Random Warner Bros. – The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. This week the random number generator makes yet another reference to badges as it landed on The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Here’s what happens: A group of down-on-their-luck Americans in post-revolution Mexico catch wind of buried treasure in the desert. Finding the treasure is only the start of the story, though, as our anti-heroes face rival criminals from without and greed and suspicion from within.

Why it’s famous: A classic morality tale of the corrupting power of greed. And, I guess, the “badges” line.

Get your film degree: This was director John Huston and star Humphrey Bogart’s follow-up to The Maltese Falcon, trading in that movie’s shadowy interiors for big, expansive exteriors. With sharp-tongued anti-heroes and an emphasis on greed and mistrust, the script still feels a little bit noir.

Movie geekishness: Once again, I’m fascinated at how Humphrey Bogart is a different kind of action hero. Like in Maltese Falcon, he fights with his lightning-fast wordplay rather than fists or guns.

Thoughts upon this viewing: It’s hard to watch this not be reminded of the many times it’s been parodied over the years, but it’s exciting to see Huston get to play with a big Hollywood budget and go huge with the production values.

Next week: Doctor, doctor, give me the news.


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


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Fantastic Friday: It was all a dream… until it wasn’t

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issues #330-333 are writer Steve Englehart’s last word on the series. It’s a bunch of dream sequences that have nothing to do with anything, followed by a mean-spirited satirical jab at his bosses at Marvel. This one’s going to be a bumpy ride, people.

Issue #330 is Sue’s dream, but, oddly she doesn’t dream about herself. Her dream is all about Dr. Doom making a last-ditch effort to re-take the Latverian throne from the Doom imitator Kristoff. Doom assembles a team of the Hulk, the Hobgoblin, Absorbing Man, the Beetle, Dormammu, Attuma, and Master Pandemonium. They attack the Latverian castle, only to learn that Kristoff has assembled his own team, made up of Electro, Sandman, Mysterio, Annihilus, Rhino, and the Abomination. There’s a big fight, ending with Kristoff setting off a series of atomic bombs, eventually destroying the Earth. For if he can’t rule the Earth, no one can. Then we’re reminded that this was all a dream Sue is having.

In the real world, Aron’s clones of the FF still believe it is the 1960s. Because they think this is issue #2 and Skrulls are afoot, they refuse to help the U.N. during an international crisis.

Issue #331 is Reed’s dream. He imagines the newly-reunited FF just as they were before Aron abducted them, with Sharon and a human Ben on the team. The previous few issues have had a running joke about the genius inventor Reed being delighted with having an ordinary home computer. In the dream, the computer turns out to be Ultron in disguise, as part of a plot to take over the advanced machinery inside FF headquarters. Sharon is the one who defeats Ultron, deducing that he can’t still be made of Adamantium, but of weaker metal, in order to be disguised as a smaller computer. Reed is overjoyed to see the FF working as a team again, and then we’re reminded that this was all a dream.

In the real world, the FF clones attack a magician they think is the Miracle Man from issue #3. Clone Reed then announces he is instituting a “Fantasti-tax,” demanding that the people of New York pay the FF in exchange for protection.

Issue #332 is Johnny’s dream. He fantasizes about Crystal visiting HQ. She says she is unhappy in her marriage with Quicksilver and she wants to rejoin the FF. Everyone is good with this, even if it brings back temptation for Johnny, still married to Alicia. Crystal fits right in the team, making for a Fantastic Six for a while. Sue, however, asks Crystal to leave, worried that she’s there to break up Johnny and Alicia. Sue and Crystal fight. Franklin sees the fight, and this breaks down the mental barriers keeping his powers under control.

There’s a multi-page flashback to issue #245, in which Franklin’s powers went out of control, but he couldn’t turn Ben human because of Ben’s fears of losing Alicia. Franklin then admits that Johnny’s relationship with Alicia was not natural, but created by Franklin’s powers in an attempt to make everyone happy. Now that Ben is human, Franklin says he is free to “fix” everything, by restoring Ben and Alicia’s relationship and Johnny and Crystal’s relationship, for a big happy ending. Then we’re reminded that this was all a dream. (The clones don’t appear in this one.)

Issue #333 has the Avengers show up at FF headquarters. The Avengers have figured out that this isn’t the real FF, and a fight breaks out. After a few pages of fighting, the FF clones are teleported to Aron’s hideout in Canada. There, they find the real FF in battle with the Frightful Four. Johnny explains that his dream allowed his body temperature to rise just enough for him to wake up and free the others. The Frightful Four help the FF defeat the clones. Aron reappears with a new plan. He sends the Frightful Four off to jail and sends the FF home. He then puts his clones to sleep so that he can watch their dreams. He says dreams, not reality, are what excites him. Sue says they need to contact the government and the news media right away to inform everyone of the clone situation.

Later, the Avengers and the West Coast Avengers team up to investigate a mysterious craft flying toward Oakland, California. It’s one of Reed’s aircrafts, piloted by Alicia (who is secretly Lyja the Skrull in disguise) and Franklin. They’ve come to Oakland to meet with comic book writer John Harkness (a.k.a. real-life comic book writer Steve Englehart). Franklin asks Harkness/Englehart to write a comic book letting the world know that Reed is really a good guy and that “this was all a mistake.” Harkness/Englehart responds with, “It might take a better man than me to straighten out this mess.” And with that, the issue ends.

Whew. Nothing says “editorial interference” like these issues. It’s obvious that these stories weren’t meant to be dreams, but actual continuity. To what extent, though, remains unknown. The story goes that Englehart allegedly wanted to take the series in experimental new directions, but that Marvel editorial wanted to go back to the original, old-fashioned FF. Therefore, in these issues, the villains argue in favor of stagnation and returning to the past, while our heroes argue for change and personal growth. Here’s my question: If Marvel editorial was so against what Englehart was writing, why did they allow all these not-so-subtle satiric jabs at them in this comic? It looks to me like the bosses at Marvel were trying to be in on the joke. Without access to their side of the story, all we really know is that Englehart was out the door.

Then there’s Zak-Site. http://Zak-site.com/Great-American-Novel is a must-read website for Fantastic Four fans. It is a thorough and exhaustive analysis of these comics, making the case that issue #333 is the end of the Fantastic Four’s story, and the end of Marvel continuity. Further the site speculates that everything that occurs after issue #333 is “the Franklinverse” existing only in Franklin’s imagination. It additionally speculates that everything from here on is the dreams experienced by the clones at the end of #333. (Note, however, that the site lists a couple of times between issues #333 and #355 as the time continuity ended.) The site argues that the series has been about Reed learning to set his scientific pursuits behind and learning to put his family first, thereby opening the door for Ben to emerge as team leader and true hero of the story, which is partially what Englehart wrote. The site goes on to say that everything that happens after this, characters’ histories no longer matter and are often re-written, and that actions no longer have consequences.  I’d argue that the changes in history and continuity represent characters and their world evolving over time. As for consequences, Sharon will still be with the team for quite some time, the Dr. Doom vs. Kristoff conflict is ongoing, there’s a big Galactus story coming up, and, most importantly, Valeria has yet to make her debut.

The next few issues find the FF in the middle of Marvel crossovers, after which the legendary Walt Simonson begins his run on the series, so I’m convinced good times are ahead.

Unstable molecule: Reed convinces the Wizard to help the FF by saying “You and I may be enemies, but we’re both human!”

Fade out: Sue says twice that her Doom vs. Kristoff dream is a parallel for the FF versus clones fight. Not buying it.

Clobberin’ time: Human Ben tries to jump into the fight, only to get knocked out by Reed’s clone just as the fight starts. (He gets better.)

Flame on: Johnny does not get along with his clone, referring to the clone as a “hipster façade.”

Fantastic fifth wheel: Sharon tells Reed that she’s developed an interest in science, and that she served as the brains of the group while Reed was away. I wouldn’t go that far.

She-Hulk is with the Avengers as they storm FF headquarters, but there’s no mention of her being a former member of the team.

Four and a half: Franklin tells the Avengers he used his dream-based powers to peek on the FF’s dreams to discover what was really going on. His powers are all over place during this time. He’s still insisting everyone call him Frank instead of Franklin.

The Alicia problem: Are we to assume that Lyja is able to fly the FF’s aircraft thanks to her experience as a space-faring alien?

Commercial break: “What hit me?”

Trivia time: Aron the Watcher will later return during the Infinity War crossover. I don’t believe we ever learn the fate of the FF’s clones. The best I can do is a fan-made wiki, which says the clones are “assumed to be still on Earth.”

Fantastic or frightful? The reason I started this series on the blog was an attempt to put into words why I was so disappointed with the Tim Story Fantastic Four movies, and what it is that makes the comics work that was lacking in the movies. Steve Englehart’s version of the FF has big ideas and big ambition, but is marred by clunky storytelling. The movies have had the clunky storytelling, but lack the ideas and the ambition. Therefore, I come to praise Englehart, not bury him. His version of Fantastic Four didn’t work, but he really went for it in an attempt to push the limits of what the series can be.

Next week: It’s hotter under the water.


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Random Warner Bros.: The Shawshank Redemption

Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. This week the random number generator gets busy living as it selects The Shawshank Redemption.

Here’s what happens: Andy Dufresne is thrown in jail for a crime he didn’t commit, and spends the next several years making waves and touching lives in ways both big and small, often in conflict with a cruel warden. Then it’s revealed what Andy’s plan really is.

Why it’s famous: This movie is beloved, and I mean beloved. That’s thanks to Frank Darabount’s confident direction and great acting. This is the movie that first gave us the “Morgan Freeman narration” thing.

Get your film degree: The movie is mostly episodic, various vignettes about life behind bars and Andy being quirky. It’s not until the movie’s final third that it all ties together in a big satisfying way. The final 30 minutes are definitely why the movie is so beloved.

Movie geekishness: The movie co-stars familiar faces Clancy Brown and William Sadler, in dramatic roles even though they are mostly famous for the sci-fi/horror work. That’s fitting, considering this movie is based on a story from Steven King’s Different Seasons, a collection of his (mostly) non-paranormal literary fiction.

Thoughts upon this viewing: I was ready to shrug this one off as “that movie that’s always on cable” but I’ll be damned if the movie’s sweeping final act doesn’t draw you in like no other.

Next week: Something something badges something.


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


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Fantastic Friday: Attack of the clones

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In the last issue, a villain created clones of our heroes. In issue #329, we see the plans are for those clones.

We begin in the middle of the story, with the FF in Reed’s lab, preparing for their next adventure. Alicia (who is secretly Lyja the Skrull in disguise) seems perplexed by what is happening. Reed is bossing the others around, Sue dotes on his every word, and Ben has not only mutated back to his “spikey” form, but he has a bad attitude, beginning most of his statements with “Bah!” Reed announces that the FF are going to travel to Monster Island and capture the Mole Man. Alicia points out that the Mole Man was abducted by lava men (in issue #313) and Monster Island was destroyed (in issue #296).  Reed says that’s no matter, as his science genius can raise an island.

Cut to our villain, Aron the Watcher, who is in his new hideout in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada, which he describes as a wilderness so remote it is “hard to reach by human means.” He reveals that the FF we’ve been reading about are the FF clones he created, and he has the real FF trapped in suspended animation, along with their foes the Frightful Four. He further explains that, as a fugitive Watcher, he is limited in the use of power to stay hidden from other Watchers. His fake FF, however, are free to do his bidding however he wishes.

The fake FF fly a Fantasticar out to the ocean, where Reed does indeed raise the island to the surface and restore it to its former glory. From this point, most of the issue is a remake/homage/satire of Fantastic Four #1, repeating a lot of the same dialogue and story beats from the FF’s first adventure on the island. Our “heroes” occasionally stop to reflect on how their memories of everything that’s happened between then and now feel like a dream.

Speaking of dreams, we cut back to Aron, who is observing the dreams the real FF are having while in stasis. In Ben’s dream, Sharon dumps him because he’s human now. In Sharon’s dream, Ben dumps her for exactly the same reason. The caption informs us that these dreams will go on.

At Monster Island, the fake FF confronts the Mole Man, who says he’s had a change of heart following their last few encounters. He’s left his selfish and cowardly ways behind, and in now working for peace, fighting to unite all the world’s secret underground kingdoms. Still believing that they’re in issue #1, the fake heroes attack the Mole Man. It appears that the Mole Man and his various monsters are about to win the fight, until an energy beam shoots down from the sky and wrecks the island. The fake FF escape, while the Mole Man gives a big speech about how his faith in humanity is betrayed, and he hates the FF even more than ever now.

As the fake FF are escaping, fake Reed wonders why this adventure doesn’t conclude with an awesome explosion, only for the island to then explode. Back in Canada, Aron reveals that he’s the one who fired the energy beam at the island, so that his version of the FF could win the fight. He says his new FF will still take some work.

Clobberin’ time/Fantastic fifth wheel: The only time we see the actual FF in this issue is during the dueling dream sequences of Ben and Sharon. This appears to foreshadow Sharon’s eventual leaving the team, even though that still won’t be for a while.

The Alicia problem: Although she hasn’t been cloned, Alicia/Lyja seems written in an early 1960s style as well, being very naïve and unknowledgeable about the FF. Perhaps we can theorize that Lyja, a trained spy, can tell something is up, and she’s merely playing along.

Commercial break: This ad is way ahead of its time, in that the cool fantasy hero could be either male or female.

Trivia time: Monster Island, located near Japan, was created by Kro, an enemy of the Eternals, before the Mole Man took it over. Monster Island tends to get destroyed a lot, only for characters to visit it later to find it restored with no explanation. According to the Marvel Super Heroes role-playing game, Monster Island is longitude 136, latitude 40 north.

Fantastic or frightful? The idea here to play around with how the FF of issue #1 would interact with the Marvel Universe of today. This story only sort of does that, though, because we’re at Monster Island the whole time. The better moments are the ones that poke fun at the plot holes and overall goofiness of those early issues. It doesn’t really go anywhere, though, ultimately feeling like filler.

Next week: Sweet dreams are (not) made of these.


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Random Warner Bros.: The Bodyguard

Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. This week the random number generator has the stuff that you want and the thing that you need as it landed on The Bodyguard.

Here’s what happens: Former secret service agent Frank Farmer has a reputation for being the best, so he’s hired to protect celebrity singer/actress Rachel Marron, who has been targeted by a psycho stalker. While Farmer clashes with Rachel’s staff, he lets his guard down and has a whirlwind romance with Rachel, while the stalker doesn’t let up.

Why it’s famous: The song, of course! Whitney Houston sings for the back row, belting out “I Will Always Love You” with superhuman lungpower. A lot of movies sell a soundtrack, but this is one case where the soundtrack sold the movie.

Get your film degree: Writer Lawrence Kasdan allegedly wrote the first version of the script way back in the ‘70s, hoping to capture a classic Motown feel. The movie went in and out of pre-production throughout the years, until stars Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner finally signed up.

Movie geekishness: Interesting that the romance is told from the man’s point of view. If this were a trash airport romance novel, it’d be told from the woman’s POV, with her breaking through the alpha male’s tough guy exterior. In The Bodyguard, there’s little sense as to what inspires Rachel to ask Farmer on a date that first time.

Thoughts upon this viewing: I don’t think the movie works. I’m not feeling the romance, because the two leads are mostly jerks to each other the whole time. I’m not feeling it as suspense/mystery, as the villain is kept in the distance for most of the movie. That song, though.

Next week: Get busy living.


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


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Fantastic Friday: One man’s war

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #328 more or less kicks off writer Steve Englehart’s final arc on the series, for better or worse.

As we begin, the FF have been defeated by the combined might of the new Frightful Four and Aron the Watcher. Aron, with Dragon Man as his sidekick, has been following the Fantastic Four in secret for a long time now. Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Sharon Ventura are unconscious in the Frightful Four’s hideout, with a now-human Ben back at FF HQ. The Wizard wants to kill the FF, but Aron says he has other plans. He also takes a page to remind everyone that he’s a bad guy because he broke the Watchers’ oath only to watch and never interfere. Their disagreement becomes a full-on villain brawl. The Frightful Four — Wizard, Titania, Klaw, and Hydro-Man — appear to win at first, until Aron knocks them out with a snap of fingers. Aron takes skin samples from Reed and Sue, which is all he wanted, and then he teleports out of there.

Later, Ben arrives at Frightful Four’s hideout on an FF sky-cycle (at least, the Marvel Wiki identifies it the sky-cycle) and talks to the NYPD at the scene. The cops report that Dragon Man was seen carrying a bunch of bodies away. Ben goes back to HQ and contacts She-Hulk, asking her about when she recently fought Dragon-Man. She says he was spotted around the Empire State Building.

Ben and Alicia visit the Empire State Building, where a nearby news vendor tells them a monster has been seen flying around the building lately. They wander around inside the building, where people are acting strangely. Ben concludes that some sort of mind-control device is in effect. Ben questions another man inside the building, who turns into an octopus-like monster. This is then revealed to be a hallucination.

Ben then fights his way into the Wizard’s hideout inside the building, where the Wizard has the FF hooked up to some machine. Without powers, Ben relies on his old-school hand-to-hand combat training and manages to hold his own against the Frightful Four long enough to free his teammates. The FF make short work of the Frightful Four this time, combining their powers to defeat the villains quickly.

Just as it looks like it’s all over, both the FF and the bad guys are teleported to another dimension, where Aron is waiting for them. He says he has to hide out in this other dimension so the other Watchers can’t see what he’s up to. He then reveals why he’s been stealing skin samples from the FF. He introduces his own re-creations of the FF, which he calls his “pawns.”

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: Reed defeats Titania by stretching himself into the shape of a big slingshot and flinging her into a wall.

Fade out: Sue traps Hydro-Man inside a Hydro-Man shaped force field, so that he cannot turn into water. This allows Sharon to knock him out.

Clobberin’ time: The cops don’t question Ben’s authority as a member of the FF, because they recognize him “from way back.” I wonder what the story is there.

Flame on: Johnny removes Klaw’s sound gun, saying that even though Klaw’s body is made of pure sound, Klaw is still harmless with his weaponry.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Ben suggests to Sharon that she could become human again, but she insists once again that her Thing body is who she was meant to be.

She-Hulk comments about a “guy named Byrne” following her around. This is a reference to John Byrne returning to Marvel to write and draw the comedy She-Hulk comic, famous for its breaking-the-fourth-wall gags.

The Alicia problem: The mind control stuff inside the Empire State Building has no effect on Alicia, who is secretly Lyja the Skrull in disguise. We’re told this is because she is blind (Lyja is actually wearing contact lenses to simulate blindness), but perhaps it’s because, as a shape-changer, Lyja is able to “see” beyond outward appearances.

Commercial break: I’m shocked that Spinjas never took the world by storm:

Trivia time: Not surprisingly, the Empire State Building is often a hotbed of activity in the Marvel Universe. Some highlights: We just had the Inferno crossover, where the X-Men fought demons there. The X-Men’s enemies the Fenris twins had an office in the building, as did Gabriel the Devil-Hunter (on the 13th floor, naturally). The Avengers, the Hulk and even Power Pack have battled multiple enemies there. Way back in the 1940s, the building was the site of an epic fight between the Sub-Mariner and the original android Human Torch.

Fantastic or frightful? A frustrating issue, in how little of it makes sense. Why does Aron leave the FF with the Frightful Four after defeating them? Why does the Frightful Four have to have two hideouts? Where did all this mind control stuff come from? The heart of the story is Ben proving himself even without his powers. That’s good, but everything around it is baffling. And it’s only going to get worse.

Next week: Dream a little (crappy) dream.


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Random Warner Bros. – Amadeus


Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. This week the random number generator yawns during the opera, making things tough for Amadeus.

Here’s what happens: Salieri is the most respected composer in the emperor’s court, until unsophisticated young upstart Mozart shows up. Salieri is overcome with jealously over Mozart’s genius, so he plots to ruin and eventually kill Mozart, even after learning of Mozart’s troubled home life.

Why it’s famous: Huge production value combined with huge production values, brought together by Milos Foreman’s confident direction. Also, a soundtrack from Mozart himself, naturally.

Get your film degree: This Blu-ray is the director’s cut, adding 25 minutes to an already long movie. Forman claims that the material was cut because they didn’t know if the movie would be a success in the MTV era. After it did well and won tons of Oscars, Forman added the deleted material back in, with his argument being that folks like the movie, so here’s giving them more of it.

Movie geekishness: Actor Tom Hulce has the most show-offy role as Mozart, but it’s odd that he never really exploded into superstardom. His roles have been built around three bizarre points of Amadeus, Animal House, and Disney’s Hercules. The internet informs me that these days he produces and directs live theater, not bothering with Hollywood.

Thoughts upon this viewing: Amadeus sometimes has a reputation for being too long, but this time, even with the longer director’s cut, I wasn’t feeling the time. It flew by, as I was once again immersed in the characters, the world, and the music. Just great filmmaking all around.

Next week: And I…


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Fantastic Friday: Human again… again

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. In issue #327, the original four are back together (sort of) for some old-fashioned villain-punching.

Recap: Reed and Sue have paid a visit to the new FF, and they may or may not be re-joining the team full time. A brand-new Frightful Four attacked, and during the battle, Reed’s latest machine turned Ben back into a human. As this issue begins, Ben is immediately overcome with doubt, losing his strength, while the battle continues all around him. Reed, Sue, Johnny, and the Sharon Ventura Ms. Marvel fight against the new Frightful Four, made up of the Wizard, Titania, Klaw, and Hydro-Man. Johnny turns Hydro-Man into steam, Sharon and Titania bicker about ugliness versus inner beauty as they trade punches, and Franklin uses a “mind thrust” to attack the Wizard, allowing Reed to take the offensive. The FF eventually defeats the Frightful Four to the point where the Frightful Four retreats. Reed says to let them go, so the FF can regroup.

Ben asks Reed how his transformation is possible, since Reed said Ben could never be human again because of his mental block. Reed promises to do some tests to find the answer. Sharon expresses concern about how small Ben is now, and that she could potentially crush him, but Ben responds by giving her a big hug. He still loves her! Reed gets to work not on Ben’s condition, but on the building’s defenses, finding out how the Wizard got inside. Sue tells him it’s not official that he’s team leader again. He assumes he is, but she tells him nothing has been decided.

Back at the Frightful Four’s headquarters, a warehouse in Long Island, the team bickers while the Wizard gives a big speech comparing him and Reed. He says their intellects are equal, so it’s their teams that make the difference. Reed’s team is like family, and loyal to him, while the Wizard’s team is made up of hired thugs, loyal to themselves. The Wizard sees a shape fly by outside the window, and thinks he’s found someone new to hire.

Back at Four Freedoms Plaza (I still don’t like that name) Ben says he’s enjoying being human, but again reassures Sharon that he loves her no matter what her body type is. Reed says he has not only found the computer virus the Wizard used to break into the building, but he’s tracked it back to the source, locating the Frightful Four’s hideout. Ben turns leadership of the FF over to Reed, so Reed, Sue, Johnny and Sharon take off to attack the villains.

Catching the Frightful Four by surprise, the FF make short work of the baddies. Just as they’ve won the fight, an unseen force knocks them all out. The Wizard then introduces his new recruits — Dragon Man (the shape he saw flying by earlier) and Aron the Watcher (whom we know has been stalking the FF for some time).

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: Reed punches out Klaw with metal knuckles made of Vibranium. Because Klaw is made of pure sound, Vibranium has no effect on him. Predictably, we’re not told where Reed got these things from.

Fade out: Sue says she doesn’t know if she could handle all the ups and downs Ben has gone through lately. Are we just ignoring the emotional hell she suffered during the whole “Malice” story arc?

Clobberin’ time: Ben has some clothes stashed away from the last time he turned human (not counting his time on Battleworld) and jokes about the ‘70s wide lapels on shirts. Predictably, we’re not told how these clothes survived the destruction of the original Baxter Building.

Flame on: You’d think Hydro-Man would be a good opponent for Johnny, but he doesn’t stand a chance. Johnny turns him into steam during the first fight, and then turns him into ice by drawing the heat from his body in the second fight.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Once again, the comic is ahead of its time by having Sharon be a non-conventionally beautiful hero, but then the others have to keep reassuring her that she is loved over and over. Baby steps, I guess.

Four and a half: Where did Franklin get this telekinesis-like “mind-thrust” power from? In Silver Surfer and Avengers, we saw Reed decide to encourage Franklin using his powers and exploring what all Franklin can do, rather than trying to repress those powers.

The Alicia problem: Alicia, who is secretly Lyja the Skrull in disguise, is quick to approach Ben and touch his face. Remember that Lyja wears contacts to simulate blindness, so this is the first time she’s “seen” Ben as a human.

Commercial break: The Campbell’s kids are sooo creepy:

Trivia time: What happened with the Avengers after Reed and Sue left? Captain America established a “revolving door” team, meaning that different Avengers would and wouldn’t be on the team at any given time, sort of like the Defenders constantly-changing membership. During this time, the Avengers faced some Fantastic Four villains, Dr. Doom and Blastaar.

Fantastic or frightful? I wonder if someone at Marvel editorial demanded more action, because this issue is pretty much all fighting. I love a superhero brawl as much as anyone, but it’s better to have more of a balance between slugfest and story, something this issue lacks.

Next week: Who watches this watcher? No one!


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Random Warner Bros. – Mrs. Miniver

Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. This week the random number generator enlists to fight the good fight as we watch Mrs. Miniver.

Here’s what happens: Mrs. Miniver and her family live an idyllic life in the pastoral English country. Their lives are disrupted in numerous ways when World War II breaks out. The conflict is distant at first, but eventually lands on their doorstep.

Why it’s famous: A huge blockbuster in 1942, earning Oscars for actors Greer Garson, Teresa White, for director Walter Pidgeon, and for Best Picture.

Get your film degree: The movie occupies an interesting spot in history. When the film started production, the US was neutral. Pearl Harbor happened during filming, and the war was truly a global conflict by the time the movie hit theaters. There were constant re-writes during shooting to keep up with current events, most notably a big speech near the end.

Movie geekishness: Mrs. Miniver’s most famous scene is when a stranded enemy soldier washes up on Miniver’s property. I agree it’s the best part of the movie, with the horror of war going from a distant concept to trouble right at home.

Thoughts upon this viewing: Honestly, reading about this movie’s history was more interesting than the movie itself, which on the surface is a weepy melodrama, with the main character constantly worrying and fretting about her family. Your basic late ‘30s/early ’40s tearjerker.

Next week: Hey, where’s Falco?


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Fantastic Friday: Hitting the reset button

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Getting used to the “new” Fantastic Four? Too bad, because issue #236 hits the reset button.

After 20 or so issues of the “new” Fantastic Four, Reed and Sue are back, and we’re abruptly getting the classic team back together with little fanfare. Writer Steve Englehart alleges that readers loved his bold new direction. He further alleges that Marvel editorial re-wrote his scripts to the point where almost nothing of his original work remained.  Marvel editorial allegedly cited low sales, and readers’ fondness for the original four. I’m using “allegedly” a lot because we’ll probably never know what really happened. What we do know is that for the remainder of his run on Fantastic Four Englehart’s writing credit is replaced with the pseudonym “John Harkness.”

We begin with Reed and Sue out for a walk, with Reed admitting he isn’t happy. Despite their recent short-lived membership in the Avengers, Reed says his mind isn’t “active,” and that he wants to stay involved and engaged. Sue reminds him that he promised he wouldn’t interfere with Ben’s leadership in the new FF team. He says he won’t and that he’ll just pay the FF a friendly visit instead.

Inside FF headquarters, Reed is attacked by all the automatic defenses, the same ones he invented. He switches the defenses off, and is reunited with Ben, Johnny, and Sharon. Note that Johnny’s flame is still burning out of control since the Inferno event. Reed knows his machines need adjustments, but he doesn’t want to say so in front of Ben. Reed then says he’ll look into Johnny’s condition, all the while reassuring Ben that he’s not there to get in Ben’s way.

Cut to the FF’s old enemy the Wizard, who is spying on them from inside his new hideout, a “nondescript warehouse” in NYC. We learn the Wizard has assembled a brand-new Frightful Four, made up of him, Klaw, Titania, and Hydro-Man. Titania is a super-strong brawler, Hydro-Man is a bank-robbing thug who can turn himself into water and back, and Klaw is the master of sound, who recently regained his sanity after losing it during the first Secret War. The Wizard says now that Reed is back, it’s time for the new Frightful Four to strike.

At FF headquarters, Sue and Franklin arrive, and there are hugs all around as the family is reunited. While Reed works in the lab on Johnny’s cure, Sue and Ben have a heart-to-heart. She too says Reed isn’t there to take leadership away from Ben. Reed and Sharon have a heart-to-heart, with Reed saying how impressed he is with her.

Reed finishes a device to cure Johnny, saying part of it comes from what he learned in his recent magic-based adventure with the Silver Surfer (in Silver Surfer #15-17). Johnny is hooked up to the machine, and says he feels a freezing sensation as all the excess flame is being drawn out of him. Just as the procedure reaches a crucial point, the Frightful Four attack. (The Wizard used a computer virus to help his team gain entry.)

Everybody fights, with Reed warning them the whole time not to interrupt Johnny’s procedure. The two teams seem evenly matched, until Klaw and Titania team up against Ben, throwing him into the machine curing Johnny. The machine falls apart, and in the wreckage we see that Johnny is cured and Ben is… human again!

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: Reed makes a big deal of how he owns a personal computer now, hooking it up to the machines in his lab. He says it’s remarkable that there’s one in every home now.

Fade out: Sue’s FF uniform is missing the “4” symbol in the chest, with just a plain white circle in its place. Not sure what we’re supposed to make of that.

Clobberin’ time: Ben says he and Titania are evenly matched, except that he has a lifetime of fighting experience she doesn’t have. (According to The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, Titania can lift or press 85 tons, while Ben in his spikey form can lift or press more than 100 tons.)

Flame on: Johnny is at first hesitant to accept Reed’s help, because Reed never cured Ben. It’s not until Reed says the machine is partially based on magic that Johnny comes around, because the Inferno magic is what caused his problems to begin with.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Sharon approaches Reed on whether she is able to turn back into a human. Reed doesn’t directly answer, instead saying he’d heard she didn’t want to be human anymore.

Four and a half: Franklin says he’s going by “Frank” from now. We’ll how long that lasts.

The Alicia problem: Alicia, who is secretly Lyja the Skrull in disguise, appears briefly, saying she’s concerned for Johnny. When the fight begins, if you look closely you can see her in the background leading Franklin to safety. That’s Lyja’s spy training in action, no doubt.

Commercial break: I dare somebody to call this number:

Trivia time: After the Secret Wars, Titania was in a relationship with Absorbing Man for quite a while. After a recent Thor story, she believes Absorbing Man is dead. She doesn’t mention him in this issue.

This is the first time Hydro-Man appeared outside of a Spider-Man comic. When we last saw him, Spidey mixed him with some cement. No word on how he got out of that, though we can probably assume the Wizard found him and helped him out.

Fantastic or frightful? Editorial meddling or not, this issue feels like a step in the right direction. It’s not just that Reed and Sue are back, it’s that the team genuinely comes across as a family again.

Next issue: Human again.


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