Friday, March 29, 2013

Holy Comebacks, Batman! DC Looks Back to the Classics in Batman ‘66

I’ve read many articles over the years that have discussed the transition of comic books from paper to the Internet. While I prefer my comic books to stay on the printed page, one upcoming title that might change my mind is Batman ’66, a new series that’s being published online by DC starting this summer. Batman ’66 issues will be written Jeff Parker and its initial stories will be drawn by Jonathan Case.

Batman ’66 will be based on the live-action Batman TV series that premiered in 1966 and starred Adam West and Burt Ward. According to Parker in an interview with Comic Book Resources, Batman ‘66 is going to follow the TV series’ approach to Batman as closely as possible, including the campy scripting and bright visual aesthetic. “We are able to say that a grown man dressing as a bat and fighting crime is a whacked-out concept, and embrace it all the way,” says Parker. “I think with this you have to be able to get thrills and humor in balance, you can't treat it like a lark. The story needs to be engaging and appreciate the audience.”

I’m glad to see that the classic Batman TV series is getting some newfound love from DC. Even though there are still legal issues that keep the show from being released on home video, the Batman ’66 comic is arriving at around the same time as Mattel’s new series of toys based on the Batman TV series. As part of Batman ‘66, Parker plans to include Batman villains from the comics that never appeared in the TV show, villains such a Killer Croc. At the risk of being accused of Bat-blasphemy, I’m hoping that we’ll also get to see campy, over-the-top interpretations of Bane, Hush, Ra’s al Ghul, Damien Wayne, and a Burt Ward version of Nightwing.

Mattel's new Batman action figures. Note how closely the figures capture the respective 
likenesses of Adam West, Frank Gorshin and Burgess Meredith.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Old Super 8 Home Movies Make the Final Cut in Sinister (2012)

For as much as horror movies are associated with scary monsters that are made possible through complex special effects, some of the most noteworthy movies are the ones that take something that is so ordinary and harmless and turn it into the source of unimaginable terror. Such is the case with the Super 8 movies that form the center of Sinister, a 2012 film that was directed and co-written by Scott Derrickson.

Sinister tells the story of Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), a true crime novelist who moves his wife and kids to a small town in Pennsylvania where a family was massacred by an unknown killer. Oswalt hopes that his research into the murders will provide him with a new bestseller that will rejuvenate his stalled career. While his family moves into their new home, he finds a box of Super 8 home movies in attic that were shot of different families at different locations, from the 1960s to the present. Strange and eerie things begin to happen as Oswalt researches the films to understand their link to the murders he is investigating, things that push him and his family deeper into a mystery that isn't meant to be solved.

Sinister feels like a hodgepodge of ideas from other films that feature found footage, ghosts and slashers, but the end result of this combination is a creepy, compelling film that boasts a strong performance by Hawke and haunting direction by Derrickson. Even though seasoned horror fans will figure out the film's final twist before the characters do, Sinister is so well produced that it will keep you watching until the final twisted frame.

Even though Sinister is not a "found footage" movie like Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, the Super 8 home movies that Oswalt finds become an intimidating force during the course of the story, thus turning an obsolete media format into a vehicle for hallucinatory nightmares. In an interview with Bloody Disgusting, Derrickson revealed that he shot the Super 8 movies before shooting the rest of the film. "I think that creating the Super 8 imagery before shooting the body of the film – along with finding the music that I found – had a lot to do with the overall impact of the whole film," said Derrickson. "Those elements set a tone in my mind that represented what the movie was going to feel like. I bought 9 music tracks ahead of time and shot the Super 8 films to those tracks. ... In some ways I think buying that music early on was the wisest move I made when making the film. I can’t imagine what the movie would be without them." In that observation, Derrickson is absolutely correct. Imagining Sinister without its Super 8 movies is like imaging Alien without the artwork contributed by H.R. Giger.

When considering the creative influences in Sinister, the most obvious would be The Shining, Ringu, and H.P. Lovecraft's "The Dreams in the Witch House" story. Yet with its depiction of the insanity that erupts when voyeurism collides with obsession, Sinister's most interesting themes are similar to those in David Cronenberg's Videodrome. Derrickson's film is not nearly as bizarre as Cronenberg's, but Hawke's intense portrayal of a man falling under the hypnotic thrall of disturbing moving images is reminiscent of Videodrome's doomed protagonist Max Renn (James Woods).

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Attention All Star Wars Fans: Act Now to Support The Clone Wars!

In my last post, I looked at what has been revealed to be the last episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, since it ended its run on Cartoon Network and Disney has no plans to continue it on any of their TV channels. As I was drafting the text for that post, I came across a message from Supervising Director Dave Filoni about the future of Clone Wars, a message that hinted at further Clone Wars adventures in the future (not as a TV series but in some other unspecified format) and it included new animated footage.

Unfortunately, the news I read yesterday took a more dire turn: According to several sources, the creative team behind Clone Wars is being disbanded and its members are either being assigned to new projects or are being let go. Along those lines, rumors have surfaced that Disney is severely downsizing Lucasfilm Animation and handing all future Star Wars TV projects over to an existing TV operation, thus further reducing the likelihood of Clone Wars ever seeing a proper resolution to its many storylines.

I think that Disney is doing a tremendous disservice to Star Wars fans by leaving the Clone Wars series unfinished. It added a significant amount of depth to the saga as a whole, and it served as a prime example of how good TV animation can be with the right amount of talent and effort. If you would like to contact Disney to express your support for future seasons of Clone Wars, go to the Save the Clone Wars site for more information on what you can do. You can also check out the Alliance To Restore The Clone Wars page on Facebook. May the Force be with The Clone Wars!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Three Curtain Calls at Cartoon Network: Green Lantern, Clone Wars, and Young Justice

This month marks the end of three major series from the Cartoon Network: Green Lantern: The Animated Series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and Young Justice. As a horror and sci-fi fan, I've gone through may fair share of TV series cancellations; nevertheless, between these three shows and Disney XD's recently departed Tron: Uprising, I've never seen so many genre show cancellations within such a short time frame. Click below for some additional thoughts and observations about the final episodes of Cartoon Network's latest cancelled series.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

For June: NECA's Aliens: Genocide Action Figure 2-Pack

With its new line of figures based on the 1986 sequel Aliens, NECA is taking a cue from its line of Predator figures--namely, to produce and release figures based on creature designs that appeared outside of the Alien movies. The first example of this strategy will be hitting the shelves in June as an action figure 2-pack that's based on the Dark Horse Comics' miniseries Aliens: Genocide.

For those of you who haven't read any of the Aliens comic books, Genocide is about a group of humans who insert themselves into a war between two rival Alien hives. In an obvious nod to the Aliens' ant-like social structure, one hive consists of black Aliens while the other consists of red Aliens (think black ants versus red ants). Thus, NECA's 2-pack will feature 9-plus inch black and red Alien figures, each with over 30 points of articulation, extending inner mouths, bendable tails, and double-jointed elbows and knees.

You could argue that all NECA is doing here is giving toy collectors the same figure twice in the same pack but with different paint jobs. Maybe so, but the vivid coloring of the red Alien would make it the ideal complementary piece for NECA's Big Red Predator figure.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Invisible Demonic Terror Returns to Suburbia Again in Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)

Among modern horror film franchises, Paranormal Activity is the only one that has been able to consistently use the "found footage" style of storytelling throughout each of its films. Other franchises that began in the horror subgenre of found footage all jettisoned that style at one point or another. Some did as soon as the first sequel (Blair Witch Project, The Last Exorcism), while others did so later (REC). Yet upon my viewing of Paranormal Activity 4, this franchise's accomplishment is looking rather dubious. After all, why stay within the style of found footage if it begins to hamper a franchise's storytelling possibilities?

For as competently made as it is, PA4 serves as a reminder that its franchise needs to make some major changes very soon to keep its central story engaging and avid fans interested in more PA movies. Read on for my complete and spoiler-free review of Paranormal Activity 4.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Protect Gotham City from Evil Minifigs in Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes

In my opinion, Traveller's Tales' Lego video games are works of evil addictive genius. Unlike other licensed video games, Lego video games combine the logic of game play, toy play and toy collection into a single interactive experience. Since the first Lego Star Wars game was released back in 2005, each subsequent Lego game has added new features to this format but the original combination remains intact. In a Lego video game, players control characters to guide them through game-like scenarios, interact with objects and environments as if they were brick-assembled toys, and acquire new characters and vehicles to complete a virtual, in-game toy collection. These games also feature a two-player cooperative option, so you and a friend can play with the toys each game has to offer.

One of the latest Lego games is Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, which was released in 2012 for each of the major consoles. Lego Batman 2 is not only a sequel to the previous Lego Batman game; it also takes everything that's great about Lego video games and makes them even better, resulting in a title that's great for both video gamers and superhero fans alike. Read on for my complete review.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Coolest Geek Dad Ever Hacks Donkey Kong for His Daughter

This is fantastic news for geek parents who are introducing their kids to classic video games, so I had to post it here. It was written by game designer Mike Mika and published in Wired magazine, and the article's title says it all: "Why I Hacked Donkey Kong for My Daughter". As Mika writes:
"My daughter ... jumps at the chance to play games with her old man. She’s only 3, but she’s always exhibited a keen interest in games. ... (O)ut of all of the older games, she most enjoys playing Donkey Kong. Maybe it was because it was the first game we really played together, or the fact that she watched the King of Kong documentary with me one afternoon from start to finish. Maybe it’s because Mario looks just like her Grandpa. Whatever the case, we’ve been playing Donkey Kong together for a while. She’s not very good at it, but insists on playing it over and over again until she finally hands me the joystick in total frustration. ... Finally, one day after work, she asked to play Donkey Kong, only this time she raised a pretty innocent and simple question: 'How can I play as the girl? I want to save Mario!'"
So what did Mika do? He hacked Donkey Kong and changed it so that Pauline, the female character in the game, is now saving Mario. So what did his daughter think of it? According to Mika:
"Just like clockwork, she woke up and sat on my lap asking to play Donkey Kong. Only this time, she could play as Pauline. She was excited! But for all she knew, I just figured out how to get Pauline to work. And that was fine. I wasn’t expecting it to change her life. We played for a bit. And some more. And again later. You know what? She really did seem to enjoy the game more. For whatever reason, she was more motivated to play as Pauline than as Mario."
My geek hat is off to you, Mr. Mika. Anything that gets kids of both genders into playing video games and appreciating the classics is a good thing in my opinion, and the fact that you went the extra distance for your daughter is an example that all geek parents should follow. Game on!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

A Movie Review of 9 (2009): Rag Dolls and Robots at the End of the World

A recurring complaint that I've read in film reviews--particularly of films that rely heavily on special effects--is the one of "style over substance". While this is a valid complaint, I find it irritating at times because of its rote usage by bored film critics who overlook the instances where a film's style is its substance. After all, cinema is an inherently visual medium; thus, the possibility that a filmmaker can tell a compelling story by emphasizing images and only using minimal dialog (or no dialog at all) should be part of a film critic's range of considerations. Not every film has to provide Shakespeare-caliber soliloquies in its script in order to be a bold and intelligent film. Such is the case of 9, and 2009 CGI animated movie that was directed by Shane Acker and produced by Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov.

9 is a science fiction fantasy film that takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting. It's short on complex dialog but long on symbolism and metaphor--some obvious, others not so much. It's also quite bold in that it depicts the human race as being unable to survive a doomsday of its own making and a world that will eventually go on without us. That's pretty grim stuff for a film that's essentially about anthropomorphic rag dolls. Read on for my full review.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Clash Between Warring Extraterrestrial Races Goes Portable in Alien vs. Predator: Evolution

For those of you who are still reeling from the disappointment of Gearbox’s Aliens: Colonial Marines, here’s something to assuage your frustration for the time being: Angry Mob Games has just released Alien vs. Predator: Evolution for the iOS and Android platforms.

AvP: Evolution is a third-person action melee game, where gamers can play as either an Alien or a Predator. Unlike most previous AvP games, Evolution does not have a human campaign, although it looks like there will be plenty of humans around to slaughter anyway. Evolution is also the first AvP game to include the Super Predators, the leaner, meaner space hunting clan from the 2010 sequel Predators. I don't know the game's plot in detail, but it appears to borrow a few ideas from Dark Horse's Aliens vs. Predator: Three World War comic book miniseries.

The game footage looks impressive, but I’ve read from some who have already bought the game that it’s best to play it on higher-end portable devices; playing the game on lower-end devices results in many glitches that frequently interfere with the gaming experience. Go to the Angry Mob Games site for more information about AvP: Evolution, and watch the launch trailer below.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

R2-D2 and C-3PO: Kenner vs. Hasbro

Anyone who has paid attention to the toy industry over the last few decades will tell you that when it comes to toys based on pre-existing creative properties (e.g., comic books, TV shows, movies and video games), the amount of features and details present in such toys has skyrocketed. Nowhere has this change of quality has been more evident than in the toys for Star Wars, a franchise that has been producing toys by the ton ever since it first arrived back in 1977.

Kenner found itself with a huge cash cow on its hands when it secured the toy license for Star Wars during the original trilogy, but the toys produced by Hasbro during the subsequent years are much more movie-accurate than their predecessors. This post will look at two popular Star Wars characters, the loyal droids R2-D2 and C-3PO, how they were represented as 12 inch scale figures by both Kenner and Hasbro, and the MPC Star Wars model kits played a part in these figure designs. Read on ...