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Wednesday, 31 October 2007

HeroPress Halloween!

Some people take All Hallow's Eve as an opportunity to sacrifice virgins to their dark gods, while others cower in caves and share ghost stories; we at HeroPress Towers like to indulge in a traditional three-course meal - prepared by my lovely wife in a room decorated to the theme of the evening (also her handiwork).

The centrepiece of the evening was the magnificent Hand of Glory candle which lit up the room and - at one point - even set the smoke detector off!

Our menu for the evening was suitably gruesome; for starters ground guts soup (spicy three bean soup), then guts and eyeballs (meatballs and red spaghetti) with pumpkin surprise (pumpkin-shaped cookies) washed down with blood juice (raspberry Schloer).

All this, as always, to the accompaniment of the music from Phantom Of The Opera and followed by a screening of Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie.

More pictures of the decorations etc can be found here.

Halloween DVD Of The Week: Daywatch (2006)

Just released on DVD in time for Halloween, Daywatch is a sequel to the surprise 2004 hit Nightwatch.

These films - part of a trilogy with next year's Twilight Watch - take a unique look at the classic battle of good versus evil, setting it in modern-day Russia (particularly in and around the streets of Moscow).

The stories deal with the unstable truce between the forces of darkness (Daywatch) and the forces of light (Nightwatch), focusing on the exploits of low-level Nightwatch operative Anton (Konstantin Khabensky), who happens to be the father of a key player for the Daywatch.

Not really a horror film, Daywatch is a two-and-a-half hour monster (vampires, shapeshifters, robot spider-babies... oh my!) movie with Matrix-style action and more wild and outrageous ideas and set-pieces than half-a-dozen mainstream Hollywood blockbusters.

Anton has been framed for the murder of a couple of Daywatcher, but he's also on a quest to find The Chalk of Fate; which allows people to correct their own mistakes. It's a race against time (isn't it always?) as the two sides seek to solve the murders before more blood is spilled and the Truce is broken.

Don't expect to follow every single beat of the story - so much is thrown at the screen that you just have to sit back and let it wash over you, allowing the story to slowly rise to the surface in its own good time.

You need your wits about when watching Daywatch and you certainly need to be in the right frame of mind; watching it on the back of Nightwatch is probably a good idea (something I didn't do and feel I probably missed some elements as it's been a while since I saw the first film in this trilogy).

But if you're looking for a totally barking film where cars drive up the side of buildings, birthday party brawls transform into medieval battles, people change swap bodies and face, crows morph into soldiers, people jump through street signs and hot Eastern European chicks wear coffin-shaped backpacks, then this is the film for you... even if the ending is a rather playful twist on the old "Bobby Ewing stepping out of the shower" cliche; which makes me wonder where on Earth the next film is going to take us?!?!

Halloween Horrors Coming Soon...




... from the mad genius of the HP Lovecraft Historical Society. These are the talented people who brought us the At The Mountains of Madness audio play and The Call of Cthulhu silent movie.

Heffalumps and Halloween!

A flashback to Halloween 2006-style...

Rachel excelled herself last year, turning our kitchen into a 'haunted house' with ghosts, pumpkins, skeletons, spiders and assorted ickiness. And double kudos to her because she hates anything vaguely connected to horror, but knows it's the bag I'm into and went all out.

Our menu for the candle-lit evening consisted of: burnt bats with putrified pate (toast in the shape of bats with pate - that looked like brains); gruesome guts (pasta, dyed red, with mince); and bugs in dirt (Haribo sweets sprinkled on icecream and chocolate cake) - all washed down with blood of a vampire (blackcurrant juice with lemonade), while the music from Phantom Of The Opera blasted out from the stereo.

We had a bucket of treats ready for any "trick or treaters" who turned up - even though I suspected it would probably be teenage chavs casing the joint.

In fact the only knock we had was a rather surprised Amazon delivery woman who, possibly, wasn't expecting me to answer the door in a wizard's hat and holding out a plastic bucket shaped like a jack'o'lantern. She still took a handful of sweets though!

We then rounded out the evening with a screening of the only "horror" movie that Rachel can stomach: Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie, which we both adore and features my favourite Disney song: Friends Forever.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

The Hills Are Alive ... With The Sound of Gaming!

Part One: Character Generation - Both Clare and I had an idea of what characters we wanted to play in Nick's Hollow Earth Expedition (HEX) campaign after our previous meeting, so it was just a question of translating those ideas into game mechanics.

Professor Rufus Crain (me) gained a degree of psychic intuition, a terminal disease and - developed through play - a certain gentlemanly quality to his personality.

Sister Justinia (Clare), assigned by our employer (Lord Worthing) as my "moral guardian", turned out to be a naive, but very observant, singing nun detective, fresh from 23 years in a nunnery in Rome!

Even though she failed to calm a panicked horse with her voice, she charmed the inhabitants of the Wensleydale Priory with her performance at Evensong (but that's getting a bit ahead of ourselves).

The "point buy" character generation system for HEX is very simple (no complicated math and not too many lists or charts that need consulting) and it must have only taken us about half an hour, if that, to turn the Professor and the Sister from ideas into fully statted-up characters.

Part Two: The Adventure Begins - We were travelling by train to Wensleydale Priory, outside St Albans in Hertfordshire, in a first class carriage with a Bible-reading vicar and a man involved in international shipping. Small talk was exchanged and everything seemed fine until we emerged from a pitch-black tunnel and Sister Justinia noticed that the vicar's Bible was now upside down.

At Priory Halt, we persuaded a local farmer (Joe) to give us a lift to the Priory on his cart. Sister Justinia rode up front and sat in the back.

All was fine until Joe's horse was panicked by a speeding motor vehicle... also heading for the Priory. Joe was thrown from the cart as the horse bolted!

Sister Justinia prayed quickly then burst into song in an attempt to calm the beast - to no effect. I jumped from the wagon, suffering a minor knock, then the good Sister followed suit, landing on a delicate part of her anatomy.

We all recovered - Joe was more angry about the motor car than anything else - and resumed our journey.

Arriving at the Priory it turned out the car had beaten us there (no real surprise) and its owner, Charles De Whymper, had gained access to the famous clock tower by claiming to be there on Lord Worthing's business.

I confronted this black-clad cad in the clock tower and demanded he leave. Crestfallen, this impostor, who proclaimed himself the world's expert on 'time' (an error of which I quickly corrected him by pointing out that I, Rufus Crain, actually held that title), was bustled out by the monks.

I then began my study of the magnificent ancient time piece in the tower, which I believe contains at least one of the cogs of The Great Machine that controls the Universe. Using an old copy of Johannes Kepler's "Music of The Sphere's" from the Priory's well-stocked library, as reference and drawing on the Prior's knowledge of the elaborate, ancient technology, I set about taking notes and seeking inspiration.

Meanwhile in the library, Sister Justinia noticed a man in black slip through a window and head out. She tried to stop him then raised the alarm and this fellow (De Whymper's manservant) appeared to escape out through the stables and flee in De Whymper's car.

After Evening Prayers and Evensong, I went to resume my studies... only to find De Whymper and his fiendish manservant already tampering with the clockworks.

I faced him down and exchanged heated words as the Prior declared he would be calling the police, then suddenly we all noticed that the clock had stopped ticking and the manservant had disappeared!

Checking the machinery we discovered that the intricate parts had all been removed most expertly and the manservant had vanished. There was no way he could have got by us on the narrow stairs and no other way of the tower.

The good Sister could see De Whymper was as bemused as the rest of us and wanted to hear his side of the story, although I would have none of it.

This chapter closed with Sister Justinia being taken aside by Professor Crain and having the nature of my employment for Lord Worthing explained (construct a time machine so he could go back and save his young, second wife from death). She was shocked - surely this is against the will of God? And now more than ever she wants to hear De Whymper's side of the story!

To be continued next month (hopefully)...

Part Three: Game Analysis - The story flowed well and the HEX rules are very simple.

I don't think we fully grasped some of the subtleties (such as the 'taking the average' rule which cuts down on a degree of unnecessary dice rolling or the use of 'style points' to improve our chances of success at key tasks).

I also had problems remembering the values of the different dice; but these are all minor issues in a fast, slick game where the rules are so simple for the most part they disappear into the background.

Monday, 29 October 2007

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Invasion Of The Bane

The best thing that happened to The Sarah Jane Adventures, between the pilot (Invasion of The Bane - just released on DVD) and the start of the new series on BBC1 was the decision to ditch the character of Kelsey from the supporting cast.

To give young Porsha Lawrence Mavour some credit, perhaps it was just the way the character was written - but she personified everything Rachel famously hates about child actors and crystallised it into one 'nails on a blackboard', in-your-face, pseudo-street, annoying performance that could have sunk the whole show. I, for one, certainly would have found the new series a lot harder to bear if she had remained.

Luckily the other two main child performers, particularly Yasmin Paige as Maria, are surprisingly strong and believable... even if the stories aren't always!

Invasion Of The Bane sees aliens trying to subvert the human race (for an unspecified purpose, but possibly just for a between meal snack) through the clever use of contaminated soft drinks.

Glamorous investigative reporter, and former time-travelling companion of The Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith is suspicious of the "Bubbleshock" pop and her investigations become more hands-on when her new neighbour, Maria, stumbles upon a boy with no name (Tommy Knight) in the bowels of the Bubbleshock factory.

This is certainly the strongest of the stories to date, with the usual batch of Easter Eggs dropped in for the hardcore fans, but still focus' too much on some on the show's weaker elements (such as the incongruous super-computer Mr Smith and Maria's annoying mum... who is a painful reminder of showrunner Russell T Davies' hang-up on trying to turn this whole franchise into some OTT soap opera).

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Six Of The Best With DAVID DRAGE

After two episodes, Dial P For Pulp is fast becoming one of my favourite podcasts. To quote The Lair of The Evil DM: "It’s a first rate resource for Pulps. If David stays on the course he’s set I can see this being the definitive pod cast of the genre."

HeroPress caught up with the show's producer and main presenter David Drage for a quick chat.

(1) How do you define “pulp”? Is it a genre?

The term pulp originates from the “pulp” magazines that were produced between the 1920s and 1950s predominantly in the US.

The paper that was use was the cheapest pulped quality paper, very rough and grainy.The pulp magazines were the equivalent of popular television today, being the mass media entertainment of their day.

They evolved into both comics and paperback books. In fact, many of the authors who wrote for the pulps went on to have their work reproduced in paperbacks years later.

"Pulp" started off covering a wide variety of genre’s and to a certain extent it still does. From science fiction and horror, through hardboiled or noir and on to adventure stories and even Romance stories. The whole heroic fantasy/sword and sorcery genre pretty much started with the works of Robert E. Howard.

Today the term "Pulp" generally refers to somewhat naive adventure, hardboiled detective, and sword and sorcery stories - usually with clear cut good and bad characters, “dames” in distress and dastardly plots!

(2) If someone wanted to read their first pulp adventure, what titles or authors would you recommend as a gateway?

This really depends on the interests of the reader. Personally I would recommend some of the recently restored editions of Robert E. Howard stories. Not only his Conan tales, but also Solomon Kane (which has a movie in pre-production at the moment) and particularly the Bran Mak Morn story Worms of the Earth. Some of Howard’s boxing stories are also interesting if not really to my taste.

Otherwise there are the Tarzan and John Carter of Mars stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Doc Savage, The Shadow, Fu Manchu and even characters like The Saint.

(3) Who are your personal favourite pulp writers and why?

As you can probably tell from my last answer Robert E. Howard probably comes top of the list, I have been reading and collecting Howard books for many years.

I find a lot more depth and passion in his works than in many of the other pulp authors (or indeed heroic fantasy authors).

Many peoples' opinions of Conan, for example, have been influenced by the Conan comics and movies, but if you go back to the actual Howard texts there is much more depth to the character and the stories than many would imagine.

Otherwise being British I tend to enjoy Leslie Chartris’ The Saint and also John Buchan’s Richard Hannay books.

Certainly The Saint is pure pulp, and although Hannay may not be considered “pulp”, I think the stories have enough “pulp” in them for inclusion here; high adventure, plenty of action and those dastardly plots!

(4) Do you find your passion for the pulps influencing any other hobbies e.g. roleplaying games, wargames, comic books etc

Most certainly! I used to roleplay quite a bit during and after my university years and as well as the usual high fantasy games like Runequest and Rolemaster (no, I was never a fan of D&D), we regularly played Call of Cthulhu, the grandaddy of all pulp RPGs.

I ran CoC for so long that I don’t need to refer to the rulebook anymore, unless something pretty extreme happens.

I have also picked up a copy of Spirit of the Century, which looks very interesting, but I don’t really get much chance to roleplay now so it is more just for my own reading pleasure.

I wargame and boardgame on a fairly regular basis and I am slowly amassing a fair collection of pulp styles wargaming figures, from companies like Bob Murch’s Pulp Figures, Artizan Designs and Copplestone Castings.

Ruleswise I have the Rattrap Productions .45 Adventure rules and also Astounding Tales from Howard Whitehouse.

I don’t read many comics, although I have been reading the Dark Horse Conan comics. Other than that I tend to enjoy some of the stories that have come out of 2000AD. Slaine (a celtic barbarian clearly influenced by Conan) and Strontium Dog, a science fiction bounty hunter series that I suppose has some hardboiled/noir overtones.

Oh and the Cal MacDonald stories by Steve Niles. MacDonald is a hardboiled detective, very much in the style of Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe, but the stories are filled with supernatural horrors, in fact MacDonalds’ favourite source of information is a zombie called Mo’lock. I prefer the actual fiction but I have read the comics as well!

(5) What made you decide to get into podcasting? And how difficult was it?

I started listening to podcasts around January or February 2005, which was fairly early in the development of the medium.

I have found that they are great to listen to while commuting (about an hour each way) to work. When you have listened to a group of people over a couple of years you find that quite a community has developed.

The successful podcasts develop a good interaction with their audience, which is very important and makes everyone feel included. Shows like The Babylon Podcast (for fans of Babylon 5) The Dragon Page: Cover to Cover, Mur Lafferty’s Geek-Fu Action Grip, Ken Newquist’s Nuketown Radioactive and The Kick Ass Mystic Ninjas, are all wonderfully produced and have great communities following them!

Dial P For Pulp is my second podcast. The first one was a model making and wargaming show. I decided to stop that show as I needed to produce a new project every month and then base the podcast on it. I have a young family and I just didn’t have the time for that.

With Dial P For Pulp I can draw on my passion and knowledge of the pulps, as well as call on pulp fans to help promote their own interests.

When I first decided to do this show, I was going to concentrate on either just Robert E. Howard or Sword and Sorcery. But I felt that they would be fairly limiting, both in scope and audience.

So I broadened it out to cover all aspect of the pulps. A decision, that I am very happy about as my enthusiasm for particular genres tends to wax and wane on a regular basis and to have the whole pulp field to play with I can always find something to hold my interest!

As for the technical side of podcasting. That was a steep learning curve. There are two excellent books that are both written by established podcasters, Podcasting for Dummies by Tee Morris and Evo Terra, and Tricks of the Podcasting Masters by Rob Walch and Mur Lafferty. I would definitely recommend reading them both before starting out.

Then it is simply a matter of getting the equipment together and giving it a go. You certainly don’t need a high end recording set up, but a decent microphone and a quiet place to record are pretty much essential.

I made plenty of mistakes with my model-making podcast and fortunately it gave the experience that I need to improve things for Dial P For Pulp.

I have heard it often said that the first five shows for any new podcast will be pretty awful as you have to work through the ways of doing things before it all falls into place. I feel that with Dial P For Pulp I pretty much hit the ground running, as I did four episodes of the model-making show and that ironed out a lot of the inexperience before I started this new show.

I am sure it will improve as I fine tune the way I do things, but I am pretty happy with the two DPFP shows I have put out so far!

(6) What future plans and ambitions do you have for Dial P for Pulp?

In the short term I will be happy to keep the show running as it is, hopefully with some more input from other pulp fans (who certainly know more about their particular favourites than I do).

I would like to develop a network of people who could report back on various pulp conventions,with panel recording and news reports.

Hopefully as the show becomes more established I will have more companies including me in their mailing list for press releases so that I can pass on any news to my listeners.

I would eventually like to be able to visit some of the bigger conventions in the US, in person, so that I can record some interviews and other pieces, but that is a long way off!

The is a great pulp community online and with good interaction between creators and fans, so I would hope to be able to attract some reasonably high profile interviews for the show in the not to distant future.

Finally, I would like to be able to premiere some new fiction, at the moment I am using public domain recordings and stories to round off the show (although I do have something a little special lined up for the December show).

I have discussed the possibility of using some new pieces of fiction with a couple of writer/podcasts and so I can see that actually happening, hopefully in the early part of 2008.

I suppose my main ambition for the podcast is to help build a community of pulp fans that can interact together and promote the pulp genres to a wider audience, help spread news of new pulp publications and help the whole pulp genre to grow!

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Third Time's A Charm: The Golden Compass

I've always had a bit of a problem with the works of Philip Pullman. By all accounts his fantasy books are exactly the sort of thing that I should devour with a passion.

However I was first introduced to Northern Lights aka The Golden Compass about seven or eight years ago when my old boss thrust a copy into my hands and told me that I just had to read it. I tried, but there's something about being you have to read something in this way that makes it very hard to!

Then when I was in hospital and getting through books on tape like nobodies business, I asked Rachel to get me Northern Lights on tape to listen to. Unfortunately at the time the only version available was a full-cast play and after about 20 minutes I didn't have a clue what was going on!

Which brings us to 2007. Third time's a charm. The film of The Golden Compass, starring Daniel 'James Bond' Craig and the gorgeous Nicola Kidman, opens in December, and the trailer looks amazing... airships, talking bears, a gunslinger, demon cats, sweeping cityscapes, a steampunk vibe... I think I'm going to (finally) like this!

Friday, 26 October 2007

Pick Of The Pods: Bad Buddhist Radio

Several weeks ago, while lying in the bath listening to BBC Radio 2 a documentary about "faith on the radio" came on; before I could crawl out the tub and change channels I caught an interview with Ryu Cope about his Bad Buddhist Radio podcast.

This actually piqued my interest as I've always had a certain fascination with Buddhism - mainly I think because of its Eastern origins and the fact that it seems to encourage a very peaceful mindset - but I've never done anything about really investigating it.

Outspoken American Ryu Cope, who is co-incidently also a roleplaying game designer I discovered several episodes in, takes a very confrontational approach in his podcasts.

He likes to challenge misconceptions about Buddhism, particularly in respect to its attitude to death, suffering and other less than cheery subjects.

He strips away all the unnecessary religious trappings of the philosophy - reincarnation, karma, gods etc - as he simply explains the original teachings of Siddhartha Gautama aka The Enlightened One aka The Buddha. Cope says all the religious stuff was added later by others and has nothing to do with Buddha's original ideas.

Buddhism philosophy is simply about being the best person you can be in the here and now; not trying to accumulate some karmic credit for some mystical rebirth that may - or may not - happen when you die. And I can relate to that.

In fact it's almost deceptively simple; most of what he says is actually pretty much common sense... it's just not that easy to put into practice straight off the bat. Hey, if it was, the world would be full of little Buddhas and a much happier, calmer and less violent place to live!

Although Bad Buddhist Radio is a series of regular podcasts, each one builds on the last and to get the full benefit you really need to download all the episodes starting from the first (available on the website); but as each averages about 10 to 20 minutes it isn't going to take too long to catch up.

Don't expect wind chimes, chanting and relaxing music though; while Cope has an excellent radio voice, his delivery is very frank - if light-hearted - and peppered with modern slang and 21st Century examples, rather than the "what is the sound of one hand clapping?" type of thing you might have predicted.

Rachel says she's already noticed a change in my attitude since I've started to listen to Bad Buddhist Radio. The next step on the road to "enlightenment" will be to maintain this calmer, more positive approach to life...

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Film Night: The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Back when I reviewed Taxi Driver for Film Night, I told you about the 'novelty' of video tape in my childhood household and the importance I placed on getting the most out of every film.

That Christmas, my parents bought me Raiders of The Lost Ark on tape (I still have the tape to this day... but wouldn't dare play it, in case it broke!), but the first video I purchased with my own pocket money was The Wizard Of Oz.

I think it cost about £30 as well... videos were not cheap to buy when they first came out.

I love this film because, not only does it have great songs and gentle humour, but it's an incredibly imaginative children's tale with just the right blend of dark menace and innocent adventure.

Like all classic fairytales, it doesn't shy away from giving its audience a scare every now and again as a gentle reminder that "we're not in Kansas anymore".

It's a shame then that the lazy mass media have adopted The Wizard of Oz as a shorthand for all things homosexual; possibly driving away many potential fans away who don't realise that it's just a fun, sweet film. While there's no denying the campness of the cowardly, "dandy" lion, anyother reading you bring to this wholly innocent, child-like, fairy tale has been filtered through your own preconceptions.

And I'm not too proud to admit I love every little bit of this film, from sepia-tinted Kansas to Technicolour Oz, every talking tree and poisoned poppy, every cute-as-an-ewok Munchin and every creepy-flying monkey; I still find Miss Gulch/the Wicked Witch (Margaret Hamilton) one of the most unnerving film characters of all time; and I still rate Judy Garland's rendition of Somewhere Over The Rainbow as one of the sweetest cinematic songs.

The Wizard of Oz is a guilty pleasure - but it's well scripted, well acted and well directed one with a classic storyline and memorable songs, so what's wrong with that?

Top Of The Pile: John Carter, Warlord of Mars

With my latest bundle of comics still "lost" in the aftermath of the post strike, I turn to my back catalogue for some sequential art enterainment... namely Marvel's 28-issue run on John Carter, Warlord of Mars.

Four or five issues in and the testosterone virtually drips off the page thanks to Marv Wolfman's script, which sticks as close as humanly possible to Edgar Rice Burrough's original two-fisted style.

This first story arc (The Air-Pirates of Mars) sees John Carter's beloved Dejah Thoris (the most beautiful woman on Earth and Mars) kidnapped (again!) and Carter blackmailed into posing as a pirate and helping the bad guys (The Council of Five) in their fiendish plot to conquer Barsoom (the native name for Mars).

The comic book series is set in the ten year window between the end of Carter's first great adventure on Mars in A Princess of Mars and the climatic incident at the Atmosphere Factory which brings the book to a close.

Complementing Wolfman's breathless writing is the late Gil Kane's distinctive art. Always one of my favourite artists - probably the first I could recognise as a child without reading the credits - his style always has an extraterrestrial quality about it and is perfect for capturing the feel of alien environments and strange creatures.

While some comics age badly, particularly in the superhero genre, this kind of pulp action, space opera only matures with age. These first few issues of John Carter, Warlord of Mars are a fitting tribute to Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Dating from mid-1977 (before Star Wars had even hit cinemas), this short-lived comic is macho adventure writing at its finest. There's no subtlety about it (most of the covers show Carter in a scrap of some kind) just a lot of class; this is red raw meat between the teeth, fighting to get his woman, big cojones, wall-to-wall thrills and spills. More please!

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

The (Cantina) Band's Back Together...

Steve was down yesterday - to try his luck in the 'monthly' Formula De races with Nick, myself and Pete (his brother). I haven't seen Steve for 10 or 12 years.

I suppose it's only natural to worry about catching up with someone after so long, fearing that you may have drifted too far apart.

He was collecting me from the flat and taking me over to Pete's. We were sitting in my lounge, drinking Pepsi Max and shooting the breeze about old times when Pete texted us both to say he was on his way home.

Steve's text alert on his phone was Darth Vader saying: "I have you now." Then 30 seconds later mine went off - R2-D2 whistling! It was then I knew for sure that we were still the same people we'd been when we were growing up together. The power of Star Wars!

Over at Pete's, the three of us had a 'test drive' of Formula De (one lap of the Sepang circuit), so Steve could get a handle on the system. He grasped it straight away; for a long while looking as though he would win this single lap race until Pete snuck in towards the end and took the chequered flag.

Nick arrived, we had a mighty Mexican feast and then the real race began - Zhuhai, China... with eight cars on the starting grid. It was as brilliant and chaotic as we'd predicted it would with that many competitors.

A record number of cars got totalled in the race (two), including one of Steve's (pictured above), as drivers jostled for position and generally drove like maniacs to battle their way through the pack.

Nick's Scottish driver Jock Saway eventually emerged triumphant, putting him joint top of the drivers' championship with Pete's Indian driver Mehatt Mecoate - with one more race to go!

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

DVD Of The Week: Phantom Empire (1986)

To make up for not meeting one of my cinematic heroes at the weekend - namely horror and TV star Jeffrey Combs - I unearthed one of his old 'gems' on DVD: Phantom Empire.

Not only does this 1986 Fred Olen Ray 'classic' feature Mr Combs, but also two queens of the B-movie genre - namely the Amazonian Sybil Danning (Battle Beyond The Stars, Howling II etc etc) and Michelle Bauer (Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Evil Toons and over 110 others).

Both of these alone would have been reason enough for me to watch this film! However, it would be accurate to say that this 80-minute film doesn't present either of them in their best light - Michelle Bauer keeps her top on for the first 70 minutes!

On paper, this should have been a great movie - although I would expect very little paper was wasted on the script as it feels like it was made up as they went along with whatever props came to hand.

Ross Hagen (as Cort Eastman) leads a rag-tag expedition into the Hollow Earth in search of HP Lovecraft's lost city of R'lyeh (although the use of the name and the presence of Jeffrey Combs is the only real connection this film has to the Cthulhu Mythos) in search of a fortune in gems.

Along the way they encounter mutant cannibals (half-a-dozen extras wearing Halloween pig-masks and tattered sheets); a handful of very stupid, mute cave girls; some stop-motion dinosaurs clearly editted in from another film; and marooned alien warrior Sybil Danning and her rubbish robot sidekick (an embarrassing cameo from a down-on-his-luck Robbie The Robot of Forbidden Planet fame).

While Michelle Bauer eats the scenery as an overacting, speechless cavewoman, and a young Jeffrey Combs strides through the piece with a vague Bruce Campbell air about about him, Sybill Danning's role is about as pointless as Robbie The Robot's.

Obviously, this film was never meant to be taken seriously, but the medicore acting, ludicrous storyline and shoddy script, even make it difficult (but not impossible!) to enjoy Phantom Empire on a "it's so bad, it's good" level.

The real saving grace, I guess (besides the appearance of two top Scream Queens), is the half-baked Hollow Earth plot... which kinda means I can justify to myself as gaming research! What's your excuse?

Monday, 22 October 2007

Star Wars Film Night: Return Of The Jedi (1983)

This is it... this is what the previous five weeks have been building up to! Now your journey towards the Dark Side is complete.

With Return of The Jedi, Rachel's first 'proper' voyage through the Star Wars Universe (and my 'world') was over.

Unfortunately we finished the Saga on a divergence of opinions - while I (unscientifically) rate this as my second favourite of the six (after A New Hope and just ahead of The Empire Strikes Back), Rachel thought - at 126 minutes - it was overly long and dragged for the last hour and a half.

Unlike me she was not a fan of the ewoks (rather throwing a spanner in my plans to show her the two live-action ewok films next) feeling they didn't seem to fit in with the rest of the Star Wars universe (she prefered Max Rebo in Jabba's palace!) and the whole attacking-the-second-Death-Star plot was just a rehash of A New Hope.

On a positive note, she was pleased to finally understand what all the films' titles now meant (although she was expecting more Jedi to "return" than just Luke!).

We watched the Special Edition cut, as we have done for the last two weeks, and while I still cringe when the Jedi Rocks ditty strikes up in Jabba's palace - soiling one of my favourite scenes in the whole Saga - even Rachel noticed something strange about the celebratory scenes from Cloud City, Tatooine, Coruscant shoehorned in at the end.

"It's like they're part of a totally different film," she said.

The tale of Darth Vader, from boy racer to iconic figure of evil, his fall and redemption, is now over.

I'm so proud of Rachel, as a total non sci-fi fan, for persevering through these six films (some being significantly better than others) and now, hopefully, when I'm waffling on about X-Wings, The Force, Admiral Ackbar, Darth Sidious, Han shooting first and Jar Jar Binks she should have a better idea of what I'm going on about!

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Warriors of Kudlak

Judging by the trailers, Warriors of Kudlak could have been a very weak story, given its obvious plot lifting from the old 80s sci-fi classic The Last Starfighter (ie. aliens using video games as troop recruitment tools to test the reflexes of young Earthlings).

Yet despite some interesting performances from the supporting cast (particularly Chook Sibtain as sleazy arcade owner Grantham), it looks like most of the show's budget was blown on a couple of cool shots of the alien spacecraft in orbit around the Earth. There's also a totally random and far-fetched "cloudbusting" machine that Sarah Jane jerryrigs from scrap she has lying around her house!

The main "villain" of the piece was basically a guy in a red trench coat wearing a mutant fly mask and rubber gloves; his henchmen, meanwhile, are the motorbike helmet-wearing Slabs from the Doctor Who Season Three episode Smith & Jones.

More so than the previous two stories, Warriors of Kudlak really sails the safe line of mediocrity, neither aspiring to greatness nor stooping so low as to be truly awful.

As always the dialogue is peppered with names and references to things outside of the immediate episode, but you can't help but begin to wonder if rather than being hints and tasters for the observant fans they might just be jibberish thrown in to the mix in lieu of an original idea.

Clearly this is a show for children and should be judged as such, but then again so originally was Doctor Who and that transcended its pigeon-holing within the space of a single episode, so why are The Sarah Jane Adventures struggling so hard to find its own identity when it comes from such prestigious stock?

Shanna The She-Devil

Give me a moment to get my breath back. I just read the recently released trade paperback collection of Frank Cho's seven issue reimagined Shanna The She-Devil in one sitting and am slightly puffed out!

I think this was probably the best way to appreciate what is essentially a chase movie in comic book form; to have had the story broken up with month-long gaps between each chapter would have ruined the momentum and the dazzling head of steam that Cho builds up as Shanna and Co. try to outrun hordes of raptors.

The story opens with a contingent of American soldiers already marooned on a mysterious jungle island overrun with dinosaurs (a wicked blend of Lost and King Kong).

There they discover a hidden Nazi genetics research laboratory; where they awaken Shanna - a seemingly invulnerable, cold-hearted killing machine; the perfect warrior.

Back at their own camp, months later, an accident unleashes an experimental Nazi bio-weapon and the bulk of the series follows Shanna and the title's POV character, a good-natured medic nicknamed Doc, as they hike to the genetics lab to find the antidote and then back to the camp before everyone succumbs to the plague.

It's a race against the clock and against everything the island has to throw at them... it's also migration time and a train of 300 raptors blocks their path back to the camp!

The story is non-stop excitement; gruesome gore; nice art; dramatic dinosaur action; minimalist, simple dialogue; over-the-top heroics - everything that makes a perfect pulp adventure or the template for a game of Hollow Earth Expedition.

The only slight irritant in the tale is Doc's habit of shouting "Holy Buckets!" in moments of high anxiety, which is not only frankly odd, but very quickly annoying - and is never going to catch on like "It's Clobberin' Time" or "Cowabunga" as an iconic comic book catch phrase.

Personally, I now can't wait for the Shanna sequel - Shanna the She-Devil: Survival of the Fittest - which is due out in trade paperback form next year, although this is by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Every Journey Starts With A Single Step...

I have said elsewhere (e.g. on Facebook) that I'd compare our house moving plans to flying towards a black hole - that is, the closer you get the slower everything seems to move.

I have moved many times before, and several times actually in and out of property that I have been buying or selling, but I have never known a move that has involved so much paper work.

Selling my flat was slow because of the protracted complications of dealing with the old lady who was the leaseholder of the house that my flat was in, but still that move seemed to have the minimum of documents requiring my signature.

When my father passed away and we all realised mum couldn't live on her own, we found her a fantastic home to move into and sold the family bungalow. The money from that sale is now paying for her room and board, but there is still some left over and she agreed that she would lend a portion of that to Rachel and I in lieu of getting a mortgage on our next property.

We would then pay the money back monthly - as we would have had we borrowed the money from a building society or bank.

We could have moved the money then and there as we have power of attorney, but we wanted to do everything above board, with the correct paper trail... but, boy, we never quite realised how much paper work that would involve; and how many solicitors would want to cast their (expensive) eyes over it!

But we seem to heading in the right direction and the new house seems to be inching closer and closer.

In the meantime, I am beginning to learn to to cope with all the stress a bit better through tentative investigations into Buddhist philosophy under the Internet guidance of Ryu Cope and his wonderful podcast Bad Buddhist Radio.

It seems to be working, but obviously it's a radical change of mindset for a grumpy, old cynic like me... yet I think I'm getting there, one step at a time.

I've grasped the Four Noble Truths (all life includes a degree of suffering; uneccessary suffering is caused by obsession; there is no need to obsess over things; and these things are easier to cope with if you follow the Eight-Fold Path) and this week I shall start to explore the Eight-Fold Path.

Friday, 19 October 2007

The Best Laid Plans...

No matter how much I try to avoid it, real life has a habit of rearing its ugly head every now and again and biting me in the ass... or at least forcing me to change my plans.

From Rachel being snowed under with work so we had to postpone last night's Film Night screening of The Wizard of Oz to a lack of finances scuppering my earlier enthusiasm for this Sunday's London Movie Comic Media Expo (in lieu of the cancelled SELWG wargames show).

It's all minor things that really don't bother me in the greater scheme and only go to highlight the futility of making plans. I should count my blessings if these are the only things I have to worry about in my life at the moment!

One thing that has annoyed me, though, more than I thought it would is the Post Strike. Especially considering it seems to be over.

I know they've got a backlog of undelivered mail to work through, but I still can't get my head round the fact that a parcel I posted to someone on Wednesday got there on Thursday, while my bundle of comics from Poole - posted last Wednesday - still hasn't arrived (over a week later) and some Star Wars action figures I won on eBay on September 26 (before the strike even began) still haven't arrived either... despite assurances that they were sent!

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Kill Or Cure...

The sorry tale of my collecting addiction has made for a few interesting column inches here at HeroPress, with my inability to focus on any single subject and the repeated - and never learned - lesson of buying stuff, then selling it for a fraction of its original cost... just to make way for MORE stuff!

Which brings us to the recently published Fourth Edition of the Star Wars Super Collector's Wish Book, a hefty 460-plus page, hardback book that you could stun a bantha with if you were backed into a corner.

Boasting over 16,000 photographs this is primarily a catalogue of all the Star Wars merchandise produced in the last 30 years - along with a guide value (in dollars), depending on the condition.

From wallpaper, sweet wrappers, lottery tickets, mugs and plush toys through to roleplaying game supplements, Pez dispensers, badges, keychains and art prints, this book seemingly has it all. There are no descriptions of the items - it is probably assumed you know what you're looking for - just titles and values.

But that was enough to make me realise (from the action figure section alone) I'm about 30 years too late to think about aiming for a 'complete collection' and will have to make do with just collecting what I like the look of!

The volume concludes with a selection of short magazine-style articles, including one on the Star Wars Action News Podcast (a strong favourite of mine) and one on sensible storage and moving for your collection.

This isn't a book to be read from cover-to-cover, anymore than you would the phone book, but to be dipped into so you can marvel at the bewildering cornucopia of Star Wars merchandise that has been manufactured over the last three decades and wonder: "Who bought all this crap?"

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

What's Your World View...


What is Your World View?
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Existentialist

Existentialism emphasizes human capability. There is no greater power interfering with life and thus it is up to us to make things happen. Sometimes considered a negative and depressing world view, your optimism towards human accomplishment is immense. Mankind is condemned to be free and must accept the responsibility.

Existentialist

94%

Modernist

81%

Materialist

81%

Romanticist

75%

Cultural Creative

63%

Postmodernist

56%

Idealist

50%

Fundamentalist

25%

DVD of The Week: The Wizard Of Oz (1925)

The main reason I held out last year for the release of the three-disc Collector's Edition of the 1939 version of the Wizard of Oz (which is Thursday's Film Night treat for Rachel) is that it included, on its third disc, a variety of earlier, lesser known versions of L. Frank Baum's classic - including this 1925 version featuring Oliver Hardy.

Writer/director/star Larry Semon spins a strange, silent tale with only a cursory connection to the story we all know and love. While some of the humour is quite modern and the effects pretty good for their time, this 79-minute retelling sees Dorothy as a foundling child left on the doorstep of Auntie Em and Uncle Henry in Kansas.

The first half hour of the film concerns agents from Oz's craven dictator Kruel (Josef Swickard) trying to thwart 18-year-old Dorothy's discovery of her royal heritage - she is actually Queen of Oz! Then the hurricane suddenly pops up out of nowhere - complete with fake lightning - to transport her, Uncle Henry (Frank Alexander) and three farm hands round the corner to Oz.

Dorothy is crowned Queen. Then Kruel starts a new scheme to marry her so he can carry on ruling the country; and it's up to two of the farm hands (Larry Semon and G. Howe Black) to thwart his plans - disguised as a scarecrow and lion, respectively - with the aid of the 'fake' Wizard of Oz (Charles Murray).

The third farm hand - Oliver Hardy, who was Dorothy's beau back in Kansas, and takes, momentarily, the Tin Woodsman role - throws his lot in with Kruel for some reason and lots of protracted slapstick ensues.

Semon's Scarecrow character has more screen time than anyone else and his first drawn-out 'routine' - ten minutes into the movie - fast becomes tedious and it was only the prospect of something better happening later that persuaded me to stick with this bizarre oddity.

There is a strange framing device to the story which starts with a Toymaker (Semon again) reading the story of The Wizard of Oz to his granddaughter, with some nice Princess Bride-style touches of her interrupting and wanting to hear more about Dorothy (Dorothy Dwan) when he goes on too much about the political machinations of the court of Oz!

Sadly this is soon abandoned, except for a brief denouement where the granddaughter wakes up from a dream about the story.

There are biplanes and pistols, real lions and pantomime pirates, casual period racism and a total lack of logic that all contribute to this being - probably - the most charmless incarnation of a great story. As a piece of history it is fascinating, but it really looks as though Semon was making his vanity project up as he went along from vague, snatched memories of the actual story!

The Wizard of Oz itself is a very, very peculiar story - whether you take Baum's literary version or the musical movie of 1939 - but both have an integral truth and a heart to them, that this confusing muddle is sadly missing.

One for hardcore fans only.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Star Wars Film Night: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Starting in media res and not really having a conclusive ending, The Empire Strikes Back rather bemused me when I first saw it as a 14-year-old... more so when people began praising it years later as the best of the Classic Trilogy.

There is no doubt that it is a fantastic bridge from Episode IV to Episode VI, but I still believe that because it can't stand on its own, it can't usurp A New Hope's rightful place as the pinnacle of the Saga.

Of course, Empire is wall-to-wall iconic moments from the Battle of Hoth and the giant, clanking AT-ATs through the best Yoda-isms of the six films, the first 'proper' appearance of Boba Fett, the "I am your father" reveal and right up to Han in carbonite and the "I love you"/"I know" exchange.

Having seen the films in order, Rachel - of course - didn't get the full impact of Darth Vader telling Luke of their blood connection; however, she was quite shocked (indeed, revolted) by the earlier Luke/Leia 'snog'... something the rest of us originally didn't feel slightly dirty about until The Return of The Jedi.
Again, I went with the Special Edition, for the same reasons as last week. I like how George Lucas tarted up Cloud City - making it look even more like a set from Flash Gordon and I'm also probably one of the minority of old school fans who appreciated the fact that he redubbed Boba Fett's dialogue with Temuera Morrison's voice (i.e. Jango Fett from the Prequels, his clone 'father').

Next Week: Return of The Jedi.

The Game Is Afoot...

The Edwardian Era, at the start of the 20th Century, was the true steampunk age, as Victorian dreams met modern technological advances and the British Empire strove towards its scientific Utopia - unaware that The Great War of 1914-1918 was coming over the hill to turn its hopes and dreams inwards, tearing and twisting them in to an arms race that still plagues us today.

Professor Rufus Crain was a sickly child and thus was kept away from his father's bedside when that pillar of the community, and Rufus' role model, was dieing. As he grew, and his prodigious brain developed, he turned all his efforts to discovering a way to somehow travel back to those sad days and spend more time with his father, give him a fitting send-off.

His drive to create a clockwork time machine met with frustration after frustration, even though others took an interest in his work. Lord Worthing, in particular, wishes to travel back to prevent his young wife, whose body he keeps preserved in a glass coffin in his family crypt, from throwing herself down the well on his estate.

However, Crain is unaware that another scientist is keen to earn Worthing's favour for his own - more sinister - projects and wishes to transfer the essential essences of the grieving Lord's late wife into a clockwork automata; and will thus stop at nothing to thwart Crain's ambitions and show his plans to be folly.

Recently, 56-year-old Professor Crain has learnt of an abbey in Hertfordshire that is rumoured to have in its possession one of the Great Celestial Cogs that controls the Crystal Spheres of the Universe. Crain is now making preparations to travel there, accompanied by his bodyguard, an Amazonian suffragette called Hillary, and an agent of the Vatican - a hardboiled nun with light fingers and a bad habit.


This is the background to our Hollow Earth Expedition roleplaying game that Nick, Clare, Rachel and I hammered out over a sumptuous meal of farmers' market fare, round at Nick's flat last night.

Nick will be running the game and it could start as early as Monday, October 29. Clare is playing the nun, I am the mad scientist - Crain - and Rachel may be persuaded to play the group muscle, Hillary.

Our brainstorming even earned a mention on Clare's Three Beautiful Things blog today.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Get Your Geek On...

My annoyance with 'special interest' shops that know nothing about the goods they are selling has already been documented, but this is not a charge that can be laid on Alex who runs The Collectall Box in Worthing.

Alex's collectible toy shop is one of those wonderful Aladdin's Caves, with hidden treasures in every nook and cranny - large swatches of Star Wars stuff, but also Star Trek, comics, GI Joe, Action Man, Xena, Buffy, die cast cars, Robert Harrop figurines, Thunderbirds and odd rarities from TV shows I only vaguely recall like Bucky O'Hare and Visionaries.

Yesterday we rolled up at his door (having warned him in advance) - after the two-hour drive on congested roads to the coast from Tonbridge - with 12 boxes of Doctor Who figures and one of Buffy (as part of my re-moving purge), which I managed to trade for five carrier bags of Star Wars related merchandise.

This included a very nice 12" Obi-Wan Kenobi from Sideshow Collectibles, the shops' last four boxes of Star Wars miniatures and a large number of the three and three-quarter inch action figures - and £45 of credit left for my next visit (which Rachel - my chauffeur - says will be after Christmas).

As is common with these "second-hand toy shops", which I have been frequenting all my life, Alex can talk for England, but what makes a change is he actually knows what he's talking about - most of the shop's stock is from his personal collection(!), he watches films, plays wargames... he's one of us... a geek who runs a shop! He quite honestly admitted that several of the figures I was trading with him wouldn't be making it to the shop as he had his eye on them for his own collection.

If I didn't have an aversion to dealing with the unwashed masses of the general public, this is just the sort of shop I could see myself running... with the same business philosophy... and probably the same stock!

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Stat's Entertainment...

A pretty consistent, if unspectactular month here at HeroPress Towers. The return - after a brief summer hiatus - of Six Of The Best (with an interview with Star Wars documentary maker Cristian Macht) didn't have the lasting impact I was hoping for, but readership is still ticking over nicely and we seem to be getting more "comments" as the blog continues to grow and mature.

Here are the numbers for the last 30 days.

Where applicable I've included a note of last month's figures for comparison.

Visitor Numbers (as of Saturday, 13 Ocrober): 6,953 (6,103)

Average Number of Visitors Per Day: 27(33)

Top 5 Countries of Origin:
United Kingdom 47% (42%)
United States 34% (39%)
Canada 8% (4%)
Poland 3% (-%)
Thailand 2% (-)

Most Popular Entry Pages: (i.e. what brought people to the site)

For this, we can take it as read that the most popular "entry page" is always going to be either the current top story or just general browsing, but after that the pages that have brought the most readers to this site have been:

1. Sarah Jane Adentures: Eye of The Gorgon
2. Dresden Files: Second City (Series Finale)
3. Book Of The Month: Doc Savage - Resurrection Day/Repel
4. Dawn Of A Golden Age of Gaming?
5. Six Of The Best With Clare Grant

I wasn't surprised by the interest my Sarah Jane reviews were attracting - as most UK readers of this blog, I expect, are at work when it is shown and I don't believe it has a launch date outside of the country yet.

But still The Dresden Files is drawing in readers, despite the show's axing from the schedules some months ago, perhaps this continued interest might eventually bring it back in some form, but in the meantime people will have to stick to Jim Butcher's source material for their fix of Harry Dresden.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Talk To MySpace Because The Facebook Ain't Listening!

I can't say it was either a long or hard fought battle, but Facebook has triumphed over MySpace in my little corner of the webverse.

For a while I was trying to keep both 'social networks' alive and well, but along with the various message boards I belong to, it was becoming a bit of a chore and did result in extended periods glued to my computer chair, typing away (kinda like this!)... when I could have been spending time with my wife.

Not only is Facebook a lot more ordered and neat, but it's more about encouraging contact with people you know: on my MySpace account I have 50 plus friends, but only one is someone I have actually met face-to-face - a cool American journo called Lori I spent time with in China while visiting Paul.

When it turned out that she had a Facebook account as well - so we could keep in touch through that - it made sense to mentally flick the "off" switch on MySpace. I may have fewer "friends" on Facebook, but at least 90 per cent of them are people I've actually met and the others are podcasters I have exchanged emails with over the last year or so.

I shall keep my MySpace page alive for as long as possible; and occasionally check to see if I have any new "friend requests" from people I either know or are possible readers of this blog, but the music (Voodoo Child by the Rogue Traders) and the condensed Star Wars movie clip will stay the same.

While it was amusing for a while to tell people that I was "friends" with the girls from The Playboy Mansion, the director Iron Man, the head of DC Comics, and the hot chick from Airwolf it wasn't exactly a two-way street.

On Facebook the traffic goes in all directions, is very friendly and transparent... it's the closest thing I've yet discovered on the Internet to shootin' the breeze with a bunch of mates in a virtual pub garden.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Film Night: Love Actually (2003)

It's difficult to know what to write about Love Actually after Rachel made me promise not to be "mean" about it.

There are, at least, two things I will always treasure about this movie: it was the first film that me and the future Mrs Flea saw together at the cinema and it was the first time I had experienced the awesome loveliness that is Keira Knightley on the big screen.

Love Actually was Richard Curtis' attempt to write the ultimate romantic comedy, but - for me - his decision to feature multiple storylines through the two hour nine minute movie was one of his biggest mistakes.

There is just too much going on. While some plots have just about enough room to bloom, others are squeezed down to mere comedy sketches (e.g. Martin Freeman's chatty porn 'stand-in') or are utterly redundant (such as Colin - Kris Marshall - the irritatingly sandwich guy who goes to America to meet hot women).

Once you get over the distasteful use of 9/11 to launch the theme of "love" in the opening voice-over, there is no escaping the fact that this is a brave concept - to try and explore different views of love and tie them together in a neat little Christmas bundle.

Maybe I've softened since my stroke (or is it married life?) or maybe I just thought about it too much the first time, but Love Actually is really a lot better, and a lot funnier, than I remembered.

You can't help but admire the almost Heroes-like interconnectivity of all the main characters, from across British cultural social strata (well, the one's that exist in Richard Curtis' universe anyway).

While Hugh Grant makes a great Prime Minister - certainly preferable to any we have had in my lifetime - and his romance with his tea lady is very sweet, as is the cross-language story about Colin Firth's writer and his Portuguese housekeeper, the single most romantic and powerful moment in the film is Andrew Lincoln's musical "loveletter" to Keira Knightley, his best friend's new wife.

Setting all the yarns around Christmas adds an extra layer of schmaltz, and while this is no It's A Wonderful Life or even a Muppet Christmas Carol, it still makes for a suprisingly good fantasy seasonal film. I don't think I'll be quite so reluctant to watch it again in the future... another triumph for Film Night.

Another Bite At Blade...

It's no secret how much I enjoyed Blade: The Series when it was on TV and how gutted I was when it was staked after only one season.

For months I have been eagerly awaiting the release of the vampire hunter's "uncensored" DVD of the series. But, instead, we get Blade: House of Chthon (2007), the feature-length pilot for the series released as a stand-alone TV movie.

Unfortunately it doesn't stand on its own. Lots of groundwork is done, scenes set and storylines put in motion, but nothing is really resolved... exactly what a good pilot episode should do!


So where's the rest of the series? In this day and age you expect - especially for shows that only lasted a season - to get all the episodes in one box set. How is releasing the show piecemeal going to generate new interest in it? Anyone coming to this cold will be very disappointed by the open ended nature of the pilot's conclusion... unless future episodes are round the corner.

But these are all problems to be laid at the door of New Line, the DVD production company, because the episode itself still holds up.

People complained about Kirk Jones' portrayal of Blade, but I'd point out that he's playing a very monosyllabic character and I feel he nailed the role.

Enjoyment of characters like Blade is informed by the people around him and I'd forgotten the hotness of Krista (Jill Wagner) and, particularly, Chase (Jessica Gower), the main ladies of the piece; the sleeziness of bent cop Boone (Bill Mondy) and the cool menace of master vampire Marcus Van Sciver (Neil Jackson).

Straight out the gate you can tell this is a very different approach to vampires than Buffy; it's more grim and gritty and sticks closely to the mood established by the three films (particularly the first two). There's even the Easter eggs for comic book fans that help set the series in a particular iteration of the Marvel Universe and opened the door for other characters to make an appearance down the line (who wouldn't have wanted to see Marc Spector aka Moon Knight in the show?)

To sell this DVD as "uncut" and "too graphic for TV" is pushing things a bit though - there was maybe one use of the f-word, a splash more blood and a shadowy flash of some anonymous lady bumps, but nothing that would have people who were already fans going: "Oh, they've gone too far now!"

Come on, New Line, just give us the whole season! Large sales of the Firefly box sets led to the Serenity movie and the limitless potential of the Blade franchise deserves fresh blood.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

DVD of The Week: Journey To The Stars (2007)

With a couple of my new superhero-themed DVD releases - namely Fantastic Four 2: Rise of The Silver Surfer and Blade: House of Chthon - stuck in the post strike (how is that bills are still getting through?), it's left to Sir Patrick Moore's Journey To The Stars to hold down the fort as "DVD Of The Week".

Available exclusively in WH Smith's - and no doubt soon to be found on market stalls across the country - this DVD is actually a collection of three of Sir Patrick's early documentaries: namely Sir Patrick Moore's Guide To Astronomy; The Apollo Story and Apollo 13: Houston We've Had A Problem.

With a total running time of 145 minutes, this trio of 45-50 minute documentaries, dated between 1994 and 1996, are showing their age but still manage to impart enough information to justify the cost of purchase (£9.99).

The Guide to Astronomy, despite its use of very primitive (probably cutting edge at the time) computer graphics is an informative tour through the planets and satellites of the galaxy from the sun right out to Pluto (at this time still classed as a planet, although even then Sir Patrick was disputing this).

The two Apollo documentaries, made for the Science Museum, overlap for considerable periods, but once the Apollo 13 one hits the "problem" it becomes an amazing collage of in-space ship shots, NASA Control Room footage, sound clips from the three astronauts and contemporary news footage and press conferences that, even now, can make the breath catch in your throat (even though you know this adventure ultimately has a 'happy ending').

After The Apollo Story, this last documentary was the one I had least expectations for and it turned out to be the most thrilling and incredible. The volume of original footage is a phenomenal window into an amazing, heroic era.

All three documentaries are driven by Sir Patrick's overwhelming enthusiasm for his subject and his utter conviction that man's destiny lies out in the stars and that within a decade we will have a permanent space station on the moon... our next small step out into the great beyond.

Dawn Of A Golden Age of Gaming?

Yesterday was a day that filled my crusty old gamer's heart with a ray of hope that my greatest adventuring days may not be behind me. With the tentative start date for Nick's Hollow Earth Expedition game drawing closer, and now the great news that Steve will be driving over from Essex to join Pete, Nick and I in our monthly games of Formula De, could I hope for much more good news?

Well, last night Rachel and I met with a "new" roleplaying group I had corresponded with briefly on UKroleplayers.com - Mik, Simon and Andy. They meet fortnightly in Tonbridge and are currently finishing off a game set in the Serenity/Firefly Universe (using the Unknown Armies system - which I am unfamiliar with) but are then due to start the Third Season of their Buffy & Angel RPG (using Eden's Cinematic Unisystem... which, of course, was the engine driving my short-lived Knight City campaign).

The plan is that, when this new campaign starts in early 2008, and Rachel and I are settled in our new home (fingers crossed), I shall join them as a new player. So not only a new game to satiate my gaming appetite, but a Buffy one to boot - after months of mild annoyance that crowds didn't flock to my online game, I'll hopefully be able to flex my mental muscles and maybe even pull out some of the ideas I had for Knight City!

But let not's get carried away... the main thing is that with Nick's game, our Formula De and now the Tonbridge gamers, 2008 could be the "year of gaming".

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

For Your Edification...

For today's entertainment and education, I present this hilarious trailer for an "unauthorised" 1965 Tarzan movie from India: Tarzan And King Kong. Among other things it features some great slapstick natives and a man-in-a-monkey-suit-sized King Kong who challenges Tarzan to a wrestling match. They don't make 'em like this anymore!



Thanks to Dateline Jasoom, the Edgar Rice Burroughs podcast, for the tip.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Star Wars Film Night: A New Hope (1977)

Many people talk about being "blown away" the first time they saw the Imperial Star Destroyer rumble into shot during the opening sequence of Star Wars.

It didn't have that effect on me - for me it was totally normal; in my 10-year-old mind's eye that's what spaceships had always looked like. This was space stuff as it always should have been!

My dad took me to see Star Wars when it first came out and it was one of those rare films that really bridged the age gap. That's just one of the many reasons why the Saga has such a treasure place in my heart.

In my world, Star Wars surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the Galaxy together; it is such a part of my life, of who I am, it connects me to my late father, it is woven into the fabric of my wedding and so it is only right that I make a special effort when showing this pivotal film from the Saga to the most important woman in my life.

I chose to show Rachel the "Special Edition" of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope because coming off of the back of the Prequels I didn't want her fixating on the lower quality of the effects or any of the technical issues with the original version of the film.

While it is obvious in this "retouched" print of the movie that the parts that will age the worse are some of the parts that have been added in (e.g. the CGI stormtroopers who pop up every now and again and, of course, the redundant appearance of CGI Jabba), the overwhelming use of real sets and models give this a timeless feel.

This in turn complements George Lucas' archetypal storyline, black and white delineation between good and evil and the complexity of the supporting characters - Rachel was very quick to pick on the fact that Obi-Wan was quite "liberal" with the truth in his conversations with Luke ("from a certain point of view" and all that...)

Although Rachel has seen A New Hope before, she said that having watched the films in order it made more sense to her - even if she was adamant that Princess Leia was 40 and certainly didn't look 18!

Next Week: The Empire Strikes Back.

The Sarah Jane Adventures: Eye of The Gorgon

It may be Doctor Who for kids, but the Sarah Jane Adventures continues to make a brave stab at adding enough "extras" into each story to keep older fans of the franchise interested.

Eye of The Gorgon pitted Sarah Jane and her young companions against a gang of sinister brainwashed nuns and a creature from Greek myth (who turned out to be the vanguard of an alien invasion). A rattling little yarn followed with talk of Sontarans (possible foreshadowing for Doctor Who season four?); nun chases; petrification and great special effects.

Unfortunately, where I see this series stumbling is the possibilty of increasingly contrived ways of engineering our heroes into the plot; this story came from a friend of Clyde's gran... but eventually they will have to run out of friends and family who can get mixed up in alien schemes!

Because of their static base of operations, Sarah Jane and her colleagues lack the Doctor's ability to stumble into adventure around the universe or even UNIT and Torchwood's built-in excuse of being alerted to events that require investigation and containment.

And I know it's meant to be for a younger audience, but Sarah Jane's "supercomputer" Mr Smith is so incongruous that it shatters the verisimilitude of even as far fetched a franchise as Doctor Who, serving primarily as a lazy way for the writers to inject exposition into a story that might otherwise rely on Sarah Jane doing some real investigation.

Those gripes aside, the stories move along at a good pace - squeezing a lot of adventure into two 25-minute episodes - even if that means occasionally sidestepping logic to move the plot forward.

The child actors are surprisingly agreeable - the only real fly in the show's ointment is the supposed comic relief from Maria's mother Chrissie Jackson (Juliet Cowan) who seems to have learnt her acting from watching the Catherine Tate Show, but not realising it's a comedy and sucking all the humour out of her role!

I'm An Addict!

"My name is The Acrobatic Flea ... and I am a collector."

Mrs Flea wants me to enrol in Collectors' Anonymous and seek help for my addiction. I collect things - comics, DVDs, CDs, books, action figures etc etc - and if I had a great paying job and we lived in a multi-roomed mansion it probably wouldn't be an issue. But I'm a "gentleman of leisure" and we live in a one-bedroom flat (a nice one bedroom flat, but that's not really the point...)

We are in the process of buying a three-bedroom property with a funky loft conversion which will serve as my gamesroom, toy display area and general Fortress of Solitude but even that - at 26' long - isn't the TARDIS!

The full extent of my problem finally sank in this weekend, when visiting the in-laws (where 90% of my "stuff" is in storage in their spare room). I was trying to sort through the layer-upon-layer of boxes, see what I had (I was finding stuff that I'd forgotten I'd got or hadn't even opened) and visualise where it would go in the new house.

As an aside, Rachel's mum said during her speech at our wedding, it wasn't so much a case of gaining a son, as losing a room!

And the truth hit me as I faced that four deep wall of floor to ceiling packing boxes; after months (if not years) of denial - it wouldn't all fit! The last thing I want to do is move into this new house and just fill my games room with boxes. The idea is to be able to display things (in that 40-Year-Old Virgin style), as well as have a central games table for my epic games of AT-43, Back of Beyond Pulp Adventures and so on.

So something will have to give... and it looks like being the Doctor Who action figures. They're lovely, but it's kind of a case of last in, first out and it really has to be "all or nothing" to avoid the temptation of picking up more at a later date. I don't need Doctor Who action figures to appreciate the show anyway and there was no way I was parting company with my Star Wars action figures (they complement my library of Star Wars books anyway).

The Doctor Who figures are some of the best "high street available" action figures I've seen (and good value), but they are quite large compared to the Star Wars ones and after a day of sorting figures to trade I've made a significant "dent" in the wall of boxes!

It is an addiction - and I shall still be feeding other areas of my habit. But conquering this sort of problem means taking one step at a time and this is my first step.

Of course, at the moment, the reality is that I have just moved the boxes of Doctor Who figures from the in-laws to our flat...

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Book Of The Month: You Can Run But You Can't Hide

Duane ' Dog' Chapman is a like a character out of myth; a larger-than-life personality who wouldn't seem out of place standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the 300 Spartans of King Leonidas, walking through the Wild West with Billy The Kid and Wyatt Earp or fighting monsters in the whacked-out worlds of Dungeons & Dragons.

It's all to easy to ridicule this mullet-haired ex-con turned bounty hunter and reality TV star for his apparent earnestness and desire to see the bail jumpers he captures reform and dismiss his conversations with God, frequent "signs" and visitations, and apparent Greek chorus of anonymous strangers telling him he has a "great destiny" as BS, wishful thinking or flashbacks to his days of hard drinking and drug addiction.

But the central truth of his life story - which begins as a condensed version of Hunter S Thompsons' Hells Angels and runs though to his arrest last year on a warrant from the Mexican government - is that he was the one person who tracked down and brought to justice the evil serial rapist Andrew Luster, who had jumped bail and fled to Mexico.

At the time of writing the book kidnapping charges were still hanging over Dog's head, but these were dropped at the start of August.

Dog's TV show is compelling viewing as it as much about his family life as hunting fugitives, and it's the same with the book (written with assistance of Laura Morton). It may jump around a bit, time scales get expanded and contracted, facts are glossed over and left unexplained, but the through story of a man with a jaded past (he served 18 months for his involvement in a murder during his biker gang days) trying to turn his life around is a powerful one.

Rather than an insight into the nitty-gritty of bounty hunting, or even the reality behind a reality TV show (although both of these issues are touched on), You Can Run But You Can't Hide is a platform for Dog to share his views on the justice system, life, religion, the importance of family etc and it is left to the reader - as with the audience for his TV show - to make up their own minds, read between the lines, and take what they want from this deceptively clever man.

How much of the myth is real and how much is manufactured, we will probably never know, but ultimately who cares? As long as he keeps bringing back the bad guys, we can sleep easier at night.
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