Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Using Zombies in Hardware Store Ad Campaign = Success; Using Hardware Store in Zombie Mockumentary = Unemployment

During the Halloween season of 2011, I posted a story about how the Westlake Ace Hardware chain of stores in Nebraska used zombies as part of a new advertising campaign. This zombie-themed campaign, which included a witty Web site and in-store "Zombie Preparedness Centers", was a big success. Unfortunately, someone in Georgia didn't get the memo.

According to reports from news sites around the Internet, a group of college students in Georgia produced a documentary short film called When The Zombies Come that won a prize at the recent Sundance Film Festival. The film was shot an Ace Hardware store in Lawrenceville, GA, and it featured real-life Ace employee Alex Warner explaining why a hardware store would be a perfect place to be during a sudden zombie outbreak. One would think that this high-profile, prize-winning mockumentary--a mockumentary that was made without a dime from Ace itself--is an ideal extension of the aforementioned Ace advertising campaign, right? Apparently, Ace Hardware management in Georgia feels otherwise. Ace posted a cease and desist letter on YouTube, claiming that the short can potentially damage Ace's reputation and trademark infringement, and have cut the working hours of Warner to zero.

Here's a screen capture of Ace's expression of displeasure of the film that was posted on Facebook:

Here’s the offending video, courtesy of YouTube:

So far, no complaints have been filed on behalf of the zombie community over the short's supposedly offensive nature. I guess we'll have to wait for the pending zombie apocalypse to know for sure.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Giallo and Slasher Fans Get a Prime Time Treat in The Following

I finally got around to watching the first episode of The Following, Fox's latest horror TV series. While there are other horror shows on other non-premium networks, shows such as Supernatural and American Horror Story, The Following is the only one that is firmly rooted in the giallo/slasher subgenre of horror. As a passionate fan of that subgenre, I'm grateful for this show's arrival. Not only is it off to a promising start with an interesting premise, but I don't have to pay extra on my cable bill to watch it (as opposed to subscribing to Showtime to watch another serialized giallo/slasher series, Dexter).

The Following is the brainchild of Kevin Williamson, whose previous horror credits include TV series such as The Vampire Diaries and movies such as I Know What You Did Last Summer and three of the four Scream movies. The show begins with FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) coming out of retirement to help catch serial killer Dr. Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) who recently escaped from prison. The first episode looks and feels like other well-known serial killer movies--particularly Manhunter and Se7en--but as the episode progresses, it becomes clearer that Carroll has an army of devoted serial killers in training to help him accomplish a much grander, gorier plan that what was originally suspected.

The first season of The Following will consist of 14 episodes broadcast during 14 consecutive weeks, in order to give the show a serialized "page turner" kind of feel. So far, it's working--the first episode ends on a cliffhanger, and I suspect each episode will up until the very end. I can't wait to see where this show goes next. Some additional thoughts:

* The Following wouldn't be the first serialized giallo/slasher series to appear on TV. There were also Harper's Island, which aired on CBS in 2009, and Epitafios, which aired in Argentina in 2004.

* When the first episode of The Following aired last Monday, it was immediately preceded by an episode of Bones that featured a recurring serial killer villain, the elusive Christopher Pelant (Andrew Leeds). The episode, which was titled "The Corpse on the Canopy", began with a flayed, jawless corpse found suspended over a canopied bed and ended with a character sowing his own face together after being shot in the head. Nice thematic pairing there, Fox.

* In a subplot reminiscent of last year's movie The Raven, Carroll patterns his killings and murderous philosophy after the literary works of Edgar Allen Poe. I'm personally hoping that if this series gets another season, the focus will shift to a Carroll disciple who patterns his or her killings after the work of Japan's answer to Poe, Edogawa Rampo.

* The overall plot of The Following--a serial killer who forms a cult that carries out his bloodthirsty wishes--sounds like something that would've fit perfectly within the first season of Millennium, another horror series that aired on Fox from 1996 to 1999. While I think that The Following will fare better than its predecessor due to its serialized format--Millennium suffered quite an identity crisis during its three season run--both series have been considered controversial due to their excessive violence on prime time network television. Millennium was even the subject of an advertiser boycott campaign during its first season.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Nerd Rant: Arnold Schwarzenegger Will be Back for Terminator 5, But is That Really a Good Thing?

According to the box office totals from last weekend, The Last Stand, Arnold Schwarzenegger's first starring role since his stint as the Governor of California, has performed below expectations. I won't go as far as to call it an outright flop--after all, films like this can be quite lucrative overseas and in the home video market--but it was handily beaten at the box office by a ghost movie, a gangster movie, a film noir movie, a Quentin Tarantino movie, a musical, and a godawful Marlon Wayans comedy. For a one-time king of action movies, this could hardly be called a "comeback". With such a dubious return to acting, Schwarzenegger has recently announced his involvement in the upcoming Terminator 5, a move that he apparently feels will better help to restore his acting career.

I understand the logic here: A familiar name like Schwarzenegger wasn't enough to promote The Last Stand, so combining a familiar name with a familiar franchise should logically do better. It’s Hollywood logic, and I think it’s a horrible idea. I've written before about how it's a mistake to regard Terminator as Schwarzenegger's franchise (click here to read that particular rant), so I think that linking the next movie's production to a washed-up action star's campaign to become a box office champ once again is going to be a disaster. Remember, Schwarzenegger thought that The Governator, a cartoon about Schwarzenegger playing himself becoming a superhero, was a guaranteed comeback vehicle too. He was also willing to write and promote a tell-all book about his extra-marital exploits--less than two years after he split from his wife--as a way of staying in the public eye.

But another thing to consider here is that Schwarzenegger's acting career, for the most part, was built on a shtick--a goofy Austrian bodybuilder shtick. People didn't watch films like Commando, Red Heat or Twins for their plots--they went to see these films because a goofy Austrian bodybuilder they liked was in them. I would even argue that Terminator 2, the most profitable film in that series, achieved its popularity because Schwarzenegger's shtick still appealed to large audiences at that time. Yet in the years since Schwarzenegger's acting career faltered and first ended, ask yourself this: When was the last time an action movie star was able to keep a career going based only on shtick?

The problems here are twofold: Not only is the Terminator franchise all too capable of telling great stories without anything remotely resembling Schwarzenegger at its center (case in point: The Sarah Connor Chronicles TV series), but the action-adventure genre has moved on from the era when big muscles, big gimmicks, big stunts and big budgets were all you needed to make a name for yourself. Maybe this was because of the import of Hong Kong action movies during the last two decades, or that more talented writers, directors and actors have entered the genre with increasing frequency. It could also be that the influence of filmmakers such as Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez has encouraged the genre to embrace its pulpy, grindhouse roots, which in turn have produced action movies that are grittier, smarter and wilder than their over-muscled Reagan era counterparts. With that in mind, it is quite fitting that 2010's Predators, the most recent sequel to Schwarzenegger's 1987 movie Predator, was produced by Rodriguez.

I can't begrudge the action genre's influence on the sci-fi genre, because I have a feeling that many sci-fi films wouldn't have been made at all if there weren't components of action and adventure in their scripts. Yet if Terminator is going to continue as an action sci-fi franchise, it needs to remove Schwarzenegger from its production line. It won't matter what new kinds of killer robots the next sequel will create or what kind of ground-breaking special effects it will use to bring them to life; Schwarzenegger has become the obsolete model of action filmmaking, and he doesn't have the talent or creativity within himself to change that.

"Alas, poor Arnold! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of 
infinite ego, of most excellent biceps ...."

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Look Back at Namco's Xevious

One of the fun things about being a devoted geek is looking back at the stuff you loved as a kid (TV shows, comic books, novels, movies and so forth) and discovering new things about them. In this case, I'm talking about Xevious, a vertical scrolling shooter arcade game that Namco released in 1982. Xevious is credited as one of the earliest vertical scrolling shooters, a subgenre of video gaming that would become quite popular among both arcade and home console gamers alike.

Although I don't remember when I first played Xevious, I became quite fond of it for years--I even bought the Atari 7800 system back in the late 80s because it was the first console to feature Xevious as part of its library. For a long time, I thought that the game was a one-hit wonder, because I didn't see any other games bearing the Xevious title and I didn't know many other gamers at the time who loved the game as much as I did. Little did I know that my assumption was somewhat incorrect: While Xevious somewhat successful in the U.S., it became a cult hit in Japan and its popularity led to a few sequels and a spin-off that were only released in Japan. Read on for a look back at this early arcade shooter and the phenomenon it became in Japan.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Is it the End of Line for Tron: Uprising on Disney XD?

I've been hearing rumors about this around the 'net for weeks now and while nothing official has been released as of yet, here's the bad news: Tron: Uprising, the Tron sequel/Tron: Legacy prequel, is probably going to be cancelled on Disney XD.

I've been in denial about this news, even though the writing on was on the figurative wall for some time. When you've seen as many short-lived horror and sci-fi TV shows as I have, you learn to recognize the warning signs: Between the inconsistent showings of episodes in the fall, poor marketing and the recent placement of the show on the 12 a.m. EST slot on Monday mornings, it was pretty obvious that Disney XD management had decided to burn through the first season of Tron: Uprising episodes it had commissioned. This isn't the first time that a TV network has tried so hard to kill off a show it has selected to air, but the fact that the Tron franchise is Disney's baby makes Uprising's likely cancellation even more depressing. After all, you'd think that Disney would show more support behind Uprising with the development of Tron 3 in the movie development pipeline, right?

I think that Tron: Uprising has been an amazing show. It explores areas of the Tron universe in ways that the films never did; its central world of the Grid is like our world and yet so different, adhering to its own unique logic. Running parallel to the logic of the Grid are the programs, individuals who look and behave like humans and yet can be (re)programmed and behave like androids. The voice cast does an excellent job at bringing these computerized characters to life and provides the emotional grounding that add depth to the show's well-written story arcs. (Judging from their line readings, I could particularly tell that Lance Henriksen and Paul Reubens relished their respective villainous roles of General Tessler and Pavel.) Furthermore, Uprising rivals Star Wars: The Clone Wars in the area of quality CG animation--if you're not watching Uprising on anything other than a high-definition TV, you're really missing something beautiful. With so much that it has to offer, I would hate to see this series end so soon.

To be sure, producer Edward Kitsis recently told IGN that even though he is uncertain about the future of Tron: Uprising, he is still encouraging viewers to keep watching the show's remaining two episodes. That's what I plan to do, and hopefully other sci-fi fans will do the same. Even if it is cancelled, I hope that Disney XD's blatant mishandling of Uprising is not an indication of what Tron 3 will be like--or, for that matter, what Disney will do with its other sci-fi franchise, Star Wars.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Mazinger Z Gets a Major Upgrade in Bandai's DX Soul of Chogokin Line

From what little I know of Japanese culture, I can tell you two things: Japan really loves robots and it really, really loves miniatures. Therefore, it only stands to reason that many of Japan's robot toys and model kits will have insane amounts of detail. For example, there's the upcoming DX Soul of Chogokin Mazinger Z set by Bandai, which was released in December 2012.

I'm not very familiar with Mazinger Z as an anime series, but this collectible toy that's based on its titular robot is sure to impress both anime and non-anime fans alike. Sure, the price tag of this toy is jaw-dropping--it costs around $400--but with its jaw-dropping price comes equally jaw-dropping amounts of features and detail. Read on for more information about this robot toy collectible.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Support Cryptozoology Action Figures through Kickstarter

You know who is represented frequently in the area of high-quality action figures? Superheroes and movie monsters. You know who isn't? The creatures of cryptozoology. Thankfully, toy and video game designer Richard T. Broadwater plans to do something about that.

Broadwater is using Kickstarter to fund a new line of action figures called "Legendary Monsters". According to the Kickstarter page, "Legendary Monsters is a line of action figures based on monsters of urban legend and folklore. ... Each of the four monsters comes with an eyewitness figure, a diorama base depicting the surroundings and a written account of the real life eyewitness account right on the package! ... Each victim has 5-6 points of articulation and stands 3 and 3/4-4" tall. Each monster features 10-12 points of articulation and contains hinged arms, legs and ball jointed shoulders. Our figures will be crafted from the best materials and feature solid engineering and are fully posable."

Series 1 of Legendary Monsters figures includes the Jersey Devil, Mothman, the Missouri monster and the Chupacabra. If Series 1 meets its goal, Series 2 will include the Dover Demon, the Flattwoods Monster, the Yeti and the Loveland Frogmen. Future plans also include two deluxe sets, one featuring Bigfoot and the other featuring the Loch Ness Monster.

Click here to learn more about the Legendary Monsters project and what you can do to help get this figures off the drawing boards and into the hands and shelves of action figure collectors.

Great Moments in Creature Feature Special Effects History: The Monster That Challenged the World (1957)

It's almost impossible these days to read online discussions about new and upcoming creature features without encountering some debate over the effectiveness of practical effects versus CGI. I personally think that a combination of both is the best option, although I've been told by someone who works in the industry that the major studios will often dump practical effects for CGI for the sake of cost-cutting and expediency. That's a disappointing development, but unfortunately that is how Hollywood seems to work these days.

Regardless, for those of you who appreciate practical special effects in your monster movies, you should check out the 50s-era "big bug" movie, The Monster That Challenged the World (1957). There are a few things that are misleading about the title--in particular, there is more than one monster in the movie, and the monsters never actually get around to challenging the entire world. Also, this film is technically not a big bug movie because the monsters are actually giant prehistoric mollusks; nevertheless, the film's plot uses conventions that are very similar to the big bug movies from that decade, particularly Them! (1954) and Black Scorpion (1957).

Where this film earns its place in the history of monster movies is in its special effects, where early animatronics technology was used to bring the titular monster to life. Before there was a mechanical shark in Jaws (1975) or a life-sized Alien Queen puppet in Aliens (1986), there was a giant mechanical mollusk in The Monster That Challenged the World. Read on for more details about this early attempt at using animatronics to put giant monsters in the same sets as their human co-stars.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Superhero Origin Story Goes Back to the Basics in Chronicle (2012)

During the summer of 2012, I spent many hours reviewing online discussions among fans who compared The Avengers to Dark Knight Rises, the two big superhero blockbusters of that season. Some argued that The Avengers and Dark Knight Rises are polar opposites of each other in terms of style and mood. On the basis of what I have just watched, I would argue otherwise: The polar opposite of both The Avengers and Dark Knight Rises is Chronicle, the 2012 low-budget film that was directed by Josh Trank and scripted by Max Landis.

I make my comparison based on one major criterion: Avengers and Dark Knight Rises are based on preexisting characters with devoted fan bases, while Chronicle creates a new set of characters that have no fan bases and thus do not have to conform to any preexisting fan expectations or narrative arcs. As a result, Chronicle feels like a fresh and emotionally honest take on a story that has been told many, many times before--the story of what happens when ordinary human beings are granted superhuman abilities. Read on for my complete review.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Robotech Returns (Sort of) with the Genesis Pits Role-Playing Game Sourcebook

2013 will see the return of several beloved horror and sci-fi titles, including Iron Man (as a sequel), Evil Dead (as a remake), and Aliens (as a video game). Yet one that I didn't expect to return was Robotech, the popular anime series from 1985 that has yet to see a successful and consistent continuation in the decades since. From I've read on various anime sites, another straight-to-video film titled Robotech: Love, Live, Alive is scheduled for release sometime this year, although its exact release date has yet to be determined. This post isn't about that. Instead, I'm focusing my attention on a role-playing game (RPG) sourcebook that was published less than a month before the end of 2012: the Robotech Genesis Pits Sourcebook.

The Robotech RPG has been around for a while and new modules of the game usually mirror what is considered to be "canon" (i.e., the animated episodes, as opposed to the comic books or novels). In contrast, the Genesis Pits Sourcebook takes some of the most interesting ideas from the Robotech saga and goes absolutely berserk with them, in a way that makes it sounds like the most promising Robotech release I've seen in years.

According to Palladium Books, the Genesis Pits Sourcebook "takes an in-depth look at the Invid Genesis Pits, their purpose, function, the mutants and monsters they unleash and the dangers they pose for non-Invid. It is jam-packed with never before seen source material, mutations, mutation tables (so you can generate your own Genesis Pit monsters and characters) and more." Here are a few of the things that are included in the sourcebook:

* Inorganics and other war machines of the Invid Regent
* Gura-Invid: Monstrous mutant Invid that do not leave when the Regess and her Invid legions depart a planet
* Evolutionary experiments gone wrong, like giant insects and extinct creatures from Earth's past
* Genesis Pits on alien worlds filled with strange monsters
* Frankenmechs: Monstrous machine hybrids created from the remains of older mecha
* The last surviving Robotech Masters and their clones
* Mutated Zentraedi
* The fate of the Alaska Grand Cannon

I don't even play RPGs outside of video games that include RPG-like scoring systems, but I might pick this book up anyway to see how it pushes Robotech into strange, freaky new directions. Armies of mecha, monsters and mutants, all in one game--what's not to love?