Monthly Archives: August 2015

Interesting, But Not Fantastic (Four)

My intention is not to take cheap shots at this film. I’m sure a lot of talented people worked very hard to produce a winner here. There have been a total of four FF films made. An early, Roger Corman cheapie, two Fox big budget misfires in the first ten years of the 21st century, and now this one.

Sadly, the advance reviews and word of mouth seem very accurate in registering the disappointment this most recent outing delivers.

As someone who grew up in the ‘60s reading and re-reading, steeping in the original Lee/Kirby 101 issues I have a profound home in my gut for the legend. I’m not married to the canon but clearly no big screen interpretation has been able to capture the spirit of those foundational stories. Actually an argument can be made that Brad Bird did so with The Incredibles. The key there and in the comic book FF is family. The FF are ultimately a dysfunctional family that bonds together to save the world from equally fantastic perils.

This iteration of the FF is directed by Josh Trank whose movie Chronicle was a truly superior “found hand-held footage” people-with-super-powers surprise a few years back. Like that film his FF is dark both visually and in tone. There isn’t a light touch moment to be had here and that was something the founding FF had in great abundance once it found its footing. This interpretation takes matters too seriously and fails to capture the soap opera froth of the source fiction. In canon the four steal a United States rocket ship and accidently expose themselves to cosmic radiation. This question provoking origin is the launch pad for some of the greatest super hero comic story arcs of all time.

It may be that very collective history that works against this movie. Take away the weight of the Fantastic Four and this is an interesting idea that is professionally crafted. This flick has great effects and good performers but the script takes itself very seriously so little fun is had by the principles and the audience. The hour and forty minutes goes by with little energizing audience engagement taking place. You watch it not really caring about the characters once the early, childhood years are put behind us. The sheer burden of having to be the Fantastic Four may have hurt an otherwise interesting story.

The Thing has improved visually with each flick, from a rubber suit with visible zipper to Michael Chiklas sheathed in shiny orange plastic we now have a totally CGI figure. This all digital Thing is the best to date, but even this one fails to capture the great pain that is felt by him in this science experiment gone super-wrong.

Still, my greatest disappointment is the continual failure to put Dr. Doom on the screen in the way he deserves. Doom is probably the greatest comic book villain of the 20th century. Without him there is no Darth Vader, but so far he is not being portrayed as the genius/noble/disfigured diplomatically immune Latverian ruler in techno armor. I would say the same thing to folks dumbing down Doom as I would to Zack Snyder: “Have more faith in the source material. Stick to the legend.”

I don’t imagine this interpretation will have legs or produce a sequel. Another reboot is almost certainly going to come about. Anyone know what Brad Bird is doing?

NOTE: The contents of House of J. are copyright 2015 by J. D. Rummel. Use of any material contained therein is expressly forbidden without the written permission of the author.

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A Few Words about Bill Cosby

(I wrote and posted this in November of 2014 when the rape stories started to get my attention)

I want to put Bill Cosby in a box, into a spreadsheet, I want to break him into component columns so I can understand what is going on. I want to codify and understand what he is today.

In one box Cosby was a hero, a story telling role model, one of the great monologists not just of the 20th century but of all time. I listened to his routines over and over, learning how to spin a yarn that was funny and yet might also reflect the real world in a deeper way. Bill Cosby taught me and trained me by his example.

In another box he was an icon, not a great black man, just a great man, a man that broke down color barriers by highlighting the common ground we all lived and worked on. His successes are legendary. We listened to his records, one of his six television series raised the bar on television humor. I remember watching the first season of the Cosby show and knowing I was watching something new and powerful coming to life that would not only entertain but change things.

Those successes were the reason we all grieved with Bill when his son was murdered, because he was our Bill Cosby, our national, paternal figurehead.

Now we stand with our mouths hanging open, at what seems to be crawling out of the darkness.

Because Bill Cosby seems also to fit into the box of monster. If one reads the accounts coming out now, it is hard to dispute that Bill Cosby is a sick man, a man who forced himself sexually on an uncounted number of woman. And how does the father of women live with himself?

I’m so angry at him. I’m angry about his evil abuse of other human beings but I’m more deeply hurt about the lie. The way he presented himself, the way he represented a kind of standard. What he stood for remains real and important. I cannot let go of what was good because something bad is attached to it. It is my job to use what I can and leave the rest.

Are his stories still wonderful? Yes. Is he still a master story teller? Absolutely, the crushing thing is that his greatest story appears to be the lie he lived all this time. To some degree it is my fault. I should be smart enough to know that the great works of fiction are complex, never simple.

Bill Cosby was a comedian, he made me laugh. His timing, his phrasing, his subject matter all combined to draw out of me a vast array of smiles and rollicking cackles, I cannot let this awfulness take that out of my life. Those moments are eternal.

It is easy to sit here in judgment. Bill Cosby continues to teach me even now, but the lessons I take from all that his life means today will take me a long time to process. To get beyond judgment beyond black and white is my first goal.

He cannot fit in a single box, he is too complex for that. I strive for a simple, distilled version of him, but that cannot be created. Our greatest human gems have giant flaws. Our heroes, real heroes are just like us. No one is just a father, or mother, no one is just a hero or an icon, and no one is just a criminal or a monster.

No one fits in a box.

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