Friday, February 06, 2015

This Week in Neat-O


:: Here's a fantastic supercut for anyone who, like me, absolutely effing loves swordfighting in movies.

:: Hear Isolated Guitar Tracks From Some of Rock’s Greatest: Slash, Eddie Van Halen, Eric Clapton & More

:: Drone footage of the concentration camp at Auschwitz is haunting.

:: After that despair, lighten your mood with Hot Toys' surprisingly cute Avengers: Age of Ultron toys. Why not buy me an Ultron Drone for being such a good guy, eh?

(I feel compelled to add that was just me being, um... let's say "cute.")

Also, check out the new GoBots figures Bandai is making. Damn.

:: A couple of guys named Paul Robertson and Ivan Dixon made a very clever and beautiful pixel-animation version of the Simpsons opening that the show should definitely use on an episode.

:: Weird Al Yankovic's Mandatory World Tour Announcement Video is delightful.

:: A bunch of intrigueresting trailers this week: Minions (I still need to see Despicable Me 2); Magic Mike XXL (which I think is fun to imagine is a sequel to Step Up); Marvel's Netflix Daredevil series; Tomorrowland (which I want to see for that Syd Mead-designed city alone); Insurgent (which really pulled me in with that sequence instead of just doing a bunch of fast cuts); the Sam Raimi-produced Poltergeist remake (also available in a more linear--and grosser--international version); Furious 7 (holy crap!); and the two movies I'm most can't wait to see this year: Jurassic World and Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Did you hear all the talk about the Gray Hulk being in the movie? Damn!

(For the record, I don't know what the hell is going on in that Terminator trailer, and I don't really care.)

But what I'm most excited for is getting to play Lego Jurassic World, which had a charming as hell trailer that dropped this week,

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Marvels: Fantastic Four #27

"The Search for Sub-Mariner!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Roussos
(June 1964)

It's been sometime since we've caught up with Namor's story; the last time we saw him was in the seminal Avengers #4, when he attempted to get revenge on Earth's Mightiest Heroes and was thwarted by Captain America. In that issue, Namor found a contingent of Atlantean troopers who were still loyal to him, and even now they remain by his side as he broods over his lost kingdom and his tragic loneliness, for which there can only be one cure: for Sue Storm to rule by his side as princess!

Yes, it's finally time to find out where Sue's loyalties lie: with the undersea prince, or with the leader of the Fantastic Four.

Namor's approach is sadly old-fashioned, even for 1964: he simply walks into the Baxter Building, fights Ben and Johnny (in a series of wonderful reminders of just how truly powerful the Sub-Mariner is), and kidnaps Sue, taking her back to his castle. The bitter irony here is that Reed Richards wasn't at headquarters because he had gone shopping for an engagement ring, finally intending to make his feelings clear and ask Sue to marry him. And when he gets back and hears Ben and Johnny's story, he flies into a rage, angrier than we've ever seen him, and planning on no less than tracking Namor down and murdering him,

In fact, the boys are so worried about it that they decide they have to get to Namor first so they can try and prevent the two from killing each other. And Johnny figures the best way to do that is to try and contact Dr. Strange and ask him to use his magic to locate Namor's castle under the sea and send them there.

This is Dr. Strange's first interaction with the larger Marvel Universe, having never crossed over with other characters before. I don't think his presence is necessarily integral to this story, but it doesn't feel like Stan Lee is forcing the character in here in order to get him exposure and more readers. Sure, he's selling the guy, but Strange has had a lot of time to develop and become a fascinating figure over in Strange Tales for several months now, so his appearance here is as a character and not an attempt to force you to accept a key part of the Marvel Universe. Basically, the opposite of any appearance in other comics we've had so far by the X-Men, whom Stan seems increasingly desperate to turn into a hit.

It's surprising how well Dr. Strange fits into the issue, considering that he's a magical character. No ambiguity, no dithering about physics that aren't understood yet: Dr. Strange is a character whose powers are rooted in magic. It seems like it would be an odder fit for a book that's very much science fiction than it actually turns out to be. Somehow, this irrational character slides right in.

Also, this is the first time we've ever seen anyone other than Steve Ditko draw Dr. Strange.

Kirby's Strange looks like Clark Gable.

Meanwhile, Namor is trying to plead his cause with Sue, begging for 24 hours together so she can make an informed decision. Despite his barbaric kidnap of her, he has shreds of decency and honor, asking for a chance and promising that, should she refuse him, he will return her to her home.

Even using his magic, Dr. Strange doesn't manage to find Namor in time. Reed finds the Atlantean first and attacks, and their fight is actually pretty brutal. Neither of them is holding back this time, and the battle allows Jack Kirby to really show off some of what Reed is capable of. I feel like Reed Richards gets written off as less threatening in modern comics, but here Kirby gives us the WWII veteran who knows how to hurt a man, and the scientific genius who can find new ways to adapt his powers to, well, cause maximum pain. There are a few occasions where the only thing that really saves Namor is his superhuman strength; the prince can take a lot of hits and still survive.

Seriously, in this fight, Reed makes dozens of sharp lances out of his skin. He. Is. Pissed.

Dr. Strange uses magic to teleport Ben and Johnny, who attack Namor's soldiers to try to even things up. Sue, sadly, is imprisoned in a glass case and relegated to the sidelines for most of the battle, but at least when Johnny frees her she's trying to use her force field to find a weakness and free herself. She's also the one who ends the fight altogether, throwing her field around her teammates so that Namor can't get at them.

Honestly, it's a relief when the fight's over, because Reed wasn't letting up, and Namor had just decided he was going to have no choice but to kill Reed, and frankly it's a little insulting that they're not letting Sue make her own decisions here.

And now it finally comes out, in no uncertain terms: Sue loves Reed. She felt sympathy and affection for Namor, but her heart has always belonged to Reed.

The answer so enrages Namor that... well, we never find out what, although he and his soldiers move in. Dr. Strange magically intervenes and puts the Fantastic Four on their sub, and as they head to the surface, Ben wonders if Sue only said what she did to stop the fighting. Reed says he doesn't want to know. Sue is shaken and doesn't want to discuss it, but thinks to herself that Reed is a blind fool for not seeing how much she loves him.

Little does she know... the ring's been bought. But Reed gets that now's not the time to bring it up and, full of uncertainty and anguish, resolves to give her her space. For now.

Other notes:

:: This issue opens on Reed's latest invention: a thought projector. So we get a big splash page of Reed imagining Sue in a bathing suit in a pin-up pose. Great art, but come on, Reed. No wonder Sue feels objectified rather than loved.

:: Namor to the Human Torch: "Only the fact that you are the brother of the one I love has kept me from making you pay the price for your insufferable insolence!" Also, I don't know if I've ever mentioned it (I probably have), but I always picture Namor with Michael Ansara's voice.

:: Namor's soldiers briefly abandon him because of his obsession with a surface woman, but decide to continue serving their lord and return.

:: Sue also uses her powers to save Johnny from being drowned when a couple of Atlantean soldiers try to flood a hallway.

This was prime soap and adventure stuff, with an intense, extended fight scene that actually came out of the characters rather than an appearance of the month's new villain. I really dug this one. This is still the flagship book for a reason. Great cameo by Dr. Strange. (And on a personal note, it's fun to be writing these again and I hope to get them out more regularly, as reading these old comics and talking about them is some of the most fun I had last year and the year before. The fog of antidepressants is over, so I'm alert and can do this again.)

Next time: two of Thor's biggest uninteresting villains team up against him.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Film Week

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

NON-STOP (2014)
Liam Neeson plays a sky marshal on a transatlantic flight who starts receiving text messages from someone threatening to kill one person on board every 20 minutes unless $150 million is wired into a numbered account. Once the messages start, the movie takes place in more or less real time, with Neeson's marshal getting more and more desperate about finding the person manipulating him, until the passengers begin to suspect that he's really hijacking the plane. Surprisingly tense thriller. It didn't look like much in the previews, and I only watched it because it premiered on HBO this weekend and the wife and I weren't doing anything else that night (except waiting for the fantastic Mel Brooks special that aired immediately afterward), but there are some passages that really work and a very intense sequence involving the plane's landing. When it works, it really works. Better than Taken 2, at any rate. ***

Didn't this movie have the weirdest marketing campaign? Not the shit show that some critics would have you believe, but not one of James Franco's or Seth Rogen's best pieces of work, and I love me some Franco and Rogen. Franco's actually quite good in this, playing off of his weird public persona as an insincere, insecure talk show host who goes to North Korea with his producer (Rogen, purposely underplaying it where Franco is purposely overplaying it) to interview Kim Jong-un. ("It's like Frosty Nixon!" Franco's character excitedly says.) Randall Park is quite good as a nuanced Kim, and he's where the movie hits a really good streak. It would be easy to make Kim a cartoon monster, but the movie plays with elements of his humanity to make the inhumane elements that much more inhumane. It never rises quite to the level of satire it wants to, but it's a funny little movie that, unfortunately, raised everyone's expectations because of the whole hacking/see it for patriotism/because censorship and terrorism thing. I saw it on Netflix. It was funny but not great. Not one of the better works these guys are capable of putting out. So, I'm just saying, you know, if maybe someone at Sony thought the movie was completely middling or outright bad and maybe saw the hacking as an opportunity to create a mystery around The Interview knowing that any dumbass will see a movie when it feels like their patriotism is at stake, and that gave them an excuse to bypass the theaters and go straight to digital without damaging their relationship with a couple of high profile actors whose movies tend to make money, maybe creating the illusion that North Korea was so incensed over a comedy that doesn't have the satirical bite it thinks it does would be one way to create a sense of duty in certain kinds of easily manipulated people to spend money and maybe pretend there was a victory over piracy. Like I said: weirdest marketing campaign. ***

I've wanted to see this movie for 25 years, and now that I have, I'm almost wistful that I'll never be able to experience it for the first time again. This is one of the best movies I've ever seen. Harry Dean Stanton, in the greatest of his performances, walks out of the desert and reconnects with a family he has abandoned, including a young son. As he tries to remember how to participate in society, he soon decides to take his son and search for the wife he ran away from (Nastassja Kinski). There's not much more to it than that, but the movie--directed by Wim Wenders, written by Sam Shepard and shot beautifully by Robby Muller--is more interested in genuinely exploring the emotions here, the anguish and loss and loneliness of the situation, than in making something false and predictable. Roger Ebert said the film doesn't need any gimmicks because "it fascinated by the sadness of its own truth," which is as perfect a statement as I could imagine to describe this movie with. This is a beautiful movie. ****

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Song of the Week: "Winter"

I'm a little surprised I've been doing Song of the Week since 2006 and I've never had a Tori Amos song up. In high school, Little Earthquakes and Under the Pink were everything, and Boys for Pele is one of my all time favorite albums. I was such a huge fan. It's been snowing here since last night (11 inches of snow and counting so far), and I was trying to think of a song about winter, and this suddenly just flooded into my mind. I know it's not actually about winter--it's about Amos' relationship with her minister father--but it's just such a beautiful song and I'm having a bit of trouble myself right now. Still having outsize reactions to everything and a LOT of physical pain because of the ongoing detox from being on Effexor. So here's the kind of music I was listening to in high school in the early nineties.