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Five questions “The Avengers” didn’t answer

Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans in The Avengers

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Unless you’ve been in a media blackout the last few days, you know that “The Avengers” broke all sorts of records this weekend.

And while I’ve gone on record with my fondness for Marvel’s superhero team-up extravaganza, I had a few questions that went unanswered when the credits rolled in “The Avengers.” From the whereabouts of War Machine to the ancestry of the film’s alien invaders, here are five of the biggest questions I was left pondering after watching the big-screen debut of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. (Oh, and for anyone who hasn’t seen “The Avengers” yet, be warned: this will contain some big spoilers!)

1. Where was War Machine?

Last seen in “Iron Man 2,” Iron Man’s armored, heavily weaponized counterpart piloted by James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle) was conspicuously absent from “The Avengers.” One can’t help wondering what sort of threat was more deserving of War Machine’s attention than an army of aliens and an angry god threatening to take over our entire planet. After all, if one highly mobile, flying tank with energy weapons can do that much damage to an invading army, how much of Manhattan could’ve been saved if Iron Man and War Machine were on the case?

2. Are the Skrulls around?

Long-rumored to be the villains of “The Avengers,” the Skrulls are a race of shape-changing aliens that the superhero team has battled with many times in the comics world. Marvel successfully pulled one over on all of the outlets that claimed to “confirm” the Skrull’ presence in the film, though, and made the Chitauri the common foe that forces Earth’s heroes to unite. It’s worth noting, however, that the Chitauri were introduced as an alternate-universe version of the Skrulls in The Ultimates, a comic book series that reimagines the Avengers in a more modern-day setting, but the alien race was later reclassified as an off-shoot of the Skrulls. So are the Skrulls still out there, threatening to infiltrate Earth? As one of the Avengers’ recurring enemies, it would be surprising to see the studio ignore the shape-changers’ potential.

3. Is Bruce Banner in control of Hulk?

At the end of “The Incredible Hulk,” a brief shot of Bruce Banner’s eyes going green hints that he might be gaining control over his monstrous alter ego, and that seems to be the case in “The Avengers,” too. When Banner (Mark Ruffalo) smiles and tells his teammates that he’s “always” angry, then intentionally turns into Hulk, it would certainly seem that the man and monster are at least somewhat united in purpose. So what happened when he went all “Hulk smash!” on Black Widow and Thor? I can’t help wondering what the real dynamic is here, and how conscious Banner is of Hulk’s actions. We certainly see a bit more awareness (and even a sense of humor) in Hulk during “The Avengers,” so here’s hoping another solo film featuring the green giant will shed more light on the relationship between Banner and Hulk.

4. What is The Council?

At several points during “The Avengers,” Nick Fury is shown arguing with a shadowy group of advisors he calls “The Council.” So what is this mysterious organization? Its members seem to outrank the S.H.I.E.L.D. chief, so I can’t help wondering whether the group is some part of the U.N. or another international organization that only exists in Marvel’s cinematic universe. Could they have been the real group pulling the strings throughout all of Marvel’s movies? This might seem like a small thread to pull, but there’s reason to believe a big web could be at the other end of it.

5. The Infinity Gems, I presume?

The post-credits scene reveals that Thanos, one of the Avengers’ greatest enemies, played a role in pairing Loki with the Chitauri for the invasion of Earth. Thanos is best known in the Marvel Comics universe as a powerful alien who once sought after — and eventually wielded — the Infinity Gauntlet, a golden glove with six powerful “Infinity Gems” embedded within it. The gems each control one element of the universe (time, space, mind, soul, reality, and power) and when wielded collectively, make whoever wears the glove practically invincible. The Infinity Gauntlet actually appeared in “Thor,” and Marvel carted the prop to Comic-Con last year to show it off, so now that we’ve seen the big-screen version of Thanos there’s reason to believe he’s up to his old tricks again.

So my final questions fall along these lines: Is the Tesseract one of the Infinity Gems? And what about the orb in Loki’s staff?

Given its ability to open a portal to the Chitauri fleet, there’s reason to believe the Tesseract is the Space Gem. And with Loki using his staff to control Hawkeye and other members of S.H.I.E.L.D., it’s not too far-fetched to think that orb is the Mind Gem. Could we have already seen two of the gems Thanos will go after in his bid for power?

What were some of your post-“Avengers” questions? Chime in below or on Facebook or Twitter.

Soap tv show

As the Spoof Turns

15 Hilarious Soap Opera Parodies

Catch the classic sitcom Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures Television

The soap opera is the indestructible core of television fandom. We celebrate modern series like The Wire and Breaking Bad with their ongoing storylines, but soap operas have been tangling more plot threads than a quilt for decades. Which is why pop culture enjoys parodying them so much.

Check out some of the funniest soap opera parodies below, and be sure to catch Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

1. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

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Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a cult hit soap parody from the mind of Norman Lear that poked daily fun at the genre with epic twists and WTF moments. The first season culminated in a perfect satire of ratings stunts, with Mary being both confined to a psychiatric facility and chosen to be part of a Nielsen ratings family.


2. IKEA Heights

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IKEA Heights proves that the soap opera is alive and well, even if it has to be filmed undercover at a ready-to-assemble furniture store totally unaware of what’s happening. This unique webseries brought the classic formula to a new medium. Even IKEA saw the funny side — but has asked that future filmmakers apply through proper channels.


3. Fresno

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When you’re parodying ’80s nighttime soaps like Dallas and Dynasty , everything about your show has to equally sumptuous. The 1986 CBS miniseries Fresno delivered with a high-powered cast (Carol Burnett, Teri Garr and more in haute couture clothes!) locked in the struggle for the survival of a raisin cartel.


4. Soap

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Soap was the nighttime response to daytime soap operas: a primetime skewering of everything both silly and satisfying about the source material. Plots including demonic possession and alien abduction made it a cult favorite, and necessitated the first televised “viewer discretion” disclaimer. It also broke ground for featuring one of the first gay characters on television in the form of Billy Crystal’s Jodie Dallas. Revisit (or discover for the first time) this classic sitcom every Saturday morning on IFC.


5. Too Many Cooks

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Possibly the most perfect viral video ever made, Too Many Cooks distilled almost every style of television in a single intro sequence. The soap opera elements are maybe the most hilarious, with more characters and sudden shocking twists in an intro than most TV scribes manage in an entire season.


6. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

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Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was more mockery than any one medium could handle. The endless complications of Darkplace Hospital are presented as an ongoing horror soap opera with behind-the-scenes anecdotes from writer, director, star, and self-described “dreamweaver visionary” Garth Marenghi and astoundingly incompetent actor/producer Dean Learner.


7. “Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive,” MadTV

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Soap opera connoisseurs know that the most melodramatic plots are found in Korea. MADtv‘s parody Tae Do  (translation: Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive) features the struggles of mild-mannered characters with far more feelings than their souls, or subtitles, could ever cope with.


8. Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks, the twisted parody of small town soaps like Peyton Place whose own creator repeatedly insists is not a parody, has endured through pop culture since it changed television forever when it debuted in 1990. The show even had it’s own soap within in a soap called…


9. “Invitation to Love,” Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks didn’t just parody soap operas — it parodied itself parodying soap operas with the in-universe show Invitation to Love. That’s more layers of deceit and drama than most televised love triangles.


10. “As The Stomach Turns,” The Carol Burnett Show

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The Carol Burnett Show poked fun at soaps with this enduring take on As The World Turns. In a case of life imitating art, one story involving demonic possession would go on to happen for “real” on Days of Our Lives.


11. Days of our Lives (Friends Edition)

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Still airing today, Days of Our Lives is one of the most famous soap operas of all time. They’re also excellent sports, as they allowed Friends star Joey Tribbiani to star as Dr Drake Ramoray, the only doctor to date his own stalker (while pretending to be his own evil twin). And then return after a brain-transplant.

And let’s not forget the greatest soap opera parody line ever written: “Come on Joey, you’re going up against a guy who survived his own cremation!”


12. Acorn Antiques

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First appearing on the BBC sketch comedy series Victoria Wood As Seen on TV, Acorn Antiques combines almost every low-budget soap opera trope into one amazing whole. The staff of a small town antique store suffer a disproportional number of amnesiac love-triangles, while entire storylines suddenly appear and disappear without warning or resolution. Acorn Antiques was so popular, it went on to become a hit West End musical.


13. “Point Place,” That 70s Show

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In a memorable That ’70s Show episode, an unemployed Red is reduced to watching soaps all day. He becomes obsessed despite the usual Red common-sense objections (like complaining that it’s impossible to fall in love with someone in a coma). His dreams render his own life as Point Place, a melodramatic nightmare where Kitty leaves him because he’s unemployed. (Click here to see all airings of That ’70s Show on IFC.)


14. The Spoils of Babylon

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Bursting from the minds of Will Ferrell and creators Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, The Spoils of Babylon was a spectacular parody of soap operas and epic mini-series like The Thorn Birds. Taking the parody even further, Ferrell himself played Eric Jonrosh, the author of the book on which the series was based. Jonrosh returned in The Spoils Before Dying, a jazzy murder mystery with its own share of soapy twists and turns.

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15. All My Children Finale, SNL

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SNL‘s final celebration of one of the biggest soaps of all time is interrupted by a relentless series of revelations from stage managers, lighting designers, make-up artists, and more. All of whom seem to have been married to or murdered by (or both) each other.

Why “The Avengers” is the anti-“Dark Knight” (and that’s a good thing)

A scene from Marvel's The Avengers

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With both “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight Rises” hitting theaters just months apart, this year is shaping up to be a huge one for comic book movies. Not only do we have the culmination of Marvel’s four-year cinematic experiment in super-team development, but we also have Christopher Nolan’s third and final chapter in his Batman saga, and the follow-up to one of the highest-grossing films of all time, “The Dark Knight.”

Given the presence of both of these high-profile superhero movies in the 2012 schedule, it’s hard not to compare them, but here’s the thing: when you really get down to brass tacks, “The Avengers” is everything Nolan’s trilogy isn’t – and that’s a very good thing.

Ever since Nolan brought Gotham’s favorite superhero to the screen in “Batman Begins,” Hollywood has had a love affair with “dark” superhero movies. The popularity of grim-and-gritty adaptations hit a fever pitch with the box-office triumph of “The Dark Knight” in 2008, and over the last few years, any potential adaptation that didn’t offer a darker spin on its source material faced an uphill battle with studios and audiences alike.

To their credit, Marvel bucked that trend, and gave audiences the bright, clever, and fast-paced action of “Iron Man” in 2008 — just a few months before “The Dark Knight” broke box-office records. Even though Tony Stark’s debut didn’t achieve the same success of Nolan’s moody Batman sequel, Marvel showed little inclination to shift things toward the dark(er) side, and pushed forward with the similarly lighter-toned “The Incredible Hulk,” “Iron Man 2,” “Thor,” and “Captain America: The First Avenger” over the next four years.

Now, with the premiere of “The Avengers” this weekend, we get a film that’s not only the culmination of Marvel’s grand, four-year plan, but also the best example of Marvel’s desire to show that “The Dark Knight” formula isn’t the only path to superhero-movie success.

In my review of “The Avengers,” I wrote that the film “chooses bright, witty, and unabashedly heroic over dark, grim, and conflicted” – but that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the ways Marvel has offered a photo-negative alternative to Warner Bros’ “Dark Knight” franchise. Along with the obvious 180-degree differences in visual and tonal environments, the qualities of the characters embraced and accentuated by each of the films also stand in stark contrast.

In Nolan’s series of Batman films, the character’s status as one of the DC universe’s greatest detectives is scrapped in favor of making him, well… what’s essentially a bully in a bat-suit. Favoring intimidation and brute force over the keen observation and technical expertise his comics counterpart is known for, even the character we see when Bruce Wayne is out of costume is only slightly friendlier than Batman himself.

In director Joss Whedon’s vision for “The Avengers,” we get a team of heroes who haven’t spun very far off center, despite their more unique attributes. Collectively, the team’s members are generally depicted as funny, polite, and “warm” when they’re not in mid-brawl, and even Whedon’s version of Bruce Banner seems well-adjusted and emotionally stable when compared to Nolan’s take on Bruce Wayne.

Of course, the simple fact that “The Avengers” made it to the screen is a powerful statement on the difference between the two franchises and their centerpiece films.

It’s almost impossible to imagine Nolan’s version of Batman co-existing in a world with other superheroes from DC’s stable – let alone teaming up with them. The Dark Knight as seen through the modern franchise is a martyr figure, with self-sacrifice generally the first and only option he considers when faced with overwhelming odds. When he finally does ask for a helping hand in the first two films of the franchise, it’s to request assistance in keeping everyone but him out of harm’s way and to frame himself as the villain.

In contrast, the heroes of “The Avengers,” while prone to initial misunderstandings that prompt the obligatory hero-on-hero fights, seem to not only realize the benefit of teamwork, but to welcome assistance from their teammates. When there’s help to be had, egos are quickly set aside and there’s minimal resistance to receiving a helping hand (or magical hammer or energy blast) to thwart whatever’s threatening the populace.

Given the two franchises, if a hijacker locks himself inside a plane with hostages and a bomb in “The Avengers” universe, one almost expects Iron Man to divert the plane to an uninhabited area, Captain America to knock out the hijacker, and Black Widow to disarm the bomb in no time at all. On top of that, there’s likely to be a one-liner about “flying the unfriendly skies.”

In Nolan’s Bat-verse, however, the same scenario would likely play out with Batman sky-diving sans parachute from his Bat-plane onto the hull of the hijacked airplane, leaving his high-tech plane to crash with a fiery explosion. After dispatching the hijacker, Batman straps the bomb to his own body, gives a grim look back at the passengers, and leaps out of the airplane, seemingly sacrificing himself for the greater good. (Naturally, he’d disarm or otherwise rid himself of the bomb at the last possible second, coming this close to death once again.)

What’s more, the vast differences between “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight” are clear from a practical perspective, too.

Like “Iron Man,” “The Avengers” feels like a very loose film, with a story that’s strong enough to bring its characters from the starting line to the finish, but light enough to let the actors play around with the script, filling it out and breathing life into their characters wherever possible. There’s a sense that everyone involved with the film is having fun with it, and that playfulness carries over to the audience.

In contrast, “Batman Begins” and – to an even greater degree – “The Dark Knight” both stick close to Nolan’s tried-and-true style of filmmaking that produces heavy, intense movies that feel carefully planned and expertly executed with little room for divergence. The actors who thrive in Nolan’s films are similarly intense, and there’s a feeling that his Bat-verse is as much of a high-pressure environment on the set as it is on the screen, with the demands of an ambitious plot leaving little time to stray from the script. The effect is to create a feeling of tension in the audience while we watch Batman deal with the scum of Gotham.

Perhaps what’s most important, though, is that while “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight” function as polar-opposite approaches to the genre in nearly every way, they both succeed as some of the best examples of superhero movies.

The achievements of “The Dark Knight” have been well documented at this point, but the triumph of “The Avengers” is particularly noteworthy for how far it strayed from the norm of recent superhero movies. Where the standard has shifted toward brooding, psychological adventures, “The Avengers” is a light-hearted, action-fueled film that proves that dark isn’t always better, and “fun” superheroes can indeed make for a good movie.

And whether your personal tastes lie more in line with the darker fare that’s been the norm lately or lighter films like “The Avengers,” we can all agree that shaking Hollywood out of a creative rut – no matter how many good films that rut produces – is always a good thing. And in that, as well as being a damn fine big-screen adventure, “The Avengers” succeeds heroically.

“The Avengers” hits theaters today, May 4.

Chime in below or on Facebook or Twitter.

Check out this collection of “Avengers”-themed art from Gallery 1988

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If you’re in the Los Angeles area, cancel your plans tonight and head to Gallery 1988 to check out their “Avengers”-themed art show.

Seriously, I’m not exaggerating. If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance you’re going to want to check out what the folks at Gallery 1988 have to offer. A couple of movie blogs like /Film and Collider were invited to an exclusive preview event last night to check out the art work early and chat with “Avengers” director Joss Whedon and Clark Gregg.

There was a variety of really cool artwork present at the show, and apparently most of the prints are available for under $50. Of course, there are some original pieces that are way more expensive than that, but it’s nice that there are more modest options to choose from. Apparently the above “Avengers” record piece was purchased by a Marvel producer for an amount way outside our price range.

This was the first show opened at Gallery 1988’s new location at 7021 Melrose Ave (across the street from their old Los Angeles store). The folks behind the event painted some awesome “Avengers”-themed “street art” paintings on the wall specific to this opening, and they look freaking awesome.

Oh, and there were also cupcakes. Now we want cupcakes.

The public preview night is tonight from 7pm to 10pm, and the “Avengers” art work will be up in the gallery during normal business hours through Sunday.

Do you think you’ll check out the Gallery 1988 “Avengers” show? Tell us in the comments section below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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