Flashback Weekend 2017

August 14, 2017

Hope everyone is enjoying the summer! We’ve been busy at the Toxic Bag campus, working on several projects. But we did take a weekend off to enjoy our love of horror movies at Flashback Weekend 2017.

Date: August 4 – 6, 2017
Location: Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare Hotel
Guests for the show:

Robert Englund – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Lance Henriksen – Aliens, The Terminator
Sean Patrick Flanery – Boondock Saints
David Della Rocco – Boondock Saints
Heather Langenkamp – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Ronee Blakley – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Amanda Wyss – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
William Forsythe – The Devil’s Rejects
Nancy Loomis – Halloween (1978), The Fog (1980)
Victoria Price – Daughter of Vincent Price
Felissa Rose – Sleepaway Camp
Paula Shaw – Freddie vs Jason
Cerina Vincent – Cabin Fever
Ken Foree – Dawn of the Dead (1978)

And a bunch more…

As you can see, this year was a celebration of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” with a bunch of actors from all the installments present. For me, it was all about the original Nightmare and Nancy Loomis. I broke out my movie posters and set out for a long day of waiting in line!

First up, was Freddie Krueger, himself, Robert Englund. Since he was the headliner for the show, he had huge lines of people to get his autograph. I waited about 3 and half hours in two separate chunks to meet him! With so many people, there was not a lot of time for chit-chat, but Mr. Englund was very pleasant and engaging. Plus, in addition to his signature, he drew a really cool picture on my poster as well!

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Robert Englund starting to draw a cool pic on my poster.

Next up was Ronee Blakely. When she saw the drawing the Robert did, she said that she could try and do one as well but she’s not much of an artist. To prove her point, she then showed me a sheet of paper that she had made some doodle attempts on. We commiserated on the fact that neither of us can draw a lick!

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Ronee Blakley signs my poster.

Next was Nancy herself, Heather Langenkamp. She was friendly and upbeat and came right out from her table to shake my hand! Very cool!

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It’s Nancy! The delightful Heather Langenkamp!

The last original cast member at the show was Amanda Wyss. As we were walking up to her, we went over some of the great films she’s been in besides Nightmare. Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Better Off Dead, and of course, Silverado. Joe and I debated asking her to sign my poster with a movie quote from Better Off Dead, or Fast Times. I ultimately decided to go with Nightmare.

Amanda was amazing! She answered my questions on her films and even asked us a bunch as well. It was fascinating to hear how uncomfortable the body bag scene was for her, not being able to breathe or see!

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“It’s just a dream!”

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the amazing Amanda Wyss!

Last but not least, was Nancy Loomis. Nancy was a John Carpenter player, appearing as Annie in the original Halloween and Sandy in The Fog. It was very cool to actually meet one of the actors from one of my all time favorite films! She told several great stories about working with Janet Leigh, and if she ever saw Adrienne Barbeau while shooting the Fog. (They never appear on screen together!) Nancy now teaches acting in California.

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Nancy Loomis signing The Fog.

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And then Halloween!

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OMG! It’s Annie! Hey Jerk! Speed Kills!!!

All in all, an amazing show! Can’t wait for next year! What are the chances we can get a “Return of the Living Dead” Reunion???

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TOTAL RECALL

August 16, 2012

Rating System: 0 – 5 Bubbly Head Deaths with Zero being the lowest and five being the highest.

Directed by Len Wiesman

The Review

Total Recall, which I will simply refer to as TR, is a remake of the 1990 Schwarzenegger action flick. This is another attempt to bring Phillip K. Dick‘s classic 1966 short story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale to the big screen. Sci-Fi fandom owes a lot to Phillip K. Dick. In addition to this story he also gave us Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (which became Blade Runner) and Minority Report. This version is closer to the Dick story (at least this time it’s set entirely on Earth) than the 1990 version, but its still not very close.

TR is set in a standard dystopian sci-fi world. In the near future, the earth has been virtually destroyed by a chemical war. The only habitable places left are The United Federation (England) and the Colony (Australia.) The two places are connected by a gigantic underground train that travels straight through the Earth’s core. I laughed out loud when I read that bit of exposition, since I’m pretty sure that the pressure and temperature at the Earth’s core would be a little bit too extreme for train travel. But it was a movie, so I went with it. There’s a rebellion of sorts going on, with a small group of terrorists blowing up stuff to strike at the heartless United Federation and its evil President Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston).

The story concerns Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell,) a man who lives a fairly mundane life. He works at an android assembly plant in the Colony all day and at night goes home to his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale)in a shoebox of an apartment.  Doug is a troubled guy. He keeps having recurring dreams of escaping from some sort of prison with a hottie resistance fighter named Melina (Jessica Biel.) I must confess that I too have recurring dreams of Jessica Biel, so it’s entirely possible that I might also be some sort of super spy.

Doug feels that his life is missing something, so he visits Rekal Incorporated, a company that offers implanted memories.  After perusing the menu, he decides to have a secret agent memory implanted. As the procedure is starting, McClane (John Cho) detects some other planted memories already in Doug’s head. Convinced that he is a Government agent, McClane halts the procedure and wants him thrown out. Suddenly the building is filled with Soldiers. The Rekal staff is gunned down, leaving just Quaid. In a blink of an eye, he kills every soldier in the room and escapes. Returning home he finds that his entire life is actually a fake memory that has been implanted in his head. Even his wife Lori is not what she seems. She is actually another government agent that has been assigned to be his wife. Following her orders, she then tries to kill him and forces him to flee.

The rest of the film shows Quaid on the run desperately trying to discover exactly who he is. Along the way he meets up with the real Melina and finds out that he has a cell phone implanted in his hand. There’s a really cool Hover car chase, lots of gun play and explosions aplenty as the plot begins to unfold. I particularly love bits where Quaid gets a message from his old self. The idea of watching yourself say and act like a complete stranger is compelling and a little bit creepy. The age old question of “am I a good person deep down, or am I rotten” is one we can all relate to. And of course, you have to be prepared for the answer, no matter how ugly it may be. I always go back to a line form Minority Report (another Dick story, as mentioned earlier) when Gideon tells Anderton “Careful Chief, you go digging up the past, all you get is dirty.”

One of the ideas from the original story that I really love is the question of what’s real and what isn’t.  Dick had fun playing with the reader on whether Quail (the name of his main character) is really a spy or it’s just the implanted memories. TR tries to explore that concept, but it’s very overhanded and clumsy. I also love the idea of Quaid trying to discover who he really is. That journey of discovery has plenty of ore to mine. Farrell is a good enough actor to handle it, but the script pretty much pushes all of the “Who am I, and am I gonna like me when I find out” stuff aside and concentrates on the large CGI booms.

Overall TR was pretty good. The film makers didn’t really do any cinematic trailblazing. But they cover the old familiar sci-fi ground well. The gem of this film for me is Kate Beckinsale. Most people know her from the awesomely bad Underworld franchise. I think she’s actually a pretty good actor, and she shows it here. She takes a standard villain part and makes it fun. The screen lights up every time she’s on it and she’s physical enough that you believe that she could kill you in multiple ways.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE

Shadow Run seems to be a perfect fit for this setting, although a modern day Call of Cthulhu would work just as well. You could have two character sheets for each character that has had their memories altered. Then you can spring the new sheet with the ‘real’ character at just the right moment. If your players are up for it, they can have a lot of fun playing a different version of themselves. When you add in just the right amount of swat teams, firefights, and huge government conspiracies, you’ve got yourself an enjoyable evening of gaming!

There were a couple of nods to the original Schwartz version. The traveling women at the security check-in “Two Weeks!” makes a fun appearance and Quaid has a quick throw away line “I always wanted to go to Mars” when he is at Rekall. But that one could also be a nod to the actual Dick story as well. All of the crowd shots of the Colony brought to mind the scenes of LA 2019 from Blade Runner.

‘Course, what do I know?

You can check out this review as well as all the others at the Bloodwork blog on toxicbag.com.

My New Addiction

August 7, 2012

I’m smiling because it’s not my blood…

I have a confession to make. I am a faux-trailer maker. There, I said it. I admit it. What exactly is a faux-trailer maker, you ask? It’s a person who makes trailers for movies that don’t technically exist. And I’m one of them. I know, weird, right? What kind of a weirdo would spend the time, effort, and money to make a trailer for a movie that was never made?

This kind, I guess…

Anyway, it all started back in April when Joe and I released the “Ghost in the Graveyard” soundtrack. I got the crazy idea to cut together a trailer for the imaginary film that the soundtrack was written for. I thought it could allow the customer to hear the music used in a horror setting.  Sooo, we called up an actor friend and put together a shot list and off we went. We shot the trailer, nobody got hurt (despite the bloody wound seen in the trailer!) and I had a blast.

I thought that it would be a one-time thing. I was just experimenting, you know, pushing my boundries. But I enjoyed the feeling. After we finished, I started to miss it. Then in May we did our big photo shoot for our new board game “Specimen.” I saw my chance. As we were running through our setups for the new card images, I had Joe shoot some video clips of our cast looking scared and what not. We’re currently putting the finishing touches on the trailer. The photo up above is me working on some state-of-the-art special effects for it. We should get it posted real soon.

So that will be two trailers and counting. I know, I know, I should stop. This can’t be healthy for me. If anybody knows about any support groups out there, please forward me the contact information. But I got to tell you, it’s so much fun, I don’t think I can stop. And I’m not sure I want too.

Gotta go, I just had a cool idea for a trailer for “The Girl with the Dagon Tattoo” project. It will be epic.

‘Course, what do I know?
-Editors note. Steve is currently ‘resting’ in the Miskatonic Home for Wayward Trailer Makers. He is making excellent progress and hopes to be rejoin society and enjoy watching real movies, and the trailers that advertise them very soon.

The Specimen project moving on. You guys have been asking a lot of questions about the game and how it works. So, I decided to give you guys more of a feel for what this game is about, Enjoy! – Steve

Toxic Bag: Tell us about the new look for Specimen.

Steve:  I have always conceived of the game as a film. I was actually imagining scenes from an imaginary sci-fi film as I was coming up with the game events.  So I decided early on that instead of having artwork done for the events and characters,  I wanted  live actors posed with costumes and props.  Once playtesting had progressed to a point that I was happy with the game design, Joe and I hired a costume director, a photographer, and six actors, and started building props. The end result was a nine-hour photo shoot that produced some amazing pictures.  Joe and I are now in the process of manipulating the photos and we hope to start releasing them in the next few weeks.  I’m very excited about how they’re coming out! Now if I can only find a place to store that flamethrower  prop…

The Crew of the TCS Brown searches for the Specimen

Toxic Bag: How long does it generally take to play Specimen?

Steve:  It was really important to me to make a game that can be played in one sitting. So far in play testing we’ve found that the game can be played as quickly as two hours, but three and a half hours seems to be the norm.

Toxic Bag: Is this a two-player game only? Can more than two people play?

Steve: I’ve been asked that question a lot during our open play tests. The current version of the game is for two players. I’ve explored optional rules that would make the game for 8 players (one person would control each crew member and the monster.) The biggest obstacles are distributing the cards and the fragile nature of the crew.  I haven’t worked out a system that would give every crewmember a card or two to play each turn that I like. Also, crewmembers die very easily, and I’m not sure how excited I would be if my character died 15 minutes into a 3 and half hour game…

Toxic Bag: Could you compare this game to some of the other Card-driven games on the market?

Steve: I would say that Specimen uses a hybrid version of the CDG game systems that are out there. The biggest difference is game scale. Most of the other CDG games that I have seen are historical/strategic games that cover an entire campaign or war involving millions of men and equipment. Specimen focuses on the events taking place on one spaceship. There are seven astronauts and one monster. That’s it.

Since there are no reinforcements, each side has to be very careful not to waste the crew’s lives or Specimen’s wounds. I think that this limitation makes the game more intense in the mid to late stages. The players have to decide whether to play OPS and move or have an event happen. And that decision gets tougher when either the Crew is split up and alone or the Specimen only has one or two wounds left.

Toxic Bag: Please explain the Specimen attributes for us as well as how a player ‘builds’ their monster.

Steve: The current version of the game has 24 attributes to choose from. The Attributes can be broken down into three categories: offensive, defensive and special. Offensive attributes can be anything from a spikey tail (which gives a bonus die in combat) to razor-sharp talons (a +1drm for combat rolls). Defensive attributes help the monster negate the Crew attacks. Things like an armored exoskeleton (a -1drm for Crew combat rolls) to toxic blood (if wounded, there is a chance that the creature’s blood will get on the Crew and potentially kill them! The Special attributes are just that; special.  Faster evolution (the monster gets bigger, quicker) and embryo implanter (the monster can reproduce!) are just a couple of examples.

Each attribute also has a point cost associated to it of zero to three points. The Specimen player has three points to spend on attributes and must take three attributes. So, whichever trio of cards they take, the total point cost can’t be more than three.

The rule of thumb is the higher the cost, the better the attribute. However, you can build a very nasty creature with three 0 or 1 point attributes.

Toxic Bag: I see that some of the crewmembers are officers. How does rank affect the game?

Steve:  I wanted to make the crew makeup realistic. So it was obvious that there’d be a Captain of the ship. After that, I decided to have a first and second officer. One of my goals was to make this game have a horror flavor to it, and so rank only really enters play later in the game when the monster attacks. As the crew dwindles, the chances increase that the survivors will panic when the monster attacks. Having an officer present helps the rest of the Crew with their panic checks. ‘Course, that means you have to keep the officers alive too. (Laughs)

Toxic Bag: This is a CDG, so how important is hand management?

Steve: Like any CDG, there are certain cards that really should be played as the event. Specimen is no different. Crew events like the flamethrowers and the trackers are really important events and skipping them can be adverse to the Crew’s health. As for the monster, not playing the Air vent movement event really puts the monster in a bad spot. But for the most part, I tried to design the card events as things that you want to have happen, but you could probably win without. That’s where hand management comes in. Holding a card or two, waiting hand after hand to draw that one specific card to work out a sequence is not a winning strategy. You have to play the hand you’re dealt, not the hand you wanted.

Toxic Bag: How do you see the strategy challenge for a player in Specimen?

Steve: Both sides face big challenges in the game. The Crew holds the advantage in the early turns, but they have several choices facing them. Do they hunt down the monster while it’s tiny and weak or do they fix the ship so they don’t explode? Maybe they split up (always a great idea in horror!) and try to do both?  The monster has to be careful in the beginning, this is when it is at its weakest. During the middle turns, things even out as the Monster evolves and gets stronger, and the Crew fatalities start to increase. The situation flips during the later turns when the monster has the advantage. But the Crew isn’t totally helpless, as they will be better armed (guns and flamethrowers) and can always abandon the ship.

MOVIE REVIEW – CONTAGION

October 13, 2011

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Rating System: 0 – 5 Bubbly Head Deaths with Zero being the lowest and five being the highest.

THE REVIEW

Contagion, hereafter referred to as Achu!, is a chilling story about a worldwide pandemic of a hybrid bat/pig flu. Achu! begins on day two of the outbreak as Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) is returning home to Minnesota from a business trip in China. Although already infected and suffering from a runny nose, cough and headache, Beth has time to stop at Chicago for a quickie with her lover. He too becomes infected, and starts to spread the disease himself. We also see in rapid succession other people that Beth came in contact with in China, all succumbing to the disease. This is a great, and frightening sequence letting us know how quickly a virus can be spread.

Once Beth gets home, she has a seizure and collapses. Her husband, Mitch (Matt Damon), rushes her to the hospital, where she quickly dies. Already stunned by this news, Mitch returns home to find that his son Clark (Griffin Kane) has also died from the virus. From here the story picks up all of its various threads and begins to tell the story from several perspectives.

Independent internet blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) picks up on the rising body count and starts posting about it; the World Health Organization sends Dr. Ornates (Marion Cotillard) to China to investigate. Prodded by the Department of Homeland Security, Dr. Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) of the CDC in Atlanta also starts to investigate.

The rest of the film shows us the spread of the virus and the medical community’s attempt to stop it. The multiple threads let the audience get to see the effects of the virus from different perspectives, from the ground level of Mitch Emhoff to the penthouse view of Dr. Cheever and the scientists at the CDC. Along the way we get to learn a lot of chilling concepts like what an r-not number is. The r-not of a virus, we learn, is a mathematical formula calculating the virus carrier and the number of people he or she will potentially infect. The flu, for example, has a normal r-not number of one. This means that a person infected with the flu is likely to infect one other person on average. The CDC soon estimates that the r-not of the film bug is more like 4, but it could be higher. The scary thing is, the r-not is a real thing, and it’s monitored by scientists every day!

Soderbergh and his cast and crew are pros, and they go about their business in a professional way. Overall, I enjoyed this movie. I especially loved the mid-movie montage of abandoned locations. We see in quick succession the gym, the mall, the bank and several other places that are usually teeming with people and noise, all dark and abandoned. There is something unsettling about seeing these familiar places in such unfamiliar conditions. The apocalypse fan in me also loved the scenes showing the breakdown of society. People looting and killing and being generally unpleasant with one another as soon as the power goes out shows us a scary concept: the idea that acting civilized and obeying the law goes out the window as soon as personal preservation kicks in. We see this demonstrated when Mitch witnesses some armed looters break in to a neighbor’s house. He promptly calls 911 to report the break in and gets an endless automated message. (“You have selected regicide. If you know the name of the king or queen being murdered…press one.”) Later on we see that Mitch himself is now looting his neighbor’s houses. Survival has trumped law and order. And to be fair, I don’t blame him; I would probably do the same thing. This concept of “where exactly is the line between obeying the rules of society and doing what you have to in order to survive” is a powerful one, and it would have been great to see more of it. The film makers could have shown us the moral struggle Mitch Emhoff experiences as he makes these decisions. And an actor like Damon has the chops to pull it off. But since there were so many other threads going on, the audience quickly got whisked away to another character’s storyline, and any drama about Mitch’s decision to rob and steal to survive was quickly dropped into the memory hole. The next time we see Mitch, the danger is pretty much over and power has definitely come back on.

This brings me to the movie’s main flaw. I felt that the film was a bit bloated. There were too many characters trying to tell too many stories. Especially the Dr. Ornates storyline in China. I wouldn’t have missed it if that whole bit had been dropped, and the pacing would have improved dramatically.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE

By itself, Achu! doesn’t really fit into a workable game. Some serious re-working would have to be done. Something or someone causing all the unpleasantness would have to be added on. Call of Cthulhu has a lot of potential beasties that could be responsible for the outbreak, but any modern day rule set could work. It could also be re-worked for a fantasy setting as well. This could be a lot of fun, especially when you can throw in the medical knowledge and sensibilities of the period. Again, a lot of extra work for the GM, but it could be satisfying.

I loved the storyline involving the doomed Dr. Mears (Kate Winslet). One of my favorite scenes involves her interaction with the Minnesota Department of Health officials. She gives them a shopping list of what needs to be done; shelters, morgues, food, water and supplies. Their response was great. Instead of taking the steps needed to save as many lives as possible, they are more concerned with questioning how much her plan is going to cost and who’s budget it’s coming out of. It’s only a few exchanges, but the actors nail it. It felt real, and that was scary!

‘Course, what do I know?

You can check out this review as well as all the others at the Bloodwork blog on toxicbag.com.

MOVIE REVIEW – FRIGHT NIGHT

September 29, 2011

Directed by Craig Gillespie

Rating System: 0 – 5 Bubbly Head Deaths with Zero being the lowest and Five being the highest.

THE REVIEW

Fright Night (hereafter referred to as FN) is the latest entry in the unending stream of remakes coming from Hollywood these days. This time around FN is set in a Los Vegas suburb and concerns teenager Charlie Brewster (Anton Yelchin) and his attempts to destroy his new neighbor, and blood sucking vampire, Jerry Dandridge (Colin Farrell). Charlie becomes suspicious of Jerry’s thirst for plasma after his ex-best friend Evil Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) tells him about the many disappearances in town lately. Among the missing is Adam (Will Dentor), the third member of their childhood trio. Charlie dismisses Ed’s vampire theory and tries to go back to his new life. Charlie, it seems, has moved on from all the sci-fi, fantasy, and horror stuff that he, Ed and Adam used to to do when they were younger. In fact, he has moved on from Ed and Adam. Now, he hangs with the cool kids Mark (Dave Franco) and Ben (Reid Ewing) and has even found himself a hottie girlfriend, Amy (Imogen Poots) to boot!

But when Ed joins the ranks of the missing (dispatched by Jerry), Charlie reluctantly begins his own investigation. In a great scene involving a six-pack of beer, Charlie confirms Ed’s theory, Jerry is indeed a vampire. What’s worse, Jerry knows that Charlie knows. And the way that Farrell plays this scene (as well as the whole film) lets the audience know that Charlie, his mom (Toni Collette) and Amy are all in big trouble.

Later, when Charlie sees that Doris (Emily Montague), the stripper who lives next door (Why can’t I ever live in that neighborhood?) is going to be Jerry’s next victim, he quickly attempts a rescue. He breaks into the house and soon discovers secret passageways, locked cells, and finally the bitten and drained Doris. After watching Jerry take another big drink from Doris, Charlie attempts to sneak her past Jerry and out of the house. It’s a great sequence, and Gillesipe and his actors nail it, mixing in equal parts of suspense and horror.

Charlie, now desperate for help, goes and sees the great magician and vampire expert Peter Vincent (David Tennant). Vincent is currently headlining at a casino in Vegas, and Charlie hopes he has the answers. Vincent reveals himself to be more of a performer than a vampire hunter, and quickly sends Charlie on his way.

The final reel has several battles, pitting Jerry and his growing army of vampire followers against Charlie and his friends. With casualties mounting in both camps, Charlie and Peter Vincent (Who has had his own little moment of redemption, and is now willing to fight) gear up and head off to a final showdown in Jerry’s underground lair. There, in a nod to the original film, Jerry menacingly tells them “Welcome to Fright Night…for Real!”

This movie was actually a lot of fun. Great performances by the entire cast (especially Farrell and Tennant) help to raise this movie beyond its standard script. It’s 106 minutes of roller coaster action, and I enjoyed the ride. The design was excellent and CGI was used in appropriate amounts. My biggest nitpick with the movie actually was the pacing. As fun as it was, I felt it made the movie more of an action genre than a horror flick. A slower pace could definitely have made for a scarier movie. From just about the opening scene the human characters (as well as the audience) are clued in that Jerry is a supernatural creature. The film makers could easily have made that journey of discovery longer, and much more horrifying. I feel that the film makers missed an opportunity to use a great horror concept: ‘Evil is lurking right next door.’ It’s something that all of us can identify with, and suburbia is a wonderful setting for it. We’ve all heard a strange noise coming from our neighbor’s house or apartment and wondered “what are they doing in there?” But since the plot is in overdrive, and Jerry pretty much flashes his fangs to anyone watching, this concept is quickly run over and left far in the distance.

One theme that did come through is “Things are seldom what they seem.” Jerry, at first introduction, is a night contractor, and at worst, a ladies’ man.  We quickly learn that he is much, much worse (he’s a vampire contractor – imagine him re-doing your kitchen!). Even Charlie is pretending to be something that he is not, having ditched his childhood friends and re-inventing himself to be accepted by the ‘cool’ clique.

The biggest example is Peter Vincent. We actually get to see him strip off all of his external character traits (hair, beard, sideburns, eyebrow ring) and go from mystical vampire killer to drunk B-actor. It’s a great scene, and Tennant plays it just right, comfortably and believably showing us exactly what the man behind the curtain is like. And at the same time, he confirms our fears that nobody is who they say they are.

Combine these two themes and you could have a really powerful, scary film. A different film than what Gillesipe and crew turned out, but a good one, I think. As is, the film they did was an exciting joyride, and I highly recommend it.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE

The set up is perfect for horror gaming, and Call of Cthulhu comes to mind instantly! Vampire stories are perfect for Cthulhu, since you can craft each encounter with Jerry exactly as you want. That being said, when you look at the set-piece encounters in the film, there are a lot of opportunities for good gaming.


Look for Chris Sarandon (The original Jerry Dandridge) to pop up in a cool little cameo. In the credits, his character is listed as “Jay Dee” – get it?

‘Course, what do I know?

You can check out this review as well as all the others at the Bloodwork blog on toxicbag.com.

Oct 14 will see the release of another remake of the Thing.

You can view the new redband trailer here.

I’m not sure what to think of this. It appears that it’s a prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing with this story concerning the Norwegians’ first discovery of the alien life form. It would be fun to finally see how the base that MacReady and Copper discover got torched. And who the guy was who slit his wrists and neck and then froze to death in the chair. I hope that this group of  filmmakers have a sense of continuity.

Looks like a lot of CGI, but it could be fun!

What do you guys think?

Directed by Rupert Wyatt

Rating System: 0 – 5 Bubbly Head Deaths with Zero being the lowest and five being the highest.

THE REVIEW

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (hereafter referred to as ROTPOTA) is a reboot of the Apes movie series from 1968-1973. Specifically, it is a remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and attempts to explain, as Chuck Heston put it in the original Apes, “How in the hell did this upside-down society get started?” In the original, Caesar the talking chimp was introduced to our current time by his backward time traveling parents Cornelius and Zira (In Escape from the Planet of the Apes). ROTPOTA depicts Caesar being accidentally created by well meaning scientist Will Rodman (James Franco –  in a totally forgettable performance) who is working on a cure for alzheimer’s disease. He is developing a virus that attacks the disease and causes the brain to repair itself. One of his test subjects is Caesar’s mom, Bright Eyes. Rodman’s dad (wonderfully played by John Lithgow) suffers from this terrible disease, so Will has extra motivation to find a cure. After the worst progress report meeting in the history of progress report meetings occurs, the testing is shut down and Will is ordered to destroy all of the test monkeys. But once he looks into baby Caesar’s little green eyes (Which indicates that he has got the test virus in him and is uber smart) he can’t bring himself to do it and instead decides to take him home. This act of kindness, as you can imagine, will ultimately have REALLY BAD consequences for the other 6 billion or so folks living on the planet.

We see Caesar (Andy Serkis) quickly grow up and develop sign language skills, and other smarts as Will studies him in secret and continues to develop his cure. Eventually Caesar is discovered and sent to a home for wayward chimps run by John Landon (Brian Cox) and his sadistic son Dodge (Tom Felton). Once there, Caesar experiences the cruelty of man, and begins to plot revolution.

Meanwhile, Will has used his test virus on his dad with spectacular, although temporary results. This convinces his money-driven boss Steven Jacobs (David Oyelowo) to begin testing on a new, more powerful strain – even though the effects of this new virus on humans is (John Carpenter music here)…unknown!

And so the stage is set for the apes to start their rise. The final reel is all about the pitched battles between some rather dim humans and Caesar and his simian army.

Overall, this film was a lot better than what I was expecting. The acting was great – not counting Franco. Andy Serkis again delivers an Oscar worthy motion capture performance as Caesar. His work coupled with the impressive CGI work make Caesar a real, believable character. Old pros Lithgow and Cox deliver the goods as well, and Tom Felton has fun as the punk kid who constantly has to prove he’s smarter than his ape charges.

The design was good and the film was well edited to keep the film on a brisk pace. I did have a few issues with the story telling; there were a couple of plot points that weren’t totally believable for me. First and foremost is the battle. I guess the realist in me can’t really envision how a bunch of monkeys armed with sticks and rocks are going to defeat fully armed S.W.A.T. teams with air support. But the movie had so many other positive things going for it that I really didn’t mind.

Being a huge fan of the original Apes film, I wasn’t overly excited about this film. In fact, my fondness towards the original pretty much preordained my dislike for this film. But about 20 minutes in I realized that this wasn’t a remake of my beloved Apes movie; it was really a re-telling of Frankenstein. Once I saw that Wyatt and his producers were really telling us a cautionary tale of man meddling with nature, I was able to relax my protection of the Apes films and just sit back and enjoy the show.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE
This setup is perfect for modern day Call of Cthulhu. Although it would take some extra work on the part of the GM, it would be fun to set in the 1920’s too. I can easily see making your party the group of scientists tampering with forces beyond their control. Maybe bring in a Lovecraftian artifact that will help your players accomplish their goal (albeit with really, really bad consequences, naturally). Or maybe the corporation funding their experiments is really run by the head of some cult (or the actual beastie, itself) and is funding the money to unleash some icky evil on the world. And to keep the party going forward, no matter what dire warnings they come across, you can give each player a secret goal (like fame, helping a dying loved one, boatloads of cash for example) And if you can throw in global apocalypse along the way so much the better!

Fans of the Apes movies should keep their eyes and ears peeled for many references to the original movies that are peppered through out the film. From Caesars mom being called ‘Bright Eyes” (which was Taylor’s nickname in the original) to Tom Felton’s character being named Dodge Landon (a nod to Taylor’s fellow astronauts Dodge and Landon who both meet bad ends in the original) to the quick news footage of the Icarus mission – commanded by George Taylor, lifting off and later on, vanishing. There are a bunch of others, see if you can spot them all.

The whole second virus test was really a big sticking point for me. From a plot perspective it was incredibly dumb, and since the rest of the film was actually quite smart, this made this moment really stick out. First of all, they are using an airborne strain of the virus for testing. Seriously? That seems a bit reckless, and unsafe. Second, all of the scientists administering the test are NOT in full hazmat suits. All they have are little masks that cover their nose and mouth that you would wear if you were varnishing your furniture. Again, seriously? No scientist worth their salt would ever conduct an experiment with an unknown virus under those conditions. As you would imagine, one of them gets his mask knocked off and is exposed to the virus. This brings me to the other thing about this sequence that is dumb. Once Franklin (Tyler Labine) starts getting sick after being exposed (complete with sneezing up blood), does he bother to tell anyone? No, he goes home and hides for several days. Not very scientist-like of him, but since the virus is the mechanism for wiping out humanity, the film makers had to get it out somehow. I just wish they could have come up with a smarter way.

Oh, and don’t forget to stay for the end credits. There is a great sequence that shows exactly how the virus spreads ALL over the world!

‘Course, what do I know?

You can check out this review as well as all the others at the Bloodwork blog on toxicbag.com.

Directed by Marcus Nispel

 

 

 

Rating System: 0 – 5 Bubbly Head Deaths with Zero being the lowest and five being the highest.

THE REVIEW

Conan the Barbarian (hereafter referred to as CTB) is a reboot of the 1982 Arnold Schwarzenegger flick. This time around Jason Momoa gets to play the Mullet that became a king by his own hand. Joining him for the CGI ride is Ron Perlman, Stephen Lang, Rosie McGowan, and even a badly done narration bit by Morgan Freeman. The story begins with our Cimmerian being born in the middle of a battle. This apparently means that Conan is going to be a warrior. We see this confirmed in the very next scene as the now 9-year old Conan single-handedly kills a gaggle of Road Warrior extras, all while holding an egg in his mouth. (I am NOT making that up. There is a reason for it, it’s kind of a stupid one, but there is one.) At this point Khalar Zim (Stephen Lang) shows up. He’s looking (in LOTR fashion) for a missing piece of an ancient snake mask that the opening narration was kind enough to tell us about. A long time ago, this mask was apparently broken and hidden to stop anybody from possessing it and taking over the world. (Is it just me or doesn’t it seem like the ancient world was chock full of artifacts that would either destroy or enslave the world?) Khalar and his witch daughter Marique (an eyebrowless Rosie McGowan) kill Conan’s dad, find the mask piece, and then leave our little barbarian to burn to death. Which we all know is a classic super villain mistake, since Conan escapes and lives to fight another day.

From there the film jumps to a grown-up Conan (Momoa) moving from one mindless CGI filled battle scene after another until he bumps into Khalar and his crew. Which was confusing to me, since he had the full mask, yet somehow 15 years had passed and the new dark age had not started. Apparently he’s now looking for the last descendant of some ancient blood line to resurrect his dead wife. I’m not really sure, the plot silliness had gotten so bad that I had kind of lost interest by this point. Suffice it to say that Conan hacks and slashes his way through the rest of the film.

This film was basically a mess. An expensive mess, but a mess. Costumes and props were standard but uninspired – straight out of the Fantasy movie playbook. Like any fantasy film today, there is a lot of CGI and some of it was actually pretty good. My real problem was the sound design. Now, it could have been the sound system in the theater, but the sound design was horrible. The mix was so bad that unless a character was shouting, every line of dialog was unintelligible. For example, in the scene where Tamara (Rachel Nichols) tells Conan her name, the mix was so bad and mushy, I had no idea what it was until the end credits.

The other thing about this film that disappointed me is that it quickly became apparent that the film makers had little or no knowledge of the Conan character from the Robert E. Howard stories. Basically, they got that he was a pirate (which he was in several stories) but that’s about it. Everything else in the stories that made Conan who he was, was gone.
One thing that always sticks with me from the Arnold flick was Conan’s search for the answer to the riddle of steel. Thulsa Doom ultimately provides Conan with the answer when he tells him, “Steel isn’t strong, flesh is stronger. What is steel compared to the hand that wields it?” If we change steel to CGI and flesh to character, plot and heart, we get to the main problem that besets all fantasy/sci-fi/horror films of today. What does state of the art CGI get you if there is no high quality character development, plot and heart (what I would call direction and production) to control it and make it meaningful? The answer is, alas, nothing but a wasted 113 minutes of your life – like you get with this film.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE

Obviously the Conan system is the way to go for this, with Dungeons and Dragons being a close second. You would have to work a lot on the plot to make it into a workable scenario. But the basic elements are all there. I could see a lot of potential for a campaign with your party trying to collect the various pieces of the mask before Khalar does. Each mask piece would be a different adventure. You can even have the mask pieces try to influence the party and get each of them to want to possess it. Now we’re talking! Party strife and conflict is always fun!

 

 

 

The best scene for me is when Khalar and Marique unleash several sand demons against Conan. The ensuing fight scene pitting Conan against warriors made of animated sand was pretty cool. Of course, the film makers didn’t take it as far as they should have. When it started, I thought they were copying the classic skeleton fight scene from Jason and the Argonauts. But instead of defining how many sand warriors were animated, they just had them (or maybe just one) jumping out of the sand periodically. Again, I enjoyed the scene, but it could have been done sooo much better.

If you really want to see a good Conan flick, I suggest you skip this mess and just pop in the DVD of the Arnold flick. Even after all this time, it still hacks quite a slash!

‘Course, what do I know?

You can check out this review as well as all the others at the Bloodwork blog on toxicbag.com.

MOVIE REVIEW – CENTURION

August 16, 2011

Centurion

Directed by Neil Marshall

 

 

 

Rating System: 0 – 5 Bubbly Head Deaths with Zero being the lowest and five being the highest.

THE REVIEW

Another review of a film from last year. But I will start doing some more current flicks soon, promise! Centurion (hereafter referred to as Centurion) is set in Britain during Roman rule in the second century. It concerns a band of Roman soldiers, led by Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender as the Title guy) and their attempts to reach friendly territory after surviving a bloody ambush where their entire legion gets wiped out by the Picts.  The Roman Governor (Paul Freeman) has grown weary of the never ending Vietnam-like quagmire that Rome is caught up in Britain, and has ordered General Titus Flavius Virilus (Dominic West and what a great character name!) to lead his entire Ninth legion northward to kill the Pict king Gorlacon (Ulrich Thomsen) and end the war in glorious Roman triumph. Of course, once the Romans get out into the country, the scout Etain (Olga Kurylenko) quickly leads them into the previously mentioned bloody ambush and the chances of Roman Triumph are greatly diminished.

The film now goes into Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid mode with Dias and his small band being pursued all over England by Etain and a mounted group of Picts. (Think LeFors, but hotter) Along the way, they run across Arianne (Imogen Poots), a super hottie Pictish woman who shelters and feeds the fleeing men in her big, empty house. Arianne apparently lives alone; there’s not a man in sight, because…apparently that’s how just super hottie Pictish women roll.

After Dias and Arianne exchange the customary Davy Jones twinkle eyes, the Romans decide to to make a last stand at a nearby abandoned Roman outpost.

This film actually has a pretty good look to it. The design of the film is well thought out and there were some bucks spent in both real stuff and CGI. The sound design was average. Nothing jumped out at me as glaringly wrong (no sync issues, or bad ADR) but nothing jumped out at me as exceptional. The costumes and sets are both good. The actors try hard, and most do well; it’s too bad they are handcuffed by a such a weak story. Besides the story, a couple of things raised major red flags for me. First and foremost is the character of Etain. She is completely and utterly unbelievable. From the moment the Governor introduces her to General Virilus, all she does is stare killer daggers at every Roman in the tent and is basically making the slashed throat sign to all of them, all the time. Yet they trust her implicitly and follow her into the abattoir without a second thought. I must point out, however, that despite her homicidal anti-Roman tendencies, in many ways she is the perfect woman. Beautiful, scantily clad…mute. (A cookie to anyone who can name the movie that quote is from!) Second is the politically correct casting. Our Roman survivors are, because of today’s day and age, a nice ethnically diverse group. In addition to several Romans we get a Nubian (“What’s a Nubian?”) and a Syrian thrown in the mix. The third thing is the anachronisms that pop up through out the film. For example, Dias, in bad narration style, says this about Arianne “Is she angel, or demon?” Really Dias? You’re a Roman – in fact you’re a Roman before the conversion to Christianity. Your religious beliefs don’t include such concepts as angels and demons. Those are more of Christian ideas. I know it’s only one line, but things like that are all it takes to push a film into crapsville.

GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE

Here is a perfect setting for Dungeons and Dragons. You can have a big set piece battle to start, and then get into the role-playing. Or just start with the aftermath of the ambush. The only thing missing is magic. The film itself has no magical items, spells, or magicians. The film makers do suggest that Etain might be using magic to help in her tracking (we see her taking ashes of the dead and boiling them in kettles and stuff) but they don’t follow through with that idea. So, some magic would have to be added in. If a chase adventure doesn’t sound exciting enough, you can always add in some other goals for the party to try an achieve. If I were running it, I would split the party in two and let one group take on the roles of Etain and the Picts, and let the players match wits against each other. You can always keep the Roman Army in  your back pocket as the cavalry coming over the hill, if you need to.

 

 

 

Look for Noel Clarke as the Nubian runner Macros. A lot of you will recognize him as Mickey The Idiot from Doctor Who. While I’m glad to see the actor get out and do other projects, I did find him a bit distracting. Once I saw him, I started looking for Rory, the plastic Roman (Arthur Darvill) to show up….

‘Course, what do I know? Now if you will excuse me, I’ve going out to find me a super hottie Pictish woman…

You can check out this review as well as all the others at the Bloodwork blog on toxicbag.com.