Monday, July 21, 2014

Clerics Get No Love & Gay Nerd Representation

So, the other night friend of the blog, Darla Crane (not always safe for work, but a lovely person), posted a link to the book Ill Met in Tanivar: A Sinjin and Asamir Adventure, which is a D&D-like, gay erotic story. I mentioned that I thought gay nerds were under represented, which Darla retweeted. A few people favorited that retweet. This got me thinking.

In Clerics Get No Love, I have often considered making Wizard gay. Not for any reason other than to add some missing dimension. The main characters in the comic are mostly aspects of myself, and the side characters are either other aspects or based on players or gaming experiences. Wizard was often the least well defined. The reason I did not decide to make Wizard gay previously is that I am typically of the opinion that in a perfect world sexual preference and race would not be an issue. After listening to comedian Todd Glass on The Kevin Pollak Chat Show, and seeing the response to my tweet I began to feel this was an unrealistic stance, and decided to go ahead. Here are the two comics published last week.

(the floaty hearts were a suggestion by the lovely and talented Sparkle Jew Barbie)

My intention here is to not make a huge deal out of Wizard being gay, but to in my own small way add a sense of normalcy to a more common than many of us know situation. I have been in games with gay players, and there was some closeting going on. In one instance, I am sad to say, when one player's preference came to light, that was sort of the end of our playing relationship. I hope that I was not a party to the split. To be completely honest, I did not get along with him, but I do not think his being gay was a factor.

Anyway, I assume some of you are asking, "what the hell does this have to do with anything?" It has been a rambling, semi-pointless post. Hopefully it has given you something of interest. A large part was as a way for me to explin the comic, since Tumblr is not the best forum.

Will I do much more with Wizard being gay? Maybe, maybe not. Just remember that the people you play D&D with are your fellow party members. You don't have to be best friends, you don't have to hang out when you are not playing, so why should it matter if their orientation differs from yours?

Comments are, as always, more than welcome. That's the other reason for posting here.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Odessa File (Ronald Neame, 1974)

Some time ago, I came up with (wholly by accident) what I call my "Super Depressing Nazi Triple Feature"; three films that deal with the ugliness of Nazi Germany, each addressing different parts. It includes:
  • The Damned, which deals with the rise of the party, infighting among factions, and how it takes over.
  • Cabaret, which deals with Germany throughout the war, but directly with how the party in full force effects the populace.
  • The Night Porter, shows the bizarre relationship between a Nazi in hiding and one of his former prisoners, long after the war.
So, I thought to myself, "there must be a similar group of films that see things from a partisan perspective?" and came up with two: Casablanca and Flame & Citron. Both are favorite films, and match nicely with The Damned and Cabaret from a timeline perspective. But what of the third film? Certainly there are good films about post-war Nazi hunters? This led me to The Odessa File.

Based on the book by Frederick Forsyth (Day of the Jackal), The Odessa File is the story of a German journalist who comes across the diary of a man who recently committed suicide. The diary tells the story of the man's life in a concentration camp, and of the commander of said camp. The journalist, Peter Miller (John Voight), makes it his business to find the commander (Eduard Roschmann, played by Maximilian Schell) who he discovers is still alive. He traces Roschmann to a group called "Odessa" which harbors/assists former SS members from the law.

The movie has its ups and downs. I assume the book covers a lot, but no, I don't care to read it. Miller is somehow simultaneously stupid and skilled, the assumption is that he learns from his mistakes can be drawn. The Odessa members do a great job of twarting Miller, and frankly it is nice to not see a bungling group of thugs. There is a lot of conspiracy thought in the story, alluding that the German power structure is populated with former SS members, and that Odessa was behind a chemical warfare plot to defeat Israel, and even (perhaps) the Kennedy assassination. It gets a little heavy handed at times. The normally great John Voight really slogs through this one in an almost amateur fashion. Maybe it is the German accent or behaviors he is affecting, but whatever the cause it doesn't live up to his normal craft. Lastly, the end is rather disappointing.

So, this one will not be rounding out my Partisan Triple Feature, despite the premise being exactly what I want. I don't want to discourage you from seeing it. It is not all bad, and certainly held my interest, but when compared to two of my favorite films it does not hold up.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Star Trek Continues (Mignogna, 2013)

If you are like me, Star Trek (TOS) is Star Trek. Sure, I like Enterprise, and oddly Voyager is where I cut my teeth; I tolerate The Next Generation... I won't bring up Deep Space 9, as I know many of you love it (I call it "Space Mall"). The rebooted Star Trek in films have given me a lot of joy and increased my appreciation for Doctor McCoy and Mister Scott, but there is something missing...

The came Star Trek Continues.

I wish I had heard of this earlier. Star Trek Continues is a fan made, fan funded continuation of the original series. It is produced, directed, written and edited by voice actor Vic Mignogna (Full Metal Alchemist). Mignogna also stars as Captain James T. Kirk. The rest of the cast plays familiar characters, notably with Grant Imahara (Myth Busters) as Sulu, Christopher Doohan (son of James Doohan) as Scotty, and voice actor Todd Haberkorn (Bleach) as Spock. A new character, Dr. Elise McKennah, played by Michelle Specht, is the first Star Fleet councilor. They also introduce the holodeck, bridging the TOS and TNG timelines. There are currently three episodes, which are freely available on YouTube.

I will admit, I had mixed feelings about the first episode. Bones is my favorite character, and I feared he was being replaced by McKennah in the classic TOS triad. Episode one, "Pilgrim of Eternity", is a follow up to "Who Mourns for Adonais", which was always my least favorite episode of the original series, however they did get original Apollo actor Michael Forest to reprise his role. Enough of the bad, though. This show looks and feels so much like the original, it is impossible for me to dislike. It even has the familiar commercial break transitions those of us used to seeing TOS these days know, and it helps maintain the classic story format of teaser/acts/epilogue. Once you get over the unavoidable fact that you are not watching the original cast, it is easy to slip into it like it is the original.

Episode two, "Lolani", is superior. It is in many ways a reimagining of "Space Seed", where the Enterprise encounters a distressed Orion Slave Girl, and ultimately her Slave Master, played by Lou Ferrigno (who does a fantastic job). If you are a Lou Ferrigno fan, you know that he has not always gotten the best vehicles to show off acting talent, but in "Lolani" he gets to recreate the role of Khan, charming the captain and crew for a while, then showing what a monster he really is behind closed doors. The episode is much darker than TOS could have been, hinting at (without showing explicitly) the assault Lolani endures from the men who purchase her. This clearly could not have been broadcast during the Shatner days, but like the original it tackles issues that are outside the normal for a action/adventure television show.

Episode three, "Fairest of Them All" is the follow up to fan favorite "Mirror Mirror", showing what happens after our Kirk and company return to our universe and the mirror versions return to theirs. It is the power struggle between Kirk and Spock, and includes Enterprise alum Kipleigh Brown ("The Forgotten") as our pilot, allowing Sulu to continue his part in the plotting. While "Lolani" is still my favorite episode, I think this one is where I stopped noticing that this was not the Shatner cast. Maybe the mirror universe costumes were part of that, but I also think the continuity of style and production really gels here.

If you love Star Trek, give STC a chance, because clearly they love Star Trek too. According to their Kickstarter, they have raised funds to produce five episodes, and I assume they will start a campaign to raise more in time. This is well worth your effort, and given an open mind I think you'll fall in love with it as well.

Your captain and crew.
Michelle Specht as Dr, McKennah
Fiona Vroom as Lolani and Lou Ferrigno as Zaminhon

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Things You Should Know About: Blood & Tacos (@bloodandtacos)

If you are like me (and because I am a narcissist I will assume you are) you enjoy a good adventure story, but what you enjoy more is a tongue-in-cheek version of such a story. Blood & Tacos is a series of collected stories that follow the classic Men's Adventure style of story by various writers who purport to be the discoverers of a piece of lost/forgotten fiction.

True to the genre, the stories can be offensive and archaic, and feel poorly written, but it is typically plain that the authors are aping the inspiration material. I'm sure Men's Adventure magazines had a Raymond Chandler or two... well, a Mickey Spillane or two, let's be honest... but they also had a ton of guys who could crank out lot of semi-cohesive stories that pushed all the right buttons; sex, violence, and intolerance being the "Konami Code" of writing, to stick with the button analogy. The stories I have read so far do a wonderful job of recreating that; sometimes specifically parodying their inspiration in an Airplane! fashion, sometimes more of an Our Man Flint type satire.

I am late to this, but there have been some wonderfully done podcast cum audio books of Blood & Tacos stories, which you can find on iTunes, or through the website. The first installment was a hilarious story, "Chingón: the World's Most Dangerous Mexican", which is happily not a Macheté parody, per se, more like I would imagine La Ley del Revolver is, or one of the many other Mexican comics I cannot read. (thanks to ¡Historietas Perversas! for opening that NSFW world to me)

Blood & Tacos #4 features a story by long time friend of the blog, Thomas Pluck. At 99¢ on Kindle, you can't go wrong. Check out the podcast. If you don't love "Chingón: the World's Most Dangerous Mexican" in free audio format, then I will owe you a beer at the bar of my choosing. It's win-win, right?

Friday, February 7, 2014

NGoN #155: Cynthia Leake

Part of the problem with this feature is that you often find people interesting enough to do a feature on, for one reason or another, and then discover you can find almost nothing out about them. That is the cross we bear when we take the fringe entertainment path.

Some of you may know our honoree, Cynthia Leake, from Frank Frazetta and Ralph Bakshi's 1983 film Fire & Ice. "But Darius," I hear you say, "Fire & Ice was animated. So, she's a voice actress?" Actually, Teegra's voice work was done by Maggie Roswell, who voiced Maude Flanders on The Simpsons, beside other voice work. Fire & Ice was a rotoscope animated film. A much maligned (wrongfully, in my book) technique that involves filming/photographing live action and animating from those images. Cynthia Leake portrays "Princess Teegra" as the animators' template. Certainly there was some embellishment on the animators' part, but to be fair it is hard to stack up to a Frazetta image.

Ms Leake also did quite a bit of television, including an episode of The Dukes of Hazzard, Dynasty, Dallas, CHiPs, and others. About the only thing I could find from any show was from the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century episode, "Space Rockers". See her IMDb entry here.

Sadly, that is about all I've got. Enjoy a few images.

Cynthia Leake, Ralph Bakshi and Randy Norton, behind the scenes of Fire & Ice

And for reference, Princess Teegra, animated

Cynthia Leake and Jeff Harlan in "Space Rockers" from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Casablanca vs. Barb Wire

One of my all-time favorite films is the1942 Best Picture winner Casablanca. I have watched it several times over the years, and last time I said to myself, "hey, this is exactly like Barb Wire." I had not seen Barb Wire in years, so decided to watch it, plus Tenebrous Kate wanted my thesis on the similarities, so here goes.

Barb Wire (1996, David Hogan)
The year is 2017 and we are in the midst of the Second American Civil War. The only free city is "Steel Harbor", which lies on the gateway to a freer world. Bar owner, and participant in illicit activities, Barb Wire, runs the most popular bar in town; "The Hammerhead". There is a plague, and a resistance fighter, Dr. Cora Dee, has the antidote in her DNA. Her protector has a set of retina contacts that will let her pass through security, if the pair can stay away from the fascist State police following them. Barb is good to her staff, but generally unsympathetic to the near-do-wells of Steel Harbor. To make ends meet, Barb works as a bounty hunter and mercenary, collecting people and information.

Casablanca (1947, Michael Curtiz)
It is World War II, and Casablanca is the jewel of unoccupied France. Bar owner, and participant in illicit activities, Rick Blaine, runs the most popular bar in town; "Rick's Café Americain". A resistance fighter, Victor Lazlo, needs to get out of Casablanca and on to the United States. To do so he needs some unquestionable travel documents that have found their way to Casablanca and into Rick's pocket. Rick is no stranger to shady dealing, running an illegal gambling house. He is a former gun-runner and mercenary. He has little sympathy for the refugees in Casablanca, and famously never drinks with his customers.

Sound similar?

Well, it continues. Both Rick and Barb are rather broken people who once fought on the side of good, but have been jaded by love lost. They are both "friends" with a corrupt chief of police, and under the scrutiny of the ruling fascists. Soon, the freedom fighter comes to town and we find that they are married to the people who broke our heroes' hearts. This creates a lot of tension earlier on which turns into a desire to return to the good fight.

Certainly there are big, big differences here. Most noticeably is the lack of Humphrey Bogart stripping (praise Mothra), but also in the amount of action. Casablanca is very plot driven. Barb Wire is full of gun-play and explosions. Where Rick must turn against his desires and let the love of his life go off with another man, Barb has to fight her way through to get hers to safety. Not all of the characters are identical. Rick, primarily, has Sam and Carl (Dooley Wilson and S. Z. Sakall, respectively) and Barb has Charlie and Curly (Jack Noseworthy and Udo Kier, respectively). The role Peter Lorre plays in Casablanca, "Ugarte" is in many ways filled by Clint Howard as "Schmitz". Casablanca's rival bar owner "Signor Ferrari" (Sydney Greenstreet) is very much covered by Andre Rosey Brown as "Big Fatso" in Barb Wire.

If you have never seen either of these, definitely check out Casablanca. Obviously it is the superior of the two, though Barb Wire has its charms. If you have only seen one, take this as an opportunity to see the other. What Barb Wire lacks in cinematic excellence it makes up for in fun.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Royal Affair (Nicolaj Arcel, 2012)

Lastly, we have A Royal Affair,a period piece about the court of Christian VII, King of Denmark, his British Queen, and his personal physician.

This is the story of Caroline Mathilde (the beautiful Alicia Vikander), a british noble married off to the King of Denmark, Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard). Christian is a man-child, unsuited to be king. He allows his council to control the country, and despises Caroline for her charisma, and the limits marriage has placed on his carousing. Once Caroline gives birth to a son, she decides her duty as queen is done, and she chooses to limit contact with Christian as much as possible. He is more than happy to stay away. The council decides that the king needs a personal physician to deal with the king's supposed mental problems. Two courtiers who have fallen out of favor push a German town doctor for the position, Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen). He ingratiates himself to the king and gains the position, despite his lack of court clout and a history of political heresy as a free-thinker.

I think we all know where this is headed. Struensee and Caroline fall in love. What we don't expect is that they both push the king to enact reforms, which irritate the the council, but draws attention from such notables as Voltaire, who praises Christian as "the light of the north". In the end, everything falls apart, of course.

I am not a huge fan of period dramas, but do enjoy a historical dramatization at times. This one kept me watching, despite its rather hefty 137 minute run time. It is very compelling and beautiful to watch. Despite a lot of political wrangling, the story is solid, and does not drift too much toward the love triangle or political power plots. It is in Danish, and subtitled, but worth the effort if you enjoy this sort of thing.