Tuesday, October 31, 2017

31 Days of Horror at Biff Bam Pop!

If you've been to the Biff Bam Pop! website, you know that other than the regular pop culture features, we're all big horror fans there. As always, special for the month of October, and culminating today on Halloween is 31 Days of Horror.

31 Days of Horror takes a look at the past and present in horror movies, television, horror television, horror comics, and even horror animation.

This year we had guest blogger Monica S. Kuebler write about Midnight Son; Loretta Sisco gave us a peek at her Halloween playlist, as well as her regular column, True Crime Corner, and her reviews of the television series Outlander; and Robin Renee gave us a tour of Halloween Haunt at Kings Dominion.

Newcomer to the site from over at the late great Popshifter, but terrific writer and whirlwind of terror, Tim Murr gave us looks at Red Christmas, Halloween III, the brilliant Psycho documentary 78/52, Pumpkinhead, Mike Thorn's Darkest Hours, and the latest album by Werewolves in Siberia, as well as his music column Let Us Now Praise Noise. Also from Popshifter, and a terrific comics reviewer, E.A. Henson brought us Alien Toilet Monsters and the seven essential Halloween specials you MUST WATCH this year.

As well as her awesome column Creations of Chaos, about animation and anime films, Sarah Hawkins-Miduski gave us her thoughts on Neil Gaiman's Coraline, Edgar Allan Poe's Mystery Dinner Party, and four creepy animated shorts. JP Fallavollita took us on a tour of the Tomb of Dracula, and also featured horror in ever October edition of his comics column The Wednesday Run. Jim Knipp gave us a look at the deadly dollies of horror films, and Marie Gilbert served up some Soylent Green for the Halloween holiday dinner.

Co-editor-in-chief and founder of Popshifter, the amazing Less Lee Moore gave us reviews of Alone in the Dark, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and The Asphyx, as well as her regular columns, Pump Up the Jam and Now Streaming on Shudder.

Founder and publisher Andy Burns provided insights on Stephen King and Owen King's recent appearance in Toronto, the Creepshow graphic novel and The Dark Tower: The Art of the Film, the games Resident Evil: Biohazard and Outlast Trinity, as well as his popular weekly Box Office Predictions and awesomely on-topiv column The Week in Horror.

Besides my regular reviews of the television series The Flash, and infusing the 31 Days of Horror theme into my comics review column Heroes and Villains, I got my grubby little hands in there too, writing about the classic rat movies Willard and Ben, fellow Biff Bam Popper Lucas Mangum's Engines of Ruin, The Car, Beware the Slenderman, and Halloween in the Marvel Animated Universe.

Don't forget about the other regular columns at Biff Bam Pop! like The Ten Percent by K. Dale Koontz and Ensley F. Guffey, and By the Book by Jim Knipp, and our other great staff writers like Luke Sneyd, Richard Kirwin, Mat Langford, and David Ward.

Clicky-clicky, come on by Biff Bam Pop! and check out 31 Days of Horror. It's the best way to celebrate Halloween!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Arrow S06 E03: Next of Kin

Back during the time of late high school and college when I wasn’t actively reading comics any more (I know, shocking), a lot of things happened.  One of them was the first appearance of Onyx, a naive vigilante who Green Arrow crossed paths with in Star City.  Sheltered in a monastery she learned martial arts, and in a move that would make Batman proud, Onyx went out into the world to do good, her parents having been murdered years before. 

Later she was completely revamped as a Batman associate in the War Games story arc.  Now she was trained by the League of Assassins, and no longer naive.  Personally I liked the original teenaged Onyx with the cape better, but it’s the later version who has been brought to the small screen on “,a href="http://monsura.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html">Arrow.” 

Continuing from this season’s first episode, Team Arrow is in pursuit of Alex Faust, with John Diggle taking over as the Green Arrow.  He took on the mantle at the end of the last episode, in spite of the degenerative cell damage he suffered on Lian Yu.  So far only Black Canary also knows, but neither has told Oliver.  Seems like Oliver has definitely rubbed off on the team. 

This pursuit has John pulling the insane stunt of jumping off a building and letting Black Canary’s scream propel him across to another building.  It sounds nuts and comic booky, but the way it was executed I totally believed it.  Bravo.  Also notable the opening gauntlet of symbols lacked one for Spartan, giving more commitment to the idea that John is now the Green Arrow.  Nice touch. 

When Oliver shows up for work the next day Samanda is waiting for him.  She’s not stupid, and despite Oliver’s airtight alibi, she knows someone else was playing Green Arrow, someone who’s not an archer.  Samanda also brings up how the cops might feel slighted (at best) with the mayor leaning on a vigilante.  It’s a thought I had as a little kid watching the original “Batman” TV show - why do the Gotham police even bother showing up to work?  They’re either bored or disillusioned, right? 

Meanwhile the slick Onyx, here a crooked ex-CIA operative named Onyx Adams, breaks into Kord Industries (will we ever see Blue Beetle?) and downloads some serious intel, including a deadly nerve gas (Kord makes nerve gas???).  When Team Arrow protects the gas shipment, Onyx takes them out pretty easily.  I did like Rene’s “Surprise, bitch.” though.  We need more Rene in the show as he gets the best lines.  Why not put him in the Green Arrow suit?  Or Dinah or Felicity, they seem to be leading as well. 

Rene asks Oliver to come back, but he gives John a pep talk instead.  So, the team is splintered when it next goes into action against Onyx and her team - who having seen John in action are unimpressed and don’t see him or his team a threat.  Not good.  Things do turn around however, and the fight sequences of the last act are quite impressive, and a vast improvement over the first episode this season.  And John proves himself. 

Unfortunately, as the end stinger reveals, John is using performance enhancing drugs to stabilize his tremors.  Well, that’s not going to come back to bite anyone in the ass.  There’s more soap with William as Oliver finally allows Felicity into his life.  There was a lot to like about this episode, but all things considered, I’d rather have Oliver as Green Arrow.  This is like one of those tired cliche comic arcs where the hero is replaced.  I’m just waiting for the real Green Arrow. 

Something I talked about last time, but have since given further thought to is the existence of Batman in the Arrowverse.  After a brief exchange with friend Tim Murr on Twitter I’ve reconsidered my position.  There may well be a Batman in the Arrowverse.  And while I’m thinking of it, check out Tim’s work at Biff Bam Pop! right here.  He’s only been with us a couple of months, coming over from the late Popshifter, but he’s written some great stuff.  And a book too.  Check him out. 

So maybe Batman does exist.  After all, we’ve seen Harley Quinn, right?  Felicity wouldn’t take the name Oracle (she does it again subtly in this very episode) when suggested because it was already in use. And then there’s Rip Hunter from “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” who remarked from a dark future that he’d seen dark knights and men of steel fall.  That’s pretty conclusive. And there’s no reason why Green Arrow couldn’t have fought all those Bat-villains before Batman did, right? 

For my other reviews of the entire "Arrow" series, click here. And if you'd like to discuss this episode, anything else in the Arrowverse, or anything in the Marvel or DC television or cinematic universes, please join the Marvel DC Movies TV group on Facebook.

Next: The Black Siren returns in “Reversal!”

Friday, October 27, 2017

Bionic Nostalgia - The Legacy

Fairly quickly after the television debut of "The Six Million Dollar Man" the word 'bionic' entered the lexicon permanently, going from a science fiction term to a science fact in recent years.  While no one has been granted super-strength, speed, or senses from their bionics (that we know of), cybernetic replacement of limbs, as well as things like cochlear implants are almost everyday things. 

As we've seen, the television universe was too big to have just one bionic man.  Soon Steve Austin was joined by the Seven Million Dollar Man, the Bionic Woman, and Maximilian the Bionic Dog.  In 1976, during Lee Majors' bad mustache phase, Vincent Van Patten became the Bionic Boy in a backdoor pilot that failed to go to series.  Both series, "The Six Million Dollar Man" and "The Bionic Woman," left the air in 1978, but would return in just under a decade. 

Three TV movies would follow starting in 1987.  The first, simply and awkwardly called The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman, was similar to the Bionic Boy in two ways - it was a failed pilot and involved a young man getting bionics, in this case, Austin's illegitimate son. The last two, coming in 1989 and 1994, were Bionic Showdown and Bionic Ever After?

The legacy of Martin Caidin's Cyborg novel, and the "Six Million Dollar Man" television series that was based on it continues to today. There are novels, comic books, jigsaw puzzles, the "Bionic Six" animated series (among dozens that feature bionics within them), a new, if short-lived, "Bionic Woman" show, and of course the always-threatened-but-never-announced theatrical film. Bionics remains a part of our lives and pop culture decades later.

Check out the rest of my posts in this series here.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

RIP Robert Guillaume

We lost award-winning actor, singer, and star of stage, television, and film Robert Guillaume today. He was 89.

The prime-time soap opera sitcom "Soap" is rather dated by today's standards, and doesn't hold up all that well on rewatch if I'm being honest, but one thing does stand up and shine through the years - the talent and comic timing of Robert Guillaume, who played the butler Benson on the first few seasons of the show. In hindsight, it is hard to see just how amazing and groundbreaking the show was, how it was water cooler television, and the show to watch back in the day. The character of Benson was and remains the highlight of the complex soap parody. He later broke out into a solo self-titled spin-off as advisor to a governor, but as it was a more conventional sitcom, it didn't really appeal to me.

Guillaume would later star in "Sports Night," and guest on many shows and films of the eighties and nineties. He was always a star of the stage, appearing in such productions as Guys and Dolls, Finian's Rainbow, and The Phantom of the Opera, and receiving at least one Tony nomination, and much acclaim. Guillaume would gain new notoriety as audiences as the voice of Rafiki in Disney's The Lion King. he continued doing this role in associated sequels, games, and shows, winning a Grammy for one such project.

We have lost one of the great entertainers, Robert Guillaume will be missed.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Arrow S06 E02: Tribute

Like last episode, we seem to be bouncing off of the previous episode’s cliffhanger, in this case, the news media’s reveal of Oliver Queen as the Green Arrow, a story so big it was even noted in last week’s episode of “The Flash.” We open with Oliver confronting the press, and denying he is Green Arrow, saying that photos can be doctored, and anyone’s head could have been put on that body, even Bruce Wayne. 

That’s an interesting name drop to make, especially for the Arrowverse.  For five seasons now it has seemed that Green Arrow has been playing proxy for Bruce Wayne AKA Batman.  He has faced so many Bat-foes, including Talia and Nyssa, the League of Assassins, Deadshot, the Dollmaker, Prometheus, Solomon Grundy, the Huntress, and most of all, R’as Al Ghul, that one might speculate that Batman doesn’t exist in the Arrowverse as Oliver has filled that role. 

Of course, to be fair, Green Arrow has also faced a truckload of Teen Titans, Flash, and even (who would have thought?) Green Arrow villains over five seasons as well, so it might not mean anything.  And while it is the first name drop of Bruce Wayne or Gotham, Bludhaven has been mentioned numerous times.  All that said, I wouldn’t mind a Bat in the Arrowverse if only to see him interact with Oliver. 

In his office, Oliver has a surprise waiting, FBI Agent Samanda Watson, there to investigate the allegation that Oliver is the Green Arrow.  While Samanda seems to be a new character with no counterpart in the comics, she is played by Syndelle Noel, who does have a very cool comic book connection.  She’ll be playing one of the Dora Milaje in the Black Panther movie.  Folks might also know her as Cherry ‘Junk Chain’ Bang from “GLOW.”  The show is really rocking its wrestling connections. 

When we cut to the only-seconds-long title sequence we get a new treat.  It’s not just an arrowhead symbol and the word ‘Arrow’ any more.  We see new stylized symbols for Black Canary, Wild Dog, Mr. Terrific, Overwatch, Spartan, and Green Arrow.  I guess it wasn’t unveiled until this episode so as not to spoil who survived Lian Yu.  Nice, I like it, like the mention of the Human Target moments after it.  It’s a big universe, why not a Batman too?

Team Arrow is obviously under pressure with Oliver’s identity possibly out in the open and the authorities having him under a microscope.  Much like Batman and his own team, once Oliver’s identity is compromised, it’s a short jump and a straight line as to who the rest of Team Arrow actually is.  I was pleased that at least the showrunners acknowledge this. 

Another comics name drop in the episode is one that has appeared often, Markovia.  Oliver is trying to bring their Vortex Industries to Star City to create jobs, but the press won’t let go of the Green Arrow thing.  One has to wonder though, with all this talk of Markov and Vortex, will we see Geo-Force, Terra, or maybe Count Vertigo soon?  The wondering does not last long as the entourage is attacked by the KGBeast and his men.  However Anatoly and the Bratva are not after Oliver, they’re after the Markovians. 

Like the Black Siren last episode, this is another villain seeking revenge.  Team Arrow suspects its Anatoly who leaked the photo of the unmasked Oliver in costume to tie his hands in this current operation.  He’s holding the Markovians hostage for $20 million, the exact amount the insurance paid out for the police station the Siren blew up.  Coincidence?  I think not. 

In soap opera corner, Oliver continues to spar with William.  I gotta say I love the kid’s Flash backpack, a callback to the first time the character appeared and he liked the Flash better.  Further complications arise with the possibility that Watson may interrogate William regarding his father and mother.  John’s subplot has been revealed as degenerative cell damage from shrapnel he caught on Lian Yu.  And I dig that Dr. Schwartz is slowly becoming an honorary member of the team. 

In the end, Oliver and Anatoly part honorable enemies, and Oliver promises to be a better dad to William.  We know how his promises work out, Oliver never changes.  He is going to try however, the first step is pass the mantle of the Green Arrow to John.  But John is pulling an Oliver and not telling him about his handicap. Looks like we’re going to see a hero fall sooner or later...

For my other reviews of the entire "Arrow" series, click here. And if you'd like to discuss this episode, anything else in the Arrowverse, or anything in the Marvel or DC television or cinematic universes, please join the Marvel DC Movies TV group on Facebook.

Next: The live action debut of another Green Arrow villain from the comics - Onyx - in “Next of Kin!” 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Arrow S06 E01: Fallout

If I’m being honest, which I always am, it was hard to concentrate on anything happening in the first few minutes of this sixth season opening episode of “Arrow” because I was too busy taking attendance.  After the way the island of Lian Yu, which I nicknamed Flashback Island after its use for that titular plot device, blew up with the entire cast, sans Oliver, on it, what else could I do?  I hated that cliffhanger when it aired, and hate it just as much now. 

Again, I was happy as I counted them off - Green Arrow, Spartan, Wild Dog (in a slick red and black outfit, counter to last season’s look and his costume in the comics), Mr. Terrific, and Overwatch - all taking down a criminal terrorist named Alex Faust (any relation to Felix? With John Constantine in the Arrowverse, so is sorcerer Felix Faust).  It was a little disappointing that Felicity was only there as tentative romantic interest for Oliver, and to hand out Big Belly Burger to the men. 

We are shown the caption tag ‘five months later,’ which in itself in interesting.  Over on “The Flash,” Central City has been ill-protected since Barry Allen entered the Speed Force, and we’re uncertain what the status quo is in Star City only a few minutes into the episode.  It would seem to me that the gaps between seasons on both shows might actually be more interesting than the pick-up almost a year later. 

Nevertheless time has moved on.  Oliver is struggling to raise his son William without a mother, indicating that she probably did not survive Lian Yu; Oliver and Felicity seem to still have a tenuous relationship, and she may or not still be a part of Team Arrow; and Rene is apparently rocking a suit and writing speeches for Oliver.  We also meet a new(?) character, Raisa, who helped raise Oliver and is now doing the same for William.

If you listen close to Team Arrow’s conversation after they nab Faust, you’ll know that Dinah also survived, we finally see her a couple scenes later interrogating the psycho villain.  We also find that Quentin is still with us (did anyone die in the island?) playing mind games with his own perceived guilt and alcoholism.  When Dinah goes to help him through it, Faust helps break himself out with another Lian Yu survivor, and his boss, the Black Siren.  She and her goons blow the hell out of the police station, all before we see the opening title card. 

When Team Archer regroups, the reveal of Black Siren is a surprise as they all thought she died on Lian Yu.  Quentin seems to think she went to the police station looking for him.  We get a great little street fight between Team Arrow and the bad guys, with Canary against Siren.  Wild Dog is injured when Spartan hesitates.  And the whole fight has weird aerial cinematography as if shot from one of the T-Spheres.  I did not like it. 

Oliver was missing for five years, and with “Arrow” having run five seasons, the flashbacks have come full circle.  So now it seems the flashbacks will work on the five months since the cliffhanger, letting us know what happened in that time frame.  It’s not a matter of who didn’t make it, but how they did or didn’t.  Every moment of this episode shows us someone else alive, either seeing them or mentioning them.  Add Deathstroke and Nyssa to that list.  Would Talia, Captain Boomerang, Merlyn, Speedy, and William’s mother be the only ones who didn’t make it?  Or not.  We’ll see. 

The soap opera kicks in heavy with Quentin’s guilt coming from him trying to kill Black Siren on the island.  And William knows his dad is the Green Arrow, and blames him for his mom’s death.  Just like he was boyfriend of the year, it looks like he’ll be father of the year too.  Throw in John’s problem as a subplot too, and that’s at least enough to start the season.  At least William and Oliver get a little closer at the end, but the latest cliffhanger should undo that...

In the meantime, it turns out the Black Siren’s real target is the Bunker, or as I like to call it, the Arrowcave.  The question is, was she trying to blow the place up, or something else maybe?  Was she trying to steal something?  In multiple epilogues we find Thea in a coma; Deathstroke and Wild Dog both benefiting from Oliver helping them be better fathers; and John not using his gun because of seemingly PTS from shrapnel received on the island.  And then there’s the TV news stinger revealing that Oliver Queen is the Green Arrow...

This episode was good, but affected negatively by the last season end, its piecemeal vibe, and almost immediate dive into soap opera and subplot.  It’s just too soon. 

For my other reviews of the entire "Arrow" series, click here. And if you'd like to discuss this episode, anything else in the Arrowverse, or anything in the Marvel or DC television or cinematic universes, please join the Marvel DC Movies TV group on Facebook.

Next: “Tribute!”

Thursday, October 05, 2017

The Live PD Phenomenon

The Bride and I are hardcore "Cops" fans, for well over two decades.  We have even had "Cops" parties watching best of tapes (yes, tapes).  The show is one of the reality television genre that actually is reality as cameras follow law enforcement as they do their jobs.  Certainly however there is an editing process to produce the half-hour program with its three segment formula. 

Still we love it, The Bride to see the good guys doing their job, and myself with the darker sense of humor just for the schadenfreude, a German word meaning taking pleasure in the misery of others.  I have no shame as I know I’m not alone.  If I was alone, no form of reality TV would thrive at all in this country.  We’re all sick voyeurs to one degree or another. 

This past summer we discovered a new series on A&E that goes "Cops" one better.  On Friday and Saturday nights, the busiest of the week for police officers, "Live PD" follows various law enforcement from across the country live as they do their jobs.  This is not an edited down version of a week spent on camera, this is the police on the job, live.

Hosted in the New York studio by Dan Abrams, a legal consultant for ABC News, and veteran police officer Tom Morris, Jr., the show is pulled from precincts across the country as they happen.  Dan and Tom are sometimes joined by Sean “Sticks” Larkin, an officer from the Tulsa Gang Unit and fan favorite, as well as officers featured on the show live, who offer color commentary and explanations during breaks. The hosts and the cops have become stars in their own right. 

The show has become so popular that A&E not only repeats it constantly but has also spun off two or three shows from it, some postscripts to what happened in the real show.  Ironically the show being live, sometimes it ends in the middle of it getting good.  We have waited a whole week sometimes to find out what happened after the cameras go black. 

The Twitter phenomenon of "Live PD" however is something else altogether.  Imagine if "Cops" was not only live, but interactive. That's what is happening here. On Friday and Saturday nights, Twitter is on fire with this show as thousands of viewers Tweet as they watch, they have even helped the police, seeing things on television the cops on the scene missed, like a baggy of drugs thrown out a window in a police chase. Don't forget to use the hashtag #LivePD.

Various places on the show, like bars and hotels and stores in the precincts monitored have become famous, and a bizarre and fun bingo game has developed based on what happens typically on the show. Google LivePD Bingo for a variety of different versions and cards to play along.

"Live PD" returns Friday, so get ready, get your phone out to Tweet along, and your Bingo cards printed up to play along. It's a blast!

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Rest in Peace, Tom Petty

In the shadow of one of the worst shootings in American history, in between the news network full coverage, and the madness that follows such things, we have lost one of our great musical lights. Tom Petty was found unconscious yesterday morning, and finally, after much heartache and misinformation, pronounced dead of cardiac arrest at the age of 66, early last night.

The first time I saw or heard Tom Petty, or Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, was in the movie FM, friends had referred to him as the new Mick Jagger. I don't know how accurate that is or was, but it was memorable. His music was the sound of my teens, my twenties, and so on, it truly mapped the 1970s, the 1980s, and 1990s for me. Hard Promises was one of three albums I bought with my very first paycheck. The great thing about Petty albums consistently is that you not only got the hits like "A Woman in Love (It's Not Me)" and "The Waiting," you also got AOR tunes and hidden gems like "A Thing About You," "Kings Road," and "The Criminal Kind." Yeah, I wore those grooves out.

I can remember having two, not just one, cassettes of Tom Petty's songs recorded from the radio when I first got a cassette recorder. He was an FM rock favorite and almost all of his music got airplay. Even before I graduated high school in 1982 (and Petty was white suburban FM rock and roll then) he had a catalog that included some of the best of the time, from "American Girl" and "Breakdown" to "Listen to Her Heart" and "I Need to Know." He was not a favorite, like Bowie or Prince, but man, he was always there, and always rocking. Yeah, he was a favorite, I just didn't know it.

Later favorite albums would include Long After Dark, which holds a special place in my heart for getting me my first date with a college girlfriend. She was a Petty fan, and my inside knowledge of when the album was coming out (easily found in Billboard magazine which I read obsessively when I worked at the college radio station) dazzled her enough to date me. This album also included Petty's move into the MTV era from that of FM AOR. I remember loving the post-apocalyptic music video for "You Got Lucky," the red vinyl single for "Change of Heart," and my favorite tune off the album, the B-side "Between Two Worlds."

My favorite Petty song comes from the next album Southern Accents, an album full of oddities mixed into the usual southern rock and roll highlights. This one had the hilarious country ditty "Spike" about a punk rocker, as well as the hit single with acid trip video, "Don't Come Around Here No More," coolly co-written by genius co-producer Dave Stewart from Eurythmics. But it was the weird dance vibe of "It Ain't Nothin' to Me," also with Stewart, that still blows me away. I don't know why, but I love this song even today and turn it up whenever I hear it.

Later Tom Petty, already a superstar in his own right, would officially go solo from the Heartbreakers, and also join with Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Roy Obrbison, and George Harrison to form the supergroup the Traveling Wilburys. Petty, with and without the Heartbreakers, would continue to release albums and singles through to 2014. He was always producing and always innovating. We have lost another legend, a man who filled my life with music, creating a soundtrack of memories. We will all miss Tom Petty. Rest in peace, man.