Wednesday, August 26, 2015

It Came From The Cineplex: American Ultra

American Ultra was written by Max Landis and directed by Nima Nourizadeh.

Landis is the son of director John Landis, and previously wrote the sci-fi found footage film Chronicle. He's also written several DC Comics. Nourizadeh previously directed the teen "party out of control" film Project X.

Take a stoner comedy like Dazed And Confused and combine it with the spy action of The Bourne Identity, mix with some John Wick-style violence and you'll have a pretty good idea of what this film's like.

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart star in the film, and previously worked together in Adventureland.

SPOILERS, ALTHOUGH IF YOU'VE SEEN THE TRAILER THERE'S LITTLE LEFT TO SPOIL!

The Plot:
Mike Howell (played by Jessie Eisenberg) is an aimless stoner who lives with his girlfriend Phoebe (played by Kristen Stewart) in the sleepy town of Liman, West Virginia. Mike works in a nearly deserted convenience store, where he whiles away his shifts smoking pot and drawing comics.  

One night a woman enters the store and utters a strange series of words to Mike. When he seems confused, she awkwardly leaves. A few minutes later he sees several burly, black-clad men tampering with his car. When he tells them to knock it off, they move to attack him. Mike moves like a man possessed, easily killing them with just a cup of ramen noodles and a spoon. Needless to say, Mike is astonished by his newfound abilities.

It turns out Mike is a sleeper agent, part of a CIA program called Ultra, headed by a woman named Victoria Lassiter. The program was considered a failure, as Mike was the only successful recruit. The CIA erased his memory and gave him a new life in Liman. Lassiter's travelled to the convenience store to reactivate Mike with a verbal code.

Ultra's now being shut down and replaced by a new program called Tough Guy, headed by CIA douchebag Adrian Yates (played by Topher Grace). Yates wants to eliminate Mike, the sole surviving Ultra asset, which is what prompted Victoria to activate him with the code words.

Mike calls Phoebe and tells her he's just killed several men. She arrives at the convenience store, where the two are arrested. They're attacked at the jail by several of Yates' Tough Guy agents. Mike dispatches them, and he and Phoebe hide out at his friend Rose's house.

They're attacked again at Rose's, and Phoebe reveals she's also a CIA agent. She tells him she started out as his handler, assigned to keep an eye on him, but eventually fell in love with him for real. Phoebe is then captured by Laugher, a Tough Guy agent, and taken back to Yates. Mike is rescued by Lassiter, who tells him he volunteered for the Ultra program in order to avoid life in prison.

Mike contacts Yates and offers to surrender himself at a hardware store if he'll let Phoebe go. Yates agrees and sets a trap for Mike in the store, filling it with Tough Guy agents. Once again, Mike handily kills them all. He's reunited with Phoebe, and the two exit the store. He proposes to her as the two are tased.

Six months later, Mike and Phoebe are working as undercover agents, taking down a drug lord in the Philippines.

Thoughts:
• Sigh... the film starts at the end, as Mike flashes back to everything that happened to him in the previous three days. They pretty much play the entire movie in reverse in the space of thirty seconds. So from the opening frame we know that no matter what happens in the film, he survives. Might as well gather our belongings and go sit in a different theater.

• Where the hell did this movie come from? I didn't see a single trailer, ad or poster for it anywhere. It's a very low budget film (around $12 million) so I guess they just couldn't afford to advertise. Or perhaps there's just no room in theaters for posters this month, as all the available space is taken up by Fox as they desperately beg the public to go see Fant4Stic.

This lack of awareness probably explains why the film barely cleared $5 million in its opening weekend.

• I am not a fan of Jesse Eisengberg, but he did a credible job here. Somehow he managed to convince me he could be a ruthless and resourceful assassin.

• The trailer promised lots of brutal and innovative John Wick action and violence, and it delivered on that promise... sort of. The fight scenes are awesome; but the problem is that they're few and far between. Same goes for the comedy. The trailer makes it look like the film's full of that patented quirky indie film humor, but there's very little of that as well.

The film gingerly dips its toes in both genres, but refuses to dive on in. It's an action comedy that doesn't have anywhere near enough of either.

• Jesus, that is one horrible poster. Not only is it visually unappealing, but it tells you absolutely nothing about the film. When I look at this poster, I think "Stoner Comedy," not "CIA Sleeper Agent Action Film." It's a complete and utter failure in every measurable sense. Think about how many action movie fans probably passed on this film because they saw this poster and thought, "That's not the movie for me." No wonder it's tanking at the box office.

Even worse, they created one of these printed turds for both the leads!


This third version is a vast improvement and conveys the tone of the film much better than those miserable portrait posters.

• I'm not a fan of the title either, as it's about as vague as the stoner poster. Yes, "Ultra" is the name of the CIA program that created Mike, but you don't know that until you watch the film.

• For the record, the code phrase that activates Mike is "Chariot progressive. Listen. Mandelbrot set is in motion. Echo Choir has been breached, we are fielding the ball."

• Was Jesse Eisdenberg wearing a wig in this film? If not, then his natural hair looks exactly like a bad synthetic wig.

What the hell happened to movie and TV wigs? When I was younger I never noticed them in movies and on TV. These days I can spot them a mile off. They're all cheap looking and obvious. For example, LOST had some of the worst wigs I've seen outside a pop-up Halloween store. Did our society somehow forget how to make realistic wigs, the way we forgot the formula for Greek Fire?

I wonder if wigs have always looked fake, and we're just now noticing it because we have hi-def TVs and film now?

American Ultra is an interesting mashup of two genres, but unfortunately doesn't fully commit to either. I give it a C+.

A Message For The Members Of Fall Out Boy

Dear Members Of Fall Out Boy:

As a life-long fan of the 1960s TV series The Munsters, I have just one thing to say to you.

God damn you. God damn you all to hell.

Yours Truly,
Bob Canada
CEO of Bob Canada's BlogWorld

——————————————————————————————

I used to be a big music fan, but I don't listen much any more. I'm sure that's mostly due to the shockingly low quality of what currently passes for rock these days. 

I do occasionally hear snippets of songs when I'm out and about though. Imagine my surprise when I was recently browsing in Target and first heard the jangling, surf-beat guitar lick from The Munsters over the store's speakers. "Huzzah!" I thought to myself, "The Munsters is one of my all-time favorite shows, and the theme song always makes me happy, reminding me of a more innocent time."

Unfortunately The Munsters lick ended all too soon, replaced by the strangled bleatings of Fall Out Boy's lead singer, the aptly named Patrick Stump. It was the aural equivalent of biting into a delicious piece of chocolate, only to find it was filled with excrement. Or cherries. Same thing.

Seriously, guys? You're still sampling music? Jesus, who still does that? I thought sampling went out with powdered wigs and Pogs. If you're going to blatantly steal music from theme songs, at least choose one from a show no one remembers, like Camp Runamuck, The Good Guys or Accidental Family, instead of Grammy-winning ones like The Munsters. Or here's an idea— write an goddamned original guitar lick already, and quit picking the corpse of composer Jack Marshall.

Over Rated

Can you stand one final bit of Hobbit news before I stop talking about the subject forever? Well, too bad, I'm going to write about it anyway.

This week Warner Bros. announced the release date for their upcoming and inevitable blu ray Extended Edition of The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies.

The most interesting thing about this particular Extended Edition? Unlike all of the other Middle-earth releases that were rated PG-13, this one is rated R.

I'm assuming the rating is due to warfare and violence, and not a deleted scene featuring some of that steamy elf-on-dwarf action.

So let's see if I can wrap my head around this. Peter Jackson made a movie based on a children's book, that kids (theoretically) aren't allowed to see. Got it!

Commence explosion of Tolkien scholar heads in 3, 2, 1...

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

It Came From The Cineplex: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was written by Lionel Wigram and Guy Ritchie, and was directed by Guy Ritchie.

Wigram has been a producer for most of his career, producing several of the Harry Potter films, as well as the two recent Sherlock Holmes movies. Amazingly he also produced the classic Vanilla Ice film Cool As Ice. Talk about a checkered career! The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is his first full screenwriting assignment.

Guy Ritchie has become the master of the stylish bro-mance movie. He previously directed Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, RocknRolla, Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows. He also directed the box office bomb Swept Away, starring Madonna. Eh, I guess no one can hit one out of the park every time at bat. Speaking of Madonna, Ritchie was married to her from 2000 to 2008. Eight very long years. I guess someone had to do it.

The film is of course based on the NBC TV series of the same name, which ran from 1964 to 1968. It centered on a two super spies working for the U.N.C.L.E. organization— American Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn), and Russian Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum). Leo G. Carroll played Alexander Waverly, the British head of the organization. Unlike other spy stories that featured a national spy service, U.N.C.L.E. was a global organization of agents from many countries.

By the way, that acronym in the title stands for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, which tells me that someone really, really wanted it to spell "Uncle."

Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, helped produce the series along with producer Norman Felton. In fact the series was originally going to be called Ian Fleming's Solo, but he already had a character with the same name, so various legal problems prompted a title change.

You may be wondering (as I was) why a series with two main characters was called The MAN From U.N.C.L.E. That's because as it was originally planned, the series was to focus on Napoleon Solo. Illya Kuryakin appeared in a few scenes in the pilot, and made such an impression that he was permanently added to the show. I guess it was too late to change the title after that.

The series was extremely popular, and spawned a host of imitations. It also suffered from having five different show runners over the years, each one having their own idea as to what the show was about. It started out as a standard spy program, but once the 1966 Batman TV series became popular, the show tried to ape its campy tone. This campiness peaked in the third season, which resulted in a severe ratings drop. The series made an effort to return to more serious storytelling in the fourth season, but the ratings never recovered and it was cancelled.

The episode titles all followed the same "The _______ Affair" formula, such as The Vulcan Affair or The Cherry Blossom Affair. Only one of the 105 episodes— Alexander the Greater Affair varied from this format.

Oddly enough, both William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy appeared on the show in The Project Strigas Affair episode, two years before they teamed up for Star Trek. James Doohan also made multiple guest appearances.

As for the film, it was reportedly in development for over ten years, as many writers, actors and directors were attached to it at one time or another. Wow, someone REALLY wanted to make a Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie.

Tom Cruise was originally cast as Napoleon Solo, but dropped out to film Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ryan Gosling, Ewan McGregor, Robert Pattinson, Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Michael Fassbender, Bradley Cooper, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joel Kinnaman, Russell Crowe, Chris Pine, Ryan Reynolds, George Clooney and Jon Hamm (so pretty much every leading man in Hollywood) were all at one time considered to play Solo. Henry Cavill was set to play Illya Kuryakin, but the producers decided to swap parts and have him play Solo.

Director Guy Ritchie fills the film with his trademark touches, like witty banter, convoluted plots, and split screens. Like many of his films, it's very styish, but at the expense of actual substance.

So why no Robert Vaughn or David McCallum cameos? They're both still alive and kicking. Heck, even a brief scene with the two of them in the background would have been cool. Maybe Guy Ritchie thinks cameos are too corny. 

SPOILERS FOR A MOVIE BASED ON A 1960s TV SERIES!

The Plot:
In 1963, ex-con turned CIA spy Napoleon Solo (played by Henry Cavill) infiltrates East Berlin to find a woman named Gabby Teller (played by Alicia Vikander, the robot girl in Ex Machina). Gabby's father is an ex-Nazi nuclear scientist and has gone missing, and the CIA hopes she can lead them to him.

Solo and Gabby are then relentlessly pursued by a Russian KGB agent named Illya Kuryakin (played by Armie Hammer). They manage to dodge him long enough to get over the Berlin Wall.

The next day Solo meets with Saunders, his CIA boss. Surprisingly, Kuryakin and several KGB agents are also present at the meeting. Saunders tells Solo that a group of former Nazis has captured Gabby's father Prof. Teller, and are forcing him to create their own private nuclear bomb. The CIA and KGB are so worried about this development that they've decided to put aside their differences and work together, telling Solo and Kuryakin that they're now partners.

Solo, Kuryakin and Gabby then go undercover to Rome. Gabby meets with her Uncle Rudi, who may know the whereabouts of her father. Kuryakin poses as her fiance. Solo visits a race track, and steals an invitation from a man named Waverly (played by Hugh Grant) in order to get in. Once inside, he flirts with wealthy shipping heiress Victoria Vinciguerra.

Suspecting Victoria, Solo and Kuryakin separately break into her shipping yard and reluctantly agree to work together. Inside they find traces of uranium, confirming their suspicions that Victoria is involved in the bomb plot.

The next day, Gabby meets with Uncle Rudi while Kuryakin monitors their conversation. Gabby appears to betray the two agents to Rudi, forcing Kuryakin to flee. Meanwhile, Solo meets with Victoria. She drugs him, and he wakes up strapped to an electric chair in an underground bunker. Rudi is standing before him, revealing that he was an infamous Nazi interrogator, and begins torturing Solo. Kuryakin shows up at the last minute, rescuing Solo and killing Rudi.

Gabby is then taken to Victoria's private island, where she meets her father. He's almost finished building the nuclear bomb for Victoria. The minute it's complete, she shoots him dead. Victoria then places the bomb in her boat and flees the island.

Solo and Kuryakin are picked up by Waverly, who's really a British agent. He tells them that Gabby has been secretly working for him for several years, and that the CIA and KGB nearly ruined their operation to find her father. Solo and Kuryakin manage to rescue Gabby.

The three agents, plus Waverly, regroup onboard a British warship. Solo contacts Victoria, and tricks her into revealing her location. He gives the coordinates to Waverly, and the ship launches a missile, which destroys Victoria, her boat and her nuclear bomb, saving the world.

Waverly then informs Solo and Kuryakin that they're now working under him in a new organization called U.N.C.L.E., and they've got a new mission in Istanbul.

Thoughts:
• I thought it was a great idea to keep the film in the 1960s Cold War setting. It's practically a love letter to the 1960s spy film genre. Trying to update it to the present day would have completely changed the tone, and just wouldn't have been the same.

• Unlike most TV to movie transitions, this one actually takes its subject matter seriously and doesn't try to turn it into a lame comedy. There are a few humorous moments, but nothing too over the top.

• This is basically an origin story, telling us how Solo and Kuryakin became partners. That's an interesting way to go, but not necessarily a good one. Audiences presumably want to see the two leads trading quips and good-naturedly ribbing one another, as they each boast about their respective countries. That's kind of hard to do when they don't actually team up until two thirds of the way through the movie. In fact, Kuryakin spends most of the film partnered with Gabby.

It might have worked better to have skipped the origin and jumped right into a typical U.N.C.L.E. adventure.

• Henry Cavill seems much less stiff here than he was in Man Of Steel, but he's still not quite charming enough to be a convincing international gentleman spy. In fact I might go so far as to say he's bland. Compare him to Colin Firth's awesomely suave Agent Galahad in Kingsman: The Secret Service. Now HE was a gentleman spy!

I was definitely surprised to see Armie Hammer in a big budget Hollywood movie again. I was sure his turn as The Lone Ranger a couple of years ago had torpedoed his career. Unfortunately the stoic Illya Kuryakin role doesn't give him a whole lot to do, emoting-wise.

• The production design and location shooting are awesome, perfectly evoking the early 1960s. Who wouldn't want to live in a world like that, wining and dining along the Riviera with the jet-set?

• I'm not a fan of Kuryakin's one defining trait. Supposedly he has some sort of clinically diagnosed Hulk-like temper. Whenever he's insulted or provoked, he's barely able to control this savage berserker rage.

Every time this happened in the film, all I could think of was Marty McFly and his anger at being called a "chicken."

• Man, that is one butt ugly movie poster! Look at that eye-searing thing! I think maybe they were trying to go for a 1960s pop-art look, but they failed miserably. For one thing, posters of that era were usually drawn or painted, not cobbled together from various mismatched photographs.

Hey, movie poster designers! Did you know there are ways to create a poster that don't involve Photoshop?

• Saunders tells Solo and Kuryakin they're going to be partners, while sitting in an open-air cafe, surrounded by tables full of similarly suited men. When Saunders gets up to leave, all these other men do as well, implying they're rival spies who were eavesdropping.

OK, so it was a funny scene, but story-wise it makes absolutely no sense. There's no way the head of the freaking CIA would ever discuss state secrets so openly and loudly in such a public setting.

• The film has a light, breezy tone similar to the TV series and 1960s spy films in general. It takes a surprisingly dark turn though, when Solo is captured and tortured by Rudi. He's strapped into an electric chair and realistically and uncomfortably shocked to the point where his body or clothing or both actually begin smoldering! Jesus Christ! That certainly escalated quickly! Why not water board him while you're at it too?

• All through the film, Solo and Kuryakin use various high tech gadgets and doodads to pick locks, cut through fences and bug rooms. Surprisingly, Kuryakin's Russian tech is shown to be highly superior to Solo's.

That's an interesting twist. For decades now, movies have portrayed Russian technology as bulky and primitive. So which is it? Was 1960s Russia technologically ahead of the U.S. or not?

• Many of Ritchie's British gangster films feature very intricate and convoluted plots, to the point where I usually give up trying to follow them and just watch the pretty pictures. Fortunately this one is pretty easy to understand.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is long on style, short on actual substance. If you like director Guy Ritchie's other bro-mance buddy films, you'll probably like this one as well. I give it a B-.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Pip, Pip!


This week a gang of thieves struck a local liquor store in Mainz, Germany. The bandits reportedly opened 1,200 bottles of Koenig Pilsener beer—  but oddly enough instead of actually stealing the brews, they made off with just the bottle caps.
Somewhere in the middle of a vast, radioactive wasteland, in an underground fallout shelter, Pip Boy smiles approvingly.

This Week In Odd DVD Cover Design

This week the BBC released this cover image for their upcoming 3D blu ray of the Doctor Who two part Season 8 finale, Dark Water/Death In Heaven.

Well, that's certainly quite a design all right. Eh, no need to use a photo that actually shows the main character's face, BBC graphic designers! I'm sure fans of the series will probably recognize the back of actor Peter Capaldi's head.

I'm honestly at a loss to understand how something like this happens. I keep thinking that if I turned in a cockamamie design like this where I work, I'd be swiftly escorted from the building.

The Sitcom We Deserve

Last week NBC announced they're developing a new sitcom set in the DC Comics Universe.

I know what you're thinking: Bob's drunk-blogging again. I assure you I'm not (this time) and it's a real story.

The series, called Powerless, is described as "The Office with superheroes." According to NBC's press release, it's "a workplace comedy set in one of the worst insurance companies in America, with the twist being that it takes place in the DC Universe. The show is about the reality of working life for normal people in a world of super heroes and villains."

If you've ever read any Superman comics and thought, "Gosh, I wonder what it would be like to work in an office in downtown Metropolis, then by god this is the series for you.

I for one can't wait for Powerless. I'm especially excited for the thrilling Season Finale, in which the Mr. Slattery, the insurance company's boss, is displeased by a worker's poor job performance and savagely snaps his neck.

Tales From The Video Store: Pitch Perfect

Unlike the majority of the world, I don't go in for all this convenient video-on-demand and FlixNet nonsense. Nosiree! Give me an old fashioned, inconvenient Video Store any day! The farther away from my house the better! You just never know what you're gonna find— or hear— when you browse the Video Store!

This Tale From The Video Store is 100% true.

So last weekend I was in the video store a few blocks from my home. While there I overheard a typical Kentuckiana couple as they browsed the shelves.
Man: Whut you wanna see?  
Woman: I don't care, whutever you wanna see.
Man: (clearly looking in the children's section): You see Pitch Perfeck anywhere?
Woman: Pitch Perfeck? I'll go ask.
(The Woman goes to the counter and returns a few minutes later)
Woman: They says they's got it, but it's on blu ray.
Man: Dang it.

Woman: (giving him the stink eye) Why you wanna see Pitch Perfeck anyway?
Man: Cuz, it's about softball.
 
Woman: What!? No it ain't, it's about singin'!
Man: Nu-uh, it's about a softball team.
Woman: It's about a bunch of girls who sing! 
Man: It ain't neither, it's about a kid that pitches a perfeck game on his softball team! 

They wandered out of earshot after that. I dearly wish I could be a fly on the wall the day this man finally gets his hands on a copy of Pitch Perfect, so I could witness his reaction when he pops it in his player and learns the cold, hard truth.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

It Did NOT Come From The Cineplex: Roger Corman's The Fantastic Four

Note, this is NOT, repeat NOT, a review of Josh Trank's new Fantastic 4 movie. If you're looking for a review of that cinematic abomination, I advise you to please search elsewhere. 

Fox's new Fantastic 4 movie, or Fant 4 Stic, as it's called on the poster, finally premiered last week. That's bad news for fans of both the Fantastic 4 and of movies in general. It's also bad news for the three or four readers out there who actually enjoy my movie reviews, as I will not be seeing or recapping this film.

So why the boycott? It's simple. Ever since I was a wee lad, the Fantastic 4 has been my favorite comic book. And Ben Grimm, aka The Thing, is my all-time favorite comic character as well. For years I've been longing for a good big-budget FF movie, especially now that special effects have evolved to the point where literally anything is possible. Alas, I'm still waiting.

I was not a fan of Fox's previous two FF movies, but this new one somehow looks even worse. What the hell's the problem, Fox? Last year Marvel Studios made a compelling movie starring a talking tree and raccoon, and they just released a very good film about a man who shrinks and rides around on an ant. How hard can it be to come up with a decent Fantastic 4 movie? Four people who form a makeshift family get superpowers and use them for good. It's an incredibly simple premise. So why do you keep screwing it up so badly?

I've already sat through two bad FF movies, and at the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I just don't have it in me to endure a third. I'm tired of seeing my favorite superhero team sullied and dragged through the mud. This new film will just have to watch itself.

You know, even though I'm never going to see this movie, I still feel like Fox still owes me a refund.

So far Fant4Stic is a spectacular failure on every conceivable level— critically, financially and artistically. Rarely have I seen such a big budget studio film earn such universal scorn, and deservedly so. I know of what I speak— I've been following the progress of this new film since it was first announced with morbid curiosity. Like a rubbernecker gawking at a car wreck on the highway, I'm horrified, yet I can't look away.

Literally every single decision Fox made regarding this film was the wrong one. 

First there was Fox's choice of director, Josh Trank. His only previous directorial effort was the found footage superhero film Chronicle in 2012. Somehow Fox was convinced that a man who'd directed one moderately successful low budget film would be the perfect choice to helm a multimillion dollar tent pole epic.

Trank immediately began trying to make the already established Marvel property his own, by giving it a more realistic, "grounded" tone. Ugh. There's that word again, "grounded." Because lord knows, a story about a group of superheroes with bizarre powers who battle metal-masked dictators and giant space men definitely needs to feel grounded.

I think maybe he was trying to give the Fantastic 4 the Christopher Nolan treatment— you know, sucking every ounce of fun, adventure and excitement from it and turning it into a dark, dour and ultra-serious tale. Which is pretty much the exact opposite of the comic book's tone.

Trank also said he wanted the film to be a "dark sci-fi/body horror tale," ala David Cronenberg. While that might have actually made an interesting original movie, it's a terrible idea for a Fantastic 4 film. 

I'm beginning to see why the film is such a failure. Even the goddamned director couldn't decide on a tone.

The casting of the film was also problematic. First the studio decided to "de-age" the normally adult characters to teens, no doubt to appeal to fans of the YA genre (you know, Hunger Games, Divergent and the like). Then there was the controversial casting of black actor Michael B. Jordan in the traditionally white role of Johnny Storm. It was an extremely divisive issue among fandom, and seemed less like an attempt at diversity and more like blatant pandering. In fact none of the actors seem right for their parts, especially the punchable Miles Teller as Reed Richards and the diminutive Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm.

The film also continues the tradition, started in 2005, of artificially tying Doctor Doom's origin in with that of the Fantastic 4, like he's a fifth Beatle or something. I don't know why Fox keeps insisting on doing this. In the comics (at least the ones I read), Doom's origin has always been separate, which is as it should be. The Fantastic 4 have the powers of the four elements— Reed's power represents water, Sue's is air, Johnny's is fire and Ben's is earth. Inserting Doom into the origin ruins that elemental theme.

Then there were the rumors of troubles on the set, specifically unprofessional behavior from Trank himself. There were numerous stories of dissatisfied studio executives, frantic rewrites, and lengthy reshoots. True or not, Trank was all set to direct the next Star Wars movie for Disney, but was unceremoniously fired from the project, which lends a certain amount of credence to the rumors.

Fox then announced they were cancelling plans to convert the film to 3D. That's generally a bad sign, indicating that the studio knows a film is a dog and doesn't want to throw in good money after bad. They also announced a review embargo— no one was allowed to post reviews until a few hours before the film premiered. That is a HUGE red flag in the movie world, indicating the studio knows they have a turd on their hands.

Even Josh Trank himself is trying to distance himself from the film. He posted a tweet (which he since deleted) complaining that the film currently in theaters is not his true vision, and that his was actually better. In addition to being extremely unprofessional, that claim seems highly unlikely.

The film is underperforming at the box office, which fills me with mixed emotions. On the one hand I'm glad it's tanking, not only because it's a horribly misguided and mishandled project, but because it tells me that the general public has a small modicum of taste. On the other hand, its failure saddens me, because I hate to see my favorite comic characters treated so shabbily.

One thing I hope is very clear to anyone who, despite all logic and common sense, sees this film— this is NOT a Marvel movie. I cannot emphasize that enough. Yes, yes, I know it says "MARVEL" at the beginning of it, but this film was made by Fox. Marvel Studios— the people who brought us Iron Man, The Avengers, Guardians Of The Galaxy and even Ant-Man (among many others) had absolutely nothing to do with this cinematic abomination. 

Sadly, Marvel sold the movie rights to the FF (along with the X-Men) to Fox several years ago, during the dark period in which they very nearly went bankrupt. And ever since then, Fox has demonstrated that they have absolutely no idea what to do with the property. Dear God, if you really exist, please let the rights to the Fantastic 4 revert back to Marvel.

I wish Marvel's name wasn't attached to this film. The general movie-going public doesn't know which studio owns what, so when they see the bright red and white logo at the beginning of this flop, they're going to think, "Man, Marvel finally made a dud." I feel like this movie's going to tarnish their brand, and it would have been in their best interest to insist their name be taken off it.

Speaking of ownership, the only reason this movie exists is because Fox wants to retain the movie rights. According to the terms of their agreement, they have to make a Fantastic 4 movie every seven years or the rights revert back to Marvel. Fantastic 4: Rise Of The Silver Surfer came out in 2007. This new FF movie began production in 2014. Let's see, carry the one, and... yep, that adds up to exactly seven years.

So Fox didn't make this new movie because they had a compelling story they wanted to share with fans, or a unique vision to splash across the silver screen. They waited until the last godammned possible minute and made it as a contractual obligation to keep the property out of Marvel Studios' hands. Like a petulant child, they licked the Fantastic 4 cookie so Marvel wouldn't want it. Well done, Fox.


---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Since I refuse to pay to see this cinematic disaster, I will instead review Roger Corman's infamous, unreleased and little-seen 1994 Fantastic 4.

What's that, I hear you saying? There was yet another Fantastic 4 movie? In the 1990s yet? Yep, there was. See, back in 1992, German financier Bernd Eichinger somehow acquired the movie rights to the Fantastic 4, and commissioned a shooting script. Unfortunately this script would have cost around $30 million to shoot, an amount Eichinger did not have. His rights to the film were set to expire at midnight on December 31, 1992.

Eichinger then met with successful B-movie producer Roger Corman, whose works included such low budget classics as The Little Shop Of Horrors, X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes, Dementia 13, Deathrace 2000, Piranha, Battle Beyond The Stars and hundreds of others. Corman had a reputation for making cheap, quick and best of all, profitable films.

Eichinger hired Corman to quickly produce a low-budget version of his Fantastic 4 script, which would allow him to retain the rights until he could come up with the cash for the $30 million version. Yes, the first FF movie was made solely to hold onto the rights— exactly like the new one! Despite its dubious origin though, this film was made by people who actually gave a sh*t, unlike the executives at Fox.

Corman accepted Eichinger's challenge and somehow managed to produce the film for an amazing $1 million dollars! That was cheap even by 1994 standards!

There seems to be great confusion as to whether the film was meant to be released or was simply a placeholder. Marvel spokesman Stan Lee says it was never meant to be seen by the public, a fact the cast and crew were unaware of during shooting. Eichinger claims otherwise, saying it was scheduled for nationwide release in 1994, which obviously never happened. Eichinger later stated that Marvel was afraid a low budget film might cheapen the brand, and so bought the film from him and buried it. We may never know the truth.

By the way, Eichinger's production company eventually went on to produce Fox's big budget Fantastic 4 in 2004 and Fantastic 4: Rise Of The Silver Surfer in 2007. So he really did make good on his plan to film a big budget FF movie!

Even though the Corman version was never officially released to the public, it's been readily available at flea markets and comic conventions for the past few decades, as well as online. You can easily dig up a copy if you're curious about it.

Despite the fact that the film was quickly made for nearly nothing, it's actually not that bad. In fact, of all the FF films made so far, it probably comes closest to capturing the tone, the characters and the family dynamic of the comic. 

Additionally, the characters definitely all look like themselves. The costumes are spot on, as every character seems to have just stepped off the comic book page. There's a healthy respect for the source material evident in the film. Why, it's as if the producers looked at the comic and said, "What can we keep?" instead of "What can we change?" as seems to be the case today. What a concept!

The movie suffers from a case of Tim Burton-itis though. It practically pulls a hamstring trying to look and feel like his two Batman films. Batman Returns was released in 1992, the year this film was made, so it's influence isn't all that surprising. The Jeweler and his mincing minions in particular are very Burton-esque.

The script as well is fairly decent, and while it's not perfect, it gets far more right than wrong. It's a bit too campy at times, and is little too simplistic, but that's due to the era in which it was made. With just a bit of polishing and a larger budget, it could have been epic.

Roger Corman's Fantastic 4 was written by Craig J. Nevius and Kevin Rock, and directed by Oley Sassone.

Nevius was a writer on the Black Scorpion TV series, while Rock wrote The Howling IV: Freaks and Warlock: Armageddon. Sassone directed several episodes of the Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess TV series.

SPOILERS FOR A TWENTY ONE YEAR OLD UNRELEASED MOVIE!

The Plot:
Reed Richards (played by Alex Hyde-White) is a genius level college student, whose best friend is college jock Ben Grimm (played by Michael Bailey Smith). The two of them live in Mrs. Storm's Boarding House, along with her children Sue and Johnny. Unknown to Reed, the much younger Sue has a crush on him.

Reed and his colleague Victor (no last names, please), are working on a way to somehow harness the energy of a passing comet-like object called Colossus.

As Colossus approaches, Reed and Victor begin their experiment. Unfortunately it goes terribly wrong, due to Victor's arrogance. Colossus' energy fills the lab, Victor is horrifically burned, and seemingly dies.

Cut to ten years later. Reed now has a sophisticated lab in the Baxter Building in New York. He's spent the last decade perfecting the Colossus experiment, to honor his friend Victor. He plans to fly a ship into space to study Colossus or something. It's all very vague. The ship will be flown by professional pilot Ben Grimm. The now adult Sue (played by Rebecca Staab) and Johnny (played by Jay Underwood) will also be on board, for... reasons.

Shortly before the mission, Ben meets-cute a blind sculptress named Alicia Masters. The two fall in love after a thirty second encounter.

The spaceship's shielding system is somehow powered by a large, uncut diamond. A villain called The Jeweler steals the diamond and replaces it with a fake. He plans to give the diamond to Alicia, with whom he's infatuated.

Reed and his team fly the ship into space, but disaster strikes due to the fake diamond. The crew is bathed in the energies of Colossus and the ship subsequently explodes. Somehow they survive as the ship crash lands back on Earth.

The team then finds they've all been altered— Reed can stretch his limbs to incredible lengths, Sue can become invisible and project force fields, Johnny can burst into flames, and Ben becomes a Thing with a rock-like hide. They're taken into custody by Marines who are secretly working for Doctor Doom, the dictator of an Eastern European country called Latveria.

After Doom's men run endless tests on them for weeks, the four escape and regroup at the Baxter Building. Ben grows increasingly hostile over his freakish appearance and leaves. He's discovered and taken in by the Jeweler.

Doom steals the diamond back from the Jeweler to power a giant laser of his own design. He plans to use the laser to hold the world hostage, or something. Reed finally realizes Doom is actually his old friend Victor, and the FF fly back to his castle in Latveria to stop him. Doom fires the laser at New York City. Johnny somehow flies ahead of the beam and forces it into space with his fire powers. Ben and Sue subdue Doom's men. Reed and Doom battle one another, and Doom seemingly falls to his death.

Ben and Alicia are reunited, and she seems unfazed by his new appearance. Sue declares her love for Reed, and the two marry.

Thoughts:
• I mentioned it before but it bears repeating—  this may be the most accurate and authentic looking FF movie ever made. The costumes all look exactly like their comic book counterparts.

Doctor Doom in particular looks amazing. This is hands down the best live action representation of Doom so far. He's leaps and bounds ahead of the Doom in the 2005 movie and the "melted Tin Man" abomination in the new one. How is it that the best version of Doom comes from a film with a million dollar budget? I hope all the Fox executives responsible for the new film are hanging their heads in shame.

All's not perfect when it comes to the costumes though. Sue Storm's FF suit bugs me. Instead of tailoring her uniform to fit her smaller frame, she has the same large "4" logo on her chest as Reed and Johnny. So most of the time her emblem appears to be tucked into her belt. They couldn't have made her 4 emblem a little smaller?

There are a couple of problems with Doom as well. First of all it sounds like they recorded all his lines live on set, and then never did any ADR in post. So his voice is constantly muffled, as if he's speaking behind a full face mask, which is exactly what he's doing. It makes it difficult to understand what the hell he's saying at times.

Also, the fingers of his metal gauntlets consist of many separate pieces. Unfortunately these pieces clink and clack together any time he moves his fingers, which he does constantly in every scene. At times the din from his clanking digits practically drowns out his dialog. It's very distracting.

The Thing suit looks pretty darned good, in my opinion. He even has three fingers and a thumb, just like in the comics! I like it better than the one Michael Chiklis wore in the 2005 film, which tended to make the Thing look like a burn victim. It's definitely better than the CGI pantsless version in the new film. The face of this costume, while a bit crude by today's technical standards, is actually quite emotive. 

Some have complained that the Thing doesn't look big enough in this film (heh). Actually he looks pretty much exactly like he's supposed to. Jack Kirby drew the Thing about the same size as a normal man, just covered in rocky skin. It wasn't until much later that other comic artists started gradually drawing him bigger and bigger.

• Roger Corman must have been very impressed with 1978's Superman The Movie. The opening credits of the Fantastic 4 look very, very similar to those of Superman, what with the glowing blue text set against cosmic, exploding backdrops.

• The mysterious energy source Colossus plays a big part in the film, but what the hell's it supposed to be? Reed's professor (played by George Gaines, aka Punky Brewster's dad) says it's a "radioactive, comet-like energy source that comes around once every ten years." I guess its weird energy is what gives the FF their powers. 

Seems to me they should have just stuck with the simpler "cosmic rays" of the comic and been done with it.

Also, Reed and Victor's project involves harnessing Colossus' energy, which will somehow "change the world." That's going to be a neat trick. What good is an energy source that only comes around once every ten years? Are they storing the energy in a gigantic battery?

• The two Latverian comedy relief agents seem like they wandered in from another movie. They also have their own theme music (as does just about everyone in the film), that sounds amazingly like the whimsical Jawa theme from the first Star Wars film.

• Reed lives at Mrs. Storm's boarding house. Her daughter Sue appears to be about ten years younger than Reed, and has a massive crush on him. This is another plot element lifted directly from the comic.

• Ten years pass after Victor's apparent death. When we next see Reed, he has his characteristic grey temples. At first I didn't think he seemed old enough to be going gray, but Reed was in college at the beginning of the film, meaning he was probably around 24. So ten years later he'd be 34. So it's possible his hair would be just starting to go grey (sadly, I know of what I speak).

• Reed has a lab inside the Baxter building. In the comic, the building was as much a character as the Fantastic 4.

By the way, the address of the Baxter Building is 4444, because of course it is.

• Ben and Alicia Masters fall deeply in love with one another after a chance thirty second meeting. I would make a joke about the blind Alicia falling in love at first sight, but... eh.

• Reed is planning a fly a ship into space to harness the energy of Colossus, or study it more closely, or... something. Once again, it's all very vague.

He plans to take Ben Grimm along on the mission. This seems somewhat logical, as Ben is supposedly a capable pilot (of planes though, not spaceships). But he also plans to take Sue and Johnny along for the ride, which makes absolutely zero sense. They try to justify it by saying the two siblings "know more about the project than anyone," but it's pretty weak sauce.

I can't fault the movie too much for this though, as that's pretty much the way it happened in the comics. This is a rare case in which being faithful to the source is a bad thing.

• Mrs. Storm takes a look at the four adventurers right before their mission and gives the team the name of the Fantastic 4.

• The Jeweler was obviously inspired by the Tim Burton Batman films, and wouldn't look out of place in them. He's obviously supposed to be some sort of ersatz Moleman, who was the very first villain the FF faced in the comics.

In the comics, the Moleman was an ugly little troll of a man who was rejected by society and fled underground. There he built up his own kingdom, sat on a throne, and commanded an army of pale-skinned minions and subterranean monsters.

Obviously this film couldn't afford any of that, so instead we get The Jeweler, who lives in the sewers under NYC, sits on a throne and commands an army of homeless outcasts. He's a very, very, very poor man's Moleman.

• The Jeweler falls in love with Alicia Masters and wants to make her his "queen." In order to impress her, he steals an important and enormous diamond from Reed's lab, intending to give it to her as a gift. Several things here.

First of all, this enormous diamond is uncut. It looks like a hunk of lumpy quartz or something, and is a far cry from the usual angular, sparkling look of a priceless diamond. Secondly, The Jeweler sneaks into the lab and steals the diamond, and replaces it with an exact duplicate (and I do mean exact) he just happens to have lying around his subterranean lair. Where the hell did he get such a thing?

Lastly, Alicia is blind. What good is a beautiful diamond going to be to someone who can't see it and appreciate its beauty? I guess maybe she's supposed to run her hands over it and admire the shape of it?

• Sadly, the film's low budget really shows in the spaceship scenes. First we're treated to a model of Reed's airplane-like rocket ship. Then we see it blast off through the magic of declassified NASA stock footage, which of course doesn't match the model.

We then see a shot of a model ship zooming through space. Trouble is, this model looks nothing like the first one we saw. In fact it looks very much like the one in Corman's sci-fi opus, Galaxy Of Terror. I'm not 100% sure if it's the same one, but it's very similar. 

There's also a very low budget spaceship crash site. It looks like some sort of cow pasture, littered with a few strategically placed pieces of debris. I guess when ships fall to Earth from space, they land in a small, hundred square foot area.

• How do Reed's clothes stretch along with his limbs? I suppose we could be generous and say his FF uniform could be made of some kind of spandex-like fabric, but how do his street clothes stretch as well?

• The Metro Times newspaper is absolutely obsessed with Reed Richards and his experiment. The blast off and crash are front page news headlines at least twice (accompanied by the traditional "spinning newspaper" effect).

• The Jeweler's army of misfits all act like a troupe of demented circus acrobats. His right hand man is particularly guilty of this, gesturing and moving in a bizarre, over the top manner. They remind me a lot of the Penguin's henchmen in Batman Returns, which I'm sure was intentional.

• Alicia is chosen to sculpt a memorial statue of Reed and his co-pilots, after they're presumed dead. She receives a shipment of life casts of their heads, that we're told were taken for their "space helmet fittings." This is especially hilarious, considering the helmets in the film all look like low budget, one size fits all loose beekeeper hoods.

• Once the FF are rescued, they're taken to a secret medical facility for study. Unknown to them, this facility is really inside Doom's castle.

A Dr. Hauptmann examines and tests the quartet. Hauptmann really was a character in the comics, and was one of Doom's assistants.

• As the FF escape their cell, there's a cute scene in which Sue turns invisible, sneaks into a guard shack and punches out the man on duty. When she becomes visible again, she's rubbing her sore knuckles. 

• When Doom appears and introduces himself to the FF, Reed stares at him stoically and acts like he has no idea who he is.

Um... wasn't Victor supposed to be Reed's close friend and colleague? Didn't he mourn his accidental death, and dedicate the next ten years of his life to finishing the Colossus experiment to honor his memory? So why doesn't he recognize him? 

Did Victor just go by his first name in college? Or did he use a different name, and is only now calling himself "Doom?"

• Reed deduces that the FF's powers are tied to their psyches. Sue is shy, so she turns invisible, Johnny has a fiery temper, so he bursts into flame and so on. That's actually an interesting idea, and it even fits the characters and their powers. I don't know if that's what Stan Lee and Jack Kirby really had in mind back in 1963, but if they did, well done.

By the way, when Johnny hears Reed's psychological explanation for their powers, he exclaims, "Holy Freud, Batman!" Wakka wakka! This is an example of the slightly campy tone of the film. It probably played OK back in the 1990s, but it would never go over today.

• Ben begins feeling sorry for himself and flees the Baxter Building, wandering the streets and alleys of New York in despair. He's eventually found by The Jeweler's gang and taken in by them.

Why does Ben start acting like a guy in a gorilla suit in this scene? As the minion sweet talks him, he purrs and hoots exactly like a movie gorilla.

• When Alicia tells Ben she loves him, he reverts back to his human form for a few minutes. He does this through the power of a primitive and early CGI morph. It's not the worst effect I've ever seen, especially considering the budget.

A few minutes later he turns back into his rocky form. Unfortunately they must not have been able to afford a second morph, so they accomplish this sophisticated effect by spinning an image of human Ben around and slowly dissolving into a spinning image of the Thing. Yikes.

• Doom appears on the large screen in Reed's lab and gives the FF an ultimatum. All during his speech he makes these bizarre and elaborate hand gestures, almost like he's using some form of faux sign language. Was that just in case the audio wasn't on in the lab?

• The Fantasticar makes a VERY brief appearance late in the film. It's literally on screen for five seconds. Despite the brevity, it looks pretty good, just like it did in the comic. It's really too bad this film didn't have a larger budget. The producers definitely knew what they were doing, and obviously had a healthy respect for the source material.

• Doom visits The Jeweler's lair to steal the diamond from him. While Doom is monologing, The Jeweler buggers off and abruptly exits the movie, never to be seen again. No comeuppance, no punishment, no nothing. Were they setting him up for a sequel that never happened? Or did they just run out of money and couldn't film a decent ending for him?

• Sue finally uses her force field power very late in the film. She does so seemingly out of the blue, with no explanation or fanfare. Up to that point she'd only used her power to turn herself invisible, and never indicated she had any secondary powers.

It's almost like the director thought, "Whoops! We forgot all about her force fields! Better throw that in or the fans'll complain!"

• Doom fires his laser from Latveria (which is somewhere in Eastern Europe) to New York. Unless this beam can somehow bend and follow the curvature of the Earth, I don't see how that's possible. The two locations are on opposite sides of the planet. The beam should just shoot straight out into space.

• Johnny finally goes "Full Human Torch" in the final minutes of the film and flies off after the laser beam. The Human Torch effects are very, very primitive, as if he suddenly turned into a 2D cartoon character. I'm willing to cut them a bit of slack though, as the film had a minuscule budget and I'm sure they did the best they could. 

On the other hand, Terminator 2: Judgement Day was made around the same time as this film, and gave us the liquid metal T-1000. So a better Torch affect was theoretically possible.

Somehow Johnny manages to not only catch up to the leading edge of the laser beam, but actually gets in front of it. So... that means Johnny can fly faster than the speed of light. Nope!

Johnny then uses his flame powers to stop the beam and somehow reverse it. I'm having trouble understanding how fire could possibly affect a concentrated beam of laser light. He then forces the beam into space, where it explodes, which isn't really something that light can do, but whatever. Johnny then makes a couple of victory laps before heading back to Earth. That's right, his body is somehow burning in the vacuum of outer space. Whoops!

• In the film's final scene, Reed and Sue get married and drive off in a limo. Reed stretches his arm out the sunroof and gives the crowd a wave. The less said about the rubbery waving arm effect, the better.

Despite it's microscopic budget, Roger Corman's Fantastic 4 is probably the best screen representation of the team yet. It's not perfect by any means, but it gets more right than wrong and was obviously made by people who respected the source material, and is definitely more entertaining that any of the subsequent versions. With a script polish and a larger budget, it could have been awesome. I give it a B.
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