Reality Is The Playground Of The Unimaginative

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Monday, 31 October 2011

Welcome To Hoxford...

Hope you are having/have had a great Halloween. Check out this 20-minute short film from French director Julien Mokrani of Ben Templesmith's Welcome To Hoxford (published by IDW). The movie features Jason Flemyng and Dexter Fletcher.

Welcome to Hoxford, the fan film from Julien Mokrani on Vimeo.

Most definitely NSFW

The Business Of Halloween...

The Business Behind Halloween

Musical Monday: Zombina And The Skeletones - Dracula Blood

Musical Monday - Re: Your Brains...

Happy Halloween! A classic Jonathan Coulton track with a music video from Moontalk Productions.

Happy, Happy Hallo-ween, Hallo-ween, Hallo-ween...

Cassie Hack Says It's Halloween...

So get out there and kill some monsters...

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Pleasant Nightmares...

This haunting, Lovecraftian animation by Gib Patterson (narration by Curtis Jackson and written by Brian Trimboli) was drawn to my attention by Needles over at Swords & Stitchery.

Well worth spending five minutes of your time bathing in the lyrical gloom of this post-apocalyptic meditation.

With This Ring...

Postie arrived at 7.30am yesterday (on a Saturday!!!) - waking me from a bizarre Big Bang Theory dream (go figure!). But the shock of being startled awake that early on a Saturday was worth it as he was delivering from my copy of Cubicle 7's The One Ring.

Now I'm not even that big a fan of Tolkien's Hobbit or Lord Of The Rings, and I doubt I'll ever play or run this game, but it is seductively beautiful to look at and - I have heard from other quarters of the Interwebz - is apparently full of fantastic ideas to filch for 'more traditional' old school games (such as my impending Crypts & Things campaign).

I've got some "work" to do for Rachel so I have sworn myself off comic book reading and giving The One Ring a proper inspection, but once my chores are done I'm looking forward to sprawling on the bed and leafing through the latest Cubicle 7 masterpiece.

Spellfury: Season 2 Episode 2 - Very Ice To Meet You

The latest episode of Travis Gordon's Spellfury (my favourite web series) is now available... and all I can say is: "me wanna Mumsy puppet!"

Spellfury may only come in small bites, but it never fails to deliver as this episode sees the elf maiden Druinia and Errol the cleric being finally found by the demons that have been hunting them.

... and see if you spot the subtle product placement!

One More Sleep 'Til Halloween...

Cassie Hack Countdown To Halloween...

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Merlin: His Father's Son

While Arthur is trying to prove a worthy successor to Uther, he's also proving himself to be rather gullible and open to manipulation by uncle Agravaine (Nathaniel Parker) - who does not have his best interests at heart.

His Father's Son opened with Arthur and his knights defeating a raiding warparty from a neighbouring kingdom. Agravaine convinced him that the only course of action was to either force the captured King
Caerleon (Steven Hartley) to sign a degrading treaty... or execute him as a show of strength.

When Caerleon refused to sign, Arthur was forced to kill him; much to the chagrin of Caerleon's wife, Annis (
Lindsay Duncan) who then mustered her troops and marched on Camelot - with Morgana tagging along to add her own mischief to the scenario.

Meanwhile, Agravaine was poisoning Arthur's relationship with Gwen, by suggesting that - as a servant - she wasn't an appropriate companion for the young king.

Having broken Gwen's heart and marched his troops towards a battle that he realised was all his fault, Arthur decides the only way to put things right is to approach Annis and suggest the conflict be decided by a one-on-one contest of champions - with Arthur, naturally, standing up as Camelot's champion.

Unfortunately, he doesn't realise that Morgana has cursed his sword and when he comes to face Annis' giant champion, he suddenly discovers that his sword weighs like granite...

With no supernatural monsters, His Father's Son was a great, Arthur-centric episode, with magic playing a small (but crucial) role in Arthur's growth as both a man and as ruler of Camelot.

Kudos to Bradley James for totalling nailing the role of Arthur as this key moment in the character's development, with nods also to Angel Coulby,
Katie McGrath and Colin Morgan in their supporting roles.

Although we got to see the massed ranks of both the armies of Cearleon and Camelot, there were no massive battle scenes as at the start of last year, but this focusing in on Arthur and his resolve to find a "better way" was actually the making of the episode.

The Vampire Bat (1933)

A special Halloween treat for my readers, enjoy The Vampire Bat, from 1933, in its entirety.

"The city of Kleinschloss is infected with a dark scourge from the past. A Legion of bloodsucking creatures who can assume human form have returned to prey upon the unsuspecting citizens. Detective Karl Brettschneider begins investigating numerous gory deaths at the request of the burgomaster. Despite the obvious evidence, he refuses to accept the existence of vampiric human bats, but soon their existence proves all too real."

Cassie Hack Countdown To Halloween...

Friday, 28 October 2011

Merlin: His Father's Son (Preview)

In tomorrow's episode of Merlin: "Arthur faces his first true test as King when he incurs the wrath of the formidable Queen Annis. With the lives of thousands hanging in the balance, Arthur must find the strength to be his own man and become the leader Camelot so desperately needs."

Review Round-Up: Hawk The Slayer; Witchville; Scorpion King 2 - Rise Of A Warrior

Anyone who has hung around this blog for a while should have picked up on the fact that I'm rather fond of a little 80s sword-and-sorcery flick called Hawk The Slayer.

However, having recently got my old paperback of the movie novelisation signed by author and director Terry Marcel, it struck me that I hadn't actually reread the book since 1981.

And you know what? It stands the test of time.

Without the "unique" special effects of the movie to distract you, the book allows you to focus more on the clever plotting; you find yourself wondering how much of Hawk's motivation is simply revenge against his evil brother and how far is he willing to go with his "ends justify the means" modus operandi.

The book also, as well as fulfilling my Moorcock Rule criteria by coming in at 144 pages, adds more flavour to the setting with its liberal sprinkling of fascinating and inspirational place names that conjure the impression of a wider world.

Like any true Hawk fan I hope that one day (soon) Terry will be able to make the long-awaited sequel, Hawk The Hunter, but even if he can't raise the finances surely a second novel (and then maybe a third to wrap up the trilogy) wouldn't be too much to ask...?

Witchville (2010): Even with the presence of rising genre stars like Luke Goss and the gorgeous MyAnna Buring and veteran Sarah Douglas, there is nothing to recommend the latest SyFy sword-and-sorcery snoozefest I picked up on DVD: Witchville.

Luke Goss as Malachy discovers he's heir to a kingdom (which consists of one village and about 40 peasants) that is being plagued by witches - only witches here aren't your run-of-mill fairytale or Charmed witches, but an odd cocktails of mutants and Supernatural-style demons (complete with the smoke effect - but red instead of black).

On his way to fight the Queen Of The Witches (Sarah Douglas), Luke and his bros get attacked by a random group of Oriental bandits (because it was filmed in China, apparently) who they then decide to team up with. WTF?

It's all, sadly, a bit dull, mechanically acted and uninspiring - despite the great landscapes.

There's a feeble attempt at a Star Wars/Darth Vader twist towards the end but I was nodding off by that stage.

Remember, I watch these films so you don't have to...

Scorpion King 2 - Rise Of A Warrior (2008): A prequel to the original Scorpion King movie that was, itself, a prequel to the more successful Mummy series of pulp adventure movies, Rise Of A Warrior is easy-going, rainy Sunday afternoon nonsense.

I've seen criticism of it for "historical inaccuracies", but this is a film that features a trip to the underworld and ends with a fight against an invisible giant scorpion monster - I don't think writer Randall McCormick and director Russell Mulcahy were aiming for any documentary awards.

Like the original, it borrows many visual cues from John Milius' 1982 Conan The Barbarian to tell the story of the early years of the Akkadian warrior Mathayus (The Rock's character from the original), here played by Michael Copon, and his quest for vengeance against King Sargon (Randy Coutre, an Ultimate Fighting Championship winner) for murdering his father.

He is joined on his journey by tomboy Layla (Karen David) and Greek bard Ari (Simon Quarterman) as he sets out to retrieve the legendary Sword Of Damocles to slay the sorcerous Sargon, whose black magic makes him otherwise invincible.

Mathayus' quest takes him to King Minos' labyrinth, where he confronts the minotaur, and then through a magical portal to the Underworld where he must face the sultry goddess Astarte (Natalie Becker) before claiming the sword.

A mish-mash of random legends and cultures, Scorpion King 2: Rise Of A Warrior really isn't a film worth losing sleep over. It can be enjoyed on its own "merits" and then filed away.

Crash-proof Plane Turned Out Not To Be...

Years before Johnny Knoxville and co came up with the Jackass concept, French inventor Monsieur Albert Sovo risked life and limb demonstrating his new invention: a crash proof glider plane.

Taking his glider to a remote area outside Nice he proceeded to let his support team push him off the edge...

However, the glider failed to take off and instead plunged to the bottom of the cliff.

Cassie Hack Countdown To Halloween...

Thursday, 27 October 2011

More Hijinks On The High Seas...

The adventure picked up from the end of the last session, with our agents having captured a female terrorist, who Bicky drugged with a knock-out dart before she was secured and tucked away behind one of the Cadiz Lounge's bars.

Unfortunately Steve couldn't make it to this session of The Tuesday Knights, so Anton Dean (his character) became an NPC in Pete's control.

Realising we had overlooked the ship's hospital as a possible storage area for the "aqua staphylococcus" chemical weapon, we sent Anton along there to investigate while Bicky (me), Big M (Simon) and Bruno (Kevin) went downstairs to check out the heavy standing sentry outside the engine room.

Stealthmeister Bruno spied a goon standing guard outside another room on E deck and there was a flurry of silenced gunfire and fisticuffs before we were able to get into that room - where the ship's captain and the majority of his crew were being held. Unfortunately one man - who had been temporarily concussed by Bruno - managed to give us the slip.

We freed the prisoners, but told them to stay put and not allow back into the room. However, the captain was quite insistent that he get to the bridge as he wanted to make sure the ship was still on course.

Bicky accompanied the captain, while Bruno and Big M set off to rendezvous with Anton, who had signalled the team to say a couple of terrorists were in the hospital with the ship's doctor - forcing her to operate on one of them who appeared to have had some sort of serious accident.

Working with Orion's top agent, Anton Dean, Bruno and Big M were able to distract the terrorist standing guard and eliminate her, free the doctor and attempt to question the wounded terrorist. They also discovered that the hospital's freezer cabinet had been removed by an earlier pair of terrorists, but the doctor didn't know where they had taken it and the team couldn't get any information out of their wounded prisoner.

Meanwhile, Bicky and the captain made it up to the bridge, but Bicky's sixth sense let him down big time when he burst onto the bridge - which appeared to contain only one terrorist (their leader, we soon discovered) - and he was ambushed by a goon behind the door.

The captain was also taken and both men were marched into the map room, on the orders of the terrorist leader. However, Bicky suddenly lunged forward, swept a pile of maps off the table into the gun man's face (the other goon in the room was trying to tie up the captain), spun round, pulling his pistol (he'd relieved several unconscious or dead goons of their handguns on the way - and then wasn't searched when he was captured) and brought the man down in a blaze of gunfire, also winging the other goon who the captain was now duking it out with.

With both of the hostage-takers subdued, Bicky and the captain headed back to the bridge - only to find it deserted and the controls locked into "top speed - full speed ahead" on course for Monte Carlo! Bicky and the captain started franticly trying to work on the controls, while...

Bruno and Big M had made their way there to the engine room, where we believed the balance of the terrorists to be holed up, and - because of the noise - surprised two more thugs (one of whom was the man who had given them the slip much earlier).

Taking them down with some quick and fancy shooting, Big M reminded everyone that he was a trained mechanical engineer (and thanks to some superlative dice rolling by Simon) managed to turn the engines off, so the ship could begin to slow down.
Hopefully in time before it crashes into the docks at Monte Carlo with its (still undiscovered) cargo of fragile chemical weapons' containers.

Miss Lomas
And that's where we left things for this month - with the ship (almost) back under our control, but the terrorist leader and the chemical weapons still unaccounted for,as are the Dr Miguel Salcedo (the creator of the virus) and his assistant Marcelina Lomas (who was our 'informant').

Another wonderfully tense and exciting gaming session, with a good balance of stealth and investigation balanced with some zany gunplay and over-the-top hand-to-hand combat.

I must confess to being particularly pleased with Bicky's escape move in the map room (a Top Secret SI "luck" point came into play there), but also Simon's sudden revelation of what had been on his character sheet the whole time... just the right skill to save all our necks (at least temporarily) at the right time.

All being well, the next meeting of the Tuesday Knights is in a couple of weeks, when we wrap this bad boy up and then our December meeting is scheduled to be a "character generation" session for my new Crypts & Things/Swords & Wizardry/old school D&D Tekralh campaign.

Supernatural: Let It Bleed

Okay, I'll admit I was slightly concerned when I discovered that HP Lovecraft was going to be a character in Let In Bleed, but once I saw their portrayal of him - as a gun-toting, hard-drinking wannabe sorcerer slain by some cosmic being that he had helped summon - I very quickly had a reality check and remembered that Supernatural is a scripted drama about the paranormal and not a documentary.

And if it helps introduce a few more potential readers to the works of Lovecraft (even if they are disappointed to find out he wasn't quite the figure portrayed in the episode's prologue - and he never really tried to summon entities from other dimensions), then it has to be a good thing, right?

The Winchester's discover that Cas has stolen an old hunter's journal from Bobby's place. Luckily though Bobby had already photocopied it and reading through it they discover mention of a dinner party HP Lovecraft held that the hunter was interested in.

It seems Lovecraft and "his friends" had tried to summon a creature from beyond and although they said the spell had failed all the guests were dead within a year and the only survivor, the son of a maid, had been in a mental institution ever since.

While this is going on, Crowley is staying true to agreement with Cas and not confronting the Winchesters. Instead he kidnaps Lisa and her young son, Ben, and tells Dean that they will be safe as long as he and Sam stop trying to thwart the plan to open Purgatory and syphon off the souls imprisoned there.

Naturally Dean doesn't take this lying down and goes full-Rambo in tracking down his beloved ex. This exercise culminates in a truly heart-breaking (especially for Dean) twist that pretty much spells the end of any prospect he has of getting out of the "hunter's life".

Bobby, chasing down the Lovecraft angle, realises that the creature that the author and his colleagues summoned has actually been nesting in the body of an old girlfriend of Bobby's, Dr Eleanor Visyak (Kim Johnston Ulrich) - who we met back in Like A Virgin.

Turns out she's a "nice" interdimensional entity (which is why she gave Dean the the magic sword last time) and enjoys living on Earth. Bobby warns her that Cas will be after her - to discover the secret of opening portals to Purgatory. But she's adamant that she's quite capable of looking after herself!

No surprise then when that goes south.

Even though it's clearly setting up next week's finale this sub-plot involving HPL and the "nice" monster was certainly the weaker of the two parallel threads running this week.

The wrap-up of Dean's on-going involvement with Lisa and Ben, by contrast, was powerful stuff and, as I said above, will have a massive impact on the character of Dean in the future. He won't ever again be the proto-family-man he was this season. A hard lesson has been learned.

Next Week:

Lord Of The Rings Spin-Off Sitcom...

Riders Of Rohan, the '70s sitcom based on Lord Of The Rings that didn't quite take-off.

Courtesy of Mashups.

Cassie Hack Countdown To Halloween...

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Halloween By The Numbers...

The Ultimate Visual Guide to Halloween Statistics
The Ultimate Visual Guide to Halloween Statistics and Halloween costumes Infographic Created by

A Map And A Question...

Here's a very rough sketch of the "known world" for my Crypts & Things campaign, Tekralh, based primarily on the "common knowledge" article I published the other day, with a couple of subsequent tweaks.

It's no work of art (I'm not an artist), but I don't really want to flesh out these other lands anyway - beyond thumbnail sketches in my mind should any reference be made to them at some stage during an adventure.

Hopefully, at some stage, I'll be able to draw up a version of this in something like Hexographer, but my primary concern at present is detailing the area around the player-characters' home base of Coggershall.

And this is where my question comes in: given that the town has a population of four or five hundred, can anybody point me towards a resource (either gaming, pseudo-historical or historical) for determining the number and make-up of shops that such a settlement would have (in, say, around 13th Century Britain)?

I'm particularly keen to find out how many taverns such a place could accommodate, but, clearly, it would be useful to know what other shops or outlets such a town would "realisticly" have.

The One Night Of The Year When Everyone Is A LARPer...

Bill's sage advice on getting your non-gaming friends to join in your Vampire: The Masquerade Live Action Role-Playing on Halloween...

Cassie Hack Countdown To Halloween...

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

"Makes Other Films Look Like Complete Pants"

Magazine Mail Call...

I have long sung the praises of Different Worlds magazine and back in my "hardcore" gaming youth I used to own a pretty substantial run of issues  (having picked a bundle up cheap in Vancouver during my trans-Canada rail trip with Nick back in '88).

However, today, I finally got my hands on (courtesy of eBay) issue two - which features, quite possibly, the single most influential article about gaming I ever read; the article that made my little teenage brain decide "this is what I want to be doing for the rest of my life".

That article was Dave Hargrave's Arduin, Bloody Arduin in which he recounts, primarily "in campaign", the history of his amazing, gonzo Arduin campaign up to late 1979 (when this issue was published).

It wasn't so much the backstory of the world or even the dungeons that Dave had created that sparked my imagination, but the exploits of his players within the framework of Arduin, as exemplified by this  paragraph:

Now that's the sort of war stories I want to be spinning in the "old gamers' retirement home"!

I never actually owned this issue, I guess I must have borrowed it from a friend, although several years ago someone kindly supplied me a photocopy of the article. But now I actually own the magazine and all those childhood dreams and ambitions have come flooding back (I just wished I'd had the chutzpah to stick with it at the time, but I was too easily led astray by drinking, partying, chasing girls etc - none of which I did particularly well anyway!).

As an added bonus, I found in the magazine a fantasy character name generator that works perfectly for my Tekralh campaign - as I was having issues trying to codify in my head a list of "suggested" names to fit the verisimilitude of the world that I'm hoping could eventually become my Arduin!

Also today, postie delivered issue four of Christian's Loviatar zine, which means more juicy bedtime reading after tonight's meeting of The Tuesday Knights.

New Philip Reeve Interview...

My favourite author, Philip Reeve, has been interviewed over at Howling Turtle, where he talks about the forthcoming publication of Goblins (formerly known as Clovenstone) and the fourth Fever Crumb book, as well as some other projects he is working on.

We Few, We Happy Few, We Band Of Brothers...

St. Crispin's Day Speech
- William Shakespeare, 1599

Enter the KING

WESTMORELAND. O that we now had here but one ten thousand of those men in England that do no work to-day!

KING. What's he that wishes so? My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin; if we are mark'd to die, we are enow to do our country loss; and if to live, the fewer men, the greater share of honour. God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.

By Jove, I am not covetous for gold, nor care I who doth feed upon my cost; it yearns me not if men my garments wear; such outward things dwell not in my desires.

But if it be a sin to covet honour, I am the most offending soul alive. No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England. God's peace! I would not lose so great an honour as one man more methinks would share from me for the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!

Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host, that he which hath no stomach to this fight, let him depart; his passport shall be made, and crowns for convoy put into his purse; we would not die in that man's company that fears his fellowship to die with us.

This day is call'd the feast of Crispian. He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd, and rouse him at the name of Crispian. He that shall live this day, and see old age, will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours, and say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.' Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars, and say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'

Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot, but he'll remember, with advantages, what feats he did that day. Then shall our names, familiar in his mouth as household words - Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter, Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester - be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.

This story shall the good man teach his son; and Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by, from this day to the ending of the world, but we in it shall be remembered - we few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he to-day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition; and gentlemen in England now-a-bed shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Cassie Hack Countdown To Halloween...

Monday, 24 October 2011

A Load Of Old Boll!

I realise I'm quite possibly alone in this but I'm rather excited to hear that Uwe Boll is working on a sequel In The Name Of The King, which I really rather enjoyed.

Due out next year, In The Name Of The King 2 (or In the Name of the King: Two Worlds) tells the story of Granger (Dolph Lundgren), an ex-Special Forces soldier who gets thrown back to medieval times (possibly by ninjas!) to fulfil an ancient prophecy and ends up finding redemption for his own battlefield experiences.

Travelling through the war-torn Kingdom of Ehb (where the original film took place), Granger teams up with "an unlikely band of allies" with the goal of slaying the leader of the "Dark Ones".

Fighting against all odds, they must free the land from the grasp of the evil tyrant Raven (Lochlyn Munro) and save the world - and quite possibly get to tackle a dragon along the way.

I have to confess I'm not sure just how much of a connection there will be between the original and this new movie - besides being set in the same fantasy world - but the first one was a surprising revelation, so fingers crossed that Boll can repeat the magic!

Shat On Bohemian Rhapsody!!!

The man's a genius! What more can I say???

Cassie Hack Countdown To Halloween...

Sunday, 23 October 2011

DVD Of The Week: Green Lantern (2011)

I remember saying way back when that I only really got into the Green Lantern comics in recent years because I'd always thought the idea of a hero who creates objects out of "solid light" was a bit silly. And, if anything, I have been proved right by this latest Hollywood movie.

It goes to show that no matter how much CGI you throw at something, just because it actually works in comics doesn't mean it will work in cinematic, live-action, "reality".

But, sadly, that's not the only fault with Green Lantern. The pacing is all over the place, giving the movie a very uncomfortable rhythm and the script tries to do too much and succeeds in doing very little.

At its heart the story is about a super-powerful, fear-fuelled creature called Parallax (and why the film makers resorted to the Hollywood default of making it a giant smoke creature - à la Galactus in Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer - I'll never understand) heads towards Earth to eat enough "fear" to be strong enough to destroy the immortal Guardians Of The Universe, who live on the planet Oa at the centre of the universe and run the Green Lantern Corps (an intergalactic peace-keeping force).

Hot shot pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynold) is chosen to replace the alien Lantern, Abin Sur (Temura Robinson) who crashlands on Earth after a run-in with Parallax. However, the American Government takes Sur's body and calls in xenobiologist Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) to investigate. Hammond becomes infected by a piece of Parallax within Sur's body and slowly transforms into a twisted, psychic supervillain with the hots for Hal's girlfriend, Carol Ferris (Blake Lively).

Parallax is drawn towards Earth, presumably to find its 'missing fragment', and it's up to Hal to stop it as the other members of the Green Lantern Corps are charged with protecting Oa after the Guardians decide they are willing to sacrifice Earth as long as they are safe.

And through all this, everyone who knows anything about Parallax is banging on about how powerful and unbeatable it is... and then Hal just goes and destroys it. End of movie.

Except then, mid-credits, there's a scene (which makes total sense in the comics continuity but none whatsoever here) of corps commander Sinestro (Mark Strong) slipping on a yellow lantern ring and turning into the first fear-fuelled Yellow Lantern. Of course, why the all-knowing Guardians would ever trust someone whose name was "Sinestro" is a question for another day!

Thrown into all this is Jordan's best friend Tom Kalmaku (Taika Waititi), Hector's senator father (Tim Robbins), Amanda Waller (yes, DCphiles, THAT Amander 'The Wall' Waller, played by Angela Bassett) and several other minor characters who do little more than gum up the works by attempting to shovel "depth" in to various character's backstories.

It's also quite noticeable by the end of the movie how little impact the other members of the Green Lantern Corps have on the story - given that Hal (with even less training than Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back) appears to master the subtleties of his "magic ring" quickly enough to beat this monster that the rest of the Corps combined supposedly couldn't!

The scenes of Hal with the Green Lantern Corps on Oa really clash with the tone of the Earth-based segments because they've realised through extensive CGI and look, as I feared from the trailers, just like cut-scenes from a video game.

Really, if this film had concentrated more on the Hal versus Hector conflict and left Parallax and the rest of the Green Lantern Corps for a more epic sequel I think everything would have run a lot more smoothly.

To be the honest the most exciting sequence in the whole film comes virtually at the beginning when Hal and Carol are test-piloting a couple of jets against a pair of robot planes to try and win a government contract for Carol's father's company.

I really wanted to like this movie more than I did, because I enjoyed the Green Lantern comics when I actually got round to reading them, but once the CGI takes over, Green Lantern is about as engaging as watching someone else play a very expensive video game.

The Original Cat-In-The-Box...

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Merlin: Aithusa

Arthur is now king, however this episode of Merlin, Aithusa, was very much a standalone story, with its 'villain-of-the-week', and didn't really play into the meta-plot of the season; Morgana didn't even appear.

It was also one of the most 'on-the-nose', Dungeons & Dragons-y episodes of the show to date, introducing the wonderfully amoral rogue Julius Borden (the always great James Callis) who begins the story by stealing the second segment of a magical key from the druids (a definitive display of a D&D thief at work).

Having escaped the druids he heads to Camelot where he knows the final part of the key has been hidden in the castle vaults for 400 years.

Borden is an old acquaintance of Gaius, but they didn't part on the best of terms (this, sadly, is never elaborated on leaving Borden as an interesting, but rather two-dimensional antagonist) and when Borden explains his scheme to Gaius the old man sends him away with a flea in his ear.

However, Merlin - having overheard their conversation - has his interest piqued because the key opens the tomb of Ashkanar, an ancient mausoleum which holds the last remaining dragon's egg.

Consulting Kilgharrah The Great Dragon (voiced by John Hurt), Merlin decides he's going to help Borden steal the last part of the key - but, of course, the rogue double crosses him and makes off on this own with the key.

Arthur assembles a posse of knights to pursue - as they, obviously, don't want the last dragon's egg falling into the hands of such a villain.

With a few words of wisdom from some druids, Merlin is able to steer the pursuers to a cave which leads through to a hidden valley/fairyland/an alternate dimension ... I wasn't exactly sure where "the other end of the cave" was supposed to be because no one knew where this lost tomb was, but it turned out to be a giant tower.

And the tower - complete with traps and treasure - was perfect Dungeons & Dragons material again.

Borden wanted the egg for the power a dragon could bring him, while Merlin - as last of the dragonlords - wanted to put it in the care of the Great Dragon.

Aithusa (being the name of the baby dragon in the egg) was another cracking - forgive the pun - episode of Merlin that, even though not part of the Morgana storyline, still held its own with a fantastic mini-quest, a charismatic villain and a well-written, emotional ending performed fantastically by Colin Morgan and Richard Wilson (who got to go a bit Victor Meldrew on Merlin earlier in the episode when he discovered Merlin had gone behind his back to help Borden).

I just wish we could have learned more about Borden, his motivation and his earlier interaction with Gaius - of  course, we never actually saw his demise and if this was a comic book then that would pretty much guarantee his return at a later date. I, for one, hope he does come back as I think this character has a lot of potential and Aithusa only scratched the surface.

Book Of The Month: Conan The Barbarian

As movie adaptations go, I couldn't have asked for much more from Mike Stackpole's Conan The Barbarian, based on Hollywood's most recent attempt to bring Robert E Howard's world-famous Cimmerian to life.

Really, it just had to be better that Dark Horse's dreadful comic book adaptation for me to enjoy it, but Stackpole's novel surpassed that paltry effort in its opening pages.

Not only did the book read like a great Howard pastiche, but it expanded on the movie plot and filled in a few gaps that the necessities of movie making may have created.

This is most evident in its fleshing out of the relationship between the main villain Khalar Zym and his witchy daughter Marique, by giving us greater insight into Marique's mind, her views on her mother (whose death for witchcraft served as the impetus to Zym for his Hyboria-wide rampage).

The book also extends its coverage of the "young Conan", not only adding in a sequence where he spends years studying with his grandfather - after the village is razed by Zym's men - but also showcasing his involvement in a Cimmerian assault on the Aquilonian fort of Venarium.

A couple of other bonus fight scenes are slipped in later in the book, but none have the importance to Conan's development as these earlier moments.

The book isn't perfect, especially in the opening chapters it is riddled with jarring typos that I can't believe made it through to print and the motif of Conan being "born on the battlefield" is hammered to death at every opportunity. After the final two or three mentions, we got it. It didn't need saying repeatedly.

Movie adaptations, like all books based on licensed properties, are very hit and miss - with the majority slipping into missed column by dint of being hammered out by hacks for a few easy bucks - but Conan The Barbarian stands up on its own as a great swords and sorcery adventure, with the fact that it's based on a film that I really enjoyed just being an added bonus.

Chainmail Bikinis Allow For Mobility...

Friday, 21 October 2011

Knights Bring Mayhem To TV Next Month...

Listen to Ultimate Jousting Championship founder Charlie Andrews discussing his hopes and dreams for the future of the sport with talk radio host Jim Rome ahead of the first episode of his Knights of Mayhem TV show airing on the National Geographic Channel on November 15 (in the States, of course).

If anyone knows when this will get shown in the UK, please let me know!

Deathstalker Week: Deathstalker IV - Match Of Titans (1991)

Right from the opening monologue, Deathstalker IV: Match Of Titans sets itself up as a sequel to the original film (reinforcing this with frequent use of recycled clips from the earlier film and the return of Rick Hill, the first, and best, of the Deathstalkers).

Although Rick is back as Stalker, the years have mellowed him since the hijinks of the first movie, and he appears to have mislaid The Sword Of Justice. Apparently, in the confusion of an earlier battle (actually a mixture of footage from Deathstalker I and III), he ended up with a friend's sword and the friend ended up with the Sword Of Justice. D'oh!

In the process of tracking his friend down, he stumbles across a couple of women being attacked by beastmen and although one of the women dies, her hotter sister - the stunning, Kim Cattrall-alike Dionara (Maria Ford) - survives.

The beastpeople of this realm look like ordinary folk but with lion/bear/pig masks (which, of course, is what they are) - but the implication is that these are their true - if unconvincing - faces.

Dionara explains that they were heading to the castle of the sorceress Kana (Michelle Moffett) to take part in a tournament of champions for an unspecified prize (it's never actually revealed why any of the "best warriors within 200 miles" are taking part in this event).

Lion-people, bear-people and pig-people, oh my!
Not only recycling footage (the man being dragged headfirst into a tree and the riotous party where the pigman pulls someone's arm off both appear for the third time in the quadrilogy), Match Of Titans is a retread of familiar plot-ground from the first Deathstalker.

Unsurprisingly, Dionara eventually reveals herself to Deathstalker as a princess (as well as simply revealing herself) and the rightful ruler of the castle and kingdom that Kana has usurped.

It also comes as no surprise that Kana is using the tournament to eliminate all her potential competition (except, of course, all the other evil sorcerers!), by drugging them individually and then using her magic to transform them into unstoppable "stone zombies".

Written and directed this time by Howard R Cohen, Match Of Titans sees a return to the lasciviousness of the original - the castle comes complete with a lesbian romper room and magical CCTV for the use of Kana and her henchmen to ogle various bodies.

Conveniently, Stalker finds The Sword Of Justice hanging in the basement of Kana's castle - because apparently she has been "unable to unlock its magical power" - just in time for the inevitable showdown where the wicked sorceress gets her deserved comeuppance.

While Match Of Titans doesn't quite measure up to the superlative standards set by the original Deathstalker movie, it's certainly better than the previous two, even if Rick Hill's Deathstalker is a slightly nicer guy here, exhibiting more of the cockiness from Deathstalker III and less of the brazen indifference from the original.


Kana inspects her army of stone warriors
Stone Zombie

Stone zombies are created by a combination of a special drug to render a living warrior helpless and susceptible and then magic to transform him into a stone creature.

The enchantment can be broken by either the use of an antidote (a moss that the wizard will usually have to hand to protect him from his own potion) or the death of the wizard that created the zombies. Otherwise, the creatures become slow and lumbering but unquestioning, silent servants of their new master, still dressed in whatever armour they had on before although it is really of little use compared to their rock-hard skin.

Once the spell has been broken they will return to normal, as they were before they drank the potion (because they are not true undead), as long as they haven't been killed in the meantime!

#ENC: 2d6
Size: Man-size
AC: 0 [19]
HD: 3
ATT: Fist (1d8+3)
Saving Throw: 14
Move: 6
  • Slow: Stone zombies always move last in any round of combat.
  • Indestructible: Stone zombies are immune to all non-magical attacks (as well sleep, charm, etc)
CL/XP:  5/240

Merlin: Aithusa - Preview

The BBC's Merlin website has this to say about tomorrow's episode, Aithusa:
"The mysterious Julius Borden (James Callis) arrives in Camelot with news of a magical secret that threatens to change the landscape of the kingdom forever. He has located the final part of the key to the tomb of Ashkanar, an ancient mausoleum which holds a very special treasure: the last remaining dragon's egg. Merlin is understandably drawn in by Borden's news, and promises to help him. But just who is the enigmatic stranger and, more importantly, what does he really want with the egg?"
Although probably best known for playing Dr Gaius Baltar in Battlestar Galactica,  in 2010 James Callis gave us his own, heavily-accented, interpretation of Merlin in the underrated Merlin and the Book of Beasts.


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