Thursday, December 30, 2010

When Stephen J. Cannell Made Profit



We have reached the end of another year, so you know what that means: Many TV news programs, magazines and Web sites will run year-end reflections on noteworthy people within the entertainment industry who passed away during the previous twelve months. Among the year-end list for 2010 is Stephen J. Cannell, a giant in the TV production industry who created hit shows such as The Rockford Files, The A-Team, 21 Jump Street, and many more. Yet one of the shows that I remember the most that would not have seen the light of day without Cannell's support was a short-lived show that he did not create: Profit.

Profit was created by David Greenwalt and John McNamara, and Cannell was one of its executive producers. While eight episodes were produced, it only lasted for five episodes on the Fox Network. Greenwalt and McNamara said that they were inspired to create the series after watching a production of Richard III which featured Sir Ian McKellen, although Profit's more obvious predecessor would be Bret Easton Ellis' 1991 novel, American Psycho.

Profit detailed the exploits of the enigmatic, psychopathic Jim Profit (Adrian Pasdar) and his unhealthy obsession with--and career advancement at--Gracen and Gracen, a multinational corporation. To make such a villainous, amoral character the central figure of a weekly TV series was unheard of at the time, and it was most likely the cause of Profit's premature demise. This was long before the cable networks such as HBO and Showtime began airing dark, edgy hour-long dramas; all of its satirical jabs at multinational business ethics aside, Profit is essentially the proto-Dexter. Adding greatly to the show's intensity was Pasdar's pitch-perfect portrayal of Jim Profit. Pasdar gave Profit a fluid mixture of easy charm, single-minded determination and cold detachment, so much so that you could believe that Profit could and would do anything he needed to at a moment's notice to serve his own interests, no matter how brutal, shocking and inhumane it might be. While Profit wasn't a horror TV series, it was certainly very horrific.

Profit was an ambitious experiment in prime-time drama, and it would not have been possible without Cannell's support--he even tried to get it picked up on cable after it was cancelled on Fox. My hat is off to you Mr. Cannell, wherever you are, for taking a chance on such a delightfully dark idea. If you haven't seen it yet, make it your New Year's resolution to see the entire series by picking up a copy of the complete Profit DVD set.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tron and Tron Legacy: The Secret, Scandalous Lives of Computer Programs Exposed!



OK, so maybe the title of this review of Tron Legacy isn't that inspired, but the movie itself sure is. In a nutshell, Tron Legacy is a fantastic film--both as a sequel to its 1982 predecessor and as a 3-D movie experience. I'm a big fan of man vs. machine stories, so the original Tron's ambitious idea of literally putting man inside of the machine as the setting for this conflict has been an intriguing, unusual one. Tron Legacy continues to explore this concept in engaging new ways, amongst a virtual landscape that both echoes and expands upon the ideas and environments portrayed in the first movie. Read on for my complete review, along with a look back at the first Tron movie. I suppose I could have written this review without mentioning the original film--it's pretty clear that the makers of Tron Legacy didn't want to rely too much on the first film when crafting the sequel's narrative--but it's hard to truly appreciate the significance of Tron Legacy without discussing Tron.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The (Jaws) Shark (Game) Is Still Working



For as much as certain people and groups have complained over the years about the marketing of age-inappropriate merchandise to children, the toy industry and Hollywood have been pretty consistent when it comes to producing toys for kids that are based on an R-rated movie and/or franchise. I've seen toys from Alien, Predator, Rambo, Robocop, Starship Troopers and Terminator, just to name a few. By toys, I mean actual play-worthy, durable TOYS, not the fragile, highly-detailed plastic figures made by NECA, Toynami and others. Among the most unusual of these toys was a Terminator 2 Bio-Flesh Regenerator play set back in the early 90s, with T-800 endoskeletons that you could turn into little Arnold Schwarzeneggers for the purpose of tearing off their Play-Doh-like "skin". Why they didn't apply this idea to a Night of the Living Dead Rotting Zombies Play-Doh set, with plastic skeletons you can cover with Play-Doh organs, muscle and skin for hours of flesh-tearing, limb-severing, gut-eviscerating fun, I'll never know.

Even though they were rated PG, the Jaws movies--which are not kid films at all--also had their fair share of toys and merchandise aimed at the prepubescent crowd. (There was even a Jaws 2 Coloring Book!) Among the monster shark merchandise was a Jaws game for ages 5 and up, where players would take turns removing various pieces of junk and debries from the mouth of a toy shark with a spring-loaded jaw, and whichever player got the most out of the shark's mouth before it snapped shut was the winner. I had my own copy of the game but I eventually lost it, and by the time the 80s arrived the game was out of production and off the toy store shelves. Or so I thought.

While I was doing my online Christmas shopping this year, I saw a listing for a toy out of the corner of my eye that didn't completely register at the time but it nevertheless nagged at me. So I went back later to find it and, sure enough, there it was: the original Jaws game, but in a very different box. Read on ...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Lou and Yana's JawsFest DVDs Review



For as much as I celebrate movie monsters, killer robots, video games and all things nerdy, I can't begin to tell you how many horror and sci-fi conventions and events that I've had to miss due to time constraints and financial reasons. Even events that are held in my figurative backyard happen at times that I can't fit into my schedule and/or at prices that I can't cover. Hence, when JawsFest happened back in the summer of 2005 at Martha's Vineyard to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Steven Spielberg's classic monster shark movie, there was no way that I could make it to this event due to previously scheduled commitments. I'm sure that I'm not the only Jaws "finatic" who had this problem; thankfully, Lou and Yana's JawsFest DVDs provide a solution for those of us who couldn't make it this incredible and unique event.

The JawsFest DVDs are made by Lou and Dianna "Yana" Pisano, a couple of die-hard Jaws fans who took it upon themselves to record their experiences at JawsFest, Martha's Vineyard, and beyond and make them available in a way that's almost as good as being there. The closest I've ever got to an authentic piece of Jaws history was seeing one of the mechanical sharks on display in Philadelphia back in '88, so having the Pisanos making their Jaws tours available on DVD is a real treat for me. There's a lot more to these videos than someone just putting some home movies on a DVD for mass distribution--much, much more. Read on for a full review of the Lou and Yana's JawsFest DVDs.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The 1970s: The Decade of Bigfoot



The latest issue of FilmFax magazine features an interview with Philip Morris, a man of various talents who, among other things, had established a considerable reputation in the entertainment industry for his work in creating high-quality gorilla costumes. (Note: This has nothing to do with the tobacco company of the same name or the Jim Carrey-Ewan McGregor flick, I Love You Phillip Morris.) An interesting side article to this interview focuses on one of Morris' lesser known (but no less important) career accomplishments: his unwitting involvement in the notorious 1967 Bigfoot hoax known as the "Patterson film". According to Morris, Roger Patterson purchased one of Morris' ape costumes shortly before his Bigfoot film made its rounds at news outlets around the country. Morris' recount of this incident is a fascinating read, and I highly recommend that you pick up this issue to see it for yourself. This issue also has an articles about movie monster memorabilia collector extraordinaire Bob Burns, classic B-movie producer Richard Gordon, and the special effects of Jaws 3-D--in particular, why the 3-D effects shots didn't turn out so well for the final edit and why Jaws 3-D is long overdue for a restoration and re-release in all of its anaglyphic three-dimensional glory.

Reading about the hoaxed Bigfoot film brought back quite a few memories. Say what you will about cryptozoology, but one thing is unquestionably true: it's a great source of monsters for novels, movies, TV shows, and ancillary merchandising. In this case, it seemed that the Patterson film's appearance in the late 60s helped to spur a wave of Bigfoot-mania in the 70s. Plenty of Bigfoot stuff has been produced in the decades since then; in fact, Fisher-Price recently released a remote-controlled Bigfoot toy complete with a footprint-shaped controller. Yet none of this other Bigfoot stuff is nearly as goofy or bizarre as what was done in the 70s (then again, what is?). Read on for a list that highlights some of the more notorious Bigfoot-flavored pop culture cheese that was popular during the polyester decade.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Look at Traveller's Tales Lego Video Games



The practice of making video games that are based on a licensed property--be it a movie, TV series, cartoon, comic book, or toy line--is almost as old as video games themselves. Yet when you add more than one license into the mix--such as when a video game is based on a toy that is based on a movie--what's the end result? A Traveller's Tales Lego video game, that's what.

The Mrs. and I have been playing the licensed Lego video games as soon as Traveller's Tales started making them, beginning with Star Wars and continuing through Indiana Jones and Batman. We're currently working our way through this year's Harry Potter game and we're eagerly looking forward to the upcoming Star Wars: The Clone Wars game, which promises to expand on the game play options that were introduced in the previous Star Wars games. (Of course, our devotion to these games largely hinges on the two player co-op feature that's been included in every Lego game so far.)

What's remarkable about these games is that each have to serve two different sets of requirements: the requirements set by the Lego license, and the requirements set by whatever the other licensed property is. One would think that each game would be a logistical nightmare to plan and produce, yet Traveller's Tales has found a way to create a series of consistently engaging and satisfying games that fit their respective combination of licensed properties. Read on for a more detailed reflection on what makes Lego the perfect fit for license-based video games.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Happy Horror Days: My Favorite Christmas-Themed Fright Flicks



As holidays go in the U.S., Christmas is the largest of them all, both culturally and economically. Thus, it goes without saying that something so inescapable and influential will be the central focus of many stories told in many different genres--including horror. All things considered, Christmas is actually a better setting for a horror movie than Halloween, the second largest holiday. Halloween is a deliberately creepy holiday, so monsters roaming around our streets and homes during that holiday season should come as no surprise. On the other hand, Christmas is always associated with warm and fuzzy things--family, faith, charity, goodwill towards others, and so on--which makes it the perfect time to unleash unspeakable horrors among a group of unsuspecting, holiday-happy protagonists.

Unfortunately, when making a Christmas-themed horror movie, most filmmakers have opted for directly involving one of its popular icons: Santa Claus. Either they have a serial killer dress up like Santa or they have the "real" Kris Kringle revealed to be some kind of inhuman, bloodthirsty monstrosity. (This isn't always a bad thing, though--I'm looking at you, Invader Zim and Futurama.) In contrast, the Christmas horror films that I tend to prefer use the holiday as a background setting to build a more chilling, horrifying atmosphere than your typical non-holiday terror tale. Click below to read about three of my favorites. Each of the movies on my list could have been set at any other time during the year, but having them take place during the Christmas season makes them truly unforgettable.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wii Got Tron Evolution: Battle Grids



I cannot tell a lie: A significant portion of this blog is devoted to my personal geek wish list, where I discuss collectible merchandise that I would like to own (or would've liked to have owned) and video games that I wish someone would make. Thus, it's nice to see that at least one of my wishes is coming true.

A few months ago, I kvetched about how there were no announced plans for a Wii Sports Resort-like video game to accompany the upcoming release of the Tron Legacy movie. Yet in a few days, a Tron Legacy game with game play similar to Wii Sports Resort will in fact be released for the Wii. It's called Tron Evolution: Battle Grids.

Battle Grids will have players fighting each other in various areas of the Tron world--Light Cycle Racing, Light Disc Battles, and so on. As far as I can see from the preview videos that are available online, Battle Grids seems a lot like the original Tron arcade game from 1982--as well as its 1983 arcade sequel, Discs of Tron--but with better graphics, head-to-head multiplayer competition, and more immersive game play. While it may not be the same thing as the Tron Evolution games that the other consoles are getting, it's still looking to be a worthy addition to the Wii collections of both casual gamers and Tron-o-philes alike. Wii is even getting its own neon blue Tron-themed Wiimotes; unfortunately, I don't think that you can Tron-ify your Mii as part of the Battle Grids experience.

Click here to see a preview video of Battle Grids by Game Spot from Comic-Con 2010, and click here to read additional information about the original Tron arcade game. If you still have a Nintendo Game Boy Advance, be sure to pick up Tron's other sequel, Tron 2.0: Killer App, which includes emulations of the previous Tron arcade games.



Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cartoon Kaiju Clashes: Firebreather and Inhumanoids



Last week, Cartoon Network premiered its first original CGI animated movie, Firebreather. This CGI flick is based on a short-lived comic book series of the same name, created by Phil Hester and Andy Kuhn and published by Image Comics, and it was directed by none other than Peter Chung, the creator of the fantastically bizarre Aeon Flux cartoon. (Click here to read an interview with Chung about his work on Firebreather).

I saw Firebreather the other day and it's mostly a blend of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, X-Men and Godzilla--but that's not a necessarily bad thing. What Firebreather lacks in originality it more than makes up for in impressive animation, well choreographed action scenes, solid voice casting, and impressive monster designs. For me, the most interesting detail of the Firebreather story is that it takes place in a world where giant monsters are a common threat and that these monsters are explicitly referred to as "kaiju". Even though Japanese kaiju movies and their associated merchandise have been arriving in the U.S. since the 1950s, this is the first time that I've ever seen an American cartoon directly refer to giant monsters as kaiju. Heck, Godzilla--the king of the kaiju himself--had two different animated series here in the U.S., and neither of them used the word "kaiju" at all.

Watching such open fan appreciation of the kaiju subgenre of monster movies in the Firebreather cartoon made me think back to another American cartoon back in the 1980s that could also have used the word kaiju to great effect but didn't: Inhumanoids. Read on for more about this missed kaiju opportunity and why it deserves to be awakened from its deep pop culture slumber for modern monster fans.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Must-See Animation: Sym-Bionic Titan


Oh Genndy Tartakovksy, is there anything that you can't make ultra-cool?


Tartakovksy, who previously brought us such top-notch animation as Dexter's Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack and the early episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, is currently rocking the Friday night schedule of Cartoon Network with his latest creation, Sym-Bionic Titan. Titan is clearly influenced by other big 'bot cartoons from Japan such as Ultraman, Gigantor and Voltron, but Tartakovksy adds enough of his own visual and satirical sensibilities to the series to make it something genuinely new and unique to this sub-genre of animation. Like Samurai Jack before it, it's also one of the most cinematic and picturesque weekly animated series you'll ever see.

Click here to read Wired magazine's recent interview with Tartakovksy about Sym-Bionic Titan. Click here to visit Cartoon Network's official Sym-Bionic Titan site.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Star Wars Flashback: Empire Strikes Back Teaser Poster



Here's another interesting artifact from my personal geek archives: an Empire Strikes Back teaser poster from 1980 that also doubles as a collectible magazine. In the many years that I've been following sci-fi, horror and fantasy films, I've seen many one-shot collectors magazines devoted to a movie, and sometimes the magazines include posters from the movie to hang on your wall. This is the only example that I have of an item that tries to be both a magazine and a poster. Click below to see the "articles" from this poster, which are nothing more than summaries of locations from and events that happen in Empire with stills from the movie and conceptual artiwork by Ralph McQuarrie. (The poster itself was too large to scan, but it's just a larger version of the movie still featured on the cover above.) I have no idea whether this poster series continued after this first issue and if so, whether it lived up to its content promises as outlined in the Editorial bar. Read on....

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Zoids, Robo Strux and Starriors--Oh My!



When it comes to toys in the U.S., the 1980s was the decade of the robot. Sure, we had robot toys such as Shogun Warriors and Micronauts in the 1970s and the 1977 release of the first Star Wars movie certainly helped to promote the popularity of robots during that decade, but toy lines that were completely devoted to robots really didn't come into their own here until the 1980s. I'm not sure what caused it. Maybe once the first Star Wars trilogy came to an end, toy companies felt that robot merchandise could fill the void that the discontinued Star Wars toy line left behind. Maybe it was the steadily increasing import of anime, toys and model kits from Japan, where robots have always been popular. Maybe it was both.

Regardless, the 1980s saw the arrival and popularity of the Transformers, Voltron, and Robotech, along with several other less-popular toy lines and TV shows. This post is devoted to one of the more obscure toylines, Zoids, along with two of its spin-offs, Robo Strux and Starriors. There actually is a Zoids anime series from Japan that was aired here a few years ago, and there are avid Zoids collectors all over the world even to this day. However, the Zoids and its sister toy lines arrived on toy shelves in the 1980s without any TV series to support them, thus leaving them vulnerable to the other robot toys that had the power syndicated TV shows to help boost their popularity. What made these robot toys distinct from the others is that they were robots that you could build yourself as if they were model kits, and then you could play with them like toys and watch them move via wind-up or battery-powered motors. Read on for a more detailed look at these fun, creative robot toy lines from Tomy.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Mechanical Shark Sighting in Ocean City, MD



The huge critter seen above has been around for quite a while. Yet if you happen to be an avid fan of massive mechanical sharks (I'm looking at you, Jaws fans) and have never heard of this big fake beast, then this is my public service for you. This mechanical shark is located on the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum on the boardwalk of Ocean City, MD. Of course, the museum has plenty of fun and freaky exhibits of its own, but the shark that's mounted on the front and side of the museum is an attraction by itself for monsters buffs of all ages.

Unlike the full-body Bruce sharks from the Jaws movies, this shark isn't fully mechanical. The mouth doesn't open or close, and only the head and tail wiggle from side to side every few minutes. Also, while the shark measures 40 feet in length--making it bigger than the largest Bruce shark, which was the one used in Jaws 3-D that measured at 35 feet--it's not a complete shark. It's just a head and a tail mounted to the museum's exterior in such a way to suggest that the rest of the shark's body is inside of the museum, as if the shark was ramming its way through the building and got stuck. In spite of such shortcomings, this shark is still a noteworthy piece of public horror art. It's gigantic, it moves, it's mean-looking, it's got rows of sharp teeth, and it's next to a beach and an ocean. What more could a mechanical monster shark lover ask for (except for, say, a Fonzie look-alike to ski jump over it)?

Click below to see more pictures of this monster shark, half of which were provided by a good friend of mine who was in Ocean City a few weeks ago. These pictures also include a behind-the-scenes photo of the shark when it was still in production at Creative Environs, Inc. International in Jacksonville, FL.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween High Notes: Music for the Monstrous Masses



As holidays go, Halloween has a lot of things going for it: distinct and easily identifiable iconography, fun and colorful traditions, and plenty of opportunities to spend time with family and friends. What it does lack, particularly in comparison to Christmas, is some kind of musical tradition. Sure, Halloween has become the de facto season for theatrical showings and fan-casted floor shows of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Evil Dead: The Musical shows signs of following a similar pattern of live performance, but a list of traditional tunes doesn't really exist for this holiday season. Topless Robot recently posted a best/worst list of spooky songs that are fit for the Halloween season; here's my brief list of creepy music that you can listen to (or watch in the case of music videos) as part of your Halloween festivities. (Also, please feel free to include as part of this list a particular Aliens vs. Predator music video from Russia, a video that I wrote about a few months ago.) Read on…

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Making Monsters for Good Causes



When you hear the term "monster maker", what comes to mind? When I hear it, I either think of fictitious monster makers (such as Victor Frankenstein and Herbert West) or the real-life monster makers who work in the entertainment industry (such as Ray Harryhausen and Rick Baker). Yet monster makers really do come in all varieties, from garage model kit makers to amateur costume hobbyists. Sometimes, a monster maker can even make a living as a wedding decorations designer (insert Bridezilla joke here).

Meet Georgette Gaynor. She runs her own wedding decorations business in the Virginia Beach, VA area, working with silk flowers, arches and glue guns to create settings of wedded bliss where her customers will tie the knot. Yet in her spare time, Gaynor makes monsters--lots and lots of monsters. Using skills that she originally picked up from her wedding business, Gaynor assembles creative combinations of rubber Halloween masks, spray foam, duct tape, wire, plastic netting and PVC pipe to produce life-sized galleries of ghouls for various charity events. (Providing chills for charity--what a brilliant idea!)
  • In 2007, Gaynor contributed her homemade minions to the Monster Alley Walk, a fundraiser to benefit the Kempsville Middle School Drama Club.
  • This weekend, an army of Gaynor's monsters will strike again for "Nightmare on the Nansemond", a Halloween-themed event in Suffolk, VA to benefit the the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Click here for more details. If you live in the Suffolk area and have some free time this weekend, come to the Nightmare on the Nansemond and show your support.
To learn more about Gaynor and her work, read this 2008 article on the Hampton Road site. Continue reading past the break to see some examples of Gaynor's work (pictures provided courtesy of Ms. Gaynor), including her pack of poker-playing werewolves!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Collectible Christmas Ornaments Fit for Halloween Display



As any good geek worth his/her salt should know, the holiday season is the perfect time to buy and display highly-detailed ornaments of your favorite franchise(s). It's like having your own seasonally-mandated display case of your favorite geek obsessions. Unfortunately, the season in question is Christmas and not Halloween, and the franchises that are most likely to have ornaments made of their characters, vehicles and scenes are the sci-fi and fantasy varieties (Star Wars, Star Trek, Harry Potter, DC and Marvel superheroes, etc.) thus leaving horror franchises out in the cold.

I think that having ornamental Halloween trees is a great idea, particularly if you own a fake tree. Besides, the shopping seasons of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas have become so mixed together that having a tree up from October to December wouldn't be too out of place anyway. Yet finding ornaments for a Halloween tree isn't easy, so here's my list of horror-oriented ornaments that were originally marketed for Christmas but are far better suited for Halloween. Read on ...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Happy Halloween Events in Washington DC



One of the best things about living in our nation's capital is that there's never a shortage of things to see and do. Even better than that, though, is that there's never a shortage of things to see and do during major holiday seasons, such as Halloween. Here are two upcoming cinema-centric Halloween events that might be of interest to all horror hounds who happen to be in the DC area:

Silver Spring Zombie Walk: This Saturday at 7:30 pm, there's going to be a zombie walk in downtown Silver Spring, MD. This event is open to all of the walking, shambling, and lurching undead who are interested in participating. The walk will conclude at the AFI Silver Theatre, with a showing of the original Dawn of the Dead--how cool is that for a zombie event? Click here for more details about the upcoming zombie walk and information about Silver Spring zombie walks from previous years. Click here for more information about AFI Silver Theatre's "Halloween on Screen", which includes the annual screening of the silent film classic Nosferatu with live musical accompaniment.

The 5th Annual Washington DC International Horror Film Festival: Starting this week, three movie theatres in the DC area will be showing a diverse selection of horror movie shorts and feature-length films, including an all-day movie marathon on Sunday, October 24 in Fairfax, VA. Click here to see the full schedule.