Month: November 2012

Jamie Lee Curtis: THEN or NOW?

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Golden Needles

1974

American International Pictures

Directed by Robert Clouse

Produced by Fred Weintraub

Written by S. Lee Pogostin and Sylvia Schneble

“In China during The Sung Dynasty; a single golden statue was cast for the use of The Emperor. It indicated seven forbidden acupuncture points. Used in correct sequence they brought about extraordinary sexual vigor and youth. Used incorrectly they brought instant and painful death. Stolen, hidden, lost and rediscovered through the centuries, the statue has come to be known as The Golden Needles of Ecstasy.”

There are some beginnings to movies and books I so wish I had written because they encapsulate perfectly in a few lines what the thing you’re about to read or watch is all about. And those lines of dialog I quoted at the beginning of this review tells you everything you need to know about GOLDEN NEEDLES. There’s this statue. Everybody wants this statue. Everybody is perfectly willing to double-cross, lie, cheat, steal and kill to get possession of same statue. And for 92 minutes that’s exactly what the cast of this movie does.

GOLDEN NEEDLES has been described as a Martial Arts Movie version of “The Maltese Falcon” and that’s valid. Joe Don Baker is Dan, a professional gambler/ex-thief hired by Felicity (Elizabeth Ashley) to steal the statue from gangster Lin Toa (Roy Chiao.) Felicity had a deal with Lin Toa to buy the statue from him but he reneged and so Felicity has no choice but to rely on this somewhat eccentric adventurer. Dan’s partner Kwan (Tony Lee) is killed as a result of the theft so now it’s become personal for Dan. The hunt for the statue takes him all over Hong Kong, with Felicity sometimes on his side, sometimes not. He even has to travel to Los Angeles and hook up with his old buddy Jeff (Jim Kelly) and then back to Hong Kong, dogged by Su Lin (Frances Fong) who has shadowy ties to the police and who also wants the statue.

GOLDEN NEEDLES is one of my favorite 70’s movies for a number of reasons. One: it’s directed by Robert Clouse who directed the classic “Enter The Dragon” “Black Belt Jones” “Gymkata” and “The Big Brawl.” Say what you want about Mr. Clouse but for my money, he was a director who knew how to keep a story moving. GOLDEN NEEDLES hits the ground running and never slows down. The story and characters keep moving as Clouse knows how to do characterization while still advancing the plot.

I really enjoy Joe Don Baker in this one and I think the smartest movie in this movie is to not have him do any kind of martial art. His character is a barroom brawler and it really makes the fight scenes interesting to see him take on karate killers and kung fu masters with his barroom brawler style. He’s a big guy and in the fight scenes he uses that to his advantage, taking a number of hits and kicks from his opponents to get in close where he can do his damage.  Joe Don Baker is also an eccentric actor and he shows it off here. It’s a lot of fun to watch him. Especially in his scenes with Jim Kelly who he hooks up with when the action shifts to Los Angeles. He and Kelly have good chemistry together and the only problem I have with this movie is that when the action goes back to Hong Kong, Jim Kelly is left behind.

This is the movie that made me fall in love with Elizabeth Ashley. She has such a wonderful voice and expressive eyes she owns ever scene she’s in. Burgess Meredith plays The Bad Guy in this movie who wants The Golden Needles and he chews every piece of scenery in sight.

Old School Actress Ann Sothern shows up here as the madam of the gambling joint Dan hangs out in. There’s some fine action sequences such as when Dan breaks into Lin Toa’s place to steal The Golden Needles, a karate battle Jim Kelly has in a Los Angeles health spa and near the end when Joe Don Baker is pursued by a bloodthirsty mob who mistakenly thinks he has killed a child. It’s actually a pretty harrowing scene and one that Joe Don Baker sells as he honestly looks scared shitless as he’s trying to escape from the crowd screaming for his blood.

So should you see GOLDEN NEEDLES? Absolutely yes. Get yourself ready with the snacks of your choice and GOLDEN NEEDLES. Then just sit back and enjoy. GOLDEN NEEDLES is currently available for streaming on Netflix.

92 Minutes

Rated R

Gymkata

1985

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Directed by Robert Clouse

Produced by Fred Wentraub

Written by Charles Robert Carner

Based on “The Terrible Game” by Dan Tyler Moore

There are martial arts movies. And then there are martial arts movies. But there is only one GYMKATA.

There are those who will proclaim that GYMKATA is one of the worst movies ever made. Do not heed their blasphemous words. There is only one GYMKATA. And you will be the poorer if you do not watch it at least once.

All hail GYMKATA because there has never been a martial arts movie like it and we should bless The Gods of Celluloid that once upon a time Hollywood made movies like GYMKATA.

You still doubt me, O unbeliever? Back in June of 2006 Warner Brothers and Amazon.com conducted an Internet poll asking which movie not available on DVD did people most want to see on DVD.  The undisputed winner by a landslide of votes? GYMKATA. Ask fans of martial arts movies for a list of their favorite movies and I’d bet you next month’s rent that GYMKATA will be in the top five. Is it because GYMKATA is such a fantastically well-made movie? Well, actually no. It doesn’t sport a big budget or recognizable name actors. In fact, the star of this movie, American Olympic gymnast Kurt Thomas never made another movie in his life.

So what is it about GYMKATA that makes it such a cult hit? The totally goofy premise of the movie is what sells it to me. As well as the tight, professional direction of Robert Clouse who directed “Golden Needles” “The Big Brawl” “Black Belt Jones” and the “Citizen Kane” of martial arts movies: “Enter The Dragon.” And it’s just plain flat out fun to watch. GYMKATA is one of those movies that I’ve seen maybe a dozen times but every time it comes on TV, damned if I don’t stop what I’m doing to watch.

Jonathan Cabot (Kurt Thomas) is recruited by Mr. Paley (Edward Bell) of The Special Intelligence Agency to play The Game. It’s a survival race held in the small but strategically important country of Parmistan. The Game is a hideously dangerous obstacle course complicated by the players being hunted by Parmistan warriors. Whoever wins The Game is granted their life and may make one request which must be granted by The King. The SIA needs Jonathan to win The Game so that he can request The King to allow the United States to install a satellite monitoring station, part of The U.S.’s “Star Wars” Strategic Defense Initiative. Jonathan’s father, Colonel Cabot (Eric Lawson) played The Game and presumably lost as he never returned to the United States.

Jonathan is trained by two martial arts masters (one of them the dependable Conan Lee) to play The Game. He’s also assisted by Princess Rubali of Parmistan (Tetchie Agbayani) who’s going to give Jonathan an edge by telling him ahead of time the various obstacles he’ll encounter as they change every time The Game is played. Princess Rubali wants Jonathan to win as she doesn’t trust her father’s chief advisor Zamir (Richard Norton.) Zamir not only wants Rubali for himself, he wants to sell out to “the other side” and let them put up their own SDI system.

With the help of his trainers, Jonathan develops “gymkata” a fighting style combining his gymnastics with karate. Can Jonathan win The Game and survive the vicious attempts on his life orchestrated by Zamir? What, are you kidding me?

Now here’s the reason why GYMKATA is such a hoot to watch…there’s a couple of major fight scenes where gymnastic equipment conveniently shows up to enable Our Hero to show off his acrobatic ability. In one fight, Jonathan is being chased by some Bad Guys and just happens to find a bar strategically suspended between two walls that he’s able to use to swing and twirl while he fights. And then there’s the classic battle in the Village of The Damned (It’s where Parmistan dumps all of its insane.) Jonathan is being chased by a hoard of homicidal lunatics, makes a turn onto the village square and lo…there’s a pommel horse! What happens next just has to be seen to be believed. And actually, that entire sequence in the village of crazies is pretty spooky and suspenseful with some really creepy images.

Kurt Thomas actually isn’t that bad an actor. He’s no Robert DeNiro but then again, he’s not trying to be. It’s too bad there wasn’t an “Iron Fist” movie made in the 1980’s as Kurt Thomas would have been absolutely perfect to play Danny Rand/Iron Fist. His acrobatic ability is astounding and it sure looks to me like he’s doing a lot of his stunts.

I also enjoy the spectacularly beautiful Tectchie Agbayani as Princess Rubali. At first, Jonathan thinks she can’t talk because she never says anything to him. As he finds out later on, she can talk. She only does so when she has something important to say. If only more women could be like Princess Rubali.

Bottom line: GYMKATA is massive fun to watch. It’s a great Saturday night movie, especially paired with some of the other martial arts movies I’ve named. GYMKATA is goofy, silly and a cult classic that has come by its reputation honestly. ‘Awesome’ is a word that has become overused in describing everything from a ham sandwich (really, folks? Is any sandwich really ‘awesome?’) to hairstyles. But GYMKATA deserves to be called awesome. The complete movie is available on YouTube and I’ve provided you guys a link below. Watch and enjoy.

90 Minutes

Rated R

Duel

1971

Universal Studios

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Produced by George Eckstein

Written by Richard Matheson

Before we get into the actual review a brief history lesson: The Made-For-TV Movie is a phrase you don’t hear much these days but it was used all the time back in the 1960’s and especially during the 1970’s when ABC, CBS and NBC who at that time were The Big Three of programming got into the business of producing their own movies specifically made for a television audience and tailored for 90 minute prime time broadcast television viewing slots. Which meant that no longer did they have to rely on movies they purchased from Hollywood movie studios. Now all three networks had their own special movie night but the one that most people remember is the “ABC Movie Of The Week” which aired from 1969 to 1976 on Tuesday nights. ABC had other movies nights such as their Sunday Night Movie but those were generally theatrical features. And of course there was the long-running and classic “The 4:30 Movie” which had an opening credit that was so popular it eventually was adopted as the opening for all of ABC’s late night movies:

And then of course there’s the opening for The Tuesday Night Movies itself:

Now, yes, most of ABC’s Tuesday Movie Of The Week’s movies were forgettable, disposal entertainment.  Many TV series such as “The Six Million Dollar Man” “Alias Smith and Jones” “The Immortal” and “Starsky and Hutch” made their debut as 90 minute pilot films here. And then you had a whole truckload of movies that are still remembered and indeed have become legendary in pop entertainment culture. “The Love War” “Brian’s Song” which is still hailed today as one of the best football movies ever made and a movie that guys unashamedly admit they cry when they watch it. “A Cold Night’s Death” which is a movie that screams to be remade. “The Legend of Lizzie Borden” starring Elizabeth Montgomery. “Get Christie Love!” “Bad Ronald” “Haunts Of The Very Rich” And then there’s the movie we’re going to talk about now: DUEL, which along with “Trilogy of Terror” and “The Night Stalker” comprises The Holy Trinity of Made-For-TV horror movies.

DUEL is a Made-For-TV Movie with the most interesting history of any Made-For-TV Movie. It’s directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Richard Matheson, based on his short story originally published in Playboy. The movie was only Steven Spielberg’s second feature-length directing job and the movie proved to be such a critical success and ratings hit that Universal asked Spielberg to spend a couple of days filming additional scenes and it was then released to theaters overseas where it played to sold-out audiences. Then, amazingly, Universal released DUEL theatrically in some venues here in the United States. This was an unheard of event back in those days and Universal was rewarded with DUEL going on to make a very respectable profit in its limited U.S. theatrical run.

But it’s no surprise to me why the movie has gone on to earn the reputation it has. Next to “Trilogy of Terror” and “The Night Stalker” DUEL is probably the best known Made-For-TV Movie of all time and rightly so. It’s a white-knuckle thriller that taps into the deepest fear of any motorist on the highway. I know that for me, DUEL is a movie that represents one of my worst nightmares. A movie like “Saw” doesn’t scare me at all because there is zero chance of me being forced to play some bizarre game by a hyper-intelligent serial killer. But there’s every chance I can innocently piss off some maniac behind the wheel of a truck and without meaning to find myself engaged in a life or death battle on a highway.

David Mann (Dennis Weaver) starts out his day peacefully enough. He’s a salesman, driving on his way to an important business meeting. In a wonderful bit of characterization, during a phone conversation with his wife (Jacqueline Scott) we learn that David actively works at avoiding confrontation, a personality trait that greatly factors into what happens to him during the course of his horrifying day.

During his drive he encounters a tanker truck driving slower than the posted speed limit. David passes the truck and thinks no more of it. But after a stop at a gas station he is passed by the same truck which gets in front of him and again slows down. David again passes the truck and the truck’s driver (who we never see) appears to take umbrage with this as he first tries to trick David into a collision with another vehicle. The truck’s driver continually ups the ante of this deadly game, chasing David down the highway, trying to push his vehicle into the path of a passing freight train. As this long day goes on, David cannot escape the fact that the driver of the truck is trying to kill him and if David wants to survive he is going to have to stop running and confront his unseen enemy.

And eventually it does come down to just David and the truck driver. David cannot convince anybody he meets along the road that this man is trying to kill him. Taken from a psychological point of view, the truck represents David’s fear of confrontation that is relentlessly pursuing him, forcing him to make a stand and fight for what his important to him. In this case: his life.

But you can throw that psychological stuff out the window. Taken purely as a horror movie, DUEL delivers on every level. Dennis Weaver gives an Academy Award level performance. He’s on screen for the entire running time of the movie and he is just flat out terrific. He is never less than totally convincing as this perfectly regular guy caught up in a situation way over his head, caught up in a deadly road game with a serial killer and no idea of how he’s going to survive.

So should you see DUEL? Absolutely YES. DUEL is an absolute masterpiece of suspense on all levels. You can see echoes of Spielberg’s later work on “Jaws” in this movie and the story by Richard Matheson is so tight it hurts. I’ve provided a link below where you can watch the complete movie on YouTube. If you’ve never seen DUEL before, do yourself a favor and watch it right now. Enjoy.

Haunts Of The Very Rich

1972

ABC CIRCLE FILMS

Directed by Paul Wendkos

Produced by Lillian Gallo

Written by T.K. Brown III and William P. Wood

Before we get into the actual review a brief history lesson: The Made-For-TV Movie is a phrase you don’t hear much these days but it was used all the time back in the 1960’s and especially during the 1970’s when ABC, CBS and NBC who at that time were The Big Three of programming got into the business of producing their own movies specifically made for a television audience and tailored for 90 minute prime time broadcast television viewing slots. Which meant that no longer did they have to rely on movies they purchased from Hollywood movie studios. Now all three networks had their own special movie night but the one that most people remember is the “ABC Movie Of The Week” which aired from 1969 to 1976 on Tuesday nights. ABC had other movies nights such as their Sunday Night Movie but those were generally theatrical features. And of course there was the long-running and classic “The 4:30 Movie” which had an opening credit that was so popular it eventually was adopted as the opening for all of ABC’s late night movies:

And then of course there’s the opening for The Tuesday Night Movies itself:

Now, yes, most of ABC’s Tuesday Movie Of The Week’s movies were forgettable, disposal entertainment.  Many TV series such as “The Six Million Dollar Man” “Alias Smith and Jones” “The Immortal” and “Starsky and Hutch” made their debut as 90 minute pilot films here. And then you had a whole truckload of movies that are still remembered and indeed have become legendary in pop entertainment culture. “The Love War” “Brian’s Song” which is still hailed today as one of the best football movies ever made and a movie that guys unashamedly admit they cry when they watch it. “The Night Stalker” which along with “Duel” and “Trilogy of Terror” makes up The Holy Trinity of Made-For-TV horror movies. “A Cold Night’s Death” which is a movie that screams to be remade. “The Legend of Lizzie Borden” starring Elizabeth Montgomery. “Get Christie Love!” “Bad Ronald.” And then there’s the movie we’re going to talk about now: HAUNTS OF THE VERY RICH.

Why HAUNTS OF THE VEY RICH you ask? I remember seeing this years ago back in the 70’s as it was a movie that somebody in ABC’s programming department either liked a lot or they got frequent requests to air it. You have to remember that this was an era that was even pre-VCR so the only way you could rewatch a movie if it was broadcast again. And HAUNTS OF THE VERY RICH was a movie that got quite a bit of airplay during the 70’s. It’s not a classic by any means but it is an awfully intriguing premise with some solid performances. And for those of you reading this who are “Lost” fans then this is a movie you might like to check out as I see a lot of similarities between that TV show and this movie.

An eclectic group of tourists are flying to a mysterious tropical resort called The Portals of Eden. Each of them have brochures that appear to be tailored to their specific desires. All except for Al Hunsicker (Ed Asner) who was supposed to be on a flight to Texas for an important business meeting. Dave Woodrough (Lloyd Bridges) is an aging ladies’ man who’s looking for another sexual conquest and thinks he’s found it in Ellen Blunt (Cloris Leachman) an emotionally needy woman obsessed with her appearance and thinks that The Portals of Eden is a beauty spa. Annette Larrier (Anne Francis) is looking for somewhere she can recover from her nervous breakdown which probably was caused by her husband and kids. Lyle (Tony Bill) and Laurie (Donna Mills) are newlyweds who only want to spend their honeymoon doing what honeymooners do. The Reverend John Fellows (Robert Reed) is suffering a crisis of spirit and hopes that by participating in a peyote ritual performed by the local Indians he can have a religious vision that will restore his faith.

The resort’s host, Mr. Seacrist (Moses Gunn) at first seems a most genial and amiable sort. But that’s before things start to go wrong. First there’s a hurricane that wipes out their communications with the outside world. Their supplies and fresh drinking water start to dwindle. The resort staff abandons them. The guests are left alone with nothing and nobody to rely on but each other. And the more desperate their situation becomes, the calmer Mr. Seacrist becomes. Any and all attempts at rescue or to get help are frustrated and the little band begins to turn on each other as their idyllic dream vacation turns into Hell. And soon, that’s exactly what Ellen and Dave start to think as they discover that everybody has had a brush with death shortly before coming to the island.

Are they all dead and in Hell or some kind of Purgatory? There’s a lot of evidence to indicate so but there’s as much evidence to the opposite. Maybe they’re just a buncha folks with some truly shitty luck in picking vacation spots…but then there’s the dead body that apparently gets up and walks away and one of their number who tries to commit suicide and loses way more blood than a human can reasonably lose and still live….

I’m probably making HAUNTS OF THE VERY RICH seem way more interesting than it really is but while watching it I couldn’t help but think of this as a “Lost” prequel where The Dharma Initiative has brought these people to their island as part of an experiment. What kind of experiment I have no idea but if you decide to watch the movie we can argue about it later.

The acting in this movie is quite strong, especially from dependable pros like Ed Asner who is set up to be the typical stereotyped loud-mouth but develops into a really reasonable character who treats his situation the way I expect a businessman would and doesn’t just rely on his mouth to do his thinking. He and Lloyd Bridges have a couple of nice scenes where they’re discussing their situation as they both turn out to be the natural leaders in this kind of situation. Cloris Leachman is an actress who has never really impressed me in anything she’s done but in this movie I find her amazingly good and she convinced me to invest in her character. But who walks away with the acting honors in this movie? Mr. Brady himself; Robert Reed. And he does it in an amazing scene near the end when he describes what happened to him during the peyote ceremony and explains to each and every one of the other guests why they think they’re dead and in Hell and why they think they’re alive and not in Hell. The man owns the scene from start to finish and it’s worth watching the movie just for that scene. If you only know Robert Reed from “The Brady Bunch”  you watch that scene and you can’t believe it’s the same guy. It’s that good a scene.

So should you see HAUNTS OF THE VERY RICH? It won’t cost you a thing because you can see it on YouTube and I’ve provided a link below. But if you don’t want to watch it, it’s no biggie. But it does have a solid story and good performances. And as I said, if you’re a “Lost” fan and want to look upon this as a prequel, I think it more than works in that context. Enjoy.

Let’s All Go To The Lobby With: Mark Bousquet

Derrick Ferguson: Who is Mark Bousquet?

Mark Bousquet: I was raised in a small town in central Massachusetts called Winchendon (the only town so named in the entire country). Back then, the town population was 8,000 people and the entire high school was only 200-something kids. I played baseball and basketball in high school, acted in the yearly play competition, and generally had a great time. I attended Syracuse University on two separate occasionsand earned Bachelor’s degrees in Public Communications and then inLiterature, then went to the University of New Hampshire for a Mastersin Lit, and then to Purdue University where I earned a Ph.D inAmerican Studies (a dual degree in 19th century American environmental Lit and History).

DF: Where do you live and what do you do to keep the bill collectors away?

MB: I’ve been living in Reno, Nevada for almost a year now with my coonhound/beagle Darwin, where I’m the Assistant Director of Core Writing at the University of Nevada, Reno.

DF: You embarked on this insane project to watch and review every single Marvel Comics movie that you knew of and was available to watch. The first question has to be: Why?

MB: At some point, I started doing monthly review themes at Atomic Anxiety to supplement the massive DOCTOR WHO series and new cinematic releases. I liked the idea of watching just westerns one month and Christmas movies the next, so it was a matter of time before I hit on Superhero Month. Reviewing all Marvel movies has been in my head for a while, the same way reviewing every Hitchcock movie or Tarantino movie has been a long-term goal.

The real push to actually do it as a current project, however, goes back to the release of AVENGERS this past May. Writing a 4,500 word review wasn’t enough, and so I ended up writing individual reviews for all 11 major characters in the movie. Once I had done that, I knew I wanted to collect the reviews and release it as a collection. I could have released just the reviews of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which ends up being roughly 100 pages in MARVEL COMICS ON FILM) but I’d reviewed a bunch of other Marvel movies, too, so releasing a book of all Marvel movies made sense.

Though I should point out that originally the plan was to release one book on all superhero movies, but once I got serious enough to start looking at word count, I knew that book would be way too large and so concentrated solely on the Marvel movies.

DF: The Marvel Cinematic Universe has proven to be a unique and audacious idea that has paid off in quality movies that succeed as box office hits also. Where do you think it can or should go from here?

MB: It’s a delicate balance between Marvel/Disney expanding on what they’ve done and risk burning out the population on superhero movies. I am not someone who thinks the superhero balloon is eventually going to go bust and no one will ever want another superhero movie, but I do think it’s important to keep the quality and variety of superhero films high.

I have full faith in Kevin Feige to guide the MCU through it’s next phase. I like, too, that they refer to the post-AVENGERS MCU as “Phase 2.” Hiring Feige is the single most important thing Marvel did in building this universe because you need to have one person sitting in the big chair making the visionary decisions. I will not take DC/WB’s attempt to do a shared universe seriously until they hire one person to oversee the project.

As for what I’d do … I like that Marvel and Disney are continuing to expand the idea of what a superhero movie is by going cosmic with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and humorous with ANT-MAN. The next step, of course, is to expand the idea of what a superhero is by giving us a non-white male lead. I want a BLACK WIDOW movie or a MS. MARVEL movie. I want a BLACK PANTHER movie or a LUKECAGE/IRON FIST movie. Disney has made it clear that what they’re interested in is “tentpole” movies, which suggests they won’t green light a movie unless they think it can be a massive financial success. I think there’s plenty of room for smaller successes. I would highly doubt the Marvel/Disney brain trust thinks a PANTHER or WIDOW movie can’t be successful, but I’m guessing some bean counter is telling them it can’t be super successful. My hope is that GUARDIANS and ANT-MAN pave the way for other, “lesser” heroes to get the big screen treatment.

DF: Far as I’m concerned, Robert Downey, Jr. is to The Marvel Cinematic Universe what Stan Lee is to the Comic Book Marvel Universe. Agree or disagree?

MB: Totally agree in the sense that he’s the charismatic face of the company that sets the tone for fans and leads the way for other actors. Every single time I see Downey talking about Iron Man and the Avengers it warms my heart. Here’s a guy who’s loving the fact that he’s in the middle of this massive, ridiculous franchise. As great as it is that Sam Jackson and Clark Gregg appear in multiple films, Downey is the guy that revs the engines of the populace because he’s the guy playing the guy whose name is on the poster.

 

DF: Your favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe movie? Your least favorite?

MB: Favorite is AVENGERS and least favorite is IRON MAN 2, but I still enjoy IM2. It’s not a bad movie, it’s just not as good a movie as the other MCU productions. The most confounding MCU movie to me, though, is CAPTAIN AMERICA, which I really enjoy but stop just short of loving. It’s a movie where the opening half (the origin) is really well told, but it’s also the half of the movie I’m less interested in. I’m more interested in WWII Cap and the Howling Commandos, but that half of the film feels rushed and forced.

DF: Is THE AVENGERS The Greatest Superhero Movie Ever Made?

MB: Yes. There are a handful of genuinely great superhero movies – THE DARK KNIGHT, SPIDER-MAN 2 – but THE AVENGERS is Zeus and everything else lives in its shadow. If nothing else, what sets THE AVENGERS apart is that it’s FUN. I’m all for some serious drama, but I like some genuine thrills and laughs in my superhero movies, too, and AVENGERS provides the perfect mix of action, drama, and humor. I hate stories about superheroes that don’t want to be superheroes (especially since DARK KNIGHT and SPIDEY 2 have done that story so well), and at no point in AVENGERS do I feel like these people hate their lives or who they are or want to go back to being a guy who works a regular job. The switch in the character of Bruce Banner in AVENGERS is the key to Whedon’s entire approach, I think. The line where Banner says, “I got low. I put a bullet in my mouth and the other guy spit it out,” is both the single heaviest line ever delivered in a superhero movie and a symbol of a hero getting over the negative and embracing who he is and what that allows his life to be.

 

DF: Please explain The Avengers Reactions and why you decided to do them.

MB: The Avengers Reactions are individual reviews of the 11 main characters in the movie (the Avengers, Fury, Hill, Loki, and Thanos/Chitauri). At the simplest level, they exist because I wrote a 4,500 word review of the movie and had barely scratched the surface of what I wanted to say. In a larger sense, though, I suppose it evolved into a reaction to people who tried to claim that this was just a dumb, loud action movie. That’s preposterous. There will not be a single script this year that’s written with more skill than Joss Whedon’s re-write of Zak Penn’s script. There might be more enjoyable scripts out there, but there’s so much characterization in this film that so many people simply refused to see that it became something of a challenge to give all of that characterization its day in the sun.

As long as it took to write them, it’s the single best thing I’ve done at the site. The reviews are massively popular and have generated a wide range of comments.

DF: Which Avenger would you like to see in AVENGERS 2? Which Avenger should never appear in any future AVENGERS movies?

MB: Should appear? Black Panther, Black Panther, Black Panther. I would make T’Challa and Wakanda a main background plot for Phase 2, and have the Panther play a big role as the outsider-who-becomes-an-insider in AVENGERS 2. Or, if Phase 2 is about building up the cosmic angle, I’d have Phase 3 build up the “Kings” angle, and start working in T’Challa and Namor.

Actually, yeah. Yeah. Phase 3 = Wakanda vs. Atlantis vs. Attilan with the Avengers caught in the middle.

How awesome would that be?

As for characters who should never appear? There’s really no single Avenger that I think couldn’t add something to the franchise. Even poorly regarded Avengers like Starfox, Deathcry, and Rage could work in a re-tooled sense in the movies. In a strictly Avengers context, however, I really have little desire to see traditional non-Avengers join the team. Does that mean I don’t want to see Dr. Strange or Wolverine or Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four walk into an Avengers movie? No. But I’d like to see the movies work through all of the traditional Avengers they haven’t included, yet.

I do think we can see a future of AVENGERS where the current roster is rotated out and makes way for a new team. I want to see AVENGERS 4 or 7 with a Hawkeye led team of Scarlet Witch, Vision, Quicksilver, Tigra -

Look, I want a WEST COAST AVENGERS movie. There’s nothing wrong with that.

DF: Do you think we’ve had enough SPIDER-MAN movies?

MB: Have we had enough Spider-Man movies? No.

Have we had enough origin movies? Yes.

I love AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. I think it’s superior to the first and third Raimi movies and almost equal to the second, which I consider one of the greatest superhero movies ever made. In my review of AMAZING, I talk about how the film is hurt by the Raimi movies so recently having told the origin and so I didn’t see the need for the origin, but I also talked about how I liked this origin quite a bit. Peter is a much more realistic character this time around, and the acting and directing is, across the board, better.

I’m just not sure if we needed to see it, and the film does drop the narrative ball a bit in the second half of the film, but on the whole, if I’m watching only one Spider-Man movie again, it’s SPIDER-MAN 2. But after that, it’s AMAZING.

 

Spidey has such a great rogues gallery, though, that it’s disappointing AMAZING didn’t push in a completely new direction. We don’t need the origin and we don’t need Norman Osborn. We still haven’t seen Rhino or Electro or Scorpion or the Sinister Six or the Vulture or Shocker or Hobgoblin or Morbius or Mysterio or-

I mean, Kraven the Hunter should have his own darn movie at this point.

If Sony gave me a Spidey trilogy, I’d build it around the idea of Peter as a college student who’s working at the Bugle to help make ends meet. I wouldn’t even make a lot of them important characters, but I’d have a scene where we see Rhino tearing up a bank or Shocker shaking down an airline. I’d want to create that sense of a bigger universe. I’d have as many villains running around as possible. I’d turn the melodrama way, way down and concentrate on the fun. My focus would be:

Film #1: Mysterio, which leads to Ned Leeds and Eddie Brock screwing up a story that Peter and Ben Urich get right. I’d make the Bugle crew the main supporting cast in the film, and I’d have Peter caught in a romantic triangle with Betty Brant at the Bugle and Felicia Hardy at college and totally play up the good girl/bad girl dynamic.

Film #2: Hobgoblin, with Leeds enacting his revenge on two fronts: as Leeds working for a rival paper and, which leads to Venom getting out (but no rerun of the Petey/symbiote angle), which leads to an ending that has Venom beating the puss out of Spidey and standing there triumphant, like the T-Rex at the end of Jurassic Park 2. If we’re going to use Venom, I think we need to see the pure, raw power of the symbiote. No Emo Pete, no Topher Grace, just a menacing evil using Eddie Brock. Heck, I might not even want Eddie Brock. I might just have the symbiote unleashed as this unstoppable alien entity who can glom onto humans when it wants information.

Film #3: Kraven, who’s been the background character in the previous two movies, just watching and accumulating information through his half-brother the Chameleon, coming to NYC to capture all of them: Mysterio, Spidey, Venom, Hobgoblin, Rhino, Vulture … and the villains would be running scared out of their mind at this seemingly regular human in a lion vest taking them out one by one, and while this is happening, Pete’s in the hospital, recovering from his thrashing at Venom’s hand. Maybe Kraven is even making a big spectacle out of this – he’s the latest superstar hero – and one of the villains (maybe even Chameleon in disguise) comes to Pete in the hospital and says, “This dude is bad news. He’s hooked up with some nutjob scientist who’s torturing these villains,” which appeals to Pete’s moral decency, so Pete pulls himself out of that bed to throw down with Kraven. I might even adapt “Kraven’s Last Hunt” for this film’s second half.

DF: I myself prefer the movie incarnation of X-MEN to the Marvel Comics version. Agree or disagree?

MB: I think the movie version is superior to lots of different versions of the X-Men over the years (especially over the last 25 years), but it’s not my favorite version of the X-Men. I’m all in for the Wein/Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne/Smith/JRJR X-Men of the ’70s and early ’80s, but cinematically, I think Singer was smart to pare the story down to the essentials of Magneto vs. Xavier, with Wolverine caught in the middle. I really love X2, and the moments between Logan, Bobby, Rogue, and Pyro leading to the incident at Bobby’s parent’s house is the highlight of the franchise. Wolverine’s ascension to team leader when the mansion is being attacked by Stryker is phenomenal to watch, and Brian Cox is amazing. I love FIRST CLASS, too, and that movie probably comes closest to the vibe that I really want to see in X-Men movies, and I think X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE is woefully under-appreciated.

All of that being said, there’s a lot in those movies that I don’t like. The films feel a bit too random in how they’ve been assembled and I feel like the casting is driving the movies in spots, instead of the characters driving the casting. And I really, really cannot stand Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey or fathom why James Marsden is used so little, when he’s delivering the best performance in the franchise after Jackman.

DF: In my opinion we would not have had The Marvel Cinematic Universe without the success of the BLADE movies. Agree or disagree?

MB: BLADE is not given nearly enough credit for its role in the evolution of superhero movies. But … I think BLADE’s influence is felt much more in the DARK KNIGHT trilogy than in the MCU. Certainly, BLADE is the fulcrum movie that got us from the Burton/Schumacher Batman films to the Spider-Man, X-Men, and eventually MCU movies. In a very real sense, BLADE showed that superhero movies didn’t need superheroes and they didn’t need to be bright and positive. They could be dark, they could be bloody, they could be R-rated, they could have a dry humor, and they could be incredibly stylish. In that sense, I think BLADE really paves the way for the Nolan DARK KNIGHT films (and not just because the BLADE movies helped David Goyer cut his teeth and develop his style), which are much more Bruce Wayne movies than Batman movies.

What the MCU really owes BLADE is that sense of personal style. THOR, CAPTAIN AMERICA, IRON MAN, INCREDIBLE HULK … all of them feel like superhero movies yet all of them feel like individual worlds, too. That variety is incredibly important, and we owe a lot of that to BLADE and BLADE 2. Ironically, BLADE: TRINITY is the most superhero of all the films yet it’s also clearly the worst.

DF: Why is it so hard to do a truly great FANTASTIC FOUR movie?

MB: Wrong director, wrong actors, wrong stories.

The Corman FF movie is the best out of the lot and it really has no chance with audiences because the production value is so relatively weak compared to the big budget Tim Story movies. The Story movies, though … look, I love what Michael Chiklis and Chris Evans bring to Ben and Johnny, but the stories are absolute disasters and Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, and Julian McMahon are playing awful characters in awful ways. A FF movie should be about family, fun, and adventure, but these characters spend the bulk of both movies not wanting to be superheroes. I think RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER is the single dumbest superhero movie made; there’s a scene in which the fate of the world is at stake and the FF are stopped in their tracks by a soldier with a handgun.

It boggles my mind.

 

DF: You and I seem to be in the minority in our shared opinions that the TV Movie versions of DOCTOR STRANGE and NICK FURY, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. are really good and should be appreciated for what they are. Why is that you think?

MB: The DOCTOR STRANGE movie was a total revelation. I’d never heard anything about it, but it’s darn good and a really good example of how to do smart horror in a weekly format. Of all the 1970s Marvel TV movies (discounting the INCREDIBLE HULK, which was turned into an excellent series), I’m most disappointed we didn’t get more DOCTOR STRANGE. As for the Hoff’s Nick Fury movie, I mean, I don’t know how you can’t love it unless you take life way more seriously than I’m comfortable taking it. The movie is so much fun and Hoff so totally throws himself into the role that it totally wins me over. It’s like watching a dime novel version of a spy story come to life.

These are hard movies to find, but if you can track them down they are well worth your time.

DF: Where can we get a copy of your fine book and read the rest of your wonderful reviews?

MB: My Amazon Author’s Page has info on all my books, including MARVEL COMICS ON FILM, which is available in paperback and for the Kindle. All of my reviews (and there’s roughly 750 of them now) and more info on all my books are at the Atomic Anxiety website

Derrick Ferguson: Time for us to go back into The Ferguson Theater but before we do is there anything else we need to know?

Mark Bousquet: I’m hard at work on the next installment of GUNFIGHTER GOTHIC, my weird western, which I’m hoping will see publication in January 2013. My next published project, though, will be STUFFED ANIMALS FOR HIRE: THE DECEMBER OPERATION, a kid’s novella which answers the question that no one was asking: What would the A-Team be like if Winnie the Pooh was a member? Or what would happen to the Hundred Acre Wood if Hannibal Smith was dropped down into the middle of the forest?

It’s weird and wild and represents what I love about writing – the unexpected turn. I’ve written a kid’s book in the past (ADVENTURES OF THE FIVE: THE COMING OF FROST, which is still my favorite book I’ve written) and thought this would take a similar course, but in a very real way, it’s ended up being the single most pulp thing I’ve written. The action is non-stop, and somehow in my desire to write a playful ode to all of those early ’80s action shows that I love (the A-Team, Magnum, PI, Hardcastle and McCormick, the Dukes of Hazzard), it also feels totally like a Steranko Nick Fury comic.

 

Better In The Dark #140

Episode 140: THE SWAVE RIDDLE OF THE PURPLE CURSE (Special Guest: Kelen Conley)

The Boys Outta Brooklyn once more reunite with their Musical Director, Kelen ‘B-Hyphen’ Conley to examine the very peculiar, very short movie career of one Anthony Rodgers Nelson, a.k.a. Prince! From the seminal 80’s musical opus Purple Rain to the incomprehensibly bad Grafitti Bridge (a film one of us says is the worst film he’s ever seen!), the Boys Outta Brooklyn look at it all. Expect more Morris Day love than one podcast can bear, more catch-phrases than any other episode of BiTD and…the birth of The Swave! You know we will die for you, so get to clicking!

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