Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Tain, as retold by The Decemberists

This is the Tain, or Tain Bo Cuilgne, or the "Cattle Raid of Cooley" as retold in verse by the Decemberists.
What's going on? Well, the King and Queen of Connaught get into an argument about who has more wealth. It turns out the King is very slightly ahead by owning a prize bull. So the Queen calls out the army to invade Ulster and steal the Brown Bull of Cooley. The army is repelled by the hero CuChulainn, who is the only warrior of Ulster available to fight due to a curse.
CuChulainn is nigh invincible when he is in his battle rage, which transforms him into a monster. He lays waste to the Connaught army. But eventually the Queen sends the warrior Ferdiad, a boyhood friend of CuChulainn, to face the hero.
CuChulainn survives, and chases the Queen and the army out of Ulster, but they take the Bull of Cooley with them. The two prize bulls meet in a pasture and fight. The Bull of Cooley impales the other bull, then breaks through the fence and runs home to Cooley, where its heart explodes.
Yes, like so many wars, this one was a waste of time and life. And this story dates from the pre-Christian era of Ireland; some truths are eternal. If the outline of the story doesn't seem like much, pay close attention to the video, which relates the story with more poetry -- and shadow puppets!

Cyber Black Weekend

That's right folks, it's that time of year again: Christmas shopping season. And since you've all been out improving the economy by buying things you can't possibly afford, I thought I'd give you a few more ideas on how to spend your money. I know it's a question that's been burning in your minds all weekend: "What does good ole JRF want for Christmas?" Worry not, I'll be happy to answer that very question here and now.
Every item here is on my actual Wish List, which I provide to my family as a courtesy and helpful service prior to Thanksgiving Day. I want them to have plenty of lead time.
First, I need to satisfy my interest in the Viking Age. The first item is a miniature army of characterful Viking Raiders from Foundry Miniatures.
You get 60 bloodthirsty warriors, shield maidens, berserkers, and a jarl. That's enough for two longboat crews and raiding any miniature monastery you might come across. Just don't forget to buy the necessary pack of generic spears to arm your men. Paints and glue are also not included.
I find when I'm painting my miniatures that it helps to imagine myself in character, and nothing helps get a person in character better than dressing up. So I asked for these comfy, leather, size 10 Viking Age boots to lounge in while I'm painting Viking minis and humming "The Ride of the Valkyries."
You can get these from Boots by Bohemond ( in a variety of different colors. Tan is nice, but I do like this chocolate brown. They are a nice alternative to slippers.
And there's an empty place of honor in my Man Cave for a new action figure. While a number of really great action figures were released this year, I put the Hot Toys Captain America: The First Avenger on my wish list.
This 1/6 scale action figure features an exacting replication of the final version movie costume and includes multiple hand sin various positions, a M1911 pistol, Thompson Sub Machine Gun, and (of course) the mighty shield. What red-blooded American wouldn't want one of these in his Man Cave?
I've already got my fingers crossed they release an Avengers costume Cap next year.

But why limit my display of affection for the star-spangled Sentinel of Liberty just to my Man Cave? With this sculpted Captain America ceramic mug direct from (, I can show my support for Cap anywhere I choose to drink a hot beverage. And I can drink my hot cuppa java in manly proportions, too!
"But, JRF, don't you like pointy things? Where are the dangerous sharp objects we know you love?" I'm glad you asked.
This is the Benchmade version of the SOCP (for "Special Operations Combatives Program") dagger. ( I think this is a very exciting design with all kinds of interesting possibilities for a martial artist. Many traditional Koryu jujutsu systems often included small knives or sticks as aids in grappling situations; this tool fills the same role in the modern Combatives curriculum. Fully describing the potential of this tool probably deserves its own post. The red, blunt dagger in the picture is the training tool version. You can get a set of blade, sheath, and trainer; and I recommend getting the set so you can experiment with the tool safely in a training environment.
In the long blade department, a serious gap in my sword collection is the Viking Age. I have a Viking Sax, but no sword. But this Generation 2 replica of a sword recovered from the River Whitham in England would nicely match my Sax. ( The reviews of this sword compare it favorably with replicas costing five times as much. I have several Generation 2 blades, and they are all well made.
But for my secret, ninja, stealth missions, I need a "sword" that is a little more compact. The Columbia River Knife & Tool Hisshou fits that role perfectly. ( This is a monster knife, or midget wakizashi. It measures an overall 18 1/2 inches, and over 12 inches of that length is blade. Like big, slashing, Japanese blades but think 18 inches is too much blade? That's okay, CRKT released the little brother to this short sword, the Shinbu ( which measures in at 14 3/4 inches, with a blade over 9 inches long. Heck, get both and be prepared for darn near any nasty, close quarters social engagement you might be invited to.
"No, seriously, JRF; what do you really want for Christmas?"
I am serious.
"Then let me rephrase the question: what do you actually expect to get for Christmas?"
Ahhhhh. Good question...
This is a very nice LL Bean "Scotch" plaid flannel bath robe in Blackwatch tartan. ( I love tartan. And I love flannel, although I like fleece better for warmth. And I need a new bathrobe.
My In-Laws also discovered this year that I need a decent suitcase. So I', very likely to get this LL Bean rolling Pullman suitcase. ( I asked for it in Plum. There are so many black suitcases on the luggage carousel.
I also asked for a bunch of books through the Amazon Wish List feature. Maybe I'll do a separate post on some of my reading picks later. But realistically, I'm far more likely to get a dozen books and DVDs than I am a Hisshou, a pair of comfy Viking Boots, or (sadly) a Captain America action figure. And given the cost of things, I'll probably end up buying my own SOCP dagger on December 26. My family loves me, but I don't think they completely understand me.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

More Conan Replica Sword Choices!

I have a correction to make. Apparently, other -- even better! -- versions of the Conan movie sword replicas are available from other sources.
The Kult of Athena website ( has several different replicas to choose from. This includes the top of the line replicas from Albion which are priced in the $3000 range. (I don't have one of these, in case you were wondering what to get jrf for Christmas this year.) You can even go the "el cheapo" route and get the lowest quality sword for $39.95.
It's good to have options.

Watching Deadliest Warrior Does not make you a Ph.D

I thought I'd long grown use to the fact that when people go to the Renn Fest they drink a little too much, they talk a little too much, and they talk a little too loud. I even thought I'd grown innured to the fact that some folks become instant experts at the Renn Fest.

But the guy behind me at today's joust was too much. He was providing running commentary to twins dressed as gypsy girls (see It was obvious that his knowledge was derived from drunken viewings of Spike TV's Deadliest Warrior and not any academic study.

"Jousts were bloody duels to the death. They just kept hammering away at each other until somebody got impaled through the chest."

Oh, please.

On the other hand, a few years ago, I was very pleasantly surprised to be sitting behind a man pointing out the parts of the knight's armor to his young son -- in painful detail and perfectly accented French: sabatons, pauldrons, poleyns, gorget, cuirass, tassets, etc. I could follow him, but I couldn't have done that from memory. 15th Century armor is not my specialty -- though it was clearly his. This guy obviously had studied more than the last D&D Complete Fighters Handbook.

Today I saw a man in beautifully turned out Viking Era Russ Trader kit. It was so understated, I nearly overlooked him. He had a close cap, brilliant red and black Russ coat, a blue wool tunic, oatmeal-colored wool trews, and brown leather boots. The best part was his bead necklace, with square, multi-colored glass beads. This was a man who knew his Dark Age costuming, and I'm sure he knew he was about 500 years out-of-fashion at an English Rennaissance event. Unlike the score or more of Capt. Jack Sparrow look-alikes who were probably blissfully unaware the Black Pearl isn't due to sail for about 200 years.

I love the floorshow at the Renn Fest. But I really enjoy it when I stumble across an actual expert.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Blast from the Past: Vintage Highlander Movie Review

While I've never thought this movie was perfect, I've always considered it a classic. If nothing else, it deserves serious props for being an original idea. In an age when all we seem to get a remakes and sequels, that should mean something.

Of course, there's been off-and-on talk about a reboot for this franchise too. But it is one case in which I think a solid trilogy planned from the start and shot back-to-back would do more justice to the concept than the original. Especially if they kept the awesome soundtrack.

But I don't have enough faith in Hollywood to do it right.

Leo Howard, Boy Badass

I have underwear older than this kid, Leo Howard ( He's all of 14 or 15 years old, and already he's managed to act as two of my fictional heroes: Snakes Eyes and Conan the Barbarian. What is up with that?

Not only that, but young Leo was probably the best thing in Conan 3D. I found him far more interesting to watch than Jason Momoa.

Now that, my friends, is a badass scene. That's mythic. And some punk kid pulled it off. Too bad the rest of the movie didn't live up to it.
This test of manhood is similar to tests various warrior cultures put their boys through. It most reminds me of the test for membership in the Irish Fianna, which the legends tell us required a young man to have his hair braided and then run a course through the forest. If he was caught, he failed. If a branch cracked under his foot, he failed. If a braid came unraveled, he failed. he had to be able to leap over a branch as high as his forehead, pass under one as low as his knee, and he had to be able to pull a thorn from his heel without slowing down.
In fact, there's quite a lot from this scene which called Irish myth to mind. The great Irish hero, CuChulainn, was only a boy when he took up arms and started defending Ulster against its enemies. And, of course, the Celts of CuChulainn's time took heads in order to prove the number of enemies they'd slain in battle.
I suspect this echo of Irish myth is coincidental, but Robert E. Howard (Conan's creator, and no relation) would've approved. He was a serious Celtophile, and always imagined his Cimmerians as the ancestors of the historical Celts.
Anyway, for better or worse, Leo Howard is caught up in the "Mighty Mouse Machine" -- he's appearing on the Disney Channel's show Kickin' It, about a strip mall karate dojo. I suspect we'll hear more from Leo.

Classic Conan the Barbarian Movie Sword replicas are available again!

Windlass Steelcrafts, through Museum Replicas, is offering three replica swords from the film classic Conan the Barbarian. Valeria's Sword, the Father's Sword, and the iconic Atlantean Sword are all up for sale on the web site with an estimated shipping date of October 2011.

The blades are 1085 high carbon steel and tempered to 52 HRC. The two manly-man swords are priced at $295, while the she-thief's sword is $195. I don't think those prices are unreasonable for decent swords, and the pictures do look like pretty decent replicas. My only gripe is that the grips look a little thick, especially on the Father's Sword.

Friday, August 26, 2011


Navy SEAL Jon Tumilson was one of the 30 service members shot down in a Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan recently. His remains arrived home in Rockford, Iowa and a funeral service was conducted in the local high school gym.

According to reports, the procession into the gym was lead by Tumilson's Labrador Retriever, Hawkeye, who immediately lay down in front of the casket where he stayed forlornly through the service.

Hawkeye has been adopted by one of Tumilson's friends.

Conan 3D Fallout

So it came to my attention yesterday that one of the script writers on CtB3D, Sean Hood, had written a brief article ( about his feelings on his association with the Conan Flop.

He's very forthcoming about his expectations, and it's hard to take it out on this guy for the movie. What's interesting is that even he seems disappointed in the final product.

Then today, it turned out that someone apparently wants all the glory that goes with CtB3D. Stan Lee Media (which was at one time associated with Stan Lee but, apparently, is no longer) filed suit against the makers of CtB3D for 100% of the proceeds. Stan Lee Media seems to think they still maintain intellectual property rights to the character Conan.

As it turns out, the IP rights for Robert E. Howard's work are a legal puzzle, as described in this paper which was helpfully posted online. ( Australia considers Robert E. Howard's work to be in the Public Domain!

Well, if nothing else, all this publicity is raising interest in Howard's work.

Princess of Mars

Greetings, Pulp Fans! You know you can't wait for next year's John Carter movie. I understand. But take heart, there's this version of the story just waiting for you on DVD!

Monday, August 22, 2011

REH on CtB3D

Okay, so I've been reading the reviews of CtB3D that have been popping up on the Internet. I guess I'm not surprised that there is a small, but vocal, contingent of young men starved for catharsis that seem to think this movie was badass.

Pfff. You people don't know badass.

I am surprised that some "serious" reviewers keep saying that it is "closer to the original Robert E. Howard" stories than the 1982 Arnold outing. I guess "closer" is a relative term.

So I invited Robert E. Howard to come down here and tell us in his own words how he would describe his greatest character.

... huh...

[mumbles] "butter on a hot skillet..." [mumbles]

Okay! See you all next time.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

SHIELD kit???

Is this official issue SHIELD kit???

Or just an incredible facsimile?
Maybe it's Airsoft?
Or maybe... It isn't.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Conan the Barbarian in 3D: "Is it really that bad?"

In a word? Yes. It's pretty bad.

In fact, a couple of times, I felt downright insulted as a Conan fan, although I suspect those moments were calculated to be nods to those of us in the audience who know the character well.

But let's start with what is intrinsically wrong with the movie. There's no real plot. Oh, there's some cardboard window dressing about Conan seeking the man who killed his father. But that's an excuse for Conan to wander from one CGI set to another battling mostly faceless minions. What it reminded most of was a video game in which the player battles from level to level, always finishing with a boss character until he meets the Big Bad. The background changes, new traps and obstacles are introduced, and sometimes elite bad guys are mixed in with the minions, but it's easy, straightforward game play throughout the game. Kill everything in sight and eventually you win.

Now, there's been a lot of critical discussion about the influence of movies on video game narrative and vice versa. Some modern games have very intricate narratives that are clearly an attempt to merge the visual storytelling of film with the first person experience of the video game. Often those games require the player to do more than shoot bad guys; they must also solve difficult problems, or even make moral choices that branch the game's narrative in a different direction. That's pretty innovative, and it derives it's power by putting the audience in control of the main character's fate.

So CtB3D is really a huge step backwards in that it represents taking the simplest form of gameplay and takes any control the audience had away right from the start.

Certainly, CtB3D is going to follow certain conventions. The audience knows he's going to reive and slay through most of the movie. And we expect he'll bed the wench. And we're pretty certain he'll kill the principal villain. But the art comes in telling a compelling story between those certainties. Reducing it to the "Kill the Level Boss" creates a pattern that destroys narrative tension.

In other words; I was very bored by the third time a new CGI environment was introduced with a title card, something like "Shaipur Monastery." Oh look, another level...

To compensate, the producers do provide a visual feast. The CGI is very creative, if obvious. Yes, no matter how far Hollywood thinks we've come with CGI, it's still pretty easy to tell practical effects from digital ones. There's at least two scene in which all the women are topless -- I assume this is an effort to make me forget about the CGI. The fight choreographer and photography is peppy. It's also pretty silly: why on earth would anyone fight with two broadswords in reverse grip? Is there a sword system on earth in which this appears as a practical technique? (XMA and wu shu do not count.) But I will overlook goofy fights in favor of visual appeal.

The movie is also brutal and soaked in blood. I can imagine the director making the "artistic" choice to do this, "It's a movie about Conan the Barbarian. BARBARIAN! We need more blood! What? We ran out? I'll add it in post-production..."

There are moments when this works, such as when young Conan returns to his village. There are times when this brutality is overwrought, such as when Conan interrogates a prison warden by inserting his finger into the warden's... Less is more. Honestly. I know it's counter-intuitive, but it's true. Yes, you need to drive home to your audience that this was a less civilized time and place, but you can rarely top the audience's own imagination. Suggestion works very well. Showing me is jarring, and takes me out of the drama of the scene by reminding me that it's a great special effect.

So there's no plot, it's boring and repetitive, and it's over-produced. What's insulting?

If you've been following my blog, you might remember that way back when the first casting and plot rumors were swirling, I made an argument that they should just film the short stories. The material is there. It's exciting, it's action packed, the character is smart, there's real drama, and there's a ready made character arc as Conan wanders out of Cimmeria, builds a career as a thief, pirate, mercenary, and eventually king. It's a ready made series with some classic moments fans would be salivating for. ("The Frost Giant's Daughter", anyone?) Instead, we get a generic sword-and-sorcery plot with Hyborian Age window dressing. Labeling a CGI set "Zinagaran Slave Post" is not setting the scene.

This movie referenced several classic Conan adventures, including his birth on a battlefield, his battle at Venarium, and his theft from the Tower of the Elephant. I probably missed some other direct references. But only his birth is shown. We are told about the other incidents, not shown. Robert E. Howard never wrote a story about Venarium, we only know about it from some references he made in outlines and correspondence. If ever there was a decent Conan origin story, this is the story to tell. From what little we know, the Aquilonians built a colonial outpost called Venarium inside Cimmerian territory. In a rare instance of solidarity, the Cimmerians cooperated to pushout the settlers. Conan participated in the attack at the age of 15, and Howard says this encounter with civilization is what sparked Conan's unique curiosity to explore beyond Cimmeria.

The Tower of the Elephant is it's own story, and has arguable links to the Cthulhu mythos, so it too is ripe for filming, and pregnant with possibility.

Hollywood: Don't tease me like this. It's wrong. It's like you recognize decent material, and then ignore it just to spite the audience.

One final gripe: I really got sick of characters punctuating the importance of McGuffins by holding them aloft. The first thing held aloft in reverence is the newborn Conan. But soon all kinds of literal plot devices are being held high in the sky. It wasn't lost on this reviewer that the subsequent use of the image reduced Conan himself to McGuffin status. Yep, this is pretty generic sword-and-sorcery.

So did I like anything about the movie?

Yes, I did. I thought most of the bit featuring young Conan was compelling and had a truly mythic quality. There's an excellent short film in this mess. The warrior test scene was outstanding, and managed to evoke Celtic Mythology, historical warrior cultures, the original Arnold movie, and even hint at the REH stories all at the same time. Since it is good, I'll wait a few days before commenting on this scene directly. But it is good.

A final thought. I am not usually such a purist. While it has been bothering me that in the post-LOTR world we're still getting crappy re-imagined adaptations of fantasy fiction, I'm very willing to make allowances. I really liked the Solomon Kane movie, for instance. I thought the film had its heart in the right place, it was well-cast and well-acted, and it was reverent to the original stories' motivating principles. I was willing to overlook some serious deviations from the REH version of the character because it was a pretty decent movie.

But CtB3D is as unsatisfying as Zamoran fried lizard on a stick...

Sunday, May 22, 2011


If you're reading this, then you've successfully made it through the prophesized apocalypse.

I can only surmise that Buffy Summers has once again closed the gates of the Hellmouth. Or perhaps the Aesir kept Loki chained, Fenris tethered, and Jormungandr slumbering in the sea bed.

The next doomsday is slated for December 21st, 2012. On that date, Quetzalcoatl will return to mark the end of the Mayan Calendar. That's right, Mexican Doomsday -- not just for Tequila hangovers anymore.

It's A Long Way to the Top If You Want to Rock and Roll

AC/DC, with original vocalist Bon Scott, plays the greatest rock song ever that features bagpipes.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Wicked Game

What can I say but... "DAY-um!"

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Jeff Whye?

And the answer is: "Whye not."

Another Iron Sky Trailer

The folks making Space Nazi / Action / Comedy movie Iron Sky have released yet another trailer. I'm beginning to wonder if that's all they'll ever release.

Note: Space Nazis playing with toy rocketships and making engine noises are figures of ridicule. Actual Nazis are not cool. Not cool at all.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Well Deserved Salute.

Better late than never. Good hunting, gentlemen.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Fistful of Paintballs

I don't watch much TV. But I caught the first part of Community's season ender, "A Fistful of Paintballs."

Conan the Barbarian Movie Posters

My last post provided a tentative nod toward the new Conan the Barbarian movie based on how the trailer "looks."
"Looks" are important to a brand. It has to be recognizable to the consumer. Don't underestimate the importance of brand design.
So it's no surprise, really, that the movie poster also take cues from the visual design already associated with the Conan brand. While they aren't blatant rip-offs, the posters do bear a remarkable resemblance to Frazetta cover art from the Conan books.
Now, this isn't bad. It shows a certain amount of Brand awareness which is welcome. Also, there is a long and well-established tradition of borrowing from the masters. If a visual works, don't muck around with it. The posters are homage, not theft.
But on the other hand... Does it betray a certain lack of imagination? It would be snarky of me to complain too much, as the original movie poster was also more than a little reminiscent of Frazetta's work -- and he was still alive and working at the time! They could've at least hired him to do the poster.

Monday, May 09, 2011

New, Full Length Conan the Barbarian Trailer

Okay, as you know, I've had my eye on this one for awhile. And you must also know that I've had some serious issues with the buzz surrounding this.

But I'm willing to say that this trailer LOOKS pretty good.

Emphasis on the word "looks."

There are plenty of great looking movies these days. Take Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3, for instance. I love to watch -- note my choice of verb -- those movies. They are not great stories, and are redeemed mostly by Johnny Depp's astounding character work.

The new Conan movie "looks" promising. I will probably go see it. But I'm still very guarded about the story.

On the other hand, I recently saw the Solomon Kane movie and I was willing to give a free pass to some of their changes to the character based on how the production design succeeded. It looked like Solomon Kane's world and James Purefoy was excellent. I'm vainly hoping for a sequel that will take him deeper into Africa.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Men of Action : Action Figures

UBL's last Tweet: "BRB. Someones @ the door."
Not too long ago, the Hong Kong based action figure manufacturer, Soldier Story, produced an amazing 1/6 scale (12") action figure they labeled: DEVGRU Gold Team. This was a reference to the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, one of the current publicly known designations for the now famous SEAL Team 6.
What set the figure apart was the brand new AOR1 camouflage uniform, which was recently approved for SEAL Team use.
As an early release of this pattern, which is not available to the general public in full-size (or 1/1 scale) items, the figure was already highly collectible. Plus it included a number of unique pieces of gear and equipment.
Soldier Story had no way of knowing that SEAL Team 6 would become heroes by being the unit that finally brought justice to Usama Bin Laden's door.
I was sorely tempted to buy one of these. I don't buy many action figures these days, and most of them are characters, not military. The MSRP on this figure was about $130.00 and that was a little much for my wallet.
I immediately thought of this when I first heard about UBL overdue passing. It wasn't my first thought, but it was a thought. But I was already asleep when the news broke in my house. It wasn't until 4am when I woke up to use the bathroom that my wife rolled over and said, "Oh, they killed Bin Laden last night." So I was instantly wired, and I thought about a lot of things as I lay there in the dark.
I should've jumped on line and purchased on of these. The last eBay price I saw for one of these was nearly $200.oo and I expect it to climb. At least until someone makes a special UBL Raid edition DEVGRU figure. And they will.
But the folks who do have one of these in their collections certainly have something special. Because it is very likely a close approximation of one of the assault team that made a house call last Sunday. Except for one significant detail; I'll let you hunt for it.
This figure represents state of the art in Special Operations equipment, starting with the aforementioned AOR1 uniform by Crye Industries, to the Mechanix gloves, London Bridge load bearing gear...
This photo shows off the forearm wallet with window. You put your maps or the photos of your high value targets in there for quick recognition. It can unfold for quick reference to other vital reminder information.
Non-standard climbing boots -- most-likely Asolos.
ZAP tapes with alpha-numeric callsigns so names don't need to be used over the comms. These are reversible so they won't be visible if you need more stealth.
A personal lanyard. Some styles are designed to latch onto your downed comrade's webgear so you can pull him to safety. Others are intended to attach you to your super-secret-squirrel stealth helicopter so you don't fall out in the unlikely event the passenger compartment doors are left open.
Goggles so dust doesn't get in your eye when you're staring down a monster.
Minimal reloads because you make every shot count, and you don't need more than five magazines to bring the pain. Oh, and a blow-out kit just in case today is the day your Superman powers fail you and the bullets don't bounce off.
Your primary -- an HK416 with Eotech site -- for slaying bodies. And your secondary -- a SIG P226 or 228 -- in the unlikely event your primary jams. (And why would it? You treat it better than your wife or girlfriend, or both.)

A hydration system, maybe London Bridge, but looks a lot like the Eagle Industries Yote.

Cool, mock turtleneck with zipper, so you can look all fly when you get back to A-Stan and shed your second and first line gear so you're comfortable when you take digital pictures of your targets body and swab DNA for positive identification.

Even more pictures of this amzing figure and an in-depth review can be found at
But then again... It was night time. Maybe the SEAL raiders looked more like these Soldier Story CIA SAD Black Ops action figures. At least they have the missing piece of vital equipment: the Night Vision goggles.