DID YOU READ

“The Avengers” 101: What to know before you head to the theater

Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans in The Avengers

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At this point, it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of “The Avengers,” Marvel’s surprisingly great superhero team-up extravaganza that hits theaters this weekend.

One of the questions that keeps popping up as we approach the film’s premiere is whether you should see all of the previous Marvel movies in order to understand “The Avengers,” or whether it can be appreciated on its own. The answer is yes… to both questions.

While the five films leading up “The Avengers” (“Iron Man,” “Iron Man 2,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “Thor,” and “Captain America: The First Avenger”) can be a little hit or miss, the sense that they’re building toward something larger only adds to the spectacle of this weekend’s big crossover. They also offer a nice introduction to each of the primary characters and, to be honest, their differences in tone and style add some perspective to the success of “The Avengers.”

Still, you’re not alone if you don’t have the urge to watch (or re-watch) all five movies before seeing what all the “Avengers” fuss is about. That’s why I’ve put together a crash course on what you need to know before you head to the theaters this weekend for “The Avengers” — but be warned, if you haven’t watched the Marvel characters’ solo movies yet, there are some big spoilers coming up.

Lesson 1: Loki

Loki is Thor’s adopted brother, who attempted to take over the realm of Asgard (an alien world populated by powerful beings that resemble the Norse gods) in the movie “Thor.” After the bridge from Asgard to other worlds (including Earth) was broken at the end of “Thor,” Loki fell into the cosmic abyss surrounding the bridge and hasn’t been heard from since that film.

Lesson 2: S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Avengers Initiative

S.H.I.E.L.D. is a powerful, international, covert-operations organization headed up by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Throughout the previous Marvel movies, S.H.I.E.L.D. has repeatedly popped up as a thread between the characters, with Fury and his agents — usually Agent Phil Coulson (played by Clark Gregg) — approaching each of the characters from the solo movies to discuss their potential roles in “The Avengers Initiative.” S.H.I.E.L.D. has also served as a police force of sorts that is called in to handle affairs that transcend the abilities of the regular military or police force (i.e., Thor’s arrival on Earth or Hulk’s rampage).

Lesson 3: The Tesseract

Referred to as the “Cosmic Cube” in the Marvel Comics universe, The Tesseract is a powerful energy source that was first introduced in “Captain America: The First Avenger.” Its origins are unknown — and possibly alien (or magical) in nature — but what is known is that it generates a nearly limitless amount of energy. In “Captain America,” the evil Red Skull attempted to harness the Tesseract’s power for his own purposes, and created an arsenal of weapons powered by the Tesseract’s glowing, blue energy. At the end of “Captain America,” the Tesseract was seemingly lost in the ocean, but in a post-credits scene from “Thor,” it’s revealed that S.H.I.E.L.D. recovered the Tesseract and it is now being studied by one of Thor’s human friends, Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard).

Lesson 4: Captain America, Man out of Time

Captain America’s solo movie sports the tagline “The First Avenger” for a reason — that reason being that he started his superhero career back during World War II, decades before Iron Man, Hulk, and the rest of the team. (Although now that I think of it, Thor might have him beat. But anyways…) At the end of “Captain America: The First Avenger,” soldier-turned-superhero Steve Rogers makes the supreme sacrifice, plunging himself and the Tesseract-powered bomber he’s piloting into the frozen ocean. As we see in the film’s closing scene, his body is later recovered and thawed out in the present day, giving him quite the shock when he discovers how much has changed in the world since WWII. As we learn in “The Avengers,” acclimation to the modern era isn’t an easy task for a hero of bygone days.

Lesson 5: Yesterday’s Captain America is today’s Hulk

In “The Incredible Hulk,” we learn that the experiment that caused Bruce Banner to become a raging green behemoth every time he gets angry was actually a failed attempt at recreating the procedure that turned scrawny Steve Rogers into the star-spangled superhero Captain America. When Banner and his colleagues attempted to use gamma rays to replicate the results of the WWII-era experiment (which was lost when Dr. Abraham Erskine was killed by a Nazi assassin), the result was a Hulk-sized catastrophe, and the need for Banner to stay calm or risk the beast inside of him destroying everything around him.

And that’s about it, folks! That’s nearly everything that you’ll need to go into “The Avengers” with a firm grasp on the last five movies’ worth of events in the Marvel universe.

And though I still can’t recommend enough that you check out all of the movies before watching “The Avengers,” this information should give you all the knowledge you need to get the most out of your “Avengers” experience.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.