Thursday, 31 July 2014
Since the Doctor Who/Next Generation crossover comic Assimilation 2 I've been quite negative about the writing of the Tipton brothers (Scott and David), possibly because I felt as though they were muscling out Tony Lee (my favourite Doctor Who comic writer of recent years).
Of late, though, I've found myself warming to their style and was particularly taken with the recent Star Trek Special: Flesh And Stone, which features appearances from all the main doctors seen in the TV show's various incarnations.
It's a very verbose story, but then these are characters known primarily for their brains and medical prowess rather than their martial skills, so it fits the personalities of the piece.
The plot revolves around the deliberate release of a seemingly unknown contagion at a Starfleet medical conference - and the only person with possible clue to its cure is retired Admiral Leonard 'Bones' McCoy.
The various doctors are well realised and all play meaningful roles in the narrative, with the Tiptons' capturing their voices and quirks well, making the story all the more credible.
This special one-shot was produced in partnership with Qualcomm Tricorder Xprize, an international scientific challenge to make a real tricorder-inspired diagnostic device, which is promoted at the back of the comic.
It's preposterous and takes silly to a whole new level, but you know what? Sharknado 2: The Second One is a helluva lot of fun.
It's knowing without being insulting to its audience and witty without being pompous, let down only by the occasional moments of shoddy CGI and piss poor acting from people you'd hope would know better by now.
But possibly the main thing about Sharknado 2 is it is leagues better than the original which garnered a modicum of fame purely on the strength of its stupid conceit. The sequel takes the core idea of the first movie, turns the volume up to 11 and runs with it.
Just because it knows it's ridiculous doesn't mean those involved in its production don't take their jobs seriously. For a low-budget monster movie from The Asylum it does a bang-up job of delivering just what it says on the tin (barring its minor shortcomings as mentioned above).
A key success of Thunder Levin's script and Anthony C Ferrante's direction is that Sharknado 2 gets to the meat of the action within moments of the film opening and then the credits roll the moment the problem is resolved. There's no unnecessary padding or hanging about here.
Fin Shepard (Ian Ziering) is flying into New York to see his family with his gal April Wexler (Tara Reid) by his side, who is going to the Big Apple to sign copies her new book How To Survive A Sharknado (yes, it's a real thing).
Unfortunately their plane gets caught up in a sharknado that's also heading to the Big Apple and their problems only escalate from there in a tidal wave of non-stop shark-themed carnage.
The cult status of the Sharknado franchise means there are plenty of celebrity cameos in this movie, ranging from pure shark bait (Kelly Osbourne and Wil Wheaton, for instance) to crucial supporting roles (my favourite being Judd Hirsch as a taxi driver and the Today team of Matt Lauer & Al Roker as themselves, providing a televisual Greek chorus to the ongoing disaster).
But these clever bits of stunt casting and cameos don't get in the way of the bonkers story and certainly don't detract from the silly fun.
There are also some sly - and not so sly - nods to other films, such as Fin's sister and brother-in-law sharing the same names as Roy Scheider and Lorraine Gary's characters from the Jaws' movies and some lines very reminiscent of Airplane! in the opening airborne sequence.
Sharknado 2: The Second One is clearly not a film to be taken seriously and doing so just sets you on a hiding to nothing. If you enjoyed the first one, you'll love The Second One but if you don't get this Grand Guignol style of gory silliness then Sharknado 2 probably isn't the film for you and you should move along.
For those in the UK who want to see a man riding a shark (think Dr Strangelove) in a tornado over New York City then Sharknado 2: The Second One is being shown on the SyFy Channel at 9pm tonight.
Calvin's Canadian Cave Of Cool is usually where you'll find the latest snapshots of the delightful Hattie Watson, so I thought I'd say "thank you" with a pic I found on her Tumblr feed that I don't think Cal has published yet.
Wednesday, 30 July 2014
|Look what postie brung me...|
It's pretty safe to say that my Heroes & Other Worlds campaign - The Chronicles of Cidri - wouldn't be the same without the efforts of two particular stalwarts of the OSR movement: adventure writer and 'zine editor +Tim Shorts and cartographer extraordinaire +Simon Forster.
Tim's mini-adventures, either through his popular fanzine The Manor or his Patreon site, are the backbone of my campaign at the moment, slotting in fantastically to the background that I've developed from the published material in the old Fantasy Trip game.
Patreon is a form of sponsorship where you automatically bung a creator a couple of bucks every time he produces a new piece of work. Tim writes an original micro-adventure (think "one-Page Dungeon" to get an idea of the format) every couple of weeks and is currently going through a cycle of sites that can either serve as stand alone adventures or tie in to a larger "micro-campaign" involving a number of mysterious islands.
The nature of Patreon means that all this material is available for free on the site - or via Tim's blog - but it's nice to be able to say 'thank you' in a meaningful way as well (ie. hard cash).
The other day I received a nice laminated version of one of Tim's recent adventures in the post and a few days later I got a postcard of a dungeon map from Simon.
This is not the first unexpected map I've received from Simon - who was also responsible for the lovely maps on my campaign blog, one illustrating the general area and one detailing the town where the player-characters are based - and I hope it won't be the last, as they are always both works of art and instantly usable in my games.
I urge you to visit Simon's blog - ...And The Sky Full Of Dust - and if you are an RPG publisher or author think about hiring him to produce the maps for your projects.
Tuesday, 29 July 2014
No disrespect to Dark Horse - they've done an amazing job with the Star Wars license for decades - but I grew up with the Marvel Star Wars comics, that came out with the original movies, and so am squeeing nostalgicly that come January we'll be getting Marvel Star Wars comics again.
I'm hoping for a return to the childlike innocence of the old comics - without being childish (which still slightly worries me about the upcoming Rebels cartoon) - where anything was possible and not everything was deadly serious.
And, yes, before you ask, unsurprisingly, I was a massive fan of Jaxxon and expect him to return sooner rather than later.
The initial three Star Wars titles coming from Marvel are two on-going series: Star Wars (by Jason Aaron and John Cassaday) and Star Wars: Darth Vader (by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca) and a mini-series Star Wars: Princess Leia (by Mark Waid and Terry Dodson).
All of these are set post-A New Hope and pre-Empire Strikes Back, as the initial Marvel comics back in the day were.
One of the things that put me off Dark Horse's Star Wars titles in recent years was the deep mythology they had built-up for themselves and their local fans, which was difficult for feckless dilettantes such as myself to dip in and out of, so with Marvel effectively "starting again", I'm looking to get in on the ground floor and stay on target in a galaxy far, far away.
Although I'm not a religious person, I've always had a soft spot for film's based on Biblical stories for some reason, but Noah is the closest yet to crossing over into my usual playground of epic fantasy or science-fiction.
While I haven't really studied the Great Flood myth, I'm pretty sure I'd have remembered rock giants (fallen angels bound to the Earth by rock and mud, resembling elemental creatures from The Neverending Story or The Hobbit) helping Noah build his Ark.
Darren Aronofsky's take on the story certainly owes as much to Tolkien as it does The Bible - occasionally even straying into B-movie sword-and-sorcery territory - with its surfeit of magical items and mysticism.
Russell Crowe plays a surprisingly misanthropic and nihilistic Noah, a vegetarian action hero who believes The Creator wants to wipe all humanity from the planet and his job, and that of his family, is purely to shepherd all the animals to the new, post-Flood world and then die out, so the innocent animals can run free.
Noah has visions of The Creator's genocidal plans to obliterate his failed experiment from the Earth - like a child with an Etch-A-Sketch shaking his messed-up picture into oblivion so he can start again from scratch - and so sets about building the Ark, to preserve the creatures of the land and air (the fish have to make their own arrangements).
However, having grown a forest from a seed left over from The Garden Of Eden and recruited the rock giants to help with the Ark building, Noah attracts the attention of local warlord and one-dimensional bad guy Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), who decides he's going to take the Ark to save his meat-eating people (they believe they gain 'strength' from eating the flesh of animals) from the coming deluge.
Naturally Noah and the giants have something to say about this.
Along for the ride are Noah's wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), his sons Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman) and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll) and Shem's lady-friend, Ila (Emma Watson), who is barren until magically cured by Noah's grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins).
Noah's kids quickly realise that their dreams of repopulating the Earth after the Flood are slightly flawed as the men outnumber the women in their group and the only women are their mum and Ila, who is - at that point - infertile. What passes for a romantic sub-plot essentially involves Ham running into the nearby community, grabbing the first woman he meets - a girl called Na'el (Madison Davenport) - and deciding she'll do for a wife (still a better love story than Twilight, though).
As a brief aside, I can't help but guess that whatever Tubal-cain's followers were getting up to must have been some really nasty stuff if the Creator was so determined to wipe them all off the face of the Earth, but is totally okay with what's happening here at the moment (e.g. Syria, Gaza, Ukraine, the continued rise of the Right in Western nations etc)
Once the Flood comes, Tubal-cain stows away on the Ark for the better part of nine months (again, I don't remember this from Sunday School), with the aid of Ham, surviving on an all-you-can-eat buffet of slumbering animals (presumably he ate the unicorns, dinosaurs, dragons etc and those cute armadillo/dog creatures that we saw early on in the movie).
There's a lot that isn't explained in Noah (and perhaps that's not a bad thing, actually). For instance, the TARDIS-like capacity of the Ark to hold two of every species is hand-waved (perhaps, as they were all sleeping, Noah's brood stacked them neatly like containers in a warehouse) and I don't get why the sloughed skin of The Serpent from the Garden Of Eden is an artefact for Good?
And when you look at the surviving unit of humanity at the end of movie: just who is going to father future generations and repopulate the planet, anyway (without getting into icky, incestuous inbreeding territory)?
Conversely there are some clever ideas in there, such as the Flood waters rising out of the Earth, which kind of circumvents the physical impossibility of sea levels rising to such a degree all around the world - and presumably that was where the water returned to, when the Floods receded.
But for all my ribbing of the various plot holes (many of which, of course, are carried over from the source material anyway), Noah is an impressive feat of movie making, a powerful and engaging film even if you are not of a religious bent.
Aronofsky has brought his usual visual eye to the story giving it an epic, fantastical feel that (almost) transcends its specific religious origins (The Flood myth is found in many early cultures anyway and the ark probably has its origins in Babylonian stories that pre-date the Bible).
I don't know Aronofsky's personal views on religion, but Noah manages to be thought-provoking but not preachy with Noah himself being a complex and interesting character, of a far darker temperament than you might expect, channelling some mighty Old Testament fury not normally associated with the builder of the Ark.
As fans of old school dungeon exploration games know it's not always what's behind the door that's important, sometimes it is the door itself.
Check out this collection of 15 exotic doors and entrance ways over on Oddee if you are looking for inspiration.
Monday, 28 July 2014
Artist Jian Guo produced these covers for the Chinese editions of JRR Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings trilogy from WenJing Publishing.
More of his stained glass-like Tolkien-inspired work (some examples below) can be found over on his Deviantart page, along with numerous other fantastic pieces of stylistic art.
It's the crossover you never knew you wanted until you discovered it was being planned: Star Trek meets the Planet Of The Apes.
This squeetastic fusion of two great franchises comes from the combined comic book stables of IDW and Boom Studios, combining the classic original Enterprise crew with Taylor, Nova and the cast of the first (and still the best) Planet Of The Apes film.
The series will be published by IDW and written by Scott and David Tipton, the brothers responsible for the tiresome The Next Generation/Doctor Who: Assimilation 2 crossover series but also the current excellent adaptation of Harlan Ellison's The City On The Edge Of Forever.
Art duties will be handled by Britain's Rachael Stott.
David Tipton drops some hints about the plot of The Primate Directive on IDW's website: "With the Klingons secretly backing a renegade gorilla general in a coup for control of Ape City, Captain Kirk finds himself in the uncomfortable position of having to help out Dr. Zaius' orangutans. Taylor won't be happy with that!"
Matt Ryan stars as John Constantine, the irreverent, working-class con man and occult expert waging war against the forces of darkness — from both within himself and the outside world.
The series premieres in the States on Friday, October 24, at 10/9c on NBC.
Come on, UK, snatch this up!
Meanwhile, in Gotham...
Gotham premieres in the States on Monday, September 22, on Fox. So I'm hoping Fox UK will screen it. Fingers crossed!
Sunday, 27 July 2014
The Matrix meets Toy Story in the totally over-the-top, animated, Lego Movie.
It's the story of an 'average joe', construction worker Emmett Brickowoski (voiced by Star-Lord himself, Chris Pratt) who is locked into a life of rules and routine in his Lego city, following instructions, listening to endless repeat plays of 'Everything Is Awesome' and watching mind-numbing sitcoms.
Then one day he stumbles upon an "ancient artefact" at his construction site and learns that he is 'The Special', a prophesied saviour of the Lego universe, destined to stop the dread Lord Business (voiced by Will Ferrell) from gluing all the Lego lands into a permanent stasis.
From there, Emmett - accompanied by his new friend Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and the prophet Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) - embarks on a wild ride through the world of "Master Builders" (those special Legos who don't need to follow instructions for their constructions) to his ultimate confrontation with Lord Business and then on to somewhere totally unexpected.
Along the way he rubs shoulders with Batman (a fine turn from Will Arnett), Han Solo (Keith Ferguson), Gandalf (Todd Hansen), Wonder Woman (Cobie Smulders), Superman (Channing Tatum), Shakespeare (Jorma Taccone), and Abraham Lincoln (Will Forte), to name but a few, while he dodges Lord Business's henchman Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) and armies of robots.
The Lego Movie explodes before your eyes like a pyrotechnic kaleidoscope, with so much going on all around the screen that it's impossible to take everything in at a single viewing.
Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's script certainly brings the funny and while there are only, maybe, half-a-dozen real belly laughs, the film keeps a smile fixed on your face for its relentless 100-minute duration (helped, to no small degree, by the infectious soundtrack produced by Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh).
It's bright and flashy, but also surprisingly clever, satirical and textured with plenty for older members of the audience as well as the youngsters.
I was pleased that my "no spoilers" policy meant the novel direction the film took in its later stages came as a wonderful surprise (although in retrospect you can see it was foreshadowed) and this actually made the movie for me.
It was this turn of the events that elevated The Lego Movie beyond being 'just another funny Lego animation' or 'just another film breathing animated CGI life into childhood toys'.
Indeed, everything is awesome...
Michelle and Uncle Lou bunker down to try to keep a safe distance from Jason who is hot on their trail! Is their hide out truly a safe haven or does Jason know where they are hiding?Enjoy the latest monthly bite of the Jason Xmas web serial as the countdown to Christmas continues.
Saturday, 26 July 2014
As it says on the cover, this 90-minute documentary is the story of Jodorowsky's Dune: "the greatest science fiction film never made".
Fresh from the art house success of El Topo and The Holy Mountain, avant garde director Alejandro Jodorowsky began work on his most ambitious dream: bringing Frank Herbert's legendary sci-fi novel to the big screen.
This was the mid-1970s, the post-2001: A Space Odyssey era, but pre-Star Wars, pre-Alien and Hollywood was about to be hit with an idea bomb that was way above the pay grade of the bean counters who ran the studios.
Jodorowsky came at his project like a true artist, with a grand vision that attracted legendary names to his team of "warriors" - the storyboards would be handled by Jean 'Moebius' Giraud, spaceship designs by Chris Foss, planetary designs by HR Giger, effects by Dan O'Bannon, music by Pink Floyd - and a cast that included Salvador Dali, Mick Jagger, Orson Welles and David Carradine.
The documentary charts Jodorowsky's progress in getting his dream team around him and then running headlong into the brick wall that was Hollywood.
The studios were stunned by the work that had already gone into the production, but were scared off by Jodorowsky's eccentricity and refused to stump up the money. He certainly opened their minds to the possibility of epic sci-fi, but they were still closed to the prospect of working with such a big personality that they wouldn't have been able to corral.
The bulk of Frank Pavich's documentary is a very candid interview with Jodorowsky, interspersed with interviews with producers on the project, Giger, O'Bannon's widow, Jodorowsky's son - Brontis - who trained for two years to play the lead role of Paul Atreides, and other notable industry luminaries and film critics.
Despite the collapse of the project, Jodorowsky comes across as very positive, pointing out all the elements he has used in later works (such as his extensive portfolio of European graphic novels) and the movies that either came from collaboration among his Dune team (e.g. Alien) or those that were inspired by his vision (e.g. Star Wars).
Looking at the amazing art by Giraud and Giger, listening to Jodorowsky expound his philosophical goals for the movie, you can't help but think maybe Hollywood is now ready for this vision of Dune, this extrapolation of Frank Herbert's idea into a wider, and wilder, experience.
Even Jodorowsky himself suggests that it could be made as an animated feature. How wonderful would that be?
Fans of Frank Herbert's work, as well as the films of Jodorowsky and creative cinema in general, need to see this documentary, even if it leaves them with a gut wrenching feeling of "if only...".
Imagine how different our cultural landscape would be if Jodorowsky's Dune had come out before George Lucas had got round to making Star Wars. Or if Jodorowsky had never even taken on Dune and, as a consequence, we'd never gotten to see Alien, Blade Runner, Terminator or even, possibly, Star Wars (certainly not in the forms we know and love, anyway).
Perhaps one day, a director of similar temperament - or even Jodorowsky himself (he's only 85) - will pick up this project, find the funding and finally bring to the screen this truly unique vision of the planet Arrakis and its mind-expanding, space-folding, "spice" melange.
We're entering another period of endings. Next week sees season two finale of Hannibal (Sky Living) and the end of Almost Human (Watch).
Hannibal is amazing, as anyone who follows it knows already, and from what I've gleaned - while trying to avoid spoilers - the next season will culminate in a reworking of the story of Red Dragon, while the fourth season (if it comes about) will lead into a new take on Silence Of The Lambs.
To be honest, NBC would be complete idiots to pull the plug on this show now - but then networks aren't renowned for their common sense and appreciation of quality programming.
Which brings us neatly to Fox's canning of Almost Human after a single season, despite the show's slick, futuristic brilliance. Sure, it's no Hannibal, but not everything can be; we need shows that work on different levels and at different speeds. As a sci-fi buddy cop serial Almost Human was fantastic and deserved better treatment.
To be honest, it's about time the American Government passed a law banning Fox from picking up sci-fi shows. Let another network run with the likes of Almost Human or Firefly and see how they should really be handled.
This week I reached the end of second season of Orange Is The New Black on Netflix and can't wait for the third season to come around. As that left a gap in my viewing schedule for a new streaming serial I've been watching Amazon's Extant with Halle Berry.
While I like the vision of the future it's presenting and can see the show's aspirations to be smart sci-fi in the style of Arthur C Clarke, ultimately the politest thing I can about Extant to date is that it is dumb. With a capital D.
Friday, 25 July 2014
A suicidal film actor (Chin Siu-Ho), separated from his family for reasons that are never explained, moves into a run-down tower block with the aim of taking his life.
However, just as he is about to hang himself he is saved by the block's resident chef - and out-of-work vampire hunter - Yau (Anthony Chan).
Meanwhile the elderly husband of another resident dies in a fall and his widow turns to aged black magic practitioner Gau (Fat Chung) to try and resurrect him.
Auntie Mui (Nina Paw) grows inpatient with Gau's ritual to bring her husband back and tries to speed things up - turning her late husband into a vampire in the process.
Both of this threads are entangled with a multiple murder/suicide that occurred in the flat the actor has moved in to which is now haunted by the demonic twins responsible for that incident.
Rigor Mortis, directed by Juno Mak, is a phenomenally stylish Hong Kong ghost story infused with martial arts and its own surreal logic.
Especially to Western sensibilities, the film is totally bizarre, playing by its own rules, with a generally creepy and magical atmosphere that evokes comparisons with a wide range of films from Sucker Punch to Delicatessen via The Matrix and Aliens.
Rigor Mortis also reminded me of a number of my favourite pieces of literature from Alice In Wonderland to one story in particular that I shan't name as it would spoil a key element of this film.
Special effects range from the subtle to way out there, as the story becomes increasingly twisted. The monsters are brilliantly realised (remember Chinese vampires hop!) and while there is gore here, some of the most harrowing violence happens off-screen in the viewer's imagination.
This isn't a film that relies on cheap jump scares, but rather works to keep its audience off balance.
Visually, the film is a treat, relying predominately on a very grey palette, using brighter colours for shocking contrast. The stark, deserted nature of the tower block gives the whole film a very otherwordly feeling that accentuates the unnerving atmosphere of the story as events escalate out of control.
Stylistically it's full of wonderful details (such as Yau's vampire-fighting tools and Gau's dark sorcery) that help create the verisimilitude of the off-kilter environment.
That Rigor Mortis is so well-made ultimately trumps the fact that the key element I alluded to above is rather predictable and not wholly original.The best thing to do is put the early signpost out of my mind, don't try and second guess the film and just be swept along in its wacky weirdness.
I would certainly rate this as one of my favourite horror films of recent years almost, but not quite, reaching the heights of the Korean masterpiece A Tale Of Two Sisters, which it also emulates on occasion with its twins theme.
Due out in October from POP! vinyl people Funko is a new addition to their Fabrikations line: Rocket Raccoon.
The six inch tall Fabrikations follow the same design aesthetic as the POP! vinyl figures, only they are described as "soft scultptures" as their bodies are made of fabric.
The creator and cast of Fear Of Girls will be at Gen Con next month for a screening of the brilliant RPG comedy series - including the brand spanking new, paid-for-by-Kickstarter, Episode 4: The Party Bus of Elemental Evil - in the Westin Ballroom I & II on Saturday, August 16, at 2pm.
Thursday, 24 July 2014
Wednesday, 23 July 2014
We capped off Rachel's third day of holiday with a meal out at a new(ish) restaurant in Tunbridge Wells.
We were both rather taken aback by the size of the portions ("half a farmyard" was how Rachel described my meal). But that didn't put me off finishing it all.
And we're now back home in time to watch the Opening Ceremony of The Commonwealth Games with a cold beverage.
Our garden is awash with these colourful caterpillars. Via Facebook, Clare has identified them as Cinnabar hawk moth caterpillars and so far they have restricted themselves to the weeds around the edge of the garden - but are getting 'dangerously' close to Rachel's precious flower pots.
As Rachel was unwilling to touch them and I was unwilling to kill them, I have scooped most - if not all - of them into an old Pringles' tube, with air holes drilled into the plastic lid.
At lunchtime we took the tube to nearby Haysden Country Park and released the caterpillars into the bushes (see picture below).
However, you know what they say about "no good deed...". We were in such a hurry to set the caterpillars free that having parked in the disabled bay, Rachel forgot to put our "disabled" badge in the car window. By the time we returned to the car (about five minutes later), she had got a parking ticket.
The attendant was very sympathetic, but said there was nothing he could do but take a picture of our badge and enter it into his notes - which will hopefully aid Rachel's case when she appeals the ticket!
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