Monday, 19 February 2018

Shark Week (3½ Stars)


Like most of Christopher Olen Ray's films, it's difficult to give "Shark Week" an appropriate eating. My personal definition of a "good film" is "a film that I want to watch at least three times". I can't say that of Christopher's films. I've enjoyed all of his films that I've seen so far, and yet they're films to be watched once only.

"Shark Week" excited me when I watched it. I sat riveted to the screen for 90 minutes. When it was over and the credits rolled my instincts were to give it a four star rating. Then I went and made myself a coffee. I sat down to write my review, and I thought to myself, "It wasn't so good after all, so maybe three stars would be better". Is that fair? What should I rate? The film's immediate experience, or the intellectual aftermath when I compare it with the classics of the last 50 years?

That's a question for my readers. I don't know the answer.

The film's plot is simple, but entertaining. Eight people are kidnapped and brought to a remote island. They don't know one another, but they're linked. They were all in some way responsible for the death of the island owner's son. He gives them a test. Every day for six days they have to battle a shark to the death. Anyone who succeeds will be set free. As you can expect, they begin with small sharks and build up to the largest, the great white shark.

The DVD cover is misleading. It portrays a gigantic shark that's typical for the recent spate of megashark films. All the sharks we see in the film are realistic creatures. It's an exciting last-man-standing film, but only watch it once.

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Saturday, 17 February 2018

Marvel Years: Apr 1963


Fantastic Four #13

Title(s): The Red Ghost and his Indescribable Super-Apes
Menace on the Moon
The Watcher Appears
Duel in the Dead City

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Red Ghost (Ivan Kragoff)

Guests: The Watcher

This is a single story split into four parts that have been given individual titles. There's a subtle irony in the story. The Fantastic Four travel to the Moon to make sure that America wins the space race. However, by travelling to the Moon themselves the Fantastic Four have already won the space race as a private corporation. Or maybe it was the Russian scientist, Ivan Kragoff. In the excitement of pages 9 and 10 it isn't clear which spaceship landed first.

The exposure to the so-called cosmic rays gives Ivan Kragoff and his three pet monkeys super powers to rival the Fantastic Four. However, the most important occurrence in this comic is the introduction of the Watcher, a member of a super-powered race that chronicles the universe but never interferes. At least, they shouldn't interfere. In later comics we see that the Watcher frequently breaks his oath of non-interference to assist the Fantastic Four.


Tales to Astonish #42

Title: The Voice of Doom

Writer: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber
Artist: Don Heck

Villain: Jason Cragg

There's a small error in this story. I blame Larry Lieber for slipping up. He must have thought he was working for DC. It's claimed that Ant-Man lives in a fictional place called Center City. We all know that he lived in New York, probably Manhattan.


This issue also contains an anthology story.


Journey into Mystery #91

Title: Trapped by the Carbon-Copy Man

Writer: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber
Artist: Joe Sinnott

Regulars: Jane Foster, Odin

Villain: Loki, Sandu

This issue also contains two short anthology stories.


Title: Iron Man versus Gargantus

Writer: Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Gargantus (a robot)

This issue confirms the tragic life of Anthony Stark that I mentioned when writing about the previous issue. He might be a playboy, but he can never consummate his relationships with women because of the metal chest plate he has to wear.


At the beginning of the comic Iron Man is wearing a grey suit, as in his origin story. After seeing that it terrifies members of the public he sprays gold paint onto it.

This issue also contains two short anthology stories.


Strange Tales #107

Title: The Master of Flame vs the Monarch of the Sea

Writer: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber
Artist: Dick Ayers

Villain: Sub-Mariner

Regulars: Susan Storm, Reed Richards, Ben Grimm

It could be argued that the Human Torch is the villain in this story. He chooses to attack Sub-Mariner just to get more respect from the other members of the Fantastic Four.

This issue shows that Susan Storm still has feelings for Sub-Mariner. She has his picture on her table.

This issue also contains three short anthology stories.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Seeing Allred (4 Stars)


This is a documentary about the American lawyer Gloria Allred that's currently only available on Netflix. It briefly speaks about many of her court cases over the last 45 years, but concentrates on her defence of 33 women who were allegedly raped by Bill Cosby. Most of the charges against Cosby couldn't be brought to court because of the statute of limitations, so a large part of Allred's legal battle was to have the statute of limitations removed for cases of sexual assault.

Ever since the early years of her career Gloria Allred has been fighting for women's rights. This has involved the right to abortion and the right of single mothers to demand child support. Even though she's a highly successful lawyer she has taken on many cases on behalf of women too poor to pay. Her detractors claim that she's an attention seeker, using high profile cases to give herself celebrity status.


The makers of the documentary are obviously fans of Gloria Allred, so we can't expect impartiality. At the beginning of the documentary it's mentioned that many people oppose her, but I don't feel that this subject is adequately explored. This would have strengthened the documentary rather than weaken it. I see the problem that she scares the men who enjoy their life in a patriarchal society. She's very blunt in stating what she wants for women. It's not a matter of negotiation. She wants it all and she wants it now.

So she's a feminist? So what? There's a gender war going on right now. Winning the right to vote wasn't the end of the battle, it was the beginning. As Gloria Allred states at the end of the film, the ballot box is the only place in America where women are equal. In every other place they still suffer disadvantages. In America women were given the right to vote in 1920. It could be argued that they've been complacent since then. Gloria Allred is anything but complacent. She's a fighter.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Gone in 60 Seconds (4 Stars)


There are a lot of films that have a car chase. "Gone in 60 seconds" is a car chase that has a film. There's a plot, but the story is dull and the acting is lacklustre. My advice is that you skip the first 55 minutes and just watch the car chase that fills the rest of the film. Some people claim that it lasts 40 minutes, but I timed it at a mere 32 minutes. It's a matter of definition, whether you begin when the car is driving or when the pursuit begins. Whatever the exact length is, it's one of the best car chases ever filmed.

When you ask people for lists of the best car chases the answers differ a lot. It depends on what the criteria are. Do you mean the length of the chase? That would put "Gone in 60 Seconds" at the top of the list. Do you like car chases with extras, such as the special effects in "The Matrix Reloaded"? What about crazy elements, such as the tank in "GoldenEye"? The Terminator films all have exciting car chases. "The Raid 2" combines a car chase with a martial arts battle. Do you think that car chases using CGI are acceptable, or do you just want a no-frills car chase with stunt men sitting in real cars, pedal to the metal?. "Death Proof" is Quentin Tarantino's homage to the pre-computer days when car chases were real.

"Gone in 60 Seconds" was made in 1974 and features one of the greatest classic car chases. An army of stunt men are shown driving and crashing cars. The streets weren't completely cordoned off for the shoots, leading to some unplanned extras. For instance, the appearance of the biker gang in the film was unplanned. They were out for a casual drive when the police cars raced by in pursuit of the yellow Mustang. Thinking they were real policeman the bikers shouted abuse as they passed. Things like that can't be planned.

My four-star rating is a composite rating, the average of two stars for the first 55 minutes and five stars for the rest.

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P. S. Don't bother with the 2000 remake of this film, however talented the actors are. The story and acting are better, but it has a much inferior car chase. They don't make them like they used to.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Ed Wood (5 Stars)


This is doubtlessly one of the best films ever made. It's the true story of Edward D. Wood Jr, who's considered by many to be the worst film director ever. I disagree with this opinion, but I'll let it stand. It's a bigger achievement to become the worst at something than to be average. Nobody would ever want to make a film about an average director, but if someone is the worst people want to know about him. Last week I went to see "The Disaster Artist", another film about a monumentally bad director, Tommy Wiseau. Comparing the two, they couldn't be more different.

Ed Wood was a poor man who made the best films he could with the limited resources he had available. The end result was far from perfect, but his directing skills shone through the low budget appearance.

Tommy Wiseau was a rich man who invested millions into making a film, but the result looks cheap and amateurish.

Imagine what Ed Wood could have done with Tommy Wiseau's money. He would have made masterpiece after masterpiece.


"Ed Wood" has a few amusing scenes, but it isn't intended to be a comedy. Any humour comes out of the ridiculous things that happened in his life. The whole cast of "Plan 9 From Outer Space" had to be baptised to get funding for the film. I think that anyone able to strike a deal like that is a genius.


How does the actress Lisa Marie compare with Vampira? Her waist is thicker and her hands are smaller, but she makes up for it by having longer fingernails. Would you let yourself be scratched by Lisa Marie? I would. I'd still be gasping with excitement when she steps back and the blood is trickling down my cheeks.

I'll be watching "Ed Wood" again when I present my top 50 favourite films. If I ever get round to it.

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Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Marvel Years: Mar 1963


March 1963 was another memorable month for Marvel. Spider-Man, who first appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15, was given his own comic. He rapidly became Marvel's most popular super-hero, a position he's held for more than 50 years, in the comics at least. In the same month Iron Man first appeared in the anthology comic Tales of Suspense.

Spider-Man #1

Title: Spider-Man

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Regulars: Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson, Liz Allan (unnamed), John Jameson

This comic contains two stories. The first story is divided into three unnamed parts and is simply called "Spider-Man". This is the first comic to feature the owner of the Daily Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson, who is driven by an irrational hatred for Spider-Man. He's determined to persuade the public, through the power of the press, that Spider-Man is a criminal. If it's printed in black and white it has to be true. Even when Spider-Man saves his son, the astronaut John Jameson, J. Jonah Jameson still demands his arrest.



Title: Spider-Man vs the Chameleon

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Villain: The Chameleon

Guests: The Fantastic Four

Regulars: Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson, Liz Allan (unnamed), John Jameson

This is the first story in which we read about Spider-Man's "spider sense" which warns him of danger. In this story his spider sense is also able to pick up radio waves. As far as I remember, this rather silly concept was never used again in the comics.


Title: Iron Man is born

Writer: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber
Artist: Don Heck

Villain: Wong Chu (a Vietnamese warlord)

This is another tragic hero, typical for Stan Lee's creations. Anthony Stark's metal armour gives him great strength, but the breastplate is also necessary to keep him alive by preventing the shrapnel from an explosion reaching his heart. He's shown to be a playboy, dating one girl after another, but we can assume that the need for a breastplate prevented him ever becoming intimate with his romantic conquests.

As is typical in Stan Lee's early super-hero stories, Communists play a large role. This time it isn't a vague unnamed country. Anthony Stark is taken prisoner in North Vietnam.

This issue also contains two short anthology stories.


Fantastic Four #12

Title(s): The Incredible Hulk
Mission: Stop the Hulk
Who is the Wrecker?
The Hulk at last

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Karl Kort (The Wrecker)

Guests: The Hulk, General Ross, Rick Jones

Regulars: Alicia Masters

This is a single story split into four parts that have been given individual titles. General Ross asks the Fantastic Four to capture the Hulk, who's suspected of sabotaging a missile installation. As you can guess, it was someone else. The person responsible is Karl Kort, a Communist spy, using a giant robot.

The battle between the Hulk and the Fantastic Four is brief and inconclusive. The Hulk is stronger than each of the Fantastic Four individually, but they don't have time to fight against him as a group.


This is another small joke typical for Stan Lee in the 1960's.


The Incredible Hulk #6

Title: Beauty and the Beast

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Villain: Metal Master

Regulars: General Ross, Betty Ross, Rick Jones

Sadly, this was the last issue of "The Incredible Hulk". The sales weren't good enough to keep it going. Luckily Stan Lee didn't give up on him. He was brought back a few months later in the pages of "The Avengers", as you'll soon see.


Tales to Astonish #41

Title: Prisoner of the Slave World

Writer: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber
Artist: Don Heck

Villain: Kulla

Kulla is a villain who lives in "another dimension of space and time". That sounds like Stan Lee's way of saying it's a faraway world which can be reached immediately because it's parallel to our world. This concept will be used extensively in the Doctor Strange stories which begin in Strange Tales later in 1963. By then the expression will will be shortened to merely "dimension". That's less work for the letterer Artie Simek.

This issue also contains two short anthology stories.


Journey into Mystery #90

Title: Trapped by the Carbon-Copy Man

Writer: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber
Artist: Al Hartley

Regulars: Jane Foster, Odin

Villain: Xartans

An alien race from the Planet Xarta wants to conquer the Earth and arrives with a big armada. They prepare their attack by kidnapping and impersonating many people in New York. The expression "Carbon-Copy Man" is only used in the title. The aliens are called Xartans, and their leader is Ugarth.

This issue also contains two short anthology stories.


Strange Tales #106

Title: The Threat of the Torrid Twosome

Writer: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber
Artist: Dick Ayers

Villain: Carl Zante

Regulars: Susan Storm, Reed Richards, Ben Grimm

There's only one villain in this story. The Torrid Twosome in the title are made up of the master acrobat Carl Zante and the Human Torch. Carl appeals to Johnny Storm's pride and persuades him to leave the Fantastic Four and form a new group. It's lucky that he didn't stay long in his new partnership, or the world's greatest comic magazine would have had to change its name to the Terrific Trio. It doesn't sound quite as good, does it?

Amusingly, this story reveals that the Human Torch has been struggling to keep his secret identity secret for nothing. The whole town of Glenville already knows who he is.

I didn't realise until today how far Glenville is from Manhattan, where the Baxter Building is situated. It's way up north in New York state, 170 miles away. That's a long way for Susan and Johnny to commute to work every day.

This issue also contains three short anthology stories.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Darkest Hour (5 Stars)


Despite praises heaped on this film by my friends in England I thought I might not like it. A film about Winston Churchill fighting the war against Germany sounded like a retelling of a story that's been filmed over and over again. As I soon found out, I went into the film with the wrong expectations. "Darkest Hour" is a story that's never been told before. It's not about fighting the Germans, it's about Winston Churchill's fight against his rivals in the British parliament.

The film covers a relatively brief period of time, from May 9th until June 4th 1940. That's the time he needed to win his battle and conquer parliament. A digital calendar keeps track of the date, telling us what happened when, but it's not used in the final scene, his legendary speech in parliament, giving the impression that it took place before the Battle of Dunkirk. It actually took place immediately afterwards.

The speech was about ten times as long as the extract shown in the film. The first part of the speech was a summary of the battles against Germany so far. The second part of the speech is a call to war against Germany to protect the British Isles. This is one of the most famous speeches ever made, so I'll quote it here.

"Turning once again, and this time more generally, to the question of invasion, I would observe that there has never been a period in all these long centuries of which we boast when an absolute guarantee against invasion, still less against serious raids, could have been given to our people.

"I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty’s Government; every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation. The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength.

"Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old".


The Matrix Revolutions (5 Stars)


As I've said before, "The Matrix Reloaded" and "The Matrix Revolutions" are two halves of the same film. They should be watched back to back, as I've done by watching them yesterday and today.

The rogue programs play more of a role in the the third film. We find a program called the Trainman, whose duty it is to smuggle programs in and out of the Matrix. Programs hacking programs? Things are getting complicated. Sati, who has the appearance of a young girl, is a program due to be deleted because she has no apparent purpose. Her parents, also programs, love her and want her to survive, so they use the Trainman to bring her to the Oracle for protection. This shows that although the Oracle is working for the machines she's willing to be rebellious and follow her own agenda.

Smith has now become a virus, infecting all of the Matrix. He's become so powerful that he could infect and destroy all the programs in the real world. Only Neo is capable of destroying Smith, with the Oracle's help, so he makes a deal with the machines. If he destroys Smith the Matrix will be upgraded to the next version, Matrix 7.0, without Zion being destroyed. In the new version it will be made easier for people to unplug themselves, if they wish to. To round things off, Sati's purpose is revealed in the new Matrix. Remember that the next time you want to delete a program.

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