Thursday, March 23, 2017

Movie #396: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is an action/spy movie based on the TV show of the same name, directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander, Elizabeth Debicki, Hugh Grant, and Sylvester Groth.

In the height of the Cold War, an American CIA agent named Napoleon Solo (Cavill) and a Russian KGB agent named Ilya Kuryakin (Hammer) are forced to team to save the world. Wacky hijinks ensue.

More specifically, after nearly killing each other trying to obtain an asset - Gaby (Vikander), the daughter of a missing nuclear scientist (Christian Berkel) - they wind up assigned to partner up to find said scientist before he is forced to show some fascists how to enrich uranium. She does so by tracking down her uncle Rudi (Groth) and pretending she's engaged to Kuryakin, while Solo cozies up to/seduces the head of the fascist family business (Debicki).

The show has some twists and turns; it turns out Rudi's a Nazi and a torturer, and Gaby is working for British intelligence under a chap named Waverly (Grant), but in the end, the bad guys get blown up, Kuryakin and Solo don't shoot each other, and Waverly recruits them all for a new intelligence outfit: UNCLE.

I've watched a bit of the Man from UNCLE TV show, and I think this is a nice "origin story" for it. Sure, the show wasn't nearly so violent, and Kuyakin (David McCallum on TV) wasn't, like, prone to psychotic breaks, but Cavill's performance as the smooth, sophisticated Solo is perfect. I like the addition of Vikander as Gaby, and I really wish we'd get a sequel so we could a) see them as a team and b) see Gaby doing badass car things some more. (Sadly, a sequel doesn't seem in the offing.) The chemistry between the cast is present, the performances generally are good, and casting Grant as Waverly was pretty genius.

In an example of "that's awesome but arrgh," the end credits show files on each of the principles, and we learn, for instance, that Waverly was an opium addict and Gaby trained as a ballet dancer. I'm not saying they should have worked in a scene where she dances or Waverly tokes up, just that a sequel would be really cool.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch Value: High

Next up: The Man with the Iron Fists

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Game Prep: Something New

Fun fact: The words "something new" conjure up either a line from the Amazing Stories episode "Family Dog" ("something new!" "What's that?" "A recipe I found in Suburban Paradise magazine! Tater pops and cheese whip!") or this song by Hozier. But anyway, I'm gonna take some game notes and you should stay out if you're playing in these games!


Movie #395: Mamma Mia!

Mamma Mia! is a musical based on the stage musical of the same name, which is in turn based on the songs of ABBA, starring Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Skellan Skarsgard, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Julie Walters, Christine Baranski, and Dominic Cooper.

Sophie (Seyfried) is getting married very young to her boyfriend Sky (Cooper). She lives on a Greek island with her mother Donna (Streep) who runs a hotel/B&B kind of thing, but she's never known her father. Shortly before her wedding, she reads her mom's diary and learns that mom had...rather a busy summer 20 years ago. Sophie has three possible fathers: Sam (Brosnan), Bill (Skarsgard), or Harry (Firth). She invites them all to her wedding, figuring she's magically know her real dad on sight (what) and ask him to walk her down the aisle.

Of course, this does not go quite as planned, there's drama, Donna reconnects with her former lovers and confronts the fact that Sophie's being a little protective of her mother, but that her mother really does need someone around. And then Sophie and Sky decide they're far too young to marry, but Sam proposes to Donna, Bill hooks up with Donna's old friend Rosie (Walters), Harry, it turns out, is gay and finds a lovely young Greek man to snog, and all is well.

The movie maps pretty well from the show; they cut a couple of songs, but nothing that you miss. The mistake was casting Firth, Brosnan, and Skarsgard, none of whom can sing, and especially not next to Streep and Seyfried, who both really clearly can. Likewise, in a musical you get an intermission, and there are a lot of songs, even with the cut.

The performances are good, though, discounting the troubled vocals. They changed Harry from "happily in a relationship" to "met a dude on the island", but since that gives him someone to kiss during the last scenes, I'm kinda OK with it. The scenery is well-realized, too; the villa feels real and you learn your way around, which is always fun.

Overall, it's worth watching if you like ABBA and you're not going to get too bothered by the lead men's lack of singing chops.

My Grade: B
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next up: The Man from UNCLE

Monday, March 20, 2017

Movie #394: The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon is a detective/noir film starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Elisha Cook, Jr., Barton MacLaine, and Lee Patrick. It's one of those movies that if you haven't seen it, you've seen homages to it.

Sam Spade (Bogart), a private dick (lol), takes a job watching out for a mysterious femme fatale later revealed to be named Brigid O'Shaughnessy (Astor, and, fun fact, when Liza Minelli guest-starred on The Muppet Show they did a spoofy on a murder mystery, and her character was named Liza O'Shaughnessy). His partner Miles (Jerome Cowan) winds up getting shot shortly before the dude that shot him gets shot, the chief of detectives (MacLaine) is all over Spade to figure this out, and what exactly is Brigid's deal?

Well, it turns out that she stole a MacGuffin priceless statue of a falcon, which other interested parties, including a wealthy criminal named Gutman (Greenstreet) and a gun for hire named Cairo (Lorre) are after. And after all is said and done, the damn thing is fake, Gutman and Cairo leave to go and find the real one (though it's implied they'll be arrested), Brigid gets sent down for Archer's murder, and Spade goes back to his office.

In a rare show of literacy, I actually have read the novel by Dashiell Hammett on which this is based (I took a class called "The Detective Story" in college), and I note that some of the changes might make for a more period-appropriate movie, but they feel a little out of place. Witness the constant declarations of love been Astor and Bogart (it comes up in the novel, but I don't remember it being mentioned as frequently, though I admit it's been a while). Actually, I sort of feel like with Falcon is more consistent and makes more sense, The Big Sleep is the better movie and definitely the better example of noir. Falcon approaches it when Spade insists that "when a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something about it."

Lorre and Greenstreet are, for my money, the best parts of this films, and Cook Jr. also turns in a really subtle performance as Wilmer Cook, Gutman's "gunzel". All in all it's a classic for a reason, even if it is a remake.

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next up: Mama Mia!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Feng Shui: Fight at the Museum!

Last time, the Dragons mixed it up with some Jade Wheel types, but it was all just a wacky misunderstanding. This time, they started off searching for Spider Feng. Celeste found a blood trail, and followed it, she and Bai leap across buildings (and Tang just teleporting) while Chrys followed in her car and Captain Ping and his folks followed in their van.

They arrived at the museum, which was both where the blood trail led and the place the shopkeeper said he'd taken inspiration for his room setup from. Bai, Celeste, and Tang popped in through an open wind, while Chrys and the other folks (Ping, Zep, Ban Wei, and the mooks) charged in the front, dodging people streaming out

And why the panic? Because Spider Feng was fighting with a dude in robes! He crackled with sorcerous energy, and Feng fought bravely, but was clearly getting overwhelmed...but now the dude was badly outnumbered!

But alas! He threw his hands to the ceiling and magic lanced down! Celeste quickly made a gesture, disrupting the ritual, and protecting her fellow Dragons, but all the others were mind-controlled, and the fight was on.

Spider Feng leaped to the second level (where Bai, Celeste, and Tang were) and kicked Tang right in the head. She and Bai fought, and she dropped into a splits and punched Bai right in a very uncomfortable place (like the back of a Volkswagon?). Meanwhile, Celeste shot one of the mooks in the leg, dropping him and giving the other ones pause.

Big Ban Wei pushed a statue over onto Tang and Bai, and then threw a big chunk of wreckage at them. The dude in robes flew up into the air, but Tang tackled him to the ground and Celeste used her knowledge of disrupting magic to...disrupt his magic. He lost the ability to fly, but could still throw magic lightning!

Chrys, meanwhile, had a not-terrible-subtle way of getting involved. She jacked the aforementioned van and drove it right into the museum, knocking a bunch of mooks out of the way and putting Ping on her windshield. He pulled out a gun and tried to shoot her. BOXCARS. The bullet bounced off the windshield and knocked him out.

Meanwhile, Feng and Bai were still mixing it up. Feng went to spin-kick Bai in the back of the neck. BOXCARS. And Feng fell off the damn balcony, pulled a bunch of debris on top of her and knocking herself out.

Zep tossed a grenade under the van and blew it up, but Chrys jumped to safety. She pulled out Johnny (her gun) and went to fire at the dude in robes. BOXCARS. And two mooks in front of her exploded with magic energy, knocking her back.

(Seriously, we had three boxcars and they were all bad for the people rolling.)

At this point, Tang was about done with this nonsense. He jumped up into the air and landed on the dude in robes, bringing his fists down on the dude's head. That dropped him and broke the spell; the others woke up.

They realized they had to work quickly. They could already hear sirens (Tang: "I miss the future"). They found the tableau that Celeste had seen in her vision, and behind a painting she found a message from her sister: "White Serpent."

Cut to getting noodles later: Spider Feng identified "White Serpent" as a circle of sorcerers, one of several cults dedicated to a strange figure named "the Eternal Chameleon." Said Chameleon, or "Leon" for short, had cults in every juncture dedicated to resurrecting him should he die...and now, apparently, he was here in the contemporary juncture. And the Dragons are gonna go fuck him up.

Epilogue: A shadowy man on a shadowy throne turns to his shadowy lieutenant. "They're coming. Remember, I want one of them alive. Kill the rest."

The lieutenant responds: "Eek. Ook."

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Promethean: AAAA TOO MUCH TO DO

Leaving for Breakout today. Meant to do this Tuesday, but y'know, best laid plans blardy-blar. On we go.

Last time, the characters started fixing up their place. This time, they started off continuing with that, and then split up to go do things. Grimm was not with the group; he'd gone to meet with a friend of his, Justine, who was apparently in town (ignore that ominous music in the background, won't you?).

Skip wanted to go find a set of brass knuckles (since taking on the baby-leg-gator-Pandoran was on the agenda). He asked Sicky, who said he knew a dude who could probably help. They went to a seedy-looking bar and Skip talked to a guy named Red, who sold weapons. Skip, however, set off some Disquiet, and Red wound up jacking up the price on him. Skip, not interested in that and feeling threatened by the dudes standing up to menace him, took a swing.

The fight ended quickly; Skip punched one dude in the chest and dropped him, and broke Red's nose. One guy grabbed a sawed-off shotgun from behind the bar, but Skip had activated Zephyrus and was pretty hard to hit. He warned the guy not to shoot, and left. He'd been feeling Vitriol rise, but when he left, he felt it fade, like he'd missed something. He did reflect, though, that beating down the guy with the shotgun when he was clearly scared rather than hostile wouldn't have been right, and thus he made a minor milestone (suffer a setback due to honor).

Meanwhile, Feather and Matt went to visit Parris Mick. She invited them up to her studio and talked about her work a bit, and showed them a painting she'd titled "Pentimento." Feather noted that the term meant that she'd painting over an existing work, and Parris agreed that she had, but wasn't sure what it was. Feather offered that she had a friend who might be able to help with that (figuring that Avalon, using the Stone Alembic, could probably do it), and Parris agreed, but was reluctant to let the painting leave.

Everyone regrouped (and the Prometheans noted that Skip had been clocked on the head pretty good). They talked with Sicky a bit, and Feather noted that he'd maybe been in town too long. Sicky said that he was afraid to leave; he knew this city and he felt he was too weak and stupid to be elsewhere. The throng offered to let him tag along when they left, and Sicky was very moved.

They decide to go looking for Pilgrim Marks; Sicky knew where a bunch of them were. He led them around the city, showing them where other Prometheans had marked their progress (of course the real prize was the camp, but they wanted to wait until Grimm was back to take that on). Sicky noted a mark that said "be quiet" and told them to shush, but Skip noted a spirit in the shadows and greeted it. And then a door opened, and a short man in a nice suit greeted Sicky, and asked if they wouldn't like to come in for a drink.

The man - who introduced himself as "Carroll" - was genteel and polite. His storefront was a photography studio, consisting mainly of stark photos of homeless people, destruction from the hurricane, and suchlike. He obviously knew who and what Sicky was, and recognized the other Prometheans for what they were, but noted that Matt "smelled different." He talked to them about vampires and mages in the city, and when they asked what sort of weirdness he was, he said, "just think of me as your cousin."

Carroll made Skip and Feather nervous, but intrigued Avalon, especially as they talked about art. He asked her to come to lunch the next day so that they could talk about her style of artwork. Sicky was uncomfortable (terrified, really), and the characters asked why. Carroll said he'd show them, and Sicky stepped out for a minute (he'd seen this already). Carroll vanished, and the room's shadows lengthened. The Prometheans felt miles away from each other, and constantly felt that something was behind them. And then Carroll reappeared and the light came back.

Carroll told them that he'd be happy to help them on their journeys if he could; when they asked what he got out of it, he replied that it was nothing in particular, he just found the process fascinating. He told them that when Parris had arrived on the art scene (he seemed unaware that she'd been a Promethean, but maybe it just didn't come up) that she'd been broken, depressed, and a mess, but that she'd found her pace and done well for herself.

The Prometheans bid him goodbye and headed out. Skip wanted to go across the river to the power station (one of the dudes had clocked him with a bat pretty good, and he'd burned through most of his Pyros anyway). The brought Charon a po' boy, which he appreciated, and Matt joined Skip for the trip. They got to the power station and Skip healed up, and then Matt decided he'd try it - maybe he'd given up too soon before. He grabbed the lines and felt searing pain...but he pushed through it, and felt his Fire flare again. He made a milestone (reignite his fire)...but then every light in New Orleans went out.

Next time, we'll deal with the blackout.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Chill, and then Promethean Notes

Not to say "relax" but as in "I ran Chill yesterday." So!

The Boise HQ has a number of cases it could investigate, but before they really dig into one, Auntie Dee has a little errand for them. Eleanor Henry, a former SAVE envoy, passed away recently, and she left behind a lot of notes and case histories that she wanted taken back to the HQ. So, the envoys head over to the house of her son, Dennis, to pick them up. They bring casserole, because obviously.

Dennis is holding up OK; he's sad, but his mother lived a long life and died peacefully. He mentions that she's been chatting with a nurse named Rosalita Clemmons at the hospital where she used to work (Eleanor was also a nurse), and thinks that she might have been doing SAVE-style investigations, as she was wont to do. Dee promises to look into it, and the envoys take away several banker's boxes full of notebooks. They're a cypher, though, and Dennis doesn't have a key. On the way out, Edward uses Premonition, and sees Dennis translating photocopies of one of the notebooks - something to keep an eye on.

The envoys decide that maybe they should talk to this Rosalita person, so they head to the hospital and make up a story. She comes out to meet them, and when they mention Eleanor, she pulls them ("them" here meaning Dylan, Dee, and Edward) aside and tells them that a woman on her floor died recently (she's a cardiac nurse), but she heard from the morgue attendant that the body was mutilated in the morgue - the eyes were missing. And then she heard that several other bodies had the same thing happen, but they're being processed far too quickly. Cover up? She's not sure; she knows that the hospital is building a new wing (she points out the construction) and the admins don't want any trouble.

The envoys convince her to show them the morgue and introduce the attendant, which she does. They see one of the eyeless bodies, but apart from Edward noting that the sockets don't have any damage or wounds, they aren't able to tell much. Dylan does note where the body of the first "victim" was taken, though.

They head back to the ranch and Dylan gets the computers going on a cypher-breaker, but it's going to take time. The envoys decide to wait until dark, and break into the funeral home where the first eyeless victim was taken. Jeanie uses Skeleton Key to get in, and she, Dee, and Dylan head downstairs to the prep room, while Edward sneaks upstairs to the office and BB keeps lookout.

Edward only has time to see some paperwork on the desk before the owner wakes up, but, thinking fast, he claims that he talked to an employee about using the place for a movie shoot. A few really impressive Communication rolls later, the guy lets him leave with his card (but is annoyed when he sees BB there, too), and the others sneak out the back. The others didn't learn much else - the body was missing its eyes, but with no wounds. They looked like they were removed very cleanly.

It's late, so everyone beds down. Dee dreams of being in a tunnel, and hearing something scuttling behind her. She feels her vision fade, and then something jumps on her back before she wakes with a start.

The envoys get up, have breakfast, and do some research. The hospital is more than 100 years old, and just recently was purchased by Glorian Health Group, which is turning the remains of an old church (St. Pauls, which used to be connected to the hospital) into the new wing. Meanwhile, the de-cyphered files indicate that Eleanor and a team of envoys fought a creature they called the "Eye-Biter' back in 1975. It killed one envoy and injured another, and apparently could "make you feel like your head was in a bucket of dishwater." The injured envoy, the files note, pulled a fire alarm, after which the creature spun in a circle rather than attacking - maybe loud noise or flashing lights distracted it? Jeanie rigs up a device that would do both (but botched the roll to do so; it worked fine when she tested it!).

The files said that the 1975 team had trapped the creature in a tunnel with an explosive device. If the construction site had disturbed it, it might be using the old tunnels to get to the morgue. The envoys decide they'll just head over that night and check out the construction site.

They arrive and creep into the site, and Edward uses Premonition...which leads him to a dead body. The dead man, a construction worker, has a broken neck and is missing his eyes, but there's a milky white substance near the socket - it looks like his eyes have been melted right out. BB posits that the Eye-Biter might be like a spider, dissolving the eyes with a digestive enzyme and then drinking them. The envoys have a collective "yuck" over that, but then a police car rolls up. BB and Jeanine deftly hide, but the others don't. Edward, again, is on the spot with his "making a movie" excuse, and Dee backs him up. The cop makes them leave, but doesn't pursue it further.

They, of course, wait until the cop has gone, and then return. The plan is to lure the creature out and then trap it using Dylan's Line of Defense discipline, hopefully disorienting it with the device Jeanie made. We shall see how well that works in a few weeks.

And now, Promethean notes. Players, stay out.