Tarantino’s Time Machine: Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood

Friday, December 27th, 2019 | Posted by Thomas Parker

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The other day the nice man from UPS brought me something that I had been looking forward to receiving for quite a while: a Blu-ray of Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood, which I had pre-ordered months ago on the first day it became possible to do so. I had seen it three times in the theater and wanted to be able to watch it again with minimal delay. (It’s only the third movie I have ever seen that many times as a paying customer, the other two being Raging Bull and Magnolia.)

I have very contradictory feelings about Quentin Tarantino. He’s an acknowledged “major director” – one of the few we have left – whose excesses can make every film feel like a guilty pleasure. A technical master who too often displays the emotional maturity of a fourteen-year-old, at his best Tarantino can still be a dynamite filmmaker, and I enjoyed Once Upon a Time more than any movie I’ve seen in years. I think it’s Tarantino’s strongest work since Jackie Brown.

Set in Hollywood in 1969, the movie follows semi-washed up TV western star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his buddy, stunt double, and factotum, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they try to keep Rick’s head above water in the wake of the cancellation of his series, Bounty Law. (At one point Rick and Cliff spend a short time in Italy making spaghetti westerns, and in true Tarantino fashion, we get to see posters and footage from these epics, along with pitch-perfect clips from fake episodes of Bounty Law, Lancer, and The F.B.I. The last two were real shows that Rick was doing guest shots on.) During the course of these efforts, this entertainment industry duo crosses paths with another group emblematic of 1969 LA, those ultimate devils of the 20th Century American imagination, the Manson Family.

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The Rise of Skywalker: A GREAT Ending to the Star Wars Saga

Monday, December 23rd, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

SW_RisePosterEDITEDI was ten years old in the summer of 1977, and my dad took me to Cinema East that summer to see Star Wars (A New Hope). Cinema East, then on Broad Street in Whitehall, but now long gone, had 70 MM screenings. I think it was the biggest screen in town.

Forty-two years and seven movies later this past Saturday, one day before my son turned twelve, I took him to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. I have liked some of the series, and the ‘extra’ movies, and the animated shows. I didn’t like others. But I can value that generations have been able to share the Star Wars universe. That’s something powerful in our increasingly shallow culture.

I’m going to write a short, relatively spoiler-free post. I liked The Force Awakens, even though it seemed rather unoriginal. But after the second trilogy, which I didn’t care for, I was happy to enjoy a Star Wars movie again. And then came The Last Jedi. Had I not taken my son to see it, I probably would have either fallen asleep, or left before the end. It was a dull, plodding movie. And I feared the saga was going to limp to its final end.

But I’ve approached every Star Wars film with an open mind. I don’t have an agenda, or any strong feelings about it. I watched the first three movies, read a few books like Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye.  But I wasn’t overly big into Star Wars. I was more interested in fantasy than science fiction. I’d rather read Michael Moorcock, Terry Brooks, or Terry Pratchett, than dig deeper into Star Wars.

And The Rise of Skywalker was an excellent ending to the epic cycle. I don’t think they could have done a whole lot better in putting the original movie series to bed. It’s a movie about hope, redemption, courage, perseverance, honor, and commitment. It’s cool in our Dark Knight era of superhero movies (a genre created for kids and totally taken over by adults who really need to lighten up and examine their lives a bit), to denigrate uplifting, feel-good stories.

Rise is a return to the values, themes and messages of the original trilogy. It brings closure to a story begun over four decades ago. And it does it in a way that lets the movie-goer walk out of the theater satisfied. Especially someone who has been watching Star Wars for decades.

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Corporate Dystopia, Androids, Cults, Science, and even Archaeology: Alien: The Roleplaying Game by Free League

Saturday, December 21st, 2019 | Posted by eeknight

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“You don’t beat this thing, Ripley. You can’t. All you can do is refuse to engage. You’ve got to wipe out every trace. Destroy any clue. Stop its infection from spreading. Make sure there’s no chance of the human race ever making contact with it again. Because the moment it makes contact, it’s won.”
―Marlow (from Alien: Isolation)

Sweden’s Fria Ligan has been running up the score in the tabletop role-playing game industry lately with titles like Tales From the Loop and Forbidden Lands. So when I heard they had finessed a license to an RPG set in the Alien universe, I ran down Grandmaster Games in Oak Park and told Charlie to get me EVERYTHING in my best Gary Oldman voice.

The only absolutely necessary items you need to enjoy the game is the Alien: The Roleplaying Game core rulebook, a couple handfulls of assorted six-sided dice, and an ordinary deck of cards. The game itself is simple to understand yet is role-play heavy enough that seasoned gamers will enjoy it. I’ll go a step beyond and say this would be an excellent game for introducing someone who has never played a tabletop roleplaying game to the hobby.

The world is familiar. There are tons of reference points to explain game mechanics like panic (“you know when Lambert just froze up in terror?”) or a character sustaining enough damage that they are broken (“like after Cpl. Hicks got the acid splashed on him…”). You just need six-sided dice of two colors (or two different sizes) and the usual paper and pencils. The mechanics are simple: take your skill at doing something and add the controlling attribute for that skill and roll a number of six sided dice equal to the total. If you get a six, congrats, you succeeded.

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Made For TV Movie-of-the-Week Flashback: Birds of Prey

Wednesday, December 11th, 2019 | Posted by eeknight

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Little did I know, when I was a pre-tween, that I was growing up in the Golden Age of TV movies. I was there for original showings of Trilogy of Terror, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, The Night Stalker and even Duel. Lucky me.

One that really made an impression on me at eight was 1973’s Birds of Prey. Like Duel it looked like it had a much bigger budget than it actually had. Story involves David Janssen playing a WW2 vet from the AVG in China who is now flying a civilian version of the Hughes OH-6 Cayuse “Loach” for a Salt Lake City radio station doing traffic. After a minimal amount of establishing his character and that of his fellow veteran police officer friend, he witnesses an armored car robbery and a hostage being taken.

The excitement is non-stop from then out, an elaborate chase, as he follows the murderous crooks and cleverly improvises ways to refuel and arm himself. There are hunter/hunted reversals, rescues, and even some dignified bonding with the hostage. Eight year old me was driven wild by the impressive flying and stunt work, including trips under highway overpasses and through factories and hangars by his handy little Loach. I think the pilots had fun making this movie, it seemed pretty clear they were doing crap they weren’t normally allowed to do for obvious safety reasons.

Even though I’d only seen it once, it stuck with me.

Imagine my surprise when I saw it flipping through Amazon Prime. I thought everyone had forgotten about this one, even though every time I came across David Janssen I remembered it.

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Play Host to Newborn Ghoulish Creatures in Alien: The Roleplaying Game by Free League Publishing

Tuesday, December 10th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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An official Alien role playing game is arriving in game stores next week, courtesy of Free League Publishing, the geniuses behind the brilliant Coriolis science fiction game, Mutant: Year Zero, and Forbidden Lands.

Any RPG that does justice to Ridley Scott’s science fiction horror masterpiece will have to have a dark and chilling aesthetic, and a cinematic play style. And for accuracy, probably a short (very short!) character life expectancy. Fortunately Alien: The Role Playing Game looks like it’s captured the look and feel of the franchise with real surety. Here’s Rachel Watts from her preview at PC Gamer last month.

Free League Publishing and 20th Century Fox have joined forces to create a tabletop RPG set in the harsh universe of the Alien films. It will drop players into the dark, merciless void of space, but this adaptation sounds far from empty.

Alien: The Roleplaying Game has two playable modes, cinematic and campaign. The cinematic option lets you play through a scenario similar to the events of the films in one session, and emphasises “high stakes and fast and brutal gameplay”, which doesn’t sound ominous at all. The campaign mode takes more of a Gloomhaven structure and lets players explore the Alien universe more freely over multiple game sessions.

The RPG comes in a chunky 392-page core rule book, which I think definitely leaves the definition of rulebook behind and goes straight into short novel territory. Free League Publishing have printed these rules in a hardback book and thrown in some cool illustrations… Alongside the core rule book, you’ll get a set of custom dice, a set of maps, and a GM Screen.

Can Free League Publishing get the all important feel of Alien right in an RPG? The rules follow their acclaimed Year Zero Engine, used in Tales from the Loop and Mutant: Year Zero, and they warn that “it’s unlikely your character will survive.” Sounds like they got the basics right to me.

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The Mandalorian: Star Wars goes Old Wild West

Monday, November 25th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Mandalorian_HimEDITEDI read my buddy William Patrick Maynard’s post on Guy Boothby’s The Curse of the Snake, and I decided to write a The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes essay on Boothby’s gentleman thief, Simon Carne. But then, I signed up for a one-week Disney+ free trial. And my son and I watched the first three episodes of The Mandalorian, and I knew that Boothby could wait.

I was ten years old when my dad took me to see the first Star Wars movie at the theater. So, I go back to the beginning. I like Star Wars, but I’m not a fanatic. I didn’t care for the second trilogy and I think it was more than ten years before I saw one (I forgot which). I liked Solo, but didn’t like The Last Jedi. I quite enjoyed Star Wars Rebels, but my son likes Star Wars Resistance way more than I do. I’m not predisposed for, or against, a Star Wars production. I judge each one on how much I enjoy watching it.

And right out of the gate, I like The Mandalorian more than a chunk of the movie franchise. Most of my knowledge of Mandalorians comes from Rebels. I don’t know that I ever pondered that Boba and Jango Fett were ones. I just knew they were bounty hunters.

Jon Favreau, who played a huge part in the success of the Marvel franchise, is the creator of this one, and I think he nailed it.

The imdb.com description is pretty accurate:

The travails of a lone gunfighter in the outer reaches of the galaxy, far from the authority of the New Republic.

I immediately picked up on the vibe of the lone gunslinger, wandering from town to town – in this case, as a bounty hunter on a job. We never see star Pedro Pascal’s face, as he never takes off his helmet. He only speaks the bare minimum, making him the stranger of few words.

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Goth Chick News: Thanksgiving History Makes for a Horror Feast

Thursday, November 21st, 2019 | Posted by Sue Granquist

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Considering all the stories one hears about how stressful Thanksgiving family time can be, it’s surprising that the annual bacchanalia of feasting and intoxicated relatives has not been fodder for more Thanksgiving-themed horror movies. There have been a few of course, such as Home Sweet Home and Thankskilling, but they have been campy and largely forgettable, in spite of the bewildering amount of material to work with.

But, as we reported last week, Jason Blum and his crew at Blumhouse Productions are on a very entertaining roll turning your cherished memories upside down. Last year they joined forces with Hulu for an analogy project called Into the Dark, dedicated to releasing holiday-themed horror films every month. Blumhouse’s Thanksgiving offering for 2019 will likely go down in history as the best Thanksgiving-horror movie tie in ever.

In a collaboration between screenwriter Noah Feinberg and the writing duo Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan (Feast, Saw IV-VII) Pilgrim isn’t just a horror story that happens to be set during Thanksgiving, but instead is a film steeped in Thanksgiving history and tradition; all of which is perversely twisted for our enjoyment.

A woman invites Pilgrim re-enactors into her home to give her family an authentic recreation of the first Thanksgiving, all in the hopes that they’ll put down their phones, cast their differences aside, and learn to truly appreciate one another – if only for a couple days. But when the actors refuse to ever break character and their behavior becomes increasingly concerning, the lessons they bring may come at a deadly cost.

Not long after daughter Cody wishes on a turkey wishbone that her step-mother’s Thanksgiving plans backfire in her face, Pilgrims Ethan (Peter Giles) and Patience (Elyse Levesque) arrive at the family’s home and her fears (and wishes) come true. Ethan and Patience represent Puritanical extremism at its most frightening and aren’t afraid to get a whole lot of blood on their hands in the process of spreading their message. Their mission is simple: make the family appreciate what they’ve got.

Check out the trailer….

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Goth Chick News: Welcome to Fantasy/Horror Island…

Thursday, November 14th, 2019 | Posted by Sue Granquist

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If you’re not familiar with the fairly cheesy but no less iconic television series Fantasy Island (1977-1984), you immediately need to find it on your favorite streaming service and watch a few episodes. I found at least a few of the 286 installments for free on YouTube and those should be enough to hook you as well as give you the context for the most awesome news since Elsa got drunk and crapped up Chicago with 4 inches of snow.

The storyline was fairly simple. The incredibly wealthy and mysterious Mr. Roarke, played perfectly by the exotically-accented Ricardo Montalban, has a tropical island. In each episode he hosts several guests who have come there to live out their most secret fantasies. Mr. Roarke and his rather adorable but equally creepy sidekick “Tattoo” played by Hervé Villechaize, magically transport each guest into their fantasy where they routinely learn a hard lesson / get their comeuppance / get their heart’s desire, etc, etc.

Now, even my grade-school self who was obsessed with this show, wondered why these fantasies were always so G-rated, even if they sometimes bordered on scary. Like most kids I had stumbled across and snuck looks at verboten material and understood in a small way that the dark recesses of the human imagination were far murkier than finally showing up the high school cheerleader who was always more popular than you, by become a millionaire business woman. In college, Fantasy Island occasionally cropped up in discussion as we mulled over what would actually go on if a place like this really existed. And having run across the show on late night reruns, my adult self immediately wondered why some enterprising film maker had never explored that exact question. I figured there had to be some legal hang up somewhere.

And now this.

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Tor.com on Six-Guns and Strange Shooters

Wednesday, November 13th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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It’s been a very good year for science fiction, horror, and dark fantasy, and overall I am content. But, you know, I’m never totally content, because really, what’s the point of that? This year my crankiness originates from a near total lack of Weird Westerns. It’s like the genre dried up and blew away in the wind in 2019.

At least there are a few Weird West books, movies and comics to fall back on. Earlier this year at Tor.com Theresa DeLucci shared her picks of some of the best in Six-Guns and Strange Shooters: A Weird West Primer, and she managed to point out more than a few I haven’t tried yet, including Emma Bull’s fantasy retelling of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Territory, and the 1990 film Dust Devil. And she reminded me I need to read more Jonah Hex. Here’s what she said about everyone’s favorite creepy gunslinger.

Forget the terrible movie. (You know Josh Brolin wishes he could.) The original 1977 DC comic is considered one of the first popular representations of the Weird West. The bounty hunter marked by a demon’s brand seeks out the West’s worst and also, sometimes, less earthly quarry. He also sometimes time travels and gets into a gun-fight with a T-Rex. Jonah Hex‘s best and creepiest run was written by east Texan horror master Joe R. Lansdale and come highly recommended.

Theresa also showcases The Etched City by K.J. Bishop, the Golgotha novels by R. S. Belcher, the great Deadlands: Reloaded RPG, and much more. Check out her article here.

See all our coverage of the best of the Weird West here.

Mindhunter: A Bloodless Noir about Serial Killers

Sunday, November 10th, 2019 | Posted by Mick Gall


All genres have their tropes that get returned to again and again. Historians write about the Civil War and World War II and the Civil War; singers write about breakups. For crime shows, serial killers represent the genre’s bottomless well. Netflix’s Mindhunter seeks to explore that vein as deeply as possible, and in the process creates television’s quietest noir.

FBI Special Agents Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) and Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) are the founders of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, which gave birth to the idea of “profiling” serial killers. Tench and Ford crisscross the country, interviewing serial killers with the intent of developing tools that will allow for the developing of psychological fingerprints of these compulsive killers, as an aid to capturing them. Fascinating and thoughtful, the series is significantly quieter than other cop shows. Mindhunter jettisons the foot chases and gunfights, and focuses on the agents interviewing serial killers

Mindhunter is based on the book of the same name by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker. Again, lesser cop shows pay lip service to the idea of “getting into the sick bastard’s head,” usually followed by some leap of logic that leads to the cops catching the killer. In Mindhunter, the interviews are the big centerpieces of most episodes. They’re great exercises in text and subtext, with the agents asking about thoughts and processes of the killers. The challenge of the show, and the reward for the patient viewer, is the agents discussing the interviews afterwards. They debate if the answers given were sincere, if the killer was being truthful, or misinterpreting things, or just outright lying. While fascinating, the interviews carry their own frustrating ambiguity.

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