Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Year Gone

Well, another year has passed us by, bringing us ever closer to 2012. What is the significance of 2012? Why, it is the year the world is to end, which is the first time it's done so since 2000.

But we are not here to mourn the planet Earth: no, this is a celebration, a reflection. So let us remember a year in toys, in action figures and die cast cars. The Clearance Bin has just been updated with such a retrospective, The Best of The Bin: 2008, an ambitious title for a site that's been around for less than six months.

We wish our readers a Happy New Year. And, if the thought of trudging through yet another year has you feeling glum, take heart: you only have three more to go.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

'Tis the Season

We in The Middle Room adore Christmas, and it is with all sincerity that we send our best wishes. But wishes, of course, are cheap: we've no illusions that our readers are so easily placated.

So we offer content, as well.

First, we would like to draw your attention to a review at the Clearance Bin looking at the 1966 TV Series Batmobile.

But that is far from all. In consultation with The Clearance Bin, we've also put together a collection of images - digital Christmas Cards, if you like - celebrating the season. We have dubbed this selection an "Uncanny X-Mas," and we wish nothing less for you and your loved ones.

Finally, we'd like to share what's become something of a holiday tradition here in The Middle Room: a comic about a secret agent penguin which was created by some guy named "Erin Snyder" a few years back.

We do hope you enjoy.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Toy Review: DCIH Raven

When a toy review is posted at The Clearance Bin, we feel it's our duty to inform you. Such is now the case. If you are interested in the new line of DC Infinite Heroes figures, you may find these observations on the three and three-quarter inch Raven of interest.

Further, we have it on good authority that a holiday special is forthcoming. Readers are encouraged to return on Christmas Eve for more information.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Slow Start

Sometimes a transition is easy, other times it is not. This, sadly, is the latter. A review of Wilton Cake Pillars has been posted on The Clearance Bin.

And now onto other matters....

It is not our intent to belabor this point, but an abiding need to vindicate ourselves and others who have taken a stand compels us to return to a subject we thought we'd left behind.

But with the end of the year upon us, it is common for critics and reviewers to offer their "10 best" lists.

We in The Middle Room feel no obligation to participate in such trifles. After all, we provided a retrospective of the summer releases, and have traveled to the theater only a handful of times since.

Nevertheless, we find some amusement from time to time perusing those of professional critics. It warms our heart, we should add, to see Wall-E, The Dark Knight, and Iron Man placing on so many lists. Wall-E, in particular, is being recognized by many as the best film of the year.

But it is not the number one spot which caught our attention and made us applaud Richard Corliss. Rather it is his pick for the NINTH best that garnered our attention.

Yes, Time magazine has officially recognized the brilliance of the movie Speed Racer, the single most underrated film of the year.

We in The Middle Room have celebrated the picture since its opening, and we are delighted that Time agrees with our assessment. While we'd have placed Speed Racer higher than the ninth spot, we delighted to read Corliss's article.

When Speed Racer was released, those of us who recognized its brilliance were marginalized and ignored. The majority of critics, failing to understand what they were witnessing, dismissed the film.

But time has passed and a resistance has formed. Many of those who missed the film in its theatrical debut have discovered it on DVD.

A resistance is forming, slower than we might have liked, bust surely. It will take time, but Speed Racer may yet get its due.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Requiem for a Toy Store

It is a sad day in The Middle Room and beyond it, too. If buildings had tear ducts, we suspect every mall in America would shed a tear.

After a long and painful battle with financial troubles, KB Toys has finally succumbed to unfavorable market conditions. On December 11, 2008, KB Toys slipped into bankruptcy. An analysis of the sales revealed that there was no hope - the retail chain would never recover. A decision was made to pull the plug: all KB Toy Stores are now set to close after liquidating their inventory.

It is with a heavy heart that we dedicate today's toy review in memory of KB.

Rather than dwell on the tragedy, we thought we would share our memories of KB Toys. Many times we have stepped into a mall in hopes there was a KB within. We have visited KB Toy Works whenever we've had the chance; delighted in their discount prices and aisles of forgotten toys.

Yes, a stop in a KB Toys or a Toy Works was like a trip through time: their shelves housing action figures and play sets from years past. Toys R Us and Walmart may be better locations for finding new releases, but KB... ah, a visit to KB was like a visit home.

As we look around The Middle Room we see memento after memento purchased at KB Toys. The Ghost In The Shell figure from McFarlane Toys: that we found at a KB in western Massachusetts for less than two dollars. In a Toy Works on the east side of the same state, we found three of our Kingdom Come action figures. The Pigs In Space play set was found at a Toy Works in New Hampshire - for twelve dollars, including First Mate Piggy. We bought a Wolverine action figure at a KB Toys located in Maryland. And right here in New York, we found a pair of "What's Opera, Doc?" figures, produced by DC Direct and being sold for six dollars each.

Truly, we could go on. Whenever we've sought out collectible figures, no matter where we were, KB was there for us, waiting in a mall or nestled in an outlet village. We have many fond memories of KB, and it is these we should cling to in our time of grief.

In times like these, we need to remind ourselves that it is not the building that matters, nor the sign in the front. What truly matters is what's inside, and that, dear reader, is the assortment of toys and games.

And these, we know, are now in a better place:


KB Toys/KB Toy Works
1922 - 2008/2009

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Toy Review: Brainiac

Sure, his significance in the new DC Universe is somewhat lessened with the return of his organic alter ego, but there will always be a place in our cold, mechanical hearts for the robotic version of Brainiac.

In this same digitized spirit, we are pleased to present a review of DC Direct's Crisis on Infinite Earths Brainiac over at The Clearance Bin. Have a look and let us know if it does not compute.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Disturbing Trend

Before we begin, we would like to state clearly that we've nothing against the British. Their contributions to geek culture cannot be understated, and we have nothing but admiration for what they've given us. From the trigger-happy, drunken womanizing of James Bond to the disease-ridden aliens of War of the Worlds, the British have a long history of developing characters and stories beloved by geeks everywhere.

But a recent trend has disturbed us deeply. In July we alerted our readers to a frightening instance of a religious organization from the United Kingdom slandering the Black Canary, an American super-heroine.

At the time, we assumed this would be an isolated incident. We are disheartened to report that we were wrong. The Redcoats, it seems, are up to their old tricks again. And this time, the British are acting through official, legal channels.

It is unclear why the Batmobile was in London - indeed, it is our sincere opinion that the Dark Knight's secrets should remain unknown - but whatever the reason, the Caped Crusader was in England, where he was issued a parking ticket.

This development is nothing short of stunning. First of all, Batman and the British police (or "bobbies") share a common philosophy, fighting crime without the use of a firearm (it is, after all, the weapon of the enemy; a coward's weapon, one might say).

So why then the animosity? Are the Brits still angry that Batman has taken the title of "World's Greatest Detective" from their beloved Sherlock Holmes?

No, we think the truth is somewhat more distressing. When the incident with Black Canary occurred, we drew your attention to a doll representing Electra, a far better example of what the religious organization was trying to express, but one they conveniently omitted.

At the time, we assumed this was an oversight. In light of this recent development, we must now amend this assumption. We now have reason to believe that the United Kingdom has instituted a systemic program of intimidation and slander against the heroes of the DC Universe.

Why? At this stage, it is impossible to say for certain. But we suspect that the reason ties to the fact that DC Comics contains few recognizable heroes from England. Sure, there's John Constantine, but even he was changed into an American for the mediocre movie.

This may seem paranoid, but ask yourself this: why is it always a DC character targeted by the British? Why wasn't the Spider-Mobile ticketed? We have our theories....

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Toy Review: Bugs

We have a very special review over at The Clearance Bin. Today, we review bugs. Toy bugs that is. We are looking at a scorpion AND a tarantula. That's right: you get reviews of two bugs, because we felt that one was simply not enough.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Toy Review: DC Direct Ra's al Ghul

In the interest of furthering the science of the study of toys... no, that just isn't right. What we do at The Clearance Bin transcends this. It is, perhaps, a philosophy of science of the study of toys, if not bordering on a sort of theology.

We have turned this endeavor once again to a plastic representation of a printed character; in this case to Ra's al Ghul, Batman villain extraordinaire.

You can view our review here, though it pains us to use so trivial a term.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Spirit of the Holidays

Christmas in July, inverted, becomes July in Christmas. And there is a sense that Black Friday is a mirror image of the Fourth of July: a celebration of the fundamentals of our economy, the basis of our entire civilization.

For those of you who have yet to complete your shopping, we've just posted a review of a Santa Clause action figure, pictured above, in The Clearance Bin. And, should you become curious as to how we arrive at a specific score, you can read all about it in the article explaining our Methodology, also just published.

Yes, another Black Friday has come and gone. We in The Middle Room marked the occasion by setting our alarms bright and early for 4:45 AM, climbing out of bed, crawling to our computers, and buying discounted DVDs from Amazon before they ran out.

This, we should add, has several advantages over the more traditional activities:

1. Easier commute.
2. One can return to bed immediately after concluding one's purchases.
3. No one needs to die.

The third point is one of particular significance this year, as the body count, while thankfully remaining in the single digits, was higher than one would have expected. Two shoppers shot each other dead at a Toys R Us in California, while closer to home a Walmart employee in Long Island, NY was trampled to death by impatient shoppers immediately after opening the store.

While it warms our hearts to see so many embracing the true spirit of Christmas, we sincerely hope that in the future consumers can express their love of capitalism in a manner less reminiscent of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead.

On the other hand, it is an exceptional film.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Toy Review: Blackfire

We have published a review of the villainous Blackfire over at The Clearance Bin. If you have a moment, take a look.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

100th Post Spectacular

It is our assumption that our readers, in an effort to better acquaint themselves with the content of our discussions, not to mention to further the study of those patterns that guide our choice of topics, construct mathematical models and search for numerological significance therein.

If we are correct, then there is little point in mentioning that this is the hundredth post of The Middle Room. Indeed, to spend such time on the subject strikes us as superfluous. We almost decided to forgo celebrating the occasion at all, but in the end it was decided that should we abstain from posting about the event, said event might never come to pass (we can't very well focus on an insignificant subject for our 100th post, after all).

So, consider this our centennial, a milestone passed on our twisting path through the world of the geek.

And to mark the occasion, we've also posted on The Clearance Bin: an article on the nature of materialism awaits your consideration, as does a review of a six-pack of Halloween cauldrons found on clearance at a Toys R Us.

These represent no great numerical importance to The Clearance Bin, though, so there is little profit in dwelling on the subject.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Toy Review: DCUC Wonder Woman

For fans of DC Comics, we've posted a review of Mattel's DC Universe Classics Wonder Woman in The Clearance Bin.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Movie Review: Quantum of Solace

From start to finish, Quantum of Solace was a restrained non-stop thrill ride, an introspective action film.

This contradiction defined almost everything right and wrong about the film.

Bond went through the entire picture in something of a daze, more numb than hurt following the events of Casino Royale. This did not, however, prevent him from traveling to exotic lands and painting them red with the blood of his foes.

Nor should it have: this is 007, after all. And we found ourselves fundamentally impressed that Bond didn't seem to want revenge as much as he wanted to want revenge, or, barring that, anything. He was cold and empty, in something of a rut, and it wasn't until the end that he started to regain feeling. With only a few exceptions, he seemed to be killing out of indifference rather than spite.

Let no one suggest it wasn't a brave directorial choice, and the library of 007 films is richer for it.

But there was a price to be paid. There is a sense of vertigo one experiences while trying to comprehend the setting. For the most part, this movie is deeply grounded in our world and the human psyche, so when elements reminiscent of Roger Moore's Bond appear - and they do in spades - it is dizzying to say the least.

Further, the action scenes were by and large over the top and empty. There was little excitement to be found, even when they seemed to be trying for it. The scene where Bond leaps from a plane is a perfect example: it was heavily CG'd, very fast paced, and ultimately dull. The moment was reminiscent of Schwarzenegger's Eraser, but not as much fun.

Fortunately, there were plenty of moments which made up for this. The scene in the opera house, for instance, was fantastic; one of the best Bond moments of all time, in fact, and entirely nonviolent. Well, until it turned violent, but that was less intriguing.

Likewise, the movie's conclusion was near-perfect. While the action-heavy desert hotel fight was perhaps a bit zanier than we needed, what came next was far more to our liking. We need to choose our words carefully here, in case there are readers who've yet to see the picture, but Bond's moment with Camille - the movie's primary "Bond girl" - at the end succinctly defined the difference between this version of the character and all earlier incarnations.

This is the 22nd Bond movie by most accounts. We could actually inflate that number by adding in Never Say Never Again, the 1967 version of Casino Royale, and The Rock (John Mason indeed), but there seems little reason to complicate matters further. If your favorite of the first 21 Bond films were a five star picture, we feel Quantum of Solace is deserving of a relative three and a half stars. It almost pulls four, but the opening credits just didn't impress us.

Updates at The Clearance Bin

Just now, for your enlightenment and enjoyment, we have posted the next segment of our ongoing series From The Workshop at The Clearance Bin. Today's installment is entitled, "From The Workshop, Part 2: Kitbashing", and it is of course penned by our very own customizing master, Lindsay.

And, because we were in a generous mood, we did not stop there. Indeed, we have also published a review of Reindeer Games Rudolph, a marvelous toy, and we invite you to take a look.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Squad - Recursion

Today we are considering Marvel's Super Hero, shrunk to miniature size. We've looked at these figures before over in The Clearance Bin, and today we look again. If you've any interest in things awesome, you may want to visit the Bin once more for a closer look at Phoenix and Wolverine as re-imagined by Hasbro.

Yet our discussion is multifaceted. While you peruse our review at The Clearance Bin, be sure to duplicate yourself - as does Madrox, the Multiple Man - so you can stay in The Middle Room and continue to the end of this post.

Our attention was recently drawn to news of comic strips - soon to be collected - based on this same line of toys, which are, of course, based on comics of Marvel characters.

In The Clearance Bin, we've noted before that some two dimensional designs are unsuited for translation to three dimensions. The reverse, sadly, is no less true. The miniaturized figures, each adorable in its own right, loses their charm when flattened. The art leaves us underwhelmed.

It doesn't help that the comic strips are, for the most part, not funny. Okay, we kind of liked this one.

All of this raises an important question, however - one we've yet to see answered: Will there be toys based on these comics?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Toy Review: Lemax Christmas Accessories

Those of you who collect toys may want to stop by The Clearance Bin to check out our review of Lemax Christmas Accessories we bought at half price at our neighborhood Michaels. While you're there, check out the new site: we've improved it to make it easier to navigate.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Blurred Line

The line between science and mad science is often blurred. There are few who would challenge the assertion that it is mad to create a robot a hundred feet tall, armed with missiles and programmed to kill. But what of a similar giant robot armed to the teeth and programmed to love?

Truly, there are shades of gray that must be considered.

So it is with cloning. A team of scientists have come a step closer to resurrecting extinct animals. The applications of this technology are staggering: modern man may finally be able to discover the taste of deep fried dodo, a delicacy lost to the ages.

But there is danger to such technology as well. Earlier this week famed science fiction writer and global-warming skeptic, Michael Crichton (iD&Di: .32) passed away. But his work survives, and it warns us of the dangers that accompany cloning.

But have we not also learned from Spielberg (iD&Di: .47) that cloning is really cool, as well?

Is it mad to clone frozen mice? No. Is it mad to clone dinosaurs, creatures of immense strength and power whose behavior is a mystery to even the greatest scientific minds? Perhaps.

But these researchers aren't talking about dinosaurs: as the article explains, they're merely testing their theories on mice to further our understanding of genetics, life, and science.

And then it's on to the mammoth.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Toy Review: DCUC Batman Beyond

We've just posted a review of a new Batman Beyond action figure. Head on over to The Clearance Bin to check it out.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Bitter Cup of Coffee

Every year geeks gather for Gen Con, the best known D&D convention in the world, for a celebration of gaming. Polyhedral die are cast, we've heard, like grains of sands in the wind.

But it is not all fun and games: geeks know the importance of giving back to the world that has given us so much. As such, there is a charity auction, with the proceeds going to a cause selected every year.

This year was special. In memory of Gary Gygax, the creator of D&D, it was decided the money would go to a organization Gygax had championed, loved, and given to.

That organization is the Christian Children's Fund.

The auction produced a sum of $17,398 dollars for the charity. For an organization normally reduced to soliciting less than a dollar a day at a time - that's a lot of money. It was intended to do a lot of good: after all, this is the charity that has boasted the frugality to provide a child food, water, medicine, and health care for the cost of a cup of coffee a day.

And yet, they refused the money.

Their stated reasons are somewhat unclear, but the subtext of their motivation is easy to grasp: the money could be... tainted.

This is of course ludicrous. The influence the dark powers exercise over Dungeons & Dragons is grossly exaggerated. Satan barely touched that money.

This isn't the first time a religious institution has insulted Gygax: despite our repeated calls, the Vatican has yet to do the right thing and canonize him.

What's more: it seems unlikely that the children who would have benefited were consulted in this decision: seventeen thousand dollars is a lot of money in these troubling economic times.

It's enough to sponsor a single child for more than 60 years or, alternatively, enough to buy 22,023 thirsty children each a cup of coffee. Today.

Gary Gygax must be rolling in his grave.

Anyway, you can read more about this here.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Nightmares from a Haunted Dream House

We hold Halloween in high esteem here in The Middle Room: it is a day of profound significance to us. As such, we felt it important to mark the occasion. Working in consultation with The Clearance Bin, we've put together a collection of horrors, a kind of digital haunted house full of images 16% more horrific and 22% less Euclidean than any in the Necronomicon.

So, if you believe yourself brave, feel free to peruse our collection of....

Nightmares from a Haunted Dream House

But consider yourself warned.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Toy Review: DCUC Solomon Grundy

In our continuing quest to educate and inform you, our reader, about the action figures available from your local purveyor of oddities, we've put together a review of a figure we were forced to put together as well: Solomon Grundy, born on a Monday (or so we've heard).

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ebay: Warnings and Advice

We haven't been bothering to notify you, our reader, of every article and column we've placed on The Clearance Bin for the simple reason that we wanted to leave a bit of mystery to the site. Were every last addition mapped out and described here in detail, the excitement of The Clearance Bin would no doubt be lessened.

However, a recent addition to our series for new collectors struck us as something that may be of particular interest to visitors of The Middle Room.

You see, we've only just posted a discussion of Ebay, and it occurred to us that many of those accessing The Middle Room were doing so online.

The connection could not be ignored.

Therefore, we invite you to peruse the article and skim our advice for shopping Ebay, which, we are told, exists likewise on the internet.

You may also have some interest in the previous articles in the series - though it seems far less certain, as they deal all but exclusively with the actual world (a subject, we suspect, our readers have less interest in). Nonetheless, here are some links for those of you who are curious:

Starting a Collection, Part 1: The Value of Clearance
Starting a Collection, Part 2: Choosing Toys
Starting a Collection, Part 3: A Field Guide

And, of course, Starting a Collection, Part 4: Deadly Waters

Monday, October 27, 2008

Politics Bleeds into the Geek

Well, it was only a matter of time. Here in The Middle Room we have remained mostly silent on the subject of politics, because politics (for the most part) has steered clear of us.

But it was not to last.

Barack Obama has invoked us, as so we must comment. For those of you who haven't heard, Obama recently compared the relationship between John McCain and George Bush to that between Robin and Batman.

We must admit to finding the comparison a bit baffling for a variety of reasons. The first and most obvious is that finding parallels between Bush and Batman would be trying: Bush simply isn't a heroic figure. On the other hand, similarities may exist between Bush and the persona Batman projects - that of a disturbed millionaire playboy with issues living up to his father's legacy.

But in the case of Batman this is merely a disguise used to misdirect suspicions. There is little evidence that Bush is living a secret life battling the criminal element in Crawford, Texas (though that may explain why he spends so little time in Washington).

What truly confuses us, however, is the lack of specificity: which Robin is Obama referring to?

Dick Grayson is the obvious candidate: he's the original and best known version. However, he's a capable leader, ready to take up the mantle of Batman should the need ever arise. While lacking some of his mentor's abilities, he is less disturbed and obsessed. It is hard to understand the connection, unless he was complimenting his rival.

Jason Todd might make the most sense: he was the least stable and least popular of the Robins, after all. What's more, he served the shortest term, which could be viewed as a veiled reference to McCain's age and the possibility he may be replaced by a different Robin (in this case, Palin). A similar innuendo could be drawn from Tim Drake, who briefly had to give up the mantle of Robin at his father's demand. In that situation, Stephanie Brown took over, with disastrous results.

While we continue to support Obama, we in The Middle Room question the wisdom of comparing Bush or McCain to Batman or any of his protege. Especially when he could have said that McCain is to Bush as The Riddler is to The Joker. That one has some merit.

Toy Review: SHS Sentinel and Wolverine

We've posted a review of the Marvel Super Hero Squad Mega Pack Sentinel and Wolverine over at The Clearance Bin.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Toy Review: Deathstroke

We've posted a review of Deathstroke in The Clearance Bin, for those of you interested.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Introducing: From The Workshop

We've introduced a new column in The Clearance Bin providing advice to toy collectors looking to enter the world of customization. Head on over for the first installment of our new column: From The Workshop, Part 1: Rescue Me, penned by Lindsay of The Blue Fairy's Workshop.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Toy Review: Sinestro

We've just posted our review of the DC Universe Classic Sinestro figure on The Clearance Bin.

Monday, October 20, 2008


This past weekend we had opportunity to visit a new Ikea, located in Brooklyn. We in The Middle Room are no strangers to the hallowed display rooms and expansive chambers of Ikea: this is no less than the fourth Ikea we've visited, by our count. Still, each location is different, each magical in its own right.

As we walked the labyrinthine corridors and connected rooms, each a facet of the whole, like the faces on an icosahedron, we were lost, at times, in the halls, which twist and turn like riddles.

Thanks to wonders of modern technology, into this world of flat-packed furniture we brought music in the form of MP3s. We listened to "Ikea", by Jonathan Coulton, and marveled at the symmetry.

Glowing blue bulbs hung from wires like grapes from a vine. There were lights at the tips of tentacles; as if offering lighting solutions for eldritch horrors.

We surfed the grey expanse of the self-serve furniture section on flat carts, and we navigated the trails with small blue maps, wooden pencils, and flimsy rulers.

We looked through the 'As Is' section, a graveyard of fallen furniture and broken boxes.

We dined in their commons and tasted exotic Swedish cuisine, such as "penne with meatballs" and "apple cake." We drank sparkling "Swedish-style" orange drink, imported from Spain and sweetened with beet sugar. It was, according to the label, a 'light and refreshing' beverage. We happily agree with this assessment.

And we left with arms full of furniture, of cardboard boxes and chair cushions, of clamp-on lights and miniature bulbs, of loose shelves and other wonders.

Such is Ikea, discount Swedish furniture store.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Robin for all Seasons

Today we've something of a double billing. First, we've posted a review of the DC Universe Classics Robin figure over at our sister site, The Clearance Bin. Take a look if you like toys.

And, we ask you, could the timing be better? Clearly not. For recently we screened the fifth and final season of Teen Titans here in The Middle Room. Teen Titans is a show we've always had a turbulent relationship with. While we certainly enjoy aspects of the program, other elements have often left us disappointed.

It should be added that we've seen the rest of the series, and largely held off due to less than favorable reviews on Amazon.

Having viewed the final season, we now understand where the negative reactions were coming from. The fifth season represents a betrayal of sorts, deviating from the status quo set up for the program.

Fortunately, we were getting bored of the status quo. Still, we feel sorry for the fans of show who'd grown accustomed to mediocre programming and were therefore disheartened when confronted with an intelligent, intriguing show instead.

For those of us who would always have preferred more thoughtful, character-driven entertainment, the fifth season proved well worth the time and expense. The cast expanded to include characters occupying nearly every corner of the DCU, including dozens of Teen Titans drawn from years of comics.

There is, however, a final issue we feel we should mention. The last season of Teen Titans failed to rectify our main complaint; namely that the Justice League was nowhere to be seen. The Titans, to us, are defined by the place they occupy in the DC Universe. While they know that one day, should they survive, they're destined to become the world's heroes, they are still children. And they are in the shadows of their mentors.

But, tragically, the Justice League makes no appearance. Most egregiously, Batman is nowhere to be seen. Oddly enough, The Doom Patrol, Beast Boy's original partners, show up in the first two episodes. Why his team is acceptable and not the better known League is beyond our understanding.

But no matter. There is little reason to dwell on a single flaw in so great a season.

Though we do wonder if it the omission of Batman may have paved the way for The Graysons to follow suit....

Toy Review: DCU Classics Green Lantern

We've just posted a review of Green Lantern in The Clearance Bin.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Toy Review: Nightwing

Stop by The Clearance Bin and take a look at Mattel's Nightwing, from Wave 3 of the DC Universe Classics line.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


A news story on Ain't It Cool News has elicited conflicting emotions from The Middle Room. Unbreakable is an exceptional film, one we would be all too glad to have a sequel to.

But... there are concerns. The problem is, of course, the enigmatic M Night Shyamalan (iD&Di: .27), who captured our attention and our praises years ago with The Sixth Sense, the modern classic which, in our estimation, may hold the distinction of being the most-mocked film of the past twenty years.

Yes, The Sixth Sense won our trust, and every film M Night Shyamalan has made since has strained that.

Which isn't to say he hasn't made anything worthwhile. In fact, many of us prefer Unbreakable and Signs to his first movie. We have even heard it claimed there may be fans of his most recent film, though this has yet to be empirically proven (we've yet to meet a single person who even saw The Happening, let alone enjoyed it).

What fascinates us is the polarizing nature of his movies. As much as we love Signs - it's one of our favorite alien invasion movies, in fact - we respect and understand the opinions of those who find the ending ludicrous (perhaps it is our understanding of Martian physiology that allows us to accept these aliens' elemental weakness).

Likewise, we understand why the pacing of Unbreakable frustrates many viewers, even though our experience was entirely positive.

What does escape us, is how anyone could possibly appreciate The Village as anything other than laughably bad. Yet there were positive reviews, most of which stating an understanding of why so many hated the picture.

There can be little debate that Shyamalan's fan base has shrunk with each picture. With each of us it was only a question of when we gave up and turned our backs on this filmmaker. It is a question, incidentally, you will find in our poll to your right.
(Update: Polls, like all mortal things, are fleeting. Do not mourn its absence; it is in a better place).

In addition, there is another phenomenon we've yet to witness: never have we met a person who disliked one Shyamalan picture then enjoyed a later one. It is well documented that once an individual has had one bad experience with this director, there is no hope of reversal.

And this brings us to our concerns with the prospect of Unbreakable II. If current trends continue, it seems mathematically impossible for this to be better than The Happening, let alone a worthy successor to the original.

Unless... it's possible that a sequel could be effectively grandfathered, as if it were created after Unbreakable rather than today. Shyamalan has never crafted a sequel before, so the precise properties are somewhat uncertain. Under this scenario, only those who disliked the original would be unable to enjoy the next installment. As fans of Unbreakable and The Sixth Sense, we would be safe.

Another possibility is that The Happening was so bad that it reversed the law preventing his films from improving. We can't verify the likelihood of this scenario, however, since we didn't see The Happening (it looked, after all, exceedingly horrible).

So there is hope. But that isn't something we can trust: Shyamalan lost our trust with The Village, and we've not paid to see any of his movies since.

Toy Review: Super Hero Squad: Battle for NY

Stop by the Clearance Bin for our review of Marvel Super Hero Squad: Urban Heroes: Battle for New York figures. They're cute.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Toy Review: JLU Question 3 Pack

Head on over to The Clearance Bin for a review of some new Justice League Unlimited figures.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Time Before....

We mentioned, not too long ago, that we intend to watch an episode of Smallville this year. One episode, that is: no more, no less. The reason for our sudden burst of generosity? The episode in question is being written by an excellent writer and features some longstanding DC characters who've yet to be portrayed in live action.

But before we warm too much to the CW, a new project in development has us a bit concerned. If Variety is to be believed, those of you who have always wanted more of Dick Grayson's early years will be overjoyed. Not Robin: Year One, mind you: this appears to be year negative one. Or, if the show is as successful among teens as Smallville, perhaps year negative eight.

Now, we do feel the need to bring up another possibility. It seems to us that we may be misled, that the show's premise may be something of a red herring, and we may instead be treated to Robin's origin, the story of his adoption by Bruce Wayne, and eventual partnership with Batman.

Given our understanding of the CW, we place the odds that this is the case at approximately eight percent.

There is something to the notion that Batman is a better setting than a character; that many of the best Batman stories weren't about Batman at all, but rather about those trying to live in his shadow. A show focusing on his protege could have merit, but there is little evidence anyone at the CW has the foresight to approach this wisely.

If the show does follow a similar model as Robin: Year One (a good read, by the by, for those of you looking for a decent Batman-related book), there could be some hope. Otherwise, it is difficult for us to imagine the CW producing anything of value.

Monday, September 29, 2008

On Bewilderment

There is something odd about the news that Kenneth Branagh (iD&Di: .32) may be directing Thor. Before we continue, we want to state for the record that in no way are we disappointed or upset: we in The Middle Room have nothing but respect for Kenneth Branagh, and we eagerly await this movie's release.
Our confusion may simply be tied to Branagh's associations with Shakespeare. And, at least in our humble opinion, there is very little Shakespearean about The Mighty Thor.
Thor is a fusion, equal parts action hero, super hero, epic hero, and god. Now, as faithful readers of this blog are well aware, there is room for deep philosophy in such films.

But certainly there are Marvel characters far more Shakespearean in nature. There is an element of the immortal bard in the X-Men, for instance, particularly in The Dark Phoenix Saga.
Likewise, characters such as Spiderman, Ant-Man, and certainly Iron Man all have stories driven by human weakness and frailty: are these not the cornerstones of drama? Yet Thor is a god: we hardly see the parallels.
Of course, there are a great deal of comics we've yet to read: in truth, we've barely touched the vast libraries of comics featuring the wielder of Mjolnir. There may indeed be stories greatly reminiscent of Shakespeare for all we know.
And then, it may be that Branagh is tired of iambic pentameter and seeks a project that deviates from his norm.

Whatever the reason, we have little doubt that Thor will be an excellent film. While we may be somewhat perplexed by Branagh's involvement, we are not disappointed. We're curious to see where he takes the property, and we've every intention of catching the movie on its opening day.

Toy Review: Wall-E and Eve

Not one but two toy reviews are now up over at The Clearance Bin. You can take a look at U-Repair Wall-E here, then visit his beloved iPod, Search and Protect Eve here.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Middle Room Presents

The Middle Room is proud to present The Clearance Bin, a site dedicated to action figures and toys of all kinds. Well, most kinds.

Our first review is of NECA's Conan: The Barbarian action figure. Stop by and take a gander.

Be aware that all reviews, articles, and opinions on The Clearance Bin are offered 'as is'. No refunds or exchanges of any kind.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


There is nothing we in The Middle Room enjoy more than sharing good news with our readers. Absolutely nothing.

But the universe is intrinsically rational, quantum mechanics notwithstanding, and as such it should come as little surprise that we abhor delivering bad news.  Yet some pain is best borne quickly: there is an old adage about band-aids which comes to mind, but let us move on - we've waisted time enough on such trifles.

Brett Ratner (iD&Di: .51) is to direct the next Conan movie.

There it is, plain and simple.  We are sorry that you had to hear it from us.

Longtime fans of The Middle Room, of which there are none, may recall that we've spoken of Ratner before.  Those words are truer today than the day we wrote them: the property Ratner holds now is dear to our hearts, indeed.

Is it possible that we will be pleasantly surprised?  Our contention is that this is unlikely, though not impossible.  Ratner is not without ability, but he has yet to prove he can make a good movie, let alone a great one.  His failure on X-Men 3 is a bitter cloud above his head, and he has much to atone for.

Here he may have a chance to show his metal or prove his harshest critics right.

Unless, of course, the project falls through, like so many others before.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Touch of the Theatrical

While we've discussed film to no end, we've not devoted much space to theater.  Mainly, this is because theater tends to shy away from those geek elements that inspire and intrigue us.  Even the plays we've seen and loved have little content fitting this forum.

But today we've witnessed a play which embraces the geek.  It is a science fiction piece titled "there will come soft rains", and if you're in New York, there remains one more scheduled performance.

The piece actually consists of three short plays, each adapted from a different science fiction story.

The first is a story we in The Middle Room are very familiar with: "How the World Was Saved", by Stanislaw Lem, is taken from The Cyberiad, our single favorite science fiction work.  We have long held out hope that some clever director would purchase the rights to produce an animated version of this work, but we never expected to see our favorite robotic constructors, Trurl and Klaupacius, adapted for stage.  Of the three shorts, this was by far our favorite.  There was ample opportunity to ruin this piece, but at every turn, the creators revealed a deep appreciation for the source material - including the artwork - as well as ingenuity and inspiration.  Puppets were used for the robots, while the great nihilistic machine at the story's heart was played by a troop of actors.

"On the Nature of Time", by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg, is the only story of the three we've never read.  This was a solo performance about time travel made possible by projections, allowing the same actor to exist in different places at once.  The effect is impressive, particularly as the cyclical nature of time is explored.

The final piece is the best known.  "There Will Come Soft Rains", by Ray Bradbury, is considered a classic.  The piece was interpreted through pantomime, shadow puppets, and simple props.  It was highly enjoyable, though perhaps a little long.  Still, the trio of actresses performing this piece kept this interesting as they convincingly created the impression of a set from the simplest of props and, as is only appropriate to the work, crafted a character from that phantom set.

The three plays, while seemingly unrelated, formed a trilogy of sorts.  The first piece was a sort of creation myth, the second a tale of recurrence, and the final an apocalyptic tale.  There was a great deal of thought placed into the play, and we found ourselves entertained, intrigued, and most of all, impressed.

If you've nothing else to do this Wednesday evening, you may want to consider seeing if tickets are available.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Ray of Light

We have made no secret regarding our affections for The Chronicles of Riddick, but have long known that a sequel would require a miracle. Well, dear reader, it seems that a miracle may be in the works.

The Chronicles of Riddick is a glorious film. Half of the movie works in its own right, succeeding in the creation of a dark universe well deserving of the term "bad ass". But it is the other half, the half that fails miserably, which truly makes the movie shine. Planets such as 'Crematoria', where the sunrise brings a tide of fire, or the villainous Necromongers, partially dead gothic centurions who behave like unsupervised first graders: these are the elements that make The Chronicles of Riddick endure.

Dare we say: these are what make it a classic.

The Chronicles of Riddick is a phenomenon. Aspects of the movie are actually quite good. And there are elements which are astonishingly stupid. But the latter do not detract from the film at all. Instead, they elevate the movie to new heights.

Most importantly, there is an element of Wolverine in the character of Riddick which makes the movie appealing to the twelve year old inside us all. This is not a movie for the child in us, but rather the juvenile adolescent. Consider this the dark reflection of Zathura if you like.

This is, after all, the movie where Vin Diesel convinced Judi Dench to play Dungeons & Dragons in order to better appreciate her character.

In the film she plays an air elemental.

As much as we enjoy Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick is so much more than its predecessor. Pitch Black was merely good, while Riddick is simultaneously great and awful at the same time. It is a delightful marriage of flavors with one seemingly insurmountable flaw.

The ending, one of the best cliffhangers ever used to close a motion picture, seemed destined to never be continued.

We are thrilled that there is a chance - however small - for this to be rectified.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Summer 2008, A Retrospective

The summer draws to a close, and with the season gone, we must bid farewell to the films that came in its wake.

What a year it was.

Never before have we seen so many superhero movies of such high caliber released so close together. In terms of comic book movies, the past four months cannot be compared with past summers or even past years. You need to look at decades. We can say with neither hyperbole nor irony that the past four months saw a greater number of exceptional comic book films than either the 1980's or 1990's. Really.

And that was only half of it. We've seen fantasy, science fiction, and animation, as well as a few films that defy description. This has been an amazing summer.

Rating these films has been trying to say the least. We saw no fewer than twelve movies at the theater this summer. Some we saw more than once.

Of course, as is always the case, as time passes our opinions change with it. So, in celebration of the season that's passed, we would like to revisit these twelve films and reminisce. Rather than arrange them arbitrarily or by date, we'll count down to our favorite film of the summer:

12. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
While we saw no movies this summer that left us with nothing positive to report, this came the closest. There were certainly impressive visual elements about the film, but the awful script prevented it from leaving any real impression.

11. Prince Caspian
This was a bit mixed. There was actually a great deal to enjoy here, and the absurdity of watching children slaughter their foes on the field of battle made for an enjoyable evening. But fine cinema this was not.

10: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
By most metrics, this was a far superior movie to the two that preceded it - and perhaps several that follow. Even so, this came very close to getting stuck behind Caspian: in fact, we entertained the thought of declaring it our least favorite of the year, behind even The Mummy. Why were we so venomous? It is a question of expectations and legacy. We expect a great deal from an Indiana Jones movie, and this did not deliver. While other movies we've seen may have been worse, this was easily the largest disappointment. Still, there were enough exceptional moments that we were forced to confess we liked it better than the last two films.

9. Wanted
At this point we've crossed a line. Beginning with Wanted, every movie that follows is one we really enjoyed. Of these, we've placed Wanted at the BACK of that line. Why? Because after seeing the movie, we read the comic. While the source material is far from perfect, it is a much more intelligent work than the film, and the movie suffers in comparison. Nevertheless, this was still fun to watch.

8. Kung Fu Panda
We initially described this as 'likable,' and there is no reason to alter that appraisal now. Kung Fu Panda was highly likable, but not much more. We'd have liked more, of course, but we were content with what we received.

7. Tropic Thunder
Had we compiled this list immediately after seeing Tropic Thunder, we may have placed this at number eight. But Tropic Thunder improves with time: there is a lot here to reflect on and enjoy. This wasn't a movie we'd planned on seeing at the start of the summer: indeed, we hadn't even known of its existence. But every summer needs at least one surprise, and this was 2008's. If you miss this in the theaters, be sure to rent it when it hits dvd.

6. The Incredible Hulk
Here things grow truly difficult. From here on in, every film is one which achieved greatness. That The Incredible Hulk is in sixth place reflects only the strength of the summer: had this been released last year, it would have easily made our top three.

5. The Dark Knight
Before you grow upset, let us say this: were this a list of the BEST movies of the summer, this would have easily claimed the #2 spot. But this is a list of our FAVORITE movies, and, while we certainly enjoyed The Dark Knight, we have too many points of contention to place it higher. We understand why we're in the minority here, we appreciate why others have elevated this movie to the level it's achieved, and respect the movie for what it was. It is an amazing film and a cultural phenomenon, and we wish it could have beaten Titanic as the highest grossing movie of all time (it was stopped, we suspect, only because dvds have become a more popular method of viewing films). But, simply put, there were movies we enjoyed more.

4. Iron Man
This is an example of a comic book movie that was done right. Those making the movie understood why the character worked. They understood the world they were playing with, and they put together a film that was both completely enjoyable and fascinating at the same time.

3. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Everything we just said about Iron Man applies to Hellboy II, only more so. This was immensely enjoyable to watch. What's more, as we mentioned in our review, it bodes very well for The Hobbit. As much as we enjoyed the first Hellboy, this puts it to shame. This is an incredible sequel.

2. Speed Racer
In the interest of full disclosure, we are forced to admit there is a chance Speed Racer's placement was influenced by the negative response it received from most critics - we are occasionally rebellious and enjoy being contrary. But make no mistake, we absolutely loved every minute of this movie. There is nothing else like it in existence, and that is a tragedy. To anyone who couldn't appreciate Pops Racer's line about the "non-ja"... you've our sincere sympathy. This movie may not have been for everyone, but it was absolutely for us.

1. Wall*E
What else could it be? Wall*E is undeniably the best movie of the year so far. It is also our favorite. While we still consider it slightly beneath Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, it is still one of Pixar's best. We've seen this twice already, and when the dvd comes out, we'll watch it a dozen more times.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Movie Review - Tropic Thunder

We in The Middle Room see few parodies these days. This wasn't always the case, of course. When we think of our childhood years, we think of films such as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, UHF, and of the collected works of Mel Brooks (iD&Di: .32).

But somewhere along the way things fell apart. We don't recall when we first grew bored with the genre, but, to an extent, we outgrew it. Perhaps that is too generous an assessment: parody has become largely a mockery of what it once represented.

We exclude from this indictment a growing subsection of "quasi-parodies." Movies such as Sky High, Enchanted, Galaxy Quest, and Shaun of the Dead, while certainly containing elements of the parody, are films driven by character first. The references are there, no doubt, but these are peripheral to the main concept of the films. All of these are phenomenal pictures: if you missed any of these, we recommend them wholeheartedly. But they are genre films first. They are superhero movies, science fiction, or horror: the comedy is not the sole point.

But there exists a type of film where the comedy stands at the forefront. When we accuse the genre of faltering, we refer to the trend of reference-driven movies which show no sign of thought or reason. A reference, lacking context or purpose, is the lowest form of comedy, below even the infamous pun.

But there is room in our cineplexes for films crafted of references and jokes, provided there is thought, as well. Tropic Thunder, we are happy to report, is a parody worth watching. What's truly impressive is that this is an actual parody; slapstick even. The characters exist to tie the scenes and jokes together.

What separates this from lesser attempts is the degree of thought that has been invested. Expense was not spared on the effects or the sound design. The movie draws you in then gives you something to laugh at. But the jokes are complex. Rather than go for the cheap joke at every turn, there was actual thought put into this script.

Mike Myers (iD&Di: .41), perhaps, should take notes.

We would also be remiss were we to ignore the acting and makeup work. If you've heard anything about this movie, you've no doubt heard that Robert Downey, Jr. (iD&Di: .42) is hilarious. Between Tropic Thunder and Iron Man, this is certainly a good year for him.

But Downey was aided by some exceptional makeup work. It is our sincere belief that Tropic Thunder is deserving of the Oscar for best makeup. This is not hyperbole: it is fact.

On a scale of one to five, where five stars is equal to the greatness of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, we wouldn't hesitate to give Tropic Thunder three and a half. This is an exceptional event: a parody in this day and age actually worth seeing.