Tuesday October 16

Binge Watchr Reviews “The Haunting Of Hill House” Ssn 1

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by JD Phillips

 By JD Phillips

There’s something special when you find a show on Netflix you know nothing about and end up slowly discovering that it’s one of the best shows you’ve ever seen. Like “Dark”, “Mindhunter”, or “Bloodline” (the first season anyway), “The Haunting Of Hill House” is one of those hidden gems that you end up binge watching within the span of a weekend. It easily ranks as one of the best series Netflix has ever done.

The idea of the show is pretty standard horror fare. Several grown siblings try to come to terms with the death of their mother in their childhood home, which may or may not be (but definitely is) haunted. The show is definitely reminiscent of movies like “The Conjuring”, “IT”, etc. but showrunner Mike Flannagan (“Oculus”, “Gerald’s Game”) imbues Hill House with enough style and heart that the series takes on a life all its own.

And good god is it scary. Whether it’s jump scares, ghost barely out of frame, or pure psychological terror, Hill House more than delivers on the thrills. Twists like the big “Bent Neck Lady” and “Red Room” reveals will make you want to rewatch the series immediately so you can catch the hints you missed. The special effect that might be the most terrifying though, is Carla Gugino. Her performance as the warm yet manic mother, Olivia, draws you in so it’s extra terrifying when she shows her ethereal ghostly side.

hill house haunting


The biggest surprise about the show isn’t the great scares but the great character drama. If you took out all the ghosts and creepiness the show would still be an extraordinary family drama like ABC’s “This Is Us”. Each of the siblings deals with their ghost drama in different ways. Whether through drugs, romance, family, writing, or...gloves, each of the members of the Crain family escape their pain in ways that usually cause more pain. The series drives into this by framing each episode around one specific character. The episodes about the twins Nelly and Luke are particularly haunting (pun intended).

While most of the show hinges around the scares and mysteries surrounding Hill House, in the end, it stands as a wonderful story about love, loss, family, addiction, suicide, betrayal, failure, and learning to move on.

The Haunting of Hill House


Not only that, but it is one of the best-directed shows Netflix has ever produced. The episode “Two Storms” is told through several long shots that follow the family members through two terrible stormy, ghosty nights. The rest of the series is directed with a similar level of style. The episodes all have such different styles that it’s surprising that Mike Flanagan was the only person who directed the series. The director may have been well regarded before but after his work on this series, it’s clear that he is one of the best talents in the horror genre.

If you’re looking for a scary and engaging show to binge over your Halloween month, “The Haunting Of Hill House” is perfect for you. It’s a masterpiece that stands as one of the best Netflix series and possibly the best tv show in the horror genre.

10.0

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Monday October 15

Binge Watchr Reviews “Doctor Who” S.11 Ep. 2

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by JD Phillips

 By JD Phillips

What do the “Doctor Who” episodes “The End Of The World”, “New Earth”, “The Beast Below”, and “Into The Dalek” have in common? They’re all the second episode featuring the new Doctor, they are all the first foray of that new Doctor into a high concept space story, and they’re all fairly forgettable. Season 11’s episode, “The Ghost Monument” continues this trend with Jodie Whittaker’s new Doc.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with the episode but it definitely feels like the one I’m not going to remember at the end of the season. The plot is pretty straightforward “Doctor Who” fare. The Doctor and her companions get caught up in high stakes, intergalactic, relay race on a hostile planet. This plot felt disappointingly formulaic after last week’s jolt of new energy. Within minutes I knew that the two rival racers were going to have to learn to work together, there’d be a few scary monsters along the way, and at least one big speech. I was right on all counts.

While the plot was pretty unimpressive, the episode had several highlights that point to an amazing season ahead. First off, how cool is that new title sequence?! It doesn’t feel anything at all like any of the other title sequences. The whole thing gives off the exact feel that this season of the show is going for. It is fresh and exciting while also offering enough retro to feel like it’s still Doctor Who.

That’s exactly the feeling the episode ends with when we get to see the new and improved Tardis. While the outside looks like its just gotten a fresh renovation while the inside looks like something spectacularly different. The steampunk Krypton look of the Tardis makes the iconic spaceship feel more like it did the first time I saw it. Back when it was new, alien, and exciting. It simply beckons for adventure. And it dispenses cookies!

Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor inside her newly refurbished Tardis

The episode also dropped several hints about the road to come. For starters, last week’s alien Predator race, the Stenza got name dropped. Anyone hoping we would see more toothfaces in the near future is going to get their wish. After all the talk about how this season wasn’t going to be serialized, apparently, that was just a lie. Looks like Chibnall is following in Moffat’s sneaky, lying footsteps. He also said there would be no old monsters or cameos so now I bet we’re gonna see Daleks fighting River Song and Jack Harkness on the starship UK as it’s being hijacked by the new Master.

There was also some reference to the Doctor’s past. “The Timeless Child” that is an abandoned outcast. Now there are several things this could be (including something new and made up) but it definitely sounds like the Doctor’s long-lost granddaughter Susan. For those that haven’t watched the first ever series of “Doctor Who”, Susan is the first companion and a Gallifreyan herself. She left the series when The Doctor locked her out of the Tardis so that she could have a life with love interest David Campbell. While she’s had a few appearances since there’s been no update on the character since the show was revived. It would be interesting to see what a post-Time-war Susan would be like. This could also be a reference to the Doctor’s daughter from the Tennant years or Clara but both of those seem unlikely. Smart money is on a new invention from Chibnall but start putting in your bets just in case!

Carol Ann Ford as the first Doctor's granddaughter Susan
Carol Ann Ford as the first Doctor's granddaughter Susan

The best part about the episode was definitely Whittaker. She continues to shine almost effortlessly as The Doctor. The actress commands every scene she’s in but doesn’t shy away from the odd thrown away one-liner. (The ones about her time as a hologram and the sunglasses of either Audrey Hepburn or Pythagoras were the best.) The writers also continue their trend of the non-violent (but still kinda violent? I mean she won’t use guns but bombs are okay?) mechanic Doctor who uses science and engineering to solve her problems. This especially shined in her scene with Ryan after his hilarious “Call of Duty” moment.

The companions were a mixed bag again, though. Ryan and Graham got a lot more character development and screen time this go around but I’m still not sure what kind of character arc they are going for with them. Are Ryan and Graham going to have to learn to be father and son? Is Ryan going to have to overcome his disability to save the galaxy? Is Graham going to become an intergalactic bus driver? I really don’t know. Most of the time I have a better feel for where they are going with the companions by this point in the season but right now they just seem to be along for the ride.

Doctor Who's Companions

Oh wait, did I forget Yaz? That’s okay, the episode did too. While Ryan and Graham got sunglasses jokes and a first-person shooter action scene, Yaz got little of anything to do. You’d think a cop would have a little more of a take-charge attitude. Or a strong opinion about being thrown into space. She was aching for adventure last week but that doesn’t seem to have followed into this week. There was a brief moment where she had a mild flirtation with Ryan. Hopefully, this will lead to more character development and not just her being sidelined as “the love interest”. Yaz is an interesting character, I hope she doesn’t become this season’s Danny Pink.

The companions did have a great moment as a unit, towards the end of the episode. Them having to rally the Doctor to not give up hope just as things were hopeless was a nice touch and shows how companions can be important to the Doctor. She has the weight of the galaxy (and twel- thirteen lifetimes of guilt. I almost forgot to count John Hurt. Why does everyone forget to count John Hurt?!) on her shoulders and sometimes she needs a grounded presence to keep her centered. Hopefully, there will be more of these moments and character developments in the weeks to come.

John Hurt as "The War Doctor"
John Hurt as "The War Doctor"

Overall this episode followed the trend that so many “Doctor’s First Day In Space” episodes have covered in the past but that’s definitely not a bad thing. These episodes always feel like they are trying to calibrate the series around the new Doc in a fairly standard scenario. Whether it’s Eccleston’s hard edges, Capaldi’s cold edges, Tennant’s sassy superheroics, or Smith’s god with sad puppy eyes, these episodes are often the ones where the writers really get to test the new Doctor out. A test drive so to speak. If this is any indication of what kind of Doctor we are going to get when the show takes it up to fifth gear, I would say we’re in for a good year.

8.0

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Sunday October 14

Where To Watch More Jodie Whittaker

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by JD Phillips

 By JD Phillips

Did you start the new season of Doctor Who and are already desperate to watch more of the new doctor without waiting? Well here’s a handy list of some of Jodie’s best roles to get you through that week-long Doctor Who drought.

“Attack The Block” (2011)

Jodie Whittaker’s best movie role happens to be one of the best sci-fi cult films of the last decade. Here she stars as a woman who is caught up in an alien invasion that infests her neighborhood. If you want to see the thirteenth Doctor go up against aliens this is your best bet until the next episode comes out. Also, it features the breakout performance of John Boyega (Finn from “Star Wars” if you didn’t already know) as the street-wise hero that slowly bonds with Whittaker after a particularly bad first impression.

“Black Mirror” (2011)

Jodie stars in the third episode of the first season of the British sci-fi/horror anthology series, “The Entire History Of You”. Here she plays a woman who deals with the ramifications of a special technology that allows users to replay any memory. Her husband becomes increasingly paranoid that she is having an affair and obsessively replays old memories as an attempt to prove it. The situation only devolves from there. This is a great place to see her go up against the kind of effed up sci-fi “Doctor Who” is known for.

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“Trust Me” (2017)

In this British medical series, Jodie plays a nurse who is fired for whistleblowing steals her friend’s identity as a doctor in order to provide for her family. Not only is this a great series where you get to see Jodie play a different kind of Doctor, but it also was recently announced that the series will have a second season, although with a different cast. Something about the lead actress getting a really awesome leading role in some weird sci-fi show. Not sure what that’s about.

“Marchlands” (2011)

This supernatural British drama tells the story of three different families living in the same house throughout three different time periods. Not only is it a great ghostly thriller but it also features another “Doctor Who” actress, the magnificent River Song herself, Alex Kingston in a leading role. That’s two would-be timelords for the price of one.

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“The Smoke” (2014)

Before there was “Chicago Fire” there was this short-lived but well regarded British series. This firefighter drama not only featured Whittaker but also featured “Battlestar Galactica” alum Jamie Bamber and “Kingsmen” star Taron Egerton. There’s some great firefighter drama here and a scandalous love triangle with our Doctor right in the middle.

“Venus” (2006)

This is arguably the actress’ big breakout role. Starring opposite the magnificent Peter O’Toole, Jodie plays Jessie, a young woman who moves in with O’Toole’s aging actor as a would-be caregiver. The friendship doesn’t go as either of them planned and they grow closer as the semi-retired actor nears the end of his life. Her spirited turn as Jessie earned her high praise and added a burst of adrenaline to her fledgling career.

“Broadchurch” (2013-2017)

If you haven’t seen this legendary BBC series, stop what you are doing right now and go watch it. This story of a missing boy in a small beachfront town is one of the best crime thrillers ever on television. It hosts a series of gut-wrenching performances and twists that will sit with you long after the credits roll. Not only does it feature Whittaker’s best performance to date, but it also features a host of other “Doctor Who” actors including Tenth Doctor David Tennant, William Hartnell/First Doctor David Bradley, Rory Pond...err Williams Arthur Darvill and many others who have appeared on the series. It is also run by new “Doctor Who” showrunner Chris Chibnall and is arguably the show that got him the job on the sci-fi series.

jodie whittaker broadchurch

There you have it, several of the new Doctor’s best roles. Did I leave any of your favorites out or if you have any strong opinions about any I’ve mentioned, feel free to drop us some comments. Also be sure to check out our review of the first episode of the new series and our continuing coverage of the Thirteenth Doctor.

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Friday October 12

Hollywood Can’t Commit To Bad Guys

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by JD Phillips

 

By JD Phillips

Last weekend “Venom” hit theatres and continued a very annoying trend that Hollywood seems hellbent on.  The Half-Assed Supervillain Movie. Movies like “Catwoman”, “Suicide Squad”, and “Elektra” all make the same mistakes “Venom” is plagued with.

The Bad Guys Save The World

“Suicide Squad” and “Venom” both advertised themselves as the anti-superhero movie but both ended up using the same save the world trope as their lackluster ending. They both have a pretty by the books CG fight scene that redeems all characters involved and basically makes them good guys at heart.  

It’s not all that different from the character arc in “Iron Man” where the apathetic arms dealer decides to take violent responsibility for his company’s actions.  Even “Solo” can’t commit to its roguish Star Wars all the way to the end.  The movie turns its simple heist plotline suddenly into a makeshift Rebels v. Empire save the galaxy story at the last minute.

marvel iron man lede

This Is A Drama...No, It’s A Comedy…

These movies also can never decide whether they want to take the source material seriously or make a dark comedy out of it.  What comes from it isn’t a drama with darkly comedic elements (“Goodfellas”) or a dark comedy with moments of great levity (“Zombieland”).  They just feel like a weird mishmash of ideas that leap between gritty character moments and cheap one-liners randomly.

Despite their being really bloody dramas that deconstruct the superhero movie (“Logan”) and really bloody comedies that make fun of the genre (“Deadpool”), Hollywood seems to think that a dark movie about bad guys doing bad things is just too much of a stretch for audiences to be able to handle.  I mean, it’s not like there are any movies or tv shows that do that thing very successfully. (“Breaking Bad”, “The Godfather”, “The Sopranos”, the list is endless really.)

breaking bad

It’s R-Rated...Nevermind

“Venom” branded itself as a hard R supervillain story that would be in complete contrast to the lighter and fun MCU movies.  This was a movie that was supposed to be so dark that you couldn’t have the fun-loving Tom Holland Spider-Man without permanently scarring the poor child.

What we got was a movie with a smaller headcount than “Iron Man”, “Guardians of the Galaxy”, and even “Batman Returns”.  The movie did have a few scenes where Venom ate someone’s head, but they obviously cut the bloody gruesome stuff in post.

I don’t know how Venom can bite someone’s head from their shoulders without puncturing a single artery. That’s his real superpower.

ronan

Not So Special Effects

While “Venom” is better in this area than most of the other bad guy films in the genre, all the rest of them suffer from truly horrendous CGI and often waaaay too much slow motion.  “Elektra” and “Catwoman” especially suffer from this with some really terrible action sequences from characters that should just have well choreographed, grounded fights.

It also wouldn’t surprise me at all if the villains in “Suicide Squad” were ripped from a “World of Warcraft” cinematic trailer.  Venom looks pretty damn good in this movie but there are several sequences where Brock wasn’t fully Venomed up so that they wouldn’t have to spend more on the CG budget.

Also, the final villain was pretty blandly designed and barely characterized at all.  Though almost every antagonist in the genre is like that so it’s forgivable.  Hopefully if Hollywood wants to keep putting the bad guys center stage, they’ll start committing to the concept more.

With a Morbius movie and a Joker movie in the works, let’s hope they do.

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Wednesday October 10

Big Time Movie Reviewr: “Venom” (2018)

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by JD Phillips

 

By JD Phillips

A solo Venom movie has been in the works ever since the character made his first live action appearance in 2007’s “Spider-Man 3”.  After that movie’s universally negative response, the film was put on hold until Marc Webb rebooted the series in 2012.

The film got sidelined again when the franchise was killed in Marc Webb’s 2014 sequel.

It seemed like Venom and the Spider-man franchise was dead until the Marvel Cinematic Universe included the character in “Captain America: Civil War”.

With Spider-man successfully introduced in that movie and two sequels, the long-gestating Venom was ready for his first live-action role since “Spider-man 3”.

While the character works better this time around, the film itself is unfortunately not much better.

venom5
The plot is pretty straightforward.

Eddie Brock (played with the quirky enthusiasm and intensity you would expect from Tom Hardy) is a famed investigative journalist who stumbles upon an alien conspiracy involving the Elon Musk stand-in Carlton Drake and some murderous goo monsters called symbiotes.

Eddie gets accidentally bonded to one of these symbiotes and slowly builds a weary relationship with it as they jump around San Francisco doing dark superhero deeds and eating heads off camera.

The film then builds to a pretty standard superhero/supervillain fight scene to save the world.

This is what ends up being the big issue with the film.

venom3

It billed itself as a gritty R-rated “Anti-hero” film, but it’s basically just a slightly darker superhero movie.

Sure there are some scenes where Venom eats heads or refers to bad guys as “snacks” but the film seems afraid to fully go there.

The movie never decides if Venom’s murderous tendencies are supposed to be funny or terrifying and just decides to make Venom a hero for little or no reason in the end.

It’s likely that the reason for this is that the studio cut the more R-rated sections of the film 

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Tuesday October 09

Binge Watchr Reviews “Doctor Who” S.11 Ep.1

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by JD Phillips

 

by JD Phillips

Finally!

It’s been a long wait for Jodie Whitaker’s return as the Doctor. Since her Christmas cameo, everyone has been desperate to find out what kind of Doctor Jodie would be. If she would be a bold adventurer like David Tennant or a fun goofball with a god complex like Matt Smith.

Sunday that question was answered. She’s a Jodie Whitaker Doctor. The actress makes no attempt whatsoever to emulate past takes on the character. Her Doctor is a fully realized new character who might as well be known as “The Mechanic” instead of Doctor.

This concept is really hammered in by the extended scene where The Doctor creates her sonic screwdriver using spare parts and power tools. Her final speech supports this as well. She’s just a traveler who fixes things when she can.

16179291 low res doctor who series 11 fe7ebbc

The show also handles the elephant in the room in probably the best way it could have. Aside from a brief mention that The Doctor was a woman now and a semi-meta speech about how change can be a good thing that honors what came before, the show treats its titular character exactly like it has treated every Doctor before her.

She simply falls into the scene and invites us to come along for the journey. She isn’t going to be “The Lady Doctor”, she’s gonna be “The Doctor who happens to be a lady”. This pretty much kicks all of the trolls right in the head that thought the show would turn into a sjw after-school special.

This is “Doctor Who” the way it should be: scary monsters, confused companions, a non-violent superhero, and a lot of running.

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Speaking of companions and monsters, those parts of the story where pretty good but not quite on par with the great new protagonist. “Doctor Who” has always been a weird show that has run in a very specific way since its rebirth in 2005. This time around, the show has a completely different team.

Leading this team is “Broadchurch” helmer Chris Chibnall. The result works most of the time but hasn’t really found its footing yet. The new companions are interesting in their own ways but none of them pop in quite the way Rose, Amy, or Bill did on their first appearances. They all have interesting qualities to them but the show just doesn’t have enough time to set up its new hero and flesh out its side characters. I very much hope that this time next year, I will love Yas, Ryan, and Graham.

What really disappoints is that I won’t get to see anymore of Grace. The worst part of the episode by far was the show’s decision to callously kill of its matriarchal side character. She infused all of her scenes with a lot of energy and it’s sad we won’t see more. To be honest, I figured she would be killed within the first fifteen minutes and it was disappointing that they leaned on such a tired trope while they were trying to shake things up.

enjoy a new promotional spot for doctor who season 11 with jodie whittaker

The bad guy was also a mixed bag. There was a lot that was cool about the tooth-faced assassin. The design of the character was sleek and appropriately disturbing but he never fully separated himself from the Predator. A warrior race with heavy armor that hunts humans for sport is a bit too similar, especially with the most recent reboot of the character debuting within three months of the episode. Still, there are worse ideas than The Doctor vs. The Predator and the final showdown was pretty fantastic with a big action moment from Jodie Whitaker and The Doc’s patented brand of non-violent bad guy traps.

Ultimately, “The Woman Who Fell To Earth” mostly succeeded in its goals to revitalize the series. It has a winning protagonist but hasn’t quite found the same success with the supporting cast. Regardless, The Doctor is back and bolder than ever. That’s a pretty fantastic feat just by itself.

9.0

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Tuesday October 02

Dragoncon: The Con of Cons

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by geekr

There are a lot of comic conventions. They range from the very small community cons that have a couple of tables shoved into a public library to the huge commercial cons that feature big-name celebrities and movie trailer reveals. But there can only be one Con of Cons and that convention is Dragoncon.

What makes Dragoncon so great? In short, pretty much everything. It features the big name celebrities (with less line waiting), a huge vendor area, and amazing cosplay that most big cons are known for. But it has something else. Something many cons attempt, but none to Dragoncon’s success. It’s the nerd party of the year.

This past year, I arrived at Dragoncon on a late Wednesday night. Technically the con doesn’t start until Thursday but you wouldn’t know that if you were to walk into the hotel. The lobby was filled with cosplayers, people in Dinosaur suits, and a DJ playing music. The party was raging before it was supposed to have begun. And it only got wilder from there.

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The next morning I went out into the same lobby to see that the same party was still going on...at 9 am...on a Thursday. This is the scene across all of the host hotels and the close by bars, 24/7. The con itself drives into this wild experience by offering dozens of parties, raves, concerts, and shows.

Also, there are lots of unsanctioned con activities that happen in the various room parties the con goers throw. These allegedly range from the casual hangout to the full on sex parties.

Dragoncon isn’t all about the debauchery though. It features a little of something for everyone. There is a huge gaming area that has console games, arcade games, vr experiences, board games, dozens of guided RPG's, etc. There are tracks that are specifically organized for every type of fan. This past year I went to an amazing Star Wars track event debating the pro’s and con’s of “The Last Jedi”. I also attended a live podcast at the Trek Track that was debating the merits of a classic episode of “Voyager.” There are tracks about British Media, comics, and pretty much all of the main fandoms. Even if you are stuck in the room, working on your costume, Dragoncon offers its own television service that plays panels, interviews, and funny sketches.

They also have plenty of fun events. Between a celebrity improv show, a dirty puppet show, screenings of movies, and more, there are tons of things to do for fun. This year I went to a surprise live theatre production of “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog” that was incredible.

The guest panels are also special at Dragoncon. For one, you will never spend your entire morning waiting in line for a guest. While lines aren’t supposed to start more than an hour before, there are “unofficial lines” that begin usually about two hours early at the most. Some of the panels are scheduled in such a way that you can also easily get into the back of one of their huge ballrooms to see your favorite celebrity guest.

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I’m one of those fans that frequently watch panels from other cons online and I’ve never seen one like the ones at Dragoncon. For whatever reason, panelists seem much more relaxed than they do at other conventions. I’ve seen panelists get out into the audience, run makeshift game shows, and tell dirty stories they wouldn’t dare to at places like SDCC. There are also known to be a lot more personable at DragonCon when you go for autographs or pictures. I’ve heard countless stories of celebrities taking personal time with their fans that they normally wouldn’t. They are also known to come out into the party to get a piece of Dragoncon’s craziness. I personally talked with an actor from “American Gods” outside of a rave this year. Peter Capaldi also apparently hung out with fans and John Barrowman is known for riding up and down the elevators with fans.

Speaking of John Barrowman, he is the absolute headliner of Dragoncon. Anyone who has seen a John Barrowman panel knows the kind of craziness he gets into. At Dragoncon, this showmanship is on full display. This year he put on a full dance show, told jokes and stories worthy of an HBO special, did a “kilt check”, and serenaded the audience with his beautiful voice (he did all of this while wearing an expensive version of Cersei’s dress from “Game of Thrones” with the crotch cut out).

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Above all else, what makes Dragoncon special is the people that go there. I have never in my life been around a greater group of people. Everyone around you is having a great time and is determined to share that with you. People shared booze with me, personal stories, dances, and hundreds of pictures. Whether you are looking for a great group of friends, a little romance, a place to share your fandom with, a place to discuss matters like feminism, representation, and what makes a hero, or just some people who will help you get drunk as hell, the people of Dragoncon will be there for you.

Don’t take my word for it though. Dragoncon takes place in Atlanta, Georgia every Labor Day weekend. Hope I see you there.

Have a look at our DragonCon 2018 Photo Album Here.  or Here on Flickr.

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