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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

 

WOLF REVIEW: Blackwind Project 

Many moons ago, I covered the Kickstarter for the Blackwind Project (now Blackwind), an RPG they describe thusly:  

“Whether you are planning an action-packed adventure, a journey to exotic lands or a sordid tale of murder and intrigue, the Blackwind System will support you through every step of the process.” 

When the core rulebook came out, Elisa Mignemi, one of the authors, gave me a copy. I was talking with my RPG buddy, Wolf, about doing a one-shot session with our group and I sent him the Blackwind Core Rulebook to see if it would work. In response, Wolf wrote a review that I’m sharing here with his permission.  

 

WOLF’S REVIEW: 

Insofar as using this as a one-shot is concerned, its very foundation rules that out. The first session would be the group sitting around and creating the campaign by committee. Following the book’s rules, going into the first session we do not know who the Director will be, what campaign we’ll be playing, or even what genre we’ll be playing. Step one, once everyone has seated themselves at the gaming table, is to select a Secretary. The Secretary is not the Director (although the Secretary might end up being the Director). The Secretary is the person who will be organizing the creation of the campaign’s foundations. The Director is not selected until the end of the campaign foundations creation session. After selecting a Secretary (if no one volunteers to do this job, dice are tossed and the winner gets the honors) the group must then decide upon a Genre (and possibly Sub-Genre, though the group must also decide if that is something they want to have or not have), a Context, a Group, a Theme, Enemies, the Type of Plot, an Antagonist, and a Structure Type. Note that each and every one of these campaign aspects must be unanimously accepted by the group before proceeding to the next aspect; any hold-outs must be bribed or beaten into acquiescence (or else excommunicated from the group, which is given as a viable option in the book). 

Only after all of this has been set in stone (the first rule of Blackwind is that choices, once made and finalized, are irrevocable–unless the group unanimously agrees that changing something would improve the dramatic narrative) does the subject of who the Director will be get broached. Again, if no one volunteers, a die roll will forcibly volunteer someone. With that settled, the Director can get on with the business of having the group tell him what they want him to Direct them toward, and at what speed, and in what fashion. 

The Director gets to decide, at this point, what the overall Mission should be (and also possibly whether there is a Fake Mission) as well as the Thesis for the campaign (because what it a good role playing campaign without a solid morality lesson or social message baked into it, right?). Then he gets to “choose” between High- and Low-Concept Adventure plots (but not really choose, because the group actually chose that before by whether they selected a Genre or a Context first back while the Secretary was still organizing things) before going on to structure said Concept into a series of Sections, Episodes and Steps using a series of simple mathematical formulae: where N is the number of players, the SETUP (including a possible sub-climax, with or without a BOARD) should contain N Steps of which the ASCENT should contain N +/- [N / 3] Steps, the MIDDLE (including the main climax or a sub-climax, with or without a BOARD) should contain 0 to [N / 2] Steps, the FALL should contain N +/- [N / 3] Steps, and the RESOLUTION (including the main climax, if not used during the MIDDLE, or a secondary-climax, with or without a BOARD) should contain [N / 2] Steps plus any Steps saved from preceding sections. Then there can also be an AFTERMATH of 1 to N Steps. 

Once all of that in place, the Director submits his campaign Concept to the group for voting (the Director can receive up to 30 points from the players if they feel he’s created an “exceptionally well-developed” Concept!). 

And that would be the first session. I think you get the picture as to why this will never be suitable for use as a pick-up-and-play one-shot generator. 

Oh, and maybe you’ve noticed something missing from the above activities? Right. Character creation. Or, in the Blackwind lexicon “Casting.” 

As you can tell from the terminology within, Blackwind is someone’s attempt to gamify an improv acting class. There’s even a whole section about the use of props and costumes (and the bonus points players receive for the use of them) “similar to film prop or theatrical property.” 

But what about using it for an ongoing campaign? Well, it might work for certain types of groups. 

First, because the game is essentially run by committee and the Director lacks authority in most matters (and the fact that the Director doesn’t effectively even exist for the first session), it becomes incumbent upon each and every member of the group to be thoroughly familiar with the book and systems laid out therein.  

Second, and related, Blackwind relies upon proactive group participation in every step of the game as well as between-session preparation. While a small amount of points are awarded for what characters achieve in-game, as many or more points are awarded for what the players do out-of-game in order to enrich the experience. And while it is possible to gain a handful of points for creating maps or introducing physical props for the group’s use, Blackwind wants to encourage players to really go that extra mile. It assumes, for example, a group member composing, scoring, performing, recording, editing and arranging a complete OST for the adventure, for which said player would receive 3 points per track plus 4 points for having created an album from scratch (or possibly just a straight 7 points per track; the rules are a bit fuzzy for that).  

Incidentally, have you noticed we haven’t yet touch upon game mechanics? Depending upon the Role to which you are Cast, your character is assigned a die. Checks of any sort are made by rolling and attempting to get a low number (ideally below 6 for most things). If you are the Main Protagonist (Spades career) than you roll a d6 for anything related to your Role, thus nearly guaranteeing success. Less important party members get to roll a d8, d10, or d12, giving them less and less certainty of success. Anybody rolling for checks unrelated to their Role rolls a d20. 

If you succeed thrice in a row on any particular check, even across sessions, your character suddenly reveals they have that skill, and the character’s player must then retcon that skill into the character’s backstory in some fashion. You can have a maximum of eight skills at any time, though, so if you gain a new one you must also (if you have achieved that cap number) lose an old one.  

During play, each character gets three “actions” per round, but only one of those actions may require a die roll or have any mechanical weight. So, for example, a character may walk, show a facial expression, and hum; or sit, beckon a waiter, and make an order; or wake up, run a hand on their face, and mutter something. 

And the book points out that “[o]bject and environment descriptions are not counted within the three-action rule, as long as they do not lengthen the dialogue excessively.” Thus “He raises the sword to the sky, screaming, ‘Victory!'” is counted the same as “He raises his sword: it is an old, blood-drenched blade, with two golden dragons damasked over the hilt and a handle wrapped in worn red leather. He raises it to the sky, screaming, ‘Victory!’ while the wind ruffles his blonde hair and sends his red cloak fluttering in the wind.” are counted the same (though the latter might gain the player a bonus point for role playing). A direct example from the book. 

So, if we pull out the pages dealing with character creation and in-session game mechanics we end up with about 20 pages (including several full-page artworks and a number of other pages that are largely or mostly art with some text). The remaining 140 pages (excluding covers and TOC) are dedicated to the rules surrounding the creation of the campaign.  

Who is this book written for?  

They assume their audience has an interest in stage or film production and desire to know all the intricacies that go into the pre-production of shows and/or movies. Further, they assume their audience wants fairness and equality in all things, with an absolute flat power structure, and a guarantee of equitable outcome. Their audience wants rules that prevent anyone from telling them what they can do, but also rules to let them have a say in what everyone else can do. So… This book was written for actors both professional and amateur as well as gamers more interested in proactively shaping organic narratives than in responding to mechanically-imposed challenges. 

 

Blackwind – Core Rulebook 

Blackwind – Game Module – Space Blood: Arena 

Blackwind – Game Module – Space Blood: Rescue!

Blackwind – Game Module – The Treasure of Maracaibo

 

WOLF REVIEW: Blackwind Project 

Written by Wolf 

Edited by Egg Embry 

All opinions expressed here are strictly those of the individual authors. 

Black Mirror, Season 5 Review

 

My previous reviews can be found here: Seasons 1&2 and 3 and 4.

As I wrote last time, “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.”

Last time my big complaint to start things is how long it takes for these crazy shows to come out. However, since this was only 3 episodes, I feel like I’m left needing a couple of more just to last until the next season (yes, I know Bandersnatch came out earlier this year – what can I say, I’m greedy!).

EP 1 – Striking Vipers

It is said that Science Fiction stories allow us to confront ideas and themes in a “safe” way. Presented in a container of something that isn’t real, we can allow those statements and questions to be made without instantly rejecting them because they may not line 100% up with our own personal feelings or beliefs. So many of the Black Mirror episodes do this very thing, asking a question about the tech we use, but maybe more important is how that tech affects us in our day to day lives.

And while this episode allows the show to ask some fundamental questions about friendship and love and sexuality, it also doesn’t try and present only one answer. Is it ok to be in love with two different people? Is it ok to be in love with the mind of someone? Is it cheating if it is all virtual? Is it enough to know what you are doing is wrong and still continue to do it?

Or could the episode be about addictions more than sexuality? The idea of every day getting closer to losing ourselves within a virtual shell. That what is on the other side of the monitor or within some game, no matter how life-like, isn’t life.

Or maybe it is just about lying to yourself…

EP 2 – Smithereens

This is probably the most “normal” of the trio this season. The fundamental technology aspect has to do more with a Facebook-style site called Smithereens and how addicted we are to it. That idea alone is probably 5 or 10 years out of date. We all know this and don’t seem to care.

No, what is important about this episode is the lead character who is doing everything he can to “say his piece” about how far this addiction has gone with people and the world. But it is the performance of Chris that really shook me. Something about the pain he was in was conveyed by him in such a way that I was not only fully invested in his story (even if I had pretty much figured out the “twist” on why he was kidnapping this guy). That pain was something we’ve all had to go through… loss of a loved one will make you reexamine everything you are doing.

And it might lead you to do things you might have never suspected.

EP 3 – Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too

The juxtaposition of the pop-singer Ashley O and the teenaged girl Rachel is at the core of the episode. Really it caused me to echo back to my own teenage years, and while I was never a 16-year-old girl, I had moments where I didn’t know how I fit in. That any of us might jump to an artificial toy who can respond and interact to us… had that been available when I was in school I suspect it would have been as big a hit with my peers as it was in this story.

The flip side is a story we’ve seen or heard before about the pop singer (movie actress, famous person) who is just as dissatisfied with their own lives as we are. The proof that even being rich and famous may mean that we have less control of our own lives than those who are struggling to get through another day.

At what point do we take control of our lives and make it what we want it to be? Can we manage to do that when other people are depending on us to be the bread-winner? How do you manage to follow your dreams when reality won’t let you?

***

A short season only means I was able to knock the whole season out in a few hours… so I can finally be ahead of everyone else for just a few seconds!

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

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.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Chapter Preview – The Dark That Follows

A disgraced former cop who possesses the ability to see the future…

A college student whose life has become entangled in black magic…

A girlfriend who is no longer sure who to trust…

And a vision of the future which shows only the darkness of the void…

The only difference between Jason Mills and every other Fortune Teller in town is that when he tells people about their futures he doesn’t need to make anything up. With a touch, his mind is flooded with visions of what may come. Am I going to fall in love… am I going to be rich… am I going to get that promotion… Until the reading that shows him only a void, as if the future has been wiped clean for one person.

As all futures begin to unravel, Jason begins to realize that the young man who began this prediction may be more involved in this Dark outcome than he could imagine.

That his ability is as much a gift as it is a curse.

His gift of future sight had put him on the radar of some very powerful beings.

Drawn into a web of secret societies, Black Masses, and beings of immense power, Jason races to determine the truth behind his visions in order to save his own future from being wiped out.

 

Please enjoy the following preview chapter of

THE DARK THAT FOLLOWS

CHAPTER ONE

Office building. Elevator. Sam from accounts payable. Sip of water. Far office. Jim the terrible boss. New office. Handsome guy. Blush. Smile. Sandwich. Phone call. Tears. Screaming.

Marilyn.

“Are you sure that this isn’t going to hurt?”

Her words snapped him from the trance. Jason Mills watched as the woman fidgeted in the seat across the table. With one of her hands now freed from his, she maintained limited contact with the other.

“Just breathe deep and relax. You came to me, but we aren’t going to get anywhere if you continue to be this nervous.”

“It’s just that, well… I’m beginning to rethink coming here.”

He smiled at her. It was the same disarming smile he’d given to hundreds of other skittish customers who’d come to him. Whatever it took to make sure she remained a paying customer. He reached out with his free hand and coaxed her to regain the connection.

“Release your thoughts and let your mind wander.

“There… that’s it.”

Jason Mills gripped the older woman’s hand tighter while her potential life revealed itself. The sync between the two complete, he began to search out anything within the immediate future.

Through her eyes he glimpsed a corner office overlooking the weeds of cubicles. The man inside smiles while pointing at the nameplate on the desk: Ellen Small.

The words flowed from Jason.

“This is the year when all your hard work starts to pay off. You’ve been biding your time over the last few years. Something you have managed to earn and not just ease yourself into.”

A gasp escaped his charge’s lips. Spurred on by this first fortune, her grip strengthened to match his.

Another day and different images flowed through his mind. Ellen sat alone in a deli, her attention divided between an e-reader on the table, a partially eaten sandwich, and the attractive gentleman sitting three tables over. Jason caught the briefest glance; all she would allow herself to experience.

“New people and new possibilities go hand in hand. You should shed your shyness. Push beyond the nagging voice inside you which urges restraint, and instead open up to new experiences and new people.”

Another shift and another hand squeeze.

Jason delved one more time into her future. Somewhere her cell phone rang, the name on the other end read Marilyn, and Ellen placed it to her ear. Her world spun and twisted. Her words blurred and mixed with anguish. The phone slipped from her hand to the ground, and she slid to the floor after it.

Jason dropped the link and released her hands. Ellen sat before him, eyes wide and leaning forward in her seat.

Jason eased back in the chair. He ran sweaty palms through slicked back hair, the perspiration and the hair gel mixing to produce sticky goo. He let out a deep breath.

“You should take the opportunity to get in contact with your friends and family. They miss you greatly and will counsel you on your most difficult decisions.”

Ellen cocked her head to one side and nodded, whether to him or to herself, Jason wasn’t sure. Either way, he hated this part. Better to have good news… or at least, not bad news to give his clients. It made for poor repeat business. No one wanted to come back to a fortune teller who gave them upsetting futures. Repeat customers were the one thing that allowed him to pay rent.

Terrible news also made his heart ache for them. So, most of the time, he tried to make it vague enough so the person might leave perplexed, a fine alternative to the other thing.

“Someone named… Marilyn… I saw that she might be of great counsel to you in the upcoming days.”

Ellen’s jaw opened in disbelief. Everything else could be explained away. Up until that point, Jason’s talk of true insight into the future appeared just vague enough. Much like the magician who performs his tricks on stage to a captive audience, no one wants to know how the trick is done, because then it is ruined for them for all time. Better to allow themselves to think it real, but know that it is not.

Instead, with one name, he managed to shatter her image of not only him and what it is he’s told her, but the idea that it could be real settled inside her head… a scary proposition for most everyone.

“How? I haven’t…”

“I can’t predict what I am going to see within the vision, but what I have said can push you into the right direction. It is you who has to take control of your life and make the choices. Understand?”

A slow nod greeted him behind which he could see the struggle within her mind. She rose from her seat still bewitched from his words. A slight dazed look lay frozen across her face.

The sign of a possible repeat customer.

*

Image by Uki_71 from Pixabay

Jason Mills had come to realize, in the last three years, the important thing was to live up to the customer’s expectations. No one wanted their fortune read by some guy in a t-shirt and jeans. People wanted theatrics, a story for their friends so they might debate the merits of whether the guy who had done her reading was for real or a fraud. Even then, they do not mind the apparent lies as long as they had a good time. It was something he had struggled with understanding when he first started out. All the bullshit items they gave credence to allowed them to have a connection. So for that reason he dressed the chamber up to match those preconceptions. Something an ordinary person would want to see and experience.

The corner lamp’s light filtered through a purple shade framing the small table. Centered within the pattern sat a crystal ball. The curtains, which surrounded the area, were a royal red. Every piece needed to convey that he was worth giving money to and his fortune reading was as legit as a fortune reading could be. Whether he gave good news or bad, if the show felt wrong, then their experience would match.

His outfit was meticulously picked out. He slicked his dark hair back, combined a simple black vest with a red dress shirt underneath and dark slacks. For the final piece he added an intense glare he mastered a long time ago, in a different life. It helped that his six foot three inch height not only allowed him to stand above almost every customer, but also caused him to look a little more muscular. His size helped him sell the show; it made him more intimidating than anyone else in the room. Had it been Halloween, he wouldn’t have needed to change as he could either add fake plastic fangs and say he was Dracula or forgo that and claim to be a Vegas magic act.

Customers fell into a couple of camps. The two largest groups were comprised of either tourists visiting the Little Five Points area for a little extra spice of Atlanta, Georgia local flavor, or college kids who consumed one too many drinks during the day and thought getting their fortune read might be good for a laugh. Those same rich kids seemed to treat the whole experience as a rite of passage. As if it was their job to expose him as a fraud.

Their business was nice, if a bit unreliable. Still it was the regulars who allowed him to exist day to day. The older woman who searched for something to fill the hole in her heart. The business man trying to get the next big project off the ground, but had convinced himself long ago the fortune tellers knew something he did not. The Goth girl who believed in someone who could see the future, and hoped through her experience with Jason she would somehow become more connected to the universe itself. Inside each a puzzle piece was missing and the prophecies which Jason the Wondrous spouted could make them whole.

So now Jason sat, watching the feet moved past his curtain only to stop and shuffle back. The uncertain pause before a new face stuck his head inside the curtain and got their first glimpse of Jason’s inner lair. Aside from the lamp, only the crystal ball’s light permeated the room. It did its job well. Shadows made Jason look all the more mysterious.

Jason could hear someone behind the lead figure mumble something about going in, and sure enough the young man made a full appearance. Right behind him, two more followed.

The leader moved deeper into the curtained area, and Jason got his first true look at him. One of the few people who would have been able to look Jason in the eyes and from the shoulder length dark hair and complexion, Jason guessed the kid had some island blood in him. He dressed in a polo shirt and khaki shorts. His attire was the standard uniform of male college students when they hit the bars during these summer months.

The other two matched the dress code if not the look. A shorter, stocky guy took his spot on the left. His nose showed the damage of a man who’d won and lost plenty of fights, but from his frame, Jason suspected that he’d won many more than he’d lost. The taller friend flanked the right. He was all legs and arms and looked as if a deep breath would send him to the ground. His whole form looked as if each piece grew at different rates.

“Have a seat, my friend.” Jason used his best movie voice, struggling to channel Vincent Price, always trying to channel Vincent.

Image by Niek Verlaan from Pixabay

“Uh, alright.”

The twenty-something sat down across from Jason, eyes still adapting to the lower light around him.

“What is it that brings you to me today? Is there something particular you would wish me to ask the spirits?”

“No. I guess, um, just a general reading? Is… is that alright?” It wasn’t fear, but embarrassment which got him stuttering.

“A general reading is fifty. Cash first please.”

Jason learned the hard way that you always needed to get the cash before giving the reading; otherwise you end up chasing your rent money down the sidewalk at eleven o’clock at night. Add to it the fact that Jason grew closer to forty than to thirty every day; any chase was something in which he no longer possessed any confidence.

The young man motioned for the taller man to produce the cash. “This was your idea. Pay the man.”

Taking money from the friend, Jason stared into the customer’s eyes. “Your full name?”

“Terry Soone.”

The shorter friend added. “With an ‘e’.”

“I don’t think he needs the spelling, ass.”

“Alright, Terry, I need you to place your hands face up on the table. As I touch you, clear your mind of all thoughts.” Jason used this moment to unlock eyes with Terry and focused on his two companions, “You must all do this. Any additional stray thoughts will cloud the reading. You must be a blank slate for it to work.”

It was a lie. Jason did not need them to do anything other than stay somewhat quiet. It was more for the mood than the actual reading. Still it added to the mystery. Once again, it was the little things. He needed to make sure they got their money’s worth.

As his friends chuckled behind him, Terry put his hands on the table, and Jason reached across, focusing back upon him. He took a deep breath then grabbed the young man’s palms.

The room, the lights, the crystal ball, and the speech were all a lie. The tourists did not want Jason Mills, they needed the Wondrous One. Regardless, the gift was reality.

Chips. Raise. Fold. Brandon can’t hold his liquor. A redhead girl. Front porch. Face stings. Black robes. Candles. Smiles. Knives. Knives. Knives.

Blackness.

The images slammed into his mind. They blurred and morphed from moment to moment. When Jason tried to explain the readings to anyone else the best he could come up with was to compare it to the old style movie projectors. Every image those machines showed the audience consisted of many individual frames. At the speed it ran, one frame in ten might be seen. It was the same with any readings. Jason saw a movie, but the images moved so fast he couldn’t comprehend anything. It was a blur. Thus the first step was to get a connection. That was the easy part. The second step was to slow the movie down and take a look at the individual pieces, the frames.

Jason took another deep breath, concentrated, and the images came into focus:

Terry sat at a table wearing the same clothes he did now. More friends sat around him looking none too pleased as Terry raked in another stack of poker chips. Someone threw up on a fake plant in the corner. Still, Terry pulled in more and more cash.

Seeing cash was easy to explain, everyone’s thoughts drifted to money, and as such, Jason picked up that information quicker than any other issue the customer might have.

“You will be coming into wealth very soon. Cash won is much sweeter than money earned. It appears your friends here are not good poker players.”

The short stocky friend spoke with disgust. “Standard. They always say something about money.”

“Quiet please.”

With the next image, Jason watched a young redheaded woman slap Terry across the face. He stood in the doorway, too stunned to respond or even make an effort to fix the perceived slight he must have visited on the female. She did not allow him the time anyway and slammed the door in his face.

“You will have some bumps in your love life in the near future. Whatever it is you do, try not to piss off the redhead any more than you already have”

“Obvious, relationship stuff… this guy is a joke.”

Terry shifted his grip at the mention of the girl. Jason struck the correct cord.

The scene dissolved into a shadowy place where a robed man placed a hand on a kneeling Terry’s shoulder.

“A,” Jason needed to search for the word, “ceremony… in the days to come…”

The moment disappeared into emptiness.

You are not welcome here.

The connection severed, and Jason released Terry’s grip.

“Is that it?”

Jason wiped palms on his vest before reaching out to grip Terry’s hands once more.

“No… it is just that… I’m not sure you are concentrating on this. Without your cooperation, this is not going to work.”

Terry nodded and clenched his eyes shut.

Focusing, Jason rewound the vision to try and lock onto it.

Jason strained, sweat rolled down his face, but he saw more of the same.

Robes. Candles. Knives. Blackness.

This differed from anything he experienced in a reading before. For one to stop on its own accord…

He rolled the mental picture back to the last clear image: the ceremony. Through Terry’s eyes he looked up at the robed man who stood in front of him anointing his subject. White flashed from beneath the hood. A bright light filled his eyes…

Undesired. Interloper. Begone.

Again the connection severed.

An electric spark seemed to leap from Terry into him. Jason jerked free.

“Whoa, what happened there? Did you see something else?” The obnoxious friend leaned in close, trying to scan Jason’s face for any hint of what happened.

Terry pulled back from the table and rubbed his hands. Jason guessed the electricity had not been a one sided affair.

“Do you have a buzzer underneath the table?”

Jason composed himself as best he could. He needed to remain in character and not betray the fact he did not know what had occurred.

“I have no such need for parlor tricks. Check under the table for yourself if you do not believe me.”

That invitation was all the unconvinced friend needed. He squatted down beside the table and lifted the table cloth. Jason watched as he felt around for anything that might have explained the jump.

“Whatever it is you felt was both true and powerful. In the coming days you are going to be presented with an important choice. One choice made in darkness will bring great light, but…”

Jason searched for the right words.

“It will not be without its dangers. Choose wisely, your next step, for the futures of many will be at stake… not just your own.”

Terry sat there for another second, either to contemplate what Jason told him or to determine how they had been ripped off. The two friends, who had enough of the show, grabbed Terry on the shoulder urging him to leave.

“Let’s get out of here. I told you this was a scam.”

While they were unconvinced, Terry’s face betrayed his own concern. Jason couldn’t be sure if it was due to the strangeness of the reading, or if Terry understood more of the reading than even Jason did.

The three men left the curtained room muttering to themselves, but Jason did not give them any more notice. He lifted his hand up and found it trembling. His heart sounded off within his chest.

The absence of an image…

Still Jason could not shake the images he saw. He visualized many things in the few years since he discovered his gift. Some were standard beats, like Terry’s money or love life; those were common links between all humanity. Those are the things that subconscious minds dwell on. Will I find love? Am I going to be rich? Those were easy as Terry’s friend had pointed out. The blackness… that was not normal. It seemed there was only one way to interpret it:

Terry Soone was going to die.

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

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.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

PRESS RELEASE – Justice Velocity: An Action Movie Inspired Tabletop RPG Launches Kickstarter

Justice Velocity: The Action Movie Inspired Tabletop RPG is now Live on Kickstarter

March 6th, 2019– Justice Velocity, the action movie inspired tabletop roleplaying game is officially live on Kickstarter. Inspired by pulpy action films like the Fast & Furious franchise, Bad Boys, and more, Justice Velocity puts you in the driver’s seat.

The campaign launched on Tuesday, March 5th, and generated 32% of its $1500 funding goal in its first day. With a goofy and over-the-top promotional video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMAzwkwVZsQ , Justice Velocity promises to deliver on all the action movie tropes–espionage, heists, hijinks, and fast cars are all essential to the blood-pumping action.

The title is independent game designer Clipper Arnold and Polyhedra Games’ first official title, though they have the help of Nathon Paoletta (of World Wide Wrestling and more) doing the final layout design, and punchy visuals from Swedish artist Anders Karlsson.

The game boasts quick character creation, making it ideal for one-shots and short campaigns, octane chips for kicking it into high gear for climactic action sequences, and dynamic vehicle rules for different styles of races and car combat.

In their launch day update, Polyhedra Games announced an upcoming liveplay video from The Grizzled Geek, (as well as the possibility of some stretch goals on the horizon. You can view the campaign here – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/polyhedragames/justice-velocity-an-action-movie-inspired-tabletop?ref=557316&token=b3808dec

  • Website – polyhedragames.com
  • Facebook – facebook.com/polyhedragames
  • Instagram – instagram.com/polyhedragames
  • Twitter – twitter.com/polyhedragames
  • Email – polyhedragames@gmail.com

Introducing Justice Velocity

An Action Movie Inspired Tabletop Roleplaying Game

What is the velocity of justice? Many say it’s difficult to quantify– that it even evades common metrics of measurement or full understanding by the rule of law. One thing’s for sure, however: you should be able to gauge it as it comes hurtling towards you. Hands grip steering wheels as rubber grips concrete. Seedy underbellies trade bullets with the law and set moral shades of gray ablaze. Napalm and nitrous are as indispensable as your ability to hack or maneuver cold machinery.

Inspired by action movies like the Fast & Furious franchise, Rush Hour, or Bad Boys, and anime like Initial D– Justice Velocity puts you in the driver’s seat. It’s an exercise in collaborative storytelling that puts the stakes of a race or the fate of deadly computer viruses up to your players’ skills, abilities, and the roll of the dice.

There’s something exhilarating about sending Hot Wheels™ down a track into their doom. There’s something thrilling about unnecessary explosions. There’s something amazing about seeing whether or not a car can jump over the opening of a live volcano. Justice Velocity is an unapologetic, adrenaline-fueled romp which delves into the nature of exergy and machine fetishism. It pushes physics, bodies, and systems to their limits. When justice calls, sometimes it’s the gruff, meat-headed, cargo-pants-donning voice of utilitarianism that picks up the phone. This is a foray into that universe… one in which steel, muscle, and ingenuity can prevail and save the world from certain peril.

Justice Velocity is made by Polyhedra Games. It comes to Kickstarter Tuesday, March 5th. You can pre-screen the promo video here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMAzwkwVZsQ , and see a preview of the Kickstarter campaign here – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/polyhedragames/justice-velocity-an-action-movie-inspired-tabletop?ref=557316&token=b3808dec . Interviews, beta rules, and other materials are available upon request.

 

 

 

The Atlanta Science Fiction and Fantasy Expo – A Review

As I wrote last week, I had a table at the 5th annual ASFE this past weekend.

Most conventions have some kind of fee to gain access to the creators and products within. I remember many years ago discovering that these smaller conventions even existed (this is pre-internet, where it felt like to find anything out about anything took rumour and innuendo and all sorts of luck). And while that one wasn’t all that big and could be walked through in less than an hour, it was cool to be able to interact a little bit with the creators.

I’ve always thought that the ASFE was a little like that except it was completely free.

Obviously, given its location in a mall in the northeast Atlanta metro area, the hope is that people who are going to see the latest Marvel movie decide to swing by the Expo and see what all the commotion is about. What this really means is that you get an interesting cross-section of people who wander through the area. There are obviously the people who know about the Expo and have come to check it out or they know one of the independent creators are going to be there with their wares. You have some people who like to support the local artists. Then you have the people who are completely unaware an event might be going on, but then are almost forced to walk through the area and hopefully, something catches their eye.

Having been there for the first one and pretty much all the other ones in between, it’s been an interesting process to watch. While there certainly has been table growth since the early days, it is more about the other stuff surrounding it where I see the greatest growth. The number of panels over the two days has increased probably ten-fold.

One of the products decorating my table space.

As to the actual interactions with the public, obviously, I am there to get my products in people’s hands. I came with copies of The Gilded Age Graphic Novel, The Gilded Age COloring Book, The Dark That Follows and Hollow Empire novels. And like any convention, you have an uphill battle in trying to convince them to purchase your wares. Of course, with some people, those who want to support the local artists, it really becomes a matter of making sure they don’t walk away empty handed.

Personally, I think I have a decent enough pitch for my stuff, but I’m sure, like everything else, it could use some refinement as well!

And, no convention would be a good one without the ability to see old friends. So many people over the last decade-plus that I’ve gotten to know through the old Terminus meetings or at these smaller conventions or those friends who always come out to support me. It is appreciated beyond what you know!

So that closes out another year of the Expo. See you next time!

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

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.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

Review – Shakespeare Tavern’s Romeo and Juliet

I don’t know if I was any different than anyone else in class the first time we were “forced” to read Romeo and Juliet. The language was strange. The story felt too familiar – like I’d seen it a hundred times if I’d seen it once. And the idea that they needed to come up with some elaborate plan of faking death in order for the two lovers (who’d known each other about an hour before Romeo proposed to Juliet). It was just… too much.

But I didn’t hate it. I’m not sure I can fully remember how I felt about it. Just one of those things that you have to do in school. You read it, take a test or two on the material, and move on to the next classic. Occasionally they will lead you to someone becoming a favourite author (thank you Jack London for “To Build a Fire”). Sometimes you realize how much of a non-fan you are (Mr. Dickens, I’m looking at you).

 

 

Weirdly, it was the 1996 version of the play starring Leonardo Dicaprio and Claire Danes where I think I started to understand the story. Whether it was the modern setting, the delivery of the lines… maybe just hearing the words rather than reading them. Or maybe I was just in a different mindset 4 years after I’d initially read the tale. Maybe I had more knowledge about the idea for the reason I thought I’d seen the story over and over… it was because everyone was using it as a basis to tell a certain kind of story.

And with watching, the nuances of the actors’ performances lend themselves to seeing how even if I didn’t catch every word, I knew what the characters were trying to convey. Those little pieces that are completely missing from a read through.

I probably haven’t seen that version of Romeo and Juliet in over a decade, at least. But the Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta puts on the play for the month of February. Courtney and I had been threatening to go and see a play there (lived here how many years and never went, what’s wrong with us). So we finally made it this past weekend.

Have you ever had one of your favourite songs come on and for some reason, it has a slightly different context than it ever had before? Maybe you hear a group of lyrics for the first time or just are in a different moment in your life… and suddenly the song is different for you. That was this performance this weekend. It was the same play and yet little moments caught me by surprise.

  • The dialogue of Juliet’s Nurse. Multiple times she stole the scene she was in just with the energy she had at the beginning of the play. Later when she has news about Romeo, Juliet calls her old, so she has fun at her expense. Previously I’d thought of the character as someone who toys with the two main characters, but in this, I truly felt the affection she had for Juliet to the point that she put aside her own grief for Tybalt’s death because Romeo was now Juliet’s husband.
  • Mercutio is my favourite character in the play. The movie version is ever in my mind with every line of his dialogue, but in this performance, the role was further defined as someone who loves life, someone who loves Romeo, and someone who would defend his friends until the end. “A plague on both your houses.” resonates with me. The futility of the war between the families.
  • I was struck by seeing the split of the Acts of the play. Romeo is the star of the first part with Juliet not appearing for a few scenes. It was enough where at the intermission my brain was thinking “wow, I thought Juliet was in more of this play.” Of course, the second half is Juliet’s time to shine. The split makes for an interesting compare/contrast that I hadn’t expected to see going into the play.
  • Lastly, Paris and his death in the crypt. I’m not entirely sure I even knew that scene happened prior to Saturday night. So when he appeared, in grief, it adds a bit of weird context to the story. Here was a man who appeared to be fond of this girl he sought to marry. So much so that he asks that Romeo lay him beside her… perhaps he’s not the villain or idiot I’d often taken him for?

Overall it was a great night with the words of the Bard ringing in our ears. I look forward to visiting another of his timeless tales there in the future.

***

By the way, did you know that I was participating in a Kickstarter for 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons focused on Love, Knights, and Enchanters? It is called Love’s Labour’s Liberated. The Kickstarter runs through the end of the month. If you are a fan of roleplaying games, give it a look!

***

John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!

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.

His other prose appears in The Dark That Follows, Hollow EmpireBeyond the Gate, and Machina Obscurum – A Collection of Small Shadows.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com

 

 

 

Adventures in Middle-Earth 5e Play Review – Preparing the Way and a Humble Reward

Since moving my “RPG Kickstarters You Should Back” column from the Guild to the Open Gaming Network, and taking over Angus Abranson’s “RPG Crowdfunding News” column on EN World, I’ve contemplated a new Friday column for the Guild. Something RPG-related, but less Kickstarter. Then, one of my two longtime DMs suggested an ongoing Adventures in Middle-Earth 5e campaign. Doing a campaign review obviously touches on tabletop roleplaying games, and it offers the broadest appeal by combining Dungeons & Dragons and JRR Tolkien’s world. Still, will writing about how my terrible dice rolls in a variant of Dungeons & Dragons 5e be compelling week-after-week? With those questions, I decided to sit on the idea for the time being.

Our first session was Saturday, December 1st, 2018 and, while it was a great start, I still had doubts about it being enough to justify a series to discuss it. Then, on Monday, December 17th, 2018, Adventures in Middle-Earth for 5e rolled out on Bundle of Holding (here) offering most of the books as PDFs. That made this campaign and article series feel more timely. The next day, Cubicle 7 opened up pre-orders for Adventures in Middle-earth – Bree-land Region Guide + PDF (here). Even as I was preparing this article, small pieces were coming together to push this forward like Humble Bundle offering LEGO® Lord of the Rings for free (through Saturday, December 22 at 10 a.m. Pacific time). But the clincher that made me decide that I need to do a play review was the month, December. For me, there is no month I associate with Tolkien’s work more, and that’s because of Peter Jackson’s adaptations:

  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – U.S. release date: December 19, 2001
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – U.S. release date: December 18, 2002
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – U.S. release date: December 17, 2003
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – U.S. release date: December 12, 2012
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – U.S. release date: December 13, 2013
  • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – U.S. release date: December 17, 2014

All of that together makes this feel like the right column to tackle right now. It will let me talk about the books, the system, the world, the campaign we’re playing, other adaptations (from the 1966 short animation to the upcoming Amazon series) and the characters. Each article will talk about some aspect of the RPG, Tolkien’s work, the movies, or whatever is appropriate to the moment.

Even with that, this would not have seemed practical without a few more life accomplishments that made playing Adventures in Middle-Earth for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition happen:

Cubicle 7 (left to right: Walt Ciechanowski, Jon Hodgson (holding the Silver ENnie Award – Best Rules), TS Luikart, Egg [*not* a part of C7], and Dominic McDowall) at the ENnie Awards 2017.

Since our last D&D campaign wrapped over a year ago, and I put hands on Adventures in Middle-Earth for 5e, I’ve wanted to play in a Middle-Earth campaign. The circumstances to make that happen came to pass on Saturday, December 1st, 2018 as a fellowship of four of us came together to adventure and, eventually, do some great bit of heroism (maybe). The Loremaster is Mike, and the fellowship consists of Rebecca, John McGuire (Tessera Guild), Stephen, and myself.

 

 

Interested in trying out Adventures in Middle-Earth for 5e? You can get most of the books as PDFs through Bundle of Holding (here) until January 4th, 2019. The price for Adventures in Middle-earth Player’s Guide, Rhovanion Region Guide, The Road Goes Ever On, Loremaster’s Guide, Wilderland Adventures, and the Eaves of Mirkwood & Loremaster Screen is not likely to get cheaper than what BoH and Cubicle 7 have it for there.

As well, Cubicle 7 has started taking pre-orders for Adventures in Middle-earth – Bree-land Region Guide + PDF on there site (here).

 

Let’s round out the introductory post with the variety of RPG systems that existed to bring Tolkien’s work to the tabletop:

  • Middle-earth Role Playing (MERP) from Iron Crown Enterprises (I.C.E.) was published through two editions from 1984 to 1999.
    • Lord of the Rings Adventure Game also from I.C.E. from 1991 to 1993. This game was a beginner’s version of MERP.
  • The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game by Decipher Inc. that ran from 2002 to 2006.
    • 2002 Origins Award – Best Roleplaying Game
  • The One Ring Roleplaying Game from Cubicle 7 that started in 2011 and is still going.
    • Awards and nominations:
      • 2012 Golden Geek – Best Art and Presentation
      • 2012 Gold ENnie Award – Best Free Product, Golden ENnie Award – Best Art (Interior)
      • 2012 Silver ENnie Award – Best Production Values
      • 2012 Lucca Games’ (an Italian convention) Best of Show for Best Role Play Game
      • 2012 Origins Award Nominee – Best Roleplaying Game
      • 2013 ENnie Award Nominee – Best Accessory for The Loremaster’s Screen and Laketown Book
      • 2015 ENnie Award Nominee – Best Accessory for The Darkening of MirkwoodENnie Award Nominee – Best Accessory for Hobbit Tales
      • 2017 ENnie Award Nominee – Best Supplement for Horse-Lords of RohanENnie Award Nominee – Best Writing for Horse-Lords of Rohan
    • Hobbit Tales from Cubilce 7 is a standalone storytelling card game that could be used with The One Ring Roleplaying Game.
  • Adventures in Middle-earth for Dungeons & Dragons 5e also by Cubicle 7 that began in 2016 and has the distinction of being the first time Tolkien’s works were officially adapted to D&D.
    • Awards:
      • 2017 Silver ENnie Award – Best Rules for Adventures in Middle-Earth Player’s Guide
      • 2018 Origins Award – Best RPG

As I was putting the finishing touches on this article, I received this email from Humble Bundle promoting their LEGO® Lord of the Ring giveaway (talk about nice timing):

“We’re giving away FREE copies of LEGO® Lord of the Rings for 48 hours (or while supplies last) in the Humble Store! This promotion is available from Thursday, December 20 at 10 a.m. Pacific time to Saturday, December 22 at 10 a.m. Pacific time.

Below is your link to LEGO® Lord of the Rings on the Humble Store.

https://www.humblebundle.com/store/lego-the-lord-of-the-rings?partner=eggembry

 

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliated links to DriveThruRPG’s affiliate program and Humble Bundle’s Humble Partner program. 

Not A Review – A Quiet Place

Spoilers will not follow…

Because I have not seen this movie yet.

Yes, it is a strange thing to write about a movie without having seen it. But I have a reason for doing so… you see, this movie has already invaded my dreams.

This past weekend I had one dream from the time I closed my eyes until the time I woke up where I was in the world of A Quiet Place.

Now, without seeing the movie, the only thing my subconscious would have been able to glean was from what we see in the trailers themselves. And there is clearly something about it. I’m not sure if it is the premise: being hunted by things that rely on sound to find you. It might have been the spooky score they play during the trailer. Or it could even be the narrator, his low, gravelly voice breaking through my tv screen in order to make the hairs on my arms stand up. I wish I could know exactly what it was that set this dream in motion.

I think I’m lucky that I have pretty vivid dreams in full color. And most of the time even if I’m the main character of a dream, I’m somehow watching myself from behind the camera.

My dream version of the movie was pretty good (with a bit of strange dream logic, but I’ll let that slide). Very post-apocalyptic. In this, I was a part of a smallish group (maybe 12 people total) moving through the outskirts of where the suburbs end and the farmlands of Georgia begin. Where you get the occasional subdivision but can also not see a house for miles. We were the last ones in the area, somehow finding our way through the initial attack.

It was long stretches of walking, of waiting, of deeply disturbing moments when the sun had set and the little bit of whispering would happen. Everyone needing a small amount of connection with those they were surviving with, but not daring to go too far without there being any other thing that could possibly keep the monsters from hearing us, from tracking us to our lair. There were planned ambushes and being forced to leave people behind due to injuries, but…

It was the feeling that I remembered more than anything else. Thinking about it in the morning, it was clearly the feel I got watching the trailer. That no matter what, basic human nature dictates that we need to interact with others. That we need to be able to communicate. That sheer fear as one of them stalks you.

Normally these types of dreams would happen after I’d seen the movie, but this came before that. It became a movie that was obviously already on my radar before that night and now I’m just wondering if it will actually be too scary for my wife to want to see it or not.

Sometimes I let my dreams help me work out a story problem. Sometimes I go along for a ride I might never actually be able to do. I’ve jotted down ideas from dreams – fresh from waking up – but that feeling while they actually are happening can’t be duplicated. That dream logic will kick in and suddenly everyone is on scooters when we are traveling down a busy interstate. That feeling just can’t be recaptured in the same way because I don’t have the right foundation. So I wonder how it is going to be to actually watch the movie. Will it live up to my version? From everything I’m seeing on Facebook and from friends who went to see it – I think mine is going to be a very pale imitation.

Maybe in my head canon I can claim my idea takes place before the movie itself?

***

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.

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

My Review of 75 Random Things – Part 2

My Review of 75 Random Things – Part 2

(Every item on this list was suggested by friends and strangers on the internet.)


Season 1 of the TV series ‘Fortitude’ Great acting. Super interesting buildup. Vastly disappointing ending.

Jack Daniel Honey – Not bad for a party drink. It’s mildly palatable and inexpensive. But once you try higher end whiskey, you’ll never want to drink Jack Daniel anything again.

The city of Chicago – I miss living there, but only during non-winter seasons, which means pretty much only half the year. I have a feeling I’ll end up returning there one day.

The Song ‘Too Many Dicks on the Dance Floor’ by Flight of the Conchords – Hilariously sums up trying to land a date by going clubbing.

Washing Dishes by Hand Instead of using a Dishwasher – Dishes get cleaner. Not much more work. Saves money. Ends arguments about how to stack dirty dishes. Sign me up.

Peeps – As a child, I loved Easter for the sole reason of devouring entire boxes of sugar-coated marshmallows. As an adult, same.

Putting Peeps into Burritos – No. Just no. Stop.

The TV Nature Series, Blue Planet – You think outer space is fascinating? Wait ’til you watch this series and see what lives on the ocean floor. Awesome, awesome show.

Russia’s Influence over the U.S. Election – I don’t know what they did. I don’t care. The kind of people influenced by stuff they read on Facebook? They were going to vote the same way regardless.

Dreadlocks – They look cool, but smell kinda like mildew.

Seat Warmers in Cars – For the ladies, I hear they’re great. But for guys, they burn warm all the wrong parts.

My New Cat ‘Bacon’ – Athletic. Mean. Bitey. Adorable.

Bacon, the bitey cat

My Recently Departed Cat, Sticky – Athletic. Scratchy. Sweet. Blind. And now she’s planted beneath a Japanese Maple tree.

Sticky laser eyes, fire!!

Text Messaging w/ Old People – Pretty much the most painful thing ever. Hurts my eyes to read the awkward things my dad types into his phone.

The Movie ‘Game Night’ starring Jason Bateman & Rachel McAdams – Pretty damn funny. I’ve come to realize anything with Jason Bateman will be good. Ditto Rachel McAdams.

Twizzlers – Yes. The perfect candy for…everything.

Aussie Licorice – It’s sticky like honey and tastes like engine oil. No thanks.

Sting (the musician) and his latest tour – Did you know tickets are $600? Nope.

Small Talk – Does anyone really want to talk about the weather? Or the latest TV show? Or how your cousin’s mom’s former roommate is doing? No. Let’s skip to something deeper, kay?

The Book ‘The Wise Man’s Fear’ by Patrick Rothfuss – I loved book one in the series ‘The Name of the Wind.’ But book two? Dreadfully slow. Wanders to strange places while making the main character utterly unlikeable.

DYI Plumbing – You might save thousands. Or you might end up doing your laundry in the backyard and taking showers using a teaspoon.

Robert Mueller – FBI Special Counsel – Sounds like the most difficult job in America. Dude gets slandered on a daily basis.

Ménage a Trois Wine – The California Red is good. The Rose is even better. The Silk and Dark varieties are pretty bad, kind of like drinking wine-drenched cotton balls.

The Introvert vs. Extrovert Discussion – It sometimes feels like an excuse for people to talk about themselves at length on the internet. It’s ok to be either or even both. Most people really don’t seem to care.

Cracker Barrel Pancakes – Too dry. Also, they’re super stingy with the syrup. Bring the whole bottle, baby.

The video series ‘The Lion’s Blaze’ – I will never be as flexible as the skinny dude. Never.

What. The. Fuck?

The Kids’ Movie ‘Early Man’ – Pretty funny. A bit sentimental, but refreshingly devoid of cynicism.

Drinking Organic Milk in place of Ordinary Milk – Prepare to spend a TON more on milk. But the flavor difference is worth every penny.

The Restaurant ‘Outback Steakhouse’ – Terrible, dry cuts of beef. You’d eat better steaks and save money just by pan-searing them at home.

James Veitch’s ‘This is what happens when you reply to spam’ comedy sketch – Freaking hilarious. We all want to do this, right?

Men Peeing While Sitting Down – Why would anyone want to sit on a toilet unless they absolutely had to?

The Art of Allen Williams – Dark and beautiful. He’s a wizard with graphite and a master of artistic anatomy. Just go here.

Fake Fingernails – Ladies, I have just one question. Why?

Beards – Love ’em. But had to shave mine off for the summer. Too warm for muggy days in the Georgia heat.

The Movie ‘Sicario’ starring Emily Blunt & Benicio del Toro – Probably the most intense movie I’ve ever seen. That ending…wow. You owe it to yourself to watch this late at night with zero distractions.

Angry Orchard Hard Cider – Good when on draft. Not particularly tasty out of a bottle.

The #_____LivesMatter Movements – My position is that no lives matter. Yes, really. None of us have any real value to the universe, so technically we should all treat each other equally. (But we never will.)

The Album ‘Kingdoms Disdained’ by Morbid Angel – Thumpy, ferocious, and superior to most metal albums of the modern era. Even so, not much variety within the album. Basically eleven very similar tracks.

The Theremin, a musical instrument – Weird and haunting. Search for ‘Armen Ra Theremin’ on Spotify and see where it takes you.

Clara Rockmore playing the theremin, publicity shot c. 1930

Finding Stray Girlfriend Hairs all over the House – Women shed more than cats. Or dogs. Or any mammal on Earth. I need a scientist to explain this phenomenon.

The Movie ‘Cloverfield Paradox’ – Not bad at all. Interesting premise, good actors, sharply suspenseful. But somehow in the end a bit unsatisfying. The whole experience feels like one big cliffhanger.

The Album ‘Sleep’ by Max Richter – Soft, serene music meant to help people relax and sleep. The tracks are repetitive and atmospheric, and yet soothing. I use this album for writing epic fantasy and sci-fi books, but if you’re an insomniac, you might want to try it for yourself.

Bras – If I were a woman, I’d like to let my ‘girls’ fly free. Ladies, you have my sympathies.

Aberlour Scotch – One of the smoothest, brightest, and flavorful scotches you’ll ever drink. Try the 16-year and live happily ever after. Here’s my complete rundown of the best scotches on the market.

The Movie ‘Swiss Army Man’ w/ Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe – It goes strange places right from the beginning and never truly comes back to something meaningful. That said, it has some pretty hilarious moments.

7-String Guitars – I don’t like playing on any other kind. Saves me the trouble of re-tuning my strings.

Bing (the search engine) – Sometimes I end up on Bing accidentally. I shudder and click right back to Google.

Homewood Suites Hotels – You’d be surprised by the number of active prostitute rings thriving in various Homewood Suites’ rooms. Yes, really.

Being an AuthorDon’t do it. Seriously. It’s not a path to happiness.

The Video Game ‘Super Mario Odyssey’ for the Nintendo Switch – My kid was alllll kinds of hyped up to play this. But after an hour or two, he came to the same conclusion I did while watching him play. Boring. Same old, same old. Everyone else loves this game. We don’t get it.

Yep. More of these guys.

The Renaissance Festival – Good, cheesy fun. Nightmarish parking. If you go, go when it’s cool outside.

Match.com – Boring

Plenty of Fish – Same as Match, but even duller

Bumble – Pretty damn good

Tinder – Gross

The Album ‘Thinking in Textures’ by Chet Faker – Smooth. Relaxing. Although not particularly inspiring.

Magic, the Gathering – The best game ever created. Great art. Great rules. Constantly evolving. Better to play face-to-face than over the internet, however.

Ketchup – Hey, if you like it, that’s ok. Some people get too uptight about other people’s condiments.

Teachers Carrying Guns in Schools – Do it if you want. Turn every school into the Wild West. My kid won’t be attending.

The Video Game ‘Ghost Recon Wildlands’ – Quietly one of the best shooting games ever made. Realistic, balanced, and addictive.

Bartenders Who Know Everything About Their Customers – A wise policy on the bartenders’ behalf to maximize tips. But I once knew a woman who told her bartender too much (she was cheating) while not realizing the bartender was BFF’s with her husband. Be careful what you talk about, people.

Anal Bleaching (Special thanks to the person who suggested this) – I get it for porn stars…sort of. I just want to know who came up with the idea in the first place. Sasha Grey?

The City of Deerfield Beach, Florida – If you like volleyball, sand, drinking, and pretty girls, you’ll love this neat little beach community.  If not, try Naples.

Deerfield Beach – See you on the sand!

Bangs – Easy hairstyle to maintain. But at what cost? 🙂

The Restaurant ‘PF Chang’s’ – The food is really good. The drinks are amazing. The wait-staff is bad. Really bad. And I’m the most merciful diner ever. The lesson? Don’t hire and underpay teenagers if you want to appear upscale.

School Shootings – They will continue ad infinitum. It’s who we are as Americans now. Knowing this, I won’t be sending my kid to public school. I suggest you rethink your kids’ education, as well.

Nude Body-Painting – It can be pretty cool, maybe even sexy. But definitely not in overheated rooms. And an age limit is advisable.

The #MeToo Movement – Every single woman I know has a horror story of sexual abuse. Every. Single. One. Which means a huge number of guys are involved. Scary, right?

The Album ‘Seasons in the Abyss’ by Slayer – The best heavy metal album ever made. Try not to bob your head during ‘Skeletons of Society.’

Melania Trump – She signed up to ride the Tilt-a-Whirl and ended up on the mother of all roller coasters.

Bagpipes – Well-played, they make beautiful, mournful music. Poorly-played, they seriously injure eardrums.

Kids Using Foul Language at Home – I’m cool with it. Sometimes. Words are just words. They’re harmless if you want them to be.

Ren & Stimpy – I’d like to personally thank this show’s creator John K. for guiding me through my early childhood. Here’s the complete collection. Worth every penny.

Cream of Wheat – Totally devoid of nutrition. Totally amazing when served with milk and honey.

Next Door Neighbors Who Walk Around Topless – If he can do it, so can I.

 



For the original ‘My Review of 75 Different Things,’ go here.

For my review of life and humanity in general, try this.

J Edward Neill

My Review of 75 Different Things

This week, lacking any genius ideas, I’ve decided to review exactly seventy-five things.

These things aren’t related. They’re completely random.

They could be movies, television shows, art, cultural phenomena, beer, or maybe even my neighbor’s dog…

Please enjoy…

*

My Review of 75 Different Things

 


The movie ‘Annihilation’ w/ Natalie Portman – Pretty good, but kinda slow in parts. Also, Oscar Isaac has a different haircut in every movie he’s in.

James Vietch is a Terrible Roommate Sketch – Thanks for making me buy my kid a huge box of wholesale rubber duckies.

The Netflix original film ‘The Ritual’ – Liked it. Questions: Can the monster not leave the woods due to the sun? Or is the big beastie forever confined to the forest?

The Gun Control Argument (Everywhere in the US) – Even if you pass sweeping gun laws nationwide, we’re still fucked. This country is absolutely saturated with weapons. You’re 40 years too late to make a difference.

Pornhub – If all the best porn is free and readily available on a giant, hugely popular website, how do porn actors make money??

Plastic Forks, Straws, Cups, Bags, and Takeout Containers – Ban that shit. Immediately.

The Book ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’ by Haruki Murakami – This is how memoirs should be written. Relatable. Honest. Quick. Elegant.

Crawlspaces – Never, ever, ever buy a house with a crawlspace. Go basement or go slab.

Turning 41 Years Old – My knees hurt. Stupid flag football league…

The movie ‘Ex Machina’ starring Alicia Vikander – I actually reviewed this for real. Go here.

Divorce – Best decision ever. Why do people get married twice?? Someone please explain.

Flight of the Conchords – Season 1 & 2 – ‘Business Time’ is the funniest song I’ve ever heard.

Veganism – You eat your greens. I’ll eat a bunch of livestock. We’ll get along just fine.

Apothic Red Wine – It’s really only ‘meh’ good. But at $7.99 per bottle, count me in.

Single Fatherhood – Goodbye, social life. Hello, Legos!

The latest two Star Wars movies (Episodes VII & VIII) – Not even remotely entertaining. Maybe I’m just old. Or cynical. Whatever.

The ‘Rogue One’ Star Wars movie – Easily the best Star Wars film ever. Disagree? Fight me. 🙂

Mellow Mushroom Pizza – F’ing amazeballs. Why don’t they deliver??

The Children’s Book ‘The Rainbow Goblins’ illustrated by Ul Del Rico – If you have kids, read this book to them. Over and over again.

Heavy Metal band ‘Slayer’ Announcing their Farewell Tour – All great things must come to an end. …sniffle…

Politics – If you support one party wholeheartedly, you’re kidding yourself.

The Netflix series ‘Round Planet’ – The funniest take on a nature show ever.

‘Witcher 3’ the Video Game – Still the best game I’ve ever played. (And I’ve played too many.)

Balvenie Scotch – If you’ve always wanted to try scotch, but you weren’t sure where to start, Balvenie is where you want to be.

Balvenie 17 Doublewood – smooth as silk

Mad Max – Fury Road – The best action movie ever made. Sorry, Die Hard.

The website Etsy – I thought it was only for girls. But I joined it and it changed my life. Ignorance wasn’t bliss.

Selfies, GIFS, and Snapchat – Are we really this bored with our existence?

Feminism – I support it sometimes. Sometimes not. Trouble is; if you ask 100 people what it means, you’ll get 99 different answers.

Elon Musk proposing a voyage to Mars – If I weren’t a dad, I’d volunteer for the first expedition. Not that I think it’s noble or anything. I just want to drink scotch on another planet.

The Glut of Superhero and Comic Book Movies – Please stop.

Daylight Savings Time – Please stop.

The Album ‘How the Gods Kill’ by Danzig – The best blues/metal album ever made.

Vladimir Putin – Dude has the whole world wrapped around his finger.

Facebook – Use it for entertainment only.

Twitter – Same as Facebook, but prepare for more anger.

Instagram – Use it only if you have more interesting photos than selfies. (Selfies are ok if you’re stunningly good-looking.)

LinkedIn – Don’t bother using it.

The Movie ‘IT’ – So when’s part two coming out again? I’m not sure I can handle the wait.

Amazon Planning a new ‘Lord of the Rings’ Series –  Intriguing. But can they top Peter Jackson’s LOTR movies? Probably not, right?

‘Wat? Who be Amazon??’

Peter Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit’ Trilogy? – The decision to use almost exclusively CGI monsters over real actors killed all three movies for me. Disappointing.

Pandora and Spotify asking me to ‘Click the Image’ during ads – Ha! As if I’m anywhere near my phone while the music’s playing.

Chick Fil-A Waffle Fries – Still the planet’s best.

Chick Fil-A Lemonade – I think I just got diabetes.

DragonCon – Fun, but only if you can find a spot away from the throbbing masses of people. Good luck.

The Art of Terese Nielsen – Awe-inspiring. Just go look at it here.

Kentucky Fried Chicken – I found a chicken’s head in my 3-piece meal last year.

Bill Steer, Guitarist for Heavy Metal Band ‘Carcass’ – The best guitarist you’ve never heard of.

Conan O’Brian Driving Mad Max style to Comic Con – I want to cook my hot dogs like he does.

President Trump – People making fun of him on the internet won’t make him go away.

NFL Football – At some point, it became more of a product than a game. And now I can’t watch it anymore.

The Wrecking Bar, Atlanta – The best craft cocktails you’ll ever have.

Wrecking Bar

Self-Driving Cars – Please let these be everywhere by the time my son turns 16.

The Video Game ‘Zelda – Breath of the Wild’ – Great, great game. Abrupt, unsatisfying ending.

The Soundtrack to ‘Interstellar‘ by Hans Zimmer – I listen to this whenever I’m painting.

The Soundtrack to ‘The Prestige’ by David Julyan – I listen to this whenever I’m writing.

Domino’s Pizza – Better. But still not as good as Pizza Hut or Papa John’s. Which admittedly isn’t saying much.

Kneeling During the National Anthem – Unless you stand every time you hear the anthem (including on the radio or TV) your anger doesn’t matter.

Cracker Barrel – Thanks for turning me into a Stewart’s Orange Soda junkie.

Being a White Guy in Modern-Day America – I sunburn too easily.

‘Cosmos’, a series hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson – You owe it to yourself (and your kids, if you have any) to sit down and watch it.

The Movie ‘Grandma’s Boy’ – Somehow, it’s still my go-to ‘I don’t know what I want to watch tonight’ movie.

The City of Atlanta – Great food. Good people. Plenty of stuff to do. But the traffic is completely unbearable.

Hobby Lobby – A great store to get bargain art supplies. But the store’s vibe never fails to creeps me out.

The Nintendo Switch Video Game System – Love Zelda. Love the concept. Pretty much nothing else noteworthy. Hopeful for the future. Maybe.

Hi there. I’m a system with ONE good game. Buy me.

The Electoral College – I don’t care who won or lost the election. The E.C. is archaic. America can do better.

The Movie ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ – My kid and I had no idea what we were getting into when we hit the theater to see this. We were blown away.

The Word ‘Goetia’ – Bear with me on this one. I needed a word to describe some of my art. And somehow I found one. No, I don’t summon demons…usually.

Granny Smith Apples – Does anyone else think they’re too sour?

The Book ‘Dune’ by Frank Herbert – I read it as a young man. And then again as a college student. And still again in my 30’s. I just re-read it a few weeks ago, and I’ve come to realize that while I love the book, it’s not the epic work of great fiction I once believed. It’s slow. It’s often tedious. And Paul comes off as fairly implausible. Whatever. It’s still good.

The Movie ‘Blade Runner’ starring Ryan Gosling – Everything a sci-fi movie should be. Dark. Gritty. Serious. Also, Ana de Armas.

Ron White – The funniest comedian alive today. Better than Tosh.0. Better ever than Richard Lewis.

Electric Cars – Can they please be affordable without looking like ugly shoeboxes?

The Big Green Egg Grill – Give me a $50 Weber charcoal grill, and I’ll cook you the steak you deserve without spending $800.

The Lego Ninjago Green Dragon set – Four hours of my life…gone. But at least my son hasn’t destroyed it yet. Oh wait…yes he has. 🙂

Waffle House – Without a doubt, they have the friendliest (and sadly, the lowest paid) staff of any restaurant in town. I always tip them 25%…sometimes more.


If this list annoyed you, maybe this will annoy you even more.

For 75 MORE randomly reviewed things, go here.

Love,

J Edward Neill

Black Mirror, Season 4 Review

My previous reviews can be found here: Seasons 1&2 and 3.

As I wrote last time, “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.”

If I have any problem with Black Mirror is that Charlie Brooker doesn’t come out with the fast enough. Even the ones that are not my favorite episodes are far better than many of the other things available on my tv. But I suppose I can live with only getting 6 episodes if the seasons have a couple of true gems each time.

EP 1 – USS Callister

When you are “into” something, the last thing you want to happen is for someone to take a pot-shot at your favorite thing. Star Trek fans (I’m talking the hardcore ones) are probably well past tired of being mocked over the years. So this episode could very well be the last straw for them.

And I think that would be a shame. This is my second favorite episode of the season.

It really seems odd that an episode about a virtual version of a crew could show the most realistic version of how people act when no one is watching. If you’ve ever played ANY game online, odds are you’ve dealt with some of the worst people. They are gods of their own little desktop/laptop/etc world and you must show them the respect they’ve clearly earned. For you to question how they see the world would be blasphemous. Who are you to question them or how they spend their downtime?

Peel back the Star Trek skin and what you are really dealing with is someone on an ego trip through the stars.

Plus, how appropriate that virtual characters were better developed than their real-life counterparts…

EP 2 – Arkangel

I can only imagine the horror of trying to keep your child safe from all the potential dangers in the world. The idea that they must figure out some way to navigate the dangerous waters all by themselves armed only with the few golden rules and some other words of wisdom.

Terrifying.

And if there was a way to help them with that. You know, on those days you can’t be there beside them to hold their hand as they cross the street or when the mean dog begins barking at them or when the bully at school starts to torment them. What if you could protect them for a little longer?

Would that be so wrong?

And how long is too long?

Is there such a thing?

EP 3 – Crocodile

Crocodile is one of those stories which might have been a movie idea at one time. It feels like a series of stories unconnected to each other. You bounce between each as the threads begin to draw them together more and more. And when those threads cross and tangle, and when the woman has gone too far down one path to stop.

That’s when the real horror presents itself.

EP 4 – Hang the DJ

My favorite episode of the season. Somehow I think I knew as I watched this one second. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even know the episode was about couples being matched up with random people until they stumble across their real soul mate via a computer algorithm. Taking away the awkward bit of trying to figure it out for yourself and really let the computer system determine it for you. I can’t quite tell if this is a metaphor for online dating, arranged marriages, or just a fun story about how true love conquers all.

And I don’t know that I need the question answered.

EP 5 – Metalhead

Sadly every season has favorites and those episodes I didn’t enjoy as much. Maybe it is because this is the most straightforward episode of nearly all of them. In a post-apocalyptic future, a woman is being chased by robotic hounds bent on wiping all humanity.

A woman trying to survive against some unstoppable creature has been all the rage for a while. Going back to the 70s slasher films through the zombie movie craze. This is about survival. And then it is about the will to live.

But it is mostly about robotic dogs trying to kill a woman.

EP 6 – Black Museum

This season’s version of the White Christmas episode from season 2.5. We have a number of little stories enveloped by another story. The fun in these types is that you can enjoy the smaller stories without the larger story, but when the final curtain is revealed and you get to see not only how everything fits into one another. How, with each story, the story-teller is merely setting you up for the big reveal… only to have the viewers in on a different FINAL reveal.

My only real question would be whether or not any of these mini-stories would have originally been planned for a full-length episode on their own, but then something happened to convince Brooker otherwise or if they are exactly as he originally set out to present them.

***

Another 6 episodes down and now the waiting begins anew for a hopeful season 5!

***

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.

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

 

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.”

black-mirror-netflix

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?

laptop-camera

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.

*

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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.

*

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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.

*

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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.

*

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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.

*

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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.

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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.

*

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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

*

Now go read something else.

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.

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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.

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It felt a little bit like this.

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…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 redeem 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 Kardashians 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?

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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).

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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#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.

 

 

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#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…

 

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 #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.

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 #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

Beefing with Avengers – Endgame

Yeah. You all loved Avengers – Endgame.

We get it. It scored 95% on Rotten Tomatoes. 

It’s the second highest grossing film of blah, blah, blah.

You cheered. You wept. You held your bladders for the movie’s entire 17-hour runtime.

Fine. 

As one woman told me, I should shut up and eat my popcorn.  A valid point, and yet…

…for those few among you who are objective, and those few who went into the movie hoping to actually be surprised, shocked, or stunned, this is for you.

Warning: This list contains spoilers. Lots and lots of spoilers. 

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All the arguments I have with Avengers – Endgame


 

When Thanos’s ship fires a massive volley of missiles into the Avengers’ base, not a single Avenger suffers any significant injury. Not. One. Why even bother with missiles? Would a nuclear bomb hurt them? I mean…even the non-superpower Avengers just shrug off cruise missiles. Wow. Impressive.

Also, why not use the ship’s giant guns and even more missiles on the army of good guys as they assemble in one big easy-to-shoot, ‘hey, look at us assembling‘ block? Why wait until the battle’s end…when doing so means shooting your own soldiers?

Speaking of which, did one single blast from Thanos’ ship…I mean, even ONE…take out a single good guy?

If time travel is now a thing, doesn’t it mean the Avengers can now resolve any possible threat simply by retrieving the infinity stones as needed? Doesn’t that negate the need for every future movie?

Time travel is lazy af. The ultimate deus ex machina

Speaking of time, does everyone have plenty of it to pause and have lengthy conversations during a giant battle which will decide the fate of the Universe…or is it just the Avengers?

When using time travel, does everyone randomly meet a key person from their past…triggering long and needless exposition, or is it just the Avengers?

It took Thanos a lifetime’s worth of dedication to finally retrieve all six Infinity Stones, but it takes drunk Thor, a trash panda, and Scarlett Johansson just a few hours to traverse the galaxy and do the same? Hell, give me a few days and maybe I’LL collect all the stones. (When I snap my fingers, I’ll do something more interesting than murder everyone, I promise.)

Oh Hulk…you said Doctor Strange did what? I completely believe you. Here’s the Time Stone.” Get the f**k out of here.

Captain America can use Mjolnir to create lightning? Breaking your own rules, Marvel.

Whenever I’m creating giant time-traveling machinery that has never before been made, I always have the materials needed to build it readily available.

Please never use time travel again. Unless you’re Back to the Future or the original Terminator. Just. Stop.

For the love of god, Thanos, when you have an Avenger weakened and on his back, f__king finish them. Don’t just punch them a few times and start monologuing. For the smartest villain in the world, you sure aren’t….oh never mind.

Is it really sacrificing someone (for the purpose of claiming the Soul Stone) if that person commits suicide against your wishes?

Hey Marvel (or any filmmaker for that matter) if we ALL know how the movie ends, that’s not good storytelling. That’s called, ‘We know this will make money, so why take any risks?

My kid fell asleep. Twice. Five-hundred previous movies, and this is the first one to make him zzzzzzzzzzz. Impressive.

…mostly because of the heavy-handed scene with Tony Stark and his daddy. And the other one with Cap’n America and Peggy. Unsubtlety, thy presence is strong in this film.

Pretty convenient footsteps, Mister Rat who frees Paul Rudd. If not for you, this whole movie wouldn’t have been possible.

At least Ken Jeong showed up. Best part of the movie.

Lastly, Nebula sucks as a good girl. Borrrrring…


Ok. I’m done.

My other movie reviews are here. They’re mostly positive. Please enjoy.

 

 

 

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

 

[UPDATED] 2019 ENnie Awards Dream Date Guide 

UPDATED 2019-07-22:

After most of the first round of auctions closed, two were re-listed for a second shot at them!

 

Alligator Alley #1 – 2019 ENnie Dream Date!

AUCTION ENDS: Sunday, 28th July, 2019 at 1:30 PM EST 

AWARDS 

  • Attend the ENnie Awards 2019 with the team at Alligator Alley Entertainment  
  • Some amazing swag from Alligator Alley Entertainment 

 

Petersen Games – Dream Date with Sandy #2 at the 2019 ENnie Awards

AUCTION ENDS: Sunday, 28th July, 2019 at 2:17 PM EST 

AWARDS 

  • Attend the ENnie Awards 2019 with the Petersen Games team   
  • Some Petersen Games swag! 

 

NOT A RE-LIST BUT ENDS THIS WEEK:

Dwarven Forge. – 2019 ENnie Awards Dream Date

AUCTION ENDS: Wednesday, 24th July, 2019 at 3:32 PM EST 

REWARDS 

  • Attend the ENnie Awards 2019 with the Dwarven Forge team
  • “A painted Starter Dungeon set! The set includes 19 pieces in pure Dwarvenite to start off (or top off) your dungeon. This set comes fully hand painted”

 

ORIGINAL ARTICLE:

Want to step up your RPG freelancing game? RPG publisher looking to shake up the industry? Are you a fan of award-winning RPGs? Going to the ENnie Awards at Gen Con 2019? Chaosium, Cubicle 7, Magpie Games, Pelgrane Press, Petersen Games, and more will be there and they want to hang out with you! The ENnie Awards (the Oscars of tabletop RPGs) are auctioning off seats with these publishers as well as swag. On eBay, they’re offering you the chance to get some one-on-one time with some of the best creators in the industry!  

Each year, I write an “ENnie Awards Dream Date Guide” to share these fantastic opportunities for fans, freelancers, and publishers. Curious what the prior options? Check them out here: 2017 and 2018. 

In 2017, I won a “date” with Cubicle 7 and could not have been happier with the experience then and since. We sat at a table right in front of the stage, they shared industry tales, introduced me to other creators, and hooked me up with Adventures in Middle-earth books and maps (print and PDF). The cherry on that night was when they won an award while I was there. I went from random fan to someone that C7 talks with every time I see them. The experience boosted me as an RPG fan, journalist, and creator, and I would recommend it to anyone that’s interested in RPGs whether a fan, a freelancer, or a publisher. To that end, let’s review these dates! 

Cubicle 7 and Egg (shorts) at the ENnie Awards 2017. [Egg is going for a record for re-using this image.]

But, before we do, here’s a few notes: 

The 2019 ENnie Awards are held August 2nd, 2019 at 8pm at Gen Con! Don’t forget to vote for the ENnie Awards here. [Auction] winners must have a valid Gen Con badge [not provided] to attend the ENnie Awards and [the winners are] responsible for any associated expenses with attending Gen Con in Indianapolis, IN. All proceeds from the Dream Date auction are used to fund the production of the ENnie Awards each year. Egg Embry is not a part of the ENnie Awards. He writes these dream date guides for fun.  

See all of the auctions here. 

Cubicle 7 – 2019 ENnie Dream Date! 

AUCTION ENDS: Saturday, 20th July, 2019 at 3:30 PM EST 

AWARDS 

  • Attend the ENnie Awards 2019 with the Cubicle 7 creative team 
  • A signed copy of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Core Rulebook - Up for two ENnies this year! 

Cubicle 7 is the creative team behind many ENnie nominated and winning products! These include 2019 nominated Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Fourth Edition, The One Ring Roleplaying Game, Adventures in Middle-earth, Age of Sigmar Roleplaying Game, The Doctor Who Card Game, Doctor Who Roleplaying Game, and many, many more. 

EGG’S THOUGHTSI’ve met C7 on multiple occasions and they’re nice, nice, nice. You’ll have a good time, they’ll keep you entertained, and, if you’re interested in one of their properties (Lord of the Rings, Warhammer, Doctor Who), they will share more insight into their worlds than you can handle.  

But one of the hottest options for this night is the swag. If C7’s Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Core Rulebook picks up either, or both, of the ENnies it’s up for, your signed copy will become something of a gaming artifact: The signed ENnie Awards Dream Date Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Core Rulebookfrom the night it won ENnies.  

Pelgrane Press – 2019 ENnie Dream Date! 

AUCTION ENDS: Saturday, 20th July, 2019 at 1:45 PM EST 

AWARDS 

  • Attend the ENnie Awards 2019 with the Pelgrane Press team including CathrionaCat” Tobin, Ken Hite and Robin Laws 
  • Hideous Creatures t-shirt  
  • Hideous Creatures – Bestiary of the Cthulhu Mythos book  
  • A GM ribbon  
  • Pelgrane Press button 

Pelgrane Press Ltd is a British role-playing game publishing company behind many ENnieAward winning products! This year is no exception, as they are up for multiple 2019 ENnies! Pelgrane Press currently produces Fall of Delta Green, Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, 13th Age, the Diana Jones award-winning Hillfolk RPG, the Dying Earth Roleplaying Game, and other related products. 

EGG’S THOUGHTS: Hideous Creatures – Bestiary of the Cthulhu Mythos is up for an ENnie Award this year and is a part of the swag the winner of this auction gets. As I mentioned with C7’s swag above, if this book wins then your copy defaults to a piece of gaming history, the ENnie Awards Dream Date Hideous Creatures – Bestiary of the Cthulhu Mythos.

2019 JUDGES ENnie Awards Dream Date 

AUCTION ENDS: Sunday, 21st July, 2019 at 12:30 PM EST 

AWARDS 

  • Attend the ENnie Awards 2019 with 2019 ENnie Awards judges, Brian Nowak, Ben Adelman and Chris Gath  
  • The winner will also receive some amazing swag custom tailored to your gaming interests. Value of the prize pack will be at least $50 over that final auction bid!
    At end of the auction, winner will receive an email asking for your tastes in genre (Horror, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, board games, etc…) We will do our best to match it with a selection of items that have been submitted to the ENnies and award them to you the night of the awards 

EGG’S THOUGHTSIf you’re a gamer, this will probably be the best swag deal of the convention as they’ll provide you with a lot of games (the judges get plenty throughout the year).

If you’re a publisher, it might open doors to talk with the judges to learn more about judging criteria, which could lead to improved products through your studio.  

 

Magpie Games – ENnie Awards Dream Date 2019 

AUCTION ENDS: Sunday, 21st July, 2019 at 1:00 PM EST 

AWARDS 

  • Attend the ENnie Awards 2019 with Magpie Games team  
  • One of Magpie’s main product lines:  
    • Masks pack - a copy of the core book, supplement, one deck and a set of dice  

 Or  

    • Zombie World pack - a copy of the core book, both supplements, and a set of Kickstarter Exclusive Cards 

Magpie Games is a multi-ENnie Award nominated and winning game development and production company devoted to creating interesting, innovative, boundary-pushing, and most of all high-quality games across a wide variety of genres and styles. The majority of Magpie’s productions are tabletop roleplaying games, ranging from games designed to recreate disaster movies, to games designed to tell the stories of baby dragons on adventures, to gritty games about supernatural criminals and power brokers. Since its inception, Magpie Games has released many games, including Urban Shadows, Epyllion: A Dragon Epic, Masks: A New GenerationandBluebeard’s Bride. 

Petersen Games – Dream Date with Sandy #1 at the 2019 ENnie Awards 

AUCTION ENDS: Sunday, 21st July, 2019 at 1:15 PM EST 

Petersen Games – Dream Date with Sandy #2 at the 2019 ENnie Awards 

AUCTION ENDS: Sunday, 21st July, 2019 at 2:15 PM EST 

Petersen Games – Dream Date with Sandy #3 at the 2019 ENnie Awards 

AUCTION ENDS: Sunday, 21st July, 2019 at 3:15 PM EST 

NOTEThere are three dream dates being hosted by the Petersen Games team 

AWARDS 

  • Attend the ENnie Awards 2019 with the Petersen Games team   
  • Some Petersen Games swag! 

Petersen Games was founded to make games with top-grade components, amazing art, and great depth of gameplay. Their games include the immensely popular Cthulhu Wars, All Orcs Must Die! and Theomachy. In addition, Sandy Petersen’s Cthulhu Mythos for 5E is up for an ENnie this year! 

Game Designer,Sandy Petersenfirst conceived of the idea of doing a roleplaying game based on H. P. Lovecraft’s stories. That original idea, the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game, is still in print today. Since that time, Sandy has worked on many tabletop products, including helping develop the original Arkham Horror board game. He also spent almost 20 years in the computer gaming industry, as a designer on the teams that produced Civilization, Doom, Quake, the Age of Empire series, and Halo Wars. He returned to the world of tabletop gaming with the famed Cthulhu Wars strategy game, and now he is Chief Creative Officer of his own company. 

EGG’S THOUGHTSI’m hoping the “Petersen Games swag” includes a copy of Sandy Petersen’s Cthulhu Mythos for 5E since it is up for an ENnie this year. Obviously, it’s not mentioned in the swag (that’s ambiguous), but if the game wins, having a copy gotten at the awards ceremony will be a special memento of gaming.  

Alligator Alley #1 – 2019 ENnie Dream Date! 

AUCTION ENDS: Sunday, 21st July, 2019 at 1:30 PM EST 

Alligator Alley #2 – 2019 ENnie Dream Date! 

AUCTION ENDS: Sunday, 21st July, 2019 at 2:30 PM EST 

NOTE: There are two dream dates being hosted by Alligator Alley Entertainment 

AWARDS 

  • Attend the ENnie Awards 2019 with the team at Alligator Alley Entertainment  
  • Some amazing swag from Alligator Alley Entertainment 

Alligator Alley Entertainment is the publisher of adventure games including Witch Hunter: the Invisible World,Esper Genesis, andDemonbane Chronicles 

EGG’S THOUGHTS: Alligator Alley is the company behind Esper Genesis (sci-fi D&D 5e), which I reviewed for Knights of the Dinner Table #262. When I see them at cons, they’re always ready to talk and share lots of good information about being a small publisher that is making it. Plus, freelancer tales and more. Well worth checking out.  

Executive Creative Director of Games at Andrews McMeel Universal, Daniel D. Fox. HONEST! Would I lie?!

Andrews McMeel Universal and Grim & Perilous Studios – 2019 ENnie Dream Date! 

AUCTION ENDS: Sunday, 21st July, 2019 at 2:00 PM EST 

Andrews McMeel Universal and Grim & Perilous Studios #2- 2019 ENnie Dream Date! 

AUCTION ENDS: Sunday, 21st July, 2019 at 3:00 PM EST 

NOTE: There are two dream dates for the Andrews McMeel Universal and Grim & Perilous Studios table 

AWARDS 

  • Attend the ENnie Awards 2019 with the team at Andrews McMeel Universal and Grim & Perilous Studios, the team behind the twice GoldENnie winner from 2018! 
  • Zweihänder(pdf and print) 
  • Main Gauche (pdf and print) 
  • Character Folio(pdf and print) 
  • GM screen (pdf and print) 
  • Monster Cards (pdf+print) 
  • Injury & Mishap Cards (pdf and print) 
  • One voucher of Zweihander Player’s Handbook(pdf and print) as it releases in December 
  • Drinks at the ENnies (must be over 21) 

Andrews McMeel Universal (AMU) is an American media corporation based in Kansas City, Missouri. It was founded in 1970 by Jim Andrews and John McMeel. AMU is passionate about discovering authors and creators who have a distinct point of view. They nurture humorous and inspirational voices that they believe have the potential to be both profound and popular. They respect the creator’s vision as the primary source of inspiration at every stage, offering an individualized, flexible approach to publishing success. 

Daniel D. Fox is the founder of Grim & Perilous Studios, an independent publisher of over 30 titles since its inception. Dan is an author and game designer, having won the gold ENnie for Best Game and Product of the Year at Gen Con 2018 for ZWEIHÄNDER Grim & Perilous RPG. His break-out success withZWEIHÄNDER was featured on Forbes.com, and recognized by Kickstarter as one of their Projects We Love. ZWEIHÄNDER is ranked one of the best-selling tabletop games of all time at DriveThruRPG, with over 90,000 copies sold worldwide. Daniel is the Executive Creative Director of Games at Andrews McMeel Universal. 

EGG’S THOUGHTS: First, the winning bid gets hundreds of dollars worth of great gaming!

Second, I interviewed Daniel D. Fox (Zweihänder) at Origins Game Fair and can say he’s a fun guy to hang out with. Creators and publishers, part of Daniel’s job at Andrews McMeel Universal is finding the next hit RPG and bringing it to AMU. AMU has lent muscle to ZWEIHÄNDER as they’re stocked at Barnes & Nobles next to D&D, Pathfinder, Starfinder, and Star Wars. I am *NOT* saying Daniel will take your pitch or product, but I am saying that AMU is going to be a growing player in the world of RPG and it’d be good to talk to their ECD of Games.  

Chaosium Inc. – 2019 ENnie Awards Dream Date 

AUCTION ENDS: Sunday, 21st July, 2019 at 4:00 PM EST 

AWARDS 

  • Attend the ENnie Awards 2019 with the Chaosium team  
  • Miskatonic University the Restricted Collection Boardgame 
  • Chaosium Clandestine Game case Poker Chip set (special item from Horror on the Orient Express Kickstarter) 
  • Chaosium “tuxedo”black t-shirt 
  • One of these three premium game sets: 
    • RuneQuest:Roleplaying in Glorantha slipcase Set + PDF 

 OR  

    • Call of Cthulhu slipcase set + PDF 

 OR  

    • Masks of Nyarlathotep slipcase set + PDF 

Chaosium was founded by visionary game designer Greg Stafford in 1975. For more than forty years, Chaosium has captivated gamers, readers and mythic adventurers worldwide. Its award-winning roleplaying games, boardgames and fiction have been acclaimed as some of the most engaging and innovative of all time. 

EGG’S THOUGHTS: Picking your swag will be a challenge as your choices include more than one product that is up for an ENnie this year. This is a good problem for the winner to have because they know they’re choosing between strength and strength. 

Dwarven Forge. – 2019 ENnie Awards Dream Date

AUCTION ENDS: Wednesday, 24th July, 2019 at 3:32 PM EST 

REWARDS 

  • Attend the ENnie Awards 2019 with the Dwarven Forge team
  • “A painted Starter Dungeon set! The set includes 19 pieces in pure Dwarvenite to start off (or top off) your dungeon. This set comes fully hand painted”

Dwarven Forge was founded in 1996 by artist Stefan Pokorny, a medieval fantasy devotee and an avid Dungeons and Dragons enthusiast. After many months of painstaking design, sculpting and painting, he introduced the world’s finest pre-painted miniature terrain in 1996. Since then, Dwarven Forge has released many new sets, each fully compatible with the others, and each a new step forward in terrain design, yet maintaining a dedication to fine craft and excellent durability. These sets are built to last, and many collectors are now sharing them with their children and grandchildren.”

Again, don’t forget to vote for the ENnie Awards here then see all of the eBay auctions hereAuctions end between Saturday, 20th July, 2019 at 1:45 PM EST and Wednesday, 24th July, 2019 at 3:32 PM EST.

Press Release: The Spy Game

Modern 5e Tabletop Roleplaying Game “The Spy Game” Coming to Kickstarter in July, Contributors to include Eric Campbell 

LONDON, ENGLAND – June 11th 2019: Tabletop roleplaying is about to go covert, as Black Cats Gaming announces a modern 5E roleplaying game, The Spy Game, coming to Kickstarter on July 2, with a preview quickstart PDF available now from DriveThruRPG.com  – See https://bit.ly/2KzAoZJ  

The Spy Game is billed as an action & espionage tabletop RPG, independently developed by Sam Webb (Head of RPG Development at Modiphius Entertainment), that invites you into the world of the Agencies, to take your place as a world-class spy. Together with your crew of specialists, infiltrators, con-artists, and hackers, you fight an array of shadowy villains and high-tech megalomaniacs. 

The Spy Game is being published under the Open Gaming License, and is powered by 5E for a modern slant on the world’s most famous roleplaying game. You can choose from a range of brand new character classes and new takes on old favorites, as well as choosing from a range of incredible gadgets, tools and equipment to allow you to complete your missions. Any play style, from true-to-life thriller experiences to high octane action movies, is possible in this standalone roleplaying game. 

Eric Campbell (Shield of Tomorrow, Callisto 6, Your Best Game Ever!) is confirmed as a guest writer on the book, offering his game mastering talent to the “Running the Game” section, as well as an original spy adventure as a stretch goal. 

Rob Wieland (Geek & Sundry, Star Wars Saga Edition, Firefly RPG) will also lend his voice to the game, guiding game masters with his incredible knowledge of the spy genre. 

The game is the first tabletop roleplaying game by Black Cats Gaming, the independent publisher founded by Sam Webb and James Barry in 2018. Sam has previously produced several award winning tabletop RPG titles for Modiphius Entertainment in recent years, including Star Trek AdventuresConan the BarbarianAchtung! Cthulhu, and John Carter of Mars, and is currently developing the Dune and Fallout roleplaying games for the company. James helped produce Dropzone Commander for Hawk Wargames, as well as Fallout: Wasteland Warfare, Kung Fu Panda, and Star Trek Adventures for Modiphius Entertainment. 

Speaking about the game, Sam Webb said, “I’ve always enjoyed modern roleplaying games, I loved playing Spycraft, and see this game as a spiritual successor to games like that and d20 Modern. 5E is such a flexible, refined set of rules, and The Spy Game should feel familiar but be a great toolkit for any kind of spy story you want to play.” 

For more information you can go to www.blackcatsgaming.com, @followblackcats on Twitter, /BlackCatsGaming on Facebook, and find Sam on twitch.tv/RPGWebby and @RPGWebby on Twitter. 

 

Press Release: PAIZOCON 2019 CELEBRATES TABLETOP GAMING IN SEATTLE AND ON TWITCH!

PAIZOCON 2019 CELEBRATES TABLETOP GAMING

IN SEATTLE AND ON TWITCH!

REDMOND, WASHINGTON (May 23, 2019): PaizoCon 2019, the 11th annual 4-day hobby game convention with gaming, workshops, panels, and more, runs this Memorial Day weekend (Friday, May 24 through Monday, May 27) at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotels, at the SeaTac Airport. Many events will also be live-streamed on Twitch. Badges will be available onsite.

This year’s PaizoCon lets gamers play the Pathfinder Second Edition roleplaying game for the first time, plus adventure through the all-new Pathfinder Adventure Card Game! Quick games of both Pathfinder and the Starfinder Beginner Box will be available through the demos near registration, and Pathfinder Society and Starfinder Society organized play events will be occurring throughout the weekend. Stop by, roll up a character, and have some fun!

PaizoCon also welcomes author Liane Merciel, artist Wayne Reynolds, and the Glass Cannon Network! Stop by and get an autograph, a signed print, or shop at the Paizo store onsite.

Paizo and Know Direction Network will be partnering to stream select PaizoCon seminars live on the OfficialPaizo Twitch channel https://www.twitch.tv/officialpaizo. The scheduled topics include Ask the Paizo GMs, Secrets of Golarion, Worldbuilding with Liane Merciel, Secrets of the Pact Worlds, Oblivion Oath, and more.

The PaizoCon Banquet will be held on Saturday, May 25 at 7:00 PM Pacific time and emceed by Paizo Publisher, Erik Mona. It will preview future 2019 product releases across the Pathfinder Second Edition and Starfinder product lines, along with Pathfinder and Starfinder society revelations.

Single Day Badges will be available at the PaizoCon Convention store. Regular Single Day Badges will be $25 each, and Single Day Kid’s Badges will be $15 each.

Fans can learn more at paizocon.com. Find more information on Twitch at https://www.twitch.tv/officialpaizo.

About Liane Merciel

Liane Merciel is the author of critically acclaimed novels including The River Kings’ Road, Dragon Age: Last Flight, and Pathfinder Tales: Hellknight. She has also contributed to game materials such as Paizo’s Nidal: Land of Shadows and Faiths of Golarion. Liane lives in Philadelphia with two unruly mutts, her husband, and an extremely funny adventure toddler.

About Wayne Reynolds

Wayne Reynolds is a freelance illustrator with over 20 years of experience contributing artwork to the publishing industry, with his work appearing in games, comics, novels, and more. Reynolds has defined the look and feel of Pathfinder’s iconic characters, and his work graces the cover of the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook, as well as every Pathfinder hardcover Paizo has published since. Wayne continues to work with Paizo’s designers to reveal never-before-seen corners of Golarion, bringing the most exciting elements of the Pathfinder RPG to life.

 

About Glass Cannon

Following the rules of the Pathfinder and Starfinder RPGs, The Glass Cannon Network endeavors to create weekly captivating epic fantasy stories accessible to gamers and non-gamers alike. Interweaving immersive storytelling with irreverent, improvised humor, the GM and players deliver the experience of what it’s really like to sit around a table rolling dice with your closest friends. Professional high-quality audio, complex and memorable three-dimensional characters, instructional elements designed to enlighten both new and veteran players, and a commitment to community-building among fans all combine to make The Glass Cannon an exciting and innovative voice in podcasting.

About Know Direction Network

The Know Direction Network is the premier source for Pathfinder audio, video, and blog coverage. Their flagship podcast, Know Direction, is the number one source for Pathfinder news, reviews, and interviews, as well as convention coverage. Stay informed with the latest Pathfinder info. Recorded live twice monthly on their YouTube channel. Know Direction: Beyond takes coverage to the future, bringing you the best of Starfinder news, reviews, and interviews, released twice monthly both as audio, and video on their YouTube channel. The Private Sanctuary focuses on game topics, going in depth on the rules, classes, flavor, and the running of the game. Geek Together is where they get their nerd on. From TV shows, movies, comics, and cartoons old and new, tune in weekly to enjoy geek culture. And of course, they have original articles and content posted regularly for your reading pleasure!

 

About Paizo

Paizo Inc. is one of the world’s leading hobby game publishers. Since 2002, millions of players have joined the goblin army by playing the Pathfinder® and Starfinder® roleplaying games across tabletops, at conventions, at their favorite local game store, and digitally on virtual tabletops. Paizo.com is an online retail hobby destination for gamers that carries the latest products from top hobby game publishers. Players also find accessories, like dice and maps, miniatures, T-shirts, goblin plush toys, and the newest releases to quickly replenish those adventuring supplies for the next dungeon run.