Monday, 31 December 2018

Tommy (5 Stars)

I overwhelm as I approach you,
Make your lungs hold breath inside.
Grounded angels, your wings are broken,
Time to mend and learn to fly.

They worship me and all I touch,
Hazy eyed they catch my glance,
Pleasant shudders shake their senses,
My warm momentum throws their stance.

I leave a trail of rooted people,
Mesmerised by just the sight,
The few I touched now are disciples,
Love as one, I am the Light!

I am the Light!

My three reviews of this film so far have been very different. They all pick out different aspects of the film. It's a film that says a lot. It's not easy to reconcile the different parts of the film with one another because different messages are told from one scene to the next. I didn't say that it's impossible to reconcile, just difficult. The problem with "Tommy", the film, is that it has unfathomable depths that have been breathed into it by Ken Russell. These are depths that are missing from the Who's original rock opera. Ken Russell took the Who's music and used it to tell his own story, with Pete Townsend's full approval. The result is a film of epic proportions.

Maybe one day I'll write a complete review of "Tommy". Maybe, maybe not. To do it justice I'd have to write something the length of a doctoral thesis. I'd have to pick out the film's individual themes one by one and follow their development.

The film is about false religion. It shows that all paths to salvation are doomed to fail. Religious systems attract evil men who fill the upper positions to make money. The religion's leader, the Messiah, is so involved with his teachings that he's unaware of the corruption in the organisational structure. When the followers turn against the religion they reject not only the corrupt officials but the Messiah himself, the very one who could help them.

That's one major theme. Another is the question whether the Messiah is right to apply his own personal path to salvation to his followers. Tommy began his life as a man who couldn't be saved. Then he found salvation, and rather than selfishly enjoying it he created a religion to offer others the same blessings by leading them along the same path that he trod. Is that correct? Maybe everyone needs to find his own path.

The film uses literally hundreds of extras, most of them unpaid. In the commentary track Ken Russell talks about where he found different groups of people. It would be interesting to see them get back together to talk about their reminiscences in making the film, or just to have a big party.

Barry Winch, the actor who plays Tommy as a six-year-old, didn't continue with an acting career. This was his only film. I've read some disturbing things about him. On Facebook he says that he's feeling suicidal after being homeless for two months. I don't know him, I've only seen him as a child, but this makes me sad.

Success Rate:  + 4.9

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General: Top Films of 2018

This is my personal list of the 10 best films of the year. Before you read it and angrily write that I shouldn't have omitted <fill-in-the-blank>, let me make a few remarks:

To qualify for the list I must have seen the film in the cinema in 2018. Any film that I didn't see will not be included. Maybe I decided not to see a film. Maybe I missed a film because I was sick in bed and couldn't go out. Maybe a film wasn't shown in my local cinemas. Whatever the reason, if I didn't see a film in the cinema it won't be in the list.

By the same reasoning, it's relevant when I see the film. If a film is shown over the New Year period from December to January the film might be included in one year or the other, depending on when I go to see it. In the same way, some films, particularly the Oscar contenders, are released in the USA in one year but not shown in other countries until the next.

1. Deadpool 2

"Deadpool" was my second favourite film of 2016, but it was a very close second to "Doctor Strange" and could just as well have been in first place. If "Deadpool" had been in first place in 2016 I would have named a film starring Brianna Hildebrand best film of the year three years in a row.

2. Avengers: Infinity War

This is the film that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been building up to for the last 10 years, especially since we first glimpsed Thanos in the after-credits scene of "The Avengers", also called "Avengers Assemble" or "Marvel's Avengers Assemble".

3. Ant-Man and the Wasp

The first Ant-Man film took a while to grow on me, but I loved the second film from the start.

4. I, Tonya

I can't explain what I like so much about this film. I have no interest in the real life character Tonya Harding, but this film overwhelmed me. I've fallen in love with Tonya Harding as portrayed by Margot Robbie.

5. 3 Days in Quiberon

I expected this film about Romy Schneider's final interview to be good, but I wasn't prepared for just how good it would be.

6. Heavy Trip

This was the best film of the 2018 Stuttgart Fantasy Film Festival. It's a comedy, but it's a subversive comedy. I'm already desperate to see it again. When will it be available on Blu-ray?

7. Mandy

This is an overpowering film. Maybe it deserves to be higher in my list. I'll know the next time I see it, but today at midnight is the deadline. If I haven't changed my mind by then it'll remain in seventh place.

8. The Shape of Water

When I saw this film in January I thought it would be the best film of the year. I didn't reckon with the surprises in the following months.

9. The Death of Stalin

For most people this was a 2017 film, but in Germany it was shown six months later than in the rest of the world.

10. Loving Vincent

This film started in German cinemas on 28th December 2017, but I didn't see it until 4th January 2018. It deserves special praise for its unique cinematography.

That's my list for this year. I went to the cinema 110 times, and I've seen 104 films. (The films I saw twice were "Ant-Man and the Wasp", "Black Panther", "Bohemian Rhapsody", "Climax", "Jurassic Park: Lost World" and "The Shape of Water").

I welcome top 10 lists from my readers. Please leave them in the comments.

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Split (4½ Stars)

Three teenage girls are kidnapped by a man who calls himself Dennis. They meet him repeatedly as they sit in their locked room, and they realise that he has multiple personalities. As Dennis he's a man, as Patricia he's a woman and as Hedwig he's a nine-year-old boy. Dennis and Patricia are partners in the abduction, but Hedwig is an innocent who could possibly be persuaded to let them escape.

The girls only encounter the three personalities, but we find out in interactions with a psychologist that he has 23 different personalities. His birth name and initial personality is Kevin (Kevin Wendell Crumb), but this personality has been repressed and rarely comes to the surface. The dominant personality was an artistic man called Barry, but he's now been replaced by Dennis and Patricia, who are preparing for the emergence of a 24th personality that they call the Beast.

Of the three girls, Casey (pictured above) is considered socially inept by her two friends. That might be true, but she's the only one who knows how to remain calm under pressure. While the other girls shout and panic, Casey waits for the right moment to escape.

This is an excellent film that is a partial sequel to the 2000 film "Unbreakable", which I need to watch again before the cinema release of "Glass" next month. I may even watch "Split" again. I'll write more about the film next time.

The only major fault of the film, in my eyes, is that the subplot of Casey having been sexually abused by her uncle isn't resolved. This is a deliberate choice, as we see from the fact that the uncle is mentioned at the end of the film. I'm curious why the director/screenwriter made this decision.

Success Rate:  + 28.9

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The Little Witch (5 Stars)

It might surprise some of my readers that "The Little Witch" is one of my favourite films of 2018. It's a children's film aimed primarily at pre-teens. All that I can say is that if you feel surprised you don't know me very well. You need to read my posts more regularly. Despite having some preferences, my taste in films isn't limited to any one genre. I can appreciate any good film, whatever type of film it is, anything from horror to action to children's films. Usually my minimum requirement is that a film has a well-written plot, but even that isn't necessary if a film excels in other ways.

"The Little Witch" doubtlessly tells a good story. It's based on a popular children's book with the same name written by Otfried Preußler in 1957. It's about a young witch who lives in a house in the woods with her familiar, a talking raven called Abraxas. Young is relative. She's 127 years old, but among witches she's still considered to be a child. She wants to be accepted by the other witches. Every year on Walpurgis Night (April 30th) there's a big party on the mountain Blocksberg, where the witches dance all night. She wants to dance with them. I can sympathise with her. I love dancing.

The Little Witch's name isn't revealed in the film, so I'll call her Karoline, the name of the actress who plays her. Karoline decides to gatecrash the party. After only a few minutes she's spotted by her Aunt Rumpumpel, who drags her in front of the queen of the witches. She's told that she will never be invited to the dance as a punishment, but she begs to be allowed to show that she's worthy. She's told that within a year she must learn  all 7922 spells in the Witches Spellbook.

The following story is nothing short of magical. Karoline's progress is monitored by her Aunt Rumpumpel, who is determined to see her fail. But as in all tales of magic and wonderment we know that those with good hearts will prevail. Karoline's heart is pure and she wants to do good.

Karoline makes friends with two children from the nearby town, Thomas and Vroni. At first they don't believe she's a witch because she's not ugly enough. That's the understatement of the year. She's gorgeous! Okay, she has a big nose that would probably poke me when we kiss, but what's a little poke between friends?

Don't you think that the actress Karoline Herfurth looks beautiful?

She looks even better when she puts on a mean face.

If you're wondering about the nose, I'll let you into a secret. It's a fake nose that she used for the film, so I wouldn't have to worry about the poking.

Karoline Herfurth's not just beautiful, she's a wonderful actress. Look at the wide range of emotions she can express.

Watch this film for yourself. Pretend you're a child. You'll find yourself transported into a fairy-tale world where everything is possible and good always triumphs over evil. Maybe it will become one of your favourite films as well.

Saturday, 29 December 2018

Bumblebee (4 Stars)

This is a film I wouldn't have gone to under normal circumstances. I saw the first Transformers film shortly after it was released, and all I can remember is images of big robots beating the **** out of one another. There might have been a plot, but if there was I don't remember it. What else can be expected from a film based on children's toys? Since then I've managed to avoid seeing any of the Transformers films, with the exception of occasional trailers. I even stayed away when the other members of the Birmingham Film Group visited a Transformers film.

Then I read articles about "Bumblebee". The press has been describing it as a very different Transformers film. What could be so different about it? Friends of mine in England cautiously praised it as the best Transformers film so far. I noticed that even film critics who have slammed the other films have praised "Bumblebee", getting it 93% score on Rotten Tomatoes.

So I went. And I was pleasantly surprised. Summing up, I would say that 90% of the film was brilliant and 10% was awful, so I think that my four star rating is a reasonable average.

The film is a prequel to the other Transformers films. It shows how they first came to Earth, in particular how one robot comes to Earth. His name is B-127, and although he's a giant robot in comparison to human size he's only half the size of the other robots on his planet, making him look like a kid. I say "he" instead of "it" because it's an issue in the film.

B-127's purpose of coming to Earth is to hide from rebellious robots on his home world. He's followed by two of the rebel robots. After a battle he suffers from amnesia. He disguises himself as a Volkswagen Beetle, which is acquired by a teenage girl, 17-year-old Charlie Watson. When she discovers that the car is sentient a friendship develops between the two. She calls the robot/car Bumblebee.

What I like about the film is the element of a coming-of-age drama. It's a development for both characters, Charlie and Bumblebee, as they progress into adulthood. The scenes where they're together are sometimes comical, but always emotionally moving.

What I don't like about the film is the inevitable scenes where giant robots are beating the **** out of one another. It looked silly in the old films, and it still looks silly in this one. I have mixed feelings about John Cena. He's not a good actor and I wish he would stick to wrestling, but maybe he was suitable for the part of the army leader (his rank is unclear) in "Bumblebee". As a military man he just has to strut around and yell, so it's not necessary for him to display any emotion.

Is "Bumbleebee" worth watching? Yes, it's a good film.

Will I watch it again? Probably not.

Friday, 28 December 2018

Downsizing (4½ Stars)

If you've ever been to a Chinese restaurant in America you know about those funny little things they give you after the meal called fortune cookies. They're horrible tasting sweet biscuits which contain a strip of paper with a message. This message might be a prediction of what will happen to you, or it might be a wise statement. When I visited a Chinese restaurant with work colleagues in Poughkeepsie, New York, I found a message that I'll never forget:

"The man is richest whose pleasures are cheapest".

It didn't mean much to me at the time, but I'm glad I didn't forget it, because a few years later it become my life motto. After having a large income for more than 20 years my career collapsed and I earned less than 20% of what I'd had before. But it was enough. I realised that I could make do with my smaller income by being happy with less. I didn't have a car. I never went on holidays. I rarely ate out. My only luxuries were a good computer and a good stereo system, and even they were bought carefully after tight budgeting. Now, after spending 15 years getting by with limited resources I don't want to return to the days of having too much money.

Many people don't understand me because this way of thinking is so alien to them. Many don't believe me when I say I'm not interested in acquiring money. My brother-in-law, a very greedy man by nature, has repeatedly accused me of wanting to get my hands on the family inheritance. He's projecting his own faults onto me, but even people with greater moral integrity think in similar ways. The opposite is the truth. If I somehow won a million dollars today my first thought would be to divide it among my children, keeping only enough for my basic needs for the rest of my life.

That's what "Downsizing" is about. Paul Safranek is a man who learns to live a life of virtual luxury by reducing his size and reducing his needs. Then he loses the little he has left when his greedy wife divorces him, but he still manages to survive. He finds pleasure in things that don't cost money.

I'm pleased that this film is already included in Amazon Prime, less than a year after it appeared in the cinema. Maybe that's because it was a box office failure. That's a shame. It's a film that deserves to be watched, and it's a film that should make you reassess your life and your goals.

Success Rate:  - 1.2

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Nosferatu [1979] (5 Stars)

This is another example of an excellent film that I've left unwatched on my shelf for more than eight years. It's possible that I only watched it once before today. I could only vaguely remember it.

Not long ago I said that a second film based on a book is a new version, not a remake. This film proves me wrong. It's based on Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula", but it also follows Friedrich Murnau's film "Nosferatu" so closely that it can be argued whether it's based more on the book or the film.

Werner Herzog's 1979 film copies the 1922 version, but it also adds scenes from the book that were missing in the film. It also restores the names that Murnau changed to conceal the fact that he was adapting Bram Stoker's book without having been granted the rights.

Which version is better? That's a question that I can't answer. How can you compare a black and white silent movie with a modern film? It's like asking whether a motorbike is better than a bicycle. It depends on your personal preferences, and many people would like to have both. All I can say is that the new version features two outstanding actors, Klaus Kinski and Bruno Ganz. Either of them by himself would make this film worth seeing, but having them together makes the film brilliant.

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Thursday, 27 December 2018

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (4 Stars)

This delayed sequel almost but not quite lives up to the quality of the first film. Sadly it flopped at the box office. I have no idea why. The chronology is difficult to understand at first, because some parts of the film take place before the first film, some parts after it. This is further complicated by actors being replaced between the two films. It wasn't obvious to me at first that Josh Brolin was playing the same character as Clive Owen in the first film. They don't look vaguely alike. The replacement of Devon Aoki with Jamie Chung was less jarring. The absence of Michael Clarke Duncan was excusable, because he died before the sequel was made, but the only similarity with his replacement is that they both have the same skin colour. I didn't realise that Jeremy Piven was supposed to be playing the same character as Michael Madsen until after the film.

I just paused before continuing with this post. The more I think about it, the more weaknesses I can see in the second film compared to the first. The next time I watch the films I'll make sure it's back to back again.

Success Rate:  - 1.6

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Sin City (5 Stars)

I watched "Sin City" years ago, but for some reason I thought I didn't like it. All I could remember is seeing Elijah Wood jumping around, nothing else. That was enough reason to watch it again. Wow! I was mesmerised. I can't write much about the film because of being short of time, but I'll promise to return to it and write more next time. Whenever that is. I don't break my promises, I just need a long time to keep them.

Success Rate:  + 2.0

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Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Free Fire (5 Stars)

I missed this film when it was in the cinema last year. One of my friends – a friend whose opinion I value – told me it was one of the best films of the year, so I bought it last week. Wow! I see what he means. It would probably have made it into my top ten film list for 2017 if I'd seen it.

The film takes place in real time, i.e. the 87 minutes of the film run without interruption. There aren't many films like that. "Phone Booth" is another example.

Four IRA members meet with illicit gun salesmen in an abandoned factory in Boston. Despite mutual mistrust the deal is almost completed, when two of the trading partners recognise one another. The previous evening one of the Irishmen had hit the 17-year-old cousin of one of the gun runners over the head with a bottle, scarring her for life. Despite pleas to remain businesslike the two start shooting at one another, leading to an all out war between the two groups.

There are obvious similarities with "Reservoir Dogs". The two films are close enough to look similar, but not close enough for "Free Fire" to be accused of plagiarism. The films are equally claustrophobic, but "Free Fire" is more violent, elevating the carnage to a level of surreal beauty.

After seeing it today I already feel the need to watch it again. Soon.

Success Rate:  - 1.8

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Der Hauptmann (4 Stars)

It's all about the uniform. That was true in the chaotic final years of the Second World War. Anyone who put on a captain's uniform became a captain and could command authority. 19-year-old Willi Herold was a deserter who put on a uniform and became one of the most notorious war criminals of 1945.

One thing that that hasn't changed between 1945 and today is the power of the female body. When Willi Herold bursts into the room of Erika (Annina Polivka) and she fears for her life her natural reaction is to bare her breasts. She looks nervous in this screenshot, but she needn't have worried. Her life was spared.

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Tuesday, 25 December 2018

68 Kill (5 Stars)

Wow, wow, wow, 68 times wow! You have to be twisted to like a film like this.

What you might not notice is that hidden beneath the gratuitous violence is a well written story about the development of a timid man into someone who's able to defend himself against the oppression from women on all sides. Good for him. I'd rather remain timid.

Why be strong when it's more fun to be timid?

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Unlike "It came from the desert" (which I watched earlier today) this film has been released on Blu-ray in America, but it's still only available on DVD in England. I don't understand why there are still films that aren't released on Blu-ray. It seems so primitive.

It came from the desert (4 Stars)

This is the best teenagers-versus-giant-ants film that I've ever seen. I'm sure there will be more, but I doubt they'll live up to this quality. It's all played for fun, and that's the beauty of the film. The teenagers are keen to swap pop culture references when they have a few free seconds between fighting for their lives.

This cartoon picture is deceptive. The teenagers don't just flee. Some of them stand and fight.

Actress Vanessa Grasse isn't just a pretty face. Her character Lisa walks in and smashes a giant ant over the head with an axe while the boys are hiding under a table screaming. Don't worry, she motivates them into joining in the fight, because no teenage boy wants to be shown up by a girl.

Does this scene mean that "It came from the desert" qualifies as a Christmas film?

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Can anyone explain to me why this film is available on Blu-ray in Germany, but it's only been released on DVD in England and America? Germany is up to date, but other countries are still living in the 1990's.

Monday, 24 December 2018

Die Hard (4 Stars)

Do you know what's worse than having a pain in your leg that's so bad you can hardly walk? It's having a pain in your leg that's so bad you can hardly walk and not knowing why. This morning everything was fine. Then I lay down and had a nap after dinner. When I woke up I had a stabbing pain in my leg every time I tried to walk, on the inside of my left calf. After I watched this film tonight it still hurts, and it's even worse now.

You must think I'm a cry baby. John McClane has it much worse than me in "Die Hard". He had to walk barefoot on broken glass, so he had a reason for his pain. He didn't sit and moan about it to his friends on the Internet, so he's a bigger man than me.

Let me stop whining and tell you about the film. I'd never seen it before today. My good friend Michael McAuley mentioned on Facebook that it's a family tradition for him watch it at Christmas. I'd heard of the film, but I didn't even know it's a Christmas film. It's on Netflix, so I decided to ignore the pain and watch it tonight. I was pleased to see that the whole film takes place on December 24th, today's date, so it's appropriate.

The film was made in 1988, and we can assume that's when it takes place. Bruce Willis plays John McClane, a New York cop living in separation from his wife Holly. She was offered a top job in the Los Angeles office of a Japanese corporation, and she decided that her career was more important than her marriage. We can read between the lines that John's career was also more important than his marriage, or he would have gone with her. Maybe he was just too macho to ask for a transfer because of his wife's job. In our patriarchal society it's acceptable for women to move when their husbands find a new job, but men who move when their wives find a new job are considered to be weak and henpecked.

John flies to Los Angeles on December 24th. That evening there's a big Christmas party at Holly's place of work, a tower building belonging to the Nakatomi corporation. While he's cleaning himself up, having a wash after his long flight, the tower building is invaded by a group of terrorists under the leadership of a German called Hans Gruber. Even though they're terrorists, the intention of attacking the building isn't a terrorist plot. They merely want to steal $640 million worth in bonds stored in the building's safe. (That's $1,340 million in today's money).

As the only person not taken hostage John McClane fights against the terrorists, picking them off one by one.

As far as action films go, this is a pure popcorn movie. My heart was pumping with excitement from beginning to end. "Die Hard" is considered one of the best action movies ever made, and I can see why. I've rated it as a good film (4 Stars), but I don't think it's a film I want to watch again, or at least not for a long time. The four sequels are also on Netflix, and I've already added them to my watch list. It's just a question when I'll get round to them, among the dozens of films I intend to watch or re-watch over the next few months.

Success Rate:  + 3.0

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Sunday, 23 December 2018

The Mask (4½ Stars)

This is another one of the films that I've had neatly alphabetically sorted in my bookcases in the cellar for the last eight years. Neat, tidy and forgotten. I don't remember exactly when I bought this film, but it was probably one of the first films I bought after purchasing my first DVD player in 2003. I know I watched it several times, as was usual for someone with only a small number of films, but I haven't watched it at all since September 2010. That's when I started writing my blog, which is also my diary of what I watched and when. I wish I'd kept a record of my exact viewing habits since 2003. Oh well. Better late than never.

"The Mask" was made in 1994, and it's doubtlessly the best of Jim Carrey's comedy films. I emphasise the word "comedy", because I find his non-comedy films better. He started his career as a comedian, and he's never been able to shake off the comedy tag.

The film is based on comics published by Dark Horse Comics since 1991. The comics are satirical in nature, with a lot of violence. The original screenplay for the film was faithful to the comics, but it was considered that it would be too violent for the cinema. For this reason there was a mood shift, making the film a comedy and keeping the violence to a minimum.

The main character is Stanley Ipkiss, a shy young bank clerk who finds a wooden mask floating in the river. When he puts it on he gains self-confidence and he can do just about anything. He has increased strength and speed, but that's not all. He effectively takes on the characteristics of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters, talking and moving in a surreal way.

It's wrong to call him a super-hero when he dons the mask. He has a feeling for what's right and wrong, but he's still selfish. He robs a bank (the bank he works in) to get spending money for his excessive new lifestyle.

The film is a ridiculous farce, but it's highly entertaining. It was a huge box office success and was highly praised by critics. How often does that happen? It's definitely worth watching more than once every eight years.

Success Rate:  + 13.3

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Marvel Years 06.04 - April 1966

Fantastic Four #49

Title: If this be Doomsday!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Galactus, Silver Surfer, Punisher

Guests: Watcher, Alicia Masters

There's no doubt about it. This is one of the best comics ever written. Go to and become an Unlimited Member. It's worth it for this cosmic saga alone, and you'll find so many other wonderful comics you can read.

The Watcher has a strange way of keeping his oath of non-interference while protecting the Earth from Galactus. There's only one weapon in the universe which can stop Galactus, and it's lying on a shelf on the Watcher's homeworld. The Watcher won't give the Fantastic Four the weapon, because that would be interfering. However, he tells the Human Torch what it looks like and sends him to get it himself. It looks like it only counts as interfering if the Watches touches something with his own two hands.

The saga of the Silver Surfer unfolds, making him one of Marvel's most popular characters of the 1960's. After summoning Galactus in the last issue he made no attempt to defend himself from the Thing's blow. Now he wakes up on the roof of Alicia Masters' building. He talks to her, and she persuades him that the Earth is worth saving. At the end of the issue he's determined to challenge Galactus.

In the absence of the Silver Surfer Galactus sends a servant called the Punisher to fight with the Fantastic Four on his behalf. Nothing is said about him, except that he's a cyborg creature, part robot part living being. He's very fast and very strong.

The Crazy Credits tell us that Sam Rosen barely finished his lettering on time, but that's not his fault. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby should have given him his work a day earlier.

Amazing Spider-Man #35

Title: The Molten Man Regrets...!

Writer: Steve Ditko, Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Villain: Molten Man

The Molten Man, who we last saw in Amazing Spider-Man #28, is released on a suspended sentence. In case you're wondering about the title, the only thing he regrets is that he was arrested. After apologising to the judge, as is expected from all repentant criminals, he makes plans on how to be a more successful robber. The main part of his plan is that he shouldn't fight with Spider-Man any more, but that doesn't last long.

Spider-Man warns the Molten Man that Irving Forbush aka Forbushman will stop him. The Molten Man has no idea who that is. Only people who read Marvel Comics know him, so we can deduce that the Molten Man isn't cool enough to read Marvel.

The Crazy Credits tell us that Artie Simek loiters. Why? Instead of loitering he should help Sam Rosen finish his work faster. Maybe it's a problem that the editor – Stan Lee himself – has allocated the work between the two letterers unevenly.

But wait! Artie Simek has been given the chance to express his creative skills with two pages of sound effects. Here we go!

Thwop! Puh-Twee! Brrakkk! Ka-Pow! Wok!

Spwat! Ka-Boppp! Rakkk!

This should show Stan Lee what he would be missing without a master letterer. Without Artie Simek there would be no thwopping or rakkking. How poor the comics would be without him!

Tales of Suspense #76

Title: Here lies hidden... the Unspeakable Ultimo!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Gene Colan (as Adam Austin)

Villain: Happy Hogan, Mandarin, Ultimo

Regulars: Pepper Potts

Happy Hogan reverts to his normal form, but he's lost his memory and doesn't recognise Tony Stark or Iron Man.

Senator Byrd issues a subpoena to Tony Stark, forcing him to travel to Washington to reveal Iron Man's secret identity. On the way Tony Stark is kidnapped. A transporter ray carries him to the Mandarin's castle in China.

The Mandarin awakes a giant creature from a volcano whom he calls Ultimo. The Mandarin has knocked Tony Stark's attache case out of his hands into the castle moat, so he has no way to become Iron Man.

I don't know why Gene Colan has disguised himself as Adam Austin again this month. In last month's Tales To Astonish #77 he revealed his true name to the world.

The Crazy Credits suggest for the second time this month that Sam Rosen only just finished his lettering on time. Why should the poor man be put under so much stress while Artie Simek has time to spend loitering in the bullpen?

Title: The Gladiator, the Girl and the Glory!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: John Romita

Villain: Batroc

Regulars: Agent 13 (unnamed)

Captain America is still fighting alongside Batroc to retrieve the vial containing the unstable Inferno 42, which is capable of destroying the whole city. When Captain America objects to being called "Mon ami", Batroc first calls him "Mon cher", then "Mon Vieux". Captain America should have been happy with "Mon ami".

When he realises he's been tricked Captain America fights with Batroc. He pretends to lose and feigns unconsciousness, so he can follow Batroc back to the organisation that has hired him. The organisation isn't named, but it's evidently in control of highly advanced technology.

This month's Crazy Credits tell us that Artie Simek is adorable. I agree, even though he loiters in the bullpen.

Strange Tales #143

Title: To free a Brain Slave

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Mentallo, Fixer

Regulars: Dum Dum Dugan, Gabriel Jones

Guests: Tony Stark

In the last issue Nick Fury's head was enclosed in a device that would make him obey Mentallo's commands. Evidently it didn't work, because he still has his free will. He's kept trapped and hooked up to a hydrogen bomb which will explode if he attempts to move. He can only escape by thinking loud thoughts that are intercepted by SHIELD's ESP team.

In the summary of the story so far Stan Lee says that he and his colleagues forget a lot. He's much too modest. It's only a rare exception when he forgets something. Even if he does forget something there's no need to worry, because I'm here to remind him.

The Fixer mentions that he's being supported by an organisation that he only refers to as "Them". This is the same mysterious organisation that we see in the current Captain America stories.

Title: With none beside me!

Writer: Steve Ditko, Roy Thomas
Artist: Steve Ditko

Villain: Mordo's henchmen

This is the second part of the epilogue after the 12-part Dormammu-Mordo-Doctor Strange epic. The Demon and the other remainders of Baron Mordo's henchmen have trapped Doctor Strange, and he can only move in his astral body.

As in most of the previous issues, Steve Ditko is responsible for plotting the story. This month it's Roy Thomas who writes the text. The young writer is being prepared for bigger things.

Tales to Astonish #78

Title: The Prince and the Puppet!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Gene Colan (as Adam Austin)

Villain: Puppet Master

Guests: Henry Pym, Janet Van Dyne

The Sub-Mariner is threatening the scientists responsible for drilling into the ocean floor. Before he can continue the Puppet Master, who we last saw in Fantastic Four Annual #3, takes control of him and makes him swim to America. Janet Van Dyne changes into the Wasp to fly to America to warn the Avengers, as we saw in last month's Avengers #26.

After revealing his true identity in last month's issue, Gene Colan goes back to using his pseudonym as Adam Austin. Was it a mistake? If so, does he think that nobody noticed?

Here's an example of Gene Colan's efficiency in drawing comics. When the Puppet Master is thinking about the Fantastic Four Gene Colan didn't have time to draw them, so Jack Kirby's drawing from the cover of this month's Fantastic Four #49 is reprinted. That's smart thinking.

According to the Crazy Credits everyone who worked on this story received a prize, but Artie Simek only received a booby prize. That doesn't matter. At least he got to write two pages of sound effects in this month's Amazing Spider-Man.

Title: The Hulk must die!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Bill Everett

Regulars: General Ross, Betty Ross, Major Talbot, Rick Jones

In the last issue Rick Jones thought the Hulk was dead, so he revealed to Major Talbot that Bruce Banner is the Hulk. In this issue he also tells Betty Ross. Then the Hulk returns from the future. Both Major Talbot and Betty Ross find Rick Jones' words difficult to believe.

The Crazy Credits say it's obvious that Stan Lee wrote the story and Jack Kirby did the layouts. It's not so obvious to me why Jack should have done the layouts. It's a simple job that any artist could do himself. As for it being surprising that Bill Everett drew the art, I agree. Last month it was John Romita, so why has Bill Everett taken over this month? It's inevitable that Sam Rosen did the lettering. It's a hard job, but somebody has to do it, or the comics will never be printed.

Thor #127

Title: The Hammer and the Holocaust!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Seidring, Pluto, Hyppolita (unnamed)

Regulars: Odin, Heimdall, Balder, Jane Foster

Guests: Hercules

After losing half his strength and being defeated by Hercules, Thor returns to Asgard to plead with his father. He finds all of Asgard's warriors in chains. In the last issue Seidring was given Odin's power in order to punish Thor. Now he has used this power to become the ruler of Asgard.

Hercules has been offered a job starring in a big budget Hollywood movie. What he doesn't know is that the producer is Pluto, Lord of the Underworld, and the leading lady is the Amazon Hyppolita. Pluto wishes to trick Hercules into signing a contract to take his place in the Underworld.

Thor defeats Seidring, but he's left weakened by the battle.

Title: The Meaning of Ragnarok!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Gods: Odin, Thor, Loki, Balder, Fandrel, Hogun, Volstagg

Thor and his companions return to Asgard. The prophet Volla tells them what will happen on the Day of Ragnarok.

The Avengers #27

Title: Four against the Floodtide!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Don Heck

Avengers: Captain America, Hawkeye, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Wasp, Giant-Man

Villain: Attuma, Beetle

The mystery villain that we saw in the shadows last issue is now revealed. Hawkeye doesn't recognise him, and Stan Lee won't tell us either.

Every true Marvel fan will recognise him as the Beetle, who we last saw in Fantastic Four Annual #3. Where else? Before that he was an enemy of the Human Torch, and we also saw him in Amazing Spider-Man #21.

After defeating the Beetle Hawkeye rushes to help the Avengers in their battle against Attuma. After defeating him they realise that they still don't know where the Wasp is.

The Crazy Credits tell us that everyone is crazy. All I can say is that it's not true. None of it. Not one word.

X-Men #19

Title: Lo! Now shall appear the Mimic!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Werner Roth (as Jay Gavin)

X-Men: Cyclops, Angel, Beast, Iceman, Marvel Girl

Villain: Mimic (Calvin Rankin)

Regulars: Professor X, Zelda, Vera

The X-Men face a villain who is capable of imitating their powers. Due to an accident when he was young he now has the knowledge, skills and powers of anyone close by. He wants to take revenge on mankind after his father was killed by ignorant townspeople.

This issue has the first appearance of Hank McCoy's girlfriend Vera. Bobby Drake introduces her when he takes Hank on a double date with his girlfriend Zelda.

There's no getting away from Irving Forbush! At least that means that the Crazy Credits will leave the letterers alone.

Daredevil #15

Title: And men shall call him Ox!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: John Romita

Villain: Ox, Karl Stragg

Regulars: Foggy Nelson, Karen Page

The Ox, who we last saw in Daredevil #6, is sharing a cell with a criminal mastermind called Karl Stragg. Stragg promises that if the Ox helps him break out of prison he'll make him intelligent. It's a lie. After breaking out they go under a machine which transfers their minds into one another's bodies. Karl Stragg battles against Daredevil while in the Ox's body.

Oh Stan! What are you doing now? He's awarded himself a no-prize for the most complicated sentence. I wish I could have won a no-prize.

The Crazy Credits tell us that the comic's creators all excel. Even Artie Simek has nothing to be ashamed of. He's a proud letterer, and even when he's loitering in the bullpen he can still hold his head high.

Other comics published this month:

Millie the Model #136 (Stan Lee, Stan Goldberg)
Modelling with Millie #46 (Roy Thomas, Stan Goldberg)
Patsy and Hedy #105 (Roy Thomas, Stan Goldberg)
Rawhide Kid #51 (Larry Lieber, Larry Lieber)
Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #29 (Roy Thomas, Dick Ayers)

This month Roy Thomas takes over as the regular writer for Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos. His writing for this series has been highly praised, so I need to read the stories, even if I don't consider them part of Marvel canon.