It’s sobberin’ time

fantastic four thing naked

And also, apparently, nakeder. And less penis-ier.

You know, Ben Grimm is a tragic character and all, but … damn, man.

In the “Fantastic Four” comics and movies, there’s usually been an attempt to give the characters a consistent look in their costumes. This was done even for Ben Grimm, who turned into the rocky Thing. Benjamin Grimm usually had trunks on – blue to match the costumes of the other members of the FF – and or sometimes had on a whole jumpsuit-type-thing.

In the new movie, which comes out in August, the Thing apparently doesn’t wear any kind of costume.

And he apparently doesn’t … have … a penis.

I was already pretty uncertain about what I thought about the movie.

Now this.

Other people have noted this online, but does the Thing in the movie not eat or drink? Does he have any means at all of eliminating waste?

Is Ben Grimm’s longtime girlfriend, Alicia Masters, in the movie?

Are they going to address all this in the storyline?

Okay, now I’m just depressed.

Have a Boris Karloff Fourth of July

karloff fourth of july

You don’t necessarily think about Boris Karloff, king of the Universal monsters, on the Fourth of July.

You do think about drive-in movies on the Fourth, and here’s a Karloff-centric drive-in quintuple feature ad.

It’s likely this drive-in Karloff marathon took place in 1965. The top-billed picture, “Die, Monster, Die,” was released that year. All the others were older.

Karloff had been well-known as a horror film actor for decades by that point, since 1931’s “Frankenstein,” and continued to appear in movies and TV up until his death in 1969. Beyond his death, actually. Although his health had declined over the years and he was often confined to a wheelchair, Karloff worked on movies late in life and some of those were released as late as 1971, two years after his death.

In 1965, when this quintuple feature was released, he was considered a horror movie elder statesman at age 77.

Karloff wasn’t known to a new generation of fans, by the way, until he narrated “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” in 1966.

‘Justice League Unlimited: The Return’

JLU the return amazo GLs

I’ve had so many favorite TV series over the years, from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to “Star Trek” to “Justified.” But as surprising as it may sound, it just might be “Justice League Unlimited” – right up there with another animated series, “Jonny Quest” – that ranks at the top of the list.

“JLU,” as I’m going to refer to it here, ran for 39 episodes over two or three seasons – who could tell, really, the way “Cartoon Network” abused the show with its scheduling? – from 2004 to 2006. The animated series, featuring the work of true artists like Bruce Timm and Dwayne McDuffie, was a continuation of the two-season “Justice League” series, which ran from 2001 to 2004, which itself was a continuation of “Batman” and “Superman” animated series that dated back as far as 1992.

“Justice League” was a fun series, giving us our first “real” look at characters beloved for decades, in personas and performances that defined them for a generation. When I see DC/Warners trying to bring those characters to the screen now in the inadequate “Man of Steel” and unpromising “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice,” I just wish they had given the reins to the people – including voice director Andrea Romano – who brought the characters to life in animation.

I’m rewatching “Justice League Unlimited” now and I might share some thoughts on other episodes with you here. But after watching it today, I have to talk about “The Return.”

JLU cast

If you’ve seen the series – or even if you haven’t – you don’t need me to go into the plot in great detail. But a little context: In “JLU,” Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the other core members of the Justice League decide to expand the roster of the league as seen in the first two seasons. They do so for practical reasons – Superman explains a greater number of heroes can put out more fires, literally and figuratively – but for storytelling purposes, this opens up a wealth of possibilities.

Even though “Justice League” episodes had brought in characters like Dr. Fate and Aquaman, “JLU” not only brought DC A-listers into the fold but B, C and D-listers. Ever want to see Bwana Beast in action? The Creeper? Maybe best of all, The Question? Here’s your first, and probably only, chance. I can’t imagine The Elongated Man is going to show up in one of the big-screen movies.

The first few episodes of “JLU” were intent on showcasing characters other than the core, founding members of the League. The opener, which included Batman and Superman, focused on an emergency response team consisting of Green Lantern, Supergirl, Captain Atom and a reluctant Green Arrow responding to a rampage of a nuclear monster in an Asian country that is less than welcoming to the heroes. Other early episodes featured Wonder Woman teamed with Hawk and Dove, for example.

But it wasn’t until “The Return, an episode that aired in September 2004, that “JLU” hit its stride.

Amazo, an advanced robot that had figured into a “Justice League” episode, is returning to Earth, ostensibly on a mission to kill Lex Luthor, who had betrayed the robot and his creator, Professor Ivo.

JLU the return green lanterns

This meant the League has to protect Luthor from the unstoppable creature, which decimates first the Green Lantern Corps at their home planet Oa, then blasts through a defensive line in space that includes Superman and Green Lantern, then wipes out an airborne troupe that includes Supergirl and Red Tornado – who meets a startling fate – and finally trounces a ground-level line of defenders that include Wonder Woman and Flash.

Finally, it’s down to the Atom – voiced in great fashion by John McGinley – who is locked in an underground lab with Luthor – to come up with a solution.

And he fails.

JLU the return fate amazo

But just as the regrouped Green Lantern Corps arrives to blast Amazo … Dr. Fate shows up with a better solution.

It’s an ending as satisfying as it is unexpected and shows the depth of this series. A little-known DC hero could show up for a cameo, a funny in-joke – or a feat that saves the world.

“Justice League Unlimited” had many great episodes and I might touch on some of those here as I rewatch. But “The Return” showed what the series was capable of.

Classic drive-in horror: ‘The Vampire Lovers’

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When i was a pre-teen and young teen, “The Vampire Lovers” was something of a holy grail.

If by holy grail you meant a Hammer horror film that not only featured Peter Cushing, a favorite actor, but also actress Ingrid Pitt and a bevy of actresses in various stages of undress.

And making out.

I didn’t see the 1970 movie in theaters or even a drive-in, a venue in which I assume it excelled. I saw it years later on HBO or Cinemax or on home video.

But for a while there, I was fascinated at the thought of seeing this R-rated movie.

A big part of the reason for my interest was this picture:

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This “Vampire Lovers” publicity shot of Ingrid Pitt – or at least one like it – appeared in an issue of Cinefantastique magazine and guaranteed I would jump at the chance to see the movie when I could.

Of course, in the days before home video or the Internet, that meant waiting for it to come around to a theater again – something that didn’t happen with British horror movies – or for it to show up on HBO or some other pay channel.

I saw it back then, which it finally showed up, and I watched it again this afternoon.

It’s an odd movie and presented something of a risk for Hammer – best known for the Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” movies – and its U.S. distribution partner, American International Pictures.

That’s because while the movie had all the trappings of Hammer’s successful horror movies – period setting, costumes, good production values and blood, all in living color – and it had Cushing as a good guy, it had a couple of offbeat elements.

Chief of them was the movie’s sexually-charged villainess, played by Pitt. As Carmilla, Pitt is a vampire very much like Dracula – including his taste in victims.

Carmilla, you see, is a lesbian vampire.

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Sure, she seduces and kills, with fangs sinking into throats, a couple of men in the movie. But it is her attraction and seduction of women in the film that sets it apart from other monster movies of the day and is, to a great degree, why it became a cult classic.

Pitt – who appears fully nude in the film – spends most of the movie seducing, bedding and biting female acquaintances including nubile Emma (Madeline Smith, who appeared in several Hammer films). She even appears to fall in love with the young woman, which proves to be her downfall.

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Hammer made a series of erotic female vampire movies, of which “The Vampire Lovers” was the first. The others were “Lust for a Vampire” and “Twins of Evil.” Pitt also played the title role in “Countess Dracula” in 1971.

If you’re just seeing “The Vampire Lovers” for the first time, be aware there is fairly extensive nudity – all female cast members of course; sorry for those hoping to see Cushing at least bare-chested – and scenes that are sexual in nature.

In other words, that publicity photo of Pitt didn’t lie.

Forty years later: ‘Jaws’

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I’m pretty much dumfounded to realize that it’s been 40 years since “Jaws” debuted in theaters.

I still remember vividly the day my friend Jim and I saw the movie.

We were early-to-mid-teenagers and movies were a passion of ours – horror movies, science fiction movies, action movies, classic movies – so we went pretty regularly.

Summer movies were different before “Jaws” was released in 1975 and much less blockbuster-oriented. “Jaws” has been credited – or blamed – with creating the summer movie season as we know it: Action movies, sci-fi movies and mass-market fare.

If you think back to the summer of 1974, the last summer before “Jaws,” that theory makes sense. In May 1974, the big releases were “The Lords of Flatbush” and “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry.” In June 1974, it was “Chinatown,” decidedly adult fare.

But the two of us were there, during opening weekend, to see “Jaws” in June 1975. We were primed for it. I think I had read Peter Benchley’s novel by that point and kind of knew what to expect.

A twist of fate spoiled the movie for us even further.

We’d been dropped off at the theater by his dad or my dad and discovered the showing of “Jaws” that we wanted to see was sold out. We bought tickets for the next showing and decided to kill time until it began at a nearby ice cream shop.

Little did we know that the kids working behind the counter had seen “Jaws” the night before.

As we sat there, eating our ice cream and feeling increasingly stupid, one of the ice cream jockeys proceeded to spoil most of the big moments in “Jaws.”

“And then the head pops out of the hole in the side of the boat …” You know, things like that.

We still saw the movie and the “head scene” still made me jump. But still.

I saw “Jaws” several times in theaters, many times on home video and, to this day, if I come across it on cable TV, I will put down the remote control and watch from whatever point in the movie I’ve tuned in.

There’s little point in my recapping the plot or the high points of Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece. If you’ve read this far, you probably know the movie by heart like I do.

The amazing John Williams score. The high seas adventure. The moments of incredible suspense and fright. The “Indianapolis” scene. The intensely human nature of the characters. The cast!

“Jaws” is perhaps the ultimate summer blockbuster. It is also perhaps the ultimate movie experience.

Forty years on, nothing’s changed that. And I can’t believe anything ever will.

‘The Drop’ a return to form for Dennis Lehane

the drop dennis lehane

It’s pretty easy for me to say that Dennis Lehane is one of my favorite writers.

I didn’t really know Lehane until a decade or more ago when I saw the paperback version of his 1994 crime novel, “A Drink Before the War,” on the shelf in a bookstore. A gritty private eye story set in Boston, the book was the first of six books that Lehane wrote about Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro.

Let me wax on about Patrick and Angie for a second if you will.

How to describe Kenzie and Gennaro, partners in a Boston private investigations operation? They’re lifelong friends, very seldom lovers and equals in the tough guy department. Through a series of five incredible books, Lehane leads Patrick and Angie through not only nifty crime stories to rival Robert B. Parker’s Spencer at his best but also through gut-wrenching personal trauma.

That’s because Patrick and Angie are more than lifelong friends and partners. They’re also survivors. During the course of five books, Lehane pits Kenzie and Gennaro Investigations against the worst of the worst: Blackmailers, serial killers and child molesters and exploiters. If you saw the movie of the fourth book in the series, “Gone, Baby, Gone,” you got a taste of the harsh yet rewarding story, characters and atmosphere of the book.

I often tell people – always tell them, really – that they should read Lehane’s Patrick and Angie books if they’re in the mood for dark crime drama. And I tell them that the books are dark. Dark, I tells ya.

And I add that the books MUST be read in order: “A Drink Before the War,” then “Darkness, Take My Hand,” then “Sacred,” then “Gone, Baby, Gone,” then “Prayers for Rain.”

The books are certainly my favorite crime novel series of all time and they very well might be the best such series ever.

You might have noticed that I said Lehane wrote six books about Patrick and Angie but I mentioned “five incredible books.” That’s because “Moonlight Mile,” Lehane’s 2010 return to the characters after 11 years, was so disappointing. I wanted Patrick and Angie to come back for so many years … and then read “Moonlight Mile” and understood why Lehane had stopped writing the characters before – I’m guessing – being encouraged to come back by demand from fans like me and a big check from his publisher.

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Lehane has certainly written some other terrific thrillers, including “Shutter island” and the very nearly without peer “Mystic River.” If you know those two books – unrelated to the Patrick and Angie books – only from their movie adaptations, do yourself a favor and read the books.

Which brings me to “The Drop,” which is the return to Boston’s mean streets that “Moonlight Mile” just couldn’t be.

“The Drop” – written by Lehane from his own screenplay for a movie that ultimately starred Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini – is the story of Bob, a kind-hearted but lonely Boston bartender working for his distant cousin at his cousin’s bar … which is secretly owned by Chechen mobsters.

After decades of a lonely existence, Bob begins to come out of his shell when he meets Nadia and, with her help, rescues a dog that had been dumped in a trash can. But there’s more to Nadia and the dog than Bob understands at first. Just like there’s more to the the low-life types who circle on the edges of his world, including a menacing stranger who insists that Bob has taken his dog.

“The Drop” isn’t a long book and doesn’t have a complex plot. although there are some twists and turns. It’s a straightforward tale of a likable joe who wants to improve his life – if he doesn’t get killed first.

Best of all, “The Drop” is a great return to the Lehane’s Boston, a world of hustlers and thugs and forces that can come at anyone sideways and change their lives for the better or the worse.

Lee, Carradine, Cushing and Price

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I’ve seen this photo and others like it a lot in recent days since the death of iconic horror film actor Christopher Lee.

This pic and similar ones show Lee, John Carradine, Peter Cushing and Vincent Price – probably half the pantheon of horror film greats (the others being, arguably, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Sr. and Jr.) in one photo.

The four appeared in only one film together, the 1983 thriller “House of Long Shadows.” The movie was – for such an old-fashioned assemblage of actors – an old-fashioned story about mysterious goings-on in a “haunted” house and was based on the 1913 “Seven Keys to Baldpate” by Earl Derr Biggers.

I saw the movie in theaters – i was reviewing back at the time – and remember enjoying that it included the four actors in the cast but didn’t think much of it beyond that. It starred Desi Arnaz Jr., for pete’s sake.

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But with Lee’s passing being a reminder to us that an era is over – maybe a couple of eras, considering that Carradine’s time in movies extended back to “Bride of Frankenstein,” as the huntsman who scares Karloff’s monster out of the blind man’s cottage – “House of Long Shadows” takes on special affection and significance for us.