Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Ark Addendum - The Ultimate Doom (part one)

The Ultimate Doom - a three part episode with an epilogue. Certainly one of the largest Transformers stories told.  And yet, it starts so small, a simple Decepticon attack on a solar power station. It was a very slick move on the part of the writers to structure the story this way. It lulls the audience into a false sense of complacency. Of course, the story would soon take many twists and turns, but these are the models that get things started.

Incidentally, I'm really glad that I was able to track down the model pack for The Ultimate Doom. Quite a lot of those models found their way into The Complete Ark, including a full page devoted to the Decepticon undersea headquarters.  I also rather liked the drill on the hood of Brawn's vehicle mode, and was happy to be able to slip that in. 

Monday, March 29, 2010

Post No Bills -by Bill Forster

The Man Named Bullethead

Thursday morning (March 25th) my friend John McGarr was struck down by a drunk driver and killed. John was a good friend of mine and I felt it important to say something about him.

John made appearances in such movies as "Escape from LA" and "American History X". He also had a reoccurring character on "Talkshow with Spike Feresten." Aside from acting John had started a production company in Hollywood called My Way Productions. His brother Eban McGarr is a writer/director who made a cool horror film called "Sick Girl" and then went on to make the very awesome "House of the Wolfman."Both movies John acted in and produced. He was promoting "House of the Wolfman" when the accident occurred. He had traveled out to Indianapolis to a horror film convention and early Thursday morning was walking down the road when a car hit him. I had last seen John less than two weeks prior at my my birthday party. John was hopeful about the future of the production company and as always was in good spirits telling jokes. It's strange to me that I can place a link here to a news program that will explain the circumstances. News Segment Here.

John was one of the first people I met upon moving to California. Like me, he too was born in Queens, New York. I will remember John for a strange situation we both were in a few years back. I pride myself at having a strange life filled with odd stories and this certainly fits the bill (or Bill).

John took me out for drinks in a place called Marina Del Rey. I am a bit of a reptile nut and he knew this cool bar that raced turtles for charity. We had a few drinks and watched the cute girls race the turtles and eventually went for a bit across the street at the IHOP. John had sat facing the large window looking out onto the parking lot. At a point in our meal John stood up abruptly and stated that there was a fight in the lot. He was the type of guy that would jump in and break up a fight. The two of us ran out in to the dark parking lot to see if we can help. As we came out the door a large chain with pad lock attached whizzed inches from our faces. A madman screaming profanity and wielding chain stood spinning the weapon like Mjöllnir above his head.

His goal was to beat a well dress gentleman who had come out of the bar across the street where we had just been. The well dressed man was young and clearly nervous. He pleaded with the madman to stand down and leave him alone. From what I gathered the well dressed man had no previous altercation with the madman, just the bad luck of walking past him. John and I took a step back to avoid getting hit with the chain and in that moment the madman stepped forward toward the well dressed man and stabbed him. Blood began to gush from the man's belly as he grabbed is gut and fell to his knees. The madman ran. We tried to help the well dressed man but unfortunately the only thing anyone thought to do was apply pressure and try to keep him awake. He laid down on the ground and died.

The ambulance got there in seconds after he passed. John and I stood for hours answering question for the police. We walked up and down the streets looking for the madman and/or the chain or blade he used in the assault. Finally the police got word that they had seen a man laying in the back of a pick up truck just down the road from where we were. We hoped into a police car and the officer drove us to a used car lot. We confirmed that was the murderer. I spent the rest of the evening sitting on a bench in the police station giving statements. Oddly, on his way home the Police stopped John. Apparently he walked from one jurisdiction in to another. John is a big guy and his tattoos and biker look can be a little...scary. The police ask him what he was doing this late at night walking around the street. John not realizing they were from another police department assumed they knew about the stabbing. John calmly said, "I am coming from the murder." Needless to say, John had a lot more explaining to do that night. He and I have been to court several times trying to put the madman away for good. The case is still pending.

John leaves behind his incredibly talented brother Eban McGarr and is sister-in-law Jennie. (Who is without any exaggeration the most awesome girl ever.) I am fortunate to be good friends with them both and it is through them I came to know the man I was introduced to as Bullethead. Please take a moment to check out these links to John's work and if you have the opportunity to see "House of the Wolfman" please do. John was very proud of it and honestly it's really cool.

House of the Wolfman trailer

Sick Girl trailer
John's IMDb page

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Review: War of the Worlds, the series ep 18

The Last Supper is the eighteenth episode of War of the Worlds, the series. Rather unforgivably, it's a clips episode. The framing story is that several of the nations of the world have gathered in Philadelphia to discuss the alien menace. Our team spends a lot of time telling them about past exploits. The aliens catch wind of this gathering and attempt to eliminate the opposition. Our heroes manage to repulse the full-on alien attack that commences, leaving them more determined than ever to defend their world.

The Good: If you're going to do a clips episode, at least they chose to use it to widen the scope of the conflict.  Previously, we'd seen the Soviets become aware of the aliens in Epiphany, but now it's somewhat more global.

Speaking of, the Soviet intelligence agent who outs the alien among the representatives of Earth was another well-done character. The show always managed to be aware of the Cold War while keeping with the theme that the Aliens are the real threat, enough to make old enemies put aside their differences.

Also, all the security, especially at the beginning of the episode, was nice. You definitely got the sense that the government was trying REALLY hard to keep everyone involved safe. Multiple checkpoints, heat sensors, hand scans, etc. It failed, but A for effort.

It was nice to see Sergeant Coleman and Omega Force back so soon after their introduction. They did well, but not TOO well, against the alien assault.

The alien attack on their position was weird and makeshift, like almost everything the aliens do. We see a convoy of trucks and vans getting loaded up with weapons, then roll out to the Elementary School where the secret meeting is taking place. It makes sense, the aliens would have relatively easy access to trucks and little access to tanks. Then we see apparently ordinary looking people running up to do battle, which again tracks. They have no need to steal the bodies of soldiers - any human can be an alien soldier.  It's also quite big, with plenty of props and extras. 

The Bad: I mean, it's a clips episode. I don't know if it was mandated by the studio to make the show more accessible to new viewers, of if they wanted a huge attack and the only way they could afford it was with a bunch of clips, but it's a big disappointment.

There's also a big missed opportunity. Katya, from the aforementioned Epiphany, left Harrison to go to Russia to fight aliens. She'd have been great in this episode. Even if they couldn't get her, the KGB agent was established as a 'last minute substitution' from the original representative. It'd have been trivially easy to establish that he took Katya's place. Heck, it's a clips episode, you could have SHOWN her scenes with Blackwood.

Did I mention that it's a clips episode? Ugh.

The Ugly: Well, nothing much more than alien corpses, but at least there were a lot of them!

So, overarching thoughts on this episode? What a waste. A very weak premise, with a merely adequate execution. There's little to recommend it.  

War of the Worlds - The Complete First Season  is available for purchase on DVD if you care to check it out. Thankfully, this episode is hardly representative.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Review: Marvel G1 #47: Club Con!

Club Con! is the forty-seventh issue of the US G1 Marvel Transformers series.  It's also the first issue of the four-issue Underbase saga.  It was written by Bob Budiansky, drawn by José Delbo, inked by David Hunt, lettered by Bill Oakley and colored by Nel Yomtov. The cover is a Budiansky, with Kevin Nowlan.

It's a lovely cover, one of my favorites. Jesse swims away from Overbite, who's all mechanical jaws. It's evocative of a classic thriller movie, and the contrast of the green sea works well for our pale heroine and the dark Decepticon pursuing her. Great detailing on the mechanical jaw.  "Assault of the Savage Seacons!" it proclaims, letting us know who these baddies are.  It's a real winner.

The story itself is more mixed. It opens, perplexingly, with Starscream landing in front of a family of humans.  "Hi, I'm Starscream. Fly me!" he says, and we get some ad copy about a tropical vacation.  Incongruously, we're told that this is the beginning of a four-part epic, the Underbase Saga!. I'm skeptical, but ok. After another page of advertising, we cut to the Autobots. Optimus Prime is back on Earth, and Fortress Maximus and Grimlock are subordinate to him. Thus, we immediately establish the new status quo. Grimlock seems particularly stupid this issue; maybe they lobotomized him as punishment or something. The Autobots figure this is some kind of elaborate cover story, but when Buster shows up as the 'king' of the island, they decide that they have to find out what the 'Cons are up to.  Prime knows just the Autobot for the job ... Blaster! All told, it's a really awkward sequence. Bob tries his best to sell the idea of the resort, but it doesn't jive with the paranoid, anti-robot sentiment he's worked so hard to build. After meandering around for a few issues with bikers and carnivals, it feels like we're missing a necessary step in the story; the actual return of Optimus Prime to his troops.

We next see Blaster, training with a bunch of Autobots (and, um, Runamuck.) He's as bad-ass as ever, and looking forward to his new mission; infiltrating the resort with the help of Sparkplug. Sparkplug has, of course, sworn off having anything to do with the Transformers, but he'll do whatever it takes for his son. Jesse, though, thinks that she'll fit in better due to her age. So, off they go! While it's nice to see Jesse again, the logic doesn't seem to be there. Why not send Spike, rather than drag Jesse (or Sparkplug) into the conflict again?

We're treated to a brief interlude between Starscream and Ratbat. Starscream has become Ratbat's new second in command, and he seems to be much closer to his cartoon self. Since Grimlock does as well, one wonders if Bob had recently rented The Transformers: The Movie. I love the body language on Starscream, it just oozes casual disrespect. The seeds of the arc are being planted here, one can immediately tell.

Starscream goes off to greet the newest arrivals, including Jesse and her radio. Blaster cautions her to stay out of it now, but she decides to go snooping around and finds the Seacons, scouring the ocean floor. When she finds an undersea tunnel into the 'Con base, she comes back with Blaster to instigate. Together they find Buster, chained to his chair. Blaster bemoans being unable to help him, due to the small room restricting his Transformation. Buster does tell them about what his captors are after; two Autobot cassettes containing important information. This, too, makes little sense, since the Autobots on Cybertron had no idea there were Autobots on Earth. If they did, why not mount a rescue? The cassettes were damaged and wound up in a pirate's treasure chest, which in turn ended up on the ocean floor.

As Jesse and Buster start to leave, the Seacons emerge from the tunnel with the chest. Talk about good timing! Jesse waits till they're not looking and grabs the Autobots. Ratbat almost immediately notices something amiss and sends the Seacons to retrieve the cassettes.  They emerge on the beach and begin firing into the crowd, prompting Blaster to take a stand. Him being the uber-tough Autobot that he is, he manages to hold his own for a bit, until a little kid runs up to him. This distraction proves enough to get him shot, and he has little choice but to spit out the cassettes into the ocean. When the Seacons move to retrieve it, he switches back to his boom-box configuration. This, too, is of course absurd. How could no one see Blaster transform back? How could not one of six Seacons keep an optic on him?

The Decepticons send the humans home, apologizing for the 'incident'  Jesse apologizes to Blaster for messing everything up, as well she should. Blaster absolves her, though, since thanks to her they know how important the cassettes are. When Starscream implores the humans to come back and visit again, Blaster vows that it'll be sooner than the Decepticons think. Of course, they already had an inkling of this before she gave away their position, so really she did just screw things up.

Overall, it's fairly lackluster. The art is competent, generally nothing too inspired but at least there's nothing wrong with it. (Delbo had fun drawing pirates, though! He gave more energy to this panel than any other in the book.)  It's not even the logical flaws that hold the issue back, though those are plentiful.  It's that there's no soul to the story.  Sadly, I find this issue to have much less wit or charm than the issues immediately preceding it. There aren't even many good character moments to punch things up.  Starscream is the one true gem of the issue.  Even Blaster, who Budiansky normally writes with such aplomb, feels very rote here.I want to enjoy it as the first part of some kind of epic, but it feels a lot more like some sort of prelude than like a worthy chapter in its own right. He's building to something big not because the story calls for it, but because we're approaching issue 50. I think the burn-out is really starting to show.

Next month, "Optimus Prime vs Megatron!"  Whu? Also, we get "The secrets of the Autobot tapes revealed! And more Robots than you can shake a microchip at!" Sound intriguing. Club Con! is the opening chapter of IDW's  Classic Transformers Volume 4, a great book with a large variety of stories.  Order yours today!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A tip of the hat ...

... to my good friend Hydra. He helped put together The Ark II, providing a ton of models and fact-checking all my assertions about continuities that I wasn't 100% conversant with.  He's also helping out a bit with the Almanac II, so thanks for that!

Anyway, Hydra one of those really interesting people who I feel fortunate to have in my life. He's a permanent resident of Japan, where he stars in film and television.  He's figuratively (and literally - the man is over 6'5) Big in Japan.  He sent me an awesome photo that I wanted to share, depicting him coincidentally bumping into and advertisement featuring himself when out with his girlfriend's family.  Good timing!

So, congratulations on all your success, Hydra! 

And, for some Transformers news, I just learned that I have a bit more time to work on the Alamanc, so I should also have a bit more time for blogging.  Expect more reviews soon!

Finally, my pals over at the moonbase2 podcast scored an interview with Townsend Coleman, the voice of Sentinel Prime, The Tick, Michelangelo, and Must See TV. The man is an all-around class-act, and gives two hours of his time to these gentlemen.  He's insightful, friendly and gives a might "SPOOOOOOOOON!!!!!," so give it a listen. Pay attention at the one hour and eighteen minute (or so) mark.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Transformers: Headmasters – "Return Of The Immortal Emperor"

Chromedome: The Decepticons have become more cunning since Galvatron disappeared.
Fortress: Scorponok is hideously cruel.
Hardhead: Damn it! Which planet are they going to target next?
Highbrow: They know how dangerous it is.
Chromedome: You're naive. Scorponok is obsessed with vengeance.
Fortress: Reinforce the patrols. We have to know everything they are planning.

Following the devastating destruction of the planet Mars, Arcee and Spike investigate the aftermath, piloting through the debris aboard Broadside's aircraft carrier mode. They return to Athenia and report to Fortress that the area is on the verge of becoming dangerous, moreso if another planet is destroyed in the solar system. They all set on patrol immediately to monitor for Decepticon activity.

Meanwhile, Daniel and Wheelie playfully argue outside about whether Fortress or Scorponok is stronger before seeing a strange, multi-colored light in the sky, which then rockets past them. Arcee reports this "UFO sighting" to Fortress, who promises security checks of the area. Unknown to Fortress and the others, Chromedome and Hardhead have snuck away to the battleship's outer hatches, planning their own sneak attack on the Decepticon HQ on Charr.

On Charr, Scorponok receives word from double-agent Counterpunch that Fortress is patrolling nearby. We see Ravage and Laserbeak watch this conversation from elsewhere and they decide to "warn the boss", i.e. Soundblaster. Yes indeed, Ravage and Laserbeak do surprisingly speak to each other in this scene, contrary to their former, silent selves in the US series. However, one could look back to part two of the original mini-series for an instance of Ravage reporting his findings in plain English to Megatron, by way of playback in Soundwave's tapedeck mode. Perhaps they always possessed this ability, but simply never had much to talk about?

Back in space, Chromedome and Hardhead travel on their own towards Charr, but soon are hiding behind nearby asteroids as they notice Blitzwing out for a reconnaissance flight. Next they see Scorponok heading right towards and find themselves trapped by Blitzwing coming back around. Weirdwolf and Skullcruncher emerge from Scorponok and in a brief scuffle they send Chromedome and Hardhead back across space, crashing into Fortress.

Back on Charr, Soundblaster is leading a mysterious meeting with his cassettes:

Ravage: Don't get carried away by what they're up to.
Soundblaster: Don't worry. I have many veteran information gatherers like yourself.
Laserbeak: We're all working very hard on it.
Soundblaster: So you'll be digging up some important new information, then, won't you?
Laserbeak: When you say important...?
Ravage: We're in the thick of fighting as we speak.
Soundblaster: If we go to Earth, there'll be some of them around. Let's go!

Above Charr, Fortress, unable to charge enough energy to use the Master Sword, is being battered by Scorponok. Just as it seems he will be beaten, the strangely lit UFO races by and in between the two of them, allowing Fortress to escape. Once the Autobots return safely to Athenia, we find Daniel channeling 1977's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" with his keyboard, tapping in notes in hopes of attracting the odd spacecraft. It actually did make me laugh that the writers included this reference, as he even states that he "saw it in a movie"!

At the Decepticon HQ on Earth, Soundblaster meets covertly in the dark with Sixshot, who intuits that he is about to hear some bad news. Suddenly, the glowing UFO appears before them, Sixshot challenges it verbally and looks to be completely absorbed by the light. When it fades, Soundblaster finds he is alone.

Meanwhile, Cyclonus and Scourge report to an impatient Scorponok that "all preparations have been made for the ceremony" and that all Decepticon leaders are requested to attend, then ply him with bold statements of how he will one day be ruler of the entire universe. This is no doubt the bad news that Soundblaster was prepared to deliver to Sixshot before the latter disappeared. We see this same news delivered by Counterpunch to Fortress and Twincast, with further details that the Decepticons are now headed towards Earth's moon. Not to blow it up, as initially feared, but for Scorponok's coronation as emperor.

On the Moon, in the Sea of Silence, a stadium has been constructed for the coronation, since we all know that the Decepticons, like all good villains, love the showy pomp and circumstance. Cyclonus announces Scorponok, who then addresses the crowd that he is the new emperor, prepared to destroy both Fortress and the Autobots HQ on Earth. Just then, his coronation is disrupted by Fortress himself, bearing down on the Moon. Scorponok commands the Decepticons to spring into battle and they are met Headmasters, Trainbots, Superion, Computron and Defensor.

During a brief pause in the action, Soundblaster arrives and attempts to gain Scorponok's attention, but the mysterious UFO descends quickly, shooting beams of light at both Transformer armies. Sixshot materializes from the light, before it dissipates completely, revealing a fierce looking spaceship. It lands and from within it emerges… Galvatron.

All parties are shocked and almost speechless at his return, Scorponok most especially looking humbled and distraught. Galvatron rallies the Decepticons to attack the Autobots and they are driven from the Moon in defeat. Afterwards we discover that he had been watching from afar:

Galvatron: It seems you can't govern yourselves when I'm not around, Scorponok.
Scorponok: At least we're making an effort...
Galvatron: Am I not welcome back?
Scorponok: What are you saying? Lord Galvatron, why didn't you show yourself sooner?
Galvatron: I was observing. I wanted to see what had happened in my absence. I saw a lot. It seems everything's ready.
Cyclonus: In fact...well...we were awaiting your return.
Galvatron: Scorponok, Sixshot has told me of your achievements. Your skills seem to have improved. But now that I'm back, I'll take charge. Galvatron is emperor of the Decepticons.

And so with that exchange, Galvatron continues his prediliction for interrupted the coronation of others who decide they should rule the Decepticon forces. At least he didn't blast Scorponok to dust! I guess he figured he was much more useful to keep around than Starscream ever was, but nevertheless this episode surprisingly brought a seemingly swift end to Scorponok's time as ultimate leader. It's a pretty nifty episode, ending with an Autobot retreat, following upon their effective loss on Mars and thus giving the Decepticons a better string of victories than they've experienced for some time.

Soundblaster and Sixshot seemed to have soured on the new leadership, so perhaps it is to their advantage that the former emperor returns. I find it interesting that the writers of this series, who had quickly moved most of last season's cast to the benches, brought Galvatron back to the forefront. I guess it's really hard to argue against the fierce charisma and intensity his character brings to the show, whether now or as Megatron!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Repo Men interview: Director Miguel Sapochnik

Last month, I teased my interview with Repo Men director Miguel Sapochnik. This week, with the premiere rapidly approaching, Universal Studios has cleared me to publish it here.  In case you can't tell from my questions, I REALLY liked the film, so it was a real thrill for me to be able to speak with Miguel.  Without further ado:

Ok, let’s start with your background.  Who is Miguel Sapochnik and what makes him tick?
That has numerous answers. Really depends who's asking. The short (ha) formal answer is Argentinean parents, Polish and Russian descent, born and bred in London. Art background, wanted to make movies since i was eleven. It took twice that long to actually make one. Was storyboard artist for some years. Used to paint murals in England, the states and do concept art for films. Went to Bournemouth film school for one year at 21 and then worked as commercials director for three years, then music videos for four years until i made the dreamer with Ivor Powell (one of Ridley Scotts line producers on alien, blade runner) and sold the pitch to Miramax for a feature version which never happened. Been working as director/writer ever since.

Repo men is one of the smartest films I’ve had the pleasure to see in quite some time.  How did you come to be involved with it?
I was sent the script in 2004 and met writers Eric Garcia and garret learner based on that. We got along but the story was one that was hard to imagine it ever being made. I put it into the 'nice idea' pile but after three months i realized i was still thinking about it and so asked to meet again and that's how i got involved. We developed the script for a few years mainly working on the ending and tightening until in 2006 Jude Law read and asked for a meeting and that's when the ball really got rolling.

The movie has been in post-production for quite a while.  What motivated that? How different will the film be from the version that i saw?
The film has evolved a fair bit i imagine from when you saw it but it's essentially the same story just a bit more Hollywoodized which in part is what kept it in post for so long. Our first cut was maybe more of a satire and the later cuts while more effective in many ways were more of the Hollywood version of the movie. That said, at its core it's an anti corporation movie and that has not been removed so it still feels quite different from the usual Hollywood fare.

It’s said that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy; what’s changed from when you first looked at the script until now?
Its not as funny or maybe the humor is more buried. The character of Remy is not quite as insane as he was. You sacrifice bits and pieces along the way to survive the experience of making a movie in Hollywood and hope that when all the dust settles you have kept enough to retain the integrity of the original idea. It seems this is the way of the world and at the end of the day, it's their money they're giving me to live out the most expensive therapy session you can imagine so i can hardly complain.... Actually i can, but I'm not going to.

The film had a number of extremely clever moments, but what really stood out in my mind were the advertisements.  Was that an element in the original script, or did it come about later?
Advertisements were always in the script in some form. They went through many iterations as advertising style is like a fickle fashion and quickly moves on.  We needed to update the ideas but a page was taken from robocop which i admire for many reasons. We worked with an advertising  company called goodness manufacturing who treated us as a regular client and wrote a number of great ad scripts to really identify the world in which our movie would take place, from union (the artiforg manufacturer) ads to local commercials for deodorant. It was about using the commercials to sometimes subtly and sometimes not so subtly reflect the state of this future world. Ultimately there was no place for them in the final film other than as background moments which i lament as i am very proud of what we did but as the cut changed and the tone became a little less humorous, they stood out as tonally wrong. Anyway just this last week we put together a union store website that has just gone up  (www.theunioncares.com). It features most of the commercials we made. Some are well hidden in the site and require a bit of digging, but i'm very glad they are being used to help build the world as part of the marketing campaign.

I found the sequence at the airport to strain the reality of the film. It’s one thing to have the union hunting fugitives, it’s another to have them have a presence as part of the security force at an airport.  Any comment on that? 
Not really. In the final cut there is a clear distinction between the repo men and the TSA guards. The repo men are in plain clothes and just stand around at airport security pinging (scanning) anyone in the line. They are not part of the system but they are clearly exercising their right to focus their work on a place where their property may be being taken from them illegally. Not so dissimilar to military recruiting outside college campuses, don't you think? All that said, there were many many versions of that sequence and the question of how it works in the world was discussed and workshopped many times to try and make sure that it didn't take you out of the movie. Hopefully the final cut will be more successful in that but you definitely cannot win them all. There were some other last minute cuts that for me defy all logic in a film that originally had very few logic holes. But while to me they are gaping holes, others don't even notice them....

When a science-fiction movie has two strong male leads, the first instinct is to categorize it as a ‘buddy film.’  while there are some elements of that in repo men, it’s not how i would characterize the film.  Was it difficult, structurally, to balance Jude Law’s Remy with Forest Whitaker’s Jake?
Once we knew Forest was on board we rejigged the character of jake according to some of his thoughts and others that his presence just inspired. What was very apparent from the read-through was that forest's portrayal of Jake was a lot of fun and the onscreen chemistry between jude and forest really played well. Suddenly we looked at the film's structure and realized that there was a long portion of the film with Jake off screen and so we began to look at how we could incorporate him more, but in the end we realized that it's not jake's story (the sequel however is another matter entirely) and that by being sparse with jake made his moments on screen even more electric. To be honest, i would have a very hard time if we had had more footage of any of the main three guys. Jude, Liev and Forest really pulled rabbits from the hat with their performances. They were a pleasure to works with and a pleasure to watch.

Liev Schreiber’s character stole the show whenever he was on screen.  Was his part always intended to be as big as it was, or did that evolve in the course of making the film?
Frank was always as he was and Liev just nailed it. We talked about it a while before shooting but what was exceptional about him is that while I was lucky enough to get a fair bit of time to rehearse with Jude and Forest, Liev turned up in the middle of the shoot the weekend before he was meant to start and got stuck in straight away. The first scene he had was the hospital scene where Remy wakes to find his heart has been replaced by his best friend Jake, and Frank is there to give the 'good' news. Liev's little flash of genius was to bring a cuddly teddy into the room along with the get well card we had supplied. Watch out for it in the scene. Makes his character there and then.

Alice Braga’s Beth floated in and out of the movie in an almost ethereal fashion.  Was that done intentionally to emphasize her own transitory nature?
Alice's character probably had the hardest time in the edit room. This had nothing to do with the performance, which was wonderful to my mind, but more because of the role she played in Remy's life as his first wife. The character inhabited many flashbacks that at times derailed the momentum of the first act and confused the audience. Now, I have no problem with that, but as the pieces get chopped away the fat gets shredded. Pietro Scalia, one of the film's editors, saw the opportunity to tighten this part of the story by reinventing her as a character with no previous relationship to Remy, and it worked. So her back story hit the cutting room floor. We reworked the scenes we had to make this new version as tight as we could with the material we had and to minimize the bump. For the most part it worked. More important was that once her introduction is made, her character really fit into Remy's story. Interestingly it's worth pointing out that not only was the budget of this movie pretty low considering hollywood standards but while you're pretty much guaranteed a few days of reshoots on a film, especially in situations like this, we did not have a single day of reshoots. Everything was shot during principle photography of 64 days. And we had to find the performance we needed in the footage we had already shot. In the end, Alice's performance in final scenes are among what makes the film, I think... 

You had some big-name stars attached to this project.  What was it like working with them?
I know people say this shit all the time but I truly could not have done it without their trust, generosity and talent: Carice Van Hueton, John Leguisamo(although they cut him from the final theatrical cut, he's in the unrated version in his full glory), Alice Braga, Liev, Forest and especially Jude, who went the extra mile on this movie. I'm actually very excited to see how the audiences react to that. I don't have a bad word to say. They all worked hard, gave their all and I am proud to have had the chance to work with them. Sorry, no juicy gossip.

The film had some interesting things to say about the nature of perception and reality.  What kind of questions do you want moviegoers to leave the film asking?
That would be telling. While I am flattered that this is being posed as a question, I think it is wrong for me to tell anybody what they should think. Part of my job, as the storyteller is to frame the story in a way that lasts longer than the 90mins you spend in the theatre. If people come out wanting to talk about it more, whether negatively or positively, right or wrong, if it encourages debate, or communication which leads to a better understanding of even the simplest aspect of humanity, then my job is done.

The movie posters are just brilliant, teasing the audience with intriguing but somehow grotesque images of medical devices.  Where did that idea come from?
It's been an idea we've been keen on for a very long time. Again it's all part of selling the world to the audience and then letting the film come out and get on with telling one of the stories from that world.

There is a bit of a stir among fans of ‘Repo the Genetic Opera’ about the similarities between your film and their rock opera.  Would you care to respond?
RTGO is the Rocky Horror Picture Show version. Ours is more like the Pulp Fiction version. They are two films that have similar concepts but that's it. Jesus Christ Superstar vs Last Temptation Of Christ? Anyway, last week the writers of Repo Mambo and I met with the writers of RTGO and their director Darren Bousmann and had a good chinwag about it. They were good guys and I am glad I got to meet them and clear the air.
When i first saw this movie, the film that it most reminded me of was Brazil.  Are you a fan?
Huge. Brazil is one of my favorites and was a huge influence for Repo Mambo. Along with Clockwork Orange, Trainspotting, Robocop and Children of Men...

Anything else you’d like to share with my readers?
Go see the movie and make up your own mind. That's what it was made for. The simple truth is the more successful it is on opening weekend, the more chance of Hollywood studios letting people like us make smarter films. March 19th 2010. Www.repomenarecoming.com

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Ark Addendum - Sixshot's Transformation (part 3)

OK, let's finish off this badboy! It's Sixshot's final transformation sequence; his gun mode.  Unlike his other four transformations, this one starts in robot mode and ends in gun mode.  I don't think there's any special significance to that, but I found it curious.

Also note the dotted line connecting his rifles to the side of his gun mode. These sorts of lines showed up a lot in the 1987 character models, on both sides of the Pacific. In fact, there's a scene in Money Is Everything where the animators misinterpreted the lines connecting Blot to his backpack weapon and drew it that way.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Actually, that explains a LOT ...

So, still hyper-busy on the Almanac, and probably will be for a few more weeks.  That means the usual programming is on hiatus for a bit.  Still, found out some interesting news that I wanted to share.  I'm a direct descendant of Julius Caesar.  I mean, how cool is that?

How do I know? Funny you should ask, other Jim. When I'm not making awesome Transformer books, I do data analytics for a company called Geni.com.  It's a really cool genealogy website that harnesses the power of social networking to let one build family trees. Basically, you start your tree, add in parents, siblings, kids, maybe a few aunts or uncles. But as you go, you have the option to invite those people to join your tree. If they want to, they too can add relatives. So, if you're not quite sure what your cousin's birthday is, she can add it herself.  Then add in her grandparents on her dad's side, whom you haven't even met. And if she invites them, the virtuous cycle continues.  In other words, not only does the tree grow vertically, but also horizontally.

What's the bottom line on all this? My 'family tree' has over thirty-six million people in it. And one of those people is Gaius Julius Caesar.You can even see the relationship path between us below:

Pretty neat, no? So, now I know why that weird Gypsy lady was telling me to beware the ides of March. Wait, what's today's date?

PS: Attila the Hun AKA "The Scourge of God" is my 39th great grandfather. Kick-ASS!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Interviews! Articles! Overexposure!

I'm everywhere!

First up, I wrote an article for the first Transformers fanclub magazine of 2010.  My subject? Transformers: 2010.  No, not the line for this year, the line from 1986 in Japan.  (In the US, season 3 took place during 2006.  In Japan, it was 2010, and that's what they named the line.)  Now, normally you have to buy a membership to get the magazine, but the good folks have made a PDF of the magazine available to non-members.  Download it and check out my article. 

I've also been interviewed on the Geek Radio Network.  Specifically, you can hear TFG1Mike interview me on their 49th Toycast.  He covers my fandom in general, then moves on to questions about both Almanacs.  They also have details about a contest to win Recon Ravage.  Give it a listen!

In other news, still hip-deep in the Almanac II, so I'll be holding off on reviews for a bit more.  Bad news for the blog, but good news for readers everywhere come June.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The AllSpark Almanac II Cover

Well, I'm a bit late to this party, but I figured I may as well post the covers to  The AllSpark Almanac II (preorder it today!) .  Marcelo Matere, my editor Justin Eisinger, Bill Forster and I wrangled back and forth over what exactly the cover should look like for a while. One idea was to feature Decepticons, since season 3 has a darker tone than seasons 1 & 2, and it would mirror the first volume. On the other hand, we wanted to keep the same sense of fun that the first volume had, and not too many Decepticons can pull that off.  We did have an idea about bumbling Constructicons building the cover, which seemed fun, but we also wanted to get some of the core characters into the mix. Finally, we wanted a cover that not only communicated 'season 3,' but also said that we'd be delving into the toy side of things. 

It was Bill who eventually came up with the final idea. He drew a quick, 30-second sketch as proof of concept and sent it to the rest of us.  I think everybody immediately agreed that the idea was a winner. We were especially keen to have Wreck-Gar in the picture, playing with not the toys but the detritus AROUND the toys. 

I think it came out just lovely. It did everything we set out to do, kept the tone perfectly with the first book while setting up the differences in the new volume. Marcelo posted the black & white image over on his Deviant Art account, and Priscilla Tramontano (the colorist) posted the color image sans-logos over on her Deviant Art page. Be sure to check them out!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Ark Addendum - Sixshot's Transformation (part 2)

True to my word, this week it's another edition of The Ark Addendum.  Here is Part II of Sixshot's transformation from Headmasters, covering his jet and tank modes.  I especially like his jet mode, and the dramatic pose he ends up in.  Given Brian's continued review of the Headmastes series, this seemed like a good model to pick.  Next week I'll probably finish out Sixshot's with his conversion to gun mode.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Transformers: Headmasters – "Explosion on Mars! Scorponok Appears!"

Twincast: My God! What is that?
Zarak: At last, it is finished. My work of art – Scorponok.
Mindwipe: Incredible!
Zarak: Come aboard.
Mindwipe: It's amazing!
Zarak: Wait, there's more to come. You're about to see something even more amazing!

Here is the exciting conclusion to this two-parter revolving around Zarak's plan to destroy Mars in order to collect the plasma energy from the resulting explosion. Fortress Maximus is completed depleted of energy and unable to transform due to the attack which closed out the previous episode, while Highbrow and Brainstorm are recovering from their injuries. Spike, Daniel and Wheelie have been safely returned to Athenia, thanks to the Trainbots. Now there is a waiting game as the Autobots still search the planet Mars for the bomb coordinates, not even knowing how much time they have remaining.

Hardhead monitors some activity nearby, spots a Terrorcon and he and Chromedome immediately charge forth to attack. They are met in battle by the Decepticon Headmasters, however. In response, the Trainbots are ordered to return to Mars in order to assist in the fight. Strangely enough to the Autobots, the Decepticons depart in haste, while we the viewer have seen Zarak command this retreat.

Suspicious of this enemy retreat, Fortress contacts Ultra Magnus at Autobot City on Earth to uncover any information they can from the Decepticons residing there. Magnus dispatches Twincast to infiltrate their opponents' base. We see Twincast stealthily approach the Decepticon Earth HQ, which is currently guarded by Thrust and Dirge. He dispatches Steeljaw and Rewind, distracts the "coneheads" with a direct assault and Rewind sneaks inside.

On Planet Zarak, Zarak is ready for the final stage of his plan and commands a select group of Decepticons converge on Chaar. Soundblaster contacts Sixshot on Earth and informs him that he needs to attend. All of this is overheard by Rewind, who reports back to Twincast. They proceed to follow Sixshot to the Decepticon space bridge, which appears to be the same one at the bottom of that old riverbed from Season One. Admittedly, this was great to see, as were the cameos of Thrust and Dirge. Anyway, Twincast follows Sixshot, using the space bridge to transport him to Chaar.

Once there, Twincast, hidden away in the main Decepticon HQ, witnesses a bold presentation, broadcast from Planet Zarak. We all watch with Soundblaster and the rest (Astrotrain, Blitzwing, the Predacons, etc) as the small planet cracks and crumbles in space, revealing the massive form of Zarak's transtector, Scorponok. The Decep Headmasters, after having fled Mars, are invited on board, before it transform from city mode to scorpion and heads for Chaar. The Decepticons prepare to welcome Lord Zarak but suddenly Soundblaster discovers Twincast and the two long-time, well-matched enemies engage in a fight. Cassettes warriors from both of them are tossed into the mix as well yet Twincast is able to escape.

Fortress is altered of this development while Chromedome and the others are battling the Terrorcons. Highbrow and Brainstorm, fully repaired, join the fray. Scorpnok then appears over Mars, to everyone's amazement, having warped in from Chaar, and easily defeats all the Autobots nearby. He then heads towards Fortress, who is still unable to transform and has no energy.

Fortress: Zarak!
Scorponok: My name is no longer Zarak! I am Scorponok!
Fortress: Scorponok, you say?
Scorponok: Fortress, now you are going to pay for kicking me off Planet Master!

Transforming to robot mode, Scorponok proceeds to trounce the inert Fortress. However, he is informed that the bombs are all in place and instructs Soundblaster to begin the countdown. Soon, the bombs placed at the poles erupt, followed by the plasma charges and Mars is engulfed in flames. The Decepticons retreat and Fortress orders his Headmasters to follow suit. Chromedome insists they save their commander and they rush inside the great battleship. As they find themselves surrounded by explosions on all side, they realize that the energy produced is being absorbed by Fortress Maximus.

Mars is destroyed as Scorponok watches in glee, but he is soon shocked to see Maximus flying out of the flames and straight towards him. He absorbed enough plasma energy to transform and escape and he successfully routes the Decepticons, with a strike of his Master Sword to Scorponok's shoulder. There is rejoicing by the Autobots due to Fortress's survival yet this is greatly tempered by the shocking failure to save Mars from destruction.

Thus concludes the mini story arc following the destruction of Cybertron as we watched Zarak's mysterious plans and construction of his transtector finally come to fruition. Zarak has turned out to be a most dangerous and unpredictable foe, even moreso now with the aid of Scorponok. This two-parter was as tense as the pair involving Cybertron and nicely rounds out the first batch of 15 episodes of the series. There are few sub-par installments in this group, such as "Terror of the Six Shadows" and "The Dormant Volcano Mysteriously Erupts", but overall they provide a fun mix of action, mystery and character, following new and beloved characters.

It's interesting to wonder what would have happened if the US G1 season four had not been limited to three episodes. Here Takara held off on the reveals of Maximus and Scorponok until a dozen episodes had passed, building the tension with shocking crises and major leadership changes on both sides. It's obvious that the US G1 series would have also shown a power struggle between Galvatron and Zarak, as seen in this series, but who knows if the former would have been driven off-screen completely.

I also had a thought about Soundblaster, while watching this episode. Soundwave had always appeared fiercely loyal to Megatron and later Galvatron, no matter who attempted to usurp command. Now remade as Soundblaster, he seems to have become more shrewd, letting his allegiance follow whoever appears to be the final victor for role as Emperor, in this case Zarak. This aligns a bit more with his portrayal in the Marvel comic book, so it's interesting to note this change. Also good to see another showdown between he and Blaster... I mean, Twincast!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


There's an artist out there who goes by the name of, ahem, Boltax, who does these very funny one-page summaries of Transformers stories and ideas.  They're generally quite funny.  Here is All Hail Megatron part 1, as well as AHM part 2.  He's also lampooned G1 Megatron(s), The Wreckers (how apropos for Wrecker Awareness Week,) Megatron Origin, and Time Wars (of the Transformers, not Doctor Who variety.)  You can also read his webcomic, A Townsville Fairytale. I was chatting with him and requested that he do one of my books and here's what he came up with:

I regret that this week will be busy for me, between the book and my wife's birthday, so I'll be postponing most reviews and new content for a week or so.  Have no fear, The Ark Addendum will be back next week, come hell or high water!

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Allspark Needs Your Help!

So, as it turns out, there is a seller out there with some really interesting Transformers material.  In this particular case, it's the Hasbro catalog from the 1986 Toy Fair with some really cool Transformers material in it.  Unfortunately, given the rarity of the material, the seller is asking quite a lot for it.

That's where you come in.  NightViper over at the excellent AllSpark website is taking up a donation drive.  If you think that you might be able to spare $5 for this cause, then head on over to the AllSpark for info on how you can help.

UPDATE 1: WE GOT IT! Kudos, to everyone. This is exactly what I was talking about when I praised the Transfandom community.

UPDATE 2: Thanks to Galenraff over at the AllSpark, this has now become a full-on charity drive. He's trying to raise a total of $380 for charity, a match for the price of the book, and is already up to $70. So, if you can spare it and want to support this effort (all proceeds go to the Hasbro Children's Hospital), then head on over and lend your support.

UPDATE 3: I wanted to bump this post up.  Galen set a VERY ambitious $2000 goal for Sunday, the 28th of February.  This is enough to get us in as a high-tier benefactor to the Hasbro Children's Hospital annual Game of Life gala.  We're less than $300 away at this point, with a good 12 or so hours to go.  If you can spare even just a few bucks, it's a good cause and a wonderfully collaborative approach to giving that reflects well on Transformers-fans everywhere.  Won't you?  Info on giving HERE.

FINAL UPDATE: This was an amazing smashing extraordinary success!  143 Transformers fans raised $2,340 for charity in just five days, and that's on top of the catalog we also managed to buy.  (Oh, and we plan to auction the catalog and give the resulting funds to charity too.)  That's a pretty impressive grassroots campaign. The whole fandom should be proud; I know I am!