a nod to Poe in his directorial
debut, “Play Misty for Me,” in 1971. The psychotic Evelyn Draper
(Jessica Walter), stalking Carmel-based radio personality Dave Garver
(Eastwood), assumes the alias Annabel Lee, based on the Poe poem, to
move in with Garver’s unaware girlfriend Tobie (Donna Mills). When
she is ready to reveal what she has done, she quotes to Garver lines
from that poem: “And this maiden she lived with no other thought than to love and be loved by you.”