Reality Is The Playground Of The Unimaginative
Home Of Swords, Sorcery, Superheroes, Sonic Screwdrivers, Supernatural Scares, Star Stuff, Sci-fi, Smeg, and Silliness
Monday, 29 February 2016
Love the fact that they're using clips from The Omen for the flashbacks in the Damien trailer, but the one fear I have is that Damien (Merlin's Bradley James) will be more troubled teen anti-hero than Anti-Christ. Damien has to be the bad guy in this or it won't work.
What an episode! Many Heads, One Tale gave us the secret history of Hydra, a major development in the Fitz/Simmons relationship, Grant Ward going seriously badass, and the infiltration of the ATCU by S.H.I.E.L.D.
Very quickly after last week's revelation that Rosalind was leading on and selling out Coulson, Phil swiftly turned the tables (in case we thought he was losing his edge), only to discover that Rosalind herself is being played by former-World Council member Gideon Malick (Powers Boothe)... who also happens to be the current head of Hydra.
Ward is looking for the legendary Strucker vault, evading a death squad sent by Malick, and finally ends up discovering that the Red Skull didn't found Hydra in the Second World War and that actually the organisation is a lot older and a lot more intricately involved with the Inhumans than he originally thought.
The S.H.I.E.L.D. infiltration of the ATCU was a well-executed slice of spy-fi, with Bobbi and Hunter going undercover, and Mack and Daisy providing remote support. You could almost hear the Mission: Impossible tune playing in the background.
And the Fitz-Simmons snog! I confess: I grinned like a loon at this.
And if that wasn't enough, we were even treated to couple of fantastically choreographed fight scenes, one pitching Ward against Malick's kill crew and the other seeing Bobbi and Hunter fight their way past some ATCU goons (including a telekinetic Inhuman).
It's episodes like Many Heads, One Tale that remind me why I enjoy this show so much (and can excuse the odd, slower episode). This had everything: from plot twists and romance to slugfests and spy-fi.
Honestly, I couldn't be happier about this show right now.
More like this, please!
So far The Year Of The Monkey has been a feast for Sinophiles such as myself, with the BBC's China Season (from its three-day coverage of the New Year celebrations in China to Michael Wood's fantastic six-part The Story Of China) and the Discovery Channel's David Baddiel On The Silk Road, but the crowning glory has to be Netflix's Sword Of Destiny, sequel to 2000's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Set many years after the original, Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) comes out of secluded retirement when she learns that megalomaniac warlord Hades Dai (Jason Scott Lee) has discovered the location of the legendary Green Destiny Sword.
Yu takes on a student, the beautiful Snow Vase (Natasha Liu Bordizzo), who is somehow connected with the young thief Tiefang (Glee's Harry Shum Jr.) sent to steal the magical sword for Hades Dai.
She then recruits five warriors - including her long-lost, presumed-dead, love Meng Sizhao aka Silent Wolf (Donnie Yen) to protect the sword and, eventually, take the fight to Hades Dai.
The plot of Sword Of Destiny is deceptively straight-forward, interwoven with the intricate connectivity of the characters' backgrounds and destinies.
Directed by martial arts guru Woo-Ping Yuen, the wire-work, stunts, and fight scenes are magnificent, often containing both grace and brutality, and it is all set against the splendid backdrop of the Chinese landscape which lends a heightened reality to the epic scope of the story.
Thematically and storywise, Sword Of Destiny ticks a lot of familiar boxes from the classics - such as The Seven Samurai - to the contemporary - such as The Force Awakens - but with a unique wuxia flavour.
The original film really brought the beauty of Chinese martial arts movies to the Western mainstream. Sword Of Destiny is a worthy successor that maintains the lineage Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon established and was then picked up by films like Hero, House Of Flying Daggers, The Banquet, Curse Of The Golden Flower etc.
While I was happy to see that Sword Of Destiny was available on Netflix with both English and Chinese dialogue, I'll confess that despite being a bit of a snob about these things I actually opted to watch the English language version. I couldn't face the prospect of reading subtitles with my tired eyes while also trying to take in the high-flying action.
Maybe, the next time I watch Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword Of Destiny it'll be in its proper tongue.
Looking for an eccentric - and hardy - NPC for your pulp era or time travel games, then look no further than Danish explorer, author, journalist and anthropologist Peter Freuchen (1886 – 1957).
This larger-than-life character was brought to my attention on the Hollow Earth Expedition Facebook page, by Adam Scott Glancy, but seems a suitable companion to encounter in the Doctor Who RPG and probably a host of other games.
Sunday, 28 February 2016
|Captain Alec prepares to humiliate his godfather by rolling double sixes at just the right time...|
|Just before everything went horribly wrong...|
Right, let's get this out the way to start with, as I'm sure Nick and Alec will never let me hear the end of it.
We all met up at the Tunbridge Wells Wargames Society Open Day (aka Cavalier) - held at the Tonbridge Angel Centre - this morning and were soon embroiled in a participation game of American Civil War naval conflict.
I was controlling two ships of the South, while Nick and Alec took command of two ships from the North.
One of my ships was quickly battered into submission (it caught fire at one stage but my crew heroically put the fire out straight away), leaving my stronger ship to face their two. Alec rolled a hit on my ship and I joked - looking at the 'critical hits table' - that I bet he rolls a double six (which was 'hit ammunition stores, ship blows up').
And that's exactly what he did!
Much chuckling ensued, and much taunting about how my ship had been sunk by my five-year-old godson. And with that the game ended in a decisive victory for the North.
My ship was replaced with a sinking model that Nick took a picture of, so Alec could use it as a screensaver on his mobile device.
Oh no, we won't be hearing the end of this anytime soon...
Then, the three of us had a good look around the trading hall and the two side rooms where most of the demonstration games were on display.
The event certainly felt busier than it did last year and, while certainly not as crowded as last week's model train show, there was a sense that maybe it's turned a corner and will start growing again.
As usual, there were some splendid games on display, embracing a variety of genres and scales. Here are a few sample snaps to give you a taste of the day:
The days when Nick and I would average a pound-a-minute spending at events such as this are long gone. Nick picked up a new historical magazine, Alec got a blind-bagged Star Wars micro-machine toy, and I (because it was a wargames show) purchased five comics (a four-part Weird Western mini-series from Dark Horse, and a single Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles issue, from IDW).
Overall, I think we stayed for a couple of hours - which, I was told, was very good going for Alec - and will certainly be back next year.
I do like having a show on my doorstep.
Even if I'm running a hack'n'slash dungeoncrawl I want to know the backstories of all the player-characters.
Coming from a comic book-reading, serial drama-watching, background I like to add a bit of a personal connection for the player-characters to the campaign they're enjoying.
But let's be honest, sometimes - especially with old school grognards - it can be like pulling teeth trying to extract some character details from players beyond "my fighter is called Bob, he hits things, his family are all dead, and he has no dependents or emotional attachment to anything except gold pieces".
For my next game - which uses a really, really simple rules system - I'm thinking of introducing a six question questionnaire for the players (the first question being "who would play your character in a film?", because I love to include stills and portraits in my game write-ups and campaign blogs).
Does anyone else hand out player-character questionnaires before the start of a campaign?
How many questions do you put to your players (I've seen some questionnaires with 30 or 40 questions, which seems a tad excessive)?
What do you want to know about player-characters beyond the stats and skills shown on their character sheets?
Or, conversely, do you just wing it and, as the campaign progresses, let players come up with these details retrospectively as the need arises?
Saturday, 27 February 2016
My blog-profiling feature - Six Of The Best - has been running for several months on HeroPress and has already profiled fourteen distinctly different voices of the blogosphere (including myself, it must be said), garnering raise from readers.
I have interview subjects scheduled up until mid-May, but am always on the look out for more prospective interviewees.
To date, Six Of The Best has featured:
- Calvin's Canadian Cave Of Coolness (pop culture)
- Dr Theda's Crypt (horror)
- The Other Side (RPGs)
- Siskoid's Blog Of Geekery (pop culture & RPGs)
- Gaming Ballistic (RPGs)
- Alex J. Cavanaugh (writing)
- HeroPress (pop culture & RPGs)
- Gothridge Manor (RPGs)
- The Wit And Weirdness Of Al Bruno III (pop culture)
- The Bookshop Around The Corner (book shops)
- Broke Horror Fan (horror)
- I Have Wrought My Simple Plan... (wargames)
- Natholeon's Empires(wargames)
- B/X Blackrazor (RPGs)
From music and cinema, to stamp collecting and chicken farming, if you write a blog I'd like to hear from you, whatever you write about.
I'm always looking to celebrate the breadth of blogging, by profiling as broad a cross-section of the bloggers as possible, highlighting the infinite variety of subjects that get people talking.
This is part of my drive to be an advocate for the art of blogging, helping authors promote their sites while simultaneously sharing good practice and wisdom with fellow, and aspiring, bloggers.
Every fortnight, I 'interview' a different blogger, asking the same six questions (see below), with the idea of not only helping promote their own work but also to encourage others to think about taking up blogging.
Of course, if you are podcaster, feel free to answer the questions anyway, substituting 'podcast' for blog...
The set questions are:
(1) How long have been blogging, and how’d you get into it in the first place?If you are interested in taking part, get in touch with me at acrobatic (dot) flea (at) gmail (dot) com or via G+, Facebook, Twitter etc
(2) What do you blog about, and how frequently do you post?
(3) How does your blog stand out from all the rest?
(4) What’s the best (and worst) thing about blogging?
(5) Do you have any self-imposed rules (or guidelines) for your blog?
(6) Name one blog everyone should be reading (other than your own).
An experimental, 1996, eight-minute film from Hydrofilms, The Fisherman is the story of two guys driving to a dilapidated house in the woods where strange events occur. There was no script, no actors, just three friends, a camera, a wig and entirely improvised on the day.
Naturally it makes little sense, although that was half the idea. But there's something I still enjoy about this one - the locations and compositions are great and there's a dream-like quality in the imagery. The derelict house in Shillington was a fantastic location - completely falling down and very dangerous. The floorboards were rotten and the cellar beneath flooded - more than once I put my foot through the floor!
Along with Clophill it was a local hangout that legend said was haunted - by what or whom I have no idea. It was finally knocked down a number of years ago. The second location by the motorway had Mike throwing a hangman's noose from the side of the road whilst getting hooted at by horrified motorists.
From the imagery I can see the references and what I was thinking at the time: Bunuel's Un Chien Andalou, M.R. James ghost stories, Romero's Night of the Living Dead, Fulci's City of the Living Dead and even something approaching the ending of Blair Witch three years prior to that being made.
After digging it out of the loft after 20 years on VHS it looked beaten up, but with a little restoration (nothing new visually apart from a little grading) and a couple of new (library) cues, The Fisherman has been resurrected to it's former 'lost' glory. Most importantly, there's some great memories here of endless summers and our sillier, more reckless days.
Friday, 26 February 2016
As I have mentioned in previous weeks there are two complementary Ghostbusters' documenaries seeking Kickstarter support at the moment - Cleanin' Up The Town and Ghostheads.
Unfortunately, as they both head towards their final week of crowdfunding, according to Kicktraq, both are unlikely to hit their initial goal unless there is a radical upswing in donations.
I fear some of this could be down to the fact that they are both looking for support, at the same time, from the same pool of fandom.
And, I understand, there's also some degree of confusion that these are competing documentaries - when, in fact, Cleanin' Up The Town is a 'making of' film about Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II, and Ghostheads is about Ghostbusters' fandom.
Brendan Mertens, director of Ghostheads, recently stated:
"I have noticed a lot of comments online trying to decide what side to take on the Ghostbuster documentary front, and I wanted to be the one to say there are no sides but only one big team.Anthony Bueno, of Cleanin' Up The Town, subsequently took to Facebook, echoing Brendan's comments, saying:
"I have known Anthony Bueno, director of Cleanin' Up the Town, for many years and even had him one my Ghostbusters-themed podcasts a few times. Anthony even helped me when I first wanted to make the movie we will be releasing this summer. Anthony ... will be making an appearance in Ghostheads.
"We are making two totally different movies. They are making a movie about Ghostbusters, which I personally cannot wait to see (as well as back via their Kickstarter), and we are making a movie about the fans.
"This is not an Armageddon and Deep Impact issue. What made the Ghostbusters so good is they were a team that came together, our movie is about the love of the movie and how fans are a big family. There is no need to pick sides, we are all in this together."
"Both Brendan and I want to give the Ghostbusters fans documentaries for all to cherish as they are both very different films.Anthony, and his sister Claire, the producer of Cleanin' Up The Town: Remembering Ghostbusters, can be heard discussing their documentary and the Kickstarter campaign on the latest special episode of the Ghostbusters Interdimensional Crossrip podcast.
"Cleanin’ Up the Town is an extensive 'making of', giving the fans an in-depth look into how these films were made from the actors, writers, filmmakers and effects crews own words.
"Ghostheads is a love letter to all of the fans out there that have kept these films alive for over 30 years, and what it means to them and what the fans mean the the filmmakers.
"Should just one, or neither, of these films reach the goal then the fandom will lose out on something wonderful."
- To support Cleanin' Up The Town visit Kickstarter here.
- To support Ghostheads visit Kickstarter here.
With about three days of funding to go, I'm hoping a massive surge of support will see the campaign to produce a second edition of Aaron Allston's Strike Force gaming supplement hits its $40,000 stretch goal, allowing the book to published in hardback.
It's already coming out in full-colour, having passed its $30,000 stretch goal, but such an important tome really deserves the hardback treatment.
Steven S Long, of Hero Games, calls Strike Force: "One of the most important overall supplements in the history of roleplaying games."
Check out the book's Kickstarter page to learn more about its history and plans for the expanded new edition. This isn't just an essential guidebook for those running superhero RPGs, but a 'must own' for anyone enthralled by the idea of running long-term campaigns, whatever the genre.
Well-known game writer, and contributor to the second edition, Sean Patrick Fannon talks about Strike Force on the following nine-and-a-half minute episode of the Relic Hunt podcast:
If you have an hour to spare, the Bamf Podcast (below) has an interview with some of the creators involved in the production of the book, who share their own impressions of why Strike Force is such a key document for gaming fans.
After Jason Wilkes comes into contact with a small piece of zero matter - that momentarily makes him substantive again - he learns the location of the body of the "lady in the lake".
However, when Peggy and Jarvis go to retrieve it, they discover Whitney Frost and her husband there as well. Whitney has absorbed all the zero matter out of the corpse and now wants to recreate the atom bomb test that first created the zero matter and opened a "rift" to 'somewhere else'.
Peggy, with Chief Sousa, puts together a clandestine team - including Jarvis, Rose the SSR 'receptionist' (Leslie Boone), and scientist Dr Samberly (Matt Braunger) - to break into a Roxxon facility and disarm the last two nuclear bombs there, before Whitney can get her hands on them.
Before she can do all this, Peggy has to get into Roxxon HQ and steal the key to the nuclear facility from Hugh Jones (Ray Wise), using a memory-blocking gadget devised by Dr Samberly.
The titular Atomic Job doesn't go exactly to plan, with Jarvis finding himself forced to disarm the bombs - with guidance (through a locked door) from Sousa, while Peggy has a run-in with Whitney. Although she avoids being zapped by Whitney's zero matter "death grip", Peggy still ends up badly injured.
The team turn to Sousa's new fiancée, Violet (Sarah Bolger), a nurse who quickly picks up on Sousa's unrequited feelings for Peggy.
Once again, Agent Carter hits all the right buttons, blending fast-paced action with character development.
Of course, if you think about it, it's no wonder Agent Carter has low viewing figures: it features a feisty, intelligent female lead pitted against a feisty, intelligent female antagonist. What on Earth were they thinking?
This episode in particular saw the supporting male characters - even Jarvis in his nuclear bomb defusing role - playing distant second fiddle to Peggy and Whitney.
And we also got to know more about a couple of the other female characters in the show, namely Rose (who kicked some serious ass in The Atomic Job) and Violet, who saved Peggy's life and even offered to let her 'love rival' stay at her home, despite being well aware of Sousa's feelings.
My only complaint about this near-perfect episode was Peggy's very cavalier attitude when using the memory-alerting device (repeatedly) on Jones, despite being warned it might cause brain damage.
I was concerned that this was played for laughs, but perhaps, as a stroke survivor, I just felt itwas slightly out of character for both Peggy and the show.
Audio is a criminally underused 'prop' in roleplaying games. If used right it can really help get players into the mood and grasp the verisimilitude you are trying to create.
Craig Oxbrow featured a news report about a "strange sound" bothering people in an Oregon town, while the news was reporting the revelation that astronauts, on the dark side of the Moon, in 1969 heard "strange music".
This latter story is the lead-off on Oddee's list of "nine mysterious noises", many of which are prime fodder for gaming scenario seeds in a variety of genres, from X-Files and Lovecraftian horror to Doctor Who and period pulp adventures.
The great thing about Oddee's list is that it features a number of YouTube clips, so you have the freaky sounds at your fingertips when you want to unnerve your players with a burst of weird audio.
In a similar vein, I'd also like to draw your attention to an Atlas Obscura article about "The Unsettling Mystery Of The Creepiest Channel On Youtube", which - regardless of its probably rather mundane origins - is certainly worthy of being used as the launching point for a modern, investigative horror adventure (as an alternative to 'numbers stations')
Thursday, 25 February 2016
Time is running out and Rowena isn't getting anywhere with her translation of The Book of The Damned, because the codex Sam got for her to aid in the translation is, itself, encoded!
Sam calls in Charlie (Felicia Day) to employ her computer skills on cracking the codex code, and Castiel to watch over her and Rowena.
Meanwhile, Dean is getting very suspicious of Sam's evasive behaviour (Sam is a dreadful liar), but has found a case for them to work... which just happens to involve a member of the Styne family (who, you remember, are also looking for The Book Of The Damned).
We get the impression that the Styne aren't quite human, but when Sam and Dean capture Eldon Styne (David Hoflin), he reveals the full story of the family's bio-engineering talents which they use to enhance their kin (which is why they 'harvest' organs from their murder victims).
Eldon also explains that they are an ancient family, who have long been operating behind-the-scenes and profiting from mankind's darkest moments, but were forced to change their name when their skills were made public in the early 19th Century by a certain Mary Shelley.
For an instant, I was slightly underwhelmed by the introduction of the Frankenstein name into Supernatural, but then I quickly remembered they also gave us Oz a little ago and that gelled with the show's oeuvre, so why not Frankenstein?
But, of course, the biggest bombshell of the episode wasn't the revelation of the Frankensteins, but that brutal, bloody, final scene, marking the exit of a fan-favourite character from the Winchester's extended family.
Of course, we know from past experience, that - as in comics - death isn't always the end in Supernatural. But there was a slasher-flick starkness about that final shot that suggests that maybe this time it really is.
Next Time (massive spoilers from the get-go if you're not up to speed):
This week a new shipment of painted miniatures arrived from Neil and I've taken pictures of few to share here.
Please excuse the crappy photography as we don't have a "family camera" at present and I'm relying on my iPod for my photographic needs, and it doesn't cope with miniatures that well (being more geared towards landscapes and selfies).
It doesn't do the miniatures justice, which is why I only snapped a few of them to show off. Hopefully you'll get the idea of how cool they are 'in the flesh'.
Neil is working on a revamped website for his figure painting business at present, which includes updated prices and a selection of photographs of his fine work. Make sure you check it out if you're in need of his services.
|Rabble Rouser: Firebrand political speaker stirring the proletariat to revolt...|
|Gotta Pick A Pocket Or Two: Fagin and his young crew...|
|Bullseye: Bill Sikes|
This will probably be my last Throwback Thursday relating to my extended stay in Beijing when Paul was working on the China Daily back in 2002, as I'm running low on interesting and repeatable anecdotes now.
The Chinese believe in finding jobs for everyone, including jobs that we'd never think of. For instance, one night we went bowling and there was a young girl assigned to looking after our lane.
She took a shine to me (I like to think) and kept shouting "Teem, strike!" whenever I bowled.
It was meant to be supportive, but had the effect of completely putting me off... much to the amusement of Paul and his newspaper colleagues!
But my path crossed most frequently with Chinese ladies at a bar Paul and his peers frequented called Maggie's.
The Rough Guide To China described Maggie's as "one of the capital's sleaziest venues, with a clientele of fat foreign men, criminals and prostitutes."
Let's be clear here, it was more Porkie's than Moulin Rouge, and the perfect people-watching venue.
Lori challenged me - for two drinks - to have a conversation with one of the "laydees" and I ended up dancing with a very bored woman who'd approached me on the dance floor ("You have a girlfriend, meester?").
I managed to ditch her at the bar when she tried to get me to buy her an expensive coke (20 Yuan, i.e. £1.60... way over the odds!) and I pulled out notes from my 'change' pocket, as opposed to the one packed with 100 Yuan notes.
Most of our drunken visits to Maggie's would end with Paul, Lori, and I wildly dancing on the club's dance floor, often attracting large flocks of rather delicious 'ladies of the night', who would dance over to us, realise we weren't interested, huff and then walk away.
As far as I know, despite all the redevelopment that has gone on in Beijing since before the Olympics, Maggie's is still standing, still doing its thing, and I can heartily recommend it to anyone visiting the city, looking for a change of scenery.
|Picture Credit: The Neverland Files|
Welcome to the latest entry in this ever-growing Torn From The Headlines' subset of links to proposed building projects that were never constructed which can serve as background colour or story seeds for alternate reality settings where they did come to fruition.
Mental Floss has an article profiling a dozen Disney attractions that were proposed and never built.
While these might throw up something suitable for the Doctor Who RPG or similar games with dimension-hopping capability, if you're looking for something more horrific - yet Disney-orientated - then check out this recent slice of creepypasta from Blumhouse, about a supposed abandoned Disney Park: The Horrifying Secret of Mowgli’s Palace.
Wednesday, 24 February 2016
The main thing you need to know about Spectre is it's the strongest of the recent James Bond movies, blending post-modern attitudes with a lot of old school flavouring.
There are plenty of films that don't know when they've outstayed their welcome, but while you may think that two hours 20 minutes is an excessive duration for an action movie, Spectre is one of those rare finds that you wish would just keep going.
A message "from beyond the grave" sends Bond to Mexico to kill a terrorist, whose funeral he attends in Rome, and this puts him on the trail of a secretive organisation known as Spectre, whose ultimate goal is nothing nothing less world domination (albeit behind-the-scenes).
Sinister organisations with their tentacles enveloping the world in a net of conspiracies tick all the right boxes for me, so I was hooked from the moment James walked into the clandestine Spectre meeting in Rome.
From there Bond's travels take him round the globe as he tries to get to the heart of the organisation, and cut off its mysterious head (Christoph Waltz).
Meanwhile, back in England, post-Skyfall politics is causing problems for M (Ralph Fiennes), in the form of a new 'boss', C (Andrew Scott... who you, unfortunately, know is a baddie from the moment you see him because he's Sherlock's Moriarty), who is looking to close down the OO section.
The first act, while dramatic, is a bit slow, and there's a groan-worthy cliché connecting Bond to the head of Spectre, that really adds nothing to the story, but overall this is a cracking Bond film.
From its balletic car chase through the streets of Rome, via the violent fisticuffs on a train between Bond and silent Spectre henchman Hinx (Guardians of The Galaxy's Dave Bautista), to its climactic confrontation in London, the film delivers everything a Bond fan could want.
We also get a pair of strong "Bond girls" both capable of looking after themselves, but who still, of course, fall for Bond's charms: Monica Bellucci is Lucia, widow of the gangster Bond kills at the start, while Bond's companion for most of the film is Madeleine (Léa Seydoux), the daughter of his old foe from Quantum Of Solace and Casino Royale, Mr White (Jesper Christensen).
And once again, Daniel Craig proves himself the best Bond since Sean Connery. I really hope he does return for the next Bond film... and we have to see more of Christoph Waltz.
Tuesday, 23 February 2016
AAAARRRGGGHHH!!! How is this allowed to happen? Last Stop (aka Don't Blink, in the States) is all set-up and no ending. This is a mystery film without an answer to the mystery. It's Lost all over again!
A large part of my annoyance comes from the fact that the build-up is so good. Writer/director Travis Oates takes the stock horror cliché of friends arriving at an isolated cabin and weird shit happening to them, and puts a post-modern spin on it by making the friends likeable characters, who react like real people, and actually discuss what's going on.
Sure, there's the usual cliché that it's all going down in an area with no cellphone coverage and the cabin they're staying in is at the end of a long drive that required an entire tank of petrol to get there, but these are addressed and dealt with. Had the weirdness not gone down, neither of these points would have even been an issue.
The group of 20-somethings are heading into the mountains to stay at an isolated lodge, but when they arrive there's nobody around, no staff to check in with, no other guests, and a car park full of abandoned cars.
As they try and figure out what's going on - behaving as though the scenario is genuine and not a horror movie set-up - they realise that there are also no birds or insects in the surrounding area, and despite the warmth at the lodge, a nearby lake is frozen solid.
Then, one of the group disappears, and then another, and the chaos sets in.
Because the characters behave convincingly, the panic and disintegration of the group dynamic is all the more engrossing.
While there are no flashy special effects, a couple of the vanishings are incredibly well executed, and it's totally believable when cracks start to appear in the psyche of some of the group.
Part of the appeal to me, knowing very little about this film before I picked up the DVD (it was an Amazon Recommendation), was its intriguing trailer and solid TV star cast, particularly Mena Suvari (from South Of Hell), Brian Austin Green (of Beverley Hills 90210, Smallville, and The Sarah Connor Chronicles), and Joanne Kelly (of Warehouse 13).
Unfortunately as the tension continued to mount into the movie's final act, Brian Austin Green's Jack prophetically says at one point: "I don't want to know what's going on, I just want it to be over." It was at that point, with only minutes remaining on the clock, that I suddenly realised we weren't going to get any answers and my heart sank.
Oates' script is much better on the characters' personal arcs and maintaining a convincing truth to their reactions to events, than keeping the mysterious occurrences within any kind of established coherent framework.
In a very Doctor Who-like plot development, people are warned "don't blink", as characters disappear when no one is looking at them, but then that doesn't hold up when only one character remainis at the end... because no one was looking at them!
And what was the point of the frozen lake and sudden snow falls (which reminded me of the equally promising and equally frustrating faux reality TV show Siberia)?
Even the tag line on the DVD cover - "The Place Between The Living And The Dead" - is utterly meaningless as there is nothing whatsoever in Last Stop to suggest that the goings-on are connected to the afterlife or anything supernatural.
In fact, there's a cameo appearance at the end from a familiar face to genre TV addicts that suggests maybe some kind of X-Files/extraterrestrial scenario, but, honestly, who knows? I'm not sure the writer/director knows, so what hope for the rest of us?
But what I can't understand is why somebody in authority, whoever signed the cheques maybe, didn't take a look at this film and say: "Where's the ending? Don't you think you should give me the paying audience at least a clue as to what is going on?"
It's so frustrating because up until the non-existent ending, Last Stop is a brilliant sci-fi thriller, subverting a lot of direct-to-DVD tropes by making its protagonists smart and relatable, their banter spot-on and funny.
Just watch the trailer below and you'll have just as much idea of what's going on as I have, having sat through the film. It might not contain all the film's best bits, but the entire plot is there, and it even features the 'surprise' cameo I was being so coy about above...
Talking of films that have been hyped up too much before you got to see them with an open mind, Eli Roth's long-awaited cannibal flick The Green Inferno crash-landed on my doorstep this week.
What could possibly go wrong? Eli Roth has been very vocal about his love of the OTT Italian cannibal genre and he's not exactly renowned for his restraint when it comes to gruesome horror movies, so I had high hopes for a gory thrill-ride here.
Unfortunately, my hopes were dashed during the interminable opening act, set largely on an American college campus, primarily because of the almost universally painful standard of acting.
Outside of the main character, Justine (Lorenza Izzo), and her father (Richard Burgi), I was pretty much wishing everyone straight into the cannibals' cooking pot the moment they opened their mouths.
The story revolves around a group of student activists travelling to the Amazon jungle to protest the uprooting of indigenous tribes by heartless mining companies, only for their plane to crash on the return journey, and the activists be captured - and eaten - by the natives they were trying to protect.
The film is 100 minutes long and it's 40 minutes before the terrifyingly realistic plane crash that maroons the students in the jungle.
Yes, there's some political satire sown in through the protest leader's less-than-honourable motivation for the expedition, and there's the ridiculousness of the activists getting into a potentially life-threatening situation that they hadn't fully researched (many treating it like an adventure holiday), but I'm sure there would have been ways to trim this first act down to five or ten minutes.
Let's be clear here: anyone watching this is watching it because it's a cannibal film, pure and simple. And that's what they want to see.
But when it comes to the gore there are two main issues: the first is that most of the 'shocking' moments were given away in the trailers before the film (eventually) hit cinemas last year; and the second is that goremeister Roth opts for a lot of suggested horror and off-camera nastiness. Now this has its place in subtle, atmospheric, creepy horror movies, but not in an Eli Freakin' Roth cannibal film!
It's rather unfortunate that Roth tried to make a love letter to the mondo exploitation movies he loves so much, but was unable - or unwilling - to go that extra mile and create something that was genuinely shocking and horrific.
Accentuating the film's unevenness are moments of near-infantile black comedy (for instance, one victim gets the squits, which her captors all chuckle about, but then - not that I'm in any way a coprophile - there's no evidence of this in any of her later scenes, even though there aren't exactly four-star cleaning facilities available) and a sign-posted cheesy twist that leads to Justine's escape (the moment her dad mentions her special necklace in one of the opening scenes you kind of know it's going to play a crucial role in the film!).
The film is also cut strangely, in some ways removing a lot of the tension and threat, and while the activists are supposed to be portrayed as vacuous 'social justice warriors' - who just want to be seen to be protesting - the fact that most are two-dimensional and interchangeable makes it very difficult to care if they are in danger.
Except for Justine and Alejandro (Ariel Levy), the protest organiser, I couldn't tell you the names of any of the other activists, they were all so bland and homogenous.
The best performances in The Green Inferno came from the Peruvian natives who played the cannibals. They, at least, were clearly having fun and getting into the spirit of things.
There's even, during the closing credits, a final scene clearly - and optimistically - setting up a possible sequel, but I really can't see that coming off on the strength of this.
The Green Inferno certainly had promise as a high-octane 'escaping the cannibal tribesmen' adventure movie, but as with the gore that's served up here, the best iteration of the film is in the mind of the viewer before he sees what's actually being offered.
Monday, 22 February 2016
The cat's out of the bag. After last week's unmasking, Chaos Theory is the episode where everyone discovers Lash's alter ego, and has to deal with it in their own way.
This was an episode about relationships and revelations. May, obviously, had to confront Andrew, and process her feelings for him, given the new status quo; Phil and Rosalind's flirting was taken to the next level; Bobbi confronted Hunter about his reckless behaviour; and Fitz and Simmons finally got a touching moment of clarity on their situation.
In between all this powerful, character-driven material, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. still found time for some cracking superpowered fight scenes, with the centrepiece being Lincoln (who's now come in from the cold and tacitly joined S.H.I.E.L.D.) versus Lash, which had the side effect of letting Daisy save the life of Rosalind, when the monstrous Lash dropped her off a balcony.
The episode's coda was one of the show's most stinging, coupling a rare moment of seeming happiness in Coulson's life with an almost immediate apparent betrayal (which, let's be honest, we had kind of suspected was coming, we just didn't expect it to be so soon).
After a slow start to this season, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. isn't hanging around now, hitting us with plot twists left, right, and centre as the season snowballs on.
Makes you wonder where the show's going to go next if it plans to keep up this pace.
This "banned-for-three-decades" (by Toei, the studio that made it), Japanese horror flick had been built up so much I came to it expecting something akin to a cross between In The Realm Of The Senses and a grindhouse take on The Island Of Doctor Moreau, with maybe a side order of The Hourglass Sanatorium.
Unfortunately, in all honesty, Horrors Of Malformed Men is actually quite mundane and underwhelming.
Escaping from an anarchic mental hospital in the 1920s, medical student Hirosuke Hitomi (Teruo Yoshida), plagued by inexplicable dreams, a haunting lullaby, and no knowledge of his family, follows a trail of breadcrumbs to a coastal town.
He arrives just when the son of a local eccentric is being buried, and is shocked to discover that the dead man - Genzaburô Komoda - looks just like him and even has a matching scar on the sole of his foot.
Naturally, Hitomi assumes the guise of Genzaburô and infiltrates the Komoda household... because how could that end badly?
Strange things do happen during the time spent in the house, and death seems to follow Hitomi, but eventually - at about the film's mid-point - the protagonist demands to be taken out to the quarantined island where 'his' father is supposedly building a "paradise".
Arriving there, Hitomi very quickly finds out that Genzaburô's father, Jôgorô Komoda (Tatsumi Hijikata), is an insane wannabe-scientist creating a tribe of "malformed" men, with plans to... well, that's never really made clear.
Jôgorô is certainly the most fascinating character in the film, a contorted, web-fingered, messianic Manson-esque demagogue, played by an avant-garde performance artist, whose dance troupe portray the 'malformed men'.
There are moments when Horrors Of Malformed Men goes a bit weird, such as the extended dance number after Hitomi first arrives on the island and meets Jôgorô, but these are very few and far between.
In fact, a major fault with the film is its verbosity, there's a lot of talk and ominous foreshadowing of things that never really come to fruition.
Then in the final act, having gone from family drama to weird sci-fi body horror, the film suddenly takes another diversion into police procedural territory.
This comes out of nowhere and ties up everything way too neatly, and with a bucketload of exposition that we probably didn't want.
I can see that maybe some of the ideas in the film may have been controversial in their time (for instance, there's an incestuous love story sub-plot, and several scenes of casual topless female nudity), but really it's all a bit tame and coy by modern standards.
As sometimes happens with cult movies, especially those that go unseen for a lengthy period of time, they gain a certain reputation through a combination of wishful thinking, Chinese whispers, and Emperor's New Clothes (in that those who do see it feel embarrassed to admit it's not as good as they'd been telling people it would be).
Based on a selection of the macabre tales of Japanese horror and mystery author Edogawa Rampo, Horrors of Malformed Men certainly didn't bore me (I made it through the 99 minutes without any breaks for toilet, snacks, or other distractions), but then again it also didn't particularly engage me.
While there are faint shades of Tod Browning's superior Freaks here, the closest comparison in Western cinema is the bizarre 1996 version of The Island Of Dr Moreau, starring Marlon Brando.
And the explosive finale of Horrors Of Malformed Men is far more comical than anything else.
All that said, this is a well made film, given the limitations of its time, and Teruo Ishii's direction carries you along, even if only because you are constantly being promised that just around the corner there's something truly gonzo going on. It's just that you never actually get to look round that corner.
It has been described as "dreamlike", and the blurb on the DVD case boasts, rather optimistically, that "after you've experienced it for yourself, you may never be able to watch normal movies again", but for me Horrors Of Malformed Men was, itself, in large part, too normal, too mundane, to be anything particularly memorable.
When a strange virus quickly spreads through a safari park and turns all the zoo animals undead, those left in the park must stop the creatures before they escape and zombify the whole city.Zoombies is The Asylum's latest offering, putting a zombie spin on the 'when-animals-attack' TV drama Zoo, and is due out on DVD on March 1 in the States and June 13 here in the UK.
Look for me at the head of the queue!
Thor: Love & Thunder (2022) + Dr Who (2022)
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