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Steve Ellis
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If I was describing Overlord (2018) to non-gamer friends, it is a fairly effective horror-action movie set during World War 2. A fairly unknown cast of American soldiers are parachuted into France the night before D-Day in an absolutely spectacular opening sequence of an aerial assault intercepted. It doesn’t quite have the impact and emotion of Saving Private Ryan (1998), but it’s clearly what they are going for. Everything goes wrong and soon they are sneaking through creepy forests and hiding in a small French town before they battle sadistic Nazis (with a touch of Inglorious Basterds (2009)) and then things escalate as they discover zombies, and it’s then switches tone and action to Aliens (1986).

Describing it to my Cthulhu gamer friends then it would be as the perfect World War Cthulhu scenario in which the investigators need to take down a vital radio tower to save D-Day, but also encounter Nazis experimenting with Reanimation Formula and the liveliest awfulness. It even has the party debating whether to do the War mission or the Mythos mission, and then they get to use dynamite and flamethrowers and even lie to High Command about what they find. There is a master class sequence of how a cruel 7th Ed GM could let the main protagonist keep pushing rolls and burning luck to infiltrate the creepy base,, endlessly failing forward to drive the horrific revelation without killing them, till they are shaking and wide-eyed from Sanity loss.


This isn’t a movie with much opportunity for characterisation and acting- produced by JJ Abrams’, it focuses on the action, scares and horror, though this is ruined by a turn to the saccharine with an supposedly heart warming kid plot. The pace is brisk and the setting and scenery very good for the budget. A popcorn horror-thriller, it’s an odd mix of genres that borrows from many masters but doesn’t match them. Good entertainment with some jumps and scares and a bit of creeping horror- *6/10 *
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Bad Times at the El Royale (2018) is one of my favourite movies of the year. Directed by Drew Goddard (director and co-writer of the excellent Cabin in the Woods (2012)) it is a Tarantino movie without all the long rambling digressions and trivia to slow the pace down. In many ways its the perfect unfolding and intersections of the agenda's and secrets of 7 characters meeting in a kitschy novelty motel on the California/Nevada border. One of the delights of this movie is that none of the characters are quite as they appear- indeed some have 2 reveals! There is about 3 movies worth of plot packed into these 141 minutes, but the pace remains brisk and there is always something interesting happening on screen so the time flies by.

An ensemble piece, all the actors get to shine - an aged Jeff Bridges mixing strength and reassurance with a believable vulnerability and absent mindedness. Dakota Johnson finally gets material worthy of her and shines as a truculent hippy without any shades of grey. John Hamm initially revels in revisiting the 1960's as a salesman, but he is no Don Draper and is much more proactive in this movie. Relative newcomers Cynthia Erivo and Lewis Pullmen more than hold their own amongst these big names, imparting a lot of humanity into their performances. The only disappointment is Chris Hemsworth playing a 60's cult leader- he's too polished and clean cut and while flashing his abs constantly with a never-buttoned shirt will appeal to many in the audience, he is the only one who doesn't quite convince in his role.

The camera work is assured and stylish, often in motion it explores the scene well, drawing the viewers eye in or framing the POV of the character. The music is never overwhelming, but often effective. While the script isn’t particularly quotable, the show but don't tell visuals more than make up for it. Pacy and fascinating, I was surprised and delighted by this movie. Its best viewed blind, but pay attention and be prepared for 2 hours 20 mins to fly by. Noirish, surprising, exciting, if you liked Hateful 8, Cabin the Woods or Get Out, then I think you'd enjoy this too- a strongly recommended 9 out of 10!
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The tag line for A Simple Favour (2018) should be ‘Gone Girl without all the sad, depressing bits’. It’s a modern, twisty suburban-noir seen largely from the viewpoint of the ever-perky single-supermom and Video-blogger Stephanie Smothers (played by an ever engaging Anna Kendrick) who falls for the charms and friendship of the coolly sophisticated, ever-outrageous, Martini-slinging Emily Nelson (a very masculinely-dressed Blake Lively) when their two young sons demand a play date. Emily teaches Stephanie confidence, how to drink and to stop always apologising and in return asks her odd couple friend for a simple favour- look after her son while she goes away for an afternoon. Then the mysteriously chic Emily disappears and Stephanie starts investigating to discover how little she really knew about her secretive new best friend.

The real strength of this film is the outstanding performances from Kendrick and Lively- they have real chemistry with each other, and on first glance you can buy their friendship evolving from an initial meet-cute, a new friend crush, to something more complex. But its a noir too- no one is quite how they appear with nearly everyone manipulating each other at one point in time or another. And while Emily is the classic femme-fatale (albeit more butch-fatale in wardrobe), Stephanie has darkness too- though deeply buried under mm-like aphorisms and Kendricks gift for physical comedy (a scene in which she becomes zipper-trapped when covertly trying on Stephanie's dress is hilarious). Rupert Friend holds his own with Kendrick as a cartoonishly caricatured fashion-designer (“tacky, cut-rate Tom Ford”) but the husband (Tom Golding) and kids are out of their league.

The fast paced plot rockets through the unfolding friendship, disappearance and aftermath and you are never, ever bored. Director Paul Feig puts together an assured, good looking film, but it either transcends genre, or he never quite makes up his mind as to what kind of film he wanted make- its a relationship thriller, its an odd couple comedy, its a crime noir, its a melodrama. The only downside for me was the ending which too a hard left turn into a slapstick farce unlike the rest of the preceding movie- I left the cinema buzzing and chuckling, but it had morphed into an abruptly different film. Still its well worth watching – a recommended and joyously amusing (rare for a neo-noir) 8 out of 10!

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The Predator (2018) is a fairly awful remake/reboot of the 80's classic. Director Shane Black started off with a fairly incoherent plot (Rogue old school Predator tries to come to earth to give us high tech (for some reason) whilst being hunted by even bigger 'evolved' Predators because we are going to kill ourselves with global warming - but the tech wont solve that! On the human side, the plucky army sniper who just wants to get back to his family battles black-helicoptered government suits who seem intent on killing every expert they need to study the aliens) and then rushes through the plot at such a pace that we never get to know any of the vast multitude of characters or care about their conflicts.

Actually there is one character you get to know a little- an autistic boy who is bullied at school- but in the Predator-verse, autism has the super-power of translating and easily using Predator-tech. I found it badly handled, and the mother figure (Yvonne Stahovski) criminally underused to just wring her hands after an initial impulse to feistiness. Olivia Munn is the science exposition lady with a little bit of pointlessly action heroine. Sterling Brown gets some weird direction to be a super-quirky and mercurial black op suit and was a million times better in his other movies of this year (Black Panther & Hotel Artemis), and frankly Boyd Holbrook should have stuck to Narcos. F-bombs and needlessly coarse language abound, but are so over-used they lack dramatic impact.

Predator franchise casts a long shadow- but this movie lacks the comradeship and machismo charisma of Schwarzeneggers opus, and even the heart that Danny Glover brought to the comparatively more intelligent Predator 2. The script throws in one amusing reference to the original’s line "Get to the choppers" but is generally a sprawling, rushed mess of a movie that ultimately disappoints. The Predators are over-lit and losing their iconic mask in the opening scene, also lose all of their unknowable mystique and true menace. Dogged by controversy which caused editing issues, lacking proper pacing, sympathetic characters and a coherent plot, this is one to avoid at the cinemas and maybe only watch once it gets to the small screen if you are a completist. Nowhere near as good as its predecessors, and not even worth the popcorn money, its a 3 out of 10 from me.
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Steve At The Movies

This week I saw two very different movies about unlikely spies. The first was The Equaliser 2 (2018) in which Denzel Washington continues to be silent, stoic and deadly. A book reading widower, he soaks up the emotional drama of New York City as a Lyft driver (with some obtuse brand placement) hearing the loves and losses, highs and lows of his passengers in the back seat- while moonlighting as a special forces-trained avenging angel, crossing the globe to right wrongs and to earn 5 star Lyft ratings from breaking the bones of rapists and starting fights on the Orient Express. There is a twisty, but fairly obvious betrayal plot that propels him into revenge, but since he’s against the worlds most stupid assassin team and a clumsily choreographed Chekhovs hurricane (utterly lacking the originals subtleties in foreshadowing a Chekov’s DIY store) it all falls to pieces in the third act. Even if you are a sniper, you would never seek the highest point in a town where hurricane winds are blowing! Its a serious, spy movie focused on the loneliness of Denzel’s character but is too much a retread of the 2014 original while lacking its intelligence. 5 out of 10.

The second movie was The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018), which stars the ever-watchable Kate McKinnon, Mila Kunis and a nearly unrecognisable (to me) Sam Heughan (Jamie from Outlander). It’s great to see two comedic actresses play best friends who get sucked into international espionage and terrorism when Kunis’ ex-boyfriend is revealed to be a CIA spy on the run from terrorists after a McGuffin. While the women’s friendship and jokes remain central, (in line to director Joanna Fogels previous movie Life Partners (2014) she plays the Bond-style spy action straight with a very strong car chase and very decent warehouse massacre/John Woo scene whilst gently lampooning the Bond plot tropes. While the carnage and murder count is often joked away and the ladies rejection of the boredom of their regular lives and embrace of a life of espionage a little odd, it does lead to the most glam mid-credits scene ever. This movie entertained, had some good action, and the leads supportive friendship had the audience rooting for them and caring about them, in stark contrast to the distancing loneliness of The Equalizer. McKinnon brings a real unpredictable verve to the movie and the jokes got quite a few chuckles from the audience, making the contrasts between danger and levity, tension and relief all the more effective. Overall, I’d rate it 7 out of 10.
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8/23/18
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Steve At The Theatre

The One is an odd playable the very intimate Soho Theatre- it covers one very long and wine filled night between a troubled couple- Jo and Harry, as they wait for news of Jo’s sisters giving birth at the hospital. To call their relationship troubled, complicated or dysfunctional would be an understatement- there are certainly lots of layers to the relationship - initially it opens with a bored Jo trying to sneakily eat some Cheesy Wotsits during sex,then he wants them both to take a week to consider their relationship, but she is afraid he is leaving her. The power dynamic between the couple swings back and forth through out- he at times domineering, controlling and threatening, she manipulative, insulting and callously lying. It’s a very adult play in terms of language and the sexual content discussed or alluded to, with a savagely bitchy Jo getting some very dark laughter when she condemns a friend/rival (and third cast member in this 3 person play) for crying rape.

Then play largely revolves around whether Jo and Harry are right for each other, their happiness as a couple and whether they have a future together. Even a fairly unforgivable event at the climax leaves some ambiguity when the leaving party only pretends to leave the flat.

Overall I’m left a little, confused and dissatisfied with it. It’s a short 1 hour play, with plenty of pacing and intensity which I normally like, it there is a little too much deception in it and the tortured complexity of the characters a little too labyrinthian. Plus some of the dialogue is a little too dramatic to be naturalistic. They did offer a Q&A session after the play with the writer which I would have loved, but alas I needed to retrieve lost house keys more urgently. 5 out of 10- enjoyable but very hard to understand.
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Black Panther (2018) is one of Marvels best superhero movies. It's less an origin movie for the always charismatic Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) as much as it is an origin movie for the villain Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) who battles T'Challa for the throne of Wakanda. Mostly however its a great introduction to the Afro-futurist utopia of high tech Wakanda which is vibrant and grounded in its mix of tradition and high tech. And I would watch Wakandan superspies on missions out in the world all day with a great Korean sequence.

There is great use of humour and some nice action sequences- Andy Serkis is nearly unrecognisable as a beefed up Ulysses Klaue and gets a lot of great one-lines, though for my money M'Baku (Winston Duke) of the mountain tribe gets the best lines in the second half of the movie. The cast have a strong chemistry, the production values are incredible and the pacing remains snappy. There is even a distinct soundtrack that you can remember- a rarity for any non-Spiderman Marvel movie.

My only complaint is that two of the plot twists are utterly predictable - you can even predict the coming plot beat 5 minutes before it hits. The plot has been described as Shakespearean - royal families with secrets, lost heirs returning for thier birthright and plenty of sons confronting their dead fathers spirits, but there is a fairly serious flaw at the heart of the movie that exists only to drive conflict and doesnt make much sense if you think about it. Overall, still worth watching and very enjoyable. 9 out of 10
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Public Service Announcement:


The time I (unknowingly) LARPed with a Paedophile- JONATHAN (JON) THURTELL, AKA JOHN SMYTHE, AKA JOHN SMITHE, AKA JOHN CATTES, AKA LUCIFARIO I ERIGO (EMPIRE LARP)

So at the Smoke UK LARP convention in January 2018 I played in an interesting game called the Aenead, based off the classical Greek poem. While I had minimal contact with much of the rest of the game, but I did interact a little with King Latium who was a fairly nervous fellow who didnt project much in the spotlight scenes or make much of an impression.

This middle aged man went by the somewhat suspicious name of John Smithe. Another friend of mine who'd volunteered a spare bed to host non-London con attendee's had almost been assigned him as their guest, but he'd opted to stay at a hostel nearer to the con location instead.

It turns out that this fairly obvious pseudonym conceal the real name of Jonathan Thurtell who is a convicted child sex offender who on 4th May 2016 had been convicted in Cambridge of downloading multiple videos of child sex abuse and given a suspended 6 month prison sentence fined £500 and registered on the UK Sex Offenders Registry. While he lost his job as a result, he didnt lose his freedom and has attended various UK and European LARP's such as Empire, College of Wizardry and the Smoke convention in London, using fake names like John Smythe/Smithe, John Cattes etc. He has been banned from these events, but given his proven use of pseudonyms its worth posting some photo's here and keeping a searchable record of what he's done. It also looks like he's altered his appearence by growing a beard.

His conviction was reported in the Cambridge News on 6th May 2016, but their online article database was junked after a website upgrade so the link to it no longer works. The text of the article was maintained online on a anti-paedophile site (https://tedteamsite.wordpress.com/2016/05/04/jonathan-thurtell-cambridge/) which then allowed local friends to do some sleuthing and get a copy of the article from the microfiche archives (JPG included). You can also contact the Cambridge News to confirm this is an accurate report: https://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/contact-us/


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1/27/18
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March Harrier Press have just published on of my TravCon adventures on DriveThruRPG: http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/229915/Eve-of-Rebellion

It's a one shot scenario about playing the very top of the social ladder in the Third Imperium (the Emperor, his heirs and potential usurpers) on the eve of the Rebellion. Its political, filled with intrigues and secrets has lots of PvP and player interactions, alliances and betrayals. Ever wondered wanted to play the Emperor himself or Duke Norris? This is the adventure to play. Have you been puzzled as to why Dulinor took his shot, or what Lucan was up to? This scenario gives you the chance to see it from their eyes. And who knows, maybe you seize the throne AND keep the Imperium together!


It is for a GM plus 5 players and is compatible with the Mongoose Traveller system

I've run it at TravCon twice and once at Seven Hills 2017 and people have enjoyed it: http://www.madadventurers.com/finding-the-fun-seven-hills-convention/

https://www.freelancetraveller.com/features/stories/aar-travcon14.html
Eve of Rebellion
Eve of Rebellion
drivethrurpg.com

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Steve At The Theatre

The End of Hope two person play was surprisingly enjoyable. It starts with a man and a woman (who is wearing a giant mouse furry suit with mouse head) having just had sex after a Tinder-hookup/one night stand. Then they get to know each other in two Irish accents, with strong and contrasting opinions on ITV vs. Channel 4, Tony Blair , and friends. As the sparkling, witty dialogue continues we discover much about deception, self-deception, ego, self-esteem and lust.

I had my concerns about an hour long play, (since its a 40 minute commute to the Soho Theatre each way) but it felt both longer than an hour and just right- every line bites, cut's, shocks or amuses and I remained engaged throughout. The Soho Theatre has a minimalist stage so each play lives or dies by the script and performance- there is no distance between performers and audience, no way to hide behind setting or FX, and the two actors Rufus Wright and Elinor Lawless do an excellent job in embodying some contrasting, dickish, mixed up hypocrites and liars who are also warm, interesting, smart and lovingly tender people.

David Irelands script sparkles and delights- he has a keen eye for the absurd and the tragic, and the interplay between men and women in the most intimate of moments. There is a comedy of manners, a tragedy of lies, a threat of force and a keen eye for the absurd, but never, ever am I bored. Its funny, witty and always engaging. Well worth seeing 9 out 10!
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