Thursday, April 28, 2011

He'll Be Back: Terminator 3 Book Reviews

A few weeks ago, I posted a review of three books that were published under the Terminator Salvation title, books that I read as a way satiating my need for new Terminator stuff. In the time since then, I was itching for more stories about bloodthirsty, belligerent 'bots from the future, so I decided to pick up copies of two books that were released under the Terminator 3 title: Terminator Dreams and Terminator Hunt, both by Aaron Allston. Since both the Terminator 3 and Terminator Salvation books are set in similar narrative timelines--both feature Kate Brewster as a primary character, and both place Judgment Day in 2003--it was interesting to compare the differences and similarities between how both sets of books view the future war with Skynet. Read on for my review of Allston's books and how they relate to the Terminator Salvation books.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Super Deformed Godzilla and His Chibi Kaiju Buddies

Of the many things that I don't understand about Japanese pop culture, the appeal of super deformed (or "chibi") merchandise baffles me more than most. The way I see it, if I'm going to spend some money on a miniature replica of a character design that I admire, I want it to be as scale accurate as possible. Thus, to distort well-designed monsters, robots and superheroes by giving them tiny, squat bodies, stubby limbs and oversized heads makes absolutely no sense. I can't just blame the Japanese for this, though. Given the popularity of bobblehead dolls here in the U.S., dolls that would qualify as being super deformed, we're just as much to blame for the popularity of ill-scaled merchandise.

However, I will make exceptions in cases where no other merchandise for a particular character is available. Case in point: Godzilla during the mid-80s. During that time, I was itching to get my hands on a replica of Japan's King of the Monsters but no versions of him were anywhere to be found here in the states. The last one I had seen was a jumbo Godzilla action figure that was part of the Shogun Warriors toy line, which ended in 1980.

Like many small towns across the country, the town I was living in at the time had its own annual festival. Like most annual festivals in small towns, it brought in a large number of vendors who sold merchandise of varying degrees of quality. So, I'm sure you can imagine how my eyes almost popped out of my head when one of the vendors was peddling tiny Godzillas, like the one pictured above. Read on for more details and pictures of the pint-sized kaiju that somehow showed up in my middle-of-nowhere town as nameless knockoffs.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Vizio LED 3D: Getting My Geek On in High-Definition

When I started writing this blog, I made it a point to keep this blog fresh by providing new content at least more than once per week. Unfortunately, I've been falling behind lately due to a new love in my life. For the last few days, my wife and I have been in a state of near-religious bliss as we devote hours of worship to our new secular, electronic idol: the Vizio 47-inch TruLED LCD 3D HDTV.

I'll be the first to admit that as horror/sci-fi geeks go, I'm pretty late to hop on the high-def bandwagon. Yet this was the first time in a while that we've had the money to get something like this, and it was worth the wait. Everything we've watched on this Vizio TV is absolutely gorgeous, from TV shows to movies to even high-def Wii video game footage we now get through the component cable we bought for the game system. We recently watched the Criterion release of the classic mystery film Green for Danger (1946) and it felt like we were in a movie theater. It's taken an act of sheer will to keep myself from locking myself in my house and treating myself to a mega-marathon viewing of all the Star Wars, Alien, Predator, Terminator, Pixar and Hayao Miyazaki films that I own. Best of all, because it's an LED TV, I get a great picture quality without the large electric bill that comes with the non-LED high-def TVs. Shameless self-indulgence, thy name is Vizio LED.

We haven't gotten the 3D glasses for this TV yet, so I can't comment on how good its 3D picture quality is. Nevertheless, I'm particularly excited about having an XVT model of the Vizio 3D TVs because of its compatibility with the Sensio 3D format. Sensio has been in the 3D home video market long before the high-def craze caught on and as far as I know, they're the only company that has shown any interest in releasing high-def home video versions of 3D movie classics such as Creature from the Black Lagoon, House of Wax and It Came From Outer Space. They've already released the official full-color home video 3D versions of Spy Kids 3D: Game Over and Jaws 3D, so I'm looking forward to seeing what they will release next for the die-hard 3D crowd.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Wonderfully Weird Worlds of Remedios Varo

If you live in the Washington DC area and have a love for the various artistic styles from the 20th century, you might want to stop by the Mexican Cultural Institute sometime between now and June 18th. The Institute is holding an exhibit entitled "Beyond the Labyrinth: Latin American Art and the FEMSA Collection". While the exhibition will include the works of many great Latin American artists, artists such as Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Fernando Botero, I particularly wanted to draw your attention to one of the featured artists: surrealist painter Remedios Varo (1908-1963).

I first saw Varo's paintings when the National Museum of Women in the Arts held an exhibit devoted to her back in 2000 entitled "The Magic of Remedios Varo". As Varo's work is described in the exhibit's press release:

"In her meticulous paintings rendered in jewel-like tones, worlds overlap to create a reality apart: a chair back mysteriously opens to reveal human faces, hands reach through walls, and tabletops peel back to expose living roots. Varo wanted to know how and why the universe functioned, and looked to dreams, astrology, and science for inspiration, and to visual and literary sources for themes. She set up hypotheses and explored them in paint, opening the door to new ways of envisioning nature and the self."
Varo's paintings are spellbinding portrayals of dark, mind-bending ruminations on the nature of existence, and I highly recommend her work for anyone who has an appreciation of visual representations of the fanciful, the otherworldly, and the horrific. Go to the Remedios Varo site to learn more about this remarkable artist. Click below to see a gallery of some of Varo’s paintings.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Scream 4 Review: Revenge of the Remake

After writing my previous retrospective of the original Scream trilogy, I had to see Scream 4 on opening weekend so I could determine if it fit with the other three films. Thankfully, it does and it does so very well. Scream is one of the smartest movie franchises out there, and Scream 4 maintains that level of quality. Continue reading for my complete, largely spoiler-free review, although I'll warn you that it's hard to discuss the subtexts and themes of Scream 4 without making at least some references (albeit oblique references) to the ending. The short version of the review is that even though Scream 4 is not without its problems, it's a great addition to the Scream franchise and is a must-see if you enjoyed--and understood--the original trilogy in its entirety. Furthermore, the killer in Scream 4 is a worthy successor to both the previous Ghostface killers and to the late Maureen Prescott herself. Read on ...

Friday, April 15, 2011

From The Man-Cave: It Came From the Desert Retrospective

Check this out: The Man-Cave blog's look back at Cinemaware's classic video game, It Came From the Desert.

I always get a kick out of horror games that take a retro approach to their visual style and plot, because they feel like "what if" examples of how video games would have looked if they had existed back in the 50s and 60s. Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Destroy All Humans, Stubbs The Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse, and I Was An Atomic Mutant! are good examples of this style of gaming. Yet even by the standards that these other games set, It Came From the Desert stands by itself as a very unique video gaming experience.

At first glance, It Came From the Desert looks like what a licensed video game for the classic movie Them! would have been, but it's much more than that. Unlike many horror games, It Came From the Desert plays very much like a feature-length horror movie, combining a diverse selection of mini-games with a cast of characters and dialogue-heavy scenes. Man-Cave does a great job at reviewing the game's distinct style and provides a few video clips so you can see how the game actually looks, so be sure to go over to the site to learn more about this ground-breaking big-bug game.

For additional information about this game, the TurboPlay Magazine Archives site features an article from 1991 about a very different version of It Came From the Desert for the TurboGrafx game console which utilized full-motion video (FMV).

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Old Robots Site--Better Than Skynet's Family Photo Album

A few weeks back, I found The Old Robots site while surfing around the 'net and boy, did I hit the mother load when it comes to robot trivia.

The Old Robots site is an easy-to-navigate archive of all sorts of robots that were produced during the mid-to-late twentieth century (as well as a few from the early twenty-first century, such as the Robosapien robots by WooWee). While a large portion of the site is devoted to toy robots, it also lists a few robots built for industrial, agricultural, medical and military uses. Furthermore, the site features a variety of downloadable manuals, articles, posters and box art for the robots, and it even has its own YouTube channel that displays video footage of some of the robots in action. If there's a more thorough, comprehensive reference site out there devoted to robots across a wide range of areas, from practical robots to toy robots to movie and TV robots, I have yet to find it.

To clarify, when I mention "toy robots" in the context of The Old Robots site, I'm talking about toy robots that are (for the most part) both battery-powered and interactive in some way; thus, don't expect to find robots from toy lines such as Transformers, Zoids or Shogun Warriors on this site. However, Old Robots has a six-page section devoted to Robo Force by Ideal, one of the less popular robot toy lines from the 80s that was neither battery-powered nor interactive. I'm not sure why the site devotes such space to these toys, although I suspect that it's probably because that Robo Force was the only robot toy line from that time that tried to branch out into both do-it-yourself toy robot assembly kits through Ideal's Erector sets and actual home-use robotics with a two-foot tall, programmable Maxx Steel robot.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Criminal Minds and the Unraveling Sanity of Trauma Survivors

When it comes to nightly prime time viewing on the major broadcast networks, the Mrs. and I frequently tune in to the forensics-focused mystery/crime drama shows. We always enjoy a good whodunit and given my preference for giallo and slasher films that place an emphasis on the unknown, it's nice to see how much more elaborate murder mysteries have gotten on these shows since the popularity of CSI. (Even NCIS, which usually focuses on matters of political intrigue, has its fair share of knife-wielding maniacs, such as in last week's episode "Two-Faced".) Come to think of it, I can't imagine why slasher fans in general wouldn't be happy with prime time TV the way it is now, because I don't remember this many psycho killers and mangled bodies appearing during the nightly 8 to 11 programming block since X-Files, Millennium and Profiler were on the air.

That said, last week's episodes of Criminal Minds and its spin-off Suspect Behavior delivered a pair of tales that were not about serial murders, but instead about the broken psyches of trauma survivors. In the Criminal Minds episode "Hanley Waters", the BAU team is sent to stop a killing spree in Florida committed by Shelley Chamberlain (Kelli Williams), a mother who lost her child in a car accident the year before and her life--and sanity--have been fragmenting ever since. In the Suspect Behavior episode "Night Hawks", the Red Cell team investigates another spree killer in Oklahoma, a man named Leonard Keane (William Sanderson) whose son was a serial killer.

Neither of these episodes dive into the dizzyingly disturbing psychological depths that Dexter does, but they both added an extra dimension to the tragedy of murder and wrongful death that these shows usually lack--namely, the lasting burden that comes from surviving such deeply personal anguish. Both Williams and Sanderson give compelling performances as parents whose worlds are rapidly falling apart from the inside out; of the two episodes, though, Suspect Behavior's story involving Keane is particularly harrowing, a story about a father struggling--and failing--to come to grips with the fact that he unwittingly raised a monster. Even though these episodes are not supernatural dramas, they define what it truly means to be haunted, if not cursed.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Fiercely Nerding Out Over Ridley Scott, Legos, and Fossil Fuel PR Campaigns

This week, the folks over at the Fierce and Nerdy site invited me to share some of my thoughts on Ridley Scott's next movie Prometheus, the appeal of Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars, and how annoying public relations campaigns for the fossil fuel industry can be. Click here to read my whole post. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Bat-Mite Asks "Why So Serious?" on Batman: Brave and the Bold

I can't think of enough good things to say about Batman: Brave and the Bold. While it isn't on the scale of achievement as Bruce Timm and Paul Dini’s animated version of the DC universe, it's a deeply sincere love letter to DC's Silver Age comics that simultaneously parodies and celebrates the colorful, campy and openly absurd story lines that defined this particular era of superhero comics. In fact, Brave and the Bold's ability to seamlessly reference other eras of DC comics while staying true to Silver Age logic is proof of just how well-written and drawn this show is, perhaps making it the smartest and wittiest superhero show on TV right now--smart enough to weave engrossing tales of superhero adventure by using narrative threads from all over DC's multi-decade history (no matter obscure), yet witty enough not to take itself too seriously and maintain a sense of both visual and narrative playfulness.

With that in mind, I've decided to do this post regarding the most recent Brave and the Bold episode, "Bat-Mite Presents: Batman's Strangest Cases!" If Batman: Brave and the Bold is bursting at the seams with both narrative and visual references to all sorts of characters and events throughout DC history (take the recent Superman episode, for example), then "Batman's Strangest Cases" is a tour-de-force of obscure Batman trivia and satirical jabs at cartoon story telling conventions during the 50s, 60s and 70s. Read on for a more detailed review of this half-hour of superheroic, animated history bliss.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Build a Horde of the Undead with EMCE's Make Your Own Zombie Kit

As far as I know, action figure customization is a hobby that ranks high in both practice and prestige among die-hard fantasy, horror and sci-fi geeks. The more customizable types of action figure were those made by the now-defunct Mego Corporation. Mego's action figures had such a basic design that with the addition of customized costumes, accessories and head sculpts, they could be adapted for just about any fantasy, horror or sci-fi license. So, leave it up to EMCE Toys, the company that's determined to continue Mego's legacy, to release its own action figure customization kit ... with zombies!

During last February's Toy Fair 2011, EMCE displayed its "Make Your Own Zombie" Action Figure Customizing Kit as part of their Zombie Survival Headquarters booth. Scheduled to be released in the fall at the price of $49.99, this kit includes five heads and multiple torso and limb parts--each in varying states of decay, from freshly deceased to almost skinless--two clothing sets and three 8-inch action figure bodies. For budding action figure customizers, the kit also includes and instructional DVD that provides demonstrations by EMCE's own art staff on how to customize your do-it-yourself zombies. From what I've read about the kit, paints and other modeling supplies you will need to complete the customization process are not included.

EMCE's "Make Your Own Zombie" kit looks like a great addition to the collection of any action figure customizer, both beginner and advanced, and it will be available for purchase through Mego-style figure resellers or directly from EMCE Toys. Furthermore, the parts that come in the kit can be used with any other Mego-style action figure, so you can use them to zombie-fy any other Mego figure of your choice.

Additional coverage of EMCE's "Make Your Own Zombie" kit can be found at the Collection DX and Dread Central sites. Click below to see more pictures of this kit, as well as pictures of EMCE zombie merchandise for the more casual, less-customization-inclined zombie fan (read: me). The mechandise include Mego-style action figures based on the original classic zombie film Night of the Living Dead, as well as a new line of toys called "War of the Dead" that includes a "Zombie Containment Unit" and bags of classic miniature army men with equally miniature zombies. Let the battle begin!