Resin Heroes

The forgotten 1970s Doctor Strange movie

The release of the new Doctor Strange movie marks the eleventh movie from Marvel Studios that already includes films for characters like Thor and Captain America. While Marvel’s films have made literally billions upon billions of dollars, there’s a little secret that fans of comics know that most of the movie going public doesn’t — there was a series of films based on Marvel characters that were released in the 1970s that Marvel has wishes everyone would just forget about.

spiderman-vogueBack then, Marvel licensed several of their characters to studios in an attempt at creating TV properties. The first of these was The Amazing Spider Man in 1978.

Owing to the limitations of 1970s movie technology and smaller budgets for TV, Spider-Man, like all the other Marvel TV properties, began as a movie of the week. The original movie served as an origin story for the character of Peter Parker (Nicholas Hammond), here not a high school teen but instead his 20s, who’s bitten by a radioactive spider and is given superpowers he uses to solve crimes.

The original TV movie was popular enough that it would spawn two seasons of an The Amazing Spider-Man TV series from 1978 to 1979. Either I was too young at the time or I simply didn’t watch, but I have no memory of seeing the Nicholas Hammond version of Spider-Man on TV until the 1990s when, I believe, USA Network would air the series each year around Thanksgiving.

This 1970s costumed Spider-Man isn’t on screen very often since the movie/series mostly focuses on Peter Parker rather than Spidey. At times The Amazing Spider-Man is remarkably dull for a series based on a comic book.

2d780eb0acccb50fda93cab83ada551eThe Incredible Hulk would follow Spider-Man in 1978. Starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, The Incredible Hulk was the most successful of these 1970s Marvel TV series and ran some 80+ episodes as well as having several TV movies afterwards. Seemingly each episode of the series featured Bixby as David Banner always on the run from town to town trying to help some poor soul out of a bind before circumstances out of his control would cause him to Hulk-out (Ferrigno) and wreck some scenery before being forced to move on over dreary music and in the rain to the next town.

In 1979 two Captain America TV movies would debut with Captain America and Captain America II: Death Too Soon. This Steve Rogers (Reb Brown) is, no joke, a body-building artist who drives around in a van who’s given a serum which gives him super-abilities. Reb’s Captain America rides a motorcycle which rockets out of the back of his van and has a semi-transparent shield when he fights the bad guys.

I remember the Captain America TV movies being shown in syndication from time to time and these two movies are available on DVD.

If The Incredible Hulk were extremely popular and Captain America would get two movies, then the Doctor Strange TV movie must’ve drawn the short straw since it’s all but a lost film today.

drstrange19784Starring Peter Hooten in the title role, here Doctor Strange is a hospital psychiatrist who’s called to become the next “Sorcerer Supreme” in a never-ending fight against the evil forces of the universe — here personified by Morgan le Fay played by Jessica Walter later of Arrested Development fame.

It took me years to see Doctor Strange. As far as I can tell the movie only ever aired on TV a few times and while it was released on VHS Doctor Strange has so far never been available on DVD or a more modern format*. I finally saw it on a bootleg VHS tape taken from the official VHS release a few years ago.

And I can see why Doctor Strange wasn’t turned into a series — we spend a lot of time with the good doctor as a hospital physician before we get to Doctor Strange the mastery of the mystical arts. And even when we get to him a lot of the movie features Strange battling le Fay on a black velvet background void that features a soundtrack that’s part disco and part new wave.

I can only imaging the latest incarnation of Doctor Strange starring Benedict Cumberbatch will easily outdo the cheesy 1978 version of Doctor Strange and will one day be available on DVD too.

*Actually, Shout Factory has released a copy of Doctor Strange on DVD this week “remastered from original film elements.”

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The Grinder

The-Grinder-Season-1-Poster-FOXThe first season, and ultimately what’ll turn out to be its last season, of the FOX TV series The Grinder ended last week. This series started off as a kind’a wacky show about two brothers, one a successful small town lawyer (Fred Savage) who up until that point’s greatest accomplishment was having a “protected left turn” installed in their town and the other brother (Rob Lowe) who’s returned home after playing the character of “Mitch Grinder” on a fictional long-running show-with-the-show that’s like a legal version of CSI that’s also called The Grinder, who now wants to work at the family law firm since he considers his run on his The Grinder as being just as good as law school.

At first The Grinder was enjoyable but it started being a bit too formulaic. That formula was the firm would take on a case, brother Stewart (Savage) wouldn’t want Mitch to be a part of the case because of his lack of real world experience, but in the end Mitch by using his experiences on his The Grinder would be able to figure out a way to win the case.

Which was fine except that it started getting a bit old.

As the series progressed, though, the real The Grinder started to evolve away from that simple premise and started making fun of procedural cop and lawyer shows that are everywhere these days. When The Grinder moved to this it became much more enjoyable and many times more entertaining.

Under this premise I could’ve seen this show going for a few years, but alas FOX announced this week that the first season of The Grinder would also be its last when they announced the cancellation of this series.

Overall: C+, first half: C-, last half: B.


Captain America: Civil War

565cb34596f3bThe first Captain America movie was released five years ago and was good. It starts off as an origin story of the character where puny Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) goes from literal 90 pound weakling to strapping super-soldier Captain America via an experiment, then tells of Cap and his team’s adventures during WW2 against Hydra and the Red Skull. That movie did a good job of introducing the character and ultimately taking him from the 1940s to present day by the end of the film. What I didn’t expect was that a side character in that movie, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), would go onto play such a pivotal role in future Captain America movies.

Frozen and brought back to life much like Captain America, instead of waking to our modern world like Cap did, Bucky woke in a Soviet facility where he was turned into the “Winter Soldier.” A state sponsored assassin who was put on ice in between missions and would become the main baddie of the second Captain America: The Winter Solider movie.

And while I thought both the original Captain America: The First Avenger and Winter Soldier were good, I must say I really liked the third Captain America: Civil War movie a lot, and much of that is because of things like Bucky’s story.

This latest Captain America film bumps Bucky from nemesis to ally of Cap as Bucky struggles to regain his lost memories stolen from him in the process of becoming the Winter Soldier. Bucky’s main problem is that everyone’s looking for him because of a bombing that injured many and killed the King of Wakana. Cap, looking to help his friend, goes on the run with Bucky to try and track down the real bomber and clear Bucky’s name.

Except that with Cap, Bucky and the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) on the run means that Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and the rest of the Avengers must go after them since the Avengers are now under the control of the United Nations as a sort of state-sponsored super-hero team.

What I liked most about all this was that none of the characters in Civil War were in the wrong with their beliefs. There’s a legitimate argument to be made that superheroes like Iron Man and Captain America need to be controlled by someone, lest they grow too powerful and decide to control us. And there’s also a good argument to be made that no one should be in control of an organization like the Avengers since they’d be in charge of the most powerful weapons on the planet.

568afc3d90c1cI think Tony Stark makes his point here with Avenger the Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) who can do all sorts of weird things like control minds and use force-fields who’s staying in the US at an Avengers compound, “They generally don’t let foreign WMDs into the country.”

So it’s hard to root for any character here; is Tony too proud to admit that Cap might be right, that they’re doing a good enough job on their own and don’t need overseers or is Cap too proud to see that sometimes a lot of innocent people are hurt and die when the Avengers go into battle.

Or maybe bother Tony and Cap are both right and wrong at the same time?

All of which makes for a very compelling story. And this mixed with amazing action scenes where we see super-powered characters fighting each other in spectacular ways makes for a great film.

more-captain-america-civil-war-trailer-breakdown-740992Speaking of action, Civil War and previous Winter Soldier do an interesting thing with their big action set pieces — they start small and slowly build big. Be it Cap’s elevator fight in Winter Soldier that starts with Cap vs a few and turns into an all-out brawl that evolves to Cap vs a jet on his motorcycle or in Civil War that starts with Cap and Bucky confronting each other, turns to Cap and Bucky fighting a German SWAT team and ends up on the roads with Cap and Bucky racing cars and being chased by the likes of the Black Panther.

This slow build is something I don’t see a lot of other comic book movies using, but it seems like they should be when they all seem to be trying to copy the Marvel style of films.

I really have to nit-pick to find anything in Civil War that I didn’t care for. And I’m one who’s the first to pounce on story elements that don’t make sense or characters who change at the whim of story beats. That stuff simply isn’t present in Civil War. It’s a solid movie from beginning to end, does a great job of introducing new characters like Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) to a new Spider-Man (Tom Holland), has an interesting story interspersed with action scenes that actually drive the story rather than just featuring characters punching one and other in the fact — and does it all without missing a beat.

Grade: A

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This week in pop-culture history

  • 1971: Escape from the Planet of the Apes opens.
  • 1982: Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior opens in the US.