Throwback Thursday: Universal Monsters

Before Shared Universes Were Cool

I’ve been watching a lot of classic Universal Monsters films in recent weeks. I own all of the Legacy Collections that have been released so far except for The Invisible Man set. The recently released (August, 2018) Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30 Film Collection features all of the films and special features that I already own but also comes with a collector’s book and The Phantom of the Opera from 1943 starring Claude Rains. I can live without the book, but I really do need to pick up a copy of Phantom.

The earliest Universal Monsters films have been around for nearly a century. The silent version of The Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney was released in 1925. The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which also starred Chaney, was released in 1923. Hunchback is generally considered the first true Universal Monsters film, although an argument could be made for 1913’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde which was distributed by Universal. In any case, fans almost universally agree that the most memorable monsters didn’t start arriving until the 1930’s.

Beginning with Bela Lugosi’s performance as the title character in February 1931’s Dracula, Universal started cranking out a ton of popular monster-based films. Frankenstein (November, 1931), The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and Son of Frankenstein (1939) are just a few of the many films released during this time that drew crowds to the theater.

The 1940’s saw an even larger number of films released, albeit with fewer quality stories. Some of the films were sequels or what we now call “soft reboots” of films from the 1930’s. One such soft reboot was 1940’s The Mummy’s Hand, which was essentially the same tale as it’s 1932 predecessor but with western and serial actor Tom Tyler as the Mummy and a lot more humor injected into the script. Some of the sequels included Son of Dracula (1943) and The Invisible Woman (1940). The Phantom of the Opera was remade as a talkie featuring Claude Rains in the lead role.

The shining star of the 1940’s was Lon Chaney, Jr.’s turn as The Wolf Man in 1941. In a sea of mostly forgettable films and ensemble movies such as House of Frankenstein (1944) and numerous Abbott and Costello Meet…. flicks that closed out the decade and opened up the 1950’s, The Wolf Man instantly became one of the most recognized and beloved films of all time. Chaney gave a commanding performance and the story still holds up well to this day. The movie has been so well received that 1935’s Werewolf of London, which was a fine film in its own right, has been forgotten by many self-proclaimed Universal Monster fans.

The 1950’s saw fewer films released and the quality continued to degrade. The only real shining moment in the decade was 1954’s The Creature From The Black Lagoon. Released in 3D in order to cash in on that new-at-the-time technology, Creature is considered by many to be the last of the classic Universal Monsters movies. The film was such a success that two forgettable sequels were released back to back in 1955 and 1956.

The 1950’s marked the end of the Universal Monsters era. Universal has tried on a few occasions to revive the properties and have done so to varying degrees of success. A string of popular The Mummy films starring Brendan Fraser began in 1999 that would eventually spawn a spinoff starring Dwayne Johnson as The Scorpion King in 2002. That film would have multiple direct-to-DVD sequels. In 2010, The Wolfman attempted to update the classic tale of Lon Chaney, Jr.’s werewolf with modern special effects and changes to the original story that expanded the role of Larry Talbot’s father. I enjoyed the film, but it was ill-received by most audiences. Van Helsing (2004) was a visual feast and a love letter to the most popular classic monsters, but it was ultimately a stinker that never found the traction that Universal was hoping for in order to revive a dead tent pole franchise.

Universal’s boldest move to cash in on the success of their classic monsters came in 2017 whenever their Dark Universe was announced with the release of The Mummy. Starring Tom Cruise and a female version of the classic monster (portrayed by Sofia Boutella), the film was met with poor reviews from critics and, more importantly, little reaction from audiences. I liked the film as an action yarn, but found it weak as a true horror film. It did do a fine job of setting the stage for future films, but it doesn’t look like the Dark Universe will continue any time soon. As of this writing, the Dark Universe is in limbo and possibly dead.

So what keeps me coming back to the classic films? I don’t really know. Sure, I own the Brendan Fraser films and the Benicio del Toro starring The Wolfman remake, but I don’t watch them nearly as much as I do the original films. I will often have mini marathons of specific classic monsters throughout the year. At the moment I am watching all of the Gillman films and The Mummy films and I plan on revisiting Dracula once I’ve completed my current classic viewings.

Despite better special effects and makeup and, to a certain degree, better stories, I still think back on Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Jr., and Boris Karloff whenever someone mentions Dracula, werewolves, or Frankenstein’s Monster. The characters that these actors portrayed are imprinted in my brain in a way that not even Jason Voorhies or Freddy Krueger, characters that I grew up with, can compare. I appreciate contemporary horror icons, but I love the classics.

I do hope that Universal attempts to revive their Dark Universe. If done right, their classic monsters will live again and terrorize new audiences. While Marvel has definitely cornered the market on shared universes at the moment, I’m starting to suffer from superhero fatigue. The monsters need to make a return to the big screen in a big way, and I believe that Universal can make that happen.

Thanks for reading. I hope that you enjoyed my little trip down memory lane. Who is your favorite Universal Monster? Did you like the latest Mummy flick? Let me know in the comments.

A Buzzing Success!

Somewhere South Of Cybertron

I really had my doubts about the Transformers franchise whenever I heard that a Bumblebee movie was in the works at Paramount. Although I enjoyed the first Transformers film way back in 2007, each and every film that followed seemed to get more sophomoric with the humor, more outlandish with the action, and ultimately just a series of really loud and boring films. I haven’t even watched all of the sequels in their entirety with the exception of Revenge of the Fallen. I have tried to watch them all, but I always turn them off or give my attention to other important things like playing a game on my phone or cleaning the house. The films just didn’t interest me.

However, after watching the trailer for the film and hearing some pretty good opinions of it, I decided to give Bumblebee a chance. I’m glad that I did. It made all of the nonsense from the prior films disappear with a snap like Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War and finally gave Transformers fans a film that had heart, humor, and decent action.

Spoiler Free Review Ahead!

Hailee Steinfeld, in quite possibly her biggest starring role so far, carried most of the human load of the film as Charlie Watson, a young lady who is still coping with the loss of her father who happens to find and fall in love with a beat up Volkswagen Beetle. After being given the car as a gift for her birthday by the owner of the garage, Charlie discovers that the car is actually the Autobot named B-127. She unwittingly triggers his homing beacon that alerts two Decepticons of his presence on Earth.

Bumblebee’s memory has been wiped and his voicebox is destroyed (I won’t spoil how that happened), but as Charlie begins to repair him, a few of his memories start to slowly come back. He learns what his true mission is and must deal with the Decepticons that are after him. Along the way, he and Charlie become strong friends as they help one another cope with their respective problems.

The film has a surprisingly strong cast that is led by Steinfeld’s relatable performance. Along for the ride is Jorge Lendeborg, Jr. as Memo, Charlie’s awkward neighbor that bumbles his way through the picture. John Cena portrays Agent Jack Burns, a rather formulaic character made a little bit better by Cena’s performance. He’s still getting used to the acting gig, but he did a fine job in the film.

John Ortiz plays Dr. Powell, a member of Sector 7 with Agent Banks who agrees to assist the Decepticons as they hunt down Bumblebee. His role is somewhat small but essential to the film. Charlie’s family is portrayed by Pamela Adlon (Sally, Charlie’s mom), Stephen Schneider (Roy, Charlie’s stepdad), and Jason Drucker as Otis, Charlie’s annoying (but very funny) little brother.

Dylan O’Brien briefly voices Bumblebee in the film. Peter Cullen reprises his role as Optimus Prime. Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux portray Shatter and Dropkick, the Decepticons in pursuit of Bumblebee throughout the bulk of the film. Other Transformers appear in the film, but I won’t spoil them for anyone that hasn’t seen the film yet.

The film is heavy on nostalgia. Charlie’s home immediately reminded me of just about every home featured in an 80’s action or sci-fi yarn, especially E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and The Goonies. Music and one specific film from the 80’s were also featured in the film and were just as important to the story as the actors and the script.

The film stayed relatively clear of the potty and sophomoric humor of the prior films and added a whole lot more heart and nostalgia. There were a couple of moments in the film that almost made me cry and both for different reasons. There were some great character developing moments as well. Something that was desperately needed in the other films.

Bumblebee is a relatively safe family film. There are a few violent deaths (human and Transformer) that younger children might not be able to handle and a couple of bad words here and there, but ultimately this is the most family friendly film in the Transformers franchise.

Hopefully Paramount and Hasbro realize that films like Bumblebee are what the fans really want and not some explosion-laden nonsense. Give us a good story with a little action and a lot of heart and fans will return to the franchise.

As always, thanks for reading. I’ve got a few Universal Monsters posts in mind, so don’t be surprised if you see one in the near future. Also, I’ll be posting a link to my first-ever unboxing video in the next few days as well.

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

I’m A Spidey, You’re A Spidey….

My knowledge  of the Miles Morales version of Spider-Man begins and ends with my son.  He loves the character and the whole multi-verse angle that has been part of every Spider-Man’s world for a long time.  My son has informed me on characters such as Spider-Man 2099, the Iron Spider, and a multitude of other Spider related characters.  When I was a kid, Peter Parker’s Spider-Man was the only one that mattered to me.  After seeing Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, though, I’m a lot more interested in uncovering the tales of some of the other Spiders out there.

spider-man-into-the-spider-verse-2

It’s no secret that Marvel has seriously lagged behind DC and Warner Brothers when it comes to animated films.  Spider-Verse has definitely helped them get back on track.  The funny thing is that Sony, who almost always screws up their Marvel property films, produced and distributed this film and it takes place in a world completely separated from the MCU, which means that Marvel still can’t make great animated films on their own just yet.

spider-man-into-the-spider-verse8

Mild spoilers ahead!

The film’s plot is centered around Miles Morales and his relationship with his parents and his uncle.  He loves his parents, but he feels that his father is overbearing and too protective.  He loves his uncle just as much or more than his parents and he has a special bond with him in a sort of big brother/little brother way.

Miles and his uncle sneak into an abandoned subway station one evening to work on Miles’ graffiti skills.  While in the subway, Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider that gives him spider abilities (including a few that Peter Parker’s Spider-Man lacks).  He begins to struggle with his new abilities and seeks the counsel of his uncle.  When he can’t find him, he goes back to the subway station to clear his mind and stumbles upon a battle between Peter Parker’s Spidey and villains that will remain nameless.  Spider-Man is attempting to stop a major villain from activating a particle accelerator.  He manages to temporarily stop the accelerator but dies in the battle.  He manages to give Miles a thumb drive that can permanently stop the accelerator and makes Miles promise to do all he can to stop the villain.

spider-man-into-the-spider-verse-trailer-2

What Miles doesn’t know is that the accelerator managed to open up other universes and other versions of Spider-Man came into Miles’ version of the world.  The first one that he encounters is Peter B. Parker, an older, down-and-out version of Spider-Man who has  lost pretty much everyone that matters to him.  Miles convinces him to teach him how to control his powers and Peter B. begrudgingly agrees.  The pair grow to respect one another and become friends.  Eventually they uncover the reasons why the particle accelerator was built and also run into other Spideys that agree to help them.

spiderverset1-025As the story continues, it is learned that the other Spider-Men have to return to their own timelines or they will die.  They also learn that the accelerator will destroy Miles’ world if it isn’t stopped.  More villains attack the group as they attempt to destroy the accelerator and one in particular takes a heavy interest in Miles.  You’ll have to watch the film in order to see what happens!

spider_man_into_the_spider_verse_dom_SpiderVerse_gfb340.1021_lm_v1

Pros:

Villains – Unlike most of the MCU villains (aside from Vulture and the Winter Soldier), the primary villains were interesting and had legitimate reasons to do what they were doing.  Without giving away too much, Prowler was one of the most surprising parts of this film.

untitled

Origin Story – This was definitely the most emotional and tragic origin story featuring a Marvel character in a long time.  No, Miles didn’t lose his parents in a tragic accident, but he witnesses two violent and cold deaths that completely rock his world.  I actually felt for Miles and other characters when bad things happened to them.  I cheered them on as they overcame obstacles.  I haven’t gotten this emotional over a superhero’s origin story in a long time.

Animation – I’ll preface this by saying that I didn’t initially like the animation.  It took my eyes a bit of time to adjust to it but once I adapted to the style, I fell in love with it.  Animated by the same guys that brought you the LEGO Movie and the LEGO Batman Movie, expect to see bright colors and potentially epileptic seizure inducing (I’m not joking) sequences of lights flashing and fast movement.  The style mimics comic book pages all the way down to speech bubbles and thwips to describe the action.  What I loved even more was how the Spider-men from the other universes were drawn just slightly different than the rest of the characters in the film.

Spider-Men – Yes, there are quite a few Spider peeps in this movie.  My favorite one was Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), who spoke with a gruff voice and stuck to the shadows.  Gwanda/Spider-Woman was voiced by Hailee Steinfeld.  She was a tough version of Spidey that had a quick wit.  Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) was depressed, ready to give up at a moments notice, but eventually became Miles’ champion  when the rest of the Spideys were ready to give up on him.  Spider-Ham was voiced by comedian John Mulaney.  Although his role was smaller than the other Spiders, he was a nice and much-needed injection of humor in the film.  Kimiko Glen voiced Peni Parker, a young girl with a telepathic connection to her radioactive spider that does battle in a special robotic suit.  Miles Morales is voiced by Shameik Moore.  He does an excellent job as the awkward but generally well-meaning Miles.

Music – I’m not talking about the soundtrack (although it’s not too bad itself).  I’m talking about the film’s score by Daniel Pemberton.  Pemberton pulls at the viewer’s emotions throughout this film and created a great theme for Prowler.

Cast – The cast was brilliant.  All of them did great jobs.  Mahershala Ali did one of the best jobs in the bunch as Uncle Aaron.  He’s quickly become one of my favorite actors over the last couple of years.  Miles’ parents are portrayed by Luna Lauren Velez and Brian Tyree Henry.  I’ll list a few (but not all) of the other voice actors, but don’t want to name their characters in order to avoid spoilers.  Liev Schreiber, Zoe Kravitz, Chris Pine, Lily Tomlin, Kathryn Hahn, and Oscar Isaac, among others, did great jobs in their respective roles.

spider-man-into-the-spider-verse-image

Cons – I wouldn’t necessarily consider this a con, but more of a warning.  This film features a couple of violent deaths.  One of them (although not shown, but heard) is brutally violent, and Miles witnesses it.  There are a lot of bad things that happen in this film that come across much more adult than anything from the MCU.

Spider-Man-Into-the-Spider-Verse

Other than that, this film is brilliant.  I highly recommend it.  It’s already won a Golden Globe and I’m sure that more award are coming its way.  It’s the best Marvel film of 2018 in my opinion, and one of the best movies of the year as well.

As always, thanks for reading.  Be on the lookout for more posts in the near future.

It’s Convention Season!

Pretty Much All Year Long

I don’t really understand why people say that it’s “convention season” because “convention season” is pretty much a year round thing.  I mean, there have been conventions taking place in pretty much every month for quite a few years now.  But since it seems to be the cool thing to say, I’m here to let you guys know that convention season starts today in New Orleans at Wizard World.  The event has a ton of guests and I’m sure that more than one person will spend entirely too much money on autographs, photo ops, collectibles, and must-haves (Budget?  What budget?)

I won’t be attending Wizard World this year, but I do have two conventions that I am definitely going to be visiting and a possible third one that will be the farthest convention that I’ve ever attended.  Curious about the conventions that I’m going to this year?  Fear not, because here they are in all of their glory.

47577533_2424236517855451_8904205865968467968_n

First up is Louisiana Comic Con in Lafayette, LA on March 16th and 17th.  This convention always has a ton of attendees and a solid lineup of guests.  This year will be no different.  Some of the guests include Edward Furlong from Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Detroit Rock City, Kate Flannery from The Office, Walter Jones from Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers and Kel Mitchell from All That and Good Burger.

I’m most excited to see Amy Dumas (Lita of WWE fame) and Denise Crosby (Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Walking Dead).  I’ve had opportunities to meet both of these wonderful ladies in the past, but my budget and/or time constraints prevented me from getting an autograph or photo with them.  That changes this year as I plan on budgeting time and money to meet both of them.

Louisiana Comic Con continues to add more guests to their lineup.  Here’s their current list of celebs, cosplayers, and artists that will be in attendance.

49007332_2446782645600838_8098514247991951360_n

My next convention is my local convention, CyPhaCon.  Taking place in Lake Charles, LA on April 12-14, CyPhaCon has seen steady growth since its inception.  The convention’s runners put a lot of work into creating a great event each year.  This year’s show will definitely be a fun one as guests include Todd Haberkorn (Ben 10, Star Trek Continues, Dragon Ball Z Kai, Ouran High School Host Club, and Aggretsuko), Rekha Sharma (Star Trek Discovery, Star Trek Continues, Battlestar Galactica), and Caitlin Glass (Full Metal Alchemist, Fire Emblem Echoes).

43829050_2437250309635461_1577615060610580480_o48220036_2527342660626225_6000829680637181952_o

I am looking forward to meeting Rekha Sharma, as I am a huge fan of Star Trek Continues and am just getting into Star Trek Discovery (expect a review in a few weeks).  I’m also curious about her work on Battlestar Galactica.  I’ve met Todd before, but it definitely won’t hurt to catch up with him again.  I’ve only recently watched Full Metal Alchemist, so I’m going to have to keep an eye and ear out for more of Caitlin Glass’ work.

46508506_2497624436931381_7578284865385136128_o

I’m also excited to meet Little Red Fox Cosplay.  I’ve been introduced to her work through CyPhaCon and the Southern Geek Facebook group and can’t wait to see what wonderful cosplays she’ll have in store for CyPhaCon!  Be sure to follow the link to her Facebook page and show her some love.

47395341_2517742181586273_6005421859670065152_n

This last convention is still a bit up in the air for me.  I hope that I’ll be able to attend Greater Austin Comic Con, but it’s not a definite just yet.  My birthday is in June and this convention takes place not too long after it, so it would be a great way to celebrate my most recent revolution around the sun.

37746561_495554730867697_2674953022617944064_o

I don’t know much about this convention, but I recently talked to a friend involved with it and it sounds like it’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s a two day event, June 15th and 16th, and so far they’ve only announced one guest.  That guest, though, is one of the coolest guys that I’ve ever met, Ray Park (Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace, Solo: A Star Wars Story, G.I.Joe: The Rise of Cobra).  If you are attending this event, please let me know and perhaps we can meet up at the convention!  Visit their webpage to stay current on their lineup.

49519639_593771204379382_8136553300158840832_n

Well, there you have it.  Three conventions, two of which I’m definitely attending.  I’ll be adding more conventions in the future, so be on the lookout for more!  As always, thanks for reading.  Let me know what conventions you plan to attend this year in the comments.

All photos taken from the respective convention’s Facebook page except for the featured photo.  That one is all mine and features me with Ming Chen from Comic Book Men.

 

 

DC Universe: DC Daily

Into The ‘Verse!

DC Universe arrived last year with two new series to offer its potential subscribers.  While the bulk of the attention was focused on Titans, the second series definitely deserves some love.  That series is DC Daily.  It is a news and entertainment show that covers everything DC Comics, from books and films to games and collectibles.  It is hosted by Tiffany Smith, a young lady that most DC Comics fans will recognize since she’s been all over the comic convention scene, appeared on multiple television and streaming shows like DC All Access and Attack of the Show!, and worked for multiple geek-centric companies such as The Nerdist, Netflix, and Collider.  Smith is extremely likeable and a legitimate geek.  She knows her stuff and can go toe-to-toe with some of the heaviest hitters that appear on the show.

e99359a12a3094dad6c89e0ac12ccf2c

Tiffany Smith.

Smith opens each episode with a brief update on any and all upcoming things related to DC Comics.  She also teases a discussion that takes place later in the episode that is only available to DC Universe subscribers.  These discussions vary by episode, but usually consist of panels talking about upcoming films, the latest episode of Titans, taking a look at a current DC comic book or a particularly significant classic title, or revisiting classic films or television shows that are available on DC Universe.  Some of the panels include interviews with actors, comic artists and writers, or other key members of the DC world. Then Smith will usually toss things over to Hector Navarro for an update on DC TV before summarizing the show and moving things over to the daily panel.

dc-daily-dc-universe-streaming-service

Some of the core members of DC Daily’s panels.  Standing, L to R: Samm Levine, Sam Humphries, Tiffany Smith, Harley Quinn Smith, Clarke Wolfe, Brian Tong, John Kourounis, and Hector Navarro.  In front: John Barrowman.

The panels primarily consist of a rotating group that includes Tiffany Smith, Clarke Wolfe, Hector Navarro, Samm Levine, John Kourounis, Harley Quinn Smith, Brian Tong, Sam Humphries, John Barrowman, Markeia McCarty, and Whitney Moore.  Tiffany Smith, Wolfe, Navarro, and Kourounis usually handle mediation duties while other panelists give their opinions on different topics.  Some of the lean more towards DC’s films, especially Levine, while others dig deeper into the comics like Tong and Humphries.  Harley Quinn Smith brings a unique perspective to the panel as the local vegan in the group.

hq582435823-4

Harley Quinn Smith.

Other segments include one-on-one interviews with people like Minka Kelly (Dove from Titans) and Dan DiDio (current co-publisher of DC Comics).  My personal favorite segment is a recurring one that features Samm Levine taking a tour through the Warner Bros. Archives where we get to see props from television and cinema.  Many of these props end up on the set of DC Daily.

Samm-Levine-Net-Worth_505949

Samm Levine.

The show also has special episodes that are interviews or panels about specific projects involving DC Comics.  John Barrowman has been interviewed for many of these in the last few weeks.  On New Year’s Eve, a short music video was released celebrating all of DC Comics’ biggest accomplishments over 2018.

20180920_n_fangirling_alpha_markeiamccarty_1920x10801-e1540405669591

Markeia McCarty.

Some of my favorite moments from the show include an interview with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, a discussion about DC’s Nuclear Winter special, and a look back over the career of Marv Wolfman, a legendary comics writer perhaps best known for his work on The New Teen Titans and Crisis on Infinite Earths with artist George Perez.  He and Perez co-created some of DC’s most popular characters such as Raven, Starfire, Cyborg, and Deathstroke.  Wolfman also co-created the Marvel characters Blade and Destiny.

sam-humphries-signs-to-create-content-solely-for-dc-and-vertigo

Sam Humphries.

The show is meant to be a vehicle to promote DC Comics and the DCEU, but that doesn’t mean that the show always views DC’s productions in a good light.  In a recent panel discussion of Batgirl: Year One, some of the panelists, especially Markeia McCarty, questioned DC’s decision to have lower tier villains like Killer Moth be the primary villain in a series meant to give readers the basis for the future of Batgirl.  John Barrowman has also been vocal about DC’s need to “lighten up” some of their stories on the page and on the screen.  It’s these types of voices that let viewers know that DC Daily is more than just a big lovefest for the company.

dc_all_access_whitney_moore_-_publicity_-_p_2017

Whitney Moore.

DC Daily is a very fun and informative show that gives viewers a look at the world of DC Comics that you can’t get anywhere else.  The news is informational and the panels are often laugh-out-loud funny.  I have learned who shares more of my opinions on the show and also who I respect despite having different views.  I watch the show every day and sometimes revisit specific episodes on the weekend.  Check out the episodes that are available on YouTube or, better yet, subscribe to DC Universe and get all of the shows!

As always, thanks for reading.  I received a few Blu-rays and DVDs over the holidays that I need to watch and I hope to review some of them here real soon.  I’ll also be posting about upcoming conventions in the near future, so if you want your convention mentioned in the post, let me know!