Author Archives: Katherine Ullman

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Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four: A Brief History of Futility

Fantastic-four-movie-posterWith all the buzz about the new Fantastic Four movie, (especially at how terrible it is) there’s a lot of comparison to the “original” Fantastic Four movie. You know: the one released in 2005 with Chris Evans in it. But it isn’t the original. Not by a long shot. The original was created in 1993 as a way for the studio to retain the rights to franchise, and was never meant to be released. This is a brief history of that film.

This all started with a man by the name of Bernd Eichinger. You probably haven’t heard of him before. That’s okay. Most producers are happy to stay behind the scenes. Back in the late 70s, he founded Neue Constantin Films, which later became just Constantin. This is the studio that brought us The Neverending Story, The Name of the Rose, and all those Resident Evil movies. Bernd’s interest in Fantastic Four started in 1983, and he wanted to do a movie based on that IP. He met with Stan Lee to discuss an option for the film, but it wasn’t going to be available until 1986.

Now, keep in mind that at the time, Marvel wasn’t doing all that well financially. They were just kind of selling their IPs to studios like a cut rate ice cream truck to a pack of uninterested children. This is why Marvel’s various IPs ended up going kind of all over the place, and why we have the mess that it’s in, now. As a prime (and relevant) example, Marvel couldn’t option the Fantastic Four in 1983, because they had already sold the rights to The Human Torch (without the rest of the Four) to Universal back in 1977, and that option wasn’t up until 1986. This is why Eichinger had to wait until 1986 to option the film for a paltry sum of  $250,000. (That’s about half a million in today’s economy.)

Eichinger shopped around for a company to help his studio produce the film, but the proposed budget made the bigger studios balk at the prospect. The option on the franchise was set to expire at the end of the year of 1992, and, frantic, Eichinger asked Marvel to extend it, but they didn’t. So the only way he could hang onto the option was to make a movie.

thethingEnter Roger Corman, B Movie King. Roger Corman is kind of the Kevin Bacon of the film industry, but you only have two or three degrees of separation between him and everybody else. He was known for being able to shoot a movie for $5000 and in under a week, and he had this down pat. A lot of people got their started and learned a lot about movie making by working under the man (Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, and Jonathan Demme just to name a few.) So, in September of 1992, he hired Roger Corman to make a Fantastic Four movie for just $1 million (That’s about $1.7 mil in today’s money. Hooray Inflation.)

This is the most amount of money Corman was ever given to make a film, and by God he was going to do this thing right.  He got Oley Sassone to direct, Alex Hyde-White as Reed Richards, Jay Underwood as Johnny Storm, Rebecca Staab as Sue Storm, Michael Bailey Smith as Ben Grimm, and Joseph Culp as Dr. Doom. They weren’t exactly the most high profile of actors, but for $3,500 a week, it’s not like you could afford Tom Cruise. Everybody was excited to be involved in what they thought would be a high profile superhero film. Keep in mind that in the past few years prior we had Batman Returns, Darkman, Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles, and The Rocketeer. The superhero genre wasn’t in the state as it is today, but it was trying hard as hell to be, thanks to the success of 1989’s Batman starring Michael Keaton. While most of these may not have been critical successes, they were financial successes, and our actors knew that if they did this film right it would be very good for their careers.

Fantastic Four Group ShotThe film was shot in 21 days, including crash-landing the four’s spaceship in Agoura, and blowing up the lab on the Loyola Marymount campus. Just so you understand how compressed this timeline was, the latest Fantastic Four film was shot in 72 days, and had a budget of $122 million in comparison.  The level of dedication, love and work  that was put forth on this film was far more than what you’d expect for a Corman production. Reve Richards, the costume designer, went to a comic book shop to buy as many of the FF books as he could find to make sure he could be faithful to them. Carl Ciarfalio, who wore the rubber Thing suit worked closely with Michael Bailey Smith so that their mannerisms would match. Even David and Erik Wurst, the composers,  personally spent $6,000 to make sure that they would have a 48 piece orchestra for the soundtrack. Hell, even Stan Lee himself visited people on the set to encourage them.

In the summer of 1993, the promotional part of production had started. Trailers of it were playing on other Corman videos and in movie theatres. Cast members did a promotional tour, worked the con circuit, and even brought the Thing’s head with them. The film itself was screened at SDCC that year, and it was covered in many movie and scifi magazines. The film was slated to premiere for January 19th at the Mall of America.

The movie, however, was not going to be released. The crew started hearing rumors that all their hard work was going to be for naught, and Sassone received a call from Eichinger, explaining to him what the situation was. “He explained it the best way he could,” Sassone said, “I mean, look, he knew that we had all worked our asses off on this thing. Frankly, I think they thought it was just going to be this piece of shit… so I think it kind of unnerved them when it wasn’t.”

So what had happened? There’s still a lot of debate surrounding the film’s fate. The cast started hearing rumors that it was never intended to be released in the first place, that it was an ashcan copy. Stan Lee confirmed this in 2005 stating, “That movie was never supposed to be shown to anybody…. It was never supposed to be seen by any living human beings.” Corman and Eichinger, however, had a different story. “We had a contract to release it,” said Corman, “and I had to be bought out of that contract.” Eichinger stated, “That’s definitely not true. It was not our intention to make a B movie, that’s for sure, but when the movie was there, we wanted to release it.” Regardless, Marvel executive Avi Arad bought the film for a couple of million dollars cash, and ordered the prints be destroyed.

Most agree with Stan Lee and the cast, that Eichinger had deliberately created this version of the film so that he could retain the rights to the option. The fact that he started preproduction on a big budget version of the film in 1996 (which would eventually become the 2005 version) would lend credence to this version of events. At this point in time this remains the only movie Roger Corman never released, and the production has gone down in movie infamy.

Doomed Movie PosterCopies of the film are still floating about here and there. I had bought a bootleg copy on VHS back in 1995 at NorWesCon, and I still have it today, having watched it far too many times to count (though right now it’s sitting in a box somewhere in my closet). There’s several copies that have been uploaded to the internet, and if you really want to watch it.  There’s even a documentary in the works called Doomed! The Movie and it’s something that i’m looking forward to seeing be released as well, since we’ll get a more personal account as to what happened.

As for the movie itself, how does it stack up? if you like arbitrary numbers, Rotten Tomatoes has it listed at 33%, compared to the 2005 version at 27% and the 2015 version at a whopping 9%. I’ve only ever watched the first two version (I, honestly, have no intention of watching this latest train wreck) and I think the numbers are fair. Neither are particularly good films, but the later suffers from being, at best, unmemorable. However, like other Corman works, the 1993 version it doesn’t put on any airs of being anything other than what it is. It’s a fun, lighthearted superhero film, best watched with friends. If you plan on seeing the latest release, well, all I can say is that you’re probably better off saving yourself some money and hunting down a copy of this.

Review: Sex Criminals #11

SexCriminals11_CoverAOkay. I’m pretty late in the game when it comes to reviewing and heaping praise upon Sex Criminals. I mean, you really can’t do one without the other. It isn’t helping that I’m starting my reviews right in the middle of a story arc, which meant that I had a lot of catching up to do. I have to resist the temptation to write about Sex Criminals as a whole, but honestly? What is there to say that hasn’t been said already? Sex Criminals is funny. Sex Criminals is raunchy. Sex Criminals is smart. Sex Criminals is, above all else, honest.

Good. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about #11 and how it differs from the other issues up to this point. Honestly? It’s not the best. But Sex Criminals not at it’s best is kind of like going into the Cheesecake Factory and ordering the Mango Key Lime cheesecake. Sure it’s tasty as hell, but, really, it wasn’t as good as half the other cheesecakes on the menu. (Dammit, now I want their Vanilla Bean Cheesecake.) Part of the reason why this isn’t quite as good as the others is that it steps back from character and plot development some, to introduce us to a new character.

It’s because of this we have four separate threads to keep track of, so it comes off a little less fluid than the other issues. You’ve got our new character, Suzie Jon, and Ms. “Kincaid,” Jon’s Psychiatrist and his lover, and Robert Rainbow and Rachelle (all in various stages of undress and coitus, natch.) It’s because of this that the comic kinds of bounces around all over the place so it’s a little less coherent than the previous issues.

For me the biggest things that drag this book down is how painstakingly New Guy tries to assert that he’s normal, despite being aware that he’s in a comic book that literally revolves around sex, as well as Rainbow and Rachelle’s post coital (kinda) conversation. While the first is necessary to the plot, the second I think would have been better off if more attention could have been paid to it, in a bit more relevant way. Having said that, it is still a good book. I mean, it’s cheesecake. Who’s going to turn down cheesecake? Chip Zdarsky’s artwork is, as always, detailed, nuanced, and filled with more visual humor than you can shake a stick at (save for a few panels.) Matt Fraction’s writing is good. The use of language is natural, believable and flows well. The plot, well, I’ve already talked about the weak points, but don’t let that deter you.

There’s a huge payoff at the end (double entendre intended) that was unexpected, and is certainly makes the book worth getting, since it isn’t something that I was expecting, though to be fair it is a logical extension of some of the events in last issue. It is, however, potentially problematic for me for personal reasons. I can’t really say more about it without giving it away in a huge spoiler, but it is something that is going to be worth talking about regardless of how it’s handled, so it’s something I’ll address when I cover #12.

Or undress it as the case may be.

Story: Matt Fraction Art: Chip Zdarsky
Story: 8 Art: 9 Overall: 8.25 Recommendation: Buy

Image provided a Graphic Policy a FREE copy for review

Review: Boy Meets Girl

We want to welcome Kathrine to the Graphic Policy team. A fantastic debut review and can’t wait to see more! – The Management

Boy Meets Girl Movie CoverWarning: Spoilers

I want to be up front about my motivations for writing this review. I am a transgender woman, and I wanted to review this movie from that perspective instead of that of a movie critic.  If you want a more professional review, there are hundreds out there that you can read, written by people who probably know cinema a hell of a lot better than I do. The problem is that the majority of them are written by cisgender critics, and most tiptoe around the film’s subject matter. I honestly can’t blame them. It’d be like tap-dancing in a minefield.

But I, as trans woman, can view this movie with slightly different perspective than our cisgender critics. That gives me a little bit more political leeway to be critical of this movie if need be. I’ve wanted to watch this since I’ve heard about it, because it seemed like we’re finally going to be getting a movie where a transgender person isn’t going to be used as a victim, the butt of a joke, or any of the other tropes that kind of go hand in hand with having a transgender character. Plus, it’s being played by a transgender woman and not (gasp!) a cisgender man or woman pretending to be trans. Not too long ago, I came across a post on Tumblr, that warns that the director Eric Schaeffer is something of a trans chaser, and has a set of GIFs from the movie that keeps getting passed around that can make it look kind of skeevy out of context.

Boy Meets Girl screenshotSo with that being said, how was the movie? Was it good? Well, yes and no. All in all, I liked it and I would recommend it because Ricky, the main character played by Michelle Hendley, is probably the best representation of a transgender person. Much more so than Jeffrey Tambor’s Maura in Transparent. The film is about  a young twenty-something transgender woman living in rural Kentucky, and how a new relationship with a wealthy white cis woman of similar age affects her and the people closest to her. The movie’s biggest downfall is that the plot is really generic, and it hits a lot of the same tired beats that almost every rom-com movie hits. If you had replaced Ricky with a cisgender woman, this movie would have been almost unbearably trite. The ending is eye rollingly unbelievable in how everything gets tied up with a happy little bow, and the film might as well have been just another Nora Ephron production.

Other than that, how does it handle the whole transgender thing? Very well, actually. Very, very well in my opinion. Ricky is very open about being transgender, and the movie really shines when she talks about it in casual conversation between either her long time friend and confidant Robby (Michael Welsh) and Francesca (Alexandra Turshen), who acts as a kind of stand in for the audience when the film begins. Francesca is a new face in town, and, despite being engaged, finds herself being fascinated by Ricky (and not because Ricky is trans, but because Ricky is a fascinating person), and when she learns that Ricky is transgender she serves as the audience’s proxy for some of the more awkward questions that people may have for transgender people. The conversations between Robby and Ricky are that of two good friends who constantly rib each other about everything. Robby is somebody that she confides in, and you get to see some of the other kinds of issues that transgender people have that people rarely consider.

Between these three, you get a very solid and diverse exploration of sexuality and gender politics which, as complicated as they are, get even more complicated when you have somebody that crosses the gender binary. For example, after Ricky and Francesca have sex, Francesca asks, “Does that make me a lesbian?” Conversely, Ricky and Robby have a conversation about what actually constitutes as “gay sex.” If she was involved with a cisgender man, which would then involve two penises, is that gay? Thankfully, the movie doesn’t really try to answer for us. Perhaps it’s because there isn’t an easy answer,  at least, not one that can be neatly presented within the show’s 90 minute run time. These questions touch on a very real issues that we, as transgender men and women, have to struggle with in our daily lives.

Boy Meets GirlDuring the course of the film I really identified with Ricky. She’s snarky and open about being transgender, and she has all the same kind of foibles that most trans women I’ve met have (including myself). There’s a scene where she’s measuring her bust, writing it down in a little journal she keeps for just this, and bitches about how small she is to Robby. “I’ve been on hormones for 7 years and we’re still just A cups,” she complains. I’ve been there. Hell, I’m still there myself. She’s unafraid of talking about her gender, and doesn’t try to hide who she is. It’s a little moment of realness of the character that kind of permeates the film that made her really easy for me to identify with. Her openness with her gender identity matches my own, as does our predilection for irreverent sarcasm.

So let’s talk about that scene. You know, the one I had mentioned before. Is it skeevy? For me, not in the least. That set of GIFs removes just about every bit of context of that scene. Ricky had just broken up with Francesca, had just been denied entrance to a fashion college in New York City (which was her life long dream,) and just had a major fight with Robby. It’s about as low a point as one can get. Robby gets shown a video she had made years ago, in which she admits to cutting, and to contemplating suicide. He sets off in a panic, thinking she’s gone off to finally do the deed and when he finds her she’s at their long time swimming hole, just swimming. It’s at this time that he realizes how much he does lover her romantically (I mean, it was obvious to everybody but them that they were) and that he does  find her beautiful. She pulls herself out of the water, fully nude, to show him exactly who she is. She challenges both him and the audience to consider what beauty actually means by displaying herself as an example. It is a powerful and touching scene, and I think it was very well done. Her nakedness isn’t played for shock value and his acceptance is emotionally honest.

All in all, I like this film. I definitely definitely recommend it, and would have given it a much higher rating if it wasn’t for its fairly generic plot and idiotic Hollywood ending. It’s a good and believable look into the life of a young transgender woman. It subverts a lot of stereotypes about life in the South, and the frank dialogue is both highly amusing and most likely eye opening for the average viewer.

Overall rating: 7

Director – Eric Schaeffer
Writer – Eric Schaeffer
Starring – Michelle Hendley, Michael Welsh, Alexandra Turshen
Rated – Unrated
Run time – 95 min.

We Live FCBD