Sunday, January 29, 2012

I'm A Grown Man And I Bought This: Crime Syndicate Of America Box Set

If you're a comic book geek as I am, you'll know that the Crime Syndicate is the evil equivalent of the Justice League of America. They were originally located on Earth 3, a parallel planet where there were no superheroes, only supervillains. Eventually a sole superhero appeared to fight the endless hordes of villains: Lex Luthor. Cool idea, huh? From the era when comic books were actually fun to read.

I think the Crime Syndicate is now located on Earth 2. Why they changed it, I have no idea. Either it was part of some confusing multi-part storyline or the writer just forgot where they were from.

The Crime Syndicate box set is part of Mattel's DC Universe line, which has been around for a good five or six years now and has produced hundreds of cool figures from DC's history. I used to be an avid collector of this line, but around Wave 8 they started becoming impossibly hard to find, and the price tag for an individual figure ballooned to a ridiculous and astonishing $18! Ouch!

The box set contains figures of Ultraman, Owlman, Superwoman, Power Ring and Johnny Quick. It's a Walmart exclusive, so if you want one you'll have to put on your best pajama bottoms and venture there.

It also originally cost between $75 and $80, depending on the store. Sorry, Walmart and Mattel. That ain't gonna happen. I don't spend that much per week on groceries! There's honestly no reason this toy line should be so expensive. These figures are all basically repaints. The entire DC Universe line routinely uses three or four different basic body types, so all they did to design these figures is make five new heads. Certainly no reason to inflate the price to such levels.

Apparently I wasn't the only one suffering from sticker shock, as I saw this set on clearance at Walmart for a more reasonable $35, so I picked it up.

Anyhow, enough whining about the cost, and on with the reviews. First up in the set is Ultraman. Obviously the Earth 3 equivalent of Superman. He's not from Krypton though– he's human, given his super powers by an alien after he accidentally wandered into hyperspace.

Not a terribly exciting figure, but that's the fault of the source material.

Owlman is the evil twin of Batman. In the comics, the original Owlman wore a costume that looked pretty much identical to Batman's, except he wore an owl mask on his head. That was no doubt considered too campy for modern, serious comic readers. This version seems highly influenced by Night Owl from the Watchmen movie of a few years back.

Like Batman, Owlman has no actual superpowers and relies on his cunning and an array of high tech gadgetry.

This is probably my favorite figure of the lot. It's a cool design, there's lots of detail and the flexible "feathered" cape is a nice touch. One of the few figures that's not a simple repaint of an existing figure and actually required some effort on Mattel's part.

Next up is Superwoman, who's pretty obviously the counterpart of Wonder Woman. She has powers similar to those of Wonder Woman, with the addition of heat vision. According to the back of the box, Superwoman's magic lasso (which was not included in this box set- way to cheap out on accessories, Matell!) not only forces people to tell the truth, but also to reveal embarrassing secrets about themselves. Um... aren't those pretty much the same thing? Isn't the truth sometimes embarrassing?

Superwoman is a little more S&M than I'm used to seeing in the toy aisle, what with her shiny vinyl bustier and all, but what do I know. My figure came with a wonky left leg that makes for some strange poses. I think it might have resulted from the plastic tray warping her leg over a period of months. I'd be royally pissed if I'd paid full price for this set.

Power Ring is the evil equivalent of the Justice League's Green Lantern. Unlike our Green Lantern, his super-powered ring is not alien in origin, it was given to him by a Tibetan monk named Volthoom. Wha.... ? I'm gonna go out on a limb and say with confidence that Volthoom is not a traditional Tibetan name.

This is a prime example of why these figures shouldn't cost as much as they do. This is basically the regular Green Lantern figure with a different paint job and a tiny mask added to his face.

Once again, this figure has leg problems. His left leg appears to also have been warped by the plastic tray. It just looks odd no matter what position it's in. Maybe over time it'll straighten itself out.

Rounding out the Crime Syndicate is Johnny Quick. You don't have to be a comic fan to figure out he's the evil version of the Flash. Again, this is pretty much a repaint of the regular Flash figure with a new head sculpt.

And what's up that goofy noggin? Hopefully that's just his helmet, and his head isn't actually shaped like that underneath.

According to the back of the box, Johnny Quick derives his powers from drinking "Speed Juice." Congratulations, DC and Mattel. You've made the first drug-using super hero.

All in all it's a decent but not great set containing some interesting evil versions of fan-favorite characters. Somewhat marred by the warped legs that affect some of the figures, which may just have been symptomatic of the box I bought. Definitely not worth the original asking price, but an OK buy at the marked down price of $35.

My favorite part of this set though is the box. Specifically the back of the box, which contains short bios of the various characters. Allow me to highlight a few of the character descriptions:

Owlman: Not even loyal to his own syndicate, he is having an affair with Superwoman and blackmailing Ultraman.

Superwoman: Married to Ultraman, she is having an illicit affair with Owlman.

What. The. Hell. Seriously, Mattel? You printed those two passages on the back of a box of action figures found in the toy aisle. Was it absolutely necessary to include that info? Are there even any editors working in the marketing department at Mattel? I guess this proves that like the comics that inspired them, action figures are for adults now and no longer aimed at children.

I cannot wait until some six year old gets this set for Xmas, reads the back of the box and says, "Mommy, what's an illicit affair?"

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Wheel Unfortunate

This week, perennial game show host Pat Sajak admitted that he's occasionally hosted TVs Wheel of Fortune while drunk.

Dear God, who could blame him?

I feel like I'd need to get hammered just to watch an entire episode of that show. How he's managed to bear hosting it week in and week out for the past 30 years is beyond my comprehension. I honestly cannot conceive of a worse hell. If anything he deserves the country's utmost pity and compassion.

Think about the amount of pure willpower it must take him to force his feet to shuffle into that studio once a week for three decades. Imagine the sheer inner strength he has to muster in order to feign interest in whether a soccer mom from Sheboygan wins or loses. Try to imagine how grating it has to be for him to hear the phrase, "I'd like to buy a vowel" for the 100,000th time. Think of the seething, red hot fury that must build inside him when a mouth-breathing contestant can't guess a puzzle like "CATS AND D_GS."

How this man has kept from climbing to the top of a clock tower with a high powered rifle and going on a shooting spree, I have no idea.

Some may say he has one of the best jobs in the world. He works one day a week and is no doubt a millionaire many times over. There are some things though that just aren't worth any amount of money.

I can't fathom what abominable sin could he could possibly have committed to deserve such a curse. Just remember as you go to bed tonight, thank whatever deity you may worship that you weren't born Mr. Pat Sajak.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

It Came From The Cineplex: Red Tails

I had high hopes for this movie as I took my seat in the theater. It's an interesting story about a period of history I find endlessly fascinating. Then this credit flashed on the screen:

Executive Producer: George Lucas

Uh-oh. The man responsible for unleashing the Star Wars Prequels onto the world. My first thought was, "I have a bad feeling about this." Then this credit popped up on the screen:

Inspired by true events

Oh boy. The dreaded "Inspired by" credit. Few credits can inspire as much dread in me as this one. If the movie says, "Based on true events," then chances are it'll be a fairly accurate depiction of the story in question, with only a few embellishments to make it more exciting for the silver screen. "Inspired by true events" means what you're about to see is loosely based on a story your friend heard his bus driver's grandpa tell his butcher once. The only credit scarier than "Inspired by" is "And starring Rosie O'Donnell."

Set in 1944, Red Tails tells the true life story of the Tuskegee Airmen, a division of black US air force pilots who were grudgingly allowed to fly routine patrols in worn out, hand-me-down planes from their base in Italy. The pilots sadly realize that even in the service of their country they will never be treated as equals.

But when the U.S. begins losing too many B-52s in its bombing runs, the military decides to give the Tuskegee airmen a chance. Their commanding officer manages to get them supplied with new and proper planes (complete with tails painted bright red, hence the title), they succeed in protecting the bombing missions and make a difference in the war. The all white bombing squads reluctantly accept the Tuskegee pilot's help and they become the most requested escort crew in the war.

Supposedly Red Tails has been a dream project of George Lucas since the 1980s. Unable to find financial support from any major studios, he financed the picture out of his own pocket. Lucas has since blasted Hollywood, saying they wouldn't fund the film due to its all-black cast. Personally I think they shunned it because they got a peek at the script.

The movie could have been great, but like so many historical films, it plays it safe by focusing on one small bright part of the story, ignoring the struggle and strife that occurred before and the sometimes tragic outcomes that happened after.

The acting ranges from fair to downright awful. The pilots are played by relatively unknown actors who manage not to embarrass themselves (for the most part). I can't say the same for Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrance Howard though. Gooding plays Major Emanuel Stance, the superior officer of the pilots, and is constantly chomping on a pipe that doesn't ever seem to emit any smoke. In fact he looks a lot like a kid who found his dad's pipe and is pretending to smoke it.

Terrance Howard plays Col. A. J. Bullard, commander of the base. All the pilots call him "The Old Man," despite the fact that he appears to be the same age as everyone else in the picture. Maybe it's just tradition to call the C.O. "Old Man" regardless of age? Bullard seems incapable of speaking in anything but motivational speeches, which grow tiresome halfway through the first one.

Because this is a WWII movie, it of course needs a Nazi villain. The script dutifully provides us with an evil German pilot that the Red Tails nickname "Pretty Boy." How they could have possibly got a good enough look at his face to give him this moniker as they whiz by his plane at hundreds of miles an hour is left to hour imaginations. He dutifully turns up in every aerial battle no matter where it takes place. "Pretty Boy" is the consummate cartoonish Nazi, complete with fencing scar!

The film is also riddled with cliche after cliche, which is somewhat to be expected in a war picture. This one trowels it on thicker than Lucille Ball's makeup though. In addition to the usual war time cliches, the script also stocks up on the racial cliches as well. It's like an extra large stuffed crust cliche pizza.

The script has a very non-committal tone. Over and over we're told unsavory details about various characters, but there's never any evidence of these failings. For example, we're told that squad leader "Easy" (Yes, all the pilots have annoying nicknames) has a drinking problem. We see him tenatively take a few sips from a flask, but at no time in the film does he ever seem like he's under the influence, or his judgement impaired. If he's supposed to be an alcoholic, he's the most competant one I've ever seen.

We're also told that his best friend "Lightning" is not only the best pilot in the war, but also a notorious ladies man. However we only ever see him woo a single woman. In fact near the end of the film he even proposes marriage to her. That's considered womanizing?

The writing credits don't list George Lucas, but the cringe-worthy dialogue has the tell tale signs of his greasy fingerprints all over it. There's no way he didn't have some input on the script. No one but George Lucas could write dialogue like, "How you like that, Mr. Hitler?"

There's also an appalling lack of period detail in the dialogue as well. At one point a commanding officer tells a pilot to "man up." I'm pretty sure no one ever used that phrase until a couple of years ago. Certainly no one ever said it (nor would understand what the hell it meant) in 1944. Maybe that's where we are now as a society. In order to lure the coveted teen audience to a movie, an historical script has to eschew accuracy for the "kewl" factor.

Another unmistakable Lucas touch: Brian Cranston (of AMC's Breaking Bad) plays a bigoted soldier named General Mortamus. Jesus Christ, George! What next, Seargent Murderman and Corporal Evildude? This isn't the Star Wars universe, George. Charles Dickens used to give his characters evocative names as well, but he got away with it because he was a good writer.

The film also lacks a proper climax. Near the end we're told that the U.S. is planning a daring bombing raid on Berlin, deep in the heart of Nazi territory. The Red Tails are assigned to protect the bombers as they make this desperate strike against the enemy. The battle begins and is quite thrilling for a few minutes. Then one of the bombers loses an engine and is forced to turn around and head back to base. Most of the Red Tails then take on the thrilling task of following the crippled bomber to see it safely back home. Wait, what about the Berlin raid? Did it succeed? Was it a miserable failure? Apparently it's none of our business, as it's never mentioned again..

I will give credit where credit is due: the aerial battles all look spectacular. Some of them even manage to look a little Star Wars-y, which I guess is inevitable, since George Lucas used WWII fighter footage as inspiration for his space battles.

Pros (sadly, this will be a short list indeed):
• Cool aerial battles

That's all I've got.

• Corny script which would make John Wayne blush with embarrassment. It reads like a checklist of war movie and black struggle cliches.

• Horrible dialogue that is often inappropriate for the period.

• Lack of period sensibility. In one of the subplots, Tuskegee airman "Lightning" meets and falls in love with an Italian woman and after a brief courtship, he proposes to her. I have a very hard time believing that in 1940s Italy the sight of a black man and a white woman holding hands and kissing in public would not draw some sort of negative attention. To pretend otherwise in order to shoehorn a love story into the script is ridiculous, and an insult to the men who suffered through such discrimination.

• Weak climax to the film, as the Berlin bombing run is ignored so we can watch thrilling scenes of fighter planes escorting a wounded bomber back to base.

• Focus on one small upbeat portion of the story, as the more interesting (and sadly, less happy) incidents go unmentioned.

What could have been a great film is unfortunately torpedoed by a ham-fisted and cliched script. George Lucas recently stated he's going to retire from film making. I can't believe I'm saying this, but if this is the best he can do, maybe retirement's not such a bad idea. I give Red Tails a C.

I'm A Grown Man And I Bought This: Tardis Bobble Head

At last year's San Diego Comic-Con, toy company Bif Bang Pow! (yeah, that's really their name) released this first ever Doctor Who TARDIS bobble head toy.

The TARDIS bobble head to only 3,000 numbered pieces. In a really bone-headed move on Bif Bang Pow's part, they only numbered the box, not the actual bobble head. I threw the box out seconds after I got it, so I have absolutely no idea what my TARDIS was numbered.

Not that I care about the number, mind you. I bought it because hey, it's a TARDIS and it bobbles. I couldn't care less about the serial number assigned to it. But some people do, thinking that a lower number makes the toy more valuable, and they're going to be mighty perturbed when they discover the number is on the box only and not on the toy.

In addition to bobbling, the TARDIS bobble head also features sounds. Push the button on the front of the maroon vase and you'll hear the trademark TARIDS takeoff and landing sounds. Both sounds are suitably loud and sound clear.

One slight complaint: There's an on-off switch in addition to the sound activation button. The switch is on the bottom of the base though, forcing you to have to turn the whole thing over in order to turn it on and off. Would it have killed them to have put the switch on the back?

Sculpting-wise, it's a pretty accurate rendition of the TARDIS. Specifically this is the Fourth Doctor's TARDIS. You know, the guy with the scarf. Most non-fans probably aren't aware of it but the TARDIS has changed radically over the past forty eight years. The height, width, markings and even the shade of blue has changed quite a bit as the old props wore out and new ones were built.

I don't have a video camera, so you'll have to settle for this still shot here of the TARDIS bobble head bobbling.

You'll never find one of these in a brick and mortar store, so if you want one your best bet is to go to

The TARDIS bobble head is a perfect gift for any Doctor Who fan, and placing it on your desk immediately tells everyone that a nerd sits here. I am so placing one on my desk if I ever get another office job.

I Think Yahoo Is Trying To Tell Me Something

For the past couple of weeks every time I send off an email through Yahoo I see this screen, complete with the ad at the right. An ad featuring a ripped, half-naked guy asking me how much weight I want to lose.

What the hell are you trying to say, Yahoo? Are you telling me I'm fat?

I won't deny that I could stand to lose a few pounds. Who among us couldn't? What I don't understand is how Yahoo knows this. Does everyone with a Yahoo account automatically see this ad, regardless of of their girth? Or does Yahoo use some kind of algorithm that secretly searches the content of my emails, looking for key words like pudding, bratwurst and smorgasbord?

Do my emails make my butt look big?

Friday, January 20, 2012

I Wuz Framed, I Tell Ya!

Right after the bank where I worked closed in December I went out and got a job in a frame shop. Overall it's not a bad place to work, but it's only part time and of course there are no benefits. Definitely not something I could live on long-term. But enough about those woes.

What I find interesting about the job is when people bring in their art to be framed and matted. I will pull out our samples of available mat colors and without fail at least 85% of the customers will choose a red mat.

Not just any red, mind you. They invariably pick out the brightest, most garish arterial spray crimson that's commercially available. Red that is so bright I instinctively hold it away from my privates because I suspect it may be radioactive. This overwhelming partiality toward red mats is fascinating to me.

When I was in art school it was hammered into my brain ad infinitum that mats should be somewhat subdued and focus attention on the art. Mats should make the art stand out; compliment it if you will. Red mats do not compliment the art. Red mats are the visual equivalent of a five year old child endlessly yelling, "Mom! MOM! MOMMA! HEY, MOM! Look at me, Mom! Are you looking? MOM!"

I honestly don't know why they even make red mat board. I can't think of a single instance in which a red mat would be appropriate. Maybe, just maybe if you had a photo of an awkward teen who wasn't easy to look at and you wanted to draw attention away from their greasy hair and clotted pores. Or perhaps it might look good around an original John Wayne Gacy clown painting hung in the torture pit of a serial killer's basement. Other than that, I got nothing.

When a customer proudly selects a red mat and then asks me what I think, I'm not coy. I tell them the truth. I tell them that if they pick a red mat then everyone in their bridge club is going to stare at that and ignore their artwork. Most of them instantly get it, as I see a wave of horrified realization pass across their face. I can then recommend something more subdued and tasteful to them, and they leave happy.

Every now and then though, there'll be a customer who's adamant about their choice and, knowing when I'm defeated, I shrug and cut their red mat for them. They then proudly leave the store, squinting and blinking as the full fury of their bright red mat stings their eyes.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why I'm Moving To The Mars Colony: The "Beyonce" Horsefly

This week Brian Lessard, allegedly a scientist at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, discovered a brand new species of horsefly. Due to the unusual gold markings on its abdomen he named it Scaptia (Plinthina) beyonceae. Yes, you read correctly. A scientist named a fly after pop star Beyonce because of it's gold-colored ass.

Sighhhhhhhhhhhhhh... In case you couldn't tell, that was the sound of the last tattered remnants of my soul escaping from my mortal body.

Lessard, who insists he is a scientist and not a drunken frat boy who wandered into a lab by mistake,  said he wanted to pay respect to the insect’s beauty by naming it Beyonce. He actually felt no shame in publicly declaring that he named the fly after her because its golden backside is “pretty bootylicious."

Do you need a license to become a scientist? If so, someone please revoke this schmendrick's ASAP.

Fifty years from now– hell, make that ten years from now, scientists are going to see the name of this fly and think, "What the frak is that supposed to mean?"

I really, really want off of this planet. It's things like this that make me want to be first in line for the Mars colony.

You can read the all too real article here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

It Came From The Tube: Alcatraz

Caught the premiere of Alcatraz last night. First time I've watched live TV in... wow, I can't remember. Alcatraz is the latest series from executive producer J.J. Abrams, of LOST, Star Trek and Super 8 fame.

So what's it about? On a dark and stormy night in 1963, all 256 prisoners and 49 guards inside Alcatraz prison suddenly vanished without a trace. Flash forward to 2012, when the inmates begin to reappear unaged and start wreaking havoc in the modern world.

Police Officer Rebecca Madsen teams up with Alcatraz expert Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia, of LOST fame) to investigate the reappearances of the inmates. Along the way they discover a secret government project tasked with rounding up the prisoners, headed by Emerson Hauser (Sam Neil) and his assistant Lucy (Parminder Nagra).

The cast is impressive, especially for a TV show. Sam Neil is great as always. Jorge Garcia pretty much plays himself, which he's done in everything I've ever seen him in. Hey, it seems to be working for him, so good for him. Robert Forster's also in the show and it's always great to see him. He doesn't turn up in TV shows much. And of course I'll watch anything Parminder Nagra's in. I've been crushing on her ever since Bend It Like Beckham.

Overall I was impressed with the premiere. In addition to the great cast, there's plenty of action, a continuing mystery to unravel and even time travel shenanigans. I was intrigued enough by the revelation at the end of the second episode to come back for more.

There are lots of flashbacks to 1963, which lead to unavoidable comparisons to LOST. Hey, much of the action even takes place on an island! Hopefully that's where the similarities will end and the show won't degenerate into the murky morass of abandoned plot lines that LOST turned into. If anything the show's police procedural format is more reminiscent of Fringe, which is a good thing, IMO.

My one fear is that the show could become repetitious very quickly. If every episode is going to feature an inmate showing up and killing some people while the good guys search for him, find him and put him into super time-proof prison, it's going to get old really fast. They'll need to shake things up now and then to avoid the Scooby Doo Syndrome ("Old Man Johnson dressed up like a monster to scare people away from the Big Rock Mine treasure!"). Hopefully they realize this and will adjust the plot lines accordingly.

Take a little bit of LOST, a LOT of Fringe, some Green Mile and X-Files, and even a little bit of Friday The 13th: The Series, shake well and you get Alcatraz.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Morey Goblinsky

It's been a while since I posted any of my actual art here on my blog. That's because my 2011 Xmas card took a lot out of me. Those cards always do. I work on them so intently and for so long that when they're finally finished I can't even look at my drawing table for a few weeks.

But yesterday I decided it was time to get back into the illustration habit, and I came up with this. This is actually something of an experiment for me. I normally spend a lot of time fussing over my line work, so this was my attempt at being looser and more spontaneous.

I picked a painterly Photoshop brush and just started slapping colors down. No real plan, and if you can see the brush strokes, so much the better. I did it fairly quickly; I think it took three or four hours.

It wasn't a totally successful experiment. It's still not as free and spontaneous as I'd like, but it's a step in the right direction. I don't know if I'll pursue this style any farther, but it was fun to try it.

Drawn in Photoshop on the graphic tablet.

I'm A Grown Man And I Bought This: Marvel Select Juggernaut

When I first started collecting action figures as an adult, circa 1994, a five inch tall figure retailed for five bucks. That was a reasonable price and I bought many, many, MANY action figures back then. Cut to the present day, when most seven to eight inch high action figures routinely cost a whopping eighteen dollars or more! Even the small scale Star Wars figures are hovering around the ten dollar mark.

I'm not quite sure what's behind this drastic price increase. Maybe it's the ever-rising price of petroleum. Maybe it's the fact that Chinese factory workers are finally demanding a living wage. Whatever the reason, it's had a major impact on my figure collecting. I used to collect many different lines: Star Wars, DC Universe, Marvel Legends, Iron Man, Ben 10 and more. Now I'm down to buying pretty much one line: Doctor Who action figures.

I'm an adult and I can't (and won't!) pay $18 for an action figure. If I can't afford it, how do toy companies expect a kid to do so? I have a bad feeling that these out of control prices are going to kill action figures altogether.

Occasionally though I'll see an action figure that I just can't resist and I'll bite the bullet and pay the $18 price for it. I'm almost always immediately filled with buyer's remorse and regret my purchase. That's why it's nice to buy a figure and finally feel like I got my money's worth.

Case in point: the Marvel Select Juggernaut figure.

As you may or may not know, Juggernaut is one of the arch enemies of the X-Men. His real name is Cain Marko and he's the half brother of Professor X, leader of the X-Men. Marko found a mysterious ruby in a South American temple that granted him superpowers. He's virtually indestructible and once he sets himself into motion, is unstoppable.

Make no mistake– this is one massive hunk of plastic. I bet he weighs a good three pounds. It's a big, hefty solid figure that doesn't make you feel like a chump for buying it.

Juggernaut will definitely intimidate your other Marvel and X-Men figures with his sheer height and bulk alone. 

As for the sculpting, they managed to pack a lot of detail and textures into the figure. His helmet and arm bands have a nice metallic texture, while his body armor looks appropriately leathery.

His helmet isn't removable, as far as I can tell. I was afraid to pry on it too hard, lest I have to break out the Crazy Glue. It appears they took the trouble to sculpt an entire detailed and expressive face behind the helmet though.

They even sculpted treads on the bottom of his boots! Now that's attention to detail!

Note that Juggernaut is able to balance himself on one foot. That's a pretty rare talent for an action figure, probably made possible here by his sheer weight.

One of my biggest action figure pet peeves is when they can't stand up under their own power. People have no trouble standing up for hours without falling over. So how hard can it be to make a model of a person that doesn't fall down? Every damn day I have figures who leap from my shelves to their deaths on the hard floor below. I think it oughta be a law that action figures have to be able to stand under their own power, with no stands holding them up or putty cementing their feet into place. In fact I think I'll write my Congressman about it right now.

Based on these photos, Juggernaut figures are definitely on the rise, height-wise. On the left is one of the first Juggernaut figures produced by Marvel, circa 1995. In the middle is a Marvel Legends Juggernaut, circa 2000. And of course on the right, the current figure. Interesting that the past figures featured removable helmets.

 If you're a fan of the X-Men, action figures, or expensive chunky pieces of plastic, then the Marvel Select Juggernaut won't disappoint.

Back To The Future Part II Countdown

I first posted this a few years ago, but it's worth a second look.

We are now only THREE short years away from the year 2015, in which a good part of the movie Back To The Future Part II takes place.

While it's certainly an enjoyable movie, it was waaaaaaaay off in it's prediction of the future. According to the movie, in just three years we should have:

• Anti-gravity
Flying hover cars
• Hover car conversion kits for older non-flying car models
• Automated gas pumps that pump the gas (or whatever fuel flying cars use) for you
• Skyways, complete with hovering traffic signs
• Hover boards
• Rocket-powered hover board boosters
• Automated hover-tech news cameras
• Self-drying clothing
• Self lacing Nike shoes
• Affordable bionic replacement parts (Biff's grandson didn't seem like the type who would have 6 million dollars to spend on elective bionic upgrades)
• Hydrating ovens
Voice activated home controls for security, lighting and entertainment
• Self-walking hover-technology dog leashes
• Hover back braces (to hang you upside down and relieve your back pain)
A Weather Bureau that can actually control the weather (!)
• A lawyerless justice system
• The Miami Gators baseball team
• Pepsi Perfect (whatever that is)
• Double neckties for men
• Clear neckties for men
• Goggles that can display information on the inside of the lens, such as incoming phone calls and TV shows
• Wall-sized TV screens that can display multiple channels at the same time
• Indoor fruit and vegetable gardens
• Window blind TV displays
• Thumb-pad door controls
• Dust-repellent paper for books
• Holographic 3D movies
FIFTEEN more "Jaws" movies (Oy gevalt!)
• Holographic outdoor movie ads (can we assume by this that the movies of 2015 are also holographic?)

This list is just off the top of my head. I'm sure there were some things I missed or forgot about.

Interestingly enough, the world of 2015 still has fax machines and newspapers! Faxes are pretty much obsolete already in our time, and newspapers are barely hanging on. Marty's future also seems to have totally missed the smart phone revolution. There wasn't a cell or smart phone in sight. Maybe with the communication goggles Marty Jr. was wearing, personal phones became obsolete?

Anyway, we'd better get busy! We've got a lot of stuff to invent!

DC? More like WTF?

This week DC Comics (the Superman guys) unveiled their brand new logo to the world. And here it is:

Wow. Would you look at that. That certainly is a logo all right. Definitely not a good logo by any means, but it is a logo.

I assume that this logo is supposed to invoke a (comic book) page being turned? If that was the designer's intention then they failed. Miserably. I see it as something being peeled away. In fact this might be a good first attempt if DC was a factory that made adhesive labels or Post-It Notes.

Also, I get that there's supposed to be a letter C under there, but I'm having trouble making out a letter D. Too much of it is folded over to read properly as a D.

The type at the bottom is bland, perfunctory and uninspired. It very definitely looks like an afterthought, slapped under the logo by the design team at a red light as they drove to the production meeting. Bland as it is though, it's undeniably necessary. If it wasn't there, would you have any idea that this was a logo for any kind of publishing company?

Comic books are action packed and fun. A comic company's logo should reflect that. Where's the energy? The dynamics? I've seen insurance company logos with more pizazz.

If I'm being extra harsh on this new logo, it's only because it was not only unnecessary, but patently inferior to what's gone before.

This is the DC bullet logo, designed by famed graphic designer Milton Glaser in 1976. It's simple, dynamic and has a classic and timeless look. In my opinion it was absolutely perfect for a comic book company. I love this logo and wish they'd bring it back.

This is the Swoosh logo DC has been using since 2005. I don't like it as much as the bullet logo, but it has a certain charm. It's got energy and motion and a dynamic quality.

When viewed side by side, the "meh" quality of the new logo becomes even more apparent. Which of these logos draws your eye first? Certainly not the last one. DC needs to stop letting their president's nephew design their logos and give Milton Glaser another call.

There was a time when big corporations kept the same logo design for decades. Those logos were instantly recognizable the world over. That's the purpose of a logo after all: corporate recognition. We need to go back to that time.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Harsh Truth About Foot Pads

Happens to me every time.

Dr. Strangelove Meets Twinkie The Kid

Something I noticed today at breakfast: I think someone in the Hostess Marketing Department likes the movie Dr. Strangelove.

Also today Hostess announced they were filing for bankruptcy, or bankruptcy protection, or something ominous like that. Well Hostess, maybe if you didn't charge $4 for a box of Twinkies I'd buy them more often and then you wouldn't be going bankrupt.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Won't Get Fooled Again

This is the cover of Disney's 70th Anniversary Edition DVD/Blue Ray of Dumbo. Notice anything odd or unusual about it?

How about the smooth, over-rendered artwork? Take a good look at Dumbo there. Why he almost looks like a 3D computer generated character, doesn't he? He'd fit right in with Woody and Buzz Lightyear.

Maybe I'm just a jaded cynic, but I can't help but wonder if Disney deliberately painted Dumbo and his mouse friend that way in order to fool kids into thinking this is another Pixar product.

Dumbo was one of Disney's earliest cel animated films, made in 1941. This is how he looked in the actual movie; ink and paint and flat colors. No smooth dimensional shading anywhere to be seen. So I can't think of any reason to render him on the cover in such a way, other than to confuse and deceive.

Dumbo's not the only DVD release to get the faux-CGI treatment: pretty much every release in stores right now have that same over-rendered 3D look.

So if your kids are clamoring for any of these releases, you might want to clue them in that they won't be watching a computer generated movie. Might save some tantrums and shoe-tossing later.

Friday, January 6, 2012

I'm A Grown Man And I Bought This: 8" Classic Thundercats Lion-O Figure

I was never a huge fan of Thundercats back when it first premiered. In the early 1980s I was either A) sitting in college classes, B) doing homework, C) working or D) sleeping until noon. I was aware of the show though and had a passing knowledge of the plot line and I liked the character designs.

So when Bandai recently released a series of classic Thundercats figures, nostalgia got the better of me and I bought one.

Why release new Thundercats toys now, some thirty years after the show left the airwaves? Because there's a brand new series on Cartoon Network. It's pretty good too, from what I hear (alas, my household remains cable-less). Bandai released both a 6" and 3.75" line of figures based on the new series, and threw a bone to us old school fans and released two classic figures– Lion-O and Tygra.

In a strange move on Bandai's part, however, the classic figures are a whopping 8" tall! That's a really odd size in the universe of action figures. I can't think of any other current line in that scale. Their large size means they won't fit in with any other action figures, so if you wanted to display Lion-O next to your He-Man figures, you're out of luck.

The large size also pushes up the price point. Lion-O here cost a ridiculous $18! Needless to say that at that price, none of Lion-O's pals will be joining him in my collection.

Ridiculous price aside, how's the actual figure? Pretty good. The sculpting is well done and they managed to add a lot of detail while still retaining the simple animated of the character. The paint job is well done, as it should be on a figure of this size and for this price. The colors are bright and vibrant and give the figure the cartoon look of the source material.

I have a few minor quibbles though. If you look closely you'll see that his yellow gloves are simply painted on. For 18 bucks the least they could have done was to sculpt glove lines on his forearms.

One area in which they didn't skimp: accessories. Lion-O comes with quite a few weapons and spare parts. He comes with his Sword of Omens of course, as seen above.

He also comes with the Gauntlet of Vague Premonitions, or whatever it's called (I told you I never watched the show much).

If you don't like the Gauntlet look, you can swap it out for a normal left hand. In all he comes with two normal hands, a sword gripping right hand, and the Gauntlet left hand.

He also comes with a small dagger, that can be stored inside the Gauntlet when not in use.

Lion-O's also quite articulated, as seen here. He has quite a few points of articulation which allow him to be place in virtually any pose.

One more minor quibble that's very evident in this photo: for some reason Bandai molded the connecting pegs in his ankles the same orange as his skin color, rather than in the blue of his boots. This makes the pegs really stand out, and there's no excuse for it, especially at this price point.

Here we see Lion-O doing his best Captain Kirk pose, screaming, "KHAAAAAAN!!!" Or perhaps he's just discovered a fallen comrade and is screaming "WHYYYYYY!!!" to the heavens.

If you're a fan of classic Thundercats and you don't mind spending nearly $20 on a figure that's too big to fit in with anything else on your action figure shelf, then this is the toy for you.

Actually you may want to hold off on buying this. This bizarre 8" scale line was dead in the water almost the instant it was released. So many fans complained about the size that Bandai has canceled this line, and it releasing a NEW classic Thundercats figure line in a 6" scale. That seems more like it. Now your Thundercats can team up with your He-Man and DC Universe figures!

Monday, January 2, 2012

It Came From The Cineplex: The Darkest Hour

The Darkest Hour was written by Jon Spaihts and directed by Chris Gorak. Would it surprise you to learn that this is Spaihts' first screenplay, and only the second film Gorak has directed? It shouldn't. 

The film tells the story of a group of twenty-somethings visiting Moscow when an alien invasion occurs and virtually destroys the world. The movie premiered on Xmas day 2011, no doubt so the producers could blame the inevitable poor box office showing on the busy holiday.


This is a what I like to call a Discount Alien Invasion movie; one that doesn't quite have the budget to pull off its ambitious story. In fact it looks and feels very much like a SyFy movie that somehow got released to theaters by mistake.

One of the biggest examples of the film's budget consciousness: the aliens initially look a bit like glowing jellyfish falling from the sky, but once they hit the ground they become invisible. Gee, that was certainly convenient! Invisible aliens mean you don't have to pay anyone to design their look or render a CGI army. The aliens interfere with electrical fields, so for 90% of the movie they're simply indicated by having light bulbs momentarily glow as they move past them.

This less-is-more, unseen monster approach can sometimes work particularly well in a film, as it did in Jaws. This time, not so much. Here less isn't more, it's most definitely less.

Another low-budget tactic: during the initial attack, a handful of survivors seeks shelter in a basement and hide there for four or five days, according to onscreen captions. They then cautiously peek their heads out and see that the city of Moscow has been destroyed. This trick saved the film makers from having to spend money on Independence Day-like destruction and battle scenes. It also removed any possibility of action and excitement from the film.

The final cost-slashing scheme: at the end of the film the humans finally discover how to destroy the seemingly indestructible aliens. They send the message to the few survivors spread across the globe, as the main character nods knowingly and says, "This is how it begins." That's an odd thing to say at the tail end of your movie. They don't have the money to show humanity whupping the aliens, so they have to resort to implying our eventual victory.

The performances are passable at best and the film has a very disjointed feel, as if it was heavily edited and there are lengthy scenes missing.

There's one unintentionally hilarious scene that happens when the characters first hole up in the basement. Everyone mills around for a good sixty seconds of screen time, shouting things like "What's happening?" "What are those things?" and "What are we going to do?" The problem is, no one's mouth is moving the slightest bit during this entire sequence. What a time for everyone to practice their ventriloquism!

One more thing I noticed: virtually every single effects shot in the movie is in the trailer. So if you've seen the trailer, you've pretty much seen the entire film.

I will give props where they're due though: it was nice to see an alien invasion take place somewhere besides New York or Los Angeles for once. The actual Moscow locations are a refreshing change of pace and a definite plus, giving a much-needed sense of isolation and disorientation to the film.

If you've ever watched one of SyFy's made for TV movies on a Saturday night and thought, "Gee, I wonder what it would be like to see one of these in a theater," then The Darkest Hour will fulfill your wildest fantasies. I give it a D.
Related Posts with Thumbnails
Site Meter