Thursday, January 18, 2018

Movie #445: Mr. Holland's Opus

Mr. Holland's Opus is somewhat schmaltzy drama starring Richard Dreyfuss, Glenne Headly, Olympia Dukakis, William H. Macy, Alicia Witt, and Jay Thomas.

Glenn Holland (Dreyfuss) is a musician who takes a job teaching high school music to support himself and his wife Iris (Headly) while he works on his own original composition. He thinks teaching will afford him "free time" (as the kids say, lol. This is fortunately called out as absurd immediately). He befriends the gym teacher (Thomas) and takes to the nuts and bolts of teaching, but gets frustrated with his students and has to connect with them. He does that, of course, by pointing out how classical music arrangements get used in rock music, and helps a young clarinet player (Witt) play by teaching her to enjoy it.

The movie tracks his life and career from the mid-60s to the mid-90s, whereupon the school district cuts funding for music and the arts entirely (because of course they fucking do), and he retires, but his past and present students surprise him with a performance of his original symphony. His "opus," then, is the education and the passion he gave his students, which is lovely.

So, there are any number of "teacher inspires students" movies out there, and some of them are glurgey as shit, but this one avoids the worst of the treacle and I think the reason for that is perspective. It doesn't present Holland as a teacher swooping in to save one class, it presents him with an arc as a teacher, a husband, a father, and a musician, and it shows us the places where he fails and learns as well. Teaching is presented as hard not because the kids are pains in the ass (though there is that), but because it's hard and he has to learn to do it.

If I have a complaint, it's the subplot with Rowena Morgan (Jean Louisa Kelly). She's a student who captivates him with her singing talent and then asks him to run away with him to New York, and like, if the point of the arc was that she made him nostalgic for his life as a musician before he became a teacher, OK. If the point of the arc is that she's tempting him into an affair, errrgh, less OK. I don't think it read, in the movie, like he was really tempted by her so much as what she represented about what he'd lost (or aged out of it, anyway) in his own life, but then he lies to his wife about who "Rowena" is, and then the whole subplot kinda peters out and we never see Rowena again. Dunno, felt clumsy.

Dreyfuss' performance is great; he's dry, bitter, entitled at points, but willing to learn and embrace love as he gets older and wiser. Headly's performance as his wife is also good, especially as she expresses her anguish over not being able to communicate with her deaf son. Olympia Dukakis is fun as the wise and fair principal, Macy is smarmy and infuriating as her replacement. All in all it's a very solid drama.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Mr. Nice Guy

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Game Prep: All The Things

I have a little time, so I'm gonna try and take some notes for the games I'm running. You've been warned, people.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Movie #444: Mr. & Mrs. Smith

Mr. & Mrs. Smith is an action/drama movie starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (with appearances from Keith David, Vince Vaughn, and Angela Bassett). It's a somewhat perplexing movie to me.

John and Jane Smith (Pitt and Jolie, respectively) are a bored, rich, married couple who, in reality, are both assassins working for competing agencies. They meet while on unrelated assignments in Columbia, fall in love, get married, but conceal their real jobs from each other. Now, several years later, they're bored with their cover lives. And then they botch a job, wind up assigned to kill each other, rekindle their relationship, and kill, just, like, everybody escaping.

This movie was the start of "Brangelina", and it stars two very sexy people. I have never understood, therefore, how it manages to be boring, but there it is. Having now watched it a little more carefully, and with the benefit of some years, I have a couple of thoughts.

First of all, it fails at world-building. John and Jane work for different agencies, but they also seem to be in different movies. John is in Grosse Point Blank; his agency has some tech, but it's more grounded. Jane, meanwhile, is in Charlie's Angels - she has magical neck-breaking skills, she can jump off a skyscraper with only rings connected by a knit purse to rappel with, and her agency is a group of Dangerous Hot Women working for Keith David. The agencies have some cliches attached to them, but there's no real identity. Now, compare that to John Wick, which just knocked world-building out of the park.

And then there's the weird lack of chemistry between the leads. Like, we know they actually have chemistry, so where is it? They nail the "bored with each other" bit, but then comes the scene where they fight, and even that seems kind of phoned-in, and then there's a sex scene that's so badly paced and blocked that I couldn't tell when it was over at first. The framing device of them at a marriage counselor came closer to establishing their relationship, but we never quite crack it.

Pitt, in particular, is really wooden in this movie, and I don't know why, because he's a capable comic actor (and dramatic actor). Jolie does better at conveying what her character is going through subtly, but even she feels kind of stiff. The action scenes are OK, but they're not as balletic as John Wick or as exciting as Grosse Pointe Blank. I dunno, this movie just feels like a near miss to me.

My Grade: D+
Rewatch Value: Low

Next Up: Mr. Holland's Opus

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Promethean: Boom-Shackle

Promethean last night. Whee-buddy.

Last time, five of the Prometheans discovered a government hidey-hole, and then started heading back to the sixth Promethean (Skip). So this time, we start off by catching up with Skip.

Skip and Virgil are in the hotel. Virgil is working on his chronicle, and Skip is applying static electricity to the kittens to make them poof up. Virgil goes out to get ice, and then a moment later, Skip feels his Azoth flare and then dim.

Worried that Virgil's managed to get himself killed again, Skip goes out and sees several people putting a now-bound Virgil into a van...a van Skip recognizes. He starts creeping over toward them, and then they see him, and he recognizes one of them as the woman he saw at the park the other day when he caused an earthquake. He starts calling up Pyros to throw lightning, but one of the other guys shoots him in the chest.

Now, Skip is hella hard to hurt, but he feels that shot. He charges forward and punches the guy, but doesn't manage to drop him. The others load Virgil into the van, jump in, and angle the van around...and Skip can see a huge cannon in the back, pointed right at his head. He runs for it, not sure what that cannon can do and not wanting to see another River of Death. The cannon blows a hole in the hotel and the squad takes off with Virgil, leaving Skip behind to save the kittens.

The others arrive (but don't see the van), and then first responders start showing up. Matt, Avalon, and Feather pack up their gear and get in the van before the police cordon off the area, but Skip, Enoch, and Grimm aren't so lucky. The first three decide they'll pick the stragglers up later and head out to the government installation, while the other three get questioned by the police. Unfortunately, Skip's "Rick Johnson" ID doesn't hold up to scrutiny (he's only got one dot of Alternate ID), and he's arrested. The people who arrest him aren't normal police, though, they're G-men in a black sedan. The things they put on his wrists, too, seem to actively resist being broken.

Meanwhile, though, the others are at the installation. They park down the block, and walk there, which turns out to be good, because another black sedan shows up. One of the people who gets out is the "nurse" they saw at the hospital the other day. The "nurse" and the government spook fellow go into the building, and Avalon activates Soul in the Software to send a "bug" in to listen.

She hears the woman saying that they need an extraction - they were prepared for one of "these things," not seven. Listening to the conversation, Avalon realizes that these folks were hunting Lurch, but haven't had any more luck finding him than the throng has. Now they've got Virgil, which the woman says should be enough, but the man says that they want the other one - Skip. The woman tells him they need more personnel and more gear, and the man says he'll pass it up the chain. Avalon heads back and tells the others, and they decide to follow the government car, but the driver of said car almost immediately notices them and peels out. They head back to the hotel.

There, they pick up Grimm and Enoch, and follow the two black cars leaving (one of which has Skip). Sadly, they pick the wrong one, and just wind up trailing agents to a gas station to get a slushy.

Meanwhile, on the highway, Skip figures he's had about enough. Unable to break the bonds he's held in, he kicks the door right off the hinges and jumps onto the berm. He runs as the car skids to a halt, and the men with the slushies get a call....

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Character Creation: Critical! Go Westerly

Got about a half-hour before we convene to save the future from disease (that is, play Pandemic). So let's make a drunk fantasy character!

The Game: Critical! Go Westerly
The Publisher: Firestorm Ink
Degree of Familiarity: Some. I've played it at cons with +Jonathan once or twice.
Books Required: Just the one.

So, this is a fantasy game that was supposed to have been based on a popular card/board game involving drinking in a tavern...but something went wrong. That's all very unfortunate, but Critical! is a lot of fun, and I say that as someone who doesn't much like fantasy as a genre. I played a dwarf who was far too tall for his people (Urist Axebeard).

In this case, however, I wish to play a tortured vintner. He watched his vines die in a blaze of hellish fire, the grapes sizzling (they did not cry, however, they just let out a little w(h)ine). He has sworn never to rest until every grape is avenged.

This...may take a while, granted.

I shall name my wayward vintner Roger Vintner. (His middle name is basically "the". Look, it's old-timey.)

So we start off with stats: Strength, Smarts, Sneak, and Smile. Minimum is 1, max is 6, and I've got 12 points to divvy up. Well, I already know that Roger is the broody sort, so I'll put his Smile at 2. I'll put Strength at 5, Sneak at 3, and Smart at 2. I think that's 12.

Secondary stats start at fixed values; Damage is 2, Alcohol Content is 0 (for now), Fortitude is 20, and Gold is 10. Easy-peasy.

Skills! I get 6 points, max is 3. Skills can and should have ridiculous titles (in practice they're more like Aspects, actually). I'll give myself Loving, Caring, Cultivation of Plants (a Help Others Skill) at 3. I'll take Vengeful Harvest (Hurt Others) at 2, and then Glower (Help Self) at 1.

Next up, Habits. I have Gotta Get the Gold at 3, and then I get 3 more. I'll take Wine...Wine Never Changes at 3 to reflect my ongoing quest of revenge. I'll take some Comfy Armor (2 gold), a well-made scythe (6 gold), and I'll take a Potion of Chuckles (raises my AC by 1, but gives me +1 Smile for a while).

And that about does it. Roger is lean, tough, grizzled, stubbled, and always looking off to the right. His clothes are stained with red - the blood of his foes, or a nice pinot noir? He gets friendly if he's drinking, which is one reason he doesn't drink much. Sometimes he'll stare off into the middle distance and whisper, sadly, "...concord."

Movie #443: La Femme Nikita

La Femme Nikita is a French action/drama directed by Luc Besson and starring Anne Parillaud, Tcheky Karyo, Jean-Hughes Anglade, and Jean Reno. It's very French.

Nikita (Parillaud) kills a cop in the middle of a drug-seeking robbery, and is sentenced to life imprisonment, or death by lethal injection (they say one and then do the other). She wakes up in a strange cell confronted by Bob (Karyo), who tells her that she can learn to be an agent for the government, or she can actually die. Nikita, of course, chooses to learn, becomes a capable agent, and then gets sent out into the world. There, she starts a relationship with Marco (Anglade), a cashier, and lives happily ever after until she gets contacted to start shooting people again.

This all ends with a job that goes utterly off the rails and necessitates a "cleaner" (Reno, playing a stupider version of his character Leon), who shows up and shoots people wily-nily. Nikita then flees, leaving both Marco and her life as an assassin behind.

So, I'd seen Point of No Return, the American remake of this movie starring Bridget Fonda, and it's apparently nearly a shot-for-shot remake because I was getting deja vu watching this one. In any case, it's largely Anne Parillaud acting off the rails (she screams a lot). What I think is interesting is that in this movie, Nikita is competent but not brilliant. She learns, but she's not a natural assassin or anything, she gets good through practice and she improvises pretty well, but it looks more like what you'd get if you took someone with a rather traumatized life and taught them to kill, which, like yeah.

The performances are good, but the script is wonky (I'm still a little boggled by Reno's cleaner character, who comes in and just makes things so much worse), the premise is flimsy, and the soundtrack is godawful. I kinda think I like the American version better, except that the boyfriend character (played by Dermot Mulroney in Point) is so much better realized here - he's nonthreatening, nonaggressive, and sweet.

Generally, though, I think it's an interesting character study but it doesn't really require a second viewing.

My Grade: B-
Rewatch Value: Low

Next Up: Mr. & Mrs. Smith, for reals this time

Friday, January 5, 2018

Character Creation: Pasión de las Pasiones

Real quick character before dinner.

The Game: Pasión de las Pasiones (ashcan)
The Publisher: Magpie Games
Degree of Familiarity: Some. I played it at Metatopia and I'm pretty familiar with PbtA games in general.
Books Required: Just the one.

So, Pasión is a PbtA game emulating telenovelas. I have never watched any of these shows, but I know melodrama and I love games with emotional stakes, and I cannot recommend this game highly enough if you're into those things. If I were playing this game for realsies, obviously there'd be a lot of talk about the tone of the show and where it's set and so forth, but I can keep it pretty generic for purposes of chargen.

First thing, as is typical of PbtA games, is to choose a playbook. When I played this game at Metatopia I played El Caballero, so I think I'd like to do something else this time. The characters are written as gendered (part of this is due to how Spanish works, of course), but there's nothing that says La Doña can't be male, f'rex. Hmm. I think I'll go with El Gemelo (the Twin); I almost chose this one last time.

So, as the name implies, El Gemelo is a twin, and my other sibling could be another PC or a supporting character, were I actually playing. Since that's not an issue, I shall continue. First thing is to choose a name similar to my twin's name. I'll say my character's name is Gilberto, and my brother's is Alberto.

Next question is: Are you taking advantage of your twin's reputation? I'll say sure. Alberto is a big shot, a gambler known to be amazingly lucky and skilled to the point that other folks will fold to his bluff a lot of the time (I may have seen Molly's Game today. Also the last time I played this game there was a lot of casino-related shenanigans).

Next: What are two things people notice about you? I'll say "winning smile" and "gold pinky ring." Alberto and I have matching ones, except his has a diamond and mine has a ruby.

Now I choose up to three props. Ooh. I'll take "your twin's home," "a fancy black car," and "a dashing scarf."

Relationships, I'll skip, because it's just me.

Hmm. "This Time On" sets up a plot point for me ("there is a big event that your twin is supposed to be at. How have you made sure you will also be there and to what purpose?"). I think there's some kind of high rollin', elbow-rubbin', mostly gamblers-and-rich-people kind of event. I'm looking for someone to loan me money, so I just called the place and claimed the dog ate my invite. We've both got invites now, so as long as I avoid Alberto, I should be fine.

Last time: Choose two movies. Ooh. I'll take That Wasn't Me and Twin Tied; basically allowing me to exploit identity confusion a lot (because that's totes how I'd play this character).

And that's it! How easy!