Micronauts: The Movie

Deadline.com reported yesterday that the writing team behind Zombieland have been tapped to pen a Micronauts script for JJ Abrams and Paramount Pictures. (FULL STORY HERE).

I could bemoan the fact that Hollywood has run out of ideas and now they’re only making movies based on comic books, amusement park rides and toys, but I won’t. One, I’ve really got my fingers crossed for a Hungry, Hungry Hippos feature, and two, I really loves me some Micronauts. In fact I still have mine. So a movie can only mean one thing for me: Ebay riches!

Micronauts were (or I guess, are) a toyline from Japan (called Microman over there) brought to the US in the 70s by a toy company called Mego. They were little see-through guys with silver heads mostly, though some of them were metal and came in Egyptian sarcophagi. And there was a big robot that turned into a car – sort of. Bottom line is they were really cool. There was a Marvel comic book that made about as much sense as the toy, if I remember correctly.

So I’m happy they’re making the movie. Will it suck? Probably. But I’ll go, and I’ll take my little transparent buddies with me.


Avengers trailer!


The Circus (1928)

I’m a new convert to Charlie Chaplin. I never saw his movies as a kid. I watched a lot of Laurel & Hardy one-reelers (my Dad’s favorite) and I tracked down Buster Keaton on my own. I of course knew who Chaplin was, and was familiar with his now ubiquitous Tramp character, but I was not aware how truly brilliant he was. My loss. I have a lot to catch up on.

The plot of the film is simple: The Tramp is mistaken as a pickpocket and in an attempt to escape the police, becomes the featured attraction in a traveling circus. He’s a huge hit, and the ringmaster hires him as a janitor and sets up situations where the Tramp doesn’t realize he’s part of the act.

Chaplin soon falls in love with the ringmaster’s step daughter, Merna, who is being abused by the ringmaster. The Tramp is soon competing for her affections with the tightrope walker, Rex.

I can’t really get over how beautiful this picture was. It was so funny, and so sad and just brilliantly done. I caught it on Turner Classics, and in the introduction they said Chaplin didn’t have a script when he started the shooting, but knew he wanted to make a movie about the circus, so he had his production designers start building sets and props and pieced together the story as he went.

If you think you can’t be entertained by a silent movie, I urge you to give this one a try. I laughed out loud several times. There’s a repeated gag with an angry donkey that hates Chaplin for some reason that’s hilarious. And the scene where he takes to the tightrope to impress Merna (concealing a secret harness) had me on the floor.

Chaplin went through a second divorce, a studio fire and his mother dying during the shoot, which might explain the melancholy ending. I didn’t really expect him to win the girl, but I was surprised by the tragic turn at the end. Chaplin was one of those crying-on-the-inside clowns, I guess.

It was also his last silent picture. Knowing this, the scene of the circus train leaving him behind at the end spoke volumes.

Chaplin won his first Academy Award for The Circus. Well deserved. It’s up on the list of my all-time favorites.

The Circus has recently become famous because of an apparent time traveler caught on film. In the 2010 DVD release, there is bonus footage the shows the LA premier in 1928 where you can (supposedly) see a woman using a cell phone as she leaves the theater. As urban legends go, I’m particularly fond of this one. If you haven’t seen the video, it’s worth watching.

Nobody worships Satan quite like Vincent Price.

Based on the 1842 short story by Edgar Allan Poe, The Masque of the Red Death is the kind of movie that reminds me of being home sick from school. Maybe it has something to do with the titular plague that Price and his fellow noblemen do their best to avoid by throwing a rave in a castle, but films like this make me feel like I have the flu. But in a good way.

It’s all about Price, isn’t it? That guy was so good at being evil. And you can really tell he’s having a ball doing it. No mere mortal can escape the evil of the Thriller, indeed.

And of course you can’t forget director Roger Corman. He and Price reined as B-Movie royalty with a series of Poe-inspired motion pictures. The two of them mastered the art of creepy mixed with campy (and a dash of 60s surrealism) that gave their films a sinister flavor all their own — that flu feeling I was telling you about.

The story is about Prince Prospero (Price) who discovers the red death plague has afflicted a nearby village.

She loves chicken and murder

Like a good devil worshiper, he burns the village to the ground and invites all his friends over for a costume party, promising to protect them from disease inside the walls of his castle. Oh, and he steals a redhead (Paul McCartney’s girlfriend Jane Asher) from the village in hopes of corrupting her and turning her to the darkside.

Things at the castle get off to a rousing start: Prince Prospero commands his guests to behave like animals (which they do with sweaty enthusiasm). His wife performs a series of black magic rituals in order to ‘marry’ Satan, only to have Prospero turn his trained falcon loose on her face in retribution for treachery. He orders the father and husband of his captive redhead to kill each other for the amusement of his guests. It’s a hell of a party, if you’ll excuse the expression.

But by far – by FAR – the freakiest moment at the devil party is thanks to Propero’s little person buddy, Hop-Frog (“Hop-Frog” is another Poe story).  Hop-Frog has a tiny wife who likes to dance. (Aww.) Well, she dances for the party guests and accidentally spills the drink of one of the noblemen, Alfredo. Enraged, Alfredo slaps the tiny dancer across the face.

That won’t do. No, that won’t do at all.

Hop-Frog convinces Alfredo to dress as a gorilla for the costume ball, and he will act as the beast’s trainer. Oh, won’t it be delightful? Once they make their grand entrance, Hop-Frog quickly subdues and binds the offending nobleman, hoists him into the air and sets him on fire.

While the burning of the guy in the gorilla suit is enough for several nightmares, what’s more disturbing is the casting of Hop-Frog’s wife: It’s a little girl, and they looped-in an adult’s voice for her dialog. The result is unsettling to say the least. Plus I also hate to see good little people roles being taken by children.

While all this merriment is going on, Prospero notices a mysterious guest arrive at the party dressed in a red robe after he specifically forbade the wearing of red to the ball. He confronts the stranger only to learn it is Red Death himself, and things aren’t looking good for our friend Prospero.

You’ve gotta love pretty much anything Price ever did in the B-Horror genre. Team him with Corman, and they’re unbeatable. So grab a glass of warm ginger ale, a box of Kleenex, bundle yourself on the couch and enjoy Masque of the Red Death.

And try not to dream about Hop-Frog.

To me, this was the pinnacle of Saturday morning cartoons. It had several things going for it:

  • It was created by Steve Gerber (Marvel Comics creator of Howard the Duck) who was also a story editor for such seminal 80s animation fare as GI Joe and Transformers.
  • It was designed by Alex Toth (who also did Space Ghost and a number of other Hanna-Barbera characters) and the legendary Jack Kirby (who I shouldn’t have to explain).
  • It was an ingenious mix of Star Wars and Conan set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. In other words, everything 10-year-old boys across America loved mixed up in magical cartoon bucket.

I’ve waited and pined for an embarrassing number of years for Thundaar to be released on DVD. Then Warner Bros. started selling their more obscure library online, including Thundaar. And there was much rejoicing.

Soon I was hearing the immortal opening:

The year: 1994. From out of space comes a runaway planet, hurtling between the Earth and the Moon, unleashing cosmic destruction! Man’s civilization is cast in ruin!
Two thousand years later, Earth is reborn…
A strange new world rises from the old: a world of savagery, super science, and sorcery. But one man bursts his bonds to fight for justice! With his companions Ookla the Mok and Princess Ariel, he pits his strength, his courage, and his fabulous Sunsword against the forces of evil.
He is Thundarr, the Barbarian!

Damn runaway planets.

The first episode, “Secret of the Black Pearl” begins with our heroes riding through the woods when they see a bunch of filthy rat men (called “Groundlings”) beating the crap out of an old man. Thundaar draws his Sunsword (which is nothing at all like a Lightsaber) and defeats the monstrous vermin.

The old man tells Thundaar that he’s on his way to the Island of Manhat (get it?) to deliver a magical black pearl to a band of humans living in the ruined city. Thundaar agrees to take the pearl for him.

Meanwhile, the Groundlings break the news to the evil wizard overlord Gemini (guy who has a spin around head with a nice face on one side and a dickish face on the other) that they lost the black pearl. He outfits the ratmen with motorcycles and laser clubs, but Thundaar just kicks their asses again. So he goes after the pearl himself with his team of robot knights in helicopters.

Thundaar and crew get to Manhat and start poking around for the humans. (At one point Thundaar passes a poster for Jaws 9. Heh heh heh). They are attacked by the robot knights while they’re down in the subway, and Ariel is captured by Gemini.

Thundaar and Ookla (who is nothing like Chewbacca) steal a helicopter and fly to Gemini’s death tower to rescue her.

They return and find the humans and hand over the pearl as promised, just as Gemini arrives riding a storm cloud. The evil wizard brings the fallen Statue of Liberty to life who starts shooting flames at the humans. Thundaar chucks the black pearl at Lady Liberty, breaking the spell and saving the day.

So, so awesome. Just as good as I remembered it. My inner 10-year-old approves.

And I’ve still got 20 more episodes to go.

Word on the cartoon streets is that the Hanna-Barbera classic from 1974 is hitting the big screen in a combination CGI and live action feature. Eddie Murphy will be replacing the great Scatman Crothers as the voice of Penry/Hong Kong Phooey.

The 70s was an explosion of short-lived cartoon series for Hanna-Barbera studios. If they’re going to start mining for feature films here, we’re in for a long haul. Do we need really Captain Caveman: The Movie?

God help us, maybe we do…


The Rocketeer!

Some genius named John Banana made a Rocketeer animated short. Somebody get this guy a job at Pixar. If you only know the Rocketeer from the 80s movie, do yourself a favor and pickup some of the original comics by the great Dave Stevens.


The Rocketeer 20th anniversary from John Banana on Vimeo.