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Film Friday: July 2017

It’s not all comic books here at Longbox Graveyard (and it’s maybe not even comics any more — I did just kill the blog). My recent movie to Canada — sans family — has left me with idle hours in the evening, and my new job ensures that come dark I’m creatively drained, too. What’s a poor Moleman to do?

Watch a lot of movies, of course. Here’s a list of the films screened at Longbox Graveyard Secret HQ this past month.

(Note that despite the image below, this post is pretty much bereft of comic book content — go here for that)

In Theaters

Spider-Man: Homecoming: Perfectly reliable, mid-tier Marvel entertainment. The Captain America PSAs were a scream. I did coincidentally catch the Doctor Octopus train fight from Spider-Man 2 on cable the other day, though, and Spidey 2 blows Homecoming out of the water in pretty much every way.

Baby Driver: Caught it alone in a Vancouver movie theater, killing time until the Canada Day fireworks started. Walked out of the theater brilliantly focused, alert to every sound and color, like I’d emerged from the most effective meditation session of my life. I guess you could say the movie captured my attention. Favorite picture of the summer.

War For The Planet Of The Apes: Yeah, sure, OF COURSE we are living in an era where talking monkey movies are legitimately in the discussion for the best film trilogy of all time. Watching the scenery in this movie, all I could think was … this has got to be British Columbia. Yep, it was. Journeyed out to the Othello Tunnels the next day to experience one of the locations. Caesar Is Home.

Dunkirk: Doesn’t fully live up to the rapturous reviews — and I say this as a WW2 buff and a Christopher Nolan fan — but I did enjoy this human-scaled epic. It was chilling to see bodies bombed on a beautiful beach, and ships sink on a clear and untroubled ocean. That’s probably just how it felt, the juxtaposition of life and death. Thinking back on it, though, I’m inclined to agree the movie is “at heart a high-stakes drama about proper queue etiquette.”

On Cable

Cabaret (1972): One of those genre classics I’d managed not to see in my half-century of being a film fan. Despite my love of the Silver Surfer, I’m not mad for musicals, but I enjoyed the melodrama. Never really got Liza Minelli, either, but I can see how this picture helped make her an EGOT superstar.

On Netflix

Hell or High Water (2016): Held up on re-watch, originally saw this in the gloriously shitty little La Paloma theater in Encinitas last year. Grim, gritty, and pulls off the trick of getting you to root for some pretty awful heroes. Didn’t realize until today that this film shares a screenwriter with Sicario, another recent favorite, and now I’m anxious to see that selfsame screenwriter’s directorial turn in Wind River. Chris Pine was also pretty good here …

Star Trek Beyond (2016): … but Chris Pine is only so-so here. Same with poor Idris Elba and everyone else who wasn’t Sofia Boutella. Second or third time I’ve seen this movie and I still don’t know what the hell is going on. I’ve been a supporter of the JJVerse in general, but each picture is proving worse than the one before.

John Wick (2014): Worst-Russian-Accents-Ever. I fell asleep.

Army of Darkness (1992): Like it a lot less than Evil Dead 2, but this is good dumb fun, and the Klaatu barada nikto gag is genius. Speaking of which …

The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951): … the original still packs some punch. Not so much for the “Earthman, get off my lawn” bit so much as for how it made me long for a prosaic time where White Men In Uniforms might be trusted to pay attention when confronted with unimpeachable evidence of Impending Doom.

The Hunt (2012): The always-great Mads Mikkelsen learns what W.C. Fields knew all along — never work with children.

Force Majeure (2014): Can’t stop thinking about this one. Fate confronts a couple with an ugly truth, and then their lives unravel, one thread at a time. Unsparing and uncomfortable — reminded me a bit of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster in that regard. Director Ruben Östlund is one to watch and now I’m eager to view his Palme d’Or-winning The Square.

On Filmstruck

Shock Corridor (1963): Working hard to develop an appreciation for Sam Fuller. I admire that he tried to elevate his material with political and racial commentary … but pulp is pulp.

Genocide (1968): Deeply strange Japanese picture where a hot-but-insane American temptress escapes a Nazi death camp to join the East Bloc to create a strain of insects that can destroy the world. Ripped from today’s headlines! Would have had the bleakest ending of any movie I saw this month if not for …

Shoot First, Die Later (1974): Come for the crazy car chases, stay for the fashions, casual violence, cat murder, sexism, and the frozen-faced beauty of a leading man who looks like he walked off the set of Team America World Police. And that ending! Oy.

Rules of the Game (1939): The outrages that shocked French society upon this film’s release have largely faded with time, but what remains is a masterfully constructed comedy of manners. Sweeps you up as only a classic old movie can do.

8 1/2 (1963): Fellini clearly has problems with women, but at least he puts them all in full view. No one shot a dream sequence better. In a crazy sum-of-the-parts way, this movie does depict the experience of being a director (at least to the degree that I’ve come to understand it directing video games). I love the part where Mastroianni’s knees give out while his producer hauls him toward his ridiculous, overbuilt spaceship set.

L’Atalante (1934): A dreamy, aimless cruise down the canals of France. Remarkable for its slice-of-life filmmaking — like a time machine, really. Plus, it has lots of cats.

Persona (1966): Overall I think Bergman’s reputation for being challenging, dour, and remote is overstated — I find his movies insightful and full of life. But Persona is … challenging, dour, and remote. And brilliant! This is what you get when Bergman decides he’s not concerned for the commercial success of a film (a masterpiece).

Plus Some TV

Enterprise, season one, which I like despite myself; Batman Brave And The Bold (which is the best Batman); and the Black Mirror Christmas Special, which is the most messed-up goddamn thing ever broadcast.

More next month, maybe.


How To Reboot The Fantastic Four

With the most recent Fantastic Four picture shaping up as one of the all-time superhero bombs, I’ve been thinking about how I’d reboot the franchise, were I suddenly granted power over time, space, and dimension (or at least a Hollywood studio!). Drawing upon the elements I outlined in my Core of the Four blog post, and fortified by a re-read of the original Stan Lee and Jack Kirby run of the Fantastic Four, I’ve cooked up a scheme that’s just crazy enough to work! Fear not, Fantastic Fans — we may have hit bottom, but that only means there’s nowhere to go but up!

Get A Grip, Reed!

Just for fun, here’s how I’d re-re-re-introduce the Fantastic Four to today’s film audiences!

(This particular bit of fanboy fantasizing assumes that the Fantastic Four reverts to Marvel Studios from Fox.)

Marvel Studios

First, I’d introduce the characters as a subplot in an already-scheduled Marvel movie. Take any upcoming Marvel film that might plausibly have a scene set in outer space — Avengers 3 or 4, Captain Marvel, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, or maybe the Inhumans. Somewhere in the Solar System, our film heroes discover an old space capsule …

… Incredibly, it’s the Baxter-1, a privately-funded spacecraft that blasted off for space in 1961! Contact with the craft was lost shortly after launch, and she — and her crew of four intrepid adventurers — were thought lost forever!

Fantastic Four by Alex Ross

Discovery of the Baxter-1 is a worldwide sensation … it’s like Amelia Earhart has been found! Even more sensationalistic is that the crew is alive, in a state of suspended animation! And what a crew they are …

Super-genius Reed Richards (Jon Hamm), a celebrity-scientist that shared the stage with Albert Einstein and popularized science for a generation of impressionable school kids!

Jon Hamm is Reed Richards

Susan Storm (Emma Watson), America’s sweetheart, cover-girl for innumerable glamour magazines, spokeswoman for a score of progressive international charities, best friends with both Jackie Onassis AND Marilyn Monroe!

Emma Watson is Sue Storm

Johnny Storm (Josh Hutcherson), the original teen heart-throb … he was bigger than Elvis when he went into space, and his disappearance haunted a generation more than the death of James Dean!

Josh Hutcherson is Johnny Storm

Ben Grimm (Michael Shannon), ace pilot, who flew wingtip-to-wingtip with Chuck Yeager and was fast-tracked for the Gemini Space Program before he gambled his career on Reed Richard’s experimental wildcat space launch!

Michael Shannon is Ben Grimm

Suddenly, after more than half a century, these Fantastic Four are back … and they haven’t aged a day. All they can remember is launching into space, being knocked off course by a strange bombardment of cosmic rays, and then … nothing, until they are recovered in the present day.

The four instantly become the biggest celebrities on the planet … and the story really explodes when they manifest strange super-powers!

Fans of course can fill in the rest … and the stage is set for the Fantastic Four to headline another blockbuster film, but THIS time they’ll be free to actually be the Fantastic Four!

The Fantastic Four By Jack Kirby!

What I like about this idea is that it inserts the Fantastic Four into the contemporary Marvel Universe while retaining much of the charm of the original comics. Our heroes get to be celebrities — which is critical to the FF experience — in a way only this kind of return-from-the-past story can permit in a Marvel Cinematic Universe that already has an Avengers full of heroes that largely have public identities. With Reed, Ben, Johnny, and Sue hailing from 1961, the movie can enjoy some of the man out of time/fish out of water humor and humanity that worked so well in Marvel’s Captain America and Thor pictures. And by being the very same personalities that we remember from the comics — personalities very much part and parcel of the early 1960s — our heroes can retain the optimism, heroism, spirit of adventure, and very deep flaws inherent in their original conception.

For our enemy, of course, there is only one choice — Doctor Doom (Ian McShane … who would also make a great Mole Man)!

Ian McShane is Doctor Doom

But this time Doom isn’t an internet rage case or some guy with a skin condition or whatever dumbass nonsense Hollywood has foisted upon Doctor Doom in his past screen appearances. Nope, he’s Doctor Freaking Doom, the reclusive and terrifying dictator of the rogue state of Latveria, a frightening nuclear power every bit as mysterious and unpredictable as North Korea.

so lonely

(and yes, Doom is lonely, too!)

Doom has ruled Latveria with an iron hand for over half a century … no one has seen the face beneath Doom’s mask, which must be impossibly ancient by now (unless the dark rumors that Doom has used bizarre science and dark sorcery to retain his youth are to be believed). The return of the Fantastic Four puts Doctor Doom back in the limelight, resurrecting long-dormant conspiracy theories about a secret link between Doom and Reed Richards, that Doom might somehow have been involved in Reed’s mysterious space project, and may even have been responsible for its failure.

And so our Marvel Cinematic Universe is immeasurably enriched by reinstating the Fantastic Four as Marvel’s First Family, with their greatest foe ready to battle them — immediately a part of the larger story but also reasonably partitioned off into their own unique story, coming to terms with their superpowers and with a world that has advanced by immeasurable leaps and bounds in the subjective hours that they have been away.

huzzah for the FF

Our heroes have plenty of external threats to battle — Doctor Doom! Mole Man! Galactus! But more importantly, they have key internal threats to wrestle with, too …

How does Reed Richards’ genius translate to this brave new world, where his “cutting edge” inventions are bulky and outdated next to the cell phones carried by school kids? Can the old dog learn new tricks?

Man Out Of Time!

How will the fame-hungry Johnny Storm cope in a world that has moved past wholesome teen pop idols in favor of reality TV stars and YouTube celebrities? Can the teen idol reinvent himself for a new generation?

Johnny Movie Star

How will Sue Storm evolve as a person in a world that expects women will do more than wear designer gowns and smile sweetly for the camera? Can America’s Sweetheart overcome her insecurities and prejudices to master the opportunities that would never have been open to her in the era of her birth?

Poor Sue!

How does Ben Grimm fit into the world now that he is a rock-skinned monster, no longer qualified for a space program that has lost its vision and sense of generational imperative? Can an aviation hero from the Cold War adopt to a new era where black and white have been replaced by shades of grey?

This Man This Monster

I don’t know about you … but I’d be first in line to see a Marvel Studios movie about that Fantastic Four. Heck, I’d even shell out for a 3D showing!

What do you think? Would you green light yet another Fantastic Four movie based on this take, or has the FF become so toxic that a John Carter reboot looks like a better idea by comparison? Sound off, True Believers, in the comments section, below!

Dredd 3D Producer Adi Shankar On Whether There Will Be A Judge Dredd Sequel

“Probably not. But I am working on a Dredd short in the vein of Dirty Laundry … If DREDD becomes a cult hit it will be awesome. Last September was a terrible month … The movie totally bombed & R-rated movies are a tough sell to begin with.”

Read all of Mr. Shankar’s comments at his recent Reddit AMA thread.

Dredd 3D

Joss Whedon On Avengers

“I don’t think it’s a perfect movie. I don’t even think it’s a great movie. I think it’s a great time, and I’m proud of it, but for me, what was exciting is that people don’t go to see a movie that many times unless it’s pulling on something from within, unless there’s a need there. That’s very gratifying.”

Read the full interview at Vulture.

Avengers Assemble For The Ultimate Marvel Marathon

Longbox Graveyard #47

You have to grow old, but you don’t have to grow up.

Actually, you do.

Even fifty-year-old guys who write comics blogs can’t hold real life entirely at bay. I have a career, and kids. Aches and pains and the usual worries. (Some unusual worries, too.) For all that I indulge myself with Longbox Graveyard I’m actually a pretty sober, normal adult. Not that I like it much. I’d rather be twelve again. Or nineteen. I’d settle for forty!

There’s real value in turning back the hands of time for a night or a day. Dim the lights. Face the mirrors to the wall. Recover some boyish enthusiasm for lost geek loves. That impulse is a big part of this blog — reading comics from thirty-five years ago helps recapture a bit of what it felt like to be thirty-five years younger.

If I were twelve again I’d be all in for the Ultimate Marvel Marathon.

(And let’s pause here and consider the absurdity of calling these things “marathons” in the first place. That the pinnacle of Olympic sport has become the term for sitting on your ass for an entire day watching movies is beyond bizarre.)

Still …

Five of my favorite superhero movies, in a day-long sitting, followed by a midnight debut of The Avengers! Seventeen hours in a movie theater, ninety minutes in the car each way getting there, a day off work to do it and another day off to recover. Great for a twelve-year-old, not-so-great if you’re half a century old.

So I found a couple twelve-year-olds and went anyway.

Jack & Erin, resident twelve-year olds

And I was not alone. There were plenty of adults interested in this particular childish pursuit …

Rory, Sarge, & Tyson, in Real 3D

… a whole theater-full of them, in fact. Hundreds and hundreds of theaters around the world, packed to the rafters, just a fraction opting for the whole Marvel Marathon but plenty more eating all the Avengers they could get, to the tune of about a gazillion dollars in worldwide box office.

a largely-full house for the 11:30 AM start of the marathon

I don’t need a lot of excuse to act like a child, but I still wouldn’t have attended this crazy thing if my friend and occasional Longbox Graveyard collaborator Chris Ulm hadn’t insisted, roping in a big gang of us to play hookey. It was Ulm’s birthday, and he needed to defy time even more than I did.

As fate would have it, several of our number were caught on film in the promotional video AMC Theaters did for the event. Zip to the :20 second mark and you’ll see The Ulm explaining how fast he got his tickets to the event, followed by Dave Olbrich (aka The DWO, comics personality and author of Funny Book Fanatic) making his own enthusiastic claims. Then, at 1:20, you’ll see the Dwo’s lovely daughter, Maggie, identifying her favorite Avenger.

The Ulm brought his daughter, too, and having Erin and Jack there reminded me of when I really WAS twelve years old, and went to the Planets of the Apes marathon with my old man.

It’s been almost forty years since that Ape day with my dad, and I still remember it; hopefully Jack will remember our Marvel day just as long. And it was a fine day. For all that I dreaded the length and the logistics of the thing, the event itself was smooth and energizing and even refreshing. There was more legroom at the Downtown Disney 12 than in my own house, and the theater staff was friendly and indulgent and encouraging of a festival mood. The theater was mostly full of Marvel fans who cheered for the right stuff at the right times, and didn’t step on too many of the laugh lines in Avengers. The comfort of the theater, the clarity of the image and the sound, the circulation in the auditorium all helped power me through the marathon — I didn’t feel my first fatigue until Thor (the fourth movie of the day), and while I was yawning a good bit during the midnight showing of Avengers, I was still pumped up and ready for that particular picture. There’s nowhere else I’d rather have been when those opening credits rolled.

I was surprised how well those first five films held up. I’ve seen them all, multiple times, but they were fresh and still entertaining on the big screen.

Iron Man is still the best of the Marvel movies, anchored by a pitch-perfect performance from Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. Downey has the rare quality of being able to walk through a scene while still seeming a part of the movie — his indifferent otherworldliness perfectly communicates that here is a man who has enough power and wealth to do anything he pleases. The effects are strong and of all the Marvel movies, the Iron Man experience has the strongest element of wish fulfillment — unlike the lost gods, tortured scientists, and earnest patriots of later films, there’s no one who wouldn’t want to be Tony Stark, bad ticker and all.

Aside from an off-hand reference to MySpace, the movie has aged well. The movie isn’t perfect — Jeff Bridges is very good as Obidiah Stane, but his battlesuited superpowered alter-ego is instantly forgettable, and while Gwyennth Paltrow is cute, there isn’t a straight man alive who thinks she’s hot. That Tony would pick her as “the one” with all those other women falling at his feet strains credulity more than creating an armored battlesuit in an Afghan cave. By hooking up with Paltrow’s Pepper Potts, Tony Stark marries his mother — which kind of fits with the Oedipal vibe of the picture, but I don’t grant the filmmakers that kind of insight.

Incredible Hulk was a little dour, about what I remembered, and Iron Man 2 was let down by a middle act in which Iron Man essentially goes missing from his own movie. Thor and Captain America retain strong appeal, and not just because they are my favorite Marvel heroes — like Iron Man, these pictures benefit from a strong narrative arc that onboards the audience for a thrill ride origin tale as full of meaningful character transformation as they are filled with superheroic action.

It was in the onboarding that I felt Avengers stumbled a bit, and not only because I was getting foggy after more than a dozen hours watching these crazy movies. The opening of the movie — with a lot of B-characters flapping their arms as a S.H.I.E.L.D. base is overrun — felt hollow and for a moment I thought … uh oh, is Avengers going to be another one of those empty summer effects spectaculars? But the movie eventually finds its footing, and while I found the first two acts more a collection of clever scenes than a movie, it all comes together in a third act that might be the finest action movie I’ve ever seen. It’s like a Transformers movie where you actually care about the characters, and I mean that as much higher praise than it sounds.

There were a few bits I didn’t like, particularly the handling of Agent Coulson, who felt an especially close presence for those of us attending the Marathon, given that he introduced each movie of the day with a little interstitial S.H.I.E.L.D. briefing …

… and I think I would have found the picture overlong, even if I didn’t start it after midnight. But on balance, I still loved the film, especially Mark Ruffalo’s understated Hulk, and Tom Hiddleston as the scenery-chewing Loki.

3:00 AM, Marathon Complete!

Sitting in the dark all day with one of my kids and some of my closest friends was an unexpectedly emotional experience. I feel like we went on a shared journey, and the day after the event, I felt not only exhausted but also emotionally let down. Real life paled compared to that four-color filmic realm! It really was unexpected fun to plug into a billion dollars worth of superhero entertainment in a single day — to set aside all mundane concerns and fully drink in the realization that I live in a world where the question isn’t if The Avengers will be a successful movie, or even if it will exist at all, but if it will be more successful than the Spider-Man and Batman pictures coming out the same summer! For comics fans, it is Revenge of the Nerds, indeed!

I daresay that … I’d even do it again! (Maybe).

Some statistics from the day:

  • Time my alarm went off: 6:45 AM Thursday
  • Time my head hit the pillow back at home: 4:45 AM Friday
  • Estimated production budget for all six films: $1 Billion USD
  • Cost of tickets for Jack & I: $80 USD
  • 150 miles roundtrip to the movies and back
  • 12 hours 23 minutes total runtime for the six movies
  • 17 total hours in the theater itself
  • 2 buckets of popcorn consumed, 1 big diet soda, and 2 hot dogs downed (actually I had good discipline here, and the theater was cool with the healthy snacks I packed)

Everyone reading this blog should see Avengers immediately (or see it a second time, if you’ve already gone). And everyone reading this blog should seriously consider attending a Marvel Movie Marathon if it ever comes around again. It will wreck your back, disrupt your sleep, and cost you time at work, but it’s a small price to pay for being twelve years old again … if just for a too-quick twelve hours and twenty-three minutes!

NEXT WEDNESDAY: #48 Super-Diva Team-Up

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