Sunday, August 20, 2017

Review - Medicom Daft Punk (Thomas Bangalter & Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo)

Daft Punk - Thomas Bangalter (clad with a Gort-esque silver helmet) and Guy-Manuel de Homem Christo (wearing a faceless golden helmet), respectively) - really need no introduction; a pair of Grammy-award winning future-funk-meets-house masterminds, popular for their mysterious public identities and favor of overtly 'electronic' tropes.

2013's release Random Access Memories lessened the techno, and upped the groove; creating a musical love letter to the nostalgic tunes that inspired the very basis of their genre. Donning flashy tuxedos and donning a more 'regal' attitude within their robotic disguises, Daft Punk evolved to match their music; as such, longtime Daft Punk merchandiser Medicom released updated versions of the duo in their notable Real Action Heroes line. selling for roughly $200~ each on most aftermarkets, they're a tough pair to grab - nothing less for pop's most elusive icons.

As both figures are essentially the same, I will be reviewing them under one collective rating.

Sculpt - 5/5

Unsurprisingly, Medicom has perfectly recreated DP's 2013 wardrobes. Both sci-fi helmets are photo accurate, adorned with very specific details such as Thomas' hidden vents (located beneath the visor) or the various small contraptions within Guy's "ears". Even their smooth 'necks' are true to form, representing the underlying black mesh worn by the pair. Their clothes fit very nicely, and are properly to scale - features such as the necklace's chain and the miniature sequins are roughly the correct size, and look very good in relation to the entire figure.

The one gripe some may have is that, unlike Bandai's FiguArts renditions, these helmets feature a solid black "glass" - no underlying screens are visible. Though this was an admittedly interesting choice on Bandai's part, it isn't accurate to the real-life costumes (both the ones Bandai represented, nor these). The only versions of the helmets to sport screens were the original Discovery-era editions. It's a fictitious detail that's neat to see, but definitely not necessary.

Articulation - 5/5

Again as per RAH tradition, the articulation on both figures is very good. Every joint is nice and stiff, with no hindrance whatsoever from the outer clothing. Most joints seem to be a either pin-disc or ball, and (with some finagling) can really achieve any practical pose one could desire. Though most will likely leave the pair in a neutral stance, it's very possible to recreate more eccentric poses seen in some photos. 

Accessories - 4/5

DP aren't usually seen sporting a multitude of accessory-worthy objects, so what has been provided serves it's small purpose well. Both come with two extra pairs of hands (one set spread open, the other clenched into a fist), as well as adjustable stands. These figures have pretty good centers of gravity, making the stands not entirely needed, but having them available is useful. More colorful bonuses such would have really added weight to this category; perhaps a small-scale RAM Record, or any handful of props from their music videos. 

Paint - 5/5

DP's personas are very design conscious, with a very simplistic style that can adapt to any musical setting. The single tones of these designs are recreated to a tee - each surface color is consistent across every piece, the metallic shine is beautifully reflective, and their match silver boots shimmer in a realistic way. The very small black portions on both necklaces is cleanly applied, without even the slightest inclination of slop - it's almost as if the real jewelery was shrunk onto these figures. Even the underlying bodies are a solid black, representing the aforementioned mesh.


Fun Factor - 5/5

For adult-oriented figures, these seem to be far from fragile; every point of articulation is appropriately tough, and though care should be taken with the very intricate clothing, the biggest issue one could potentially face is an uneven tie or wrinkled pant leg. Thought these two aren't for play, they're also very capable of repeated manipulation.

Overall - 5/5

Really, anything less than a 5/5 would be surprising concerning figures of this quality. These are prime examples of how artistically impressive high-end collectibles can be; so meticulously designed, they could easily be mistaken for the real deal. Though they've always fetched a high price, it isn't hard to see where the money goes - these two have a demanding presence on any shelf, by the sheer striking nature of their lifelike sculpts alone. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Record Player in the Basement

The Summer of 2017 flew by like an airplane - but, looking back, it's the best Summer I think I've ever had.

It was dark; gritty, quiet, self-contained. It was light; the cold nighttime fog, the dew of grass. It was everything - yet it hardly made a sound.

Already, it returns to me as a dusty photobook. Laying awake at the dead of the night, dozing off to the lonesome croons of Frank Sinatra. Scurrying about, crookedly setting up photographs for an abstract art project. The thoughtful space within the dry northern heat. Staring into the grey summer calm, attending a small outdoor Church service. Wandering the pitch black neighborhood streets, focused only on the music in my head, the road beneath my feet, and the thoughts sliding about like feathers in a gust.

It was the Summer I needed. The Summer of a new human being. A more pure, aware, and religious one; one I've always wanted to be.

And what's more; I don't intend for it to end.

Goodbye, The Great Movie Ride

Disney parks tend to have a "heart"; whether it be an international variety of fantastic Castles, the highly intricate Tree of Life, visual marvel Spaceship Earth, or any other central attraction. Many of these contain accompanying large-scale shows, often held within the structure itself - must sees for parkgoers visiting the respective icon.

At Disney's Hollywood Studios (once known as Disney-MGM Studios), a beautiful reproduction of the famous Grauman's Chinese Theatre followed suit with a wonderful tribute to not only the park's respective film-focused theme, but to the colorful history of the art itself - with The Great Movie Ride. Guests were taken on a tour through classic movie highlights, featuring scenes from Footlight Parade, Singin' in the Rain, Mary Poppins, The Public Enemy, A Fistful of Dollars, The Searchers, Alien, Raiders of the Lost Arc, Tarzan the Ape Man, Casablanca, and The Wizard of Oz recreated using Audio Animatronic technology... with countless other classics making cameos as stock footage during the introduction, main show and finale.

Being no stranger to the vast universe of film, I've always loved this ride especially. Seeing such marvel and honest respect paid to the undisputed movie classics - in such a visually impressive way - was nothing short of candy. Each segment felt truly dedicated to it's subject, presenting a miniature "ride" devoted to each movie; who could forget the striking image of Mary Poppins floating whimsically next to chimney sweep Bert, joined by the silhouettes of his fellow giddy workmen? The eerie, smoke-coated streets of the Gangster genres? The thrillingly dark mechanical hell of The Nostromo? Disney's Imagineers went above and beyond with each 'room' - making you not only want to dive into the source material once more, but effectively letting you experience the world behind the screen for even the shortest amount of time.

My final ride was one to remember - the cast members truly pulled out every stop, shooting for the magical last hurrah worthy of the films it parades. They even managed to give my group the rare "Cowboy Scene" - To elaborate, rides are 'taken over' by either a rogue Cowboy, or Gangster, from each respective genre's zone. Likely because of the pyrotechnics involved in the Cowboy scene, the ride typically uses only the Gangster plot. This great touch of acknowledgement for the attractions fans and history was a really warm moment, embracing the 'end'.

Removing this show, in my opinion, will prove to be a major gash in Disney's Theme Park record. It communicates the point of Hollywood Studios better than perhaps any other aspect of the location; celebrating the sparkle of a happy night at movies, thriving in that wistful Disney charm.

However, it, too, is now a classic - locked in the world it was able to let us enter. It's a fitting end for the living museum of film... now forever in the movies.

Roll the credits - here's to The Great Movie Ride.

Click here to view an Imgur album of the pictures I took during my final ride!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Goodbye, Haruo Nakajima

Haruo Nakajima, the original Godzilla (filling the role from 1954 to 1972, as well as various other Monster and Onscreen roles), passed away today at the age of 88.

I had the amazing chance to meet him (as well as fellow Toho veteran, Akira Takarada - pictured to my right, with Nakajima to my left) at the 2014 Spooky Empire Convention, hot off the tracks of 2014's Godzilla - a reboot which has proved incredibly successful for the series, spawning an American Kaiju film universe, the wild success of Shin Godzilla, and a new run of CG Animated Godzilla films set to begin later this year.

Haruo was alive to see this revival, and fittingly so. Godzilla: Final Wars - the 40th anniversary film designed, at the time, as the "series finale" for Godzilla - is now the final Godzilla feature to use Suitmation. Godzilla '14, Shin Godzilla, and seemingly all future installments have not used this technique at all; moving instead to CG animation. The torch has effectively been passed; while the days of lumbering rubber suits, model cities, pyrotechnics, and live performances are certainly gone, what they've influenced and fueled would be entirely nonexistent were they not displayed with the success Haruo (as well as effects mastermind, Eiji Tsuburaya) achieved.

Haruo was a very respectful, approachable man - especially for someone better known as Godzilla, Matango, Gaira, The H-Man, Neronga, Rodan, Gabora, Jirass, Kiyla... the list goes on. Getting his signature (on a photograph of him holding a Godzilla model used in Invasion of Astro-Monster ) has been an amazing highlight of my time as a Kaiju fan, perhaps only topped by getting to directly ask him a question during he and Takarada's panel; the question pertaining to how dangerous, as well as challenging his profession was. Needless to say, becoming a radioactive beast is no simple task; and doing so until the mid seventies is even less so.

Haruo's passing is a great loss, and hurts deeply as a fan and follower of his work. While the true Godzilla may be gone, his amazing onscreen work will never fade away to time; whether he be eerily wading through the dimly lit streets of Tokyo, dancing in joy on a distant planet, battling oversized foes on tropical islands, toughing up his adoptive son, or facing any innumerable amount of oddball interstellar invaders, Godzilla - with Nakajima - will eternally have life in the classic films which defined an era of monster-mash movie history.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Review - Shin Godzilla

2016 brought us the second in a new era of Godzilla films, Shin Godzilla. Directed by Hideaki Anno, the movie is strikingly mindful, as well as professional - perhaps unexpected, knowing Godzilla's past.

Shin stands as an indirect follow-up to 2014's Godzilla, which rebooted the series with a large-scale Hollywood flair. Godzilla focused heavily on action and the marvel of the beasts themselves, packed full of more 'modern' concepts and audience-pleasing popcorn moments (the kiss of death, anyone?).

True to name ("Shin" translating to true, or new), Shin Godzilla prides itself in a totally alternate approach; unpolishing Godzilla from a high-budget spectacle of a creature, to the horror he encapsulates as a concept.

Shin is a thinly-veiled remake of the original Godzilla film, Gojira. Antiquated story elements such as the Serizawa love triangle are dropped, as the focus is almost entirely shined upon the political tensions Gojira occasionally nodded to in a select few scenes. A standout in the 32 film long series, Shin is perhaps the most "real" a Godzilla film has managed to feel; and yet, conversely, makes no attempt to simplify the subject matter.

A key element of the film is that, despite it's grounded setting of a 2010-era world, there is no restraint in the beast's depiction, nor is he downplayed to feel perhaps more 'accessible' to the sound-minded audiences of today. He isn't vaguely heroic, nor likeable; he is a monster. He's altogether implausible. He's distorted beyond belief. He is 'false' - capable of abilities laughable when applied to his animal kingdom equivalents - and rightly so.

The focus of the movie itself is that Godzilla symbolises the inescapably overpowering force of a disaster; a tsunami, an earthquake. He is able to transcend expectations, able to repeatedly and unpredictably 'fight back'; a living, breathing hell, and a titan stood next to humanity.

The story itself is hard to divulge without instead discussing the impact of the tale itself, as the film is dripping with applicability. The style of storytelling is very unique, following an almost real-time structure. Through repetition as well as a sort of wry parodic tone, we follow a league of scrambling bureaucratic heads trying their damndest to handle the spiralling anomaly before them - repeatedly growing too wound in their own unnecessary technicalities and formalities to actually make any impact on the events of the disaster whatsoever. Ultimately, Godzilla is only stopped when this mess of policy is quite literally destroyed, leaving only a notably nationalist, young-minded and willing group of "fringe" politicians to cut away the fat of their government and take matters into their own hands.

It's not hard to read into the very socially conscious plot; there are a number of clever directorial choices made to enhance the droning, repetitive sense of professionalism in this government, particularly in the use of snappy dialogue and fast-paced cuts.

Characters aren't exactly a key element of the film, interestingly enough; they really only fill a role in the system Shin criticizes. There's really no reason to give these 'pawns' further depth than their profession - a clever choice, as well as a fairly risky one, writing-wise. We have our handful of leads, but they are no moreso important than the other key players who engage in the various political schemes and plans tossed about. It's an interesting draw away from the character-driven writing that makes up the vast majority of movies today. However, this does lead to some mostly inevitable drags in certain portions. There is constant is there - as, ultimately, everything in the film seems to serve at least an ulterior purpose - but the fact stands.
talk between characters, and though things never grow pointless, things can become a bit grey. I'm not sure I'd remove or simplify what boredom

There are some select moments through the movie that feel somehow 'off'; music cues sometimes feel tonally incorrect, or end abruptly, some actors feel perhaps too pretty for their role, so on. These issues certainly are not majorly impactful, though they do exist.

On a different note, the effects of the movie are surprisingly good; although a bit glossy on Godzilla's earlier forms, and perhaps jittery concerning the more fast movements made here and there, the monster generally looks very convincing - especially for a fully CG model. Many scenes in the grand finale look stunningly real, as though puppets and models were used. Though certainly not quite beating Godzilla (2014)'s stunning sequences, Shin does come close - especially with the ultimate destruction sequence, which I consider one of if not the best attack scene in Godzilla's long history. On the note of Godzilla himself, the fanservice in the form of visual references to Gojira, as well as the return of classic SFX and music was very pleasing.

Shin Godzilla is the "true" Godzilla. It's the closest we've seen to a horrific, impossible cartoon of a monster attacking our world; not in the collateral, psychologically impactful sense, but instead in that it would cause a massive bout of hysteria we cannot foresee. It's an excellent modern-day parallel piece, as well as a clever observance.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Partnership Announcement

Isn't it strange how we're set to obsess over the "mystery" and "treasure" in what is not found within ourselves?

We're so tightly bound to this overarching ideal that the world itself is what we live for; that we should, literally, thrust out our own being to become one with this formless amalgamation, the world. Obsess over those in it. Where's in it. What's in it. It's secrets. Anything - anything - so long as you never consider the world of yourself.

You're directed to ponder other human beings. You're taught to concern over others. Set your mind to the collective static of the crowd - retain just enough to add to the cacophony, but restrain the crashing gongs of the soul. Instructed to desire; instructed to find this appealing. Find that alluring. Little more than thumbnails. Conform to a singular set of traits - broad enough to capture each and every mind with little deviance, yet specific enough to be little more than a spotless computer code. Backlit numbers, ones and zeros, telling the Plasticine brain where the prime directives are and demanding it search for those alone. No ulterior motives. No alternatives.

Directed to segregate. Directed to discriminate. Directed to divulge. Directed to hunt. Directed to perform. Act. Display. In front of an audience - directed to watch.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Another Late-Nite Ramble

Sometimes, you have to cut away the excess of the world. The fat, the filler; get to the core of it all.

At the very bottom of your being, there's an unspoken contentness. A happiness with all that surrounds you - comfort, really.

Through all the bad experiences one may have, that core will always be there - it may be hard to divide away the growing rust which builds upon it, but it is never overtaken.  It's the spiritual home in yourself; your interests, recurring thoughts, common settings. These things are faceless, and have no connection to the world in which they exist. Nothing can impact them, as they are one with that core.

At the dead of the night, I like to dig up that core and appreciate what it has to share. My own quirks, thoughts, ideas - simply enjoying the world of myself, the only one I'll ever truly know.

Staying in touch with your ethereal 'world' - or, perhaps, your soul altogether - blinds the eyes that sees only the aforementioned grime. You no longer notice the events which take place in this outer 'realm'; your focus is religiously dedicated only to the miniature galaxy in your mind. A galaxy free from the fallacies that make up reality, free of all but what fills your skull - it's probably the closest thing we can get to heaven on our own.

It doesn't matter where you are, who you're with, what you're doing. Your 'world' is always there.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The State of Gorillaz

If you have even the slightest knowledge of me, it's obvious that I'm a huge fan of Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett's 'Gesamtkunstwerk' creation Gorillaz. Part band, part art series, part cartoon, part display of innovation; as a whole scope, it's a rare modern example of unrelenting, honest creativity.

I caught their first North American performance of the year on the eighth of this month; and, hell, what a show. Pounding music, electricity anywhere you look, and an excellent sense of life no matter how eerie the music or accompanying visuals grew.

However - that aforementioned 'life' has been dividing fans as of late.

As most will know, Gorillaz' claim to fame is most often cited as their slew of animated 'faces'; parodies of pop music tropes, taking the place of Albarn himself as a satire on both modern music and his lightheaded past with Blur. It's not hard to argue that they themselves have grown far more famous than the men behind the masks, in fact - the fictional 2-D is far more marketable than the human being that fills the digital shoes. Though Albarn and Hewlett have consistently been known as the true creators of these frontmen, they've decidedly taken a 'behind the scenes' role; as would a puppeteer, hoping to bring life to the lifeless.

That very choice was what a semblance of reality to what ought to be a cheap gimmick - one never felt as though the cartoon cast were merely Hot Topic ploys, designed to draw in a less musically inclined crowd. They were part of the package - they filled the gaps between the two primary forms of art at hand, and vice versa. The strongest issue comes in the fall of this concept - Gorillaz is no longer the parody, nor the magic trick it was designed to be. The cast of 'false' musicians are now essentially the mascots for Albarn and his touring band - staying comfortably on Hewlett's end of the court, in art and videos, with the occasional obscured cameo on a screen behind the far more engaging band. These two dimensions almost never intertwine; gone are the days of cartoons performing onstage, writing about the making of their albums, and feeling perhaps more real than their living, breathing fathers.

Gorillaz' real-life history hardly makes this a shock; months before the announcement of an upcoming album (which grew into this year's release, Humanz), Albarn told NME that he "...Could put a Gorillaz record out next week,". While this may seem an oddly brash comment, ignoring the usual importance of Hewlett's end of the spectrum, one must recall that he almost literally has done exactly this with the Gorillaz name - releasing 2011's The Fall, a small scale album comprised of demo-like tracks made while on the previous year's Escape to Plastic Beach tour. It was essentially an Albarn solo record with the Gorillaz title pasted on out of relevance - Hewlett's only contributions being in the form of cover artwork, minor photos to accompany each track (none of which feature the characters in any form), and a music video comprised of tour footage (again, basically character-free).

Plastic Beach
's era as a whole - entitled Phase 3, going by Gorillaz' DVD based terminology - was where the classic Gorillaz formula began to falter. Inspired by previous Gorillaz-but-without-the-name production, Journey to the West, a large scale plot and scope of estimated three albums was presented by the band; a far cry from the laid-back, oddball Cartoon Network vibes of the previous two Phases of Celebrity Take Down and Slowboat to Hades. Money was blown out the window by extravagant concepts, tensions rose as creators couldn't find a reasonable balance between the relevance of the virtual concepts and the actual music, and everything cascaded into what seemed to be one final grave for what became far too tall a titan to confront for both main contributors. Many questions were left entirely unanswered, plotlines unresolved, and the future hardly looking bright - with allegations of Albarn and Hewlett's growing animosity budding left and right. With 2012's late collaboration with Converse - spawning the track DoYaThing, complete alongside a notably conclusive music video - it seemed that the tale of Gorillaz had come to a shambling conclusion.

Compare this previous era to the current one - little to no plot, characters far separated from the music... and, yet, things seem to be running like a well-oiled machine. We've received stellar results from both courts - the aforementioned live performances are an excellent experience, new innovation has made the cartoon crew more accessible than ever, the album itself has seen huge success, there are plans to create a full animated series featuring the cast, and much more. It's an exciting time, and everyone involved seems very energized and enthralled to be back at the reigns. It raises the point; perhaps this is the way Gorillaz needs to be run, at least in it's current state. Phase 3's core issues raised from overabundance; Phase 4 has plenty of room to breathe, and then some. It's worth noting that, character relevance aside, this was also true of Phases One and Two - essentially successes, as far as the 'completeness' of their respective goals is concerned. Sacrifices are certainly being made - but, perhaps, the sacrifice of the project's initial goals in the name of continued survival is one that will prove the most wise in the long run. Albarn is the star; Gorillaz are his cohorts.

I personally see this as a watering down and perhaps reversal of the originally critical views presented by the band - however, alternatively, this is a far more streamlined approach than the endless correcting, explaining, and developing concerning storylines and what have you as seen in the past. It's quite similar to Daft Punk's own mascots, the Robots; there is no hiding who the men within the machines are, but it's fare more exciting to suspend disbelief and ignore the truth. Perhaps that applies best here, as well. It also begs the mostly personal question; what exactly is the heart of Gorillaz? Does it matter which component of the creation is strongest? Should they - or maybe, can they - be balanced properly?

Friday, July 7, 2017

This Is It Folks!

I've become obsessed with Ralph Bakshi's 1975 animated commentary "Coonskin" as of late; it's unabashed, it's creative, it's stylish, and it's never afraid to blurt it's loud mouth left and right.

I woke up after - yet again - unexpectedly passing out with music related to the film buried in my mind. Like a long treasured memory, or, perhaps, even an instinctual commodity; the bass soaked, horn veering and all-around delightfully retro jam of a track found it's way into the depth of my skull.

Wandering to the basement - probably to set a scene not dissimilar to the vignette currently on this blog's sidebar (albeit perhaps with a Disney feature rather than a drive-in horror picking) - that orchestra of noise carried every step. I'm a person of which is weighed heavily upon by my own mentality; for better, usually, but on an emotional level it can tend to be for the worse. However - entirely inexplicably - the visuals and sounds rattling right through the seams in my head seemed to burn the dead masses I often found still clinging to my ankles. How - Why - I'm not entirely sure. Is it the tempo? The colors?

I suppose, thematically - the reason would be the unafraid nature of the very subject matter itself. This is not a review, nor an overview; however, as is likely apparent by the poster alone (featured as this writing's headline artwork), the film has no censor for it's choices of satirical imitation. Though further detail is easy to find in a variety of interesting articles covering the cultural depths Coonskin resides in, to clarify - the entire setting, a Blaxploitation film set in Toontown, is a harsh, violent and hotheaded attack on the popular stereotypes paraded as 'truthful'. By using these images and themes, it assaults them. Coonskin has a mind behind it's striking imagery. A mind hiding behind jazzy, gun-slinging rabbits, making deals with bouncy mafia members, taking down lively pop icons, and generally having a hell of a time.

It's abstract thinking. But somehow that very concept - this upfront mimicry, totally driven by creative impulse and a fair dosage of pride - seems to have sparked with my mind.

I began writing this article after flipping through my copy of "Good News for Modern Man", a 1971 modern translation of the Bible. Something about the following words took the air from my lungs entirely.

"Do not love the world or anything that belongs to the world. If you love the world, you do not have the love for the Father in you. Everything that belongs to the world - what the sinful self desires, what people see and want, and everything in this world that people are so proud of - none of this comes from the Father; it all comes from the world. The world and everything in it that men desire is passing away; but he who does what God wants lives forever."
Coonskin parodies the commonplace racial tropes of old, but also uses this weighty setting to create a parallel to our own world. Through the film, death and sin is rampant; material is the one and only goal in the lives of not only our leads, but, in fact, just about every character. A man poses as a religious figure - promising an ethnic revolution - only to be revealed to the masses as a money hogging, shady and entirely false prophet. An alluded to husband leaves his partner simply because he cannot offer anything of his own to the cooperative 'deal' of a relationship. Our lead character - after rising to the very ultimate reaches of society - ultimately leaves it all, simply looking forward to the next accomplishment.

The worldly values that govern our sinful nature are dust. They come and go, as the bullets fly through the air. Little can lead to the end; the end can lead to far more. In the grand, unimaginable scheme of life, nothing matters besides that trust in that, one way or another, life is not far from the twisted chain of events well embellished in Coonskin. Life is a series of dark paths, diverging from a clear road. They are all too appealing, all to enticing. Yet all lead to a death; all lead to another corpse on the ground.

When you see the world as it would be illustrated on paper, you begin, too, to see yourself as a concept. A cartoon. Where will you - the man behind the pencil - lead yourself to next? Or, perhaps, where are you destined to be driven?

Will you choose the easy sketch - or the elaborate, intricate, majestic illustration?

Friday, June 9, 2017

Hidden Faces in the Dead

I've been listening to a lot of Sinatra lately.

It's odd how distant one feels from their last life; looking in through the shattered, smokey windowpanes, a ghost hovering beyond anyone's reach. Odd how easy it is to look in, yet how repelling the sights become. A draw to... nothing.

It's almost jarring. I wasn't a fool; or was I? I never thought I were cheating myself; although, thought may not have been my main priority. There is no connection to what I see through the windowpanes any longer; the man's path is no longer one I can relate to, in that I had done so myself. It is no longer a sense of failure - now, perhaps, a sense of pity, in that the reflection captured in this time capsule was so eagerly fragile and whimsically frail. A colorful, lightly painted eggshell, glimmering in the soft sunlight; knowing full well it's ability to be destroyed with the smallest of winds.

And, yes, this remembrance is nothing more than a spirit in and of itself.

Laying alone in these wee, small hours of the morning... It makes one pine for anything. Something. God only knows what - but Holy, is that unknown reward.

The shaking, harmless armature of a human has - as expected - crumpled, and died. From his carcass emerged a decidedly more upbeat, proud, and even imposing figure. As I lay in the moonlit drink, I know this is a certainty... and, a warm one, at that. But now, where will he go? How will he get there? And above all - how blessed is he to, at last, fulfill the dream of self-awareness of which he never knew he harbored?

And - how blessed, perhaps, shall this new expanse of a world become?

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Back on the Images; Gone

Things feel like a ticking timer. A slope on down to the end of the slide; the drop-off.

It's a little sad, honestly. These lessons, which I slowly cope with. As much as I hold them firmly to my heart, I also see their hurt. I see how they can corrode me. And have. Not necessarily for the worse, but certainly in an ... unfamiliar way. It's a cold new galaxy of self discovery.

Letting go of a sickly happiness sitting dead in your face - loyally, comfortably - is a decision I ponder. How common is it, truthfully? Am I an outlier in my disregard for the attainable joys in life? With all good reason to argue otherwise - reason that truthfully outweighs any other emotion - I still feel an ethereal regret. Missing not the growing pains nor the mindless electricity; missing the lights in life. 

Maybe they are due to return upon the change of my life just as dead ahead. Maybe it's all waiting on my own evolution, shedding the now in the face of opportunity. Maybe getting away from the rut of life will provide a new cement of uniquely self fulfilling happiness. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017


I wonder if growing, as a person, is really the same across all boards. There are obviously lessons to be learned which we all must face; most, for our own sake. As well as certain trials and tribulations; emotional control, image comprehension, such forth.

But, there comes a corner at which I no longer feel as if I am "growing" along the same path as others. To speak bluntly - and perhaps, a touch immaturely - Many are carrying their lessons in a flighty, light fashion. Going down the road with nary a second of introversion; a standstill which I reach constantly.

I wonder what it's like to be at such ironic peace with the world. To think the precise way you were told to, to play an actor in the drama that some define as reality.

As I become less human - less accustomed to the glossy, scripted, unabashedly false beaming lights and observing cameras of the daytime Television world - I feel as if I turn another route and grow in my own right. The more I shed these unrealistic, often moreso limiting than inspiring tendencies; of loneliness, of external contemplation; the more I find peace.

Perhaps there is a religious draw to distancing one's self from man. Maybe it's the inescapable desire for some undefinable uniqueness. Maybe it'd be best to be the star of the program, rather than the leery shadow phasing into the wall.

But maybe it's thoughts like that which are keeping me back.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Review - NECA Shin Godzilla (2016)

After 2014's Godzilla revitalization, the massive monster has been back at the forefront of big-name creature features, just like the good ole' days. NECA, known for their work with countless pop culture licenses (including Friday the Thirteenth, Gremlins, Aliens and more), have become a major name in the modern Godzilla merchandise scene; producing eight unique incarnations of the beast in their 'Classics' line alone, along with various knick knacks and one-off items.

Following the American theatrical release of 2016's Shin Godzilla, NECA took the logical step of unveiling their own model of the film's brand new design; a twisted, strikingly dark take on Godzilla unlike any interpretation previously seen. Currently hitting retailers, he'll cost you around $20.

Sculpt - 4/5


ShinGoji is a design almost explicitly crafted to be difficult to simplify; jagged, deformed, even unabashedly ugly in some considerations. NECA's sculpt has managed to capture this offbeat look very well; no doubt thanks to previous experience with similarly mutilated characters, such as Freddy Kruger. Covered from scraggly head to protruding toe in folds, tears, cuts, lumps, and an encyclopedia of scar-like afflictions, Shin looks immediately stunning for the sheer variety of textures and details (yes, such as growing spines, extra toes and jutting teeth) adorning the figure. Easily NECA's most impressive work, intricacy wise, since their coveted Godzilla 2014 figure.

However, that is not to say the sculpt is entirely accurate. There are some missteps; with varying degrees of importance, when it comes to the overall inflection of the sculpt itself. The dorsal spines grow far too large, the tail seems a tad short, and there's something going on with the length of the face; all arguably minor issues, but ones that can change how the design leaves an impact.

Articulation - 5/5


This can be a tough category to define, especially as - in my reviewing opinion - it can be entirely swayed by the nature of a toy line, or company. I consider S.H. Monsterarts within their own realm, NECA within it's own, and so forth.

Considering NECA's usual pattern of Godzilla articulation, Shin not only meets the standard, but manages to step above expectations. With 20 points, you can really pose him however you'd like, while keeping a 'natural' flow to the sculpt. This can be extremely hard to achieve, particularly with a design as reality-based as this. Each joint has a great range of motion, none feeling at all restricted. I particularly adore the extremely tiny points within the scrawny arms, as well as the interestingly engineered jaw; a strive for accuracy that could have easily been ignored, but makes the figure all the more quality.

My only qualm is with the tail. Made entirely of a light rubber, it doesn't seem to fit into the joint at the base of the tail; falling out very, very easily. This can be solved by, of course, standing it correctly on any surface, but it's flimsy.

Paint - 5/5


Shin's paint has been a recurring issue for companies, unsure of how to manage his mix of deep blacks and bloody, vein-esque reds. Some companies have tried a base color of red with a black wash, such as SHMA... and have received terrible results. Others have decided instead to mold the entire toy in black, with minimal red applications, such as Bandai... acceptable, but cheap. NECA is luckily among the few who have recreated the tough look to a tee. Covered in red highlights, never missing or overflowing any particular spots, as well as accentuating aspects such as the tail's tip or the spine's surfaces. Again, similar detail work with past figures surely played into perfecting this.

The dirty colors of tooth and nail, the grimy inner mouth, the minuscule - yet centered! - pupils - all look excellent. There's hardly any way to ask for more.

Fun Factor - 4.5/5 

This Godzilla isn't exactly one that you'd find drop kicking Chainsaw Chickens, or death-kissing evil spiders; he's stiff, he's uncomfortable, and he's as unearthly as a creature such as himself ought to be. There are many poses available to create, but admittedly, few fit the character quite as well as a relatively static stance or one pulled straight from the film. Regardless, as a figure, there's a lot one can do, and he looks consistently on model while contorting every which way. Some joints are a bit less sightly than others, and he does have some weight distribution issues thanks to the look itself, but overall I'd say he's fine for play as well as creative posing.

Overall - 4.5/5


Though off in some aspects - distorted features being the key issue - NECA's Shin is easily the best articulated offering of the design to date. Excellent paint, fun articulation, and (bar some qualms) a striking sculpt; he even rivals the 2014 figure, only being beaten by some accuracy points. I'd choose this as the 'must-have' ShinGoji toy; he's cheap, he's widely available, and he'll look just as impressive next to your Bandai vinyls as he will your SHMAs. Not perfect, but very impressive work.

Sunday, May 7, 2017


 It's been a busy time; but, then again, I'm not sure most blogs are quite as active as mine has been thus far. Last month in particular has now become the lowpoint of activity on Wastelnd - shifting focuses, experiments, and so on are to blame.

It's 7:13 as I write this, early in the PM's AM. I'm very groggy from a quasi-nap I was previously lost in; zoned out to a coma like state to a drearily Lo Fi instrumental playlist. 

I think if I had to rewrite A Warm Welcome, my description of myself would be wildly different. That anecdote in and of itself fits who I feel I now am; An existential cloud floating above, distant and impossible to grasp. For better or for worse. 

But, as it stands, I've never been more happy to have a warmth in my throat, a tinge to my sight, and a gust in my mind. I've regained myself. This beautiful feeling; last accompanied by splitting headaches and a horribly expansive aching; has regained it's staticy, golden glow. Like the national anthem stuttering through a bog of distortion, echoing into the black of night.

I don't try to find a solution. If there is one, I'd rather not have it. This lonely prison of my all-too aware self has some riches in the dust. And, frankly put - I have yet to find an endearment able to challenge the gifts which I already have. Lonely, undeniably - or perhaps, focused. Longing, although considerably prideful. A ghost on the ethereal fence at all times.

I remember once more my tired state. A passing beauty, not unlike the sins of life. I sit alone; free of mind. Free of any metallic eyeballs devouring my every slight; Free to the eyes of comradery watching closely, as always. The only life which I derive from. I don't feel much anymore besides the slogging muck of melancholy; but it's as warm a coat as I need.

Time has been flying lately, though I'm not sure why.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Post About April Without a Good Title

April's been one hell of a month - to go to show it, this post's about fourteen, fifteen days late. Good thing this entire blog exists only on my schedules (and comfortably so).

March proved a bit less hectic than I had assumed in my last Monthly post; The month was oddly self contained - despite all the various things that did happen, there was a black cloud overarching it all. Hell, really, it's been depressingly fogging the air for far too long around here. But, in retrospect, I suppose that was a natural disaster I really ought to have avoided - the key beam of clean sunlight which has broken the smog was hardly one I couldn't have enacted sooner, with some determination.

That insignificant flip of a switch has managed to make April somehow new. Realizing the broad reaches of the world - all literally at my fingertips - has helped redefine myself, yet again. My very first post continues to show it's age, almost to the point of embarrassment. Finding happiness in self-pride, in the things I am capable of and should be doing, is so much more fulfilling than drifting on a moodless river of emptiness. Learning to be an individual, one fully in control of my own life, what is in it, and how it effects me, is the most I've gained on a mental level in a long while.

I'm feeling genuinely upbeat for the first time in too long. It's elevating feeling that classic mix of responsibility, push and lighthearted fun after what felt like a deathly hangover. It's hard to express this feeling without the tinge of unprofessional escapism, but to put it bluntly, I can't wait to keep along this newly discovered path. I might be a heartbreaker. But I'm more happy to stay sea sick.

Monday, March 27, 2017


Writing for Wastelnd is the most cathartic feeling I've had in years. I think a listening ear is something I've overemphasized - simply melding my moods with vocabulary, rather than any summation of colors, words, lines, songs, or so many examples of what else, feels incredibly natural.

The blog was intended more as an outlet to spurt out less personal ideas, such as rebuttals to arguments I've deconstructed, or my own mini-essays on entertainment topics. A blog that'd mainly serve as a host, which I'd link to necessary audiences.

The artistic journal it has become is really something of a dream come true; I've always wanted a long running history of my thoughts, and, almost to a tee, here it is. It's quiet, it's individual, and it's not something I feel a huge pressure to do. As previously stated, pattering away at the keyboard while I simply pour thoughts along the screen is as soothing as a hot bath. It's rather sobering, as well; I don't think I've left, nor entered the site with a strong emotional fire. Any sparks are doused rather quickly by the foamy bubbles of meandering freedom which such an aimless medium provides.

No real purpose to this ditty of gratitude, but here's to a new favorite hobby keeping me up all through the night. It's the best time of the day.


I don't think I have an outward online persona, or if I want one. It's such a 'modern' facade; to make an impression based purely on a handful of images. I'm certainly happy with myself - self confidence has never been something I've lacked, which luckily pits me a bit ahead of the game when it comes to decision making and longterm intentions - but when it comes to a digital calling card, I prefer an artistic face - it represents me far better than a particularly attractive photo. I'd rather use the desaturated vector of myself from this very site as a one-note collection of 'me' than a photograph. Why blather about in reality when we have an entire vast digital world which can make our personalities so much more diverse?

This is something I've always toyed with... bouncing between an eccentric impact radiating from an electric homepage, to one that hardly existed at all. I think it's all about influence; I've never felt the need to project myself on the internet without a guiding hand. Perhaps because I take no interest in present-day phenomena, or perhaps because, again, I can sort of preemptively see the dishonesty of it all. The times which I have had a strong foundation of posts and the like were certainly fun, in a mindless sort of way, but I also feel as if something about pouring all of yourself into a medium purely intended to flaunt is fraudulent. Maybe even a little bit distasteful.

Even this blog is intended to be snugly packed in a dark corner of the net... I think an analytical following might limit what, as well as when I'd be willing to express. I'm familiar with the itch a consistent creator gets when they haven't envisioned a new piece in even the shortest of time, and the less of it I get, the better. My accounts on forums and the like are brief, avoiding a lot of specifics about myself besides perhaps a name or age here and there. I'm not even too sure what to do with my currently steady flow of art - as it is, I totally appreciate recognition, and I'd like to make the hobby something more boastable if for no other reason than to have but another small glimmer of pride, but the warmth of holding my creations tightly rather than treat them as golden eggs is comfortable.

I wonder what it's like to not have so many thoughts - or at least, to have fewer that go against the grain. Then again, I know I've been in that mind before; but it wasn't as neatly spotless and upbeat as one would imagine. It's a room pumped to the brim with Laughing Gas, dulling the mind and sharpening the smile. It has solid black concrete walls, shoddily build furnishings, and deeply melancholy overtones - but the sensations are so entrancing, one sees and just as quickly forgets. I guess that speaks for itself, doesn't it? "Ignorance is Bliss"  is really something of a stupid phrase. That pillbottle is lined with annotations that imply it'll eventually leave a worse impact than a present boost. It's always fun feeling a new rush, but don't go in without a gasmask... you'll still get a few small whiffs of the enticing odors, and you'll also be more protected than ever.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Ridley's Kemp

Another journal style entry; always unspecific, but hopefully alluding enough to apply to most psyches.

I'm a bit full of myself. I have no issue admitting it; it's a trait of mine. I'm not too terribly vain, besides my outward implications - I enjoy the flashing lights of life. The natures, which I so often have rambled on about, are absolutely not below me. Although I cannot deny my desires for the world, I'd settle with little were a spirit filling the void me instead. I'm imperfect; but I have a voice pestering the back of my skull. His whispers are faint, but I seem to understand the gist; perhaps this is merely the shedding skin of adolescence. Put frankly, beyond all motives with which I still must consider, I'd far rather peer into the eyes of nothingness than those aching to peer likewise into mine.

Wandering alone on the chilled sidewalks is a peace I've yet to equate. Watching the airplanes far above glide smoothly past each star, displacing the tinge of burning leaves in their inky ripples as I stalk about hundreds of feet below... it is a loneliness that I hold far more vehemently than any love.

Recognizing myself as my own born soul, rather than an amalgamation of traits I long ago hoped would promote myself as a familiarity, is a goal which I've procrastinated for years. As new beginnings are continually rolled out before me, though, I finally have found a proper time but take my introspection more personally. The nostalgic emptiness with which I have fallen so hard for is found, presently, within my own self. And, as is my own belief, the self encapsulates all that is, was, and can be. Perhaps my aforementioned pride is less a product of instability, more one of thought.

The rain falling, dashing through steam and splashing on the asphalt; it is beautiful. The thoughts that drip from an old faucet... wonderful. And though one day I do hope to find a concurrent being with which these peaces may exist, in the meantime, I peacefully levitate above an apocalypse of crashing waters. Ones of my own blissful disregard, and ones that will soothe in the far distances of a shadow. Self.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Surrey Hills

Yesterday, I suddenly became inflicted with a nasty stomach virus; with a harsh fever-migraine combo to boot. Aches, pains - further literal impact than anything has had on me in quite some while. As someone who is often a touch sleepless and groggy, feeling the unbridled downpour of difficulty that is a legitimate sickness comes as a bit of a smack in the face. It really reminds you just where you stand, in more than one sense.

Late into the night, surrounded musically by a melancholic drift as the credits rolled from yet another animated feature stuttering across the empty television screen, I found myself equally half awake. Still drowned in the mental blur of a long, draining day, but far more aware than at any previous point. I was stuck in the cage that is the dead of the night, as I all too often am; though having the shackles of a worn skeleton and torn build made the moon all the more cold.

Oversaturated in my yearn for tranquility - a feeling I'd have cited as a prime example of melodrama in previous accounts of nausea - I immediately grabbed hold of a contrast to the peacefully strained holding area I seemed to be in. Writing frantically among what had become an empty black, I poetically devised what was to be my most brief, yet possibly most encompassing piece of anecdotal reflection yet; a summary of the existential thoughts I have drawn myself back to.

Knowing we all face the evils within us. Each smiling, innocent face; harboring the disease. Sin controlling each and every momentary thought, being the hand that pushes us off the cliff we precariously balance upon. Twisting our wind-up gears, aiming us to pitter patter into the depths of hell.

Where are we; in that our worst nightmare is our popular nature. Who put the chemicals in the food chain.

Rather than an assertion or realization, it is a fallacious question with an answer both too complex and too indefinite to properly explain. A literal interpretation rather than any sort of building expose.

The following day, crawling a touch late to the beaming starlight, I can't help but feel a small touch of chagrin. Festering in a cave of spiraling mysticism, a creature forcibly locked away from the world for fear of it's unbridled oddness. So vehemently clutching it's fears, hatreds, and inhumane sensibilities, it becomes a schizophrenic shell containing naught but condensed explosions of instability. Who rolled the stone before his cavern, none do tell; whether the peoples of the village saw his vain eccentricity, or whether he himself saw their colorless superficiality. Walking into the fields of an entirely forgotten, and thus fundamentally new world; something some may dream of. Something only one who has faced a trial of observational introspection may observe; skin-covered eyeballs, blood-coated mouth and grossly gooey skin shimmering uncharacteristically majestically in the glow.

I feel chagrin in that trial. Still rubbing my cheek from a violently abrupt slap, I become the polar opposite of what I may have been. A child realizing his err; but coping, and understanding. Realizing precisely what he did wrong - while still aware that upfront punishment is among the few ways he'd have ever learned. A regret for ever having to tumble in so many ways. Yet, rather than trample further, I begin to see another ray of hope beyond the blinding revelations with which the burning sun has unscathed. Fault is as much in our nature as is the ungodly hand of Sin. It is what catches us from the precipice, and pulls us on to the next range. The landing is not easy; neither is the ride, nor the leave. But it is the sole assistance we have in recuperating from the evil we perform, and witness.

In what is perhaps the finale of my loosely continual slog of non-specifically pragmatic criticisms of nature, reality, and the demons that haunt whatever we may call our world, I feel a spiritual gust empowering me to end on a note properly alternative. Not one to solve each investigation - far more encompassing. Far less thematically impure. One that reflects rather than destroys.

There is darkness in us; we float within it as does a soulless rowboat among a graveyard of grimy seaweeds. It darts about, as do the flies - latching to the poor sailor's tangy skin, extracting his deeply intoxicated blood with nary a ponder concerning his well being. For this indifference is their temperament, as it is ours. But as he is tortured little by little, the sailor manages to heave forth. He has little strength, but sees the shore. He has come so far; the death and destruction he dove from now undoubtedly corpse-filled relics beyond the deepest reaches of the ocean. He rows on - rowing, rowing, rowing - beheading the weeds, displacing the flies. It is not an act of ignorance, for he is quite aware of his dishonorable survival; but one of enlightenment. As he eventually slides across the sands of an undisclosed Valhalla, he stares back to what was. No longer is there suffering, but merely the distorted visages of the marshes he struggled past. Their odorous clouds carry strong, but the issue was passed. He may have little - or, perhaps, the treasure itself. He may not know where to wander - or, very well, he could be the explorer destined to forever inhabit these forgotten ruins. He is anew. He shall never face a struggle as treacherous, for it is dead and decomposed. His spirit - free of the constant drunkard delusion that was his tortured self - enters the gates, of which he so long dreamed.

Better to float on. Better to smile. Better to hold on to the soul that has helped you here; and keep growing.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Cold Blood Toothpick

It's late.

I don't know much anymore. Yet I know all. After sacrificing the depths of my consciousness for the glitter, alcohol and ash covered linoleum of human amenities, I find it hard to reattach the cranium that was knocked clean from my neck. It strains to reach the spacey, ethereal place I once inhabited. Hard to rid of the gluttonous fat that came packaged alongside the vacuum-sealed human.

Being the only one in your head. The sole voice you'll ever hear, rambling within that strange, indefinite concept we apply to the hunk of fleshy meat that rests in our skulls. The little creator of the universe. Oddly, considering it's rather regal position, it strives to become one with the characters it has envisioned. Trying to rid itself of the duties that come alongside said role; wanting to understand the twisted world that it's own psyche has violently smeared across the canvas of so-called reality. Yet, despite it's ventures to grasp the hallucinations it provides itself, it knows this feat is purely impossible. It knows the gash of blotchy red paint in which it travels - gazing at it wistfully, adoring it's supposed beauty with glossy eyes - has been specifically crafted to challenge, confuse, and horrify the poor soul who traverses it.

Sadistic. Constructive.

Being that voice - that adventurous little entity -  places one in the lone spotlight of an empty theater. Thrown in the Colosseum, pit unfairly against monstrous demons. As they snarl their frothing teeth, their arrows aim dead at your heart; eyes filled with the terrible static screams of those within, forms shifting and morphing endlessly as they adapt to your each and every tactical thought. These are the creatures in our heads. These are the painters of our realities. These are the deities who carefully observe, and rightfully torture; Angels with dirty faces.

It's practically morning.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

One Man's Trash is Usually Treasure

In many critical circles, the argument is made that modern animated children's programming has become far too neutered; ignoring quality for income, relevance, and quantity. Rather than entertain via more expansive attributes such as engaging plots or palpable characters, it is said that the vast majority of shows dive instead into a pool of dumbed-down simplicity.

Though beginning with more openly subversive content often cited as being first seen in The Simpsons, relatively new series such as Adventure Time, Gravity Falls and Steven Universe are among the key examples used to describe the contrast between more the artistically aware and the corporate-minded; each show presents itself in an unrealistic fashion appropriate for a commonplace animation, yet holds it's own weight by having legitimate depth. - with multifaceted writing and a focus on creativity over typically market friendly concepts. Simply put, not unlike the classics of similar mediums, there is a quite obvious soul to each show.

The argument itself can be summed up with the following anecdote; "Shows produced for children should not treat the audience as mindless". Children are smarter than we often imply, and thus, it can be beneficial to expose them to more broadly existential topics such as introspection, fear, or even the very critical thinking that has pushed this topic to the forefront. Surely not every cartoon must be Shakespearean - some slight levity is fair, as a cornerstone of the genre - but there must be a sense of purpose overall.

To this, I disagree entirely.

Kids are smart - but they are not geniuses. It is wise to stimulate their developing minds - but absolutely not necessary, within this circumstance. Entertainment is produced for one core purpose; to entertain. Children may feel far more dramatically vast emotions while enthralled in the dramatic pits of The Secret of Nimh, but they will feel a quite similar rush with the bubblegum fun of Despicable Me. They almost certainly will see a difference in scope, but they will also easily identify an entertainment value that is perhaps lost in the midst of storytelling.

As more adult themes are piled onto a concept that is recognizably childish, I find that two reactions occur. One appeals to the aware mind; as a juxtaposition between safety and harsh reality, we feel an unfamiliar impact in what we have been conditioned to see as upbeat. The second, however, is the more important in it's detrimental qualities; it becomes distant to the young viewer. In aforementioned example Nimh, this is hardly an issue; as the film itself was geared toward the critical viewer who would naturally have the means to understand it's levity. It uses it's juxtaposition for an understandable reaction, setting itself in a distinguishable atmosphere. However, with likewise aforementioned modern televised examples, a show that is explicitly geared toward a simple audience takes fault in overwhelming them with dramatics.

Art has an unwritten fairness; even in cases in which there is a juxtaposition, there is also an unspoken focus for which it is totally designed. A setting in which it shall exist - even if that setting is one that intends to shock, or create uncomfortableness. Breaking this norm is not an offense, as often creates rather impressive works via challenging the frames with which it has given itself. However, it is an entity that a creator must be aware of. By introducing parallel attributes to a work, you must consider the entire piece. Will a cartoon glove match the wrist within a  photorealistic portrait? Will an upbeat keyboard riff blend amongst the troughs of shredding guitars? Is there a purpose to this change - or will it instead be an inconsistency?

Children do not see this challenging world of artistic conceptualization. They see intriguing visuals, enjoyable tones, and welcoming writing. Children may recognize the differences in quality between certain programs, but their enjoyment of said programs absolutely does not correlate. It is a somewhat foreign mindset, but not one that is totally beyond comprehension. Above all, this audience wants to be enthralled. There is a place for the so-called stupid, the absentminded; it appeals to an equally underdeveloped audience. Is it truly wrong to pump out media that is altogether little more than cheap jokes and colorful imagery if that is exactly what there is loud demand for? Perhaps these productions are not of no worth - they simply are designed for a very specific set of eyes. 

So, no, children's shows should not consistently be designed as artistic masterpieces. It's simply illogical, directing focus on aspects often too unusual or too uninteresting to the target. Focus on entertainment trumps all; a point that can be applied, and seen in countless forms of media today. To be blunt -there's a reason schlock has survived unscathed, while the challenging has consistently morphed and collapsed upon itself. There is an equal place for more 'quality' shows, of course - but they are not the so-called forerunners of a new age of enlightened children's animation.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Immediate Thoughts - Kong - Skull Island

Fresh from the theaters, thoughts racing and popcorn breath fuming - if you're looking for a beautifully written entry, stray away. The following are my very opinionated, unprofessionally immediate thoughts on the above film. For the sake of spitting arguments rather than writing a full review, I'm writing in a tone pointed directly toward those who have likewise seen the film, and have a familiarity with the genre.

King Kong; the biggest American monster this side of anyone in-office. Arguably the father of modern movie monsters, he's a household name to rival the greats - Alien, Predator, and of course, the one, the only, Godzilla. Legendary and Toho struck creative gold with 2014's hit GODZILLA, kick starting an all-new era of international big-budget monster madness; leading films such as Power Rangers, Colossal, and Shin Godzilla to the forefront. Old man Kong couldn't miss the party - and, already seeing dollar signs at the thought of a certain monster mash, Legendary sent him a formal invitation.

With Kong - Skull Island, the gigantic gorilla has smashed back into star-studded Hollywood glory with a burning vengeance; gone are the rubber suits, the intricate models. No more Empire State scaling, or T-Rex clobbering. Feeling fresh for the first time in many a film, KSI brings us an excitingly lively take on the familiar monster.

As the second installment to the Legendary 'MonsterVerse', comparisons are inevitable to it's predecessor. Where GODZILLA failed, KSI succeeded. In many ways, the film feels as if it were a direct sequel to GODZILLA - minus the necessary titular beast, of course. Each character, though a bit upfront and typical, was recognizable; we knew the cast, and we could feel for them appropriately. Being centered on commonplace film tropes isn't always a negative attribute of a character - because we could identify them based on persona and appearance. they effortlessly held our attention, and even managed some very strong moments. There's spectacle galore -  no half baked artistry to constantly pull away from the testosteronefest here. The battles are huge, and look just as incredible as they ought to. Even some dashes of lighthearted, comic book-esque imagery and comedy are sprinkled into the mix, painting an excellently colorful image.

The best way to bluntly describe the movie is as a modern 'Showa' film; upbeat, a bit cartoony, but perfect for some popcorn thrills. There is an inarguable weight to the story and all aspects involved, but it is kept alive by a steady stream of humor and simplicity that can tastefully counter even the darkest of moments. It's candy - there's not a whole lot behind the curtain, but there's just enough character to it all to make that irrelevant.

However, something did feel a bit hollow about the film - not enough drive for the monsters to clash, not enough development and settling time for the large story. Some characters were perhaps a bit underused compared to their importance, and things felt very fast-paced. I've yet to decide if this adds to the eccentric tone, or takes away from a greater experience.

Upon further viewings, I hope to make a full review - I'm a bit of a Kaiju freak, obviously. But, based on one viewing alone, I'm happy to say KSI is certainly among the most fun modern monster flicks I've seen in recent years.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Countryfied, Electrified, Genuine Country Dragon - The History of Tex Critter's Pizza Jamboree

Since The Walt Disney Company produced the first ever audio-animatronic character, Abraham Lincoln, automated beings have been a staple of the modern entertainment industry. Used in theme parks, films, and much more, this interesting form of technology has grown both more advanced and more widespread with an incredible pace.

Smoking, abrasive, inner-city rat turned children's icon!
One of the key players in the medium's popularization came in the form of  the Pizza Time Theater restaurants (now known as Chuck E. Cheese's). Backed by electronics powerhouse Atari, this chain of eateries combined arcades, pizza parlors, and small-scale amusement parks into one exciting package.

Immediately, entrepreneurs saw the genius of the concept; leading to the creation of imitators such as Showbiz Pizza Place, Circus World PizzaMajor Magic's All-Star Pizza Revue, Bullwinkle's Restaurant, and too many others to possibly list. Thanks to a mix of nostalgia and appreciation for each storefront's unique creativity, a fan following has recently sprung up, celebrating the retro fun of these locales.

Within this fanbase, one smaller-name entertainment center has newly popped back into relevance; Tex Critter's Pizza Jamboree. Collectors have acquired original animatronics from the stores, and fans have swooned over their cutesy designs. However, beyond this admiration, there seems to be a loss concerning information about the pizza parlor. With the help of the Retro Pizza Zone forums, fandom superstar CavitySam, fellow fan Masterpj555, and a trusty search engine, I've compiled all I could find into covering the rise and fall of Tex.

Tex Critter's was a joint production between Castle Entertainment Inc. and AVG Technologies, not unlike the well-known pairing of Corporate Showbiz Pizza and Creative Engineering. Castle, though seemingly having mostly disappeared to time, was a highly ambitious family fun center company, owning various mini-golf locations, arcades, and more. AVG's previous and future works spanned anything from other Pizza centers (such as the aforementioned Circus World Pizza and Bullwinkle's Restaurant), to full-on amusement park dark rides, to feature films.

The Tex cast - Skeeter the Rattlesnake, Country Cal, Foxy Roxy, and of course, Tex - was designed by Disney Imagineers Larry Nikolai and Rolly Crump, giving the crew a traditional cartoon feel. Each character, to varying degrees, served as a homage to the genre of Country music; deliberately distinguishing the show from similar electronic cabaret acts of the time, which focused moreso upon familiar or generally upbeat tunes rather than one consistent music choice.

Tex's was also one of the first entertainment centers to limit it's guests to families only, avoiding the grimy hangout atmosphere found in similar places.

Another unique feature of the stores was it's variety of entertainment. Though retaining the common arcade theme, Tex's also featured Televisions playing then-hip channels such as MTV, a small-scale
theater featuring 3-D films, computers running fun programs, and even an occasional special spotlight on local events (playing recordings of parades, ceremonies, and more of the such on screens through the store). Castle was impressively ambitious, and though little is known whether or not these features were implemented into each location, it's undeniable that they certainly put this chain far
above the comparatively simple ventures of competitors.

Unfortunately, there seems to be very few records of what the real stores looked like. There is one image of an outdoor sign, but no known shots showing the interior of any location. We do, however, know of some memorabilia, such as a member's card from a Puerto Rico location, official Tex shirts, and a full Tex mascot costume.

Even the animatronic band itself was high-tech considering it's mass-market production. Compared to the often simplistic quality of figures in other pizza parlors, it's easy to see that AVG was many steps ahead of these lesser forces. Each character clocked in at about 300 pounds, and eight feet tall. The 'Bots were specifically designed to last, using airplane parts to ensure they'd last as long as possible. Their face 'masks' were glued to an inner skull, and held snugly via buttons (unlike masks such as those used by Showbiz Pizza, which were loosely slipped onto the bare mechanism). They could even be remotely controlled via joysticks, allowing the characters to specifically look at things. As seen in this very rare footage, the Tex show was practically Disney-quality, with smooth, natural movements.

Estimated to be AVG's most produced animatronic show, it is believed 20+ locations existed. Oddly, AVG's website only mentions the Castle Park location, with no indication of the actual food chain in which the figures were used. I have a theory that the first Tex show was test-ran in the park, as it was also owned by CE, and upon it's success, the project was pushed further.

Castle Park was a popular attraction in El Paso, Texas, covering CE's various professions (including, of course, a state-of-the-art arcade facility and a large mini-golf area). It is believed that the above footage originates from this location.

1984, however, proved to be a fatal year for all of CE's outlets. The Tex chain, Castle Park, and a handful of other attractions owned by the company closed, indicating that CE had totally folded this very year. Sources claim that the closure of at least Tex was due to poor money management (presumably caused by the complexity of the stores themselves). A lifetime of only two years, it isn't surprising that CE's impact on the entertainment industry was minimal, at best.

By the time of Castle Park's closing, Tex and company were purchased and moved to similar (though not CE owned) attraction Castle/Magic Landing, which opened that year. The locale displayed their set in a familiar location - the pizza parlor. As CE no longer existed, there was no other Tex advertising nor merchandise around the park, isolating the trio. CL existed until 1988, when it closed due to both a lack of funds and a variety of controversies.

The majority of Tex animatronics were sold off in auctions and the such, or perhaps dismantled in hopes of scrap money. Many still exist, albeit in highly decomposed forms - though few have seen as much wear and tear as those given to Landing.

The park itself, rather than immediately leveled or sold apart, was entirely abandoned. Resting from 1988 to roughly 2008-9, the contents quickly grew eerily decrepit, forgotten by those who once perhaps adored them.

Tex and the gang, twenty-three years old in the accompanying picture, were sadly not spared. They spent seventeen of those years in disregard, and many more afterward. Melting, broken, and soulless, it's a sad sight to see the characters once so full of life now in this terrible (yet, perhaps even more morbidly, recognizable) condition. Even sadder, Landing's corpse was finally levelled in 2013, presumably taking what may have been the first complete Tex stage with it. A work of art, lost to history.

Luckily, it is believed most of the in-store Tex sets were sold off via auction (along with the rest of each location's assets). Designed for years of use, many are still popping up in the oddest of places (and oddest of conditions) to this day.

One such example is a set that, according to often-retold anecdote, was purchased from a closed Tex location  by a high school and used to teach students programming. An alternate version of this tale claims the trio was used for a play, by the same school. The characters were largely incomplete (missing their faces, skins, clothes, and various other pieces), leaving their inner shells and mechanics bare. The fiberglass shells were directly painted upon. Albeit non-official, this is the only known retrofit (or reworking) of Tex Critter animatronics. The characters were renamed "Sammy", "Miss Kitty", and "Uncle Frank", presumably to match their new context. Oddly, Skeeter the Rattlesnake is missing from the set.

As previously mentioned, fans have discovered their own sets, as well. Among others, CavitySam (right) and Masterpj555 (left) have uncovered sets, both in varying states of completion. Though currently in naturally weathered  conditions, both owners are working diligently to refurbish the crew to fully finished, fully functional states - a difficult, but impressive task. The animatronic community has taken a large interest in their progress, thus leading to a small revival in Tex Critter's relevance, with fan art, speculation, and general excitement clouding around the forgotten characters and their background.

Masterpj555 has taken it upon himself to begin clearing this fog, locating and contacting names behind Tex. One successful lead was artist Larry Nikolai, who upon learning of the renewed interest, has began recounting his experience with the project on his FaceBook page. Posts so far have revealed the manufacturing of the animatronics, the design process, and even his original maquette (used to visually conceptualize the stage layout, seen as this article's header).

Yes, despite Tex's long-ignored past, it seems he and his friends do have a future. New information is speedily reaching those invested, discoveries are springing up left and right, and new fans of the show certainly prove it's charm beyond it's limited exposure. The Tex Critter story - despite it's trials and tribulations - has yet to end. New information is old; which naturally means the various questions can, and hopefully, will be answered.

As information is still being uprooted, naturally, there will be periodic updates. I plan to add to the history through new articles. Though I intend to preserve this one as-is, any conflicting updates will be resolved.

With that, here's to the new life that been been breathed into Skeeter, Cal, Tex and Roxy.