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An ordinary guy’s movie review of Blade Runner 2049

Disclaimer: This review contains no spoilers. It does contain minor plot elements and thematic discussions.

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I’m fresh off a viewing of Blade Runner 2049.

And I’m buzzing.

Director Denis Villenueve’s latest film tackles the not-so-easy task of reviving one of the more classic cult films of the early 80’s – the original Blade Runner. And boy, does he do it in style. For those not familiar with the bleak, mega-dystopian feel of the first film, Blade Runner 2049 recaptures it…and it does so in grand fashion.

Ever present rain drips from a never-sunny sky.

No birds. No leaves. No softness.

Just hard angles, harder hearts, and possibly the most brooding atmosphere since…well…pretty much ever.

Blade Runner 2049 isn’t a remake, in case you wondered. It’s a sequel, occurring decades (in movie time and real time) after the events of the original. In it, ‘K’ (Ryan Gosling) gets down to the dirty business of hunting the last of the old model ‘replicants.’ Replicants are programmed humans – faster, smarter, and stronger than regular people – but also mostly enslaved to humanity’s will.

As you can imagine, things don’t go particularly well for K. Every time his boss (Robin Wright) rings him up on his next-gen cell phone, you know s**t is about to go down.

And it does.

‘Luv’ – played to perfection by Sylvia Hoeks. When you see her, run.

Now then, if you were to waltz into the theater expecting a bang-bang action flick, you might as well tuck tail and head right back out the door. B.R. 2049 isn’t really an action film. That’s not to say action doesn’t happen or that the fights aren’t razor sharp. It’s just that Blade Runner 2049 is a thinking film-lover’s movie. At its core, it’s about atmosphere, emotion, and tension. It’s about feeling like you’re actually walking through the stark, cold wasteland of Los Angeles 2049. It’s a look at what our world might someday become.

It’s exhilarating. And terrifying.

I felt it. I think you will, too.

Ok. So let’s go ahead eliminate one concern you might have. No, you don’t have to worry about Harrison Ford. Unlike in The Force Awakens, he doesn’t just show up as wallpaper guy rehashing a thirty-year old shtick. He’s as vivid as everything else in the movie. And yeah, he can still fight.

And speaking of vivid performances, I’m allowing myself a moment to gush about one of the movie’s most intriguing characters. Joi (K’s pseudo-lover, played by the absurdly beautiful Ana de Armas) just about won my heart over in every scene she appears in. Poor Joi’s just a hologram-girl meets Stepford wife, and she nails her performance. Hers might’ve been an easy role for movie-goers to brush off as window dressing, but in my mind, she gives us a glimpse at what the future of human relationships might look like.

Bleak. Yet fascinating.

And it doesn’t hurt that Ana de Armas is simply stunning to behold.

Blade Runner 2049 is a long movie. Let’s be honest. Some of the scenes take a good while to develop, and others take their sweet time in coming to a close. This will assuredly provoke boredom in some movie-goers. At times, I admit I found myself begging for the next scene to start. And yet…the longer the film went on, the longer I wanted it to be. The quiet moments aren’t boring; they’re allowing us – the audience – to think. To ponder. To wonder what’s next.

In this respect, Denis Villenueve does very well. Just like he did in Arrival, he doesn’t leap casually from scene to scene. There’s a thoughtfulness in his pacing uncommon to most modern film directors. Some won’t appreciate it. Others might suffer bouts of impatience. But as for me…I learned to love it.

I wanted time to think.

During a movie like this, I needed it.

Plenty of spaces like this appear in the movie. Big. Sparse. Sterile. Beautiful.

Let’s talk antagonists. The bad guy is played capably (if weirdly) by Jared Leto. He’s cool, for a blind dude. The bad girl, however, is one of the best parts of the film. Her name is Luv. And no, she doesn’t luv anything except kicking ass. Evil ass-kicking women with no remorse…well…that just floats my film-lovin’ boat. I think everyone will ‘luv’ Sylvia Hoeks’ performance.

Musically, the film score (by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch) sounds a ton like the score from Arrival. It pairs well with the atmosphere, though sometimes feels a little loud. I’m a Hans Zimmer nut, and I’ll admit this isn’t his best ever effort. It’s too derivative. Even so, it’s better than most.

In the end, Blade Runner 2049 creates one of the finest dystopian atmospheres you’ll ever see. It’s populated  with fascinating characters, most of whom continually surprise movie-goers. Even I, the king of know-it-alls, got hit with a few plot twists I didn’t see coming. In a world full of predictable movies, that’s a good thing.

Once again, B.R. 2049 is long. Maybe too long for some. Early on, things take a while to develop. And not everyone will buy into the ending. There’s questions left unanswered, to be certain.

But…

For the patient fan, for the fan who likes to wander into worlds far different than our own, and for those who wonder what humanity’s fate might someday be, this movie is for you.

Go see it twice. I know I will.

And someone please get me Ana de Armas’ phone number.

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Read my other movie reviews here.

J Edward Neill

IT movie review

(Disclaimer: no major spoilers appear in this article. Minor thematic and a few vague plot details are discussed.)

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I knew what I was getting myself into when I settled into my seat on a chilly Friday evening.

Twenty-seven years ago, on an eve not so different, I watched the original IT. Starring Tim Curry, it promised vast horror, and yet it only partly delivered. Tim Curry’s performance was of course flawless, but the disjointed flashbacks and clunky pacing didn’t deliver in the ways they could’ve.

After all, we’re talking about IT here.

Evil shape-changing Cthulu-esque clown invades small American city to devour children and consume oceans of human fear?

This kind of plot needs a better movie.

And perhaps IT 2017 is it.

As any good movie-goer knows, the key to setting a horror movie’s tone is to make us care about the characters. Anything less, and the most one can hope for is B-grade cheap scares and campy, gory death scenes. Fortunately, character-wise, IT 2017 delivers in a way most horror films just don’t. From the opening scene onward, we care about young (and stuttering) Bill (played by Jaeden Lieberher.) He’s vulnerable, yet strong in ways we can’t yet see. And so it goes for nearly all of the young, mostly unknown cast of ‘kids.’ Bev (Sophia Lillis) and Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) stand out in the gang of seven Losers. We meet the young gang in their early teens, and they behave exactly like teenagers. They’re funny, sarcastic, and not yet sure of themselves.

Just like we all were.

And not only are the kids believable, they’re nuanced. No cookie-cutter fears here, folks. Each young’un deals with terror in a different way…and each one has a separate reason for fearing death at the hands of Pennywise, the Dancing Clown. Best of luck to the adults who have to follow this young cast up in IT – Chapter Two (rumored to hit theaters in 2019.) These kids will be a tough act to follow.

Speaking of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) he’s as creepy as we can hope for. I won’t compare him to Tim Curry (not really a fair fight) but Skarsgard delivers a solid performance. Modern special effects help Pennywise go over-the-top in ways 1990’s IT couldn’t. He’s not the most subtle villain, but likely one of the most powerful…and diabolical ever to hit the big screen.

Side-note: being a movie-geek and a lover of HP Lovecraft, I recommend this wiki explaining the Cthulu-esque origins of Pennywise. (Hint – IT isn’t just a clown.) Beware of spoilers.

Who wants to float?

Now…let’s be honest. The adults in IT are afterthoughts. Bev’s father (Stephen Bogaert) is appropriately creepy, while young hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) has a mom (Mollie Atkinson) who’s pretty much the most overbearing helicopter parent ever. And then there’s bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) whose dad (Stuart Hughes) shows up just long enough to make us hate him. But that’s it in terms of adult, non-Pennywise roles.

And that’s just fine.

This movie isn’t about the adults, but instead the impacts they’ve had on their children.

Now then…

It’s safe to say that an hour in, I cared plenty about all seven kids, but wanted more monster. IT runs pretty long (more than two hours) and I’ll admit at times I craved a slightly faster pace. But that’s just the thing. To really build anticipation, and to avoid some pretty common horror tropes, IT needed space to breathe. Meaning, if you’re looking for an in-and-out gorefest or a quick slasher horror flick, this isn’t your film. The expectation here is that movie-goers will be patient. After all, this film is just part one of two. It’s basically the Lord of the Rings of horror flicks.

IT is what Dark Tower was supposed to be, but failed to live up to.

Other notes:

The special effects? They’re good, but not obnoxious.

The music? Subtle, but not intrusive.

Jump scares? Only a handful, thanks to director Andy Muschietti. If you’re looking to be completely terrified, this isn’t necessarily the movie for you.

Adherence to Stephen King’s novel? Well….not exactly. I didn’t mind the deviations. Although, to really appreciate the bottomless depth of IT’s evil, one really needs to read the book (or at least hope the second movie dives headlong into the monster’s true nature.)

Ultimately, IT is a solid film. It’s not just a horror flick, but a character piece and reflective of several of humanity’s real-life fears. It’s sometimes slow, sometimes perfectly-paced, but mostly very good.

For me (and for most of you, I’m betting) the measures of a good film are:

A. Would I see IT again? The answer is yes…pun intended.

B. Am I itching to see the sequel? Yes. IT can’t come out fast enough. Pun intended again.

In other words, go see IT.

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For my other movie reviews, go here.

To get into something just as scary (but not nearly as long) go here.

J Edward Neill

Rogue One – A non-fanboy Movie Review

* Disclaimer: This review is spoiler-lite. No plot specifics, deaths, easter eggs, or other direct moments from the movie will appear. However, themes and atmosphere will be discussed.

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Before we begin, I have a confession. I want to let you know I’m going to deliver a particularly unbiased, un-fanboyish review…because I can. You see, I’ve never been a big Star Wars guy. While the first movie intrigued me and The Empire Strikes Back fascinated me, the rest of the movies (except mayyyyybe the final Darth Maul fight in Phantom Menace) bored me to tears. It’s for this reason I feel I’m able to give an extra-fair review. Because while some went into the theater with high or low expectations, I was in the unique situation of going in with neutral expectations. Rogue One is just one more movie to me, not another in a canonical series.

And so it began. On a frigid December night, I wandered alone into a packed theater. Modest cheers erupted when the opening credits rolled, and then everyone fell into reverent silence.

…as is to be expected at a new Star Wars film.

Mads Mikkelsen, the excellent actor of Casino Royale fame, opens up the action as Galen Erso, a character I’d never heard of. There’s a certain stillness to his opening scenes, and right from the start it became apparent this wasn’t like the other Star Wars films. The music cues were slightly familiar, but also somewhat new (and almost jarring.) The conversations were less stiff, and the atmosphere more mature. After all these years of watching (and reading…and discussing) Star Wars, one of my complaints has always been that the Empire felt rather unimposing. The stormtroopers couldn’t hit anything, the bad guys overacted, and my dread was never really inspired.

But in Rogue One, I finally found the fear I’ve been looking for.

The Empire doesn’t pull any punches. The stormtroopers’ aim is 1,000% improved. The rebels find a few foes (other than Vader) worth being terrified of.

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These guys especially…

Early on, we’re introduced to Jyn Erso (played very capably by Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (played just as well by Diego Luna.) These aren’t the Lukes, Hans, and C3PO’s of the early, almost goofball Star Wars realm. These characters are deeper. They give us a taste of the true suffering endured under the Emperor’s Imperial reign. Their dialogue is a cut above the other Star Wars’ films, and while each scene pays loving homage to George Lucas’s vision, there’s no plagiarism here. There’s no ‘we’ve got to fit this cornball one-liner’ in. Sure, we see several familiar faces, but only one scene (I won’t even mention it) felt forced on the audience.

After the early scenes, the action starts moving fast. Things jump from planet to planet. You’ve got to be sharp to keep up with it.

We’re treated to an excellent performance of the reviled Grand Moff Tarkin (played superbly by Guy Henry.) His is a standout role, and deliciously evil. While the main antagonist is somewhat obnoxious, Tarkin is better.

We get a taste of some truly vicious space battles. No cornball Hayden Chistensen & Ewan McGregor banter while slaughtering TIE fighters. Just dudes and chicks fighting to the death with some awesome space hardware.

And we finally get a sidekick (he’s a droid) who’s actually funny. He helps us forget Jar-Jar Binks ever existed. Thanks especially for that, Gareth Edwards (the director.)

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Our nemesis. He whines a bit, but works a solid amount of evil.

Now let’s talk atmosphere. Whereas previous Star Wars (and action films in general) force action scenes that tend to be juuuuust a bit too long, Rogue One gets it right. In the quiet spaces between the action, we get a little more than just a dusty desert scene or bars filled with aliens. There’s rain, beaches, canyons, and beauty. The music gets even better as the movie progresses, and in the latter half, the familiar John Williams score fires up in earnest. More importantly, we get to see the Death Star like never before. No more garbage chutes and incompetent stormtroopers here, ladies and gents. When the D Star rolls over the horizon, the effect is more powerful than all its previous viewings.

So let’s summarize. Does Rogue One have a good plot? Yes, it’s solid. Are the villains the most terrifying (and talented) we’ve seen in a Star Wars’ film? Yes, without a doubt. Do we get to glimpse our favorite historical characters without them being an obnoxious throw-in? Definitely. And is the ending good? Yes….the best I’ve ever seen out of Star Wars. I’ll be a little cryptic so as not to spoil it, but let’s just say fairy-tale endings are dull, and I wish more films had the guts to end like Rogue One.

So…did I love it? Maybe. I’m not sure yet. I will admit it had a few ‘oh come on…that’s unrealistic’ moments. And of course it has the typical Star Wars non-science science.

But…

I really, really liked it. And I will go see it again.

And I haven’t been able to say that about a Star Wars movie since a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

If this it what Star Wars will bring the table in the future, count me in.

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Read more of my movie reviews here.

And get into some seriously deep sci-fi action right here.

J Edward Neill

Arrival movie review

* Disclaimer – this review is largely spoiler free. A few small plot points and themes are revealed.

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On a cold night in early December, I saw Arrival in a nearly empty theater. Now, the theater being almost vacant isn’t a commentary on Arrival’s quality. The hour was late, the weather was frigid, and everyone (besides me) was probably huddled inside their homes, still stuffed with Thanksgiving leftovers.

I’ll confess; the only reasons I went to see this movie is that I’m writing a sci-fi novel and I’m hungry for inspiration…and I heard from a friend of a friend of a friend that the movie was right up my alley.

I’ll start by saying this: it didn’t disappoint.

From the first moment Amy Adams (as Louise, an expert linguist) appears, it’ s obvious Arrival is a character piece. The title suggests maybe an Independence Day-ish alien invasion or a Bodysnatchers-esque creep-fest. Nope. While the opening scenes share a sense of “what are these huge ships doing in our sky?” dread, every moment thereafter is unique to Arrival.

Mostly.

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What’s the heck is that?? …I’m not telling.

Turns out, Arrival is a thinking-person’s movie. Maybe a splash of Jodie Foster’s Contact mixed with a tiny dash of Interstellar, but with even less action. Let me repeat that: Arrival has almost no action scenes. That’s not to say nothing’s happening, but if you walk in expecting cities full of people to die and xenomorphs strutting around with murder on the mind, this movie probably isn’t for you. Like I said, I went in purely to do a little sci-fi research, and I got exactly what I expected. A mind game. A voyage of intellect and emotion, not of violence.

Amy Adams’ Louise is the key to the movie. And when I say she’s the key, I mean she’s the only character of substance. Sure, you’ve got competent performances by Forest Whitaker and Jeremy Renner, but Arrival is one of those films in which you get to know one person and one person only. Louise is a linguist, and her job is to find a way to communicate with some pretty cool looking extraterrestrials. Her conversations with humans are short and to the point. It’s really all about what’s going on between her and the aliens, and what’s happening in her head.

Which, as it happens, is a lot.

In pretty much every aliens-on-Earth movie ever made, the real question is: Why are they here? And in pretty much every aliens-on-Earth movie not named Arrival, movie-goers know within 45 minutes whether they’re going to be killed (Independence Day) hunted (Predator) or hugged (E.T.) But Arrival makes a point of stretching the question of why until the very end. In fact, having only seen it once (so far) I’m not entirely sure director Denis Villeneuve ever actually reveals the aliens’ true intent. Which is fine if you can appreciate subtlety, but perhaps less than ideal if you prefer nice, tidy endings.

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But…does it have guns?

I will say this: if Arrival’s intent was to show the meaning of hope and the power of human perseverance, both messages ultimately faded for me. And that’s not meant as a criticism, but more a commentary on the strange turn of events near the film’s end. If you’ve seen the excellent sci-fi flick, Ex Machina, maybe you’ll understand my meaning. Things get a little dark and morally murky at Arrival’s terminus. It’s something I personally enjoyed, but not something all movie-goers will appreciate. Or even notice.

So what you’ve got is a movie that moves at a measured pace, a movie that’s sprinkled with small reveals, and a movie whose ending might leave some scratching their heads…and others a little perplexed. The themes go way beyond meeting aliens. Some moviegoers might think it’s too slow, and that’s not a point I can really contest. It is slow at times. And that’s just fine with me.

Final verdict: I didn’t love Arrival, but I really liked it. And for my part, the science behind the aliens’ reason for coming to Earth and the weird/dark situation Amy Adams grapples with at the end made it a worthwhile film. If you like thinking movies, go see it. If not, download Edge of Tomorrow to squeeze in your action fix.

It’s worth mentioning the Jóhann Jóhannsson music score (mostly strings and piano) is haunting and excellent. I’ll be adding it to my soundtrack collection.

Oh, and it’s also worth mentioning (again) the aliens in Arrival are pretty awesome. I’d take them in a fight against pretty much any other movie xenomorph…ever.

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My other movie reviews are here.

And for a book I want to make a movie out of, go here.

J Edward Neill

The Revenant Movie Review

(Disclaimer: No major spoilers. Includes small plot revelations.)

 

Revenant: One who returns after death or a long absence

An apt name indeed.

The Revenant was a movie I knew I had to see from the first time I glimpsed its preview. A frozen wasteland. A grizzly Leo DiCaprio. An even grizzlier Tom F’n Hardy. And not to mention an actual grizzly bear. Terrible things were about to happen. Even watching the trailer, I could just feel it.

First, let me hit you with some truth. The Revenant is NOT for everyone. It’s not for kids. It’s not for teenagers. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not for fans of Michael Bay, Kevin Hart, superhero movies, or happy endings. It’s dark. And when I say dark, I don’t mean in a visual sense. Or a gothic, ‘look how angst-ridden the hero is’ sense. What I mean is that the subject matter gets down to the very bottom of what it is to be desperate. And human. And hungry.

The Revenant may very well be the darkest movie I’ve ever seen.

And the longer I lie here and dwell on it, the more I like it.

What we’ve got here is Leo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass, an enigmatic tracker/hunter in the service of Captain Andrew Henry (Played sharply by Domhnall Gleeson.) Also in their group are the brutal John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and the young Hawk, who happens to be half-Native American (and Hugh Glass’s son.) These men find themselves on an expedition to collect and prepare hundreds of animal skins for sale, presumably to the American army.

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John Fitzgerald – Not a dude you want to F with

Without giving anything away, the whole sell-animal-skins plan goes downhill…and fast. The Native American Arikara, hostile with every right to be, get involved. A grizzly bear shows up. Tom Hardy is pissed. And death starts happening.

Let me summarize the next two and a half hours: Beautiful Violence

Because The Revenant is violent. So very violent. It’s not stylized. It’s not pretty. It’s not epic. It’s harsh. And it’s realistic. By realistic I mean it’s so visceral and unwashed that it feels like this is how real life was. It’s the opposite of The Matrix’s pretty skirmishes, Lord of the Rings’ bloodless warfare, and even Saving Private Ryan’s booming, catastrophic clashes. If I had to pick a movie to step through a door and experience in real-life, The Revenant would be last on the list. I’d be dead in seconds. And so would you.

But it’s also beautiful. So very beautiful. I fully expect this movie to take home the easiest Oscar for best cinematography ever. Not that awards matter. They don’t. What I mean is; every frame of The Revenant is poetry in motion. From the cold, sharp, deadly mountains to the frosted rivers to the snow-blanketed plains, the landscapes are stunning. I sat in my seat and felt the wind blowing over me. I saw the characters wandering beneath moonlit skies, and I was held rapt. The shots were all real. Very little CGI. The Revenant’s terrifying world is the truth. These places exist.

So what’s the point? What are these hard, hard men doing out in the middle in winter? It’s clear from frame one that some brave and foolish white men are moving through the wilderness during the last stages of the war against the Native American tribes of the American Northwest. They’re risking their asses, and they know it. But in the midst of this, Hugh Glass appears different. His son is half-Native American. He endures constant flashbacks (some of them a bit disconcerting) of his Native American wife and of the terrible things that happened to her tribe. His son, Hawk, is as noble as he is, and therein lies a problem. Fifteen minutes in, you know things are gonna go very wrong for Glass. And you know why. And how. It’s not just about racism. It’s about how some people know what honor is, and everyone else does not.

Kinda sounds like modern-day reality, right?

I suppose some people might say that the majority of the movie is a revenge/redemption trip similar to Braveheart. Or maybe a survival tale a la The Grey. I get it. And there are definitely moments in the movie that will confuse some folks. There’s not a ton of dialog. There are no one-liners. All the movie’s glory is given over to nature, not to man. Once it comes down to one dude slogging his way through the brutal wilderness, there is a slowness that will drive some movie-goers away. That’s all well and good.

But if you love movies, and you have a soul, and you’re willing to stop worrying about just simply being entertained, you’ll find something in The Revenant. It’s not just about white people fighting natives. The bad guys don’t wear capes to make themselves easy to hate. Every deed that happens here feels like it really could go down. It’s all so bloody human. When you finish watching it, sit down and ask yourself if you’d never do the things the bad guys do in this movie. If you’re honest with yourself, really honest, you’ll be conflicted.

And that’s beautiful. Because the best movies should make you think.

Look…I’m not sure whether or not The Revenant is my favorite flick over the last year. It had a few strange moments, to be sure. And sometimes it walked a tightrope of not knowing whether to be hard and cold or a little abstract in meaning. But ultimately, if you like movies about realistic human conflict, this is up there with the best of them. I recommend you go see it early in the day. Preferably on a cold, rainy day. And then, after it’s over, maybe even several hours later, I think you’ll start to like it more and more.

Just like I did.

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Like this review? Hit up my reviews of Mad Max – Fury Road, Whiplash, and my personal favorite, Ex Machina.

Or, since we’re talking about seriously dark fiction, drown in my short story, Let the Bodies.

J Edward Neill

Whiplash Movie Review

JK2Disclaimer: This review is largely spoiler-free

A few weeks ago I reviewed George Miller’s screamingly loud and bone-crushingly good Mad Max – Fury Road.

This week’s movie, Whiplash, breaks only a few bones, but is almost as loud, and is definitely as good.

I’ll start with an admission: I’m late to the party. Very late. 2014’s Whiplash, directed by Damien Chazelle, has already earned three Oscar wins and numerous other accolades. That said, it’s my opinion that not enough people have been exposed to it. So if this review convinces even one person to check Whiplash out, I’ll claim success.

So…

Like Jazz music much? Maybe? Maybe not so much? It’s ok. While planted on my couch during a 1AM Redbox DVD screening of Whiplash, my first worries were: ‘This is a jazz movie. What was I thinking?? I should’ve picked something else. Or maybe just watched some porn.” And yet, two minutes in, any fears of drowning in discordant jazz and wonky music vanished. Into. Thin. Air.

Early on, we see a different J.K. Simmons than we’re used to. Gone is the friendly guy from the Farmers Insurance commercials. Gone is the affable, calm dude from J.K.’s previous films. Instead we get a badass. And I’m serious. As Fletcher, the leanest, meanest jazz instructor ever, J.K. is shredded. He’s an all-black-wearing, door-slamming, fist-shaking maniac. He’s a force of f’ing nature.

And it’s apparent he’s made it his mission in life to mold Andrew (played to perfection by young and talented Miles Teller) into the planet’s best drummer…or kill him in the process.

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“Faster!”

As an interesting aside, it should be noted that Miles Teller played ALL his drum pieces. He had a head start, being born of a musical family, but even so. His dedication to learning some of Whiplash’s more extreme rhythms is admirable, and adds tons to the movie’s realism.

So what’s it really about?

Whiplash is primarily a struggle between two men. Fletcher’s win-at-all-costs mentality are at permanent odds with AndrewFletcher wants perfection, nothing less, from his musicians. And perhaps no instrument requires perfection more than drums. Andrew’s willing to bleed to become the best, but still manages to be overwhelmed by Fletcher’s never-ending stream of F bombs and insults. As the movie drums on, literally, the questions become: “Is greatness only achievable under enormous pressure?” and “Is there a such thing as going too far to win?” I know what MY answer is. If you watch or have already watched Whiplash, I want to know YOURS. Because therein lies Whiplash’s soul. It’s Pain versus Reward. Sacrifice versus Greatness. Living a full life versus Having a Singular Dedication. The movie puts us in the proxy position of asking how far we’d go to be the best at something.

Would you bleed? Would you suffer? Would you give up every comfort? Most of us wouldn’t. But perhaps Andrew might.

The supporting cast is small, but more than capable. Veteran Paul Reiser plays Andrew’s concerned but ultimately powerless father. Beautiful Melissa Benoist charms as Andrew’s unfortunate love interest, Nicole. Austin Stowell and Nate Lang are formidable rivals in the studio for Andrew to wage war against. They’re all very good, but reduced to mere pawns in the Fletcher v Andrew struggle. And that’s ok. This isn’t their film. It’s J.K.’s and Miles’.

As another aside, if you like drums of any kind, you’ll love Whiplash’s talent, if nothing else. The speed and excellence demanded in the film transcend genres. It’s obvious this isn’t a movie about jazz at all. It’s about power, skill, and using means to justify the ends. But even if you don’t care about all of that, the drums…are…epic.

Let’s be clear. I Redboxed Whiplash on a hunch. I’d never heard of it prior to plugging it into my DVD player, and I’d no idea what to expect.

…which made it all the better when it turned out to be fucking awesome.

Rent it. Watch it. In the dark. Preferably alone.

And when you’re done, check out my latest philosophy title here.

Love,

J Edward Neill

Mad Max – Fury Road Movie Review

ImmortanJoeDisclaimer: This review is mostly spoiler-free.

Last week I reviewed understated sci-fi marvel Ex Machina. This week I saw another sci-fi movie, Mad Max, Fury Road.

It’s a sci-fi movie. Sort of.

And George Miller’s battle-tastic epic is the opposite of Ex Machina in almost every way.

It’s likely the original Mel Gibson Mad Max was among the pioneers for how we treat post-apocalyptic stories in the modern age. Earth population: drastically reduced. Nuclear fallout: yes. Crazy people fighting for survival in a crazy world: check.

Fury Road honors that tradition…and jacks up the awesome by 400%.

So you say you like action films? And that you don’t have much patience for movies slowing down in the middle? And that you crave movies which pull zero punches? Yeah? Yeah. Fury Road is for you.

Tom Hardy’s Max Rockatansky, blood-bag to a cult of fallout-diseased but utterly badass oil and water hoarders, really gets the shaft. I mean really. Every situation he’s in is bad. I mean, not that there’s much good in living in a irradiated desert wasteland dominated by spiky-car driving warlords, but Max might have it worst than most. He’s a universal blood donor, meaning he’s viewed as nothing more than a fuel-sack for the baddies, who suck his veins nearly dry just to extend their short, violent lives. Good luck, Max. Good luck.

Even when Max meets a truckload of the most beautiful women left on Earth, he still gets no play. Sucks for him.

Enter Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, badass among all badasses. While her motivations aren’t really known until the end, her willingness to crunch bones is evident from the beginning. I suppose if I were driving a truck brimming with such hotties as CapableThe Dag, and Toast the Knowing, I’d have a completely different goal in mind. Luckily Furiosa is all business, all woman, all tough, all the time. And I confess, while the stunts she pulls are over-the-top, it’s all entirely believable. Fury Road wears no kid gloves. When people die, good or bad, it’s visceral. Just the way it should be. I’ve heard complaints that this is more Furiosa’s film than Max’s. Bullshit. It’s everyone’s movie. There is no one superstar. Everyone does awesome shit. No one’s left behind.

Now let’s talk about the bad guys. Hugh Keays-Byrne plays the skull mask-wearing, willing-to-do-anything-to-get-his-beautiful-concubines-back Immortan Joe. In a way I can’t blame Joe. He’s got water. He’s got a loyal-to-the-death cult. He’s got several stunning concubines. And he’s got a monster truck with a freakin’ cannon on the top. If someone stole your hotties, you’d probably go bat-shit crazy, too. And if you had a skull mask, you’d probably wear it.

Don’t forget Nicolas Hoult’s Nux. This guy is proof that matter how much white body paint you wear, how many times you spray your mouth with silver paint in preparation for the afterlife, you can still find redemption. And honestly, it’s in Nux we find the movie’s true soul. It’s there. I promise. You might have to squint to see between all the carnage, but you’ll see it, and when you do, you’ll love it.

Max

Max ridin’ shotgun on the hood of Nux’s battle wagon.

Where Mad Max, Fury Road really scores its win is in its pace, its ruthlessness, and its sense of purpose. It’s relentless. It’s the loudest movie I’ve ever seen, so loud that even if you’ve got jerks in your theater talking or whatever, you will not hear them. You’ll tune them out…easily. Junkie XL’s superb soundtrack backs the sometimes absurd, always entertaining feast of destruction. I’m listening to it right now, and it’s boomtastic. And when Fury Road does manage to ease up on the gas pedal, the moments between the world’s most epic chase manage to be meaningful, tense, and believable. You may find that hard to swallow. You may think, “Action movie = no plot worth caring about.”

You’d be wrong.

There’s both glory and substance here.

But even if you don’t care about that stuff, you’ll get all you asked for and more in what’s sure to be the best action movie of the year.

Go now. Drive fast. Put explosives on your hood and spikes on your fenders.

J Edward Neill

If you like violent, epic stuff, check out my Tyrants of the Dead series here.

Ex Machina Movie Review

Ex-machina-uk-posterDisclaimer: This is a mostly spoiler-free review

In the modern realm of wide-release films, it’s rare to see science-fiction movies that are:

A. Unabashedly intellectual

and

B. Not reliant on hyper-violent technological advances

Ex Machina is both of these.

I saw this movie in a cozy, nearly empty theater.  I felt torn about the empty part, because I worried it might mean not enough people were interested in the kind of movie I’d like to see a whole lot more of. Apparently that’s not the case, since to date it’s netted a cool $18.7M. That’s good news. Great news, actually. Meanwhile, the experience was almost ruined by a few stereotypical loud-ass movie talkers. But the offending parties managed to shut up long enough for the rest of us to focus.

Thank goodness for that.

At first, Ex Machina comes off as boy-meets-girl completely flipped on its head. Caleb (played to nerd-fection by Domhnall Gleeson) is an apparent coding whiz for a huge computer search engine company. When he’s selected to travel to a mysterious, almost CIA-like black box facility, he does so with glee. And who wouldn’t? For an opportunity to meet Ava, the world’s most advanced android, most of us would leap in headfirst. And the setting in Ex Machina is so realistic, one begins to believe something like this can…and will…happen someday soon. Go Caleb. Get some.

If Arnold Schwarzenegger was the perfect person to play the original Terminator, Alicia Vikander (who plays the aforementioned android) is perfect-er. She’s eerie. She’s beautiful. And she nails every little tic you’d expect from a woman-robot. It’s clear from the beginning who owns the dialogue between Ava and Caleb. And it ain’t Caleb. I have to believe Lady Vikander will score big based on her performance here. She echoes the strength of Game of Thrones’ super-heroine (Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen) and frosts it with the sort of intelligence you’d like to see Hollywood give more of its female roles.

Very quickly, the boy-meets-girl vibe melts away.

For those who aren’t aware of what the Turing Test is, I recommend you study the concept. It’s the frontline premise of Ex Machina, and quite possibly (in part due to this year’s epic The Imitation Game) a new piece of vernacular everyone will soon become familiar with. Essentially, the Turing Test is the methodology for determining whether or not an A.I. can behave human enough to trick us into no longer knowing it’s a computer. If the computer fools the human, it passes.

Turns out the one inviting Caleb to perform the world’s most important Turing Test (on Ava) is the buff yet emotionally FUBAR Nathan (played to frat-brother genius levels by Oscar Isaac.) Nathan is like a chessmaster working both sides of the board. He’s got tech game like no one’s business, and a penchant for working off his hangovers by pumping iron and intimidating the slim, non-alpha Caleb. Nathan’s motivation is the question of the hour. It’s clear he wants more than just a Turing Test. And it’s obvious he gets his rocks off by head-fucking people. But the lines between antagonist and protagonist are blurred, just as they should be.

Where Ex Machina really succeeds is in its pace, its dialogue, and its atmosphere. Caleb’s encounters with Ava are blocked off into seven sessions, each of them growing in intensity. Conversations between Caleb and Ava have a permanent shadow lying overhead, a subtle reminder that she’s smarter, quicker in her learning curve, and possibly deadlier. And the hyper-realistic, we-could-picture-these-moments-actually-happening, verbal sparring between Caleb and Nathan leave one needing to know what comes next. Even once our suspicions of dread become tense enough to snap.

Not to be underestimated is the melodic yet somewhat dark soundtrack. Composers Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow blend their music so well into the film I knew halfway through I needed to buy it and play it…over and over again. Which I did end up doing.

untitledAnd then there’s the end sequence. It’ll be hard to watch without wanting to see it again and then immediately becoming a part of the growing online discussion. I’ve read many takes on the path of evolution Ava takes. Some speak of sweetness, others of liberation, but I saw something darker. Watch it twice, I say. And tell me you don’t sense one possibility for how the world might end.

 

So if you crave MORE than robots with laser guns, spaceships doing things that are impossible in space, and over-the-top future battles, go see Ex Machina.  It’s a solid A, and the best sci-fi movie to hit theaters in a long, long time. And if I have a special love for it, it’s also because the director, Alex Garland, is also an author and screenwriter. Would that I were so talented.

From time to time, I’ll review more movies.

Sorry ’bout that.

Get into my coffee table philosophy series here.

J Edward Neill

 

Black Mirror, Season 3 Review

Last year I sat down and watched this show that’d I’d somehow read about on some random blog somewhere (that internet rabbit hole again). The key phrase for me mentioned “Modern Day Twilight Zone” – at which point I said “I’ll be the judge of that blasphemy.”

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So I watched and reviewed the first 2 seasons here.

For those not in the know, Black Mirror is an anthology show. Each episode stands alone to tell a story about how our technology or something perhaps not too far from our grasp affects people.

That phrase Modern Day Twilight Zone was closer to the truth than not. In fact, I only had 2 problems with the show: Episode One wasn’t a favorite & that there was only SEVEN total episodes to even partake. You see, those lovable Brits sometimes do “seasons” where you only get a couple of episodes of the THING you love. They get in and get out before you even know what hit you.

As an American, only having SEVEN episodes was a bit maddening. Were there going to be anymore? Why not do more? Is everyone across the pond lazy when it comes to their TV!?!

Netflix then is my savor. They got Charlie Booker to reach into the dark recesses of his mind to provide us with SIX more trips beyond the Mirror.

EP 1 – Nosedive

How many Facebook friends do you have? Twitter followers? Instagram? Tumblr?

What if your entire world was based on not only who your “Friends” might be, but how everyone rated you? This is the question before us in Nosedive. You see, if your rating (from 1 to 5) is high enough, then there are no doors not open to you. Let it slip and it might mean not qualifying for that loan, not getting into the best restaurants, and possibly not allowing you to even work a job.

The best part about the concept behind this episode is how it applies in virtually all aspects of your life. When you were High School the “pecking order” certainly existed. Who you hung out with, who you talked to, and maybe who you made fun of would slot you into your clique. For better or worse.

And like all of us who want to be liked, who want to have a better life… maybe we have to put on a face which isn’t exactly the one our true self would recognize. What would you do in order to get in with the “cool kids”.

EP 2 – Playtest

Black Mirror hasn’t really done horror… it might be horrific situations the characters get shoved into, but not the typical scary movie style. Well, at least they haven’t until this episode.

Playtest is about virtual reality. It’s about a game that digs into your brain to find the exact things which scare YOU. Hate spiders? Then you’re going to deal with spiders. Don’t like being alone? Get used to it.

And if that was all this episode had going for it, that would have worked. But you have to dig a little deeper than that. Past the arachnophobia or acrophobia and into the depths of your soul. What is that thing you won’t tell anyone else? What is the one bit you don’t want to dwell on.

What are you REALLY scared of?

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EP 3 – Shut Up and Dance

The fact that this episode follows Playtest is appropriate as it, too, deals in fear. Yet, this is about being exposed for something very real. We’ve read the articles about people hacking into our laptops and gaining control of our cameras there in order to watch us when we’re vulnerable.

Let’s say that happened to you, and being a teenaged boy, you might have been using the internet to… expand your knowledge of the female form… well, that might be something you wouldn’t want everyone in school seeing. And unlike American Pie, this isn’t a comedy where everyone is just going to think it is funny.

Given the chance to ensure the genie stays in the bottle, how far would you be willing to go?

EP 4 – San Junipero

You’re going to guess at this one and only be partially right. Set in the 1980s, our lead character seems to be out of place, visiting… on vacation in a different time. She’s getting married in a few weeks and needs to experience something (anything) before that day comes.

Unlike so many of the other episodes, even the somewhat sweet “Be Right Back” from the 2nd season, this really is more about what we could do with technology to help those people who need release the most. But really strip away all of that and it is about a girl who falls for another girl.

It is sweet. But the performances by the two leads (Gugu Mbatha-Raw & Mackenzie Davis) will have you believing and hoping for them to find a way to be together.

EP 5 – Men Against Fire

Warfare pushes technology forward more than almost anything else. And when there is a new technology developed outside of the war machine, they try to find a military use for it. Heads Up Display isn’t a new idea. Watch Iron Man to see it put to some of the best use. However, if it was a neural link? If the display was in your head? How much more effective of a soldier might you be if you could use tech to see where your enemies were inside a house with infrared vision?

What could possibly go wrong with such technology when you are fighting a war for the very future of the human race?

aggression

EP 6 – Hated in the Nation

A perfect bookend to this season. After “Nosedive” dealt with attempting to garner popularity, this episode looks at the other end of things. And given how the internet loves to hate things almost as much as it loves Cat videos, what happens when a serial killer suddenly is using the “most hated person” on the internet to determine who their next victim is.

If you go to the comments section of ANY article on the web, odds are high you will find some level of hate bestowed on either the original writing or perhaps the manner in which someone has said they liked the original thing. It’s not a simple “You’re wrong”, but more of a “Burn in hell, nazi!”

How do you stop people from hating? Can we be nicer online? Or does the invisibility of the process make any ideas of being better people a pipe dream?

Are there any punishments for the haters?

 

Black Mirror, Season 3… in our rush to conquer the future, we might be providing the very method of our downfall.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

 

Ten Eccentric Movies Everyone Should See

There are Hollywood smash hits.

And there are bombs.

There are formulaic rom-coms, predictable horror cheese-fare, and various deadly serious films starring Matt Damon.

But as most of us know…

There are films that defy convention, break from the mold, and flip movie-goers’ expectations upside down. Many of these, you might not have watched or even heard of. They’re not quite mainstream, but not quite indie either.

Please enjoy my list of ten eccentric movies, all of which are worth viewing:

* * *

perfume-the-story-of-a-murderer

Perfume – Story of a Murderer

It’s possible I’m starting this list with the best movie of the ten. Perfume – Story of a Murderer is among the most eccentric, most gripping movies ever to hit the screen. It goes like this: a young man with a gifted sense of smell decides he wants to capture the scent of all things. Only…that’s impossible. So rather than continue trying to capture the odors of copper, glass, and dead cats, he steps up his game and makes it his life mission to make the most powerful perfume the world has ever known.

I won’t spoil it more than that.

Featuring Ben Whishaw, the late, great Alan Rickman, Dustin Hoffman, and narrated by John Hurt, Perfume is a powerful tale of the dark places obsessions can go.

*

moon03

Moon

One must be careful when describing Moon, lest one reveal spoilers.

So I’ll say only this:

A lonely, lonely man named Sam (played by Sam Rockwell) exists on the far side of the Moon with the sole purpose of mining Helium-3. Sam’s only companion is an AI named GERTY. His journey is haunting, sometimes grim, and always mysterious.

Moon’s atmosphere (no pun intended) is different than any movie I’ve ever seen, while the soundtrack is flat out beautiful and chilling.

Just see it.

*

my-blue-heaven

My Blue Heaven

Let’s go old school for a minute.

My Blue Heaven is my personal favorite Rick Moranis movie (other than mayyyyyyyyybe Ghostbusters.) And Steve Martin definitely has the best hairdo of any dude ever.

So…when Vinnie (Steve Martin) falls into a semi-ridiculous witness protection program, it becomes Barney’s (Rick Moranis) job to protect him. As expected, Steve Martin’s performance is over-the-top absurd, and Moranis plays it pretty deadpan throughout.

Plenty of critics will say My Blue Heaven’s premise is way better than its execution. To them I say, “Pfffffffft.” My Blue Heaven is good, silly fun.

*

shadows

What We Do in the Shadows

Speaking of fun movies, What We Do in the Shadows is among the best of them.

The setup: four vampires living in New Zealand must cope with the everyday challenges of the modern world. This includes: wrangling new victims via a third-party, dealing with dirty dishes, bickering over whose turn it is to clean the house, etc. Each of the vampires is from a different era of history, meaning their interactions are flat-out bizarre and hilarious. It’s shot in a reality TV/documentary format, and it’s insane.

See it now.

*

ex-mach

Ex Machina

Everything you need to know about this movie appears in my thorough review – right here.

But seriously, most people I know still haven’t seen this instant sci-fi classic, which baffles me. It’s probably among the best sci-fi movies ever made. It’s that good.

The quick and dirty premise: a megalomaniac scientist creates a powerful AI, which he lures an unwitting young man to perform a Turing Test on.

Big mistake.

*

rocknrolla

RockNRolla

Ever seen Snatch? What about Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels? Or…ever seen any Guy Ritchie movie ever?

If so, you’ll love RockNRolla. The plot is too complex to explain in just a few sentences, but I’ll try anyway:

When a Russian real estate magnate pursues big-time property in London, the worst of the city’s criminals close in for a piece of the pie. Meanwhile, the mobster’s son, a drugged-out rocker named Johnny Quid, is the key to the whole deal working out or completely unraveling. And meanwhile, meanwhile, a gang of thieves (played by Gerard Butler, Idris Elba, and Tom Hardy, to name a few) gets in wayyyy too deep.

I’ll just leave it at this – RockNRolla is top-notch Brit crime comedy.

*

pan

Pan’s Labyrinth

Guillermo del Toro, fantasy and horror genius, sets the stage for something truly beautiful in Pan’s Labyrinth.

In it, a little girl seeking refuge from a horrific civil war stumbles into a web of dark secrets surrounding her (sadistic) stepfather’s mansion. In typical del Toro fashion, we’re sucked out of the usual Hollywood fantasy tropes and thrust into something eerier, crawlier, and more visceral.

It’s not really a fantasy movie in the typical sense. Nor is it quite horror. It’s about a little girl trying to escape her awful reality, meaning it’s a step above most of the fiction fare you’ll ever see on the big screen.

*

the-big-lebowski

The Big Lebowski

You’ve maybe/probably heard of The Dude. At least, I hope you have.

Mashing up Jeff Bridges (mellow) John Goodman (insane) and Steve Buscemi (obnoxious) to star in a movie about a missing rug, a cheating wife, mistaken identity, and bowling, was pure genius from the start. And to call it a cult classic is easily an understatement.

My favorite parts: when John Goodman goes off on John Turturro’s (playing Jesus the bowler) teammate. And then of course the big fight with the nihilists (one of them is played by Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea) at the end.

It’s a total mess. It’s weird. It’s almost without a tangible plot. And it’s awesome.

2-the-prestige

The Prestige

“Are you watching closely?”

The Prestige (Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine) is among my all-time favorites.

The plot: when a stage magician’s wife (Piper Perabo) is accidentally killed during a dangerous trick, a cold war begins between her husband (Jackman) and the man (Bale) who may or may not have been responsible for her death.

Everything about The Prestige is a bit dark, a bit tragic, and shadowed by questions about what’s really going on. It’s not really about the stage tricks the two warring magicians pull off. It’s about the rivalry between them, and how much damage the whole concept of revenge can do to everyone involved.

*

kubofeatured

Kubo and the Two Strings

I figured I’d tie in a kids movie, because…well…so many of us have kids, and kids love movies, too.

Kubo was one of those films I didn’t know anything about when I sat down in the theater to watch with my son. We’d seen exactly half of one preview, and we didn’t really know what we were getting into.

What we didn’t know – Kubo and the Two Strings is an elegant tale about a little boy, a monkey, a giant beetle, and a tiny paper man…and all their adventures as they try to escape the boy’s dreaded (and all-powerful) grandfather. The fight scenes are somehow bloodless AND intense. The subject matter is full of quiet wisdom. And the movie itself is beautiful. My son was riveted during the action, and full of sharp questions about life, death, and love afterward.

What more can you ask for in a kids’ movie?

* * *

*

Honorable mentions:

Dragonslayer – The coolest old school fantasy film you’ve never heard of

Strange Brew – Max von Sydow versus Rick Moranis? Count me in

Memento – A classic head f**k

The Machinist – Christian Bale lost a million lbs. for the lead role

*

If I were to make one of my novels into a movie, I’d choose this one.

…and this one, too.

Until next time,

J Edward Neill

Why I don’t write negative reviews.

People who know me will say I’m cynical.

They’ll note my lack of optimism, my occasional indifference, and my somewhat dark view of humanity’s intentions. These observations are completely my fault. I’ve worked a bit too hard to earn a ‘cold’ reputation, and now I’ve got to live with it.

But…

Despite this image I’ve cultivated, there are traits neither my friends nor foes will ever observe in me. Things like anger, entitlement, a sense of vengeance, or a tendency to be judgmental. I’ve my share of failings, but these are not among them. I lack the genetic disposition to hate, to scorn, and to demand retribution. I just can’t do it. It’s not in me.

amazon-consumer-reviews

I will never be this guy.

So…

Like any American, I buy my share of stuff. Some of it is awesome stuff, like my writing chair, my epic-level pancake griddle, and the billion books I’ve collected for my son. Likewise, some of my stuff sucks. Like the patio umbrella I bought that rotted within a month or the DVD copy of Devil’s Advocate which turned out to be a blank CD (serves me right for getting excited about a $0.99 DVD.) In each of these cases, I spent money. Hard-earned money. And in each case I took my new possession home and installed it into my life.

But…

No matter whether my purchase turned out amazing or shitty, I didn’t let it affect my emotional state. Meaning; my pancakes were amazing, but not life-altering. My writing chair is so very comfy, but I don’t plan on living in it. And my Devil’s Advocate DVD is…well…still blank. I figure, no matter how great or terrible my purchases are, it’s not worth getting ecstatic or depressed about stuff. Because it’s just stuff, right? So even when my umbrella fell to pieces and my Xbox told me to F off when I slid Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron inside, I didn’t get pissed. I didn’t rush to the complaint dept. And I definitely did not write any scathing reviews.

Ok.

There was one exception.

It’s story time.

Very recently, I moved. It wasn’t a fun move. I had to leave a dream home I loved for a third-story apartment in a complex with about two-square feet total of green-space. It took two weeks to complete the move. It sucked. Hell, it still sucks. But the worst part was my experience with a not-to-be-named moving company. Two guys showed up to help me carry all my aforementioned stuff out of my beloved house and into a cramped, third-story shoebox. And to be honest, these guys sucked worse than leaving my dream home. One of them quit in the middle of his shift. I’m serious. He looked at me and said, “I’m done.” The other guy was slow. As in slooowwwwwwwww. In the end, I ended up carrying way more of my stuff than both guys combined. It was amusing…in a way. If you think paying someone else money while you perform hard labor is funny.

A few days later, the moving company sent me a review request.

Oh, was I ever tempted. I could’ve crushed these guys. In the big blank thousand-character space requesting ‘customer comments,’ I could’ve named names and drilled these guys seventeen new holes in their asses. I could’ve told them everything they did wrong, and I could’ve clicked ‘No’ in the big fat box labeled ‘Would You Recommend Our Service?’

And so I did. I killed them. I slew them. The fires of their failure are still smoldering. Their manager has called me…oh…a dozen times to apologize. And I’ve ignored him. Utterly.

a-bad-craigslist-mover

It felt a little bit like this.

bad-moving-company280

…and a LOT like this.

But there’s two differences between reviewing a moving company and reviewing art, books, and movies.

1. I reviewed the moving company privately. For their benefit alone. No public slander. No single-star rating on Yelp.

2. There’s no opinion involved in reviewing someone’s skill at box-lifting. There’s tons of opinions involved in reviewing film, paint, and words.

Which brings me here…to Tessera Guild…and to my personal website, Down the Dark Path.

From time to time I write reviews. Movie reviews especially, like this one and this one, and a recent review of Neil deGrasse Tyson throwing down some science in Atlanta. If you’ve ever read my reviews, and you should; trust me :), you’ll notice one thing they have in common: they’re ALL positive. Not positive in a blow-sunshine-up-your-ass way. Positive in a I-want-to-share-something-amazing kind of way. I review stuff I love because to me that’s the only stuff worth reviewing. Sure, I pick at a few small failures, but overall my comments on other people’s creative work are glowing. Because I want to spread the love, not stifle it. Because my opinions are better served helping people than shitting on other artists’ efforts. And because, let’s face it, the world and everything in it has plenty of bad reviews already.

A few observations:

A great review of an awesome piece of creative work will do hundred times more cultural good than a horrific review of something shitty.

When I see extremely negative reviews of movies, art, or books, I find it hard not to yawn.

I have better things to do (and so do you, probably) than sling stones at other artists and writers.

Opinions of art, movies, and books are rarely objective.

* * *

Look, I get it. If you spent $12 to watch a movie you hated, you’re entitled to vent about it. If you paid $9.99 for a crap novel on Amazon, you’ve every right to give it negative 47 stars. And if your umbrella rots while your lazy movers are carrying it, go nuts and complain to everyone. Scream into the heavens. Slap the cashier in the mouth. Burn down your local Wal-Mart. You’re allowed to do all of this.

But not me. I’m not allowed. I’ve banned myself from bitching. I’ve closed off the part of my mind that wants to nerd-rage about how such-and-such movie is awesome, but another one is trash. If I want bad reviews on stuff, I’ll just visit Rotten Tomatoes or post my selfies to Tinder. Sure, it’s fun to read a good rant, but it really doesn’t entertain me as much as it used to.

So if you see a movie review, a book review, or a commentary on a piece of art, and if you see I’m the one who wrote it, maybe you don’t have to read the review at all. You’ll know it’s positive when you see my name.

Unless you work for the moving company.

Then you’re screwed.

J Edward Neill

Author of A Door Never Dreamed Of

Creator of the Coffee Table Philosophy series

Black Mirror Review

I’m always looking for the Twilight Zone. Not the actual place, no, I wouldn’t survive there for very long. I’m talking about a show which captures my imagination in a way the original show did the first time I saw it on my tv when I was a kid. The idea there was someone who could ask these weird and strange questions, or present dilemmas I couldn’t have imagined, or even just watch the characters try to figure out how to save themselves from the nightmare worlds they were trapped in…

And while not every episode was a home run, the ones that were (and they had more than their fair share)… classic is the only word which does them justice.

So, I’m always hoping. Always on the lookout. Whether it is the Outer Limits, Monsters, Tales from the Darkside, the updated versions of the Twilight Zone… I’m going to give them a try.

Black-Mirror-DVD-black-mirror

Black Mirror is one of those I gave a try… and I almost didn’t get to realize what a good show it was/is… but since it is only 7 episodes at this point (though more are on the way according to Netflix). Now, this will be a mixed review. Mostly I wanted to give the impression I had while watching or the impression I was left with. I’m going to do my very best not to spoil anything, as I’d like you to experience it the way I do.

EP 1- The National Anthem

As I’ve told everyone who I talk about this show with… skip this episode (or at the very least, wait until you’ve watched the other 6 episodes). I’ve looked around online and it has its fans, but I do not count myself as one of them. And the reason is quite simple:

It isn’t realistic.

And this is coming from someone who will buy into a lot if you convince me your world requires/needs/whatever it. And this just didn’t do it.

The very basic plot is that the Princess of the Royal Family (this is England after all) has been kidnapped and won’t be returned unless the Prime Minister does something… unseemly with an animal. And the question throughout the episode becomes one of how do they get the Princess back, and also, what happens if they don’t.

I live in the U.S. Maybe that’s why I didn’t buy the conversations, but I remember watching the episode thinking – “This just would never happen.”

EP 2 – Fifteen Million Merits

So after such a thrilling start to things, I might have given up. But something told me to press on. Surely a show that I’d heard such good things about would redem itself. And we get to a good start with the 2nd episode. Take all our (well not mine, but yours perhaps) love for the reality tv shows, the American Idols and Kardasians and all manner of Real Housewives, and then make that the only thing anyone ever aspires to. Set it in a future where you gain funds by exercising (it seems like a man-made power with money being the reward). When you get enough, you can pay to try out for those shows.

And maybe, just maybe your life of being a living battery might end and you could be famous!

Why not? We’re all doing it. We’re all wanting things to be a little (a lot) better. It’s just all in how you define “better”.

EP 3 – The Entire History of You

This is the reason to watch the show. It is my favorite episode, and it is based on the most basic idea:

What if everything we saw was recorded? And then we could review those recordings whenever we wanted? And then we could let other people see our memories. What if there was never a forgotten moment again?

It’s one of those ideas I wish I’d written. So simple in how it works, but then so dark how things can be twisted. How two people can watch the exact same thing and come away with two very different impressions of a moment. That happens every day. It’s no fun to go to a movie or concert by yourself, you need someone else to share in your experience… in your excitement. And even then we disagree on various things about those events.

Or maybe it is interactions with others. I can only imagine replaying moments with friends while in high school. Did that girl like me? Really? Let’s check the tape.

EP 4 – Be Right Back

Loss. The best stories are defined by growth and loss. Can you survive something bad happening to you? How does it change things (i.e. YOU) in the aftermath? And can you pick up the pieces later… become a better version of you?

My second favorite episode is one where LOSS is at the very center of everything. Can you be ok when someone has to leave you? Can the hole be filled by someone else?

And should it?

tunnel - dark

EP 5 – White Bear

Terror. That feeling of the unknown. Where am I? Who am I? What’s happening?

That’s this episode in the first 5 minutes.

It’s something out of our nightmares. Some mixture of the Running Man mixed with a heavy dose of deja vu.

But FEAR. Who can you trust? How did you get there? Where are you going to run to? Where are you supposed to hide?

And why won’t anyone help?

EP 6 – The Waldo Moment

Every election season we are, in the immortal words of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, choosing between a Giant Douche and a Shit Sandwich. And we long for a real choice. Or at the very least someone to shake up the status quo for even the briefest of moments. This thing we do is supposed to be VERY IMPORTANT (notice the capitals?), but instead more people end up caring about American Idol’s victor than who won the real world election.

So shake it up with the most absurd idea ever: let a cartoon character into the debate. If it really is as silly and stupid as we say it is, then won’t such a character merely raise the level of discourse?

This episode is all of those things: absurd, strange, intriguing, stupid, and somehow more realistic to me than EP 1 (see, I really didn’t like that 1st episode).

sun set - tower

EP 7 – White Christmas

Two men, the edge of the world, snowstorm coming down outside their window. And Christmas morning. Nothing to do but talk about the moments and ideas which led you to being in this little piece of Hell.

In some ways this one feels like the most Twilight Zone of the entire group. Yes, the technology still plays a large part in the twists and turns, but this one deals so much with loneliness. Being alone even while surrounded by so many people. And if you go back and watch those old Twilight Zones, you’ll see that same theme time and time again.

Am I alone?

I’m unsure of myself.

I’m unsure of my place in the world.

Help me.

 

Black Mirror… a dark reflection of yourself? Or maybe just the same old reflection you’ve been avoiding eye contact over all these years…

 

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Dragon Con Review

Last week I talked about heading down to Dragon Con over Labor Day weekend. This weekend I tried to make some new memories.

The first thing that always occurs to me is how big the con has gotten since I first went down to it so many years ago. I will say that I believe Atlanta has scheduled a few too many things for Labor Day weekend (maybe). Since we weren’t staying on site (something we’ll hopefully remedy next year), it meant that trying to get into that 10 AM panel presented not only some highway issues…

atlanta traffic

But also actually making our way to that early panel in light of the parade. The sidewalks packed with people, we struggled to reach the Whedonverse panel over at the Westin, only to find it packed.

Boooo!

No problem, we’ll just go to our back-up TruBlood panel… across the street… across a sea of bodies in costumes.

Hmmm.

Which brings us to our first real story. We’re pushing through the mob, but are unsure how we’ll actually get to the Hyatt when behind us we hear a guy asking to get through… carrying a young woman in his arms, passed out from overheating. Of course we make room, as do many of the others lined up on the sidewalk. As they pass, she lifts her head and smiles before resuming her previous “unconscious” state.

Though, Karma is a thing, because the parade was over less than a minute later, so all their deceit got them nothing.

Terminus Media had a panel on Saturday night at 10 PM to discuss the motion comics we’d been working on for the CDC, and to talk about the motion comics side of things in general. Myself and Robert Jeffrey II (a contributor to Tessera) were a part of the panel. About 15 people showed up, and even though there was no real rehearsal, I think we acquitted ourselves pretty well.

It is always weird to see something you had a hand in creating being shown on a screen for others to see (in a good way). Hopefully we did a decent enough job that Dragon Con will invite us to do more next year.

Ran into (literally in couple of cases) a few friends I had not seen in a while. As I touched on last week, that’s one of the biggest and best things about the con – reconnecting. Finding out how everyone is doing. This year I also got to show a complete con newbie around. And she enjoyed it enough that she went ahead and got her 4 day pass for next year.

Aside from not being able to get into the Whedonverse panel (luckily we did get into the Agents of Shield panel on Sunday which had plenty of Whedon love) and not being able to see Cary Elwes (another capped line), there was one big “problem”. The Dealers room is a bit of a nightmare to deal with. I know they are expanding again next year, but there were multiple times that people couldn’t get into the building or into a room because it had reached capacity. If Dragon Con is going to keep getting bigger, they need to figure out a way to handle that.

stock-footage-loopable-seamless-cyclic-animated-sequence-with-expanding-circles-usual-for-presentations-movies

Expand, DCon, expand.

Second story of the con – We are ready to leave for the night. It is about 11:45 Saturday evening. I am finished with the Terminus panel and am looking forward to getting home, to bed, and then back again the next day for more fun. We only have to get down the outside stairs of the Hyatt, which for some reason the DCON staff decided to block (with their bodies) so as to allow a line for one of the late night panels to move through.

Now, I don’t have a problem with this if it takes a minute or two. When it takes 10 minutes then maybe you need to pause that line and let the queue of people on the stairs out to where they might be able to get to meeting spots, late dinners, gaming, or home (in our case). What kills me is that they finally did have to pause that line because I think we were about to storm through them. Not the best way to end the night.

Oh, and I did have one huge regret.

C. Thomas Howell had a panel (along with Cary Elwes) and not only did I not know about it, I didn’t know he was there at all. Those that know me know of my fierce love of 80s movies that include C-Tom (as I like to call him).

Yes, they know about it even if they don’t understand it!

Anyway, I just wanted to let him know that he still holds the distinction of being in the greatest volleyball movie of ALL TIME – SideOut.

Sideout

Summer did, in fact, get hotter!

A bold statement, for sure, but one I stand by. Regardless of the fact that I’m not sure there are other volleyball movies!

So that was a bit of my Dragon Con for the year. I can’t wait to see what next year brings!

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program. He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

The Dark That Follows is now available in print here or on Amazon!

 

My Top Six Darkest Movie Moments Ever…

Recently I watched and reviewed The Revenant. Which got me to thinking; what are the gravest moments in cinema? During what scenes does it appear all hope is lost and the bad guys about to win? What’re the deepest, darkest places movies have dragged me? Hmmmm…

Yeah. You guessed it. Here comes a list. I’m gonna wander some pretty random places with this. If you hate spoilers, you may want to move along. If not, let’s roll:

Gluttony

 

 #6. Gluttony – Se7en

Honestly I could’ve mentioned almost any of the rainy, dark, grisly scenes in Se7en. The Sloth scene especially comes to mind, but I didn’t want to post the ick-tastic image of the dude dying in his bed, lest I gross everyone out. The Gluttony scene does just fine. It sets the tone for the entire movie. It’s scary and disgusting. It’s everything most of us never want to be: alone, corpulent, filthy, and dead. Yikes. If this scene doesn’t put you in a grim mood, nothing will.

 

 

KillLucy

#5. Killing Lucy – Bram Stoker’s Dracula

When I say killing Lucy, I more or less refer to the entire 45 minutes during which Lucy descends from being Mina’s pretty BFF into a depraved, child-eating, blood-barfing vampire. Cary Elwes lopping off her head is only gravy on the grimness. Lucy begins the movie as a cheerful soul swimming in an ocean of dour, unhappy Brits. And by the end, she’s ruined. Every part of this movie is enough to put me in the mood to write horror, but Lucy’s fall from grace is just plain…delicious.

 

 

PrestigeUse

#4. Hugh Jackman killing his clone (repeatedly) – The Prestige

It’s no secret. The Prestige’s atmosphere always puts me in the mood. It’s my personal fluffer girl. It’s the ‘uh’ to my ‘huh’. The slow sense of despair that builds throughout the movie sets a tone like no other. That said, the darkness really starts when the Great Danton starts murdering all his doubles. He shoots himself. He drowns himself. He leaves his clones in huge vats of grey water. And then, at the end, as he breaths his last few breaths in an alley of clone-corpses, we wonder which Danton really died during all his magic tricks. The clones? Or the real Danton? Are you watching closely?

 

 

No Country for old men

#3. Anton Chigurh ‘visits’ Llewelyn’s wife – No Country for Old Men

The first time I watched this movie, I never saw this scene coming. I figured we’d already broke every rule, every expectation. What was left to do, right? Chigurh had already killed the good guy (and pretty much everyone else). So what else can I say about this scene? It’s chilling on so many levels.

After Llewelyn’s wife (Carla Jean) says, “You don’t have to do this.” Chigurh smiles and says, “People always say the same thing.”

Does he kill her? Does he let her live? I mean…damn…

 

the counselor

 #2. The Counselor gets a DVD in the mail – The Counselor

 Most people I know haven’t seen this movie, so I won’t spoil it here. Let’s just say that there are no good guys, only grey, fuzzy shades of morality all too prevalent in the real world. As the Counselor sits in a grungy hotel room, praying for good news, we get a payoff that’s much darker than we expect. The theater I watched this movie in emptied in stunned silence at the end. Meanwhile my brain buzzed with all sorts of new ideas for messing with readers’ minds.

PerfumeUse

 #1. Grenouille accidentally kills the apple girl – Perfume, Story of a Murderer

 I’m convinced I’m the only person ever to watch this movie. If you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. I had no idea what I was in for when I sat down to swallow this little gem. When Grenouille, the creepiest, crawliest, skinniest villain ever, snuffs the apple girl early on, I only just began to grasp where Perfume was taking me. The scene wasn’t particularly graphic or gut-twisting, but sometimes a glimpse of darkness is all a mind needs before the gears start turning. I think perhaps after my kid falls asleep tonight, I’ll pop this one in, watch a little bit, and then get to work.

It’s probably worth mentioning I write some pretty dark scenes of my own.

Until next week

J Edward Neill

Clearwater Chronicle

Clearwater 2013 View from WindowI recently made the long drive to Clearwater, Fl.  And no, it doesn’t mean I love George Zimmerman.

I made this little journey with two goals in mind. The first: to see an old friend who’d arrived in the States from Denmark. The second: to carve a few days out of my routine life and recapture some mojo for writing. Both, I think, proved successful.

Beach at twilight

I wish the water looked just like this for far longer than three minutes each night…

While walking the beach each morning, day, and night, I tried to pay better attention than during previous vacations. I picked my gaze up out of the water (which was too cold for swimming anyhow) and observed my surroundings. And wow, the things I saw:

  • On the first day, after a grueling round of sand 2v2 volleyball, I watched as a British family near the water argued. Ah, the Brits. Their colorful language attracted the attention of everyone within a half-mile. But the real action started when the mother walked right up to her foul-mouthed daughter and punched (not slapped) her right in the chops! No one could believe what had happened. The daughter howled. The dad…laughed. The mom unleashed a stream of profanities I haven’t heard since the last time I watched Snatch. It…was…awesome… More importantly, I can’t get enough of the way the Brits drop the F bomb
  • That night, I saw The Counselor. Now, without getting too deep in spoilers, I’ll just say I love it when the bad guys win. It’s rare in movies, but utterly realistic. The monologues delivered by several characters were deeply philosophical. No one would ever talk like that in real life, but it didn’t matter. Truth is truth, especially grim, hard truth. Movie Review – A
  • On the first night in my hotel, I arrived in my room on the top floor. I had an ocean view, just as requested. The dark water was spread out beneath my window, roiling beneath the stars. I thought to myself, “This is perfect. I’ll get tons of writing done tonight.” But…just as I sat down by the window, the hotel’s elephantine AC system kicked on atop the roof, making my room shake as though a helicopter were landing three feet above my head. I’m all for white noise, but this was absurd. “My night’s ruined,” I feared. “And besides, the concierge is a dead man.” And yet, as it turned out, I was able to tune out the sound of my room shaking and write an entire chapter for Hollow Empire, my joint venture with John McGuire. Strange indeed
Dark Water

The ocean. At night. What else do you need?

Falling Star over ClearwaterOther random events I observed while walking the city:

  • A homeless guy pretending to be a broke tourist. I’d seen him try his little game the previous day, so when he walked up to a young woman and said, “My wife and I are in town for the weekend, but we lost our credit cards. Do you think you could spare me some cash? She really needs her coffee,” I laughed a little bit inside. Sorry, homeless guy, you need to work on your approach. Begging for coffee money isn’t going to cut it
  • A woman with a giant (I mean enormous) tramp stamp of a volleyball. I’ve seen bad tattoos, and then I saw this. It was huge, as in actual-size huge. Just…no…
  • A dude at a Halloween (Best non-holiday holiday ever, btw) party dressed as Christian Grey. His costume: 50 grey-shaded sample paint cards from Home Depot duct-taped to an otherwise unremarkable shirt. While he didn’t win the best costume prize, he won the admiration of every woman at the party
  • Jesus playing Sweet Home Alabama on guitar…with an actual crown of thorns worn over a head full of dreadlocks…drinking Fruit Loop flavored vodka. Yes, really

What does any of this have to do with regaining  mojo for writing? In a nutshell: people-watching. Observe the interesting things people do, listen to the crazy things they say, and add the experience to the card catalogue in your brain. Or, if people-watching doesn’t inspire you, try walking along the ocean at night. If that doesn’t bring you peace, you may want to try vicodin.

Next week I get serious, delivering an excerpt from Dark Moon Daughter, Book II in the Tyrants of the Dead trilogy.

Much love,

J Edward Neill

 

4 RPG Kickstarters You Should Back – Xenomorphs, Epic Legacy, Operators, and Warsong

It’s Thanksgiving/Black Friday week in the US and that means we’re headed into the season where RPG Kickstarters will *not* get the attention that they deserve. With this article, I’m hoping to buck that trend and showcase some of the deserving RPGs that are waiting for you to back them.

 

Warsong 2nd Edition for Fate Core by Higher Grounds Publishing
Ends on Fri, November 24 2017 10:53 PM EST.

“A game of warring nations spiraling toward oblivion. Will you pull the world free from self-destruction, or guide it to its doom?

Draw your sword.

Make your choice.

Choose your destiny.

Warsong is a game about cataclysmic war. A game that looks into the face of destiny, and decides for itself. It is a game about mythic deeds, and choosing free will over fate.
Destiny is a choice. The Viziers guide the flow of our world toward its inexorable doom. The armies of the world amass and gather, intent on destruction and death. Only you can choose the path of your own fate. By your actions, you choose the course of history. The burden of free will is yours alone. The chains of destiny cannot hold you.

You are free.”

 

Egg’s Thoughts:

 

This KS ends on Black Friday because, if nothing else, Ray Machuga knows no fear! Need a FATE game? Does the premise sound interesting and you’d like to try the first edition of the game for free? Click here. Want to get the full 1e rules for $.97? Click here.

 

You can find their work on DriveThruRPG here.

To support their Kickstarter campaign, click here.

 

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Operators RPG by Samjoko Publishing 
Ends on Thu, November 30 2017 2:00 AM EST.

“Mission Impossible heists and Tom Clancy technothriller meets Bourne-style kinetic fight sequences in this all-new action RPG.

Operators is an RPG designed to tell cinematic action movies at the table. Whether you like challenge-based play in a Tom Clancian technothriller or the futuristic hijinks of Mission Impossible, Operators has you covered.

The core mechanic revolves around rolling four Fate Dice. Players look for pluses in order to succeed and the Game Master looks for minuses that mean the task becomes unexpectedly complicated.

Operators also uses a deck of cards to help narrate fight scenes and chase scenes. The Fight Cards all have unique illustrations and moves taken from various martial arts, but mostly those seen in the Bourne movies. These cards, along with rolling the dice to see which moves land, are turned away, or are countered, make it easy to narrate a kinetic fight scene. Chase cards work similarly, except instead of having fighting moves on them, they have the ways the person in the lead tries to get away.

You can find a free quickstart of the game and all the mechanics in depth right here. along with some additional player aides for the Game Master (called Director in Operators) and some mock-up character sheets with a loose scenario to play through if you and you group want to get it to the table to see how she runs.

Click to download the free Quickstart - still a work in progress
Click to download the free Quickstart – still a work in progress

Click here to download the free Quickstart – still a work in progress. 

The book is going to be graphic novel size, softcover, full colour, and around 200 pages.

The Cards will be a deck of 52 cards in total and will be regular playing card size (2.5 x 3.5″). 19 of them are used for Chase Scenes, 33 are used for Fight Scenes. One of the main goals of the kickstarter is going to be increasing the size of that deck. I’m hoping to add quite a bit more. In the quickstart above you can check out what the cards I already have look like.

Cards Mock-Up (Not Final)
Cards Mock-Up (Not Final)

In addition, these cards can be used with all kinds of other games, like Night’s Black Agents, Delta Green, or any other game where you want to narrate out a brutal martial arts sequence between opponents.

I also want to be able to hire a professional to do photo manipulation and photo realistic art throughout the book. It’s a big challenge since it’s not a style that is commonly seen in RPGs and I’d really like to do it right.”

 

Egg’s Thoughts:

 

From the same company that brought the cyberpunk RPG, The Veil, to the world, Operators isn’t quite a FATE RPG as best I can tell, but it uses some elements of it. I am interested in seeing how the photo manipulation artwork works out.

 

You can find their work on DriveThruRPG here.

To support their Kickstarter campaign, click here.

 

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Xenomorphs: The Fall of Somerset Landing Tabletop RPG by EN Publishing
Ends on Fri, December 1 2017 3:00 PM EST.

Disclosure: I freelance for EN World.

“A gritty universe of sci-fi survival horror, including the full core rules and a setting/adventure.

Dare to enter a gritty universe of sci-fi survival horror! A full standalone set containing the core rules for WOIN-powered science-fiction roleplaying games and the Xenomorphs: The Fall of Somerset Landing setting/adventure sourcebook. The books are completed and ready to ship, so you’ll get them right away!

Terror and monsters await in the depths of space…

You get two books shipped as soon as the Kickstarter ends:

  • The 300-page full-colour hardcover N.E.W. The Science Fiction Roleplaying Game core rulebook, fully updated and errataed, with a special, exclusive Xeno Edition cover.
  • The 60-page full-colour softcover Xenomorphs: The Fall of Somerset Landing setting/adventure sourcebook which describes the setting – including known space, the United Marine Corps, equipment, careers, a pair of iconic starships, information about the different varieties of xenomorph, plus a detailed terraforming colony called Somerset Landing, along with a survival horror adventure set in that colony. Both books are detailed below.

Xenomorphs: The Fall of Somerset Landing was written by Darren Pearce (Doctor Who; Lone Wolf), Angus Abranson (Hillfolk; Cubicle 7), and Russ Morrissey (What’s OLD is NEW; To Slay A Dragon).

If you already own the N.E.W. The Science Fiction Roleplaying Game core rulebook, you have the option to simply purchase the Xenomorphs: The Fall of Somerset Landing setting/adventure sourcebook on its own.

Want to see a whole load of previews? Before the Kickstarter launched, we were posting them regularly here on this thread on EN World! Feel free to check them out!

This is the Full Xeno Print Set
This is the Full Xeno Print Set

 

A full-colour 60-page softback setting book which introduces the universe of Xenomorphs, including a 15-page adventure called The Fall of Somerset Landing.”

 

Egg’s Thoughts:

Disclosure: I freelance for EN World.

 

Want to try out the N.E.W. RPG system? This is your chance to get in on the game via a Kickstarter where the product is in the can, no stretch goals are planned, and delivery starts within a week or two of the close. I participated in their Touch of Class Kickstarter and I think the first PDFs went out the same day that the campaign closed. In this case, it could be a Christmas gift Kickstarter!

 

You can find their work on DriveThruRPG here.

To support their Kickstarter campaign, click here.

 

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Epic Legacy Core Rulebook – 5th Edition Beyond 20th Level by 2CGaming
Ends on Sun, December 3 2017 12:00 AM EST.

“The ultimate guide to Epic Level 5th Edition. Bring your characters and DM arsenal to new heights of power beyond 20th level!

The Epic Legacy Core Rulebook is a 5th Edition supplement which adds a powerful and tested Epic tier to the established levels of play, advancing the Character progression from levels 21 to 30. The Epic Legacy system provides all the tools Players and Dungeon Masters will need to bring your most epic games to life.

At the core of the project’s design is the smooth playability that is the hallmark of 5th Edition. Building upon our work in the Epic Legacy Player’s Guide, this book is a masterwork quality product from veteran designers at 2CGaming. More than that, it is a labor of love consisting of over two years of development, extensive testing and balancing, and a fantastic community that has helped us every step of the way. From cover to cover, this book is packed with epic features that help you take every element of your game to the next level.”

 

Egg’s Thoughts:

 

Are you taking your 5e characters beyond level 20? Want to play a god? This is the solution. My sweet spot in D&D tends to be levels 5 to 8 so this may be beyond what I’d look at, but that does not mean it’s not going to look amazing and offer some innovative ideas. On the KS page, they have samples of what the epic levels will be like and those are worth checking out to see if this is for you.

 

You can find their work on DriveThruRPG here.

To support their Kickstarter campaign, click here.

 

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Signal Boost:

 

Era: The Consortium – A Universe of Expansions 2 by Shades of Vengeance 
The critically acclaimed Sci-Fi RPG returns to Kickstarter: get expansions to the universe, as well as the Definitive Edition Rulebook!
Ends on .

Read my interview with Ed Jowett of Shades of Vengeance here.

Want to know more about the game? You can get the (free) Quickstart pack right here and try it out!

Why signal boost this? Because I’ll be writing one of the stretch goals – Sirona Specials Part 1 (Sessions 1-10)!

 

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Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or on Facebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links to DriveThruRPG.com and Amazon.com.

Savage Worlds: Fast, Furious, and Fun! - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com

 

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Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer™

Wanna-lancer™ Checklist T-shirt available at Cafepress

Interested in being a wanna-lancer? Start with the official Wanna-lancer Checklist t-shirt or wall clock or ice tea glass!

* * * * * *

Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by:

Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or on Facebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

4 RPG Kickstarters You Should Back – Kids on Bikes, Tragedies of Middle School, Silence of Hollowind, and A Far Off Land

Recapturing my youth drives my love of RPGs and this week two games have you play the youth of today or yesteryear. One is set in junior high (though, I’m from Georgia and we never called it “junior high”… kindergarten, elementary, middle, high… “junior high” was one of those TV concepts and for years I thought kids in other states went to five levels of school before college… scary…) and the other embraces the kids on bikes subgenre like no other. Combine those with some FATE and Savage Worlds options with good twists and these are worth checking out.

 


Check out John McGuire’s The Gilded Age steampunk graphic novel on Kickstarter!

 

TRAGEDIES OF MIDDLE SCHOOL by 9th Level Games
Ends on .

An anthology of tabletop role-playing games, story games, live action games, and other strangeness inspired by the greatest HORROR of all… junior high.

 

 

THE TRAGED13S OF MIDDLE SCHOOL is an anthology of tabletop role-playing, story games, LARPs, and other strangeness combining classic HORROR TROPES with game mechanics inspired by the greatest horror of all… JUNIOR HIGH!!! Return to middle school without the horror of actually being 13 years old!

Each game in The Tragedies of Middle School centers around a nostalgic junior high activity – spin the bottle, Truth or Dare, passing notes, Bloody Mary, school dances, friendship bracelets, etc. The PG-13 horror vibe running throughout represent the fear, awkwardness, and angst of being a thirteen year old. It’s the worst!

Other strangeness? In addition to the RPGs, story games, and LARPs, The Tragedies of Middle School features a card game, a Choose Your Own Adventure, a solo dungeon crawler, a sport, a dance party, some craftivities*, and more!

*Craftivities are like craft activities – duh!

The Tragedies of Middle School currently* features 20 games and activities with more to come as we hit stretch goals throughout the campaign (fingers crossed!). 20 designers and 3 artists, from a diverse mix of backgrounds, are already involved, ready to share their middle school experiences and game styles. THERE ARE EVEN A FEW CURRENT MIDDLE SCHOOLERS!

*Our expectation is that we will have 20 games, unless we run out of pages, or the Kickstarter totally goes nuts and we get to unlock some stretch goals.

final printing.

We realize that this is a pretty eclectic sounding collection of things – so we thought the best way to show you what kind (and quality) of games we’re pushing here – was with a free sample.So, if you’re not sold yet – try this playable demo of our lead off game – 7 MINUTES IN HELL – designed by Doug Levandowski, featuring amazingly cool art by James Stowe.”  

DOWNLOAD HERE – RIGHT NOW!

 

Egg’s Thoughts:

That movie poster cover looks great! I feel like I saw that movie… Anyways, as with Kids on Bikes below, this RPG anthology touches on my most powerful reason to play RPGs – escaping into our never-was-youth. If you want a variety of games – 20 games – and options, this may be the collection for you. Like every RPG on today’s list, this one includes a free sample to test it out on the Kickstarter page.

 

You can find their games on DriveThruRPG here.

Support their Kickstarter here.

 

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The Silence of Hollowind – Urban Fantasy RPG by The Evil Company and GG Studios
Ends on .

“Hollowind is a metropolis rich with mysteries and contradictions, where magic is outlawed and whoever makes use of it is hunted down.

Hollowind is a vast megalopolis that fifty years ago, thanks to Merlin’s Edict, managed to overthrow the tyranny of arcane families; since that very moment it has been fighting the remaining survivors of the Purge. The Bureaus represent the first line of defense in their daily battle against enemies within and without, observing the motto: order, reveal, and persecute. Anyone attempting to break this new balance, conquered with the blood of thousands, will have to face the Bureaus. The arcanists are always plotting, and people must remain vigilant.

The Silence of Hollowind is a Urban Fantasy role playing game, adaptable to many rules systems with the addition of setting-specific mechanics to enhance gameplay (Savage Worlds conversion is the first system we will design for). It is a complex and detailed setting, aesthetically reminiscent of 1930s United States but populated by Orcs, Elves, Dwarves and countless fantasy creatures living within the oppressive Hollowind, a metropolis rich with mysteries and contradictions where magic is outlawed and whoever makes use of it is hunted down as a criminal.

 

The core book for “The Silence of Hollowind” will amount to about 130 pages, which might increase based on the stretch goals.

Within the book you will find:

  • A deeply structured setting, filled with mysteries.
  • Several play styles, from purely investigative games to action-pulp adventures.
  • Playing the role of lowly Order agents, skilled Revealers or brave Persecutors. If stretch goals allow for it, you will be able to play as Arcanists and see things from a different perspective.
  • Dozens of NPCs and ideas for investigative sessions.
  • A variety of conversions for different rule systems. The initial project includes compatibility with Savage Worlds only, but stretch goals may unlock more. Each system conversion will be released through its own free PDF.
  • Layout and art direction aiming to evoke the setting and resemble dossiers from the very Bureaus.
  • A map of the City of Hollowind!

 

You might be wondering why we didn’t simply choose a single existing system, or why we didn’t custom-make one for Hollowind. I can tell you we spent a lot of time on this decision, but in the end we realized we wanted this game to be approachable by as many people as possible, with as little effort as possible. This means relying on widespread systems, allowing every group to choose the one they are most comfortable with. Each rules conversion will provide everything you need to adapt your system to our setting in a few easy steps, keeping your focus on the game, not the conversion.

At the same time, we will develop special rules for the Savage Worlds conversion (this is the first system we will design for) such as “Interrogation Scenes”, “Arcane Plague”, “Arcane Fogs” and several Edges dedicated to playing Hollowind. All these rules will be released within a free PDF.

*UPDATE: D&D 5th Edition, and FATE, which means conversion documents for both these systems will be unlocked upon reaching the goal of 10,000€!”

 

Egg’s Thoughts:

This RPG is set in a dieselpunk anti-magic 1930s America and you’re either a hunted mage or the government hunters. It’s for Savage Worlds, 5e, or FATE and should be interesting. Check out the Kickstarter for a quickstart version of the game.

 

You can find their games on DriveThruRPG here.

Support their Kickstarter here.

 

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A Far Off Land, A Fate RPG in Two Worlds by Bennett-Burks Design
Ends on .

“An RPG where modern meets mythic fantasy in two imperiled worlds, where the intrigues of the Courts & Factions play out.

You, Fated one, are a beautiful lie, and so too is the world around you

A Far Off Land is a multi-world spanning fantasy RPG (roleplaying game) setting by Megan Bennett-Burks and Jacob Possin for the Fate RPG. We will include rules for Apocalypse World / PbtA in a PDF IF we hit the $7000 funding mark.

Take the role of one of the Fated; shapeshifting beings which are creatures of both worlds. The Fated are akin to the demigods of legend.

Note on add-ons: Want to get extra copies of the book, PDF, or other goodies, see the add-ons section further down.

Note on Shipping: Is your Country Not Listed on a Pledge? Contact us, we may still be able to ship to you, but will need to determine an appropriate shipping cost.

Curious About Press on the Game? Want to Learn even More?  See interviews and more as they are listed in our updates!

Switching worlds by Gennifer Bone
Switching worlds by Gennifer Bone

The world around you is not the only one, and even it is not what it seems. Embrace your twinned nature, creature both eldritch and human. You are a child born of one world and adopted by the other, and fated to save them both. Ah, but, alas, you are much like the world you were born to, also, not what you seem!

There are two worlds; one is the world you were born into, the one you’ve taken for granted as mundane and explicable. The other is the Far Off Land; where creatures of myth and magic dwell. This wondrous place was crafted by the gods long ago and has a vast array of Mythic realms which lie within it. You and your companions are Fated, shapeshifting beings who are of both worlds, and the fate of both worlds rests in your hands.

Two Worlds, Rabbit Holes and Many Realms  

One world is that which your character was born into; it is nearly identical to our own present-day earth though it has powerful magic hidden within it. The Fated call this world The Cage because it serves as a prison for slumbering dragons and primordial giants, who would imperil both worlds were they to awaken.

The other world is the realm of myth, magic, and monsters; the Far Off Land and its many realms from ancient Duat, the Mirrored Cities, and Wonderland. Your adventures will span both these worlds, and to the many rabbit holes which act as passageways from one to the next, including The Alley and its great Goblin Market. The rabbit holes were created thanks to the sacrifice of the goddess Tekmor long ago.”

Wonderland Fated by Gennifer Bone
Wonderland Fated by Gennifer Bone

 

Read my interview about A Far Off Land with Megan Bennett-Burks here.

 

Egg’s Thoughts:

I’m interested enough in this project to have done an interview. The idea that you’ll play in two worlds offers a lot of role-playing options and I want to see this make it. I think it has potential as a FATE Core game or as a PbtA option. Need more? You can try the free preview on RPGNow/DriveThruRPG here, A Far Off Land – Preview.

 

You can find their games on DriveThruRPG here.

Support their Kickstarter here.

 

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Kids on Bikes RPG – Strange Adventures in Small Towns by Infectious Play/Hunter Books
Ends on .

“Choose your OWN destiny in this storytelling rules-light tabletop role-playing game where adventure is a bike ride away!

Young Adults, Small Towns…

BIG ADVENTURE!

Kids on Bikes is a Collaborative World Building RPG set in small towns with big mysteries. Written and created by celebrated game designers Jon Gilmour (Dead of Winter, Atari: Centipede/Missile Command/Asteroids) & Doug Levandowski (Gothic Doctor, Seven Minutes in Hell). Kids on Bikes is a rules-light storytelling system that gets players into the action fast.

The Adventures of Kids on Bikes take place in small towns at any point in history before:

  • Everyone had camera phone that could catch video of a Ghost
  • Use GPS to track a Homicidal Maniac roaming around town
  • Research an old creaky house in seconds using Google

Kids on Bikes takes place in a more mysterious time, where anything and everything *could* happen.

Kids on Bikes is a 60 page, rules-light, fast-paced storytelling game in the spirit of games like DREAD, Perseverant, MONSTERHEARTS, and other great indy titles. Kids on Bikes is perfect for game nights in which you want to get a game in RIGHT NOW.

Using stats like GRIT, CHARM, FIGHT, FLIGHT, BRAINS and BRAWN, you’ll jump into the action. Each skill is represented by a polyhedral die based on your character’s competence. More sides = better chance of success.

That being said, even low stats always have a chance of success, as any max result EXPLODES leading to an additional re-roll contributing to the results. Lower sided dice mean bigger chances of explosions!”

 

Egg’s Thoughts:

Much like The Monster Hunter’s Club and Tales From the Loop, this game is tapping into the Stephen King’s IT, Stranger Things subgenre for which it took its name and the results are amazing. I read an advance copy of the game and I can fully recommend it. It’ll have an adventure from comic writer Jim Zub (who writes Wayward and a number of Marvel books) which crosses over into my love of comics. Want to try if for yourself? “There is even an early access PDF or ‘ashcan’ version of the rules available now…”

 

You can find their games on DriveThruRPG here.

Support their Kickstarter here.

 

 

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Signal Boost:

 

Era: The Consortium – A Universe of Expansions 2 by Shades of Vengeance 
The critically acclaimed Sci-Fi RPG returns to Kickstarter: get expansions to the universe, as well as the Definitive Edition Rulebook!
Ends on Sun, November 26 2017 4:00 PM EST.

Read my interview with Ed Jowett of Shades of Vengeance here.

Want to know more about the game? You can get the (free) Quickstart pack right here and try it out!

Why signal boost this? Because I’ll be writing one of the stretch goals – Sirona Specials Part 1 (Sessions 1-10)!

 

 

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Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or on Facebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links to DriveThruRPG.com and Amazon.com.

 

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Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer™

Wanna-lancer™ Checklist T-shirt available at Cafepress

Interested in being a wanna-lancer? Start with the official Wanna-lancer Checklist t-shirt or wall clock or ice tea glass!

 

* * * * * *

 

Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by:

Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or on Facebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

HALLOWEEN TREAT – 11 QUESTIONS ABOUT AMP Year Four WITH Eloy Lasanta (Third Eye Games)

Winner of multiple RPG awards, including a 2017 ENnie, Eloy Lasanta is one of the busiest individuals in gaming. Running Third Eye Games, he has projects in the works and Kickstarter and has just joined John Wick Presents as their financial manager. I reviewed his Pip System RPG on EN World (here) and his current Kickstarter for AMP: Year Four (here) and, for the Halloween holiday, he agreed to answer a few of my questions about his Kickstarter, his company, and his free AMP: Year One Quickstart!

 


Check out John McGuire’s The Gilded Age steampunk graphic novel on Kickstarter!

 

EGG EMBRY – Eloy, I know you have a lot going on so thanks for doing this interview. You’re working on your Kickstarter for AMP: Year Four – The Year of the Invasion – Tabletop RPG. Tell us about this story?

ELOY LASANTA – It all began with AMP: Year One, where I decided to start my own supers mythos and create a new world that is reminiscent of tropes and ideas we’re used to out of our darker hero/villain stories, but adding in my own flair of the dramatic. There are a few key players in the world, but it’s set up for the players and their characters to steal the show in the end.

The story of AMP breaks down what happens when people start developing powers, basically, today! The timeline starts in 2015, which each new book we’ve released advancing the story. You find out what caused AMPs to occur in the world, and why they are a phenomenon right now.

Several groups, we call them Affiliations, pop up as well, all tackling the issue in their own way. Characters like Doctor Luminous and Critter form the Seekers of Enlightenment, trying to figure out what’s going on from a scientific perspective. Typhoon learns out to leverage superpowers to cause chaos and usurp power. The Changelings run and hide from the problem, but help their fellow AMPs escape persecution. Other groups, like the United Human Front, are built up as villains in the setting, but are presented as playable options too, just in case you want to tell stories of hunting down AMPs instead of being AMPs yourself.

There are a lot of layers to the game. I could go on forever.

 

Continuing the AMP Game Line into Year Four: The Year of the Invasion!

EGG – This Kickstarter is for the fourth year of this series, what made you decide on a multi-part game like this?

ELOY LASANTA – Insanity! But no seriously, I wanted to do a game in a way I hadn’t seen before. Breaking the books into years, and presenting the next installment each time with expanded stories, escalating dilemmas, and dynamic characters, has been a lot of fun. It’s been an exercise in keeping track of characters and storylines, not unlike what the comic industry has to deal with, I assume.

 

EGG – In your wildest dreams, where does AMP go in terms of longevity? AMP Year Ten? Year Fifty? And if it goes that far, will a player need to start with Year One and play up to the current timeline?

ELOY LASANTA – I have a 5 year plan for the AMP gameline too, which means we’re almost done with the official story. Then we’ll be working on expanding the world and player options out even more. I have a ton of ideas, from “what if” books to alternate timelines, to adding more groups and characters into the mix. There are a lot of possibilities to explore within the AMP setting.

 

EGG – This game uses an original system, can you give us a quick rundown of it?

ELOY LASANTA – Sure! It uses the DGS-Combo system, utilizing a single d20 for all checks. There are no Attributes; instead, you have a list of 22 Skills and you combine them to get your bonuses. For instance, if you wanted to fix a computer, your take your values for Crafts (for knowing how to fix) and your Technology (for what you’re fixing) and add them to your d20 roll against a target number (10, 20, 30, 40, respectively). Your chosen powers actually become a part of this sequence many times, adding Earth + Fighting or Awareness + Perception at times.

Unlike a lot of other supers games out there, AMP isn’t a toolkit, build-your-own power sets, kind of game. Instead, we supply you with over 50 different powers in the corebook, and even more from the other books that have come out. You can pick up to 3 and explore their combos and abilities within them. If you have Air Control, for instance, you can create electric fists, gusts of wind, and fly. You don’t need to take the flight power, unless you want to be a really amazing flier.

 

EGG – I’ve started asking this – When Russ Morrissey of EN World, the ENnie Awards, WOIN, and more asked what’s the best way to gauge how the pre-marketing for a crowdfunding was progressing, Owen KC Stephens (Design Lead for Starfinder) offered “I find downloads of free preview PDFs on DriveThru to be a pretty good predictor.” You have a free preview on RPGNow/DriveThruRPG, AMP: Year One Quickstart. That’s been up since the first Kickstarter, correct? How has it done for you over the years in promotional terms?

ELOY LASANTA – It’s been up actually just since the beginning of 2017. I only just now got on the QuickStart train that everyone else has been riding for years. So far, though, around 500 downloads. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad number, but there it is. 🙂

 

EGG – In your opinion, what’s the best backer reward that you’re offering through this campaign?

ELOY LASANTA – Well, that’s an easy one… the $325 tier that not only lets you make a character, but we’ll also write up a part of the book where they make a contribution to the world. There is a tier to just make a character and just be a part of the story, but this one combines them both. They are always really fast to go, and we only have a limited number.

If you’re not into those types of backer rewards, we do offer the Story So Far tiers (in either PDF or Print) for you to get all the books up to Year 4. This gives you the complete story and all the player options in those books (there are a lot more). But it’s a great place to start!

 

EGG – You’re offering to let some backers create content for your RPG. That speaks to my love of vanity press/wanna-lancer* rewards. Tell us about what the backers can create?

*Wanna-lancer™ – A gamer that’s pursuing freelance RPG work. Some back RPG Kickstarters that offer rewards to create NPCs, spells, items, adventures, etc. in order to build up their resume, make contact with publishers, and learn what’s expected on assignments.

ELOY LASANTA – We have major characters in the story that backers made up. For instance, Shell was a backer character from Year One that has evolved into a major player all the way through Year 3 and the catalyst for Year 4. Backers get to make a character using the corebook and the new rules from whatever book we’re working on; in this case, that’s AMP: Year Four, which means they’ll be able to take advantage of the new magic rules and powers available.

 

EGG – Tell us a little about you and what was the game that changed you into a gamer?

ELOY LASANTA – More about me? I’m pretty boring. I’m married with 3 kids in Florida. I’m a huge fan of superhero movies and supernatural TV shows (though, oddly enough, not Supernatural). Most of my time is spent either playing or designing RPGs, though. It’s kind of my passion, and I usually have like 5 projects ongoing at any given time, because I’m a masochist.

I got into the hobby with RIFTS and eventually moved on to White Wolf games and then became quite the polygamerous player, bouncing from system to system and setting to setting. I’ve never settled on one perfect game, not even my own. I’m a fan of trying everything the hobby has to offer.

 

EGG – Why did you create your gaming company, Third Eye Games?

ELOY LASANTA – 2008… Wow! it’s been such a long time!

 

EGG – What projects are you currently developing?

ELOY LASANTA – I’m currently working on three secret projects called Project Moon, Project Needle, and Project Door (and I just added another, but it doesn’t have a designation at the moment), but the ones in the open are AMP: Year Four and A Kid’s Guide to Monster Hunting, both of which I’m very much excited for.

 

EGG – Any parting thoughts? Where can we find out more about Third Eye Games?

ELOY LASANTA – You can always visit http://thirdeyegames.net for more info, and from there you an get to our G+ communities, FB pages, and the like. We’re always creating new things, so come and see if any of it strikes your fancy.

Thanks for having me!

 

You can see examples of their work at DriveThruRPG here.

You can support this Kickstarter campaign here. the campaign ends on Friday, November 3 2017 2:00 PM EDT.

 

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Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or on Facebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

 

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links to DriveThruRPG.com and Amazon.com.

Savage Worlds: Fast, Furious, and Fun! - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com

 

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Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer™

Wanna-lancer™ Checklist T-shirt available at Cafepress

Interested in being a wanna-lancer? Start with the official Wanna-lancer Checklist t-shirt or wall clock or ice tea glass!

 

* * * * * *

 

Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by:

Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or on Facebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

11 QUESTIONS ABOUT THE TINY DUNGEON 2e RPG WITH ALAN BAHR (GALLANT KNIGHT GAMES)

A minimalist fantasy RPG for both adults and children? If you follow my reviews on EN World, or read about my excitement when there’s an all-ages RPG Kickstarter, you know I’m looking for the perfect RPG that truly is for all-ages. Alan Bahr of Gallant Knight Games is running a Kickstarter for the second edition of Tiny Dungeon and it looks promising. To learn more, Alan agreed to answer some of my questions about his campaign and what got him into gaming.

[Disclosure: I game with Alan Bahr (Dan Davenport is our GM) so I’m biased.]

 

EGG EMBRY – Thanks for speaking to me about your Kickstarter, Tiny Dungeon 2e. What’s the game about?

ALAN BAHR – It’s my pleasure! Thank you for inviting me. Tiny Dungeon 2e is a fantasy roleplaying game in the same vein of D&D, but with a very stripped down, minimalist ruleset. It’s fantasy roleplaying at the core essence, without extra rules and bits added in.

 

EGG – What inspired you to create Tiny Dungeon 2e? Or maybe a better question is, why will TD2e be better than 1e?

ALAN BAHR – TD1e was a revelation in minimalist gaming to me. I can’t overstate how important it was to me. TD2e just improves upon the original. Streamlined text and rules, more options (while being minimalist), and a focus on addressing some of the core issues found in 1e. We’ve clarified lots of rules, and made an effort to upgrade the visual and thematic elements of the game.

[Editor’s Note – You can read a detailed discussion about the differences here.]

 

EGG – As of this writing you’ve blown past your goal and keep knocking down stretch goals, is the Kickstarter meeting your expectations or exceeding them?

ALAN BAHR – Absolutely exceeding. I’d expected to be more successful than our past TinyD6 Kickstarters, but this was a whole new level for me.

 

EGG – This may be more for me than the readers but what’s the starting age for this RPG? With a name like *Tiny* Dungeon, I have to know if children are a part of your target audience?

ALAN BAHR – They are! The game is very simple, and it’s a great learner RPG for teaching children how to play!

 

 
Art by Anthony Cournoyer and Design by Robert Denton!

EGG – With the Tiny Frontiers and Tiny Frontiers: Mecha & Monsters Kickstarters, you delivered ahead of scheduled and the delivery estimate for the Kickstarter is less than 5 months, what’s your game plan for reaching that goal?

ALAN BAHR – Simply put, do things on time, correctly, and deliver appropriately. We’ve got a lot of experience with this, and frankly, we’ve split our stretch goals into two Waves to make it manageable. Wave I is the corebook, GM screen, dice, and bags for the Deluxe Pledges. Wave II is a bunch of the later, more involved stretch goals.

 

EGG – As the publisher, can you highlight one pledge level/backer reward that you think is the standout for Tiny Dungeon 2e?

ALAN BAHR – Oh man, The Deluxe Adventurer. You get two copies of the book (the LE faux leather hardcover, and a softcover for table copy), a set of dice, the GM screen and a handmade bag to store it all in. It’s a fantastic pledge level.

Deluxe Adventurer

The best of the best! All the fancy pieces, and a collectors edition hardcover for your shelf!

INCLUDES:

 

Custom Dice Bag

EGG – Tell us a little about you and what was the game that changed you into a gamer?

ALAN BAHRPendragon. I’ve written and talked at length about how great Pendragon is. All I can do is tell everyone to go play Pendragon!

About me, well I’m Alan. I like jazz & country music, subtitled martial arts movies, heroic stories, reading fiction, and I spend a long time as a data scientist and project manager in corporate America.

 

EGG – Why did you create your gaming company, Gallant Knight Games?

ALAN BAHR – I love gaming, and I see gaming as a social experience that helps us to transcend the issues that confront us as humanity. Tabletop gaming is an enlightening experience if done right and I want to bring that to everyone I can as affordably as I can.

 

 
Art by Anthony Cournoyer and Design by Robert Denton!

EGG – As a Kickstarter veteran, what advice would you give others thinking about launching a gaming Kickstarter?

ALAN BAHR – Ask someone who has been there successfully. Do your research. And listen when they tell you. Too many people ask me for advice, then disregard the advice I give.

 

EGG – What projects are you currently developing?

ALAN BAHR – There are a lot of TinyD6 games in the works (11ish). There’s also Candlelight (my 5e Gothic Horror setting), Shadow of the Dying Sun, Gallant, Bramblewoyld, Nevermore, and Revelator. Lots going on.

 

EGG – Any parting thoughts? Where can we find out more about Gallant Knight Games?

ALAN BAHR – Well, there’s Into the Black (GKG fan facebook group) and I’m pretty active there with previews and spoilers. Following me on twitter (@alanbahr) or GKG (@GallantKGames) is a pretty good bet. We could do better at updating www.alanbahr.net and www.gallantknightgames.com, but we’re working on getting those websites upgraded.

 

You can see examples of their work at DriveThruRPG here.

You can support this Kickstarter campaign here.

 

 

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Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or on Facebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

 

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links to DriveThruRPG.com.

Savage Worlds: Fast, Furious, and Fun! - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com

 

* * * * * *

 

Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer™

Wanna-lancer™ Checklist T-shirt available at Cafepress

Interested in being a wanna-lancer? Start with the official Wanna-lancer Checklist t-shirt or wall clock or ice tea glass!

 

* * * * * *

 

Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by:

Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or on Facebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

The Many Reasons You DON’T Want to be a Writer

On December 30th, 2001, I made pretty much the worst decision of my life.

I decided I wanted to be a writer.

And not just any writer, but a balls-to-the-wall, grind my fingers to stumps, spend every night alone with a bottle of scotch and a laptop whose battery is ready to die…writer.

And no I don’t regret it.

And yes I do.

These days, everyone has written  a book. Or at least they have a book idea. I’m reluctant to mention my profession anymore, given everyone’s opinion on the matter:

“I want to write a book, too!” people will tell me.

“I have this great idea. I just need to get it on paper,” they’ll say.

“I started something a few months ago. I’ll finish it one day,” my bartender muses.

To these well-meaning folk, I want to say awful things:

“You don’t want to write a book.”

“You’re not gonna finish anything.”

“You have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Usually I just nod and smile. After all, my bartender (who helped inspire this little tome) is a sweet lady. She makes a mean cocktail, and she doesn’t need to hear my negativity. And my friends who like to talk about their works-in-progress, they’re good people, too. It’s best to let them believe writing is something one does part-time, that it’s something everyone can do.

It isn’t.

Actually, it’s something almost no one should do.

If there’s a culprit, it’s the rise of the self-publishing market. I’m looking at you, Amazon, Smashwords, and all the other upstart platforms. No, I’m not upset about it. These outlets are how I pay the bills. But yeah…ok…I’m a little upset about it. Suddenly everyone in the world has the power to publish anything they want. This means the die-hard, out-of-their-goddamn-mind authors like me have to compete with pretty much everyone else on the planet.

It’s fine. I don’t mind a good fight. I just worry about the sanity of my contemporaries. This kind of competition doesn’t happen in other lines of work. Not everyone in the world can be a plumber, a lawyer, a chef, or a porn star. I can’t wake up tomorrow and decide to be a congressman. I can’t paint a big white hand on my face and join the ranks of the Uruk-Hai.

But everyone can be a published author.

You.

Your grandma.

Your dog.

The hacker who lives in your basement and knows how to scam the system.

Everyone.

Immediately.

Fuck this shit. (Just kidding.)

It’s not that I want this to change; I don’t. Writers chasing their dreams is a good thing. It’s far better for people to challenge themselves with the task of writing a book than it is for them to relax and enjoy their lives, maintain good relationships with their loved ones, or kick back and play the latest video game system no one can actually buy.

Am I being sarcastic?

I honestly don’t know anymore.

What do I know? Most people shouldn’t write books. I’m not talking about the quality of writers’ grammar or the sharpness of their prose; those are subjects for a different article entirely. I’m referring to the commitment of life resources required to be an author. It’s not just about the time investment, but a willingness to sacrifice a large portion of one’s ordinary life. Wordsmiths have to write, re-write, edit, and re-edit. Writers must embrace being alone, lost on islands of imagination no one else can perceive, wandering at the edge of the abyss armed only with words.

Few enjoy such things.

And fewer still savor the horror of realizing one’s work is sub-par, that monkeys in cages could write with more emotion, or the sinking feeling that…honestly…no one gives a shit about what one has written.

Writing for money? It’s similar to prostitution, given the punishment one must endure to turn even the mildest profit. I’ve never seen a group so comfortable with self-loathing as the average indie author. The blank page, worst of all enemies, hits harder than a Conor McGregor left hand. A book half-finished has the power of infinite patience, and a novel doesn’t care whether it’s complete. Words, weak or strong, offer no consolation to their creators. We’re selling our minds for pennies, and we get ploughed in the process.

Fact: a writer’s work is never finished. Most other tasks in the universe, save perhaps art and music, are finite in duration. Fix a broken pipe? Done. Go grocery shopping? Ok. Handle Brexit? Gimme a few years. All of these will one day be complete.

But writing? It’s forever. You might finish one book, but you’ll never push every idea out of your head. Go ahead and die trying. I dare you.

Memes are stupid. Unless they’re sarcastic. Then I love ’em.

To the novice writer, the weekend warrior poet, or the new-to-the-industry author, I have just one suggestion:

Quit.

You’ll never find happiness doing this. Even if you do manage to make it big (you won’t) the money won’t make it worthwhile. You’ll get lost in the same swamp with every novel you write. You’ll finish one story only to find it begets three more. Your short story will turn into a trilogy, and your trilogy into a thousand tales you’ll never live long enough to tell.

You want to be happy? Take up MMA fighting. Build your own house. Plant a garden. Sit down and watch a good movie.

Whatever you do, don’t commit to being an author. You’ll find every moment of your life more challenging than the moment before. You’ll fall into a hole out of which you’ll never be able to climb.

And you’ll probably get fat from sitting on your ass every day.

Am I being satirical?

Hell if I know.

Read this.

J Edward Neill

 

11 QUESTIONS ABOUT THE ERA: BALAM RPG WITH ED JOWETT (SHADES OF VENGEANCE)

I first discovered Shades of Vengeance when I covered their Era: Hitman Kickstarter for my blog. The idea behind the game – “Be a super-powered assassin” – spoke to me because it’s charmingly action movie and engaging. Who doesn’t want to be the bad guy and mind blast someone? Discussing the article with Ed Jowett, owner of SoV, led to working on an adventure for him and we’ve stayed in touch since. When he launched Era: Balam, I knew I wanted him to lead my new RPG Kickstarter interview column. So, let’s talk Ed, SoV, Era: Balam and more!

EGG EMBRY – Thanks for joining us, Ed. If you don’t mind, let’s dive in – Tell us about your current Kickstarter campaign, Era: Balam? What is it about? Why should fans back it?

ED JOWETT – Era: Balam is the latest in our series of Era games, the seventh entry in the group. It’s a game which focuses on the theme of a pilot and their ship being an entity together. It provides exploration, and alien threat to fight against and the chance to save Humanity from invasion!

This game is also offering something new for us – a version in Era d10, but also one in FATE and one in Savage Worlds! You can choose which you prefer from the Kickstarter.

 

 

EGG – Why did you make Era: Balam a part of Kickstarter’s Project of Earth initiative?

ED JOWETT – When Kickstarter launched their Project of Earth initiative for the anniversaries of the Voyager probes, I was inspired not by what Earth is today, or what kind of message I might send into space, but by what might happen to a probe when it arrived on an alien world. What reaction would aliens have to it? How would they respond to this thing appearing? I took that one step further – what would happen if it accidentally did damage to their society?

On the surface, that seems bleak, but while I wanted to make an interesting story, bear in mind everything that this implies – our probes reached other solar systems, travelling across the vastness of space and no matter what happened afterwards, it contacted an alien race for Humanity. Is that not what we all dream of when we send probes like Voyager into interstellar space?

 

Landing on Balam, the main Human colony…

EGG – How does Era: Balam relate to your other sci-fi setting, Era: The Consortium?

ED JOWETT – It relates in the sense that both originate with colony ships from Earth – the colonies in the system where Era: Balam is based are an offshoot of a main colony ship that was nearby.

The rules are extremely compatible, though, and Era: Balam offers one of the few things that can expand the Sci-Fi experience of Era: The Consortium – while the latter game offers space combat, it’s primarily focused around larger ships with crews. You can fly a fighter, but it’s not usually an even match and most of the larger ships have great point defence. In Era: Balam, you get the chance to conduct dog fights on a relatively equal footing with the aliens – huge fleets of fighters exist on both sides and it gives the chance to face a different sort of threat to what you’re likely to face in the Consortium’s region of space.

 

 

EGG – As the publisher, can you highlight one pledge level/backer reward that you think is the standout for Era: Balam?

ED JOWETT – I’d have to highlight the £55 or more pledge, “SPECIAL REQUEST – All the Sci-Fi Eras!”

I’ve had a lot of questions about Era: Balam and how it relates to Era: The Consortium. There’s a lot of possibility there for cross-play. It gets better – you get not only the physical of Era d10 Balam and Era: The Consortium, but you get the Definitive Edition Rulebook of Era: The Consortium, with loads of extra content, along with your choice of rule set for Digital Era: Balam!

It’s giving you loads of amazing stuff for just £55, along with the discount on retail prices on that entire bundle.

 

 

EGG – What inspired you to create the Era d10 gaming system? What makes it stand out from other RPG systems?

ED JOWETTEra d10 was the answer to what my group and I wanted out of rules: I roll terribly, so I hate single dice systems. With Era d10 providing multiple dice, along with flexibility of matching any Attribute with any Skill built into the system itself, you both combat the “I roll badly” factor and min-maxing at the same time – a min-maxed character with no Intelligence could well struggle in certain situations!

It also provided a combat system, particularly around Brawling, that was playable to a greater degree than other things out there: any Brawl action can be described in a single-page flow chart.

I think it stands out because it’s easy to learn, extremely flexible and intuitive – everything works in the same way and once you know the core of the rules, it’s not hard to guess. I’ve had a lot of people comment that they could not find a rule so they guessed and when they found it later on a read-through, they were completely correct.

 

From Era: The Consortium

EGG – What was the game that changed you into a gamer?

ED JOWETT – A combination of things, but I’d probably have to say somewhere between Paranoia and World of Darkness.

Paranoia was the first game I played and then GM’d 2 weeks later. We used a non-standard rule set – not that any of the players knew that, of course (because, for anyone who doesn’t know, it’s against the rules for the players to know the rules in Paranoia…).

That got me into gaming, but what secured my attention – because the Paranoia rules we used was a one dice system! – was a World of Darkness homebrew we made which will be very familiar to anyone who knows Era: The Consortium. It was very much the predecessor of the game you’re playing today, created by those of us who were running a local 24-hour game!

 

 

EGG – Tell us why you jumped from gamer to publisher and created your company, Shades of Vengeance?

ED JOWETT – It was a friend of mine, actually, who convinced me to publish! I’d finished my first campaign and my brother wanted to try running one, so I was writing down the rules. Dru, my friend, was chatting and I showed him what I was working on. He said I should publish it, and things just spiraled from there!

 

Their reaction was fairly… extreme!

EGG EMBRYShades of Vengeance has completed Kickstarters for both RPGs and card games; are there any difference in how you run a RPG Kickstarter versus a card game Kickstarter?

ED JOWETT – Good question! The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that I don’t know entirely what that difference is and don’t yet consider myself as much of an expert on card game Kickstarters as I do on RPG ones…

I have a lot more card games in the works, so I expect to continue learning!

 

 

EGG – As a Kickstarter veteran, what advice would you give others thinking about launching a gaming Kickstarter?

ED JOWETT – Know your domain on Kickstarter. Know what the bottom end of projects get before you start, because that is where you will sit with your first Kickstarter. Don’t look at Seventh Sea for RPGs and expect to get that, look at the new people. That means scrolling all the way to the bottom of the Tabletop Games list and looking at those. Set a realistic goal for where you are at.

And, if you don’t know what you’re doing, get some help! One of the things Shades of Vengeance does is assist people with getting their games on Kickstarter.

 

Kurmaja Park remains the centre of the Consortium

EGG – What projects are you currently developing?

ED JOWETT – When I counted just recently, I realised I had 9 projects on the go, so I have quite a bit going on.

The next one people will see is the Era: The Consortium – A Universe of Expansions 2 Kickstarter. The last one we did funded 8 expansions to Era: The Consortium, but I had 26 ideas at the time. I’d like to get more of those out there, and I’m looking forward to the chance to do it!

After that, you’ll start seeing Era: The Empowered, our superheroes game, Era: The Chosen, our brand new horror game and Era: Legends, a Fantasy game, popping up. We’ve also got more card games, including a “sequel” to Champion of Earth, called “Evil Overlord”, Era: Survival Colony and one based in the Era: The Consortium universe!

We’ve got loads more on the way, including a matrix-inspired cyberpunk game, a JRPG-style game and a High Fantasy game. We’re definitely hard at work here, with an ambitious 2-year plan and a desire to see it fulfilled!

 

 

 

EGG – Any parting thoughts? Where can we find out more about Shades of Vengeance?

ED JOWETT – I’d like to thank Egg for his time and the chance to talk about the thing I enjoy most – gaming! There’s a lot more to come from Shades of Vengeance and I hope you’ll consider keeping an eye on us, because we’re doing great things.

If you want to know more about Shades of Vengeance, you should glance at our Kickstarters, or at our website blog (http://www.shadesofvengeance.com/blog/) or Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/shadesofvengeance)!

 

To see more games by Shades of Vengeance, check them out on DriveThruRPG here.

To back their Kickstarter campaign for Era: Balam, click here.

 

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Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links to DriveThruRPG.com.

Savage Worlds: Fast, Furious, and Fun! - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com

 

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Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer™

Wanna-lancer™ Checklist T-shirt available at Cafepress

Interested in being a wanna-lancer? Start with the official Wanna-lancer Checklist t-shirt or wall clock or ice tea glass!

 

* * * * * *

 

Egg Embry wrote comic book short stories, edited comic book series, wrote and drew a webcomic, and contributed to comic book journalism across the 2000s. Now, he buys the opportunity to write for a variety of tabletop role-playing games in the tradition of vanity press. His purchases have been published by:

Want your RPG Kickstarter reviewed? Have some RPG wanna-lancer thoughts to share? Contact me here or on Facebook (Egg Embry) or on Google Plus (+Egg Embry).

Dragon Con 2017 Recap

Dragon Con always feels a bit like coming home. Even when the numbers of attendees keep going up and up, even when more hotels are added, and even when we take over more and more of downtown, there is just something about Dragon Con that makes it feel different. Long before Georgia became Hollywood South, this was the place for those actors on the shows and movies we all loved would come by for a visit. They would gather us all around and tell their stories to all who would listen.

And for a little while, the gulf between our lives and their lives disappeared.

I hadn’t thought about it much before Friday night, but I’ve been coming to Dragon Con since 1993 when Chad Shonk’s father dropped us off at the entrance to the hotel and we made our way to see Todd McFarlane.

I still have my signed Amazing Spider-Man 300.

It was my first convention. Heck, it was pretty much my first idea that such things even existed. You mean creators of the Funny Books I love to read are coming to my town? I’m sold.

About 10 years ago I convinced my wife to come to Dragon Con for a day. Serenity either had just come out or was coming out, so virtually the entire cast was going to be there. She went, had a great time, and while it took a couple of years before she would be a regular, it has become our little vacation in the city for Labor Day Weekend.

2017

My big take aways for this year were:

  • Standing in lines is not a lot of fun.
  • Standing in lines and not getting into the panel you wanted is really no fun.
  • Being in the overflow room for a panel and then having the feed cut out is just right out.
  • Avoid the dealer’s room on Saturday if at all possible.
  • There are a lot of people in Downtown Atlanta on Labor Day weekend!
  • It never gets old to see the people coming in for the Chic-fil-a Kickoff Classic (college football game for those who don’t know) have confused looks on their faces at the various costumes running around.
  • The costumes continue to impress me year after year. I stand in awe to those people’s dedication to their craft.
  • I love listening to the actors when they are passionate about their work.
  • Catching up with friends might be the single best part.

This year took a different turn when the day before we were to go downtown, Courtney found a hotel room available within 2 blocks of the Hyatt. And we could get it for only Friday and Saturday night. Since we normally don’t go down until Friday and almost never go on Monday, this worked out perfectly.

Throughout the course of the weekend, we’re always amazed at the level of costumes and the creativity everyone has. Whether it is the Zoltar machine from the movie BIG to a robot controlled Stewie from Family Guy, people continue to push the boundaries for the next cool thing. Which is awesome to see, even if I don’t envy the amount of time it might take them to create.

Friday

Somehow on Friday morning, even after getting there at 9:30 for a 10:00 panel, we were forced to the overflow for Nathan Fillion. No biggie. He’s honestly entertaining enough that after a few minutes I mostly forgot he wasn’t in the room… until the Feed cut out for about 10 minutes, and then when they got the audio back, it was probably another 5 before we got the visual. Not anything crushing, but not the way we want to start things off. After seeing him, I realized we’re not doing our due diligence having not seen Con Men (though it was on this weekend, so I have them recorded).

After an aborted attempt to see Wallace Shawn (Inconceivable!) and a decision not to try to fight my way into the Stan Lee panel (they started lining up 2+ hours early), we decided to venture over to the dealer’s room in an attempt to see the wares before the craziness of the weekend really kicked into gear. Last year there was a line to get in by about 2:30, so we made sure we showed up closer to when it opened at 1.

Here’s the thing about the Dealer’s room that I’ll never understand: why is it people stand in the middle of the aisles and talk to each other? I don’t mean the “hey, let’s go this way” but full conversations. Given how packed the room gets, I’d think you’d want to do such things in an area where you wouldn’t be obstructing traffic.

While Friday’s trip was more about identifying potential buys on Sunday, Egg had put me on the look out for Kevin Hearne‘s Iron Druid Chronicles which my wife pointed out after about 2 minutes in the room. I ended up speaking with Kevin for a few minutes and grabbed a couple of copies of the comic.

The final panel attempt on Friday was one for the Gilmore Girls featuring Sean Gunn. Apparently, a room which holds 350 people is not enough by about 50 people and superfan that my wife is – was shut out.

I feel like this is the second time we’ve missed out on a Gilmore Girls/Sean Gunn panel… but maybe it’s just a false feeling of Deja vu?

We dropped in on TesseraGuild’s own Amanda Makepeace (and daughter) who was busy holding down her table in the art area. Prints were flying off her table and, spoiler alert, she ended up winning the “Best Space Scene” at the Dragon Con Art Show!

War for Jupiter

Saturday

Waking up on Saturday with an extra hour of sleep (due to not having to drive into downtown) was nice. I also realized that the 10 AM panels don’t necessarily fill up (unless you’re Nathan Fillion, I guess). There was no line, the Con could let you right into the room.

John Cusack was interesting as he’d never been to Dragon Con before, but he also wasn’t there to actively promote a project. So it really became a series of questions from the audience about all of his movies. I wasn’t sure if he just wasn’t as comfortable in such a setting or what. You could tell when he was really engaged with a question based solely on the length of his responses. Possibly because he’d answered the question a million time previously, some of his answers ended up being slightly longer Yes/No responses.

Though, I don’t want it to seem like it was a bad panel, far from it. Just that many times on these type question/answer sessions the worry is always “how many questions can we get them to answer?” and this was a bit more like “I’m going to get through all the questions.”

The highlight question was:

“Do you ever get stopped in real life by someone who wants 2 dollars?”

A laugh. “Every day… every day.”

The Flash panel reminded me that it is beyond cool that John Wesley Shipp is a part of the cast. To have that link to the old show and to see how much he respects these actors and the work they put in… it’s amazing. Danielle Panabaker was definitely the star of the panel as the majority of the questions went to her (many with the questions centered around her Killer Frost alter-ego).

The highlight of the evening was supposed to be The Barrowman Show. As soon as we saw such a thing existed we were set ongoing. Apparently, everyone else at Dragon Con had the same idea and it filled up completely. I can only imagine the craziness that went on behind closed doors.

Sunday

On Sunday, we began with another DC Universe panel: Arrow.

One thing about the highly entertaining Arrow panel or as it came to be called: Game of Arrow. Thea (Willa Holland) was/is clearly obsessed with the show. She had theories, she had thoughts about the end of the season. It was hilarious how she’d get going on a rant before the moderator tried to steer things back to Arrow. And then one of the others would push her to keep talking about it.

She says she wants to guest on a podcast to talk about it. I think you could do far worse than her. Plus she clearly knows her stuff. At the very least she’d bring a passion about the show!

Then it was onto a fan run panel about LEGION. If you haven’t seen the show, you can check out my review here. Lots of theories and thoughts were thrown out. I even supplied my own thoughts about the show – how maybe the reason we’re not sure of when exactly takes place is that just like any memories you have – we’re always wrong about when they take place. I mean, how many times have you thought a movie was only 5 years old when it came out over a decade ago?

In what has become a staple at Dragon Con over the last few years, I end up closing out things in the Venture Bros panel. Regardless of whether the show has a season ongoing or about to come out or nowhere near debuting… things are going to be funny and weird. This year the panel was made up of many of the voices from the show (including Dr. Venture and Wide Whale). Sadly, Doc Hammer and Jackson Public weren’t able to be there – apparently hard at work on the next season!

So I suppose I forgive them.

They showed off a book of artwork, sketches, character designs, etc. coming out in late Fall from Dark Horse which looked very cool (and something I need to add to the old wishlist). The trailer is here.

We capped off the evening with dinner with a couple of friends where we occupied that poor server’s table for far too long, but it had been far too long since we’d seen John and Jeane, so we didn’t have much of a choice!

I also attended a writing workshop session (as well as another writing related panel – at this point I couldn’t tell you what days they were actually held!) run by Michael Stackpole: 21 Days to a Novel. I still need to transcribe my notes, but I’m interested in giving the technique a proper try on my next project.

As we made our drive back, a little of the con depression began to creep in, but considering my month of Gen Con and then this convention that might have been exhaustion more than anything else.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. Want to read the first issue for free? Click here! Already read it and eager for more?

Click here to join John’s mailing list to learn about the upcoming The Gilded Age Kickstarter.

His prose appears in The Dark That FollowsTheft & TherapyThere’s Something About MacHollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

 

A day in the life of an artist, author, and dad

Part 1 of 2 – The ideal schedule

6:30 AM – Wake up, enjoy a light breakfast, read a few writers’ blogs, look up new art posted by my favorite artists

7:30 AM – Drive to the nearby forest trail, walk briskly for 90 minutes, return home feeling amazing

9:15 AM – Shower. Open all the windows in the house. Fire up a brooding soundtrack to get in the right mood for painting a masterpiece or writing the next great American novel

9:30 AM – Create for the next two hours. Spare not a single glance at fake news, real news, or anything resembling social media

11:30 AM – Drive to my favorite café. Sip a glass of wine while overlooking the vineyards of North GA.

1:00 PM – Return home. Glide through an hour of marketing, blogging, and prepping spirited press releases for my latest book

2:00 PM – Power through an invigorating workout on the back deck. It’ll hurt less because of the wine. The weather will be ideal…not the muggy, no breeze, mosquito-laden climate typical of Atlanta’s suburbs

3:00 PM – A second shower, a snack, and then two hours of writing, editing, and painting a masterful cover piece for my newest short story. The lights will be low, the incense powerful, and the atmosphere serene

5:00 PM – It’s date night. Dress in something light, but not too casual. Splash on a tiny drop of cologne.

5:15 PM – Hop in the car, launch a thrilling playlist of Hans Zimmer, Depeche Mode, and Slayer

5:45 PM – Arrive at one of my favorite spots downtown. It only took 30 minutes to get there. No traffic today!

6:00 PM – Sit down across from my beautiful, confident date. Sip red wine. Discuss anything but politics, religion, or the socio-economic ramifications of another major land war with North Korea

8:00 PM – Dessert at a nearby spot. A sip of scotch. A slice of cheesecake. Candles, music, the thrum of a busy restaurant…

8:30 PM – Arrive home, slip out into the evening with a fully-charged laptop and a glass of Balvenie scotch – minimum 17-year aged.

8:45 PM – While relaxing to the sounds of crickets, owls, and bats fluttering through the night, write for two hours. No mosquitoes tonight, only fireflies

10:00 PM – Relax in the basement with a movie, an enthralling video game, or a while spent strumming the guitar

11:00 PM – Finish a last sketch on which to base tomorrow’s new painting. Enjoy a gentle nightcap. Tumble into a bed with the ceiling fan on and the night’s breeze drifting through the wide-open windows

***

And now…

The real-life schedule

7:30 AM – Stagger out of bed, dress my son while he’s still half-asleep, shuttle him to Montessori school, return home in a daze.

10:00 AM – Stagger out of bed a second time, drink a quart of water to rehydrate after too much scotch last night. What happened between 8-10 this morning? No fucking idea

10:05 AM – No coffee for me. Can’t stand the stuff. Heat up some frozen Eggo waffles and whip up three mimosas. Consume it all within 10 minutes

10:20 AM – Look at Facebook

10:21 AM – Review yesterday’s book sales. Grumble about Amazon’s KU (Kindle Unlimited) pages read algorithms

10:22 AM – Review yesterday’s art sales. Realize I haven’t sold a goddamn thing…and that there’s a reason artists are poor

10:23 AM – Avoid my Twitter account like the fucking plague

10:25 – Write for 90 minutes. It’s shit and I’m still tired. I’m pretty much editing the stuff I wrote last night.

Noon – My laptop powers down unexpectedly. Rather than crush it into powder Office Space style, I throw on some shorts and head to the forest for a run

12:45 PM – The second part of my run hurts like a motherfucker. I drank too many mimosas. I power through it anyway, but I look like haggard hell to other runners on the trail

1:30 PM – Head to the café bar for lunch. Consider the smoked salmon and risotto, but ultimately decide on steak and scotch. Glance around the bar looking for interesting people/beautiful women to chat up, then realize I’m alone

1:45 PM – Check my phone compulsively while eating. Nope…still haven’t sold any art, though someone just reported my latest graphite sketch to Facebook for containing nudity

2:30 PM – Return home. Sit in a stupor for 15 minutes while deciding whether to paint, draw, write, or play nine consecutive hours of Witcher 3

2:45 PM – Paint for an hour. Spill watercolors on the floor. My blind cat wanders between my ankles, causing me to smudge the eyeball which I’ve slaved 30 minutes to perfect. Shout at the cat. She’s pretty much deaf. She wanders off with a self-satisfied meow

4:00 PM – Check Facebook for the 20th time today. Consider posting a grand plea for book reviews, realizing I’d be wealthy as fuck if just a fraction of my readers slapped down a few stars. Decide against the plea. Realize that everyone in the industry is already bitching about the subject without any success

4:01 PM – Sit down to edit. Get distracted by articles in which other authors talk about being distracted

4:30 PM- Realize I have to pick up my son in 30 minutes. Plow through a 15-minute workout, then drive to get junior

5:00 PM – Pick up my son. Ask him if he’d like to paint, draw, play baseball, or take a long walk. He decides on an hour-long discussion about Play-Doh, a commentary regarding Bowser from the Super Mario Bros. series, and a firm but polite request to drink two gallons of chocolate milk

5:30 – Give in. Pour him the chocolate milk. Respond to his inquiries about latest painting. “What is that?” he asks. “A demonic woman ready to wage eternal war on humanity,” I answer. “Cool,” he says. “Why are her boobs so big?”

6:00 PM – Squeeze a 15-minute workout, a shower for me, a bath for junior, 30 minutes of homework, two additional after-school snacks, a play-by-play of every scene from every Zelda game ever made, seven hugs, 3 minutes of backyard baseball, and 4 minutes of painting…all into one hour

7:00 PM – Dinner should take an hour, right? Wrong. It takes two. At least there’s wine.

9:00 PM – Put junior to bed. Ask him if he wants me to read something other than Ul De Rico’s Rainbow Goblins. He doesn’t. We read it again

10:00 PM – Stagger downstairs in the gloom. Turn on the music. Try to sit on the patio, but get eaten alive by mosquitoes. Girl calls. Sorry, no date tonight. Check book sales. Learn that British people read…Americans don’t. Check Facebook. Enjoy the deep discussions of my art…but despair in zero painting sales for the day

10:15 PM – Finish a bottle of cheap scotch. Write for three hours while tipsy. Avoid the internet only because I know I’ll say something stupid if I post during the late, late hour

1:15 AM – Consider wandering up to bed. Decide to write for another hour. Would consider writing while in bed, but junior snores like a motherfucker

2:15 AM – Fall asleep while playing video games

3:00 AM – Who needs sleep, anyway?

* * *

I want to tell you this is all hyperbole.

But it isn’t. Go here if you don’t believe me.

J Edward Neill

Behind the Artist – Interview with Antonio Brandao

Check out John McGuire’s The Gilded Age steampunk graphic novel on Kickstarter!

What’s exciting about doing comics is that you are going to get to work with multiple artists as time goes on. With each, they bring their own experiences and talents to a project in ways you couldn’t begin to predict beforehand. If your lucky they not only design and bring your words to life, but sometimes offer you a view on a character you didn’t even know was there.

I’m thankful to have worked with Antonio Brandao on Gilded Age issue #3.

***

How long have you been creating art/working in comics?

I’ve been working full time in comics since 2008.

At what point did you sit down and decide to become an artist?

At some point I was working in graphic design and started doing some work in comics. The comic work started to increase to the point where it was impossible to keep both doing both, so I decided to chose my life time dream to become a comic book artist.

Have you had any formal training?

I had a few classes related to art in my graphic design course. Other than that no formal training.

Gilded Age Issue 3, Page 1 – Pencils/Inks by Antonio Brandao, Colors By Nimesh Morarji

What’s the first thing you drew?

My first professional work was a penciled 2 issue mini to an independent publisher.

What things inspire you to create art?

I always loved to draw so it comes naturally. I guess everything inspires me.

Favorite artists/creators? Influences?

My favorite artists… let’s see… there’s a lot! From the “classics” John Buscema and Byrne to Mignola, Oliver Coipel, Stuart Immonen,… too many to reference here.

How do you manage your daily life with the art? Is this your 9 to 5 or is this your 10 to 2? If you have the old day job, what do you do? Do you do anything to market/promote yourself?

It depends. Sometimes I have some small side projects, and I have to limit my time working in comics but usually it’s a 9 to 5 thing. Unfortunately I don’t promote myself that much. Only the occasional sketch in my FB page.

What’s your process? Digital vs. by hand? What do you prefer?

Traditional all the way. Blue pencil, pencil, ink.

How do you work? Music while you draw? TV shows? Movies? No distractions?

I put some Youtube documentaries running. I guess I learn some stuff while drawing.

What have you worked on previously?

A lot of independent projects for some small publishers. Some private submissions for some publishers. A bit of everything honestly.

Are there themes and/or subjects you find yourself drawn to again and again in your art? Regarding comics, are there things that draw you in, something you see or read where you must put your own spin on the story/character?

I like to believe that I’m a versatile artist, and I tend to avoid repeating elements in my work. It might happen though…possibly unconsciously.

I always like to give my own spin to a character. Make it mine, without ignoring previous versions if they exist, of course. I especially like visually interesting characters. Something to make me push my limits.

Gilded Age Issue 3, Page 5 – Pencils/Inks by Antonio Brandao, Colors By Nimesh Morarji

Do you have a favorite thing to draw (genre, scenery, etc)? Least favorite?

I love to draw fantasy stuff, maybe because I’ve read a lot of Conan’s stories from John Buscema when I was young. My least favorite is the “slice of life” kind of stories.

What’s the most challenging thing about being an artist in today’s world?

I’d say that the most challenging thing is to make your work appealing enough, sometimes in very limited time, to attract new projects and keep your head above water financially. It’s a worldwide market, and your art must stand out. Managing several different projects at the same time is also very challenging.

Developing a work ethic is hard.

If you could go back ten years, what advice might you have for your younger self? Something you wish you knew?

Draw.

Now draw more!

Practice makes perfect.

Don’t waste so much time.

What is your worst habit?

I drink and sometimes smoke.

Comic book wise, I sometimes tend to procrastinate things.

Gilded Age Issue 3, Page 10 – Pencils/Inks by Antonio Brandao, Colors By Nimesh Morarji

Goals? One year from now? Five years from now?

I’d like to make the jump to some big publisher in the next couple of years. Have some financial stability.

For the Gilded Age, you did the third issue of the comic. Had you ever done any Steampunk styled things before?

Nope. And I haven’t since. I must say that I loved the experience.

I think it’s because of your art that I now have to come up with a story for Vanessa (the Wolf-Girl). She comes across as so playful, I’m not sure if I knew that about her 100% before I saw her appear on the page. Did you have anything that surprised you once you finished a page?

Thanks!

I think that some characters get a life of their own in my head sometimes. It happens unconsciously… probably some hint I pick up when I read the script. Sometimes this gets reflected in the pages I draw. I only notice it when I review my work, and I see the character’s growth from the first pages to the last.

What are you currently working on?

I’m doing a 10 pages’ sci-fi story. A story for kids with super heroes and another sci-fi story for a Kickstarter.

Anything else that you’d like people to know about you (Hobbies? Passions? Favorite TV Show?)?

I love cinema! I think it relates a lot to comics. I also like going out with my friends and I’m an avid keeper of reptiles. Geckos to be specific.

Do you have a Bio that I can post at the bottom of the article? Best place to see your stuff on the web ( website)?

Well, I’m an artist/father, 39 years old. I was born and live in Lisbon, Portugal and I’ve been working in comics for almost a decade now. I grew up reading Marvel comics trying to imitate my favorite artist so I guess that my dream was to work in comics since I was a child.
I’ve been fortunate enough to do that for these last few years.
You can check my work at http://toze-barnabe.deviantart.com/

***

I want to thank Antonio for taking the time to answer all my questions. I’m always humbled by the skills artists provide my words to create something more than any of us could do alone.

***

John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the Beyond the Gate anthology, which is free on most platforms!

And has two shorts in the Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows anthology! Check it out!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

Chad’s Favorite Fifteen of 2016

I’m ashamed that my list isn’t very esoteric. Every film on here was a fairly mainstream release and all of them have received some level of praise and success. But I didn’t find any hidden gems this year. I’m sure there were some. If you found them, let me know. But here’s my list of my favorite films of 2016, as usual broken into 3 tiers: I. Masterpieces, II. Great Films, and III. Very Good Films.

I.

ARRIVAL (Denis Villeneuve)

Sicario was my favorite film of 2015 and now here’s Villeneuve’s latest, at the top of my list once again. Needless to say he’s becoming one of the world’s premier filmmakers. I normally wouldn’t be too excited about new Bladerunner and Dune films, but with Denis at the helm, I’m now actively looking forward to them. I’m not talking about the actual film too much. I don’t want to give any of it away. Yes, it is a film about a couple scientists trying to communicate with alien visitors. But that is just one layer of this beautiful gut-punch of an onion, and I’d rather you peel it for yourself and cry your eyes out. Lois Lane, Hawkeye, and Saw Gerrera are all great but it’s Eric Heisserer’s screenplay and Villeneuve’s confidence and grace behind the camera that make this one of the best science fiction experiences ever put to film.

THE HANDMAIDEN (Park Chan-Wook)

Park’s best film since Old Boy, The Handmaiden is not at all what it seems. The poster and title and production design and costuming would leave you to believe that you’re about to watch a “serious” period drama, a Korean “Downton Abbey” or something. But The Handmaiden, while having those trappings, is a crazy-as-fuck double-and-triple-cross forbidden-lesiban-love-story con movie. It is fun and hysterical and sexy and entertaining and, shot through Park’s unique eye, a visual treat that I can’t wait to revisit. It’s not a film for everyone, I guess, but it’s definitely a film for me. Villeneuve and Park. Two of cinemas boldest voices. Right here at the top of my list. Who’d have thought?

OJ: MADE IN AMERICA (Ezra Edelman)

The flat-out most compelling thing that I watched all year. There was some debate over whether or not Made in America was a feature film or not, but, despite its 7 hour plus run time, and the fact that most people saw it on TV, it has been nominated for Best Documentary at the Oscars and that makes it a movie. And what a movie. I was a young man as the O.J. saga unfolded, and, like most of America, I was fascinated by it, but Edelman’s documentary is so much more than just a recounting of the “Trial of the Century”. The first part alone, which covers the historical relationship between the police and Los Angeles’ South Central black communities, is an Oscar-worthy piece that seems even more relevant today. Don’t know anything about O.J. Simpson or his trial? Watch this. Don’t know anything about the history of police brutality by the LAPD? Watch this. Still angry that O.J. went free, don’t understand how an obviously guilty man was found not guilty in front of the entire world? Watch this. You will understand. Filled with a dozen stunning “what-the-fuck-did-he-just-say?” moments, each episode will propel you into the next and you won’t be sated until it’s all over. This is not some exploitative true-crime documentary. This is a work of art, a film about so many things, and one of the best films of 2016.

II.

MOONLIGHT(Barry Jenkins)

Nothing I can say about Moonlight that hasn’t been said by its reviews and its run through awards season. Achingly delicate film, anchored by 3 strong actors all playing the same character, with a big assist from this year’s breakout star, Mahershala Ali, in a film that may win him an Oscar, Jenkins delivers a film that will stick with you for a long time.

LION (Garth Davis)

I knew nothing about Lion when I saw it, and I’m glad. A true story about a young Indian boy who is separated from his family and adopted by an Australian couple, this is the year’s best “uplifting” film, and if you can get through the end without crying, I welcome you as my new robot overlord.

SILENCE (Martin Scorsese)

I am admittedly a Scorsese fanboy, him being our greatest living director and all, and I think Silence is a masterpiece, the third and most likely final of his overtly religious works (Marty tends to revisit certain topics three or four times, then give them a rest), Silence is a deeply meditative, slow, quiet, and even-handed film that should appeal to believers and nonbelievers alike. I think over the years, this film my creep farther up my list. Like most of Scorsese’s films, I will watch it many more times over the course of my life.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (Tom Ford)

Fashion designer Tom Ford released A Single Man in 2009 and I loved the shit out of that movie. Nocturnal Animals isn’t as strong, or as emotionally resonant, but it is a work of somber fiction that matches my sensibilities well. IMDB summarizes the plot as “A wealthy art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a symbolic revenge tale.” I guess that’s true. Come for the story, stay for the Adams, the Gyllenhaal, the Shannon, and the Ford.

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (Kenneth Lonergan)

Speaking of somber fiction, Manchester is driven by a challenging screenplay by Lonergan but will remembered because of the power of Casey Affleck’s soon-to-be Oscar winning performance. It’s an incredible bit of screen acting. And don’t overlook the often-overlooked Michelle Williams. She’s only in a few scenes but she fucking kills it. Not a date movie. Not a movie to watch if you want to get anything else done that day. But a movie you should see nonetheless. Although I’m not sure you’ll want to see it twice.

III.

HELL OR HIGH WATER (David Mackenzie)
Great modern western featuring great modern actors. Nice to see Chris Pine playing a character and not just relying on his Kirk charm to get him through (coughchrisprattcough).

EVERYBODY WANTS SOME (Richard Linklater)
Not a sequel to Dazed & Confused like people wanted, but this film is classic Linklater: there is very little story, it feels like nothing happens, it meanders, and I love it all the more for it.

MOANA (Ron Clements & John Musker)
Moana Will forever have a special place in my heart (it was my oldest daughter’s first movie theater experience) but it is also the best Disney animated film in years (including Pixar). And with songs by Hamilton’s Lin Miranda, I can’t even complain when my daughter wants to listen to the soundtrack over and over.

ROAD TO BUSAN (Sang-ho Yeon)
Snowpiercer with zombies. What else do you need? Go rent it now.

FENCES (Denzel Washington)
Two of the world’s best actors yelling and crying at each other for two and a half hours? Count me in. Washington does very little to “open up” this August Wilson play, but he and Viola are such pure fire you won’t care.

ROUGE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (Gareth Edwards)
It feels good to have a Star Wars film on here. And it deserves it. It was so much more Star Wars literate than The Force Awakens and I felt so much at home.

HIDDEN FIGURES (Theodore Melfi)
A film about three truly inspiring women told in a fairly uninspired way, it’s impossible to deny the importance and power of Melfi’s film, even if I wish he had found a more compelling way to tell it. But these women, though, and these actresses. Man. Worth it just for them.

Just for fun, here’s my list of the BEST TV OF 2016. No particular order, no details. Just a quick list. We all know TV is better than movies these days. Pretty soon these lists will merge as the walls between media crumble.

 

 

 

 

 

LUKE CAGE, ATLANTA, BETTER CALL SAUL, STAR WARS: REBELS, GAME OF THRONES, SILICON VALLEY, BATES MOTEL, WESTWORLD, LAST WEEK WITH JOHN OLIVER, and, yes, STRANGER THINGS, although I didn’t love it as much as everybody else did.

Did I just fall off the face of the earth, or what?

I’ve never heard a Beyoncé song (that I know of.)

I haven’t seen The Walking Dead.

It’s been at least a decade since I bought an album anyone reading this article has heard of.

I can’t remember the last time I read the news, tried craft beer, or understood a hashtag cause.

Anyone else feel me?

Every day that goes by, I’m lost deeper and deeper in an ocean of information. My friends ask if I’ve seen or heard the latest ______, and I’m a deer in the headlights. I’m like, “Huh?” And my friends are like, “Duuude.” I haven’t seen the latest show, heard the new kickass song, or kept up with whatever the Kardashians are up to. (Are they still famous?) I feel like I should ask for help, reach out to friend, or crawl out from under the rock I’ve apparently been living under.

Nah.

“Huh? Whaaaa…?”

Look, you probably think I’m about to start a big rant against modern culture and all its evils. Nope. I don’t have enough data to make a case for or against whatever the world has become. The only rant I could dream up would be an essay arguing the infinite darkness of social media. But whatever. That’d be pretty hypocritical, wouldn’t it? Especially since I’m about to post this commentary on Facebook and Twitter.

What I do wanna know is: how the heck did I get here?

I’m not that old.

I don’t have an ‘our generation is better than yours’ complex.

I don’t tell stories about wading through the snow to get to school and eating rocks for dinner.

You’d think having a son would compel me to brush up against modern culture now and then. After all, he’s at that age when Justin Bieber must start to seem cool. Or when the latest ‘thing’ must be purchased. Or when we just have to watch some crazy new show. But no. All junior wants to do is hang with his weird dad (me) and roast marshmallows in the fire pit, play board games all night, and watch movies that haven’t been famous since the 80’s (Gremlins, Willow, Sword in the Stone, et cetera.)

Anymore, I’m not sure whether I’m rubbing off on him or his indifference to modern stuff has reinforced my own.

And I’m not really sure it matters.

What started this thought process? Well… I’m glad you asked. Just the other day, I overheard some friends chatting it up about the Grammy awards. (And yes, I know what those are.) At the big Grammy celebration, some pregnant lady killed it with her performance and everyone thought she was a queen. Not just any queen, but THE Queen. Turns out the Queen was Beyoncé. (And it turns out the program I’m using to write this knew to put a ‘ over ‘e’ in her name – which is really weird to me.) Also, the guy from Metallica’s microphone failed, prompting Lady Gaga (whom I know of via her Super Bowl gig) to save him. And lastly, some blonde lady (Adele?) gushed so loudly about the aforementioned Queen some people questioned her sincerity.

Ok, cool, I thought. Sounds pretty entertaining.

Wait. No it doesn’t.

To all of this, I listened wide-eyed and confused. And then I realized that although I’m not terribly old, my tastes are pretty much ancient. It’s almost as if my love of music, culture, art, and books stopped somewhere in the late 80’s – early 90’s. And I can’t explain it. It’s not as if I don’t want to find new music to love. It’s not like I find modern music disastrously boring on some random whim. And life sure would be more fun if I had any inkling to enjoy The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and ________ <—- (insert superhero tv show here.)

Does anyone else experience this?

Anyone?

What the F does this meme even mean??

If I think about it, I don’t particularly miss the cultural era in which I grew up. The 80’s were straight up strange, with all the long hair, horrid pop music, and low production television. The 90’s might’ve been even worse, dragged into despair by depressing grunge music and not-quite-awesome-yet video games.

But I guess I didn’t realize my situation until the new century rolled in and forcibly stopped me from caring.

I don’t remember when it happened, but at some point all the music on the radio turned me off.

Until I stopped listening entirely.

Next came TV.

And here’s the whole story behind that.

More recently, the wave of superhero movies and bombastic action films flew right over my head.

Leaving me almost alone in the theater watching this.

I guess I can’t really complain; living under a giant rock has its benefits. I have tons of extra time. Peace and quiet are my domain. And then of course there’s all the money I save by not having cable and never going to a concert starring anyone famous. But the drawbacks are…well…I’m not sure. I’m left out of discussions regarding politics, news, movies, television, et cetera. And while I don’t particularly mind sitting in my quiet corner, it tends to halt conversations when I admit I don’t know a damn thing about whatever’s being talked about.

Me. As in my face. Always.

It’s almost intentionally ignorant, right?

It’s cultural abandonment.

It’s a willful disregard for humanity.

And now, after all these years, I still have no idea what happened.

Do you?

J Edward Neill

Builder of better coffee tables.

Under-the-rock artist.

The Future (and history) of beautiful Video Games

Ever daydream of being somewhere other than wherever you are?

Well?

Maybe you fantasize about slumming at a beachside tiki bar?

Maybe you daydream of sitting in the backyard on a warm night, soaking up a pitcher of sweet tea?

Or mayyybe sometimes you dream of nestling on a couch with all the lights off, controller in hand, television ablaze with an amazing video game?

Yeah. You know you’ve thought about it. It’s ok to admit. I’m right there with you.

Daydream of this real-life scene….oh wait…that’s Skyrim!

Let’s take a moment to appreciate where we are these days. We’re in the golden age of video games, and that’s no exaggeration. As far as new forms of art (yeah, video games are art) games are advancing leaps and bounds ahead of other industries. Hollywood movies are kinda stagnant. Television is all reality shows, zombies, and superhero/crime drama.

But games…well.

Every time a new year rolls around, we get to swim in a shiny ocean of faster, prettier, more artistic gaming entertainment. For $60, you can either take your family to see a single 2-hour movie at the theater OR you can buy a game like Skyrim, Witcher, or Zelda -Breath of the Wild and create stories of your own via your console of choice.

My kid pretty much wet himself when he saw the preview of Zelda – Breath of the Wild

And so here we are. Another new year. After a powerful 2016, which saw a waterfall of hot, stunning titles roll over the precipice, we’re primed for what could be the most beautiful year of games ever. And I don’t just mean good games like I’ve listed here, but gorgeous, artistic, crazy-good looking titles. Like sharp and futuristic Mass Effect 4 and noir-looking Vampyr.

Which begs the question: what are some of the most beautiful game titles of all time?

Well…for starters:

Limbo (Playdead)

Windwaker (Nintendo)

Witcher 3 (CD Projekt Red)

Metroid Prime 3 (Retro Studios)

Mass Effect 3 (Bioware)

 

Ori and the Blind Forest (Moon Studios)

Beyond Good and Evil (Ubisoft)

The Last of Us (Naughty Dog)

Halo 3 (Bungie)

Inside (Playdead)

Half-Life 2 (Valve)

***

A while back (and I mean WAY back) game-devoted site IGN did an article focusing on the best graphics ever. Now I don’t mean to be picky, but great graphics don’t always translate into superior beauty. Yes, realism is nice. And yeah, a poppin’ frame-rate is great. But sometimes it’s not the sharpest, most advanced games that strike an artistic chord.

Take Playdead’s Limbo and Inside, for example. Neither game was a technological achievement, but both were atmospheric, subtle, and beautiful. And let’s not forget Wind Waker, now more than a decade old, using cel-shading to give gamers a whole new perspective of Link. Both were risky moves by their developers, and both paid off.

Speaking of developers, they haven’t always had the tools they do today. Take one look at my progression of best games ever, and you’ll see the jumps we’ve made in graphical power.

Which begs the question: which old-school games are the most beautiful?

What about….

Majora’s Mask – Nintendo

Quake 3 (id Software)

Neverwinter Nights (Bioware)

Myst (Cyan)

Knights of the Old Republic (Bioware)

***

Admittedly, it’s slim pickings if you go much older than the mid-90’s. Games back in the day had to be fun first, pretty last. That’s not to say old-school games don’t have moments of beauty, but the highly pixelated graphics usually meant the beauty was due to the story or the atmosphere.

And that’s the true test, isn’t it?

A fun-to-play game can be good, but it’s the rare game that makes us think and feel, and thus it’s the rare game that’s truly beautiful throughout.

Games can be art. Art can be games. The better developers gets at making them, the more the line will blur.

And that’s a good thing.

 




You say you’re a video game god? Find out the truth by taking this quiz.

J Edward Neill

Creator of Coffee Table Philosophy 

Painter of Darkness

The Return of Anti-Meme Fridays

Welcome to the triumphant return of the Anti-Meme Friday series.

After a brief vacation and a few months of posting A Thought for Every Thursday articles, we’re back with some fresh new meme-hate for your entertainment.

Here’s how it works:  The first meme is always pulled from Facebook or Twitter, and its logic deconstructed in the most sarcastic way possible. The second meme is anti-motivational and/or funny. Because…really…that’s all a good meme should aspire to be.

Rest assured this is all in good fun.

Mostly…

*

Meme 1 (Bad)

bad-meme-1

First, let talk about astrology. Not to be confused with astronomy, it’s a pseudo-philosophy stating that the planets and constellations are reliable predictors of human behavior. Hint: they aren’t.

Let’s be clear that the only effect planetary bodies (other than Earth) have on humanity is gravity. Also, birth signs (such as the aforementioned Taurus) are completely made up and arbitrary. The universe doesn’t recognize things like months and calendars. And the stars making up constellations are typically millions of light-years apart.

Whatever. It’s an argument I can’t win.

But more than my concern for the brain-patterns of astrology lovers, whenever I see someone sharing these kinds of memes, only one word comes to mind: narcissism. It screams, “Look at me! I’m a _____ sign! Fear me!”

Also…basic reading and writing skills. Pretty much every “I’m a Gemini/Taurus/Scorpio badass” meme has at least one obnoxious error.

Sigh…

*

*

Meme 2 (Not quite as bad)

good-meme-1

Cute.

The meme and the girl.

Also cute? My review of Rogue One.

* * *

That’s all I’ve got today.

Past Anti-Meme Fridays.

Farewell for now.

J Edward Neill

Oh, here’s a few of my deadly serious books:

WebImageFront DDP 1 101 Questions for Humanity

SHORT FILM: THE BIRCH

The Birch movie poster

The Birch movie poster

Happy 2017!

In the tradition of Amanda Makepeace’s short film reviews, I am sharing and reviewing:

The Birch (2016) – Horror Short Film

Sword and sorcery speaks to me. Those never-existed fantasy worlds and characters speak to me. In my regular blog series, I write about my quest to buy a resume that will elevate me from a tabletop role-playing game wanna-lancer to freelancer. I want to enter that field because I have sword and sorcery stories that I want to tell.

Where does The Birch fit into that? [SPOILER WARNING – The film is linked below so skip ahead, watch the short and then come back for my thoughts.] The movie takes place in the modern-day UK so you have to squint just a bit to see it as fantasy sword and sorcery. If you squint you’ll see a spellbook and magic and an elemental and the enemy uses a knife and the final battle takes place in the woods. Sword and sorcery veiled by modern clothing and backpacks and streets and a bedroom.

In D&D* terms, The Birch is about a young wizard who is given a spellbook by his dying mother in order to protect him. He is being bullied and she cannot save him but she knows a secret that can. After studying the spellbook, he uses magic to summon an earth elemental to be his protector and surrogate mother.

The Birch

The Birch

If this were D&D, it would be an excellent backstory of what drove a character to become a wizard. It delves into the origin of their spellbook, their mystical lineage, what motivated them to cast their first spell and why they can never turn back from that path.

This origin story leaves open future campaign plot points. Did the boy get away with the murder? What happened to the birch? Does it still obey the wizard or is there a darker, more tragic end to their relationship. The deepest reach might be, what killed mother? There are worlds of possibilities generated by 4 minutes and 31 seconds of story. Need a bit of horror magic for the New Year? I recommend:

The Birch (2016) – Horror Short Film
Directed by Ben Franklin and Anthony Melton
Written by Ben Franklin and Anthony Melton and Cliff Wallace
Full credits and production details at BloodyCuts and at IMDb.

4 minutes and 31 seconds of horror:

*For sword and sorcery, Tolkien and Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) provide so much of the glossary.

The death of 2016 – It wasn’t ALL bad

From the staff at Tessera Guild, we’d like to wish you a…

hny

2016 was one helluva ride, right?

Almost everyone famous ever passed away.

A reality TV guy became the U.S. president-elect.

And the best Star Wars film ever came out.

Meanwhile, the team at Tessera Guild punched out hundreds of articles on art, books, creativity, philosophy, and life, some of which you liked…and others you loved. 🙂

Here’s our top seven picks for 2016’s best, most engaging Guild articles:

My Mother – The Horse Diver

circa 1955: A diving horse and her rider disappearing in to a swimming pool with a splash. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)

circa 1955: A diving horse and her rider disappearing in to a swimming pool with a splash. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)

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Killing Your Darlings or Editing My Overused Words

writing

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Vanity Press: What Kickstarter RPG Rewards Are Available? – Slaughter at Splinterfang Gorge & Luminous Echo

screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-9_49_58-am-384x500

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Inside One Artist’s Mind

table2-500x375

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Three Little Sunsets in Florida

untitled-3

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Interview with Brandon Easton, screenwriter for Marvel’s Agent Carter, Part 1

agent-carter_612x816-375x500

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And finally, included because it’s totally ridiculous (and totally true)…

Porn searches leading to our (totally) non-porn website!

pigs

* * *

Here’s to everyone having an amazing 2017!

The Tessera Guild Team

J Edward Neill

John McGuire

Egg Embry

Robert Jeffrey II

 Amanda Makepeace

Chad J Shonk