I Kissed a Demogorgon, and I Liked it! At the Bath Comic & Gaming Con

“I like my coffee on the dark side,” reads the slogan of a Darth Vader embossed travelmug, which my kids got me one father’s day. Much as I might slate commercial merchandising, I’m a sucker if it’s Star Wars related. Though I don’t use the item in question, because ergonomically it’s a poorer design than my exsisting travelmug, which has the advantage of a lower lip, ensuring less spillages.

Attempts to reason the functional qualities of the travelmug outweigh the aesthetic to my daughter were as futile as resisting a Borgg assimilation when she spotted one on a stall at the Bath Comic & Gaming Con on Saturday. Maybe I would learn to adapt to the higher ridge if I used it more often, but as a plethora of adolescents there made reference to my Star Wars t-shirt as “old skool’ I can take a hint, and add something about old dogs and new tricks.

That’s me, a dinosaur

This aside, for my point is, there it was, a travelmug you can buy in any supermarket, on display at a comic con. Just because it has Darth Vader on it doesn’t make it some religiously obsure artifact, and herein my inability to new tricks and changing faces of events in the face of popularity and commercialism. I came away from the convention with mixed opinions and a bag of Funko pops.

The kids had a brilliant time, their first comic con, and my priority is to relish in their enjoyment. If I’m to give my tuppence of this event, that much is paramount. Though you should be aware, as a self publisher of an outrageously rude comix in a previous era, in which comic cons were a lifetime in both punting and making contacts with likeminded lost souls nieve enough to think their photocopied rag of knob jokes would exhilarate them to a contract with Dark Horse, I’m also reflecting from this angle too. And for this much I could potentially come over all Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons, and bellow, “worst comic con, ever!”

Grumpy old git who should bugger off to the Upside Down!

For these aren’t the type of comic cons independently organised by true fanboys themselves, rather a commercial enterprise which roams the country staging similar events. And for this to work, I accept, honing in on what will make bods part with their money is the main directive, as opposed to a comic industry insiders business meeting.

Making a comic con more related to movies than comics has to be your first port of call, and organisers UK Comic Con & Gaming Festivals certainly utilised that, though in their defence, these days, so does everyone. Need I succumb to the notion if it’s good enough for Disney it’s good enough for me, or can you excuse my fogie rant?

I’m also nudged by the preconception I’d be mugged off at every available opportunity by halfwits in vapid cosplay, and I’m glad to say this was only partially true. Parking at the Uni, for instance, was claimed to be free for ticketholders, and was, though knowledgeable Bath traffic wardens operate militia, there was no signage to suggest they’d adhered to their promise and had it not been for the kindly advise of the alter-ego of Marvel hero Moon Knight, changing in the carpark, the system would’ve allowed me to unnecessarily pay!

Grateful to Moon Knight, we strode in, safe in the knowledge we’d not succumb to “noobisim” while a superhero was watching over us. I mean modern and retro video-game consoles were free to use and in abundance, there was plenty free activities, even origami, while others, like the chance to bash each other with extended torches in what was deemed a lightsaber combat school affordabley cost; swings and roundabouts.

There stood a couple of known actors, and a chat with the down-to-earth Clive Mantle was great while the kids shopped for merchandise. Further along the mighty hall was bustling with stalls and props for photo opportunities, which were free to pose by. All in all, the sense of being ripped off declined, and I comend the organisers for a fun and enjoyable day.

The intersection of the hall was for truer to comic fanboys, and it was good to chat with Bath’s leading comic shopkeepers American Dream Comics, on Walcot Street, who both enlightened and entertained my Marvel-obsseed daughter while chatting deeper into comics of yore with me. Though if I highly rate them for anything more, it was they had in sealed unit for a snip at £149, the first edition of Marvel UK’s Star Wars comic, that my dad threw out when we moved to Wiltshire. If I only had a suitable transplant patient in tow, I’d have bitten out a major organ for it!

Take him away, rebel scum!

Also through the inner workings, I perchance to meet about three tables flogging small press material. Artists there were not professionals in the comic industry, as often guested at other events, rather fan artists selling their wares independently, and this was great, though if you can have actors you could also get a few Marvel or DC artists sketching too. And there’s my grump, for actual comics it was lacking against a wall of Funko pops and other toys and merchandise; you could’ve been fooled into assuming the UK never had a comic industry, there was no sign of a Beano or Dandy, there was no sign of even contemporary UK comics such as The Phoenix. It would’ve been a better balance to have seen DC Thompson artists like Lew Stringer or Laura Howell doing their thing there.

Calls the event was cynical, and imbalanced toward American adventure and superhero genres, considering the entirety of the ninth art, is a tad unjustified as a complaint to the organisers persay, as this is the new norm, and what’s commercially viable. Like adadting to the higher ridge of the Darth Vader travelmug,
getting over myself perhaps I could, but I would like to have seen a wider spectrum of comics as a whole; of manga or small press, I saw mininal, of French BDs and UK funnies, I saw nought, I did kiss a demogorgon though, and met Lightening McQueen, so all was not lost!

She seemed to enjoy the attention….

This was an enjoyable family day and well organised, and defeated my preconceptions of being ripped off, it was affordable and spritely, and I would go again, should Dad’s wallet live to see another day.


The Unforgettable Film Scores of Ennio Morricone

Ever seen those videos where some clever-clogs takes out the music to a film clip and it immediately loses all clout? It makes one realise how dependant the film is to the music, how, without it, there’s hardly any emotion, and in turn is symbolic of how music can emotionally move us.

None so much when evoking emotions such as fear or suspense, when the creepy music starts you’re edging on the sofa, feeling for the protagonist, you are beside the sacred little girl in the haunted house, or the cop seeking out the hiding villain in the disused warehouse, dreading what might be around the next corner. Take the film score out and you’d be like, yeah, whatever.

Saddened then to hear of the passing of Ennio Morricone yesterday, the Italian composer and conductor, best known for his work on Sergio Leone’s great westerns, The Dollar Trilogy. Though the films this prolific composer scored the music for are too many to name. Born in 1928 in Trastevere, Rome, when Italy was under fascist rule, Ennio’s father was a professional trumpet player and consequently, was the first instrument the young Ennio picked up. At just six he began writing his first compositions.

By the early 1950s he was composing pieces for radio plays, incorporating American influences, and also playing jazz and pop for the Italian broadcasting service, RAI. From Paul Anka to the Pet Shop Boys he has orchestrated many a pop song, but Ennio’s first love was film scores. After several, his association with Sergio Leone begun in 1964. Hard to imagine now he created those masterpieces of grandeur and suspense with a limited orchestra, the budget wouldn’t stretch to a full one. He used effects such as gunshots and cracking whips, and the new Fender electric guitar. Yet they will never be forgotten, and his work here expanded the possibilities and paved the way for progressive techniques in film scores.

Spaghetti Westerns would never be the same again, but neither would the benchmark for all film scores. Yet Ennio never left Italy, and never learned English, but still went onto working with hundreds of directors, including John Boorman, John Huston, Terrence Malick and Roland Joffé, even Roman Polanski and Quentin Tarantino.

 

 

 

The Onus of Swindon’s Filmmakers

I’ve been invited to watch some horror! After the success of their debut film, Follow the Crows, Swindon filmmakers Alex Secker and Marc Starr have been busy with Onus; I know now what’s behind my sofa…..

Finding it hard to accept it’s been the best part of four years since I received my first “real” journalistic assignment for local news site Index:Wiltshire.

The editor, Craig couldn’t make the press screening for Swindon-made film, Follow the Crows, so with no experience I bumbled my way in with little expectations to find a birthday party-fashioned welcoming to view a compelling dystopian thriller.

onus4

Comparing the team’s new film, Onus, with the latter is inevitable, though through Follow The Crows’ simplicity, this is visually better and more engaging. I’m glad to have been invited to review it and I’m free to assume this time, not just it’s quality, but eerie and divergent conception.

Writer and director, Alex Secker doesn’t settle with convention. For this it receives full marks. Where it differs is in setting and angle. If Follow the Crows goes for a survivalist circumstance within an imaginary post-apocalyptic realm, Onus follows the template of traditional Hammer House horrors of yore, in a sense. If you crave modern Hollywood’s hurtling imagery and non-stop action, this is not for you. Onus creeps up on you, increasingly setting a troubling notion in your psyche. It’s suspense reason for me not to reveal spoilers.

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It certainly achieves what I believe it set out to do; my fingernails are somewhat shorter. This is an unnerving masterpiece which abounds by twisting the cliché of classic horror. Starter for ten, the music, by Graeme Osbourne, assures you an uneasy sitting; I’m shivering before any visual. Yet when it does, despite unsettling sensations, we’re shown a female couple on a car journey through our acceptable local landscape. The driver, haughty Izzy (Erin Leighton) poses somewhat relaxed, taking her subordinate and shy dungaree-wearing girlfriend, Anna, (Daniella Faircloth) to meet her upper-class family. You may know yourself, meeting a lover’s parents can be unnerving at the best of times, with a class difference, doubly so. Izzy asserts her superiority, bantering the nervous Anna by joking her family are “not vampires;” a notion she drives a little too much.

“Onus creeps up on you, increasingly setting a troubling notion in your psyche.”

In true horror fashion the setting is solely the house, the protagonist’s suspicion they’re being deceived builds, and for such, Onus borrows extensively from the chestnut. Secker though is keen to raise social indifferences between classes, the notion of wealth meaning superiority; this only increases the gut-wrenching feeling Anna is out of her depth.

onus3

Suspense drives you to want something to unveil, but it plods on its tension-building ambience for over the hour. Anna’s snowballing anxiety is portrayed perfectly by Daniella with some haunting expressions of despair. You? You’re looking for an escape clause, a knight in shining armour. But if the plot has strands of Little Red Riding Hood, there appears no character who will be Anna’s woodcutter. Izzy’s obnoxiously snobby brother (Alex Pitcher) is clearly in on it, pompously he sniggers at her misfortune; both sibling rivalry and homophonic attitudes abound in his arrogance. The Victorian mother (Karen Payne) is as stiff and a brush, and the ill father (Tony Manders) is shadily the reasoning for her presence at the house. This only leaves the clue-providing maid, (Shaniece Williams) who, treated as a slave of yore, is doubtfully going to heroically strive in. Here within lies the twist, dispelling the cliché horror ending.

So, what begins as a classic horror, ends unexpectedly; like a short story it provides the viewer scope to continue the tale using their own imagination, and for that, Onus rocks.

“Like a short story it provides the viewer scope to continue the tale using their own imagination, and for that, Onus rocks.”

Again, the production of Marcus Starr, the writing, directing and editing of Alex Secker and the acting is sublime. The temperament is undeniably spooky, the setting is dripping with realism, especially being based in the South West. The characters are vivid, Anna is somewhat free-willed rather than helpless, just trapped. The family are genuinely as snooty as you’d expect, and unnervingly mysterious; I feel driven to Facebook message my worries to Daniella, pleading she takes more time in choosing a partner next time, that’s how realistic it is!

And what is more, I think it’s easy to pass my review as flattery, that no locally-based film crew could hope to attain that of the mainstream movie industry, but Follow the Crows is award-winning, Onus deserves to follow suit. I don’t usually do star ratings, as I feel it’s restrictive, but if I did it’d get a four out five at least! You. Need. To. See. It.

The movie has a distributor, High Octane Pictures from LA. “We’re finalising the paperwork,” producer Marc informs me, “they’ll distribute direct in the US and Canada, then sell to the rest of the world.” So, it should be on DVD and blue ray in a couple of months. I’ll keep you in the loop.

“You. Need. To. See. It.”

onus poster


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