It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day
I was out choppin' cotton and my brother was balin' hay
And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat
And Mama hollered out the back door "y'all remember to wipe your feet"
And then she said "I got some news this mornin' from Choctaw Ridge"
"Today Billie Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge"
And Papa said to Mama as he passed around the blackeyed peas
"Well, Billie Joe never had a lick of sense, pass the biscuits, please"
"There's five more acres in the lower forty I've got to plow"
And Mama said it was shame about Billie Joe, anyhow
Seems like nothin' ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge
And now Billie Joe MacAllister's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge
And Brother said he recollected when he and Tom and Billie Joe
Put a frog down my back at the Carroll County picture show
And wasn't I talkin' to him after church last Sunday night?
"I'll have another piece of apple pie, you know it don't seem right"
"I saw him at the sawmill yesterday on Choctaw Ridge"
"And now you tell me Billie Joe's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge"
And Mama said to me "Child, what's happened to your appetite?"
"I've been cookin' all morning and you haven't touched a single bite"
"That nice young preacher, Brother Taylor, dropped by today"
"Said he'd be pleased to have dinner on Sunday, oh, by the way"
"He said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge"
"And she and Billie Joe was throwing somethin' off the Tallahatchie Bridge"
A year has come 'n' gone since we heard the news 'bout Billie Joe
And Brother married Becky Thompson, they bought a store in Tupelo
There was a virus going 'round, Papa caught it and he died last Spring
And now Mama doesn't seem to wanna do much of anything
And me, I spend a lot of time pickin' flowers up on Choctaw Ridge
And drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge
Monday, 30 June 2014
|Click here to see a massive version of this ultra-detailed painting|
Anyone who has read my drivel for long enough - and is into old school gaming - will be aware that Dave Hargrave's Arduin is one of my favourite settings and one that, to this day, shapes my ideals of what a "perfect" RPG campaign world should be like.
Recently on the Arduin Grimoire Google+ group, +Mourn Storm recounted a legendary tale from Dave's game and shared the picture above (by insanely talented Russian artist Leo Hao) to illustrate the story of the Battle of Fort Blood.
Storm's story read as follows:
"I patched together the tale of Fort Blood based solely upon what tidbits David passed along to me and interviews over the years with one or two players who were there. You also may remember the dedication to "Koryu, leader of the 47 Ronin" in [Arduin Grimoire, Volume 1]. This crew was part of a world spanning quest he ran WWWAAAYYY back in the day, The players changed, characters died or were taken out of play, but there were always 47 'ronin' on this quest of Koryu's to retrieve/rescue his lover's soul.
"They found themselves at a place called Fort Blood and were about to camp for the night when one of the mages declared it was the Eve of the Black Solstice and that THIS place was a focus point. Long story short, they fought against the very Hordes of Hell from the moment the sun dipped beneath the rim of the world until dawn the next day."
For those up on their Chinese mythology (or fans of the old Japanese TV show, Monkey!), the basic story of The Monkey King is a familiar one, although this latest big screen adaptation adds a few flourishes and twists to the traditional tale.
At its heart though, it's a straight-forward morality play about a naive and egotistical animal spirit, Sun Wukong aka Monkey King (Donnie Yen) being tricked into helping the evil forces of the Bull Demon King (Aaron Kwok) get through the Gates Of Heaven and attempt a coup against the Jade Emperor (Chow Yun-Fat).
Kam-Yuen Szeto and Edmond Wong's script is very clever, giving the well-known tale a fresh coat of paint rather than a total overhaul. For instance, I liked the introduction of the low-key romance between the Monkey King and Silver Fox (Xia Zi Tong), that added an extra layer to explaining his willingness to go along with the Bull Demon King, and unlike many Western films this sub-plot doesn't slow the phenomenal pacing of the main story.
Although The Monkey King is two hours long, it moves along like a bullet train, but where it falls down is the rather inconsistent quality of its special effects.
While the blend of "people-in-costumes" creatures and CGI gives the movie a certain charm - the 'costume creatures', for instance, evoke memories of the old Monkey! TV show... and Power Rangers - the computer graphics lurch from breath-taking to appalling.
Rather oddly, for me, the equally unpredictable subtitles on my Thai-import DVD didn't hamper my enjoyment of the movie.
Some lengthy dialogue scenes merited no sub-titles (particularly, for some reason, when Sun Wukong was speaking) and at other times screeds of text would race across the screen at migraine-inducing speed.
And yet, the plot was still easy to follow. Yes, I might have missed some moments of witty (or profound) dialogue, but the visual storytelling was so spot on that I still felt as though I had my finger on the film's pulse.
That's not to say it's simplistic. This is an Oriental fantasy after all, so there are some insane segues and moments of mind-baffling surreality that trigger 2001: A Space Odyssey flashbacks, but you watch enough of these movies and you learn to just go with it.
Much like another recent (and it has to be said, better) wuxia action film, this serves as a prequel to the better known story of Monkey and Tripitaka's 'Journey To The West'; we just get a teasing glimpse of young Tripitaka in the closing moments.
I believe The Monkey King is the first part of a trilogy, but so far I can't find any details as to when the remaining films from the saga will get made.
Sunday, 29 June 2014
Saturday, 28 June 2014
Pirates is a $15 million Korean period action flick, set in the early Joseon (Chosŏn) Dynasty, where a group led by a female pirate and another group led by a male bandit are on a mission to hunt down a whale that swallowed the royal seal bestowed on Joseon from China on the eve of the founding of a dynasty.
Due out in the Summer, it has distribution deals for North America, Japan, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Poland, Taiwan, Thailand, India and various countries in Eastern Europe and South America... but, of course, not the UK!
Almost every week before Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. the Channel 4 continuity announcer would talk about "adrenalin-fuelled action", but if that's really what you're after then look no further than Banshee (Sky Atlantic).
The Cinemax crime thriller doesn't return until July 7 - the same day as the première of The 100 (E4) and the start of the last season of True Blood (Fox) - but the first episode of season two is currently available 'on demand' from Sky+
Unsurprisingly it doesn't disappoint, with its spicy combination of tough guys, smokin' hot kick-ass gals and breathtaking set-pieces: the armoured car heist is about as jacked-up, full-on thrilling as you'd expect from a multi-billion dollar Hollywood blockbuster.
Another show that didn't disappoint this week was Modern Family (Sky One) which reached the end of its fifth season, going out in style with Mitch and Cam's trouble-plagued wedding.
|Grimm: Trubel And Nick|
Talking of endings, Grimm (Watch) wraps its current season next week and as the end draws near for this season - particularly the most recent episode - the supernatural crime show has really upped its game.
Grimm has always been solid, blending 'monster-of-the-week' with worldbuilding story arcs, but the ever-expanding mythology of the show just gets more and more engrossing, as layers of backstory are added.
At first I wasn't sure about the introduction of Trubel (Jacqueline Toboni), the young Grimm, but the character has really grown on me as she has grown in the show and it'll be interesting to see where she goes next week... and possibily into next year's season four.
Intelligence (Sky One) suddenly rushed to its series conclusion with the last two episodes this week. It's a real pity this little show wasn't given legs as I think it could have been a fantastic, Six Million Dollar Man-style throwback to '70s episodic adventure.
While I love serialised drama (e.g. Game Of Thrones et al), old school episodic shows appear to be limited to cop procedurals these days, so it would have been nice to have a genre show in that mould as well. And Intelligence would have been a perfect fit.
The second season of Nashville (More 4) closes this week, making way in the music category of my TV schedule for the much-delayed continuation of season five of Glee (Sky One). Will this epic mid-season hiatus work for or against the show?
Unfortunately, this week also saw me drop 24: Live Another Day (Sky One) from my regular viewing. Like Revenge the other month, this show just wasn't working for me as it has in the past. I think, perhaps, setting it in, and around, London didn't work in its favour as I found it far harder to suspend disbelief when Jack was running around places I knew.
I'm sure if it returns for another season, set anywhere but my home country, I'll give it another crack though.
A reworking of Dracula's origin story, starring Luke Evans (from Immortals) alongside Sarah Gadon, Dominic Cooper and Diarmaid Murtagh.
Looks great but it has to be said that's a bit of a clumsy title.
Friday, 27 June 2014
"Ship's Log: Star-Date 3133.4. This cinder, this empty death of a world."Reading the first issue of IDW's The City On The Edge Of Forever, it quickly becomes clear this isn't your grandfather's Star Trek, this is Harlan Ellison's.
This five-part adaptation aims to present Ellison's original vision for the highly regarded and immensely popular episode of Star Trek: The Original Series.
I almost baulked at picking the issue up when I learned that it was being handled by Scott and David Tipton, having been totally underwhelmed by their lacklustre Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who (where JK Woodward also handled the art duties) and Doctor Who: Prisoners Of Time, but it's quite evident that their role is more akin to a midwife, shepherding the transition of Ellison's award-winning script to the comic book page, than actually originating the material.
Woodward's painted artwork has also improved since the distorted grimaces of The Next Gen/Doctor Who crossover tale the other year, and he really captures the likenesses of the original '60s cast as well as the otherworldly eeriness of the planet of the Guardians Of Forever.
It's a well-known piece of Star Trek lore that Ellison's original City On The Edge Of Forever differs wildly from the beloved version seen on TV and IDW's comic does an incredible "what if..." job, thanks to the Tiptons' respectful treatment of Ellison's words and Woodward's almost photorealistic art.
Wrap the whole deal in a Juan Ortiz retro cover and you've got yourself a winner.
I didn't think IDW could do any better with the Star Trek franchise than John Byrne's brilliantly entertaining series of 'photonovel' comics but The City On The Edge Of Forever looks like it might just do that.
The Great Kingdom is a feature length documentary about the creation of Dungeons & Dragons and the rise and fall of the creative souls involved in its birth.
The team putting the film together are looking to raise $50,000 - via Kickstarter - by July 21 to finish post-production work on the project.
On the film's website, its synopsis reads thus:
This is the remarkable true life story of the rise and fall of Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson and the people behind the creation of the epic role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons.Although there are a number of levels of buy-in to support the campaign, there is essential one main reward: the documentary itself (either on Blu-Ray/DVD or digital download), but check out the campaign's fundraising page for more insight into the various permutations and incentives for investment.
The Great Kingdom will explore the personalities behind the game and the families they engendered.
With echoes of the story of Facebook and a mirror of Apple Computer’s rise to fame, this is the saga of the people who brought a company from its humble basement beginnings and transformed it to a multi-million dollar corporation.
This is the story of families, both blood and personal bond, affected by the success of the game, a game that brought joy to millions and heartbreak to its creators.
What happens to these individuals as they weather through the success, the excess, the betrayals, the downfalls and eventual redemptions, all takes place in The Great Kingdom.
On that page - as well as the film's own website - you can find out more about the people involved in producing this documentary.
Another week further on with the Kickstarter fundraising campaign for a new season of the Monkey Life television show - and they've still got a long way to go and could use all the support you can give them.
Here Jeremy Keeling, Animal Director at Monkey World, (along with Sally's group, one of four chimpanzee groups at the centre) explains how the television show is an essential tool in promoting the global work of the ape rescue organisation.
For the better part of a decade, the work of Monkey World has been chronicled in the docu-soap, Monkey Life, which is seen in 145 countries around the world (that's almost 75 per cent of the globe).
It was eeing the TV show that encouraged Rachel and I to visit in 2009 and, when there, adopt an orang-utan, Kai, who I have sponsored ever since. We've backed this vital Kickstarter and hope you will too.
After eight years and 134 episodes of Monkey Life, Primate Planet Productions Ltd finds itself without the backing of a TV channel and so, while footage has been shot towards another 20 episodes, the production company is looking to raise £197,000 by July 22 to produce six new 25-minute episodes for fans.
These will then be available online or via DVD.
Take a look at the campaign's Kickstarter page to see the range of rewards on offer as incentives to investors, from downloads and DVDs of episodes right up to spending time with the film crew or a personal tour of the centre with Dr Alison Cronin.
In the meantime you can see more of Primate Planet's documentary work from Monkey World either via Vimeo VOD , their YouTube Channel or through Twitter.
Monkey Life has its own, official Facebook page.
Another Kickstarter campaign from the productive +Peter Regan is drawing to a close. This time round he is offering A2 pads marked out for use with classic 25/28mm gaming figures.
To quote from the Kickstarter page:
"The pads will measure 594 x 420mm and will have a marked 1"grid giving 23 x 16 squares. The sheets will be printed right to the edge on all sides, making it easy to stick multiple sheets together for larger game maps. This will make them ideal for use with a wide variety of roleplaying and skirmish games. Each pad will have 12 sheets glued to a card back board."
As ever, Peter (of Oubliette magazine) has already hit his target and, with seven previous fundraising campaigns under his belt, he has a flawless track record when it comes to delivering the gaming aides he produces.
He is also offering (as add-ons) smaller pads, so gamesmasters can sketch out their battle mats before committing to a final design on the larger sheets.
Peter has also recently launched a webstore, Squarehex, primarily trading in Dungeon Master utensils, such as square and hex paper, folders, pens etc and has made quite a name for himself with his line of DM's tools.
The current campaign only runs until Monday, so get your pledges of support in quick!
Thursday, 26 June 2014
Years before they became a byword for cheap, blockbuster cash-ins (i.e. mockbusters), the first movie I discovered by The Asylum was a fantasy film (simply called Dragon, I believe) in the discount aisle of Woolworths in Tonbridge (which shows just how long ago it was).
Since then I have remained firm in my belief that although they're not exactly known for quality productions, The Asylum are at their best when working in the fantasy genre.
That said, Sleeping Beauty (released to snag a share of the Maleficent moolah, no doubt) isn't up to the pulpy, B-movie calibre of, say, an Arrowstorm film, but it still has its moments.
Directed by Casper Van Dien, who also appears as King David alongside his wife, Catherine Oxenberg as Queen Violet and his daughter Grace Van Dien as Princess Dawn aka Sleeping Beauty, the film is a liberal reworking of the fairy tale that starts in Disney territory then caroms off into its own little world.
To complete the family atmosphere on set, Maya Van Dien (daughter of both Casper Van Dien and Catherine Oxenberg) appears as a totally random addition to the story - a young girl called Newt (Aliens, much?) who has survived inside the enchanted castle and gives aid to Princess Dawn's rescuers.
Events initially unfold as they do in Disney's Sleeping Beauty cartoon, with the Three Good Fairies bestowing gifts upon the newborn Princess Dawn (although the guards' ill-fitting helmets and the treasure chests that look like cardboard boxes give away that this isn't the Disney version).
But then busty, yummy-mummy, evil witch queen Tambria (Olivia d'Abo) - whose invite got lost in the post - turns up and zaps Dawn with the familiar curse, then proceeds to blow up the good fairies.
In The Asylum's version, Dawn is raised alone in a castle tower, educated by her parents, and kept away from spinning wheel needles (several on-the-nose double entendres involving the word 'prick' got my hopes up this was going to be a wittily-scripted comedy; it's not), until just before her 16th birthday. And what do you know? She only gets tricked by Tambria into pricking her finger and falling asleep (taking the whole kingdom down with her).
A century passes and in a neighbouring kingdom, a servant called Barrow (Game Of Thrones' Finn Jones) discovers fragments of a map and a message leading to the cursed castle. Now, I'm not sure exactly who wrote this as Princess Dawn (as is suggested) is, of course, in a magical sleep.
I presumed it was actually an elaborate trap set out by Tambria - who has also been trapped inside the castle and unable to harm her slumbering nemesis - but this is never made clear.
Barrow's master is the obnoxious, privileged, bullying Tory-boy Prince Jayson (Edward Lewis French), who, learning of Barrow's discovery, decides to lead his coterie of yobbish mates on a jolly wheeze to rescue the treasure in Sleeping Beauty's castle and claim that kingdom for his own.
Again, it's never exactly clear how much this neighbouring territory knows about the curse on King David's land or the power of the wicked sorceress Tambria who now rules (kind of) there. Given that it's just "over the mountain" from Jayson's realm, the general knowledge of the whole "asleep for a century" scenario seems rather vague.
Of course, Tambria isn't going to make things easy and throws a scaly pliosaur, a giant lizardman, a legion of shadowy wraiths and a neverending army of zombies at the adventuring party that's coming for the treasure (and maybe the chance to snog a sleeping 115-year-old princess).
A particularly wonderful aspect about Jayson's loathsome cronies is, given that they are supposed to be trained fighters, just how cowardly they are. Their go-to tactic when confronted by any monster is "run away, run away".
The only one who shows the slightest bit of decency towards Barrow, and some backbone, is Gruner (Gil Kolirin) - who may be a commander or captain or something in Jayson's army, again it's not very clear.
The adventuring party gradually gets whittled down as they wander, seemingly aimlessly, around the same sections of castle and overgrown garden, until the final confrontation with Tambria. By this time, Jayson has switched sides (or is he bluffing?), Newt has popped up and disappeared in a cloud of cryptic warnings several times, and Gruner and Barrow have bonded.
I'm not entirely sure who Sleeping Beauty is aimed at as there's some gore (Tambria pulling the head off of someone and dragging out their spine comes to mind) and an uncomfortable, rape-threat moment where a couple of brothers in Jayson's gang discover a magically sleeping servant woman in the castle kitchens. Thankfully Barrow steps in before that goes too far.
There's certainly an attempt at a Dungeons & Dragons vibe in the latter stages of this movie (torch-lit exploration, traps etc), but despite constant references to Barrow's map, there's never any real feeling that the adventurers are navigating a convincing, contiguous environment.
One minute they are stuck on one side of a lake, the next there's a bridge; they talk about going to certain places, but are next seen elsewhere.
This also isn't some hallucinogenic, dreamscape either, but simply a combination of poor directing, editing and scriptwriting.
The low-budget monsters aren't too bad though; the giant lizardman (despite being a cheap CGI creation) is quite interesting and the various undead have the added bonus that Tambria keeps resurrecting them every time they get nobbled.
As well as the many, many plot holes in the story (some of which I've alluded to above), more often than not the dialogue is delivered in quite mannered ways; now I'm not sure if this is director Van Dien trying to create a "fantasy Medieval" ambience but it doesn't really work.
Budgetary limitations abound in this version of Sleeping Beauty (there's no big dragon showdown at the end, for instance) - both in the effects and script - but it's an okay way to pass 90 minutes, if there isn't anything better on TV.
Posts on HeroPress have been a bit light-weight of late as I'm working away on The Tuesday Knights' Heroes & Other Worlds campaign.
As ever, I am relying on one of +Tim Shorts' fantastic micro-adventures to provide the basic framework, while I add in the background detail (from our campaign world, Cidri) and HOW statistics for the various beasties and NPCs.
Because our last session was delayed, our next game is only a week away. Luckily I'd already decided which adventure hook would be placed before the players next - and their actions here will dictate what happens next (I have a selection of options in mind to develop, but it all depends on what unfolds in the upcoming game).
I'm also, slowly, fleshing out the environs of Bendwyn, the town the player-characters call home. I want to write-up enough detail that the area feels alive to anyone who is interested, but not so much information that it looks like an encyclopaedic screed that no-one is ever going to read.
Once these are finished (over on the campaign blog), I'll link them from here for those who want to see how our game is getting on.
Wednesday, 25 June 2014
Here's a short teaser trailer for season eight of Monkey Life, the docu-soap about the incredible work of the Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre in Dorset.
But this important tool in promoting their work can only come to fruition with your support which is why they have launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds to produce an eighth season of the show.
The centre is involved in the rescue and rehabilitation of some of the most abused and neglected monkeys in the world, thanks to the hard work of Dr Alison Cronin, MBE, Jeremy Keeling, their team, and their ongoing mission to stop the illegal smuggling of primates from the wild.
Monkey World has been chronicled in the docu-soap, Monkey Life, which is seen in 145 countries around the world (that's almost 75 per cent of the globe).
However, after eight years and 134 episodes, Primate Planet Productions Ltd finds itself without the backing of a TV channel and so, while footage has been shot towards another 20 episodes, the production company is looking to raise £197,000 by July 22 to produce six new 25-minute episodes for fans.
Take a look at the campaign's Kickstarter page to see the range of rewards on offer as incentives to investors, from downloads and DVDs of episodes right up to spending time with the film crew or a personal tour of the centre with Dr Alison Cronin.
In the meantime you can see more of Primate Planet's documentary work from Monkey World either via Vimeo VOD , their YouTube Channel or through Twitter.
Monkey Life has its own, official Facebook page.
Tuesday, 24 June 2014
Just wanted to reiterate the low-key announcement I made yesterday that my experiment with "Google+ integrated comments" has come to an end. HeroPress has returned to the normal, old school Blogger comments box (as you will see below).
While the integrated comments was useful in spreading the HeroPress love through different Google+ arenas, it also meant that a number of established commentators - who didn't have Google+ accounts - weren't able to post comments.
So, we're back doing things the old fashioned way.
The Torsobear: Yarns From Toyburg Kickstarter campaign is having a major push for backers as it heads into its final week of fundraising.
Editor for the 104-page anthology graphic novel Brett Uren told me that they are now offering:
- Add ons - give an extra £15 for a t-shirt and £45 for a plush doll (see above)
- Saoirse Towler hand-painted art for every backer that takes [the campaign] past 5% milestones
- Daily sketch giveaways for new backers
- Brockton McKinney and Action Lab are giving away three signed convention edition copies of Ehmm Theory #1
And don't forget you can always check out the campaign's Kickstarter page to see the full range of investor incentives.
The campaign is looking to raise £5,600 by July 2.
And just to get you into the fluffy noir mood, here's a reading of the first chapter of Torsobear - Clean Heart, Dirty Paws:
Thanks to Brother Cal at Calvin's Canadian Cave Of Cool for drawing this incredible piece of barbaric cosplay to my attention.
It's the work of Canadian (of course) cosplayer, fabricator and gamer Andy Rae who can be found on Facebook here and Deviantart here.
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