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A review of 2016

This is going to be a best of the best post for me for 2016 covering TV and films.  Not the best ever. Not everything I’ve seen, or read or done, just some of the highlights.


Bloodmage Stephen AryanBook round up first. So this year book 2 (Bloodmage) and book 3 (Chaosmage) were published. And it’s just over a year now since Battlemage was published. So that’s it. The first trilogy, the Age of Darkness, is done. To me it feels like Battlemage was published a long, long time ago, but that just because I’ve been working on it for a few years behind the scenes.

Looking ahead, the first book in the new Age of Dread trilogy will be coming out next October. Seems like a long way away, here in December. It will be here before I know it and I have a lot of writing to do before then.


Captain America Civil WarCaptain America: Civil War – or Avengers 3 as it could easily be called because it had just about everyone in it, apart from Thor and Hulk. But Chris Hemsworth did a funny Thor video about what he’d been up to and why he wasn’t asked to join the fight. Anyway even without them the film was excellent. It was a top 5 Marvel films for me and maybea  top 3 although I need to rewatch it a couple of times before making that call, as currently The Winter Soldier is in the top spot. First outing for Chadwick Boseman as the Black Panther too and he was incredible, so I’m really looking forward to his solo film.

Dr StrangeDr Strange – It was weird, and different, and yes, Strange, and it made magic in the real world a bit more understandable and relatable. Also kind of familiar, for me at least, what with all the wizards and stuff. But this could easily have been a weird outlier of a film that didn’t connect to the others, but Cumberbatch made it fun and engaging and the rest of the cast were fantastic, from Benedict Wong to Chewitol Ejiofor to the entrancing Tilda Swinton.

Deadpool – I didn’t see this at the cinema. I’m not a fan of the character in the comics and think it’s one note that’s only amusing for 5 minutes. However, after some serious persuasion I finally watched the film on DVD. And then I proceeded to laugh all the way through from start to finish. It was the antithesis of superhero movies in so many ways. There were so many jokes I’m positive I missed lots of them, but the fact that it was a really amusing film was what completely surprised me. I can see why it was such a big hit as it made fun of so many things and bless Ryan Reynolds for having a sense of humour and broad shoulders, as he took the piss out of himself a lot.

CreedCreed – This film was released in November 2015 in the USA but here in jolly old England we didn’t get it until February 2016 for some reason. An oddity in modern cinema when the gap between America and the UK is normally a couple of days and sometimes we get the film first. Anyway, that aside, this film was a gem. I never wanted another in the Rocky franchise after the perfect end that was Rocky Balboa, and yet this film works. I’m a huge fan of the Rocky franchise, and if you don’t know already I co-host a podcast where we talk about action movies once a month (Bags of Action – on iTunes). I was amazed by the film and it quickly entered the top 3 films in the franchise for me. A new film for a new generation with a new hero that also respects everything that came before.

Honourable mentions – 10 Cloverfield Lane, Suicide Squad, The Magnificent 7.

Turkeys – Star Trek Beyond. I like the new Trek films. Love the cast. Very excited by them. Even with all of the flaws in Star Trek Into Darkness, this was the worst of the new Trek films. It was Star Trek: Kirk Too Fast Too Furious on a bike. It was action and effects over substance and character. A few funny character bits do not make a good Trek film. 10 minutes of good stuff in a 2 hour film is crap. Star Trek should make me feel something and normally it does. Whether that’s the TV shows or the Shatner films or the Next Gen films. I came away from this film feeling nothing at all. It was a hollow waste of so many talented actors. Another turkey was Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Yawnsville. Utter toilet. Again, great actors, huge waste of time and money.


The Flash Season 2The Flash and Supergirl – These two shows are the best of the CW DC comics TV shows. They’re funny, quirky, don’t take themselves too seriously, inventive, they make me laugh, they give lots of nods to the comic book fans like me, and they’re uplifting and entertaining. Arrow and Legends are good, but not as good.

Daredevil season 2 – For me Daredevil is still the best of the Marvel Netflix shows. Luke Cage was good, but a bit too long at times, but even with some niggles this season, DD was amazing. From Elektra to the Punisher to Stick to Karen Page. Wow. How Deborah Ann Woll hasn’t received an award for her performance in this show I’ll never know. She’s mesmerising and a breath of fresh air. Also she’s a new face for me, as I didn’t watch Tru Blood, so I’m not thinking of her from that show. I’ve already rewatched most of this season again. It has that rewatch factor that the others don’t.

WestworldWestworld – no spoilers here, but this show was disturbing and worrying and very dark. It also bears rewatching now that I’ve come to the end of it and some things have been revealed. There are various mysteries in the show which they explain but a second run through will see if it all holds together now that I know what I’m looking for. Overall a great new TV show.

Marco Polo season 2 – Sadly the news just broke that this was the last season as Netflix cancelled it. I’m very saddened by this news as this show was fantastic. Amazing international cast of actors, filmed in glorious locations around the world and a fascinating fictionalised glimpse of a period in history in Mongolia and the court of Kublai Khan. Well, at least there are 2 seasons, and a special one off about a much loved character on the show. If you’ve not seen it, I would recommend watching it but take your time as it seems highly unlikely we’ll ever see any more of it in the future.

Stranger ThingsHonourable mentions – iZombie season 2, dark and twisty and weird. Stranger Things – an amazing and clever and weird and glorious homage to the 1980s. Loved it. Can’t wait for more next year.

This year we’ve had a complete glut of amazing films and TV shows in particular and next year looks to be no different. There are so many amazing things to look forward to I’m both keen to hold on to the few remaining days of 2016 as I don’t like to wish my time away, but I’m also desperate to watch some of the upcoming things like Defenders on Netflix, Iron Fist, Punisher, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Star Wars Episode 8, Thor 3, the new Star Trek TV show and so much more.

What were some of your favourite TV shows and films from this year?

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February’s Podcasts

As mentioned last month, the Podcasting network I am involved with has had a face lift and a kick in the pants, and now we are back on track with a regular schedule and more new content.

Pete Rogers, my co-host on Bags of Action had some very nice things to say about then new website and new logo. You should be following his posts anyway so take a look at his website. This month’s episodes are:-

CBO – Episode 170 – In honour of our first guest on the new Crash Landing, our main feature is about our favourite detectives from film and television, plus all of the latest news from geek culture.

Bags of Action – Episode 17 – Big Trouble in Little China – the classic John Carpenter, Kurt Russell film about weird things going bump in Chinatown. It’s a film full of weird magic, karate kicking, cheesy one liners, weird CGI things, flying men, swords, guns, lots of punching and even the odd romantic moment!

Crash Landing – Episode 1 – The first of a new monthly podcast. Every episode we maroon a guest on our crashing spaceship. They have one hour to salvage humanity’s most important cultural artefacts before they crash land on the planet of their choice.

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Podcasting empire

I’ve been podcast for over seven years now and the landscape has changed dramatically in that time. When we started not many people really knew what podcasting was and the number of podcasts and people listening was a fraction of what is today.

Coming up on eight years on from when we first started in July 2007, my co-host and I have done all sorts with the podcast and it has led to all sorts of opportunities, personally and professionally. I’ve attended comic book conventions and spoken on panels about podcasting, their place in the new media landscape and taken part in discussions about whether or not it’s a form of journalism. I also co-ran the podcasting track at the Nine Worlds Geekfest convention last year and will be involved again this year.

Professionally I’ve used the editing and sound skills I learned from a hobby in two of my jobs. One was to introduce podcasting to a large global company who wanted to keep their employees up to date in a way that was mobile. So I trained a couple of other people on good technique, introduced them to the software and how it works, and off they went. I’ve also used the same skills for video editing and my voice has been used on several demonstration videos which I put together.

On a personal level, podcasting has allowed me to speak with some amazing creative people, writers and artist from several mediums, plus independent filmmakers. This was sometimes on the Book Club where we spoke to authors, and sometimes on Comic Book Outsiders.

We’ve now reached the point where after so many years we’ve settled into a rhythm and are still enjoying what we do. With that in mind I thought it might be worth giving a little bit of information about the podcasts I’m involved with, as part of our mini podcasting empire!

Comic Book Outsiders – Once a month I co-host this comics and geek related podcast with Scott. This was the original podcast we started in 2007 and we are still going. We talk about things in the news, comics books, TV, films and games, we discuss meaty topics, we have guests on to talk about their work and we highlight hidden gems that don’t get as much attention as they should.

Bags of Action – Once a month I co-host this podcast with Pete Rogers. If you love action movies then this is the podcast for you. We talk about the ridiculous stories and the wonderful chaos common to this type of movie. From gun fights that go on forever to fist fights that defy gravity and common sense. Every month we discuss and dissect an action movie and always have a good time recording it. Sometimes we go off the rails a bit and dig into some of the trivia, or we just wander off into other areas if the film is poor.

Crash Landing – Once a month Scott sits down with a special guest. Fortunately they have been rescued from a dying earth. Unfortunately the rocket ship they are on is going to crash land. They have to decide which popular media they want to save, books, films or comics, or a combination of all three. What could they not live without on their brave new world? As well as talking about why they love their choices we find out more about our special guests each month.

The website for the CBO network has more information on all of the podcasts, plus ways you can get involved and even support the podcasts. It’s all on iTunes as well so give one or more of the podcasts a try and let me know what you think.

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In general I’m not a fan of remakes. I understand why they exist, the in-built audience and familiarity with a franchise or character, but my main issue is there are thousands of new ideas out there crying to be developed. Sadly, some amazing ideas will never reach a large audience, because the risk of adapting something that is completely unknown, from a creator no one has heard of before, is too great a  risk for some. Not all, but some.
Sometimes, remakes take the original material and they bring something new to the table. They update it for a modern audience and realise simply reshooting the material with new actors and better special effects isn’t good enough. That’s a point I’ll come back to. Some remakes have really impressed me and despite being initially wary they won me over, such as the new Battlestar Galactica. In my opinion the remake was better than the original 1980s TV show, which I am old enough to remember from the first time around. I always thought it was cheesy, but it was made for that period and the modern version took the original material and did something new. What followed, Caprica, was pretty dull in my opinion, but the new Blood and Chrome web mini thing, looks like a return to form. Shame it didn’t turn into a new TV series.

So, sometimes, remakes do work and are worth pursuing for characters or franchises. Look at the new Christopher Nolan Batman films for example. In my opinion they’re the best of the bunch, and now we have a new Man of Steel, Superman film waiting in the wings. Time will tell if it equals or surpasses the Christopher Reeve films.

All of which brings me around to two remakes I’ve watched in the last month. The Amazing Spider-Man and Total Recall. With ASM it brought Spider-Man back to the screen only a few years after Toby Maguire hung up his costume. Sony made lots of money from the first three films and, regardless of what I think about their varying quality, they were obviously keen to keep milking that old spider shaped cash cow. So ASM came out in 2012 with Andrew Garfield in the blue and red spandex suit. Ok, let’s start with the good. Garfield, for me, was a much better Peter Parker than Maguire. He was gangly, quiet, and a nerdy genius, which is what Peter is supposed to be. At times Garfield’s Peter did seem a little bit too confident at school and more of a skater-boy than a true outsider, but Peter is meant to be an ordinary kid and, in general, I was convinced. Martin Sheen and Sally Field were brilliant, but then they always are in everything. They felt like a real family with secrets and there were some great set pieces, fights and the CGI was good. Now the bad. It was an origin story. Again. Seven year old children are not idiots. They’ve probably been watching Spider-Man for years via cartoons, playing Spider-Man on video games, and (hopefully) reading the comics. So five years later, they’re just old enough to go and see the 12 rated film in 2012. If you ask anyone on the street, who is Spider-Man?, most of them will be able to tell you something. It’s the same with Superman or Batman. They’re international icons. So who, exactly, was this remake for? The best part of the previous Raimi films was that in the credits for the second film, I think, they recapped the whole of the first film, including Spider-Man’s origin. It took maybe five minutes while names roll past, boom, done, on with the action. So why, why, why, do yet another remake?

At times during ASM I found myself doing something else, flicking through my ipad or phone, because it wasn’t holding my attention as I knew what was going to happen. I’d seen it all before and so had the audience. It did well at the box office, but, not as well as the first Raimi Spider-Man film, or the second, or even the third film! There were some interesting new additions to the film this time, minor plot points, but apart from switching Green Goblin for The Lizard, it was more or less the same film. They’ll do another one, and this time, maybe, just maybe, it will be interesting because it’s not yet another origin story.

One other thing on ASM before I move on, and to me it’s a huge thing and is a major spoiler for the film, so look away now if you don’t want to know. The fundamental foundation of Peter Parker and Spider-Man is, with great power comes great responsibility. He had the power to stop the thief and he didn’t, and because of that someone else paid the price. On that occasion it was his Uncle Ben who stood up and said no. Peter makes a promise and is determined to do the right thing. So, at the very end of the new Spider-Man film, Captain Stacy is dying, he knows who Peter really is and what he’s done. He asks Peter to make him a promise to keep his distance from Gwen, because anyone in his orbit is in danger. He’s going to make enemies as Spider-Man and they will try to find his weak points and exploit them. Villain puts girl in peril, hero shows up to save her, they fight, and sometimes the girl dies in the process.

On his deathbed, Stacy makes Peter promise and he agrees. Peter keeps his distance, Gwen is hurt at first, but then works it out and sort of understands. Then, right at the very end of the film, Peter changes his mind. He breaks his promise to her dead father, he breaks his word and decides, ah, sod it, he’s never going to know and I know best, and I want to be with Gwen and he can’t stop me. What a load of bullshit. Utter, utter bullshit. That goes against everything. He may as well just let certain criminals go because he can’t be bothered to catch them. I mean, why not? If making a promise to a dying man means nothing to him, if his word means so little, if he is that bloody selfish, why not? This completely undermined the film for me and it undid all of the goodwill they’d built up. So, in ASM2, Gwen will no doubt get into trouble with the next villain and she may die, and then they can bring on Mary Jane from the wings for the end of ASM2 and she is the love interest for ASM3. Utter crap. I didn’t see ASM at the cinema and won’t be rushing out to see ASM2 either.

Total Recall. Ugh. I admit, the original film isn’t the best film ever and despite the fact that I haven’t read the source material, I’m confident in saying the Arnie film deviates a great deal. However, it was charming, interesting, exciting, different and a great deal of fun. This remake was built on a crap premise to distance it from the whole Mars thing. All of the action was set on grimy Blade Runner-esque Earth in a post apocalyptic world where people take a lift from the British colony to Australia for work. That’s right, they commute, through the centre of the earth on a lift to the other side of the world.

Ignoring that, and putting to one side the updated CGI and special effects, the modern actors who are people I (normally) enjoy watching, I’m struggling to find anything original this film brought to the table. In general the film was just dull and really didn’t hold my interest. This wasn’t a shot for shot remake, but there was nothing we hadn’t seen before. The duplicitous wife, Melina coming to rescue him, the fight to find out who he really is, then rejecting that and deciding to side with the rebels. Fighting for a good cause, and for some reason, destroying the lift that connects the two sides of the planet. It was just really boring. It has been a long time (relatively) since the original Arnie film, and there were some nods in there for older viewers, the women with three breasts, the woman in yellow going on vacation for two weeks at the scanner, and probably some others I didn’t spot as I was doing two other things while watching this at home. It made it’s money back at the box office and some profit on top, so the film makers are not complaining too much, but it wasn’t the runaway juggernaut at the box office they were hoping for by trading on the name.

This, more so than ASM, was an example of where a remake was, for me, completely pointless. If they’d tried to do something new and taken the story in a very different direction, but had held onto the central premise of buying memories for recreation to become a spy, or fighter pilot or whatever, then I might be more enthusiastic. At least, even if it didn’t work, they had tried to do something new and fresh. This was just lazy at its core. I’m off to read something original, novels seem to be the best place for new stories.

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