Thursday, 30 April 2009

Twilight DVD

Confession time. I've never read any of the Twilight series of books by Stephenie Meyer. I have a huge collection of vampire novels and somehow this series passed completely under my radar. The first I'd heard of them was when the film was released at Christmas 2008. I'd read mixed reviews of the film but went to see it with an open mind... and I quite enjoyed it.
Just last week I bought the two-disc DVD version of the film from those good folks at Amazon and this is my review of the DVD.
THE STORY. Bella Swan is an American teenager who goes to live with her dad in the small town of Forks, Washington after her divorced mum wants to go touring with her new boyfriend. At high school Bella is curious to know about the five members of the mysterious Cullen family, who are a part of her class, especially Edward, whom she is teamed up with in biology class. Bella's classmates warn her that the Cullens don't mix with other students. But Bella is slowly drawn to the brooding Edward and when he saves her life by stopping a van that was about to crash into her with one hand she becomes convinced that he is not what he appears to be. Yep, Edward is a vampire. He has the ability to read minds but cannot read Bella's mind. So, the pair are drawn to one another and when Bella discovers the truth about Edward she is not repulsed at all but even more besotted with him. Edward takes her to meet his family, the other four "teenagers" and mum and dad - all vampires as well. They get on well together and enjoy a game of baseball, which is interrupted by the arrival of three nomadic vampires. The Cullens were able to integrate themselves in the township by only drinking the blood of animals. These newcomers have no such qualms about taking human blood and when one of them smells Bella's human scent the hunt is on. Can Edward and his family protect Bella, and if so, at what cost?
THE FILM. Edward and Bella were played by Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart respectively and the film was directed by Catherine Hardwicke. The story is a simple love story and is aimed primarily at teenagers, especially teenage girls. So I'm well out of the target audience. But hey, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was one of my all-time favourite TV series and I'm a sucker for any vampire movie. Bella is so pale skinned she could easily pass for a vampire herself. I liked her plucky attitude. Edward is such a pretty boy and an obvious teenage heart-throb but I found him too full of angst and way too irritating. Why must so many vampires be such tortured souls? Out of all of the Cullens my favourite was Alice (played by Ashley Greene) who not only looked as cute as a button but who also had the ability to see the future. Plus, she got to rip the head off one of the nomad vampires! For a vampire movie there was very little blood to be seen, which wasn't surprising given its 12 certificate. My favourite scene in the movie was the baseball game, which was worth the admission fee alone! Baseball between vampires is far more impressive than the human version. With vampiric strength they can smash the ball way out of the park. However, with vampiric speed, the fielders can race after the ball in the blink of an eye, thus making for a even-sided game. It was nice to see a new take on just what it is that defines a vampire. These vampires were not afraid of the sun but avoided it as it gave their skin a sparkling diamond-like quality - a CGI effect that didn't quite work. I've seen a lot worse films than this one and it's not as bad as some critics would have you believe, although the acting by the two leads is a bit flat. I'd rate it 6 out of 10.
THE DVD EXTRAS. I love the special features of a DVD - the more the better. This two-disc set does not disappoint in that respect. The second disc contains deleted scenes, extended scenes, trailers for the film, music videos aplenty, an interview with Stephenie Meyer (who comes across very well, I must say), and of course, the obligatory "making of" documentaries, which I nearly always enjoy watching. All good stuff so far and at over two hours long you certainly get your money's worth. However, what does let the extras down is the film commentary by director Catherine Hardwicke with Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. Now I'm usually a fan of film commentaries. If done well they can be hugely entertaining and informative. However, here they make the classic mistake in any commentary of having too many long pauses. Also, there was way too much giggling going on between the three of them. Consequently, I can give the special features no more than 8 out of 10. But for the commentary it would have been higher.
FINAL VERDICT. If you're a fan of the novels you don't need me to tell you to buy this - you've probably already got it! If you're not it is still worth seeking out. For sure, it's a teenage love story, but look on the bright side - it's not High School Musical! The film has whetted my appetite for reading the books and I'll be buying the series very soon. I hear the book is much better than the film, but that is so often the case. Twilight - New Moon, the first sequel is schedulded for a November 2009 release. I'll be there to see it and to review it here.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Crocodile Games Zombies

Crocodile Games are better known for their Warlords of Aegyptus wargaming figures but they also produce two sets of 28mm scale contemporary zombies. These are not new figures and have been available for a few years now, but I aim to showcase all of my painted undead figures so that inevitably means revisiting a few blasts from the pasts.
Set Z-01 Modern Zombies shown above contains three zombies all sculpted by Chris Fitzpatrick, one of my all-time favourite sculptors. I still have many of the figures he produced for Ral Partha and his Citadel Dark Elves, especially his Witch Elves are superb. However, back to his zombies and from left to right are a cop, a businesswomen and what could be a homeless guy, or perhaps he was just an ordinary bloke who only had time to put on a jacket and a pair of trousers before he became one of the shambling undead. I've painted him as a negro, as you don't see many non-Caucasian zombies. I had to lighten his skin tone with light grey to give him his deathly palour.

Set Z-02 is essentially the same three figures but all slightly modified by Chris to make them sufficiently different. So, the cop has lost his cap and had his arms repositioned. I painted him up as a small town sheriff to make him even more different. The businesswoman has lost her briefcase but gained a mobile phone. It's a testimony to Chris's sculpting skills that you can make out the buttons and screen on the phone! The other guy has had a head swap and his arms repositioned. All six figures are perfectly sculpted and will fit in well with most other 28mm scale zombies by other companies. They were a real joy to paint and I highly recommend them. Both sets retail at $12.00 each. I'm not aware of any UK company who stocks them but I had no trouble in ordering them direct from Crocodile Games, who are based in America.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Coming Soon - ATZ Haven

The guys at Two Hour Wargames are working like beavers on their new ATZ game. Here is news of the second supplement for the game, Haven. However, it will be sold before the Lazarus Project, so technically this will be the first supplement! Confused? Don't be. Just be grateful to Ed Texeira and his staff for being on top of their game. This is what Ed had to say about Haven.
Humanity is making a comeback!
Z-Day took mankind by surprise and for a long time there's been no sign of resistance. But now rumors of safe zones are spreading through the land. They say the military has taken back large areas and local radio broadcasts are urging survivors to head to these safe havens.
But not everyone wants to go.
Groups of survivors have their own "safe" areas under their control. They are self-sufficient and doing okay. Not great, but okay. And they like their new-found freedom and look forward to finding like-minded recruits. They're making the best of a bad situation.
But they're not alone. Gangs of lawless people have their own areas under control. These gangs patrol the highways looking for loot, prey, and in some cases new recruits. They like things just the way they are.
In Haven, you have three options -
MILITARY - We allow you to command military units by introducing you to better weapons, new equipment, and a list of missions for you to play. It's time to kill some Zombies and pacify the area.
SURVIVOR - We provide you with Nowhere Nevada, a self-sufficient community that you can explore, recruit, and perhaps trade with.
GANGER - We give you a ready-made gang, place to live, and opportunities to grow your power.
It's all up to you…
All Things Zombie - Haven is a supplement. You must have ATZ - Better Dead Than Zed to play.
FYI - Haven will be released prior to the Lazarus Project."
It looks like my criticism of a lack of scenarios for the game is being well and truly addressed. I can't wait to get my hands on this supplement. Naturally, I'll review it here on the blog-site. All I can say is, Ed, you're spoiling us!

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Griffin Miniatures Survivor: The Walking Dead

Survivor: The Walking Dead is the name given to a new set of 32mm scale figures from Griffin Miniatures that includes 5 survivors and 15 zombies. These are exceptional figures. Although slightly taller than other 28mm scale figures I don't mind that. After all, in real life people come in different heights so I have no problem in using these figures with other smaller scale zombies and adventurers.
The survivors shown above are from left to right a garage mechanic armed with a huge Magnum revolver and a wrench. He has a real "don't mess with me!" attitude about him that I like. The priest is breaking open a double barrelled shotgun to reload it. A nice touch! With his cool shades he reminds me of Samuel L. Jackson. The female cop holds her pistol at the ready and has a very professional look to her. I can't see her scaring easily. The fireman has clearly been included due to the success of the Rec and Quarantine films. Nothing wrong with that as they're both great movies. Finally, the Goth girl may be armed with only a baseball bat but she looks like she knows how to use it. These would make a great party of survivors to use in the likes of ATZ.

Now we come to the real meat in the package - the zombies. There isn't a bad figure amongst them. These are high quality sculptings. Of particular note is the level of violence that has been dished out to some of these zeds. Check out the zombie second from the left. He has a hole going through his chest that is incredibly wide. What kind of weapon could cause that big a hole in him? A tank shell that didn't explode but just punched straight through him, perhaps? The guy at the far right has had his right arm broken so badly that the bone is sticking out of the wound. Grisly!

Continuing the theme of massive exit wounds, check out the zombie at the far left here. He has two very big holes in his back and one in his right thigh. Didn't anyone tell the person who shot him you have to go for head shots to stop them? The fatty standing next to him has had his left arm ripped off. Again, you can see the bone sticking out of the wound. I like the fact that the school crossing warden has been impaled with his own "lollipop!" Finally, amongst this group, a nun is an unusual but welcome addition.

This group of females have suffered just as badly as their male counterparts. The nurse is crawling on one leg because her other leg has gone - chewed off, perhaps. The zombie in the red miniskirt reminds me of Vampirella. She has a similar haircut and dress to my favourite vampire but I can't imagine Vampi ever ending up in her state. Most of her face has been bitten off, her right arm has been ripped off and her entrails are dangling down her right leg, threatening to trip her up. It's fair to say that she didn't die a pleasant death! The rollerskating teen is very animated for a zombie but does not look too steady on her feet. I bet she spends more time falling over and standing back up than skating.
These 20 figures are sold as a set for the reasonable price of £35.00. I highly recommend them. I just love the over the top wounds on some of the zombies. However, beware of their size if you only collect 28mm scale figures. There were two negative points about this set that I must mention. First, the figures came with a lot of "flash" so be prepared to do some filing and cutting to make them presentable. Secondly, for reasons known only to Griffin, they were not supplied with any slotta-bases even though they all have slotta-tabs. It was not much of a problem for me as I have loads of spare slottabases but it just might piss off some purchasers.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Coming soon - ATZ The Lazarus Project.

Wow, no sooner have Two Hours Wargames released their new version of All Things Zombie than they have just announced plans for a new supplement for it. Ed Texeira, head of THW, had this to say -
They were wrong.
It was called the Lazarus Project.
The government began testing for ways to reverse the effects of the zombie outbreak almost immediately. Initial tests were failures but on Day 15 a breakthrough was achieved.
With hope, work on the project was increased to round-the-clock testing. It soon became apparent that those exposed to the antidote within 24 hours of infection appeared to fully recover.
Production and development of a mass-delivery system became of the utmost importance. By Day 21, enough of the Lazarus agent had been produced, and the delivery system was readied. The plan was to fly over the major urban areas, now claimed by the zombies, discharging the Lazarus agent in a gas form that would coat all the inhabitants. Zombies would die, while the newly infected would recover. That was the plan...
On Day 22 the planes took off from various points around the country and discharged their payload. Now it was time to wait.
By Day 23 the effects of the Lazarus agent became evident over the areas that were sprayed. However, disturbing news emerged from the test facilities. Those that had shown reversal of the zombie disease had begun exhibiting signs of anger and rage. Instead of eliminating the infection... it instead mutated it.
The results were devastating. Ragers, as they became known, now ran amok through the very cities that the government had hoped to reclaim.
And the winds were spreading the agent to other parts of the globe."
The supplement is due for release in May 2009 and I'll be ordering my copy as soon as it goes on sale. A full review will, of course, follow.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Studio Miniatures Zombies 01 - Mob 1

Studio Miniatures are a relatively new company whose output to date consists purely of zombies and zombie hunters. This is their first set - Zombie Mob 001, which comprises of eight finely detailed and beautifully sculpted 28mm scale figures. Size-wise these are very compatible with Hasslefree's range of figures. The more observant viewer will notice that I've shown nine figures not eight. So what gives? The bonus figure is shown in the centre above, and I'm sure most zombie fans will recognise him as being George A. Romero, director of many a classic zombie movie. It is an exquisite figure and such an obvious candidate for a zombie miniature that I'm surprised no-one has thought of sculpting him before.
Looking at the others, from left to right is a tramp with a katana skewering him diagonally from right shoulder to lower stomach. Ouch! Next is a near naked grandad, with his bath robe open, revealing more than his cause of death! A lovely touch on this figure is the tea cup dangling from one finger on his right hand. On the Romero zombie I added the clapperboard to his base in a direct copy of SM's website photo of him. Next up is a young male with his arms hanging stiffly by his sides. Last in line is a hunter whose firearms did not help him much. He holds a pistol in his right hand and a shotgun in his left. Half of his face has been chewed off and his intestines are spilling out of a huge hole in his belly. Very messy!

The final four figures features, first of all, the zombie with the most severe injuries, seeing as he has been ripped in half. As he shuffles forward on his hands he leaves a trail of gore in his wake. The woman in green does not appear to be too badly injured. Nor does the young woman next to her. Not every zombie should suffer from huge, gory wounds and it's good to see the sculptor reflecting this. Finally, is a rather animated female zombie, looking like she's ready to pounce on a victim. With the lower half of her face covered in blood it looks like she's just fed recently.
These are the first of two sets that Studio Miniatures produce. They retail at £15.99 if you buy the white metal versions or for £24.99 if you go for the resin versions. If you buy sets 001 and 002 together (£29.99 for white metal or £44.99 for resin) you get the George A. Romero zombie for free. Sounds like a no brainer, doesn't it?
Finally, I must commend Studio Miniatures on their packaging. The figures come in a video box, with the cover designed to look like a movie poster. There is even faux cast and crew members listed on the back. Full marks for doing something different with the packaging and full marks for the figures. They were a joy to paint and are amongst my favourite zombie miniatures. I'll review the second set just as soon as I've finished painting them.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

All Things Zombie: Better Dead Than Zed

All Things Zombie: Better Dead Than Zed is the new skirmish wargame from Two Hours Wargames. This is the second version of ATZ and whilst much remains the same there are enough changes to make it both different and better. What is it about? To quote the THW website - "Better Dead Than Zed sweeps you up and sticks you right in the middle of a catastrophic zombie outbreak. Who you are when the outbreak occurs is just as important as where you are. Because unlike other zombie games, where the zombies have been around for awhile, you won’t be able to tell the humans from the zombies until maybe it’s too late. Because it’s all happening to you just like it would on Day One. Confusion, chaos, and lack of information are just some of the challenges you’ll face when the world starts to crumble. Will you have what it takes to survive the first 30 days? Then what? ATZ takes you to where no other zombie game has before. Yes, it starts on the first day of the outbreak, but then let’s you continue your life building your very own future. It’s a game where every detail has been covered, as you first escape the soulless creatures that threaten you, then hunt them down and take back what’s yours. On the way there you’ll find out that maybe your most dangerous enemies aren’t the zombies, but maybe your neighbors or sometimes your friends. ATZ can be played solo, cooperatively with everyone on the same side, or competitively with everyone against one another. ATZ can be played as a one up game or part of an ongoing campaign. But it doesn’t matter which way you play it, as the goal of ATZ is to rebuild the world, as you knew it; except maybe this time with you in charge."
PLUS POINTS - Everything in the rules is explained very clearly with lots of examples. There should be no excuses for not understanding how combat works. Character generation is simplified and generating attributes and/or weapons is now dice based (better than using a deck of cards as in the previous edition!). Splitting characters into civilians, gangers, police, military and survivors is a good idea. I also like the fact that two months after the outbreak, police and military types can "turn rogue" if they don't have a clear command structure to follow (or if the player wants to go down that path). Allowing the campaign to start at the beginning of the outbreak is a huge plus. This is probably the single best change that THW has made to the rules! Previously the game began two years after the outbreak had started. The "Top Secret" section at the back is very good indeed. This is where you get to determine what happens to you and your family (if you have one) immediately after the outbreak has begun. The questions about what would you do and your response choices are excellent. I'd have to have a long hard think about how I'd respond, or rather, how my character would respond! I also like their random encounter tables. Finally, the game can be played with a group or by yourself and I applaud any game with the solo-play option.
NEGATIVE POINTS - To someone who has never played ATZ before these rules must appear daunting as there appears to be a lot to take in. However, the game does get easier to play the more you play it and as I said, everything is very clearly explained. There are however, a distinct lack of scenarios in here. The three starter scenarios to get you into the way of the rules look good but once you begin the campaign you are given three types of scenario to play, as it was before. These being Discover, Raid and Take Back. This means that the onus for coming up with scenarios is firmly on the GM. If you have a GM with a group of players this might not be a bad thing but if you are a solo-player you are going to have a lot of work to do and you'll have to make some major decisions, like how long does the outbreak last and how does it end. Info on these topics is unfortunately lacking and is left up to the GM.
CONCLUSION - I like these rules a lot. ATZ was the first zombie apocalypse game that I bought and as such I will always have a soft spot for them. If you have played ATZ before, you will find the new rules more streamlined and a lot easier to understand. If you are a newcomer to the genre then I can highly recommend this system to you. Price is $25.00 for the printed version or $20.00 for the electronic version.
Please note that if you order the paper version of ATZ:BDTZ (as I did) you get the PDF version for free. It seems remiss of THW not to mention this on their website. They had that same offer with the original ATZ and the supplement "Dead Heat" but in both cases the offer was made clear on their website. I wonder why they omitted to mention it this time?

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Andy Hallett R.I.P.

Andy Hallett, best known as Lorne the green-skinned demon from the TV series "Angel" has died at the age of 33. He had been suffering from heart problems for the past five years, but nevertheless, 33 is a tragically young age to die.
I liked Lorne a great deal in Angel and I mourn his passing. Of all the TV series featuring vampires, Angel stands out as my favourite, with Buffy the Vampire Slayer a close second. Angel just gets the nod ahead of Buffy because it was more adult-related. Lorne, or to give him his full name, Krevlorneswath of the Deathwok Clan, was introduced at the start of series 2 of Angel. He was the owner and resident singer of the nightclub, Caritas, neutral territory for all supernatural beings. By the end of that series he had become a regular team player in Angel Investigations. Lorne was never a fighter. He would much rather talk his way out of a fight and was always ready with a pithy quip. He had a natural charisma that overcame his odd looks and made him popular with both humans and demons.
Andy was a very gifted singer and he certainly relished his role as Lorne. I have no doubt at all that he will be wowing everyone in that great karaoke in the sky.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Victory Force Zombies 01

These figures are from the Victory Force 28mm scale Creatures range. From left to right are 333003 Mascot Zombie Dino, 333002 Mascot Zombie Chicken Man, 333007 Frankenheimer, 333008 Riot/Security Type Zombie and 333005 Secret Experiment Zombie. What attracted me to this range were the two zombie mascots. Just when you think you've seen every possible type of zombie along comes something to make you think again. The Dino mascot was just crying out to be painted as Barney the Dinosaur. I don't think that Frankenheimer is meant to be a zombie but his pose is classic zombie-like. The riot cop is missing his left arm, a nice touch. As for the secret experiment zombie, I painted him up as a convict. He has shackles on his ankles and around his neck. Although only a small range of zombies these make a nice addition to anyone's zombie horde. I should point out that there is one more zombie figure that Victory Force make in this range - 333004 Conjoined Twins Zombie. It is a figure that I am not particularly keen on.