Sunday, July 10, 2016

Cheapest by the Dozen: The "12 Movie Action Pack" Pt. 1

Eagle River Rd. coming up on Wal-Mart
Even in my quietest, most reflective moments, I cannot escape the movies.

My recent trip to Eagle River, Alaska was meant as a tonic to my senses, a restorative designed to prompt deeper memories that would aid me both psychologically and in my writing. Such a visit to my secondary hometown (born on Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, but grew up in my prime childhood years in Eagle River) was supposed to allow me to reflect on a period of my life long past. Lunch with a childhood chum was the first order of business, then a stop by his parents' home in my old stomping grounds, and ultimately, a short visit to the then-beloved house we lived in next door prior to my parents' divorce (to which my brothers and I, to this day, always refer as "the green house").

And the trip proved to be exactly as refreshing as I expected. I delighted in seeing my old friend Mike again and catching up on details and rumors of past friends and neighbors, and trying to work out in my head the locations and timeframe of certain events from our past. Following lunch, my erstwhile pal, Robear, and I were indeed intending to make that stop at Mike's parents house (which we did), but on the way there, came the intrusion of something which I had not been planning: Wal-Mart.

The Wal-Mart on Eagle River Road was not built or even conceived before I moved out of the town in my teenage years. But somewhere along the way since, Eagle River's commercial interests expanded, and with it came certain big box stores and chain restaurants, chief amongst them Wal-Mart. I am not saying this as a diatribe against commercialism; I am just merely pointing out that the times changed, and so did the prospects for the shoppers of Eagle River. And it was built less than a mile from my old home. While we had no idea what a "Wal-Mart" was when we were kids, the fact that we had to ride out bikes down from the mountains a couple of miles just to buy baseball cards or comic books from any store in Eagle River should tell you that had such a temple of the free market been erected in our youth, it would have become our Mecca. We would have loved such a place, not all that far from our neighborhood off Eagle River Road, deeply and emotionally.

The shirt that I found at Wal-Mart. The nose
was borrowed. And the mustache was a gift.
The reason for the sidetrip to Wal-Mart was for but a single purpose, which then swiftly evolved into a dual one. Several of my close friends and I were scheduled to march in a parade in Downtown Anchorage in a couple of days for the Fourth of July, and Robear needed to find a couple of medium-sized American flags to go with our banner (for our Invisible Dog Club, a long-standing tradition in our group of friends which had sadly laid dormant for about a decade until the previous year). Since we were already at Wal-Mart, and the company is well-known as being the capital of the Über-Patriot, I decided to take a peek around the store to see if I could find a decent Captain America-style t-shirt to wear for the parade. We found success in both ventures. Robear found his flags, and I found an official Marvel shirt for only $10, which fit my XL belly as well as a shirt with stretchy fabric could, but on my way to finding that shirt, my eye was captured by a rather large bin sitting near the registers. 

In recent years, I have learned to avoid rather large bins that are sitting near registers, since they are only there to trap the impulse buyers among us. Impulse buying is something I have had to resist since moving to California over a decade ago, but especially now that I am without a regular job and have little cash at hand, I have brought such offhand purchasing almost entirely to a standstill. But, sitting there staring at a rather large bin filled over its top edge by a certain product, my past came back to haunt me. Not so much in the DVD years, but when VHS was still the thing, I regularly haunted the rather large bins sitting near registers. In fact, they were rather regular stops for me. I found many of what my stupid brain perceived as incredible videotape bargains in those days, not necessarily at Wal-Mart (where I have rarely shopped) but at various Target, Best Buy, and Fred Meyer stores. A so-so movie that seems unfathomable to purchase at $14.99 seems absolutely perfect and worthwhile at $4.99. (Well, sometimes... it really depends on the movie and/or who the star or director happens to be.) The thought would be, "Well, I have 20 bucks in my pocket. I can bring home four new movies to add to my collection." The quality rarely mattered, as long as it fit into the general scheme of my library, which was heavy with horror and science-fiction titles.

Once DVD hit, however, and finding copies of films that had been released in their proper theatrical aspect ratios became the status quo of collectors, the bargain bins rather went away for me. This is mainly because I started caring about which version of a film I had in my collection, and so many of the DVDs in the bins featured blockbuster films cropped down from their respective widescreen ratios to the standard 4:3 format used on television. There were also rumors about certain retailers (Wal-Mart chief amongst them) editing objectionable content out of some films. Of course, to do so is patently illegal without the consent of the creator of that content, so if there were copies like that in stores, it would have been due to the studio releasing a separate cleaner version, not the store itself. But still, the rumors were out there for many years, and I just decided to not get involved in purchasing items which may have been tampered.

So, there I was, inside a Wal-Mart for the first time in about a year (since I visited Idaho), and I was staring anew into the crammed depths of one of those rather large bins sitting near the registers. Inside its thick cardboard walls, the rather large bin held several hundred DVDs, each selling for the LOW LOW LOW price of only $5.00 apiece! "HOW CAN YOU FUCKING RESIST?," the rather large bin practically shouted at me. Since I had a couple of minutes to kill and I was, for the first time in a great while, at peace with the world -- I was, after all, on my own time, on vacation, in my home town, waiting for my friend -- I decided to flip through some of the titles briefly. I saw covers featuring Pierce Brosnan, Julia Roberts, Brendan Fraser, Will Smith... but nothing that I would really consider owning or, if I had seen the film, worthy of another viewing, even at five bucks. I kept dragging my hand through the bin, hoping to find something that could even halfway pique my interest, but it seemed there was little chance of that.

And then I found the 12 Movie Action Pack.

Now, of the DVDs that I am least prone to purchase in a rather large bin near a register, it is usually the movie multi-pack. I don't mean a box set where each movie is on a separate disc and you can be reasonably assured that a certain amount of care went into the transfer, duplication, and design of the materials. If a true box set of certain filmmakers or genres is available at a great price, you can rest assured that I will eye such a product with great interest. No, I am talking about the cheapie sets where several films are crammed onto a single disc or two, and where the quality is probably not as great as one would wish for a film that is nowadays going to be most likely projected onto at least a 44-inch screen or larger. You really do get what you pay for in these instances, and I will tell you from the outset that such a condition is exactly what I planned to find in a set simply titled 12 Movie Action Pack for only five bucks at Wal-Mart.

There were some other factors at play here, however, that made it impossible for me to resist buying the 12 Movie Action Pack. First, there was the packaging. On the front cover, the tiny posters for the first six movies in the set appear, and going from left to right, the leads for the films were Nicolas Cage, Dolph Lundgren, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jason Statham, John Cusack, and Sylvester Stallone. On the back, the stars for each of the second six films were Rich Franklin (some UFC guy of whom I have never heard before), Morgan Freeman and Cusack (again), Kiefer Sutherland and Melora Walters, Woody Harrelson, Cage (again) and Nicole Kidman, and Michael Shannon. The four stars that are touted on the DVD cover with just head shots and their last name, however, in a series of larger pictures, front and back, were Statham, Van Damme, Cage, and Lundgren. I was shocked, speaking of action stars, that "A"-lister Sly Stallone was not among the four shown on the cover instead of more "B"-prone Lundgren, which of course made the set catch my notice even more.

Secondly, on first glance while in the store, I thought that of the twelve films in the set, I had never seen any of them. Not a single one. It's not that straight action films are not my thing, it's just that it requires a pretty remarkable trailer -- such as Mad Max: Fury Road, though that, of course, has major sci-fi overtones, carrying it more into my movie wheelhouse -- to get me into a theatre to see a film in that genre these days. There was also a realization that, in my normal course of movie bouncing, that I was not likely to ever see any of the films in this set without some form of unexpected interference, i.e. my purchase of a DVD set such as 12 Movie Action Pack

Third, another intriguing aspect was the fact that I had only ever heard of three of the films in the set: the fairly well-received though financially unsuccessful Rampart with Harrelson; War, Inc. with Cusack, of which I remembered the trailer and that it had actually hit theatres at one point; and The Iceman, a biopic of the infamous Mafia hitman played by the quite often terrific Michael Shannon. [More on this title later...] Of the rest, I had no memory of ever having heard of their titles. I chalk this up to general ennui with the bulk of Hollywood filmmaking, to the point where I can now see trailers several times and still completely forget that such films have ever been released. It is likely that I saw the trailers for half of these films and completely erased them from mind. Or it is just as likely that, except for the three that I mentioned, I truly have never heard of them.

I finally ran into Robear again, and as we made our way to leave, I made a second stop at the rather large bin sitting near the registers, and said, "I will not be leaving without THIS!" and grabbed the 12 Movie Action Pack. We made our silly purchases, and then carried on with the rest of our afternoon as planned, seeing my old neighborhood, Mike's parents' house (which had expanded greatly from the old days), and my old house, which was now under new ownership. (Mike had talked to the new owners a couple of days before, and they said they would be happy to show me the place on Saturday, but when we arrived, they were, to my ultimate disappointment but slight, unspoken relief, not home. It would have been a bit odd and out of character for me.)

And the 12 Movie Action Pack? Well, it sat on my parents' coffee table for the remainder of my stay at their home in Anchorage, where I always had the intent of queueing it up in the DVD player but never did. However, on my first full day upon returning back to Southern California, I finally cracked into the DVD to see what potential treasures or horrors I would find...

[To be continued...]


Thursday, July 07, 2016

Rik Tod Johnson's Rik Tod Johnson in Disneyland, Pt. 1: A Little Golden Pipedream


Dream. It's a dangerous word.

Nearly anytime someone wins something on television, like a contest show, or someone even appears on something or meets somebody else they admire, that someone will invoke the word "dream". "I always dreamed about being on this show and meeting you" or "For most of my life, I have dreamed about winning this award."

I would like to out such statements as mere B.S. First off, dreams are rarely targeted. You may have "daydreamed" about winning that award, randomly thinking about how nice it would be to get some solid recognition for your hard work, and I guess that counts as a "dream" in the broad sense of the word. But I doubt the vast majority of people who have won Oscars or Tonys or Grammys etc. have put their heads down on their pillows and had a picture perfect nighttime vision in their sleep of a major award plated in gold being placed into their lucky little hands or meeting their favorite celebrity. Some may have dreamed of such a thing in a random sense -- and I am not saying for even a second that nobody ever has had this happen to them -- but I doubt that all or most of those who claimed to have "dreamed of this moment" ever really did. And if you are having dreams about someday meeting Ellen DeGeneres, you need to get a hobby or three. (I am not knocking Ellen; I like her just fine. Just choosing a random celebrity.) George Clooney... I understand. But even he - especially he -- would make fun of you to your face for saying such a loony thing. 

Actual dreams that spring from a state of dreaming are far too random -- and often inexplicable and too tied to our subconsciouses -- to target in such a way that you can have any control over the content, unless you have a belief that drinking warm milk a certain number of minutes (plus sixteen seconds) before you lay your head down will invoke a glorious vision of Scarlett Johansson nude in a poppy field wearing a musketeer tunic and hat and nothing else. (What? Too specific?)

What should be considered as life goals or mere childhood wishes can infiltrate your subconscious to the point that you may be trapped in believing that you have quite literally dreamed them since you were young. It is far more likely that you probably just thought about those goals or wishes so much over so many years that they have formulated in your mind as something you thought you had dreamed.

I would prefer "hope" in place of the word "dream" in most of these instances. "I always hoped that I would get to be on this show and meet you" or "For most of my life, I have hoped I would win this award." "Wish" would possibly be another acceptable term, though it might be too tied to fantasy, just as "pray" would be (for me, at least; you may have another opinion on that word, but this is my website). But I have as much "hope" in getting people to stop using "dream" as the catch-all phrase for life achievement as I do in getting social media fans to stop employing the words "awesome" and "amazing" automatically for anything that excites them -- never getting past "A" in their vocabulary -- or declaring anyone with the barest modicum of talent a "genius" of the highest order.

All of that said... I have always dreamed about going to Disneyland. 

And I hoped and wished and prayed that when I finally got there, it would be awesome and amazing and a true testament to the sheer genius of Walt Disney.

Now, using the word "dream" apart from the realm of sleepy-time and strictly as its secondary definition as a "hope" or a "wish," we all have dreams that either have not yet or never will come true. Or take a really long, ridiculous amount of time to come true. And sometimes those dreams spring into life from materials that were seriously out of date when you first saw them.

For me, throughout my childhood, apart from meeting Johnny Bench of the Cincinnati Reds, that dream was going to Disneyland. Nothing more. A simple plane trip ( or many perhaps) down to Southern California to visit the mythic magical kingdom created by Mr. Walter Elias Disney, the unavoidable shaper and progenitor of a large proportion of the fantasies that filled my mind in my childhood. 

Every Sunday night on our local NBC affiliate in Alaska -- then KENI, though now using the call letters KTUU -- starting out when I was really young with Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color and then switching the name to The Wonderful World of Disney when I five, my fantasy life was colored in greatly by the films, cartoons, and television specials of the certainly avuncular Walt Disney. I had a great many other influences -- which is really the point of this website overall -- and I have written about many of them at length. But Disney, as he is for many out there, whether you wanted it to or not, was at the top. And every once in a while, his series would air a special direct from Disneyland Resort or Walt Disney World, where one could see the wonderment of Walt's ultimate vision: theme parks entirely devoted to his characters and stories and his own childhood influences.

The Disney show had a massive hold on me and my brothers at the time. We ate up every episode (often multi-episodes featuring films cut up into smaller portions) like other kids in our neighborhood were fed the Gospel. We liked the adventure stories and animal specials on the show just fine, but we really loved it when an entire episode was devoted to Walt Disney's cartoon characters. If they showed The Swamp Fox again, we might be decide to concentrate on our Hot Wheels instead. (Davy Crockett was another matter; we always watched Davy.) But, if Ludwig von Drake starting pontificating crazily on some subject or other, or Jiminy Cricket told us why he was "No Fool" and how we could avoid it, or if Donald Duck or Goofy started failing wildly at some home repair or popular sport, we were hooked.

But the Walt Disney TV show wasn't the biggest factor in making me dream or wish or hope or pray that I could one day visit Disneyland. It was a book. A very thin children's book that would perhaps go beneath the notice of most people, especially parents -- especially MY PARENTS, who had no idea exactly what sort of trouble it was causing me.

As a small child, I was subjected to a children's picture book called Walt Disney's Donald Duck in Disneyland. The book was part of the series called Little Golden Books, and we had many examples of this series in our house. We had The Color Kittens. We had Little Toot. We had The Saggy Baggy Elephant, The Poky Little Puppy, Tom and Jerry, and Scuffy the Tugboat. Over time, split between my two brothers and I in different stages, we would own dozens of Little Golden Books. 

We had them for years -- speaking for myself, I still own many of them -- and we all read them well past the time that one usually stops reading simple children's books and moves on to big boy pants and big boy books. We did move on to those things in the natural course of things, but we always kept in close touch with our old books as well. Giving away old books as we grew up was never a part of our upbringing, a situation that my wife Jen laments to this day. (I should be given some credit for giving away half of my library before moving from Alaska down to Southern California eleven years ago, leaving me with a slim 2,500 books in my collection.)

A lot of the titles in our Little Golden Books collection were Walt Disney adaptations. You name a Disney movie from that period, and it is likely there was probably a Little Golden Book adaptation published for it. And it was also quite likely that we owned it. But my favorite of the Little Golden Book titles -- and thus, of the Disney ones as well -- was that first book that I mentioned: Walt Disney's Donald Duck in Disneyland.

[To be continued in Pt. 2...]

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Shark Film Office: Marina Monster (2008)

Marina Monster (2008)
Dir.: Christine Whitlock
Cinema 4 Rating: 1/9


If I ever get the chance to make my own monster, shark, OR monstrous shark movie, I hope it's half as stupid as Marina Monster.

Farting and burping sounds when some characters appear in view of the camera. Clown horns punctuating "jokes" so that we are certain to understand they were meant that way. A foghorn-and-cowbell combination (or sometimes a couple of bass notes) that sounds when certain female breasts arrive onscreen (always covered discreetly). Cliched, noirish saxophone bursts when one character is seduced by another or when one particularly muscled character lifts his shirt. Cash register noises when another character makes drug deals over and over again. A rumbling sound (accompanied by a shaky camera) that occurs every time (and there are many of these moments) that a dock in the harbor is hit by the titular monster. Marina Monster is a cornucopia of ridiculous sound effects that are draped over a film where every other element can be charitably called "amateurish" but more often lends itself to a constant sad shaking of one's head while wondering if carrying on through the remainder of the film is a worthwhile option.

The character names are meant to be silly and parodic, so certainly this film is never meant to be taken seriously for even a second. How could you with names such as Earl Molar, Oceanna Anchor, Commodore Drip Molar, Commodore Skip Anchor, Zena Waters, Skipper Surf Toe, Rusty Winch, Aqua Foam, and Bibby Rigger? It was one of the rare aspects of this film that I found quite pleasant, wondering just how far the filmmaker, Christine Whitlock, would take the gag. Well, it would seem nearly into porn territory with other names like Stiff Mast (the muscle guy) and Limp Eel, but Marina Monster is far too chaste (except for some weird stepmother incest gags) and almost naive to go too far. I somewhat imagine Whitlock as being a cousin to the director of the film being made in 1976's The First Nudie Musical, who is called upon to helm a porn musical (titled Come, Come Again), but keeps giggling and hiding his eyes during the sex scenes.

But that feeling of a porn-level parody is certainly apt here when one considers that most of the cast seems to be filled with anyone who happened to cross Whitlock's path on the day the scenes were filmed. I might actually be more impressed with the outcome were this the case (and it is an interesting concept for an experiment), but it is also clear that there are many people in the cast -- the larger, speaking roles -- who at least have some theatrical experience. I'm not sure this extends to the actor playing the film's narrator, who introduces himself as Professor Squid -- that's right -- from a room with a white curtained backdrop, a whiteboard (and water bottle) on an easel, various shark drawings, and a table with a map of the bay, on which are placed toy boats and a toy shark. Professor Squid opens Marina Monster's story with this anti-shark rant:
"Today, we're here to talk about sharks, evil eating machines that live in the ocean... but not always! They're now in fresh water, eating people wherever they go. Hungry, evil sharks! In the bay, fisherman are noticing less fish. Bull sharks have been seen in the Mississippi River going as far north as Illinois, eating as they go in fresh water."
The location then switches to a harbor that I would guess is in Hamilton, Ontario, where director Whitlock lives and films her micro-budget movies. On a small dock, we are given the basic template for nearly every attack that occurs throughout the picture. An unidentified man sits on the end of the dock, swishing the water with a small net attached to a long pole. A second man in a stupid straw hat and floral print shirt is standing on the dock a few feet away. A girl in a bikini walks down the length of the dock and comes up to the first man and crouches down to ask him how the fishing is going. The girl says that she will see him in Jamaica (totally unexplained) and walks away. The second man, utterly without provocation, strides up to the first man and shoves him hard into the waters of the bay (mind you, the dock is about two feet above the water).

Suddenly, there is a shark seen on the surface of the water. The girl runs back to pull her friend out, but suddenly there is that low rumble and a shaking of the camera. The girl is thrown off balance into the water. The first man is then pulled underneath the water to never be seen again. The second man, still on the dock, is shaken into the drink by another rumble of the dock. Both he and the girl are then pulled under to the depths of the bay. We return to Professor Squid, who quips with a shit-eating grin: "Hungry little thing, isn't it?" The shark, clearly phony, is shown "swimming" on the surface as the film cuts to the interminable opening credits, nearly three minutes of mind-numbing regatta footage set to an exceedingly generic rock beat.

This opening attack sequence, where three or more people fall into the water in succession and get eaten by a largely unseen predator is repeated time and again throughout the film, though always with small variances in the number of people. I'm not quite sure why everyone is fishing with what amounts to a pool skimmer, but they are, and perhaps the various "no fishing" signs we are shown throughout the film might attest to the limits taken during filming. This also points to me that these dock scenes may have been shot on the sly and without permission of the harbor where they occur. Since there are no shots of the shark next to the docks or any gore effects at all, and people just jump or fall in and splash around before going under, I'd say it is likely this was the case. Also, the bumping of the dock by the shark is used pretty inconsistently, and so you get several scenes of people just simply falling or really jumping into the water without real purpose behind it. And most of these scenes are started with people getting into a small squabble over some imagined gripe or grudge, and then someone gets pushed in, leading to a chain reaction of falls and deaths.

In some ways, the repetition of these scenes is quite hypnotic, and instead of needing the story's plot to escape from the poorly filmed attack scenes, these attack scenes actually serve as a refuge from the terrible dramatics and dialogue of the rest of the film. That you will only go about three to four minutes before more people get eaten becomes a blessing. This film has a tremendously high body count for a shark film that isn't Sharknado. There are forty people listed as "victims" in the closing credits, and sure enough, when one counts up all thirteen attacks in the film, the final death toll is a solid forty. And yet, there is nothing in the plot about anyone actually trying to figure why people are disappearing, even after a couple of main characters see five people lose their lives.
  • By the 15-minute mark of Marina Monster, ten people have already been eaten, in between brief moments with the film's actual speaking characters setting up the plot of the film.
  • By the 30-minute mark, one would think there would be some investigation as to why 23 people have disappeared around the harbor area in a rather short amount of story time. 
  • It is 33 minutes into the film when the two lead characters, Earl Molar and his lady love Oceanna Anchor, realize that something horrid is going in the water. But still nothing gets done.
  • At the 40-minute mark, the body count is 35, and the film's reporter character, Lola Dent, who is investigating the embezzlement scandal at the core of the plot, finally mentions the "people missing from the piers and marinas in the bay."
  • 52 minutes in, we have the full 40 victims.
After most of the attacks, Professor Squid will chime in for a few seconds with a statement, often unrelated to what has just occurred, except that there happens to be a shark and he has eaten a few more people. Sometimes he is holding a toy shark or even a shark pool toy. Amongst Prof. Squid's -- ahem -- witticisms:
  • "Bull sharks are eating machines, hungry creatures that love to eat, and eat, and eat."
  • "Bull sharks in marinas find things to eat."
  • "Oh, my word! That teenage shark has an appetite, doesn't it?"
  • "My, what big teeth he has!"
  • "He just doesn't get enough to eat, does he?"
  • "Male bull sharks eat alone." (This one is odd because it is attached to only scene where the shark devours a single male victim.)
  • "Vhat, a little kosher meal?" (Interesting in that none of the victims in this scene seem to be obviously Jewish in any way whatsoever, not that they couldn't possibly have been. And if there were, how offensive would this be?)
  • "A bull shark is your worst nightmare."
But enough of the oddly inserted Professor Squid moments. Surprisingly, there is a ridiculously convoluted plot in Marina Monster built around an annual regatta event called the "Around the Bay" race. It's really not worth following through even the first scene, but the director's website insists it is based on Romeo and Juliet. (But sadly, no suicide parts.) Yes, there are a lead couple in the film that are secretly in love at the start of the film, and their respective fathers are each from a different rival yacht club. But for most of Marina Monster, we get no recognizable romantic feeling from these characters until very deep into the story, and really only after the shark is dispatched four/fifths of the way through the running time.

The real plot of the film involves Commodore Drip Molar, head of the regatta committee, who has squandered the yacht club's funds and needs to win the big race to save his ass. His current wife (his third) is fooling around with anybody she can get her hands on, including his son Earl, quite against Earl's wishes. (Her big come-on line is "My name is San-dee, but I'm smooth." It is one of many failed double entendres buried in this movie.)  Also, one of the Commodore's exes wants him back and is willing to blackmail him to get her wish. The Commodore is also deeply involved financially with a drug dealer (who looks like he stepped right out of Miami Vice) named Surf Toe. Part of the reason for the plot getting so confused is that new characters -- not counting the dock victims -- are still being introduced past the halfway point.

Every character seems to either have slept with the other characters, or wants to sleep with the other characters. Everyone flirts endlessly, saying odd pickup lines quite out of sync with the rest of the action going on around them. Most of the characters also think nothing of trying to seduce other characters directly in front of girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, and husbands. The camera, too, gets into the horny act. While women are certainly capable of creating exploitation films of both the softcore and hardcore varieties, it is still rather odd that the camera will almost unconsciously drift down to ogle the bosoms of various women -- whether said bosoms are worthy of ogling or not -- and will do so often when fading out of a scene. Since the film is not sold as a softcore product at all and actually has zero nudity in it, there is a great reliance on breast shots and the aforementioned comic sound effects that go with those shots. 

In one scene featuring otherwise unnamed and heretofore unknown victims, one young woman (definitely one of the fairer ones in the film) is never really given a closeup so that we really know what she looks like. But her breasts sure get a closeup. After her would-be boyfriend falls into the water, she runs along the dock and the camera stays tight on her chest and stomach for the entire run, until she too falls in to be eaten by the shark. It is scenes like this that really make me wonder what the aims of the filmmaker were in creating this film. As I mentioned, through her dialogue and scenario, she seems remarkably naive about sexual affairs. It is entirely possible that her goals were merely a personal "whim" (i.e., Whitlock loves titties), and were that to be revealed to me, I would be just dandy with it. Until then, the true meaning remains a mystery.

Also, my guess about the actors being friends of the director stems mainly from the fact that there seems to have been little thought given to just who should play what role, like she just said, "Hey, do you want a part in my film?" and then choosing a random name in the screenplay and saying, "Here... play this character." Couples seem truly mismatched, most of the cast is physically what many would term "sloppy" (there are four or five traditionally attractive females -- all playing shark victims -- in the usual cinematic sense), and even the lead parts seem to have been given to their actors "just because". That said, I guess that I do have to applaud Whitlock for putting just anybody in this film no matter what body type they possess, and in bikinis no less... and then pushing them off a dock to get eaten by a shark. It's like she is taking a stand against body-shaming, and then suddenly having a change of heart partway through that stand.


With around sixteen minutes to go in this seventy-minute film, we finally get the big "Around the Bay" race. This apparently consists of generic, absolutely non-thrilling sailing footage posing as a regatta race around the bay, all shot from far away from the boats. In fact, except for the bit that I am about mention in a few seconds, there is no attempt at all at showing an actual boat with one of the characters from the film manning it as they sail about on the waters of the bay. The closest we get is a shot of two boats in the distance, with subtitles underneath each boat telling us which one is Skip and which one is Drip.

There is, however, around the fifty-six minute mark of Marina Monster, a five-minute segment of the film where its visual style is completely at odds with the rambling, unintentionally hilarious stillness that precedes it. We get a real, close-up glimpse of the monster shark, a seemingly papier-mâché creation that, quite surprising, not only talks but sings, "Give me yum yums!" in a style that must have been inspired by Little Shop of Horrors. He only sings that line a couple of times before the hero arrives to dispatch him, but the appearance of the shark, as no-frills and handmade as he obviously is, came as a welcome relief to this viewer. So, too, did the use of green screen to film the scene of the hero and heroine both being menaced by and killing the monster shark. It looks amateurish and silly, but when matched against everything else in the film, it looks brilliant. It made me wish more of the film had been done in this quite obviously hammy and self-aware style. Naturally, the film doesn't want to be taken seriously at any point, but I would have ironically taken this film more seriously if they had gone out of their way to be a little more craftsmanlike in their silliness.


After forty murders and the revelation of a singing sea-beast, the shark action ends with over thirteen minutes left in the film. In the last decently filmed shot in the film, the Romeo and Juliet couple finally get their smooch on, in another green-screen shot with a pink background and scores of red heart-shaped balloons falling down all around them. It should be noted that Oceanna takes the initiative and dips Earl, planting the massive kiss on him. But after that, what else could they have to do for thirteen minutes? The film snaps out of its brief green-screen reverie and switches back to its previous dull business.

And this is where I tell you that this film is a sequel to another Christine Whitlock-helmed monster fish movie called Sharp Teeth, filmed in 2006. Some of the characters/actors in this film starred in Sharp Teeth as well, including the lead character, Earl Molar. That film was about a normal carp that was mutated into a monstrous killer by a bag of "Experimental Super Grow Fish Food". How do I know this without having seen Sharp Teeth except for a trailer? Well, in those final thirteen minutes, Marina Monster seems to decide to connect the dots with its predecessor and have a couple of characters from the first film show up at the end. Why? Really not sure at all. We get a couple of flashback scenes involving Earl Molar's buddy who is now a cop, and then another where we see a character who is now in a wheelchair due to what happened with the monster carp from Sharp Teeth. After this, the film switches back to Professor Squid again, who says "There are other terrors lurking in the bay!" with a strange intonation. Again, why? And once more, I am not sure. Was there supposed to be a third film to complete this trilogy of harbor-based marine terror?

Whitlock has only produced one other film since then, a Caribbean set "psychological horror" film released in 2013 called Days of the Iguanas. The movie doesn't even appear on IMDb in her filmography, but it is available on Amazon on DVD. I don't know if it has any connection at all with the first two films, but the line early on when the second shark victim tells the first that she will see him in Jamaica has me wondering.

I mentioned in the first line of this piece that if I made a shark movie of the low-budget and low-aiming style of Marina Monster, that I would be happy indeed if my film came out half as stupid as this one does. To be sure, I am envious of filmmakers like Whitlock and her ilk, who do what they have to do to get their goofy projects made, no matter the outcome. Back in Alaska, I had some friends recently take part in a horror spoof called Moose: The Movie, written and directed by other acquaintances. Against all odds, it not only managed to get a fair amount of press during its making and after it was released, but even garnered a couple of decent reviews. This is not par for the course for such projects, of course, and most low-budget, non-Hollywood-based directors have to settle for putting out a movie where everyone involved will basically just have to be excited that it ever got completed. There will be little in the way of tangible success, if any, and they are bound to take a severe critical ravaging from all sides, including dopey websites like mine.

Yes, Marina Monster is insipid and truly bottom of the barrel in every element of its creation. And even though it gets my lowest rating that I can possibly give such a film, that does not mean that I don't admire it in a small, strange way. That is, I wish that I had gotten the chance to make such a film, and to be laughed at roundly for doing so. It wouldn't matter, because I would have made a silly monster shark movie. There is a pride in just doing such a thing. But for now, I guess that I will just be happy that I survived two viewings -- yes, two -- of Marina Monster and feel none the worse for it.

Except for my eyes, which now just want to casually rest upon whichever poorly cast, sloppy bosoms happen to cross my path... DAMN YOU, CHRISTINE WHITLOCK!!! I've been cursed!

RTJ

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

See? Sea Monster!: Amphibious Creature of the Deep (2010)

Amphibious 3D (2010)
Dir.: Brian Yuzna
Cinema 4 Rating: 4/9

There is a brief rumination on the lust for power and its connection to the sea at the beginning of Amphibious 3D which left me peeling off into my own thoughts regarding what sort of power I would want given the chance to acquire it. I am a simple man... I don't require much in the way of power, but if I could have it, I would certainly crave the means to make a far more ambitious sea monster movie than Amphibious 3D.

Amphibious 3D has an alternative title -- Amphibious Creature of the Deep -- and it was that version I certainly saw instead since my VOD rental on Amazon was only in two dimensions. While I have clearly put off seeing the film for a few years, I did have some small hopes in finally watching the film due to the participation of Brian Yuzna. For those not familiar with Stuart Gordon, Yuzna was one of the producers of Gordon's trio of Lovecraft epics -- Re-Animator, From Beyond, and Dagon -- and a director in his own right, handling the Re-Animator sequels -- Bride of Re-Animator and Beyond Re-Animator -- as well as Return of the Living Dead III, segments of Necromonicon, The Dentist and its sequel, and Faust: Love of the Damned. Yuzna's first foray into directing -- Society, from 1989 -- is a cult favorite of mine and a couple of my friends, though I will admit the film is a bit of an acquired taste. But isn't that the way of genre movie love anyway?

A type of prehistoric eurypterid.
Like other directorial faves from the '80s and '90s (though he is on the floor directly below the others), Yuzna seems to have slowed his production efforts down in recent years, which, despite what I am about to write here, is a shame. While I really only truly love a couple of his films, also being fond of his Re-Animator sequels and the crazy notion of an impossibly hot punk zombie chick running around in RotLD III, Yuzna always seemed to have an eagerness to his films that made them pleasant to at least encounter for the first time. Making no bones about the genre to which he had committed, his films were often fun, intentionally humorous, and ultra gory as a result.

And I can say that it seems he has done the same here with Amphibious 3D, just to a lesser degree than usual (and without much of a sense of humor this time). Without knowing the true details of the genesis of this project, I would hazard a guess that once Mr. Yuzna found himself in Indonesia filming under the auspices of a Dutch film company (and hence the Dutch lead actress -- more on her later), he made the most of it. While Yuzna and fellow screenwriter John Penney seem to have done the final screenplay, the film is based on a story by the head of the production company, San Fu Maltha and the well-regarded science fiction writer, S.P. Somtow. I assume that Yuzna possibly saw the chance for a Southeast Asia working vacation (why not?), while also getting the opportunity to sit in the director's chair again (and once more, why not?) I would kill for such working conditions.

What the eurypterid Megalograptus looked like.
For a film based on and around the water (the film even opens with a dual attack by the only partially seen creature on a beach area), there is very little underwater photography. There are no diving scenes, and there is also barely a smidgen of deeper water footage. So, what exactly is this "amphibious creature of the deep"? It seems in recent years that low-budget filmmakers have latched onto the idea of eurypterids being an ideal creature to transport into the 21st century to serve as a replacement, when needed, for crocodiles, sharks... what have you. Eurypterids were basically large, prehistoric water scorpions. For those confused, water scorpions are not actually true scorpions; there is a large taxonomic disparity between the two, and they only gained the name due to some noticeable physical similarities between the two groups, namely two large predatory appendages that jut out from the front of their abdomens.

The underwater lab adventure film DeepStar Six somewhat got this tiny specific ball rolling cinematically in 1989, supposedly portraying a particular type of eurypterid, the Megalograptus, on the loose in a wild rampage through the underwater structure that provides the film with its title. Though that version of the creature was mutated to a large degree, and given a more recognizably monstrous form (somewhat in the then nominal style of the Alien films), it was still fairly well-identified as an eurypterid in the press surrounding the film.

Amphibious, however, seeks to up the monster ante a tad by having its eurypterid wreak havoc above the water, though technically, always still on the water itself. The bulk of the action takes place on top of a very ramshackle landing structure that rises above the surface of the water. The shack is owned by a local Sumatran smuggler and all-around creep named Boss Harris, who keeps a group of child slaves at his beck and call, mostly having them fish from the water and perform odd jobs around the structure. (Let us not muse too long upon what some of those odd jobs might be, but given the usual conditions of child slavery, some of them are likely none too savory.) Amongst the ragamuffins is a young girl named Tamal, who straps her chest down to pass as a boy, lest some of those none too savory thoughts of Boss Harris come fully blown into fruition. Tamal bears a pendant around her neck in the form of an eurypterid, and you would be right in assuming the film will play fast and loose as to whether she has any control over the titular creature or not. Or whether the creature has any control over her.

The lead character is played by Michael Pare, a long long way from Streets of Fire and Eddie and the Cruisers. He is a little more weathered, a good deal older, but still handsome and does a decent job in this film. His character, Jack Bowman, is a boat-for-hire captain who has to deal with Boss Harris and his team occasionally, though he remains fairly skeptical of the criminal's operation. Bowman has been hired by Dr. Skylar Shane, a marine biologist doing some research on prehistoric fossils in the waters. It is a good thing that sea monster or shark films are always stocked fairly well with passing marine biologists just in time for the monster to strike. Skylar Shane is played by Janna Fassaert, a Dutch actress who makes the scale move in both directions for me in terms of delivering her performance. At times she is remarkably out of her depth, but there were moments when she fit the role quite well. Dr. Shane has recently lost her daughter in a tragic accident, and so when Bowman and Shane stop by Boss Harris's landing and a terrified Tamal entreats Shane to rescue her from slavery, well, the plot has been formed.

Well, except for the main monster. You see, it seems that when Tamal gets agitated or scared, this monstrous creature rises to the surface and does away with those that get in its way. Eventually, through a series of mishaps, miscommunications, and evil and/or deviant behavior on the part of Boss Harris and his crew, including his disgusting Irish henchman Jimmy Kudrow (played to good effect by veteran actor Francis Magee), the massively powerful giant eurypterid will attack again and again until Tamal has been freed. What this means for the innocent who get in the monster's way is exactly why we are watching this movie in the first place.

And then there is my Pet Peeve of the Week, one of those things that you see a lot (in slight variances) in monster films, usually a move so inexplicable that it just really starts to gnaw at me. In this case, it is the use of the creature's tail as an all-seeing, all-knowing device that the monster employs much like the periscope devices on the top of the flying saucers in the original 1953 film of The War of the Worlds. The creature's tail will be used in a place, such as through a floor or into another room, where the eurypterid can clearly not see what is going on, and then the tail reacts like it had a pair of eyes on it. Now, I am all for setting up for us that perhaps there are sensory organs on the creature's tail (or whatever appendage is being deployed to move about in such a way) that allow to weave in or around objects in pursuit of prey or revenge or whatever the monster is doing. But you have to set that up for us!

We see this time and again when films have a giant octopus or squid character, where every separate tentacle acts as if it has "Spidey sense". Whether it is Harryhausen's octopus (actually, as the Master termed it during the making of the film, a "sixtopus," since they only had the budget to animate six arms) that attacks the Golden Gate Bridge in It Came from Beneath the Sea, the mini-series of Peter Benchley's The Beast, or the massive Kraken in Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean films, each one has an animal whose tentacles seem to be acting independently of actual line of sight on the part of the creature, and are able to anticipate the moves of their victims with stunning precision. Sometimes the tentacles even seem to have personality of their own. Not always, but quite often enough to really be a thorn in my side, even in films that I really enjoy or are meant as nothing more than mere B-movie fodder.

And here, too, we get the eurypterid and its magical all-knowing tail. And a full-on land scorpion's tail too, not the very different water scorpion type. The monster really seems to be more of a cross between a lobster and a land scorpion, and it was hard for me at times to believe it was anything but that. Still, this is a completely fantastical concept, and if one is to be believe in the monsters they are seeing on screen, sometimes one has to accept that perhaps a movie monster is not going to look exactly as one would wish or prefer. Come in expecting a true to life eurypterid, it is going to be much smaller, and you won't get many scares. Come in expecting a monstrous eurypterid that has been designed with attachments that you weren't envisioning, and you might have a fun time. Besides, monster movies often have so many other hurdles to overcome: bad scripts, subpar acting abilities on the part of the cast, low budgets; they should at least be able to get by on the notion that if they can at least make the monster look pretty cool and scary, then maybe that will be all the audience needs to accept the film. And I do have to admit that, at times, the monster is kind of cool-looking here.

Amphibious is a film that nearly comes together for me, but not quite, though I cannot completely write it off as unenjoyable and rote. But neither can I consider it a truly good film and worthy of future likely re-watching (though I have just watched it twice, out of necessity, in recent days). Yuzna does a decent job in moving things along and the direction is mostly tight, but the whole affair is laden with an overall cheapness -- mostly marked by being a deep water creature film where we never get a scene in the deep of the water -- that it can never really escape. I decried the film at the beginning of this piece for its lack of ambition, and it is sad that it doesn't try to do more with its setting. But neither is it completely unambitious; the angle built around the connection between the biologist and Tamal is an interesting one that has a somewhat surprising climax, though I wish the film had gone deeper in this direction. The film's chief asset is the location shooting and hiring of local actors (limitations of talent set aside), allowing us a chance to see a film that is, for once, not fully populated by boring, bickering, white American teenagers. If there is one thing I am tired of in modern film, it is boring, bickering, white American teenagers.

As to the main reason for watching one of these films, the special effects are, for the most part, fairly well done, and in some shots, far better than I had reason to expect. There is the usual problem in CGI effects where you often get no real sense of the creature's weight and mass, and of it reacting naturally to objects around it, but that is an ongoing battle that I have had with this style of effect since the beginning. Here, it hardly matters, for the full battle against the creature that takes up the back portion of the film is mostly well staged and a definite step above the type of ultra low-grade effects proffered by Syfy Channel films. Compared to those, Amphibious is almost a masterpiece of high ambition.

RTJ



Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Oswald and Ortensia... Sittin' in a Kiosk...


I noticed a couple of trips ago to Disney's California Adventure that Ortensia the Cat -- Oswald's wife -- was on sale in plush form at the Oswald's Service Station gift shop just inside the front gates.

That's right... inter-species love in Disneyland Resort, years before Nick and Judy got together in Zootopia. (Though, honestly, the depth of their relationship has yet to actually be revealed. I am sure there is plenty of furry fan-fiction that has other ideas...)

Back when Disney still owned the rights to Oswald, he had an occasional cat girlfriend who was usually unnamed onscreen, though she was known as Sadie in the 1928 short (now considered lost) Sagebrush Sadie. You could consider her the first draft of Minnie Mouse. Oswald fought with Pete (aka Pegleg Pete) over her in some of the cartoons. In one short, Poor Papa, they were married and had 420 kids running around the house.

When Oswald got stolen away from Walt, so did Sadie, and she appeared in some of the later shorts produced separately by Charles Mintz and Walter Lantz. In those shorts, she was often called Kitty and Fanny.

But when Disney got Oswald back a few years ago, they also gained his girlfriend/wife. When Oswald made his grand, modern debut in the Epic Mickey video games, Sadie is fully established as Oswald's wife, and has been given a new name -- Ortensia -- to tie in with the Disney tradition of alliterative names in cartoon couples. And the Bunny Children? They are seen roaming about inside Epic Mickey 1 and Epic Mickey 2, and are often involved in gameplay.

I am not sure if the Bunny Children will show up in the gift shops anytime soon. I guess they are actually Bunny/Cat Children, but I don't think Disney is ready to cross that bridge on a fully public level yet. But I am quite happy to see Ortensia in the parks, mostly because it gives me more Oswald memorabilia to collect.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Visiting and Revisiting with Rik and Aaron... the Website!


Last October, my pal Aaron Lowe and I started a series of pieces on our respective sites called Visiting and Revisiting. The concept was that one of us picks a film with which he has a long history, but the catch is that it has to be a film that the other person has never seen before. Hence, one of us is revisiting the film, and the other is visiting for the first time. Then we discuss that film at great length.

We split the first five films we reviewed (and a special edition Oscars post) between The Cinema 4 Pylon here and Aaron's site, Working Dead Productions, and pretty much trusted that if people liked what they read that they would take the time to jump from one site to the other, back and forth, to finish the next portion. And, for the most part (as far we can tell from site stats), they have. But we talked about someday building a separate site for Visiting and Revisiting and letting the column live on its own.

That day has come... We finally decided to give the V&R column a site of its own, mainly because it was easier to have one place to send readers, rather than splitting each article up between two sites. As of today, our brand spanking new Visiting and Revisiting site is live!

Our first Visiting and Revisiting discussion on the new site is about Jean-Claude Van Damme's star-making, martial arts tournament fighting "classic," Bloodsport (1988). Bloodsport has been a favorite of mine since back in the day of its video release -- when I must have watched it about fifty times -- but that I hadn't watched for many years since I fell out of seeing Jean-Claude's films in the late '90s. And Aaron? He somehow missed out on the film totally, though he has pretty good reasons why. Well, we are both caught up now, and you can read about our reactions to Bloodsport in Part 1 by clicking here.

Part 2 of the Bloodsport discussion will be posted on Wednesday morning, and this Friday, we will have a Top Five or Ten post that relates in some way to Bloodsport, where we list our favorite films in a particular genre, etc. We have also transferred all of the old Visiting and Revisiting articles to the new site so that everything is in one handy-dandy, convenient storage facility. Eventually, we will add some other features to the site that you may find interesting as well.

Mostly, we hope you will enjoy all of it! See you over there!

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

The Lore (and Lure) of the Legion of Super-Heroes...

One of the more memorable superhero comics in our household when I was a kid was a copy of Superboy #202, dated June 1974 (which means we probably bought it around March or April). This was before I actively started collecting The Avengers and Star Wars comics in 1977, an act which triggered the building of my personal comic book collection.

Before then, comic books were an occasional treat for us, and one largely dominated by Richie Rich, Archie, Casper, Hot Stuff, Bugs Bunny, and Uncle Scrooge. Every now and then, we would end up getting the stray Batman (I was a lifelong fan), Superman, or Justice League of America comic, and even more rarely, a Marvel comic like Spider-Man, Captain America and the Falcon, The Avengers, The Defenders or the Fantastic Four. But without regular reading of any of these titles, it was hard to really get acquainted with the characters like you could in the mostly self-contained “kids” titles. At some point, however, we ended up with Superboy #202, and as it turned out, that comic alone was one that not only influenced me heavily, but my brothers as well.

The Superboy series was by that point actually called Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes, where young Supes teamed up with a futuristic squad of mightily powered teenagers who lived in the 30th century. Superboy didn’t always take part in their adventures, though when he did he had to time travel to do so. And by this issue, the Legion, in their newer modern design, were popular enough to have taken over the comic almost totally from its title character. Superboy #202 was my first true taste of the Legion, and I found them hard to drop once I did. It was probably the first superhero comic where I found myself actively wrapped up in every detail on the pages, which I now realize was in line with my growing up, since I was then reading ever more gradually adult material in books as well. Around this time, I was just about to get my first taste of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan and John Carter novels, though I actually read about both characters in DC comics first. (My mother used to leave her paperback books in the bathroom, and I usually spent any of my own time in there looking for the dirty words. But I also read all of Peter Benchley's Jaws this way when I was in the sixth grade.)  But, as I started reading more and more superhero comics, it was clear I was putting Harvey and Gold Key comics behind me (for the most part; I still love them and have all of my old issues in my collection to this day) and moving into the really good stuff. It was like when I jumped from listening to mere Top 40 pop music and really discovering rock 'n' roll as a teenager. I still loved the stuff I heard when I was a kid, but I would find it was only the beginning (cue the Chicago song...)

So what was it about Superboy #202 that caught my imagination? First, I was entranced at the time by DC’s ongoing line of self-proclaimed "Super-Spectacular" 100-page comics (for only 60 cents!) Every few issues during the year, some of their titles would have issues with a full 100 pages, and in addition to new material, there would be reprints of much older material, where the characters often looked very different from their current incarnations. In Superboy #202, there were five stories crammed into it: two new ones, and a trio of older Legion pieces, and an old Superboy solo adventure at the back of the book. I wasn’t really interested in Superboy (I much preferred his grown-up adventures) half as much as the Legion, who were totally new to my eyes and caught me from the start.

The new stories had some cool, marvelously detailed artwork by Dave Cockrum, who was soon to jump ship from DC to go work for Marvel, and help reinvent the Uncanny X-Men and introduce their most legendary phase (when Wolverine was brought into the mutant fold). Despite Cockrum's excellence, it was the old Legion stories, though, that really thrilled me. I got to see into the Legion’s past, the workings of their rocket-shaped clubhouse, the monitor boards that told what each member was up to wherever they were in the galaxy, and even their courtroom (with “Guilty” and “Non-Guilty” buttons that flashed on a video screen) where they found Star Boy guilting of killing in the line of duty and demoted him to the Legion of Substitute Heroes. (His girlfriend Dream Girl willingly left with him; yeah, it was all pretty silly, but I loved it.)

There was a two-part battle -- Super-Stalag of Space and The Execution of Matter-Eater Lad -- against some three-eyed aliens that locked the entire Legion (along with some other super-powered kids from around the galaxy) in a concentration camp. I remember this piece being especially brutal, because several of the non-Legion heroes (Plant Lad, Blockade Boy, and Weight Wizard) die in the story. My favorite story overall in the comic, though, was a more modern piece, Wrath of the Devil-Fish, which played right into my unstoppable pro-monster agenda, giving us a half-man, half-fish creature who turns out to be far more hero than mere monster. It was here that I was totally captivated by Cockrum’s art, and his design of the creature fascinated me.



But Cockrum won me completely over in one other place as well: The Lore of the Legion. This was a special section in the comic, and it gave the novice reader a chance to really get to know who several of the Legion were, with individual portraits and a box featuring the names, powers, and facts about each hero. I spent an undue amount of time trying to draw each character exactly like Cockrum did, though only with limited success. Most importantly, as a youthful lad of a not quite yet burgeoning interest in the opposite sex, I found his costumes and poses for Phantom Girl and Shrinking Violet especially intriguing. Hmmm... I wonder why?



Our copy of Superboy #202 was well-loved, having passed through not just my hands, but also both of my brothers. Eventually, the cover was eroded away to mere tatters, the back cover went missing, corners on every page started doing that fold-over that overturned pages get, and while the thing held together magically (it helped that as a 100-pager, it had a surprisingly sturdy spine), it turned into a shadow of its former self. I still kept the comic in my collection, but its heyday had long passed. We also didn't own (at the time) Superboy #205 in which the second part of the Lore of the Legion was published. That section had nine more of the modern Legion members in it, including Princess Projectra, her beau Karate Kid (but in his most drab outfit, not the cool high-collared one), Shadow Lass, and the exceedingly yummy Dream Girl). It also had a final page featured deceased Legion members like Ferro Lad and some of the "Super-Team Family" members like Jimmy Olsen as Elastic Lad.

A few years ago, I received a package in the mail one afternoon from my youngest brother Chris, who had moved to Seattle. He, too, recalled with great fondness Superboy #202, which had also profoundly influenced his own love for comics. His attached note spoke of having to look around for a good while before he located a decent copy to send my way. I was overcome with joy at discovering he really had sent me a copy of Superboy #202 -- with a cover and unbroken spine and everything! -- and it remains on proud display in my office to this day. Here's to you, my brother! Long live the Legion!

RTJ