Friday, September 19, 2014

Z Nation

If there's anything better than a movie by The Asylum, it would have to be a TV series by The Asylum, and "Z Nation," their first does not disappoint.

The Asylum is perhaps best known for their low budget 'homages' to current blockbusters currently in theaters. They have also earned the term 'mockbusters.' They have treated us to such great flicks as Abraham Lincoln Vs. Zombies, Snakes on a Train, and, ahem, Atlantic Rim. And of course they have also been responsible for Mega Python Vs. Gatoroid, Nazis at the Center of the Earth, and the absolute classic Sharknado.

Now, The Asylum joins SyFy in producing a TV series determined to cash in on another current mega trend, zombies, and perhaps more specifically, AMC's "The Walking Dead." Their version is called "Z Nation," and it's set three years after the zombie apocalypse. The world has been ravaged by a virus that turns the recently dead into zombies, and unlike "TWD," more like 28 Days Later, these buggers can run rather than shamble. The threat level is raised considerably.

Much like "The Walking Dead," this is a road trip adventure, but this one has an objective, one more specific than simple survival. Here what remains of military order must get a survivor whose blood may contain a vaccine cure from New York to the last viral lab in California. This added hopeful endgame gives "Z Nation" an edge that unfortunately "The Walking Dead" doesn't have.

The cast is surprising. Harold Perrineau in an action lead role (shame he's only in the first episode), DJ Qualls in a fairly serious role, at least at first, ditto for Tom Everett Scott, and all are indeed very impressive. It's almost enough to make us forget this is an Asylum production. I was very impressed, this show is good. The only thing I didn't like about it was the inclusion of a baby in the first episode, but even that exceeded expectations.

And on another note, also like "TWD," the term 'zombie' is rarely if ever used. Instead of walkers or biters, the undead on "Z Nation" are called Zs. Short but sweet. And worse than just being fast, they're smart, they think, they plan. "Z Nation" does not fool around. This is much better than anyone expected it to be. Worth watching for fans of the genre.

And if you'd like more of "The Walking Dead," check out my friend Marie Gilbert's reviews of the series here at Biff Bam Pop!, and more on "Z Nation" over at The Nerd Signal.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Beware the Batman: "Nexus"

Regular readers of my work at Biff Bam Pop! know that I recently wrote an overview of the most recent Batman animated series - "Beware the Batman." The show continues to air at the ungodly hour of 2:30 AM on the Cartoon Network late Saturday nights/early Sunday mornings. Thank goodness for DVRs.

A couple weeks back Batman finished a large story arc where he faced off against Ras Al Ghul and an odd assemblage of his foes
from the series. Circumstances of the conflict caused Alfred to leave, so now Batman and Katana are on their own. Onto this relatively clean slate we get the introduction of a classic Batman character and future villain, District Attorney Harvey Dent, who in the comics, after an unfortunate encounter with acid, becomes the sinister split personality Two-Face.

Here, in what is possibly the best episode of the series so far, "Nexus," Dent is the adversary and the force behind capturing the masked vigilante Batman. So simple, so pure, and so back to basics, I liked this a lot. Batman and Katana are working well as partners, Gordon is finally in place as Police Commissioner, the Bat-Signal is in use, and Dent is anti-Batman.

Speaking of the anti-Batman, Anarky is also here to play. Originally, in the comics, Anarky was a potential Robin, but here in "Beware the Batman," he is more like a subtle version of the Joker, with a bit less insanity, and wearing a cross between Batman's traditional costume and Moon Knight's.

This is an awesome episode, and a great introduction to the series if you're coming in late. And of course, you'll have to be coming in late because that when Cartoon Network airs it. Good stuff is coming, Metamorpho returns this weekend, and then, the Paul Kirk Manhunter!

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Joan Rivers 1933-2014

We lost Joan Rivers today. The award winning actress, producer, writer, director, hostess, and comedienne was 81. The star of stage, film, and television will be missed.

Joan Rivers has been around as long as I can remember. While still fairly young she first started showing up on Johnny Carson's "The Tonight Show" around the time I was born. She was always a hit, always hilarious. Later as the show entered its guest host phase, when Johnny would take weeks off at a time and they would have a fill-in for a week at a time, Joan rose to prominence.

I loved her stand-up and she interacted with guests almost as easily as Johnny. She was almost the designated guest host throughout most of the seventies and early eighties. Joan was always funny, sometimes later mean and funny, but always funny. Most of her jokes revolved around her husband Edgar, and her star shined bright.

Sadly her career turn a bad turn when she chose to go against Johnny as his competitor on the fledgling Fox network. The show, which eventually fell into the hands of Arsenio Hall, was not a good move. It's even been said that the stress of the show may have killed her husband. Joan drifted after that, falling into crazed and botched plastic surgery and hosting home shopping shows before she found a new career on the red carpet with the E! network.

Joan's meanness had tamed, and her face was nearly unrecognizable, but her presence and humor shone through as she, along with her daughter Melissa, interviewed celebrities on the entertainment channel.

I will still remember sneaking downstairs at 11:35 PM weeknights to see Joan's monologue on "The Tonight Show" as I also did with Johnny, and David Brenner, and Jerry Seinfeld, etc. I'll remember how much everyone wanted to see her movie Rabbit Test in eighth grade, and how bad it actually was. Joan was funny, and yes, she'll be missed.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

La Jetee

La Jetee ~ This is an interesting little film, and by little, I mean it. It's just under a half-hour long. Written and directed by Chris Marker, it was apparently the inspiration for 1995's 12 Monkeys. This is how I first encountered it. When 12 Monkeys was in theaters, I was working in a video rental store and everyone wanted to see the inspiration for the flick. Needless to say, there were not a lot of customers who were happy with this award-winning twenty-eight minute black and white art film from 1962. That's not to say its not good, let's just say it's different, and not what they expected.

La Jetee is almost exactly the stereotype we mainstream American movie goers think of when we think of a French film. It's arty, subtitled or dubbed (from two different languages), avant garde, hard to understand, and makes 1980s jeans commercials seem to have more depth. And then there's the weirdness of it not actually being a 'motion picture' at all - it's composed of all still shots with voiceover.

Want to give an unsophisticated American Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis fan a headache? Here you go, all in one half-hour package. I remember I had several customers raise a stink not wanting to pay for the rentals for reasons ranging from 'it's not a real movie' to the more direct 'it sucks.' Sorry, no refunds, even for this.

Not being what one would expect is not necessarily bad. La Jetee is just different, very different from 12 Monkeys, but thematically so however. We're still dealing with time travel, just not traditionally so, like its American cousin. In post-nuclear World War III Paris, scientists are trying to send people to the past and to the future in order to save their present, prevent the war, and save civilization. Paradoxes occur and our hero is on the run, haunted by a childhood memory, but eventually things come full circle in an ending that would make O. Henry smile.

If you remove 12 Monkeys from the equation and from your head, La Jetee can be quite compelling and you'll forget all the obstacles that may at first seem hard to get over. The twenty-eight minutes fly by as you're pulled into this world and this man's journey. Marker blends striking imagery with an intriguing storytelling style to create a startling vision. Worth seeing, those long ago video store customers didn't know what they were talking about.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The Eye of the Tiger

Jimi Jamison, the lead singer of Survivor, a mainstay of the eighties pop/rock scene, died yesterday of a heart attack at the age of 64.

While many who weren't there, listening to the radio or watching MTV, might believe Survivor was a one-hit wonder with their biggest hit, "Eye of the Tiger," the song of the summer of 1982 and the musical vibe of Rocky III, that just wouldn't be true. Several hits from Survivor came and went, unfortunately now unremembered, in the 1980s, like "High on You," "Burning Heart" (from Rocky IV), "I Can't Hold Back," "American Heartbeat," and "The Search Is Over."

After breaking up at the end of the decade, the band reunited four years later and continued on for quite some time. Jamison left the band, was replaced, and then returned later that same year of 2012. Survivor continues from then on with two lead singers.

Jimi was also the lead singer of Cobra before joining Survivor, and was also noted for writing the theme song of "Baywatch."