Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Three film articles

For the last blog post of the year I wanted to highlight three web posts that I have read recently on the history and current state of two distinct branches of home video releases: Hammer Horror films and Shaw Brothers kung-fu films.

DVD Savant’s Guide to the New Wave of Classic Hammer Blu-rays -- Glenn Erickson, DVD Savant, hosted an guest article in October by an anonymous film industry transfer expert and Hammer fan about Region B (UK,  Europe, Australia) Blu-ray releases and how they compare to each other and US discs. Many of these titles are not yet available on Blu-ray in the US.

How The North American Release of the Shaw Brothers Movies Was Botched -- An in-depth article from January 2015 detailing the history of how the Shaw Brothers kung-fu films were released in the US, from the first theatrical release in 1973, the bootleg VHS copies in the 80s, the Celestial Pictures DVDs of recent years, to the current TV broadcasts on the El Rey Network.

I'm not sure of the identity of this anonymous author. While this person does seem to know insider information about the home video industry and appears to match what I have read elsewhere, sources are not cited, and Celestial Pictures has said the article contains "a ton of inaccuracies." I might also quibble with the author's opinion of certain films and their importance to collectors, but that could be a matter of my own incomplete knowledge.

Diggin' Kung Fu with Johnnyray Gasca -- This interview from 2013 details the other side of the previous article and as a counterpoint, being a first-person account of 42nd Street grindhouse movie theaters and the origin of SB Video, which supplied the VHS boots found in stores all over New York City and elsewhere in the 1980s, contributing to the legendary status of Shaw Brothers films in the US. A fascinating look at an otherwise hidden world.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Happy 100th Birthday, Leigh Brackett

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Leigh Brackett, one of the great authors of fantasy and sci-fi's Golden Age. I haven't read as much of Brackett's work as I should, but I'm working to correct that. And maybe later this week I'll watch Rio Bravo as a tribute.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

October means Halloween

It's already October. September just disappeared. One day you're coming back from Gen Con, the next day the leaves start turning and Fall's chill is in the air.

My attention has been on research and writing on a gaming project that I'm pretty excited about. More details soon, I just need to get it wrangled and done before the deadline at the end of this month.

Secret Santicore is on track again this year with only a slight delay. The call for volunteers will go out soon, then for requests shortly after.

Today is the US street date for Warner's first set of four Hammer Horror blu-rays, and their 30s/40s/50s monster film collection is available on the 27th. Each title is also sold separately. It's my understanding that each has received restoration and new masters, for an improvement over the DVDs. I plan to get the Hammer singles over time, with Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed on the way as I type this. Not so sure about The Mummy yet -- I might go with the UK edition.

I am utterly stunned by the number of deep catalog and cult film releases on blu-ray this year. Kino, Twilight Time, Warner Archive, Shout Factory, and others have all been busy. I've had trouble keeping track. A roundup highlighting this work would make a great end-of-the-year series of posts.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

My Gen Con 2015 haul

I didn't spend as much time browsing through the Exhibit Hall this year as I would have liked, but I did get to my top priorities -- and a few unexpected pieces.

Blowing Up the Movies by Robin Laws was a stretch goal for the Feng Shui 2 Kickstarter, and although I had the ebook version I wanted the print copy on my shelf.

Sigh Co. offers a ton of Lovecraft-related shirts, and their 1930s Prairie-style Miskatonic University T-Shirt stood out.

Green Ronin had several boxes of older material for $2 each, so I grabbed the Revised Edition True20 rulebook along with the Warrior's and Adept's Handbooks. Fantasy AGE and Titansgrave had already sold out -- I flipped through their display copy of Fantasy AGE and it looks good.

Steve Dempsey generously chatted with us for a bit about Night's Black Agents and Trail of Cthulhu at the Pelgrane Press booth. Shortly after that, I picked up the Trail rulebook in anticipation of a future ongoing Gen Con campaign (along with a 13th Age Escalation Die).

The Goodman Games booth is where I spent most of my dealers' hall time this year, with two separate visits. On the first round I picked up a print copy of Black Sun Deathcrawl, along with  Sailors on the Starless Sea, Crawl #1 and Crawljammer Issue 1. The second time I got a great combo deal on the Wizard Van t-shirt and one of the last skull logo shirts, and the adventures Against the Atomic Overlord and The Rock Awakens. This gave me the chance to roll the giant d20 twice, for which I was rewarded with the 2013 Gen Con Program Book and...

my choice from a stack of foamboard-backed promotional posters, in which I found this poster of the Frozen in Time sketch cover. I had it signed by Joseph Goodman and artist Doug Kovacs, but I missed Michael Curtis (next year!). Also pictured are issues 2 and 5 of The Gongfarmer's Almanac, an in-house zine produced for Gen Con. The picture is missing the swag bag of free Dungeon Crawl Classics goodies, including a pad of blank 0-level character sheets.

Already thinking about next year!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Kaiju Movie Marathon this Saturday

This Saturday, July 18th, Shout Factory TV and Famous Monsters of Filmland are hosting a free 24-hour live stream marathon of Godzilla films, Ultra Seven and Ultra Q episodes, with introductions by kaiju expert August Ragone. See the link for the full schedule (auto-play video on the page, but it was muted when I looked at it). It's also being streamed on the Pluto TV app for mobile and TV devices. (US and Canadian IP addresses only)

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Age of Ravens nominated for Best Website ENnie Award

Lowell's site is full of campaign ideas, gaming tips discovered during actual play, and he's been doing a great service by producing a valuable ongoing resource of  histories of RPG genres. Take a look at some of his previous posts.

I will be voting Age of Ravens as my #1 choice for Best Website at the ENnies.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Google Doodle for Eiji Tsuburaya’s 114th Birthday

It's fantastic to see Google honor the special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya on what would have been his 114th birthday today with a very involved Google Doodle game on their home page. Create a movie alongside the master!

Read about the making of the doodle here.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Return of Reptilicus

Next Tuesday sees a release that I would not have expected -- Reptilicus on Blu-ray. It's a double-feature disc along with American-International Pictures' Tentacles, their star-filled 1977 copy of Jaws.

If you're unfamiliar with Reptilicus, have a look at my film and DVD review, including the condensed 10 minute version.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Letterman's Last Late (Night) Show

"From the home office in Lincoln, Nebraska..."

David Letterman's final episode of The Late Show aired last night. It was a good mix of on-stage bits (the Top Ten list), clips, music and Dave speaking directly to the audience as he usually does. It was also in many ways the end of an era.

It's not an exaggeration to say that I grew up with Dave. From the beginning I was one of those kids that stayed up way too late on school nights to watch his show and talked about it in the halls at school the next day. In that era before on-demand video clips, you couldn't be sure you would ever see those bits again.

I think Dave's shows struck a chord with me because he was one of us. He had the same Midwestern sense of humor that mocked and joked, but was never mean. He found the funny side of every-day occurrences. He had respect for the common person and never forgot where he came from. Who else would have made national celebrities of shopkeepers working in the theater's neighborhood?

Over time the show may have become repetitive, but the early years were great for being creative, chaotic, and willing to try anything. Dave and the show had much of the same vibe as early Saturday Night Live, as if they were left on their own in this late time slot with no one from the network overseeing the program (untrue, of course). What other shows would have characters like Larry "Bud" Melman and The Guy Under the Seats, or guests like Brother Theodore? What studio exec would have thought throwing things off a five-story tower would be funny and popular? He took concepts first started by Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show and refined them under the constraints of the network (and Carson Productions) into a format that all the late night talk shows still use today.

I could say that I miss him already, but really, I've been missing those early shows for a while now.

"She's gone already, Chief."

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Quick comments on A Red & Pleasant Land

Short on time recently for a full review, so here are comments I posted last month to RPGGeek:

R&PL raises the bar for all other small-press RPG publishers in terms of content, illustrations, and layout, and as a physical object. Looking at only the PDF version does not do this work justice.

It's designed specifically for ease of play and direct use at the table. The GM is given just enough information to create adventures in the setting through the use of bullet-point lists and tables. No dense text blocks or pages of back story that must be absorbed before playing the game. Sit down, break out this book and your favorite rules system, and start rolling for months/years of play.

Even better, it can be used as a toolkit for your own setting. How to deal with eccentric NPCs, interacting with the mirror world on the other side of the Looking Glass, the 3D spatial relationships of the castle maps, mass combat methods, instant location creation... all can be drifted into any campaign with ease.

R&PL is a new and totally unique take on a classic fantasy story, with plenty of room to make the setting your own.

Adding to the above, I had been following the previews, and considering the limited print run it was a day-one purchase for me. Check it out before they are all gone.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Conan RPG announcement from Modiphius

Early yesterday morning the news broke out across gaming social media that Modiphius had officially announced a new licensed Conan RPG. I knew that someone had the license from Paradox and Conan Properties but not who, nor when it would be released.

Modiphius is also working with Monolith Board Games, who are currently Kickstarting a Conan board game, to cross-promote (using the board game miniatures with the RPG; playing out RPG scenarios in the board game).

The RPG will use the 2d20 system, which I am not familiar with but is used in the Mutant Chronicles RPG that was successfully crowdfunded last year and is now beginning to show up in PDF.

I'm keeping an optimistic eye on how the game develops. With Howard scholars Jeffrey Shanks and Mark Finn on board, it should be in good hands.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Happy Birthday, Robert E. Howard

Today marks the 109th anniversary of the birth of pulp writer Robert E. Howard. It has become a tradition on this date for Howard fans to read a favorite story and raise a toast.

Howard wrote something for every taste: sword and sorcery, hard-boiled detectives, weird horror, historical fiction, boxing, westerns, pirates, and poetry.

I have a copy of Conan Meets the Academy checked out from the library, so I might read a few of the essays rather than one of his stories this year. Brian Murphy wrote an outstanding review and critique of the book at The Silver Key (the comments are good, also).

For more information on his life and career, start with the following sites:
I would also recommend Mark Finn's Howard biography, the Locus and World Fantasy Award-nominated Blood and Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard. An new expanded edition was released by the REH Foundation.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

What to expect here in 2015

I have become wary of promising myself too much in these New Year "looking ahead" posts. Inevitably some crisis will knock me off track from what I've proposed, and I'll feel like I haven't been able to keep up. Even so, putting these ideas out here still seems like the best way to focus on projects.

I'm eager to run an RPG campaign again. We had a short test run of D&D 5e for three sessions, using the Starter Set adventure The Lost Mine of Phandelver. The players and I had fun, although I'm not sure it was enough time to really test the system. My takeaway -- based as much on other reviews I have read as on our playtest -- is that it delivers just what I want "D&D" to be. There will always be tweaks and house-ruling, but it works as written, and at the right balance for me between simplicity and complexity.

The campaign ideas foremost on my mind at the moment:
  • D&D 5e, possibly starting with Phandelver and leading into Horde of the Dragon Queen (a heavily hacked and curtailed version) and The Rise of Tiamat (dragon cultists!). Or something completely different.
  • A Red and Pleasant Land, using 5e for the rules system
  • Shadowrun, perhaps using Savage Worlds.
  • Night's Black Agents: Dracula Dossier (not out until August/September)
  • Call of Cthulhu (a perennial favorite)
  • Conan, using Barbarians of Lemuria (The Mythic Edition of the game is due any moment now)
I'm in the very preliminary research stages for my Golden Age of Ballooning RPG, and one of my main gaming goals for the year is continuous movement towards a fully-polished game for public release.

On the blog, I'd like to write more reviews -- both of games and gaming products, and of films, reviving the Cult Classic of the Week series.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Goodbye to 2014

2014 was full of personal loss and challenges. I know it was the same for many other people, and the news stories were usually grim.

There were some great things that happened and fun times were had, but even so, I'm glad to have it in the rear-view mirror.

Next post: What to expect in 2015.