Thursday, 29 March 2018

READY PLAYER ONE - Film Review




WARNING: CONTAINS GEEKY REFERENCES


Well... where do I start! An adaptation of a book I heaped praise on three and a half years ago (read the review here), this one was always going to be tricky. Not because the book isn't awesome, because it is, but because a lot of the stuff within it would be shite on the big screen. I mean, do you really want to watch a film where the main character plays Pac Man, or Joust? Nah, me neither. How about one where he races in a Delorian against shedloads of other cool, iconic vehicles through a wild, dengerous track that culminates in a face off against King Kong (not to mention the part where a T-Rex chases the cars)? If you think that sounds a teeny bit awesome this is the film for you.


So here's the gist of it: In the next 20 years or so a genius will invent the Oasis, a virtual reality universe that you can basically do anything in. It's quite simply world changing. Said genius dies (natural causes) 20 years on and leaves behind a challenge that invites people to find three hidden keys within the Oasis, and the first person to do so will get the whiole shebang to control as well as oodles (oodles ia a lot) of cash. Fast foward five years an no one's got past his first challenge yet, the race described above. We follow young hero Wade Watts, a poor but very smart kid who uses the Oasis as an escape from real life. Wade wants to find the keys, as do his friends, as do the EVIL (yep - capital letters evil) IOI corporation who basically want to use it to make money off everyone (it's currrently free with no ads). All together - Boooo!!!


So we have Wade, online name Parzival, and his bestie Aitch (a sort of orc who is great at making things within the Oasis),  who get thrown together with Art3mis, a die hard enemy of IOI, plus Daito and Sho, two of the Oasis' best fighters. What starts as a fun competition turns deadly serious as they discover IOI has no qualms about taking the fight into the real world, where you can lose much more than your gold and magic items.

As a fan of the book, I was worried about what changes would be made, although with author Ernest Cline co writing the script I wasn't THAT worried. The essential plot has been kept, with a few set pieces as well, including a fantastic climactic battle. Some characters have been subtly altered, others excised completely, and the end result is a very different Ready Player One to that which is on paper. That said, I sat there for two and a quarter hours as entertained as I have ever been in a cinema, glad that I was getting the same amazing story but with brand new twists and turns.


Visually, it's a wonderful experience, with the drabness of real life at odds with the beauty of the Oasis. The VR sections are flawless, managing to look real and at the same time computer generated, if that makes any sense. Characters within the Oasis have real personality and depth despite their generally non human look, and all the other visuals around them are stunning. There's so many nerdy references crammed in that aren't even alluded to this is going to be freeze framed and squeed over for years to come. Best one, though? Definitely "HADUKEN!" - you'll laugh when it happens.


It's hard to see how well non readers of the book will take this film, but if you are one of the already converted just go with the changes and you'll have a whale of a time. Spielberg has crafted one of the most enjoyable films of his glittering career with this one, and whilst it's unashamedly geeky it's hits it's targey audience squarely in the face like a well thrown batarang (yeah, he's in it as well).  Hopefull Cline's follow up 'Armada', a less technically challenging tale, will be next.







Thursday, 8 March 2018

ZARJAZ Issue 30 Review (2000AD Fanzine)


Zarjaz is Betelgeusian for 'Excellent', as every devoted Squaxx Dek Thargo knows. If the previous sentence is a bit confusing, then you're probably not a long term reader of 2000AD, the UK comic that gave us Judge Dredd in 1977 and is still going strong, with Dredd celebrating his 41st anniversary this week.

Fanzines in comics are not a new thing, and are often useful in digging out new talent or people who have just one idea in them but it's a great one. For example, the cover artist for the latest Zarjaz is Dan Cornwell, who is a previous contributer that now is a bonafide official artist in the main comic. Similarly, current Dredd author Mike Carroll also made his early career steps in Zarjaz, so it's nothing to be sneezed at. It's really nice of Dan to do the cover when he's got so much actual paid work to get on with, and as you can see it's a belter.

Unusually, issue 30 is 100% Dredd centric. Normally other strips are included,but I guess there was just a lot of strips submitted featuring ol' stony face and his world this time round. The character has so much history and the world that's been built around him so much scope that he's a natural draw for would be scripters, I suppose. As a reult, we've got seven strips over 48 A5 pages of glossy loveliness.



First up is Judge Pigg, by Rich McAuliffe and artist Mick Cassidy. It's a tribute to the strip that the ludicrous and the dead serious have always gone hand in hand, and this a nicely daft take on the first ever Dredd story that is really funny and full of wince  and smile inducing puns. The art suits the tone perfectly, and the final page reveal would bring a smile to the face of Dredd himself, right before the creators wer arrested.

Next up is 'Spare The Rod', by Alan Holloway, with art by Dan Goodfellow. This perfectly illustrates my point about silly and serious strips, as this one is blacker than Baldrick's underpants. Addressing a topic never before attempted in the strip (quite a feat after 41 years), it's a tale that would have major repercussions if it had been in the weekly. Both writer and artist treat a potentially tricky subject with style and respect, with some excellent layout work from Goodfellow throughout.


The third strip is 'Descendants' (part one) from Alan Trench, illustrated very nicely by Robomonkey 147. Regular Dredd fand will be painfully aware that Dredd's home, Mega City 1, is routinely put through the wringer by the writers, resulting in plenty of deaths and misery. Each time it rebuilds and waits for the next disaster. The tale concerns a survivor of the first disaster, the Apocalypse War, and her subsequent life afterwards as she survives each citywide sneck up, though not without her own losses. It's a well told, serious story that works very well. Personally, I look forward to the next part.

'Law In Exile - Madhouse Bop' comes next, a tale from Judge Hershey's past by Santiago Mayaud and illustrated by JP Vilchis. In the strip, Hershey tracks an excaped hacker to a mental hospital on an asteroid, and violence ensues. It could have been a routine story, but Mayaud delivers a very clever twist to wrap things up in a satisfying way, comfortably aided an abetted by Vilchis' nice art.

The second half of the magazine starts off with 'Interrogation', always a popular subject in Dredd's world, where police brutality is a given. It doesn't help, however, when a Judge goes a bit nuts and is convinced an innocent(ish) citizen is a mass murderer and a hostage situation ensues. Although the art by Aaron Murphy is really nice, I found Gavin Johnston's script a wee bit clunky and at odds with how I expect Dredd's world to run. It's still an enoyable strip, though, even if my brain kept asking too many questions.

The penultimate (and longest at 9 pages) strip takes us away from Mega City 1 to Brit Cit and it's favourite vampire son, Devlin Waugh. Kevin McHugh obviusly has a fondness for the character and has the speech patterns and humour down well, but to be honest the simple story seems rather stretched out, even if Lorenzo Nicoletta's art is welcome throughout. As with 'Interrogation' , though, it's still a fun read, although this time my atitude to the strip may be tempered by the fact I have never had much love for Devlin Waugh.


Finally, we get back to Dredd with 'No Good Deed', written and drawn by Edward Whatley. A purely visual tale, it takes us down into the sewers and features an appearence by everyone's favourite gutter mouthed droid Ro Jaws. It's a short, sweet, smart and funny end to the issue, with Whatley's visuals showing genuine talent. One of several stories here that would not be out of place in the weekly itself, 'No Good Deed' will leave readers with a happy glow, and that's a job well done.

Zarjaz is worth a few quid of any 2000AD fan's money, showing a depth and quality that outstrips it's fanzine status. If you are a Dredd fan, or if you know one, go and get a copy because you (or they) will not be disappointed.

Buy HERE


Monday, 5 March 2018

M.A.C.H 1 - THE JOHN PROBE MISSION FILES - Book Review


Before Judge Dredd caught on, the breakout star of 2000AD was John Probe, a super spy better known as M.A.C.H 1. The dots mean it's an acronym, and by gad it's a clunky one, as John Probe is a Man Activated by Compu Hyper-power.... 1! This means that because he's got a computer in his brain controlling his body he has the strength of 50 men and can run at 120mph among other things. So exciting was he that editor Tharg would regularly tell readers that 'Only an idiot would copy a superman like M.A.C.H 1', just in case kids tried to, I don't know, assassinate a foreign dictator or something.


Consisting of 200 pages of mainly self contained episodes, The John Probe Mission Files certainly represent good value, but after having my rose tinted specs pissed on by Ant Wars I was concerned that my memories or the strip might be blurred by 40 off years of trying (and failing) to grow up. Certainly, there's plenty of talent contained within, from writers Pat Mills (also co creator), John Wagner and Steve Macmanus to artists Enio (the other co craetor), Massimo Bellardinelli and John Cooper. Mostly the art is of a decent standard, only falling short a few times. Script wise it's all very entertaining, and John Probe jets around the world killing people left, right and centre and visiting such inetersting made up countries like Irania and Turkistan. It's pretty cheesy, sure, and pretty brutal stuff that I loved as a kid. Surprisingly, it's held up pretty well, and I still heard a little voice in my head go 'Yeah!' as John Probe cried 'Take that Laser tank!'.


As well as the stories from the weekly, there's a few strips from annuals and summer special that aren't too bad, and we also get some color pages of 2000AD covers featuring the strip, including some very nice early work from Brian Bolland. M.A.C.H 1 is definitely one of those 'of it's time' strips, but when taken as a simple, exciting adventure strip it still has the capacity to entertain, as long as you don't sit and think about the physical impossibilities that litter every story. In the end, M.A.C.H 1 may not be the best story the comic ever had, but you can see why it captivated a young audience back in the late 70s, and I'm sure it will have the same effect if shown to today's kids, though you might have to explain to them what strange things like a 'video cassette' are...





Wednesday, 28 February 2018

THE 8 BIT BOOK - 1981 TO 199X - Jerry Ellis



Well here I go again! A couple of weeks back I heaped praise on Jerry Ellis' current book, 'The Book Of The Game of The Film', a superb, detailed look at computer (not console) games based on films, TV shows and the like. I had so much fun with the book it seemed rude not to go back and see what Jerry did beforehand, which lead me to 'The 8 Bit Book – 1981 to 199X', which again covers a plethora of computer games, although this time without any linking theme.


The book is divided into sections covering each year of the Eighties and a final one detailing some Nineties releases for what were now obsolete systems. Those systems? Well, anyone who owned a Vic 20, ZX81BBC Micro, Apple II, Acorn Electron or the kings of the genre The ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 will find plenty to keep them engrossed, and if you didn't own any of those systems the book may well make you scour Ebay and car boot sales (or just do the emulation thing) so you can experience what us old folk called entertainment.


The basic (or machine code) layout is very similar to that in 'TBOTGOTF', with screenshots and covers for each game included where possible, accompanied by three paragraphs detailing the background and aim of the game concerned. It's not as immersive or humerous as the follow up, but the dedication and love for the subject matter still shines through. Mind you, I don't think anyone really needs a lengthy paragraph on how to play Pac Man (or 'Snapper' as it was), when more on the history would have been welcome instead. That said, it's in keeping with the book's format, and this format is rigidly stuck to. It's nice that Jerry was able to allow himself more freedom in the follow up.


Regardless of small niggles, 'The 8 Bit Book...' is a real joy for fans of old computer games. In a nice tough the colour coded chapter markers also double as mini classic character animations, and half way through there's a rejected cover idea which is a sergeant pepper rip off containing characters from many of the games covered. Although a great picture (with accompanying details of who all the characters are) it would have been far too busy as a cover, so it's nice that the time wasn't wasted. Although not cheap at a shade under 20 quid, this is a quality, glossy paperback with 250 pages stuffed with retro goodness. Without Jerry Ellis I would not have found out about 1981s 'Softporn Adventure', or realised that I wasn't the only one who thought 'Gift From The Gods' was pretty but also pretty boring. Ideal for a quick read now and again, if you buy this and 'TBOTGOTF' you may never leave your toilet again. 

Friday, 16 February 2018

THE BOOK OF THE GAME OF THE FILM - Jerry Ellis



When I was a lad I was one of those who revelled in the introduction of the home computer, soon upgrading my ZX81 for a Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Naturally, I laughed at the poor fools who championed the Commodore 64, secretly worried that I had picked the wrong horse to bet on but determined to plough the furrow I had chosen. Among the ridiculous amount of games on those machines and many others were movie tie ins, and I fonly remember the likes of Robocop, Cobra and Batman amongst others. Author and general fountain of knowledge Jerry Ellis remembers them, too, but he remembers oh, so much more, and in his book he shares it with us.



The Book Of The Game Of The Film is, as you'd expect, a look at computer (not console) games based on films, but it's not that simple. Firstly, although the main glut of the book deals in film based games, it also has sections for TV, book and comic based games, so there's a bit more than expected. Secondly, and best, this isn't a dry look at the games concerned, wibbling on about graphics and technical issues, or even a reviews book. TBOFGOTF is, above all, fun to read. Yes! Fun!


Although the games themselves are detailed, naturally, we also get a decent slab of information on the film, book, programme or comic character it's based on, often containing genuinely interesting facts with which to bore your (soon to be ex) friends down the pub. Because of this book, I now know which dirty film was the highest grossing Canadian film for the twenty years before My Big Fat Greek Wedding came along, and I also know just why Bruce Lee told people to be 'Like water'. Do you know these things? Do you care? Well, I both know them and care, but I didn't know them (or care, really) before I got this book. If, liek me, you're a keen quizzer who loves old computer games you really are in f or a treat.



The books layout is nice and simple, with each game given exactly the same treatment and space - no favourites here! Although it's not in alphabetical order there is an index for quick referencing of your fondly remembered titles. It helped me realize that I was remembering correctly that Battle Of The Planets not only had zero to do with the cartoon but also offered a prize for the highest score. 300 pages thick with glossy pages and a slipcover, it's certainly well made, although the A5 size will mean some squinting for us oldies. Limited to 250 copies (at least initially) it can be your for under £30 including postage, and whilst I initially balked at the price I am very glad I took the plunge, and if you used to spend countless hours watching games load of a cassette you will be too.


Buy Direct From Golem Books



Wednesday, 31 January 2018

ACCIDENT MAN- Film Review


Back in the early 1990s a bunch of UK comic creators decided to have a go at doing their own comic so they could control the content and keep the profits. The comic was called Toxic and it was a good idea handled badly. One of the undisputed highlights was Accident Man, created by writers Pat Mills and Tony Skinner in tandem (visually brought to life by Martin Edmund and later Duke Mighten), and it introduced us to Mike Fallon, an assassin whose hits were made to look like accidents, hence the name. Full of violence and black humour, it was a cracking read while it lasted and it was obvious to all it would make a great film. Thing is, no one made it...

 


Enter Scott Adkins. Adkins is a veteran Uk actor and action movie star. Not just a pretty face and a lethal right foot, he is a professional actor who is also a very good martial artist. Coinicidentally, he has been wanting to make an Accident Man movie since reading it as a kid. Not known for his screenwriting, this is his first attempt (with another newbie writer Stu Small), after putting up his own money to secure the rights. Basically, it's a total passion project for Adkins, and passion is very important when making a movie, right?



First up, I have to say that I loved Accident Man through and through. The plot is taken from the comic itself, although embellished for filmic purposes, as are several characters. For those who get arsed off with film adaptations fucking with the source material this is a godsend. More Dredd then Judge Dredd, this would even bring a smile to Alan Moore's face (okay, that might be stretching it). Adkins himself is pretty spot on as Fallon, and would have been inspired casting even if he weren't otherwise involved. Elsewhere he ropes in stunt and fighting mates like Michael jai White, Ray Park and the impreesive Amy Johnston to bring some of Fallon's fellow hit persons to life. Also in the mix is Ray Stevenson as the owner of the assassins bar where they all congregate and get their jobs. (There's more to the character than this but I don't want to spoil anything). Throw in some recognisable, reliable British character actors and you have a surprisingly solid cast.


As far as action goes, it's all done brilliantly. All the players are experts at on screen (and off) ass kicking, so the level of expertise rivals some of Jackie Chan's movies. The direction eschews the usual Hollywood fast cutting bollocks for lengthier shots showcasing the moves involved and it makes quite a difference to the feel of the film. A nice touch is Fallon's voiceover that permeates the film, bringing some very nice humour to the proceedings and mirroring the narration in the comic exactly. The whole thing is very British, very violent and very amusing, with my favorite quote being "We speak the Queen's English in here, alright you C**T!". Yes, it's definitely not safe for work.



If you've not read the comic, it's well worth checking out. If you liked Deadpool you will love this as a more grass roots version (Adkins and Reynolds are quite similar looking, too). If you like guff like Rise Of The Foot Soldier and the like you'll love this for the cockney smack ups and superior plot/dialogue. If you just lik action movies with decent fights you'll love this. Most of all, if you ARE a fan of the comic you have no excuse, as this is one of the best comic to screen adaptaions yet. Set up nicely for a sequel, Accident Man doesn't slip up even once.

TRAILER


Wednesday, 17 January 2018

ANT WARS COMPLETE COLLECTION




Only a year younger than 2000AD itself, Ant Wars debuted in 1978 to an audience who were still very much entertained by the idea of giant insects causeing havoc and generally eating people to the melodious screams of "Aieeeee!" and the like. The question that has to be answered by this collection is whether people will still be entertained by this sort of guff, as giants ants are unlikely to have the same appeal for 50 year olds as they did 10 year olds.

Rebellion have been doing a sterling job of reprinting genuine clasics from the 70s, as my glowing reviews of Faceache, the Leopard From Lime St and others will attest. The choice of Ant Wars is, then, rather odd, as it would be hard to find many people who would read it today and stick the word 'classic 'anywhere near it's grasping mandibles.

 

Set in South America, it concerns giant mutant ants (caused by experimental chemicals, natch) that have to be stopped before they basically take over the world. Leading the fray are the usual square jawed nobhead and a native boy who likes to eat ants. Naturally the nobhead learns that the 'savage' is pretty handy really, and comes to respect him blah blah blah. The action crawls from location to location as our heroes barely excape with their skin intact until finally the ants are squashed.


Ant Wars is a traditional B movie of a strip, and to be honest it's hard to see any other way it could have been done at the time. It's a throwaway story that will likely be read, filed and forgotten. Gerry Finlay-Day knew how to stretch out a story and he does so with his usual flair here, ably abetted by some decent Spanish artists. As a slice of pulp history it's not all that bad, really, just not something that ever needed dragging out yet again (it's been reprinted in comic form a few times) to get the royal treatment of a graphic novel release.


Also included here is the 2005 Judge Dredd Megazine tale Zancudo, from Simon Spurrier and Cam Kennedy. The tale of two judges beset by more bloated South American insects failed to amuse me then and does even less now, as despite the talent involved it's a real yawn fest, even managing to make me miss the glorious pulp of the main story.

In conclusion, this collection should be approached with caution. The main story is very dated and overlong, whilst the back up fails to entertain in any way that really matters. Both have some good art. and giant insects are always fun for a while, but I hope Rebellion delve deeper into the real treasure of Britsh comics and leave stuff like this buried in the jungle.

Buy from the 2000AD shop