Saturday, September 21, 2013

Marvels: Strange Tales #103

"Prisoner of the 5th Dimension" by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(December 1962)

Johnny Storm (still hiding his secret identity) hears a report about a housing development where the houses keep sinking into the soft Earth. An old man says it's being done by swamp demons, but actually it's beings from the 5th Dimension, trying to get people to leave that area alone because that's where the 5th Dimension beings materialize when they cross over, and it's from this little spot outside of Glenville (convenient) where the evil Zemu plans to lead his invasion of Earth. So Johnny gets taken prisoner and put inside a water tank so he can't use his powers, gets saved by a beautiful lady named Valeria, and then with her father leads a revolt against Zemu and halts the invasion.

And that's it.

No other observations, that's the whole thing.

Eh.

Next: the Ant-Man vs. the Egg-Head.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Happy Birthday, Lita!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

REVENGE OF THE PINK PANTHER (1978)
Well, that's a shame. I thought the previous two Pink Panther films in the series were surprisingly fun, but this one was just unwatchably dull. Didn't help that they were just repeating the same jokes from the last two, but telegraphing them from miles away. *1/2

THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE (1921)
Great-looking (particularly the shots of the rocky waves), but I found it mostly dull and obscure. **1/2

ONE WEEK (1920)
Fantastic Buster Keaton short, his first as a solo star. Here, he's a newlywed building a home out of a kit, but he's sabotaged by a romantic rival. The gags are hilarious, and I like the way Buster plays with expectations right at the end. Just great stuff. ****

THREE AGES (1923)
Buster Keaton parodying the style of DW Griffith's Intolerance (even poking holes in Griffith's preachy moralizing) by portraying three love stories across three ages--the Stone Age, the Roman Empire, and modern times. I thought the Roman gags were the funniest, particularly the chariot race and a lion that just made me laugh. I think a lot of these gags were lifted later by Bugs Bunny, but they worked for me. Neat stop-motion in the Stone Age sequence. Wallace Beery plays the heavy. ****

CURIOUS ALICE (1968)
Bizarre, quasi-animated anti-drug PSA short. Some of the animation is pretty decent--each character in Wonderland represents some particular drug--but even at 11 minutes it drags. It looks like someone made it to drop acid to, actually. Watching it straight it has the effect of making you feel like you're in a room full of people who are stoned out of their mind. You know what it feels like to me being straight in a room full of people who are stoned? Totally fucking dull. Interesting outcome: it doesn't make drugs look bad, it makes drugs look boring. **

STOKER (2013)
Visually fascinating, strange film from Park Chan-Wook, with Mia Wasikowska as a girl whose father dies on her eighteenth birthday, leaving her with her cold, distant mother (Nicole Kidman). Days later, an uncle whose existence she never new of (Matthew Goode) arrives, and throws things into gradual, calculated disarray. At first, I had no idea what I was watching, but as it went on it turned a corner and just pulled me right into it. It's controlled, but underneath it's batshit insane and totally committed to that insanity. I'm giving it ***1/2, but my estimation of it might change. I can't stop thinking about this. It's a sort of masterpiece of weird.

SOCIAL NIGHTMARE (2013)
Lifetime movie about a high school girl (Kirsten Prout) whose life begins to crumble when she's bullied repeatedly online. Daryl Hannah plays her mother; Chloe Bridges plays her hot, hot, very hot, sexy friend. Really compelling, actually--it's hard to stop watching--but the twist ending is predictable from the first half-hour in. **1/2

A SISTER'S NIGHTMARE (2013)
Another Lifetime movie, this one about a cop (Kelly Rutherford) with a violently aquaphobic daughter (Peyton List, from Disney's Jessie). When Rutherford's dangerous sister (Natasha Henstridge) is released from an asylum, she insinuates herself into their lives and starts generally acting creepy. Kind of a fun-bad movie for a while, but then the climactic twist just kind of turns the whole thing into bullshit. **

SINS OF THE PREACHER (2013)
Another Lifetime movie (it was that kind of day). The true story of a preacher who murdered his wife; actually, it's about the woman's mother, who led the charge to have her daughter's death looked into and suspected her son-in-law of the murder. In the end, he gets put away on circumstantial evidence and hearsay. (I'm not commenting on the actual trial, of which I know nothing, but on the way it's portrayed in the movie, which has a poor grasp of the legal system.) It seemed crazy in the commercials, but it's like a really earnest Hallmark movie that we're apparently supposed to take very seriously. Boring. *

THIS IS THE END (2013)
The trailers did a good job of hiding just how insane this movie gets. Funny as hell from start to finish, and like Superbad (also written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg), surprisingly sweet and sincere about best friend feelings. All six of the leads (Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride and Craig Robinson) have really good senses of humor about themselves, playing themselves in the midst of Biblical Armageddon. One of my favorite movies so far this year. I just found it that funny. ****

THE LORDS OF SALEM (2013)
Rob Zombie's latest horror film is, thankfully, a giant step up from Halloween 2. Zombie throws a lot of horror elements in here, but it's basically one of those Satanic cult movies they were making in the 1970s. Sheri Moon Zombie plays a local DJ who is descended from a witch hunter and who finds herself slowly going mad under the watchful eyes of three sisters (Judy Geeson, Dee Wallace and Patricia Quinn) who own the apartment building she lives in. It's not heavy on plot; Zombie is more concerned with the atmosphere, which he mostly gets right. A well-made exercise, but it doesn't quite pull you into the terror enough to really, truly be effective. ***1/2

LOVELACE (2013)
Well-made biopic of Linda Lovelace, her brief moment of stardom, and the hellish personal circumstances that put her there and turned her into a commodity. It's really well-structured, but it's held together by Amanda Seyfried's performance in the title role, which is sympathetic, powerful, and brave. This is the kind of performance I've been waiting from for her for a long time now. Most of the other performances are very good--Peter Sarsgaard is scary as hell as Chuck Traynor--although James Franco is just not remotely Hugh Hefner. I'm sorry this didn't get a wider release and more attention, because Seyfried deserves it. ****

THE BLING RING (2013)
Sofia Coppola is typically non-judgmental in her newest film, merely observing the circle of teenagers who targeted and robbed celebrities in the Hollywood Hills a few years ago. It's not a dramatically tense film, but it's shocking to see the arrogance with which these kids would breeze into celebrity homes and use them as their own personal closets, completely unworried about security cameras (which is how they eventually got caught) or the consequences of their actions. This is another one of those movies that shows us a younger generation made up of listless kids with no concept of punishment and who seem to genuinely believe they're entitled to a rich life they haven't earned. It's an interesting picture of how children are growing up now in a collapsed economy with ineffectual parents and power they don't know how to wield responsibly. They just want things to happen to them because they think they're special. Not much as a drama, but as an observation of a certain mindset, it's kind of fascinating. ***1/2

THE SAILOR AND THE DEVIL (1967)
Surreal, almost scary animated film (produced by Richard Williams and animated entirely by Errol le Cain) telling the story of a sailor who came too close to the isles of the damned. Bouncy and fun at first, then increasingly horrifying. ****

CLEAR HISTORY (2013)
Cute flick about a man who walks away from a start-up company building an electric car, only to see the percentage of the company he gave up become worth a billion dollars. Larry David stars in the role, changing his name and appearance and moving to Martha's Vineyard to find a simple life of happiness. But, a decade later, his past catches up with him in the form of his former business partner (Jon Hamm), who moves onto the island. The catch is, he doesn't recognize David, giving David the opening for revenge. Some good twists and turns, with David basically giving the same performance he gives on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Good cast, too. Not a great flick, but not a waste of time, either. The fact that it's not overly ambitious helps; it's amiable and funny. ***

LE COMBAT DANS L'ILE (1962)
Romy Schneider stars as a woman whose husband goes on the run to escape an act of terror he committed. While he's gone, she grows closer and closer to his best friend (Jean-Louis Trintignant), eventually becoming pregnant by him and falling in love. When her husband returns, he demands a duel over her. Interesting example of a liberal French New Wave film, made in response to New Wave films producer Louis Malle felt were too hardline conservative. Schneider is excellent. ***1/2

TRISTANA (1970)
Luis Bunuel film, starring Catherine Deneuve in a great performance as a teenage orphan taken in by a nobleman (Fernando Rey). He seduces her and treats her as both wife and daughter, telling her that he won't marry her, but that this makes them both free. When she falls in love with an artist (Franco Nero), her guardian turns out to be a hypocrite. Compelling film, putting much of Bunuel's usual social commentary into the background (it takes place in 1920s Spain), focusing instead on the characters and their increasing bitterness towards their circumstances and the social institutions and conventions which they feel have created their unhappiness. ****

WINTER LIGHT (1962)
Ingmar Bergman film about a priest undergoing a crisis of faith. I know this will sound funny to some, but I found this Bergman film in particular to be obscure, remote, and hard to watch. I know lots of people who feel that way about all of Bergman's films, but I usually love his movies. **

Joanie

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Couple of DC Links

Tom Foss at Fortress of Soliloquy has a post analyzing what he sees as a lot of the current problems with DC Comics, much of it stemming from its current editorial direction (the inspiration for his insight was Dan Didio's recent comment about how superheroes can never have happy marriages, which is immature and pretty stupid). He points out pretty accurately a lot of the joylessness and homogeneity in comics right now.

(Foss is also doing a fantastic series on Ender's Game, reading the novel for the first time and summarizing/analyzing the chapters. I've never read the book, but a lot of people in high school told me I should, and just reading Foss's posts, I'm so glad I didn't. So far, six chapters in, it really just sounds like it's about a sociopath who's really good at video games. No wonder boys love this book. Also, please don't tell me for a second that Orson Scott Card didn't know what he was doing when he called the bad guys "buggers.")

It's interesting how DC has gone back to the 90s and created some terrible version of Image Comics starring Batman and Superman. Remember when Marvel tried that a long time ago with Heroes Reborn? They gave four of their flagship titles to Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld to reboot them, and they were really terrible because Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld are terrible. It was almost a six months before Marvel basically said it was meant to be an alternate universe the whole time and did an event to bring the Fantastic Four and the Avengers back into the proper Marvel Universe.

The funny thing is, Marvel's actually been a lot of fun lately. I'm not into their events anymore, but I'm also reading more Marvel comics now than I have in years. I still get a little fatigued by the sheer number of characters floating around constantly, and everyone and his uncle seems to be an Avenger now, but there are also so many characters that I feel like I can just pick and choose what I want to read without having to follow the entire sweep of the Marvel Universe every time Galactus or Thanos shows up. (Though a lot of the cosmic stuff has been kind of fun, too.)

Dan Didio has come right out and said DC Comics is for 45 year-old guys, and if that's the sort of thing 45 year-old guys like, I'm kind of pleased to not be in that cohort. Honestly, I knew it wasn't going to be for me when I kept hearing that Didio hates fun. Well, that's not necessarily a fair way to characterize it. What I mean by that is that he hates a lot of the things I treasure about the DC Universe--Justice League International, Plastic Man, Ambush Bug, a Billy Batson who isn't a smug little nihilist douche, a sense of heroism that goes beyond this being burdened to do great things but never be happy shit. What he seems to enjoy is bland, tasteless, and one-note. It's not for me. Never has been.

On that note, the other post I wanted to link to is at Stars and Garters. He's just giving up on DC altogether, except for Vertigo and a couple of their digital titles. This is what I've done; I now only read Fables and Fairest (and only in collected form when the new trades come in at the library), and their digital titles Batman: Li'l Gotham (a fantastic all ages Batman Family type of book by Dustin Nguyen) and the wonderful Batman '66, which really takes great advantage of the format. Otherwise, I'm done with DC.

The difference here, though, is that Stars and Garters, unlike where you are now, is a dedicated comics blog. That guy's giving up a lot of the new market. But hey, I don't blame him at all. He says he no longer feels an emotional connection to the characters, and I think that's something that Didio doesn't even care about going for. He's more interested in being cool and dark and controversial. What no one at DC really seems that interested in doing anymore is telling a good, memorable story.

It's an interesting day when the most relevant comic book publisher on the stands is Archie Comics.

DC and I don't talk anymore. I see more people every year who feel the same.

Sad.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Miss America

I'm really sorry that a person of color can't do anything notable in this country without yet another of the internet's racist outpourings. Nina Davuluri was the first ever Indian-American to win the Miss America pageant, so of course she gets subjected to racist comments on Twitter because she's not white.

It's disgusting. She should be celebrating, not fielding a backlash of people who incorrectly think she's a Muslim, incorrectly think India had anything to do with 9/11, and incorrectly think that she shouldn't be Miss America because she's not white.

I don't really want to get into a discussion about this, because there shouldn't be one. There is not a single comment I've seen today that I can take seriously, because it all boils down to her not being white enough to represent America. I've yet to see one comment to the effect that they just don't like Nina or that they liked another contestant better, except for some idiots who think some other woman should have won because she was white, blonde, and liked guns.

What the hell do you idiots think this country is supposed to be about?

You make me sick. Grow the fuck up.

Let me head off any potential comments: if you're going to defend racist attacks, you're an idiot and you are uninvited from my blog. Don't read it anymore, and don't comment on it, because I'm just going to either delete it or talk about how fucking stupid you are.

Sorry, but I'm just so goddamn disappointed.

Marvels: Journey Into Mystery #87

"Prisoner of the Reds!" by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(December 1962)

This one's another Thor filler story...

Basically, American scientists have defected behind the Iron Curtain, so Don Blake hatches a plan with the Pentagon to announce that he's developing a biological weapon to get the attention of Soviet spies. Soon, he's kidnapped and taken overseas where he (as Thor) rescues the scientists from a commie citadel. And that's pretty much the whole story. Doesn't get much more complex (or exciting) than that.

Notes:

:: In this story, Thor fights sharks by creating a whirlpool. That's pretty cool.

:: When the Soviets capture Thor (he surrenders when they threaten to kill the scientists), they strap him into a machine and... leave him there. So, of course, he turns back into Don Blake, escapes, and retrieves his hammer. Then he whips up a furious storm to destroy the citadel. It's kind of going through the motions, really. There's no challenge. "We have Thor captured! What do we do?" "Eh, leave him alone and do nothing, it's probably fine."

:: The news report that opens the story mentions five missing scientists, but when Dr. Blake goes to rescue them, there are only four and no one ever mentions the fifth. A simple error, but I'm surprised no one's told the story of the missing fifth scientist, what with later writers deciding every error was a universe-altering story thread to be resolved.

:: When Colonel Harrison in Army Intelligence asks Blake why he's putting his life in danger, he says his bum leg kept him out of Korea and this is his way to serve his country. So, I've never thought about it, but was Blake born with a lame leg? Is it a developmental disability? I guess I sort of assumed it was a World War II injury (there are so many Marvel characters who fought in World War II), and never really questioned it. I'm just curious.

The story's a bit of a propaganda piece, as you'd expect from this genre in this time period, but it is nice that they take a panel out to remind us that it's the Soviet government who's our enemy, not necessarily the Russian people.

Otherwise, it's totally skippable.

Next time: the Human Torch investigates rumors of swamp demons, and then things get weird.

Kristen Bell Mondays

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Song of the Week: "A Rose for Emily"

A soft, haunting song for a dark, rainy morning. The Zombies, 1968, from one of my favorite albums ever recorded, Odessey and Oracle.