Random Warner Bros. – The Shining

Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. This week the random number generator asked where all the topiaries are as it landed on The Shining.

Here’s what happens: Jack Torrance is hired as the winter caretaker for the Overlook Hotel in Colorado. Joining him are his nervous wife Wendy and troubled psychic son Danny. During their wintry solitude in the giant hotel, Jack succumbs to madness, Danny withdraws into himself, Wendy struggles to survive, and there’s something strange about this hotel.

Why it’s famous: Master filmmaker Stanley Kubrick takes Stephen King’s bestselling novel and makes it his own. Audiences loved it, King hated it, and conspiracy theorists flock to it.

Get your film degree: The visuals of The Shining have already been thoroughly analyzed (some might say over-analyzed), so I’ll just quickly hit the high points — Steadicam, smash cuts, knowing when and where to move the camera, and so on. I’ll say this: I appreciated how, during long dialogue scenes, Kubrick merely holds the camera in front of the actors and lets them act. I wish more of today’s filmmakers did that.

Movie geekishness: Screenwriting 101 would have us believe that the movie doesn’t need both Grady and the bartender, seeing how both characters serve the same purpose. The creepy bartender, though, adds a lot of atmosphere, helping the Overlook feel like a place of genuine mystery. There are a lot of little touches like that in the movie — the party guests, the guy in the bear suit, the ambiguous final shot — that add to the mystery. These throwaway additions mean we’re only seeing parts of all the craziness going on inside the Overlook, leaving the rest to our imaginations.

Thoughts upon this viewing: The Shining is still great. It’s smart, scary, and weird — just what we expect from Kubrick.

Next week: Hello, room service?

****

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Fantastic Friday: Ladies’ night out

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. The previous issue gave us a decent-to-good Thing/Hulk fight. Well, Marvel now has a female Thing and a She-Hulk, so ladies get their go at it in issue #321.

We begin with Sharon Ventura (a.k.a. Ms. Marvel) breaking down the door of She-Hulk’s apartment, looking for a fight. The Hulk recently defeated Ben (in Incredible Hulk #350). Sharon wants revenge, so Sharon demands She-Hulk tell her where the Hulk is. She-Hulk says she and the Hulk (who is her cousin) have gone their separate ways. Sharon is furious, not listening to reason, and starts a fight.

As their slugfest moves from the apartment to the street outside, She-Hulk is unprepared for how strong Sharon has become. After exchanging some punches and throwing some cars at each other, She-Hulk defeats Sharon, as She-Hulk simply has more hand-to-hand combat experience. She-Hulk suggests they talk through their problems rather than keep punching each other.

Cut to a mysterious bald man wearing metal armor, watching the heroes from a distance, high up in a skyscraper. He says the fight ended to soon, interrupting his plans. The stranger blows a whistle and summons Dragon Man, who quite epically poses atop the Chrysler Building.

Sharon and She-Hulk compare notes. Sharon says Ben is in the hospital suffering from exhaustion, though he’ll be back to his old self within 24 hours. Sharon also says she spotted the bald man while on her way to She-Hulk’s apartment. Sharon and She-Hulk also discuss Sharon’s relationship with Ben, and the fact that Johnny and Alicia are married now. At the hospital, Alicia (who is secretly Lyja the Skrull in disguise) and Ben have a similar talk, with Ben saying her leaving him doesn’t hurt as much. Johnny, meanwhile, flies over NYC, thinking about how he loves Alicia, but part of him still loves Crystal, who recently left him to return to Quicksilver and live with the Inhumans on the moon.

She-Hulk and Sharon have another heart-to-heart about how Sharon’s monstrous form has been freeing for her, rather than traumatic. Then, Dragon Man swoops down to attack. Fighting! Dragon Man keeps focusing his attention on Sharon during the battle, despite both heroes landing punches on him. She-Hulk changes tactics, flirting with Dragon Man instead of fighting him. Confused, Dragon Man flies off. She-Hulk explains that when Dragon Man first fought the FF, Dragon Man developed a crush on Sue. Beautiful women, she says, are Dragon Man’s weakness.

Dragon Man returns to the mysterious stranger, who takes cell samples of Sharon off of Dragon Man’s hand, revealing this was his plan all along. We then learn this mystery man is Aron the Watcher. (Who? He’s a young Watcher who has gone rogue, not bothering with the “watch but don’t interfere” thing.) This would be a “To be continued” except it’s not going to be picked up again for a while.

Clobberin’ time: There’s no mention of how Ben got to the hospital, or who this doctor is that knows how to treat him. We’ll have to shrug it off as comic book logic, and an excuse for Sharon to have an adventure without him.

Flame on: In his only scene in this issue, Johnny ponders how he’s in love with both Alicia and Crystal equally, and feels huge guilt about it.

Fantastic Fifth wheel: This isn’t the first time Sharon and She-Hulk have fought. They duked it out when they met for the first time in Thing #36, and She-Hulk won that fight, too.

She-Hulk hadn’t been seen much in Marvel since the Avengers disbanded in Avengers #297. In Solo Avengers, she appeared before Congress to argue against the Mutant Registration Act, and in a special Christmas issue of Marvel Comics Presents, she fantasizes about beating up supervillains when spending Christmas alone. Shortly after this, she gets her own solo series from John Byrne, famous for its break-the-fourth-wall comedy.

The Alicia problem: Lyja tells Ben that her relationship with Johnny wasn’t planned, but that it just happened. I suppose this is true: She was meant to impersonate Alicia to infiltrate the FF. With Ben gone, she found herself in a relationship with Johnny. Some fans believe Lyja stuck to the mission, and that her love for Johnny was an act, but too much of this wouldn’t make sense if it wasn’t.

Commercial break: Airwolf! Stringfellow Hawke not included.

Trivia time: Aron the Watcher was previously introduced in Captain Marvel, where his presence helped absolve Uatu the Watcher of all the times he had broken his promise never to interfere.

The last time we saw Dragon Man was in Fantastic Four #300, where he was being mind-controlled by the Puppet Master. To my knowledge, it’s never been revealed how Dragon Man got away from Puppet Master and ended up under Aron’s control.

Fantastic or Frightful? On the plus side, I really like Ron Lim’s artwork. He draws great facial expressions on Sharon, making her feel like a real person under her rocky exterior. That said, this issue is frustrating because the whole Johnny/Crystal/Alicia/Ben/Sharon romantic quintangle should be over by this point, but they just keep rehashing without saying anything new, beating the same dead horse over and over. My memory of this era of FF is that it’s when things got quirky and different, but re-reading it now shows how directionless it all was.

Next week: It’s getting hot in here.

****

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Random Warner Bros. – The Matrix

Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. This week the random number generator made a whole bunch of Alice in Wonderland references during The Matrix.

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Here’s what happens: Mr. Anderson is secretly the computer hacker known as Neo. He is in search of something online called the Matrix, and a mysterious figure named Morpheus. What he discovers changes everything he knows about the world, and about himself.

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Why it’s famous: Groundbreaking special effects, high-flying martial arts, and a script that asks all the big, big questions about the nature of reality itself.

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Get your film degree: The Matrix is famous for that otherworldly green lighting, but the only time we really see that is during the office scenes at the beginning. In other scenes, we have flashlights lighting the opening fight scene, flickering fluorescents in the bathroom fight, and practical yet unflattering lights aboard Morpheus’ ship. The lighting informs each environment in a way that reinforces the movie’s themes. This is probably true of every movie, but we notice it in The Matrix because The Matrix is so stylized.

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Movie geekishness: Not everything about The Matrix is perfect. The office scene, in which the villainous agents interrogate Neo in his office, has a bunch of sci-fi weirdness with Neo’s mouth sealing shut and some robot-fish thing inserted into his stomach. The problem is that the opening fight scene already established that we’re in a sci-fi world where things are wonky, making this office special effects sequence redundant and therefore unnecessary.

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Thoughts upon this viewing: I don’t need to tell you The Matrix is great. You already know The Matrix is great. A lot of action movies claim to also be smart, but The Matrix is one that lives up to that.

Next week: All work and no play…

****

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Fantastic Friday: A real Fixit-er upper

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. One of the big deals about this “new” Fantastic Four is that the Thing, in his spikey form, is as strong as the Hulk now. That means in issue #320 it’s time for another Thing/Hulk slugfest!

We begin in the desert outside of Las Vegas, for a secret nighttime meeting between Dr. Doom and the Hulk. Only, this version of the Hulk might be different from the one you know. After surviving a nuclear blast, the Hulk has reverted to a grey-skinned form, with (somewhat) normal intelligence. Instead of “mindless monster,” he’s now more of a “hard-fightin’ thug” type. As such, the Hulk now works as a Las Vegas mob enforcer, going by the name Mr. Fixit. This might sound ridiculous, but writer Peter David made it work, cranking out some of the all-time best Hulk stories ever during the Mr. Fixit years.

The Hulk is furious to learn that Doom is the one who’s secretly called him for this clandestine meeting, and the two have short fight. Doom incapacitates the Hulk with a device that scrambles the nerve impulses in the Hulk’s brain. (If this tech exists, why doesn’t everyone use it when they fight the Hulk? I guess Dr. Doom wouldn’t allow such a thing.) Doom says he wants the Hulk’s help in retaking his kingdom of Latveria back from the usurper Kristoff. In exchange, Doom offers the Hulk protection, wealth, status, and respect. The Hulk says he already has all of that as Mr. Fixit. Doom says he’ll recruit the Thing instead, because the Thing is now leader of the FF, and has become just as strong as the Hulk. Hulk gets furious, saying that he’s defeated the Thing every time they’ve fought, and he’ll do it again. Doom knows how to push Hulk’s buttons, saying that with increased intelligence comes increased cowardice. Hulk says he’ll prove he’s not a coward, and he leaves for New York, to pick a fight with Ben.

At FF headquarters, we’re still down the Fantastic Three — Ben, Johnny, and the Sharon Ventura Ms. Marvel. Johnny and Alicia (who is secretly Lyja the Skrull in disguise) invite Ben and Sharon to join them for an afternoon on the Staten Island Ferry, but Ben stays behind. Alone, he ponders what it means to be the leader of the team, and how he has responsibility to keep morale up. He heads up to the roof of Four Freedoms Plaza to overlook the city, where of course he’s attacked by the Hulk.

The rest of this issue is one big punch-em-up. Because the rest of the world currently believes the Hulk is dead, Hulk doesn’t say anything throughout the fight, fearing his voice will give him away. Ben somehow assumes this is a clone of the Hulk. They fall/jump from the rooftop down to the street, where they throw cars at each other. Ben is unprepared for Hulk being smarter and knowing how to really fight, while the Hulk is unprepared for Ben now having the same amount of strength he does. They fight down into the sewer and then back up onto the street, where Ben pummels the Hulk so hard that it appears Ben had finally defeated the Hulk. But then, somehow, a second Hulk appears! It’s the classic green-skinned “dumb monster” Hulk.

That’s the cliffhanger, to be continued in Incredible Hulk #350. Here’s a quick recap. The green Hulk is actually a Hulk robot from The Eternals miniseries, which Doom recovered and reprogrammed. Ben defeats the robot and deduces that Doom is behind this. Ben and the Hulk fight again. This time the Hulk wins, thanks to Doom encouraging him to fight dirty. Hulk and Dr. Doom form an uneasy alliance, promising each other power from their empires (Vegas for Hulk, and Latveria for Doom). The Hulk then leaps off, leaving Ben still unconscious, to crossover in an Avengers story before making it back to Vegas.

Clobberin’ time: Thing/Hulk fights famously end in either stalemates or are interrupted. That’s the case again with this one, where Ben wins the first round and Hulk wins the second.

Flame on: Johnny employs comic book logic, saying not to worry about Dr. Doom’s scheming the FF won’t have to mess with him again for a while.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Sharon is full-on girlfriend mode, jokingly saying she’s going to learn about Ben’s bad habits from Johnny and Alicia.

Commercial break: Look at Namor break the fourth wall. And he makes a pun! He’s wacky.

Trivia time: Because this is Marvel, even the Hulk robot has a convoluted history. It was built by a bunch of college students for use as their school mascot (!) only to become overtaken by the power cosmic (where Galactus and the Silver Surfer get their powers) and fought the Eternals. Much later, it’ll be revealed that the robot was built by the Mad Thinker, and merely found and reprogrammed by the college students.

Fantastic or frightful? There’s barely any story here, but it promises a Thing/Hulk fight and it delivers. Thing/Hulk fights are why we love comics, so I can’t hate this.

Next week: Even more Thing/Hulk fighting!

****

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Random Warner Bros. – Bullitt

Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. This week the random number generator puts us behind the steering wheel with Bullitt.

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Here’s what happens: Lt. Frank Bullitt is a San Francisco cop helping protect a witness in a high-profile case. The witness is killed, kicking Bullitt off on a city-wide chase to track down the perpetrators.

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Why it’s famous: Steve McQueen as a modern-day tough guy, and San Francisco seen through the eyes of… who am I kidding? Of course it’s all about the car chase.

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Get your film degree: And what a car chase! We’re speeding up and down hills, careening around corners, and even making it outside of the city (this was before California’s famous urban sprawl, I guess) for the big finish. The entire chase plays with no music or dialogue — the only sound is the cars’ roaring engines, making the perfect soundtrack for such a big action scene.

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Movie geekishness: Did anyone else feel like you were watching Bullitt 2? We’re told our hero is a celebrity cop with big connections, but we’re not really shown this. It’s as if a lot of the character development occurred before the movie began.

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Thoughts upon this viewing: I’m torn. I like a lot about the movie, but there are some stretches where it gets dull. The finale, with Bullitt sneaking around an airport, goes on way too long. McQueen nonetheless owns the role. And the car chase. Always, always the car chase.

Next week: Nice shades.

****

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

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Fantatic Friday: Beyond(er) Thunderdome

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. The rambling, meandering storyline we’ve been following for the last 7 issues comes to a close in the double-sized issue #319.

To recap: Dr. Doom has temporarily joined the Fantastic three — Ben, Johnny, and the Sharon Ventura Ms. Marvel — on a journey into the Negative Zone, to investigate godlike aliens named the Beyonders (mentioned in an old Marvel-Two-In-One issue) who may or may not be related to the Beyonder from Secret Wars. This issue begins aboard the FF’s spaceship, where Ben and Dr. Doom argue about who’s in charge (Doom has enacted his rarely-used status as an alternate member of the FF). The ship approaches a swirly space thing that Doom calls the Crossroads of Infinity. He then says that when the Beyonder died, his power exploded through the Crossroads to create a new universe. Ben isn’t convinced that this is the same Beyonder as the Two-In-One Beyonders. Sharon, meanwhile, has heard the others speak with awe and fear of the Beyonder, and is concerned about encountering him. There’s a quick cut to New York, where the Molecule Man has recovered from Doom trying to kill him last issue, and then to Alicia (who is secretly Lyja the Skrull in disguise) at FF headquarters, losing track of the FF’s ship.

The ship passes into the crossroads, and through a bunch of different universes, and getting a brief glimpse or Reed, Sue, and the Silver Surfer in some sort of trouble. They’re not able to turn back and help them, though, pressing forward into another universe that looks a lot like Earth. Johnny thinks they’ve circled back home, but then the face of the Beyonder appears in the sun.  Doom explains that it’s not just the sun — everything in this universe is made of the Beyonder. (So, are they breathing the Beyonder? Questions like this go unanswered.)

The Beyonder teleports everyone down to the planet and appears before them in his metallic “superhero” outfit he wore briefly in Secret Wars II. There’s a multi-page recap of the first Secret Wars and Fantastic Four #288, and then Doom demands the Beyonder give him power to retake Latveria so he can be “whole again.” Doom almost convinces the Beyonder to do this by saying the Beyonder knows what it’s like to be unfulfilled.

Before the Beyonder can grant Doom’s wish, everyone is interrupted by Kubik and the Shaper of Worlds, two cosmic beings. Kubik and the Beyonder fight, threatening to destroy the Beyonder’s universe, when everyone is interrupted again, this time by the Molecule Man and his girlfriend Volcana. Molecule Man calms everyone down, and explains that Doom is trying to trick the Beyonder, hoping to steal the Beyonder’s power again once the Beyonder made Doom “whole.” Outsmarted, Doom simply says, “It was worth the try.”

Then Ben interrupts, demanding to know where the Beyonders are. The Shaper of Worlds says the Beyonders exist outside of space and time in a “lightless universe” where they observe humanity, wishing it well, and wanting humans to grow to their full potential. The Beyonders influenced Earth in many ways, most notably the Cosmic Cubes, devices which grant their users the power to control reality itself. The lab accident that gave the Molecule Man his powers was also tapping into the Beyonders’ influence. This same accident is what drew the Secret Wars Beyonder to notice Earth, where he experienced desire and unfulfilment for the first time. Therefore, in a very roundabout way, the Two-In-One Beyonders created the Secret Wars Beyonder by creating the Cosmic Cubes. (I think.)

Ben talks about losing his relationships with both Alicia and Tariana as a result of the Secret War, but now his love for Sharon makes him “whole.” Similarly, the Molecule Man says that despite all his power he became “whole” with his love for Volcana. But so much for that, because the Beyonder realizes that his unfulfilment comes from how he does not have a person in his life who is his equal. The Molecule Man agrees to be that person. He and the Beyonder merge into one another, transforming into a single cosmic cube. Okay.

No longer defeated Dr. Doom touches the cube and demands his “missing memory” that will allow him to retake Latveria. He then tries to steal the cube’s power, but Sharon stops by grabbing him and pulling him away from the cube. Kubik teleports the FF, Doom, and Volcana back to Earth. Doom storms off, saying he fulfilled his end of his deal with the FF, and Ben lets him go. Sharon comforts Volcana, and Volcana says she’ll survive, that “was always stronger.”  Johnny checks on Alicia, leaving Ben and Sharon alone, and all this ends when Ben says, “And to think it all started in the tunnels of the Mole Man.”

Unstable molecule/Fade out: What was with that Reed and Sue cameo? In Silver Surfer #15-17, the Surfer enlisted Reed and Sue to help save Galactus, who was dying after he tried to eat the Soul Gem. This then led to a battle with the In-Betweener.

Clobberin’ time: Ben touches Dr. Doom at one point, and gets an electric shock from Doom’s armor. This time, however, it doesn’t hurt Ben because Ben in his spikey form is that much stronger.

Flame on: Johnny asks whether cosmic grandeur can change Doom’s perspective at all, harkening back to Johnny’s newfound maturity after traveling across the galaxy during the original Galactus trilogy.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Sharon’s role in this story is definitely the “ordinary person caught up in cosmic weirdness,” in some attempt to keep things grounded.

I’m not clear on what this “missing memory” is that Dr. Doom says he needs in order to re-take Latveria. I suspect it’s not something specific, but merely a McGuffin to get him involved in this story.

The Alicia problem: Is it safe to assume that Lyja’s training as an outer space spy helped in her monitoring the Negative Zone portal?

Commercial break: A new and exciting game you play straight up!

Trivia time: Who’s this Kubik guy? He’s a life form that evolved out of the original cosmic cube. By this point in Marvel history, there’s a bunch of cosmic cubes to be found.

At the end of Secret Wars II, the Beyonder’s death created a new universe. Many believed this to be the beginning of Marvel’s New Universe line of comics, but Marvel editorial later alleged that wasn’t the case. In this issue, we finally see the Beyonder’s universe, where he still lives.

Don’t go around thinking this is the Beyonder’s real origin story, because it’ll later be re-written at least two more times. It seems every writer who takes on the Beyonder just has to dream up a new origin for the poor guy.

Fantastic or frightful? What an absolute disaster of a comic book. The story goes that Marvel brought back the Beyonder for this story to give him a proper send-off. Originally, he died while trying to become human, which seemed to me like a perfectly good end for him. Merging with the Molecule Man to create another cosmic cube? How is that better? If you’re not that interested in continuity and just want some superhero action, the issue still disappoints, because it’s mostly alien gods standing around explaining everything. Just the worst.

Next week: A real fixer-upper.

****

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Random Warner Bros. – How the West Was Won

Watching all the movies on the Warner Bros. 50-movie box set that I bought for cheap. This week the random number generator blows the lid off with an exercise in Hollywood ambition like no other, How the West Was Won.

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Here’s what happens: This is a generational saga set in the Old West. It more or less follows the lives of two sisters. One marries a wandering mountain man, and their son later gets involved in railroad expansion. The other marries a gambler, and their son gets caught up in the Civil War.

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Why it’s famous: Wow, the studio was desperate to compete with television. This movie has big production value, shiny new tech (more on that below) and all the movie stars in one flick — Jimmy Stewart, Debbie Reynolds, Gregory Peck, Henry Fonda, John Wayne, and tons more.

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Get your film degree: This… is… Cinerama! How the West Was Won famously employed this somewhat convoluted filming technique. The gist of it is that the camera had three lenses that shot three images side by side. These were then projected onto not one but three movie screens, making for a gigantic rectangle. It was the IMAX of its day. Watching the movie today, the Blu-ray does a good job of removing the seams between the three images, but it’s still obvious where the picture neatly divides into thirds.

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Movie geekishness: When it’s time for an action scene, that’s when the movie reaches the level spectacle it’s going for. The fight against the bandits, the stagecoach chase, the buffalo stampede, and big runaway train finale are thrilling, eye-popping set pieces.

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Thoughts upon this viewing: Half movie and half theme park attraction, there is a lot to like about How the West Was Won, but only when knowing the context in which it was made, etc.

Next week: Vroom!

****

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Fantastic Friday: And Doc Doom makes four

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue #318 continues this ongoing tour of the weirder corners of the Marvel Universe, only now that Crystal has left the team, it’s the Fantastic Three. Or… is it?

We begin with Dr. Doom, wandering the streets of New York (!) where he attacks and seemingly kills a random passerby. This man, though, is revealed to be the Molecule Man in disguise, having recently moved to NYC. Doom exposits that the Molecule Man’s location is the info that Quicksilver secretly gave him in annual #21. Doom then marches to Alicia’s apartment building and presses the doorbell.

Cut to Four Freedoms Plaza, where Ben, Johnny and Sharon talk about how Crystal recently left the team. Johnny says he doesn’t like it, but he’s nonetheless glad to be back with Alicia (who is secretly Lyja the Skrull in disguise). Also, we’re reminded that the portal to the Negative Zone has been moved to inside the building, and the team is readying a Negative Zone expedition to discover the origins of godlike beings called Beyonders (that’s the Beyonders mentioned in an old Marvel Two-in-One story, and not the Secret Wars Beyonder — at least as far as anyone knows at the moment).

Johnny gets a call from the building’s lobby, to see Dr. Doom there with Alicia. He dives right into action, flying straight there and starting a fight with Doom. Doom says he’s modified his armor specifically for fighting the FF. Not only is he fireproof, but he fires tiny chemical missiles from his knuckles (!) that manage to put out Johnny’s flame.

Ben and Sharon arrive, but Alicia breaks up the fight, saying she can tell Doom is telling the truth, and came to her with peaceful intent. Doom says he’s learned from “sources” (Quicksilver again?) that the FF are planning to enter the Negative Zone. Doom says the new FF team is not equipped for the Negative Zone with Reed’s genius, and offers to take Reed’s place. Then there’s a great panel where Ben laughs in Doom’s face:

Ben reminds everyone how Dr. Doom tried to steal the Beyonder’s powers in the first Secret War, and that Doom’s ulterior motive is to retake the Latverian throne from the usurper Kristoff. Doom won’t put up for this, so he escapes FF by using a “time-shift bomb” that puts him two seconds into the future. In this state, he rushes straight to the Negative Zone portal and enters it. Ben is furious that Doom outsmarted him, but the others are on his side, saying this was merely Doom’s fall-back plan. The FF board a space shuttle-looking ship to enter the Negative Zone. Alicia stays behind to monitor them, using sound alarms and “plasma bubble screens” on the computer.

There’s a short scene at a hospital, where we learn the Molecule Man survived Doom’s attack, and his girlfriend Volcana (addressed here as “Miss Rosenberg”) is at his side while he’s unconscious. Back in the Negative Zone, the FF fly by the duplicate of Earth made of anti-matter, reminding us that’s a thing in Marvel, and then their ship is attacked by Blastaar the Living Bomb-Burst. He announces that he’s made himself monarch of the Negative Zone.

There’s a big fight, in which Blaastar blows the heroes out into space, bombarding Johnny with meteors. Just when it looks like all hope is lost, Dr. Doom flies up and defeats Blastaar by cutting off his oxygen. Doom and the FF hijack Blastaar’s ship, agreeing that they must work together to find the Beyonders.

To be continued!

Clobberin’ time: There’s all this talk about Ben entering the Negative Zone without Reed’s help, but no one mentions how Ben did exactly that in Marvel Two-In-One #75. Sure, he had a bunch of Avengers with him, but he was in a leadership role, teaching the Avengers all about how the Negative Zone works.

Flame on: For as much as Johnny has matured and gotten more powerful, he gets easily defeated by both Dr. Doom and Blastaar in this issue.

Fantastic fifth wheel: Upon Ben’s laughing in the face of danger, Sharon says she’s “just as committed” to the FF as much as the four original members.

Dr. Doom working together with the FF means we can count this issue as him acting upon his status as an alternate member of the team.

The Alicia problem: A lot of this issue hinges on Alicia/Lyja’s uncanny knack for knowing when someone is or isn’t lying. Does this ability come from the fact that Lyja is a shape-changer and spy?

Commercial break: G.I. Joe! Now with the Fridge!

Trivia time: Look closely: When Doom presses Alicia’s doorbell, you can see that controversial former Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter’s name is also listed as living in the building, but with an “evicted” notice next to it.

Fantastic or frightful? Basically, this issue is only here to set up the next one, but it has a lot hallmarks of what Fantastic Four comics are famous for, namely Dr. Doom’s scheming and Negative Zone weirdness. So, a low-substance issue, but there’s some fun to be had.

Next week: Cosmic continuity a-go-go.

****

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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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