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, 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."