100 Words or Less: Noah

A little review for a big film, with a big boat…

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Darren Aronofsky’s biblical epic is bound to split opinions. This brave auteur-led adaptation has given its director a dangerous cocktail of big budget, sensitive subject matter and heaps of creative control.

Devout Christians and political-message-haters will be switched off by the Black Swan director’s decisions, with the beautifully-crafted stone monsters/fallen angels being enough to confuse the remaining viewers.

Noah is decent enough entertainment but suffers from its schizophrenic tone, an unlikeable hero and disinterested performances throughout. It only really impresses when Aronofsky takes a terrific tangent to retell the creation story in stunning style.

DVD Review: The Raid

With the sequel about to drop(kick) at the global box office, Rob looks back to the original…

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If you’ve been anywhere near London recently, you will have been met by a city plastered with images of Iko Uwais. The Indonesian actor is kitted up and clearly ready for a fight, surrounded by his greatest allies – ridiculously positive quotes. Indeed, The Raid 2: Berandal has been proclaimed with every possible positive plaudit including ‘The Greatest Action Film Ever’ and ‘The Dark Knight of Action Movies’.

Universal praise, a huge marketing campaign and the fact that a threequel has already been announced can only mean one thing - that Gareth Evans’ sequel to The Raid is going to take a leaf from its own narrative’s book and hit something very hard – in this case, the worldwide box office. With ten days until it hits UK cinemas, I had a look at the original…

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Despite being his third feature film after pervert-punching Footsteps and martial arts warm-up Merantau, Evan’s 2011 effort The Raid is the film that really put him on the map, opening doors to his own action franchise.

It’s impossible to not think of Dredd as the film kicks off – both share a very similar ‘bring down the drug dealer at the top of the tower and kill anyone you have to on the way’ narrative and were in production at the same time. Who stole who’s idea? It’s up for debate, maybe neither did. Once you’re past the initial familiar set-up though, similarities and comparisons will be the last thing on your mind.

This is an outstanding martial arts film for the modern age, bringing back a genre which seemed to have karate chopped its last karate chop and died a bloody death quite a while ago. The plot might be very simple, and at some points completely ignored for long stretches of time, but that isn’t the reason to see this film.

You came for the fights, and you sure as hell won’t be disappointed. This is martial arts like you’ve not seen it in years – bloody, brutal and brilliantly entertaining. If this was Evans’ calling card for a bigger budget and more time to work on a sequel, it’s no wonder he’s been given the opportunity.

In the age of 12A action movies, The Raid is a refreshingly violent treat to rival Tarantino’s Kill Bill saga. With the tension of a top horror movie, this could have easily descended into a new martial arts branch of torture porn, but it’s Evans’ expert editing and glorious choreography which keep this firmly within the action genre. 

The fights are gory, yes, but they are shot and presented with a blend of filmmaking professionalism and fan-turned-director glee which stops The Raid ever feeling like a cheap, bloody money-grabber.

Iko Uwais earns his place on that London-splattered poster with an enigmatic performance which channels Jackie Chan without the cheesy charisma, mixed with a Matt-Damon-as-Jason-Bourne-style gritty determination. Pierre Gruno also impresses with a rollercoaster character arc as a police boss gone bad which showcases his broad emotional range.

So, what it lacks in originality and plot, The Raid more than makes up for in outstanding action and solid performances. With the sequel hitting our screens soon, it’s well worth a watch in anticipation. Seek out the biggest screen possible to see every punch, slice and bullet connect gloriously in HD.

100 Words or Less: Need for Speed

It doesn’t feature Micro Machines, but here’s a micro-review…

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Need for Speed gleefully breaks the videogame movie curse, not by nervously adhering to Hollywood conventions like Doom or Tomb Raider, but by embracing the fun-filled ridiculousness of gaming.

Director Scott Waugh races through a 100mph plot with non-stop action sequences and more jokes than the average comedy, creating a constantly exciting experience. It offers little for your brain, but you shouldn’t expect it to.

Aaron Paul impresses with a decent performance which blends everyman charm and disgruntled grizzling. Although Dominic Cooper’s role is a little generic, Michael Keaton and Scott Mescudi bring enough charisma to ensure a memorable thrill-ride.

Film Review: Muppets Most Wanted

It’s time to play the music… again.

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It’s not easy making green. The team behind The Muppets blockbusting 2011 return must have known that a sequel was inevitable, having raked in a hefty $160 million-worth of green worldwide. So how do The Muppets tackle the problem of lighting the lights once again in an age disheartened by difficult sequels?

Evidently, head on. Muppets Most Wanted sets its stall out early with opening number ‘We’re Doing a Sequel’, which pokes fun at the usual ‘never quite as good’ status of big screen follow-ups and offers some hearty laughs to welcome you back into Jim Henson’s wonderful world.

From that strong opening gambit, the pressure is off. Although the Segel-starring 2011 flick outdoes Most Wanted for originality (benefiting from a lengthy hiatus and a ‘getting the gang back together’ plot), there’s plenty to love about this primary coloured caper to stop you worrying about the comparison. To take your mind off it, Most Wanted introduces a great new character to keep things fresh. Just as Walter stole our hearts three years ago, Kermit’s doppelgänger Constantine steals the show completely.

Boasting the presumably uncontested title of ‘the world’s most dangerous frog’, this new baddie (brought to life by Matt Vogel) brings consistent guffaws whether he’s kung-fu prison breaking, mimicking Kermit’s voice or seductively offering to buy Miss Piggy a kangaroo in another fantastically absurd song by Bret McKenzie.

Fans of this hilarious musical comedy by McKenzie won’t leave disappointed. Prison life parody ‘The Big House’ in particular proves that this song-writer can take any obscure idea and turn it into a hugely comic ditty. Jermaine Clement, McKenzie’s Flight of the Conchords bandmate, is also a treat in a sizeable guest role. The best supporting character performance is undeniably Ty Burrell though – he channels his best Inspector Clouseau in a brilliant side-plot with Sam The Eagle.

Expect more cameos than last time including more than one big star joining in for a musical number. Any more information would spoil the surprise, but let’s just say that Miss Piggy gets an unlikely, side-splitting duet. The Muppets’ trademarked self-referential humour wins laughs throughout with plenty of jokes for film fans too, including an unexpected hilarious moment featuring Machete star Danny Trejo.

Although it’s not all perfect, with Ricky Gervais and a repetitive structure being the biggest disappointments, there’s enough hilarity and good will in the McKenzie’s songs, gag-machine Constantine and Ty Burell’s side-plot to more than carry the film. Despite not quite matching its predecessor, Muppets Most Wanted is so fun that you won’t care.

Muppets Most Wanted is out on March 28th. For now, you can see stand-out musical number ‘I’ll Get You What You Want’ here.

100 Words or Less: The Lego Movie

A fitting choice for my first foray into mini-reviewing…

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Nearly everything is awesome in this well-assembled toy adaptation which puts Michael Bay and Hasbro’s attempts to shame.

Although The Lego Movie treads painfully on its attempted self-worth subtext by making everyman mini-figure Emmet an all-powerful Master Builder at the last minute, the emotional heart of the final act’s revelations more than make up for it.

Fans of Traveller’s Tales, who make the Lego computer-games, will love this laugh-a-minute, sight-gag filled thrill-ride.

Morgan Freeman is brilliantly silly and cameos from DC Characters offer huge guffaws, but this film firmly belongs to our hero Emmet, voiced to perfection by Chris Pratt. 

Has the winter blockbuster season got too crowded?

Was it impossible to see all the good winter releases? Rob has a look…

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Have you seen every film you wanted to at the cinema this winter? I certainly haven’t.

Nobody seems to have told Hollywood that November is a time spent scrimping for future festive frolics, or that December is when we have the least spare cash imaginable. For some, January’s purse strings can be tight too as we wait for post-Christmas paydays or overspend on new gym memberships and never-to-be-eaten healthy foods.

Despite this, the movie industry seems to have welcomed the winter months as a secondary blockbuster season, possibly as a combination of reactionary tactics to avoid clashes with superhero summer smashes and an eagerness for award-baiting features to be as close to the Oscar nominations announcement as possible.

November

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For geeks everywhere, November was a big month. It saw Francis Lawrence’s Hunger Games sequel Catching Fire face off against Ender’s Game for the young adult sci-fi market. Super sequel Thor: The Dark World also put in a strong claim for the geeky box office throne. Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity also continued its never-ending multiplex run. Even TV shows got involved as the huge simulcast of The Day of the Doctor screened worldwide on the 23rd.

There was a strong crop of November comedies too, particularly appealing to this  writer were Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut Don Jon, Mary Poppins origin story Saving Mr Banks and 1980s period comedy Computer Chess. As well as continuing its UK run,it was also a key month in the USA for Richard Curtis’ time-travel rom-com About Time.

Art house fans may have caught the limited UK release of Blue is the Warmest Color in this month too, if they were lucky.

Were they released at a less-hectic point in the cinematic calendar, many more might have also considered cinema trips for November’s horror options In Fear and the Carrie remake.

With cash reluctantly being saved for presents, parties and an industrial supply of Quality Street, this writer only managed to make it to the cinema in November for The Day of the Doctor and Thor: The Dark World. That makes a ratio of two visits compared to twelve films that perked my interest. Thankfully Gravity still seems to be on everywhere, but most of these movies are now relegated to DVD potential only.

In another month, one can’t help feeling many of these films could have done better. Overall, Ender’s Game barely scraped past its $100 million budget. Surely it could have achieved more if it hadn’t decided upon a release at the public’s busiest time of year, especially as it was after the exact same audience as Catching Fire. Can studios expect young adults to go see two similar films in the same month? Seeing as Catching Fire has quadrupled Ender’s Games’ worldwide box office in the USA alone, it doesn’t look like it.

December

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So with ten films missed already, on trudged December, continuing to futilely flaunt films we hadn’t a hope of catching in our frustrated faces.  

Cinema-goers rushed in their millions to see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, which topped the December box office chart, followed not-even-closely by cult comedy follow-up Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.

We were well into Oscar-baiting territory too with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Nebraska, and All is Lost all reaching cinema screens in December.

Walking with Dinosaurs went up for the Christmas children’s market and was completely frozen out by, uh, Frozen.

For the slightly edgier side of our personalities, many were surely intrigued by Radcliffe and DeHaan teaming up for Kill Your Darlings. I can’t have been the only one who fancied Spike Lee’s Oldboy remake either. Well, until the reviews staring coming in.

As a sucker for most genres when the wind is blowing the right way, this writer would honestly have loved to see all of these films. If there wasn’t such a huge amount to try and fit in, Homefront and 47 Ronin would have been in with a chance too. But was there time in the midst of tight social calendars and even tighter purse strings? Not a chance. Out of these eleven films, this writer only managed to make it to The Desolation of Smaug. Disgraceful, I know.

It doesn’t seem like I’m alone either, out of all those great releases only three crossed the hundred million mark at the global box office in December. Although some managed to beat their own budgets and start making money back, some did woefully badly. 47 Ronin is still only $106 million into recouping its $175 million budget now. Did it really need to be released at Christmas time against tons of Oscar movies and two highly-anticipated sequels? Probably not.

January

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Now with twenty-one attention-grabbing films missed, January trudged on, continuing the onslaught. While waiting for pay cheques to come in and trying to reduce Christmas debt, many more great films threatened to come and go.

Despite their fantastic marketing stunt and my love for modern horror, there was little chance of a trip to Devil’s Due from me, and the latest Paranormal Activity instalment was even more unlikely. Bottom of the horror pile though was, I, Frankenstein, released late in the month. Despite a strong marketing presence and plenty of preview and interview hype, the film became entirely unlikely to get any of my dosh after some terrible reviews dropped this week - if it was released at Halloween though, there would at least be a slim chance of me shelling out for some hammy horror cheese.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, The Railway Man, August: Osage County, 12 Years A Slave, Inside Llewyn Davies and The Wolf of Wall Street all hit UK screens this month as well - the attack of Oscar-hungry releases continues! Again, it would be fantastic to be able to see all these films, but finding the money on my wage would mean arriving in February with 50% less kidneys.

Indeed, a whip-round on my social media seemed to point out that my friends working in the film world are the only ones who manage to reach everything they liked the look of. Pauper fans like me missing out on shed-loads of winter releases  is commonplace it would seem.

The Problem

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It looks like there are several factors contributing to the winter blockbuster issue. Due to worries of amnesia among the Oscar panel, award-hungry films seem determined for a late December or early January release. Nine films listed in this article, although not all were nominated, were all surely released during winter due to the Oscar nominations announcement on 16th January.

Although they feature several different genres, a sizeable chunk of the intended audience for all these films is presumably the film-literate population. Surely even the most hardened film buff must have struggled to catch them all.

Most of the non-Oscar hunters in this article have been action and adventure movies. I count seven. This seems to suggest that studios see November-January as an alternative to the summer season for bombastic spectacle.

As much as it’s great to see studios pushing out so many thrilling films, have they done particularly well in this winter setting? Although Thor: The Dark World and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire have succeeded, as one would expect from popular franchise follow-ups, the non-sequels like Ender’s Game, 47 Ronin and Homefront have arguably not reached their full box office potential.

Looking at my personal choices this winter, it would seem that I’ve started saving my cinematic viewing for certain genres - 80% of what I’ve shelled out for this winter has been movies with plenty of action. Comedies and low-budget horrors are now referred to as ‘DVD jobbies’ in my household, and rarely have chance of enticing me to experience them on the big screen.

Cinema ticket prices are surely to blame in this change of behaviour. When a £30 multiplex gift-card can’t stretch to two non-Wednesday outings for a couple, I want to save cinema trips for the biggest cinematic experiences possible.

Even if EE started doing ‘2-4-1 All Days Ending in Y’, it would have still been difficult to catch all the eye-catching films this winter. This piece has documented a whopping thirty films I would have been willing to pay to see, but couldn’t due to the fact they were released all at once in the ever-expensive multiplexes during everyone’s tightest financial time of the year.

While it’s impossible to ever catch thirty films you fancy the look of during any three month period, the winter positioning significantly lessened these films chances of getting my hard-earned wonga, as I only managed to catch five of them (I finally caught Catching Fire and Anchorman 2in January, thanks to that gift card and Kevin Bacon’s generosity).

If some of these films were staggered throughout spring, surely they could have achieved more at the box office. Although Hollywood probably won’t change their behaviour until something unexpected massively flops, one thing is for sure… I’ve got a lot of DVDs to buy this year.

Did you manage to catch every film you wanted to this winter? Let me know in the comment box!

The Week in Geek: Friday 24th January

Your weekly hit of nerdy news! 

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This geeky week has had everything. Films cancelled before they’ve even begun, contract extensions for unpopular casting choices and one man’s decision not to star alongside a racoon in a Hollywood blockbuster. Confused? Well read on…

The big story of the week was broken by Mike Flemming Jr of Deadline through his interview with a very frank Quentin Tarantino. The fan-favourite writer-director lashed out against his own close-knit team by cancelling his next film The Hateful Eight after a mysterious script leak. With only three actors in the cast having received the script, Tarantino is urging fans to track down which actor’s agent leaked the script. One thing’s for sure, he’s pretty angry! Life lesson learnt - don’t mess with Quentin Tarantino! Heck, he probably owns a shedload of samurai swords.

Those corners of comment boxes around the web still questioning the casting of Gal Godot as Wonder Woman in Zac Snyder’s Man of Steel follow-up had better get used to it. This week Batman-News .com revealed that the Israeli actress has signed up for a three film deal. I personally don’t understand hating on a performance before it’s even been filmed – look how it turned out for all those who doubted Heath Ledger could pull off the Joker! We ended up with an Oscar-winning turn in a superhero movie and one of the greatest performances of our age. Let’s just see what she’s like when the film comes out (now not until 2016 thanks to a production delay).

Comic book fans on the Marvel side were surprised to hear Stan Lee speaking publically about not making one of his trademark cameos this week. He revealed in a great Dweebcast interview that he won’t be appearing in Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel’s riskiest movie yet, because they’re not his characters. Fair enough. Expect to see Stan the Man enjoying it in cinemas like the rest of us then! The film, with an amazing cast including Karen Gillan, Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, Zoe Salanda, John C Reilly and Bradley Cooper as the voice of a raccoon, probably didn’t have room for Stan anyway, but is sure to make a lasting impact either as a massive hit or a very brave flop. It has a budget the size of Avengers Assemble but no mainstream big name characters – what could go wrong?

As The Hunger Games: Catching Fire draws its cinematic run to a close, the publicity wheels started whirring this week for the next instalment. On Thursday, the first poster landed on The Hunger Games Facebook page for the upcoming sequel The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1. That’s right it’s getting the Harry Potter/Twilight two-part finale treatment, but if Catching Fire is anything to go by, it’s sure to be excellent. The series so far has given us brilliant drama, sheer suspense and one of the greatest female characters of our age. Fans of the books know to expect a darker third instalment as the revolution against the Capitol heats up, and I’m sure we can expect some more excellent performances too.

A particularly juicy casting rumour also dropped for Ron Howard’s Dark Tower adaptation this week as Ain’t it Cool News revealed that Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul has had ‘a ton of meetings’ about appearing as drug addict and cocaine smuggler Eddie Dean. Sounds like a bit of crack casting to me. Pun intended. On a serious note, this series is notoriously complicated and will be very difficult to adapt – a popular actor with experience of bizarre plots with plenty of drama can only be a good thing. Sign him up Ron!

Despite that slice of fried gold, my personal top rumour this week falls to a different sci-fi galaxy, one that’s far, far away. Latino Review, who have had decent big scoop form in the past, claimed this week that Star Wars, now owned by Disney, are set to collaborate with Pixar for a new Star Wars animation – what great news!

What could their focus be? How about an R2-D2 and C3PO spin-off from the team who brought us Wall-E? What’s not to like! Or why not some epic force-sensitive family feuds realised by the team who brought us The Incredibles? That’s sure to be Incredible! Better still… X-Wings: From Above the World of Planes… OK, I’ll stop.

What would you like to see in a new Star Wars Pixar movie? Have I missed your favourite story this week? Do you know who leaked that script?!  Let us know in the comments below!

Come back next week for more news, rumour and speculation from the world of geeky film and TV.

Photo credit: Dweebcast’s interview with Stan Lee.

NB: This was written as a trial for a recurring blog on Huffington Post UK, and they liked it! Will share the follow-ups on my Twitter @robleane  - come follow and keep your eyes peeled for more of the same!

Film Review: Computer Chess at London Film Festival

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The phrase ‘geek comedy’ threw me slightly in my anticipation of this film. Let it be stressed that Michael Cera and Jonah Hill-style laugh-out-loud raucous is not what you are going  to get from Andrew Bujalski’s latest offering. You’re still getting funny, but you might need to engage your brain slightly to enjoy this picture.

Computer Chess is a period piece set at a computerised chess tournament in the 1980s, long before the phrase ‘geek chic’ had even been fathomed. These are genuinely awkward, sometimes difficult to watch, characters, many portrayed by non-professionals from the real computer programming world. Laughs aren’t built by gross-outs or virginity-losing gags (well, except one or two), they are conjured by socially inept moments, unlikely meetings, surrealism and great writing.

If you can’t stomach the surreal, this is definitely a film to miss. If you can enjoy some off-the-wall oddities though, this could stand amongst your favourite new comedies. Veering off from the documentary-esque starting style, some of the most memorable moments of this film come from its tangents into the weird and wonderful, including a late night programming freak-out, doped-up trippy conversations and the film’s bizarre, endlessly re-interpretable ending.

A particular stand-out performance in this ensemble-cast of unknowns would be Myles Paige as the homeless-in-the-hotel gag-machine Michael Papageorge. His night-time endeavours to try and find a room, encountering hippies, angry hotel staff and  an abundance  of cats in the process, are some of the true highlights of the film. A talk from the producer after the film revealed that Paige is a non-professional actor, and spends his real life living as a Harvard-graduate-turned-chocolatier, a suitably unbelievable back-story for this enigmatic performer.

If you like the sound of this curve-ball comedy, definitely try and catch this film upon it’s UK cinematic release 22nd November onwards.

Have you been to LFF? What were your highlights? Let me know in the box below! 

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - 0-8-4 (Episode 2) Review

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The second instalment of Marvel’s new live action series Agents of S.H.I.E.LD. easily surpasses the somewhat jarring opening episode.

Taking a leaf from the Fight Club storytelling guidebook, we jump straight into the peak of the episode’s excitement with a lovely bit of non-linear storytelling foreshadowing the impending damage to Coulson’s team’s beloved ‘bus’ (their snazzy S.H.I.E.L.D aeroplane).

What comes next (after we’ve jumped back to the start of the narrative) is thoroughly entertaining storytelling laced with more razor sharp humour, including the inevitable clash between the brawn and the brains of the team - ‘in English!’ demands Agent Ward, clearly fed up with scientist duo Fitzsimmons’ techno-babble. 

However, the episode isn’t without it’s negatives. As the stakes get higher when the 0-8-4 - the item of unknown origin which gives the episode it’s name - turns out to be a Hydra-style tesseract-esque weapon with more power than a nuclear bomb, no one seems to have any loved ones or families they might want to alert. To this viewer, this seemed like a spot of poor writing, neglecting the opportunity to showcase some real emotion in the characters.

Also, despite the action-packed opening and a brief gunfight in Peru, we spend a huge amount of the episode on ‘the bus’ which screams of budgetary restraints. 

The writing team are definitely playing the long game though, and more hints of the mystery behind Coulson’s revival and Skye’s ongoing communication with the anti-S.H.I.E.L.D. ‘Rising Tide’ group has left me eagerly waiting the next episode. On top of this, those dissatisfied with the lack of links to the MCU will have greatly approved of  Samuel L Jackson’s comedic appearance at the end of the episode.

What did you think of the episode? Will you be tuning in again next time? Let me know in the comments box below! 

Event Round-Up: DEF-CON 2 (Saturday)

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Def-Con 2 was a charity mini-con in Totton run by a group called SO16 Troopers, and it was an absolute pleasure to attend on the Saturday.

All proceeds for guest entry and Sci-Fi celebrity signatures were split  between children’s cancer charity Clic and the Piam Brown Ward, the Wessex Regional Paediatric Oncology and Haematology Centre treating children in Southampton who suffer from various forms of cancer. 

It’s no doubt that these good causes are what made this event special, there was a great feeling that every signature bought was a good deed done and you could tell that Chris Barrie, Danny John Jules and  Robert Llewellyn (pictured), three quarters of the principal cast of Red Dwarf, as well as Colin Baker (The Sixth Doctor) were proud to be a part of this event and were meeting and selling to as many people as possible to support the cause. 

The event was absolutely jam-packed, in fact I would go as far as to say it is by far the most people I have ever seen in Totton. Merchandise fans, intrigued members of the public, whovians in abundance and some absolutely brilliant cosplayers. Personal favourite was this homemade Predator costume by Andrew  Myler: 

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Although the official total raised has not yet been announced, the success of this event is absolutely undeniable.

It is clear that the powers-that-be in Totton are very keen to welcome back the Sci-Fi community. Hints on the SO16 Troopers Facebook page (linked at the top of the article) suggest they are in talks for monthly charity events and possibly even a convention themed on The Walking  Dead!

Like their page and have a look at the charity pages I linked to as well. The Sci-Fi community coming together for charity, what more could you want?!

Were you at the event? Let me know  your favourite moments below! Who was your favourite cosplayer?