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2015 so far
hitchcon
jon_a_five

Wow, nearly 6 months without an update. It's easy to just put all the little things on Facebook, isn't it?

So the big news for those not on FB: In January Vicky was diangnosed with early stage breast cancer. the prognosis was very good but the best option was a mastectomy for that breast. Vic had the surgery at the end of March. It was very hard for her and the recovery has taken many weeks. Sadly further bad news came when they biopsied the removed material and found the cancer was not quite as early as they thought. A battery of tests since show no secondary cancers but Vic will probably need further treatment (which is likely to be radiotherapy).  The prognosis is still very good and reconstructive surgery over the coming months will help minimize the changes.

My sister got married in early March. I'm still getting used to saying "brother in law" but Chris is a great guy. The wedding was in a beautiful hotel and was all over wonderful.

Those of you missing my pen reviews can now find them on my pen blog. Which I am also not updating enough.
https://justanotherpenblog.wordpress.com/

I'm still at Openbet. It's been 22 months and is still going okay. I like the company and love my team.

Sunny Walthamstow has been getting increasing gentrified over the past 6 months. Lots of new estate agents and people with Brompton bikes. Some nice new reataurants opened; chains, but having new options is good.

Vic and I went to Redemption 2015. The hotel was more run down than ever but we seemed to get one of the rooms not outright broken. It was as lovely as always but numbers were massively down due to the flu epedemic and people being put off by the hotel. The 2017 convention will be in a new hotel. I hope that keeps my favourite convention in business.

I turned 42. Sadly I didn't get a big ZZ9 bash as it was just a few days before Vic's surgery. But hey, 42!


2014 review
hitchcon
jon_a_five

So not an epic year for me but plenty of high points and few lows.

Anniversaries
13 years with Vicky
10 years in my flat in Walthamstow
17 years in London
17 months working at Openbet

Highlights

Loncon3 - So the big event returned to the UK for the first time in 9 years. A great convention which felt like an upscaled Worldcon. While it had (arguably) the highest Worldcon membership ever the massive Excel meant there was plenty of space to chat and catch up with many friends.

Frightfest - This was the weekend after Loncon3 so I took some time off between and after. It was the first time in a number of years I got a full weekend pass. Felt like getting a bit of my life back the unemployment stole from me.

Oxford - Vic took me for a lovely, romantic night away in Oxford for my 41st birthday. Lots of sights seen and a delightful meal in the hotel.

Crich Tram museum - Vic and I also had a lovely weekend visiting my folks. We had a smashing day out visiting the tram museum and Bakewell.

My brother turned 30 and we had a big family get together.

My sister got engaged and will get married in March.

Walthamstow's gentrification continues. We lost our favourite cafe, the Windmill, which is horrid as we went there a lot. But a new cinema opened up and a number of new restaurants.

Lowlights

Sadly no going-away holiday this year due to Vic's job issues. Probably not in 2015 either.

So a good year overall. I'm looking forward to 2015. The wedding in March is followed by my 42nd birthday which I'm sure to celebrate with froods.


Dragonmeet 2014 review
hitchcon
jon_a_five

Yeah, I know, I'm sucking at this 'journalling my life' stuff.

Vic and I went to Dragonmeet this weekend. It's an annual 1 day gaming convention we've gone to over a decade. Originally run by fans this past few years it was run by games company Cubicle 7. This year it was managed by Modiphius Entertainment, another RPG publisher. Unfortunatly for them the regular venue at Kensington Town Hall was unavailable plus I hear they increased the charges highly. So the convention moved to the ILEC Convention Centre which is part of an Ibis hotel behind Earls Court. And it's the venue which defined my experience this year...

When in the old venue Vicky and I would start with brunch in the Pret A Manger in Kensington High Street station. This year we had a limp (but in fairness cheap) panini in a small coffee shop opposite West Brompton station. It was that or the dodgy looking pub. After we ran into my friend Isi who was looking for the venue. So anyway we now lack the range of useful shops near the old venue. I'd often nip down to Boots for a meal deal sandwich to have in a game session.

The venue is an uninspiring chain hotel made of dull concrete. Nothing like the modernism of Kensington Town Hall. We bought our memberships; still £10, which is good, even if the goody bags of a decade ago are a distant memory. But then we walked in to the 'main' corridor. Which is to say the regular corridor hunderds of people are trying to use. The single double door to the trade hall/game running area was a major choke point.

We had a look in the trade hall. Ran into Tracy aka 'Scorch' and Andy from OpenBet who were running a stall sellling Tracy's home made items. I bought a lovely leather bookmark with a burnt in squid pic and a pair of cthuloid ear rings. We also made our way to All Rolled Up where I bought another ARU. Sadly the none of the TARUs gripped me which is what I really wanted but the Laundry inspired one was just too beautiful. I also got a couple of dice to go with it.

We then went to the panel with James Wallis talking about the Paranoia Kickstarter as I'd backed it. After getting totally confused we eventually found the suite being used as a seminar room. Yes, suite; the panel in one room being looked at by the audience in the other through the door. It was a total farce and the 30ish people were crammed in.

Vic and I went for a drink after. the 'coffee bar' didn't do sandwiches or real food like the one in the old venue. Plus there was only one table so nowhere to sit and drink. We went up to the 'pub' a floor above but it was packed too.

Later I tried a session of The Consortium RPG, another Kickstarter I'd backed run by former OpenBet gamer Ed. Fellow OpenBet trooper Lucy was there asw ell as 'money guy' Alistair. The project is looking really good and I enjoyed our short demo game (Sorry about the genocide, Ed!). Sadly I struggled to hear some players; the glass divided rooms of Kensington Town hall meant that there was little sound pollution but the one, big room right next to the dealers room was just a big echo chamber.

It was nice running into friends like Isi, Shaun, Civi and Sam who I hadn't seen in years. Just a pity it was hard to find a place to sit and chat.

We had one final sweep of the trade room. Fatal mistake of course, I bought 4 short story collections from Pelgrane press. However the Dragonmeet stalwarts the Dempsy's were working there (Steve had stories in the books I bought) so it was really lovely to see them. We also chatted to the team doing the new X-Com game which will be Kickstarted next year. It sounds good and one I will look out for.

EDIT: Also a lot more Wargaming companies this year. Which is good as I'm all for a bit of diversification.

Vic and I lit out early evening due to having another function. But frankly with it's 'unwelcoming' facilities it would have been hard to get comfortable. odd, as they boasted it would go on to midnight; maybe it was catering more to the weekend people in the hotel? Regardless I think if the same location is used next year it may put me off.


Frightfest reviews: Monday
hitchcon
jon_a_five

Xmoor

Two documentry makers head to Exmoor to try and film one for the famous beast cats. Along with a bug game hunter they head deep into Xmoor. But when they find the bodies of murdered women the dangerous game they hunt becomes the two legged variety...

So this is a fairly straight forward film with few twists. But the small cast fill their roles well and sweeping camera shots of the moor (actually filmed in Northern Ireland) give a great sense of an uncaring, brutal landscape. A good all round film.

Alleluia

Drawing on internet dating fraudseters this French film takes a violent turn when single mum Gloria joins romantic conman Michael after falling in love with him. They work together to defraud other women but when jealousy takes hold Gloria loses control...

This film really feels very European and it is gritty and grim. Sometimes it manages to be blackly funny. But it is a hard, challenging watch and the only really subversive film of the festival.

Nymph

Two America tourists staying with friends in Serbia go out on a boat trip. But when they visit a seemingly abandoned island prison they find where abducted travellers end up...

Despite the dodgy title this is a monster film. More interestingly the creature is a mermaid. Apart from 'Splash!' and 'The Little Mermaid' a creature much uderused. And when you think about it they are killers of men.

Sadly the quality of the film fails a bit, especially in the creature effects. The locations are real; Serbian funding was secured by using actual locations, including the impressive prison. It doesn't quite escape it's limitations but the idea makes for a watchable flick.

VHS Viral

The third VHS film collecting short chapters written and directed by different directors and a loose narrative running between them.

I saw VHS 2 a few months back and REALLY liked it. This collection for me didn't quite hit the peaks of its predecessor. The highlight was a segment where a scientist makes a trans dimensional portal and swaps lifes with his alternate self for 10 minutes. But the two worlds have some significant differences...

It's a fun film still and I love a good anothology.

The Signal

Three IT students track down a hacker who infiltrated their university systems. But when they arrive in the desert they get abducted and wake up with amnesia in a government facility built to hold alien abductees. But where are they? And why can't one of them feel his legs?

So this film will be next year's Looper/Inception/Matrix. However like some of those films the 'what is actually happening' ultimately leaves far more questions than answers and is very much style over substance. That style does take the film a long way but don't try to understand it as you'll just get annoyed!


Frightfest reviews: Sunday
hitchcon
jon_a_five

Sorry for the delay on these!

Among The Living
Three teenage buys play hooky on the last day of school and decide to go play in an abandoned film studio. But while there they witness the kidnapping of a yound woman. Disbelieved by the police they find the kidnapper doesn't like to leave loose ends...

This French film plays like a warped version of 'The Goonies' with the film sets of the abandoned studio giving a very 'meta' air to the film. The violence is shocking and the director is not afraid to kill people, although much of the killing happens off camera. The kidnappers/killers are well rounded and not totally shallow characters. I really enjoyed this one.

Open Windows
Nick (played by Elijah Wood) is the web master of a fan site for actress Jill Goddard (played by Sasha Grey). When he wins a competion to interview her at an event he sets up his laptop in the hotel room they have booke for him. We only ever see his laptop screen and the windows on it.  Hence the film's title. But as he finds his interview has been cancelled a 'friendly' hacker offers to help his web site secure an exclusive. But why is he beibg helped?

Okay any description past the first 15 minutes of the film will just be spoilers for the twisty, turny remainder. The film is genuinly clever; we can only see what Nick can, and characters on the other end of web chats cannot see other events on his screen. This will be the next 'Inception'. Honest. One of my fave films of the weekend, although more of a thriller than horror.

Faults
A washed up writer on cults is approached by the parents of a young woman who has joined a new cult 'Faults'. Driven to despair by money problems he agrees to kidnap and deprogram her. But who is the one who is really being deprogrammed?

This small film has such a tiny cast and few sets I can imagine it working as a stage play. Due to the tightness the excellent acting shines, and there is mich dark humour in eveidence. Not deep, not clever, not big, but well done all the same and the sort of tiny film I go to festivals to see.

Home
An artist tries to work out what happened in the home her estate agent sister was selling when she died there. But the death is a ruse as she has been drawn to a dark purpose...

Okay, this is basically a 'Rosemary's Baby' scenario film. It was just okayish. Personally I was alienated by the film jumping in time in a very confusing fashion and using fake tesnsion (music cue build ups) as a cheap trick. Mediocre.

The Samurai
A small town German cop Jakob is fascinated by stories of local wolves, to the point he leaves meat out to divert them from the town. But one day a long package arrives addressed to 'Lone Wolf' via the officer. When he receives a call asking after the package he takes it to a remote house where he finds a man in a dress and makeup expecting him. Upon receiving the package the man take the sword within and procedes to go on a killing spree in the town. But is the killer the threat that Jakob really has to fight?

This clever film builds the realisation of what is really going on well. Some of the background characters are shallow but that shows the depth of the conflict between Jakob and the Wolf into relief. A great film, one for much discussion and analysis after.


Frightfest reviews: Saturday
hitchcon
jon_a_five
All Cheerleaders Die
An angry girl joins the school cheerleading squad to ruin their final year in revenge for the accidental death of her friend, the groups leader. But when the girls are killed by the jealous football team captain the former lesbian lover of one raises them from the dead using witchcraft to exact revenge...

A typical Hollywood film it has a few twists and turns but many cliches. Up to the 'Scream' and 'Final Destination' standards.

Starry Eyes
An Aspiring actress in LA is working as a fast food waitress and hanging out with her arty, ineffectual friends. But when a role arrives with an increasingly dark series of audition steps she has to answer the question: How far will you go for ambition?

I loved how LA is almost an uncredited extra in the film and it has a wonderful sense of 'place'. My initial opinions of the nice girl who dreams of silver age stardom with her slacker friends is slowly rotated and the real hunger for power beneath the surface is brought out. Bloody, violent and disturbing yet also a satire on how the fame machine grinds the majority of wannabes up. A great little film.

The Harvest
Young Mary Ann moves into her grandparent's rural home after the death of her parents. While exploring she befriends Andy who is trapped in his home by degenerative illness. But when his over protective mother bars Mary Ann she has to sneak meetings with Andy and during one of these she discovers a terrible secret in the basement...

This initially is quite a gentle horror; I can see a Cert 15 on release. But the moving performances by the two child leads really drew me in.  Samantha Morten as Andy's obsessed mother and Michael Shannon as her husband play powerfully off each other. A great film with great characters.

I Survived A Zombie Holocaust
A new film school graduate gets a job as a runner on a production of a new zombie film in a remote location. But what confusion rises when the real zombies arrive?

One of three zombie comedies and two New Zealand comedies I saw, this frankly struggles to compete with it's festival contemporaries. Humorous, but rarely laugh out loud. The acting is of TV soap quality with more ham than a butchers window. There are some good punchlies at the end set up throughout and some very 'meta' points about zombie films. It's a reasonable little flick but not up to 'Housebound', 'Dead Snow 2' and 'Life After Beth'. Speaking of which...

Life After Beth
Teenager Zach is gutted when his ex girlfriend Beth dies from a snake bite. But while spending time with her parents after the funeral he is suddenly rejected by them. Investigating he finds Bath has returned to life and doesn't remember breaking up with him! But Beth hasn't quite returned the same and her disintegration is mirrored by other recent revenents...

A twenty something comedy with zombie trappings the witty dialogue and characters in unusual circumstances generate a touching, effective comedy

Frightfest reviews: Thursday night and Friday
hitchcon
jon_a_five

I'm breaking my reviews down by day to avoid post size issues.

The Guest

A charming young man turns up at an American family's home to deliver a last message from their deceased son he served with in the military. But as he spends time with them the body count starts to rise and the truth of why he is really there appears...


This was one that I was disinterested in from the programme but found it an ace film. Brit actor Dan Stevens fills the role of soldier David wonderfully. The 80's style synthesizer soundtrack invokes John Carpenter comparisons. A good, solid film.


Sin City: A Dame to Kill for

It's funny seeing this as Vic and I saw the première of the first film at Frightfest 9 years ago. Vic described the original as “Spending 2 hours in a man's head”.


The sequel is more of the same. Where it is weakest is with returning characters; Hartegan (as a ghost), Marv and others turn up. It felt a lot like fan service, although events do escalate to a big conclusion for Jessica Alba's Nancy. But it is the new characters (Played by Josh Brolin and Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and their stories that are the best narratively. But the same old tropes apply; macho men, women are strippers, whores or gold diggers and random violence abounds. Can I invernt the term “macho porn”?


This was also a 3D print of the movie. While this was impressive at first for most of the film it didn't add much, which is a pity considering the film is mostly virtual sets.


R100

A lowly Japanese shop assistant is beaten down by his hum drum job and caring for his son. One day he signs up for the shadowy Bondage Corporation. The contract specifies that for a year he will be abused every day by a series of dominatrices. But when this fantasy intrudes in his work and home he tries to quit, only to find Bondage is a club one does not simply leave...


I think many people discounted this film for its fetish themes. But instead it descends to outright weirdness in that way that only Japanese film makers seem to think is appropriate. It was really funny and well worth catching by lovers of the weird.


Shockwave Darkside 3D

A squad of soldiers on the moon are dispatched to attack a base of soldiers from earth. But they fly into an ambush and have to walk to their extraction point. As the film progresses we find they are all followers of 'outlaws'; after a war on earth all theists flee to the moon to avoid persecution. But the Unlights have arrived from Earth to take the moon's water as Earth's is polluted with nano plague.


As the squad fights its way back to their lines they have to traverse an unmapped part of the moon. Which is where they discover something that could change the war and all human understanding...


Okay, this was the one duff film of the weekend. It feels like a Sci-Fi channel flick. The acting is sound, the FX are okay (the drop ships with manoeuvring thrusters on booms are neat). But the CG is a bit ropey. The combat scenes make the squad look like a team of accountants playing paintball. The idea of the theists being kicked off Earth and having to come up with a system of mutual respect is sound and the final twist has some interest. But the execution lets it down too much. Also while the film was shot in 3D it felt weird and odd.


But hey, one outright duff film is pretty good going for a film festival!


Late Phases

Retired blind soldier Ambrose moves to a remote gated retirement community. But on his first night there his neighbour is slain by a monstrous beast and Ambrose is only saved by the sacrifice of his guide dog. Upon hearing these 'animal attacks' happen every month at a full moon Ambrose realises what the threat is and spends the time to the next full moon working out who the werewolf is and preparing to fight...


This was one of my gems from the festival. Like all the best monster movies it isn't about the monster but about a proud, bitter man who regrets screwing up his relationship with his son. The main actor, Nick Damici, carries the film very well. The obvious comparison is to 'Bubba Ho-Tep' and comedy aside the theme of regrets and facing death are very similar. Genuinely left me with a tear in my eye at the end and highly recommended.


Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead

Carrying on from the end of the original survivor Martin wakes up in hospital after crashing his car escaping the Nazi zombies. The doctors tell him they sewed his severed arm back on but do not realise that it is the arm of the Nazi commander! But this appendage gives Martin the ability to raise the dead himself. Which he will have to do to raise an army to stop the dead army completing their final mission...


This is one of the films I was looking forward to most and it paid off so very well. While not as narratively paced as the first in makes up in pure jokes-per-minute. I was rolling in my seat laughing. And it will totally ruin Bonnie Tyler's 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' for you.


If you like the first you'll love this one too.


Housebound

After a botched ATM robbery Kylie is placed under house arrest at her parent's for 8 months. Her motor mouth mother is convinced that supernatural occurrences are happening in the house and gradually Kylie becomes convinced the place is haunted. With the help of her paranormal obsessed case worker she investigates the house's past and finds that it has an awful history...


This New Zealand comedy starts as a ghost story but the plot becomes a deliciously twisty, turny snake that constantly wrong foots the viewer. It's genuinely really funny in a very kiwi way. Another of the highlights of the festival


Frightfest 2014: Overview
hitchcon
jon_a_five

So Frightfest was a emotional weekend for me. After I lost my job in 2008 Vic and I stopped going as full weekend pass holders. When I got a job again I felt I wasn't earning enough to justify the price until now.


But since 2008 I've always gone to see a few individual films. For the past few years Vic has been going to the Insomnia gaming event this weekend and I felt my Frightfest full weekend just wasn't the same without sharing it with her.


The festival has moved a short distance from the Empire to the Vue on Leicester square. I'm not sure about the reason but I suspect it is scale. The new setup has three 'main' screens showing the core films. These are mostly staggered/mixed so special guests can talk after their film with each audience. Not perfect for the guests but allows a lot more weekend pass tickets I guess. It also has a good bar area for socialising, although the tiny toilets were overwhelmed.


There were two 'Discovery Screens' showing other films. We could get free tickets to these using the weekend pass. I did it once as I did not fancy the new Eli Roth film but frankly there were lots of films I wanted to catch. At least I didn't 'waste' a timeslot missing a film I didn't want to see.


I had some nice neighbours in the Arrow Video Screen I was in. Frightfest prides itself on the community. It's still mostly male but there was a mix of people and in the festival guide there was a great essay extolling the need for more women to be making films.


I missed all of the late night films to avoid the nightbus home. Which is a pity but I think it gave me the energy to last all 4 days. The weather was mostly nice right up to the Monday where it chucked it down. Which was a pity as I was enjoying little walks in the West End between films.


One small bonus of the weekend: Gosh! Comics were giving a 10% discount. Guess who had 6 weeks of comics on his pull list? Plus I picked up a graphic novel too.


Funniest story of the weekend was when a cute girl in PVC came up to me and asked me if I was a director or producer. My Hollywood moment of the Festival.


Film reviews to follow.


Loncon3
hitchcon
jon_a_five
Short review

Was fun and felt like an up-scaled Eastercon.

Long review

Single complaint:  the 1 hour 45 minute registration queue. This I'm told was caused by the lack of power sockets for the computers. This was offset by the incredibly prevalent wifi that I had to accept the T&Cs to just once in the whole 5 days. This folks is a modern public facility. Not like our shitty airports.

The Excel had one other 'problem'; their security staff would clear standing attendees from panels where seating had run out. I was cleared out myself from the post-apocalypse survival panel. I've been to many cons where I've stood or sat on the floor. But I understand the safety/insurance concerns.

Otherwise I loved the location. Vic and I commuted in and out and some evenings got back in 45 minutes. The Wifi meant I was in contact with mates all weekend. The eateries were mixed, but so plentiful there was never a long queue and loads of available seating. The dealers room and fan village worked great and I enjoyed both. Also loads of toilets; important!

I was kept very busy. I volunteered a couple of times on the ZZ9 table and hung out in the con bar and village with friends. Went to lots of panels. There were a lot of diversity/LGBT panels and I'm really proud of British fandom for that. Since we were commuting I sadly missed most of the evening events but on the last night got to stay for the dead dog party in a hotel room which wasn't being used by generous friends. Vic and I also saw 'The Anubis Gates' stage production; all a bit mental. We also watched the Hugo awards which were neat.

Bloody well done to all involved. I remember how the Eastercon in 2008 was a massive success and boosted fandom's turnout. I think Loncon3 will be a big boost felt by our community for years to come.

PS I also bought/scrounged my own bodyweight in books.

Pen review: TWSBI 540 Diamond (Amber barrel, fine nib)
hitchcon
jon_a_five

This folks, is the big one.

After really enjoying my Lamy Al-Star I wanted another nice fountain pen. After reading many good reviews of TWSBI pens I feel in love with the Amber barrel 540 at Cult Pens. Last November they had a 10% off sale on fountain pens and ink, so I jumped in and got it cheaper than the list £42.


Description

The 540 is a piston filler pen. There is a knob at the rear which unscrews, pushing the piston down the inside of the barrel like a syringe. The nib is dipped into the inkwell and the knob reversed to suck ink in.

The barrel is made from translucent amber colour plastic. It's quite dense and feels good in the hand. There is an aluminium band with “TWSBI” etched in one side and “Diamond 540” on the other. The matching cap end has the TWSBI logo and the plain, smart pocket clip. The cap is a screw fix to the barrel. It can friction post on the rear but the weight of the metal fittings throw the balance off completely.

I went for a fine nib but others are available including stub options. Nib sections can be purchase separately and are interchangeable. The nib is steel with the TWSBI logo and some scroll work etched on it.

It comes in a plastic presentation case. Included in the case are a wrench and silicon sealer plus a manual so you can totally disassemble your pen. Although most experts say DO NOT DO THIS!!!

Ink

To go with the pen I bought some Cult Pens Deep, Dark Red which is made for them by Diamine. In the barrel it looks a bit like blood in a Victorian syringe; very goth steampunk! It dries to a blood like maroon colour. It is not waterproof so if I have some soft drink condensation on my hand it can get smeared. Okay for work notes but not if you want to write in a personal journal.

Writing

This is the most lovely writing pen I own. The nib is really smooth and reliably puts down a sharp line when it touches the paper. There is no pooling at the end of a word like I get with some rollerballs. It is a real delight.

Summation

I've had this pen around 9 months and apart from bringing it home for this review it has been constantly in rotation at work. This model is still available but is out of production as it has been superseded by the Diamond 580. Apparently this new model fixes some of the potential problems of the 540 including cap breakage when over tightened and possible leak issues. None of these I have had but I'd probably steer people to the 580 instead.

I'd heartily recommend this as a second pen after starting with a Lamy Safari/Al-Star. It is an affordable quality step up.

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