Random Warner Bros. – Cool Hand Luke

Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. This week the random number generator has us eating a lot of eggs while we watch Cool Hand Luke.

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Here’s what happens: Sensitive tough guy Paul Newman plays sensitive tough guy Luke, a two-bit vandal who is arrested and jailed as part of a chain gang. He eventually buddies up with his fellow prisoners, and offers them some semblance of hope with his many escape attempts.

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Why it’s famous: The images of the chain gang working on the roadside under the guise of sunglasses-wearing guards has been oft-spoofed in the media, as has the line “What we have is a failure to communicate.”

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Get your film degree: The movie goes overboard with Jesus symbolism, with Luke striking a “on the cross” pose at one point, and inspiring others by breaking free of his bonds, and so on. Sensitive tough guy Paul Newman allegedly wanted a part that would really challenge him as an actor, so folks would think of him as more than just a sensitive tough guy.

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Movie geekishness: I liked this movie, but I have a lot of questions. The biggie is, where and when does this take place? This “jail” is more like a summer camp. Also, the movie begins with Luke committing vandalism and letting himself get caught by cops, at which point he breaks the fourth wall and smiles at the camera. What’s that about? We eventually get some backstory with Luke and his relationship with his mother. This establishes him as a non-conformist, but is that one character trait really enough to explain all his actions throughout the movie?

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Thoughts upon this viewing: Yeah, I had a lot of questions, but I still really liked this one. There’s a genuine sense of camaraderie among Luke and the other prisoners, and the themes of standing tall against overwhelming oppression remain as honest and powerful as ever.

Next week: Yee-haw, y’all.

****

Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.

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Fantastic Friday: Talkin’ ’bout my e-e-e-evolution

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Annual #21 is a crossover in the truest sense, in which the drama and cosmic adventure of the current story arc mixes and matches with all the drama and cosmic adventure of Marvel’s Evolutionary War event, which ran in all of that year’s annuals.

In Evolutionary War, the High Evolutionary, a mad scientist with a god complex, enacts a plan to purify all of humanity. This includes sending an army of armor-clad Eliminators to “purify” people by blowing them up. Before dealing with that, though, we catch up with the new FF — Ben, Johnny, Crystal, and the Sharon Ventura Ms. Marvel — who are still planning on entering the Negative Zone in search of godlike aliens called the Beyonders who aren’t (or are they?) related to the Beyonder from Secret Wars.

Before doing that, though, the team returns to headquarters for a breather. The FF’s mailman Willie Lumpkin is there, saying the FF has been flooded with fan mail, and that the new team is way more popular than the original team. (Yeah, I’m sure.) All four members of the team take a bath — separately, of course — and reflect on what’s happened. Ben and Sharon are totally in love at this point, with her commenting that men always used to pursue her for her beauty, but Ben loves her for the real her. Johnny, meanwhile, considers leaving the team rather than continually be tempted with Crystal around. Crystal doesn’t want to hurt Johnny and Alicia, but she’s nonetheless unapologetic about still having feelings for Johnny.

Crystal is reunited with her daughter Luna, who has been staying at FF headquarters with her nanny, Maya. Medusa and Black Bolt then appear via teleportation, demanding that Crystal rejoin the Inhumans on the moon. (For those just joining us, Crystal is Medusa’s younger sister, and a member of the Inhumans’ royal family.) Medusa says Crystal’s husband Quicksilver has changed his ways, and is now a good guy again. Crystal doesn’t buy it, arguing that Quicksilver recently tried to kill the FF and the Avengers on separate occasions. Medusa says Quicksilver was secretly being manipulated by Maximus the Mad, and he’s better now.

Crystal still refuses to leave, and the FF rally by her side. Black Bolt and Medusa are joined by fellow Inhumans Lockjaw, Karnak, and Gorgon (who, let’s never forget, once single-handedly defeated the entire FF). The FF do a good job of fighting the Inhumans, who aren’t used to this new team. After several pages of fighting, Black Bolt calls for a truce. Then another Inhuman contacts everyone and says Attilan (the Inhumans’ city on the moon) is under attack. The heroes set their differences aside and teleport to the moon to save the day.

Cut to the moon (anyone get that reference?) where the High Evolutionary wants to get his hands on the terrigen mists, the substance that gives the Inhumans their power. The Watcher appears for a dialogue with the High Evolutionary, but then the Watcher says he’s neither for or against the H.E.’s plan, insisting multiple times that he’s only there to watch.

The Eliminators attack Attilan, and Quicksilver leads the Inhumans in fighting back. It’s rare to see other Inhumans outside of the royal family, so these pages of the whole city rallying to fight give us some great looks at other Inhumans, making them look more like stock space alien types rather than stock superhero types. The FF join the battle, and the Eliminators are driven back. The High Evolutionary teleports away. Ben confronts the Watcher, who’s been viewing this from a distance the whole time, and asks where the H.E. has gone. The Watcher refuses to say, until Ben reminds him of all the times he’s helped Earth in the past. The Watcher is about to answer when a second Watcher appears. The two Watchers converse telepathically, and “our” Watcher goes back to his original “we only watch” stance.

Crystal tells the Inhumans that Quicksilver can’t be trusted, and that she’s staying with the FF. This sets the stage for Johnny to announce him leaving the FF in her place. Before that can happen, Black Bolt grabs Crystal and flies her out to the edges of the city, where there’s very little atmosphere. In this setting, Black Bolt is able to speak. He says one word, “Stay.” You’d think that’d be enough for this big dramatic moment, but then he brings the point home by writing the word “family” in the moon dust.

Upon returning, Crystal announces that she’ll be staying in Attilan, both for the good of her family, and for the good of the FF. Sharon gets the final word, saying “I’ve never seen a woman do anything braver — or sadder!”

Clobberin’ time: Ben in incapacitated when Lockjaw bites down on his arm. According to the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, Lockjaw’s jaws are in the stronger-than-strong 100-plus category. But, in his current spikey form, Ben is also a 100-plus character! The explanation is also in the Handbook, in a hard-to-find passage stating that in a conflict between an unstoppable force and an immovable object, the latter will win. Therefore, Lockjaw is able to trap Ben in his jaws.

Flame on: Black Bolt defeats Johnny by using that antenna thing on his forehead. The antenna is able to draw all of the fire out of Johnny’s body and absorb it. This is a very rare use of the antenna, which normally channels Black Bolt’s incredible power into a weaponized energy beam.

Fantastic fifth wheel: This annual contains a backup story about Crystal re-acclimating to life on the moon. Quicksilver wants them to be a couple again, but she gives him the ol’ “I’ll think about it.” We see Quicksilver secretly working with Dr. Doom, to help Doom re-take his kingdom back from the imposter Kristoff.

Sharon is given her due during the fights. She punches out Gorgon real good, and she and Ben throw around an Eliminator while making wacky baseball jokes.

Back when Medusa was a member of the FF, she was all into learning about Earth culture (remember her trip to the local library?), but in this issue she’s insistent on maintaining Inhuman traditions and not bothering with pesky humans.

Commercial break: Death Hawk!

Trivia time: How did the Evolutionary War end? After a lot of running around and messing with various Marvel heroes, the High Evolutionary placed a “purification bomb” in the undersea city of Lemuria. With the Avengers out of commission, a makeshift group of former Avengers — Captain America, Hulk, Beast, Yellowjacket, Falcon, and Jocasta — formed to stop the High Evolutionary. Hercules died putting a stop to the bomb. Herc and the High Evolutionary later both come back to life in a Thor story.

Fantastic or frightful? This one I really liked. The action scenes are great, really taking the time to show how the heroes’ various super power match up against each other, and then with each other. The Black Bolt/Crystal scene is also nicely done, making it feel like they’re genuinely family.

Next week: Beyond(er) Thunderdome.

****

Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.

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Random Warner Bros. – Unforgiven

Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. This week the random number generator pulls the trigger on Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.

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Here’s what happens: It’s the Old West. Bill Munny is a retired gunslinger who takes on last job, to enact revenge on a man who mutilated a prostitute. Unfortunately, the job puts Munny in the path of the sadistic “Little Bill” Daggett, who runs his town like a tyrant.

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Why it’s famous: After decades of being famous for his Western roles, Eastwood directs and stars in what many describe as his final (to date) word on the Western genre.

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Get your film degree: Unforgiven is often described as a “dark” Western. While that’s true at times, I’ve always felt that it’s more of a realist Western. The movie asks what it would be like to be an actual hired gun in the Old West. It then answers that it would have really sucked.

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Movie geekishness: As a big Marvel Comics fan, I’ve always viewed Unforgiven as the best adaptation of the Punisher we’ve ever had. When Eastwood is marching through the rain at the end? That’s the Punisher all over.

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Thoughts upon this viewing: Yes, there are a lot of slow parts and a lot of sad scenes, but the movie nonetheless plays, and it remains of the best modernist Westerns.

Next week: Not the parking meters!

****

Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.

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Fantastic Friday: I am (not) from beyond

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In issue #317, the new FF — Ben, Johnny, Crystal, and the Sharon Ventura Ms. Marvel — continue their romp through various forgotten concepts in the Marvel Universe.

We begin with Johnny kissing Alicia (who is secretly Lyja the Skrull in disguise) before apologizing for having to leave on yet another adventure. Ben gets down to business, asking the A.I.M. scientists from last issue how the name “Beyonder” ended up written in huge letters (in English!) inside an ancient alien device buried under the surface of the Earth since ancient times. Max the alien, who is one half of the duo known as Comet Man, explains that there are other aliens called “Beyonders,” and not just the one we all met in Secret Wars and Secret Wars II. These other Beyonders are creatures hired by the High Evolutionary to move his Counter-Earth into another orbit. It’s pointed out that Ben previously heard about these Beyonders in Marvel Two-in-One #63.

Max teleports the FF and the other Comet Man, Beckley, into space, first to a space station, and then aboard the Comet Man ship. They’re searching for yet another group of aliens called the Nuwali, who apparently built the machine with the Beyonders’ name on it. (I think. Geez, this stuff is confusing.)

We finally get a breather from all this alien stuff for some character moments. Ben and Sharon have a heart-to-heart, remembering how they close they were getting before Belasco attacked three issues ago. This culminates with Ben and Sharon kissing (and possibly more) on a couch. Then there’s a wordless exchange between Johnny and Crystal, who have been rekindling their attraction throughout this arc. He looks at her, and then flies away. She watches him go with a tear in her eye.

Max and Beckley have a short talk about whether they can trust the new FF, then their ship arrives at the Nuwali planet. The Nuwali, who look like big yellow bugs, say they built the machine in the Savage Land for the Beyonders, but were never paid for their work.  There’s some bit of business about adrenaline being like poison to the Beyonders, and how the Beyonders only communicated with Nuwali through a two-way artefact and never face-to-face. The Nuwali promise to work with the FF.

While Ben inspects the artefact, Johnny and Crystal have a heart-to-heart. He says that although he’s married to Crystal now, Crystal is still his first love. He then says that no matter how he feels about Crystal, he must nonetheless remain faithful to his wife. Crystal says very little during this. It appears that she’s on board with getting back together with Johnny, but it’s ambiguous.

After tinkering with the artefact, Ben deduces that it’s similar to the one from issue #51, a “radical cube” which can open a portal to the Negative Zone. With this mystery solved, the Nuwali break their truce with the heroes and attack. Another A.I.M. scientist shows up out of nowhere and reveals that A.I.M. and the Nuwali have been working together all along, with A.I.M. using the alien tech in their evil plots on Earth.

Fighting! The Nuwali’s weapons are powerful enough to knock out Ben, Sharon and Johnny. Crystal defiantly says she’s willing to give her life to protect theirs. She doesn’t get the chance, because Beckley unleashes the full force of his Comet Man power to defeat the aliens. The A.I.M. guy tries to escape, but Crystal stops him. She says the FF will travel into the Negative Zone to find the Beyonders and put an end to this conflict.

To be continued!

Clobberin’ time: Ben continues to show his smarts as team leader, figuring out what the alien artefact is. But, if he’s as strong as the Hulk now, how do the alien guns knock him out so easily?

Flame on: Johnny turning down Crystal in favor of Alicia is meant to be his ongoing maturity, being a responsible adult by not cheating on his wife.

Fantastic fifth wheel: This issue would have us believe that Ben and Sharon are officially a couple now. Let’s see how long that lasts.

The Alicia problem: It’ll later be established that Lyja studied the Fantastic Four in depth before she started impersonating Alicia, so it’s probable that she knows all about the events of Marvel Two-in-One #63.

Commercial break: Now we know what McCree was doing before he signed up with Overwatch.

Trivia time: Here’s what happened in Marvel Two-in-One #63. Counter Earth — an artificial Earth created by the High Evolutionary — turned up missing, so Ben, Alicia, and a bunch of Marvel’s space/cosmic heroes went searching for it. An alien named Sphinxor had moved the planet, and had been paid to do so by these mysterious Beyonders. Just like FF #317, the Beyonders are talked about but never shown. Further, Sphinxor describes them as the most powerful creatures in the universe, greater than Galactus, Thanos, and the Watcher combined. And this was written years before Secret Wars!

Fantastic or frightful? This issue has more character work and more action than the last few, but this entire arc continues to be unfocused and unwieldy. There’s yet another big shake-up coming soon down the line, so we’ll see.

Next week: Talking ‘bout my e-e-e-evolution.

****

Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.

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Random Warner Bros. – A Streetcar Named Desire

Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. This week the random number generator gets all steamy and sweaty during A Streetcar Named Desire.

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Here’s what happens: After losing all her wealth, Blanche Dubois travels to New Orleans, moving in with her sister Stella and Stella’s troublemaking husband Stanley. Stanley and Blanche butt heads in a big way, and there’s a whole lot of drama going on in that tiny apartment.

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Why it’s famous: Tennessee Williams writes, and Marlon Brando, Vivian Leigh, and Kim Hunter act their way through the most dysfunctional of relationships.

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Get your film degree: Marlon Brando was allegedly an unknown before this, and it’s easy to see why Streetcar made him an overnight movie star. He steals every scene he’s in. Also, he’s ripped! He has Affleck-as-Batman arms. Leigh and Hunter are both good, but this is Brando’s show.

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Movie geekishness: The movie’s other big star is writer Tennessee Williams. Not only could Williams tear his characters apart so all their foibles and ugly sides are laid bare, but he did it with dialogue that is, for lack of a better word, poetry. Great script, is what I’m saying.

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Thoughts upon this viewing: A Streetcar Named Desire can be a tough watch at times, as it really digs deep into these folks’ troubled emotions. That is, however, the makings of pure drama.

Next week: Not enough gun.

****

Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.

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Fantastic Friday: Ice to see you

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #316 continues our tour of the more bizarre aspects of Marvel. This time the new FF — Ben, Johnny, Crystal, and the Sharon Ventura Ms. Marvel — kinda/sorta visits the Savage Land.

To recap, the FF ended up in space, where they formed a temporary truce with demonic supervillain Master Pandemonium. They then ran into Comet Man, who is actually to guys the human Beckley and the alien Max, who teleported everyone back to Earth, in a frozen wasteland. This issue begins with Alicia (who is secretly Lyja the Skrull in disguise) aboard a US Air Force plane flying toward the South Pole, as Master Pandemonium flies past them. The plane lands at a South Pole USAF base, where the FF are waiting. Johnny is delighted to see Alicia, hoping she’ll put thoughts of Crystal out of his mind.

There’s a quick roll call. Beckley and Max are here, as is Morbius the Living Vampire, who had been to the planet the FF just returned from, and has been called in as a consultant of sorts. Ka-Zar and Shanna are also here. Who are these two? They’re the Marvel Universe’s version of Tarzan and Jane, having jungle adventures in the Savage Land, a secret warm and tropical area of Antarctica where dinosaurs still exist. Except, there has been a recent disaster that destroyed the Savage Land, leaving them without a home.

This is the first time Alicia has been around Ben and Sharon since they transformed, so she asks to touch Ben’s face so she can visualize his new look. (She doesn’t even acknowledge Sharon.) This is played as a big dramatic moment, with Ben thinking of all the happy memories he once had with Alicia, and Crystal thinking about her former relationship with Johnny.

That night, Johnny and Alicia talk while he stands guard at the base. Johnny suspects that the seemingly random adventures of the last few issues might not be random, and the someone or something is pulling the team’s strings. They are interrupted by the sudden appearance of an army of ice men. Fighting! The ice men are no match for Johnny’s flame, Crystal’s elemental control over water, or Ben and Sharon’s strength, yet no matter how many our heroes destroy, the ice men keep coming. Johnny flies ahead and discovers the ice men originating from a tank-like machine out in the snow. He destroys it and captures the men inside.

The attackers are mad scientists from A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics). Ben then has all the characters sit down for what he calls a “conference,” and the rest of this issue is some of the most dense, impenetrable comic book reading I’ve come across in a long time. The gist of it that a variety of aliens visited Earth in ancient times, creating (all?) most of the “hidden continent” stuff in the Marvel Universe, including Atlantis, Lemuria, the Savage Land, and even the city of those underground cat people from a few issues back. There’s a lot of attention paid to massive underground “heaters” which allowed the Savage Land to thrive in the otherwise frigid Antarctica.

Everybody heads back into the snow to investigate the giant alien heater (I’m still not clear on why, exactly). The FF use their powers to dig deep into the ice, and then to tear open the surface of the machine. Then, to everyone’s surprise, there’s the name “Beyonder” inside the machine, like some kind of giant billboard. “No! Not again!” Ben says, no doubt echoing the thoughts of all the Marvel fans still disappointed with Secret Wars II.

To be continued!

Clobberin’ time: Filling the leadership role, Ben is not only the one who calls for the conference, but he’s the one who recounts all this cosmic “life began on Earth began thanks to aliens” stuff to the rest of the team, just as Reed might have done back in the day.

Flame on: Johnny stops and makes sure all the A.I.M. scientists evacuate their machine before he blows it up.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Sharon tells Crystal to go ahead and call her “Sharon” in public, now that she no longer has need of a secret identity.

The Alicia problem: Lyja dwells on how she’s hardly seen Johnny since they were married, and how that’s expected when one marries an adventuring superhero. Then she thinks, “I wouldn’t be human if I weren’t glad he sent for me.” Make of that what you will.

Commercial break: Hey, Hollywood, where’s our Lane Mastodon movie?

Trivia time: How did the Savage Land get destroyed? It was the FF’s foe Terminus, who battled the West Coast Avengers there. The Savage Land would later be restored to its former glory when the god Garokk sacrificed his life to bring it back.

Speaking of the West Coast Avengers, that’s where Master Pandemonium went after taking off in this issue. He believed that Scarlet Witch’s twin sons contained two pieces of his missing soul, but this was all a trick played on him by Mephisto. It’s like Mephisto can’t be trusted or something…

Fantastic or frightful? Here’s the second issue in a row that brings up a bunch of Marvel obscurities and then tries to make them interconnected where they weren’t interconnected before. World-building continuity is meant to add flavor to a story, not to be the entire story.

Next week: I am (not) from beyond.

****

Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.

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Random Warner Bros. – Gigi

Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. This week the random number generator takes us to France for some reason to watch Gigi.

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Here’s what happens: France, 1900. Gigi is a free-spirited young woman who thinks she has no need for love. Gaston is a wealthy playboy who is bored with life, and thinks he has no need for love. See if you can guess where this is going. Also, there’s a lot of singing.

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Why it’s famous: Uh…  for collecting a pile of Oscars in 1959. Also it gave us the unendingly creepy song “Thank Heaven for Little Girls.”

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Get your film degree: Everything in this movie is big. Big sets, elaborate costumes, hundreds of extras, filming in Paris with the city streets done up to look like 1900.

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Movie geekishness: I looked up the 1959 Oscars, and it wasn’t a landmark year for film, with a whole bunch of forgotten movies. Gigi’s biggest competitor appears to be Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which I’d wager is talked about more today than Gigi. South Pacific got a bunch of tech nominations, and way, way down at the bottom of the list in the Sound Recording category was the lone nomination for Vertigo. Yeesh.

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Thoughts upon this viewing: I did not enjoy Gigi. The elaborate sets and lavish costumes only serve to cover up how paper-thin the characters and plot are. This was the follow-up from the creators of My Fair Lady, and that movie does everything Gigi does, but much, much better.

Next week: A stranger’s just a friend you haven’t met.

****

Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.

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Fantastic Friday: Panda (-monium) express

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In issue #315, we’re still in this multi-issue arc in which the new FF — Ben, Johnny, Crystal, and the Sharon Ventura Ms. Marvel — are on an impromptu tour of some of the stranger, more forgotten areas of the Marvel Universe.

At the end of the last issue, the FF hopped on a boat on the underground River of Oblivion, which teleported them to the planet Arcturus, where they ran into a villain named Master Pandemonium. Confused? This issue begins with an extended flashback meant to explain what’s happening, but only makes this all more confusing. It begins with Morbius the Living Vampire, of all people, who also once encountered the underground cat people and fled into the river. He too was teleported to Arcturus where he met a collection of freak/outsider aliens. They’d been living under the harsh rule of the evil Caretakers. The Caretakers live on Earth, so Morbius returns to Earth to kill them, leaving behind a record of his experience. Then we re-flashback to Master Pandemonium, who also fled into the same river after a fight with the West Coast Avengers and the cat people. He teleported to Arcturus and found Morbius’ record. He is taken hostage by the freak aliens. Then there’s a re-re-flashback to Pandemonium’s origin. He’s a guy who lost an arm in a car accident, and made a deal with the devil-ish Mephisto to grow a new one. But Mephisto tricked him, gave him demon-summoning powers, and scattered five parts of his soul throughout the multiverse. If Pandemonium can recover all five pieces of his soul, he gets to be human again. He wonders if part of his soul might be found on Arcturus.

We finally cut back to the present, where the FF appear in the same jail cell as Pandemonium. Everybody fights! Pandemonium demonstrates his power by summons a bunch of demons from a star-shaped hole on his chest. Pandemonium and his monsters put up a good fight until Ben, with his now Hulk-level strength, only for the freak aliens to attack. There’s more fighting, until all the freaks abruptly fall to their knees and start worshipping Ben, apparently in awe of his strength.

Pandemonium withdraws his demons, and everyone compares notes. Pandemonium offers a truce, saying he and the FF should work together to find a way back to Earth. They travel out to a series of trenches in the planet’s wilderness. (Weren’t they just in jail? I guess the freaks let them go now that they love Ben.) Johnny flies around, investigating the trenches. This catches the attention of someone watching from a distance, whose identity we don’t yet see. Just as our heroes theorize that the trenches are ancient landing platforms for spaceships, a spaceship lands one, right in front of them. Out steps Comet Man, who is actually two men.

Okay, who is this? The Comet Men are space cops, in the Green Lantern/Nova Corps vein. The main character is Dr. Stephen Beckley of Earth, who became a Comet Man after almost being killed by his psycho half-brother. The other Comet Man is Max, an alien from the planet Fortisque who keeps trying and failing to speak in Earth lingo. Ben met Beckley in the Comet Man miniseries, and they’re pals.

The FF assume Comet Man can take them back to Earth, but Beckley refuses, suddenly becoming angry. He says he can’t go back to face his brother until his training is complete. They argue about this for a while, until Max says he’ll help. Max kicks a rock (?) and everyone is teleported to a snow-covered landscape, which Max says is Earth.

To be continued!

Clobberin’ time: Ben remarks that if could get home from Battleworld after the Secret Wars, then the team should have no problem getting home from Arcturus. This also has him reflecting how Sharon used to look just like Battleworld’s barbarian swordswoman Tariana.

Flame on: Johnny continues to show some renewed attraction to Crystal. He thinks about how her FF costume “really fits her.” I wish I could say he means this in the way that her courage and heroism makes worthy of the FF uniform, but no. The way it’s drawn, he’s just checking out her butt.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Crystal uses her elemental powers to cancel a lot of Pandemonium’s demons. She uses water to fight fire-type demons and fire to fight water-types. She should play Pokemon.

Sharon is also confident in the team’s ability to get back to Earth, saying the FF survives on pure spirit as much as it ever deed on Reed Richard’s brain power. She continues to be in good spirits, saying she wanted to go on a grand FF adventure, and that’s what she’s getting — demon fights and all.

Commercial break: This book was the first appearance of Drizzt Do’Urden. All these years later, I still don’t know how pronounce the name Drizzt Do’Urden.

Trivia time: The Morbius storyline took place in Fear #20-23, which went much farther in exploring life on planet Arcturus, with a plot involving those underground cat people, some wizards, genetic engineering, and androids. Those issues never revealed how Morbius made it back to Earth, hence the continuity-fixing explanation in this one. (This week, I’m learning way more about underground cat people and planet Arcturus then I ever would’ve thought.)

I guess I should also talk about Comet Man. The miniseries was co-created and co-written by actors Bill Mumy and Miguel Ferrer. Many have suspected that this was a stealth movie pitch, which would’ve starred Mumy as Beckley and Ferrer as Max. The characters later returned for a second run in Marvel Comics Presents and had cameos in Peter David’s Captain Marvel and Civil War: Battle Damage Report.

Fantastic or frightful? Stories like these that attempt to “tie together” or “clean up” comic continuity rarely work for me. Too often writers are too caught up in continuity that they forget the basics of plot, character, etc. This issue, and this story arc, is a parade of “here’s this obscure thing from Marvel history” without doing anything with those obscure things.

Next week: So savage.

****

Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.

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Random Warner Bros. – The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring

Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. This week the random number generator has big ol’ hairy hobbit feet for The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring.

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Here’s what happens: In the fantasy world of Middle Earth, the One Ring is the most powerful item of all. The Dark Lord Sauron is returning from the dead (or something) and his armies are on the march. The ring, however, has ended up in the hands of a lowly hobbit, Frodo. Now, Frodo and a group of friends and warriors must take the ring across country in hopes of eventually destroying it.

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Why it’s famous: For years, everyone in Hollywood considered Tolkien’s three brick-sized novels to be unfilmable, until Peter Jackson and his team took them on like madmen, with an audacious plan for three three-hour movies. And they actually pulled it off!

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Get your film degree: While there is plenty of CGI, a lot of the movie was filmed practically. There are actual New Zealand landscapes instead of virtual ones, and the hobbit size differences were done with simple forced perspective instead of putting the actors in front of a greenscreen. On one of the commentaries, actor Elijah Wood said it felt more like being on the set of a student film rather than a big blockbuster.

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Movie geekishness: A lot of fantasy adventure stories are about a group of heroes, each with differing personalities and skill sets, on the quest together. Tolkien’s Fellowship is really the one that gave birth to that, or at least popularized it. Seeing all nine members of the fellowship interacting with each other and fighting alongside each other are my favorite parts of both the book and movie series.

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Thoughts upon this viewing: Like I said before, I remain a big fan of the LOTR movies. Everyone, from the director to the writers to the crew and especially the actors, are all on the same page right from the get-go. This makes a strong start to keep us invested for the next six hours of this thing.

Next week: Viva la France!

****

Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.

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Fantastic Friday: Belasco sauce

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Who doesn’t love a good “hidden underground kingdom” adventure story?  In issue #314, the new FF — Ben, Johnny, Crystal, and the Sharon Ventura Ms. Marvel — find not one but multiple hidden underground kingdoms!

The issue picks up right where the last one left off, with the FF in an underground cavern, surrounded by the Mole Man’s Subterraneans, after failing to reach the Mole Man. After two pages of our heroes discussing the battle of the sexes (?), Ben decides to take the team on a tour of the Mole Man’s former kingdom… just for fun! There’s a little bit of talk about the FF being like astronauts, exploring an unseen world, and with that, they’re off.

After walking through some caves, the team finds themselves in an entirely different cave, discovering that the underground kingdom is full of teleportation portals (Cordelia: “There are portals now?”) which explains how the Mole Man and his people get around without a lot of vehicles.

In New York, Alicia (who is secretly Lyja the Skrull in disguise) is meeting with art critic, Frederick, and they’re both shocked to discover the sky above NYC filled with flames. Similarly, the FF come across an underground “firefall” which I guess is supposed to be like a waterfall but with fire. Johnny flies off to check it out, while Ben and Sharon have a heart-to-heart. Ben says that he never had someone he could relate to like he can with her, thanks to her transformation. “Ya really are still beautiful ta me!” he says.

Their moment is broken up when Johnny returns and notices Crystal is missing. Everyone assumes she went through another one of the teleportation portals. Sharon finds a hidden tunnel, leading to a huge underground castle. Johnny’s flame doesn’t work on the castle walls, leading him to deduce that the castle is magick (with a K!). Ben and Sharon use their awesome strength to bust into the place. Our heroes inside and find Crystal held captive by the demon Belasco.

Who is Belasco? He was originally a Ka-Zar villain, a one-armed demon always trying to seduce Ka-Zar’s ladyfriend Shanna. He later became a major player in the X-Men comics, by always trying to seduce Illyana Rasputin of the New Mutants. (Dude, she’s too young for you.) Now, as the FF confront him, he says he’s over Shanna and Illyana, and he plans to make Crystal his bride. A fight breaks out, in which Belasco transforms Johnny into a pig (!) before Sharon punches him out. This turns Johnny human again, with a “No more bacon!” wisecrack. The FF escape, seeing fireballs in the air not created by Johnny.

Johnny flies ahead, and then leads the team through some more portals until they run into yet another underground city. This one is the kingdom of the cat people, who Ben met during his short time with West Coast Avengers (or, as he calls them in this issue, the “Whackers”) when they were searching for a cure for Tigra. Ben assumes the cat people are still his friends, but they attack the FF on site. Then Belasco reappears, announcing that he is one of the sorcerers who created the cat people, and their loyalty is to him. Another fight is about to break out, but it’s interrupted one more burst of flame in the sky. We learn these fires are from a scene in Strange Tales #14, where Dr. Strange was battling Shuma-Gorath for the fate of the Earth. Belasco knows this somehow, and says he has to stop Strange and Shuma-Gorath, or else their battle will collapse all the nether-realms.

The FF escape down an underground river, which just happens to be right there, on a boat that also just happens to be right there. They think they’ve gotten away, but no. This is the “River of Oblivion” and it teleports them again, complete with a “teleportation” sound effect. They end up at the feet of Master Pandemonium, another demonic Marvel villain, who welcomes them to the “the fourth world of the star-sun Arcturus,” and tells them they will spend the rest of their lives in captivity there.

To be continued!

Clobberin’ time: Ben all but flat-out admits that he’s fallen for Sharon now. Action interrupts before she can give him an answer, though.

Flame on: Why does Johnny say that because he can’t burn something, it must be made of magick (with a K!)? We’ve seen him fly through fighter jets, instantly melting them into liquid, so maybe this isn’t too out of character.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Sharon continues to enjoy her newfound strength, and is now not so down on her appearance, saying it’s freeing not have men ogling her. Crystal kinda/sorta agrees with her, saying all women “tire of being put on display.” The whole battle-of-the-sexes debate that starts this issue is very confusing.

The Alicia problem: Alicia/Lyja says that being married to Johnny has helped inspire her to create new art. We can take this as another sign that Lyja has truly fallen for Johnny, and is not just faking it as part of a Skrull infiltration.

Commercial break: One hundred levels!

Trivia time: The West Coast Avengers eventually did learn that the cat people were really demonic monsters, but it wasn’t until well after Ben stopped hanging out with them. (You’d think the superheroes would compare notes on stuff like this. Maybe start a newsletter.)

Why does Dr. Strange have long blond hair in this issue? That happened after he absorbed the powers of Chaos Lord Arioch to help with the fight against Shuma-Gorath. (I guess absorbing Arioch’s powers also means absorbing his hairstyle.) As for Dr. Strange’s eyepatch, he lost the eye several issues earlier in a fight against a multi-dimensional being named Ghaszaszh Nyirh. (Dr. Strange eventually healed from all this, but only after coming back from the dead.)

X-Men readers are probably wondering what Belasco is doing with an underground fortress when he’s usually seen in the otherworldly Limbo. Back in his Ka-Zar days, though, Belasco’s base of operations was indeed an underground fortress, and his henchmen were the subterranean Children of Dis.

Fantastic or Frightful? With this issue and the previous one, it looks like they simply made a list of all the underground kingdoms in the Marvel Universe, and then decided to use them all in one story. I like digging into Marvel lore as much as the next dorknoggin, but there’s just no plot here. Other than Ben’s declaration of “it’ll be fun,” we have zero reason for any of this happening. This era of FF is supposed to when it gets quirky and weird, but I’m just not feeling it.

Next week: Panda (-monium) express.

****

Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.

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