Sunday, April 28, 2013

Cider, you disappoint me.

The last time I was at Costco, I saw a mix-pack of ciders from a company called Crispin.  (What is a company that makes cider?  Not a brewery.  Not a winery.  A cidery?)  I was intrigued because of the descriptions.  One was made with honey, another with maple syrup and fermented with Belgian abbey ale, and another made with rice sugar and fermented with Sake yeast.

I have to admit something, to my eternal shame.  I used to drink ciders.  And wine coolers.  My only saving grace is that I never drank Zima.  What can I tell you?  I was in my early twenties and wanted to get drunk without having to drink something that I didn't enjoy.  I wasn't willing to chug beer or anything else that practically made me gag, as doing so struck me as the sort of a thing that an alcoholic would do.  Ciders and wine coolers?  Those were perfectly drinkable.

Once I became a craft beer enthusiast, ciders and wine coolers were a thing of the past, although I do admit to trying a pear cider that I saw at Trader Joe's.  It was made by a small company, and I wondered if maybe there was something to it just as there was something to craft beers versus the standard macro lagers.  Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be, and I never tried another cider...until the aforementioned Crispin ciders.

Maybe I went about it all wrong.  I was thinking that maybe a good cider, just like a good beer or wine, would be complex and have all kinds of interesting things going on at once.  I'm not much of a wine expert, so I'll only elaborate on beer.  When you have a good beer, there's this balance between the sweetness of the malt and the bitterness of the hops.  Some will lean more toward one way or the other.  Then, of course, you have darker beers where the roasted malts give off various coffee, chocolate, biscuit, etc. flavors which adds even more complexity.  Of course, there are also the Belgian ales, where the yeast creates all kinds of interesting aromas and tastes, which tend to change the more it warms up.

I was hoping for something kinda like that, but all I could think of when I tried them is that they all pretty much tasted like apple juice.  I don't mean that in a bad way.  They were good, and not as sweet as straight-juice would be, but I didn't really distinguish any significant difference with the flavors.  It's not like going from a Pilsner to a Stout to an IPA.  It's more like going from a Stout to a Porter to a black lager - all kinda different, but we're talking fine lines here.

I'm not saying that they were bad, but I just don't see myself getting these again.  While I had no problem finishing them (which is more than I can say for some beers that I've had) I didn't feel eager for more.  The website shows that they're good to cook with, just like beer and wine can be, so maybe I'll make some kind of marinade or something with my last bottle.

While Crispin might be filling a niche by creating a cider that's arguably better than what you normally find at the grocery store, I'm not seeing a big cider movement coming anytime soon.

Maybe we'll see something like that happen with mead?

The Avengers & the State of Superhero Movies

As I'm looking forward to the third Iron Man movie, I can't help but take note of the fact that I never wrote a review of The Avengers.  I think that I write reviews for pretty much every superhero movie that comes out, but I never got around to the biggest one of all (box-office wise).  I wrote about The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises, but somehow I never got around to that one, especially considering that I loved the crap out of it.  Still, it's been so long that it seems kind of silly to write a review about it now, so I'm just going to use that movie as a launching-pad for some other thoughts I have about superhero movies in general.

I've been a fan of comics for most of my life now.  I've been reading them since I was twelve, and I'm going to turn forty this November.  Unlike a lot of fans, I've never had a period where I didn't get them.  In fact, I doubt that I've gone more than a month without setting foot in a comic book store since I started getting them.

I also went to my first comic book convention around the same time that I started reading comics.  I remember how excited I was because Stan Lee was there, and there was a panel where he talked about all kinds of upcoming movie projects.  I also remember getting all excited when he'd write about the movies featuring Marvel characters in his "Stan's Soapbox" column.  Can't you remember all those great Marvel movies from the late eighties and early nineties?  Here, I'll pause as you start naming them off.


The thing is, I would get all excited about supposed Iron Man, Silver Surfer, Spider-Man, etc. movies that never saw the light of day even though my uncle, who was following comics for some time before me, told me that I shouldn't trust anything that Stan would say.  Apparently, "The Man" had a bit of a track record of hyping movies that were "in development" that never actually got developed.

Not only that, but Lee would praise utter crapfests like The Punisher (the Dolph Lundgren one) and Captain America (the one with J.D. Salinger's son).  Face it, true believer, the state of superhero movies was pretty abysmal.

As I got older, I pretty much figured that I would probably never see a decent comic book movie.  The best ones around were the Batman films, and those all just got worse and worse.  Spider-Man was in development hell as they tried to figure out exactly who owned the rights to make the movie with the character, and the idea of James Cameron directing was just too good to be true.  (Although he genuinely did have a hand in developing a film, even though it went nowhere.)  Everything that did exist was clearly made by people who had no idea what was cool about superheroes in the first place.

I remember that Wizard magazine used to have a pretty cool column called "Casting Call" where they would pick their dream choices for hypothetical superhero movies.  It was enjoyable, but I never thought I'd ever see them come to light.  I mean, Sir Patrick Stewart as Professor X?  You gotta be dreaming!

And then X-Men came out, and everything changed.  Have there been bad superhero movies since then?  Absolutely, with Daredevil, Spider-Man 3, and The Fantastic Four springing to mind.  To take those three examples though, each one is a billion times better than the versions that came before.  Daredevil made an appearance in The Trial of the Incredible Hulk.  He wore a black costume that had a blindfold on it, because apparently Daredevil thinks it's a wise move to announce to the underworld that he's blind.  He was also the guy who used to host Solid Gold.  Ever see the 1970s live-action TV Spider-Man?  Don't.  And the FF had it so bad that the director made a movie that he had no intention of releasing.  With the more recent versions of those films, I can at least find some good things to say about them, not so much with the older versions.

We've had some other bad ones, like Green Lantern, but if that movie had come out when I was just starting to read comics, I'd think that it was the greatest thing ever.  At least it was made by people who read the comics and had some understanding of the mythology, even though it was a colossal misfire as they attempted to translate it into a movie.  As a fan, I at least enjoyed seeing some ideas that I loved in the comics come to life on the big screen.

All this brings me back to The Avengers.  A movie that featured characters from four other franchises?  And it's all in the same continuity with (mostly) the same actors?  The twelve-year-old me would have pooped my pants in anticipation, but once I wised up to Stan Lee's trickery, I'd say that it was darn-near impossible.  Even if they tried it, the movies would probably stink, and the end product would probably be so far from the concept that it would be unrecognizable.

I've heard a lot of people say that the film was overrated.  I can see that, but at the same time, it was something that I'd never thought I'd see, and dammit, it was good.  In fact, all of the movies leading up to it were good.  I know some folks will want to quibble with me on that, but I enjoyed them all.  They were true to the genre and featured capable actors and some fun dialogue.  None of them transcended the genre (with the possible exception of the first Iron Man) but they were all solid, entertaining films.

The Avengers, and I hope you'll forgive the cliche, was greater than the sum of its parts.  I harbored some doubts as to whether it could actually work, but it all came together quite well.  And unlike the Christopher Nolan Batman films, which are great, The Avengers completely embraced its genre roots.  And that's pretty impressive considering what a crazy mish-mash of genres comics tend to be.  You wouldn't think that Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man could live in the same space as Chris Hemsworth's Thor, yet you never question it when it's happening.

Did it touch on more real-life issues like The Dark Knight did?  No, but it wasn't exactly trying to, either.  It was a movie that embraced everything cool about superheroes and celebrated it.  It's probably the first movie where I could tell a non-comic book fan, "Yeah, that's pretty much what it's like."  I should also note that my wife, who enjoys these kinds of movies but not with the same enthusiasm that I do, actually saw this one TWICE in the theater.

Considering its box-office, it obviously appealed to a more mainstream crowd, which proves what we comic book fans have been saying for a long time - being true to the comics will only be a good thing.  These characters have endured for decades; there must be a reason for that.

I guess I'd say that The Avengers is kind of the ultimate B-movie in a way.  It breaks no new ground, but it gets everything right, and it doesn't suffer from the curses of most B-movies like painfully awful dialogue, bad acting, and awful effects.

There are just so many things that I enjoy about it, that you can add my name to the list of people who are over-rating it.  I loved the bit where Captain America finally takes charge, and he's able to convincingly tell a god what to do.  Even better, it's great that it was prefaced with Iron Man realizing that the guy he's been mocking this whole time is the man for the job, saying, "Call it, Cap."  Not only are there so many little moments that I dig, I can't recall a big-budget action film that actually gets BETTER in the third act.  I usually find these things to kinda run out of steam as they get toward the end.  I would actually say that the film's weaker scenes are at the beginning.

Here's hoping that they don't screw it up with the second Avengers movie.  But even if they do, I've already seen enough good superhero films to get the taste of the 70s, 80s, and 90s out of my mouth.  Even if it totally stinks, I can guarantee it will be better than Batman and Robin.

As for the next thing that I'm doubtful as to whether it can happen or not?  Getting Andrew Garfield's Spider-Man and Hugh Jackman's Wolverine in The Avengers 2.  Good thing I've been wrong before.

Comics Roundup...NO MORE!!!

For the ten of you who regularly checked out the Comics Roundup, I'm sorry to say that it is no more.  I'm still reading comics, and I plan on writing about comics some more on this blog, but I was losing interest in writing it.

I hope to write some more in-depth reviews of stuff that I have been enjoying once a bunch of issues of it come out.  I also hope to write a lengthy retrospective of Geoff Johns's run on Green Lantern once that wraps up in the next couple of months.

Basically, I don't have as much time to write as I would like, and if I'm going to take the time to do so, then I want to focus on stuff that interests me.