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.