Saturday, October 31, 2015

Rites of Spring

Happy Halloween everyone! I figured I better get at least one more horror movie review in before we turn the calendar to November. While I didn't get as many new movies reviewed this month as I had wanted to, partly due to some movies I watched were just so horrible they didn't deserve reviewing (looking at you Hayride 2). However enjoy this last movie review before I get back to a stack of new toys just waiting for their spotlight.

Finding a good slasher movie these days can be hard. It seems the horror movie trend has moved past the iconic 80's slasher flicks like Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Now all you find are demon possession and supernatural horror. Blah. Thankfully I took a chance on Rites of Spring while browsing through the not so impressive horror line up recently on Netflix.

This movie is from 2011 by producer Padraig Reynolds (also credited for writing this movie). The description of the movie is rather simple.

A ransom scheme turns into a nightmare for a group of kidnappers who become victims of a horrifying secret that must be paid every spring.

Looking at the original movie poster and reading that description one should be able to put two and two together and realize this movie has something to do w/ sacrifice. The farmhouse and stalks of corn is a dead giveaway that this ain't taking place in a big city.

For starters let me just say this movie's story is a mess. It's all over the place. I feel like the producer/writer takes way too long to fill in the holes of the story. None the less I'll try to break it all down.

The movie has two main story lines at the beginning that don't see related at all. It opens up w/ two girls at the local watering hole. Upon leaving their car has a original. Before they know it some guy knocks them off w/ chloroform I'm guessing on a rag and throws them in the back of his van.

The story then switches to two guys discussing their plans to kidnap some little girl. You hear the plans, but there is no real motive behind what they are doing. The story follows up the plan complete with the kidnappers taking refuge in a abandoned school while they wait for the ransom money to arrive.

By the time all of this unravels you are already 40-45 minutes into the movie. Still not knowing how these two stories relate to each other, one of the women that is kidnapped at the beginning of the movie finally frees herself and finds that she is being chased by the movie's nemesis, something called Wormface. You see very little of the assailant, which is a bad thing as it appears the special effects used on this guy are pretty good. He carries some sort of bladed farming tool. Not quite a scythe or a sickle, but it appears to be something that could be found on an old farm. The woman running for her life eventually finds the school and meets up w/ the kidnappers in the middle of an argument. Finally the two individually stories collide...but why?

The acting, while not great, isn't horrible. The special effects seem to be of a lower budget, but instead of having a campy looking death scene many of them cut away via Alfred Hitchcock style. Outside of the story having some holes and taking way too long the flesh out, my biggest gripe is not seeing more of Wormface on screen. Who is the real star to most slasher movies? It's Jason, Michael Myers or Leatherface. Wormface just feels forced and not used properly.

Overall I'd give this movie two and half stars. Unlike some horror flicks I found on Netflix this Halloween that left me feeling like I just wasted and hour or so of my time, Rites of Spring was still enjoyable. It's broken and could have benefited from maybe 15-30 more minutes to round out the story, but by no means is it unwatchable,

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Transformers Chronicles: Book One / Hirofumi Ichikawa

In my years of being involved in the Transformers community there are a few times when I run across something that I haven't seen before. Usually if I don't know much about my recent finding I can always go to other Transformers fans or the internet and find what I'm looking for or have my questions answered. Today's topic however hasn't been so easy to research.

I'm a comic fan, but not really a Transformers comic fan. I've got all of the current IDW Transformers hardcover collections and I've read the first 5 or 6 volumes to date. I've even only read a handful of the Marvel Comics run of Transformers. Blasphemy to some fans, I know. The comics just haven't been able to hold my attention like Spider-Man has. Anyhow being a fan of comics in general my brother and I picked up this small softcover trade at an early Botcon, circa 2000 I believe. I had largely forgot that I even owned the book much less could remember it's story. Earlier this week I sat down to read it and I thought I'd share this book with the hopes that you the reader would find it entertaining.

Written and drawn by Hirofumi Ichikawa, this thing is a work of beauty. Translated by Doug Dlin (from Antarctic Press) this story appears to be a part of a larger story as this book is labeled Book One. I have no idea if it was ever finished and I'm kind of hoping someone can let me know and better yet supply me with a lead to pick up Book Two. From what I can gather this book kind of bridges the gap between Generation One and Generation Two.

I'm not the best at reviewing or re-telling stories so I ask that you bear with me here. You can click on the scanned pages for a larger, more detailed look at the fantastic art. The story opens up with Headmaster Chromedome investigation a luminous phenomenon on the planet Cybertron before some sort of energy surge I image comes down like lightning from the heavens. The story then shifts to Earth with G1 Smokescreen , the Axelerators and Aerialbots from G2 are expecting at any moment a space bridge of sorts to open up that the Decepticons have been using.

The Autobots calculations were correct because out of the portal comes Skyquake and the Decepticon Sky Scorchers (and eventually the Predators too) from G2. The Aerialbots quickly merge to form Superion to take on the threat of Skyquake. On the previous page you can see the Aerialbots take off from G1 Broadside's aircraft carrier mode w/ Silverbolt sitting in the water in his base mode with G2 Seaspray docked beside.

I find this fight scene particularly fascinating as it depicts Skyquake as being roughly the same size as a G1 combiner. We all know the old G1 animated cartoon had it's fair share of scale issues, so does this story suffer the same fate? While you could say that since the Aerialbots were just sitting on Broadside on the previous page, but you could also say that these two characters have been drawn based on their toys. The G1 Skyquake toy is a rather large beast of a plane. A lot of readers may be familiar with this mold as it was also used as Starscream in the Machine Wars series. This toy is roughly the same size as a G1 (or G2) combiner team. Anyhow right off the bat I was drawn into this story which as I pointed out earlier doesn't always happen for me w/ Transformers comics.

During this battle the G1 Powermasters Dreadwing and Darkwing show up and ambush Smokescreen. Knowing that their Autobot friend was in danger, Superion jettisons G2 Air Raid to help his friend and eventually vanishes as he follows the fleeing Decepticons through their portal.

It appears that the human alliance with the Autobots on planet Earth isn't on the same firm ground as it has been. There is a scene containing television news clips of a public hearing in Washington, DC regarding if immigrant citizenship laws should apply towards Autobot refugees that have come to America seeking asylum. In these scenes we see Chip Chase being questioned in DC. Spike and Sparkplug Witwicky are shown somewhere else (I'm guessing at Spike's home) reacting to the news on TV. There is a female shown as well, but not named. I'm assuming this is Carly.

The story shifts again back to Cybertron with a group of human (or are they Nebulan?) scientists showing off the Autobots current power source, Nucleon. Now let me pause a second and react. I know that the story of Nucleon is that its a power source so potent that if a Transformer "ingests" it raw that one of the side effects is that their transformation essentially locks up, however the robot gains new abilities and skills. Not since I bought the Japanese Nucleon Quest Convoy have I heard this power source mentioned so I got a little excited here. I also immediately wondered if any Action Masters would show up in the pages of this story.

The aforementioned scientists are showing Hot Rod and the others a new set of troops that were being built, the G2 Laser Rods. Interesting enough all 4 are shown here as they are just robots. They go on to explain that while they can build new troops, only the power of the Creation Matrix can grant them life. Big Daddy from the G1 Hot Rod Patrol is also shown here specifically for the author to introduce another new technology called Matter Reduction, as Big Daddy's size increases as he transforms from vehicle to robot mode. All the sudden there is a huge jolt by some unknown energy source and immediately the Laser Rods seem to becoming to life?

Meanwhile the store shifts to the Decepticon side of things were we see the G1 Ultra Pretender, Roadblock, alongside G2 Starscream! I'm really loving seeing all of these characters depicted in the store and Hirofumi's art is top notch. This same unknown energy source that seemingly gave life to the Laser Rods over at the Autobots base of operations has also struck the Decepticons base and has given life to their new recruits as well. These troops are shown to be G2 Aquaspeeders and Stormtroopers.

Combat Hero Optimus Prime is then shown letting everyone know (Autobots Action Master Mainframe, Perceptor, Chromedome and the Technobot Lightspeed are shown) that he nor the Creation Matrix were responsible for giving life to the new robots and that there was only one other power that could do that...none other than Vector Sigma!

At the Decepticon body plant, Starscream makes his case to his fellow Decepticons and to the robots that have just been brought online that everyone should serve under his command. Even though the G2 version of Starscream is depicted here, this is your classic character as Starscream remains sneaky and cocky as ever before. In these scenes you can also see the G2 Cyberjets, Gobots and Laser Cycles, some of which question Starscream and ultimately get a shot of null ray through the face!

It doesn't take long before the Decepticon forces attack the Autobots. Just before this splash page introducing the Action Master Banzai-Tron, you see his companion Razor Sharp cutting through the door of the Autobots base. G1 Red Alert and the Omnibot Downshift are shown here as Razor Sharp prepares the way for his master to enter and combat the Autobots. It appears that the Targetmaster Pointblank is shown as Banzai-Tron's first casualty.

I remember reading Banzai-Tron's old toy tech spec and remember reading that he was a master of a fighting style called Crystalocution. He takes it hard to the Autobots that choose to stand up against him. Ironhide is the first to try to go toe to toe with the Decepticon Action Master and just like in the 1986 animated movie, Ironhide faces his demise. Interesting how they chose to depict Ironhide's robot mode based on his original toy.

Optimus Prime eventually confronts and defeats Banzai-Tron all while the Decepticon forces are starting to question of they want to follow Starscream. Then out of the sudden Starscream hails for one of his newest allies, G2 Dreadwing and Smokescreen! Optimus Prime is confused and startled by the appearance of Smokescreen, so confused that he doesn't have time to react Smokescreen turning fire onto his former leader. Yes, in this story the G1 Autobot Smokescreen was rebuilt as the G2 Decepticon of the same name. Now there is a little disclaimer at the end of the story that this is solely part of the author's discretion and that Hasbro or Takara have ever said or claimed that these two characters are one in the same.

The story ends with the focus shifting back to Earth, specifically the Decepticon's control bloc. Enter G2 Megatron...and he doesn't appear to be all that happy with Starscream.

I really wish I knew more about this book. The last page's credits show that the book was released by One-Time Assembly, printed on June 18th, 1998. I love the selection of characters and how Autobots and Decepticons are used from both generations. While many of the characters have limited lines and are largely used in the background, it's great to see so many characters have an appearance that are often overlooked or just not used in comics. Even if I never find the 2nd part of this store (if it even exists) I'm so glad to have this as a part of my Transformers media collection.

If anyone reading this has any additional background information on this book or it's supposed follow-up, please, please comment and let me know or reach out to me directly.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

GI Joe 25th Anniversary: Storm Shadow

Storm Shadow has been one of the most prominent characters in very variation of the GI Joe franchise. There are more action figures of this character than I can shake a stick at. While some are better than others, his classic look has always been a favorite of mine.

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For the 25th Anniversary of the line, Hasbro re-created many of the classic Joe & Cobra characters, giving them a fresh and modern look. As you can see the designers didn't stray too far from his classic A Real American Hero design. Sadly I no longer own any of my childhood Joe toys so there won't be any comparison pictures here.

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Hasbro wasn't shy when it came to the accessory / weapons department with the 25th Anniversary figures. Storm Shadow come with two swords, a bow, removable webgear (can hold both swords) and an action figure stand.

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The 25th Anniversary version of Storm Shadow was first offered in a 5 figure box set alongside Cobra Commander, Destro, the Baroness and a Cobra Trooper. He was later packaged on a blister card with art work very reminiscent to his ARAH packaging.

Storm Shadow is one of the most iconic Cobra characters and I personally love the update he received here. Not hard to find on the secondary market, or expensive; this is a figure that belongs in your modern Joe collection.

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GI Joe 25th Anniversary: Chuckles (Assault on Cobra Island)

 photo YoJoe018_zpsa19eb548.jpgIn 2009 Hasbro released two very popular GI Joe multi-packs, one of which was Assault on Cobra Island. This set featured 7 Joes, one of which was Chuckles.

By the time the multi-packs started being released, I had already started to back off buying every single 25th Anniversary Joe release. I was focusing more on collecting the Cobra characters so I passed up this set...though it wouldn't be long before I regretted that decision and started to pick up a few of the figures.

My first introduction to the character, like many others, was in the animated GI Joe movie. Chuckles had a rather small role in the movie, but being one of the new recruits that Beachhead was put in charge of getting combat ready, many fans remember him. If not for that, then perhaps when he grabbed a missile off the side of a HAVOC vehicle and threw, yes threw it at one of the Cobra-La enemies!

This is the 2nd version of Chuckles and the sculpters did a good job with him. He's got his trademark Hawaiian style shirt and olive paints. He didn't come with a lot of accessories, but it's almost as if he doesn't need them. I should mention mine is missing the small hand gun (and figure stand). This is because the display rack I used to have on my wall for select Joe figures fell off the wall, scattering figures and accessories all over the place. I've since sold the figure in the great GI Joe purge.

Great figure, even better multi-pack set he was apart of. Highly worth the purchase if you can find him for a decent price.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Month of Horror continues with Berkshire County (Tormented)

Growing tired of sifting through all the boring horror movies Netflix had to offer me, I decided to stop by a Red Box on my way home from work to see if their horror flick offerings were any better. I remember reading the description for Tormented on Red Box's website, but none of the kiosks around my home stocked the movie. Needlessly to say I was surprised when this one popped up.

From what I can gather, this movie, originally released as Berkshire County in Canada, is an independent Canadian film. Apparently it was given a new name (Tormented) and a new cheesy movie poster for it's U.S. home video release. Despite the poster and it's equally lame tag line, the movie isn't that bad.

There are a lot of sub-genres of horror these days. To me it seems like most of the modern horror movies being released are of the possession, ghost, supernatural type. I could care less for these in most cases. Every once in awhile I may come across a decent movie of that style, but where has the modern slasher movies gone to? While Berkshire County isn't exactly your typical slasher movie, it's the closest I've found in my recent search for horror movies in the month of October. With previous movies such as "When a Stranger Calls", "The Strangers" and "You're Next", there is a new sub-genre of horror...home invasion. 

Berkshire County doesn't really offer anything new to this genre. It's your typical movie where a girl is stuck in a house w/ invaders trying to get in. However don't write it off just yet. Where as the protagonists in "You're Next" wore creepy plastic animal masks, the protagonists in Berkshire County wear some pretty awesome looking pig masks. It seems as if these killers have a real pig fetish too. There isn't a lot of gore in the movie, but what there is was handled quite well and looked fairly realistic.

The movie opens up w/ your female lead, a high school girl who battles low self-esteem, getting a little friendly with a guy at a Halloween party. Let's just say the whole ordeal is video taped and quickly spreads through the High school. Now the purpose of this I'm not sure. Are we supposed to feel even more sorry for the lead female as we already know she is going to be victimized and terrorized in a house at some point in the movie? Personally they could have left out the sexual innuendo part and came up with something a little better to set the stage for the main character. Thankfully though the rest of the movie is free of anything sexual.

I don't want to give much of the story away. Kind of hard too when the story isn't really explained. Much like with "The Strangers", there doesn't appear to be a story. It seems as if it's just another movie where the protagonists are killing "just because". Frankly I hate crap like that. I wish there was a little more back story on why the killers were doing what they were doing...or at least a tiny tidbit of background info on them and their "pig-mobile" they drive around.

The acting I found to be pretty good. Actress Aylsa King (lead character, Kylie) I thought gave a pretty good performance. She appeared to be genuinely frightened through most of the home invasion scenes. I'm not quite sure however that I bought her "bad ass" self that appears later in the movie. I also wondered why she didn't appear to be limping or why she didn't appear to be in pain towards the end after what had happened to her. I already commented on how good the pig masks looked, but how on earth did the big hulking guy make such authentic pig noises?! I wasn't expecting that. The only real gripe I have is the ending scene. It seems forced and pegged on at the last minute. Once you watch the movie I think you'll see what I mean and agree with me.

Overall I'd say this is a slightly above average movie. It's by far the best movie I've viewed in the first 9 days of October for sure. This movie did make some noise in it's native land of Canada and I can see why. To be a independent movie, it's well put together for the most part. I hear that this was the first movie for the director Audrey Cummings. In my opinion it's not a bad start to a directing career. I should mention there is a brief post-credits scene so make sure you don't stop the DVD when the credits first roll. If you're interested in this movie make sure to check out your local Red Box or you can rent and stream it on Amazon.

Saturday, October 3, 2015


For the last 2 years I've sprinkled in horror movie reviews as part of the month long celebration of Halloween in the month of October. This year I won't be posting a review every day, but I'd like to get in as many as time allows. 

To kick things off we'll browse through Netflix's current Horror movie selection and see if we can find something new. Hmm. Pernicious. Looks interesting. Kinda. Well let's give it a try.

  1. having a harmful effect, especially in a gradual or subtle way.

Growing up if I wanted to watch a "new" horror movie we had to drive down to the video store and rent a movie. Now all I have to do is fire up Netflix and I have plenty of low budget, never heard of before, horrible, yet entertaining horror movies to choose from. Trying to find a decent horror movie on Netflix isn't easy. I'll randomly choose a movie based on the thumb nail image and short description, but usually the end result is I chose poorly. Will this movie, Pernicious, change my streak of choosing sub-par horror movies?

This movie was released earlier this year in February, I'm assuming straight to video on demand and is classified as supernatural horror. Now I usually don't go for this sub-genre of horror, opting for zombie, slasher or B level movies. However I was tired of cycling through the Netflix stream and this is the movie I ended up choosing.

Set in Thailand (at least the setting is different), 3 American girls travel there for a summer of teaching English to under privileged Thai children. Arriving about a week before their work with the children would begin, the girls decide to see the sights and discover what the night life will bring. Hooking up w/ 3 British guys at a bar, they go back to girls summer home only to wake up after having some very vivid, brutal and bloody dreams.

Not knowing what happened to them or where the guys disappeared to the next morning, the girls stumble across a very dark secret about the house they are staying in, and what happened in the house long before their arrival.

This movie and it's plot reminded me a lot of The Ring in a few ways. First of all the both movies involve some old folklore, a dead little girl haunting people and revenge. This isn't a bad thing as I really enjoyed The Ring. However this movie can't hold a candle to the latter. 

The story, script and acting are just average. For a supernatural horror movie, there are a few really gory scenes that were great. They are kind of in the Hostel vein. Pernicious isn't bad though. Netflix viewers had given this movie at the time 1 1/2 stars. I'd at least give it 2 stars. I can think of worse movies to waste 1 1/2 hours of your life watching. 

If you are a fan of Japanese horror, supernatural horror or just want to watch a horror movie that takes place in Thailand, then give Pernicious a try.

Friday, October 2, 2015

My Daughters' Request

As my daughters have grown up (I started this blog a little before my first daughter was born) they have noticed more and more my love of toys. While I can't say they are a fan of Transformers like I am, they do love to come into my toy room and marvel over everything I have.

In the recent past my oldest daughter, Olivia, came into my room as I was finishing photographing some toys. She had just been given a new Frozen doll and asked if I'd take pictures of it like I do of my own toys. How could I turn her down?

Like most young girls, mine too have been fascinated by the Disney juggernaut know as Frozen. I believe this particular doll of Anna was released prior to the new Frozen animated short that was attached to the beginning of the live action Cinderella movie that was in theaters earlier this year.

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Olivia particularly liked her new Sunflower dress and absolutely loved the long ribbon in her hair. Much like many of her dolls however, the hair piece, accessories and clothes were quickly removed during playtime. Why they do this is beyond me.

And just in case you are wondering, no, this isn't the new direction of Random Toy Reviews! However I'm a daddy, a proud daddy at that and I found there to be nothing wrong with sharing one of my daughter's favorite toys with my readers. We'll get back to more manly actions figures with the next post!

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