Fantastic Friday: It’s not easy being orange

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In issue #311, two of our heroes have just gone through a shocking transformation and, if you’ll pardon the expression, it won’t be pretty.

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To recap: Ben and Sharon Ventura (the second Ms. Marvel) were exposed to cosmic rays during a space battle. He got transformed from a rocky form into a stronger spikey form, and she got transformed into a female Thing. At this point, the reader is thinking “How are they going to play this?” Then the first page is Sharon yelling “I want to die!” as she jumps off a cliff, and the reader thinks, “Ohh, that’s how they’re going to play this.” After crash-landing their spaceship in a jungle, Sharon spends the first few pages of this issue attempting suicide, only for it not to work because of her new super-strong form. It’s really, really disturbing. Ben tries to console her, saying he’s been through what she’s going through, but she says it’s different because he’s a man and she’s a woman. Along the way, Ben also comments on how much stronger he’s become, and there’s a short flashback retelling of the Fantastic Four’s origin story from Ben’s point of view.

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In New York, Crystal is visited by Norman, the man she slept with in the Vision and Scarlet Witch miniseries. She tells him that she and Quicksilver are no longer married, so she and Norman can be a couple now. He rejects her, fearing that she’s back in a relationship with Johnny now. (He drove all the way from Jersey to tell her that?) In the Middle Eastern nation of Aqiria, Johnny investigates Ben and Sharon’s disappearance. The king and the U.S. ambassador, who were secretly working alongside the villain Fasaud, tell Johnny they have no idea where Ben and Sharon are.

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Back in the jungle, Sharon has retreated into silence, while Ben tries to cheer her up. They’re abruptly attacked by a big red robot. The robot gets stronger the harder Ben hits it, and Sharon sees this as way to end her life, as the robot could get strong enough to kill her. Ben won’t have that, and gets between her and the robot. He hits it harder and harder, until it starts to leak energy.

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The Black Panther leaps out of the jungle, revealing that this is Wakanda. He helps dissipate the robot’s energy. He explains that the robot is a Throb, which stands for “Trans-Human Robot.” With the Panther’s help, Ben contacts Crystal and catches her up to speed. Then, the Panther reveals that Wakanda has another high-profile visitor… Dr. Doom! Doom, who is coincidentally just standing there in the jungle, explains that he built the Throb in exchange for Black Panther’s help, so Doom can eventually take the Latverian throne back from Kristoff. Ben asks why the Black Panther would go along with this, and the Panther says, “Monarchs do share a special bond.”

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Doom approaches Sharon, offering to cure her in exchange for her leaving the FF and joining him. She refuses, taking a swing at Doom. She says she made a promise to earn the honor of being a member of the FF, and despite what’s happened, she means to keep that promise. Ben thinks that maybe this means Sharon will be okay after all.

Clobberin’ time: Ben remarks that he’s as strong as the Hulk now, which I guess we’re to take as being official, even though this was not tested in the lab or anything.

Flame on: We’re told that Johnny made a “transatlantic flight” from New York to Aqiria, but we’re not told if it was using his powers or a Fantasticar or what.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Although fans often refer to this version of Sharon as “She-Thing,” this issue makes it a point to say her codename will still be Ms. Marvel. We’ll see whether that changes. This is the final appearance of Crystal’s fling Norman.

Commercial break: Captain Power! I never got a chance to see the TV/toys combo in action, but I’m guessing they didn’t work as well as did in the ads.

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Trivia time: Roberta, the FF’s robot receptionist, makes a return in this issue, during the scene between Crystal and Norman. Roberta mentions that Reed rebuilt her after the original Baxter Building blew up. This kind of makes it seem like she remembers getting blown up, which is strange.

The Throb never appeared again, probably because the “leaking deadly energy” thing was a serious design flaw. Also probably because its name is “the Throb.”

Fantastic or frightful? This is some dreary, dismal reading. I get that the creators are trying real hard to be shocking and extreme, but it’s not there on the page. I fear that “interesting idea, poor execution” is going to be the ongoing theme for the rest of this run.

Next week: When mutants fall.

****

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. – Natural Born Killers

Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. This week the random number generator selected Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. The random number generator then got shot in the face.

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Here’s what happens: Mickey and Mallory are young and in love. They’re also psycho killers. Their murder spree throughout the Southwest made them celebrities, and they’re not the only ones. They’re caught by a cop with a best-selling memoir, and Mickey is interviewed in jail by a sleazy TV journalist. Then, whatever part of Hell that hasn’t already broken loose breaks loose.

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Why it’s famous: The movie kicked off a media frenzy about the sensationalism of violence, even though the whole point of the movie is that it’s a satire about media frenzies kicked off by the sensationalism of violence.

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Get your film degree: Almost every scene in the movie is cut together with different film types and styles, mixing them up at once. Why do this? It’s open to interpretation, but I believe we’re dealing with the “unreliable narrator” phenomenon. All the violent acts of horror we’re seeing are being shown to us through various types of media, leading us to question just what is and isn’t “real.”

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Movie geekishness: A whole lot of really good actors chew the scenery something fierce in this one. My favorite is Tommy Lee Jones, who is so completely off the rails that his character from Under Siege seems quiet and stately by comparison.

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Thoughts upon this viewing: Knowing ahead of time how hyper and short-attention-span the movie is, this time I was able to see through the over-stylization and better follow the story and the characters. Yes, the satiric elements are really on-the-nose, but you can say that about a lot of satire.

Next week: A dweam within a dweam.

****

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

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Fantastic Friday: When Things change

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. We’ve only just established a new FF team for a few issues, and the creators are already shaking things up again in issue #310, with more big changes for our heroes.

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We begin in the middle of the action where Ben and Sharon (Ms. Marvel) have been taken captive via electrified chains by Fasaud, an evil Arab sheik with television-based superpowers (sigh…) in the country of Aqiria. Aqiria’s king and the US ambassador are also in on Fasaud’s plot, which involves a spaceship. The ambassador monologues the evil plan, which has to do with using the spaceship to secretly deliver military payloads into space (or something). Further, they have Ben and Sharon chained to platform directly beneath the rocket, where they will burn up upon launch. The bad guys then do the Bond villain thing, leaving Ben and Sharon alone in their death trap. Ben struggles against the chains, breaking them with a declaration of “I’m the Thing!” Sharon tries the same, but she’s not as strong as Ben. “There’s only one o’ me,” Ben says, foreshadowingly.

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Ben frees Sharon and the two of them fight their way through Aqiria’s defenses, including a guy in a huge mech suit. While fighting, Sharon goes on about how much she hates men (she was once sexually abused by men and now has serious PTSD) and how she doesn’t even want Ben touching her.

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Sharon deduces that in order for Fasaud to teleport to New York and back via television signals, he must be using satellites. This leads them back to the Aqirian spaceship. They fight their way on board the ship, where Ben hot-wires it (!) and they take off.

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In orbit, Fasaud takes over the satellite, which of course is armed, and there’s a space battle between the ship and the satellite. Fasaud teleports to inside the ship, where he grabs Sharon, electrocuting her. Ben destroys the satellite, which weakens Fasaud long enough for Sharon to punch him out. Fasaud reverts to insubstantiality (which is death, apparently). Ben and Sharon celebrate… with a kiss! “She ain’t pullin’ away,” Ben thinks.

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The romance is short-lived, as the ship flies out of control, crashing down toward Earth. Ben attempts to steer the ship to safety, it passes through the cosmic ray belt — the same one that originally gave the FF their powers. The ship crash-lands in a jungle, and Ben emerges from the wreckage. He discovers the cosmic rays have transformed him again. His rocky skin is now spikey skin!

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He searches for Sharon, noting that his strength has greatly increased. Ben finds Sharon to see that she has become… another Thing!

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To be continued!

Clobberin’ time: How, exactly, is Ben able to “hot-wire” a spaceship? He explains that most spaceships on Earth use tech invented by Reed Richards. As Reed’s number one test pilot, Ben knows his way around the ship.

Flame on: Johnny, Crystal, and Alicia (who is really Lyja the Skrull in disguise) are only in one short scene, in which Johnny once again assures Alicia/Lyja that he and Crystal are just friends now.

Fantastic fifth wheel: You might be thinking that Sharon will revert back to normal once this story arc is over. Oohh, no. Settle in for long, long haul with her as the so-called “She-Thing.”

Commercial break: It’s The Marvel Try-out Book! The book was part of a contest, and the winner was Mark Bagley, who later became a super-popular artist on Ultimate Spider-Man.

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Trivia time: Not only did Fasaud never return, but Marvel later published a public apology for its stereotyping of Middle Easterners during this story. So, there’s that.

(Edit: The Marvel Wiki informs me that Fasaud reappeared in Union Jack #2, to which I respond, “Since when did Union Jack have his own series?”)

Fantastic or frightful? I’ll go ahead and table discussion of Ben and Sharon’s transformations until next week. (It’s my blog, my rules.) This is issue is mostly all action, with Ben and Sharon beating up bad guys, and then some space battle stuff straight out of a Star Wars comic. Ben and Sharon’s kiss is a great character moment for them both, except we can’t have a status quo for a single issue before the next big shake-up, it seems.

Next week: It’s not easy being orange.

****

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. – Gone With the Wind

Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. The random generator this week picked a biggie: Gone With the Wind. What can I possibly say? The movie’s impact on film history cannot be denied, yet it is also troublesome in many ways.

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Here’s what happens: It’s the life and times of Scarlett O’Hara in the Old South before, during, and after the Civil War. She loses everything during the war and rebuilds her life back up again, all while pining for the handsome and traditional Ashley Wilkes, with dashing troublemaker Rhett Butler always be hanging around.

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Why it’s famous: Four hours of sweeping grandeur and weepy melodrama.

Get your film degree: Everything in this movie is BIG. Big vistas, big sets, big costumes, big sunsets. The giant fire that burned down Atlanta? That wasn’t a special effect, the filmmakers went and started a giant fire! (Allegedly, the destroyed part of the original set from King Kong as they did so. This movie is bigger than the almighty Kong!) Yes, the acting is big and broad, but it has to be to fill the bigness of the movie.

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Movie geekishness: How does one approach this movie, with romanticism of the Old South being so very, very problematic? The opening text crawl helped me put it all in context. It talks about “knights” and “fair ladies” and “gallantry.” This tells the audience not to think of the movie as historical fiction, but as myth. This is not the real Civil War, this is the South’s equivalent of the gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus.

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Thoughts upon this viewing: I enjoyed the movie but, honestly, it loses steam after its first half. The first two hours see Scarlett on a journey, where she loses it all and is a changed woman by the end. After we come back from intermission, the movie has a different energy. It starts to feel like an endurance test getting to the famous line at the end. So, it’s good, but really long.

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Next week: Scagnetti on Scagnetti.

****

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

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Fantastic Friday: Dinner, interrupted

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In issue #309, the new FF team — Ben, Johnny, Crystal, and the Sharon Ventura Ms. Marvel — continue their struggle against a wacky and rather offensive villain.

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To recap: The new FF are pursuing Fasaud, a murderous Arab sheik with television-based superpowers (you read that right) who’s out to kill a TV journalist. Ben and Sharon have left for Fasaud’s home country of Aqiria to investigate, while Johnny and Crystal have stayed behind as bodyguards for the reporter. Ben and Sharon arrive in Aqiria where they are greeted by King Khafir and US Ambassador Windsor Raynes. The king says Fasaud’s actions are an embarrassment to his country and he promises to work with the FF in stopping him. The king then adds that Sharon will have to cover up her legs and face in this Middle Eastern country. Sharon, who still has serious problems with men due to her PTSD, isn’t happy about this, but Ben convinces her to do it.

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In New York, Alicia (who is secretly Lyja the Skrull in disguise) prepares a small, intimate dinner for her and Johnny. Then he calls and says he invited Crystal to dinner as well, in the hopes of Crystal and Alicia getting to know each other better. Alicia reluctantly agrees. In Aqiria, there is one fenced-off portion of oil fields where foreigners aren’t allowed to go, and Ben spots trucks of liquid oxygen going in and out of there. As a former pilot, Ben knows liquid oxygen is used for rocket. Ben and Sharon agree something fishy is going on. They investigate, and the comic spends a luxurious page and a half showing us how Ben and Sharon combine his strength and her agility to hop a fence. (I wish today’s comics did here’s-the-characters-using-their-powers-in-cool-ways stuff like this more often):

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In New York, Johnny, Alicia, and Crystal sit down for dinner and toast “to friendship.” As they reminisce about old times, when Fasaud shows appears and challenges them to a fight. Outside, so as not to endanger Alicia, Crystal and Johnny try to fight Fasaud, knowing that his touch could electrocute either of them.

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Crystal draws moisture from the air around her to temporarily short out Fasaud with water. She then has Johnny fire his explosive nova flame into the air over New York, which she turns into a gigantic summer storm, so powerful is disrupts transmissions all over the city, causing Fasaud’s electric image to dissipate.

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In Aqiria, Ben and Sharon discover a space shuttle has been built in secret, and looks ready to launch. Just then, Fasaud reappears behind them and electrocutes them both. The king and Raynes appear alongside Fasaud, with the king saying, “You’ve saved the kingdom once again, my trusted friend.”

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To be continued!

Clobberin’ time: Ben states that he’s no scientist and doesn’t know how Fasaud’s powers work, but then his knowledge gained from years as a pilot comes in handy.

Flame on: When Johnny tells Alicia he invited Crystal over for dinner, he adds “We’ll make it a threesome!” We readers aren’t supposed to interpret any double meaning in that, right?

Fantastic fifth wheel: It looks like they’re trying to set up Crystal as the new team’s most powerful member, with her creating a city-wide cataclysm just to defeat Fasaud.

The Alicia problem: Alicia/Lyja says she has been sculpting animals with help from the Bronx Zoo, who sedates the animals so she can study them by touch. (Not cool, Bronx Zoo!) Again, I think we can assume that Lyja’s experience as a shape-shifter can be applied to her recreating Alicia’s sculpting prowess.

Commercial break: Is this how Avengers spend their day off?

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Trivia time: After all this time, I’m still perplexed as to what Crystal’s powers are, so I looked her up in the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Deluxe Edition. It states her powers are based on the elements of fire, water, earth, and air. She manipulates the environment around her on a molecular level, creating any fire/water/earth/air-based construct or effect she can imagine. Why isn’t she a god, then? Because her constructs aren’t permanent, and she suffers mental and physical fatigue after using her powers nonstop for about an hour. (This makes her seem like a Green Lantern, actually.) Crystal’s portrait in the Handbook was drawn by John Byrne.

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Fantastic or frightful? If Fasaud is after that journalist, why does he attack Johnny and Crystal? Was it too predictable that the king and the ambassador are up to no good? Sure, it’s fun to see Ben playing the part of the team’s leader and doing so in his own style, but beyond that, this issue has problems. And it’s not over yet.

Next week: The things, they are a changin’.

****

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. – Lethal Weapon

Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. This week the random number generator landed on 1987’s Lethal Weapon. Cue the saxophone and twangy guitar soundtrack!

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Here’s what happens: Two cops. Murtaugh is a family man who prefers staying out of trouble. Riggs is unhinged and suicidal following the death of his wife, throwing himself into danger whenever he can. These two are now mismatched partners! Upon investigating what appears to be a routine drug overdose, our heroes end up uncovering a city-wide conspiracy of former military men turned drug-runners.

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Why it’s famous: Teaming up Mel Gibson and Danny Glover for awesome action, and a sharp-witted screenplay that helped put writer Shane Black on the map.

Get your film degree: Lethal Weapon didn’t invent the “buddy cop” action formula, but it certainly popularized it. The movie’s influences are all over the place, such as classic film noir, post-Vietnam angst, and, of course, ‘80s action cinema.

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Movie geekishness: We all know how the movie features the tropes of writer Shane Black — wisecracking tough guys, gritty Los Angeles, ironic use of Christmas — but it also has a lot of what we’ve come to expect from Mel Gibson — weird fascination with torture, overall bug-eyed craziness.

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Thoughts upon this viewing: Lethal Weapon is dated in a lot of ways, and the serious scenes are too serious for their own good, but the fights and chases still hold up in that good ol’ 1980s style.

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Next week: I saw it in the window, and I just had to have it.

****

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

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Fantastic Friday: Edison Carter does not approve

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. We’ve got the new team now — Ben, Johnny, Crystal, and Sharon (Ms. Marvel) — so it’s time for them to go up against a major villain. And what a villain this is.

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We begin with Johnny flying over the city when he hears a cry of help, and swoops down to save the day. (This is some old-school Superman stuff right here.) The cry comes from a butler and maid, employed by mega-rich TV reporter Gregory Dunbar. The maid was attacked by someone called Fasaud. How do I describe Fasaud? Just look at this panel:

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There’s no other way to say it: Fasaud is an Arab Max Headroom. He comes out of television and zaps you with electo-powers. So, yeah. An Arab villain is problematic. An Arab villain with blue skin is even more problematic. Less problematic is that this was years after Max Headroom was popular. Now that the Band-Aid has been ripped off, let’s continue. Fasaud is after Dunbar. He electrocutes the maid, giving her a second-degree burn, and then he vanished. Johnny uses his powers to heal the maid’s burn (!), and then flies off to join his teammates.

fasaud4At Four Freedoms Plaza, Ben is locking up Reed’s lab, so that no one can mess with the potentially dangerous scientific wonders inside. Johnny shows up and tells everyone what’s happening. The team rushes to a CBS studio, where Dunbar is attacked by Fasaud. The FF arrive by crashing the Fantasticar through the wall (!). Everyone fights Fasaud. Can turn immaterial, so punches go right through him, and he can teleport around the room. Fasaud grabs Johnny, which causes Johnny’s power to increase, Johnny has to fly outside to unleash his nova flame in the open sky without harming anyone.

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Ben uses insulation from some cables as a weapon against Fasaud, which makes Fasaud disappear. Johnny unleashes his nova flame over NYC, but is knocked out. Sharon tries to rescue him, but freezes up because Johnny is a man, and she is reminded of the men who abused her in the past. Instead, Crystal uses her elemental powers to blow up a sidewalk hot dog cart (!), creating an updraft of hot air to cushion Johnny’s fall.

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The fight over, everyone compares notes. Ben tries to be respectful of Sharon’s PTSD, but nonetheless plays the tough boss, telling her not to screw up again. Johnny and Crystal talk to Dunbar, who explains that we was recently in the Middle East, where he did a story about the wealthy and secretive Sheikh Farouk Al-Fasaud. Dunbar exposed Fasaud’s corruption, only for Fasaud to break into the TV studio and attack Dunbar. Fasaud clumsily stabbed a TV camera instead of Dunbar. This gave him weird electricity/television-based powers.

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Ben decides to split up the team, with Johnny and Crystal staying behind to bodyguard Dunbar, while Ben and Sharon will travel to Fasaud’s home country of Aqiria to take the fight to the villain. As the heroes fly off in the Fantasticar, Ben’s thinks about how concerned he is about Sharon, and how if she can’t handle it as a member of the FF, then that reflects on his leadership.

To be continued, I guess.

Clobberin’ time: This issue is all about Ben’s leadership, and how he realizes how tough Reed had it trying to keep his teammates on track.

Flame on: Johnny’s ability to heal burns appears to be new. He says he does it by drawing heat away from the wound, which I don’t think is how burns work. A later letters page will confirm that Johnny can only heal minor burns.

Fantastic fifth wheel: There’s a bit where Crystal is interviewed by a reporter, and says she “couldn’t be happier” to be back with the FF. As for Sharon and her PTSD, things are just going to get worse for her for a long time before they get better.

Four and a half: Franklin appears, wearing his Power Pack uniform, in this Marvel house ad for the X-Men books, which were so huge at the time that the ad doesn’t even have to say what its for.

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Commercial break: Biff Whiffles!

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Trivia time: Part of this issue would later be recreated in the miniseries Marvels: Eye of the Camera, during its retelling of the Mutant Registration Act storyline.

Fantastic or frightful? I can kinda/sorta see what they’re doing with Fasaud (this was the days of the OPEC oil scandal) and with the PTSD storyline. The ideas are good, it’s just that the execution is flawed, so that what began as an interesting idea becomes goofy and all over the place.

Next week: Hop that fence!

****

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. – Mutiny on the Bounty

Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. The random number generator takes us back all the way back to movie #2 this week, for 1935’s Mutiny on the Bounty. Land ho!

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Here’s what happens: Aboard the HMS Bounty, the whipping-obsessed Captain Bligh is cruel and heartless to his men. After experiencing the island delights (and lovely ladies) of Tahiti, first officer Fletcher Christian plots to seize control of the ship and make a new life for himself in the tropical paradise. Caught in their conflict is midshipman Byam, who just wants to do his duty.

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Why it’s famous: This is actually the third movie based on this story (!), but it’s the biggest and most grandiose.

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Get your film degree: There’s a long sequence at the start where the movie takes time introducing each character as he boards the ship. It seems to me that most of today’s screenwriters would skip all this, jumping ahead and opening the movie with Bligh whipping someone, with only a few succinct lines of dialogue establishing each character. I wonder if today’s movies could benefit from the old-school approach to character introductions.

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Movie geekishness: The plot in Mutiny on the Bounty is actually quite slim, which leaves the movie a lot of breathing room for shots of ships at sea, lush tropical islands, and Bligh’s whippings. All this must have been quite the novelty for filmgoers in 1935, with bigger production values than most other movies of the time.

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Thoughts upon this viewing: Captain Bligh is such a jerk! Sure, Clark Gable has the movie star thing down to a science as Christian, but it’s Charles Laughton as Bligh who makes the movie. He’s the villain you love to hate — slimy, rotten to the core, and even a little cowardly. Yet when he has to survive at sea with little resources, he becomes kind of a badass. The movie’s worth seeing just to see him in action.

Next week: Mind if I test drive your Audi?

****

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

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Fantastic Friday: Strength moustache

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Over the last few issues, the series has been gradually passing the torch (heh) from the original team to a brand new team. In issue #307, we get a look at the new team in action for the first time.

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To recap: Reed and Sue are leaving the FF to spend more time with their son. The new team consists of Ben, Johnny, Crystal, and Sharon Ventura a.k.a. the second Ms. Marvel. The issue begins several pages of Reed and Sue saying their official goodbyes, and a lot of little character beats. Crystal says life at Four Freedoms Plaza (which is the team’s new HQ) is just what she and her daughter Luna need after her split with husband Quicksilver. Sharon says she hopes to live up the FF’s legacy, with Reed reminding her that the team began as a bunch of old college friends. Ben reminds himself (and the readers) that he’s the only one who knows the PTSD that Sharon is going through. Finally, Sue and Johnny have a heart-to-heart about how much they’ve grown up since the old days. As Reed is out the door, Ben takes him aside and makes him promise not to butt in when there’s a crisis, and to trust Ben and his new FF.

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We then cut to a hospital, where Diablo is recovering from his injuries in the fight against the FF last issue. Except, he’s covered with bandages and has both his arms and legs in casts. But, all Sharon did last issue was punch him once. How hard was that punch? He recovers from these injuries quickly thanks to an “elixir of rejuvenation” on his person. There’s a flashback to his origin (he was a ninth century alchemist who discovered an immortality formula) and he escapes from the hospital.

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Johnny and Alicia (who is secretly Lyja the Skrull in disguise) are unpacking in their new apartment, when she accidentally breaks a table. Johnny fixes it, only for it to transform into a dragon-like monster (!). Johnny defeats the monster and then looks outside, where ordinary objects are turning into monsters all over New York.

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Reed, Sue, and Franklin are at the train station, waiting to leave for their new home in Connecticut, when they hear of the crisis in the city. Reed asks Franklin to use his astral projection powers to look in on the new FF and see what’s happening. He does, secretly following Ben, Johnny, Crystal, and Sharon as they venture deep into Manhattan, where Diablo has constructed an old-timey castle for himself. Reed wants to help them, but Sue stops him. She reminds him of the promise he made to Ben.

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The new FF fights through the castle, battling a bunch of robots and rock monsters Diablo has conjured. Along the way, Ben and Sharon reminisce about their days in the goofy Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation. Crystal watches Johnny’s back, and in doing so, insists that she’s not here to disrupt his marriage with Alicia. They confront Diablo, who uses his potions to summon vines up from the floor to fight them. He then says what might be the greatest line of dialogue in comics history: “They expect me to reach to my cape for another potion, but I’ll use my moustache for strength.”

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Sharon is the one who figures out what this means, that Diablo’s life-giving elixir wasn’t hidden in his clothes, but on his body. This allows her to subdue him, and the fight is over. Back at HQ, the new team relaxes, having become friends now. Franklin makes another psychic visit to them, and returns to Reed, saying the team saved the day, and everyone looks happy. Knowing that, Reed, Sue, and Franklin walk off to start their new life. (They’ll be back in 20 issues or so.)

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Clobberin’ time: Ben mentions the time he and Sharon wrestled against “The Bulk-Man and Ribbon.” Neither the Marvel wiki nor any of the usual fan sites have entries for these characters, so I think it’s a safe bet this issue is the only mention we’ll ever get of these two.

Flame on: By this point, I’m guessing the Johnny-and-Alicia’s-marriage-will-be-awkward-with-Ben-and-Crystal-around thing is not going to go away anytime soon, as it’s being brought up in every issue. In this one, they make time during the big fight scene to mention it.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Crystal starts wearing the “4” uniform in this issue, but Sharon says she’ll stick with her Ms. Marvel uniform until she feels she’s earned the “4.” (She’ll be getting a new look soon enough. Oh, boy, will she.) She’s also not comfortable with the others calling her Sharon instead of Ms. Marvel, even in the privacy of headquarters.

The Alicia problem: Being blind, “Alicia” is having trouble adjusting to the new apartment, getting to know the size of the space and where everything is. We know that Lyja is really wearing special contacts to simulate blindness, so there’s no reason to think this part is an act.

Commercial break: Zittles!

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Trivia time: This issue mentions Captain America murdering a man, and how the whole nation is shocked by this. That occurred in Captain America #321, in which Cap had to shoot and kill an Ultimatum henchman in order to save a bunch of hostages. Whether we can call that cold-blooded murder is a debate that goes in the pages of Captain America for a time, and in a roundabout way leads to Steve Rogers retiring and handing the shield and costume to USAgent for a while.

Fantastic or frightful? I really want to like the new FF lineup, but there’s little sense of what chemistry they might have. This issue tries to set up a major crisis for them, but it’s rushed through so quickly that there’s no sense of danger or stakes, just “There’s some monsters, let’s punch them.” And even though the new team is here, the next issue begins an arc in which we mess with the status quo again. This is a strange time to be a Fantastic Four fan.

Next week: Catch the wave. C-c-c-Coke!

****

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: The Two Towers

Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. All three Lord of the Rings movies are on this set, and this week the random number generator landed on The Two Towers. Off to Middle Earth we go!

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Here’s what happens: In the fantasy world of Middle Earth, hobbits Frodo and Sam must take the all-powerful One Ring deep into enemy territory in hopes of eventually destroying it. They are pursued by the unstable and duplicitous creature Gollum. Elsewhere, their buddies in the fellowship must find some way to drive back the enemy army marching toward at Helm’s Deep.

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Why it’s famous: This second one in particular? That’d be the character of Gollum, brought to life by combining an actor’s performance with visual effects in a bigger way than had ever been done before.

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Get your film degree: For as much as these movies are labeled as special effects bonanzas, it’s impressive how much of it was practical, with real sets and real stuntmen. (A whole bunch of those stuntmen walked away from the Helm’s Deep battle with broken bones, allegedly.) Also, even though Gollum is a CGI monster, his biggest scene is him talking to himself in his madness, accomplished with just the performance and some simple editing. It’s a great example of how effects serve the story, and not the other way around.

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Movie geekishness: Of the three LOTR movies, this is the one that takes the most liberties with the source material. In the finale, Frodo is so overwhelmed with Ring Madness that he almost hands over the ring to the baddies. This is undone at the end of the movie by having him shrug and basically say “I’m better now, thanks.” I’ve always felt this was tonally off, and just an excuse for Frodo to have something to do during the third act.

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Thoughts upon this viewing: I love the LOTR movies. They’re one-third Tolkien, one-third old-school Hollywood epic, and one-third New Zealand quirkiness. The combo works, and it still holds up.

Next week: Bounty hunter.

****

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

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