Reality Is The Playground Of The Unimaginative

Home Of Swords, Sorcery, Superheroes, Sonic Screwdrivers, Supernatural Scares, Star Stuff, Sci-fi, Smeg, and Silliness

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

The Origin Of Black Widow...

Streaming Supers: Bloodshot (2020)

I have this feeling that comic book superhero movies might have peaked with Marvel's Infinity War/Endgame duology and we're now seeing a slide back to the '80s and '90s when studios were embarrassed to show us comic book characters that actually resembled the source material.

Bloodshot, given an early digital release over here last weekend to help Sony recoup some of the revenue lost by releasing the film in cinemas just as the Coronavirus pandemic hit, pays only fleeting lip-service to the very distinctive appearance of the Valiant Comics' character.

Bloodshot in the comics - not in this movie 

There is a passing, sneeze-and-you-miss-it, suggestion of this look, for about 15 seconds, during the climactic showdown, but the rest of the time he's simply Vin Diesel.

This is Stallone in Judge Dredd all over again, but without the distraction of Mega City One architecture and robots.

Normally, I have a lot of time for Vin Diesel, but the script and first-time director just don't appear to have given him anything to work with here.

Diesel stars as Ray Garrison, a deceased American soldier brought back to life by Dr Emil Harting (Guy Pearce) of nefarious technology firm RST.

He then becomes, unwillingly, a programmed killer.

And the clever twist comes in the revelation of how this programming works, but it takes almost 45 minutes of pedestrian, action movie clichés to get there.

The thing is the clichés are actually part of the twist, but this is glossed over too quickly, after taking such a painfully long time to get there, and then the story lapses back into a stereotypical muscles-and-guns action piece.

I think part of the problem for me is, looking over Valiants' varied portfolio, Bloodshot feels like it was the safe bet - he's a Captain America-style supersoldier, with The Punisher's penchant for weapons and Wolverine's regenerative healing ability.

While it makes no sense to criticise a movie for what it isn't, I do wonder if Sony and Valiant might have had more success, if they were looking to create their own cinematic universe to rival Marvel's, if they'd taken more of a chance and gone with a character like X-O Manowar (sure it's Iron Man, if his suit was an alien entity and Tony Stark was a time-displaced Visigoth) or Faith (a plus-sized geeky superheroine who just wants to do the right thing).

As it is, despite the occasional impressive stunt scene and the inventive central twist, Bloodshot is essentially a mediocre, and instantly forgettable, action flick.

Added, potential, humour for English viewers comes in the second act when a large part of the adventure takes to the streets of the most hilariously off-brand 'London' since the Australian K9 TV show (I think it was probably shot in Cape Town, but no attempt was made to even make the police cars look British).

Not only is this quite risible that the production company should take that little interest in trying to create a sense of verisimilitude for their story, but it breaks the audience's concentration with its slapdash depiction of a well-known major global city.

If Bloodshot was the opening salvo of an attempted launch of a Valiant Cinematic Universe, I'm afraid it's dead on arrival.

Had this been released 30 or 40 years ago, I would have raved about it, knowing no better, but comic book superhero movies have moved on since then - both in their production and storytelling.

I simply can't see Bloodshot, an artefact of a bygone age of movie-making, generating enough interest (or dosh) to merit anyone proposing another screen outing for any of Valiant's other characters in the near future.

Those Dark Places

Space is a hell of a thing but you need to be sure that this is what you want. Like, what you really want.

The idea of space exploration to further the frontiers of mankind is noble, but let's not kid ourselves - it's really all about furthering the profit margins.

There's money to be made and out there is the place to make it, but you hear all kinds of stories: equipment malfunctions, strange discoveries, crewmembers going insane...

You'll be out there in the reaches, alone, for months or years, breathing recycled air and drinking recycled water, with nothing but a few feet of metal and shielding between you and certain death.

Are you sure this is what you want?
- Crew Orientation Briefing

Those Dark Places is a new "industrial science fiction roleplaying" game, coming from Osprey this November and written by a big fan of the Aliens franchise who happens to share a surname with one of its main protagonists: Jonathan Hicks.

Due for release on November 26 in the UK, the game is described as "a rules-light, story-focused roleplaying game about the darker side of space exploration and the people who travel the stars in claustrophobic, dangerous conditions".

The atmospheric description goes on:
"Starships, stations, and outposts aren't havens of safety with clean, brightly lit corridors - they're potential deathtraps, funded by budget-conscious corporate interests and running on stale, recycled air and water. The stars may be the future of humanity, but they are also home to horrors and terror the human mind cannot comprehend."

Author Jonathan Hicks blogs at Farsight Blogger and has recently launched his own podcast.

You can find some of his other gaming material here at DriveThruRPG.

As you may have guessed I've already pre-ordered my copy of Those Dark Places from Amazon.

Monday, 30 March 2020

Musical Monday: Shiny Happy People (R.E.M.)

Shiny happy people laughing
Meet me in the crowd, people, people
Throw your love around, love me, love me
Take it into town, happy, happy
Put it in the ground where the flowers grow
Gold and silver shine
Shiny happy people holding hands
Shiny happy people holding hands
Shiny happy people laughing
Everyone around, love them, love them
Put it in your hands, take it, take it
There's no time to cry, happy, happy
Put it in your heart where tomorrow shines
Gold and silver shine
Shiny happy people holding hands
Shiny happy people holding hands
Shiny happy people laughing
Whoa, here we go
Shiny happy people holding hands
Shiny happy people holding hands
Shiny happy people laughing
Shiny happy people holding hands
Shiny happy people holding hands
Shiny happy people laughing
Shiny happy people holding hands
Shiny happy people holding hands
Shiny happy people laughing
Shiny happy people holding hands (people, happy people)
Shiny happy people holding hands (people, happy people)
Shiny happy people holding hands (people, happy people)

Musical Monday: The Wolven Storm (Ginny Di)

The Wolven Storm (Priscilla's Song) from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Musical Monday: Everybody Hurts (R.E.M.)

When your day is long
And the night
The night is yours alone
When you're sure you've had enough
Of this life
Well hang on
Don't let yourself go
'Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes
Sometimes everything is wrong
Now it's time to sing along
When your day is night alone (hold on)
(Hold on) if you feel like letting go (hold on)
If you think you've had too much
Of this life
Well, hang on
'Cause everybody hurts
Take comfort in your friends
Everybody hurts
Don't throw your hand
Oh, no
Don't throw your hand
If you feel like you're alone
No, no, no, you're not alone
If you're on your own
In this life
The days and nights are long
When you think you've had too much
Of this life
To hang on
Well, everybody hurts sometimes
Everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes
And everybody hurts sometimes
So, hold on, hold on
Hold on, hold on
Hold on, hold on
Hold on, hold on
Everybody hurts
You are not alone

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Are We Heading Towards A Paradigm Shift In Our Consumption Of Comic Books?

My "Last" Comic Book Shipment...

This week saw the arrival of my last shipment of new comic books for the foreseeable future.

With Diamond Distribution shutting up shop with immediate effect, this meant no new comics arrived on these shores this week and Andy from Paradox Comics - my loyal and trusted supplier for over 20 years - was only able to ship out my titles from the previous two weeks.

If anything, I'm hoping this temporary hiatus will allow me time to make a significant dent in the two-and-a-half short-box backlog of fresh issues that need reading and are currently stashed under my bed.

But that's finding a silver lining in a very grey cloud.

I believe new comics are still being produced in the States, and I guess they'll be available digitally while the individual floppies will remain in storage until this whole pandemic thing blows over.

However, I've never had any interest in reading comics digitally - in much the same way as I have little interest in massive PDFs of books and games - and should, horror of horrors, digital become the new norm then that will most likely spell the end of my investment in new individual issues.

The future then, for me, would be in trade collections/graphic novels and the odd 'in-filling'of the collection with back issues.

That said, at the moment, nobody knows what all this means for the future of the comic book industry and how it will impact the Friendly Local Comic Book Store.

In the latest episode of the Fatman Beyond podcast, Kevin Smith - himself a brick-and-mortar comic book store owner - and co-host Marc Bernardin shared their thoughts on this situation, including the possibility of comic book outlets becoming boutique stores, like vinyl record shops, peddling high-end collectable comics.

Ultraviolent New Lone Wolf & Cub-Inspired Mini-Episode Of Rick and Morty Released...

This morning saw the unexpected release of a new, blood-soaked, five-minute anime episode of Rick and Morty, beautifully riffing on the legendary Lone Wolf & Cub manga and movie series.

Written by Kaichi Sato, Samurai & Shogun features Yohei Tadano as Rick WTM72 and Keisuke Chiba as Shogun Morty.

Welcome To The Punderdome! Two Jokes Enter, One Joke Leaves...

Saturday, 28 March 2020

... And Killing Eve's Back As Well!

What's In A Name?

Despite taking a tone that is both patronising and slightly condescending, this old article on Ars Tecnica raises an important point: the creatures faced by Ripley, the colonial marines et al are not actually called "xenomorphs".

That is simply another way of saying "alien life form"... or, as Hudson would have it, "bug".

The dialogue in Aliens also strongly suggests that that "Ripley's bad guys" are not the only alien species in the universe, it's just these are a previously unknown - and therefore unnamed - lifeform.

So, what do you call these creatures in your own headcanon? How are they referred to in your games?
"The species' binomial names are given in Latin as either Internecivus raptus (meant as "murderous thief") in the Alien Quadrilogy DVD or Lingua foeda acheronsis (meant as "foul tongue from Acheron") in some comic books... In The Weyland-Yutani Report, the Alien encountered by the Nostromo was specifically referred to as "Xenomorph XX121"."
- from Wikipedia

#DCTV Superheroes Finally Return To UK...

After much too long of a break, the DCTV superheroes (The Flash, Supergirl, Arrow et al) finally return to UK TV screens - on Sky One - this week.

This means we'll finally be able to see (months after it aired in the States) the highly-touted Crisis On Infinite Earths crossover.

Except for the Batwoman chapter, of course.

By cosmic 'coincidence', Batwoman debuts on E4 tomorrow (Sunday), putting its crossover episode wildly out of sync with the rest of the story.

But, at least, we're actually getting to see Batwoman.

Supergirl resumes on Monday, in the traditional 8pm Sky One slot, followed by The Flash on Tuesday, Arrow on Wednesday, and then the new season of DC's Legends Of Tomorrow launches on Thursday.

Now let's see if the five-chapter Crisis crossover story still works without its second episode in place.

King Carlos (A Tribute to Carlos Ezquerra)

Produced for the Lawless and Enniskillen Comic Conventions, based on podcast interviews from Inky Fingers Podcast and the Future Shock: The Story of 2000 AD Documentary.

Friday, 27 March 2020

Artist Appreciation: Nicole Claveloux

Sink into these psychedelic renditions, by French artist Nicole Claveloux, of scenes from my favourite book, Alice In Wonderland,

Taken from the award-winning 1970's French edition of Les Aventures d'Alice au pays des merveilles, which she illustrated.

I can't help but be reminded of The Beatle's Yellow Submarine cartoon, and other animations from my youth, such as Crystal Tipps and Alistair, when I look at these trippy pictures.

Streaming Horror: Color Out Of Space (2019)

Nathan Gardner (Nic Cage) and his wife, Theresa (Joely Richardson), have moved, with their three children, out of the big city to a secluded farm in the woods outside Arkham, Massachusetts, for a bit of peace and quiet.

Stockbroker Theresa is recovering from cancer and Nathan is trying his hand at becoming a self-sufficient farmer.

However their lives are disrupted when a strange meteorite crashes on their land, polluting the area with a paranormal alien radiation.

HP Lovecraft's original story of The Colour Out Of Space has been adapted many times, but, beyond a shadow of a doubt the latest iteration, from writer/director Richard Stanely, is the most Lovecraftian.

A gorgeous, mind-bending, blend of the cosmic with the body horror of The Thing and SocietyColor Out Of Space focuses on a trapped - and doomed - family, slowly worn down by an unknowable, extraterrestrial invader.

Certainly not for everyone, Color Out Of Space isn't a trashy teen slasher flick with obvious heroes and villains, but a terrifying encapsulation of the central theme of Lovecraft's oeuvre that "common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large".

There is never really any serious suggestion that the alien entity is even aware of the humans it is transforming by its simple presence.

My Copy - Not Used In Any Rituals!
The film bears obvious similarities with 2018's Annihilation, but Color Out Of Space is the stronger work of art by a country mile.

Across the board, the central performances are superb. Nic Cage channels Nic Cage as only he can, exhibiting the convincing levels of madness and sudden rage that he does so well, while The Magicians' Madeleine Arthur is impressive as teen daughter, Lavinia, whose rebellious nature expresses itself through dabbling in witchcraft.

Beyond the gooey body horror, there's some cringe-inducing - but thankfully brief - self-mutilation that might require some eye-covering by those of us with a particular aversion to such things.

As well as rooting the story squarely in Lovecraft country, Richard Stanley has sown his tale with Lovecraftian Easter Eggs, such as the Miskatonic University sweat shirt worn by visiting surveyor Ward (Elliot Knight, sadly no relation) and the tatty, cheap paperback copy - "by Simon" - of the Necronomicon (which we all own) that Lavina consults.

Released digitally today (Friday) through Sky Cinema and quite possibly my favourite film of the year so far, Color Out Of Space is breathtaking in the audacity of its vision, a modern rendition of a Lovecraft story that truly captures the horror of its set-up and the terror of those trapped within its incidental and inescapable prison.

New "Return Of Doctor Who" Anniversary Tale From Russell T Davies...

Celebrating this week's 15th anniversary of Rose, Doctor Who's return to television, comes the sequel: Revenge of the Nestene by Russell T Davies and read by voice artist Jacob Dudman, known for his performances in numerous Big Finish audios.

Revenge of the Nestene is a part of #TripOfALifetime - the global re-watch event of Rose, raising money for the COVID-19 Film & TV Emergency Relief Fund.

Next Time On Westworld...

And a spoilerific look behind the curtains at the making of the first two episodes of this season:

Touring A World Of Horror From The Safety Of Your Own Home...

Fire up your laptop, get your mouse ready, and prepare to take a look around the abandoned ruins of Chernobyl, the latest 'dark' tourism locale to become "visitable" online.

Check out the virtual tour clips below:

Other locations for virtual visitations include:

The Winchester Mystery House

The Paris Catacombs.

Thanks to the diligent staff at Dread Central for continuing to highlight these intriguing distractions from the real-life horrorshow that we are all living through.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

HP Lovecraft's The Colour Out Of Space...

Pour yourself a drink, turn out the lights, sit back, and let Mr H read you HP Lovecraft's The Colour Out Of Space.

#RPG New, Old School, Fantasy System Coming From Bloat Games...

Coming Soon: SURVIVE THIS!! Fantasy - cover art by Diogo Nogueira, featuring a logo by Jeff Jones

The industrious goblins at Bloat Games have announced they're working on a new iteration of their popular SURVIVE THIS!! rules engines (which currently drives, among other things, Dark Places & Demogorgons and Vigilante City).

SURVIVE THIS!! Fantasy uses these rules and mechanics to create a gritty fantasy setting, which - of course - will be one hundred percent compatible with all the other SURVIVE THIS!! material.

More news, such as a release date, will be revealed in due course as work on the new game progresses.

HP Lovercraft's Necronomicon: Perfect Reading For This Period Of Self-Isolation...

Probably the most famous (infamous) fictional book, The Necronomicon is a cornerstone of cosmic horror, famously making the jump from HP Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos to Sam Raimi's Evil Dead movies.

Of course, much gaming material on the book can found in the many volumes of Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu lore, but my pal Justin Isaac has done a find job of bringing the Evil Dead iteration of the occult tome to his own Slashers & Survivors game here.

Meanwhile, Lovecraftian expert Mr H recounts the storied - in-universe - origin of the original book:

Want To Know What To Watch When Rick and Morty's Not On? Try Solar Opposites...

From Justin Roiland, the co-creator of Rick and Morty, comes a series about a family of aliens trying to fit in on this human-infested crap-hole of a planet called Earth.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Nine Minute Preview of Bloodshot...


Today saw the launch of Disney+ in the UK.

I've already watched the two episodes of The Mandalorian that are available, the new episodes of Clone Wars, a couple of cartoon shorts, some Marvel documentaries, and episodes of The World According To Jeff Goldblum.

And I'm just getting started..

I may be gone for some time...

Documentary Of The Week: Room 237 (2012)

Occasionally informative (almost by accident), Rodney Ascher's Room 237 is a 100-minute showcase to a selection of batty theories on hidden meanings in Stanley Kubrick's 1980 The Shining, a loose adaptation of Stephen King's horror novel of the same name.

Presented over key scenes from the movie, intercut with illustrative clips from other movies (some to make a point, others just to echo what is being said), a handful of reenactments, and a few 'supporting documents', we learn that the film is, among other things, a polemic on the Holocaust, a treatise on settlers' treatment of Native Americans, and - most annoyingly - a coded confession by Kubrick to faking the Moon landing footage.

While well edited and with a good narrative flow, I can't say the documentary is well made because, by presenting the commentators simply in voice-over, the four male voices tend to overlap and it's very easy for one conspiracy theory to blur into another, with only Juli Kearns truly standing out from the rest, as the sole female voice.

Some of the interviews are also quite amateurish, with moments left in for 'comedic effect' (such as one person's child screeching in the background)  and one person being allowed to frequently reference his own documentaries about the same subject, as though they were web links to other sites that we could just jump to.

Overall, the theories dished up here are the kind of pompous, self-important, deconstruction of movies that Paul and I used to chuckle at from the back of the classroom on our university film course.

Great significance, for instance, is attached to obvious continuity errors while minor elements of set dressing are homed in and their 'meaning' is blown out of all proportion.

The bulk of these declarations are delivered without any substantive proof, simply the speaker's belief that when X was presented on the screen, it meant Y.

If you are going to pick apart a work of art, and expect to convince me that you know what you're talking about, these days I need a professorial work like the one I highlighted on Twin Peaks last year.

Room 237 brings up the post-modern film discussion adage - that infuriated me at university - that even if the film maker hadn't consciously attached meaning to an element, it could still have that meaning.

Sure, to you.

But that's not what the film was really about.

It was really about what the filmmaker meant it to be about.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

However, if you can curtail your righteous indignation and bite your lip for a while, there are also moments where you can't help but find yourself nodding and thinking: "Well, maybe Kubrick did mean that."

But not the Moon landing stuff. That's batshit, tinfoil hat, crazy talk.

In uncritically presenting this assemblage of unsubstantiated readings of The Shining (which to most people is simply a great haunted house horror movie), Ascher is actually turning the spotlight on the subjective nature of film analysis.

He's telling his audience that with enough free time and an obsessive mind any well-made film can be dissected in multiple ways to mean different things to different people.

And what's The Shining about, if not, obsession?

Everything Is Going To Be Okay! Three Beautiful Things Has Returned...

Back in 2015, my dear friend - and member of the Tuesday Knights - Clare shuttered her world-famous Three Beautiful Things blog because of other demands on her time (such as raising two young children).

However, with COVID-19 changing the face of the world, impacting everyone's daily lives, and demanding that we all stay indoors, the much-missed blog has returned.

Clare said:
"I'm going to attempt to post every day - I'm an every day or not at all sort of woman. I wanted to do my bit at this difficult time. I can't provide social or medical care or police the nation or sell food or deliver shopping - but this little thing I can do."
Whether you're an old fan or you've never heard of Three Beautiful Things, you need to add it to your blogroll.

As ever, Three Beautiful Things (3BT) can be found here.

For the ten years of its original run, every day (well, almost every day), Clare recorded three positive observations - in a way that was evocative and poignant, without being saccharine - sparking a whole sub-genre of blogging.

By February of 2015, there were over 200 other people around the globe copying her idea and recording their own "three beautiful things" on their blogs.

Clare's postings covered everything from monumental family events - such as weddings (including her own to Nick, one of my oldest friends) and the birth of her two children - down to the minutiae of everyday life.

Columnist John Naish of The Times once used 3BT as an example of how to cope with the current sense of doom and gloom embracing the world, saying that people should visit Clare's blog "to see an expert gratitude-spotter at work".

The blog also earned Clare a top spot in Saga's poll of the Wisest Of The Wise.

Never flashy or ostentatious, 3BT rarely featured graphics (just the occasional book cover or other pertinent snaps), when it could easily have become overrun by pictures of Clare and Nick's children.

It never even had a fancy logo. It didn't need this stuff. Clare's words alone managed to attract almost 600 Followers to the blog, and many more via other social media outlets.

I'm honoured to say I wrote a guest post on 3BT once, and our games nights - at which Clare has been a regular participant since it began - were also occasional 'beautiful things'.

Comics: Alien - Original Screenplay #1

Cover by Guilherme Balbi

Originally due to land in comic stores on April 22, just in time for Alien Day on April 26, Alien: The Original Screenplay #1, is a comic book adaptation of Dan O'Bannon's original 1976 screenplay - putting a fresh spin on an old favourite.
En route to back to Earth, the crew of the starship Snark intercepts an alien transmission. Their investigation leads them to a desolate planetoid, a crashed alien spacecraft, and a pyramidic structure of unknown origin. Then the terror begins . . .
Written by Cristiano Seixas, with art by Guilherme Balbi, Alien: The Original Screenplay is a five issue mini-series from Dark Horse Comics, that offers an alternate sequence of events to those we know so well.

Of course, the current coronavirus pandemic has shut down distribution of new comics, so the immediate future of this title remains up in the air.

Variant cover by Walter Simonson

Preview pages:

Thor: Love & Thunder (2022) + Dr Who (2022)


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