Monday, January 30, 2012

Cold War villain is actually unsung hero

There are a lot of people who point to Ronald Reagan’s speech at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin on June 12, 1987 as the turning point in the Cold War. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” he said to rousing cheers. A little more than two years later, the Berlin Wall was history, and the Soviet Union dissolved four years after that. Democracy had triumphed.

While there is no overstating the importance of Reagan’s speech, however, it certainly wasn’t the first sign we had that decades of Soviet resolve against personal freedom were fading. Through the steady advance of technology, the world was becoming a smaller place, and it was becoming ever more difficult for Soviet censors to curtail the voice of unrest in their own midst, especially in the Baltic states and other outlying territories.

It was against this backdrop that the Soviets first began to institute the policies of perestroika (reform) and glasnost (transparency) in the mid-1980s. Rather than appease citizens, however, the new openness allowed a now freer press to critique the shortcomings and hypocrisy inherent in the system. While most Soviet citizens still supported the Union, the voice of dissent was growing louder and picking up steam.

In the past, Soviet hardliners would have seized the opportunity to come down hard on citizens and squash any opposition. However, that was no longer possible: the genie was already out of the bottle, and glasnost was picking up steam. Instead, the Soviet government decided to quiet dissent by reinvigorating national pride within the populace. To do so, they launched a massive propaganda campaign, turning to an old trick in their playbook: beat the United States.

From the beginning, the Soviets had matched the U.S. in military might, but both sides knew that in the nuclear age that was not an acceptable battle field, so they tried to one-up each other in other ways. The Soviets had taken the technology lead in the early 1960s by putting the first man in space (Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961), but the Americans were never far behind, and after the U.S. became the first to put men on the Moon in 1969, the space race became a symbolic dead-end. Likewise, the mech tech race in the mid-‘60s cooled before it had really begun, as the Stark and Vanko models both proved potent yet overly-complex and cost-prohibitive compared to conventional weaponry and nuclear deterrents. And unbeknown to the Americans, with other concerns looming, the Soviet government had quietly declawed their technology R&D spending.

But athletics and bio-medicine were areas in which they continued to excel, and in which Soviet leaders believed they could gain significant moral victories over the Americans. Having lost the men’s Olympic ice hockey finals to a supposedly inferior U.S. team in 1980, there was a bit of hurt ego playing into the equation. The Americans’ boycott of the summer Olympics that year and subsequent Soviet boycott of the 1984 Olympics had only caused the U.S.S.R. to further lose face. Seeking to change that, the Soviets decided to hit the Americans hard on their own soil.

Such a move was a risky one, of course, as there is no way to control the outcome of any sporting event. However, in this case, Soviet leaders were as certain as they could be about their chances to win. An agency led by one of their top athletic officials, Nicolai Koloff, had developed undetectable (at the time) anabolic steroids that were capable of bestowing almost superhuman strength and endurance. Koloff had also taken to training one of the country’s most promising young athletes, Ivan Drago, who in 1980 had won a largely uncontested Olympic gold in boxing. With Koloff’s help, Drago was trained – and enhanced – to peak condition.

Drago, of course, is best remembered as a villain: the man who killed popular former heavyweight champion Apollo Creed in the ring in his only fight on American soil, and subsequently lost to reigning heavyweight champion Rocky Balboa on Christmas Day 1985. After that fight, he fell from national hero to villain even among his own countrymen. After a post-game report was released identifying “super soldier” steroids in his system, he was disqualified from international competition and disappeared into anonymity, never to be seen again. (Unless you believe wild Internet rumors that he turned KGB and was involved in that disgraceful business in Namibia in 1988.)

But I think it is worth looking back at what Drago represented in the larger context. Although his country turned its back on him, they did not turn their back on what he stood for. His fight with Balboa is the stuff of legend. It ended the Italian Stallion’s career (save for a single, spectacular exhibition outing at age 59 in 2006), but not before he gave the fight of his life. At the end, the crowd was cheering “Rocky! Rocky!” as they embraced the fighter from Philadelphia the same way they had started to embrace the values set forth in Philadelphia two centuries prior. Even Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev was seen begrudgingly clapping after the American’s win and heartfelt plea at center ring that “We can all change!”

While the reactions of Gorbachev and the crowd were mostly censored from Soviet television, that only made them more legendary. Interestingly, though, they did not censor the reaction of Ivan Drago when the crowd turned against him. In the waning moments of the fight, Drago was seen pushing Koloff aside and shouting, “I win for me! For me!” The Soviet leadership, blind to the mood of their own people, allowed this quote to be aired repeatedly, hoping it would vilify Drago as someone detached from his own people, thereby deflecting blame for the loss onto his shoulders alone.

In retrospect, however, it was clear that this was the moment Drago stopped being a pawn of his evil government and started representing his actual countrymen rather than the people who claimed to speak for them. Yes, his cry of “I fight for me!” was the most democratic thing ever heard from behind the Iron Curtain. It reflected a growing sentiment among his people: that their will was not subservient to that of the government, and that their voices deserved to be heard.

Ivan Drago lost the biggest fight of his life, but in doing so he helped win the Cold War – for everyone.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Most anticipated splody movies of 2009: recap

That's right, I'm working my way backwards. After posting my 2011 and 2010 lists, here is how well I did at predicting the movies to see in 2009. (For reference, critic scores from Rotten Tomatoes are also included for each film.) As usual, my formula for success is equal parts good character development and explosions.

1. Avatar

Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer 83%). This movie is a must-see for the wonderful special effects, ad there was an interesting story to be told here, it just wasn't. Instead, we got a cliche-filled, rehashed plot.

2. Watchmen

Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer: 64%). Again, this was an absolutely gorgeous film visually, and there was a lot to like in it. While it didn't live up to the graphic novel it was based on, it did fairly well at interpreting the material for the silver screen, and I think it will go down as a cult classic.

3. Star Trek

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer: 95%). Director J.J. Abrams found a way to both honor the franchise history and reboot it. Most importantly, though, he made one heck of an exciting movie.

4. Where the Wild Things Are

Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer: 73%). The children's book of this name is a classic. The movie version takes the spirit of the book, but goes in a very different direction. But that's not why I disliked it. I thought the real-world opening scene was brilliant and really captured the essence of childhood angst. Despite some magnificent, otherworldly set designs, though, the fantasy part (the rest of the movie) was so laboriously paced that it completely ruined the experience. What should have been on my list: Moon (Tomatometer 89%). I've made no effort to conceal my man-crush on Sam Rockwell: he's really a terrific actor as he showed again in this highly original, highly claustrophobic thriller about a man alone in a space station on the Moon.

5. Sherlock Holmes

Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer: 70%). Speaking of man-crushes, Robert Downey, Jr. was fantastic as usual in this movie. It may not have been the most faithful adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's classic English detective, but the ever-so-slightly-steampunk story was an exciting spin on the character.

6. Terminator Salvation

Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer: 33%). I actually liked parts of this movie a lot, especially the frenetic opening scene. Overall, it was a mess though, with bad acting, bad editing and an unsatisfying plot that you just couldn't get invested inWhat should have been on my listZombieland (Tomatometer 90%). Now there's an entertaining dystopian future! This zombie apocalypse movie had action, laughs, an interesting story and quality acting.

7. X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer: 37%). OK, it wasn't great, but it wasn't nearly as bad as the previous film X-Men: The Last Stand. If you are just looking for mindless action, this movie has it in spades - after all, it's about a guy with knives coming out of his hands chopping up everything in sight.

8. Monsters vs. Aliens

Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer: 72%). I loved the set-up and the way this movie payed tribute to all of the great B-movie monsters of the past. Only half of the jokes were funny, though, and the action was a little tepid.

9. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer: 20%). One of the robots had balls - double-entendre intended. Two others were horribly offensive racial caricatures. Worst of all, though, this movie about giant, shape-shifting robots managed to be boring. I mean, seriously, how does that happen? What should have been on my list: District 9 (Tomatometer 91%). A damaged alien spaceship arrives at Earth, and its grotesque, insectoid inhabitants are quarantined in a ghetto in Johannesburg, South Africa. This movie was both a great examination of prejudice and an exciting science fiction story.

10. Inglourious Basterds

Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer: 88%). There were some compelling scenes, and the unexpected twists were great. Overall, though, it's a much more disjointed story than we normally get from Quentin Tarantino.

11. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer: 33%). The story wasn't very deep, but there were some good action sequences. It was enough to keep me entertained and interested in a sequel.

12. 9

Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer: 57%). The 2005 short film of the same name that this was based on was very cool, but the story just didn't work as a full-length feature. What should have been on my listUp (Tomatometer 98%). Wow, this one surprised me. It did not look very interesting to me at first, but it may be my favorite Pixar film to date. It made me cry, it made me laugh, and it was much splodier than I ever imagined, full of terrific action and wondrous adventure.

Final tally for my 2009 predictions: only two clear winners, compared to four losers and six movies that were just so-so. (42%)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Most anticipated splody movies of 2010: recap

Since I posted my 2011 splody movie recap, a couple of people have asked me about the lists from previous years that I mentioned. As luck would have it, I still have a few of them saved, and so without further ado, here is how I did at predicting which movies would be worth watching in 2010. (As a reminder, my formula for success is equal parts good character development and explosions.)

1. Iron Man 2
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 74%). It may not have matched the first installment overall, but it had some great action and - yes - Robert Downey, Jr.

2. Inception
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 86%). Christopher Nolan didn't disappoint, creating another mind-blowing suspense that threw all of the rules out the window.

3. Tron: Legacy
Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer 50%). The plot was overly complicated and plodding, but then so again was the first Tron. And while it may not have broken any new ground like its predecessor did, it was still a visually stunning movie.

4. Clash of the Titans
Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 28%). I'll take the original version's B-movie acting and Ray Harryhausen classic stop-motion monsters any day over the boring script and sub-par CGI of this mess. What should have been on my list: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Tomatometer 81%). This was both the stupidest and most awesomest movie I saw from the 2010 crop.As tired as Clash was, Pilgrim was fresh and innovative, and it featured a truly epic (and utterly ridiculous) quest.

5. Kick-Ass
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 76%). this was pitched as a "realistic" superhero movie, which is a bunch of crap - superhero movies are unrealistic by definition. But it definitely broke with some of the standard comic book movie conventions and showed just how bloody and messy being a superhero would be. What pushed it over the top was the father-daughter vigilante team of Big Daddy (played by Nic Cage as a psychotic version of Batman) and eleven-year-old Hit Girl.

6. Megamind
Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer 72%). Will Ferrell is either hit or miss. Here, he hits as smartypants supervillain Megamind. Unfortunately, the plot is a little slow in places, but overall it's a worthwhile view.

7. How to Train Your Dragon
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 98%). The middle of my 2010 movie lineup was full of movies aimed more at my then-seven-year-old boys than at me, but what can I say? It was a good year for animated adventure. This film was full of laughs, thrills and memorable characters.

8. Predators
Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer 64%). Nothing can beat the original Predator starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, but this did a better job than previous sequels of capturing some of that excitement.

9. Despicable Me
Result: FULL OF WIN (Tomatometer 81%). It was the animated film I was least sure about, but this story of a down-on-his-luck supervillain turned out to be my favorite of the bunch.

10. Salt
Result: MIDDLING (Tomatometer 62%). Salt was billed as the "female Jason Bourne movie." There was some good action, and I like Angelina Jolie, but the story itself didn't live up to the hype.

11. The Expendables
Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 40%). This film collected a ton of old action stars, but squandered its potential with a clunky story. What should have been on my list: RED (Tomatometer 71%). Short for "Retired, Extremely Dangerous," this sleeper had the action and laughs that The Expendables only hinted at.

12. The A-Team
Result: EPIC FAIL (Tomatometer 46%). I was a fan of the TV show, but I didn't have my hopes up too high for this film, which was as forgettable as most TV-to-movie adaptations. What should have been on my listMachete (Tomatometer 73%). Based on a fake trailer from the 2007 film Grindhouse, director Robert Rodriguez packed this movie with a lot of over-the-top action. Plus, it stars total badass Danny Trejo.

Final tally for my 2010 predictions: five winners, three losers and four that were just so-so. (58%)

Friday, January 20, 2012

And the winner is...

A - armpit, awkward (2)

B - baboon, badonkadonk, balls, blubbery, boobs, booger, booty, bra, buns, burp, butt (11)

C - constipated, cow pie, crotch, cup (4)

D - diaper (1)

E

F - fanny, fart (2)

G - gas, giblets, gorilla (3)

H - hot (1)

I

J

K

L

M - manure, monkey, moon, mudflaps (4)

N - nerd, nipple, nose hair, nostril, nude, nuts (6)

O

P - pee, poop (2)

Q

R - rear (1)

S - S.B.D., sexy, skid marks, snot, squat, squish (6)

T - turd (1)

U - underpants (1)

V

W - wiener (1)

X

Y

Z

So there you have it. By a landslide, nine-year-old boys have chosen B as the funniest letter.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ten little baby toes

Here's a song I made up for the newest addition to our family. Enjoy.


I’ve got ten little baby toes

And one little baby nose

Two baby elbows

And two baby earlobes

Two little baby eyes

And two little baby thighs

And two little baby lungs to help me cry

(Waah!)



I’ve got one little baby face

With two little chubby cheeks

And one little baby mouth

But no little baby teeth

I’ve got two little baby hands

With two little baby thumbs

And one little diaper to cover my baby bum

(Waah!)


I’ve got one little baby family

My butler, chef and nanny

They put me in pajamies

And clean and wipe my fanny

They play games like peek-a-boo

And they love whatever I do

And they always come running whenever I say boo-hoo

(Waah!)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The bowl is half empty - part 3

Congratulations to the Alabama Crimson Tide, winner of last night's so-called "National Championship Bowl" and holder of this year's mythical NCAA football crown. I say "mythical" because, while I believe they have a good claim to the title, for some reason we still don't have a true playoff system to definitively settle the matter. So, as I did last year and the year before, I'd like to imagine a world in which we had been treated to a month of playoff-level excitement. A world where we had gotten to see 16 of the season's top-ranked college football teams battle for the ultimate, indisputable title.

Here is what it might have looked like. I have bracketed and seeded the teams according to their final regular-season BCS rankings, with some consideration given to tradition (e.g., SEC champion in the Sugar Bowl bracket) and geography. I also used the rule of no more than one team per conference in any given bracket.

Rose Bowl Bracket

1st seed Oregon (11-2, Pac-12) vs. 4th seed Oklahoma (10-3, Big XII) -- winner: Oregon

2nd seed Arkansas (10-2, SEC) vs. 3rd seed Wisconsin (11-2, Big Ten) -- winner: Arkansas

Rose Bowl: Oregon over Arkansas. This one really could go either way, but I've got to give the edge to the Ducks and their brain-implodingly tacky uniforms.

Fiesta Bowl Bracket

1st seed Oklahoma State (11-1, Big XII) vs. 4th seed Clemson (10-3, ACC) -- winner: Oklahoma State

2nd seed Stanford (11-1, Pac-12) vs. 3rd seed South Carolina (10-2, SEC) -- winner: Stanford

Fiesta Bowl: Oklahoma State over Stanford. This is exactly what happened in this year's Fiesta Bowl.

Sugar Bowl Bracket

1st seed LSU (13-0, SEC) vs. 4th seed West Virginia (9-3, Big East) -- winner: LSU

2nd seed Boise State (12-1, Mountain West) vs. 3rd seed Baylor (10-3, Big XII) -- winner: Boise State

Sugar Bowl: LSU over Boise State. Boise State looked good yet again, but - last night's game notwithstanding - LSU has been dominant all season.

Orange Bowl Bracket

1st seed Alabama (11-1, SEC) vs. 4th seed Michigan (10-2, Big Ten) -- winner: Alabama

2nd seed Kansas State (10-2, Big XII) vs. 3rd seed Virginia Tech (11-2, ACC) -- winner: Kansas State

Orange Bowl: Alabama over Kansas State. The SEC owns the Big XII this year.

Final Four

Eastern Semifinal: Alabama over LSU

Western Semifinal: Oregon over Oklahoma State

National Championship Bowl: 'Bama looked pretty unstoppable last night. But who knows? If we had actually gotten to see this play out, I wouldn't have been surprised in the least to see Oklahoma State or Oregon win the big game. And West Virginia and Arkansas sure looked strong in their own bowl games and could have been Cinderellas at the ball if there had been a ball. Sadly, for this season at least, we'll never know.

------------

BONUS: The "N.I.T." of College Football

This year, 70 teams participated in 35 bowl games. Many of these were barely-worthy 6-6 teams, but there were a few good ones in there as well. Here is what a second-tier 16-team tournament might have looked like. I've included all of the conferences champions without a spot in the main tournament (C-USA, MAC, Moutain West, Sun Belt and WAC), as well as the next-best available teams according to the BCS rankings and AP poll.

EAST BRACKET

1st seed Houston (13-1, C-USA) vs. 4th seed Arkansas State (10-2, Sun Belt) -- winner: Houston

2nd seed Penn State (9-4, Big XII) vs. 3rd seed Auburn (8-5 SEC) -- winner: Auburn

Chick-fil-A Bowl: Auburn over Houston

SOUTHEAST BRACKET

1st seed Georgia (10-4, SEC) vs. 4th seed Louisiana Tech (8-5, WAC) -- winner: Georgia

2nd seed Southern Miss (12-2, C-USA) vs. 3rd seed Florida State (9-4, ACC) -- winner: Florida State

Gator Bowl: Georgia over Florida State

MIDWEST BRACKET

1st seed Michigan State (11-3, Big Ten) vs. 4th seed Ohio (10-4, MAC) -- winner: Michigan State

2nd seed Texas (8-5, Big XII) vs. 3rd seed Notre Dame (8-5, Independent) -- winner: Texas

Alamo Bowl: Michigan State over Texas

WEST BRACKET

1st seed TCU (11-2, Moutain West) vs. 4th seed BYU (10-3, Independent) -- winner: TCU

2nd seed Nebraska (9-4, Big Ten) vs. 3rd seed Cincinnati (10-3, Big East) -- winner: Cincinnati

Insight Bowl: Cincinnati over TCU

FINAL FOUR

Outback Bowl: Georgia over Auburn

Cotton Bowl: Michigan State over Cincinnati

Capital One National Invitational Championship Bowl: Michigan State over Georgia

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Happy Planet Day!

As regular readers know, I'm a bit of a fan (completely obsessed) when it comes to planets. A while back, I was thinking about Earth Day, which we celebrate across the globe every April 22, and it ocurred to me that if we are going to colonize the rest of the Solar System one day, then the other planets are going to need their own special days as well. So I decided to figure out when those should be.

I decided right away that each month should have only one such day. After all, we only have eight planets, so there's no need to bunch them up. And with four months left over, I figured we could also find room on the calendar for days to celebrate asteroids and plutoids as well.

There were a few marklers that helped give shape to where the celebrations fell. Earth Day, of course, is in April. It seemed only right that Mars Day should be in the month named after it: March. Finally, I figured December was a fitting month for Saturn, in honor of the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia. By keeping the rest of the planets in their relative order, everything else fell into place.

Here is what I came up with:

Jupiter Day: January 8

As first among the planets in terms of size and mass, Jupiter's celebration is in the first month of the year. We celebnrate the "King of Planets" and its satellites annually on January 8 in honor of Galileo Galilei's discovery of Jupiter's four largest moons (the first moons discovered beyond Earth's) January 7-8, 1610. (The planet itself is visible to the naked eye and had been known since antiquity.)

Asteroid Day: February 19

This is the day to celebrate Ceres, Pallas, Vesta, Hygiea, Interamnia and the millions of other asteroids in the Solar System. Asteroids are smaller than planets, so we celebrate them in the shortest month, and the 19th was chosen to commemorate the discovery of the first asteroid (Ceres) on the first day of the 19th Century (January 1, 1801).

Mars Day: the fourth Tuesday in March

Celebrate the "Red Planet" on the day of the week (Latin: "dies Martis") and month of the year (Latin: "Martius") that share the name of this fourth planet from the Sun. (Note that because they use different calendars, the fourth Tuesday of March will not always fall on the same date on Earth as it does on Mars. Until the first Mars colony is up and running, though, we'll use the Earth calendar.)

Earth Day: April 22

Every April 22, we celebrate the "Blue Planet" and spread awareness and appreciation for the Earth's natural environment. Earth Day has been celebrated since 1970, when it was founded by U.S. Senator and environmentalist Gaylord Nelson. In 2009, the United Nations designated April 22 International Mother Earth Day.

Venus Day: May 22

In many ways, Venus is Earth's twin: the planet nearest our own in terms of size, mass, surface gravity and diastance from the Sun. So it seems only fitting to celebrate the "Cloud Planet" exactly one month later than Earth Day.

Mercury Day: June 23

Mercury revolves around the Sun exactly two times for every three times it rotates on its axis, and this 2:3 orbit-spin resonance makes the 23rd a fitting day to celebrate the "Swift Planet." June 23 is also close to the summer solstice in Earth's northern hemisphere, a fitting time to celebrate the closest planet to the Sun.

Day of the Sun: July 21

On what is statistically the hottest day of the year in many parts of Earth's northern hemisphere, celebrate the star that provides that heat and makes life possible in the Solar System.

Comet Day: August 12

This is the peak of the annual Perseids Meteor Shower on Earth, which is caused by debris left by the Swift-Tuttle Comet. (August 12, 1972 was the most active meteor shower in recorded history.) Because of heir extermely elongated orbits, comets travel both very close to the Sun and to the outer reaches of the Solar System, making this day a perfect bridge between July's Day of the Sun and September's Plutoid Day.

Plutoid Day: September 13

Celebrate Pluto, Eris, Makemake, Haumea and all of the dwarf planets and smaller objects beyond Neptune. Pluto was the first such object discovered (in 1930), and its longtime status as the "Ninth Planet" makes the ninth month of the year a good time to celebrate it and its kin. The discovery of Eris, another plutoid as large as Pluto, caused the astronomical community to rethink how we classify such objects. September 13, 2006 was the day Eris was officially named, ushering in the era of the plutoid.

Neptune Day: October 10

Neptune, the "Tempest Planet," was discovered in September 1846, and just 17 days later, on October 10, its first moon was spotted. But Triton wasn't like other moons: it was retrograde, orbiting in the opposite direction one would expect. This double disciovery opened a greater window into the history of our Solar System.

Uranus Day: November 15

All but two of the major planets of the Solar System are visible to the naked eye. Sir William Herschel was the first to discover a new planet, Uranus, in 1781. He then discovered its first two moons six years later. For this reason, we celebrate the "Bull's Eye Planet" and its satellites on Herschel's birthday, November 15.

Saturn Day: December 17

In ancient Rome, the biggest festival of the year was Saturnalia, a feast on December 17 in honor of the god Saturn. Many aspects of Saturnalia continue today, absorbed into Christmas holiday tradition. Today, we take the opportunity on December 17 to celebrate the "Ringed Planet" and its extensive and unique system of rings and satellites.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Most anticipated splody movies of 2012

At the beginning of each year, I check to see what movies are coming out and try to informally rank which ones I think will be worth seeing. My formula for success is equal parts good character development and explosions. Here is what I think about the movies scheduled for 2012:

1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
When: December 14. Why I'm looking forward to it: Because it's a continuation of the amazing Lord of the Rings movie series. And because it's not a prequel just to cash in on the success of LotR - The Hobbit was actually the first book written in the series.

2. The Avengers
When: May 4. Why I'm looking forward to it: Because Marvel Studios has made four separate, worthwhile franchises and is now combining them in a collision of epic proportions. And if anybody can pull it off, it's writer/director Joss Whedon, who proved he can handle ensembles with the long-running Buffy the Vampire Slayer series and cult-favorite Firefly.

3. The Dark Knight Rises
When: July 20. Why I'm looking forward to it: Because director Christopher Nolan's Batman series has been unbelievably good. This final chapter only needs to be half as good as the last one in order to be a classic.

4. Prometheus
When: June 8. Why I'm looking forward to it: Because it's set in the same universe as the Alien movies (but don't call it a prequel!) and marks the return of director Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner) to science fiction.

5. John Carter
When: March 9. Why I'm looking forward to it: Because it's based on a series of pulp novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs (who also created Tarzan), which have influenced just about every sci-fi, action and fantasy movie ever made. Also, it's the first live-action movie from Pixar's great Andrew Stanton (WALL-E, Finding Nemo). Oh, and it's about Martians.

6. The Amazing Spider-Man
When: July 3. Why I'm looking forward to it: Because Spider-Man was my favorite superhero growing up. I thought the previous Spider-Man trilogy was OK, but not Earth-shattering. We're being promised a more faithful adaptation of Spidey's story here. I have some doubts, but I'm hopeful.

7. Men in Black III
When: May 25. Why I'm looking forward to it: Because I love me some Will Smith. The first MiB movie rocked, the second sucked. This one looks interesting from what little I've seen. Hopefully the Indiana Jones rule will be in effect here (odd numbered movies are classics and even numbered ones bite).

8. The Bourne Legacy
When: August 3. Why I'm looking forward to it: Because three previous Bourne movies were exciting - competing with the Sean Connery run of James Bond films as the best spy movie series ever. This one, however, doesn't even feature Jason Bourne. Can it keep up the momentum?

9. G.I. Joe: Retaliation
When: June 29. Why I'm looking forward to it: Because I liked the first one. It was dumb, but fun, and I've never been a big fan, so the liberties it took with the source material didn't bother me. With the addition of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Bruce Willis, this one honestly looks even better.

10. Skyfall
When: November 9. Why I'm looking forward to it: Because James Bond rocks when done right. Daniel Craig's first James Bond film was great. His second was boring. He admitted as much and said this one will more than make up for it. Let's hope he's right.

11. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
When: February 17. Why I'm looking forward to it: Because the first GR movie sucked so bad. Honestly, this should be one of the coolest characters to ever hit the screen: a flaming, motor-cycle riding demon-skeleton. I have my doubts, but the early pictures and clips look promising. It won't be a classic, but it could be entertaining.

12. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
When: June 22. Why I'm looking forward to it: Because it has a cool title. It's a long shot, but it could be campy fun.