Wales Comic-Con April 2017, Glyndŵr University, Wrexham: Day 2.

Day 2 of Wales Comic-Con has arrived and after the absolute result that was Day 1, it’s safe to say I’m hyped because today is photo-op day! Later today I’ll be grabbing a photo with Mick Foley & Amy ‘Lita’ Dumas and my wife has purchased a photo with T.J Thyne of Bones fame. A lot of good things were said by people yesterday who had photos with respect to the organisation when people came to collect their photos which bodes well for today. We make our way to Wrexham slightly later this morning because we got our wristbands yesterday so don’t have to queue for them today to get all that sorted which is nice. Since WCC became a 2 day event, Sunday has been the more chilled out day of the event for us, we beast the Q&A’s and run around like mad things trying to get to stuff on the Saturday and get our photo-op’s sorted on Sunday, it has worked well for us so far. Upon arrival on site were not far from hitting opening time so we head for the main hall.

It’s filling up nicely and people are milling around to grab early purchases and queue for autographs with guests. I can’t stress enough how improved the layout is in the main hall, I’m not really one for autographs, I prefer to go down the photo-op route so the layout in the main hall had always been a bit of a pet peeve of mine, I always found it a bit too confined when the queues started to grow. By moving some of the vendors outside to the marquee this year, traffic in the main hall has improved greatly. We move outside and head for a mooch around the marquee again. Just outside the marquee the owls are already attracting some attention as they do every year.

I LOVE the fact that there are more vendors this year, I love browsing stalls at cons and seeing what’s on offer. I was particularly taken this year by the retro gaming stall which had an excellent range of old school video games of varying degrees of Awesome and I managed to find a copy of one of my favourite Sega Megadrive games from my youth so I was most pleased.

So good that it had to been done twice, we pop to see Mick Foley & Amy Dumas Q&A again today. Just as fun and informative but in a much more intimate setting on the Nick Whitehead suite which I actually preferred to the main hall yesterday. I must also say in respect to Q&A’s I have attended this year, the timing has been pretty spot on. The WCC Q&A’s are notorious for starting late and/or overrunning, this year it feels a lot more streamlined and regimented for the talks I’ve attended, they’ve pretty much gone to time which again is testament to the organisation that has been carried out, it has been absolutely top drawer, could not fault it.

Next up it’s time for our first photo-op of the day with none other than Mick Foley. There was A LOT of complaints last WCC regarding the company that was in control of printing off people’s photos, to be fair it was pretty disastrous, the WCC team were let down badly and tempers became frayed amongst Con goers. Thankfully this year is the extreme of polar opposites and a superb effort from the photo team, within 10 minutes of the photo-ops going in not only did we have our photo taken with Mick but it was also ready and printed by the time we reached the counter to collect it. Last years photo-op waits seem like a bad dream, this is how you address a situation! Can not fault it, tick, gold star, smiley face, HAVE A NICE DAY!!! 

A brief stop for a much needed ice cream in the quite frankly glorious weather and it is time for our second photo-op, this time with Amy Dumas. 4 minutes, start to finish with photo in hand, absolutely impeccable.

Just one more photo-op left of this WCC with T.J Thyne. This was a very popular photo-op with a large queue but even still, just under 15 minutes and we have our photo.

And with that another WCC is over for us. This event has been fantastic from start to finish, everything has been so well organised and structured. It’s pretty obvious to tell that the WCC team take past event criticisms seriously and adapt and improve where they can, but to do so in almost every respect deserves a massive round of applause. The issues with photo-ops last year are completely resolved with the sessions running insanely smooth. The Q&A’s we saw all pretty much ran on time which has almost never happened at past events I have attended which was also a lovely surprise. The improved layout of the main signing hall has been a massive improvement for navigating around, much more space and a more structured approach to the queues for the more popular signings and also the addition of more vendors in the outside marquee, I really hope they keep to as it is something WCC has needed for a long time so to see it addressed this year has been awesome. Next time I attend a WCC I will be a parent with child in tow and if the organisation is anything like it has been this weekend, it’ll be a slightly less daunting prospect.

Wales Comic-Con April 2017, Glyndŵr University, Wrexham: Day 1.

It’s that time of year again, where eager Sci-fi, Fantasy, Anime & Pop Culture fans descend on Glyndwr University in Wrexham for 2 days of signings, Photo-Ops, Q&A sessions and much more. Year on year, since I started attending Wales Comic-Con back in 2012, it has gone from strength to strength, drawing in bigger crowds and more impressive guests with each successive event and this springs event is certainly no different. I am attending the event for both days with my wife and we have a number of photo-ops booked with some of the guests, I am particularly stoked this weekend to be meeting WWE legends Mick Foley & Amy ‘Lita’ Dumas and my wife was more than a little excited with the announcement of Bones actor T.J Thyne, who she has purchased a photo-op with.

As with each event, we have purchased Early Bird tickets which gives the holder a 1 hour head start over general entry to ensure a minimal amount of waiting to get into the event. We arrive on campus a little after 09:00, it is pleasantly sunny and the crowds are starting to assemble. Already there is a diverse array of cosplayers on site putting increasingly impressive levels of effort into their costumes, I’ve already seen a V, a Loki, Black Widow, a few Assassins Creed Cosplays, a Bray Wyatt and a male Harley Quinn. Yup, it’s Comic-Con baby!

After less than a 10 minute wait from doors opening, we have our wristbands and are in, heading straight to the main hall for a browse. The first thing that strikes me this year is the layout, it is vastly improved. Some of the vendors have been moved around allowing much more space around the perimeter for the crowd to move around and also allowing much better queueing for autographs with guests, it is still massively busy, it still bottlenecks but that is just to be expected, I can’t see any other way of improving more than they have, even going so far as to utilise the halls tannoy and numbered tickets to alleviate larger queues for certain more popular guests so hats off to the team, organisation in the hall seems a lot better. I have noticed both through overhearing conversations and reading posts on a Comic-Con group I am a member of that some people in attendance are not happy about certain guests adjusting their autograph fees and placing the blame at a “greedy” Wales Comic-Con, I find these posts most disheartening as I know full well that the team at WCC have no part to play in this and to hear them trashed by a minority (who don’t seem to understand how cons work incidentally) for something quite trivial that is out of their hands is disappointing. The Con team should hold their heads high right now because I’m personally finding it hard to fault the positive changes they have made to increase the publics enjoyment of the event.

Next we move on to the marquee which now exclusively houses vendor stalls and there is a great array, from retro video games, art prints, comic books, pop vinyls and action figures. My one bugbear with Wales Comic-Con in the past had been lack of stalls which is certainly something that they have addressed this year. After some browsing and purchases we make a quick detour to the gaming arena.

The gaming arena is layed out with retro consoles lining one wall, PC’s lining the other with a stage for the gaming competitions they hold during the day. We couldn’t resist plonking ourselves down for a bit to have a blast on Mario Kart which is a welcome nostalgic diversion. After being beaten by my wife in a best of 3 it is on to the first Q&A of the day, the wrestling panel.

Mick Foley & Amy Dumas take to the stage to much applause and whooping and get straight in to it. After the obligatory introductions both ask the crowd to take as many photos they like at the beginning but then request that phones and cameras are pocketed for the rest of the panel which I actually really appreciated as it can be quite tiresome watching a panel through someone’s phone screen out of your periphery when you are trying to concentrate on the stage. Both are natural storytellers and between questions from the audience will segue with interesting little asides that have the assembled crowd hanging off every word. Warm & engaging, this was a good start to the Q&A sessions.

Next up we have Matt Ryan & Emmett Scanlan and the Constantine panel. This was a sweet panel that shows even past 1 season of a cancelled show there is still a lot of love for Constantine and a lot of excitement regarding Justice League: Dark and the touted animated series. Matt & Emmett gamely answer all questions set their way with grace, humour and genuine likability.

The Buffy Q&A is next with Nicolas Brendon & Emma Caulfield. This was a very well attended Q&A in part due to the shows recent 20th anniversary celebrations, I have also found however in recent cons that this panel has been taking over as one of the most popular of the day and that is certainly the case today with a packed out hall. It is a very funny and engaging Q&A with a real sense of chemistry between Nic and Emma. Nic really has no filter though it has to be said, if it pops in his head, he’s probably going to say it leading to a mixture of genuine laughs and uncomfortable ‘did he just say that?!’ guilty laughter, it certainly makes for an interesting panel that’s for sure.

GOT up next and a nice cross section of past cast members. The GOT panel is always a crowd pleaser because obviously people are still massively invested in the show, particularly as it enters it final 2 seasons and that is reflected in the questions, always trying to wrangle another angle or theory out of cast members who gamely give their 2 cents worth. Ian McElhinney, I now suspect, played up to the anger at his character dying before he did in the books, it always tickles me and my wife every time he attends. Always engaging, always entertaining.

Time for the last Q&A of the day, the Bones panel with T.J Thyne. The small Nick Whitehead suite is rammed, there is literally no more seating space and people are standing at the back so they could get in, never underestimate the popularity of Bones. Quite often in these types of situations you wonder, even though this is engaging and informative, just how much has the panellist gone into auto-pilot when answering people’s questions? You doubt the sincerity when they say ‘Good question’, this is not one of those times. T.J was warm, good humoured and incredibly humble that so many people had turned up to see him, you got the impression that he sincerely cared about what people were asking him and that was refreshing, it made for a wonderful end to our first day.

The first day at WCC 2017 has been a joy from start to finish. In and wristbanded in record time, a much better layout in the main hall, from word of mouth I have been hearing that the photo-op’s have been running a lot smoother this year also which caused much consternation last year. Its good to see that many of the issues that some people have had with the WCC in the past have been addressed so well and that the team have pulled it out the bag again with their now trademark professionalism, grace under pressure and passion for what they do. Bring on day 2!

Danger 5: The best TV comedy you’ve never seen.

I came across Danger 5 on the advice of a friend last year and watched the whole thing in one sitting on Netflix, it takes a damn good comedy show to do that. Featuring deliberately dodgy acting, a Colonel with an eagles head who maintains order with his ‘sit down gun’, Nazi dinosaurs and the weekly mission to kill Hitler. Welcome to the deliciously barking world of Danger 5.

The Danger 5 are a group of undercover operatives in a alternate, skewed take on World War 2, tasked with the weekly mission of killing Hitler by their commanding officer Colonel Chestbridge, a part man/part eagle with with a short fuse. How’s that for a frickin premise?!

An Australian production from the minds of Dario Russo & David Ashby, Danger 5 has a sense of humour that hits so many right notes during the course of one episode that it leaves your head spinning and your face hurting from laughing so much, well, if you have a really weird sense of humour which I do. Taking influence from cheesy action movies of the 60’s, a stylistic approach similar to that of British comedy Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace which applied a similar convention to 70’s/80’s horror, Danger 5 is certainly anything but routine. It is an absurdist time-bubble, a surreal B-movie alike pastiche of WWII pulp novellas & spy movies that feels like a Pythonesque fever dream, in a very good way. The comedy is delivered in such a deadpan, straight faced manner that juxtaposes the outright oddness to absolute perfection.

Danger 5 has the unique strength going for it in that it is relatively unknown outside its native country and thus comes as a complete surprise, one of those ‘how the hell did I not hear of this sooner’ kind of shows. Personally when a show creeps up on me like that, completely from leftfield, without fanfare and grabs my attention so completely, I become enamoured. I felt the same way when I discovered shows like Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and Snuffbox, well crafted under the radar gems with an off-kilter approach, the guts to try something different and the talent to exceed and defy expectation. 

It’s not to say that Danger 5 will be everyone’s cup of tea, it won’t be. It’s surreal humour may well be too strange for some palettes, however, if you like your comedy bizarre, fiercely original and very funny, Danger 5 may be right up your ally.

With Reasonable Doubt?: An American Crime Story- The People Vs O.J Simpson review.

Perhaps one of the most high profile court cases of the latter part of the 20th century, The O.J Simpson trial for the murder of Nicole Brown & Ron Goldman was a case fraught with scandal, intrigue and all the twists and turns of a Hollywood movie, handled like a media circus and with a dubiously questionable outcome, it was only a matter of time before this extraordinary story made its way to the screen.

Showrunner Ryan Murphy, more known to the public as the creator of the popular TV series American Horror Story takes that shows format of having a singular focus to each season, this inaugural season being the Simpson trial. On paper it may sound a little dubious as to just how well this would work, would it be handled with the requisite amount of care, humility and respect being focused on such a high profile case? I can thankfully say that answer is a resounding yes. 

A formidable cast ranging from Cuba Gooding Jr playing Simpson, Sarah Paulson as lead prosecutor Marcia Clark, David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian and Courtney B. Vance as defence lawyer Johnnie Cochran are all supurb, not only in their impeccable performances but also in their startling likenesses to their real world counterparts. Fantastic support is also offered by the likes of Nathan Lane, Bruce Greenwood and Kenneth Choi. The only slightly dodgy performance belongs to John Travolta and his bizarre, almost pantomime Robert Shapiro.

As opposed to his other show American Horror Story in which a great degree of creative freedom is allowed and positively encouraged, a greater degree of care and respect had to be applied to tell this true story that carries with it a weight to this day some two decades or so after the verdict, it was a tremendous risk that ultimately pays off due to exceptional writing and performances from the cast, in particular Paulson & Vance who’s rivalry throughout the show is incredibly believable and wonderfully realised.

The first season of American Crime Story of me was a resounding success. Captivatingly addictive, even though the outcome is etched in history, the show hold the attention of its viewer right up to the verdict and beyond. With the news that a further 3 seasons of American Crime Story have been green-lit, if they are handled as well as The People Vs O.J Simpson, I for one can’t wait to see what comes next. 

American Crime Story: The People Vs O.J Simpson is currently available to view on Netflix.

Against The Odds: A Sneaky Pete Season 1 review.

*WARNING* This review may contain some mild spoilers relating to the show, read at your own discretion.

Not to be outdone by Netflix on the serial binge fest front, Amazon also has its fair share of amazing content, the latest being co-created by Bryan Cranston, Sneaky Pete was immediately an intriguing proposition for me.

Marius Jostipovic is a con-man, a confidence trickster who after ripping off mob boss Vince Lonigan, gets himself arrested and inmprisoned to avoid Vince’s grasp. In Prison, Marius befriends Pete Murphy, learning of Pete’s life and estranged family and their bail bond business. Upon his release from prison Marius assumes Pete’s identity and ensconces himself in his families life, though the threat of being discovered by Vince looms large still.

Not many shows have the knack of blowing me away with their debut season, not even Breaking Bad managed this feat. Only two shows have managed that in recent memory, one was Mr Robot, the other is Sneaky Pete. A remarkably simple premise expertly crafted & delivered by showrunner Graham Yost, it grabs you from the very first episode and refuses to let go. The dynamics between “Pete” and his supposed family are excellent, a constant state of unease hangs over scenes between them and the increasing possibility of Marius’s true identity being discovered. 

Giovanni Ribisi is brilliant as Marius/Pete, his cool hand approach to con’s leaving you on edge as to just how he is going to get away with what he is doing and when will it eventually come tumbling down around him, it is a cool & nuanced performance from a great actor. It pretty much goes without saying but Bryan Cranston is excellent in this show as mob boss Vince. His scenes carrying with them a quiet, underlying menace, the threat that something awful could happen at any moment, all delivered with a disturbing amount of charm and a simmering volcano of rage that could blow at any moment, an truly amazing performance.

The boom in streaming services bagging top tier TV shows is gathering pace and with so much to pick from, only the truly exemplary will stand out from the pack, in its first season I believe that Sneaky Pete has done just that. It’s riveting, addictive and utterly compelling. If you haven’t, check this out as soon as you can, you won’t be sorry.

Sneaky Pete Season 1 is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Flesh & Blood: A Santa Clarita Diet Season 1 review.

*WARNING* This review may contain some mild spoilers relating to the show, real in at your own discretion.

Netflix have been over the last few years, making a focused effort to increase the number of shows they bring to their service. Some of these shows are a revelation, look at the incredible success of Stranger Things for example. The latest show to be added to their rosta with hopes of runaway success is Santa Clarita Diet.

Joel & Sheila Hammond are real estate agents who reside in Santa Clarita, California with their teenage daughter. Their life is fairly typical and idyllic until one day Sheila becomes very ill at work and picks up a number of concerning traits, namely a lack of pulse and taste for flesh.

Santa Clarita Diet is a very well made dark comedy and when I say dark, I mean DARK. In the first 20 minutes of the first episode, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching a charming rip-off of Desperate Housewives, that feeling is quickly dispelled in fantastically hilarious gross out style by Drew Barrymore’s Sheila becoming rather ill at work. It quickly becomes clear that we are party to something wonderfully subversive and well executed.

The principal cast of Santa Clarita Diet are spot on. Timothy Olyphant’s beleaguered and bemused Joel is a wonderfully realised comedic turn from an actor not know for his comedy roles, he handles the task fantastically in his first season, likeable and frequently hilarious. Drew Barrymore is clearly having a ball playing against type as Sheila, one half suburban housewife, one half bloodthirsty killing machine, it’s a gift of a role to an actress with the requisite amount of comedic talent and Barrymore handles the role admirably. Fine support is offered by Liv Hewson as their teenage daughter. Hewson has absolutely killer comedic timing and is a constant highlight of the whole season.

SCD has made a great first impression and will deliver much mirth if your sense of humour is a little off kilter and you aren’t afraid of A LOT of gore. It isn’t a perfect first season, some of the gags fall flat and the story strays a little mid season, perfectly acceptable blips in an opening season though, I would be a little more concerned if these things haven’t been addressed, tightened and refined by Season 2 but for now, it is nothing that completely ruins ones enjoyment of the inventive comedic carnage that is on offer. 

If you are constantly on the look out for your next streaming fix to takeover your life, Santa Clarita Diet may just steal your heart….and devour it whole.

It’s Business time: The majestic Flight Of The Conchords.

You kinda have to have been living under a rock for the last decade to not have come across Flight Of The Conchords in some way, shape or form, even possibly without knowing. Native New Zealander’s Bret McKenzie & Jemaine Clement between them have two highly revered comedy albums, an Oscar, a Grammy , a slew of film roles and a popular HBO TV series. These cunning Kiwi linguists have firmly rooted themselves in popular culture throughout the noughties and beyond, not bad for a slightly weird but none the less awesome comedy-folk duo from a land with more sheep than people.

Flight Of The Conchords were formed in 1998 by two Victoria University Of Wellington film & theatre students with shared talent for music and comedy. Bret McKenzie & Jemaine Clement performed earlier in a group called So You’re A Man with director Taika Waititi before becoming Flight Of The Conchords and gaining a cult following in Australia & New Zealand in the opening years of the new millennium through extensive touring and TV appearances. In 2004 the pair secured themselves a series on BBC Radio 2 in the U.K which in many ways was a dry run for their eventual HBO series. The radio show had pretty much the same premise as their TV show, featured Rhys Darby as Murray but with the addition of Rob Bryson narrating and British comic Jimmy Carr made an appearance.

Their hard work paid off in 2007 when they secured themselves a show on HBO in the states, it ran for two seasons and was complemented by two albums, the self-titled Flight Of The Conchords and I Told You I Was Freaky, both released by legendary Seattle independent label Sub Pop. Built on a dry sense of humour and an inspired absurdist streak, if you haven’t already heard them, ‘Bowie’, ‘Boom’ and ‘Business Time’ should give you a decent idea of what to expect.

If being in Flight Of The Conchords wasn’t enough for them, both McKenzie & Clement have branched out further afield. Bret wrote songs for The Muppet Movie and won an Oscar for his song ‘Man Or Muppet’, Jemaine has starred in a selection of films, two of which for his ex bandmate Taika Waititi and most recently in Spielberg’s BFG.

A recent reunion tour of the U.S has sparked rumours of a return to the recording studio and even talks of a film, all conjecture but enticing a thought none the less. I for one could certainly go for any new output from this band.