Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pictures of Insect Men: A Retrospective Analysis of the Mimic Trilogy



This week marks the release of the Mimic director's cut on Blu-ray, which includes all sorts of brand new goodies. I haven't gotten my copy yet, but I will soon. I heard that even though the new cut still doesn't have the ending that Guillermo del Toro wanted, it's closer to his original vision than the theatrical cut. I've also heard that del Toro's commentary track provides a lot interesting details as to how Mimic became less about what he wanted and more about what the producers wanted. (Then again, I don't think that the new director's cut further explores one of Mimic's grimly funny ideas, that a population of giant carnivorous insects could grow under the very nose of America's largest city but as long as the critters stay in the shadows and relegate their carnivorous diet to society's outcasts--the homeless, stray animals, and larger vermin such as rats--no one would really notice.)

Until I can put my two cents in about the new cut, here's a (slightly edited) reprint of an article I wrote that was originally posted on PopPolitics.com back in 2008. It's a retrospective of the entire Mimic trilogy, the original 1997 movie and its two direct-to-DVD sequels. All three movies were loosely inspired by a short story of the same name that was written by Donald A. Wolheim in 1942. This article examined how concepts and issues that are specific to genetic research and their related environmental impacts permeate the Mimic films, thus making them different from their irradiated Atomic Age "Big Bug" predecessors and worthy of unique consideration. Read on ....

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Look Back at the 1979 Spider-Woman Cartoon



It's not easy being a female superhero, especially if you're the less popular female version of a widely known male superhero. For example, while DC Comics makes oodles of cash from the popularity of Superman and Batman, it often seems completely clueless as to what to do with Supergirl, Batgirl and Batwoman.

Over at Marvel, there's Spider-Woman, the female counterpart of one of Marvel's most popular character, Spider-Man. Between 1977 to today, there have been at least three Spider-Women in the Marvel Universe--four if you include the one super villain who assumed the same name. The first Spider-Woman was Jessica Drew, who had her own comic book series that ran from 1978 to 1983. Unlike the other Spider-Women, Drew also had her own short-lived animated TV series that aired on ABC on Saturday mornings in 1979.

I vaguely remember seeing the Spider-Woman cartoon on Saturday mornings way back when I was just a wee lad, so I decided to track down all 16 episodes of the series to see how well it actually was and how it compares to more modern superhero cartoons such as Avengers and Young Justice. While Spider-Woman isn't that great of a show in terms of writing and animation when compared to the superhero cartoons of today, it sheds some light on how Marvel was still struggling in the late 70s to establish their characters in other mediums outside of comic books. Read on for my complete retrospective.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Bones, Bugs, and Botany: The Skeletal Sculptures of Cedric Laquieze



Question: What do you get when you mix together animal skeletons, dead insects, and plastic flowers? Answer: A series of sculptures by Amsterdam-based sculptor Cedric Laquieze. For as ghastly as such a combination may sound, his unique combination of organic shapes and colors result in some fascinating artwork that evokes both the wonderous diversity of life and inescapable conclusion of death. For some reason, his flowers and bones sculptures remind me of artwork associated with the Mexican holiday known as Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead.

Laquieze's work has been exhibited in locations such as Paris, Belgium, Italy, and Germany, and you can read more about him on his blog. Click below for some examples of Laquieze's creations.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Top Picks: 2011 Sci-Fi and Superhero Christmas Ornaments



With September here, merchandise for the big three holidays--Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas--is currently flooding the shelves of stores everywhere. As sure as the leaves change color in the fall, this tidal wave of merchandising also includes geek-pandering Christmas ornaments. Highly-detailed and highly-affordable miniatures are like catnip to me, so here are my recommendations for this year's ornaments. While I couldn't find any ornaments to recommend that would fit into the category of horror, there are plenty of others left in the areas of science fiction and superheroes. Read on ...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Creature Flops Among Us



From what I've been reading, the new monster movie Creature has been setting box office records--although not the kind of records any movie should want to set. According to Box Office Mojo, Creature currently holds the distinction of having the fifth lowest-grossing opening on record for a nationwide release and the second-worst in terms of per-location average, with an estimated per-showing attendance at less than six people. I didn't think much of this at first, until I heard who the lead producer of this z-grade movie was and arranged for its theatrical run: Sidney Sheinberg, former President of Universal Pictures.

Sheinberg has been credited with "discovering" Steven Spielberg and using his position at Universal to support (and lavishly profit from) many of Spielberg's most popular movies, starting with Jaws and concluding with Jurassic Park. However, just because a movie mogul discovers and cultivates a talented movie director doesn't make the mogul himself a creative talent. As I've posted here before, Sheinberg spearheaded the atrocious Jaws: The Revenge, which he rammed through pre-production, production, and post-production in less than a year's time to meet a summer release date. (The end result, both in terms of quality and profitability, roars loudly for itself.) Other ideas championed by Sheinberg include dreadful re-edits to Ridley Scott's Legend and Terry Gilliam's Brazil. He also tried to shake down Nintendo for money by suing them in 1982 under the claim that Donkey Kong was a rip off of King Kong.

According to The New York Times, Sheinberg aimed to prove through Creature that a small movie could achieve national distribution through direct negotiations with theater chains and online guerrilla marketing, instead of having to rely on a big studio for support. While the accomplishment of having Creature play at 1,507 single screen locations without the aid of a big studio is supposedly a victory of sorts for independent filmmakers, I think it instead proves that old habits die hard for retired big studio executives. As Creature proves, it doesn't matter how clever or cost-efficient an advertising and distribution campaign for a movie is if the movie itself is unoriginal, poorly made rubbish.

Here are some other interesting Jaws/Creature connections:

* Common Inspirations: Creature rips off its central idea from Creature From the Black Lagoon, a classic creature feature that strongly influenced Jaws and its sequels. In fact, Sheinberg approved of the production of Jaws 3D (a 3D sequel that's similar to the 3D sequel Revenge of the Creature), which sidelined a remake of Creature From the Black Lagoon--a remake that was proposed by Lagoon director Jack Arnold himself and supported by John Landis.

* Redneck-O-Rama: Creature opened within weeks of another water monster movie, Shark Night 3D. Shark Night 3D has been described as Jaws with homicidal rednecks; coincidentally, Creature can be described as Creature From the Black Lagoon with homicidal rednecks.

* A Creature Couple: Peter Benchley, author of the bestselling Jaws novel, also wrote a book called Great White. Great White was later adapted into a TV miniseries that also bore the title Creature. While Sheinberg's Creature is half-man and half-alligator, Benchley's Creature is half-man and half-shark.

The other Creature, courtesy of Peter Benchley.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

REC 2, Quarantine 2, and the Limits of Found Footage Filmmaking



I love found footage movies. When they're done right, they live up to their name of being "found footage"--namely, film and/or video footage that was "found" and edited together for our viewing (dis)pleasure. They're like horror films told solely from the victim's perspective: no cutaway shots to the monsters, ghosts, and/or madmen, no background music to let you know when something bad is about to happen. On the other hand, when found footage films are done wrong, they are either dreadfully boring (such as The Wicksboro Incident) or the story that the filmmakers want to tell doesn't really fit the found footage style of filmmaking, so they abruptly break with the style at some point during the movie. This break usually happens towards the end, when footage is inserted that either wasn't found (such as The Last Broadcast) or couldn't be found because the logic of the story clearly indicates that the footage would've been destroyed before anyone could see it (such as The Last Exorcism).

In the 2007 Spanish film REC, the story is told through video footage captured by journalist Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) and her camera operator who become quarantined inside of an apartment building during an outbreak of an unknown illness. Quarantine is the American remake of REC, and it is very faithful to the plot and visual style of its source material. Where the two films differ is in their sequels: REC 2 stayed with the found footage format and Quarantine 2 abandoned it, opting instead for a cinema verite style that's similar to found footage in appearance but is not limited to found footage storytelling conventions. This difference between the two sequels demonstrates the limits of the found footage subgenre of horror, with Quarantine 2 making the somewhat wiser decision. Read on for my full review, which contains some spoilers.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Iron Man: Armored Adventures Season One Review



As adaptations go, cartoons that are based on popular superhero comic books are in a class of their own. Unlike superhero movies that are limited to approximately two hours per film, superhero cartoons consist of multiple episodes and can thus better emulate the serialized storytelling style found in comic books. On the other hand, both superhero cartoons and films follow the same narrative strategy of retelling the origin of the superhero in question and the origins of the most popular super villains in his rogues gallery, largely for the sake of new fans. Some retellings are mostly faithful to its source material, while other retellings take many creative liberties. Leaning towards the side of "many creative liberties" is the Iron Man: Armored Adventures series, which is will soon be airing its second season on Nicktoons.

When Armored Adventures first appeared in 2009, I didn't give it much thought because it took many of the characters and plot points from the Iron Man comics and gave it a Buffy the Vampire Slayer-like makeover (much like how the live-action Smallville TV series did the same for the Superman comics). In Armored Adventures, key Iron Man characters--Tony Stark, James Rhodes, and Patricia "Pepper" Pots--have been recast as teenagers who use Stark's technological genius to battle a menagerie of super villains from episode to episode. I couldn't bring myself to watch this reimagining of a popular Marvel superhero, especially when I've got the live action Iron Man movies and the animated Avengers series to satisfy my Marvel cravings. Yet Armored Adventures was successful enough to merit a second season, so I decided to give it a shot to see how good it is.

In a nutshell, while Armored Adventures will never be remembered as the definitive animated version of Iron Man, it's much better than I expected it to be, as well as a great introduction to Iron Man for those who know little or nothing about this intriguing Marvel character. Read on for my complete review.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Futurama's New (Old) Groove



Last night, Futurama wrapped up its sixth season on Comedy Central, a season that lasted 26 episodes and two summers. (Yes, two summers. That's how cable channels do things, I guess.) This is the first full season of weekly, half-hour episodes that Futurama has had since it was cancelled on Fox back in 2003. While season six got off to a rocky start, I'm happy to say that the second half of the season show that Futurama has finally returned to form.

As I wrote last summer when season six started, Futurama already had a rough time finding its comic footing during the unusual demands that were placed on it by Comedy Central during season five. As season six got underway, the first few episodes felt like the writers were testing the waters of half-hour, stand-alone episodes again, along with the new levels of raunchiness that they were permitted on Comedy Central. These early episodes, such as "In-A-Gadda-Da-Leela", "Proposition Infinity" and "A Clockwork Origin", were watchable and amusing but ultimately uneven. Thankfully, the later half of the season has shown Futurama finally coming back to its roots as a consistently absurd and outrageous parody of pop culture, science fiction and science fact.


I'm not sure what season seven will bring, other than that it too will be divided into two sets of episodes that will air in the summers of 2012 and 2013. Yet if the last few episodes are any indication (particularly "Benderama", "Law and Oracle", "Overclockwise" and "Reincarnation"), our favorite Planet Express crew has finally returned home. Huzzah!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ten Horror and Sci-Fi Films That Should Be Remade



During the last few weekends, a series of horror and sci-fi movie remakes have appeared at the box office. Remakes of Conan the Barbarian, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, Fright Night and Rise of the Planet of the Apes (which is a remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes) have already been released, and a remake of Straw Dogs is scheduled for release in a few days. It appears that the big studios are determined to remake as many of their big name horror and sci-fi franchises as possible, for no other reason that they want a "sure thing"--namely, franchises that already have devoted fan bases--instead of taking the financial risk of investing in something new and unproven.

What I believe is that if remakes are what the studios want to produce to save money and minimize, then they should be doing is remaking movies they already own but weren't complete successes in their original incarnations for the sake of improving them with better creative teams and better budgets. Read on for ten suggestions of horror and sci-fi films, listed in chronological order, that didn't quite work the first time around and deserve a second chance.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Great Moments in Found Footage History: Incident in Lake County (1998)



This last weekend saw the release of Apollo 18, a "found footage" horror film that depicts NASA's last, top secret visit to the moon and explains the real reason why no one has returned to the moon since then. While Apollo 18 is entirely fictitious, that hasn't stopped the film's producers from courting the moon conspiracy audience by claiming that the film is actually a documentary and sponsoring a conspiracy theory-laden Web site called "LunarTruth.com", a site that is advertised in Apollo 18 itself. (Space.com and The Los Angeles Times have more information about NASA's reaction to Apollo 18.)

This isn't the first time that a found footage film has blurred the line between fact and fiction as part of its promotional campaign. Such a tactic was key to the success of The Blair Witch Project (1999), which went a long way towards convincing some viewers that the events depicted in the Blair Witch movie actually happened. Sometimes, such an approach can backfire, as was the case of Cannibal Holocaust (1980), one of the earliest examples a found footage horror film. Some people were so convinced that Cannibal Holocaust was an actual snuff film that its director, Ruggero Deodato, was hauled into court to prove that his cast of actors was still alive.

Perhaps the strangest example of a found footage film blurring the lines between fact and fiction is Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County. Even though this film was originally written and directed by Dean Alioto as a low-budget horror film, it eventually became known as "the McPherson tape" in the UFO community and continues to generate speculation among hard-core UFO believers about alien visitations to this day. Read on for the complete story behind this unlikely found footage success that's still an obscurity to many horror film buffs.