Friday, 19 January 2018

Marvel Years: Nov 1962

Fantastic Four #8

Title(s): Prisoners of the Puppet Master
In the Hands of the Puppet Master
The Lady and the Monster
Face-to-Face with the Puppet Master
Death of a Puppet

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Puppet Master

Regulars: Alicia Masters

This is a single story split into five parts that have been given individual titles. Before they meet their new enemy, the Puppet Master, we see Reed Richards attempting to devise a cure to turn the Thing back into Ben Grimm. These experiments are repeated so often in the early years of the Fantastic Four that we can consider it a sub-plot.

Technically, Alicia Masters isn't a regular character yet. In later issues she becomes the Thing's girlfriend. I've forgotten when, but I'll remind myself as I re-read the comics this year. I call her the Thing's girlfriend, not Ben Grimm's girlfriend, because she loves the Thing most when he's in his orange rock form.

The Incredible Hulk #4

Title: The Monster and the Machine

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Regulars: General Ross, Betty Ross, Rick Jones

This comic contains two short stories. The first story doesn't contain any enemies. It's a development in the Hulk's powers. At the beginning of the story Bruce Banner is permanently the Hulk and Rick Jones has the power to control him. Before this happened Bruce Banner built a gamma ray machine intended to cure himself. Rick Jones orders the Hulk to lie down beneath the machine. Rick pulls a lever, and the Hulk turns back into Bruce Banner.

Bruce is weaker than ever after the transformation. He can't stand and has to be pushed around in a wheelchair. He doesn't want to live like this, so he takes a risk. He makes an adjustment to the machine which he thinks will turn him back into the Hulk without losing his intelligence. It works. He becomes the Hulk, then goes to rescue a family from a burning house. After saving them he goes back to the hidden lab to hide. The next dose of gamma rays turns him back into Bruce Banner, but very weak again. He now has a machine that will turn him into the Hulk and back whenever he wants.

What's curious about this comic is that it breaks Stan Lee's habit of keeping the age of his characters vague. It's clearly stated on page 10 that Rick Jones is 16 years old.

Title: The Gladiator from Outer Space

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Communist soldiers

Regulars: Rick Jones

Yet again Communists take on a Marvel hero. Will they never give up?

Tales to Astonish #37

Title(s): Trapped by the Protector
Face to Face with the Protector

Writer: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber (uncredited)
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: The Protector

This is a single story split into tw parts that have been given individual titles. The issue also contains two short anthology stories.

Journey into Mystery #86

Title(s): On the Trail of the Tomorrow Man
Flight to the Future

Writer: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber
Artist: Jack Kirby

Regulars: Jane Foster, Odin

Villain: Zarrko the Tomorrow Man

If you look at the cover page of this comic you'll see something new. It's the first issue in which Thor is featured in the comic's title. "Journey into Mystery" has become "Journey into Mystery starring the Mighty Thor". This is repeated in the next issue, but after that it becomes sporadic. It isn't until issue #104 that the comic is renamed "Journey into Mystery with Thor". From issue #126 onwards the comic is only known as "The Mighty Thor".

This story shows a vision of the future that (possibly) contradicts other Marvel comics. 300 years in the future (the year 2262) there is global peace. No more weapons exist. One man, Zarrko, sees it as an opportunity. He owns the world's only time machine, so he travels back into the past to steal a nuclear weapon; to be precise, he steals a cobalt bomb, whatever that is.

Thor travels into the future to pursue him. We find out that one of Thor's powers is that he can spin his hammer faster than the speed of light. Doesn't that make him dizzy?

The unnamed general on page 3 looks suspiciously like General Thunderbolt Ross from the Hulk comics, and he also looks like the unnamed general in Fantastic Four #3 page 12. Is it the same person in all three comics? Or does Jack Kirby think all generals look the same?

This is a single story split into two parts that have been given individual titles. The issue also contains two short anthology stories.

Strange Tales #102

Title(s): Prisoner of the Wizard
Wizard's Wiles

Writer: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber (uncredited)
Artist: Jack Kirby

Regulars: Susan Storm

Villain: The Wizard

This is a single story split into two parts that have been given individual titles. The issue also contains two short anthology stories that are advertised on the cover.

The Wizard later forms the Frightful Four and becomes a frequent enemy of the Fantastic Four.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

The Look of Love (4 Stars)

Money can't buy love. But if you have enough money you can maintain the appearance of love for a long time.

When billionaire Paul Raymond died in 2008 he left his son Derry McCarthy nothing. Not one penny. I don't know where he lives now. He's faded into obscurity. It wouldn't surprise me if he's happier than his father ever was.

Click here for a more detailed review.

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Skyscraper (3 Stars)

After watching the very good film about Anna Nicole Smith's life I decided to go back and re-watch her films. I own two of the three films in which she had the leading role, and I've put them both on my priority to-watch shelf.

Let's be perfectly honest. Anna Nicole Smith was never a good actor. She was hired to play the leading role in "Skyscraper" because she was a celebrity. She was a moderately successful model, having been Playboy's Playmate of the Year in 1993, but she gained her biggest notoriety from marrying the billionaire oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall. She wasn't someone who wanted to be a rich housewife hidden away in a mansion, she wanted everyone to see her. She wanted to become a big Hollywood star. She had more opportunities than most people, but she didn't have the talent needed to succeed.

A terrorist group calling itself the People's Democratic Liberation Party has acquired the four parts it needs to build a device that can control satellites. Anna Nicole Smith plays Carrie Wisk, a helicopter pilot for Heliscort, a type of flying taxi company that carries passengers from one building to another in Los Angeles. It certainly beats the traffic. She carries two of the terrorists to the roof of the Vitex Building, but before leaving the terrorists secretively break off her radio antenna so that she can't report her position. That's a mistake. If they'd left the antenna intact she would have left to pick up her next customer. Without radio contact she has to go down into the building to phone her boss.

The terrorists take hostages when the police arrive -- couldn't they have collected the four parts of their device at a more discreet place? -- so only Anna Nicole is left to save the hostages, the city and the whole world.

"Skyscraper" has all the merits of an action film made for TV: reasonable special effects and tough guys who can put on impressive fight scenes, but poor acting and a weak script. It wouldn't be worth watching at all if not for Anna Nicole. The film starts with a shower scene, showing Anna Nicole washing her enormous breasts. That's probably what the male viewers are paying to see. After this obligatory nude scene the action starts, slowly at first. Halfway through the film the director must have started worrying that the male viewers would be getting bored, so there's a totally unnecessary flashback of Carrie making love with her husband.

I find one of the later scenes more enjoying. Anna Nicole is captured, and one of the terrorists is assigned to guard her.

Instead of just guarding her he decides to have some fun. Boys will be boys.

He rips Anna Nicole's clothes off, not noticing that she's found a letter opener on the desk. We can't see where she stabs him, but it seems to hurt. Girls will be girls.

So what does a man say when a woman overpowers him? Does he apologise and promise never to do it again? No, he swears at her with vile language that I won't repeat in my blog.

Bad idea. She shoots him with his own gun. He deserved it.

It's this scene that earns the film a three star rating. It's the film's one highlight. It's the one scene that stops the film being completely forgettable.

"Skyscraper" is now out of print on DVD, but it's available to watch on Amazon Prime in America and England. Take a look if you're a member. Maybe you'll like it.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

A Thought of Ecstasy (1 Star)

Sometimes I think I'm not cut out to be a film reviewer. Today I watched a film premiere presented by the director Rolf Peter Kahl, or RP Kahl, as he likes to call himself. He was such a nice guy and I immediately liked him as he excitedly talked about his film. The trouble is that I found the film exceedingly dull. I felt like I ought to give the film a higher rating out of sympathy for the director, three stars at least. No. I have to be hard. I've given the film the only rating it deserves.

Frank, also played by Rolf Peter Kahl, is a man from Frankfurt in Germany. He reads a newly published book called "Desert LA" by Ross Sinclair. He immediately recognises himself in the story. 20 years ago he spent some time in Los Angeles and had an affair with a stripper called Marie. For Marie it was a great romance, but for him it was just a casual affair, and he broke off contact when he returned to Germany.

Frank goes back to America to find Marie. The publisher refuses to disclose personal details about the author's name, but she says she's sure the book is a work of fiction. Frank visits strip clubs on the outskirts of Los Angeles, in the middle of the desert. He almost dies when his car breaks down, but a stripper rescues him and lets him live in her home. He pays for his stay by filming sado-masochistic scenes that the strippers perform with customers.

I can see what the director is trying to do. He's imitating the style of David Lynch. He's trying to make a David Lynch film, but he fails. The cinematography is fascinating, sometimes bizarre, sometimes beautiful, and the musical soundtrack is excellent, but the film plods so slowly that it's just not interesting. The characters say their lines woodenly without any hint of emotion. The sex scenes are so unerotic that not even a 14-year-old boy would be aroused. The film is dull. That's the only word to describe it. Dull.

The Ninth Gate (5 Stars)

What's Roman Polanski's best film? Some would answer "Rosemary's Baby". Others would say "The Pianist". They're both excellent choices, but I disagree. I believe that "The Ninth Gate" stands out above all of his other films. It's a supernatural story, but it also has lots of action. It's a very well written film. From the opening scenes on it's emphasised that Dean Corso, played by Johnny Depp, is an unscrupulous bad guy, but we still feel sympathy for him and want him to succeed in his investigations.

Dean Corso carries out detective work, but he's a book detective. Has that ever been the subject of any other film? Boris Balkan, a millionaire book collector in New York, has recently acquired a copy of "The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows", an extremely rare 17th Century book. He suspects his book might be a forgery, so he hires Dean to compare it with the only other two copies known to exist. One copy is in Portugal, the other in France. It might seem like a simple job, but he finds that people are willing to kill him to get their hands on the book he's carrying with him.

This is one of my favourite ever films, in my top 20 at least. I can't praise it highly enough. I also think it's Johnny Depp's best performance.

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Tuesday, 16 January 2018

The Girl with all the Gifts (5 Stars)

This is a zombie film for people who don't like zombie films. A deadly virus has turned 99% of the world's population into mindless flesh-eating creatures. The infection spreads fast. One bite and the victim becomes a zombie within minutes. There's no known cure.

At least, there's no known cure yet. Dr. Caroline Caldwell is researching into a cure in a military facility in central England. The key is a group of children that the army has captured. They were all babies in the bellies of pregnant women shortly before giving birth at the time when their mothers were infected. The children are different to other zombies. They're flesh-eaters, but they're intelligent and can talk.

Helen Justineau, played by Gemma Arterton, is a teacher who educates the children. She's particularly attached to Melanie, the girl who shows more intelligence than any of the other children.

The army base is overrun by zombies, and only six people escape: three soldiers, Dr. Caldwell, Helen Justineau and Melanie. Together they have to fight to survive against overwhelming odds.

The film has action and suspense, but it's also full of heartbreak and emotion. This is what all zombie films should be like.

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Monday, 15 January 2018

The Commuter (4 Stars)

Mike McAuley commutes to New York City every day, a 69 minute train journey from Peekskill to Grand Central Station. He's been selling life insurance in the City for the last 10 years. After thousands of journeys on the same train at the same times every day he recognises the familiar faces of fellow travellers, and he even exchanges words with some of them. It's a pleasant enough journey. For almost the whole journey the train follows the bank of the River Hudson. You just have to sit on the right side of the train to enjoy the view.

In a single day his whole life changes. His boss tells him his company is downsizing, so he has to leave. When an American company says "leave" they mean "leave now". No notice is given. Out is out. Mike complains that at 60 he has no chance of finding a new job, but who cares? Out is out.

At the train station a man bumps into him who steals his wallet and his mobile phone. I have some advice for my friends. If you wear a jacket, don't keep your wallet in the jacket pocket. You're too vulnerable. Trouser pockets are much better.

On the train a woman sits down opposite him. She offers him a small job, based on his experience as a regular commuter. He has to identify a person who doesn't belong on the train. He isn't told if it's a man or a woman, just that the person is travelling to Cold Spring. If he succeeds he will be given $100,000. If he fails, or if he tells anyone else about his task, his wife and son will be killed.

That's a very weird task. When I saw the film's trailer I thought it was stupid. However, as the train rolls on from stop to stop it all falls into place. It all begins to make sense.

Liam Neeson amazes me. He's 65 now, five years older than the character he's playing in the film, and yet he's still tough enough to play an action hero. As the plot unravels he gets into repeated fights with other passengers on the train.

The film might be a mystery, but in the foreground there's non-stop action. The film is thrilling from the beginning to the end of the train journey. By the time the film ends you'll be breathless. It's incredible.

Marvel Years: Oct 1962

Fantastic Four #7

Title(s): It came from the skies
Bound for Planet X
Twenty-Four Hours Till Zero
The End of Planet X

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Kurrgo

This is a single story split into five parts that have been given individual titles. A planetary evacuation is solved by Reed Richards creating a shrinking gas and an enlarging gas. The shrinking gas reduces the planet's inhabitants in size so that they'll all fit into one space ship. After arriving at their destination the enlarging gas will return them to normal size.

That's a good idea, and Reed Richards' genius allows him to invent a reducing gas within a few hours. Wow! However, he lied about creating the enlarging gas. On the new planet the former inhabitants of Planet X have to remain small. But how many readers can spot the blunder in the panel above? Reed Richards says "no reducing gas" when he means "no enlarging gas". Stan slipped up, but only once.

Journey into Mystery #85

Title(s): Trapped by Loki, the God of Mischief
The Vengeance of Loki

Writer: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber (uncredited)
Artist: Jack Kirby

Regulars: Jane Foster, Odin, Heimdall, Balder, Tyr

Villain: Loki

This is a single story split into two parts that have been given individual titles. We see Loki for the first time, who has been trapped in a tree for hundreds of years. The question arises, why isn't he put back in a tree after Thor defeats him? That would keep him out of the way for another few hundred years.

This is also the first Thor story that shows the other Gods of Asgard. Odin, Heimdall and Balder return in later issues. I can't remember ever seeing Tyr again. In Norse mythology he was the God of Justice and one of the other sons of Odin.

The issue also contains two short anthology stories which are named on the cover.

Tales to Astonish #36

Title: The Challenge of Comrade X

Writer: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber (uncredited)
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Comrade X

The story is split into two parts, but they aren't individually named. Once more the enemy is a Communist agent. In this issue he's named.

The issue also contains two short anthology stories.

Strange Tales #101

Title(s): The Human Torch
The Flaming Fury Strikes Back

Writer: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber (uncredited)
Artist: Jack Kirby

Regulars: The Thing

Villain: The Destroyer

After "Journey into Mystery" and "Tales to Astonish", "Strange Tales" is the third Marvel anthology comic which is headlined by a super-hero. (If you include "Amazing Fantasy", which was cancelled after the 15th issue, it's the fourth). This time it isn't a new hero, it's the Human Torch, who we already know as a member of the Fantastic Four. Amusingly, the cover states that he appears "by permission of the Fantastic Four magazine", as if it were necessary to ask for permission. This is one of the little jokes that Stan Lee liked to spring on readers over the years when he was a regular writer.

This is an example of Marvel's infamous "editor's notes" that used to explain what was happening in the story. We can be certain they were never written by the editor Martin Goodman. They were Stan's own words. Is that a dual personality? Stan says that four of Johnny's schoolmates knew of his secret identity. In Fantastic Four #3 (page 18) we see three of his friends in a cafe who know his identity. In Fantastic Four #4 (pages 4 to 6) we see another three of his friends in a garage who know his identity. Maybe they weren't the exact same friends, and there were only four distinct people in the two groups.

Until now the Human Torch has only had one ability: he could turn into flame and fly. In this comic we see that he has other abilities.

1. He can control nearby flame (page 5).
2. He can partially turn into flame, for instance if he wants to use his hands to carry someone without burning him (page 5).
3. He can shoot fire pellets from his fingertip (page 7).
4. He can create a duplicate of himself out of fire (page 8). By combining this with the first ability in this list he can make the duplicate move.

When will the Human Torch catch up with these abilities in the Fantastic Four comics? We'll have to wait and see.

This is a single story split into two parts that have been given individual titles. The issue also contains two short anthology stories.

There's one small thing that I should have mentioned before now. The writers and artists weren't usually credited in Marvel's anthology comics, including the super-hero stories. It's easy to see who the artists were because of their distinctive styles. Stan Lee always wrote the plot, unless otherwise stated. What's uncertain is who wrote the script, especially if the scripter was Stan's younger brother Larry Lieber. In those cases I use the information from the Marvel Database, which is based on Stan's memories of the 1960's.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Anna Nicole (4 Stars)

Usually the expression "Lifetime Movies" is synonymous with "low quality movies". They're films made with low budgets for the Lifetime TV channel, usually true stories about crimes or celebrities. "Anna Nicole" fits into that category, since it's a true story about a celebrity, but it's far superior to the usual Lifetime movies. Why? It's directed by Mary Harron, who has already made films about two of my heroes, Valerie Solanas and Bettie Page. Admittedly, Anna Nicole Smith isn't a hero of mine, but after watching Mary's deeply insightful portrayals of the other two women I wanted to see what she had to say about this controversial big breasted character.

I'll start by telling you what I knew about Anna Nicole Smith before watching the film. She was a busty model who married a rich old man, but when he died she inherited nothing. When her career declined she was the star of a fly-on-the-wall reality show, the Anna Nicole Show. Then she killed herself.

That's not much. The film filled in the blanks.

Anna Nicole Smith was born into a poor family on 28th November 1967 as Vickie Lynn Hogan. She dropped out of school at 14. She got married when she was 17 and was divorced when she was 25. She worked as a stripper in a small club. When she saw that the bustier strippers got more tips she had a boob job, increasing her breast size to 36DD. She was Playmate Pet of the Year in 1993.

From her early childhood she was fascinated by Marilyn Monroe. After her breast enhancement she had the same hair style and similar clothes to Marilyn, looking as much like her as she could. The only difference was that her breasts were bigger.

In 1991 Anna Nicole met the billionaire oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall in her club. He immediately began to give her extravagant gifts, first a horse, then a whole ranch. At the time she was still married. After her divorce she married him in 1994. He was 88 at the time, 62 years older than her. His son accused her of only marrying him for his money and tricked her out of her inheritance. When his father's health and eyesight deteriorated he gave him papers to sign which disinherited her. He died in 1995. Anna Nicole received nothing, even though she fought court battles to get money for the rest of her life.

In 2002 the Anna Nicole Show started. This was initially popular as a novelty, because it was only the second fly-on-the-wall reality show after "The Osbournes". I remember watching one episode, but I found Anna Nicole so shallow that I never watched another.

Throughout her life Anna Nicole had problems with addiction to alcohol and drugs. In the film we see her repeatedly swallowing unnamed pills. By 2002, when the reality show started, she was overweight and no longer in demand as a model. In the episode I watched she was continually complaining about her weight.

In 2006 Anna Nicole had her second child, a daughter, after a one-might-stand with a reporter. Three days later her 20-year-old son died of a drug overdose in her hospital room. Five months later she died of a drug overdose. The official report claims that it was an accidental death caused by a mixture of recreational drugs and prescription drugs. Her fans believe it was suicide because of the sadness of losing her son.

After watching the film I can't say that I have any more respect for Anna Nicole Smith. I still find her very shallow. However, I now have much more sympathy for her. Mary Harron has done an excellent job in portraying her life.

I have nothing against women having breast implants. On the contrary, I love big breasts. Most men do. That's a fact. I know there are some men who say they prefer small breasts and other men who say it doesn't matter, but they're a minority. At a guess I'd say 10% of men prefer small breasts and 20% say they don't care, but I doubt the sincerity of the latter group. What they really mean is "I prefer large breasts, but I'm happy with small breasts". Have my male readers ever tried to hold a conversation with a woman with large breasts? It's not easy. I'm a polite man, I look women in the eyes when I talk to them, but if a woman is very large breasted it's too hard to concentrate. When I visited the BBC in Mannheim the receptionist was tall and busty. I only had to exchange a few words when I visited, such as telling her who I was visiting, but it was usual for me to get flustered and stutter. I couldn't help myself.

What's important is that women should know that they don't need to have breast implants. It's their own body and their own decision. No man should tell them what to do. Anna Nicole made her breasts bigger to earn more money as a stripper. It was a clever business decision.

Considering Anna Nicole Smith was such a sexual person it's a shame the film doesn't show any nudity. That's partly because the Lifetime Movies are traditionally prude, but there's also a practical reason. Agnes Bruckner, the actress who plays Anna Nicole, only has a 34B cup size. To give herself the appearance of 36DD she needed a lot of push up and a lot of padding. In the scenes with deep cleavage, as above, she wore prosthetic breasts made out of plastic. That can work out well with good camera work, but in scenes with full nudity they would look too fake.

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Elysium (4 Stars)

I'm not sure why I've waited so long to watch this film. When the Birmingham Film Group went to see it in the cinema I decided not to go, even though I'd enjoyed the first film by the director Neill Blomkamp, "District 9". Maybe it's because of my feelings towards Matt Damon. I don't dislike him in the way I dislike Tom Cruise, and he's definitely not a bad actor, I just feel some sort of antipathy. I don't feel warm towards him when I see him on screen, whatever role he plays. I almost didn't buy this film, and even after buying it I waited a long time before watching it. I bought it as part of a "10 Blu-rays for 50 Euros" offer from in November 2016, probably the 10th film that I needed to complete the order. I watched the other nine films soon after, but "Elysium" has been sitting on my shelf unwatched for the last 14 months.

Now I've finally watched it, and I enjoyed it, as my rating shows. It's a science fiction film set in 2154, but it refers to the situation in America today. It's all about the situation between the haves and have nots.

In the 22nd Century the world is overpopulated and suffers from terrible pollution. A large space station called Elysium has been built with artificial gravity, an artificial atmosphere and a full artificial eco-system. The richest people from Earth all live there, enjoying luxury and parties without end. The citizens of Elysium don't work, apart from a few who maintain the space station. There are also political leaders, but whether what they do can be considered work is a matter of opinion.

There have been amazing medical advances in the 22nd Century. Ageing has been cured. Nobody needs to die of natural causes. Death is only possible by accident or by murder. Everyone on Elysium has free health care and is potentially immortal. Nobody on Earth is eligible for this treatment. The Earth is over-populated, so death is useful to stop the world getting even more crowded.

The story's hero is Max Da Costa, a factory worker in Los Angeles. As a child he dreamt of moving to Elysium one day, but now he's an adult the bitter reality has set in and he makes do with what he has. After several convictions for car theft he's decided to go straight, which is difficult because every time the robot police officers scan him they repeat a list of his offences.

Max is exposed to radiation in a factory accident. He's told he has only five days to live. Desperation drives him to extreme measures. The only way he can be cured is by going to Elysium, and since he can't travel legally he has to use illegal methods. If he's killed in the attempt it doesn't matter, he has nothing to lose.

Everything we see in the film is an exaggerated version of today's life. There's prejudice against ex-criminals, however sincerely they want to reform. There is insufficient protection of workers. There's an unbreachable chasm between the few who are rich and the many who are poor. Worst of all is the health care. The rich enjoy health care as a right, whereas the poor are left to die.

The film was a moderate box office success and received praise from critics, but the director has expressed disappointment with the film.

"I feel like, ultimately, the story is not the right story. I still think the satirical idea of a ring, filled with rich people, hovering above the impoverished Earth, is an awesome idea. I love it so much, I almost want to go back and do it correctly. I just didn’t make a good enough film. I feel like I executed all of the stuff that could be executed, like costume and set design and special effects very well. But, ultimately, it was all resting on a somewhat not totally formed skeletal system, so the script just wasn’t there; the story wasn’t fully there".

I guess it's true that artists are their own worst critics. I like the film.

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TV Series: The Tribe

Bray (Dwayne Cameron)

A few days ago I published a few photos of characters from the Tribe, screenshots taken from the first season. Here are some of the other characters. It wasn't that I forgot anyone. Since I was making screenshots I had to wait until I caught people in the right angle. This new batch of screenshots are all from the fifth and sixth episodes, which I watched yesterday. Bray was built up as the main character at the beginning of the series, so he was an omission that I needed to put right.

"The Tribe" is a cult series. It has all the traits of a cult series. It's relatively unknown. How many of my readers have ever seen it? On the other hand, the people who watched it when it was first broadcast, from 1999 to 2003, have a raging fanaticism for it. Coining a phrase from the series' theme song, they say that they're fighting to keep the dream alive. Last week I read a forum post in which someone wrote, "The Tribe wasn't just a TV programme, it was my life". Strong words. Those who watched the series were drawn in emotionally and will never forget it.

I'd like to make a challenge. If any of my readers are hardcore Tribe fans, I'd like you to write an article about the series for me to publish. You can contact me by leaving a comment below this post. The comment is only visible to me unless I approve it, so if you give me personal details (like your email address) nobody else will see it.

Zandra (Amy Morrison)
Lex (Caleb Ross)
Salene (Victoria Spence)
Dal (Ashwath Sundaresan)

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Venom (2005 film) (4 Stars)

Usually I only watch films that I expect to like. That's why the majority of my ratings gravitate towards the top end of my scale. It might be the case that a film I expect to like badly disappoints me and only gets one or two stars, but that is (thankfully) not often the case. Today was one of the rare exceptions where I watched a film that I didn't expect to like. I didn't want to buy it, but I was forced into it. I wanted to buy "The Hole" on Blu-ray, but it was only available on Blu-ray in a double feature package with "Venom".

In Germany it's common to bundle together films on Blu-ray in double or triple feature packages, usually for the price of a single film. There are often stickers on them saying something like "Start your Blu-ray collection with these great films". I can guarantee you that films included in packages like these aren't "great", they're films that nobody wants to buy. I'm not talking about trilogies that are released in box sets, such as the Sam Raimi Spider-Man Trilogy or the Matrix Trilogy. That's fully justified. I'm talking about bundling films together which have little or nothing to do with one another. I'm talking about box sets with titles like "Three Comedy Films", "Three Classic Westerns" or "Three Horror Films".

Or "Miramax Double Feature".

That's what I bought 18 months ago, shortly after arriving in Germany. This Miramax Double Feature -- a very generic title in itself -- contained "The Hole" and "Venom". I normally ignore the double or triple feature Blu-rays, but it cost less than a Euro and I'd long wanted to see "The Hole", so I bought it. The two films have nothing in common apart from both being distributed by Miramax. No common actors, one film is British and the other is American. They're both horror films, that's it.

I have six bookshelves for my Blu-rays and DVDs. One is in my bedroom. It contains the films I intend to watch soon (the top shelf) and the films that I've recently watched (the next two shelves). The other five bookshelves are in the cellar, neatly sorted alphabetically so that I can quickly find any film I want to watch. When the bookshelf in my bedroom gets too full I take the films downstairs into the main storage area.

Yesterday I was in the cellar, about to slot my Miramax Double Feature Blu-ray into place -- filed under H, of course -- when I was reminded of "Venom". "I might as well give it a chance", I thought. So I brought it back upstairs and watched it today.

The film started slowly and I was only half paying attention. Then it picked up as the killings started, and I was amazed. I paused the film to see who had directed it. Jim Gillespie. He's the man who made "I know what you did last summer", one of my favourite films, so I knew I had to take it seriously.

The film is about voodoo rituals in Louisiana. From generation to generation a priestess has been using snakes to help men pass into the afterlife. Shortly before death she uses two snakes to suck the evil out of a man, which is called "milking the evil", after which he can enter the afterlife without sin.

(Curiously, this ritual is only performed on men. Is it because men are more evil than women, or is it because men are easier to milk?)

The snakes are evidently immortal, and are stored in a suitcase. The priestess is travelling in a car and has a fatal accident. The man who tried to rescue her opens the suitcase, and he's attacked by the snakes. Their venom contains hundreds of years of evil, milked from countless men. The man, Ray Sawyer, dies immediately, but the evil stored in the venom brings him back to life. He goes on a mostly random killing spree, but his main target is CeCe, the priestess's granddaughter who is destined to become the next priestess.

While not up to the level of "I know what you did last summer", this is a thrilling slasher movie. I'll probably watch it again, paying more attention to the opening scenes.

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Marvel Years: Sep 1962

Fantastic Four #6

Title(s): Captives of the Deadly Duo
When Super-Menaces Unite
When Friends Fall Out
The End or the Beginning

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Doctor Doom, Sub-Mariner

This is a single story split into five parts that have been given individual titles. The issue is significant for being the first super-villain team-up in Marvel Comics, even though it's short lived. Barely halfway through the comic Doctor Doom turns against Sub-Mariner, causing Sub-Mariner to temporarily swap allegiances and work with the Fantastic Four.

We see that the romantic feelings between Sub-Mariner and Susan Storm continue. He has a framed photo of her next to his throne. Susan is more secretive. She has a photograph of Sub-Mariner hidden behind the books in her room.

In Fantastic Four #3 we first saw the headquarters of the Fantastic Four, but in this issue we see its name: the Baxter Building!

This is the layout of the top four floors that are rented by the Fantastic Four. I wonder if the tenants on the lower floors ever complained about missiles being launched from the top floors. And what about the constant attacks on the building itself? After only six issues this is the second time the building has been attacked. It's not a place where I would want to live.

The Incredible Hulk #3

Title: Banished to Outer Space

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Regulars: General Ross, Rick Jones

This comic contains three short stories. In the first story General Ross tricks Rick Jones into leading the Hulk into a space rocket. The intention is to fire the Hulk far away from the Earth, so that he can never return. A freak accident changes the Hulk's powers. When in space the sun's rays make the Hulk turn back into Bruce Banner, because as we know, since the beginning of the comics Bruce Banner turns into the Hulk only at night. Then the spaceship passes through the same radiation belt that gave the Fantastic Four their powers. At the same moment Rick Jones touches a switch to release the rocket's capsule. This causes a feedback, and the cosmic rays strike Rick on Earth. When the capsule lands on Earth, there are several changes to the Hulk's powers:

1. He remains the Hulk 24 hours a day.
2. He obeys all of Rick Jones' commands as long as Rick is awake.
3. He can fly.

In later comics the Hulk can't fly, he just makes giant leaps. It's clear in this comic that he only leaps to take off. Once in the air he stays up for as long as he wants to. The third story shows the Hulk changing directions while he flies, so it really isn't just a leap.

Title: The Origin of the Hulk

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Regulars: Rick Jones

This is a re-telling of the Hulk's origin as first seen in the first issue.

Title: The Ringmaster

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Regulars: General Ross, Rick Jones

Villain: The Ringmaster (and his circus)

This is the first appearance of the Ringmaster. In later stories his performers play more important roles. In this issue only Bruto the Strongman and Teena the Fat Lady are named.

This is one of the two pictures in the story that show the Hulk flying in a curve, with Rick Jones on his back.

Tales to Astonish #35

Title(s): Return of the Ant-Man
An Army of Ants
The Ant-Man's Revenge

Writer: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber (uncredited)
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Communist agents

This is a single story split into three parts that have been given individual titles. It's the return of Henry Pym, who we first saw in an anthology story in Tales to Astonish #27 in January. In a similar way to Thor, he's now given half of an anthology comic for his regular adventures. In his first story Henry Pym was attacked by ants, but he now has an electronic helmet that enables him to control ants. They are his own private army.

The issue also contains two short anthology stories.

Journey into Mystery #84

Title: The Mighty Thor vs the Executioner

Writer: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber (uncredited)
Artist: Jack Kirby

Regulars: Jane Foster

Villain: Communist soldiers in San Diablo, the Stone Men from Saturn (flashback)

This is the second comic this month that shows Marvel heroes fighting against Communists. That's no surprise, because 1962 was the height of the Cold War. As time went by Communists were shown less often, unless they had super powers. Stan Lee recognised that his heroes were too powerful for normal men with guns to be serious opponents.

Jane Foster is featured for the first time as Dr. Donald Blake's nurse. It's a typical frustrated romance that we see repeated in many of Stan Lee's other comics. Donald and Jane love one another, but they're both too afraid to say anything to one another.

There's an interesting scene in the comic where Donald Blake uses his cane to create a thunderstorm without first turning into Thor. I'm not aware that this ever happened again.

The issue also contains two short anthology stories.