Marvel's "The Avengers," the biggest comic book film of all time, will debut in theaters next month -- May 4 to be exact.
This is the real thing, I'm sure of it. Why else would they keep putting out all of those commercials?
If you think I'm just being silly, you might have suppressed some of your early Marvel movie memories.
You might not recall that Captain America's Hollywood history includes a direct-to-video 1990 flop starring the son of author J.D. Salinger.
Or did you know that before Samuel L. Jackson was the coolest Nick Fury that ever lived, the character debuted on screen in the form of David Hasselhoff?
Even fans of Bill Bixby's "The Incredible Hulk" have likely forgotten the three television movie revivals and Ang Lee's 2003 downer.
Not all superheroes become box office darlings their first time out. Some fizzle and fall into obscurity or get buried by their own creators.
To find out just how far the Marvel Universe has come on the big screen, you have to go to Arnie Carvalho, the creator of Now Playing Podcast.
For the last year, Carvalho and his co-hosts have witnessed the highs and lows of superhero-dom. They learned quickly that for every "X-Men" there's a "Howard the Duck," and for every Punisher film there's a reboot (and another) that will be every bit as awful.
This week the hosts should see the light at the end of the tunnel, when Now Playing finally enters the Marvel Cinematic Universe -- the "official" film series that began with 2008 "Iron Man."
It's been a long time coming.
Carvalho launched Now Playing in 2007, fresh off the success of Star Wars Action News, a collecting podcast he created with his wife, Marjorie, and their company, Venganza Media.
The idea was conceived upon watching his wife's reaction at a screening of "Ghost Rider," another in a long line of Marvel misfires.
"Walking out, Marjorie started ripping the movie apart and cracking me up," Carvalho tells me in a phone interview from his home base in central Illinois.
"I knew that the audience of Star Wars Action News really enjoyed Marjorie's sense of humor. That was the inception, to give Marjorie a showcase to rip apart movies."
The challenge, however, was creating a show that would stand out among the chorus of professional and armchair Internet critics.
Two years into Now Playing's run Carvalho retooled the format, introducing a retrospective element that would revisit classic (and sometimes forgotten) entries in a film series, giving the audience a wider perspective before the opening of the next sequel, prequel or remake.
The show also switched to a three-host panel, with one person designated the "fan," one "noob" and one who rests somewhere in-between.
Now Playing's first retrospective series took listeners on a 13-episode trip through the "Friday the 13th" franchise, and, "Instantly our downloads went from the tens to the thousands," Carvalho says.
Knowing they'd finally tapped the right vein, the hosts moved forward with an 11-film "Star Trek" retrospective. Since 2009, Now Playing has covered everything from the Nightmare on Elm Street series to The Karate Kid and even Stallone's Rocky and Rambo franchises.
Each episode is a conversation disguised as a film critique. The hosts -- who are all friends -- discuss the merits of each film scene-by-scene in a spoiler-filled discussion that can last several hours, although most episodes are trimmed to 90 minutes or less.
Audience reaction to the retrospective format kept the momentum going, and Now Playing currently ranks among the most popular TV and film podcasts in the iTunes Store.
With the show having found its groove, Carvalho decided early last year to tackle his biggest challenge yet: The Marvel Comics Movie Retrospective Series.
"Our calendar is like a chessboard, and every time Hollywood shifts a movie release date it can have a ripple effect that changes our schedule by months," he says.
Some films were easy to lock down, such as last summer's "X-Men First Class." But covering the complete Marvel movie history would require more than a few DVD rentals and week-of-release screenings.
It meant digging up out-of-print or unreleased films, and unearthing characters whose sole appearances consist of guest spots in failed TV pilots.
The bulk of the work would fall on Carvalho, who was assigned the role of the "fan" for most of the series.
"The fan gets tasked with the research," he says. "That involves listening to the film commentaries, Google research; sometimes it involves eBaying official movie magazines from 20 years ago."
"The other two get the fairly easy job of not needing to do so much research."
However, convincing his co-hosts, particularly longtime friend (and non-fanboy) Stuart, wasn't so easy.
"It was a pretty hard sell and it had to be brought up and let go, and then brought up and let go," he says. "It slowly became a wearing down of Stuart's defenses."
"Finally, I think at one point he broke. He said, 'I guess we're in so far I'm not going to bother negotiating back and forth over these next 10 movies, let's just do them all.'"
That meant subjecting Stuart and third co-host Jakob to such stinkers as Roger Corman's "The Fantastic Four," two Captain America TV movies and the aforementioned Hasselhoff debacle.
As if that weren't enough, Carvalho is watching and reviewing all 82 episodes of "The Incredible Hulk." He's posting his thoughts online as an added bonus for fans.
"I'm in the middle of season two and already I'm going 'What have I signed on for?'" he says.
"I'm gonna stick it out. You don't do Now Playing if you're not tenacious. If you're the kind of person who quits halfway through we would have never have gotten as far as we did."
Finding the free time for an interview wasn't easy for Carvalho, who is up late most nights putting together the next week's podcast.
Recording sessions can take up to six hours, he says, leaving little time to sleep while assembling the final cut.
"I would say you're looking at -- for every 10 minutes of finished podcast -- between 60 and 90 minutes of editing."
The March 27 review of Ang Lee's "Hulk" clocked in at slightly more than two hours. Do the math and one can't argue that's an awful lot to ask from a non-profit enterprise.
"There have been increased bandwidth costs and other expenses that looked like the show could end," Carvalho says, "Because we couldn't afford to do this hobby and have it cost what it cost."
To keep the show going, Now Playing holds a biannual donation drive, delivering a bonus retrospective series to contributors.
Carvalho was initially hesitant about the concept, until he saw the reaction to the show's donation series -- the "Child's Play" films starring Chucky the killer doll.
"We were really just floored and so appreciative of the turnout we had for that one," he says.
This spring's donation drive will focus on the Alien film series and its upcoming prequel, "Prometheus."
"For $10, people get five bonus podcasts," Carvalho says. "It's a thank you gift to those that support us."
After "Prometheus," it's back to superheroes as the summer rolls on new entries in Christopher Nolan's Batman series and a Spider-Man reboot.
The rest of the schedule hasn't been determined, but with the next James Bond film currently filming, I ask Carvalho about the rumors of a 23-film retrospective covering "Dr. No" to November's "Skyfall."
"Well it is James Bond's 50th anniversary, and while it may be shorter than Marvel," he says, "It's the franchise version of our Everest."
"So, do we do that?" He pauses, "Maybe."
Copyright 2012 KVVU (KVVU Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.
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