Thursday, June 28, 2012

Nerd Rant: The Loch Ness Monster Resurfaces in Louisiana Private Schools

When I was a child, I read books about modern legends such as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster (in between reading books published by Crestwood House about movie monsters, of course). I would often get the books out of my elementary school library, with the certainty that these supposedly "real" monsters would never be discussed in any of my classes. How times have changed.

According to several news articles that I've read across the Internet, private religious schools in Louisiana are using a textbook published by the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) Inc. that identifies the Loch Ness Monster as proof that dinosaurs still exist in the modern world and thus validates "Young Earth Creationism", the idea that the Earth is only a few thousand years old, and invalidates the theory of evolution. Many of the articles reprint the textbook passage that mentions Nessie, which I will also do so here:

“Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ in Scotland? ‘Nessie’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.”

It should also be noted that the school in question, the Eternity Christian Academy in Westlake, is accepting students through publicly funded vouchers. In other words, taxpayer money is being used to teach kids that the Loch Ness Monster conclusively disproves the work of Charles Darwin and all of his successors. Really.

I'd normally laugh at this, except that someone is getting paid with government money to perpetuate such a preposterous idea. I mean, if you're going to challenge a widely-accepted scientific theory, shouldn't you be using something that actually qualifies as, you know, evidence? Claiming that the modern legend of the Loch Ness Monster invalidates evolution is like claiming that the Elvis sightings from the 80s and 90s invalidates the idea that repeatedly ingesting drug cocktails of Valmid, Quaaludes, codeine, Placidyl and phenobarbitol can be lethal.

Have you seen me lately?

Then again, maybe I should write an angry letter to ACE that claims discrimination over their curriculum's omission of Raystown Ray, the lake monster from my home state of Pennsylvania. Why should taxpayers fund private schools to talk about foreign monsters when we have plenty of perfectly good monsters right here in the US of A?

All I can say is that if the Loch Ness Monster is going to stay in a creationist-centric biology curriculum that's funded by taxpayer money and used in private religious schools, then The Crater Lake Monster (1977) must be mandatory viewing for the students. Each viewing will then be followed by an essay test where students must describe in detail how they'd use construction equipment to fight a rampaging dinosaur.

Teach the controversy!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Nerd Rant: Someone Actually Paid $70 Million to Make a Film Called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

I've seen a lot of things at the movies. Gory things, offensive things, full-frontal things, and so forth. Some were great, some were good, some were average, and some were very, very bad. Yet of all the things that Hollywood has put into the movie theaters lately (as opposed to the wild and woolly world of direct-to-video), last weekend's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter leaves me speechless. During the same summer as Battleship, a movie based on a board game, and it's this film that leaves me speechless. I thought that the humorless The Raven from last April that featured Edgar Allen Poe as an amateur detective was bad enough, but now we get the 16th President of the United States as a dour vampire slayer.

Come on, Hollywood! You've got a film about an axe-wielding president who kills monsters and this is the best that you can do? What, did the $70 million budget give you cold feet so you decided to play it serious for fear that a campy horror film would alienate or anger viewers? Did you get so high on CGI that the resulting digital haze made you forget how ridiculous this whole idea is? We live in a time where a toy series called "Presidential Monsters" is making its rounds among the horror collectibles crowd and yet you couldn't bother to include some inspired, morbid mayhem to salvage your misguided mash-up of historical drama and creature feature?

Yes, this action figure really does exist. Yes, a Lincolnstein movie would be
much more entertaining than Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

I think they should've cast Hugh Jackman as Abe and rewritten the script into a movie musical, where Abe could sing and behead vampires while swinging his axe in rhythm with the tunes. Imagine Abe slaughtering the bloodsucking undead while singing the Gettysburg Address; what could be cooler than that? Throw in roles for other stage theater-inclined X-Men movie vets for name recognition purposes (e.g., James Marsden, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, etc.) and change the title to something more outrageous--say, Honest Abe vs. Dracula--and this could've been a b-movie blockbuster smash.

A 19th century historical figure that fights vampires? 
Been there, done that, and on a cheaper budget too.

There is so much wasted potential in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I guess we'll just have to wait until September for FDR: American Badass!, which stars Barry Bostwick as FDR, Ray Wise as General MacArthur, and Kevin Sorbo as Abe Lincoln. Yes, really.

Here's Abe clobbering the cyborg version of John Wilkes Booth (a.k.a. "John Wilkes Doom")
during a time travel team-up with the Dark Knight on Batman: Brave and the Bold.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

It's Martian Tripods Versus Steampunk Tech in War of the Worlds: Goliath

Fans of H.G. Wells and the steampunk genre, take note: The animated War of the Worlds: Goliath is scheduled for worldwide release in fall 2012.

Goliath is a sequel to Wells' original novel, and it will take place 15 years after the first invasion. An international defense force called A.R.E.S. has been established using technology derived from the fallen tripods, and it is called into service when a second wave of Martians arrive. In this alternate steampunk timeline, there are armored battle zeppelins and human-made tripods, and A.R.E.S. is led by none other than Theodore Roosevelt. (Move over Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter--War of the Worlds: Goliath will have Teddy Roosevelt, alien fighter!)

Goliath is also a reunion of sorts for some of the cast and crew from the Highlander TV series (1992-1998). This film was co-written by David Abramowitz, a creative consultant for most of Highlander's run, and the voice cast includes Highlander vets Peter Wingfield, Adrian Paul, Elizabeth Gracen, and Jim Byrnes. Goliath is the second War of the Worlds sequel project for Adrian Paul: He also had a starring role during the second season of the syndicated War of the Worlds TV show (1988-1990), which was a sequel to George Pal's 1953 film adaptation of Wells' novel. Additional voice cast includes Adam Baldwin (Firefly, Chuck) and James Arnold Taylor (Star Wars: The Clone Wars).

A diagram of human-made tripods, courtesy of Heavy Metal.

Click here to visit the official War of the Worlds: Goliath site.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Weird World of Eerie Publications Book Review: Reviving the Horror Comic Book Through Recycling

Of all the media formats that have distributed the horror genre to the masses, few have had it more difficult than the comic book. Congressional hearings that were held during the mid-50s based on nothing more than a fleeting fit of public hysteria caused horror comic books to suddenly vanish from newsstands everywhere and dealt a crippling blow to the comic book industry in general. The horror comic eventually came back during the 60s and 70s, with DC, Marvel and Warren Publishing contributing titles that would help this format recover. The most notorious contributor to the horror comic revival was Eerie Publications, which is the central topic of Mike Howlett's engaging and informative book, The Weird World of Eerie Publications: Comic Gore That Warped Millions of Young Minds.

Howlett's approach to the history of Eerie Publications and its contributions to the horror comic format is exhaustive, almost to a fault. Howlett obviously loves the work of Eerie Publications and you'll finish the book with the conviction that he could tell you anything and everything about that company at a moments' notice. Yet even if you only have a passing familiarity with horror comics and the titles produced by Eerie Publications, Howlett's book is worth purchasing for a snapshot of what pulp horror publishing was like during the 60s and 70s. Curiously, Weird World also indirectly highlights the conspicuous similarities between low-budget horror comic publishing and low-budget exploitation horror filmmaking. Read on for my complete review.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Destroy All Humans! Big Willy Unleashed Review

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the Mars Attacks trading card series. In honor of this milestone in dark-humored alien invasion gore, I picked up a copy of Destroy All Humans! Big Willy Unleashed for the Wii. The attitude of the Destroy All Humans! game franchise is very close to that of Mars Attacks, so it only seemed fitting to get this game while reminiscing about viciously funny alien invaders.

All of the other Destroy All Humans! games were made for Playstation and Xbox systems; Big Willy Unleashed is the Wii exclusive in the series. I never owned a Playstation or an Xbox, so playing Big Willy Unleashed was my first chance to experience a full Destroy All Humans! game. Overall, the story chapters, missions, graphics and level designs in Big Willy Unleashed range from good to average; yet where this game becomes a must-buy (albeit at a discount price) is in the variety of alien toys it lets you play with while you terrorize humans around the world. Keep reading for my complete review.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Happy (Belated) Father's Day to Geek Dads and Dads of Geeks Everywhere

Like the good geek that I am, I spent this last weekend with my dad celebrating Father's Day. My dad's a bit of a geek too; while our respective areas of geekery have never been quite on the same wavelength, Dad always made it a point to encourage my budding geekiness even if he didn't always approve of where it was going.

This year's Father's Day gave me the chance to reflect upon how crucial my dad was to one of the most precocious, demanding times of my life: my obsessive-compulsive infatuation with Star Wars during the late 70s and early 80s. Sure, my folks spent tons of money to placate my addiction to all things from a certain galaxy far, far away, but my dad when the extra mile by putting together a few Star Wars model kits that my impatient and unskilled pre-pubescent personality couldn't assemble but coveted nevertheless. Read on for more about my dad's heroic feats of modeling glue manipulation and modeling paint application that he performed to keep his oddball offspring satiated.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Return of Dracula (1958): A Classic Monster in Eisenhower-Era America

I was looking around Netflix's on-demand list of horror titles the other day when I found this curiosity: The Return of Dracula from 1958.

When I was growing up in the 80s, books about horror movies usually divided Dracula movies into two eras: the Universal era during the 30s and 40s, and the Hammer era during the 50s, 60s and 70s. Thus, to see an American Dracula movie from 1958 listed anywhere was a surprise to me, so I decided to watch it to see how the King of Vampires fared in America during the 50s.

The Return of Dracula begins with Dracula (played by Francis Lederer) fleeing the authorities in Transylvania. He murders and assumes the identity of Czech artist named Bellac, who is traveling to America to visit his cousins in California. While maintaining his guise as Bellac, Dracula stays with Bellac's cousins while he begins to build a new army of the undead. In other words, this movie is Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) but with vampires.

Given the time it was made, I could see why a Hollywood studio would think that Dracula could fit in with the Cold War paranoia that was prevalent during the 50s in America. After all, the movie features a foreigner with a strange accent and a strong aversion of Christian iconography who arrives in small town America to seduce young people into a depraved lifestyle; if that isn't a Red Scare-based film plot, I don't know what is. Furthermore, if my anti-communism assumption is correct, then it's fun to see a movie like this depict a Halloween costume party--which includes a kid dressed up as Satan--as a wholesome, all-American activity. (Boy, how times have changed.)

This film isn't nearly as bold and stylish as Hammer's Horror of Dracula, which appeared later in the same year, so it's understandable why this movie didn't lead to more American-made Dracula films in the years since. Nevertheless, The Return of Dracula does have its charms, particularly Lederer's portrayal of Dracula. Even though the body count achieved by this Dracula is quite modest in comparison to other versions, Lederer's interpretation of the role reminds viewers that Dracula's greatest power is neither his superhuman strength nor his invulnerability, but his seductive, indomitable will.

If you can get past the idea of Dracula resorting to the lowly crime of identity theft to continue his feedings, then I strongly recommend The Return of Dracula to Dracula film completists and retro-horror fans. If you wax nostalgic for the times when syndicated TV stations would run older and sometimes lesser-known horror and sci-fi movies on the weekends, this movie is for you.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ridley Scott’s Prometheus: Building Better Biomechanical Worlds

Being the obsessed Alien franchise fan that I am, I saw Prometheus last weekend in IMAX 3D. I was very impressed with the whole experience, both the quality of the 3D and Ridley Scott's return to the franchise that he started. Yet when it came time to write this review, I had no idea where to begin. Scott's film has so many details and ideas that I could rapidly identify and understand due to my appreciation of all four of the Alien movies, yet I keep seeing reviews, articles and posts on the Web that gripe over how incomprehensible and creatively bankrupt they think Prometheus is. So, since this is a fan blog of sorts anyway, I'm going to drop the pretense of providing some kind of neutral review and discuss the Alien prequel as an Alien fan. Besides, my general rule of thumb about movie franchises is that the best of them build upon ideas and themes over the course of several movies, so it is pointless to discuss sequels--especially third, fourth and fifth sequels--without mentioning the previous movies.

Here's my short, spoiler-free review: Prometheus is a fantastic movie, both as a prequel and a stand-alone. Scott shows a genuine interest in bringing new ideas into the Alien franchise, which is the main reason why this film works. Sure, the visuals are amazing, the effects are impressive and the cast is top-notch, but it all would've fallen apart if Scott didn't want to push the franchise into bold new directions. If you have any interest in Alien and its sequels--or if you have any interest in films that successfully blend horror and sci-fi--Prometheus is an amazing cinematic experience.

That said, I can see why Scott remained noncommittal about the Prometheus's status as a prequel. By making an indirect prequel to Alien, Scott is able to explore a theme that is present in all of the Alien movies but couldn't be adequately explored in those other films due to their emphasis on a monster-driven narrative. The theme in question can be summed up in the slogan of the omnipresent mega-conglomerate in the Alien universe, the Weyland-Yutani Corporation: "Building Better Worlds". Read on for my spoiler-filled thoughts about what drives Prometheus and how it broadens the Alien franchise into frightening new areas of deep space dread.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Review of Dark Horse's Aliens/Predator: Panel To Panel Book

As the U.S. release date of Prometheus draws closer, I'll wrap up my reviews of items from my personal Alien collection with a book by Dark Horse called Aliens/Predator: Panel To Panel.

If fans want good Alien artwork, they can either pick up books that feature artwork by the original Alien designer H. R. Giger or they can get behind-the-scenes books that detail the production of Alien, its sequels and its crossover spin-offs. Yet fans should not overlook Aliens/Predator: Panel To Panel, because it features Dark Horse's best comic art of the Alien and the Predator and their various incarnations. This book features page after page of full color art of facehuggers, chestbusters, Warrior Aliens and Alien Queens, as well as Predators and various Alien oddities.

Best of all, this book allows you to enjoy great Aliens, Predator and Aliens vs. Predator art without having to pick up the omnibus collections of each title. The quality of the Dark Horse stories range from good to mediocre to atrociously bad, and the quality of their art is just as variable. Thankfully, the less adequate artwork of Aliens and Predators is nowhere to be found in Aliens/Predator: Panel To Panel.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ray Bradbury, 1920 - 2012

Today marks the passing of Ray Bradbury, one of the greatest science fiction writers ever to grace the genre. I honestly don't know what to write here--his body of work and artistic influence are so large that I no idea where to begin. He truly was a giant in his field.

Of the many stories he wrote that I've read over the years, one of my favorites is a short story called "The Fog Horn". Before reading it, I never thought that a story about a giant prehistoric monster could be such a heartbreaking meditation on loneliness--Bradbury was that good. This story would later inspire The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), a movie that featured innovative stop-motion effects work by Bradbury's long-time friend, Ray Harryhausen.

There a plenty of more detailed Bradbury obits out there and I particularly recommend the one by Cartoon Brew, which will give you a better idea of how Bradbury's interests and talents extended beyond the written word.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman Review: A Fairy Tale Super-Sized

With Hollywood's recent inclination toward remakes and re-imaginings, it should surprise no one that classic fairy tales would be due for a makeover. Take Snow White for example: In 2011 and 2012 alone, this tale has already been re-imagined as a TV show (Once Upon a Time) and a feature-length adventure-comedy (Mirror, Mirror). With Snow White and the Huntsman, Snow White gets upgraded from a simple fairy tale to a grandiose sword-and-sorcery epic, and the end result is much better than you'd expect it to be.

I'm usually not into the sword-and-sorcery subgenre of fantasy films, unless the film features lots of monsters and/or it includes the work of a legendary special effects artist such as Ray Harryhausen. Nevertheless, Snow White and the Huntsman is an entertaining fantasy epic, with a large cast of characters, great special effects, and scenic cinematography. Of course, this movie wears the influences of the recent Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies on its selves, which actually helps the movie in spite of how obvious the influence is. For example, when one of the major villains dies, it happens in such an explosively convulsive manner that the word "horcrux" immediately sprang to mind. (Go watch the movie and you'll see what I mean.)

One of the more intriguing aspects of the movie is how it inserts elements from the more traditional telling of the Snow White fairy tale into the rescaled story. Familiar plot elements such as the poisoned apple, the seven dwarfs, and the shape-shifting evil queen are all in Snow White and the Huntsman, but they inserted in creative ways that give the movie its own distinction among other Snow White adaptations. (Then again, I couldn't help but to think of Mel Brooks' 15 Commandments joke from History of the World: Part 1 when the movie arrives and the, er, proper number of dwarfs.)

For as enjoyable this re-imagined Snow White movie is, Charlize Theron's portrayal of the evil Queen Ravenna really stands out among everything else. Not only does Theron play the role with the right amounts of cunning, arrogance and resentment, but the script gives the Ravenna character a more substantial background than most of the evil queens in other Snow White adaptations. While it's not completely explained, Ravenna appears to have been around for quite a while before the events in the movie and that she's harbors a seething, unspecified grudge that goes far, far beyond losing the title of the most fairest of them all.

If you think that this summer's line of blockbusters is lacking in the sword-and-sorcery area, go see Snow White and the Huntsman. It's fun in its own right, and it'll tide you over until The Hobbit arrives in December.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Micro Machines Alien Collection Review

There was a time during the 80s and 90s when Micro Machines, a toy line produced by Galoob, was the go-to line for miniature replicas of all sorts of vehicles, both real and fictional. Micro Machines started with vehicles such as cars, trucks, boats and airplanes, and then it profited greatly by producing miniatures of vehicles from popular sci-fi franchises such as Star Trek and Star Wars. In fact, those miniatures proved to be popular enough that Galoob would expand those licenses to include micro-sized playsets and a new line of larger vehicle toys that would fit scale-sized micro figures.

With two major sci-fi franchises under its belt, Galoob decided to add licenses of other sci-fi titles to its Micro Machines line, including Alien, Predator and Terminator. This review will cover the Micro Machines Alien collection, including pictures of each item in the collection. Read on....