80s Odyssey: Black Moon Rising (1986)

black moon rising It doesn’t take much to draw me towards a movie. If you’ve got a flick, especially one from the 80s, starring a few people I already like and don’t take more than 100 minutes of my time, I’ll probably watch you on Netflix Instant. That was the case with Black Moon Rising, a movie I’d never heard of but featured Tommy Lee Jones, Linda Hamilton, Bubba Smith and Robert Vaughn as well as a futuristic super-car. I’m in, let’s do this.

Tommy Lee Jones plays a thief who steals some financial records and winds up getting followed. To avoid his would-be captors, he hides the information in the aforementioned super car which happens to be parked outside a restaurant. While he’s inside, Linda Hamilton and her crew of car thieves lock the door of the place and drive off with lots of expensive cars. Jones follows and discovers that Hamilton works for Vaughn, a big time, evil corporate guy. Jones then starts working on Hamilton to get on her good side while also trying to find out more about the car from its creators who are skittish of the whole thing at first. Of course, he gets everyone on board and leads a pretty exciting assault on a high rise to get both the car and the information back.

I realized while watching this movie that it was probably the youngest I’ve ever seen TLJ on film. It’s not that he looks so much different than he did in the 90s or even now, just fresher. It was cool seeing him running around, fighting guys and getting to wear the cool looking black leather suits instead of playing the jaded veteran. Meanwhile, Hamilton plays a very similar role to the one she did in the Terminator movies. She’s tough and bruised on the inside but keeps a hard exterior to the world that’s knocked her around. For his part, Vaughn really nails his role as the business bad guy. He really reminded me of 80s and 90s Lex Luthor from the Superman comics. He basically plucked Hamilton off the street and formed her into who she is today for good and ill solely to have someone who would absolutely follow his orders. He also tends to monitor and record nearly everything which is kind of an interesting aspect back then. He basically uses all the technology available no matter how expensive to keep his criminal empire in check.

I’ve already writen about Black Moon Rising for three paragraphs now and haven’t mentioned the most interesting part: John Carpenter wrote the movie. I haven’t been able to dig up exactly why he didn’t want to direct it, though it looks like Big Trouble In Little China which came out the same year and Prince Of Darkness which came out the following might have taken up his time. Instead, Harley Cokeliss jumped into the director’s chair. I’m not very familiar with his other works, but do believe I have Battletruck somewhere in my pile of to-be-watched DVDs and think I might have come across Malone starring Burt Reynolds at some point. It’s interesting comparing this movie to some of Carpenter’s others, especially Christine which also focused on a special car, though a far more supernatural one and also stars a real bad ass as the lead just like Big Trouble, Escape From New York and They Live. On the other hand, this is a much more real-world and technology-based film than you might expect from the creator of those other stories. It would have been really cool to see what he would have done with the movie had he actually directed.

black moon rising german poster

Before closing out I wanted to say one last thing about this film, I think it’s ripe for the remake mill. I think this one has a lot of potential and would piss off almost no one. Of course, you’re also dealing with a movie that doesn’t have nearly the existing audience, fanbase and name recognition that some of Carpenter’s other movies do. On the other hand, you’re dealing with a really solid, yet open framework for a story that can easily be transferred to the current day. I’m not saying this would be a multibillion dollar blockbuster, but a pretty good vehicle (heh, puns!) for an action movie that has room for improvement and modernization. This could be something like the Jason Statham remake of The Mechanic which worked out pretty well if you ask me. As it happens, I’d also like to see Statham in this one. Heck, the dude already has experience with driving fast cars. Let’s make this happen Hollywood!

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Toy Commercial Tuesday: Spiral Zone

Do you guys remember Spiral Zone? I want to say that I do, but I don’t have a clear, distinct memory of this ad or ones like it and I’m almost certain I don’t have any of the toys in my collection. This seems to also be one of the rare 80s toy lines that didn’t come up in my days at Wizard and ToyFare when I was either getting art for or editing ToyFare’s vintage toy features. Heck, I don’t remember it even being mentioned back when I was asking friends and colleagues for possible toy lines to mention in the list of the 50 greatest action features of all time I wrote the magazine back in 2009. And yet, part of my brain thinks it remembers knowing about them.

Thanks to the least in-depth amount of research possible, I discovered that Spiral Zone was a Bandai property purchased by Tonka and refitted for American audiences as both a cartoon and toy line. The fairly dark tone of the series went through all 65 episodes, but only lasted the one season. Maybe that’s why I have such vague memories of the property. Anyone have more solid ones?

Halloween Scene: Bates Motel Episode 1 “First You Dream, Then You Die”

bates motel

I gave up watching a show I actively enjoy — yes, The Devil’s Ride, even though I complained about it’s realness recently — in favor of checking out Bates Motel on A&E. I’ve been writing about this series for what seems like forever over on Spinoff Online and yet I was still curious to see the results. A big part of that comes from the source material, just last year I watched all four of the Psycho films and got a weird, giddy thrill not only when Norman and Norma pulled up to the hotel, but even more so when they went inside and it looked perfect. I was also curious to see Carlton Cuse’s next offering. He was one of the driving forces behind Lost, a show I still hold in high esteem, so I wanted to see what he’d do next.

Bates Motel takes a Year One approach to the world of Psycho, showing how Norma (Vera Farmiga) and her son Norman (Freddie Highmore) made their way to the infamous Bates Motel. SPOILERS FOLLOW. The show literally starts with death, that of Norman’s dad and then jumps six months into the future as she surprises him with the purchase of the motel. Norman’s a bit odd, but we discover that he tends not to make connections with people because his mom moves him around so much. He meets a group of girls who seem to like him right off the bat and even invite him to study with them. His mom says no, so he sneaks out  and meets up with them, but they really take him to a weird house party. While he’s gone, the man whose family the motel used to belong to breaks into the house, attacks Norma and rapes her. Norman comes home just in time and knocks the guy out. When he leaves the room, Norma stabs the crap out of her attacker. The rest of the episode revolves around moving the body to one of the motel rooms, ripping up carpet, talking to cops, Norman dealing with all this at school, the disposal of the body and a super-weird talk between mother and son where he tells her that she’s his entire world. You get the idea pretty quickly about exactly who you’re dealing with in these characters. The looming mysteries revolve more around how those characters will interact with the people of the town, the mysterious and dangerous sounding older son who we only hear on the phone and why a young girl is being kept chained up in a mysterious locale by unknown forces.

Having watched the first episode, I’m not really sure how I feel. I’m thrown off balance and not just because of the graphic content of the show. I think the main problem I had with the episode, or possibly the main problem of the series as a whole, is that it lacks a consistent tone. For one thing, the time period feels all-over-the-place. The Bates’ dress as if they’re straight out of the 50s, they only talk about or watch old movies and the setting is so firmly entrenched in that time period that you get thrown off a bit when Norman is shown listening to an iPod and meets other kids who are more of the modern times. I knew from writing about the series that it was set in the present, but the show didn’t convey that until well into the first episode, something that probably threw more people off than it needed to. The real question here, though, is why they went with that vibe and that reveal. Was there a point beyond homage? If so, I’m not sure what it was. It doesn’t seem wise to throw your new audience so many random curve balls this early in a series, especially if there isn’t a clear payoff for them. I already get that we’re dealing with weirdness, it’s written on every single character’s face.

I also felt like some things were presented in such a way — like the teen party scene — that look over-the-top and kind of crazy. But then a few moments later you have a very real, visceral and mostly on-camera attack on Norma that doesn’t flinch or look away. That moment was uncomfortable enough as it was for obvious reasons, but even more so if your brain let you think, “… but, two minutes ago I saw a girls in neon clothes jumping on a bed under a backlight, now…this?” I haven’t watched much horror based television but this show does seem to be taking some cues from Twin Peaks which really is its own beast. While that series kept a very consistent tone all around — one that allowed for all kinds of weirdness, but all presented in a serious manner when necessary — this one seems to go from wacky to ultra-real and serious without much grace, almost looking like scenes from different movies cut together.

Before moving on to one of the show’s other problems, I want to talk a little bit more about the rape scene. I was as uncomfortable watching that scene as everyone else, but while it was playing out I also found myself wondering how the plus/minus evaluation for it played out in the writers room. You could have had the exact same scene with the same outcome had he only been there to attack her and not sexually assault her. I could see them arguing that you’ve got to have a more serious violation going on to make this man’s murder more palatable for young Norman, especially Norma’s argument that they can’t go to the cops because she’ll be  a laughingstock (she’s counting on his desire to protect her). I think you could have gotten there if Norman had walked in on this guy just about to stab his mom. There’s three reasons I didn’t like the scene. First off, it’s just plain uncomfortable to watch in a way that I don’t want to be uncomfortable while watching horror (I do not watch rape revenge movies,generally speaking). Second, it felt like lazy writing, as if they couldn’t think of a different way to justify murder and manipulation. We’re talking parents and children here, wanting to protect one another is built-in. And third, I think that scene might have turned a lot of people off the show as a whole, including my wife who watched along with me even though she does not like horror or have any special affinity for Psycho.

Another huge problem and an element that contributes to the show’s odd tone is Freddie Highmore’s inability to hide his British accent consistently. There’s times where he hides it well and just sounds like a soft spoken young man, but other times, usually when he’s angry, he sounds like a pub-drunk Brit. I think he does a good job of capturing the confused sexuality and overall repressed nature of Norman Bates, but the kid can’t sound like he’s his mother’s son. That’s a huge problem, one that can break the show for a lot of people. As with the time trickery and the weird tone, these are the kinds of things that can knock people out of the story. They might be small annoyances for some, but they can easily add up to become a too-distracting aspect of the show for some people to get involved in.

I was talking to my wife earlier today about the show and she said she wasn’t int it. She summed it up pretty well: she’s crazy, he’ll do anything for her, I know where this winds up, do I care how it gets there? That’s a really good question. As I mentioned above, it looks like they’re throwing a whole town of crazy at the Bates’ to see what happens. I’m not sure if that’s a set-up I’m super interested in. With something like Dexter, I can be into the overarching stories of the series as well as the murder-of-the-week stuff, but as of right now, it doesn’t seem like Bates has as much that makes me want to come back for more especially if it continues to wallow in such terrible human behavior.

At the end of the day, I’m still not sure about how I feel about the show. I’m still an old school, DVR-less viewer which means I’ve got to actually pick and choose which shows I want to watch. I might give Bates Motel another episode or two, but if it continues to feel wobbly, I might just hop back on over to The Devil’s Ride. If people like it I might catch up down the line. I also feel a little wary of A&E, though, because they really sucked me in with Breakout Kings and then left me hanging. Do I want to get into another one of their shows only to have the same thing happen?

Sci-Fi Spectacular!: At The Earth’s Core (1976)

at the earth's core I’ve been on a 70s sci-fi kick lately and have not been disappointed with a single one of my viewing experiences. I’m sure there’s a kind of reverse bias, but I love anything from that era that really went for it with story and special effects. I think about movies with wild concepts like this that are made these days and many of them either cut out some of the more difficult sounding scenes or tackle them with CGI that doesn’t look that great and doesn’t help. In At The Earth’s Core you’ve got everything from Pterodactyl-like protectors to a giant dog-like thing attacking the movie’s star with the oh-so-fantastic movie star name Doug McClure. Sure you can tell when the actors are working with a projection and that the monsters don’t work as well as they probably could have, but to me, that’s a lot more charming and real than CGI. I guess I’m just old fashioned that way.

I should probably talk about the movie’s story at this point in my review, shouldn’t I? McClure plays David Innes a rich guy bankrolling his one-time professor Dr. Perry (Peter Cushing) in an experimental drilling vehicle that’s supposed to break though the Earth’s core. As the pair take the machine on its first test run, they both pass out and wind up in a world within the modern world filled with the aforementioned monsters, but also normal humans like the lovely Caroline Munro (The Spy Who Loved Me, Starcrash) who luckily speak English. After a series of mini-adventures that split our leads up for a bit, they return in an effort to help free the people, stop the monsters and return home. It’s the kind of movie that might have been pretty common in the 70s, but one I haven’t personally seen much of. I actually just realized that it’s basically my beloved Planet Of The Apes under the ground with bigger monsters, but I’m still okay with that.

So, in addition to being an ambitious film effects- and story-wise, I also had a lot of fun with the characters. McClure is kind of a swaggering, old timey tough guy with buckets of charm, enough to make you think he might have a chance with Munro, even though he bares more than a passing resemblance to John C. Reilly. Better yet is Cushing, an actor I unfortunately have very little experience with aside from his turn as Grand Moff Tarkin. I know he’s a well respected actor who personified Sherlock Holmes for plenty of people for decades, but I loved his turn as the goofy, exasperated and supremely proper professor. Sure it’s an over the top character, but that can be fun when performed by an actor who really gets the idea and knows how to keep the balance.

I had a great time with this movie and hope anyone else who checks it out on Netflix will too. I don’t say this often, but I’d actually like to see this movie or one like it, made today. Just build lots of rad practical sets, snag some quality stars and make sure the CGI looks solid and I think you’d have a hit on your hands.

Halloween Scene: The Raven (2012)

the raven poster I don’t remember hearing many good things about The Raven. I also don’t remember hearing any particularly negative things, but that’s not really a great sign either, is it? But, being a big fan of Edgar Allen Poe’s in high school and loving John Cusack from movies like High Fidelity and Grosse Pointe Blank so when I saw The Raven pop up on Netflix Instant, I figured I’d give it a watch anyway. And, you know what? I liked it!

Now, it’s important to frame this movie in a particular way to really enjoy it. First, this is not a biopic. The less you know about Poe the better. I knew very little, so that worked out for me. I also liked thinking of Cuasack as doing a bit of a Nic Cage impression while doing his scenes because he’s got an over-the-top quality that might encapsulate Poe pretty well, I’m not really sure.

So, here’s the plot. Edgar Allen Poe is asked by the Baltimore police to help them solve a rash of murders that take some of their cues from Poe’s stories. He’s towards the end of his career and having some real writers block, so he’s kind of a washed up has-been at this point, but after convincing the cops he’s not the killer himself, he gets involved in trying to not only find the killer but also his girlfriend played by Alice Eve who the killer kidnapped.

I’ve got to say, I was a little surprised at how gruesome some of the kills were, especially the one based around The Pit And The Pendulum. I guess I don’t expect that much from big-ish budget Hollywood movies like that, but it was kind of cool to see. The movie isn’t exactly soaked in blood, but it’s there. More so, it depends on the psychological thrills and craziness, especially in the films final moments which were pretty intense.

At it’s heart, The Raven is a fairly simple whodunit mixed with cat-and-mouse but framed in a fairly interesting locale and wrapped in the familiar tropes of Poe. I think if you’re a fan of those kinds of films and you go into this movie with a fairly open mind — or at least few preconceptions — you’ll have a good time with this one.

Y: The Last Man Deluxe Volume 4 & 5 Trade Post

Y The Last Man Deluxe Volume 4 Y: The Last Man Deluxe Volume 4 (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Brian K. Vaughan, drawn by Goran Sudzuka with Pia Guerra
Collects Y: The Last Man #37-48

Y: The Last Man Deluxe Volume 5 (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Brian K. Vaughan, drawn by Pia Guerra & Goran Sudzuka
Collects Y: The Last Man #49-60

I felt particularly motivated over the weekend and decided to bang out the last two volumes of the Y: The Last Man Deluxe editions and am finally ready to talk about it. I read the first, second and third volumes relatively quickly, but these two went by the quickest for sure. As I said in those other posts, the further I got into the story, the less I remembered which was nice because there were still some surprises even though I’ve read this complete story all the way through already.

The fourth book really breaks the world open in more ways than one. In addition to going international, word also gets out through a less-than-reliable source that there is actually a living male still on the planet. The proof? A naked photo on the front page. Meanwhile, the gang gets a new member thanks to Rose who we know is spying on the group, but also hope she can flip and maybe find redemption. This volume also sees a lot of older characters returning to the forefront including Alter who winds up killing another main character and Hero who finds Beth Number 2 (the woman Yorick had sex with) who just so happens to be pregnant! This leads to some drama with the Catholic Church and the reveal that her baby is a girl which of course changes a lot and continues the big mystery of whether a male can actually be born into this world in a natural way. Heck, there’s even a pair of origin issues, one that focuses on Agent 355 and another on Ampersand, even Alter and Dr. Mann get in on the action. The big push at the end of the story, though, was Toyota returning and making off with Dr. Mann’s mom which will take them to Japan in the fifth volume.

Y The Last Man Deluxe Volume 5And, of course, the fifth volume wraps up the entire epic story. This is SPOILER TERRITORY if you haven’t read the book so stay away for the next three paragraphs. Even though it seemed like the silliest plot point in the book, Yorick finally reunites with the one, true Beth only to discover the most obvious thing in the world: Beth was about to break up with him over the phone when every man on the planet but him died. This does not end well for them.

But that’s not the only story to come to a head. Elder finally catches up to Yorick for real and we discover that she, much like Yorick, really wanted to die. She was a warrior who wanted to be killed in battle by someone worthy and since Yorick was the only man around he was the most worthy in her warped mind. I liked how this ended with Yorick not shooting her but turning her over to her people. This all comes after the SUPER DUPER SPOILER quick bang murder of Agent 355 after she and Yorick realize they love each other. I know this death might have bummed a lot of people out or seemed cheap, but isn’t this really the only way a character like her can go down? She’s like Batman, she has to be taken completely by surprise otherwise, she’ll figure out a way to take you down.

And then you have the final issue. Man, I’ve got to say, Y: The Last Man #60 might be one of the most elegant final issues of a comic book series I’ve ever read. Instead of doing your basic info dump explaining how everyone ended up, we jump 60 years into the future and are more casually told the information as Beth Jr., now President of France or something, explains some of the details to one of Yorick’s many clones. When that part’s done, new Yorick gets to meet young Yorick and we learn even more by way of flashbacks. What I love most about this ending is that it’s not what you’d expect. Yorick didn’t stick around with Beth 1, instead he went over to Beth 2 and Beth Jr. and became an actual dad while his DNA went on to help respawn the human race. There’s also a really nice balance to the issue where you hear something that bums you out and then something that raises your spirits a little. I had to hold back tears when I finally got my hands on this issue while working at Wizard because of that one scene with Ampersand. Man, that was sad.

Or at least it was the first time around. I was surprised to discover that I had very little emotional connections to the deaths this time around. I remembered most of them, but when I hit them in the reading, I didn’t feel sad at all. I’m not sure if I was just less emotionally invested on this reading, if those moments were simply less surprising or if they felt more necessary as far as the story goes. When I was in college I read Thomas Mann’s Death In Venice and while we were talking about the story in class, the professor — Dr. Biehl one of the best around — talked about the inevitability of the main character’s death and not just because it was in the title. I think there was something of that going on in this book. It’s not just that Vaughan wanted to give some characters sad endings while others got happy ones, but also that some of the deaths had to happen in a literary sense. Sometimes, if you’re a character and you’ve done everything you’re supposed to do, it’s time to go. For what it’s worth, I don’t believe in that idea in the real world, but it makes sense in fiction.

After finishing the book, I still think it’s a great piece of comic literature. Yorick has a real arc that turns him into the kind of character you wouldn’t mind hanging out with as do the other characters. They’re all very satisfying. I still think the characters got a little too fact-spouty in the second and third volumes and — this is going to make me sound like an old man — but I think there could have been less profanity, especially the near constant use of “bitch” and it’s various synonyms through the story. I don’t have a problem with profanity, but it kind of became white noise thanks to the over-use.

So, no, it’s not a perfect book, but what is? It’s still one of the better books around and benefits from being a well told, complete and satisfying story that you can give to someone all at once for whatever speed the consume their entertainment at. The fact that I read all five of these books — all 60 issues — in just about a month. And that’s with taking breaks to clear my palet with some less intense superhero stuff.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Go-Bots Double Feature

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I was the kind of kid who had plenty of room in his heart for two sets of transforming robot toys and the cartoons that helped sell them. I think even as a youngin’ I could tell that Transformers was allaround better produced, but I still dug Go-Bots, though I definitely had more Transformers than Go-Bots for whatever reason.

The above commercial has all the hallmarks of the action figure commercials I remember from my childhood with a few bonuses. First off you’ve got kids actually playing with their toys in what looks like a regular backyard, but then they’ve also got the kind of props that you’ll only every find in one of these 80s commercials (that rock slide is intense!). I’m a big fan of the dad being in this commercial as well which is something I don’t remember seeing a lot of. And, as a kind of personal element, I totally had the same haircut as these kids for quite a while.

No kidding, I just watched this Power Warrior commercial for the very first time and exclaimed, “What?!” when it was over. This toy is both amazing and another obvious attempt by the GoBots folks to try and replicate another successful toy line. On the one hand the Power Warrior not only offers vehicles for your GoBots to run around in, but also a way to bring them all together in one giant robot. On the other hand, you’re not only lifting from the awesome Constructicons/Predaking idea from Transformers, but also the basic conceit of Voltron. The Power Warrior pieces look a little on the flimsy side, though. Did anyone have this toy? Was that the case?