Saturday, December 20, 2014

Have a Merry Mummy Christmas!




This December has seen the release of two movies that evoke the imagery and symbolism of ancient Egypt: the Biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings and the found footage horror film The Pyramid. Such releases are a very rare occurrence for U.S. movie theaters during this time of year, but it puts horror fans like me in a mummy state of mind—and just in time for the holiday season! In honor of this embalmed state of yuletide bliss, here’s a look back at some memorable mummy merchandise that have been released over the years, merchandise that may still be available so that you can put some cursed undead mirth under your Christmas tree for your special someone. Read on ....

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Loving the Alien Ornament from Hallmark


I'm sure that most Alien franchise fans have this item by now, but I'll say it anyway: the Alien ornament from Hallmark is fantastic!




Dozens upon dozens of Alien statues, model kits, busts and action figures have been released during the last few years, but this is the first collectible that has been made for your Christmas tree. The ornament's design is based on H.R. Giger's original "Big Chap" costume from Alien and the amount of detail on the ornament is extremely impressive for its scale--it even includes the semi-transparent dome that masks the creature's skull-like face. Furthermore, the creature is sculpted in a hunched position, making it look somewhat like a gargoyle perched on the edge of a cathedral.

For as impressive as the ornament is, the Alien uber-fan side of me would have preferred to have the creature depicted in a slightly different way. In the director's cut of Alien, there's a brief glimpse of the Xenomorph hanging motionlessly among a series of chains, like a praying mantis waiting patiently for its next meal, seconds before it descends to attack Brett (Harry Dean Stanton). Sculpting the Xenomorph in that position would've added an extra layer of menace to the ornament, as if it were hanging motionlessly among the other tree decorations until an unsuspecting Christmas elf wanders by.


An artist's depiction of the Xenomorph,
as seen in the director's cut of Alien.


Personal gripes aside, the Alien ornament does have another benefit outside of adding parasitic, biomechanical horror to your holiday festivities: It is also close to scale with the dioramas that that McFarlane Toys made for the 2004 Alien vs. Predator (AVP) movie. So, once you're done displaying this movie monster on your tree, you can put it alongside the AVP dioramas for display with the rest of your Alien merchandise collection during the rest of the year.





Monday, December 1, 2014

Future Familiar: The New Trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens




Unless you decided to take a vacation under a rock over the weekend, you'll have heard by now that the first trailer for the next Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens (a.k.a. Star Wars: Episode Seven) has arrived at both movie theaters and on the Internet. It's been met with great fanfare--within hours of its debut, the 'net was swamped with new updates, analyses, and complaints about this 88 second bit of film. There's even a stop-motion remake of this trailer that's been made purely with Lego toys. How fanboy-ish can you get?

The new trailer is a teaser in the most literal sense. It doesn't give any hints about the film's plot; instead, it gives us fleeting glimpses of what this era of the Star Wars universe looks like. What I think most critics, commenters and curmudgeons have missed it how the trailer emphasizes familiar aspects of Star Wars, details that fans will instantly recognize such as vehicles (X-Wings, TIE Fighters and the Millennium Falcon), technology (an astromech droid and pod racer engines) and uniforms (Stormtrooper armor and someone dressed in the Sith fashion ensemble of a black Sith hood and red lightsaber accessory). Some of these things look slightly different in order to suggest a passage of time between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens--the Stormtrooper armor looks more streamlined, and the astromech has a different body than the standard barrel-shaped model--but the trailer doesn't stray into anything that fans wouldn't recognize in some way. (While we're on the subject, the same emphasis on familiarity has been part of the advertising and marketing of the new Star Wars: Rebels animated series, with lightsabers, TIE Fighters, Stormtroopers and two-legged Imperial walkers making very frequent appearances.)


Star Wars' new astromech droid, although I hear that only
goalies are allowed to pick it up with their hands.


I'm assuming that the purpose of leading this film's marketing campaign with the familiar is to get fans excited for episode 7 before easing them into aspects of the new trilogy that will be significantly different from the previous six films. With a title like The Force Awakens, I think we'll be seeing a few startling revelations about how the Force works, how the revelations relate to the "balance in the Force" prophesy, and what it all means to both Jedi and Sith alike. Personally, I'm hoping that the new trilogy will revisit some of the stranger aspects of the Force that were introduced in The Clone Wars (such as the story arcs that involved locations such as Mortis and Moraband), since these aspects have the potential to make the new trilogy the epic conclusion it was always meant to be. I can't wait!

Here's the trailer, in case you haven't seen it yet:


Thursday, November 27, 2014

New: Gentle Giant's Jumbo Secret Wars Spider-Man Action Figure




Gentle Giant's campaign to enlarge the action figures from yesteryear continues.

This effort began a few years with releasing 12 inch replicas of Kenner's 3 and 3/4 action figures from the original Star Wars trilogy. Now that is has super-sized almost every Kenner Star Wars action figure by now, Gentle Giant has moved on to releasing jumbo versions of the action figures that Mattel released as part of its Marvel Secret Wars line during the mid-80s, starting with Spider-Man in his black symbiote costume. This was the first action figure to feature Spider-Man in something other than his usual red and blue webbed suit.


The original Secret Wars Spider-Man figure by Mattel.


I never purchased any of the Secret Wars figures but I've heard collectors complain about how poorly they were made, particularly how the paint on the figures has a tendency to flake and peel. From what I've read about the '80s toy wars, Mattel bought the rights to produce Marvel superhero figures as a way to compete with Kenner's Super Powers toy line, which was based on DC's universe of superhero characters. Yet because Mattel already had a hit with its He-Man toys, the Secret Wars line only existed to cover kids who were interested in superheroes but not He-Man. It's hard to imagine how a company like Mattel could consider a toy line based on Marvel characters to be a lower priority and thus produce substandard products, but that's exactly what happened with the Secret Wars line. I still don't understand the appeal of jumbo figures but given its reputation as a producer of quality collectibles, Gentle Giant's jumbo Secret Wars Spider-Man figure is probably better-made than the original figure itself.

Click here to place your order for this jumbo trip down Marvel memory lane.



Tuesday, November 25, 2014

NRH Collectables Gets “All Banged Up” For Jaws


I just received word from NRH Collectables owner/sculptor Nigel R. Humphreys that the next item in his company’s line of Jaws dioramas is ready for order. Check this out:




The previous diorama from NRH depicted the estuary scene, when Chief Brody's son Mike has a close encounter with a monster shark. This latest release, “All Banged Up!”, is inspired by another memorable moment when Brody and marine biologist Matt Hooper find the battered remains of a boat owned by Amity fisherman, Ben Gardner.

As with its previous releases, NRH has gone out of its way to recreate this shocking Jaws scene. While the main piece with Gardner's severed head peeking out of the boat's hull is impressive unto itself, I'm amused by the inclusion of a shark's tooth and an underwater flashlight--the two items that Hooper drops when Gardner's disembodied noggin pops out to make a postmortem greeting.

Click here to see more pictures of this exciting new diorama and to place your order. Don’t wait--only 100 copies will be made, so get your piece of Jaws history today!



Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Banality of Evil as a Pseudo Documentary: A Review of Punishment Park (1971)




Visions of dystopias have been a common staple in science fiction films for decades, so much so that they have become their own subgenre. From the earliest examples such as Metropolis (1927) up until recent adaptations of popular young adult novels such as The Hunger Games, bleak and disturbing depictions of our collective future have made regular appearances on the silver screen, so much so that they're rarely regarded with surprise or offense. Yet there's one dystopian film that was met with extreme opposition and disdain upon its release, so much so that it remains obscure to this day: Punishment Park, a 1971 pseudo documentary that was written and directed by Peter Watkins. Read on for my review of this remarkable and frequently overlooked film.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Futurama and Simpsons Crossover: Fox's Final, Belated Backstab?




I know that I'm a bit late to the party on this topic--over a week, in fact--but I thought I would chime in anyway. I stopped watching The Simpsons on a regular basis at around the tenth season 14 years ago (has it really been that long?), and Comedy Central cancelled Futurama last year. Nevertheless, if you have ever been a fan of one or both of these shows, the recent Simpsons episode titled "Simpsorama" which featured characters from Futurama represents a milestone of sorts that should be seen at least once.

The crossover episode, which only ran for a meager 22 minutes, was nothing groundbreaking in terms of plot or character development; instead, it served as more of a statement of how Fox has (mis)treated the animated properties of creator Matt Groening, especially when compared to the hour-long Family Guy episode that involved a crossover with The Simpsons that aired a few weeks earlier.

I don't know how or why both the Family Guy and Futurama crossovers happened within such close proximity to each other, although I suspect that it's part of some kind of bucket list for The Simpsons before it (finally) goes off the air in another year or so. Fox executives were probably demanding the Family Guy crossover to help promote the network's flagging Sunday night "Animation Domination" programming block while the Simpsons production team were demanding a Futurama crossover so that they could work with Groening's other creative property, and the two crossover episodes that finally aired this year were the result of the ensuing compromise. Of course, Futurama got the short end of the stick from Fox ... again. (Remember, Futurama originally aired on Fox until it cancelled the series in 2003.)

For what it's worth, a Futurama/Simpsons crossover already happened over a decade ago--in the comic books. Bongo Comics published a two-part, four-issue crossover miniseries called the Futurama/Simpsons Infinitely Secret Crossover Crisis, and that story made much better usage of the source materials from both series than what finally made it on the air the other week. Unfortunately, both cartoons do their best sight gags through the medium of animation, so the printed page is limited in conveying the full range of Futurama and Simpsons wit. In a just world, the animated crossover would have been an hour long, or maybe as one of the straight-to-DVD Futurama "movies" that were released between 2007 to 2009 before it returned to TV as a weekly series. Instead, what fans got was only what Fox would allow ... again.

I did think that the Futurama/Simpsons episode was funny (the joke about Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics is hysterical), but it still felt disappointing no matter how often it made me laugh. After all, it's hard to be ready for a comedy show when it opens with this depressing, all-too-self-aware tagline:


If The Simpsons and Futurama could be buried in the same grave plot in the cancelled TV show graveyard, "A show out of ideas teams up with a show out of episodes" would be the epitaph on their shared headstone. Groening's contributions to American primetime animated comedy deserve so much better.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Kotobukiya Updates Tomy's Z-Knights




A while back, I published a retrospective post about Zoids, Tomy's popular line of motorized toy robot kits. One of its lesser known spin-offs was Z-Knights. This other toy line matched the overall design aesthetic of the Zoids (e.g., intricate designs that allowed for motion, tiny pilot figures, rubber connector cap, etc.) but instead of robots shaped dinosaurs, insects and other animals, Z-Knights were robots with humanoid forms that would lumber along on two legs courtesy of wind-up or battery-powered motors.


Two robots from the original Z-Knights toy line.


Z-Knights disappeared from toy shelves about as quickly as they arrived, but they haven't been forgotten by Zoid fans. Thus, Kotobukiya just released upgraded versions of two of the Z-Knight kits--Type-K and Type-V--for both dedicated Zoid collectors and new robot hobbyists alike. Click below to see how Kotobukiya breathed new life into these amazing robot designs (photos courtesy of Hobby Search).

Thursday, October 16, 2014

New: A 25-Inch Jaws 3 Collectible Shark from Shark City Ozark!


To paraphrase one of the taglines for Jaws 3, here's a deadly new attraction . . . that you can add to your Jaws collection, courtesy of Shark City Ozark (SCO).




The new Jaws 3 shark is part of the SCO Ultimate Bruce Shark Collector's Set, which previously consisted of intricate, scale-accurate models of the mechanical sharks that were used in Jaws and Jaws 2. Like the previous entries in this set, these sharks are thickly roto-cast out of pure undiluted white resin, making them almost solid with over a half-dozen layers of thickness. Such casting makes the sharks more stable to ship and a lighter weight to handle and display (which probably makes the SCO Ultimate Bruce Shark Collector's Set sharks much more durable than the actual mechanical sharks themselves). Click here to pre-order the Jaws 3 shark, and each shark will include a Certificate of Authenticity.

Thankfully, SCO shared some pictures with me about their latest contribution to the Jaws fan community, and you can click below to see the pictures and learn more details about this fin-tastic Jaws 3 shark replica courtesy of Mike V. Schultz, SCO owner and sculptor extraordinaire.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Nerd Rant: The Super-Awesome Wii Star Wars Video Game That Could Have Been




Since Disney bought Lucasfilm back in 2012, tidbits about unfinished Lucasfilm projects--particularly video games--have been slowly coming to the surface. Earlier this week, a bitter bit of news arrived for those of us who are both Star Wars fans and avid Nintendo Wii owners: Somewhere out there, there's a complete first-person Star Wars video game that allows players to use Wii Motion Plus controls to pilot Star Wars vehicles (such as X-Wings and Speeder bikes) and engage in lightsaber duels, but this game will probably never see the light of day. Oh, the pain, the pain ....

Wii had a good selection of Star Wars games, such as the Force Unleashed titles and the Lego Star Wars series, but a first-person Motion Plus game set in the Star Wars universe would have been the absolute best. Read on for more details about this chapter of Star Wars video gaming that will never be.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Planet of the Apes and Mego, Together Again




As it has done with the Predator license, NECA has been producing an impressive selection of merchandise under the Planet of the Apes license. So far, it has released intricate, multi-jointed figures based on both the original Apes movie series and the reboot that started in 2011 with Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Now, NECA is returning to another area of the Apes franchise that hasn't been seen since the '70s: figures based on the classic Mego 8-inch action figure design. Mego produced a line of Planet of the Apes toys during the mid-'70s, with figures based on characters from both the movies and the live-action TV series that aired in 1974.


Some of Mego's original Planet of the Apes action figures.


NECA's line of Mego-styles Apes figures will begin with two characters from the original 1968 Planet of the Apes movie: a gorilla soldier and George Taylor, the astronaut character who was played by Charlton Heston. Both figures will come with cloth suits and accessories, and will feature impressively sculpted head designs; in fact, NECA's Taylor figure is the first of its kind to bear the likeness of Heston. Both figures will be released in early 2015, and you can place your pre-orders here and here.

Hopefully, these figures will be successful enough that NECA will produce more Mego-like figures from the original Apes films. I'd personally like to see NECA release a figure based on the underground mutants from Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), complete with removable face.


The underground mutants from Beneath the Planet of the Apes,
holding their faces in hand and singing praises to a nuclear missile.



Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Space Travel Tech of Alien: Isolation




After a long wait, Creative Assembly's Alien: Isolation finally hit the store shelves a few days ago and the response by both critics and gamers alike has been extremely positive. From what I've gathered by reading the reviews, this game does a superb job at re-creating the look and feel of the Alien universe as it was originally envisioned by Ridley Scott, but how much you'll enjoy Isolation depends upon how much you can tolerate being stalked and killed by a towering Xenomorph over and over and over again.

As with most other quality games based on established franchises, the visual designs in Isolation expand upon its source material in exciting and engrossing ways. Concept artist and illustrator Brad Wright recently posted a few pictures of the game's concept art on Deviantart.com, so I snagged a few to focus the game's primary space vehicles: the Aneisdora, the space vessel that transports a Xenomorph to the space station Sevastopol; and the Torrens, the space vessel that takes Amanda Ripley (daughter of Ellen Ripley) to Sevastopol to retrieve the flight recorder from the lost Nostromo. Click below to see more pictures of these latest additions to the Alien saga's fleet.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Star Wars: Rebels Premiere Rockets Into Hyperspace




I've been very busy lately, but not too busy to catch the premiere episode of the new Star Wars: Rebels animated series. If what I saw was any indication, we're looking at the start of a new era for the blockbuster space opera franchise.

I tuned into Rebels primarily because I am a die-hard Star Wars fan. I love all six of the movies, I love the Clone Wars animated series, and I have loved many of the toys, video games, comic books and novels that the franchise has produced over the years. Long after other sci-fi franchises have either come to a complete stop or have been content to recycle the same plots over and over again (e.g., Robotech, Star Trek, Terminator, etc.), Star Wars has kept me engaged by expanding and exploring a sweeping, multi-generational saga from a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Star Wars: Rebels looks to be a fantastic addition to the saga, and the first that doesn't involve anyone with the last name of "Skywalker". As the title suggests, the series tells the story of a small band of rebels (including a former Jedi, an ace Twil'lek pilot, and a teenage boy who exhibits the early signs of Force sensitivity) as they fight against the Empire on the Outer Rim world of Lothal. It takes place five years before A New Hope, so many details from the original Star Wars trilogy are in abundance in Rebels: TIE Fighters, Stormtroopers, and Star Destroyers are nearly omnipresent on and around Lothal.




The premiere episode is a fun romp that introduces the characters and sets up the series' basic premise and relationships. It makes numerous callbacks to the original trilogy in terms of scenes, dialog, and background music motifs, as well as a few key nods to the prequel trilogy: Obi-Wan Kenobi's warning message to the surviving Jedi in Revenge of the Sith plays a significant role, and there's a line of dialog about "masters and apprentices" towards the end of the episode that mirrors similar dialog about the the Sith at the end of Phantom Menace. The nods to the prequel trilogy serve as a poignant reminder of how much the galaxy has turned against the Jedi, turning Jedis from hunters of the Sith to being ruthlessly hunted by a Sith-led galactic Empire. Furthermore, many of the production team members from the Clone Wars animated series were brought over to work on Rebels and their experience at producing exciting, action-packed CG animated shows in spades. Like the predecessor cartoon, Rebels delivers the kind of space battles, blaster shootouts and lightsaber duels that fans have come to expect from Star Wars.

Even though it is set on Lothal, there are so many places that Rebels can go. So much of the Rebel Alliance's conflict with the Empire was left out of the original trilogy that I can't wait to see what the series has in store for us next. Episode VII can't come soon enough, but Star Wars fans will have plenty to keep them entertained in the meantime with Rebels.


Some of the new--yet very familiar--toys from the Star Wars: Rebels line.



Thursday, October 2, 2014

For Halloween: A Black Skeletal Candelabrum


All Halloween decorations are cool, but some are way cooler than others.




My wife and I found this at a home goods store the other week and at a reasonable price of only $12, we knew we had to have it. Such a magnificently morbid arrangement of skulls, a rib cage and spines--complete with a shiny black finish--looks like something directly out of a European "bone church", so that naturally makes it an ideal way to display candles this Halloween season. Click below for more pictures.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

DX9 Toys Gives Machine Robo 600 Series MR-01 Bike Robo (a.k.a. Cy-Kill) the Deluxe Treatment




I haven't kept up with the hobby of Transformers toy collecting, but I have heard recently that many unlicensed third party toy companies outside of Hasbro have been producing and selling their own transforming robot toys. According to Wikipedia, a third party Transformer toys "can be completely original designs, new molds based on existing characters, add-on sets for existing Transformers toys. ... Growth of the third party Transformer industry is largely due to rejuvenated interest in Transformers following release of the Classic line in 2006 and the 2007 Transformers film release. It was targeted at filling the gaps Hasbro's toys demanded by the collectors."

One of the toy companies that has hopped on to the third party Transformers bandwagon is DX9 Toys, and its line of third party Transformers line expanded last summer to include a figure from another transforming toy robot line from Japan: Machine Robo. Thus, Machine Robo fans finally got a deluxe figure based on one of that line's earliest figures, the 600 Series MR-01 Bike Robo (a.k.a. Cy-Kill, the name that was given to the figure when it was sold in the U.S. under Tonka's GoBots line).




Considering its origins as a small and simple die-cast metal toy, DX9 did an impressive job at breathing new life into the original design. Even though it retains the basic shape and coloring of the Bike Robo toy, the DX9 Salmoore features intricate details, more joints for a much greater range of motion, and a vehicle mode that resembles an actual motorcycle. Its guns even become chrome-plated mufflers for the motorcycle.



Above and below: Size comparisons of the original Machine Robo MR-01 toys and 
DX9's Salmoore figure (pictures courtesy of Collection DX).



As with most transforming robot toys that are aimed at the collector's market, the price tag for the DX9 Salmoore comes in at a high cost of $110. Nevertheless, it's a treat for Machine Robo aficionados and a complementary piece for the deluxe figure of MR-03 Jet Robo (a.k.a. GoBots' Fitor) after it was redesigned for the Machine Robo: Revenge of Cronos anime series.


The deluxe MR-03 Jet Robo figure.



Friday, September 19, 2014

Feel the Power of Revoltech's Darth Vader Figure




For those of you who are not familiar with action figure collecting, Revoltech is a line of intricate figures produced by the Japanese company Kaiyodo. What sets Revoltech figures apart from others are their unique "Revolver Joints", points of articulation that allow of a wide range of motion and stability. Most Revoltech figures are based on characters from Japanese movie, anime series and video games, although some are based on DC and Marvel superheroes and characters from non-Japanese movies such as Alien, Jason and the Argonauts, and Predator.

This year, Kaiyodo will launch its first line of Revoltech figures based on the Star Wars franchise, starting with Darth Vader. Click below for more details and pictures of this super-poseable figure.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Reimagining Lucio Fulci's Gates of Hell in Zeder (1983)




Whenever a movie becomes a hit, it's guaranteed to spawn at least a handful of blatant rip-offs. However, there are rare cases when a lesser-known film appears that has clearly been influenced by a more popular movie (or movies) but takes the themes of its more well-known counterpart in a familiar but different direction, thus adding something new to the viewer's experience. For example, director Francesco Barilli was clearly inspired by Roman Polanski's work--especially Repulsion (1965) and Rosemary's Baby (1968)--when he made The Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974), yet Barilli's interpretation of the themes within Polanski's films is unique enough that Perfume feels more like a variation on Polanski's work and not an empty imitation.

With that in mind, here's my post about Pupi Avati's Zeder (1983), a horror movie that's clearly influenced by Lucio Fulci's "Gates of Hell" trilogy: City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981) and The House by the Cemetery (1981). What makes Zeder so intriguing for a Fulci fan like me is that Avati approaches his film in such a way that it feels like an extension of Fulci's trilogy, even though Avati's directorial style is very different from Fulci's surreal, blood-drenched visions. Read on for my comparison between Zeder and Fulci's trilogy, with some mild spoilers.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Arachnids + Advanced Robotics = The T8X Robot Spider




I've always loved insects and arachnids and I've always loved robots; thus, my life-long infatuation with robots that move like insects and arachnids was inevitable. Unfortunately, battery-powered toys have almost always came up short on meeting my obsessive need: Either they lumbered along using inflexible legs or they had wheels on the bottom with legs on the sides that wiggled whenever the toy moved in an extremely poor imitation of arthropod locomotion. But times have changed, and with that comes a significant leap (crawl?) forward with Robugtix's T8X Robot Spider.

Robugtix has been working on spider-like robots for some time now, and the T8X Spider is one of the latest outcomes of its efforts. T8X has plenty of features, with 26 servo motors that control its movement and Wi-Fi capabilities that allow it to be controlled wirelessly from anywhere; however, what really makes this spider robot stand out is its Bigfoot Robotics Engine. According to the Robugtix T8X web page, the Bigfoot Robotics Engine "handles all the complex math calculations necessary for controlling multi-legged walking robots. All complex computations are safely hidden from the user similar to a black box. This means that the user only has to send short and simple commands to the robot (for example, instructing it to walk forward at a desired speed) and the engine will automatically take care of all the details, including inverse kinematics, leg trajectory planning, leg gait coordination, motor control, etc. This makes it incredibly easy for anyone to play with advanced robotics."


The inner workings of a T8X Spider. Note the extra space provided for a camera add-on.


Of course, another thing that sets the T8X apart is its price: $675. This is a significant reduction from the prices of T8X's predecessor--the T8, which costs $2,950--but it's still a big chunk of change, especially if you're a budget-challenged geek like me. Yet if you've got the cash to burn and love robot spiders, you might want to give this the T8X a (web) spin. Check out the demo video of the T8 below:




Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Home Invasion Goes Awry in You're Next (2013)




As horror and thriller subgenres go, home invasion movies probably have the most difficult time telling unique and memorable tales--after all, what other subgenre has a title that gives away its plots? With such a built-in drawback, writers and directors of home invasion movies have to provide something more original, more intense and/or more shocking than average home invasion fare. Thankfully, You're Next, a 2013 thriller directed by Adam Wingard, meets the challenge with Grand Guignol-esque gusto.

You're Next tells the story of four adult children (and their significant others) who visit their parents' remote estate for a weekend family reunion. As they sit down for their first meal, they are viciously attacked by a group of assailants wearing animal masks and brandishing a selection of deadly weapons. However, as the surviving family members frantically plan to protect themselves against the sudden onslaught, the line between attacker and victim becomes blurred in ways that no one expects.

You're Next masterfully assembles the dysfunctional family movie with the narrative conventions of slasher and home invasion films to deliver an efficient and effective mix of brutal horror and pitch-black comedy. Even the end credits are morbidly funny. The humor isn't as self-referential as Scream or as gonzo as The Cabin in the Woods or Bad Kids Go to Hell but if you have an appreciation of gallows humor, you'll be sure to pick up the sick, twisted punchlines mixed in with the scares and shocks.

Honestly, I was amazed to see how Wingard keeps the story balanced enough to provide a consistent flow of humor and horror from beginning to end. The cast (which includes horror movie vets Barbara Crampton and Ti West) also delivers on their end; in particular, Sharni Vinson provides a strong turn as Erin, one of the significant others at the reunion who has the most interesting secrets to keep.



Friday, September 5, 2014

The Fractured Personality of Darth Vader




Just when you think you know everything about a hideously disfigured, Jedi-killing cyborg Sith Lord, something new arrives to cause a disturbance in the Force.

I saw a meme the other day that mentioned how some psychologists are using Vader and his pre-Sith identity, Anakin Skywalker, to explain certain psychiatric disorders to their students. With my curiosity piqued, I did some searching on the 'net and it turns out that the meme was right. According to a 2010 article from livescience.com, psychiatrist Eric Bui and researcher Rachel Rodgers have been using Anakin/Vader to teach their students about borderline personality disorder (BPD). As the article explains, "(Anakin) Skywalker hit six out of the nine borderline personality disorder criteria as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV). He only needed to meet five criteria to qualify as suffering from the disorder. ... The researchers also suggested that the success of the "Star Wars" prequel films might partially rely upon how teens can relate to the troubled Anakin Skywalker. Only adults can be diagnosed with to borderline personality disorder under the current DSM-IV guidelines, but Bui and Rodgers pointed to several studies that suggest the disorder is fairly frequent among teens."

Bui's publications regarding the psychology of Anakin/Vader was also covered in a 2007 article in Wired, which provides an overview of each of the traits that make the notorious Sith Lord meet the criteria of BPD: "He has difficulty controlling anger, stress-related breaks with reality (after women in his life die or leave), impulsivity (dangerous pod racing), obsession with abandonment (those women again) and a "pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of ideation and devaluation" (hello, Obi-Wan). ... In another sign that he's borderline, the authors argue that Skywalker suffers from an "identity disturbance." After all, he did become Darth Vader after being "very unsure of who he was and what he wanted." ... Carolyn Kaufman, a clinical psychologist in Columbus, Ohio, said the diagnosis holds up in many ways, although Skywalker might also suffer from histrionic personality disorder and bipolar disorder (manic depression)."

For as much as some have dismissed the Star Wars franchise as little more than special-effects driven fluff that's designed to sell toys, there's so much going on within the saga (in the characters, in the set designs, in the conceptual art, etc.) that I can see why fans are still enthralled with something that's over 37 years old. The complicated psychology of Anakin/Vader is just one of the saga's more intriguing and unique aspects. In fact, Bui's work reminds me of an article I read many years ago (and that I can't find right now to cite), where the author compared Luke Skywalker's desire to "save" his father from the Dark Side in Return of the Jedi to the behavior of some adult children toward their abusive parents, particularly parents who suffer from alcoholism.

To paraphrase Han Solo, "Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for antipsychotic agents and mood stabilizers, kid."



Friday, August 29, 2014

Ray-se Your Own Zombie Army Through Ray's the Dead Kickstarter Campaign




I love it when monsters appear in video games, but there aren't nearly enough games out there where players can actually be the monster. Thankfully, Ragtag Studio hopes to address this unmet need through a Kickstarter campaign for Ray's the Dead, a morbidly humorous zombie game.

Ray's the Dead puts players in the lumbering footsteps of Ray LaMorte, a zombie who has just risen from the grave. He doesn't remember how he died or what the glowing device is that has been attached to his head. Throughout the game, players control both zombie Ray in the present and living Ray in flashbacks to solve the mystery behind Ray's resurrection. Players can also use the device that's stuck to Ray's head to turn enemies into controllable zombie minions.

From what I've seen and read about Ray's the Dead so far, it looks extremely promising. The Kickstarter campaign has already reached its initial goal for producing the game for PC, Mac, Linux and Playstation 4, and additional stretch goals include voice acting, an additional boss fight, a release for Wii U, and more. Go to the official Ray's the Dead Kickstarter page for more details. You can also check out the game's preview video in the window below.



Monday, August 25, 2014

The Marvel Movie Universe Soars to Greater Heights in Guardians of the Galaxy




I haven't seen many movies in the theater this summer but of the two I did see, I'm glad that they were both Marvel movies made by Marvel itself: Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. (On the other hand, I haven't seen Spider-Man 2 and X-Men: Days of Future Past, this summer's Marvel movies that were not made by Marvel.) I don't know how Marvel does it, but it makes the production of entertaining, interconnected superhero movies look so easy.

In contrast to the tense, somber Captain America movie that kicked off the 2014 blockbuster season, Guardians of the Galaxy is a wild, humorous romp into parts of the Marvel universe that aren't located on Earth or Thor's home world of Asgard. As such, Guardians is more of a pulp sci-fi space opera that's told with a wink and a smirk--due in no small part to director James Gunn, whose filmography includes oddball genre flicks like Slither and Super--but superhero fans won't be disappointed.

The basic plot of Guardians is that a group of space-faring misfits--including a two-legged talking raccoon and a hulking, tree-like being who can only say "I am Groot!"--come together to stop an evil alien fanatic from using an ancient power source to destroy an entire planet. This is run-of-the-mill popcorn sci-fi stuff, but the creative sparks that make it worth the ride are Gunn's direction, a witty script, jaw-dropping special effects, and a willing and able cast that includes Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel. In case you're wondering how far Marvel has come in building its reputation for making films, consider this: It was able to cast noted acting talents such as Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro and John C. Reilly in bit parts in Guardians and it looked like they were having a blast anyway.

Of course, what would a Marvel movie be without nods to other Marvel movies and comic books? Guardians has got that in spades, providing a treasure trove of Marvel trivia that could launch even more spin-offs. Cameo appearances are made by the Chitauri (the villains from The Avengers movie) and Dark Elves (the villains from Thor 2), and a subplot includes one of Marvel's supreme villains, Thanos (the character who made a cameo appearance at the end of Avengers). While there will be a sequel to Guardians, there are enough nods in this film to open possibilities for Captain Marvel, Adam Warlock, Nova and many other characters and story arcs from the Marvel archives.

Keep it coming, Marvel. I can't wait to see what you bring to the silver screen next.



Sunday, August 24, 2014

Red, White and Mego: Diamond Select Toys' Marvel Retro Captain America 8″ Figure Set is Available for Pre-Order


Diamond Select Toys has just announced that it is taking pre-orders for the next installment in its Marvel Retro series of limited edition 8-inch Mego figure sets: Captain America. The first set for Spider-Man was announced a few months ago, and upcoming sets are rumored to include Iron Man and Wolverine.




Like the Spider-Man set, the Captain America set will be a limited edition that features a precise recreation of the original 1973 Mego Captain America action figure along with additional head and hand sculpts, costumes, and accessories. Unlike the Spider-Man set, none of the head sculpts, costumes or accessories will include nods to the '70s era live-action TV version of this superhero. Then again, the '70s weren't very kind to Cap, since that particular incarnation (played by Reb Brown) looked to merge him with attributes from motorcycle stunt superstar Evel Knievel, presumably for merchandising reasons. Even HYRDA wouldn't be that cruel.


Captain America from the '70s: Genetically-enhanced Super Soldier 
and motorcycle stunt attraction. Top that, Chris Evans!



Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Retro Review: Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce (1985)




Lately, I've been getting a kick out of The Strain TV series. I haven't read the novels, but I enjoy how Strain's creators Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan have reimagined vampires into hosts of wormy, body-mutating parasites while being true to the key details that make vampires what they are (e.g., blood-sucking, fear of sunlight, preference for sleeping in coffins, etc.). It's also cool that The Strain depicts vampires as a disease-like epidemic; in fact, long before George Romero started the first zombie plague in his 1968 movie Night of the Living Dead, Richard Matheson depicted a vampire plague in his 1954 novel I Am Legend.

If you're impressed as I am with what The Strain has done with vampires, then you might want to take a look at another unique depiction of the notorious night creepers: Lifeforce, the 1985 sci-fi thriller that was directed by Tobe Hooper. Read on for my review of this odd, spectacle-driven vampire tale.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Classic Atari Game Consoles Live on at the AtariAge Store




In the vast realm of geekdom, it is not uncommon for avid fans to take matters into their own hands whenever the market fails to meet their merchandising needs. If an insufficient amount of collectible items are produced for a particular franchise, fans will take it upon themselves to fill the gap through homemade resin model kits, customized action figures, detailed costumes and so on. Some fans will even do this for video game consoles that were discontinued ages ago, which bring us to the topic of this post: AtariAge, purveyor of homebrew video games for the classic Atari consoles from the '70s, '80s and '90s.


The first issue of Atari's Atari Age magazine (1982 - 1984), 
the source of AtariAge's name.


To call AtariAge an exercise in nostalgia is an understatement--it aims to completely recapture the Atari gaming experience for its homebrew games by selling the in system-specific cartridges in boxes that are modeled after the Atari video game boxes, including colorful cover art. If you just want to play old Atari games, there are plenty of emulators on the Internet that you can download; if you want the full Atari game playing experience, AtariAge is the place to go.


Four of the homebrew games available at AtariAge.


AtariAge sells homebrew games for the following Atari systems: 800, 2600, 5200, 7800, Lynx and Jaguar. It even sells homebrew games for ColecoVision, one of the consoles that rivaled Atari's in the early '80s. AtariAge's inventory also includes magazines, posters, and a selection of hardware items for those who are looking to modify their classic consoles.

I have to give AtariAge lots of credit for what it does, especially in a hobby area that thrives on cutting-edge technology and is built on the model of planned obsolescence. Video gaming is a culture in its own right and it's nice to see that someone is keeping the memory of gaming's early days alive in the years before online gaming gave pathological jerks places to vent their endless streams of bile.

Click here to go to the official AtariAge site, which also includes podcasts, discussion forums, blogs, and other stuff for classic gaming enthusiasts. You can also check out the AtariAge YouTube channel which features video clips of its many homebrew titles.


Here's a selection of Atari consoles that were provided by AtariAge to this month's
Classic Game Fest in Austin, TX. If you look closely, you'll notice that most of them
have been modified for stereo sound and S-Video and Composite output.



Friday, August 8, 2014

Go on a Kaiju Killing Spree with Wii U’s Tank! Tank! Tank!



Boy, times have changed for home video game consoles over the years. Way back in the early ‘80s, my friends and I judged the quality of a console by how closely it could recapture the video game arcade experience in the comfort of our homes. We wanted to play arcade hits like Donkey Kong and Pac Man in front of our TV sets without spending mountains of quarters, so we wanted to get as close to the original games' graphics and game play as possible.

Generations since that bygone era have looked elsewhere to evaluate the quality of home video gaming, because arcades have largely disappeared from the pop culture landscape. Thus, it came as a surprise to an old-timer like me that Wii U’s release of Tank! Tank! Tank!, an extremely faithful port of Namco's multiplayer arcade game from 2009, was received by many current generation gamers with a combination of bewilderment, boredom and disappointment.

From what I read in other reviews, many gamers had no idea that Tank! Tank! Tank! began as an arcade game so they dismissed it as z-grade shovelware. Leave it up to an old-timer like me to clear up the confusion: Fans of classic arcade shooters will get their money’s worth from Tank! Tank! Tank!, as will anyone else who has an appetite for super-destructive monster mayhem. Read on ...

Saturday, August 2, 2014

A Galactic Space Saga Gets Tiny in Hasbro’s Star Wars Command Toy Line




As with previous years, this summer's San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) previewed the release of many new TV series, movies and toy lines connected to familiar, well-worn franchises. Star Wars was one of those franchises at SDCC, with an upcoming movie trilogy in the works, an animated TV series named Rebels that's premiering this fall, and a wide selection of merchandise to keep the fans engaged and excited. The merchandise came in a wide selection of sizes, and one of the most intriguing and fun set of items appeared in a very small size: Hasbro’s new Star Wars Command toy line.

Star Wars Command takes characters and vehicles from the six movies and Rebels and gives them the plastic toy soldier treatment so that kids can re-create some of the saga’s epic battles. (No word yet on whether future Command released will include characters and vehicles from the Clone Wars animated series.) Command sets will feature multiple miniature figures and vehicles from one of four factions: Republic, Separatist, Rebel Alliance or Imperial Empire. Most of the figures will be soldiers, with an occasional "General" figure based on one of the major characters from the Star Wars saga. There’s a possibility of additional character types--I saw a picture of several Tusken Raiders (a.k.a. Sand People) on display with the other Command toys at SDCC --but the initial toy line appears to be focused on the saga's most heavily armed groups.




Star Wars licenses have yielded plastic toy soldier-like lines before, with varying degrees of popularity. Kenner first tried with its Micro Collection line back in 1982, but that didn’t sell well and disappeared before Return of the Jedi arrived in theaters the following year. Galoob added Star Wars vehicles, characters and play sets to its Micro Machines and Action Fleet lines and although they were a hit with toy collectors, the design of those items placed a much greater emphasis on compactness than combat-oriented play. In contrast, Star Wars Command aims to let kids engage in all sorts of scale-sized chaos.

In addition to the figures, the miniature vehicles in the Command sets come with "Strikers", pull-back motors that can be clipped to the vehicles for ramming into figures and other vehicles. The largest Command set comes with a remote control Star Destroyer; not only does the Star Destroyer move forward and backwards, but it also splits apart to launch "Energy Blast" balls. I'm hoping that if this toy line takes off, more RC toys based on larger Star Wars vehicles will become available and play sets will be produced based on key battles with the saga. For example, I think a play set based on the Hoth battle--complete with a battery-powered ion cannon that launches "Energy Blasts"--would be a great addition to the line.




Click here to see a complete list of Star Wars Command sets that will arrive on toy store shelves this fall, and check out the video below that shows a demo of the toy line from last February's American International Toy Fair.