Sunday, February 27, 2011

All The Futures Past: Terminator Salvation Book Reviews

As a devoted fan of the Terminator franchise, it's frustrating to know that its future has not yet been set. While the rumor mill claims that Universal is looking to produce a fifth Terminator film with Justin Lin (Fast and Furious) directing and Chris Morgan (Wanted) writing the script, the rights to the franchise are still in limbo and will probably remain so for some time to come. Thus, as a killer robot aficionado who is still suffering from severe withdrawal due to the cancellation of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, I've been jonesing to get my hands on any Terminator stuff that I can find.

This post is my review of four books that were released under the Terminator Salvation title. This selection consists of three novels--Cold War by Greg Cox, and From the Ashes and Trial By Fire by Timothy Zahn--and the Terminator Salvation prequel graphic novel (its actual title is Sand in the Gears) by Dara Naraghi and Alan Robinson. Each provides an interesting picture of the post-Judgment Day war with the machines from various locations and perspective, and each do a great job of showing what kind of harsh, desolate and desperate place the world has become since the rise of the machines. They also provide insight regarding how survivors initially perceived the threat of Skynet. Since none of these stories feature the most advanced infiltrator Terminator models such as the T-800, T-1000 or T-X, there's a lingering mood of confusion and fear among the characters in these stories as they fight against a faceless, unfathomable enemy.

Overall, I think that each book makes interesting contributions to the Terminator saga, and they are worthy additions to the collection of any Terminator fan. Read on ...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Vote Now for Your Favorite Monsters and Madmen for the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards

If there's anything of which Hollywood has in ample supply, it's award programs. The Oscars, the Emmys, the Golden Globes, the list goes on and on. Fortunately, there's an award program that's exclusively for the horror genre of entertainment AND fans can both propose and vote for their favorites. That award program is the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards (a.k.a. "The Rondos").

Now on its ninth year, the Rondos are completely fan-based and have no connection to any commercial sponsor. The Rondos will be accepting votes until March 27, 2011, and the winners will be announced on the following night, March 28, on both the Rondo Award site and the Classic Horror Film Board. There are 30 categories on the ballot, which includes:

  • Best Movie of 2010
  • Best Television Presentation
  • Best Classic DVD
  • Best Classic DVD Collection
  • Best Restoration
  • Best Commentary
  • Best DVD Extra
  • Best Independent Film or Documentary
  • Best Short Film
  • Book of the Year
  • Best Magazine of 2010
  • Best Web Site
  • Best Blog of 2010
  • Best Convention of 2010
  • Best Fan Event of 2010
  • Best Horror Host of 2010
  • Best Horror Comic
  • Best Toy, Model or Collectible
The Rondo Awards are a real who's who of horror entertainment, both past and present, so be sure to cast your votes before the March deadline. Click the banner ad below for more details and to see the lists of past Rondo winners. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Vote Now for Your Favorite Video Games for Smithsonian Exhibit

It's about time that the Smithsonian got around to this. From March 16 to September 30 of 2012, the Smithsonian will be hosting an exhibition entitled "The Art of Video Games." According to the Smithsonian Web site:

"The Art of Video Games is one of the first exhibitions to explore the forty-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, with a focus on striking visual effects and the creative use of new technologies. The exhibition will feature some of the most influential artists and designers during five eras of game technology, from early developers such as David Crane and Warren Robinett to contemporary designers like Kellee Santiago and David Jaffe. It also will explore the many influences on game designers, and the pervasive presence video games have in the broader popular culture, with new relationships to video art, film and television, educational practices, and professional skill training. ... The exhibition will feature eighty games through still images and video footage. Five games will be available for visitors to play for a few minutes, to gain some feel for the interactivity--Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers, The Secret of Monkey Island, Myst, and World of Warcraft. In addition, the galleries will include video interviews with developers and artists, large prints of in-game screen shots, and historic game consoles."

But that's not all. Not only is the Smithsonian giving video games the recognition they deserve, but they're also letting video game fans contribute to the selection of which games will be included in the exhibition. From February 14 through April 7, 2011, you can vote for 80 games from a pool of 240 proposed choices in various categories, divided by era, game type, and platform. The video games listed on the ballot were selected by exhibition curator Chris Melissinos, founder of Past Pixels and collector of video games and gaming systems, who worked with the Smithsonian and an advisory group consisting of game developers, designers, industry pioneers, and journalists.

Do your part for American culture--click here to vote for your favorite games today so they can become part of a Smithsonian exhibit tomorrow!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

It's All About Family: A Spoiler-Free Review of Paranormal Activity 2

One of the things that I really enjoy about "found footage" movies such as The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield and Quarantine is that unlike other horror films, what you see and hear are strictly limited by the non-cinematic audio and video equipment used to make the film. If the characters are walking blind in the dark, you are too; if the characters hear something unusual but can't hear it clearly enough to understand what it is, you're just as clueless as they are. This is also why I think that the first person perspective is usually the best format for horror video games. (Given the high number of security cameras it has in its streets, I'm still surprised that a blockbuster found footage film hasn't arrived from the UK yet.)

Yet to have an effective found footage movie, you have to provide a convincing reason within the movie to explain why a camera or cameras are capturing enough footage to tell a complete story. The found footage films that have disappointed me the most are the ones that unexpectedly break character, so to speak, to include footage that would not qualify as found footage. This is usually done to include some kind of twist ending; The Last Broadcast and The Last Exorcism are noteworthy examples of this jarring, mood-breaking practice.

With these thoughts in mind, I finally got a chance to see Paranormal Activity 2, the sequel to the low-budget found footage fright flick from 2007. Read on for my review of the movie, which was better than I anticipated.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Force is Strong in Season 3 of Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Now in its third season, it appears that Cartoon Network's Star Wars: The Clone Wars has finally rocketed into hyperspace in terms multi-episode plots and overall epic scope.

I've always thought that Clone Wars was a pretty impressive show. I grew up with the original trilogy and had to wait three years at a time for the sequels Empire Strikes Back and then Return of the Jedi to hit the theaters; thus, when Clone Wars first arrived, the idea of having a fresh dose of Star Wars with high-quality CGI animation on a weekly basis made my head spin. Yet while it's been consistently fun to watch, Clone Wars has really upped the ante in its third season with its most recent sets of three-episode story arcs.

First, there was the Savage Opress arc, where Count Dooku/Darth Tyrannus betrays Asajj Ventress and she returns to her home world of Dathomir to plan her revenge. This story arc provided a look into how the Sith operate outside of their standard master-apprentice dichotomy. Sure, there may always be two Sith at a time but it now appears that there are usually more than one would-be Siths waiting in the wings, biding their time and performing a whole lot of nefarious deeds until they can become part of the inner Sith circle. (This aspect of the Savage Opress arc also sheds some light into the stories within the Force Unleashed video games.) Other interesting parts of the arc were the appearance of the Nightsisters, Force-wielders who are neither Jedi nor Sith, and the possibility that Darth Maul might still be alive. (I suppose that the short story involving Maul in Dark Horse's Star Wars: Visionaries might actually be canon after all.)

Adding greatly to the quality of this arc was the addition of Clancy Brown to the Clone Wars voice cast as Savage Opress himself. Brown will always be the definitive Lex Luthor as far as I'm concerned, so to see him as a new Star Wars villain is total bliss for me.

The Savage Opress arc was followed by the Planet Mortis arc, where Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano find themselves on a mysterious planet with unusually high concentrations of the Force that is inhabited by a family--an elderly father and his two adult children, a son and a daughter--who have unimaginable levels of Force powers. It's hard to summarize this story, but it felt like watching an ancient Greek myth where three heroes suddenly find themselves on Mount Olympus and are asked to mediate a vicious conflict between the gods. It's truly epic stuff, and it also provided a glimpse into how Anakin thinks. These episodes effectively bridge Anakin's character development between the Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith movies, revealing a character whose outward displays of bravado hide a psyche burdened by intense guilt and confusion. Furthermore, Liam Neeson and Pernilla August contributed their vocal talents as part of this arc to reprise their Phantom Menace roles of Qui-Gon Jinn and Shmi Skywalker--sweet!

I don't know how many more seasons Clone Wars has left in its run on Cartoon Network but if these two story arcs are any indication, the remainder of this season will be fantastic. The upcoming episode promises to involve two more great bits of Star Wars history--carbon freezing technology and Captain Tarkin--so be sure to catch it when it airs this Friday. Between this season and the upcoming Lego Star Wars: The Clone Wars video game for the home consoles, 2011 is looking to be a great year for Star Wars fans.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Review of Tron Evolution: Battle Grids

Last December, I commented about how Wii finally granted one of my geek wishes by producing a Tron game that is similar in both theme and game play to the Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort games. Yet for as giddy as I was at that time, I still hadn't played the game so I had no idea how closely the game matched my expectations. So, after picking up a copy of Tron Evolutions: Battle Grids a few days ago, I decided to share my thoughts regarding Wii's tie-in to the Tron universe. While it's not the most immersive, plot-heavy Tron tie-in ever made, it's certainly worth the time if you're a Tron fan. Read on ...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Titans, Terrors and Toys Greatest Hits, Volume 1: 2010 - 2011

This week marks the first anniversary of Titans, Terrors and Toys, something that I didn't think would ever happen. I was reluctant to start this blog in the first place last February but now that a year has passed and I have gotten my feet wet in the blogosphere, I'm glad to say that I did it. Writing this blog has been a blast, the feedback has been positive, and I got to reach out to some pretty cool folks along the way. Expect to see more full frontal nerdity of the horror/sci-fi variety on this blog in the year to come, and please feel free to post comments to let me know how I'm doing--constructive criticism is always welcome here.

In honor of this anniversary, I've decided to post a list of the ten posts that received the most hits during this blog's freshman year. Continue reading after the break to see the topics that have brought the most readers to Titans, Terrors and Toys.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

An Obsequious Ovation for House of the Dead: Overkill

I couldn't let this one go without posting something about it: This month marks the second anniversary of the release of Sega's House of the Dead: Overkill, a gory, campy rail shooter, for the Nintendo Wii system.

While the Wii will never be known for noteworthy contributions to the first person shooter genre, it certainly breathed new life into the rail shooter genre through innovative usage of the Wiimote, effective graphics, and creative game scenarios and features. Overkill ranks among the best of the Wii rail shooters, along with Dead Space: Extraction and the Resident Evil shooters, The Umbrella Chronicles and The Darkness Chronicles.

Yet what makes Overkill such a great addition to any horror gamer's video game library is that it lives up to its name on so many levels. There is no such thing as "too much" in Overkill, which leaves a lot left over to admire even after you beat the game multiple times. Read on for a full rundown on what makes Overkill a classic, and why you should run out to a video game store RIGHT NOW and add it to your Wii collection if you haven't already.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Incredible Shrinking DVD Catalyst

Friends and family keep asking me if I have gotten one of those huge flat screen TVs yet, but it hasn't happened so far. This is mostly because the Mrs. and I don't have the money for it right now and probably won't for some time to come. However, it is also due to the fact that when it comes to video playback equipment, I don't think big these days--instead, I think portable.

You see, I spend a lot of time on public transportation every day as part of my job, and it's been this way for the last few years. So when I heard a while back that software was available to compress video files from DVDs into smaller files that could be played back on my cell phone, I immediately picked up the software and started shrinking movies to pass the time while I travel. This was years before DVD and Blu-ray sets included smaller "Digital Copies" of movies, and before cell phone content providers started offering downloadable movie and TV shows. However, even with those options, many obstacles still exist: Pre-compressed downloadable video files only exist for certain phone brands such as iPhone and Windows Mobile devices--leaving other cell phones and compact video devices with nothing--and I’ve found the Digital Copies to be too weighed down with burdensome access control technologies to be usable for the cell phones I’ve had.

While compressed video content might become more available for a wider variety of small playback devices as time goes on, I'm still quite content with the set up I have had going for over five years now. Read on to see what I've learned about meeting the movie and TV needs for horror/sci-fi geeks on the go.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Landless Theatre Company and All of Them There Jawses

Starting this weekend and running each weekend until February 24, the Landless Theatre Company will be performing a Mash-Up Play Festival in the DC Arts Theater in Washington DC. The Mash-Up Play Festival will consist of four plays: Pii-Wii’s Big Poseidon Adventure, All That Jaws, Gleeam, and Tarxxxanadu. Go to the Landless Theatre Company's site for more details, and click here to read an article about the Mash-Up Play Festival by The Washington Post.

In case you are wondering what a "mash-up" is and how it differs from a crossover, a mash-up is usually a parody that calamitously combines concepts from popular books, movies, plays and TV shows, while a crossover shows much more fealty to established franchise characters and continuity. In other words, a mash-up is to a crossover as Jane Austen's Fight Club is to Freddy vs. Jason.

Of Landless Theatre's current collection of mash-up plays, I'm most looking forward to Gleeam, a musical mash-up of Glee and Scream. (A masked killer bumping off members of a high school glee club? Count me in!) But even though All That Jaws is Landless Theatre's own mash-up of two Roy Scheider films, Jaws and All That Jazz, it's certainly not the first. As far as I can tell, there are at least four other plays and videos that share the same title and sense of humor:
  • A video mash-up that combines footage from both movies into a single three minute video;
  • A 2003 stage musical that was a mash-up of Jaws and All That Jazz, directed by Gayla Miller, and performed somewhere in the Houston, Texas area (I think);
  • A 2007 "meta-musical" rock opera that was not a mash-up of Jaws and All That Jazz, even though the title would suggest otherwise. This version of All That Jaws was written by Marty Barrett and Brian Descheneaux and performed at the Out of Bounds West Improv Festival in Los Angeles.
I enjoy Jaws parodies as much as the next movie monster fan, but future parodies should make an effort to diversify their titles--less Jazz and more Jaws, maybe?