Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Gamera Ultimate Collection vol. 2 Blu-ray Review

January's always a fine time to plow through a pile of movies. Perhaps it's example of having the wrong priorities but what better way is there to spend a frightfully cold Saturday night than watching a small cinematic marathon? A portion of this month's viewing has been the second half of the original Gamera series. Finishing them marks a nifty little achievement as I'm now just one entry away from having seen the entire franchise. How do these back four compare to other monster turtle adventures? Read on and find out.

Gamera vs. Guiron

Let's just start this off by making it clear what a huge improvement this installment is over its predecessor. I'd been under the impression for some time that every Gamera flick beginning with part IV was a smorgasbord of stock-footage and flashbacks. While this particular adventure does include some reused footage it's nothing like the sad-sack story that was Viras. Likewise the entire movie has a certain delightful madness that makes it a better entry within the franchise. Hear me out.
The plot yet again revolves around a biracial boy team who are abducted by aliens. Well...perhaps abducted isn't really the right word as the pair strolls aboard a flying saucer with little care for their own safety. Once in flight they are whisked away to a hidden world within our own solar system. Rather neat idea right here. This planet is roughly the same distance from the sun as Earth but is in just the right orbit as to always be on the other side of the sun from us. This may well be the most logically written concept in any of these flying turtle movies so let's give a round of applause for that.
Back on Earth one of the boys sister tries to inform her elders of the situation only to be met with scorn, insults, you name it. These parents are the worse. Not only do they incorrectly assume the boys ran away when their daughter tells them otherwise but they continue to shrug off the whole affair even as their boys stay missing and reporters show up to inquire about the UFO.
Meanwhile on planet crazy the lads encounter two alien broads with sparkly tights and a tendency for brain consumption. Oh and did I mention they have a giant monster pet with a knife nose? One so evil that in an early scene it chops another Gamer villain into pieces for fun.
To think I've gone this long without even mentioning our hero. Our guy gamgam benches himself for a surprising amount of this tale, but it's ok since his battles with Guiron are the stuff of Kaiju peyote dreams. Have you ever seen the clip where Gamera spins on a bar like a gymnast? That's right here. Still; nothing tops his finishing move when he throws a rocket into the opponents head and breaths fire until it bursts. That's some classic fatality shit right there.

Gamera vs. Jiger

Things calm down a good bit with part VI being a lot closer to standard kaiju flicks. A lot of the formula is still intact including the white and Asian boy team who look very much like underage buddy cops. Parents are still fairly wretched people except for the main dad who's sort of an overgrown child.
It may not sound like I got much out of this one but in truth it's the biggest reason for why I bought this disc. It's definitely on the weak side of the series rankings but it was worth it for one special moment.Ya see, part of the plot concerns Gamera getting knocked up with parasite babies from his newest foe. Like any of these films there's a gathering of scientists on hand to discuss what's going on. At one point a doctor explaining the parasite issue shows real life footage of an elephant with worms in its trunk. The bit that makes this scene infamous is that they actually show parasites getting sliced out of the trunk. The reaction shot says it all. What a hoot.

Gamera vs. Zigra

Everything starts to get a little sad here in a perfect example of a series quickly losing steam. There are some small attempts at altering formula such as a boy girl pairing with the girl I believe being mixed race, a surprisingly forward thinking element for a film of this time. We're given another aquatic monster which makes for some pretty lazy battles, with only two or three properly wacky sequences.
It's tough to come up with anything to say about this one. Nearly everything in it is a repeat of elements from past stories only with less of an attempt at quality. The children are more annoying than ever. The story is limp. About the only bits of note are the cure for human dolphin syndrome and Gamera playing the villain like a xylophone.

Gamera: Super Monster

If ever there was a film begging for one of those jumbo dissection videos, this is it. I mean what a fantastic clusterfuck. Just a little background information. Daiei, the production company responsible for both this and the Daimajin series had been on a steady decline into bankruptcy until another group bought them out. It'd been close to a decade since Zigra hit theaters and somebody thought a new Gamera adventure packed full of old footage was a good idea. The movie was a colossal disaster on the production front as well as both a critical and box office failure. Still; if you're gonna fail, better make it spectacular.
What attempts to pass for a plot concerns an evil space empire's plans to destroy planet Earth. First up on their checklist is the defeat of three alien superwomen hiding among us normal folk. An evil space lady is sent down make sure everything goes smoothly. As expected there's also an annoying child with made electric organ skills and an obsession for giant turtles.
The baddies also send forth all the previous monsters to destroy us meager humans. Thankfully Gamera's got them covered thank to clips from parts II-VII. About a third of this film is made of clips from other sources. Not just Gamera ones mind you. Some anime gets mixed in as well, allowing for appearances by Space Battleship Yamato and Galaxy Express 999.
Really there's too much insanity to cover in a quick article. From the bizarre looking video edit special effects to the superwomen henshin dance. Children are allowed to sleep with strangers, electric organ music runs rampant. Oh and lest I forget the ending where Gamera saves us all by going full kamikaze against a star destroyer! Yep, they ended the series with a suicide run.

Video & Audio Quality

Normally these kind of films don't have the best AV to begin with and the prints available for restoration aren't always well preserved. If you keep expectations accordingly in check you should be mostly pleased with the sound quality. Video can vary a great deal due to the usage of stock footage. Super Monster in particular bounces all around between different video styles, especially with the wacko effects shots.
The most severe issue on this collection are subtitle timing and translation issues. Most of the time, everything's smooth sailing but there are scenes where subtitles appear long after lines have been spoken. Rushed conversations double down on that problem with some subs staying on too long and others vanishing in a flash, Expect a decent share of grammar and spelling problems to tickle your funny bone as well.

Our favorite turtle wouldn't see action again until his remarkably high quality 90's trilogy, and a stand-alone from 2006. He's also joining the current resurgence of kaiju flicks alongside Godzilla and Kong. Lord knows how long it'll take to finally reach our shores, until then, we've got always got the spacewomen dance.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Sega Genesis Restoration.

It's generally a sign of a healthy personality to have many hobbies. Even for those of us with possibly too many there's usually another interest we'd like to develop that simply evades our grasp due to factors such as budget or personal space. For years I've harbored some jealousy towards classic video game collectors, that is until reality sets in. Between new games, movies, TV, books, board games, blogging, moped riding/maintenance, writing, and even the occasional toy there's little room in my life to nurse old game consoles back to health, let alone supply them with the appropriate cartridges or discs. That's part of the reason I hardly ever hold on to my old consoles no matter how much I may want to. Every so often though you get the chance to delve into an interest on the cheap as I have this past week thanks to a lucky Goodwill find. Housed within a Bell's winter ale twelve pack box was a Sega Genesis and just north of half a dozen games.

I grew up in a Nintendo family but don't let that fool you, we played plenty of Sega thanks to a now defunct local joint called the Movie Market. It was our favorite spot to rent games for many years due to both the service and atmosphere. Especially the game room, a wide open half glass cornucopia of game art that was aimed in just the right direction to seemingly exist in a permanent state of sunset. A few times each year we'd rent a Genesis for the weekend along with two or three games. yes, young readers you could actually do such a thing back in the day. And what fun those days were when you would take a small break from all the Mario stuff to dive into some sweet Streets of Rage action. Even with that nostalgia I probably wouldn't have bothered with purchasing this old relic since I still doubt my ability to care for a classic console. However, there was one game in the box worth more than the asking price of the whole lot. Considering this both a win as well as a sign I brought it on home.

If only you could have smelled this poor thing when I brought it home. There was the distinct stench of somebody's funky old basement which has been mercifully fading over the past week. There was also the weird funk thrift items often have. You can't see it, and it barely has any physical form, but by god can you feel it. Suffice to say I washed my hands every time I handled this treasure.
First on the to do list was making sure it even functioned. For some people that question wouldn't be terribly hard to answer but I lack an old tube TV and while searches showed some folks flat-screens have no trouble interacting with old Genesis tech ours did not want to communicate. A stray yahoo answer gave me the hint to piggybank through the VCR. Success! Well roughly. I could only get one cartridge to work. Something had to be done, so I went to the web for any tips on fixing this baby up.

Believe it or not all you need for a light restoration are a couple Phillips head screwdrivers, compressed air, soapy water, and maybe some Pledge at the end to give the system the shine it's surely lost over years of collecting dust. I'm not going to attempt a complete instructional article as there are many useful videos on Youtube to guide interested parties along their way. I will note that it's actually a pretty easy process with the most time consuming aspect being the wait for outer shells and heat sinks to fully dry after a good washing. Even cleaning the games is easier than you may imagine. It can be done with just a few cotton swabs and rubbing alcohol. Speaking of games they're what really matters in a situation like this, so what was I lucky enough to get?

Packaged in the same winter ale box with the system were Sonic 2, and Batman Returns in their original cases plus NBA Jam, NHL 97. TMNT The Hyperstone Heist, and some football title. Aladdin was a separate item just a shelf above. In fact, I probably wouldn't have even noticed the system if not for the bright Aladdin box just a shelf above.
Definitely a few quality titles here, but most aren't partially valuable except Hyperstone Heist. These one had completely slipped under my radar but as it turns out it's an alternate take on Turtles in Time. In short, it's a blast but playing it wasn't as good as it could be thanks to the second controller having a dead button which left my brother unable to jump. I'm willing to take some time to study up on the controllers and see if I can fix it. If not, there's the option of buying replacements.
There is another issue that will take a bit more effort on my part. During my studies I saw brief mentions of a recurring issue with the power supply. Didn't pay much attention to to any of it at the time but sure enough my system has some real trouble keeping it's power. As you can imagine this makes getting games started kind of an issue. Once they're actually running it tends to do ok but as it stands there's usually 2 or 3 attempts to get everything started just right. If this is indeed the same problem I read about then it's time I learned some soldering skills. God help me, I'll probably burn off a digit.

Even though there are still issues to iron out with the system itself and my possible inability to keep classic gaming as a side-hobby, I still think I'll hold onto the Genesis for a while. On the practical end it offers a chance for me to study basic electronic repair and develop a few lacking skills. More than that is the pure rush of childish glee as my brother and I sat on the floor bashing hordes of foot soldiers. Feeling so carefree for just a few minutes was an absolutely priceless release from current responsibilities. That's something most of my other hobbies don't always provide and at a point in time where I'm dealing with just enough to make me jittery. pretending to be an ass-kicking turtle is almost a lifesaver.  

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Road to Onslaught: Avengers First Sign Part 1

Last year featured one of the most fun series of articles I've ever written. Not the most popular one mind you but highly enjoyable form my point of view. I'm talking about the multi-part review of The Crossing, one of the worst major comic book events of all time. One so bad in fact that only a few years later it inspired a whole mini-series designed to practically wipe it from existence. Little did readers know at the time though that The Crossing was essentially a pit-stop along the way to an even larger serialized cash-grab known as the Onslaught Saga. What of the few months between these two behemoths? Well that's what we're here to talk about today in the first installment of our road to Onslaught.

In case no one remembers the developments of The Crossing, very possible given those articles low rankings, here's what went down. Tony Stark turned out to be a toady for time-traveling villains. He killed a few people and eventually sacrificed himself in a last ditch effort at redemption, leaving his time-displaced teenage self to pick up the pieces. Another villain, Madam Masque seemed to turn over a new lief and joined the Avengers while Wasp was actually transformed into a bug-person because we all remember how big kids were into the works of Cronenberg in the 90's, right? In other books at the time Captain America returned from some situation that caused people to think he was dead, Thor lost all his godly powers, and west coast team, Force Works disbanded. Now we should all be ready to dive in.

Thing's kick off in rather fittingly with Sharon Carter dangling a SHEILD bureaucrat out of a hellicarrier window. Girl's pissed about being left high and dry while on some mission. Not to mention somebody had the stones to lie about her being dead. Cap pulls the poor office jockey back inside and the couple is soon interrupted by Contessa.....who I guess was in charge of SHEILD at the time. Really don't know who this lady is. When asked about speaking to Nick Fury she reports that he's dead, for real this time, and nobody comes back from the dead. This leads to one of my favorite comic panels where Cap makes an expression that essentially says “can you believe this bitch?” Classic.

The confrontation is soon ended and with the couple back on the ground Cap tries his best to convince Sharon to come over to his place (smart man) before he's cock blocked by a force field surrounding all of Manhattan. If that weren't bad enough everything electrical goes dead, prompting the star spangled hero to start rescuing folks from crashing helicopters and such. He eventually learns the city is overrun by a group called Zodiac who have created a device which takes the energy from everything but their own tech and crates the giant barrier. There's too many for the old boy to take on by himself so he goes in search of Thor who he finds shirtless, powerless, and living with a supervillainess,. Terrific.

THOR #496

The Zodiac members who followed Cap into this building last issue are soon part of one of the quickest stand-offs I've ever witnessed as Enchantress, Thor's girl Friday at the time lays them out with her automated rubber bullet machinegun. She has her own generator in case you're fretting about how that worked but it too is soon drained of energy. She coerces some info from the thugs while the boys chat with Phillip...the landlord.

The boys know their target. They must reach an abandoned subway stations ten blocks away where the Zodiac are pouring into town through an inter-dimensional portal. Cue another citywide tour of villains, daring fire rescues, stampeding crowds, looters, you name it. Only a portion of the journey leaves are heroes drained. Luckily they come across a group of militant blind students who sneak them into the subway. I don't want to turn this into a political blog but the Marvel universe could certainly stand some tighter gun restrictions if people who lack sight are wielding assault riffles in the streets of Manhattan. The issue ends with our boys having no clue what to do about this dimensional portal which is still sending horrible shit our way.


Teenage Tony Stark is attempting to get his life started with classes at Columbia. Within a few minutes he's got a potential supporting cast with love a interest named Kris, irritating jocks, and even a nerdy chap named...oh god, his name is actually Chap. The cherry on this social sundae is the teacher of his new science class, the girl he was dating when the Avengers pulled him into the future. Ya think he'll get fair grades with an instructor like that? T0ny tries to doge this lovely reunion and a citywide power outage provides the perfect opportunity to avoid emotional responsibility.

One major issue with the power drain is Tony himself practically runs on batteries since his heart had to be modified with Iron Man technology after his older self went all Mortal Kombat on his vital organs. He goes in search of anything to improve his situation when he comes across an odd pulse which leads him through the basement of Columbia University strait into the subway station where Captain American & Thor are battling countless Zodiac soldiers. Speaking of Thor. At some point in the battle he found the time to change from a shirtless beach bum to full scale bondage queen.

Our boys escape with a Zodiac teleportor and head to the Brooklyn Bridge to meet with teammates on the other side when wouldn't ya know it, a morale dilemma pops up. Tony can force the teleportor to open a hole in the force field for thirty seconds. In that time they can either let other heroes in to help battle the enemy or let civilians escape the carnage and quickly dropping temperatures. Guess the field drags down the temp too. Oh and did I mention this little strategy is going to be powered by Stark's chestplate leaving him on the edge of death? Must be time for another issue.


Given the nature of this story you'd be right in thinking the cliffhanger wasn't really an issue. The team succeeds in both saving civilians and letting a few extra Avengers in to lend a hand. Giant-Man even returns a little energy to Tony ensuring his heart doesn't cave in like an overripe melon.

Meanwhile in the Grand Canyon. No I'm not drunk, the story's really making a brief jump across the country, Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye are trying to figure out what to do with their Force Works careers officially over. They encounter their own batch of homicidal madmen who shoot them out of the sky. If you're looking for a resolution to this subplot you'll have to come back for another entry cause these two are M.I.A. For the rest of this issue.

Back in New York the Avengers locate Zodiac's hideout on an antiquated battleship of all things. Punching naturally ensues as they're also introduced to the evil commander, Libra who has control over his own molecular structure, allowing him to make delicious puns about being “a master of destiny and density.” Cute. While he works on his comedy routine and smacks alien cat girls around, Giant-Man finds the force field device deep within the ship and celebrates in the only acceptable fashion, by sinking a national treasure. The bad guys turn tail. That's it. That's what four issues of comics added up to in the mid-90's.

In all fairness this tale is actually better written than just about anything found within The Crossing. Even the Iron Man portions which are from the same writer benefit greatly from the focus on the new Tony kickstarting his life rather than old Tony bemoaning his very existence. It's kinda cynical to make this heroes first adventure another crossover story instead of letting him do his own thing. I get that it makes business sense to try and get readers from other books to notice him but when it's just a thinly veiled attempt at showing he can hang with the big boys, dignity sorta gets tossed out the window.

That's all for today folks. I gotta go pretend to be responsible now, or go downtown to play board games. Eh, screw responsibility. See ya.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Shuriken Sentai Ninninger Summer Movie

Welcome to the new year, everyone. I've been doing my best to stay busy. Putting together home improvement ideas. Deciding on which jobs to apply too, appropriate given how much I dread work tomorrow. I even made my first visit to Ikea. A worthwhile experience with one important note. If anyone talks you into dining within the eatery don't expect actual human proportions for your meal. Swear I've had snack packs with more substance. Guess they don't wanna weigh you down so much that you loose the energy to cavort through miles of furniture.
In case you're wondering, I did buy a few items. A milk frother and some sparkling juice. Not exactly the reason one shops at Ikea, I know. Still, I am considering a bully bookcase to help tame the Horror collection, currently standing at 767 by the way. Not bad for a guy who gets paid in peanuts.

So what do I have in store for you guys to kick off the this fresh year? Last Summer's Sentai movie actually. Alright, it's nothing all that special but I've been something of a blogging deadhead this past week. Not to mention I'm sequestering one topic for an application article for another site. Fingers crossed on that. Life updates outta the way, let's check in with cinematic ninja antics of seasons past.

A little historical perspective first. Some of you may remember the group of episodes where the team battled western monster like Frankenstein & Dracula. This movie takes place within that portion of the series, I believe right before the mid-series clip show. None of that matters a great deal as like most Sentai Summer movies interaction with the primary storyline is minimal at best. Also of interest to those who've never encountered one of these flicks. They are nowhere near feature length, running more along the lines of 28 minutes. Playing alongside a similar Kamen Rider feature is how these franchises get your butt to the theater when it's not one of the full-length team-up or Superhero Taison films.

The action gets off to a running start as the kids are assigned some Summer homework. The ninja village of Shinobigakutre is under siege by the Kibaoni general Yumihari who since you've never heard of him before I bet you can guess his ultimate fate. The team has a two-part mission: save the lord of the village and restore love & peace. Part one goes off rather swimmingly until they realize this lord is a dinosaur.

Turns out the position of village lord has held a curse for quite some time which makes one wonder why any fool would take on the job. The curse states that whomever holds the position will experience fear, anxiety, etc before transforming into a wicked dragon that will bring great calamity. Yumihari also holds an odd obsession for this dragon but we'll come back to that later. The sad story of this particular lord is that he cared so much for his town that he neglected his family causing his wife to run away. Cue shame spiral and one nasty skin condition.

Most of the team is dispatched to continue fighting for the town. Meanwhile, Takaharu is tasked with serving the lords every whim. That all changes pretty quickly when most of the crew disappears in a large explosion. Taka decides to lend a hand which can only mean action, tons of it. That's really the primary draw of these short movies. A higher budget allows for all sorts of unique additions to ninja fights and sure enough the whole team regroups and unleashes a rainbow of ass-kickery. It's some of the best fighting this series has ever offered, which is pretty important when you consider it takes up around 70% of the run time.

Just when it seems the day is won, Yumihari shows off his trump card. A magical shield that can only be destroyed by the wicked dragons power. Can ya guess what happens next? I'll give you a hint. The dinosaur lord appears, having been inspired by Takaharu to do what he wants in life, which is currently to protect the villagers. This was apparently the point of the teams Summer homework as healing his soul brings love & peace back the land....until Yumihari shoots the lord and turns him into the wicked dragon of legend. Don't worry, the evil dragon phase doesn't last long as our kids break it's horn, obtain a dinosaur robot, and save the day before lunch.

In the end this tale wasn't a bad way to spend nearly thirty minutes. It would probably hold up as one of the better episodes if it had actually been placed within the series proper. Instead it suffers from a strange detachment which serves to make it feel like more like grand fanfiction than a real piece of the franchise. Since I've viewed a couple less than stellar Sentai movies I'm willing to give this one a pretty decent grade. It may not matter much in the long run but at least it was entertaining. Now if you'll excuse me. Hiding doesn't stop taco night!