A Pleasant Surprise – The US Planned Invasion of Canada

 

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My wife and I went to Barnes and Noble two weeks ago.  I don’t spend a lot of time in bookstores…usually because I am writing books, not looking for them.  I hadn’t been to a B&N in a long time, at least two years. I had to admit I found myself wondering just how long the place would stay open – there were more employees than customers.

I wandered through the genres I write about, just seeing what was on the shelves, when I finally drifted to the magazine rack.  There I spotted “What If… Book of Alternate History.”  I love this genre so I scarfed a copy.  In line with my wife, I opened it and saw there was a section on What if the US had invaded Canada?  Wow.  I wrote about that (twice) in my book NeverWars (Fonthill Media).  War Plan Red covered this much better in the 1930’s, but the earlier plan, for the 1904-1916 version was a fun read.  So I wondered if the author had used any of the same sources as me.

I flipped to that page and was surprised.  I was the author.

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I remember writing it for a British history magazine years earlier and it never dawned on me that they would reprint it.  What a weird surprise.

I do recommend the magazine – there are some wonderful articles in it as well as a list of the best alternate history novels.

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Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 5 – One To Go

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Elephants simply would have burned brighter…

I call this episode, “Well, that went to shit pretty fast.” Danyrs got up without her makeup and a bit of an attitude.  You had Varys running out to meet Jon Snow on the beach:  “Hi, welcome to Dragonstone.  Have you considered betraying the woman you love for the job you don’t want?  I know I look like a creepy pedophile, but give me a chance…”  There were some brilliant moments in this episode, surrounded by countless WTFs?  Here’s my summary:

  • “If you have a secret way into the Red Keep, why don’t you use it to send in a group to secure Cersei and end this without any significant bloodshed whatsoever?”  Tyrion had a map of all of the ways into Kings Landing, why not use those to get the Unsullied in to take out the scorpions?  The show’s writers needed to play this out as if it were a Dungeons and Dragons session and it would have been a lot more entertaining.
  • Jamie is the dumbest Lannister.  I enjoyed this reversal scene from when Tyrion was in chains.
  • “So the scorpions which were so accurate and deadly become worthless?” Yeah, no one even winged the dragon (pun intended).
  • “Watch for the Hun in the sun!”  This is a WWI aviation reference when the Germans would dive with the sun behind them to strike a blinded enemy.  This was the first and only time in this episode where we saw actual battle tactics, diving in on the Iron Fleet.

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  • My “Holy Shitballs!” moment was when the Golden Company deployed, looked formidable and ready for combat, then the gate exploded behind them and they were all fried in a matter of 22 seconds.  Well, I’m glad they didn’t bring the elephants because the PETA people would be outraged.  It was pretty awesome but hit on one flaw I felt with the entire episode. There was no credible threat.  This was the BIG battle we have been waiting for, and it was a lopsided affair, with Dany flying a weapon of mass destruction that was impossible to stop.  Even against the dead, there was a threat of a loss of a dragon.  No one even fired an arrow or spear in her direction.  I’m sure this was deliberate by the show runners, but it took away from the eventual victories.
  • A total waste of Ser Davos in this episode. Not even a quippy one-liner.
  • The Dothraki riding through the streets of King’s Landing – we have waited long to see it.  Unfortunately with the Dragon Queen’s slaughter, they didn’t matter.  Likewise, the attack by Grey Worm on the surrendering troops was made non sequitur by Daenerys laying waste to the civilian population.  Dany just plain ruined the battle for the rest of us.
  • The explosions of the wildfire caches – Dany has become the mad queen. Incredibly good tie back to the mad king.  Even he didn’t go that far.  He’d be so proud of his little girl…  “Look pumpkin, some fleeing civilians.  Burn them all!”
  • The big map was a nice touch.  The images of debris falling on the map of Westros was brilliant symbolism.
  • Euron just happens to show up where Jamie is, and decides to kill him.  Mortally wounding Jamie didn’t add anything to the story at all.  Euron deserved a much more painful death than what he got.  They blew a chance for Jamie to say, “She’s pregnant with my child!”  So many squandered opportunities.
  • “When you kill the big bad guy/gal, you need to do it right.”  After all we have been through, Cersei’s death was boring.  Crying and in Jamie’s arms?  She got what she wanted, to die with him.  After all of the build-up over the years, we got her weeping in a collapsing tomb?  Boo…hiss!  She needed to be bit in half by a dragon – or at least get in that last verbal taunt with Dany before being roasted alive.
  • “Thank you Sandor.”  I don’t get Arya changing her mind about revenge at the last minute, but the line was perfect.  So you live your whole live for vengence but at the last minute, you flip?

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  • CleganeBowl!  The zombie-Mountain vs the Hound!  Here the episode delivers.  I actually cheered, “Dilly Dilly!” when it started.  This was one part of the episode that was exactly what we all expected.  Consider this though.  If you delete this scene from the episode, there is little really enjoyable that is left.
  • White horse arrives unscathed and calm…really? Yes, I get it, “Death rides a pale horse.”  At this point we all expect Arya to go after Daenerys …but the horse showing up was just poor writing.
  • Everyone whines about Dany being alone, but so is Tyrion at this point.

So where does this leave us? It is clear that Jon and Daenerys are going to have to face off.  He told the secret, and that cost Varys his life – and Jon is a serious threat.  I want her to have the dragon breath on Jon and nothing happen to him because his is a Targaryn, but the writers haven’t showed a lot of creativity this season.  We still have a number of characters at Winterfell, and I think we need to see everywhere together one more time.  Maybe Jon will march home and Dany will go after him because he’s a threat.  I’m split between Tyrion being killed by Daenerys or being the last one alive to take the throne.  “You either win or die,”   and Tyrion didn’t live.  Emotionally, I think we all want Jon to get it at this point.  I just don’t see a way for Dany to recover at this point as a character with the whole “fire and blood” thing.

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Basically its like naming your kid Hannibal at this stage

One thing is for sure – it is Game of Thrones – so it is not going to end the way we thought it should.

Recap of Episode 4, Season 8 of Game of Thrones

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This episode was awkward for me.  Some of the moments felt a little forced.  I get it, the producers want to create both love and tension between Dany and Jon. Jon has always been a character thrust into a role he didn’t want. Bastard, Steward, Lord Commander, Being Dead, Being Alive Again, King of the North, Warden of the North…on and on.  Now they want to add, “Heir to the Iron Throne.”  Jon has said “Not me.”  A lot of rulers have done that in history and stuck to their word.  Jon tends to do what he says.  Still, it’s a weird position they have moved his character into so late in the proverbial game.  Let’s face it, nothing good comes out of wanting to sit in that damned chair…ask the Baratheon brothers.

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They are also forcing Dany into a dark place.  She lost a dragon this week to Euron Greyjoy.  I guess no one thought to have Bran warg into some crows and do some scouting around Dragonstone or Kings Landing.  Again, if you have Bran, use Bran.  We all knew Missandei was toast when she appeared on a platform with the Mountain behind her.  Nothing good was going to follow that.  Honestly, I was expecting a shove, not the blade.  Will Dany turn to the dark side and get all Targaryen on their ass?  We shall see.

Let’s not forget that Tyrion and Varys have maps and know secret ways into Kings Landing (per the Battle of the Blackwater).  Also, the opening credits are critical.  They show Winterfell and the crypts and the dungeon under the Iron Throne with passages that lead to the Red Keep.  Tyrion used those to kill his father.  Arya has been down there too, chasing a cat in season one.  I think they are very deliberate in giving us that image in the opening. Those passages play some sort of role in the things to come.

I hate Sansa…have I mentioned that this week?  Thanks for selling out Jon.  That took what, an hour? For someone that claims she hates Cersei, she’s starting to act a lot like her.

Parts of this felt horribly forced.  The Jamie/Brienne scene of undressing needs to be done with 1970’s porno music in the background.  Gendry proposing to Arya was, weird to me.  There was no build up to that moment – and we deserved that.

Things I loved last week – Bronn showing up was one. He stayed true to character, which I loved and predicted.  Bronn’s comments about how mighty houses rise to power was wonderful.

I love Arya and The Hound on the road again to Kings Landing.  He’s going to be pissed if she kills The Mountain before he does.  I loved the buddy-pairings of this series quite a bit, and these two are a classic.  We have seen her kill, now we need to see her become the faceless killer again this season.  Picture her wearing Jamie’s face to get to Cersei.  I know, it just feels right doesn’t it?

While my crystal ball is totally messed up at this stage, I will say one thing.  Someone needs to kill Euron Greyjoy, and I hope Yara plays a role in that.  I hate that guy.  A friend said, “He’s like the Joker – he just does things on impulse,” but I liked that in the Joker.  He is arrogance personified and needs to just die.  I would prefer him being toasted…but I will settle for anything painful at this stage.

We have some characters at Kings Landing (or on the way) and some in Winterfell.  I sort of feel like to wrap things up, we need everyone in the same place.  Will the attack on Kings Landing fail and force a retreat to Winterfell?  Will something compel Sansa, Pod, Brienne and the gang to get in the Mystery Mobile and drive down to Kings Landing?

The bigger question – is this the week we wrap up the Lannister storyline once and for all?  Or will whatever shit is about to go down leave us hanging until the final episode?  Will we see Dany and Jon go at each other?  I feel they are forcing this on us, but it feels kind of rushed and not true to character.  Sansa…grr…bad girl.

What is the deal with Varys?  Not cool dude.

Var

Review of Netflix’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

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Netflix plays a little footlose and fancy-free with the Ted Bundy case

I will preface this by saying I don’t like serial murder docudramas that glorify the killers in any way.  Our fascination with serial killers exists though which invites films such as Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.  We are drawn in by serial killers.  It is one of the things I like about writing about cold cases, you can’t sensationalize the killers because you don’t know who they are.

I did not want to watch a hack-and-slash take on the Ted Bundy case.  I also was not expecting anything really new or revealing.  Bundy has not been news for years – though some new facts do emerge from time-to-time.

This is not that kind of docudrama.  Instead it focuses on how Ted lied and deceived his girlfriend and how he manipulated those around him.  That was a sigh of relief.

I am from the generation where Mark Harmon played Bundy years ago.  I will say that Zac Efron did a reasonably good job at portraying this waste of a human being.  Comparing him to Mark Harmon is fair, but not necessary.  Efron looks like him.  At the end of the film, you see some of the real-life scenes that were recreated in the film and you realize that Efron was pretty close to the mark.

I was surprised at a few things I didn’t know about the case that were presented – so it was good.  I think the producers took the safest angle they could, leveraging the book by Bundy’s former girlfriend.  There are some things the docudrama omitted, most likely for dramatic effect.  If my memory serves, she found plaster of Paris and he stole the crowbar from her.  Bundy used fake casts to lure in his victims – which was much more than what her film-version revealed. Other things were added for dramatic effect.  That’s what happens when Hollywood gets ahold of source material.  I understand it, but no one should watch Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile and think of it as a documentary.  It is, at best, in the ballpark with the facts.

I’m not disappointed, but I wasn’t overwhelmed either.  It is worth watching, but I am going to tune in a documentary to get some real facts and refresh my memories of these cases.  Overall, it is 3.5 stars (ish) out of 5.

 

 

Office Humor – Corporate Training Classes That Should Exist

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I was recently looking for a learning course at work and was overwhelmed by all of the options.  As I scrolled through the titles, I realized that no one was writing courses designed for the real world.  Learning content seemed to me to be written for a perfect organization rather than the highly chaotic and disruptive places where many people work (not me of course, my company is perfect…wink wink.)

So I took at stab at putting together some titles that I think could and should be created for those of us slaving under the oppression of the Corporate Overlords.  Enjoy!

How to Not Be a Douchebag.  Includes techniques for not betraying the confidence of those working for you.  Purging your inherent douchebaggery is possible in three easy lessons.

Advanced Asskissing and Bootlicking.  Sure, everyone knows the basics.  This class will help you kick things up to the next level in terms of burying your nose in the ass-crack of upper leadership.

The Art of Stealing Credit For Others Work.  Work happens all around you.  How can you take advantage of that?  This class helps you tactfully imply that the successes others are doing are because of your divine influence.

Using Voodoo On Your Coworkers. There’s more to it than sticking pins in dolls, it is a lifestyle  choice.

Intermediate Stealing of Office Supplies. Anyone can take a stapler or a stack of sticky notes.  It takes real skill to dismantle an office chair and smuggle it out without anyone noticing.  Welcome to the world of Intermediate theft!

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Waffling for Mid-Level Managers.  Flip-flopping on decisions and direction is less of a managerial style and more of an artform.  This class will give you hands-on experience in not committing.

Teams – Crushing Them Isn’t Always The Answer.  Sure, stomping on the soul of your team seems like a source of entertainment – but it isn’t necessary.

Time Mismanagement.  Anyone can triple book their calendar, this class takes this to the next level.  Learn how to completely ignore the space time continuum in your managerial direction and decisions.

Meetings – You Too Can Start On Time! Starting a meeting on-time is respectful of those who show up and demonstrates good organizational skills.  In six easy lessons, you will learn how to read a clock, connect to a meeting (or just show up), start the meeting, read an agenda, and even end on time!

Reorganizations – You Can’t Be Reorganized if You Were Never Organized In the First Place.  When you reorganize, you are telling the team that the problems they faced were because of how they were restructured.  When you reorganize 5-12 times, you are telling them that the problem is you

Resisting the Urge to Micromanage…You Aren’t as Good as You Think You Are.  I get it, you have an urge to tell people how to do their jobs…but in reality, you should be telling them what you want them to do, not how to do it.

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Success! It DOES exist and you can measure it.   It may be hard to believe, but you CAN actually do things right.  I know, it surprised me too.  This course will help you know success when you see it, and track it.

Microsoft Outlook – How to Use the Scheduling Assistance Function.  As shocking as it seems, it is possible to schedule meetings that don’t conflict with others.  You will amaze other managers with this skill!

How to Not Use Reply All – Not Everyone Gives a Shit What You Think.  As shocking as it seems, using Reply All is not mandatory nor is anyone fooled into thinking that you are actually contributing when you click on it.

Using Your Town Hall Meeting To Hypnotize Your Teams.  You’re already droning on and on, this allows you to leverage this to get them to do more work, cluck like a chicken, whatever…

Doing What Your Commit To.  Saying it and doing it are, brace yourself, two different things.  This course exposes leaders to a new trend in business, actually delivering.  Learn how to avoid pointless and mind-numbing delays.

Creatively Abusing The Company’s Sick Time Policy.  Here’s 80 hours of time you should be taking full advantage of.  Learn that with Millennials in the workplace, you can claim “Mental Health Days” as sick time, and other tricks to buy yourself two weeks of rest.

Making Someone Else Accountable For Your Deliverables.  Why should you bear the burden of all that work?  This course will help you dump your workload onto others while still being able to claim credit for it.

How to Not Schedule Meetings During Employee Vacations of Outside of Normal Working Hours.  You do know we don’t work at 8pm at night, right?  This leadership-level course is designed to help managers understand what a typical working day is and how to tell if one of your invitees is on paid holiday!

Legally Threatening Your Staff.  Sometimes they just need a boot to the ass, don’t ya think? If you do that, you find yourself with HR.  There are a myriad of ways to threaten your staff that are legal though…let us teach you.

Believe it or Not It is Legal to  Present Without PowerPoint. You too can do a presentation without reading what you put on a slide.  This “innovative” approach to presentations focuses on the story you want to tell and the facts, rather than your insipid attempts at graphics.

Creating the Illusion of Busyness.  You don’t always have to be busy to look busy.  These simple techniques will make you look overloaded with minimal effort.

Shutting Off Your Phone – It’s Not Just For Vacations Anymore.  We get it, you want to create the illusion you are busy by coming to the meeting and being on your phone sending texts.  No one is buying it.  This class will show you where the off-switch is and how to use it.

Proving You Are Smarter Than Your Colleague.  It’s not enough to be smart, sometimes you need to rub their noses in it and prove it.  This class includes the effective, “Surround yourself with idiots,” or SYWI technique to ensure you can be the smartest one on the call or in the room.  These time-tested approaches will guarantee that no one will call you a dumb-ass – you’ll always be a smart one!

If you like these, check out my book, Business Rules, A Cynic’s Guidebook to the Corporate Overlords.

The Long Night – The Battle of Winterfell

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We are about to ride through spoiler territory.  You have been warned…for the night is dark and full of terrors (and geeks).

This was an episode that closed off several character and story arcs and did so brilliantly.  I have heard complaints that the setting was too dark, sometimes confusing, and I agree.  I also believe that was deliberate.  This is the Night King’s last stand.  You do see “night” in his name, right?  Battles are meant to be chaotic and confusing, and I think the directors and producers wanted to capture that effect with the viewers.  This was not like the Battle of the Bastards where you could put in perspective the entire battle in one or two wide-shot scenes.  This was much grander in scope and scale.   They wanted to put you in the middle of the fighting, and did so in a way we simply do not see often.

I had some issues with it – that is the geek (and military historian) in my blood.  Why were your siege engines poised outside the castle walls, for example?  Then when you see how cramped the interior walls were, it make sense.  I presume the placement of so many troops outside the castle was to buy time for the Night King to make his move on Bran. That was my eventual take anyway.  If I figured out that the crypts were a death trap, why didn’t Jon or Tyrion?  Then again, that’s me being senselessly picky.

What unfolded was epic.  The Dothraki riding into the night, (The Death Ride of the Dothraki) their swords ablaze, then flickering out – that was a stunning visual that made you quiver in fear.  A smart move?  Well, in a siege you usually position them outside the walls to hit the oppositions rear.  This wasn’t miltiary tactics though, this was a fantasy battle.  It was meant to give us a sense of doom…and it worked.

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The use of fire as the only source of light was realistic, creepy, and scary.  We were bathed in the chaos of the fight.  I love the fact that the two dragons collided in the blizzard – it was what would happen in the “real world” in such a conflict.  I appreciate it. I run into BattleMechs all of the time in MechWarrior Online, but in the boardgame I would only do it on purpose.  It is what happens in combat.  The fog of war was deliberate, to put you, the viewer, on the field of battle with the characters – facing the same confusion they were coping with.

The military historian part of me cringes that they didn’t drop barrels of flaming oil over the walls of Winterfell.  We did it at the Battle of Castle Black with the Wildlings.  It would have made sense, but this was not your typical battle.  This was The Walking Dead on steriods.  The surge of bodies made even swinging a sword difficult.  I would have held the dragons off until later – that was the plan, but Dany got all Leroy Jenkins and rushed in.  A human reaction to a horrific loss of her beloved Dothraki. Jon did it at the Battle of the Bastards after all.

Big battles are hard to write about as a novelist, even harder to put on the screen.  This had well-executed phases.  We saw characters die.  Some died true hero-deaths – like Lyanna and Jorah Mormont.  Lyanna taking out the zombie giant was a true David and Goliath moment, though I had hoped she would live.  Jorah died as he should, protecting the woman he loved.  These were epic, the things of song.

Some have argued that the Night King’s death was anti-climatic. It may seem that way if you only watch this episode.  In reality, his fate was set up last season.  Remember how Bran gave Arya the Valyrian Steel dagger last season…the very dagger that Little Finger used to start the war between the Starks and Lannisters?  Also, the move she did, dropping the blade to her other hand while  the Night King held her – that was the same move she used with Brienne when they sparred last season.  Finally, the Red Witch told her she saw blue eyes in her gaze.  It was perfect foreshadowing because it was all laid out before us.  Jon went after the Night King with a dragon, Dany had her dragon attempt to roast him.  Bran can’t fight him – so the end may not have been a slugfest like a superhero movie, but this wasn’t one of those.  This was masterful storytelling that laid out the results over hours of viewing.

The mix of almost horror-like terror with Walking Dead overtones broke up the battle, giving us deeply moving and nail-biting scenes.  I love the library scene the best.

This episode used imagery and music rather than words.  There was actually very little dialogue in the show.  In fact, I think the last words spoken were Bran telling Theon that he was a good man.  Arya’s entire library scene was in utter silence.  Sansa and Tyrion shared a great deal without saying a word. Silence in the episode made it more meaningful.  It let the actors do what they do best – act.

You cannot apply the real world military doctrine or even D&D rules to an episode like this.  If you did, Arya seriously took out a million or so soldiers, wights, a lich and an undead dragon.  Talk about experience points and leveling up!

So what do we have left?  This next week is battle damage assessment – regrouping and planning.  Cersei will think she has pulled off a victory.  Then comes the next conflict for King’s Landing – where we will see Tyrion’s brilliance shine.  He has had two seasons of setbacks, but like Jorah said, “He owns his mistakes.  He learns from them.”  The time has come for him to demonstrate it.  This may less be about raw battle than about him getting back at his sister.  That last episode, that will be the icing on the cake.

Non-Spoiler Review of Avengers Endgame

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I ask your indulgence as I try to put into words how much I loved this film.  I took my grandson Trenton to the film and as we settled in, I heard someone comment a few seats down, “This all began for me 11 years ago with Iron Man.”

My own journey began further back…sometime in the early 1970’s.  Saturday mornings my grandmother would sometimes take me to downtown Marshall, Michigan and turn me loose on Michigan Avenue.  We didn’t have “stranger danger,” then, we had communities of people that cared.

I would always go to the party store in the middle of town, right next to the Michigan National Bank.  I cannot remember its name, but I remember everything else about it – the flooring, the smells, the nice owner who didn’t chase kids out.  There was a wire rotating comic rack at the end of the magazines, right next to the wood-plaque covered dirty magazines.  Stuffed into this squeaky rack was all of the comics you could hope for, new ones to the front, older issues in the back.  The owner never chased us out, he would always smile at us.

Comic books cost 12 to 20 cents then, which seemed like a lot.  You had to be judicious in your choices.  There were no comic stores or graphic novels to get caught up with stories if you missed an issue.  I would purchase my comics and read them, over and over.  They were not collectables…there were no plastic covers for them.  These were comics that were meant to be read cover to cover.  From the letters to the editor to the ads for X-ray glasses, these stapled tomes were meant to be devoured.  I took part in a tradition of visual storytelling that harkened back to the cavemen painting images on their walls though at the time, I only thrilled at the art and the writing.

I never shed that love of comics, though as I was older it was more of an underground love affair. We didn’t have cyber bullying, we had real bullying. People were not accepting of adults reading comics for years.  Just finding a superhero t-shirt was difficult, back in the day.

Comic books led me to gaming and reading other books – which led me to be an author.  I will never forget that debt and the responsibility that comes with it.

The love never went away nor did my subscribing and reading.  I have passed on that love to my grandson and we share comics just like I used to with my friends so many decades ago.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe changed all of that.  Suddenly comics were acceptable…mainstream.  Yet I like to think that for millions of us, our journey to this film began the same simple way, in drug stores or book stores, or party stores on the main streets of our home towns.  Simple origins are the best of all.  ‘Nuff said.

When I took Trenton to Avengers Infinity War he experienced the same thing I did the first time I saw The Empire Strikes Back…that mold-breaking effect of the good guys losing.

Then came Avengers Endgame.  For three and a half hours, we were transfixed to the screen.  This was storytelling on an epic scale.  Characters completed their arcs so masterfully that it was a thrill to be there.  We had come to know these actors and characters.

The writers of this film will never get the dues they so richly deserve.  So many Easter Eggs are opened for us in this movie that it is a true fan’s delight.  Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus deserve Academy Awards for what they have done with this screenplay.

Before I went to the movies, a friend at work, Scott, asked me what I had to have to be perfect.  I rattled off three things.  They were all there.  I won’t share them now, because I refuse to spoil this film.

There are moments of deep sadness and others where, and I am not exaggerating, the audience cheered.  I have never in my life heard so many applause and cheering moments in a movie.

And therein lies the sadness.  I doubt in my lifetime I will ever see 22 films so masterfully interconnected in such a compelling tale.  Marvel has delivered something that makes DC pale by comparison.  It reminds of Alexander the Great.  “And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.”  While a misquote, it resonates here.

But…as a comic fan…I can tell you there are plenty of other great Marvel stories that are chafing for their chance in the sun.  The bar has been set high though.

Next to seeing Star Wars for the first time, this is my favorite movie ever.  It delivered on every single front and swept me, my grandson, the entire audience away.