Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Look At Monsters vs. Aliens: The TV Series




One of my all-time favorite CGI animated comedies is Monsters vs. Aliens (2009), a loving tribute/sendup of the pulpy sci-fi flicks from the "Atomic Age" of the '50s and '60s. What I didn't know was that MvA went on to become a short-lived CGI cartoon on Nickelodeon that ran from March 2013 to February 2014.

I found out about this series completely by accident last month when I was scrolling through my digital cable TV menu and saw an ad for MvA that looked familiar but included characters that I didn't recognize from the movie. Boy, was I surprised--not just to find it, but to see that it's a worthy follow-up to the movie that should have lasted longer than a single season. Read on for my complete review.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Figures Toy Company Releases Super Friends Mego Figures




Of my many years of being a geek, I've learned two things: 1) never underestimate the power of nostalgia and 2) never underestimate the lingering appeal of a well-designed toy.

Even though Mego went out of business in 1983, its contribution to geek toys has lived on among collectors for many years since. Specifically, its eight-inch action figure model--a model that's flexible enough for any franchise license and cheap to produce--has been enjoying a renaissance in recent years.

Toy companies such as Bif Bang Pow and NECA have been releasing figures for various licenses based on the Mego figure model, licenses that were never carried by Mego when it was still in business. In contrast, Figures Toy Company has been releasing DC superhero figures that look exactly like the same figures that Mego released during its heyday the '70s. These figures have been so popular that Figures Toy Company has expanded its DC lines to include different versions of popular DC characters, such as a figure line based entirely on the live-action Batman TV show from the '60s.

The latest DC line from Figures Toy Company is based on Hanna-Barbera's Super Friends cartoon from the '70s and ‘80s. This line features characters that first appeared in this cartoon (e.g., Apache Chief, Samurai and the Wonder Twins). It also includes familiar characters such as Superman and Robin but with head sculpts that are carefully modeled after how these characters appeared in the cartoon.




Most of the DC purists I know disavow the cartoon as a legitimate part of DC history, but I find it fascinating to see a series of Mego-like figures being released under the Super Friends license decades after the cartoon went off the air. Sure, Super Friends figures have been released before, but Mego and Super Friends were contemporaries of each other. Even though Mego released DC superhero figures while the cartoon was on the air, no one at Mego thought it was necessary to specifically re-brand the figures as Super Friends figures. Thus, to finally see Mego figures that are labeled as Super Friends figures feels like a kind of pop culture time warp, as if they were artifacts from an alternate history where Mego saw value in creating a Super Friends figure line. It's the same feeling I got with Bif Bang Pow's line of Mego-like figures for the original Battlestar Galactica TV series, another contemporary of Mego.

Another DC line that's being released by Figures Toy Company is based on Kenner's Super Powers action figure line from the '80s. The figures in this line still have the general build of a Mego figure, but these are supposed to include punching action features like the original Super Powers figures. In contrast to Super Friends, though, the Super Powers line has a more bittersweet connection to Mego: It debuted in 1984, a year after Mego went out of business and lost the DC license to Kenner.





Sunday, October 25, 2015

Cyberbullies Get Deleted in Unfriended (2014)




Way back in 2001, Japanese horror director Kiyoshi Kurosawa released a film called Kairo (a.k.a. Pulse). An apocalyptic story, Kairo told the tale of a group of Japanese college students who are investigating the death of their friend and its connection to a mysterious Web site that promised the change for the living to communicate with the dead. As the movie unfolds, it turns out that the site is allowing hordes of dead spirits to invade the world of the living, which in turn causes people to either commit suicide or simply vanish, leaving behind nothing but a shadow-shaped arrangements of ash.

The heavy-handed message of Kairo was its metaphorical prediction that the Internet would inevitably cause people's sense of community to collapse. This would lead to an epidemic of depression and dispair as more and more individuals become separated from their fellow human beings because of too much technology invading our lives.

Well, it's 2015, the Internet is as popular as ever, and the dead have yet to initiate doomsday against the living via our computers, cell phones, tablets and other networked devices. What we actually do have now are cyberbullies, and they take the center stage in Unfriended, a 2014 horror film by Levan Gabriadze. Unfriended handles the social shortcomings of the Internet much more deftly than Kairo; instead of ponderously moping over the pending death of social communities, Unfriended reveals the dangerous superficiality--and anonymous hostility--of Internet-based social relations. Read on for my complete review.

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Look at Hallmark's Predator Ornament




As part of this year's annual release of Christmas ornaments, Hallmark has included an ornament based on the titular monster from the 1987 creature feature Predator. I just picked up one for my own holiday season geek tree, and here are some thoughts I have about Hallmark's attempt at turning an interplanetary big game hunter into a Yuletide decoration. Read on ...

Saturday, October 17, 2015

A Killer from the Past Wreaks Havoc with the Present in The Caller (2011)




The plot device of time travel most commonly appears within the science fiction genre, imagining the possibility of a technology that would allow people to freely move forward and backwards through time. Yet when time travel appears in the horror genre in films such as Donnie Darko (2001) and Triangle (2009), the story sometimes ignores the technology idea and instead depicts a reality where warps in time are just random events that happen to hapless, unsuspecting victims. Such a view is a very unnerving one, that something as inescapable and inexorable as time can also be inconceivably unstable and that people can be sucked into parallel timelines or never-ending time loops without anyone else noticing. In the case of The Caller, a 2011 thriller directed by Matthew Parkhill, the story of horrible, unexpected things that can happen when the present unwittingly shares information with the past.

The Caller focuses on Mary Kee (Rachelle Lefevre), a woman who just divorced her abusive husband Steven (Ed Quinn) and is looking to start her life over as she moves into a well-worn apartment complex. One night, she receives a phone call from a shaken womand names Rose (Lorna Raver) who believes that her lover is cheating on her. After a few conversions with Rose, Mary learns that Rose is calling her from 1979, and the information that she innocently shared with Rose is beginning to have disastrous consequences for the present.

There aren't many suspense thrillers like The Caller, and this one had me on the edge of my seat for most of the film. When the relationship between Mary and Rose becomes adversarial, it becomes disturbingly clear how much power Rose really has over Mary--Mary can't stop whatever Rose does in her time and what kind of impact it will have in the present. Also, according to the time travel rules of the film, only Mary can remember how things were before Rose changes the timeline; thus, only Mary understands the true horror of what is happening around her--and to her--but no one notices because as far as everyone else is concerned, the changes made by Rose were how things have "always" been.

I honestly couldn't predict where this film was going and the ending is a complete knockout, deftly using the themes and structure of the story to deliver a jaw-dropping final image. Time travel films don't get much more intense than this, so I highly recommend The Caller.



Friday, October 16, 2015

Play with Virtual RC Flying Toys in Wii U's Quadcopter Pilot Challenge




The latest waves of remote control (RC) flying toys have fascinated me, and their falling prices have tempted me on more than one occassion into actually buying one. Yet while I may be a nerd by choice, I am also a klutz by nature; thus, I'm certain that I'd somehow wind up breaking the toy within days--if not hours or minutes--after purchase. Thankfully, someone at TACS Games understands my geeky dilemma and has recently released Quadcopter Pilot Challenge as a downloadable eShop game for the Wii U. Read on for my complete review.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Available Now: We Belong Dead's Christopher Lee Tribute Issue




When horror icon Christopher Lee passed away last June, it felt like a particular era of horror cinema came to an end. Lee led an extremely impressive life, but his contributions to the horror genre--as well as pop culture in general--are truly legendary. In honor of his passing, UK horror magazine We Belong Dead has recently published a special 100 page, full-color issue as a tribute to Lee and the many memorable roles he brought to life on the silver screen.

The issue covers Lee's prolific career, from his most popular films (The Wicker Man, The Lord of the Rings series, his portrayal of Dracula in numerous films, etc.) to his more obscure work (Night of the Big Heat, Taste of Fear, Nothing but the Night, etc.). The details provided in this issue about Lee's career are exhaustive in scope, both well-researched and well-written by a diverse selection of contributors. Among the personal fan reflections about Lee and in-depth analyses of the films and studios in which Lee worked, here are some of the articles that caught my attention:

* Stephen Mosley's in-depth analysis of Rasputin: The Mad Monk, the 1966 film where Lee assumed the role of the nefarious Russian holy man. Fun trivia fact: During the course of his life, Lee actually met Prince Yusupoff and Dmitri Pavlovich, the assassins of Rasputin, as well as Rasputin's own daughter, Maria.

* Steve Gerrard's retrospective of House of the Long Shadows (1982). This film doesn't rank among Lee's best work; nevertheless, it's cast of noted horror icons included Lee, Peter Cushing, Vincent Price and John Carradine. It was a rare lineup to excite any fan of classic horror cinema.

* Tony Earnshaw's interview with Jamil Dehlavi, director of Jinnah (1998). Jinnah featured Lee in the role of Pakistani leader Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of modern Pakistan.

* Troy Howarth's "Christopher Lee's Continental Horrors", a detailed look at films he made in Italy, France, Germany, Sweden and Spain. While some of these films unavailable on DVD and Blu-ray, Lee's work in countries outside of England and the U.S. allowed him to work with other noteworthy horror icons such as Mario Bava and Jess Franco.

Of course, this is just a small sampling of what is included in We Belong Dead's Christopher Lee issue, which also features a selection of gorgeous fan-submitted art. It's a must-have addition to the libraries of fans of Lee, Hammer Studios, and horror films in general. It cost £10 with an addition £2 in postage for UK and Europe and £4 rest of the world. You can support the magazine by buying directly via Paypal and using wbdmagazine@yahoo.co.uk. You can also check out the official We Belong Dead Facebook page here.



Thursday, October 8, 2015

Movie Review: It Follows, But It Does Not Scare




In case you've been ignoring American film releases since the beginning of the year, a horror film called It Follows became quite the hit among film critics when it was released last March, scoring a high 96 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. I finally got the chance to see it last weekend and while I can see why critics were impressed by this film, I felt that the end result was less than the sum of its parts. Read on for my complete review.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Available Now--Jaws 2: The Making of The Hollywood Sequel by Louis R. Pisano and Michael A. Smith




Jaws fans, rejoice! BearManor Media is taking orders for Jaws 2: The Making of The Hollywood Sequel by Louis R. Pisano and Michael A. Smith. Available in both hardcover and softcover editions, this book takes readers on an in-depth journey into the troubled production of the 1978 sequel to Steven Spielberg's hit movie. Jaws 2 was the first blockbuster sequel to the film that is credited with kicking off the summer blockbuster era, thus making it the sequel (as alluded to in the book's subtitle) that proved how lucrative blockbuster movie sequels can be. In fact, Jaws 2 remained the high-grossing sequel to a summer blockbuster until the sequel of another summer blockbuster film, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, took the honor in 1980.

There have been plenty of books written about Jaws, but the same amount of detailed information about any of its sequels is almost impossible to find. So far, the only materials that focused their attention on the first sequel were The Jaws 2 Log by Ray Loynd in 1978 and The Making of Jaws 2 documentary that was included with the 2001 DVD release of the sequel. Pisano and Smith's book appears to fill in the numerous gaps in the story about how this film got made--and didn't get made--with honest interviews with many of the sequel's cast and crew.


A behind-the-scenes picture from Jaws 2.


After watching his JawsFest DVDs, I can tell you that we Jaws fans are in good hands when it comes to Lou Pisano. In fact, the unofficial "prequels" to this book include his three-part article "The Guts of Jaws 2: Appreciating an Underappreciated Sequel" for SCREAM magazine (you can read the entire article here) and his JawsFest 4: Revenge of the Finatics DVD, which included footage from a Jaws 2 cast reunion that was held in Los Angeles in March 2012. Co-author Michael A. Smith is a long-time movie buff and finatic as well--not only was he the president of the Roy Scheider fan club for eight years, but he wrote a 40th anniversary cover story about Jaws for last June's issue of Horror Hound magazine.

Between interviews with the cast and crew of Jaws 2 and over 200 rare behind-the-scenes photos, Jaws 2: The Making of The Hollywood Sequel is definitely a must-have for die-hard Jaws fans. Click here to order your copy and click here to check out the book's official Facebook page.



Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Monsters in the Memory Palace: Bryan Fuller's Hannibal (2013 - 2015)



After my many years of media consumption, I've come to a particular conclusion about movie and TV adaptations of books. If the adaptation is to stand on its own, its creative team should be permitted to change the source material in ways the work to the benefit of the visual mediums in which they are working. In contrast, slavish devotion to the precise replication of a book into another medium runs the very high risk of the adaptation being regarded as little more than an imitation of an original (and an inferior one at that). The opportunity to experiment with source material has allowed novel-based films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Planet of the Apes and Jaws to be viewed as equal or superior to their points of origin.

Another example that can be added to this list is Hannibal, a TV series that just ended its three-season run on NBC. Read on for my complete review of this short-lived exercise in smart and stylish TV horror.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Machine Robo's Magnificent Robot Combiners




I don't collect Transformers merchandise, but I see articles and advertisements about it when I browse through Japanese robot toy sites. From what I can gather, one of the latest product lines for Transformers is called "Combiner Wars", a line that consists of five or six transforming robot toys that combine into one bigger robot.

Combiner robot toys have been around for a long time, and Transformers had quite a few of them even back in the '80s. Yet of the many combiner robot toys I've seen over the years, the ones that have consistently impressed me were the ones released by Bandai under the Machine Robo line. Whereas other robot toy lines are stuck in the novelty of combining smaller toys into a bigger toy, Machine Robo has used the concept of combination to promote creative play. Read on for a review of how Machine Robo has built upon its combiner toys throughout the years.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

IDW's The Fly: Outbreak Lacks Buzz




Sometimes it's nice to see a movie franchise find a second life in another medium, like novels and comic books. Other times, the second life turns out to be a turn for the worse. In the later category is The Fly: Outbreak, a comic book miniseries published by IDW Publishing. This miniseries recently concluded its fifth and final issue and after reading the entire series, I feel that this is one insect monster story that needs to be sent back to the telepods. Read on for my complete review.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Scaling a Popular Space Opera with Star Wars Micro Machines




As we move closer to December, more and more details about the long-awaited Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens have found their way on to the Internet. Some of have arrived in the form of production stills and preview footage, while others came through teaser photos of tie-in toys. Among those toys is a name that hasn't appeared much since the '90s: Micro Machines. According to recent news, one of the first Force Awakens toys will be a Micro Machines play set that features miniatures of characters, vehicles and locations from the upcoming sequel, a play set that folds into a replica of the Millennium Falcon.

This post will look at the Micro Machines line of Star Wars toys during the '90s. Even though this line made its debut long after Kenner stopped making Star Wars toys, Micro Machines produced some of the most detailed and affordable replicas of the saga's numerous vehicles. Read on ...

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Funko's Movie Monster Figures Get Their Own Haunted House




For such low-detail action figures, Funko's set of classic Universal movie monster figures (Dracula, The Mummy, etc.) sure do have some nice real estate.

As part of the exclusives that it produced for this year's San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC), Funko produced a multi-story haunted house play set that's scaled to its line of 3 and 3/4 inch ReAction figures. While the ReAction Universal monster figures would be the most logical choice to go with this play set, it can be used for any of the 3 and 3/4 inch figures Funko has produced for its multi-licensed ReAction line. Thus, if you want Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor and Snake Plissken fighting Pinhead in a haunted house, or have the cast of Goonies form their own monster squad to fight Michael Meyers, Jason Vorhees and the Predator in a haunted house, you can do it.

Despite the fact that Funko designed its ReAction figures to emulate the kind of action figures that were made in the '70s and '80s, their prices are vastly different. For example, Remco made its own series of action figures based on classic Universal movie monsters (a.k.a. "Mini Monsters") back in theearly '80s. That line included a "Play Case", a combination haunted house play set and an action figure carrying case, and a "Monsterizer", a sort of experiment table for the figures that any mad scientist would love. The Remco figures cost around $3 each, with the Play Case and Monsterizer costing around $8 each.


Above: Toy catalog photos of Remco's Mini Monster Play Case (left) and Monsterizer.
(Photos courtesy of Plaid Stallions.)


In contrast, the ReAction monster figures cost $10 each, while the haunted house costs $75. For that kind of price, one would hope that the play set would include a trap door in one of the floors, a dungeon with a lockable cage, and at least one coffin or sarcophagus. None of those features are included, although it does have a balcony from which monsters can use to throw hapless victims to their demise.




Then again, if the haunted house isn't too pricey for you, then you might also want to consider buying another Funko SDCC exclusive: "Spirit Glow" versions of four ReAction Universal monster figures. Those figures cost $65 each at SDCC.


Spirit Glow ain't cheap, even for classic monsters.



Friday, August 7, 2015

Remembering Erector Sets


A 725 Erector set.


Between the number of licenses it has acquired over the years and its expansion into other mediums such as video games, TV shows and movies, Lego is frequently identified as the go-to construction toy for building things both simple and complex. Because of Lego's dominance, it's easy to forget the many, many other construction toys that have appeared throughout the last few decades. These toys, such as Lincoln Logs and Tinkertoys, took different approaches to the concept of creative play, proving that interlocking plastic bricks aren't the only way for kids to make something fun.

This post is about my experience (and lack of experience) with one of the more sophisticated construction toys, the Erector sets. Erector sets were originally produced by the A.C. Gilbert Company and designed to emulate the tools and materials used in mechanical construction. While they may lack the name recognition of Lego, Erector sets have been providing hours of sturdy, nuts-and-bolts play for many decades. Read on ...

Monday, August 3, 2015

Puzzle Video Games, Cubed: Breezeblox, Rush and Edge




Being a fan of video games for as long as I can remember, I'm somewhat surprised over how my gaming preferences have changed over time. I've previously gravitated towards more complex and graphically sophisticated games in order to experience the latest advancements in gaming technology. Yet as my real life becomes more stressful and personal funds get smaller, I find myself going back to the basics: simple yet intriguing visuals matched with simple yet addictive game play. This post will look at three indie puzzle games that caught my attention--Breezeblox by Brennan Maddox, and Rush and Edge by Two Tribes--and why they're the go-to games for unwinding when reality causes your brain to overheat.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Bouncing Back with Mondo's Madballs


As with previous Comic-Cons, I frequently find myself looking around the Web after the event is over to see what kinds of products that toy and collectibles companies are planning to release for geek-a-holics like me in the weeks and months to come. While I was surfing through one Comic-Con '15 photo set, I saw a product on display that I haven't seen in years: Madballs.


Mondo's Madballs on display at Comic-Con 2015.


A collectibles company named Mondo is planning to release new versions of the original Madballs toys that were first released in 1985 by AmToy, a subsidiary company of American Greetings. Madballs were intended to capitalize on the "gross out" humor that was popular in the mid-80s with trading cards such as Garbage Pail Kids, toys such as the Mad Scientist Monster Lab, and movies such as Gremlins. As such, Madballs were a hit, with the line expanding to offer action figures, comic books, animated home videos, and a video game.

Even though Madballs are often associated with the '80s, their emphasis on the grotesque and malformed places them in the long tradition of monstrous merchandise aimed at kids, a tradition that includes the horror comics of the '50s, the Mars Attacks! trading cards of the '60s, and Aurora Movie Monster model kits of the '70s. It should also be noted that this isn't the first time that Madballs have been revived for new generations of fans. Basic Fun, Inc. released a selection of Madballs back in 2007, and American Greetings still runs an official Madballs website that features video games and downloads.

I'm not sure how the previous revival of Madballs went, although I suspect that the first one went well enough that American Greetings is trying again. Perhaps this time the revival will expand to include new versions of the "head popping" Madballs action figures, figures with heads that popped off when a trigger is pulled on their backs. Looking back, these figures bore a strong similarity to the more deranged Sofubi figures that have been released in Japan. With the right glossy metallic paint job, the Madball figures would be virtually indistinguishable from their Sofubi counterparts.


A selection of Madballs action figures (photo courtesy of Weirdo Toys).



Sunday, July 26, 2015

An Italian Plumber Returns to the Realm of Coin-Ops in Luigi Mansion Arcade




Even though they're mostly associated with Nintendo's line of home gaming consoles, Italian plumber brothers Mario and Luigi started their journey to digital stardom in the coin-op arcades. In the early '80s, Mario first appeared in the arcade classic Donkey Kong, and Luigi made his debut in Mario Bros. They've spent most of their time since then in console-only games but it appears that Luigi hasn't forgotten his roots, since he's the star of the new Luigi Mansion Arcade game that was recently released in Japan.

Luigi Mansion Arcade is a first-person rail shooter along the lines of House of the Dead, although it takes its plot, settings and characters from the Luigi Mansion games that were previously released on the Nintendo GameCube and 3DS. In the game, up to two players explore a haunted mansion and use the Poltergust 3000 to capture a selection of ghosts.

As you can see from the video below, Luigi Mansion Arcade looks like loads of fun. I'm sure that this game will eventually wind up in the U.S., although I'd much prefer to see it ported for the Wii U system because it would fit perfectly with that system's motion controls.





Saturday, July 25, 2015

More Zoids Robot Toys: Tribots and R.A.T.S.




Way, way back in 2010, I posted a retrospective about Tomy's toy robot line Zoids and two of its less popular spin-offs, Starriors and Z-Knights. I recently learned that Tomy produced two other spin-offs during the '80s that weren't sold in the United States: Tribots and the Robot Anti-Terror Squad (R.A.T.S.). These two other lines also less popular than Zoids, but that doesn't make them look any less fun. Click below for more details and pictures of these interesting yet obscure robot toys from the '80s, and how they fit in to Tomy's approach to motorized, mechanical play.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

New NECA Alien Figures: Red Alien Queen and Isolation Xenomorph



NECA has done wonders with its Predator license over the years, so it made me wonder when (and if) it would finally get around to putting the same level of effort into its Alien line. While it still has a way to go, NECA's recent announcement about two upcoming Alien figures shows plenty of potential in this line's future.

The first figure is the deluxe red Alien Queen figure, which is scheduled for release this November. This figure is based on the red Alien Queen that was seen in the Aliens: Genocide comic miniseries that was published by Dark Horse, and it serves as a complementary piece for NECA's previously released red Alien figure that was also based on Genocide.




The red Alien Queen is basically a repaint of NECA's previous Alien Queen figure but with a slightly different head sculpt. Nevertheless, it you're willing to spend the money to cover its $100+ price tag, the red Alien Queen would make a colorful addition to any fan's Alien collection.




The second figure is the Xenomorph as it appeared in the recent Alien: Isolation video game. The figure looks very faithful to the original "Big Chap" design from Alien except with longer, reverse-articulated legs. The Isolation Xenomorph will also be released this November, along with two other figures from the same video game: Amanda Ripley in her jumpsuit uniform and Amanda Ripley in a space suit. If NECA decides to revisit Isolation again in its future releases, I hope that it produces a figure based on the creepy "Working Joe" androids that wandered the corridors of the Sevastopol space station.



Monday, June 15, 2015

James Cameron is Right (Sort of)--Terminator 3 Could Have Been Terminator: Genisys




In the weeks leading up to its July release, Terminator: Genisys has been rolling out plot spoilers and a direct endorsement from Terminator creator James Cameron himself in order to convince fans that the new sequel is worth the price of admission. From the endorsement, the most publicized quote from Cameron is how he feels that Genisys is the "real" Terminator 3. To be more specific, he stated that “in my mind, I think of [Genisys] as the third film.”

The odd thing about this quote is that Cameron is more right than he realizes. According to an October 2009 blog post by Terminator 3 screenwriter John D. Brancato, the original draft of T3 sounds an awful lot like what we'll be seeing in Genisys. John Connor might believe that the future is not set, but it looks like the future that will become known as Terminator: Genisys was set as far back as 2001. Read on, with some minor spoilers ahead ...

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Disney Cancels Tron 3--Can The Grid Survive?




It looks like it is the end of line for the Tron franchise for now. A few days ago, Disney announced that it will not launch the production of Tron 3. From what I've read, two excuses have been given for this decision:

1. The failure of Tomorrowland to become a box office hit during Memorial Day weekend has prompted Disney to back away from "riskier live-action science fiction offerings". (On the other hand, if this summer's video game-themed Pixels movie becomes a smash hit, would that prompt Disney to put Tron 3 back into development?)

2. Disney pulled Tron 3 because of its over-crowded movie release schedule, which is currently filled with Pixar movies, Marvel movies, Star Wars movies, and live-action remakes of its own animated movies such as The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast.

While I hate to see Disney putting Tron on hold, I've watched how Disney has handled the Tron franchise over the years (from the first film all the way through to the animated Tron: Uprising series) and I've gotten the impression that the most of the executives who have passed through Disney have never been supportive of Tron and the kind of strange, surreal cyber-fantasy that it depicts. Click below to read a list I put together of Disney's questionable--if not baffling--decisions regarding Tron and what it could mean for the franchise's future.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Square Enix Transforms the Predator into an Oni Demon




Back in 2011, Sideshow Collectibles released a Samurai Predator figure as part of its Alien vs. Predator line. As the figure's name suggests, the design mixed together the Predator's usual appearance with Samurai armor into something that, as I commented earlier, "look(s) like a monster that came straight from ancient Japanese folklore." Fast-forward to 2015 and Square Enix will be releasing a new Predator figure as part of its Play Arts Kai line that combines the movie monster's appearance with something from another area of ancient Japanese culture: oni.

According to Wikipedia, "Oni are a kind of yokai from Japanese folklore, variously translated as demons, devils, ogres or trolls. They are popular characters in Japanese art, literature and theatre. ... Depictions of oni vary widely but usually portray them as hideous, gigantic ogre-like creatures with sharp claws, wild hair, and two long horns growing from their heads. They are humanoid for the most part, but occasionally, they are shown with unnatural features such as odd numbers of eyes or extra fingers and toes. Their skin may be any number of colors, but red and blue are particularly common. ... They are often depicted wearing tiger-skin loincloths and carrying iron clubs called kanabo. This image leads to the expression 'oni with an iron club', that is, to be invincible or undefeatable."




With that in mind, the Play Arts Variant Predator has all the hallmarks of a classic oni. It is colored predominantly in red, and it includes a horned helmet and a bone-like club. Between the Samurai Predator and this new Variant Predator, I'm hoping that we'll get at least one Predator movie--either live-action or anime--that's set in Japan.

The Play Arts Variant Predator will be released in September and will cost about $122.





Thursday, May 21, 2015

Is Modern Science Fiction Cinema Maturity Challenged?




For those of you who have been away from the geek-o-sphere on the Internets lately, there's been a bit of a-twittering about comments that were recently made by Simon Pegg in an interview with Radio Times magazine about the next Star Trek movie and the current state of science fiction films in general. For the sake of brevity, here's an assembled version of the Pegg quotes that caused the most offense:
"Before Star Wars, the films that were box-office hits were The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Bonnie and Clyde and The French Connection ... gritty, amoral art movies. Then suddenly the onus switched over to spectacle and everything changed ... I don’t know if that is a good thing. Obviously I’m very much a self-confessed fan of science fiction and genre cinema but part of me looks at society as it is now and just thinks we’ve been infantilised by our own taste. Now we’re essentially all consuming very childish things – comic books, superheroes. Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously. It is a kind of dumbing down, in a way, because it’s taking our focus away from real-world issues. Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys or moral questions that might make you walk away and re-evaluate how you felt about ... whatever. Now we’re walking out of the cinema really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk just had a fight with a robot. ... Sometimes (I) feel like I miss grown-up things and I honestly thought the other day that I’m gonna retire from geekdom. I’ve become the poster child for that generation, and it’s not necessarily something I particularly want to be.”
Naturally, some fans were taken aback by long-time geek Pegg's association of science fiction and the term "infantilised". As someone who majored in the field of communications in college, I believe that Pegg has it all wrong, too--the deregulation of media ownership through the Telecommunications Act of 1996 did much, much more to dumb down the media landscape than anything Star Wars or superhero movies ever did. Blame the bombastic blockbuster movies all you want for ruining science fiction, but that kind of entertainment is the sort of thing that fills the tanker-sized coffers of mega-conglomerates like Disney and Time Warner.

Yet when I think about recent science fiction movies, I do think that they are falling behind in terms of staying relevant with modern issues. For example, Christopher Nolan's 2014 film Interstellar spun a familiar tale about how the human race will save itself by leaving Earth and finding another planet to inhabit. Even though this kind of sci-fi story has been around for decades, current environmental problems strongly indicate that leaving the planet is not an option for humanity if it is going to survive; thus, when are we going to be seeing ambitious science fiction films about how humanity can save itself by not treating its home world like an infinite landfill? There was also Children of Men (2006), an apocalyptic story about infertility. Yet with our current global population at around 7 billion and growing, why haven't we seen a thought-provoking sci-fi film about overpopulation and ways to solve this problem?




Also, don't forget that this summer's slate of movies includes both Terminator: Genisys, the fifth entry in a sci-fi franchise about fictional war technology running amok, and Good Kill, a drama centered around actual war technology running amok.

A long time ago, I read an article about how noted sci-fi author Ray Bradbury was greatly dissasified by the proliferation of computer technology and the rise of the Internet. The article's author postulated that this attitude stemmed from Bradbury seeing a future he didn't envision. Based on his literary work, Bradbury was hoping to see a future based in outer space, not cyberspace; as such, his fiction about the future never fit how the future was actually developing. Bradbury was entitled to his views, but it raises an interesting point: Will science fiction cinema keep depicting futures that are more grounded in the wishful thinking of mainstream audiences, or can it still intelligently handle scientific issues that make people uncomfortable? Furthermore, is the latter even an option in our modern media landscape that's dominated by gargantuan conglomerates?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Look Back at a Vintage Movie Monsters Giant Poster Book




As fan memorabilia goes, poster books are odd collectibles. Sure, fans have always sought out magazines and books about their favorite topics and have also purchased posters that feature images of said topics. However, somewhere along the line, publishers got the bright idea to combine print with posters, although I'm still baffled as to why. For example, if a fan chooses not to use the poster book not as a poster but as a book, then the book eventually falls apart because the seams give away quickly from being folded and unfolded so many times.

Here's a post about one poster book that was published in 1979, the Movie Monsters Giant Poster Book. As you can tell by the tape stains, tears and missing corners in the photos that I've taken, this poster book had already been through the ringer by the time I got my hands on it during the mid '80s. Nevertheless, it was such a unique find that I was willing to trade some comics to one of my classmates for it. Read on to see more pictures of this odd piece of movie monster memorabilia from a time when practical special effects were still the standard and most young fans largely got their movie monster fix through syndicated TV.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Nintendo 3DS's StreetPass: It's All About Miis




I've been a Nintendo fan for a long time, but I never paid much attention to the hand-held side of its gaming console selection. The most involved I got with one was when Namco released Pac-Man Vs. back in 2003, a competitive multiplayer game which required both the GameCube and a GameBoy Advance. Since my Mrs. already had a GameBoy Advance, we picked up this title and had a blast playing the game with our friends for hours at a time; otherwise, the allure of hand-held consoles eluded me.

Fast-forward to 2015, and I'm beginning to see why the hand-held Nintendo 3DS system attracts gamers--largely because of its pre-loaded application, StreetPass Mii Plaza. I saw someone playing it on his 3DS when I was on the Metro the other day. The gamer in question was older than me (shocking, right?), but he was completely absorbed in the games he was playing with his Mii avatar and an army of other Miis. The Miis were wearing samurai armor, which is part of the battle simulation game Warrior's Way that 3DS users can purchase and add to their Mii Plaza. Other Mii Plaza games include shooters (Mii Force), simulations (Flower Town, Ultimate Angler), puzzle games (Puzzle Swap) and more, each featuring casts of Miis that are imported from other 3DS units.

Miis have been making regular appearances in Nintendo games since the Wii console. Originally, players used them as representations of themselves in certain game titles such as Wii Party and Wii Sports Resort; the unused Miis in the Wii console's memory would frequently appear in the same games as part of the game play, giving the impression that your friends and family are involved in the game even though they aren't really playing.


A cast of Miis become part of the game in Wii Play.


Since then, the Miis have become a much larger part of Nintendo's plan to appeal to gamers through their use in the Wii U and 3DS consoles. Because I have a Wii U that's connected to the Internet, I get to see and interact with a wide selection of Miis that represent other players from around the world in the console's opening WaraWara Plaza menu, in the Miiverse social network, and in various games such as Nintendo Land. In contrast, 3DS has been using the StreetPass function in a way that allows other gamers' Miis to become characters in 3DS Mii Plaza games.

According to Wikipedia, StreetPass a wireless tagging app that "can detect and exchange data with other nearby systems whilst in sleep mode. ... When new Miis are registered by the system, they will appear at the gate. Up to ten Miis can show up at the gate at any one time, after which the player will need to use them with their minigames before checking for more. Meeting the same Miis multiple times adds extra functionality, such as personalized messages and the ability to rate them. There are also special Miis that appear via SpotPass during special events, such as Nintendo staff members. After meeting another player's Mii, the player can then use that Mii to play a variety of different games, three of them being playable free of charge: Puzzle Swap, StreetPass Quest, and StreetPass Quest II." To put it into the context of my Metro incident, I was watching a 3DS gamer play games that involved Miis he collected from other 3DS users.

From what I've gathered through various articles I've found on the'net, StreetPass has become a phenomenon of its own. To aid in the connection to other 3DS gamers, Wi-Fi "Nintendo Zones" have been set up at various locations (such as Best Buy stores). In addition to the Mii Plaza games, players can incorporate the Miis they've collected into Tomodachi Life, a Sims-esque life simulation game that was released in Japan in 2013 and elsewhere in 2014. There are even hobbyist groups in cities in countries like the U.S. and England that hold in-person events devoted to Nintendo gaming and swapping Miis.




I grew up during the era of video game arcades and the first generation of home gaming consoles, so the idea of using digital representations of other gamers as key elements of a game scenario intrigues me to no end. True, this isn't the immersive virtual reality that writers like William Gibson predicted in the sci-fi subgenre of cyberpunk, but it adds a significant level of interest and involvement that previous forms of video gaming lacked. These aren't the anonymous, pre-programmed sprites that players have to punch, shoot or rescue; these are digital artifacts created by other gamers that can be used to enhance the game play experience. Forget the other games that are available on the 3DS--the StreetPass Mii Plaza games look too fun to pass up.



Saturday, May 9, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron and the Evolution of Superhero Movies




This would normally be a post where I write a review of Marvel's latest blockbuster, Avengers: Age of Ultron. While I'll get around to doing that here, this post will be about something that I find equally fascinating--namely, the critical and fandom responses to this new movie. Some have argued that between the new Avengers, the upcoming Ant-Man and Fantastic Four movies, and the pending releases of DC's Batman vs. Superman and Suicide Squad, we have reached (or are reaching) a point of superhero over-saturation at the box office. On the other hand, I think that what we're seeing is pop culture's confusion over what Marvel is trying to accomplish and whether the critics and fans appreciate how this can improve superhero films in the long run. Read on ...

Friday, May 1, 2015

Four Reasons Why Star Wars Still Matters




Way back when it first appeared on the pop culture landscape in 1977, Star Wars became my gateway drug for all things sci-fi. I was obsessed with it then, still obsessed with it now, and my brain is still reeling from the many announcements that were made at the recent Star Wars Celebration event a few weeks ago. The year-end release of Episode 7: The Force Awakens, James Earl Jones returning as the voice of Darth Vader for season two of Rebels, the next Star Wars Battlefront's connection to the next trilogy ... I don't think I've ever seen this franchise firing on all cylinders simultaneously before. Star Wars has never lacked for ambition; but with so many resources being devoted to keeping the saga alive and growing, I think that franchise fans are going to be in for plenty of wonderful surprises and thrills leading up to the release of Episode 7.

Star Wars didn't become a fan favorite overnight; it went through many, many growing pains to become the durable saga that it is today. Here are four reasons I've deduced as to why Star Wars is still standing in a media environment that's dominated by a handful of super-sized media conglomerates. Read on for why the Force has stayed with George Lucas and his pulpy rockets-robots-and-rayguns story for so long. Read on ...

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Will Lego Dimensions Have Monster Minifigs?




This week, Lego tossed its minifig hat into the video game/toy combo ring with the preview trailer for Lego Dimensions, which is scheduled for release for both the PC and the major game consoles in September.

Following on the heels of Skylander, Disney Infinity and Nintendo's line of amiibo figures, Dimensions promises to let players mix-and-match characters and kits from both Lego-exclusive lines (Ninjago) and licensed Lego lines (Lord of the Rings, Back to the Future, Wizard of Oz, DC superheros). Depending on how well the initial launch package sells, Lego plans to release an ongoing series of Dimension kits and expansion packs so that players will keep customizing and building upon (no pun intended) their Lego-ized gaming experience.

I've largely avoided the toy tie-in video game trend up to this point, but Lego Dimensions shows much more promise than its competitors. For starters, Lego has landed the Jurassic World license, so I'm sure that an army of Lego dinosaurs will show up in Dimensions at some point. Furthermore, Lego has already released minifigs and kits based on classic monsters such as vampires, werewolves, zombies and mummies; if Lego adds these elements into the game, that will make it the first video game/toy franchise to have a significant representation of monster-based game play. Throw in the possible addition of the Ghostbusters license (something that's hinted at in the extended version of the launch trailer) and Dimensions has the potentional to be a big hit with video-gaming monster fans.




By the way, the Lego version of Batman and his Batmobile will be part of the Dimensions starter kit. I'm also hoping that if this franchise takes off, it will take a cue from the recent Lego Batman 3 video game and release kits and expansion packs based on the '66 Batman TV series. Adam West makes everything better, and that includes Legos.






Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Video Dead, Video Nasties, and VHS Horror Rentals




The other week, I finally watched The Video Dead, a low-budget, straight-to-video zombie flick from 1987 about a possessed TV set that belches out walking corpses from its screen. This film isn't a classic by any means (more about that later), but I felt that I had to watch it at least once for what it represented--specifically, the impact that England's "Video Nasty" list had on VHS horror movie releases here in the United States. In some ways, the Video Nasty list was to VHS horror movies as the Senate Subcommittee Hearings on Juvenile Delinquency in 1954 were to horror comic books, even though the results were completely different. Read on ....

Monday, March 30, 2015

The 3D Film Archive--Keeping 3D Movie History Alive




For 3D film fans like me, the last few years have provided a mixture of good news and bad news. The good news is that 3D technology has become so commonplace that watching high-quality, on-demand 3D content on TV is possible. The bad news is that most of the 3D movies that were made prior to the recent 3D boom--namely, 3D films that were made between the 1950s and '80s--are not available on Blu-ray. Thankfully, a group known as the 3D Film Archive is working to change that by restoring and releasing 3D films from yesteryear for your home viewing pleasure.

The 3D Film Archive itself has been around for quite some time, but it has only recently entered the Blu-ray business. It was founded back in 1990 by 3D film fanatic Bob Furmanek, who has spent decades tracking down studio files, laboratory records and film prints of both popular and obscure 3D films. To date, the 3D Film Archive played a vital role in ensuring the release of older 3D films on Blu-ray, films such as Dragonfly Squadron (1954), The Bubble (1966), and Kiss Me Kate (1953). Upcoming releases include Gog (1954), The Mask (1961) and 3D Rarities, an extensive compilation of obscure 3D film shorts that date back as far as 1922.

Of course, not all of the older 3D films are classics. I recently watched The Bubble and while its 3D effects are amazing, the film itself is very weak. It appeared that the film's limited budget went almost exclusively to its 3D photography; as such, it felt jarring to watch such astonishing 3D effects in such a hokey movie, especially after watching so many newer 3D films that had blockbuster production budgets. Regardless, I'm thankful that the 3D Film Archive is doing what it can to show film buffs the evolution of 3D cinema--warts and all--during the 20th century.

Click here to check out the 3D Film Archive and its detailed articles about the golden age of 3D entertainment.



Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sony Eyes Robotech as Live-Action Film Franchise




Oh, Robotech ... why can't I quit you?

Ever since this beloved anime franchise stopped publishing new novels and comic books in the '90s, it has largely been in a state of limbo. Aside from a few projects here and there--such as two video games and collector-grade toy releases--the franchise has been inert for over 15 years. The Shadow Chronicles in 2006 promised to launch a new chapter in the series--along with a retconned timeline--but that didn't make it past a pilot movie; last year, the Robotech Academy Kickstarter project, which would have delivered a new anime series had it reached its funding goal, crashed and burned within months of its announcement. Even Dynamite Entertainment's new run of Robotech comics began and ended with a non-canonical, five-issue crossover with Voltron.

One rumor that I've heard is that all animated Robotech projects have been put on hold because of the possibility of a live-action movie, a possibility that's been around since actor Toby Maguire bought the rights to do so in 2007. Nothing has been heard about the development of that project since then until this week, when Sony announced that it will make a live-action Robotech movie with the intent of using it to launch a franchise.

With Marvel churning out interconnected blockbuster superhero movies and a new Star Wars trilogy beginning later this year, it makes sense that the bigger movie studios are scrambling to launch their own blockbuster franchises. Yet what I want to know is how Sony is going to deal with the copyright issues surrounding Robotech's most popular source material, Super Dimension Fortress Macross?

Macross was one of the anime series that was used to create Robotech, which was also patched together by using re-dubbed and re-edited episodes from Super Dimension Calvary Southern Cross and Genesis Climber Mospeada. Of the three series used, Southern Cross and Mospeada were not very popular in Japan, so Robotech's parent company Harmony Gold encountered few legal issues when using them; however, Macross has grown to become a popular franchise in its own right since the '80s, which has led to many copyright problems whenever Harmony Gold wanted to use characters and mecha that originated from Marcoss. Such complications halted the production of first sequel series Robotech II: The Sentinels back in 1987, and matters haven't gotten any better since then.

So what will Sony do for its Robotech movie? Has it worked out a deal with Macross' parent company Tatsunoko to avoid legal problems, or will it find a way to adapt the Robotech story that will stay true to the general narrative but won't directly involve anything that could be proven in court to come from Macross? Also, if the live-action movie is a hit, will we be seeing another Robotech cartoon and if so, will it be a continuation of the original series or something that ties into the movie? Stay tuned ....



Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Transgenic Sins of the Flesh: A Review of The Fly: Outbreak #1




Many franchises have found an active life--or after-life--in the medium of comic books. Some use it as a way to build and explore an "expanded universe" (e.g., Star Trek, Star Wars) while others use it to continue a story that ended in a different medium (e.g., Millennium, Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Given my interest in all things "Big Bug" related, a recent franchise tie-in comic book intrigued me so much that I couldn't wait for the trade paperback: The Fly: Outbreak by IDW Publishing, written by Brandon Seifert and drawn by menton3.

Outbreak picks up some time after the events of The Fly II. Martin, son of the late Seth "Brundlefly" Brundle, has returned to Bartok Industries to continue his research into his father's telepods in order to find a cure for his condition. He appears to be a normal human being, but he still experiences occasional problems that stem from his inherited insect genes. During the course of the first issue, Martin learns that his work to permanently fix his own DNA has inadvertently created a pathogen that can warp the genetic code of those who are infected.

If David Cronenberg's The Fly was a remake of the original 1958 Fly movie, then Chris Walas' The Fly II is a semi-remake of the original film's two sequels, Return of the Fly (1959) and Curse of the Fly (1965). I say this because Walas assembled the story for his film by using plot threads and themes from both Return (the original doomed scientist's son, skullduggery to own the telepod's secrets) and Curse (accelerated aging due to fly genes, additional ways to mutate organisms in telepods other than fusing them to other organisms). Thus, with the original Fly trilogy covered by the remake and its sequel, Outbreak has the opportunity to expand upon ideas and themes from the previous films in new, exciting and grotesque.

On the other hand, Outbreak is a retcon of sorts. According to Walas, early drafts of The Fly II focused on Martin's moral dilemma of using someone else's DNA to repair his own, but the studio demanded that he quash that plot in favor of a more formulaic creature feature. With its focus on Martin's devotion to fixing the problems caused by both himself and his dead father, Outbreak could show fans glimpses of the sequel we might have seen if Walas were permitted to follow his initial concept.

At its best, the first issue of Outbreak revisits some of the creepier aspects of the previous two movies. In the sequel, Anton Bartok places himself as Martin's adoptive father so he can emotionally manipulate the kid genuis into unlocking the secrets of Seth's telepods; this sets up the "just deserts" nature of the film's conclusion, where Martin uses Bartok's DNA to cure his own condition while at the same time changing Bartok into the very thing his biological father was--a horribly disfigured insect-human hybrid. This abusive adoptive father/son role comes back into play in Outbreak, and it sets in motion the main plot of this five-issue miniseries.

What I don't like about the first issue is its mechanical, abbreviated pacing. The first issue is designed to bridge the gap between the end of The Fly II and the new story, but each page feels more like bullet points in a plot outline than a naturally progressing story (e.g., introduce returning characters on page 1, introduce new characters on page 2, introduce the new problem on page 3, etc.). This issue could have used an extra five or six pages to let the story breathe and come into its own. Also, while menton3's artwork has a surreal, nightmarish quality to it, his design for the insect-human hybrid that appears in the first issue should have been better. It looks more like a C-list Spider-Man villain than something you'd expect from a Cronenbergian body horror film.

In spite of the first issue's shortcomings, its conclusion sets Fly fans up for four issues of gene-splicing, stomach-turning insectoid horror for four more issues. I can't wait to see what happens next.