Late Bloomers. Earlier this year, the USA Film Festival held an anniversary screening of Late Bloomers, an indie movie that boasted a kind of mini-legendary status on the Dallas film community. It was at the forefront of a spate of the New Gay Cinema in the mid-1990s, which saw serious stories about queer issues going, sort of, mainstream. (I actually moderated the festival’s post-screening Q&A, with the film’s director, Julia Dyer, and several cast members present — many of whom North Texas theater audiences would recognize.) Now Wolfe Video is releasing (on Oct. 18) the 20th anniversary high-definition edition of this charming comic romance, about a high school P.E. coach (Connie Nelson) who begins a relationship with the married school secretary (Dee Hennigan), and scandalizes the conservative Texas town.
Despite its low-budget roots during a different era of gay acceptance, Late Bloomers holds up remarkably well two decades later — it’s funny, charming and the make-shift “wedding” reminds us how far we have come.
Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four. Believe it or not, 25 years ago, DC Comics was the shit and Marvel was the red-headed stepchild of comic-book-to-movie franchises. DC had big-screen adaptations of Superman with Marlon Brando and Batman with Jack Nicholson; Marvel had cheesy B-movies of The Punisher with Dolph Lundgren and TV series like The Incredible Hulk. It wasn’t until X-Men in 2000 and Spider-Man in 2002 that Marvel came into its own as a playa in Hollywood; now we have the MCU interlacing Iron Mans with Avengers with Thors with big-name stars and boffo box office; DC, meanwhile, churns out disappointing productions of marginal properties like Suicide Squad.
Proof that Marvel wasn’t a big deal in the 1990s was a version The Fantastic Four, made by schlock-meister Roger Corman on a million-dollar budget without any name stars, cast and shot in under two months. The creative team — director, actors, crew — all thought this could be their Big Break, a legit, marketable property they could promote at comicons and that could score some fairly major coin among comic nerds. What none of them knew, though, was that the higher-ups had no intention of releasing the film; they just needed to get it made in order to preserve their option, so that, a decade later, they could turn out a “serious” FX version with Jessica Alba and Chris Evans.
The failure of Corman’s F4 is fanboy legend, and this documentary (now on VOD) tries to parse what really happened. But mostly it’s just the creative team “what-iffing” — we don’t get the real behind the scenes story. What we do get is a light-hearted cautionary tale about the Hollywood machine, and how campy superhero films can go wrong even with the best of intentions.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 14, 2016.