Oddly Shaped Dice: Re-Enter the Dragon

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Y'know, another fine one-shot RPG would just be a sequel to "Enter the Dragon". A year after he takes out Mr. Han, British Intelligence calls Bruce again with a mission, and this time he brings along some quasi-allies from the first film --- John Saxon and Jim Freaking Kelly.

Now, Kelly's character appeared rather dead in the last one, but it's not like Saxon took his pulse or anything. In lieu of a remarkable recovery, you could always introduce an equally streetwise jive talking sibling.

As for additional cast members / PCs . . . Bruce was good buddies with Chuck Norris, so I'd make Chuck a team member. Bruce was pretty tight with James Coburn, Steve McQueen, and Kareem Abdul Jabar, so any of them could appear. David Carridine could play a bad guy.

If you wanna get silly, you could throw in Rocky Balboa. Set the movie in late 1976, sometime between Rocky I and Rocky II.

Oddly Shaped Dice: Infinite

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“Infinite: Epic Modern” was a d20 minigame / supplement I wrote for EnPublishing a couple of years back. It was my first and only venture into professional RPG design. Rather ironically, since I finished it just before my daughter was born, I’ve never really had a chance to play it (although I ran a couple of one-shots that were thematically related).

Mechanically, Infinite was an adaptation of the D&D Epic rules to the d20 Modern system. What I realized late in the design process is that the character generation process for a 30th level d20 character is nightmarish. I’ve been looking at the changes to the d20 system in the new Star Wars Saga Edition, and I think they might smooth things out quite a bit.

Setting-wise, the game is my take on Postmodern Pulp, throwing Philip Jose Farmer’s Wold Newton writings (positing a shared universe of all the great pulp/adventure/detective characters) into the blender with some modern influences like Alias and Planetary. I recently read a description of Hellboy as treating pulp like myth and myth like pulp...that’s about what I was aiming for.

While my gaming buddies are widely scattered and frequently busy, this is still something I’d like to try running, just to say I did it...

Live Free or Die Walrus

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If you've been following this blog, you know that I love Die Hard. I consider it to be the best action film of all time. And it was followed up by a worthy sequel in Die Hard 2: Die Harder and and even worthier sequel in Die Hard with a Vengeance. When I first heard about a new entry into the franchise. I was a bit skeptical, but upon seeing the trailer, I was jazzed about the movie.

So, I picked up the movie last week and had myself a little Die Hard weekend. Having recently watched the first one during my Ten Movies in a Weekend fest, I watched all three sequels over the weekend. Too bad it had to end on a bit of a downer.

Story
In the context of the John McClane series, it was weak. The Die Hard movies have always worked because of the confined space aspect. In the first one, he's trapped in a building. The second one, he's in an airport most of the time. In the third, the space opens up to some degree, but he's still trapped in the game Simon is making him play and is confined to New York City. In the fourth movie, he's all over the place. He's not confined in any way other than in the circumstances.

In recent history, Rocky Balboa seems to have started this trend to bring back movie heroes from the 80s/90s. Rocky Balboa did it right. Take the star and look at where he is 12-15 years after we last saw him. How have the events we've seen in the previous films affected him? What has happened to him since that time? In Die Hard 4, we don't get that other than a few little tidbits, we have no idea who McClane is now. And other than the name, we really don't get a sense that he's the same character from the previous movies.

(Additional sidebar: I see this trend continuing with a new Indiana Jones movie, a new Rambo movie, and who knows what else down the road. I fear that luster will be lost each time a hero is brought back.)

Finally, and maybe most importantly, the villain in this movie is weak. Alan Rickman, William Sadler and Jeremy Irons all played worthy opponents. So worthy that you really might expect that they could have beaten McClane. But the villain in 4 is not worthy. Worthy for Justin Long perhaps, but not Bruce Willis. Good movie villains are getting hard to come by these days.

Presentation
Too over the top. Would have been a decent Jack Bauer movie or a spin-off of The Transporter, but John McClane this wasn't in its sense of scope and action. To borrow some Dungeons & Dragons terminology, by the end of each movie, McClane is usually about 2 hitpoints away from being dead. Here, we see that McClane has leveled greatly since the last movie and has achieved some sort of immortal status.

Maybe Len Wiseman should stick to directing vampire movies about characters who can jump from semi to jet to crumbling bridge and still get up and run to the next fight. I'm all for fun action movies, but the action level was too amped up for what had been a little closer to reality. Had this been just another Bruce Willis action movie and not a Die Hard movie, I might have liked it a little bit better.

The sequence in the middle of the movie at the power station was probably the only point in the movie that I felt like I was watching John McClane. That was enjoyable.

One final question...are there people who actually like Kevin Smith?

Story score--
Presentation score--

(Nerd) Lunch Special: Turkey Sammy, Post Thanksgiving

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I tried this last year with moderate success. I think I've perfected it this year. I'll just tell you what I did.

I have minimal leftovers this year. Except for some dessert, all I have is leftover turkey, gravy, and stuffing (cornbread-style). I got out a bowl, broke open an egg into it and put two ice cream scoops full of the stuffing into the bowl. I took a fork and smashed it all together. Then, I scooped two separate scoops into a frying pan (medium heat) making thin, fried stuffing patties. A little turkey and a little gravy after being in the microwave for about 45 seconds went perfectly in-between these two stuffing patties.

I was going to take a picture of it, but I ate it before I could get to the camera. It was excellent.

I certainly think other leftover items like mashed taters or corn could be added to the sandwich. A slice of cheese would also make the sammy very tasty. If you're into cranberries, I can see how that would add something special as well.

In the spirit of post-holiday hossin', what do you like to do with your leftovers?

You were my Doctor...

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The new Doctor Who series has impressed me. I think it achieves everything the original wanted to be and more. But it acknowledges respectfully that it owes a great deal to what came before it.

Growing up, I would occasionally catch an episode of Doctor Who featuring Tom Baker or John Pertwee on PBS. But when I really tried to get into it, Peter Davison had taken over the role and I saw a majority of his run when it initially ran on PBS. And despite Doctor Who being one of those things I liked as a kid and pretty much loathe as an adult, something stoked the fires tonight.

On YouTube, I just watched the 7-minute Doctor Who special where the current (10th) Doctor meets Peter Davison, the fifth Doctor.

The special opens quickly with a time catastrophe starting and in the control room of the TARDIS, Peter Davison shows up. After solving the problem, David Tennant delivers a beautifully written monologue, a fan letter of sorts, to Peter Davison. Nearing the end, Tennant says, "'Cuz you know what Doctor? You were my Doctor." And I realized that even if adult-CT doesn't like Doctor Who, somewhere inside was kid-CT screaming, "Yes! He's my Doctor, too!"


To days to come. All my love to long ago.

(Nerd) Lunch Special: Fried Macaroni & Cheese

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Do you ever run across something and then wonder, "Where has this been all my life?" Well, this happened to me a few months ago when I went to TGIFriday's and ordered the fried mac & cheese.

It's your standard gourmet mac & cheese. Then it's breaded and deep fried. Seriously, why didn't I come up with this?

The item comes as an appetizer at Friday's but I'm sure you can order it as your meal or as a side item. Inspired, I wanted to try the recipe myself and we dug out our little Fry Daddy thing that we hadn't used for a while and fired it up. If you're interested in trying it for yourself, here are some recipes. The top one is the one I used.

Recipezaar.com

Food Network recipe

Oddly Shaped Dice: You Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It...

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This is part of my ongoing series about RPG one-shots or campaigns that remain on my list of things to do, just as soon as I figure out how to make $50K a year as a Dungeon Master.

I always like the idea of Mission: Impossible...the leader of an espionage team gets a mission, goes through a stack of dossiers and picks a team, and then carries out an intricate plan. The agents have minimal back story — it’s all about the skills and the plan and the job. Now, from what I’ve seen, at a certain point in the series they ended up with a regular team that got “picked” every episode, with an occasional guest star specialist.

For this campaign, the idea would be to keep the rotating cast aspect more prominent. This would be a campaign for players who love the character-gen process...say you have five players. Come up with 25 ideas for agents — “master of disguise” or “Delta Force commando” or “undercover op” or “reconnaissance expert” and have each player write up five characters. At the start of each session, give the player with the Jim Phelps role his mission assignment, and then let all the players pick a team and decide who’s playing which character.

Imaginary Band: Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?

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I’m listening to a lot of saxophone as I get ready to strap on the old tenor (or maybe the baritone) and play a couple of reunion shows with my old soul/R&B/oldies band. I’ve been interested lately in the New Orleans brass band tradition.

Like any style of music, this has been through a lot of changes. It all got started somewhere around the turn of the (20th) century and Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet and other early masters started recording in the 1920s...and all other jazz can trace back to those early recordings.

In the modern day, there are a couple of styles strongly associated with this tradition. There’s Dixieland jazz...a nostalgia-driven endeavor, often associated with middle-aged white guys of medium talent (I hope to achieve both the “middle-aged” and the “medium talent” someday), which tends to very traditional, with a clarinet/trombone/cornet front line and a tenor banjo and sometimes straw hats. And then there are bands like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the Rebirth Brass Band that throw some funk and R&B sounds into the mix, and drop the clarinet and the banjo. So one of the Imaginary Bands I’m imagining lately falls somewhere on this continuum between the traditionalists and the post-modernists (depending on what I listened to last).

For a more traditional sound, I think soprano sax is considered an acceptable alternative to clarinet...and bass saxophone can fill in for a tuba, but bass saxophones will run you at least $8K. And I like the notion of having a band that just plays those summer evening concerts in the park and that sort of thing. And playing unpopular niche music is a wonderful thing, because you won't get too busy or think about quitting your day job.

For the more contemporary sound, my tenor and bari would be fine...the problem would be the difficulty in handling all players necessary to make that sort of band work. The other problem would be my lack of chops, but these Imaginary Bands always assume that I do some kind of crazy training montage practice routine and get really talented...

Bagged and Boarded

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I guess it began before I was even born. My dad collected comics as a kid and subsequently, I was introduced to them at an early age. The first comic book I remember getting was a treasury-sized edition of G.I. Joe #1. A few years later, I began collecting the Super Powers action figures which came with mini-comics. On the back were order forms for subscriptions to comics. The selection was sparse. I believe the options were Superman, Batman, and the Justice League. Familiar with the toys and the Super Friends cartoon, I decided that the best bet would be to get Justice League which would contain all the major heroes in one book.

Great idea, huh? Well, imagine my surprise when I get my first issue and it's Justice League of America #239. On the cover was a character named Vixen who I'd never heard of. Within the first few pages of the comic, Superman, Wonder Woman and the Flash quit the team. And who do they leave behind? This Vixen character, Vibe, Steel and Gypsy. They weren't in the cartoon. In fact, Aquaman, who has turned into a real jerk by this point, is the only character on the team from the cartoon. And Martian Manhunter is on the team and I recognize him from my Super Powers action figure and my dad's old comics. Somehow, that comic launched a 20-year run of collecting comics.

But when my daughter was born three and a half years ago, my comic purchasing almost completely faded. I dropped books I had been collecting for years. There were a combination of factors for this. The predominant reason being that comics were getting pricier and pricier. Despite the fact I got a good discount at the local shop, I could no longer justify dropping $2.50 or more on a single comic. Not only that, but I was becoming increasingly disenchanted with the storytelling. Maybe part of this was my own super hero burnout, but there were a lot of weak stories being published that I just didn't care for. "Hush" was a complete waste of money and I had hope for more from the writer of "The Long Halloween."

So, I have on occasion popped my head into a comic store and I still read some comic news online, but I would say that I have pretty much divorced myself from the standard super hero comics at this point. In the last two years, I bought the Serenity comics, received the V for Vendetta trade as a gift, received a Superman comic as a gift, and have a couple of trades on order waiting to be shipped to me from an online store. Despite this separation, I do still think about what I might be collecting if I were still collecting.

So, looking over the current Diamond Comics catalog, I would be moderately interested in the following books:

Spirit #14
Written by Sergio Aragones & Mark Evanier Art by Mike Ploog Cover by Jordi Bernet
Join the new SPIRIT creative team of writers Sergio Aragones & Mark Evanier (Groo the Wanderer) and Mike Ploog (Abadazad) for a case of murder! A string of killings is plaguing Central City...and the Spirit - with Commissioner Dolan - is on the case!

I did get a chance to read the first issue by Darwyn Cooke. Fun character with pulp hero roots that I dig. Interesting choice to bring on the writers of Groo to take on the storytelling for this book. I'd check it out for an issue or two.


Superman #672
Written by Kurt Busiek Art by Peter Vale & Jesus Merino Cover by Vale
It's Superman versus the all-new Insect Queen on the Moon, for the life of Lana Lang. Meanwhile, Lana (on the Moon) makes a startling discovery that could transform LexCorp's future. And back in Metropolis (sadly, not the Moon), Chris Kent's power problems build to an explosive payoff.

Kurt Busiek can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned and Superman is my favorite comic character. Busiek brings a modern sensibility to old school storytelling that I just love. Busiek and Superman make a perfect pair.


Detective Comics #840
Written by Paul Dini Art by Dustin Nguyen & Derek Fridolfs Cover by Nguyen
Fan favorite artist Dustin Nguyen (SUPERMAN/BATMAN) joins Paul Dini on DETECTIVE COMICS as new regular penciler! Still haunted by the specter of Ra's Al Ghul, Batman returns to Gotham to face a new threat in the form of The Globe, a map-obsessed mastermind who charts his crimes with deadly accuracy.

Looking over the description, I might pass on this actually, but Paul Dini is another great writer and I love that one of the guys who made the Batman cartoon so great is actually writing Batman in the comics. At one point I read that Dini was writing stories that were told in one or two issues. I like that idea.


Robin
Written by Chuck Dixon Art by Chris Batista Cover by Freddie E. Williams II
With the return of new series writer Chuck Dixon (Robin, Nightwing, Batman) and art by fan-favorite Chris Batista (52, Legion of Superheroes), Robin #170 is the start of a new era no one will want to miss! After a life-changing battle with Ra's al Ghul in Nanda Parbat, Robin comes home to Gotham to find there's a new girl in town, wearing a color he can't ignore. The new vigilante calls herself Violet, and she steals from the rich to keep for herself...and Robin's going to find out that's not all she's playing for. Plus, the return of an old friend with something to hide!

I loved Chuck Dixon* on Robin the first time around. He turned that character into one of my all-time favorite characters. Great to see him back on Robin. Not sure I could "go home again" so to speak, but it would be neat to check it out.


Phantom #21
by Mike Bullock, Silvestre Szilagyi & Bob Pedroza
Rebels warring in Bangallan jungles, terrorist attacks in the streets of Mawitaan and an old enemy suddenly freed from prison for no logical reason. Is this a series of unrelated events or part of something far more sinister? Find out in the beginning of the biggest arc in Moonstone's Phantom run, culminating in the double sized issue #25!

I picked up a couple of these books early on. They were fun reads and Moonstone seems like a company that's really trying to come out with good product. They've got a combo of licensed character stuff including Buckaroo Banzai and they've got some creator-owned stuff.


Captain America #34
Written by ED BRUBAKER Pencils & 50/50 Cover by STEVE EPTING 50/50 Cover by ALEX ROSS
Is this the NEW Captain America?!

Not sure if I'd really want to jump in here in the middle of a big storyline, but the writer/artist combo on this title is great and I'd sure look at getting this in the trades. Not a huge fan of the new Captain America costume that Alex Ross designed. It seems like he pilfered the idea from a younger Alex Ross who didn't get to design the movie Spider-Man costume.


Maybe not super bold choices, but that's what's intriguing me right now. Although I'd certainly consider looking at anything Geoff Johns was writing as well.

*Some day I'll have to tell my Chuck Dixon story. Or actually, PLee should tell it. Even though he wasn't there, his version is better even if it's embellished greatly.

Oddly Shaped Dice: 999 A.D.

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Well, I’ve been taking a good look at the recent Star Wars RPG Saga Edition, and I like a lot of what I see. A clever fellow over on the Enworld message board came up with a set of house rules to adapt the system to Conan-style swords-and-sorcery...low magic, no demihumans, etc. That sounds like a nice change of pace to me...the “Christmas Tree” aspect of D&D (where every character is expected to have all sorts of magical doo-dads) has never sat right with me. I just finished a great little book called “The Year 1000" which talks about everyday life in Anglo-Saxon England back in the day. And it seems to me this would make a great RPG campaign.

So...the campaign would be called 999 A.D., and it’s about a band of warriors traveling hither and yon at the turn of the last millennium, seeking fortune and glory. This might work best with a mixed party — Normans, Picts, Vikings, Celts, Britons, maybe something more exotic like an Arab (a la The 13th Warrior) or a Native American (a la Pathfinder). In the background of these adventures is the looming threat of the End of the World, which would probably take the form of a semi-pagan reading of the Book of Revelations...or it could be some kinda crazy Lovecraftian thing, or a straight-up Norse Ragnarok, or something weirder.

The starting adventure would be “The Magnificent Seven” homage — the monastery has been hit by Viking raiders once too often, and so the monks go out and hire some warriors, and wackiness ensues. This would also set up an interesting PC if one of the young monks decides to take up arms and then has nowhere else to go...that gives you a tremendously learned character who has led a sheltered existence (and who needs to take some levels of Fighter a.s.a.p.)

Could you do “Enter the Dragon”? Of course you could. A wealthy king could hold a contest of champions, offering a great prize and a spot on the royal bodyguards to the victor. You could even make this unarmed combat...the Interweb tells of many crazy people of European extraction obsessed with reviving the lost art of Viking wrestling or Celtic boxing or whatnot.

Oddly Shaped Dice: Enter the Hobo!

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I have a theory that for RPG purposes, you can always get good results by crossing any other genre with the "martial arts tournament" genre. Some folks take a similar approach and mix Lovecraftian horror with any other genre, but for me, it's all about that "Enter the Dragon" vibe.

And sometimes I take a good idea to far. And that brings us to "Enter the Hobo."

My notion is to cross "O Brother Where Art Thou" with "Bloodsport". In the depths of the Great Depression, tough guys fallen upon hard times travel the Mythic South fighting in illegal no-holds-barred bareknuckle brawls.

Aaaaand that's about as far as I got with that idea. Except there's a great Charles Bronson movie called "Hard Times" that's on the same premise. Oh, and I thought there could be a mysterious figure who may or may not be the Devil. And I was gonna put together a really awesome soundtrack CD.

Oddly Shaped Dice: The Steampunk One-Shot

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All this talk about steampunk has me thinking about some of the ideas I’ve kicked around for a Victorian Era RPG one-shot.

1. Here’s the thing about the movie version of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: it was a lousy movie and it would be an awesome RPG...much better for that purpose than the original graphic novels. Come to think of it, “Van Helsing” didn’t really float my boat, but there’s great RPG material in there.

2. I’m a pretty big fan of the old Wold Newton “multiple fictional characters in a shared universe” thing...to the point that I wrote a d20 Modern supplement on the subject...so I’d probably do something like this with the implied understanding that somewhere in this setting, there are some variations of Nemo, Moreau, Van Helsing, etc.

3. “Steampunk vampire hunters” is one of the Holy Grails of my GM’ing career. I would probably just run the recent “Expedition to Castle Ravenloft” and give the PCs suitable backgrounds in state-of-the-art 19th century counter-occult science — alchemical weapons, electrical ghost-traps, etc.

The League of Extraordinary Pac-Gentlemen

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We don't often discuss art per se on this blog, but it seems that a wacky artist named Doktor_A has created something right in our collective wheelhouse. Behold the steam punk version of Pac-Man, "Pac Gentleman".
I would sugest that the Nautilus in LXG might have had a whole parlor full of these for Nemo's entertainment, except that would have made too much sense.

Imaginary Band: The Hot Club of Shanghai

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I used to sing and play some sax, and my music career is heating up again...my old R&B/soul band is reuniting to play a benefit gig for my sick trumpet player in January. There’s talk of then trying to finish the CD we started ten long years ago, and that would probably mean doing a CD release party somewhere down the line. Two or three gigs a year is about all I can handle right now, if that.

But I have a bit of a rambling imagination, and in the seven years since I’ve been out of the business, I’ve had some ideas for a new band. Here’s one of them:

The Hot Club of Shanghai

This is what I’ve been calling my Pulp Swing band. In the 1930s, the great Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt had a band called the Hot Club of Paris, and to this day there are a lot of bands that call themselves “The Hot Club of [Somewhere]” as shorthand for “1930s Gypsy swing.” While I wouldn’t want to get out of hand with the shtick here, the idea would be to borrow a little bit from the cliffhanger serial / adventure pulp aesthetic, like this could be the house band at Club Obi Wan from “Temple of Doom”.

Now, I don’t have any jazz chops, and never have, so that’s a slight problem. Possibly more than slight. But I just found out that a small company has started producing C-melody saxophones, probably the first time these have been made in 40 years or more. They are pitched between an Eb alto and a Bb tenor and were very popular in early jazz, and the new ones are well under a grand, and it would certainly be an interesting experiment.

C-melody sax, acoustic archtop guitar, piano, upright bass, drums, and maybe a second horn — cornet or clarinet, since those are also early jazz instruments seldom seen these days.

Modern Marvels

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This weekend I watched Fantastic Four 2 which is the last movie I needed to see in order to be able to say I've seen all the "modern" Marvel movies. That's to say, any theatrically released movie starring a Marvel character starting with Blade, I've now seen it. So, I shall now rank the modern Marvel Movies.

I see them very much in a tier system. There's a definite top, middle and lower tier.

Spider-Man 2 - Not only the best of the Marvel movies, but one of the best comic book movies of all time. Though not without its faults, it has few.

Spider-Man - I had not been hyped up about a movie like I was this one since 1989 when Batman came out. Spider-Man was visualized perfectly and there was a decent story, too.

X2: X-Men United - Good team movie that built on the first. Wolverine took the lead, but lots of other characters had their stories, too.

Blade II - In the same way that I think Aliens was better than Alien, Blade II is better than Blade. And the awesome commentary track by Guillermo del Toro is worth the price of the DVD.

X-Men - With this movie, we transition into the second tier. Lot of build up, but a light resolution. In some ways this was just a trailer for the second movie. But a good trailer.

Blade - Much better than I ever expected this movie to be. Interesting how this relatively unknown character led the charge in the modern Marvel movies.

Spider-Man 3 - A disappointing entry into the Spidey mythos. The script was one more rewrite away from being good. A lot of people complained about too many villains. Maybe so, but some smarter writing could have tied a lot of it together without it being so forced.

Hulk - The stretch of movie where Hulk breaks free from the lab and heads back to the city is what gets this movie into the second tier. Dropping the weird cloud fight at the end and removing the headache inducing split-screen editing would have raised this up the list.

X-Men 3: Last Stand - Another disappointing third entry, this movie seemingly was a creative nightmare to deal with. In parts it definitely seemed to betray the characters. In killing off some of the characters, they made big, bold moves that were unnecessary. Too many characters and too many mutants turned this into a "wouldn't it be kewl if..." movie.

Punisher - Entering now the third tier, Punisher had a few nice moments and Thomas Jane was an excellent Frank Castle. Ultimately this had too much of a direct-to-DVD feel to it.

Ghost Rider - Very hokey at times, but true to itself throughout. It suffered from needing too many effects, so the action was limited at times. I have a feeling that a sequel could be better.

Elektra - Jennifer Garner was horribly cast as Elektra. She showed that her acting range isn't very capable of extending beyond Sydney Bristow. But as PLee says, Jennifer Garner + Ninjas = shoulda worked.

Fantastic Four & 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer - Horribly cast in almost every way, but especially in the case of Doom. Julian McMahan may be a fine TV actor, but he does not have the screen presence to pull of the role of my favorite Marvel villain ever. Of course, they didn't only butcher my favorite Marvel villain, but my second favorite as well. Galactus as a cloud, wasn't right. Silver Surfer going super nova and defeating Galacus was really not right. Who defeated Galactus time and time again in the comic? MR. FANTASTIC! At no point did I ever see Mr. Fantastic. The movies should have had a sense of wonder and adventure about them. Instead, they delivered something worse than Power Rangers.

Daredevil - If there's a movie more miscast than FF, it was this one. Two words: Ben Affleck.

Blade Trinity - Awful. Absolutely awful. Too many horrible things to mention, but I'll say that when Whistler blew himself up to kill a bunch of cops, the movie lost me. What a way to have your hero's sidekick go out -- by killing a bunch of cops.

I am hoping that Iron Man and Incredible Hulk will be able to break into the top tier next year. And I'm disappointed Thomas Jane isn't coming back for the second Punisher movie. That doesn't bode well for the script really.
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