Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of The Rocketeer, CGI Style!

This year marks the 20th anniversary of The Rocketeer, a 1991 superhero movie that was based on the comic book of the same name. In honor of this anniversary, animator John Banana put together an amazing, Pixar-esque animated shot that you can watch on the Vimeo video site here. You can also read's exclusive interview with Banana about his colorful tribute cartoon here.

The Rocketeer character first appeared in 1982 and was created by the late writer/illustrator Dave Stevens. Stevens designed the Rocketeer as a homage to the Saturday matinee heroes of the 1930s and 40s, and the visual style of the Rocketeer comics had a very nostalgic, retro look. (It should also be noted that the director of The Rocketeer movie was Joe Johnson, the same man who directed this summer's nostalgic, retro Captain America movie.) If you're a fan of the Rocketeer, Banana's cartoon is a wonderful trip down memory lane. If you've never heard of the Rocketeer but are a fan of all things that are pulpy sci-fi, check out the Rocketeer short and movie--you'll be greatly entertained. The Rocketeer comics are also still available, both in regular and deluxe editions.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Will You Wii U? An Early Look At Nintendo's Next Video Game Console

The E3 Expo, the annual cutting-edge video game dog and pony show, was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center a few weeks ago. Of the many previews provided at this year's E3, one of the most heralded was Nintendo's next generation console, Wii U. Although I wasn't at E3 to sample the new system first-hand, I've seen enough articles and video footage about Wii U's debut to come to a few conclusions about Nintendo's latest step forward. As long as Nintendo gives their new system the support it needs, it looks like the Wii U could be the next blockbuster system in the video gaming community. Read on....

Friday, June 24, 2011

War of the Worlds Tripods are Coming to Vaporize Your Model Collection This September

Last January, I wrote a post about Pegasus Hobbies' release of an alien creature model kit based on the invaders from the 2005 version of War of the Worlds. Of course, what good are alien invaders without some kind of terrifying war technology (you hear that, M. Night Shyamalan?), so Pegasus Hobbies will be releasing a 15-inch tall kit of the alien tripod from the same movie this September.

This tripod kit looks like an amazing complementary piece for the previous alien creature kit, as well as for model kits of the alien invaders and the golden war machines from the 1953 version of War of the Worlds. The kit will consist of one alien tripod and will include additional parts--such as deployed arm lasers, tentacles and collection cages--for building you own customized version. For model-making experts who have electrical wiring expertise, the kit will also have a transparent hood and clear eye lenses for possible lighting additions. This studio-accurate tripod comes with a logo display base, and you can pre-order your kit now at Monsters in Motion.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Revenge of the Giant Spider Invasion!

A few days ago, David Lohr published an article on AOL's Weird News site entitled, "Junkyard Michelangelo Dick Schaefer Turns Rusty Old Cars Into Glorious Monsters". As the title suggests, Lohr's article is about how Schaefer, a retired automotive dismantler who lives in Erie, PA, turns scrap metal from his brother's junkyard into sculptures. The article features a few photos of the junk artist's work, but the one that stood out for me was one of Schaefer's own favorites: a spider he made out of a 1970s Volkswagen Beetle.

Seeing this picture reminded me of another, er, creative work that relied on using Volkswagens as giant spiders: the 1975 big bug movie, The Giant Spider Invasion.

In this campy z-grade film, giant spiders terrorize a small town in Wisconsin. It was directed by Bill Rebane, who directed other campy z-grade films such as Blood Harvest (the one and only slasher film that featured Tiny Tim in a starring role), Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake, and Monster a-Go-Go. Like Monster a-Go-Go, Giant Spider Invasion was skewered on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

To create the largest of the giant spiders, Rebane had fake fur and puppet legs attached to metal frameworks that were built around Volkswagen Beetles. The end result is far less than convincing, due in no small part to the tread marks that the spiders leave behind in a few shots.

Among the film's cast was Alan Hale Jr., who is largely known for his role as The Skipper on Gilligan's Island. Fun big bug trivia: One of the episodes in the third season of Gilligan's Island, "The Pigeon", featured a giant spider.

Learn more about this piece of cinematic junk art at the official Giant Spider Invasion site. You can also check out the official Bill Rebane site, which features audio clips of songs from Giant Spider Invasion: The Musical. Eat your heart out, Spider-Man musical!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Green Lantern Review: The Space Knight Rises

Continuing with this summer's crop of big-budget superhero movies, Green Lantern arrived in theaters last weekend. Unfortunately, unlike Thor and X-Men: First Class, the Green Lantern movie has become the whipping boy of movie critics who feel that there are just too many superhero movies arriving at the multiplexes. To be sure, Green Lantern is a more formulaic movie than its two immediate predecessors, so that would make it the most likely choice to get a collective wedgie from our nation's film critics who view blockbuster superhero movies as the unmistakable portents of our culture's decline. But don't let the negative reviews fool you--Green Lantern is a welcome blast of emerald-shaded, 3D summer fun (more fun than X-Men: First Class, actually) that's well worth the time of both comic book fans and general audiences alike. Read on for my complete review.

Friday, June 17, 2011

2D Movies That I Want to See in 3D

With Hollywood cranking out one 3D movie after another, quite a few older 2D movies are hopping on the bandwagon through post-production conversion to 3D. George Lucas plans to re-release all six of the Star Wars movies in 3D, and James Cameron will do the same for Titanic. With that in mind, here is a chronological list of films that, if possible, I would like to see converted into high-quality 3D movies. Read on...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The 2011 Chevy HHR: The Unofficial Vehicle for Imperial Stormtroopers Across the Galaxy

Search your feelings readers, for you know this to be true: When painted white, the 2011 Chevy HHR looks a lot like a Stormtrooper helmet from the Star Wars saga when viewed at certain angles. Compare the shots below:

My wife and I noticed this the other day when a white Chevy HHR pulled in front of us. Both of us noticed this similarity, and I found myself occasionally humming the Imperial March theme for next hour. The following day, my wife saw another white Chevy HHR, except that this one had a vanity license plate that read CLONE. Obviously, we're not alone in our opinion.

How else do you think these guys get to fan conventions?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mini-Review of X-Men: First Class

I had to wait a week, but I've finally caught up. I saw X-Men: First Class yesterday, the prequel to the X-Men film trilogy and the second Marvel Comics movie of this summer. I'll get the good points out of the way first: the direction is great, the globe-spanning plot moves along at an steady pace, and the casting was spot-on. In particular, Kevin Bacon gives a memorable performance as the film's main villain Sebastian Shaw, and the filmmakers chose very wisely when they cast James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender to step in for Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in the respective roles of Charles Xavier (a.k.a. Professor X) and Erik Lehnsherr (a.k.a. Magneto). In short, if you enjoy the X-Men comics and the previous X-Men movies, then you'll enjoy X-Men: First Class.

Unfortunately, the biggest problem that First Class has is one that's reflected in the other X-Men movies: too many characters. First Class populates its cast with characters from all over the X-Men universe but only has time to focus on a handful of them, leaving the rest to do little more than add color to the background. Much like Storm, Colossus and Kitty Pryde in the previous X-Men movies, the mutants who make up the X-Men roster in First Class don't do much to differentiate themselves as individual characters aside from their specific powers. (Say what you will about other superhero films, but at least they don't have to juggle a story that features over a dozen superheroes and super villains.) It's also worth noting the female and non-white mutant characters in this film fare much worse than their white male mutant counterparts--a rather counter-productive creative decision for a franchise that's supposed to be a metaphor for equality and civil rights.

First Class spends much of its time detailing the early friendship between Charles and Erik, and this is one of the film's strong points. However, the movie also changes the background of Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) to being an adopted sister of Charles, which creates an uneven subplot within the movie. By setting up Mystique and Charles as adoptive siblings, it would be logical to conclude that they would turn to each other for emotional support when dealing with their mutant heritage during their formative teenage years and thus develop a deep emotional bond. However, as young adults, Charles' attitude towards Mystique is dismissive and patronizing, which stands in sharp contrast to Charles' empathetic and peaceful pursuit of mutant rights. Such a selective sense of compassion makes Charles look like an arrogant jerk at certain points in First Class; furthermore, Charles' willingness to regard his new male mutant friend Erik as an equal while regarding his mutant sister of similar age as a subordinate further emphasizes the film's sexist subtext. For as much as Lawrence brings to the role of Mystique, it would've been better if the character had been written with greater consistency to better fit her new background in the X-Men universe.

X-Men: First Class is a good comic book film that’s worth seeing in spite of its shortcomings. However, if this is to be the first in a new series of X-Men films, then I can only hope that the next installment will learn from the mistakes made in First Class to deliver more fulfilling superhero movie.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Transformers Invade the Smithsonian

As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently had the chance to visit the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Dulles, VA. It was the first time that I ever visited that particular Smithsonian Museum, so I was somewhat surprised to see a small exhibit devoted to the Transformers toy line in the middle of the Smithsonian's collection of real-life aircraft.

This display was put up as part of this museum's role in the shooting of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and I suppose it was decided to keep the display up because another Transformer movie is coming out in a few weeks, Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Placing movie props on display next to real-life artifacts in a museum is hardly a new idea. I've seen plenty of props from the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises on display at other Smithsonian museums, and I've also seen props from Aliens, Ghostbusters and Jaws on display at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, PA. However, this is the first time that I've seen more toys on display from a franchise than props from one of its movies.

As you'll see in the pictures that I took of the display, the work that the Smithsonian put into its displays of the Optimus Prime, Starscream and Jetfire toys would make many toy stores green with envy. (Curiously, there wasn't a single piece of Transformers merchandise available in the gift shop.) Transformers toys are colorful and marvelously designed, but I've never understood the devotion that older fans have to the Transformers cartoons--cartoons that were produced with the sole intent to sell the toys. However, I do think it's amusing that while the Transformers cartoons have been made to sell toys to children, the live-action Transformers movies have been made to sell toys to children and to sell expensive cars to adults. Never underestimate the power of multi-media marketing, I suppose.

Click below to see the pictures that I took of the Smithsonian's Transformers display.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Early Astronauts in the Movies: Mutated and Mutilated, Irradiated and Impregnated

I recently took some out-of-town guests to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Dulles, VA (a.k.a. the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center). Unlike the Air and Space Museum that's part of the National Mall in Washington DC, the Dulles museum is a gigantic hangar that contains the largest collection of full-sized aircraft for public display. The collection spans from the earliest attempts at technology-enabled flight to some of the more modern examples, such as the F-14 Tomcat fighter and the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane.

In the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar section of the museum, which displays the Space Shuttle Enterprise, I found this interesting artifact from the early days of space travel:

If I ever find myself living in a trailer park, my aluminum-sided trailer
will have these words clearly displayed on its side and I will always
answer the door wearing a white biohazard suit.

Seeing this decontamination trailer on display alongside the various satellites, rockets and shuttles reminded me of the deliriously paranoid fears that our early space program evoked among certain segments of the public and the countless pulp novels, comic books, and B-movies that were made to capitalize on these fears. Read on for five examples (in chronological order) of how the entertainment industry cashed in on the unknown, years before anyone even bothered to set foot on the moon.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Batgirl Returns (Finally)

I recently heard that DC Comics is going to reboot its entire superhero universe, starting this fall. There are some rumors circulating that this rebooting is supposed to dovetail with DC making its comics available online and they hope that the combination of narrative rebooting and digital distribution will help them build a newer, larger fan base. It's not like DC hasn't done this before, starting with Crisis on Infinite Earths and then in other multi-issue, multi-title "event series", so I really have no idea how this rebooted DC universe will be in terms of quality. So far, though, one piece of good news has come out of this: Barbara Gordon will resume her role as Batgirl.

I've always liked the Barbara Gordon character, and I thought that she got a raw deal when they crippled her in The Killing Joke and then left her to remain in her wheelchair while dozens of other DC characters were either miraculously healed from the most dire of injuries or resurrected from the dead. Even when DC would trot out Babs and her post-paralysis alter ego, her computer hacker pseudonym "Oracle", as an example of how progressive-minded they are by having a handicapped character in their superhero universe, it sounded like a cheap platitude to me. This was largely for the following reasons:
  • Even though DC felt fine with leaving Babs crippled, they found a way to cure Bruce Wayne of his paralysis after the supervillain Bane broke Batman's back with bare hands. In other words, DC is willing to have a handicapped character as long as it isn't one of their cash cows. (This is another reason why I usually prefer Marvel to DC, because I know that Daredevil and Professor X wouldn't take this crap.)
  • One of the details that is always left out in the retellings of Bab's injury in The Killing Joke is that the Joker proceeded to sexually molest her after crippling her with a bullet to the gut. So while DC was happy to have Babs be the resident disabled person of their superhero universe, they weren't too comfortable with acknowledging that she was also their resident sex abuse survivor.
I'm not sure what prompted DC to have Babs resume her role as Batgirl as part of the latest reboot. It could be that they've finally gotten over the equal pay public service announcement that featured Batgirl, or perhaps the male head honchos at DC finally grew up and realized that girls aren't "icky" after all. This could also be a purely economic move, because DC has probably sold more Babs-as-Batgirl merchandise than any other kind of Batgirl or Babs-as-Oracle merchandise. Regardless, this finally puts an end to DC's floundering around to find someone else to assume the Batgirl mantle.

It's great to have you back as Batgirl, Babs. You deserve it.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Jaws to Resurface on Nintendo This Fall

For 3D monster shark fans, this fall is going to be an unprecedented shark-a-palooza. Not only are we getting Shark Night 3D and Bait 3D in the theaters this September, but Majesco Entertainment announced that they will be releasing Jaws: Ultimate Predator this fall for both the Nintendo 3DS and Wii systems. Majesco previously released Jaws Unleashed back in 2006 and with the new game designed for play on the 3DS, we will finally have a Jaws console game that's in 3D.

According to Majesco's press release, Ultimate Predator takes place 35 years after the original Jaws movie. Like Unleashed, the new game will have you playing as the monster shark, protecting your turf from both humans and other ocean predators. The game's environments will include Hawaii, the Great Barrier Reef, and Amity Island itself. Whether this game will refer to any of the Jaws movie sequels or the previous Unleashed game has yet to be determined.

Ultimate Predator will be the first Jaws game to appear on a Nintendo console in almost a decade. The last two Jaws games for the Nintendo consoles were Jaws for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987, which was based on Jaws: The Revenge, and the Universal Studios Theme Parks Adventure game for the GameCube in 2001, which featured a Jaws mini-game.

Since Unleashed was intended to capitalize on the 30th anniversary of Jaws and the release of a special edition Jaws DVD, I'm thinking that Ultimate Predator is likewise expected to capitalize on the upcoming Blu-ray release of Jaws. However, until a release date for the Jaws Blu-ray is confirmed, this is just speculation on my part.

I'm hoping that this new Jaws game will take full advantage of the unique controls on both the 3DS and Wii, and that it will be a better game than its predecessor. Come to think of it, I'm surprised that a Jaws game didn't appear on the Wii sooner, since its Endless Ocean games proved that the Wii is well suited for a deep sea adventure. As long as Majesco provides a wide enough variety in game controls, locations, missions, enemies and an all-you-can-eat buffet of humans, then I think that Jaws: Ultimate Predator will be engaging enough for any sharksploitation junkie.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Fiercely Nerding Out Over Disney 3D Blu-Rays, Comic Book Movies, and Schwarzenegger's Future Film Career

I'm back on the Fierce and Nerdy site today, where I ponder Disney's conversion of two animated classics from 2D to 3D for re-release on Blu-ray, complain about what's missing in most movie adaptations of comic books, and make recommendations about how Arnold Schwarzenegger can successfully relaunch his dormant movie career. Click here to read my post.