Wednesday, 31 March 2021
A criminal mastermind unleashes a twisted form of justice in Spiral, the terrifying new chapter from the book of Saw.
Working in the shadow of his father, an esteemed police veteran (Samuel L. Jackson), brash Detective Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks (Chris Rock) and his rookie partner (Max Minghella) take charge of a grisly investigation into murders that are eerily reminiscent of the city’s gruesome past.
Unwittingly entrapped in a deepening mystery, Zeke finds himself at the center of the killer’s morbid game.
Spiral stars Chris Rock, Max Minghella, Marisol Nichols, and Samuel L. Jackson, and is produced by the original Saw team of Mark Burg and Oren Koules.
The film is directed by Darren Lynn Bousman and written by Josh Stolberg & Pete Goldfinger.
In a rare break from tradition, the poster (also the DVD cover) for the Roger Corman-produced 1982 sword-and-sorcery flick Sorceress is actually surprisingly accurate.
All the characters pictured there - including the griffon/manticore creature, the ape-man, the snake and the fancy sword - really do appear in the story, to some degree or another.
Evil sorcerer, and possible '70s sex cult leader, Traigon (Robert Ballesteros) has pledged to sacrifice his first born to the gods, in exchange for "great power". Only his wife gives birth to twin girls and refuses to reveal which was born first.
The realm's magical martial arts master Krona (Martin LaSalle) spirits the girls away, and leaves them in the care of trusted peasants, who raise them as boys!
Mira and Mara grow up to become Leigh and Lynette Harris, identical twin Playboy Playmates, who clearly weren't hired for their acting chops, but rather their willingness to disrobe when asked.
|Honestly, they're young men... with breasts!|
Although Pando can only communicate through bleating and mime, he fails to tell Baldar that the girls are actually girls, so that when Baldar comes to them in the wake of their adopted parents' murder by Traigon's wandering warriors, he fails to see through their 'cunning disguise'.
Krona pops up again to dispense some words of wisdom, setting them all on a quest to defeat Traigon, before walking into the parents' pyre.
Arriving in the city, they meet an old friend of Baldar's, the pun-cracking, permed barbarian rogue, Erlick (Bob Nelson), who tags along to make up the numbers.
Casual nudity aside, there's a definite Dungeons & Dragons vibe to this adventure, as the core "party" expands, then fractures off into smaller units for side-quests, but it's full of random fantasy names and verbiage that doesn't feel like world-building, but rather obfuscation of the fragile main plot thread.
|The Harris twins as Mira and Mara|
As the "two who are one", Mira and Mara share a psychic bond that is actually employed in the story, although it's most memorable use is during a 'comedy' sex scene that leads Baldar to initially think one of the women is being tortured.
Possibly because he is cosplaying as Sturm Brightblade from the Dragonlance Chronicles, Baldar, it has to be said, is the best character in the 83-minute movie, not only looking the part but also maintaining a heroic persona throughout.
Ultimately Sorceress (there is no 'sorceress') isn't actually that bad, it just lacks a coherent story for its quirky characters to fully engage with, leaving much of what happens to come across as just a bit random.
The story begun in The Clone Wars continues in the new animated series The Bad Batch, which debuts on Disney+ on May 4 (naturally) with a special 70-minute premiere, followed by new episodes every Friday starting on May 7.
Star Wars: The Bad Batch follows the elite and experimental clones of the Bad Batch (first introduced in The Clone Wars) as they find their way in a rapidly changing galaxy in the immediate aftermath of the Clone War. Members of Bad Batch - a unique squad of clones who vary genetically from their brothers in the Clone Army - each possess a singular exceptional skill that makes them extraordinarily effective soldiers and a formidable crew.
Tuesday, 30 March 2021
Out of the blue, the other week, I got an email from David C Collins, the new President and CFO of the legendary newspaper Weekly World News, thanking me for my write-ups of their stories that I used to run (such as here, here, and here).
He explained that while the publication had been in "hibernation" for a few years, he was now part of a campaign to bring it back to life, starting with their snazzy website, Weeklyworldnews.com and shop.
Among the items for sale at the shop is a Greatest Covers compilation of over 40 years-worth of front pages from WWN.
David and I exchanged a few emails, and he offered to send me some WWN mementos, even though I pointed out I was all the way across The Pond.
This morning, the above envelope dropped onto our doormat and I carefully opened it up to find a handwritten note from David and this collection of half-a-dozen WWN bumper stickers:
I also take this as another great cosmic sign, along with the rekindling of my desire to work on my Knight City superhero RPG setting (in which the Weekly World News played an integral part) that I'm heading in the right direction.
Don't be surprised to see the return of WWN-related posts here on HeroPress now either.
Monday, 29 March 2021
Having survived a Viking raid when his parents were killed and young sister kidnapped, Irish youth Gest (Jakob Þór Einarsson) spends 20 years planning his revenge.
Arriving in Iceland, it isn't long before he's Yojimbo-ing things up between his two targets, the blood-brothers Erik (Flosi Ólafsson) and Thord (Helgi Skúlason).
These Vikings had fled to Iceland with their men, to escape the wrath of King Harald of Norway after a failed coup attempt, so they're not exactly trusting to start with.
Gest very quickly starts playing them off against each other, and when one is killed you expect the film to be heading into its final act.
However, things get complicated when Gest discovers not only has one of the men married his sister (Edda Björgvinsdóttir), but also fathered a child, Einar (Gottskálk D. Sigurdarson) with her.
An almost legendary film that's hard to track down these days, When The Raven Flies goes by several names (the "When" seems to be optional in the main title, for instance), including Revenge of The Barbarians in the States and Hrafninn Flýgur in its original Icelandic.
Touted as the "most authentic Viking film ever", this Icelandic-Swedish co-production from 1984 certainly benefits from its shooting locations in Iceland, complete with black beaches and craggy hills; and unremitting weather, alternating between torrential rain and gale-force winds; as well as a cast speaking Icelandic.
But When The Raven Flies also owes a debt to the sword-and-sorcery genre so prevalent in cinema at that time, not that there's any magic or monsters in this one, but it has that gritty, Earthy, small-cast feel of so many similar cinematic stories featuring people swinging swords and axes.
While the overarching plot may not be that original - we've seen it played out with samurai, Wild West gunslingers, fantasy warriors, and gangsters - the Viking period, with its set attitudes to honour and ritual, gives it a fresh feeling.
The verisimilitude is heightened through the use of unusually-fashioned weaponry, which I'm presuming are the 'real deal' compared to flashier Hollywood armaments.
I also loved the fact that everyone rode the small but powerful horses native to Iceland, just adding another layer of authenticity to the drama.
The film is, naturally, violent throughout, but the bright red 'blood' - and avoidance of too much dwelling on injuries - lowers the gore factor down to almost Saturday evening family viewing.
Easy to root for, Gest is a pretty cool hero, armed with his spear-concealing shepherd's crook and an array of deadly throwing blades.
While he's barely set foot in Iceland before he's killing off bad guys, it's all part of a methodical, long game.
And I couldn't stop myself from making Batman comparisons (inspired by the murder of his parents before his eyes), even though it's never expressly stated how long Gest spent on his training and how long on actually setting his Machiavellian scheme in motion (we discover that it began quite some time before he arrives in Iceland).
Possibly because it's subtitled, I must confess at times I felt this 105-minute tale dragged a bit in the middle (there is an English-language cut of the film on the DVD, but that was about quarter of an hour shorter and I wanted the full experience).
However, the pay-off at the end is worth the time invested, especially as it sets up the potential for another cycle of violence... as happens with blood feuds.
When The Raven Flies turns out to be the first part of a Viking Trilogy, but, except for brief trailers on the disc, I know nothing (yet) about the subsequent films, In The Shadow Of The Raven and The White Viking.
I was lucky enough to snag a DVD - via eBay and shipped in from Germany - for just over £3, around a tenth of the price I've seen the film listed at (when it crops up on either eBay or Amazon).
If you like Viking films, then I'd definitely say this is one worth hanging on for, just be careful not to pay over the odds.
The latest 80-page issue of Past Perfect, the digest-sized fanzine for geeky media of the '60s, '70s, and '80s, dedicates 15-pages to an in-depth appraisal of (to quote the front cover) "the greatest cult movie of all time"... my beloved Hawk The Slayer.
Having begun life as a British comic book review 'zine, which then expanded to embrace other mediums, Past Perfect eventually transitioned to a wholly PDF format for a while, before, in recent years, reverting to print.
A full-colour, beautifully illustrated publication, Past Perfect is clearly a labour of love for writer and creator Paul Ware, who appears to generate all the text, scan all the pictures, and design all the issues on his own.
This month, among pieces on vintage Marvel and DC comics, classic Star Trek, old British magazines etc, Paul takes a considered look at 1980's Hawk The Slayer.
His deep-dive critique dissects the movie almost blow-by-blow, highlighting stand-out moments, memorable dialogue, and the appearances of numerous British character actors and what they brought to their roles.
One thing I particularly appreciated was that Paul clearly "gets" the appeal of Crow, the divisive elf archer, portrayed with almost Vulcan-like passivity by Ray Charleston, accepting that the elf's on-screen persona was based on deliberate choices to present an "alien" being, rather than simply a cosplayer with pointy rubber ears.
The article draws attention to the crucial contributions made by the stunt co-ordinator, Eddie Stacey, and editor, Eric Boyd-Perkins, in shaping Hawk The Slayer's unique look.
Paul breaks down a number of the tropes, references, and possible influences that also went into the Hawk The Slayer melting pot.
Ultimately, while not shying away from addressing Hawk's shortcomings, he concludes that the film persists in the public consciousness due to its " idiosyncrasy" and the obvious love its creators had for the sword-and-sorcery genre.
Whether you're already a fan of the movie or simply Hawk-curious because of the decades-long buzz around this unique gem of British cinema, it's worth picking up this month's issue of Past Perfect.
Past Perfect #188 (April 2021) can be purchased from Paul via eBay here.
I'm no gun nut, but I can't help but grin wistfully at the sight of these vintage (1930s to 1950s) Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers inspired "ray guns" found over at Wil Wheaton's Tumblr.
I could easily picture any of these in the arsenal of a modern-day supervillain seeking to conquer the world in style.
Sunday, 28 March 2021
When Marvel transported Conan The Barbarian to the contemporary Marvel comic book universe I was at first confused, then excited by the possibilities.
While still continuing his sword-and-sorcery exploits in the Hyborian Age (currently under the stewardship of superb writer Jim Zub), "modern day" Conan - primarily in the pages of Savage Avengers - has proved more than a match for superheroes and supervillains alike.
Penned by Gerry Duggan, Savage Avengers is ostensibly a team book, but, despite the odd issue where he's not front-and-centre, it's really another Conan title.
One of the traits that has made Robert E Howard's character so enduring is his cunning intelligence and adaptability, and that has come to the fore in Savage Avengers as we see Conan learning about the new world he has been dragged to.
While I fear Marvel's plans to bring other Howard characters to life have died on the vine (the Dark Agnes mini-series was a victim of the pandemic closedown and there's been no further mention of Solomon Kane), having two parallel, and unconnected, Conan titles - one in his classic setting and one in the modern world - seems to be working very well.
The Cimmerian's adventures fighting alongside Wolverine, Deadpool, The Punisher, Doctor Strange et al will clearly have no impact on his Hyborian tales (nor should they).
The two story styles are distinct and very different, and should remain so.
Honestly, as much as I enjoyed Savage Avengers from its opening salvo, I initially thought it would have a limited shelf life, but the further Duggan gets into Conan's stories, the more I want it to run and run.
I have been genuinely surprised by how well Conan fits in the contemporary Marvel comic book universe, and can't wait to witness his interactions with more costumed characters.
Could Conan establish himself as a major crime lord in NYC, will he be invited to join the main Avengers squad, will he be discovered by Hollywood and have a new career as a stunt man, or will he simply continue to roam the globe having picaresque adventures?
All these options could work.
Savage Avengers is a beautiful synthesis of two of my favourite genres: superheroes and sword-and-sorcery; it's a rare alchemical mix that tastes amazing.
Wacky team-ups and wild crossovers are the bread-and-butter of comic books. Not all of them work. But some go like gangbusters and deserve to run and run.
I also reckon if Savage Avengers gets enough issues under its belt that's my best chance of getting a Marvel Legends Conan The Barbarian action figure.