About Cylons OR Why I Haven’t Seen Battlestar Galactica Yet

Josh from Spiritual Musclehead told readers of that blog of his that you should ask me about Cylons. Well, to anyone who clicked on his link to here to learn about Cylons, well…

I haven’t actually SEEN Battlestar Galactica yet. Both the original short-lived ’70s show and the much more acclaimed ’00s remake have just somehow skipped my cultural radar.

But I DO know that Cylons are 2 different things in the 2 different shows. In the original, they’re just big, shiny, somewhat-fake-looking-but-in-that-cool-’70s-way robots.

In the newer one, the Cylons are built in human form and are thus able to infiltrate the enemy. So it’s kinda like the Pretenders from Transformers if you think about it.

So yeah, that’s about all I know about Cylons. You want more, look at this Wiki. And yes, in case you were wondering, there is in fact a Wiki for everything.

I guess the main reason I haven’t watched the show yet is cause it just doesn’t seem all that special to me. I mean, let’s look at the new show, for instance. Let’s see, people exploring space in a post-apocalyptic future? Seen that. Enemy robots infiltrating the humans in unsuspecting ways? They did that in Transformers 2 for crying out loud. And yes, I’m actually giving credit to Transformers 2 for something.

I don’t know, I guess the bottom line is, I just haven’t made time to see it because it doesn’t seem worth it to me. For science fiction, and especially a science fiction franchise, to interest me, it has to be grabbing and exciting in a new way and present something from an angle I never thought of before.

I’ll give you an example. Part of the reason the Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation terrified me and captivated me so much is their mission: they’re not like the Cybermen, who replaced their human bodies with cybernetic parts in order to survive. They’re ruthless predators who are out to make everyone in the universe part of their Collective. That’s interesting, unique, and speaks volumes at a variety of different levels.

Now, that’s not saying I won’t check it out eventually or that all my facts are correct. If anything, I’ll probably watch the ’00s remake first as it appears to have good special effects, pretty good acting, and was created and overseen by Ronald D. Moore, who’s one of my favorite TV writers due to his work on TNG.

But for now, I’m content to just let it slide.

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Welcome to SPIDER-MAN SUNDAY!

Hey folks,  time for the first reoccuring feature here on this blog: Spider-Man Sunday!

I’ve always been a fan of superheroes, and Spider-Man is definitely up there. So I figured I’d pay ol’  Webhead a weekly visit. Basically, every Sunday, I’ll be talking about two episodes of the classic ’90s Spider-Man: The Animated Series from Fox and an issue of Untold Tales of Spider-Man. Of course, seeing as how Untold Tales only lasted 19 issues, I’ll be switching to another series soon. But as I’m currently not reading Amazing Spider-Man, Avenging Spider-Man, or any of the several Spidey book out there, I think the comic part will be focusing more on limited or cancelled series.

First up, the cartoon. Now let me just say at first that these reviews will be criticism with a strong dollop of nostalgia. See, I was too young to watch this show on Fox Kids when it originally aired, but I have fond memories of watching it on ABC Family on the weekends when I was younger, so I still consider this show a cornerstone of my superhero love.

We begin with Season 1, Episode 2, “The Sting of the Scorpion.” I know that the real first episode of the series is “Night of the Lizard,” but I think I’ll save that for a time closer to the release date of May’s The Amazing Spider-Man film. Besides, seeing as how the series already began with Peter having his powers and in college, it’s safe to start here too.

This episode opens with Peter (Christopher Daniel-Barnes), while trying and failing to seduce Felicia Hardy (Jennifer Hale), noticing that some doughy-looking guy is trying to follow him. He ducks off, changes into Spider-Man, sees the guy run away, and, thinking it’s nothing, goes off to nab some thugs.

It turns out the chubby stalker is Mac Gargan, who’s been hired by Daily Bugle head J. Jonah Jameson (Ed Asner) to tail Peter to find out just how he gets those shots of Spider-Man. (Of course, during the fight with the thugs before this scene, we’re shown exactly how he does it: by webbing an automatic camera onto a nearby building) Gargan is voiced by Martin Landau, which came as a bit of a surprise to me. I mean, I haven’t seen a lot that Landau has been in, but he has a pretty recognizable voice and usually, it’s easy to spot celebrities from regular voice actors in animation. Furthermore, as the second episode of the series, it’s surprising that they got a guest star to play the villain so early in the run.

But more on Landau later. Gargan–a schlump of a man who’s been “picked on all [his] life” is taken by Jameson to see Dr. Stillwell (Michael Rye) at the genetics lab at Empire State University. Stillwell–a colleague of Dr. Curt Conners aka the Lizard–fuses Gargan’s DNA with that of a scorpion, restructuring his genetic code entirely as well as making him taller, muscular, and able to fit inside a special battlesuit with a tail that shoots highly corrosive acid. The scorpion is chosen because, Stillwell explains, a scorpion is the natural enemy of the spider.

The Scorpion announces himself and beats Spider-Man pretty hard with a water tower, but when he is about to unmask him, he starts mutating–a side effect of the radiation. Incensed, he kidnaps Jameson and heads to the Oscorp nuclear plant, in the hopes that unleashing the nuclear core will change him back to normal. He cares little for the fact that it will destroy New York entirely. Spidey comes in to wreck Gargan’s plan, and Jameson, wracked with guilt over the monster he has created, not only turns against the Scorpion, but even saves him from crushing Spider-Man.

I gotta say, overall, this is a good jumping point back into the show. The script by John Semper Jr. (the producer and story editor who wrote the majority of the show), Robert N. Skir, and veteranTransformers TV writer Marty Isenberg is nice and compact. Every character’s personality is instantly established within their introduction and the show moves along at a good solid clip, with some nice tension and pretty strong action sequences.

The animation is dated at times, particularly the CGI, but still very well-done. Much like the legendary ’60s Spider-Man cartoon (which you can find out more about here), this show does tend to go the cheap route and reuse animation footage. Really, though, it’s not all that noticeable. Another quibble I have is that what’s going on on the screen always doesn’t match what’s in the script.

For example, when Gargan first mutates, he moans “I’ve become a freak” and in a very sad tone. However, the animation over this bit of dialogue makes it seem like Gargan is still writhing in agony from his mutation. Some other bits are like that, but that’s the one I really remember as having a disconnect.

The cast is simply fantastic. Barnes is a fun and loose Spider-Man, and his voice matches the character so well that his is the voice that pops up in my head whenever I read a Spider-Man book. He does solid work, handling Spidey’s many famous quips in a way that never feels forced but always natural.

Martin Landau–again, very surprised to see him here–does a great job as Scorpion. He’s great as Max when he’s a sadsack, and even greater once Gargan turns into a roughneck villain. His was some nice guest casting. There is one quibble, though, and I suppose it’s not really Landau’s fault, but more the writers’.

Mac says repeatedly that no one is ever to call him names, but really, except for Spidey before the final takedown, no one ever actually calls him a time. Jameson refers to him as insane and crazy, but he uses them after the word “You’re,” so they’re not really names, but descriptors.

It’s a weird tic, but again, I’m just guessing it’s a fault of the writers’. It’s relatively minor. Overall, though, this is a well-done episode, particularly so early in the show.

Next up is Episode 3, “The Spider Slayers.” This episode not only is the first episode of many two-parters on this show, but also greatly expands the cast.

We open with Spidey, just web-swinging freely, only to be attacked by small flying camera-equipped robots that kind of resemble the Pokemon Staryu for some reason. He manages to elude and destroy all of them, much to the consternation of robotics expert Spencer Smythe and his wheelchair-bound son Alastair (Edward Mulhale and Maxwell Caulfield, respectively). Spencer created the robots, known as the Spider-Seekers, at the behest of Norman Osborn (Neil Ross), who is out to destroy Spider-Man. However, Osborn isn’t doing this for himself, but rather at the behest of Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin (Roscoe Lee Browne) who sees Spidey as a threat to the stability of his criminal empire. Fisk also has Osborn in a massive amount of debt, with Oscorp itself put up as collateral. So naturally, Osborn is up against the wall and sweating.

We see that Smythe has not only created Spider-Seekers, but also a giant mechanical spider, the Black Widow, to destroy Spider-Man. He does these things so that Osborn will build Alastair a hoverchair as he sees that the explosion that caused his son’s paralysis as his fault. The Black Widow is so tough that nothing other than corrosive acid can bore through it. We also find out that Daily Bugle reporter Eddie Brock (the future Venom, voiced by Hank Azaria) has been brought in by Osborn to cover the unmasking and destruction of Spider-Man

While all this is going on, Jameson, in conjuction with the Hardys–Felicia’s mother is a wealthy philanthropist–is hosting a charity ball at his home, with Peter having been hired as the photographer for the event. The conceit of the ball allows us to meet way more of the supporting cast: Flash Thompson (Patrick Labyorteaux), Harry Osborn (Gary Imhoff) and Joseph “Robbie” Robertson (Rodney Saulsberry). We also get to see a lot more of Aunt May (Linda Gary) then we did last episode.

Let me just say upfront, I am not a big fan of Aunt May’s character design. She not only seems far younger than the comics or even in Ultimate Spider-Man, but her hair and face just look weird. Gary’s performance is fine, but I can never really forgive the look.

Thompson is the perfect jerk we know and love, and Labyorteaux sells it. Flash’s conceit to dress up as Spidey and crash the party to confront Peter for dancing with Felicia–like the comics, Flash loathes Peter, but is a huge Spidey fan–first seems to go well, but when the Black Widow invades the party and mistakenly kidnaps Flash, his true cowardice is revealed. It’s a nice introduction to one of Peter’s biggest foils.

Of the Osborns, Harry doesn’t really have that much to do, but Norman is great here. His scheming and conniving are delivered expertly by Ross, and it sets up the character of Osborn quite nicely for what’s to come.

But my favorite villain here is undoubtedly Browne’s Kingpin. The late actor had a brilliant stentorian voice, honed by years of dramatic training and he is the Kingpin. Every word out of his mouth is golden. It’s an arresting performance, and much like Barnes’ Spider-Man, his is the voice I hear in my head whenever I read something with the Kingpin, particularly Brian Michael Bendis’ brilliant run on Daredevil.

Again, this is another great episode, and the ending offers a nice cliffhanger for the next episode. The charity ball conceit is a great way to introduce the show’s supporting cast. I really enjoyed Azaria’s Eddie Brock, as he managed to deliver a nice tough guy voice without sounding like a parody. It was also interesting that they set up the fact that Jameson owns a TV network, not just a newspaper, for which Eddie Brock reports. It’s a nice touch and provides a way for Jameson to say at the end, “The other networks are laughing at me, Brock! Even Fox!” Nice dig, that.

It’s nice to see that so early, we’re seeing all the background for Spidey’s major villains crop up. This is gonna be a fun series to rewatch.

All right, now for the third part of our inaugural Spider-Man Sunday: Untold Tales of Spider-Man #1!

The cover to "Untold Tales of Spider-Man" #1

I know this is kind of an odd series to start out with, but hear me out. First off, it’s set in the early days of Spider-Man’s career, similar to where we’re at with the show. Second, it has a quality creative team in the form of writer Kurt Busiek (best known for Marvels) and penciller Pat Olliffe (Spider-Girl). Third, it’s not very long, and, like I said above, seeing as how I’m not reading any current Spider-Man titles, I thought this would be a nice series to ease in for this feature.

Anyway, issue #1, “To Serve And Protect?” opens with Spidey in the midst of a rooftop fight with the Scorcher, a man in a exosuit that protects him from the flamethrowers he wields, and his flameproof-suit wearing henchman. In the midst of the fight, we hear Spidey’s inner monologue which contains a lot of bits similar to his thoughts in the beginning of “The Sting of the Scorpion,” right down to his line, “Web shooters, I love you!” Kind of funny how that works.

After some general backstory and a scene where Peter hands Jameson pictures of the fight only to be told Spidey and Scorcher will be branded as partners in crime by the Bugle, Peter heads off in costume to the NYPD, where he meets Captain Stacy, explaining that he wants to be made a cop “or a special deputy or something.” Stacy says the only way that could work is if Spidey unmasks and goes through the police academy; knowing full well that that can’t be done, Peter leaves.

After giving his paycheck to Aunt May to pay for bills and heart medicine, Peter hears a radio report about the Scorcher reappearing and hijacking an Oscorp chemical plant. He runs off under false pretenses, races to the plant and discover that while Stacy and the cops have the plant surrounded, they’ve left an opening for the Scorcher and his man to escape undetected.

Peter breaks into the building and engages the Scorcher. After a brutal fight (while the papers the villain hijacked are safe in a flameproof briefcase), Peter manages to bring a water tower down on the burning building, preventing the chemical storage tanks from blowing up and causing chaos.

The Scorcher and his men are apprehended, but Spidey is chewed out by Captain Stacy for botching their investigation. It is revealed that the Scorcher is known to be working for someone, and that gap Peter noticed in the blockade was left purposely in hopes that they would be led to the real mastermind. Thanks to Peter’s heroic efforts, that can’t happen. However, Stacy defends Peter for doing his “civic duty.” Nonetheless, Peter is left disillusioned and convinced that things have to be done his own way.

“To Serve And Protect?” is a great way to kick off this series. It has that same reckless, action-packed vibe of the original Stan Lee-Steve Ditko run. Indeed, the letter column in the back of this issue reveals that Untold Tales takes place between the gaps of the Lee-Ditko run; this issue takes place shortly after Amazing Spider-Man #6,  the first appearance of the Lizard. Again, funny how things work out.

Far from being just a rewrite of ’60s Marvel (like the purely awful Marvel Age Fantastic Four written by Sean McKeever), Busiek seizes the opportunity to inject ancient Marvel history with the great sense of story and awesome character voice that has made him one of my favorite comic book writers. He makes everybody sound just as fresh today as they did back in 1963.

Olliffe’s pencils, despite some strange goofs, are really impressive overall. He has a nice flourish that makes this book seem as chaotic as New York itself. His Spidey designs are really nice and he swaps out Ditko’s square Peter head for a more angular design which further accentuates his awkwardness.

Overall, this is a great opening issue to what will hopefully be a great series that’s half nostalgic throwback/half brand new tales. Color me excited!

OK folks, that’s it for our inaugural SPIDER-MAN SUNDAY! I hope you enjoyed it and will stick with me as I keep this feature going, as well as some other features I plan to launch pretty soon.

Hope you have a nice week and Spidey sez “Keep swingin’ web-heads!”

Bender’s Big Score–Retrospective Review (Also, BEDA!)

A while back, I rewatched the 2007 direct-to-DVD film Bender’s Big Score. It was the first trip back to the year 3000 that fans of the great TV show Futurama had taken in four years, since the show’s unceremonious cancellation in 2003.

It’s not my favorite of the four Futurama films that Matt Groening, David X. Cohen and co. made, but I was excited to see it again. Recently, I’ve gotten a great number of my friends hooked on the show itself. Our idea of a good Saturday night is pizza from Papa John’s and marathons consisting of the first four season boxsets of the show on DVD. We have a lot of fun, and even though I’ve seen all the episodes multiple times, I still get a kick out of my friends seeing it for the first time and I find myself more able to laugh.

I warned them that going in that the film would be a little more risque then the show. There’s 2 reasons for this: 1. Being direct-to-DVD, it didn’t have to conform to broadcast network standards because of the fact that Comedy Central–a cable channel–was financing production and 2. Because Comedy Central eventually aired this and the other three films (The Beast With A Billion Backs, the aforementioned Bender’s Game, and Into The Wild Green Yonder) on TV, they allowed the production stuff to make sure it had the same freedom as their other programming, though not quite at South Park levels.

So yeah, first time I’ve seen the film in 5 years; how does it hold up? Well, I mean, it’s Futurama, man. It’s great!

See, unlike The Simpsons, Futurama, mostly because of its futuristic setting, has always been relatively timeless. By having to keep up with current trends in society and culture, The Simpsons can become dated pretty quickly simply by the fact that it takes 8 months to animate a single episode. (The show now really isn’t that dated, but some episodes of the series’ middle seasons are pretty easy to groan at when you see them in syndication.)

Futurama takes just as long–possibly longer due to the amount of CGI used–but because of its setting and commitment to out-there SF, the pilot can feel just as fresh today just as it did on Dec. 31, 1999. The film is just as smart and great today, even if the creators do make some weird choices.

The film involves a copious amount of time-travel, nude scammer aliens who take over Planet Express, and the mystery of how a tattoo of Bender wound up on Fry’s butt.

There are instances where it feels like the creators reveled a little bit too much in their freedom at being direct-to-DVD, but they’re minor and this film is well worth watching.

However, it does have some issues. The whole thing with aliens that exclusively deal in e-mail spam felt a bit out-of-touch but it’s done well, particularly by David Herman as the lead baddie Nudar. The regular characters are just as they were in the classic run of the show and there’s even some surprise cameos that call out to the show’s history.

I liked seeing this film again and my friends, for the most part, enjoyed it. Though they did get a little mad at me because of the bawdiness of some material.

But I say “Hey, if you were given an opportunity to bring your labor of love back to life, wouldn’t you want to take things as far as you could, just to stick it to the haters?”

I know I would.

So yeah, this is the first entry for BEDA, which, according to the Internet, is Blog Every Day In April. So yeah, hopefully, I can do that and start posting with some regularity for the five (ten?) of you that read this.

Also, there’s a new theme! Yay for new themes!

Review–Awake-S1E1, “Pilot”

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There’s a sense of trepidation going into the pilot for Awake. “ANOTHER cop show on TV? And there’s a weird mystery behind it?” your embittered TV viewer might say in scorn. But Awake stands out from the many murder-of-the-week dramas not just because of its central conceit, but also in the way it carries regular cop show elements.

The plot is pretty easily spelled out in the show’s promos: L.A. detective Michael Britten (Jason Issacs), his wife Hannah (Laura Allen) and son Rex (Dylan Minnette) get in a car accident. We’re not really shown the details of the accident other than the terrified reactions of the Brittens as the car goes out of control. The accident is the vantage point in Michael’s life, splitting him off into two separate realities. In one, Hannah survived the crash but Rex is dead. In the other reality, it’s the opposite.

This dual-worlds trick has the potential to get confusing real fast, but creator Kyle Killen (of the much-lauded but quickly canned Lone Star), who also wrote the pilot episode, has devised several tricks to keep things clear. In the world with Hannah, Michael wears a red rubber band on one wrist, is partnered with a younger detective, Efram Vega (Wilmer Vanderrama) and, as recommended by the LAPD, is seeing the somewhat aggressive psychologist Dr. Lee (B.D. Wong). In the Hannah-less world, he wears a green rubber band, is still paired with his longtime partner Isaiah Freeman (Steve Harris) and sees the more caring Dr. Evans (Cherry Jones). Additionally, director David Slade shoots the two worlds in different tones: the one with Hannah bright and light-filled, the one with Rex more subtle and muted. Marks like that help keep the less-attentive viewer on track.

This may be “just” a pilot, but everyone brings their A-game here. Issacs—a British actor best known to Americans as Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films—is the biggest standout. He makes Britten feel not only like a weathered, beaten detective, but a man haunted by grief and the unbearable choice he finds himself confronted with: choosing whether to let his wife slip away or his son. Issacs makes sure we see Britten as the beaten-down man that he is, somehow embodying the shoes of every iconic TV gumshoe before him, yet making him seem contemporary as anything.

The rest of the case is pretty good too, particularly Wong (aka Dr. Haung from Law & Order: SVU, which he jumped ship from to join this show) and Jones as the therapists. Their approaches to Michael—both different, yet firmly rooted in the conceit that their patient is dreaming the respective other world—contrast just enough to create tension, but you can still see they both believe in the same cause.

Vanderrama makes you forget all about that foreign exchange student from That 70s’ Show instantly. In his hands, the detective Vega is just that—a detective, no-nonsense, no frills, just a guy working his beat. Not much is revealed here, but hey, it is just a pilot. I’m sure we’ll see more revealed in the future. As for Britten’s other partner, Freeman, Steve Harris plays him with just as much weariness as Issacs plays Britten. Their banter isn’t so much banter as the sort of easy talking you do with a guy you not only work with but are friends with too. Freeman’s line, “Come on, you know I’ve had a cold since the Clinton Administration,” in response to Michael asking if he smells something, comes to mind.

The cop show elements in this episode–a killer of cabbies with a disguise penchant in the Hannah world, a missing child in the Rex world–jell really well with the show’s other elements. In both cases, we get a sense that Michael is an experienced detective, no matter who he’s partnered with and the sheer nature of the cases themselves felt appropriate in their respective settings. The way both cases are resolved is arresting, and I never lost track of the developments in either case. A key point–one that I think the show will emphasize as the series goes on–is that the same number has a huge meaning in both cases, and is what enables Michael to solve them both, further demonstrating his prowess.

Of Britten’s family,  I really got a better sense of who Hannah was then I did Rex. In part, that’s because more time is really spent exploring the connection between Hannah and Michael, and Allen does a suburb job giving us a glimpse at who she is and it’s mesmerizing. Don’t get me wrong, Minnette does a good job as Rex—his breakdown at winning a tennis match, a sport his mom excelled at, is heartrending—but I don’t remember that much of him otherwise. Hopefully, future episodes will correct this imbalance.

There’s actually one more character I forgot to mention and that’s Tara (Michaela McManus), Rex’s tennis coach, who the show’s promotional materials (and Wikipedia page) reveal will become the object of Michael’s attraction. While I did find Tara an enjoyable character, this future infatuation could go the route of many despised TV romances of old, but I have enough faith in McManus’ gutsy, funny portrayal for that fear to be allayed.

So overall, this pilot episode was a very strong start to a promising series. Awake (aside from the stellar and superb Community, which comes back March 15) will now make me tune in to NBC every Thursday night for as long as it’s on the air. I’m a sucker for good alternate realities, and that, coupled with the comforting beat of a cop show and a remarkable lead performance from Isaacs, is something I think TV viewers will love.

Y’know what? I’m gonna go right ahead and link you to the pilot on Hulu. Go ahead and watch it. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Hello there!

Hello, Internet.

How are you? I am doing quite well, thank you.

All right, well, let’s get this started. Basically, what this blog is is a place for me to post my opinions on things and reviews of things. I know that sounds like every other blog in existence on these glorious Internets, but bear with me.

I am highly opinionated–hence the name of the blog. I also like writing reviews–a lot. I think they’re fun to do and enjoy writing them and sharing them with people. I’ve actually reviewed books and other things for various websites before. I may post those just to show you or as I get lazy and don’t update. We’ll see.

Anyway, a real post will follow soon. So don’t worry.
By the way, just to give you an idea of my vantage point, I am a freshman in an American college. So yeah, not a professional writer or middle-aged housewife or anything like that. Just a kid who loves spreading his thoughts.

Anyway, like I said, real post to follow soon. Stay tuned!