Saturday, March 31, 2012

Pissed at The Mist (2007)

Good monster movies are hard to come by, let alone good monster movies that were released in theaters. In the case of The Mist, the 2007 adaptation of a Stephen King novella that was released in theaters nationwide, we get a monster movie that is well made and has a lot of potential. The central premise about an invasion from another dimension is intriguing, the cast is solid, and the scriptwriting and direction by King adaptation vet Frank Darabont keeps the plot moving at a steady pace. Unfortunately, the story itself never comes together, largely because it’s nothing more than an assemblage of familiar King character types and situations taken from other, better monster movies. Read on for my complete review.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Smithsonian Hosts The Art of Video Games

As someone whose first video game console was an Atari 2600, I can tell you with great certainty and enthusiasm that video games have come a long way since their early Pong days in the 70s. But don't just take my word for it--it appears that the Smithsonian agrees with my opinion in their current exhibit, The Art of Video Games.

According to the exhibit's 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 focuses on the interplay of graphics, technology and storytelling through some of the best games for twenty gaming systems ranging from the Atari VCS to the PlayStation 3. Eighty games, selected with the help of the public, demonstrate the evolution of the medium. The games are presented through still images and video footage. In addition, the galleries will include video interviews with twenty developers and artists, large prints of in-game screen shots, and historic game consoles."

I missed the opening GameFest weekend, which was held during March 16 - 18, but additional events are scheduled for April and May. After the exhibit closes in Washington DC at the end of September of this year, it will travel to 10 other locations throughout the US for those avid gamers who can't make it to our nation's capital. There's also a companion book for the exhibit, The Art of Video Games: From Pac-Man to Mass Effect by Chris Melissinos and Patrick O'Rourke, which you can learn more about here.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Topps’ Mars Attacks Trading Card Series Turns 50

One of the coolest horror/sci-fi events that's coming this summer won't be playing at your local multiplex. Topps' legendary Mars Attacks trading card series is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and in honor of this pop culture landmark, Topps will re-release the original 55-card set this July along with 25 additional cards that feature never-before-seen art. Several other companies have also signed on to release a wide selection of other Mars Attacks merchandise during this summer, including action figures, plush toys, comic books and model kits.

A 50th Anniversary Mars Attacks Action Figure, by Mezco.

In the long list of alien invasion novels, movies and TV shows, there's nothing quite like the Mars Attacks card series. It's an insane mash-up of 50s-era nostalgia and over-the-top violence; even though the cards depict a story about an alien invasion of Earth by skull-faced, large-brained invaders, the story doesn't weight itself down with complex characters and nuanced story arcs and goes straight for the gory carnage in card after card.

The Atomic Age feel of the Mars Attacks art is hardly coincidental. Len Brown used Wally Wood's cover of Weird Science issue #16, a sci-fi comic book that was published by EC Comics during the early 50s, as a source of inspiration when he pitched the card series to Topps. Horror and sci-fi comics disappeared from newsstands by the mid-50s due to the Comics Code Authority (CCA) but their influence clearly lived on in other titles such as Mars Attacks. (Read more about horror and sci-fi comics from the 50s here in my review of Jim Trombetta's book, The Horror! The Horror!: Comic Books the Government Didn't Want You to Read!)

The comic book cover that launched a trading card invasion ...

... And its tribute card from the 1994 Mars Attacks re-release.

Given its source of inspiration, Mars Attacks inevitably generated its own controversy back when it debuted in 1962, but that wasn't enough to stop the invasion. The cards were re-printed during the 80s and 90s with additional cards included, and the Mars Attacks license expanded to include comic books, novels, and even a feature-length movie by Tim Burton in 1996. There's also THQ's Destroy All Humans! video games, which are essentially video game versions of the Mars Attacks cards.

If you're a fan of gory horror and sci-fi art, then the Mars Attacks card series is something that would fit perfectly with your collection of artistic atrocities. Click here to see the complete set of Mars Attacks cards as they were originally released in the 60s, and you can also check out the official Mars Attacks Facebook page here.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Bring Me The Head of Charlie Brown: The Best Peanuts Parody Ever!

Things have been pretty busy for me lately over in my corner of the geek-o-verse, so I thought I would take this time to share with you this hilarious cartoon short, "Bring Me The Head of Charlie Brown":

The Peanuts comic strip by the late Charles M. Schultz (as well as its ample supply of licensed merchandise and ancillary media titles such as holiday specials and feature-length movies) had become such an institution during its original 50 year run, so much so that newspapers still feature it on their comics pages over a decade since Schultz's death. Thus, there have been many, many parodies of the strip, yet I think that so few of them are as funny (and as wildly violent) as "Bring Me The Head of Charlie Brown".

I first saw this 1986 short while I was in college, when it was making its rounds on VHS bootlegs in Japanese anime fan clubs. (Sadly, the video quality of the short is pretty poor, and I doubt that it will ever get a "special edition" treatment.) The short was made by Jim Reardon, whose subsequent career would include Tiny Toon Adventures, The Simpsons and WALL-E. Be sure to check out the short's credits, which includes a "please don't sue me" disclaimer intended for Schultz. Happiness is a warm Uzi, indeed.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Avengers + Spider-Man + Tron = Must-See TV on Disney XD

Even though the latest live action film versions of the Avengers and Spider-Man won't be arriving in movie theaters until this summer, you can get your fill of both when they premiere on Disney XD this April. Furthermore, while Tron Uprising isn't scheduled to begin airing as a regular series on Disney XD until this summer, a preview "micro-series" will begin in a few weeks. Read on for a closer look at each of Disney's new offerings to superhero and sci-fi fans alike.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Darth Maul Returns (Again) to the Star Wars Universe

The relationship between what is considered canon and non-canon in popular horror and sci-fi movie and TV franchises has always been a curious one, in my opinion. Usually, only the movies and/or TV episodes are considered canon, while other stories that take place in the same franchise but are told in video games and print (such as novels and comic books) are not. Yet this is not to say that the non-canonical elements in a franchise have no influence at all on what is later considered canon. For example, several story ideas that first appeared in Predator and Terminator comic books eventually re-appeared in each of the Predator and Terminator movie sequels (and, in the case of Terminator, in The Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series). Another example of the relationship between canon and non-canon happened in the recent fourth season finale in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars, when Darth Maul returned to take his revenge against the Jedi order.

Darth Maul in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

The return of Darth Maul was originally suggested in a short story that appeared in Star Wars: Visionaries, a one-shot comic book that was published by Dark Horse Comics shortly before the release of Revenge of the Sith back in 2005. To further verify the connection between comic book and cartoon, the Force-powered cyborg Maul in Clone Wars looks almost exactly like the Force-powered cyborg Maul in Visionaries.

Darth Maul in Star Wars: Visionaries.

Fortunately, resurrecting Maul is more than just a ratings stunt for Clone Wars. The two-part finale that depicted the return of Maul was a fantastic way to wrap up an already outstanding season of this series, and it laid the roots for the Maul's ongoing menace during the fifth season. I'm assuming that Maul will continue his revenge against the Jedi, and perhaps even cause some trouble for Count Dooku (a.k.a. Darth Tyranus), the Sith apprentice who took his place. Also worthy of note is that Maul is voiced by veteran Star Wars voice actor Sam Witwer, who previously contributed his talents to The Force Unleashed video games and the Planet Mortis story arc during the third season of Clone Wars. Check out Witwer practicing his craft in the recording booth along with Clancy Brown (who voices Maul's brother, Savage Opress) in the video clip below.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Paranormal Activity 3 Review: A Tale of Two Doomed Sisters

It's rare for a horror film franchise to produce sequels that remain devoted to a group of characters with a consistent chronology. It's even rarer that the same franchise can tell its ongoing story in reverse chronological order, and that the franchise keeps the budget and production values of each of its films consistently small. Upon viewing Paranormal Activity 3, I can confirm that this "found footage" franchise, which began back in 2007, meets all of those attributes, which makes it a valuable rarity unto itself.

Click below to read my full review for PA3, which contains some mild spoilers. I really enjoyed this sequel, largely because it provides some great scares and it adds a great deal of new background information to Katie (Katie Featherston) and Kristi (Sprague Grayden), the sisters from the first two movies. If you prefer to stop reading to avoid spoilers of any kind, then I can only recommend this: If you're of the mindset that prequels are completely unnecessary and anti-climactic because the fates of the key characters have already been established, then PA3 is not for you. However, if you are genuinely interested in how it all began for Katie and Kristi, then this prequel is worth your time.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Coming Soon: 2012 Annapolis Comic-Con

If you live in Maryland or anywhere else near the Chesapeake Bay area and feel the need to get your comic book geek on, you’re in luck. Third Eye Comics will be holding the 2012 Annapolis Comic-Con on March 24 and 25.

This year’s con has an impressive list of guests, including John Ostrander (Suicide Squad, Star Wars: Legacy), Jo Chen (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel), JK Woodward (Crazy Mary, Zombie Tales), and many more. The topics of panel discussions will range from comic writing and painting, to selling your original comic book creations, to zombie survival techniques (yes, you read that last item correctly). There will also be a cosplay forum and a costume contest—must-haves at any self-respecting comic book convention.

Check out the Annapolis Comic-Con site and Facebook page for more details and pictures from last year’s convention.

Monday, March 5, 2012

R.I.P. Ralph McQuarrie (1929-2012)

I don't usually do obituaries on my blog but given how frequently I cover visual art and sci-fi franchises such as Star Wars, it would be remiss of me to not mention the recent passing of concept artist and matte painter Ralph McQuarrie. He passed away on March 3 at the age of 82, from complications due to Parkinson's disease. There are many places around the Web that feature much more information about McQuarrie's career and art (check out his official site here), so I thought I would share a few memories I have of his sizable contributions to my lifestyle choice of obsessive geekhood.

Even though his career didn't start in the entertainment industry, McQuarrie contributed his talents to many movies and TV shows. He provided conceptual art for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Cocoon, Nightbreed, Jurassic Park and the original Battlestar Galactica TV series. Yet he left his biggest impression on the original Star Wars trilogy, and I don't think that any other entertainment franchise expressed its gratitude for McQuarrie's contributions as much as Star Wars did.

As a young fan of Star Wars, I didn't know much about the film's production outside of what George Lucas did; however, I did know who Ralph McQuarrie was in relation to Star Wars and its two sequels. I saw McQuarrie's concept art in many Star Wars books, magazine articles, posters and bubblegum cards, and he and his art also appeared in several issues of Bantha Tracks, the newsletter for the official Star Wars fan club. To sum it up in a single sentence, McQuarrie was the link between what Lucas envisioned for his movie and the sci-fi pulp art from the early twentieth century that inspired Lucas to make Star Wars in the first place. It was in McQuarrie's art that Lucas' ideas for the Star Wars saga took form, long before a single frame of film was shot.

In the years since the original trilogy, McQuarrie's art (both original art and concept art) would reappear in various pieces of Star Wars merchandise. Click below to see some examples of these items, which thus makes Star Wars the only franchise where fans can collect replicas of popular characters and vehicles in both their official and conceptual forms. Beat that, Star Trek!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Prometheus Versus Alien Vs. Predator (AVP)

Last week, 20th Century Fox's promotional campaign for the upcoming release of the Alien prequel Prometheus moved into the area of viral marketing. Fox launched the Weyland Industries site, which features a video clip of its fictitious founder Peter Weyland (played by Guy Pearce) providing a TED Talk in the year 2023. I included the video in the window below.

Alien fans will notice nods in Weyland's speech to a few entries in the franchise--particularly Alien and Aliens, with brief mentions of androids and terraforming. Weyland also recites the ancient Greek myth of Prometheus, the namesake of this movie. From what I've pieced together from other sites that have covered this video, Weyland's TED Talk predates the events in Prometheus by 50 years, although Pearce will appear in the prequel as well. Whether he will play Peter Weyland's grandson, Peter Weyland himself in flashbacks, or something else entirely remains to be seen.

Regardless of exactly where and how this clip fits with Prometheus, it supports a theory that I've had since I first read the plot summary of the movie a few months ago. Between the idea of ancient astronauts and the involvement of one of the key founders of what will ultimately become the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, I think that Prometheus will be Ridley Scott's rebuttal of Alien Vs. Predator (AVP), which was directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. Read on for more thoughts as to why the new entry in the Alien franchise might remove one of the more recent Alien movies from series' continuity.