The Best of 2020

Well, that was a mad old year, wasn’t it? 2020 was more like a bizarre disaster movie than the regular fun ride that we’re used to. A pandemic made hermits of us all; working from home became the new normal for many and travel and events ceased to exist. A year from hell for most of us, though it’s far from over yet.

Here at Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub, we’ve aimed to soldier on and bring you the very best in blogging entertainment. Be it music, skateboards, toys or tat, whatever nonsense I could investigate was delivered with all the expected wit and style.

As is customary at this time, let’s take a look back at the top ten most popular blog posts of last year. Calling it “The Best of 2020” seems somewhat incongruous, but let’s roll with it for traditions sake.

10. Haiku – Autumn

An encouraging response to my creative writing, I was very surprised to see that this poetry piece in the Japanese Haiku style was my tenth most-read post of the year. Encore?

9. Firebreather – Under a Blood Moon Album Review

There was a distinct lack of live music in 2020 (Obviously), but quite a few album reviews for my old pals at Ever Metal. This review of Swedish doom metal band Firebreather’s album was the most read at the Virtual Hot Tub.

8. Halloween Horror Fest 2020

The first of my annual horror movie reviews of 2020, this one featured the Hammer version of Dracula.

7. The Best of 2019

I’m not sure if last years top 10 blogs appearing here is a good thing or not? Either way, 2019’s round up of the most popular blogs was a winner.

6. STYLE: Safari Jacket

2020 saw the materialisation of the long-promised STYLE section at the Virtual Hot Tub. This first blog, concerning the wonderful Safari jacket, got us off to a great start.

5. Skate Art: Liane Plant/Death Skateboards

A feature about some of my favourite skate art, as created by the super talented Liane Plant for Death skateboards. Awesome stuff.

4. SK88: Old School Skateboard Playlist

More skateboard based action, with a playlist of songs from my skating youth in the late 80’s. Full of stone-cold classics, these songs still inspire my sessions today.

3. Death Star Playset

I love my vintage Death Star playset. Setting it up with original Star Wars figures for some blog photos was a lot of fun, it’s great to see it was popular!

2. 1980s Skateboard Style

More skateboarding, and another successful entry for the STYLE section! It’s me, dressed in old skate clothes from the late 80s that still fit (or did, before lockdown).

…And what will be the most popular, widely read blog of 2020? Drum roll, please:

  1. Kantouni Village Sausage and Tzatziki

Yes, the most popular was this food blog, which benefitted from a genuine traditional recipe, and an idea to recreate a Greek holiday vibe with ingredients from the local supermarket.

As travel wasn’t happening this year for most of us, perhaps it’s no surprise that the Greek recipe blog came out on top. It was written as an ode to holidays and Mediterranean sunshine, something that wasn’t a possibility for many last year. I hope you found some nostalgic comfort from this post.

Usually my annual Top 10 has featured a load of comic con events – or similar – at the top of the list. Those events didn’t happen this year, so the Top 10 has a very different flavour. Who knows what 2021 will bring us?

Whatever the strange pan-dimensional cross flux of crazy brings us next, I’d like to thank you all for reading my blog. Please remember to pop by Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub as soon as you can!

MCM Comic Con Birmingham 2019 – Part 2

NEC Birmingham

16/17 November 2019

Right back atcha with some more fabulous photos from the recent MCM Comic Con at the NEC in Birmingahm.  Here’s Part 2, ‘cos one blog post just wasn’t enough.  So many photos, you see.

There’s not much else to report that I haven’t covered in previous editions of my MCM Comic Con blogs.  You know the drill, right?

So let’s just crack on and you can witness the awesome Cosplay photos of these amazing, talented people.

Here’s a bit of fun for you, though – can you spot my pal Darf Dork hanging around in one of these pics?  There might be a prize for someone who can…

Finally, another big THANK YOU to everyone who posed for a photo – the true stars of the day.  See you at the next Comic Con!

 

Ewok Village Playset

I have a lot of Star Wars toys.  Not everything, but a lot of stuff.  Most of it was collected when the toys were originally released, back when I was a kid.  Luckily, I’ve kept them all, and since the late nineties I’ve sporadically added to the collection.

The Ewok Village Playset was a toy I never owned as a kid.  Released as part of the Return of the Jedi toy line, it’s a large and feature packed set that provides a perfect home for your cuddly-yet-vicious little Empire destroyers.

There’s a fire for roasting Han Solo; a net for capturing rebels; a throne for C-3PO; an elevator for lifting figures up – and a secret escape chute for them to escape down.  All of these neat play features and more; plus it makes a cool diorama for displaying your ROTJ action figures.

When I got into collecting Star Wars toys again in the late 90s, the Ewok Village was on my list of “wants”.  I tracked this example down to a toy shop in Manchester and picked it up for £60, if I remember correctly.

I don’t think that shop is still there now.  Or at least, I’ve not found it on subsequent visits.  It seems to have vanished mysteriously into thin air…

Although opened, this Ewok Village was complete in box, with all the bits packed inside in little baggies.  It’s easy to assemble – before long you can start to recreate some moments from the film.

And that’s exactly what I wanted to do here, with this series of photos: showcase some of my figures from the original line, as they appear in the film.  I decided against doing a further photo session with more modern figures due to time!

There are two scenes recreated here.  Firstly, the Rebels held captive by the Ewoks, whilst 3PO sits on his wooden throne.  Han is held above the fire, about to make a tasty celebratory meal.  The others are gathered (not tethered to wooden poles as in the film, as nothing like that exists for these toys) as they attempt to persuade their way out of the situation.

Unfortunately, a figure of Leia in her Ewok robes was never made for the original line, so she’s not present.  Maybe I will have to create this again with the later figures after all, as that the Princess in that outfit was made later on.  But hey, I’m not aiming for 100% screen accuracy here, just the best I can with what I have available.

I love ensemble scenes using action figures, so another I wanted to recreate was the end of the film.  The Empire has been destroyed, the Galaxy is free: the Rebels celebrate their victory with their short, furry allies and all looks good for the future.

The ghosts of Obi-Wan, Yoda and Anakin are represented by their vintage figures, plus the main heroes are joined in their rejoicing with numerous members of the Rebel Alliance on Endor.

Ensemble scenes like this are my favourites in the movie, because it’s fun to spot random characters and details that were dropped into the film.  This is the sort of thing that creates the rich diversity of Star Wars, and what constantly intrigues me.  So, it’s nice to try to create something with toys that aims for as wide a scope.

So here are the two scenes: reasonably screen accurate, but not shackled to that original image.  I did the best I could, and it was great fun.

One big mistake?  Yes, I forgot to take a photo of the box the Ewok Village came in.  Never mind, you can Google that, should you need to.

May the Force be with you!

Liverpool Comic Con – Part 2

Liverpool Comic Con

Friday 8th March – Sunday 10th March 2019

Exhibition Centre Liverpool

 

Welcome back to my over view of Liverpool Comic Con.  Last time, I shared photos of some of the amazing Cosplay outfits to be seen at the event.  This time, I thought I’d share some pics of the eye-popping props on display.

The selection of display items at this convention was another selling point, with plenty to view.

Star of the show was a full scale X-Wing Fighter, which dominated the exhibition hall on entry.  It was spectacular: the size and detail both being extremely impressive.  Even though, as I stated previously, it was a Disney Star Wars ship and not the version from the classic trilogy, it was pretty cool.

Just imagine how ace it would’ve been if it was a full scale Incom T-65  X-Wing Fighter, as flown by Luke in Episode IV?!  If only.

There were several vehicles from film and TV also, including BA’s van from The A-Team and KITT from Knight Rider.  Both awesome.

I’ve seen a Back to the Future DeLorean before, but it’s always a treat.  This one was, of course, tricked out with other props from the film too – like Marty’s hover board.

In addition to vehicles, I also saw costumes from Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century – two Glen A Larson classics from my childhood.  I was pretty stoked to witness these first hand, being a huge fan of both television programmes.

Not to mention there was a ton of Star Wars costumes, helmets and gadgets that I didn’t get round to photographing.  I did take a pic of my all time hero R2 D2 though (and one of Johnny 5 from Short Circuit, another star of the day).

I assume all the props I saw were reproductions rather than actual items used in filming (I could be wrong).  However it was still a thrill to see them.  If only I could’ve actually sat in the vehicles…

Visit the Liverpool Comic Con Website here.

MCM Birmingham Comic Con 2018 – Part 2

Avengers

NEC Birmingham

24/25 November 2018

And now we return to Birmingham NEC for Part 2 of my MCM Comic Con report…

Despite forgetting my camera, which is a new low even for me, my trusty phone was at hand to document everything.  So luckily, I managed to take plenty of photos during the day – and there are plenty of awesome cosplayers still to see.

Which is good, because I don’t have much else to write following the previous post.

But you’re not here for my ramblings, are you?  Enjoy the pics instead.

DC gang

I’ll leave you with one final image: the Stan Lee memorial.  This was a massive mural to commemorate the life of the recently departed genius – a nice touch.

MCM Birmingham Comic Con 2017 – The Director’s Cut

NEC Birmingham

18/19 November 2017

Over the course of 2017, I’ve visited quite a few Comic Conventions.  MCM at the NEC, Birmingham was, as always, fantastic.  I’ve already published two big, chunky blogs about my visit in November – however I had a few pics left over.

I’d like to present the final part of MCM Birmingham, with a few extra photos, for your enjoyment.

No waffle from me, just superstars doing what they do best. Just one last time to finish the year off…

There you go, all over for another year.

All the best for 2018 from Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub!

Wales Comic Con

Wales Comic Con

Saturday 2nd – Sunday 3rd December 2017

Glyndwr University, Wrexham

One more Comic Con for the year, to finish 2017 off in style.  It seems like I’ve done a lot of conventions recently!

I didn’t make it to Wrexham for Wales Comic Con back in April, but I’ve been there previously and it’s always a fun event.  Now expanded to run over two days, this winter edition of the Con was bigger than ever.

Most impressive was the calibre of the guests that appear here.  It’s a far more impressive line up than even the mighty NEC could muster recently.  Wrexham definitely punches above it’s weight in that category.

Being December, the weather was sometimes a challenge.  The Spring gathering has been lucky weather-wise, and the outside expanse has always been a fun place to hang out and take photos, meet people etc.  Cold and rain took more of a toll this time, but didn’t seem to dampen peoples spirits too much.

This event wasn’t without some criticism.  Although we had bought tickets prior, we had to queue (outside, in the rain) for about forty minutes after the doors opened to get in. 

When we did get in, we marched off to the Signing Zone to find the guests from The Walking Dead (our prime reason for being there).  After scouting around the entire area, it turned out that these particular guests were in a different Signing Zone!  Notification of this passed us by completely, if it was available at all.

Despite these organisational issues that we perceived at first, things settled down and this Comic Con turned out to be a great success.

The first hit of the day was the Q&A panel featuring Scott Wilson (Hershel) and Michael Cudlitz (Abraham) from The Walking Dead.  This was really interesting, with some quality questions from the audience.  Both Scott and Michael came across really well, with amusing anecdotes and genuine appreciation for the show and it’s fans.

We could have happily listened to these guys for much longer, but all good things come to an end and this had been unmissable.

It was then time to queue up (again!  Haha) to meet the actors from The Walking Dead.  We’re big fans in our house, in particular Mrs Platinum Al – and she was really keen to meet Michael Cudlitz.

The queue wasn’t too long or arduous, and we got to meet Mr Cudlitz and get a selfie and autographed photo.  He was very cool and gracious; he joked with fans and was very friendly.  Despite only having a short time to meet people, Michael did an excellent job of remembering names and making everyone feel very welcome.

Superb stuff, and Mrs Platinum Al’s Christmas present was now in the bag!

Talking about acquisitions, Wrexham has upped the ante with the amount of traders selling goodies.  In the past the number of dealers seemed limited (probably due to space), there were far more this time.  Good news in a wallet endangering way.

 

The Prop Knife

Remember those trick knives you used to find in joke shops?  Plastic, with a blade that retracted into the hilt when you “stabbed” something?  We took one as a prop for my daughter, who was dressed as Wednesday Addams.  Turned out to be a cool idea.  Michael Cudlitz, bless him, allowed Eloise to “stab” him in the head, walker killer style, to “stop him coming back”.  From the dead that is, not back to Wales.  Michael played along brilliantly – I didn’t get a photo though, curses!

The trick knife also came in handy for a cool zombie killer pic featuring Mrs Platinum Al (see below).

With tons of guests, Q&As, memorabilia to peruse and other activities, there was plenty to see and do.

Of course there were loads of great Cosplayers at Wales Comic Con too.  I took a few photos, but the usual issues of time and the weather meant I didn’t get too many.  I’ve shared the pics here.  Unfortunately some photos didn’t turn out (as always), hopefully these shots will provide a flavour of the event.

Thanks again to these amazing people, who have created fantastic costumes and let their creativity flow.  Thanks for allowing me to take pictures and more power to you!

If Wales Comic Con keeps developing as it has, then 2018 should be even bigger and better.  The fact that the organisers can entice such amazing guests is fantastic.  Let’s hope the success continues.

The Wales Comic Con website is here.

MCM Birmingham Comic Con 2017 – Part 1

NEC Birmingham

18/19 November 2017

And yes, it’s a long awaited return to the fantastic Comic Con that is MCM Birmingham!  Held every March and November at the NEC, this event is huge – and one of my favourites.  All Comic Cons are fun, but MCM Birmingham has a feel and flavour all of it’s own.

Part of that reputation is down to the pure spectacle of size.  The events halls in the NEC that house this function are truly huge – like aircraft hangers.  They seem big enough to hold the S.H.I.E.L.D. Heli-carrier, never mind an Avengers quinjet.

But the main reason that MCM Birmingham is so much fun is the people – specifically, the amazing, talented cosplayers that travel from far and wide to show their genius costumes.

Whether it’s little kids in store-bought superhero outfits or full fledged cosplay supremos spending months perfecting their craft, the whole extravaganza is awesome.

When you add in the myriad replica film props, models and paraphernalia, it all adds up to a thrilling day out.

The scale of this event seems to ramp up every time I visit it.  There a vast number of stalls, as previous, selling all manner of items.  This years hot pieces appeared to be pocket watches (want) and Funko Pops.

I resisted the joy of Funkos for a long time.  Now I wish I hadn’t, as I’ve missed several that I would’ve loved.  I started collecting them earlier this year, have a few cool ones, and want so many more.  Funko Pops seemed to be everywhere at this years Comic Con.  Which makes me happy.

There were also loads of interesting guests to meet, though due to budgetary issues I didn’t get any autographs this time.  In particular, I wanted to add the signature of Pauline Peart, who appeared in The Satanic Rites of Dracula, to my Hammer Glamour book.

Never mind, hopefully we’ll cross paths again.

We arrived early at the event, having early bird tickets.  This allowed us early entry, and it was a little quieter to begin with.

It was also a bit quieter on the Cosplay front till later that morning.  I guess that makes sense; if you’re a cosplay afficianado, you’re more likely to be perfecting your stunning costume rather than getting in line early doors.

 

So it was a bit slow on the photo front at first, things soon got going though!  There were costumed characters of every possible description literally all over the place by midday.  I got some great pictures of as many as I could – you can see the results on this page.

As I always state, I’m by no means a professional photographer.  Luckily the camera seemed to be on form on this day (not sure I was) so I captured some pretty good images.

The results are to the credit of the cosplay enthusiasts however, not any photographic skills on my part.  My thanks to everyone of you that posed graciously for me, I hope these photos do some justice to your creative skills.  All of you were friendly and enthusiastic, my respect to you all.

And with that, we’ll conclude part 1 of this MCM Birmingham blog.  Part 2 soon – with more photos – plus anything else I can remember about the day!

Sci-fi Weekender 2016 – The Director’s Cut

Sci Fi Weekender 17th – 20th March 2016

Hafan Y Mor Holiday Park, Pwllheli

It’s nearly that time again – the time for Sci-Fi Weekender at Hafan Y Mor, North Wales.  So as per previous years, here are a few bonus photos from last years festivities.  For some reason or other, these shots never made the original two part blog write up last year.  My apologies for that, but here are the best of what’s left.

For those with memories wiped or destroyed by pan galactic gargle blasters, Sci-Fi Weekender is a gathering every March for all things science fiction and fantasy related.  There are special celebrity guests, discussion panels, interviews, workshops, gaming and more.  Not to mention plenty of entertainment and partying.

If this is your kind of thing, there’s no better place to be than Pwllheli, where the Hafan Y Mor caravan park hosts this superb event.

The main highlight of the festivities are the people who attend.  Travelling from all over known galaxy, there are some wonderful people to meet and a welcoming atmosphere for all.

Of course the cosplay on display is inspiring, eccentric and hugely creative.  Whether it’s a costume that’s taken hours (or days) to make or just a fun nod to a random, unsung background character, the inventiveness and level of in depth knowledge to be seen is spectacular.

So here are a few more photos of the brave, intrepid souls who let their creative prowess and geek pride shine.  Every one of them a star.

Enjoy the photos – though be warned: they’re of varying quality…

Girls just wanna have fun

MCM Birmingham Comic Con – Part 2

NEC Birmingham

19/20 November 2016 

I have loads of photos to share from my recent trip to Birmingham NEC, so thought I’d share some more.  As I mentioned previously, there were loads of fantastic Cosplay costumes being worn – so here are some additional pics.

In fact, it seemed to me that there were even more costumed attendees than ever!  MCM Birmingham is the biggest and best Comic Con I’ve been to (I’ve not made it to London), and the number of cosplayers seemed to be higher than ever.

There were some truly amazing outfits. Whether film or TV, book or comic book – it seemed like hundreds of heroes (and villains) were walking the halls.

Maybe it was just the abundance of Harley Quinns, but it seemed like there were many more females dressing as characters this time.  Nothing wrong with that, as comics and science fiction have always been more of a boys club.  Nice to see the ladies being involved and doing things so well.  No offence to the Harleys, by the way – the more the merrier!

There were some classic costumes from the boys this year too, though.  Deadpool and the Joker seemed quite popular, and were represented well with some superb renditions.

In my opinion, when I was last here Marvel characters slightly out weighed DC.  This November, DC were definitely fighting back!

Lots of Walking Dead, too.  I mentioned last time the amazing Daryl Dixon who I photographed, but messed up the picture.  Probably for the best, Mrs Platinum Al would be drooling forever.

There was also a Negan, who was an amazing look a like.  He should get some stunt double work on the show, he was so good!

Another dead ringer was Breaking Bad’s Walter White look a like – an amazing resemblance!  Check him out at @walterwhitelike on Twitter.

img_4962

All in all a superb day was enjoyed by all.  Thanks to all the various cosplayers who gave me permission to take their photo.  Everyone was really kind, gracious and friendly – I thank you for your patience.

Now I’m looking forward to a return to MCM Comic Con at the NEC in March 2017!