Sunday, April 28, 2013

VHS Horror Movie Collecting and Wizard Video: How Much is Too Much?

Given my interests in horror and sci-fi, I've seen a wide variety of collectors who have built impressive inventories of prized horror and sci-fi artifacts. Collections have been built around pulp magazines, movie posters, model kits, and items specific to a particular franchise. There are even those who prefer to collect copies of horror and sci-fi movies in a non-digital format--namely, the analog medium of VHS. Yet as with every form of collecting, one question remains the same: How much is too much to pay for a particular collectible? In the area of VHS exploitation movies, collectors have asked that very same question when it comes to the recent "special edition" Wizard Video re-releases by Charles Band. Read on for some of my thoughts about this latest exercise in nostalgia marketing.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Kenner Star Wars Toys Strike Back: BaronSat's Lego Imperial Attack Base Playset

A few months ago, I published a post about BaronSat (a.k.a. Eric Druon), a devoted Lego hobbyist who made two Lego replicas of playsets from Kenner's short-lived Star Wars Micro Collection line. I just heard from BaronSat again, and he's made another impressive Lego replica from Kenner's Star Wars toy line: the Imperial Attack Base playset from Empire Strikes Back, which Kenner released for its 3 and 3/4 inch Star Wars action figures. Just as he did before, BaronSat took everything about the original playset and re-scaled it for Lego's Star Wars minifigs and the results are outstanding. Read on for more details and pictures of BaronSat's latest work.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Farewell Futurama, Take Three

In case you haven't heard, Comedy Central has announced that it's discontinuing Futurama after its next 13 episode run, which will begin in June and end at the beginning of September.

For those of you who have been keeping score, Futurama first ran on Fox for four seasons, from 1999 to 2003. It came back in 2007 with four movies on Comedy Central (four movies that were subsequently edited into 16 half-hour episodes, which makes me wonder why they were made as movies in the first place). Comedy Central then renewed the cartoon as a half-hour series with two 26 episode seasons, which have aired as 13 episode blocks during the summers of 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. In total, Futurama will leave the air with a total of 140 episodes to its name.

According to what I've read, Comedy Central is cancelling the show due to falling ratings. Then again, Comedy Central has treated new episodes of Futurama as summer-exclusive content, so I can see how fan enthusiasm can diminish during such an unusual schedule. Watching a series from fall to spring and then waiting over the summer for the series to come back in the subsequent fall is a reasonable degree of anticipation; asking viewers to remember to watch a series that only runs new episodes during the summer is probably asking too much of modern attention-deficient audiences. Nevertheless, even though I love Futurama, its sparse run on Comedy Central makes the news of its latest cancellation easier to accept.

Like most fans, I was miffed when Fox cancelled Futurama after doing everything it could to torpedo the show's ratings; thus, the fact that this series came back at all is quite an accomplishment, one that is hard to top for such a cult-appeal show. As long as the final 13 episode block maintains decent level of quality, I honestly can't complain about its latest cancellation. Besides, Futurama produced a respectable amount of ancillary material (a comic books series, a video game, toys, and lots of other fun merchandise), and it won't be kept on the air long past the point where is shouldn't be (such as The Simpsons, South Park, King of the Hill, and Family Guy).

I'll miss Futurama. It was a show that poked fun at sci-fi and was very smart in its own right (it even has its own mathematical theorem), and it has scored dozens of award nominations and wins to prove just how great it is. The TV cartoon universe will be a much smaller place without it.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Mego Batman Returns

2013 is shaping up to be a fantastic year for fans of classic Batman media and merchandise. First, Mattel and NECA announced that they are producing action figures based on the live-action Batman TV series from the 60s; then, DC announced that it will publish Batman '66, an online comic based on the same TV series, starting this summer. Now, Figures Toy Company has announced that it will release a series of Batman figures based on Mego's 8-inch World's Greatest Super Heroes line from the 70s, starting this July.

I'm not sure what has prompted this renewed interest in older Batman stuff, but it looks like we're going to see plenty of it in the months to come. Not only will Figures Toy Company release replicas of Mego's Batman figures (which include Robin, Batgirl, Joker, Penguin, Riddler and Catwoman) but it also intends to make a wave of figures based on the 60s Batman TV show, complete with head sculpts based on the actors who played the characters (see the picture below for two examples).

Personally, I'm hoping that these toys will sell well enough to encourage Figures Toy Company to release replicas of Mego's entire World's Greatest Super Heroes line. Then again, anything that keeps Mego alive among the horror, sci-fi and comic book communities is good idea in my book.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Flying RC Model Hobbyists Take to the Skies with Terminator and S.H.I.E.L.D.

When it comes to being jealous of people who are more talented than me in the area of making horror and sci-fi replicas, I prefer to prioritize. I'm jealous of people who can assemble model kits so they appear nearly flawless; very jealous of people who can make professional-looking customized model kits and/or toys; and extremely jealous of people who can make customized model kits and/or toys that can move in some way, either along the ground, on/under the water, or through the air. In the last category, I recently found two talented hobbyists who were able to make vehicle replicas from the Terminator saga and last year's Avengers movie that could actually fly. Click below to read more about these amazing RC replicas and see video clips of each model in action.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Awesome 8-Bit Lunacy: Bionic Chainsaw Pogo Gorilla

It's the perfect title for a video game, four words that sum it up nicely: Bionic Chainsaw Pogo Gorilla.

This game is being developed by I-Mockery and Adult Swim Games, and it has been described as an “ultra-violent platformer about an escaped lab experiment looking for blood.” It sounds like a perfect fit for my depraved interests--I can't wait! If this game becomes popular enough, maybe we'll get lucky and see a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles vs. Bionic Chainsaw Pogo Gorilla crossover.

Click here to check out other weird and wonderful video games that you can play for free at I-Mockery.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Must-See BBC TV: In the Flesh

With so many zombie-themed movies, TV shows and video games on the market these days, it's hard to find a zombie story that's genuinely unique. Most follow the apocalyptic bloodbath plot that was pioneered by George Romero in his zombie films. In contrast, the BBC has broadcast In the Flesh, a three-part miniseries that has roots in Romero's work but takes it into provocative new territory.

Created and written by Dominic Mitchell, In the Flesh is about a British teenager named Kieren (Luke Newberry) who is being treated for "Partially Deceased Syndrome", or PDS. PDS is the term given to the phenomenon that reanimated the dead in a zombie outbreak that happened four years earlier. In the time since then, a large number of zombies--or "rotters" as they are called in the miniseries--have been rehabilitated through medical treatments and are being integrated back into society. The series follows Kieren as he returns to his family in the rural village of Roarton and how he and the world around him are adjusting to existence of the partially dead among the living.

While there are some brief flashes of gore in In the Flesh, it is not your typical zombie story. It takes the imagery, concepts and symbolism associated with zombies and uses them to examine modern issues such as drug abuse, mental health, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and widely-publicized diseases such as cancer and AIDS. In the series' post-outbreak world, PDS sufferers receive daily injections of a medication called Neurotriptyline and therapy to help them move on with their (after)lives, while family members of PDS sufferers can attend support groups to discuss the difficulties of caring for loved ones who are neither completely alive nor dead. Government-published posters and literature about PDS make cameo appearances throughout the series, while some survivors of the zombie outbreak are appalled at having to accept PDS sufferers--including ones they knew and cared for before the outbreak--as equal members of their community. In a sense, In the Flesh is the equal but opposite of Bob Clark's Deathdream (1972).

The plot device of rehabilitating zombies has been played for laughs many times before, such as in Shaun of the Dead, Fido, Ugly Americans and Warm Bodies. Yet In the Flesh plays it mostly straight and it works, largely due to Mitchell populating his story with so many interesting ideas, vivid details and nuanced characters. Monsters have been used as metaphors for diseases and social problems many, many times before, but it's rare to see a story like In the Flesh that takes the perspective of people who have to care for loved ones who have become "monsters" and how the newly monster-ized cope with their not-quite-human status. (For another good example of this, see my essay on the original The Fly and its sequels.) Between the strength of the script and wonderful performances by the cast, this series succeeds as a horror drama, a rare accomplishment in horror television. My only complaint is that the series runs for just three hour-long episodes; Mitchell provides so many details and subplots within his story that I'd love to see where it goes next after the third episode comes to an end.

If you're looking for hordes of zombies having a blood-drenched, entrails-splattered feeding frenzy on the living, this miniseries is not for you. Yet if you're looking for a unique, rewarding and thoughtful story about the living dead, In the Flesh is something you need to see. With the topics such as mental health, PTSD and suicide making frequent appearances in current discussions over gun violence and veterans returning from extended tours in the Middle East, In the Flesh really is a zombie tale for our time.

For more details about In the Flesh, including an annotated shooting script for the "Understanding PDS" public service video, check out the official series page over at the BBC site.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Walking Dead and the Challenges of Cross-Media Adaptations

When it comes to movies that are adaptations of novels, everyone knows the drill by now: the book is usually better than the movie. It's a fair criticism, since the printed page is a very different medium than the moving image. But what happens when a TV show attempts to adapt a serialized--and unfinished--comic book series? With AMC's The Walking Dead, we're watching such an attempt play out now on prime time.

I've read through the first 70 issues of the Walking Dead comic book, which was created and written by Robert Kirkman, so I have ample amounts of source information to draw from when comparing it to its televised counterpart. I enjoy the TV show's ample amounts of zombie gore, and I thought that it got off to a great start in its first six-episode season. But after watching the meandering second season and seeing the third season end so poorly last week, I'm beginning to wonder how much longer this show can go with its rapidly rotting legs in spite of its high ratings. Read on for my analysis of the show, and why adapting an ongoing comic book series into a different medium requires much more planning and foresight than adapting a single novel.

NOTE: This post makes many references to events in both versions of The Walking Dead. Thus, if you aren't familiar with either of them but want to read/see them later, you might want to skip this post to avoid spoilers.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Remembering Roger Ebert (1942 - 2013)

I’ve been very sick for the last week, so I’m way behind on a few things I want to cover on this blog. Yet it would be remiss for me not to put in a few words about the recent passing of legendary movie critic Roger Ebert. While this blog is not exclusively devoted to movie reviews, I see Ebert’s influence in my writing and my approach to horror and sci-fi pop culture, much of which is driven by cinema.

It’s been said that through his books, TV shows, and other efforts, Ebert brought the practice of movie criticism into a more personal, less formalized perspective. It is likewise impressive that he did this at a time when the production and distribution of movies have changed so drastically, from something that could only be experienced in the movie theater to something that can be accessed almost anywhere at any time and on demand. I discovered Ebert the same way many people did: during the mid-80s on his syndicated TV show At the Movies with fellow film critic Gene Siskel. The VHS rental industry was coming into its own at that time, and I noticed how even that show soon made some changes to make room for new releases on VHS. (It should also be said that last week saw the passing of Eurotrash master Jesus “Jess” Franco. Even though there are many more popular and accomplished film directors in Europe, Franco developed an American fan base through distribution into VHS rental shops across America. Click here for more thoughts about that.)

If Ebert did anything, he showed how the critical analysis of movies has the potential to enhance one’s enjoyment of movies--that actually thinking about what you watch makes you appreciate it more than if you did not. I’m certain that many people still don’t understand this concept, since many (including quite a few professional film critics) appear to equate criticism with open hostility and snide insults. Yet because of his approach to criticism, Ebert didn’t just review films; he championed them. He provided commentary tracks for DVD and Blu-ray releases of movies (including a track for one of my personal favorites, Dark City) and would draw attention to limited-released movies that would otherwise be forgotten.

While I’m not even close to the kind of film buff that Ebert was, I’d like to think that my blog adheres to the standard of film criticism that Ebert himself endorsed. If anything I’ve written here has encouraged readers to think a little more about the films they are watching or choose to see an obscure movie instead of a hyper-promoted blockbuster, then I think Ebert would be proud.