Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Yet another Lulu coupon

I missed the 25% off coupon from Christmas Day, but here's another:

Enter coupon code WINTER305 at checkout and receive 25% off your book order. The maximum savings for this coupon is $50. Offer good towards print costs only - shipping and tax amounts are excluded. You can only use the code once per account, and you can't use this coupon in combination with other coupon codes. This great offer ends on January, 5 2011 at 11:59 PM.

Friday, December 24, 2010

10 Unconventional Winter Holiday Movies (link)

If you want to watch a Christmas movie, but you are tired of the more traditional fare, Wired Magazine's GeekDad blog posted a link to ten unconventional holiday movies -- titles like Die Hard and Batman Returns. I may have to dig up my VHS copy of the MST3K version of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

Also, in the spirit of the holidays, take a look at a model of Serenity... in gingerbread.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

A year-end coupon code from Lulu.com

Another coupon code was sent out from Lulu this week, this time for 20% off an order. The code is REMARKABLEYEAR305 and it expires on December 31, 2010 at 11:59 PM EST. I might try to get the new issue of Fight On! or one of the Robert E. Howard publications that I haven't picked up yet.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Various opinions on net neutrality

I try to avoid writing about political issues on this blog. This should be a space to get away from that and talk about games, movies and other fun things. The idea behind what is known as "net neutrality" shouldn't be a political issue but it has become one.

For better or worse, the internet is an important part of our lives, and if you are interested in this medium (since you are reading this blog, I assume that you are) you owe it to yourself to research this issue and the ramifications.

This has been a hot story this week due to the upcoming FCC vote and the Comcast-Netflix conflict. Here are a few recent stories:

FCC Announces Net Neutrality Order for December Meeting

Comcast Busted: New Tolls for Netflix Aren't All You Should Worry About

FCC chief backs some rationing of Internet traffic

Julius Genachowski, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission: Preserving a Free and Open Internet

FCC Chairman Announces Fake Net Neutrality Proposal

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Leslie Nielsen, RIP

We were saddened to hear the news late Sunday night that actor Leslie Nielsen had passed away.

I first knew of him as a serious actor, in The Poseidon Adventure, Disney's The Swamp Fox and especially Forbidden Planet (which Mrs. Kaiju saw for the first time last night).

Then in 1980, Airplane was released... My family and I used to watch that all the time, on broadcast and cable TV. It was one of the first VHS tapes we ever purchased, along with Raiders of the Lost Ark.

It's difficult to explain exactly how much influence Airplane had on comedy in the movies, and how important it was in the forming the sense of humor of a generation. I consider it one of the top comedy films ever, right alongside Blazing Saddles, and much of that reputation is because of Mr. Nielsen's performance.

I remember watching his TV series Police Squad! when it first aired, and I recall seeing the two VHS tapes (three episodes each) in the local Camelot Music record store several years later but I never got them. When DVD arrived I hoped for an eventual release of the series on that format, which happened in 2006. If you enjoy The Naked Gun, it's worth tracking this disc down.

I liked the first Naked Gun movie, but didn't care for the other two. I must admit that I haven't seen much of Mr. Nielsen's later work past Dracula: Dead and Loving It, in movies like Spy Hard, Mr. Magoo and the Scary Movie series.

The reaction on the 'net has been interesting. Many condolences and thanks, as is usual for a celebrity who has died, but this time I've seen repeated lines from Airplane or The Naked Gun used in Facebook statuses, Tweets, and article comments. I don't see it as being disrespectful; on the contrary, I think it's a testament to the sense of humor that he had, and that many, many people share, and how much his work has meant to so many. I don't believe that he would have been offended, in fact it's probably the sort of tribute he would have loved.

This clip from Monday's NBC Nightly News is one of the best tributes in the media so far:

Frank: It's the same old story. Boy finds girl, boy loses girl, girl finds boy, boy forgets girl, boy remembers girl, girl dies in a tragic blimp accident over the Orange Bowl on New Year's Day.

Jane: Goodyear?

Frank: No, the worst.

Thanks for all the laughs, Mr. Nielsen.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cyber Monday deal from Lulu.com

Another coupon code from Lulu.com, good only until midnight tonight -- 25% off your order using code CYBER305.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ingrid Pitt, RIP

While checking the Doctor Who News Page yesterday, I saw the news that Ingrid Pitt had passed away. She had just turned 73 on Sunday. For the generations that grew up watching horror films in the 1960s and 70s, she became as iconic -- and as identified with the British horror of Hammer and Amicus Studios -- as Lee's Dracula or Cushing's Frankenstein.

Her real life story was as remarkable as any movie. Born in Poland, her father German and her mother Jewish, she and her family were held in a concentration camp. She survived the war, married an American soldier in the 1950s and moved to America, and worked as a waitress while trying out for parts as an actress.

Her film debut came as a minor role in Doctor Zhivago. Soon after, she had a speaking role opposite Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood in Where Eagles Dare.

In the late 1960s and early 70s, Hammer Studios (and others) tried to press the easing censorship rules by adding more sex appeal to their Gothic horrors. Ms. Pitt's first breakout part in the horror field was The Vampire Lovers (1970, directed by Roy Ward Baker, who died in October). She later starred in Hammer's Countess Dracula.

Aside from her famous horror film roles, she also appeared in many other movies and television programs (twice on Doctor Who) in the UK and the US. She formed a successful touring theater company, and wrote a number of fiction and non-fiction books, magazine articles, screenplays, and a weekly column at Den of Geek.

I don't remember which film I first saw her in. It was probably Where Eagles Dare. Rather than any one particular role, I will continue to remember Ms. Pitt mainly as being representative of that era of movie-making, when corseted vampires crept about through Gothic landscapes and spoke the Queen's English with the slightest Eastern European accent. Thank you, Ms. Pitt.

Our cat Java does her best Ingrid Pitt impersonation.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A quick Hammer DVD List update

My main interest regarding England's Hammer Studios has always been their horror output, and that was the focus of the Region 1 DVD list. I've since added others, including their suspense films and Robin Hood movies, to name a few examples.

The latest update adds VCI's great double-feature film noir sets, and also The Old Dark House. I did not realize that it was on the William Castle Collection set.

The American remake of Let the Right One In is also included, as it was released by the "new" Hammer Productions. It's due on DVD and Blu-ray in February.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Various real-world responsibilities have keep me from posting recently. Hopefully there will be new posts here this week.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Green Slime: a DVD review

I made some brief comments about The Green Slime and the Warner Archive program in an earlier post when the title was first announced. We received the new DVD last Tuesday and watched it that night.

In the future, Commander Jack Rankin (Robert Horton) is called back from retirement. A rogue asteroid is on a collision course with Earth, and Rankin is charged with leading a team of astronauts to set charges and destroy the asteroid. The staging for the mission takes place at Space Station Gamma III, under the command of Rankin's old friend Commander Vince Elliot (Richard Jaeckel), who is now engaged to the station's doctor -- and Rankin's old flame -- Dr. Lisa Benson (Luciana Paluzzi). This love triangle plays out against a backdrop that includes the tense but successful mission to the asteroid, and shortly thereafter the discovery that something was brought back attached to a space suit...

The Green Slime was a co-production between American, Italian and Japanese studios: MGM, RAM Films and Toei. It is often considered as part of the "Gamma" films, including the Italian science fiction films War of the Planets and Wild, Wild Planet. Reportedly, MGM gathered together the actors, while Toei offered the studio, crew, set construction and special effects. Although filmed in Japan, the entire cast was foreign actors. Background extras were recruited from the US Air Force base near Tokyo.

This is important for the feel of the film, as it has a definite sense of a military organization and mission. In this way it is in the same tradition of "quasi-military force" science fiction as Forbidden Planet and Star Trek. Robert Horton was best known for Westerns, but Richard Jaeckel distinguished himself the year before as Lee Marvin's second-in-command Sergeant Bowren in The Dirty Dozen.

Kinji Fukasaku was known as a dependable director. For the majority of his career he worked at Toei Studios directing yakuza films. Although he delivered what the studios expected, he was still able to innovate and express his own ideas through his films. For The Green Slime, he wanted to deliver a Vietnam-era parable, about a nebulous fight against an enemy that could not be contained or controlled. Some of that shows through, but the ongoing struggle between the producers and the director over scheduling and costs held back the extremes of Fukasaku's vision. Five years later, he would direct the first in a series of films based on the memoir of a Hiroshima yakuza boss, and would be critically acclaimed around the world: Battle Without Honor and Humanity.

What we do find as a result of this international collaboration is a claustrophobic, paranoid, and almost Lovecraftian struggle against a foe that does not stop, that takes on energy from its surroundings and the very weapons used against it to reproduce.

Rankin and Elliot are fighting over Dr. Benson, but also fighting for command of the situation on the station -- literally and metaphorically. There are spacious areas on board the station (see the celebration scene), but we're still in an enclosed and self-contained space with nowhere to run. Even the sickbay isn't safe.

The hunting of the Slime through the dark and empty corridors of Gamma III is a precursor of military sci-fi and horror films like Alien, Aliens, and The Thing. The shots of the aliens swarming on the outside of the station and trying to break into the docking bay are reminiscent of the Martians in the dream recording from Quatermass and the Pit -- a nameless multitude marching on.

Considering the budgets that were available to films of this era, the special effects are quite good. The model work is excellent. The ship models are filmed against a starfield backdrop which gives it a slightly less-than-realistic feeling, but this technique also avoids the problem with matte lines that plague effects work from other contemporary films. The sets are expansive and spacious. It's remarkable to think that all of the locations were built for the film.

The master used for the DVD is a newly-created anamorphic 2.35:1 master scanned from a "beautiful" inter-positive print. For those of us who have only ever seen the movie on cable TV or videotape, the most obvious change is the widescreen presentation. Watching in the proper aspect ratio lets us see so much more of the frame, and therefore more of the action. It's still claustrophobic at the right times, but now it isn't the artificial 4:3 format that causes it.

Colors on the DVD are bright and good, and the blacks deep, so that details in shadow are still visible. Good examples are the service tunnel and darkened corridor sequences. The colors don't pop quite as much as I expected, but still comparable to other similar films of this era. Some speckles are noticeable, along with the occasional scratch in the film, but nothing glaring. The only odd film effects are two quick shots of astronauts outside the station, where the matte effect seen at DVD-resolution levels gives the actors a greenish glow. Overall, this is, without a doubt, the best that the movie has looked since the theatrical release.

The audio track is Dolby Digital mono. No special features are included. I understand that extra features mean additional expenses, although a good print of the trailer would have been a great treat.

I noticed something interesting when viewing this again for the first time in at least ten years: I felt sorry for the alien creatures. Their home asteroid was destroyed, some of their cells were carried to a strange and alien environment, and they just tried to survive and reproduce according to their instincts.

Any fan of Japanese science-fiction/fantasy films would enjoy The Green Slime. The film sits at the intersection of several noteworthy and historic trends. It's part of the career of an internationally-famous and inventive director. It was one of the first major international film co-productions. The effects were created by former employees of Toho Studios and Eiji Tsuburaya's effects crew. The theme song of the American version was written by the composer of the music for Barbarella and Happy Days. It deserves to be part of any cult movie fan's collection.

War of the Planets and Wild, Wild Planet are also new releases from the Warner Archive. I haven't seen either one before, but I definitely plan to pick them up in the future.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Upcoming posts

I received my DVD of The Green Slime in the mail yesterday, and Mrs. Kaiju and I watched it last night. Unfortunately, I won't be able to post a proper review until the weekend.

Other future postings will include more upcoming DVD news, a look at the "Red Box" D&D 4th edition starter set, and an overview of the state of manufactured-on-demand DVD releases from the major studios.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Halloween treat from Lulu.com

If you've been thinking about ordering a print-on-demand game (or book, or any other items) from Lulu.com, they just released two coupon codes valid this weekend only. From the announcement email:

Enter coupon code TRICK305 at checkout and receive 20% off your order. The maximum savings for this offer is $100. Enter coupon code TREAT305 at checkout and receive 25% off your order of $500 or more. The maximum savings for this offer is $500. Sorry, but these offers are only valid in US dollars and cannot be applied to previous orders. You can only use these codes once per account, and unfortunately you can't use these coupons in combination with other coupon codes. These great offers expire on November 1, 2010 at 11:59 PM...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

15 games, 15 minutes

Following along with the gaming blog meme "15 Games in 15 Minutes", which I first spotted at Age of Ravens and later at Grognardia.

The rules: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen games you've played that will always stick with you. List the first 15 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.

My list:

  1. Dungeons & Dragons (1e, Mentzer Basic/Expert)
  2. Call of Cthulhu (particularly 4th and 5th ed.)
  3. Star Frontiers
  4. Warhammer 40,000
  5. GURPS (3rd ed.)
  6. The Bard's Tale II (for the Amiga!)
  7. TIE Fighter (PC)
  8. Pitfall (Atari 2600)
  9. Villains and Vigilantes
  10. James Bond 007
  11. Starcraft (PC)
  12. Marvel Super Heroes (TSR, FASERIP)
  13. Rolemaster
  14. Tekken 2/3, Soul Caliber (PS2)
  15. Tomb Raider (PS2)
Mostly tabletop gaming, but with a mix of console and computer games. The games in this list have meaning for me because they each could represent a particular stage in my (gaming) life. Also, these might represent different styles of play or design philosophy.

Happy Birthday, Bela Lugosi

The actor famous for his portrayal of Dracula was born 128 years ago today.

"Bela, how do you do that?"
"You must be double-jointed. And you must be Hungarian."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Jazz Age Culture for Call of Cthulhu players

Jazz Age Culture, parts I, II, and the Writers page, is a scholarly resource on 1920s popular culture, focused specifically on the United States. Aside from a few short articles, most of the site is a collection of links to other 1920s resources on the web loosely grouped by subject. Much of the information linked here would be of interest to Cthulhu 1920s players, including fashion, movies, gangsters, music, technology and inventions of the time. Where else would you find The Unofficial Tommy Gun Page? It is an excellent resource for historical research for both Keepers and players.

Update: The Jazz Age Culture pages have been moved to another site.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Vampire Circus release date

The Digital Bits is reporting that the release date for the Vampire Circus Blu-ray/DVD combo is December 14th. Of course, you can check it out right now through Instant Netflix.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Red Box Diaries at The Escapist

This "escaped" me earlier -- about three weeks ago The Escapist Magazine had an issue devoted to the influence of Dungeons & Dragons on the videogame industry, timed to coincide with the release of the new "Red Box" 4th edition Starter Set. Articles in this issue include the story of a veteran computer gamer's first try at a tabletop role-playing game, and a look at the new Starter Set with Mike Mearls, who is now the full D&D manager at Wizards of the Coast.

I purchased the new "Red Box" the week it was released, partially for nostalgic reasons and partially with the hope that it would make a good introduction to 4e. I have mixed feelings on both counts which I'll share in a future posting.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Hammer horrors and others this month on Turner Classic Movies

Continuing the theme of Halloween movies, I just found out yesterday that Turner Classic Movies is showing Hammer films each Friday night this month. My apologies for not noticing earlier; the Dracula films were on October 1st. Check the link above for the main article and the movie listing.

Take a look at the rest of the schedule for more non-Hammer monster and suspense films throughout October, especially the three days of the Halloween weekend. Universal horrors from the '30s and '40s with Lionel Atwill, Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi on Friday and Sunday, a block of William Castle films on Saturday, and Vincent Price and haunted house movies on Halloween itself.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

For your Instant Netflix viewing pleasure...

The cool chill of autumn is in the air, which means that October is here. For me the tenth month has always meant Halloween and, perhaps more importantly, monster movies.

Here is a list of Showa-era Godzilla and Toho kaiju films that have been added recently to Instant Streaming Netflix:

Rodan (1956)
Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965)
War of the Gargantuas (1966)
Godzilla vs. Mothra (1964)
Ghidorah: The Three Headed Monster (1964)
Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)
Godzilla's Revenge (1969)

Also, from this thread at the Mobius Home Video Forum, a partial list of other horror and monster movies newly-added to Instant Netflix:

OCTAMAN (1971)
THE RAVEN (1963)
ROCKULA (1990)
THE TOMB (1986)
SQUIRM (1976)
CARRIE (1976)
SPHERE (1998)
HOUSE OF 9 (2005)
THE GHOUL (1933)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Warner Archive Collection and The Green Slime

On Tuesday I was looking at Glenn Erickson's DVD Savant site when I saw his note about the email he received from George Feltenstein, VP of Warner Brothers' classic film catalog:
The Warner VP has hinted lately that many of the WB/MGM films on my Savant DVD Wish List will be popping up in the Warner Archive Collection, and five or six more desired titles did indeed surface this week: Atlantis the Lost Continent, The Power, Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold and the Italian-American They Came to Rob Las Vegas. I wonder what hidden gems will be popping up for Halloween?
That last line had me curious. What other gems, indeed? I held out hope for some of the other great pre-1986 MGM films that are owned by WB, especially one I've been waiting on for quite a while.

That night I checked DVD Drive-In and found a confirmation. Listed at the top of the news, they announced that two '60s Italian sci-fi films, War of the Planets and Wild, Wild Planet, are due from the Warner Archive Collection in October, along with Kinji Fukasaku's Gamma dai sango--Uchu dai sakusen (Gamma III--Operation Outer Space), better known by the title The Green Slime.

A quick aside about the Warner Archive Collection -- various representatives from Warner Brothers Home Video have insinuated that they wish to release everything they have from their catalog titles, in some fashion. Last year they started the Archive Collection, a method of releasing catalog titles on DVD that may not have the commercial appeal to support pressed discs sold at retail. The Archive makes these lesser-known catalog titles available by direct download or on-demand DVD-Rs which are sold on their site and also through Amazon.com.

The first releases used a generic blue background package with a still or publicity photo on the covers. Sometime this year they started using the original poster art on most new offerings, and it appears that they have changed to this for some of the older releases as well. I'll write more about on-demand discs in a future posting.

The highlight of this for me is that The Green Slime will finally be available on a legal Region 1 DVD. On the Classic Horror Film Board, film historian Tom Weaver mentioned that he was told the disc source is a brand new anamorphic 2.35:1 scope master, scanned in HD from a "beautiful" inter-positive print.

Fukasaku, who would later become world-famous for his Yakuza films and Battle Royale, directed this at Toei Studios in a contentious collaboration with Italian and American (MGM Studios) producers. The shrinking budget and the shortened shooting schedule might show on screen, but this is still one of the great Japanese science-fiction films of the 60s, a psychedelic trip of bizarre aliens and outer space action.

"...struggle for survival in the infected remains of a diseased universe...Rated G."

The trailer makes a good mini-movie all by itself. I get a sense of Lovecraftian nihilism from it, but that suits the movie just fine. Also check out the commentary for the trailer by director John Landis over at Trailers From Hell.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Vampire Circus

As mentioned here at the beginning of May, Synapse Films has the DVD and Blu-Ray rights to several Hammer horror films that have not yet been released on disc in Region 1.

Synapse just announced to DVD Drive-In that Vampire Circus will be released as a Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack by the end of the year (scroll down the main page for the news story). There are some great bonus features included -- more than on many other Hammer discs.

I haven't seen Vampire Circus, I only know it by reputation and reading about it. This disc, and the others in the collection from Synapse, fill a glaring omission in the collection of available R1 Hammer films.

Today DVD Drive-In announced more great cult classics on the way to DVD, including one of my most wanted films -- more on that next time.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

So long, Starlog, and thanks for all the fish

Another item from the Drafts bin. When Starlog ceased publication in April 2009, I had intended to write a short retrospective about it. I started writing this draft posting and gave it a suitably geeky cliche title (see above). I did not get around to finishing it.

I only needed to wait 17 months and, look, today James Maliszewski posted his own retrospective article on Grognardia, written more eloquently than I would have. Maliszewski's opinions match my own, more or less, although I do miss the magazine more than he does. Rather, I miss the idea of Starlog more than the print magazine, at least the way it was in the 70s/80s. I haven't picked one up since the very early 90s. By then there were more outlets for fandom information, and Starlog became more slick and glossy but with less substance -- much in the same way that Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood used to report on film production news.

I liked the homegrown fanzine feel of the early issues. A large percentage of pages were given over to classic Golden Age sci-fi and fantasy then, with the sort of articles that you now only see in Filmfax. I remember the multi-issue serialization of "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell, Jr. and part of David Gerrold's first Chtorr book.

Another important aspect of Starlog was its use as a source for new sci-fi and fantasy movie news. An issue might have one or two still photos and a short article on the making of a new movie, and then we would have to wait another month for more news, another still or some production art. Quite a contrast from today, when any leaked movie news is blogged, Flickr'd or Tweeted around the world almost instantly. It's great having more and more fan news available, but I believe we may have lost something special in the process.

As noted in the comments for that story on Grognardia, blogger John Z. has been reviewing every issue of Starlog -- take a look at the archive for The Starlog Project.

The more things change...

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Red Letter Media review of Star Trek 2009

Red Letter Media, the folks who brought you the video reviews of the Star Wars prequels, is back this week with their video review of J.J. Abrams' Star Trek. The character of "Harry Plinkett" seems to have some affection for the film, which is quite different from the way he feels about the Next Generation movies and the Star Wars prequels. He still manages to take a biting look at its flaws, and gives an explanation as good as anything else I've seen about how Hollywood really works and how Trekkies are not going to get another movie like those with the original cast(s).

Be aware that as with the other reviews in this series, some of the language and images are NSFW. The videos do not appear to be on YouTube yet, so I'm linking to the main RLM page and the story about it at Trekmovie.com, where you can watch the two-part ST09 review embedded in the page.

Looking forward to his Revenge of the Sith review...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Two movies...

...I didn't believe that I would see on R1 DVD, let alone Blu-ray: Star Crash and Shogun Assassin.

Star Crash was an Italian production, and was reportedly conceived as being a Harryhausen-type fantasy film set in space. But then Star Wars was released...

This is one of those odd films that I remember as being a "lost" movie in my memory. It never played here, if I remember correctly, or I'm sure that we would have gone to see it. Much like many Japanese science-fiction films, to my young eyes it seemed like it really was from some other planet. My earliest recollections of it are stills published in Starlog and some of the lower-budget pulpy-paper sci-fi magazines of the late 70s and early 80s, like Media Spotlight. I've read that it ran on cable occasionally, but I never caught it there, either. The only time I've seen live-action shots from it was when I saw the trailer on a compilation tape. The DVD and Blu-ray are due in mid-September.

Shogun Assassin is the notorious American re-edit of the first two Sword of Vengeance films, based on the popular Lone Wolf and Cub manga series, for the British and American movie circuit.

Again, this is another film that I had not seen but read plenty about it. This time I knew it wasn't "lost"; it had been shown in U.S. theaters and released on video, so I knew it actually existed. It wouldn't have played at any of the local theaters and the tape would not have been available at the public library, Chuck Stewart's, Video Movie Center (anyone local remember those?) or any of the other local rental shops.

Although the original Japanese film series became available on R1 DVD, Shogun Assassin remains important as a historical artifact. It works on its own as a movie, but more importantly it represents the influence of the Japanese cinema in general on U.S. audiences (at the same time as kung-fu movies from Hong Kong were incredibly popular here), and specifically the influence of the Lone Wolf and Cub mythology. The manga series would not be published in English until 1987. Shogun Assassin on Blu-ray is out this week.

A bonus image: the cover for the Star Crash DVD. If you compare this cover art to the Blu-ray above, you'll notice the change in framing the title against the art and some cropping at the top. This is probably worth its own post sometime, but I'm disappointed with the cover art choices on many Blu-ray discs. At least the sides of the art are not cropped, as with many Blu-rays.

I'm grateful to have the films presented in such quality, of course, that's the important part. However, the more square-shaped Blu-ray case causes the taller DVD art to be squished most of the time. My own personal preference for DVDs (and Blu) is to have the original poster art used for the covers, or at the very least given a prominent place on the back. I suppose it's just the historian/collector in me.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Gen Con 2010 Report

The semester is over, which means I have a chance to write a post-Gen Con report.

The Good

Attendance appeared to be up, from the crowds I saw. All of the publisher reports that I have read said that sales were good, and the con officially broke the 30,000 attendees mark. Very good news, indeed.

I was able to see just about everything that I wanted to and pick up the items I was most interested in. I also found a few surprises.

My main goal was to get a copy of Shadow, Sword & Spell at the show. Their booth was my first stop, and I had my copy signed by one of the authors. They took my name and email address and I got the PDF of the book by email two days later. $12 for print and PDF -- bonus! Rogue Games is building more online support for the game and really pushing customer service.

I found a copy of Villainy Amok for half-price at Chimera Hobby Shop's booth. This is Hero Games' sourcebook of seven classic superhero scenarios, packed with dozens of variations on each. I've wanted this book for quite a while. The plots and story ideas can be lifted and dropped into almost any genre of RPG. I've had a certain one of these in mind since the start of the Freeport campaign, so the book will be used!

BoardGameGeek wins the Diana Jones Award! Very well-deserved!

In all my years of gaming, I've never owned any Gamescience dice. I could hardly call myself a goober without owning some of Col. Zocchi's precision-edge dice. I found a good deal on one of their "Color Explosion" sets. It includes 12 different dice -- translucent, opaque, glow-in-the-dark, all different colors and sizes -- the usual seven, plus some odd ones, including a d20 marked 1-10 twice and a d16. I think these are overstock and/or seconds. Two of the colors are discontinued, and a couple have gouges where the usual mold flash would be. They will all need some sanding, but it's still a good deal for $6.

The booth that is alternately labeled "Adventure Gaming Retail" and "Cthulhiana Corner", Steve Jackson Games and Atlas Games' Gen Con presence, had all of the usual good stuff. DV and I think that they moved last year's regular-priced GURPS books into the 3-For-$10 section this year. It sure seemed that way to us. We went in together on the 3-For-$10 deal and I walked away with GURPS 3rd. Ed. Compendium II and Suppressed Transmission 2, two more books I've wanted for a long time.

On Sunday we finally got to the Paizo booth, and I looked around for any of the Planet Stories series. The selection was sparse (they needed the room for Pathfinder, of course), with the latest in the series and...several copies of Robert E. Howard's Almuric, one of the first books they published. I hadn't picked it up yet (I'm far behind), so now, finally, I have a reading copy of this novel. And I love that cover.

As I mentioned to D., based on the booths at the show and the attendees in costume, I'm calling it: Steampunk is the new Goth. Not that I mind...

The Bad

Another book on my list was Hamlet's Hit Points, Robin Laws' new book on story beat analysis in RPGs, using the plots of Hamlet, Dr. No and Casablanca. I saw it on the table at Adventure Gaming Retail once, Friday afternoon, but then copies were scarce. I missed out on the book and getting it signed. Next year...

When I got back home, I discovered that I didn't get the commemorative d6 in the free swag bag. DVO and Mrs. Kaiju didn't get one either. It appears to have been a widespread problem. I emailed Crystal Caste but they were completely out. Not a big thing, but I do like collecting the dice.

White Wolf's "booth". Really?

It wasn't until after I already purchased Villainy Amok that I spotted it on Chimera's Buy-One-Get-Three-Free shelf, along with various Freeport books that I could have used and the reprint Judges Guild d20 books.

I spent more on food than on gaming goodies, and that includes Mrs. Kaiju's blue anime wig.

I don't mind the cos-players, the more con attendees the better -- they are helping to subsidize the stuff that I like. However, I don't know if it's necessary to wear a costume that takes up a lot of space for the entire weekend. I usually enjoy walking through the con center, but this is the first time I found myself walking outside so that I could move from one end to the other at a standard walking pace.

Speaking of space... the convention center expansion looks nearly finished. This is going into the area where the RCA Dome sat. I'm hoping that having this extra floorspace available will help to spread out the con in a more reasonable way. Many of the events have been farmed out to the hotels. It would be nice to have more of the con held under the convention center roof, yet also giving us room for everyone and their massive cos-play props.

Soon, some photos.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Gen Con wrap-up soon

Busy, busy... Might be a couple of days before my comments on this year's show. I'm also looking at some changes using Blogger Template Designer.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Gen Con: What I'm Looking Forward To Most, part 3

Part 3 of the series...

Castle Ravenloft.

Wil Wheaton will be there, speaking and selling chapbooks of gaming stories. As a fellow member of the "video game/D&D/BBS/Star Wars figures generation", I enjoy reading what he has to say. I'm sorry, J. and G.!

FFG has a Space Hulk co-op/solitaire card game on the way. Looks like fun!

Alderac has a new version of the alternate history World War II game Dust: Tactics that looks like a hybrid board/miniatures game. I'm also interested in their Cadwallon boardgame City of Thieves.

The Cubicle 7 booth will have a wide variety of titles, including the acclaimed ICONS Superpowered Roleplaying. I'm curious about it because Steve Kenson, the "mastermind" behind Mutants & Masterminds, also worked on this. I'm hoping they will also have a copy of Barbarians of Lemuria for me to read through.

Green Ronin will have DC Adventures and some unspecified surprises for their 10th anniversary.

There are at least a dozen more. I'm sure there will be plenty of surprising discoveries to be found. I love finding something great that I wasn't expecting.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Gen Con: What I'm Looking Forward To Most, part 2

Part 2 of my look at new games and other favorites at Gen Con:

Volume 2 of Open Game Table: The Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs should be available at the show through Studio2 Publishing.

Two books of advice on playing and gamemastering that I've been thinking about picking up for a while: Graham Walmsley's Play Unsafe, and John Wick's Play Dirty.

Tabletop Adventures will have the print edition of the "White Box" Swords & Wizardry rules, and limited print copies of the One Page Dungeon Codex.

Chimera Hobby Shop -- this is the booth that has boxes of dirt-cheap CCGs, discounted miniatures, and row after row of RPG books at 50% off cover.

More tomorrow!

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Gen Con: What I'm Looking Forward To Most

Gen Con begins this Thursday...technically -- the unofficial festivities have spilled over into Wednesday in recent years. For me, Gen Con begins Friday morning, when our caravan pulls into town. Really, though, the Gen Con season starts when the buzz for new products begins, when guests and events are announced, and the anticipation starts to build. Two months ago, maybe? I'm already in the Gen Con state of mind.

The title of this post might be misleading. What I look forward to most is the camaraderie, the fun, the shared stories and the shared history. Gen Con is the place where the members of Geek Nation can assemble and wave their freak flag high, for four days at least.

The shared history is particularly important for me. It's a continuous living connection to the past of our strange and wondrous hobby. Stop in and watch the Gen Con Auction for a history lesson, not only from viewing the vintage items but listening to the matching stories from the auctioneers.

More Gen Con nostalgia later. This posting is really about what games, products, and general silliness I'm most looking forward to this year. I was inspired by Zach Houghton's Gen Con vendor previews over on RPGBlog2, which helped me look at the company sites for several interesting new products, along with my notekeeping and bookmarking for the past few weeks as the announcements and previews filtered out. Another important resource is the 2010 Exhibitor Website Directory over at Livingdice.com.

First of all, Eden Studios will be at the show. Buffy, Angel, zombies... go to their booth and buy stuff!

Fireside Games will have scratch-and-dent copies of their popular co-op boardgame Castle Panic for only $20.

The main book I'm looking for this year is Shadow, Sword & Spell from Rogue Games. From what I've read about it (A Primer, interview), it appears to be a new perspective take on old-school pulp fantasy. By "pulp", I mean The Big Three of Weird Tales: Howard, Lovecraft, and Smith. This might be the rules I've been looking for to run a Conan RPG.

When you walk the the length of the dealers' room twice and then drag your backpack to the next game, you're going to be thirsty. Grab a Rootjack, the pirate energy drink. It prevents scurvy!

And after walking all day, hit the Geeky Clean booth for soap with a d20 inside.

Speakin' o' pirates, matey... Scotty's Alehouse is having a Pirate Gatherin' on Saturday night. I've never been there, but from what I've read this year it sounds like they are getting into the spirit of the con as much or more than even The Ram. While supplies last, Scotty's is handing out one of four commemorative dice with the purchase of a gaming-themed entree. Freeport Sea Biscuits and Gravy?!

So much for the silliness. Tomorrow I'll write more about the books and products I believe will be the highlights of the show for me.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Free RPG Day 2010 this Saturday

A quick reminder that this Saturday is Free RPG Day, an industry-wide event for local game stores to get players to stop in -- hopefully new players, or regulars playing a new game.

Some highlights this year include the 40K Deathwatch RPG quickstart adventure, a Cthulhu scenario from Goodman Games, the quickstart for Prime Directive (the Star Fleet Battles RPG), and a Dark Sun 4e module.

You can find participating retailers here. Go to your local shop and try something new!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Keyboards for Rock Band 3

After the teasing hint at the end of the Green Day Rock Band demo, there has been wild speculation about the possibility of a keyboard added to Rock Band 3. Now with the story (video) in USA Today this morning, it's official.

This is great, exciting news. The new gameplay elements are neat, but the keyboard opens up the possibility for songs by The Doors ("Break on Through" is in the demo video), Journey, Boston, Billy Preston, Howard Jones, Thomas Dolby (OK, maybe I'm dreaming here) and other synthesizer/organ/piano-heavy rock. How about Emerson, Lake and Palmer's "Karn Evil 9: 3rd Impression"? Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets"? Van Halen's "Jump"? (a song that could do for RB3 what "You Really Got Me" did for Guitar Hero)

Eventually, Harmonix needs to review some past content and update it for the keyboard controller, such as Boston's "Foreplay/Long Time" from RB1.

In the meantime, I'm dreaming of 80's synth-pop like this:

Monday, June 07, 2010

The end of The Cimmerian

At the end of May, an announcement was made that The Cimmerian blog would be coming to an end on June 11th. This coincides with the Robert E. Howard Days celebration in Cross Plains, Texas this weekend.

For several years now, The Cimmerian Blog has been the main informational site for Howard fans, and so much more. As the subtitle says, a website for "...the best in heroic fantasy, horror and historical adventure." From 2004 to 2008, The Cimmerian was the premier fanzine pro-zine in the Howard community. The blog was a great companion to it, and when the print edition ceased publication the blog continued the tradition.

You can read two good (short) histories of TC and its place in Howard fandom at the Two-Gun Raconteur blog and at the REH United Press Association blog.

Besides the high level of quality inherent in the articles posted there, what I'll miss most is having just one place to go for news. It appears that the articles will be archived at the website of the editor, so past articles won't completely disappear. Any new articles from the team of contributors will be spread among a half-dozen blogs and forums.

I'm also disappointed that I never picked up any print issues of TC. Yet another reason to purchase collectibles and rarities when you have the chance...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

'Empire' at 30

Last Friday, May 21st, was the 30th anniversary of the second Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back. There have been several tributes posted in various places, including this look at a first draft of the script.

Last week Mrs. Kaiju and I had discussed that we should watch Empire sometime over the weekend to mark the occasion. We spun the disc on Sunday night. I'm sure everyone in our generation remembers what it was like to see Empire for the first time, with that surprise double cliffhanger ending. We were very pleased at how well the movie holds up after all these years. It makes the problems with the prequels that much more irritating.

I recommend that you check out this link to the trailer for the original 1950 version of the film. Thanks to Viking Moose and others at Urkobold for being the first place that I saw this.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Favorite Music Friday: "Every Breath You Take"

In this edition of "Favorite Music Friday", I want to spotlight one of the great songs of the '80s. This is a song that I wanted to talk about eventually, but the subject came up recently. Two weeks ago, in fact, when we were talking about The Police before the LV game.

I have many favorites, whether it's music, or books, or movies, but I haven't made the conscious decision to list any of them in order, as a "top ten" or "best of", or sort them out in that way. There are usually so many greats to choose from that it's difficult for me to narrow it down. At some point I'll post about my favorite movie, The Maltese Falcon, but that list gets scattered after #1.

One that I'm sure of: "Every Breath You Take" is my choice for the Best Pop Song of All Time.

I know, it's a song about a stalker. Sting himself has said that it's "very sinister and ugly". I understand that. However, musically, it's beautiful. The video is elegant in its simplicity.

Having said that, I actually like my runner-up choice better: "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic". The only reason "Every Breath You Take" edges it out is because it was a bigger commercial hit.

As a film buff, I love that it's obviously shot using film. There's speckles and pops, and a film tear at 0:15 seconds into the video:

At the first listen, it's deceptively simple. In the video the band does a silly dance in the recording studio. But when you really listen (headphones, not earbuds), there's a great deal going on in the song -- the layers, the changes. What I mentioned before, about the music telling a story, is found here. It really brings up a host of emotions for me.

I wanted to include the "official" MTV versions of these videos, but their player is very jerky and stops to re-buffer. Here are the links; you may have better luck:



Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Frank Frazetta, RIP

One of those things that you expect, sooner or later, especially after his recent bouts of illnesses. But when it happens, it's still a shock and a loss.
We saw the news late Monday night that Frank Frazetta had passed away earlier that day from a stroke. He had a history of strokes and had been in poor health the past few years, particularly with the death of his wife Ellie last year.

I'm glad that his children resolved their differences last month -- deciding to work together to promote their father's work and legacy -- after the unpleasantness between them following Ellie's passing.

This isn't meant to be an obit -- there are plenty of official stories out on the 'net, written better that I could do it -- at the Washington Post, Deadline, the LA Times and the New York Times. But I would be remiss if I didn't say a few words about an artist who has had such a profound effect on my own imagination and ideas about art in general.

I can't pinpoint exactly my first encounter with Frazetta's work. I've always been a big fan of fantasy and science fiction, for as long as I can remember. I do have the memory of seeing the Lancer (and later Ace) Conan and Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks with Frazetta covers in bookstores, especially the prominent display in the Waldenbooks upstairs at Scottsdale Mall. I also remember seeing samples from, and the ads for, the Ballantine Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta books in Starlog Magazine in the early '80s.
Later, after more time and reading, I learned more about his extent of his work -- not just cover paintings but pencil drawings, ink work, comic book art, movie posters and album covers... on and on.

What I think makes his work so powerful and popular is how dynamic it is, how much is going on in that snapshot of time. In some works, we see the moment before something happens. In others, it's the aftermath. But in all of them, there's the quality and artistry -- visceral, raw energy, in every brushstroke or line of ink. Pure magic.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

More DVD News

More recent news:

Sony will release the Blu-ray edition of Jason and the Argonauts, the 1963 epic from stop-motion animation master Ray Harryhausen, on July 6th. Jason is probably his best work, where he's at the top of his game. An interview with Harryhausen by genre director John Landis is included from the DVD, and additionally the Harryhausen Legacy featurette will be on the Blu-ray.

The trailer commentary site Trailers From Hell has released a DVD of their best trailer videos. Speaking of John Landis, he provides commentary on four of the trailers.

Next week, the original Gamera will be released on DVD. This will be the first unedited, subtitled release of the film in the U.S.

The Criterion Collection has a free channel of their films on Hulu.com. They released the first six Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman films on Hulu in February, and last month twelve more were posted, including the rare 14th film, Zatoichi's Pilgrimage, as yet unreleased on DVD.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Hammer DVD and merchandise news

There was much news this past week on the pop culture front. Most of the items I read about deserve their own posts (and I'll increase my posting count that way!).

Two of the really exciting items concern Hammer Studios. Titan Books has already released two new books about the history of the studio, and their merchandise unit has signed a deal to release Hammer-related items including t-shirts, starting later this year.

Even better, thanks to Synapse Films we'll soon be getting the remainder of the Karnstein Trilogy on DVD.

Fangoria Magazine is reporting that Synapse has picked up the rights to several Hammer titles -- Vampire Circus, Twins of Evil, Hands of the Ripper, and the 13-episode TV series Hammer House of Horror. House will be available in a DVD boxed set, and new high-definition transfers of the films will be released on DVD and possibly Blu-ray.

Twins of Evil completes the Karnstein Trilogy on DVD, with the previous releases of Lust for a Vampire by Anchor Bay, and The Vampire Lovers (print restoration article, possibly NSFW) in MGM's Midnite Movies series. Vampire Circus is a title that has been sought-after for years on DVD, and is considered a "fourth" movie in the Trilogy.

I'll update the R1 Hammer DVD list when actual release dates are officially announced. While we're waiting for that, check out my other Hammer posts and take a look at the site for the terrific fanzine Little Shoppe of Horrors. The articles in LSoH are excellent but the Bruce Timm covers are a great bonus.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

More Lulu discount codes

Two more discount codes for Lulu are circulating right now. Use coupon code LULUMAIL305 at checkout and receive $3.99 towards your final shipping cost. This amount is the US mail cost for a single book order. The expiration date listed in the email notice is midnight on May 1st.

The second code is SHOWERS (April showers, May flowers?), which gives you 10% off your total purchase. This one may only be good until April 30th.

See my posting here about book and game suggestions from Lulu.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

"So, tell us, Baron..."

"...of the time you crossed the Thames without the assistance of a bridge, ship, boat, or balloon..."

One of the ideas/goals/plans that has been in the back of my mind for a while (in this case, since the first edition of the game was published), has been to get some people together to play The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

A group of like-minded, gregarious and lively goobers get together for a grand and hearty meal, then as after-dinner drinks are dispensed, settling in for fun storytelling and challenges in the outrageous tradition of the Baron himself.

To evoke the correct atmosphere, I like to imagine the setting as a fine wood-paneled banquet room, around a heavy wood table, lit by candelabras or oil lamps. Cheers!

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Wizards of the Coast embraces their heritage

Many product announcements came out of last week's GAMA Trade Show. The ones that I'm most excited about were from, surprisingly, Wizards of the Coast. Based on some of their products announced for this year I think they're starting to understand the hook of nostalgia and the surging OSR movement.

September sees the release of another D&D 4th ed. starter set, but this one looks like a clone of the iconic '80s "Red Box" Basic Set. If this turns out the way I imagine, I'm all over it.

Castle Ravenloft, a co-op adventure board game, is out for Gen Con. They should have done this long ago.

Gamma World returns in a series of books using the 4e rules. I didn't think I would see that again.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

XDM: X-treme Dungeon Mastery

At last year's Gen Con, while wandering the Exhibit Hall, I walked by the Hickmans' booth where XDM was being offered for sale. I had read a little about it, not much, although the impression I had was that it was a book about playing RPGs -- d20/OGL specifically -- in some sort of "extreme" way, with lots of action, stunts, and phat lootz.

Fast forward to last Wednesday, when I was checking the new reviews on rpg.net. One of the day's reviews was this review of XDM, focusing on the rules system. I hadn't thought much about the book or read anything else about it since Gen Con, but I was struck by the tag line for the review: "The best thing to happen to RPGs since the 20 sided die. Seriously." With such a bold statement, I just had to read what it was about.

The book itself does appear to be more about tips and tricks to use with your game. The rules system included, the subject of this particular review, is very simple. The player tells the GM what he or she wants to do, the GM determines a target number based on the difficulty of the action and the character's skill, and the player rolls the dice. It seems to be akin to indie-style rules-light games of high-trust shared narrative control, such as Wushu. The magic system works the same way -- Describe the effect, calculate a target number, and roll.

Seems like a lot of fun, and a style similar to the games our group has been playing lately. I was intrigued by the review, and now I'm curious to read the book itself.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Favorite Music Friday: "Come Dancing"

This is a special Sunday edition of "Favorite Music Friday." I had planned to spotlight this song eventually, but I was reminded of it last night.

"Come Dancing" is among my favorite songs of the 80s, and my favorite song by The Kinks.

Even though there is a touch of sad nostalgia in it, which could be read as a corresponding "loss of innocence", I don't see it as sad and melancholy. Overall there's a feeling of optimism in the song; looking back at past good times, but also a celebration of those days and the present, from the organ notes at the beginning to the brass section that cranks up near the end. I love the sound of an organ and brass instruments in rock songs.

Being a fan of all things British, too, I love this look at a slice of post-war life in England. The song takes on added meaning when you find out that there was a ballroom dancing competition show on the BBC named "Come Dancing" -- I didn't know until now.

When Mrs. Kaiju and I were at Borders yesterday, I flipped though an new book by the Onion A/V Club titled Inventory, a book of pop-culture lists. I was pleased to see that they recognized "Come Dancing" in their list of "Songs That Work As Short Stories". This will be a topic I come back to, but I love songs that tell a story, whether that's literally through the lyrics, or sonically when the actual music takes you on a journey.