Decent into the Maelstrom

The shadow of Radio Birdman looms large over my music collection. Whilst my first great love was, and still is to an extent, heavy metal, the high powered Detroit influenced rock and roll they play had a massive influence on me. It was about 2 minutes into the first song I heard of theirs when I knew I was hooked and it’s a passion that still burns brightly, almost *cough* years on. So when I heard a documentary on the band was incoming, I was a little nervous. Would it be like End of the Century, that showed the Ramones as artistically gifted but miserable gits, or more like Gimme Danger, which was a very well made but somewhat toothless love letter to the Stooges?

Rest easy – they’ve done themselves proud. As director Jonathan Sequeira commented at the Q&A tonight (attended by band members Pip Hoyle and Deniz Tek), they cut out anyone talking about the music, and just let it play. Wise move that. I could rhapsodise about the quality of the performances for hours, and will do if you’re unlucky enough to ask me about it in the flesh, but you don’t need that – just listen to the music. The opening drums of Descent into the Maelstrom still thunder away, What Gives rips away like a chainsaw and the opening of Do the Pop can blast roofs off, as I can testify to the last time I saw the band, at the Gaelic in Sydney. They walked on stage, singer Rob Younger mumbled a hello or two, then screamed “12341234!” and everything exploded. And that was the opening number.

It’s a well made tale, with a god mix of new and vintage footage and pictures, with any gaps illustrated by bassist Warwick Gilbert. What get’s the most respect from me is that everyone is allowed to tell their story – it’s real warts and all stuff. Nothing’s off the table as regards inter band feuds and bitterness, a welcome contrast to some band docos I’ve seen in the past. Guitarist Chris Masuak reading his termination email and drummer Ron Keeley recalling his sacking hit hard and rightly so. But at the same time, it’s balanced by frequent hilarity, such as the story of a certain person on the Big Day Out 96 who needed a doctor, or the story of the live brain surgery gig, prompting Younger to quip to the effect of ‘If you can clear a room of fans you must be doing something right.’

What really shines through is the sense of just how much they loved their music, and the fierce determination to do their own thing, in the face of a music industry that despised them (Tek was once accused of facist sympathies by Red Symons, something that’s only gotten funnier given a recent radio interview of Symons.), and in doing so helped create a scene that exists to this day, influencing dozens, if not hundreds of bands worldwide. They’re Radio Birdman, and long may they rock. If you can see it in cinemas, then do so, it sounds amazing. If you can’t, then no matter where you are play it loud. Such amazing music deserves nothing less. Book em Danno, 5 out of 5.

(I do have one small regret, and that’s not working up the guts to ask what the hell Man with Golden Helmet is about – it’s been more years than I care to think about and I still can’t make head nor tail of the lyrics. Great piano work though.)

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But do Dead Men Make More Sequels?

So, a fifth Pirates of the Carribbean film. Once again the Disney company have dragged a hungover Johnny Depp out of bed, dressed and put him on set and let him loose. Is it worth it?

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Well, sort of… They did keep that lovely main theme, so that’s something. Β It tries, it really tries to recapture the sense of adventure that made the original film so much fun, and manages some wonderful moments, but doesn’t quite get over the line. Given the time between films 4 and 5 and the well documented issues during shooting (Barnaby…) that’s not really a surprise.

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For starters, we don’t get enough time with the new leads to really care about them, what with one of them being a cut rate Orlando Bloom and the other constantly being chased for witchcraft (In character that is), an element which seemed somewhat out of place for the time period. It reminded me a little of the way science and faith were treated in Jon Pertwee era Doctor Who, but that’s a discussion for another time. I guess some setup to the Carribbean witch trials would have been nice to help set the scene, but that might have meant cutting Depp, and I’m guessing they don’t want to anger their golden goose by limiting his screen time. (Me? I’d have cut it and blamed the Australian Government)

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Mercifully it’s closer to 2 hours in length than 3, which is a welcome relief given how numb my arse was getting halfway through the third film. I’d comment on the fourth, but I genuinely don’t remember enough about it to comment. As for the rest of the cast, a mostly CG Javier Bardem does a fine job (I kept thinking of him as his character from Skyfall), chewing at as much scenery as he can get his hands on, which isn’t much after Depp and Geoffrey Rush are done with it. On the bright side, there’s a small appearance from [NOT REALLY A SPOILER BUT I’M STILL KEEPING IT SECRET SQUIRREL] and one of the villains turned out to be [LOUD SQUEAL OF JOY FROM MY WIFE], which was lovely as I didn’t know they were in the film at all.

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Maybe there were a lot of deleted scenes, or maybe they tried from the outset to make the film shorter,* the stories that came from set don’t make it sound like a functional production. How much of that is down to Depp (Or his dogs) I’m not sure and am trying not to guess at, but I’m pretty sure there’s a far better film lurking in there. (I’m an optimist that way) It could be we’re blase about the supernatural elements, as opposed to the surprise they were in the first film, but the seeming need to go bigger and bigger with each film just hasn’t paid off. For an example; there’s a fight scene near the end that should be amazing (I can see how I’d run it in an RPG), but it swiftly become’s little more than Depp jumping around on a green screen, and while that’s not wholly unwelcome, it get’s old.

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Also, in barely related news, for a film that seems to be trying to wrap up the series, the after credits scene annoyingly hints at further films, and is in no way up to the Marvel standard. Maybe it’s finally time to sink the franchise down to Davey Jones?

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I give it 3 raised cutlasses out of 5.

PS: I also discovered I know someone who doesn’t know who Errol Flynn is. A double bill of Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood is in her future. πŸ™‚

*An approach Peter Jackson could do well to remember.

PARKOUR! The Movie.

AKA Assassin’s Creed. This is less a review, and more a collection of random thoughts concerning the film. Also, there be spoilers.

I came to the film not having played the games much outside of Black Flag (Cause you know, pirates.), but I know the basics. It seems to be represented pretty well, though I don’t know if the Templars grand council consisting entirely (As far as I saw) of old white people was a subtle political jab or a case of you work with the extras you have, not the ones you want. Cause you know, when have old white people ever wanted to stop people from having free will?

I’d say I was certain that gaming tables and LARPs will soon be deluged by players wanting to play good assassins, but I’m fairly sure that already happened about the time of the first game. Also, it’d have to be a much better film to have that sort of impact – there’s good reason cons were jam packed with Ledger Joker cosplayers for years after The Dark Knight. (There’s an urban myth floating around that at a UK LARP event following the release of Fellowship of the Ring there were no less than 9 characters named Legolas) Ahem. I digress.

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I continue to not be able to put aside the logic (or lack thereof) of a group of assassins who have a recognisable uniform and a signature weapon. Still, it’s far from the greatest logical leap needed for this film, which has the Knights Templar searching for an apple that contains humanity’s genetic code in order to ‘cure’ violence. Oh, and they have a magical device that let’s people live through their ancestors memories. It could be said that it’s Jeremy Iron’s best genre film, but that’s damning with very, very faint praise. That and it’s not that terrible. It’s still not great, but he’s done worse movies – one only has to look at him in Star Wars Episode IV Eragon. As for the film as a whole, it could have been far, far worse (See also Super Mario Brothers).

Characters don’t really get much to do – Fassbender glares stoicly and grunts his lines while bouncing around in a CG harness, Irons all but sleepwalks through it with his voice rarely being raised above a monotone (I think it’s meant to convey something about his lack of emotions showing his devotion to the cause, but it just seems like he’s heavily medicated) and Marion Cotilliard tries bravely, but seems more a plot device than a character (See also Natalie Portman in Thor: The Dark World). On the bright side, Brendan Gleeson is always lovely to see, though again he’s more plot device and exposition spouter than character.

It’s also an oddly bloodless film given it’s body count, with people getting stabbed, garotted and pierced with arrows, crossbow bolts and knives, but barely a drop of blood is shed, outside of a few major incidents involving characters with dialogue and even then there’s far less than could be expected. Speaking of knives, in the scene where Fassbender’s 15th century ancestor and his compardre (Who’s name I don’t recall being mentioned, despite her and said ancestor’s involvement) escape from the fires of the Inquisition and Grand Inquisitor Torquemada (Let’s face it, you can’t Torquemeda anything!), where the hell did all those knives they threw come from? Had they not been searched well enough, or where they magically picking up them from all the people they’d killed? It’s a mark against the film that I spent more time pondering that through the Ye Olde Jason Bourne style chase scene, along with the unintentionally hilarious moment when as they’re about to escape they dramatically draw their hoods up*. Speaking of that, I’ve a lot of respect for the CG and/or costume department wizardry that kept said hoods up while the cast were crashing, stabbing and bashing about the place.

So. Not the worst film I’ve seen (That title is currently held by The Smurfs 2 – we’re never letting my niece choose what movie we see again) and there’s some nice visual moments (The flyovers of medieval Madrid are lovely), but this isn’t the film to do for video game movies what X-Men did for comic book films. Especially given how much the ends screams sequel. I also can’t confirm an after-credits sequence, as I badly needed to pee and wasn’t willing to risk it. Still, it’s not a Marvel film, so I don’t think I missed anything.

2 and a half impractical wrist blades out of 5.

* Though not as funny as the dramatic “I’ll be back” in Terminator: Salvation, a moment that cause my wife to burst out laughing in the cinema.

A catch up of sorts.

Being introduced to someone who’s wearing nothing but ugg boots and shorts and holding a freshly sharpened machete, well that makes an impression. Sure, it’s the sort of impression that makes you think you’ll soon be buried under the patio, but I’m sure I’ve made people I know feel like that on occasion (At least I hope so). He turned out to be eccentric, but friendly (and mostly harmless) and we spent a good 45 minutes or so shooting bows and talking traditional archery. That’s what’ll stick with me the most about that trip. I also got to ride a horse for the first time in over 10 years, an experience that, while enjoyable, reaffirmed my belief that cavalry is not a job I’m suited for.

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Yes, I was quietly singing ‘Over the Misty Mountains Cold’ at that point.

Who? What? Oh, an explantion. I spent most of the Christmas season visiting in-laws in New Zealand, a land that continues to be utterly charming and not just cause we ate at a restaurant that had cats roaming the grounds. CATS ROAMING THE GROUNDS. Why more places haven’t cottoned on this I’ve no idea, but you’ll have me as a client from day 1. I like cats, in case you hadn’t guessed. It was up there with the place that advertised something called a ‘Caveman Platter’, which was one of the most amazing things I have, and will ever, eat. Still, there were no cats, which knocks half a star off.

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KITTIE!

I discovered the works of Joe Abercrombie, purchasing Half a King on a whim and reading it within a day. Apparrently it’s more young-adult that his usual “ALL THE GRIMDARK” fare, but I enjoyed it and plan to purchase more. I also picked up Carrie Fisher’s The Princess Diarist, and while that was hilarious and well worth reading, it’s tinged with more than a bit of sadness now given her passing. While it’s an inevitability that the icons of our youth will pass, that didn’t make things any easier to bear. Many words have been written and tears have been shed in her name, and we shall linger no more in pain and grief.

fisherHell, I’d be happy to go out that way myself. Wife might complain though.

Staying in that universe, Rogue One was a delight. Grim and blood soaked by the standards of the Star Wars universe it’s true, but it was telling a different sort of story than the usual lightsaber wielding high adventure. To quote a friend of mine, ‘They went full Dirty Dozen.” and he wasn’t wrong in that regard. It’s not a take on the universe I’ve seen before, but I saw it described as ‘putting the war in Star Wars‘. At first glance that seems stupid, as Wars in in the title, and the first opening crawl we see begins with “It is a period of civil war.” But the more I thought on it, the more it seemed correct. The other films in the saga, yes, even Empire,Β  are space opera first and foremost, but this felt more like a war film than any other part of the saga, with the possible exception of certain episodes of The Clone Wars.

After The Force Awakens made stormtroopers seem effective again, to me, this restored Darth Vader to the terrifying figure he was pre “I hate sand.” We didn’t see him much, but when we did it meant something and that something was DO NOT FUCK WITH VADER. And points to the writers for that beautiful burn, one almost equal to the ones covering his body, a line so wonderful I’d kill to have written it. Seeing him rip through the Rebel troopers like an unstoppable machine, it was the Vader that was talked about, had been hinted at, but we’d never really seen. (See also the recent run of Darth Vader comics, which show Vader taking levels in Scheming Bastard) All the more effective for it’s brevity – it’s very much the old saying of ‘the more effective the monster the less you see it.’

After having seen the film again, my initial hype lessened slightly, but that doesn’t mean I think it was any less good. I did spend more time looking out for scenes that were in the trailer that didn’t make the film (And the shout-outs to Rebels), but then K-2SO would say something awesome and/or snarky and all would be well again. Oh Alan Tudyk, bless you. Hopefully we’ll see that footage, or parts of it, at some point. The Blu-Ray better have the mother of all deleted/alternate scenes packages…

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What, too soon?

I’d say there was probably one or two too many shout outs to the OT (Red 5’s appearance ties with trying to work out just how did R2 and Threepio get onboard the Tantive IV in time?), but I can’t blame the filmakers for doing so. Mind you, if I said I didn’t immediately want to start playing Age of Rebellion, or any form of Star Wars RPG, well I’d be lying harder than Federal Parliament. It wasn’t a perfect film, but damn it was good. And for those keeping track of my film costume wish list, you can add Chirrut’s costume and several of the Rebel senator’s cloaks to that list. πŸ™‚

Staying with gaming, more writing has been done for Hyborian Tales, for which I probably need a new title. I also went location scouting recently, and thanks to friends of mine now have a location for the game. Close to shops, public transport and with toilets nearby even! A test day is being planned, but that won’t be for another few weeks. Team (Almost all) Dual Wield recently confronted the mysterious mastermind who’s been concocting devilish deeds of a nefarious nature and may be able to defeat him, assuming they can stop sassing the City Watch. It’s building towards a big finale, which will take place next Monday night. No pressure…

Anyhow, it’s past half 11 and I should sleep now. Night all. Rest well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.

*squee*

The very rich, having fundamentally missed the point of urban living, have long been frustrated by the fact that it’s impossible to squeeze the amenities of of a country mansion – car showroom, swiming pool, servant’s quarters etc – into the floor space of your average London terrace. Those without access to trans-dimensional engineering, a key Time Lord discovery, have had to resort to extending their houses into the ground. Thus proving that all that stands between your average rich person and a career in Bond villany is access to an extinct volcano.
Ben Aaronovitch – The Hanging Tree

Why yes, I am excited to have this book* – I didn’t realise it was out yet. For those who’ve no idea what I’m talking about, it’s the latest in the Peter Grant series, about a young London policeman who winds up working for the last Wizard in the Metropolitan Police. You could say it’s CSI: Hogwarts or a British Dresden Files, but those are terrible comparisons, even more so cause I’ve not read any of the Potter books to compare them to. So yes, between that and the trade of Vader Down (Which has dialogue I’d pay good money to hear James Earl Jones recite), I’m a happy reader at the moment.

*The author wrote two of my favorite 7th Doctor stories, Remembrance of the Daleks and Battlefield, so I might be somewhat biased.

It’s a battery commercial

So why am I looking around my house wanting to yell WHO KEEPS CUTTING ALL THE ONIONS AROUND HERE?

It hit me even harder than last year’s one did but neither of them can compare to this one… That one didn’t just hit my paternal instinct, it smacked into it at light speed with the weight of several million tons. It’s why I was so damn nervous showing A New Hope to Niece, Then Age 7. I didn’t used to feel this way. Perhaps age has bought something worthwhile with it, something more than grey hair and the impulse to yell “Get the hell off my lawn!” at people?

Back to normality. Or as close as I get.

First off, many thanks to those who read and commented on my recent post on mental health. The comments have been much appreciated.It wasn’t easy, but I got that far into it that not writing it would have felt worse. Again, you have my thanks.

Before I forget, I was meaning to post a writeup of a performance of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf I saw recently, and I’m still struggling to decide how to sum it up, with the closest thing that comes to mind being Apocalypse Now. Before you commence throwing things, let me explain. Both are overly long, begin with things seeming not to be going well, and that feeling of dread and unease only intensifying throughout, wih a last act that’s a cavalcade of WTF. This is possibly why I shouldn’t be reviewing theatre. Though in my defence, Margaret Pomeranz and I both quoted the same piece of Shakespeare* when we reviewed Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which I choose as a mark in my favour. I’m also 2 episodes into The 100, which I’m enjoying, though I think I’m between 10-15 years too old for it’s primary audience.

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It was the second session of my D&D game last night, and didn’t go too badly. I’m not as great as I’d like to be at running social encounters and there was a bit of railroading (And I regret it), but the players still seemed to enjoy things and that’s what counts. We learn by doing after all. The Wizard spents more time stealing cheese than doing anything magical, the Rangers are drunks with the Rogue not far behind, the Paladin has a secret identity as a masked vigilante and the Fighter is seemingly keener on theatre tickets than cracking heads. They’re an interesting bunch and I’m really enjoying devising adventures for them. I’ve a few plans for them in motion – they still have no idea who their mysterious benefactor is (I’m attempting to play him like Raymond Reddington crossed with Mr Morden) after all. They’ve also levelled up for the first time, so it’s almost time to UNLEASH THE OWLBEARS!

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Moving on, this will likely be the last update on the post apoc game for a while, as I have to delve back into the Hyborian Age to finish my Sydcon event. Been trying to write factions (Settlers, Scavengers, Ambos etc) and work out background stuff for it, but it’s both getting to the stage where I want to bring other people in and am having the dip in the initial enthusiasm. I love the idea of the settlement police being an in-character faction (Working name: The Boy’s in Blue) and have been trying to come up with Boons and Flaws instead of stats. I’m not proud, but I laughed at the idea of calling the sneak boon ‘Where the Bloody Hell are You?’ patching people up is ‘Band Aid’ and catching and returning thrown weapons had to be ‘Classic Catch’. I’m writing it, I’m allowed to be the only one amused. Trying to put an actual rules system together is one of the things I’m planning on leaving till last, as it’s not something I’ve done before, but there’s ideas I want to make sure I’ve put down incase I forget them. Background and overly purple flavour text? I’ve got that covered. Anyhow, the Hyborian game – 6 PC’s, 4 of them female and (mostly) wearing sensible armour. I’m kinda pleased with that. Pirates, savages, darkest sorcery, bloody combat, Northern barbarians, Southern decadence, the treasure of a long forgotten kingdom and candles that burn with a wierd green flame… It’s been fun to write. πŸ™‚

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What else is up soon? Zedtown’s up in a few couple of weeks and I’m crewing that. I don’t know what role I’ll have yet, but I’m sure I can costume it with minimum effort. Should be a blast. Anyhow, time to return to the days of high adventure!

“I have known many gods. He who denies them is as blind as he who trusts them too deeply. I seek not beyond death. It may be the blackness averred by the Nemedian skeptics, or Crom’s realm of ice and cloud, or the snowy plains and vaulted halls of the Nordheimer’s Valhalla. I know not, nor do I care. Let me live deep while I live; let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content. Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.”
Robert E Howard – Queen of the Black Coast

*Work out which bit and there might be a prize for you!

Pondering…

So, my players have been coming up with character ideas for the 5th Ed game, and there’s been some doozys (Paladin of Sune, God of Beauty – part vigilante, part dating consultant). Still haven’t got a plot yet, but I’m waiting till they’ve confirmed their characters before I confirm that.

As for the post apoc game, I’ve another skill tree idea.

BUSHMAN – Basically a D&D Ranger crossed with Les Hiddins. Has a higher chance to find supplies in the wild and knows about the local wildlife. (“Fresh dropbear tracks. When I say run, run…”) Possibly even making friends some of the local critters.

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As for inspiration, there’s numerous sources out there: Nuclear Snail have some fascinating tutorials, though the name strikes fear in my heart*. The games Sunfall:Metro, Wasteland UK and The World Went Dark have some stunning imagery. Given the lack of desert location near me, I’m aiming for a more forestpunk style (Which mixes in with the forests reclaming background I’m bashing out), but the standard levels of dirt, grime and blood will be present.

The world died. Cities fell, and the wilderness reclaimed them. People tried to survive, to carry on, but when their numbers grew too few, it collapsed. Some had hidden underground, in vast shelters built by the government, riding out the chaos in air conditioned splendour. Others unable to pay their way inside suffered and struggled, dying but for want of a few coins. When they emerged, the world had changed. The forests had grown over the cities of man, the once gleaming towers of glass and steel now overgrown with forest, a land filled with scavengers, monsters and other horrors. The animals had, changed, growing larger and more dangerous. The virus that had slaughtered the humans had mutated them and they had grown strong for lack of humanity. Now the wildlife is as much a threat as starvation, disease or raiders.

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Some have surrendered to their darker instincts, plundering the ashes of the old world. Some seek to learn from it, to reconstruct what was, or just to survive. I’m trying to give a number of options for possible PC’s, as large as I can, rather than ‘good guy or bad’ options.

The start: we start at a small settlement. Supplies can be found nearby, and there’s shelter. Possibly a small sporting arena for Blood Bowl or Jugger. What happens next, well, that is another story…

*I hate snails, and slugs for that matter – they scare the living hell out of me. Have since I was a kid.