Friday, July 24, 2015

This Week in Neat-O

:: Insanely Cute Cat Commercials from Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki’s Legendary Animation Shop

:: One of my favorite movies is Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. I've always wondered why Kerry and Kevin Conran never made another movie, and now the Telegraph has the answer in this piece: How Kerry Conran saw Hollywood's future - then got left behind.

:: How Franklin Became Peanuts‘ First Black Character, Thanks to a Caring Schoolteacher

:: The trailer for Chris Evans' directorial debut, Before We Go. Maybe not my kind of thing, but who knows?

:: I'm already seeing fanart based on the trailer for Pixar's The Good Dinosaur, but I'm just not feeling it. I know I'll see it eventually because I see everything animated, but I don't care for this at all. Wow, you don't even have to work that hard to make me interested in anything with a dinosaur in it, but animation studios seem to make me not care on a consistent basis.

:: Batman Is A Corny Dingus, And Superman Should Whomp His Ass. Yes, thank you. Everything I hate about the entire Batman vs. Superman pop culture conversation summed up. And I don't hate Batman, I just despise the moody fascist take on Batman that's so prevalent in pop culture right now. (For the record, I also hate daddy's little damaged slut Harley Quinn and hostile quippy asshole Spider-Man, too, which also seem to be the dominant pop culture interpretations.)

:: The Spectre trailer is pretty fab. One of the movies I'm really looking forward to, well, eventually seeing on cable next year. I don't have money to go see movies as much as I want, and this fall I'm going with Star Wars.

:: An oral history of Clueless. The fact that Clueless is 20 years old makes me feel tired.

:: I watched the trailer for The Curse of Downers Grove to see if it looked anything like Downers Grove, where it's set, because I grew up in Woodridge, the next town over, and have spent much of my life in Downers Grove. It did not look remotely like Downers Grove. Turns out it was filmed in Pomona, California.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week. I apparently don't have much to say this week as I'm tired and filled with food poisoning, so please don't mistake brevity for a lack of interest.

RODAN (1956)
Pteranodons are awakened by miners in Japan, wreak havoc with their incredible wings. Tedious in spots, but the special effects scenes involving wind and miniatures are neat creature movie stuff. **

Surprisingly rough-edged dystopian YA science fiction about kids stuck in a glade and completely surrounded by a maze. Darker and more committed to its premise than I expected, which is I think what the problem must be with a lot of these attempts to start a film series based on those YA series. Smart, well-acted, strongly told, it somehow makes the genre feel fresh. ***1/2

ANT-MAN (2015)
A smaller, lighter Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. Strong characterization is really the key; some of the elements of the story are pretty predictable, but enjoyable and involving. But when Ant-Man shrinks, the special effects are so charming and inventive, and setting the epic action climax in a little girl's bedroom (mostly on her toy train set) is hilarious. ***1/2

Terrible Lifetime flick that's supposed to carry a message of "Don't toy with people, because you never know who's dangerous" but actually carries a message of "You deserve to get sold into sex slavery because everything MRA's say about American girls is right." No stars. The worst thing is when you think you're going to see something silly that you can make fun of on Lifetime, and it turns into something profoundly disturbing instead.

I enjoyed the first one, I enjoyed this one, even though it went right to one of the most cliched spots a romantic comedy sequel can go: Vegas wedding. I like the actors, though, and I like the characters, and it just has no pretensions about what it is, so it lets the cast (which includes Michael Ealy, Kevin Hart, Taraji P. Henson, Meagan Good, Romany Malco, Gabrielle Union and my dear Regina Hall) have a good time and do what they want. **1/2, but I thought it was a cute flick. Great soundtrack.

FURIOUS 7 (2015)
Probably my favorite Fast and Furious movie so far. These movies just give the audience what they want in a way that is so audacious and so unapologetic that I can't help but love it every time. I've said it before: at this point you could set one of these on the moon and it would be believable. They're just insanely enjoyable. ***1/2

ZOMBI 2 (1979)
AKA Zombie. The Lucio Fulci movie. Great makeup, amazing sequence of a zombie fighting a shark, but sometimes its moodier moments are actually just tedious. I feel like a bad horror fan not enjoying a movie like this sometimes, because so many horror fans have told me they love Fulci and love this movie, but I just don't think I'm ever gonna like Fulci. **

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Marvels: Fantastic Four #28

"We Have to Fight the X-Men!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Chic Stone
(July 1964)

Stan's latest attempt to force Marvel readers to love the X-Men is an all-out fight with the Fantastic Four. Such is the power of how boring the X-Men are in their earliest incarnation that even an appearance in Marvel's flagship book can't sell me. The X-Men are a tedious, under-characterized bunch.

The villains this time around are the Mad Thinker and the Puppet Master. The Puppet Master has been running free since his escape in Strange Tales #116, but this is only the Thinker's second appearance since his debut back in Fantastic Four #15. No word on exactly how he escaped prison or stole his Awesome Android back from Reed Richards, although he boasts that he did. His plan is to use radioactive clay to mold the likeness of Professor X, so that Puppet Master can take control of the man and they can use the X-Men to fight the Fantastic Four.

I feel like this creates a continuity error. At this time, the existence of Professor X as the leader of the X-Men is still a secret. Remember in X-Men #3 when it was imperative that Xavier wipe the Blob's mind so that he forget everything about the X-Men? The Thinker does say that he's had to estimate just what exactly Professor X looks like, but he's also calculated the exact amount of resistance to expect and exactly how much of the magic radioactive clay to use to the nearest third of a gram in order to control Professor X. And the second he's in their power, they take advantage of Xavier's mental powers, so...

Through Professor X, the Thinker and the Puppet Master order the X-Men to capture the Fantastic Four. The X-Men don't understand this order, but the possessed Xavier insists the FF have world domination in mind. The X-Men then just head over to the Baxter Building for a social call, because this is before the X-Men were hated and feared, and were basically celebrities despite also living in secrecy. Remember, the Angel has fangirls but also their existence is shrouded in mystery and they're the subject of a news article that apparently has obtained photos of the elusive X-Men for the first time. So... basically no one is sure if the X-Men are famous and loved or whatever. Just... just love them and read their comic, okay? It's been a year already.

They all make nice, but the inevitable fight begins. The teams are a little evenly matched, although it takes three of them to stop the Thing. Marvel Girl gets to use her telekinesis more here than she has probably in all five issues of X-Men so far. To no reader's surprise (but to my annoyance), Sue gets captured by the X-Men, apparently because she thinks it's impolite to fight back, since the X-Men are supposed to be good guys. They also get Alicia out of the way of the fight by just literally putting her on top of the record player. But the FF follow, and there's more fighting, and traps designed to take out the FF, and the Mad Thinker and the Puppet Master reveal themselves, and the FF free themselves, and the Beast destroys the puppet so Professor X goes free, and both teams fight the Awesome Android to a standstill over, like, five pages.

Then the villains escape in a rocket plane and the X-Men go back home. The teams part as friends, and the Awesome Android remains with its original creator, Reed Richards. I'm sure we won't see it again until the Mad Thinker finds another way to take control of it.

Stray observations:

:: Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Girl and Human Torch spend the first two pages practically fawning all over a newspaper article about the X-Men, all for the benefit of the Marvel reader. They list off all of the villains the X-Men have fought (including, incorrectly, the Space Phantom, who actually fought the Avengers; given the order the villains are listed in, Stan is clearly confusing the Vanisher for Space Phantom). This is that trope where rather than seeing for ourselves how clearly amazing the X-Men are, the other characters just stand around telling you in order to build this whole thing up.

The Thing, meanwhile, is much more concerned with the statue of him that Alicia has created, which is quite dynamic... "considerin' that no statue could be as lovable as I really am in livin' color!" (Sadly, Marvel Girl destroys this statue by accident.)

:: Jack Kirby's Mad Thinker...
...reminds me of John Kerry.

:: Cyclops seems aware of the Thinker when he's baiting the FF into the trap. Probably just a continuity error for plot expedience. This issue is packed full, yet it feels like almost nothing happens. It's mostly fighting.

:: The issue also ends with Reed and Sue going on and on about how wonderful the X-Men are, complete with Stan going into a pitch about how you should go to the newstand and read X-Men. Ugh.

:: In the letters page, Neal Preston of Chicago says Dr. Strange is terrible and should be dropped. Strange seems to be getting an equal share of positive and negative notices across the various letters pages. Norma Ryan of Louisville wonders if Nick Fury and Pamela Hawley will ever get married, and hopes that Rick Jones will partner up with Captain America.

There's also a letter asking for a share of praise for letterers Artie Simek and Sam Rosen from Robert Cormier of Nahant, Massachusetts, and... wait, what? That's not the Robert Cormier, author of I Am the Cheese and The Chocolate War and Massachusetts native, is it? Let's see, Wikipedia... he would have been 39 and already writing books in 1964. Fascinating possibility. I read I Am the Cheese in grade school.

:: It's in this issue's special announcements that Stan, in response to reader complaints that he has yet again accidentally called Bruce Banner "Bob Banner" in a story, officially gives the character's name as Robert Bruce Banner.

(Also in this section: thought the indicia are not, Stan is already referring to the series Journey Into Mystery and Tales of Suspense as Thor and Iron Man, respectively.)

All in all, my least favorite issue of Fantastic Four so far. Normally one of Marvel's two best, this one is pretty skippable. It's just a sales pitch for why you should be reading X-Men, a comic that has serious structural issues. Unless you're an early X-Men diehard, it's not essential reading.

Next Marvels: guess it's time to finally finish that Thor story I started talking about back in February.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Muppet Monday

I love old Muppet commercials, so here are three (the only three I could find out of nine) commercials that Jim Henson made for the Federal Housing Administration. These were produced between 1963 and 1969.

This one stars Kermit and a bespectacled Scoop. (Scoop and Skip appeared in ads for Wilson's Meats from this same time period.)

This next one sees Conrad Love dealing with The Scary Thought, a truly creepy and little-seen character who appeared in Jim Henson's first Limbo film, The Organized Mind. The Scary Thought is performed by Jerry Nelson here.

And finally, a house and an old man.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Song of the Week: "But It's Alright"

JJ Jackson, 1966. Roger recently highlighted this song, and it gave me a bit of a nostalgia kick. Back in '94. Huey Lewis did a cover of this song that got a lot of radio airplay. At the time, I was still driving my first car, an '85 Chevy Nova that didn't have a tape deck, so I was at the mercy of the radio. As often happens when a cover of something old enough comes out, some radio stations started playing the original, which is more in the soul vein and which I liked a lot more. It always made me feel good listening to it on the way to my classes at College of DuPage. Man, I was not ready for college, even community college. But driving over in the autumn, cool air and clouds, this song made me feel like, well, it was alright.