Monday, July 29, 2013

Road Trip: Wending Our Way Around the West

So! We're on this road trip (by "we" I mean me, Michelle, Will, and Al). We started in Cleveland, we're presently in Denver, and we'll be hitting New Mexico on our way to Oklahoma and then back home.

But - on the way we see many strange and beautiful things. So you get to see them, too.

We left Ohio in good weather, but that was as far as our luck held. Well, no, actually, that's not true; it's been pretty awesome. Last year my air conditioner exploded. Twice. This year, it's been reasonably cool and not stupid-hot, and the car has held up just fine.

I didn't take any pictures as we drove through Ohio and Indiana, but in Utica, Illinois, we found Two Girls and a Cupcake, which was advertised on one of those FOOD signs on the highway. Though we had just eaten, that was too much of a sign to pass up. We stopped for cupcakes. The name of the business alone just sort of made us blink, intrigued.

Wonder what they sell here?
The cupcakes were lovely. Mine was a s'mores cupcake. The staff was not terribly enthused about life, but they live in Utica, so that maybe makes sense. Other nearby attractions

This truck. 
But, smiling travelers!
Cupcake unicorn!
So then we continued driving, and wound up in Iowa. The hotel at which we stayed was old, in a kind "old hotel" sort of way (you know the type I mean). It's going to be demolished in August, and so there was this very kind of "fuck it" sort of attitude. But in a good way. People were very nice.
Note the decor.
In the morning, on we went! We stopped in Des Moines to get lunch at Zombie Burger, because seriously, this place is amazing. I had a shake made from tiramisu and a Twinkie. It was like drinking a cake.
"Will is a monkey," part one.
But - check this out. Across the street from Zombie Burger is a waxing salon. It's called...

THE PINK BEAVER. I am not making this up. THE PINK BEAVER. MOVING. ON.

While at Zombie Burger, we also saw a blue dog.

Like you do.
From there, zombies, blue dogs, and pink beavers at our heels, we drove through Iowa into Nebraska, and stopped in Omaha.

Now, Omaha is actually pretty cool, and our hotel (Element) was amazing. The key cards there power the rooms (like, if there's not a room key in the little slot, the lights don't work). The breakfast there had fresh berries and quiche. For free. AWESOME. I was seriously considering saying, "screw it, let's just stay here and then drive home in a few days," but no, t'was not to be.

The other thing about Omaha is the zoo. This zoo does not fuck around. We went for an hour on the first day, saw the nocturnal exhibit, which was pretty boss - they had a batcave. Like, a huge cave with freaking swarms of bats. The next day, Will was initially grumbling that he'd "seen" the zoo, so why were we going back?

HA. This is why you don't listen to teenagers.

The rainforest exhibit LOOKS LIKE THIS:

Relax, there are better pictures coming. 
Oh, but first, I had to get our traditional shot of Lyons with lions.
Front view.
Back view.
The lion is in the contract.
Right, anyway, back to the rainforest. So, we've got rope bridges...
Which terrified Will a little.

...waterfalls, as you can see...
Michelle, between the raindrops.
...fruit bats...
That's not a terrific picture, but they wouldn't stop moving. 
...a sloth...
Now, he stopped moving just fine. Actually, he never started.
...a tapir...
He snurfled in his sleep. It was adorable. 
...some monkeys...
"Will as monkey," part two. 
So we finally left the rain forest, and decided we'd take the SkyTram over to the other side of the zoo and walk back. On the way, we found an Abyssinian hornbill, who was kind enough to sit for a picture.

 And an okapi.
Sort of looks like they need to change their ink cartridge. 
The SkyTram was exciting, in that kind of "dangled above a cheetah enclosure" sort of way. We came out near the bug house, which we did not enter, but I did take a picture of the awesome sculpture.

And made the boys sit and think about BUGZ.
And then on to the giraffes. They had a herd of giraffes, and they were wandering about licking leaves off trees, like they do. I took some pictures.

Al realized then that he had found his people.
He has the neck, not quite the tongue. 
So then we headed down the hill to walk through prairie dog town. Now, we've seen prairie dog towns in other zoos, and it tends to be behind plastic. Nah, fuck that. These guys are right by the road. You can walk up and picnic in the midst of them. They don't even bark at you (much).
One of them wandered over, inspected Michelle's shoe, and then wandered off. I have literally never seen Michelle so giggly.
Hi. I'm your mom's spirit animal. BARK!
And then over to the sea lions.
Not seals. HE WILL CUT YOU.
Draw me like one of your French mammals.
And then over to the Red Barn, for the goat picture I promised Sarah.
They have brushes. You can brush the goats.
And then we grabbed lunch at a nearby diner, and were off! On our next whirlwind adventure! Through Nebraska...

....oh god...


Seriously, Nebraska just goes on for freaking ever. We eventually found the Archway Monument, and stopped because JESUS IT DOESN'T END.
The word "consargler" leaps to mind, for some reason. 
"God dammit, you didn't get the dong right. Re-sculpt that bison!"
We took the tour, learning about settlers who crossed the plains, and the natives who were probably like, "y'all are stupid. We've made this work for years, and you guys are dying of dysentery and eating each other?"

Also they were made of wax. I did not know that about the settlers.
Sisyphus, reimagined.

How 'bout some more beans, Mr. Taggert?

And then things got more modern!
During the brief period where we gave a shit about our infrastructure. 

Burn it all. BURN IT ALL.
There was a bit outside, too, including a Pawnee earth lodge (or a replica thereof).

This looks bleak and creepy. You're welcome. 
Also some free-range, wire buffalo.
Natural camouflage. You can barely see them.

"Will as monkey," part 3. Note the hat, which is a new purchase.
And back in the car, and through the of Nebraska, and into Colorado, and near Denver, which is where we are now. And now I shall sign off, for breakfast calls, and we have miles to go before we sleep. Pike's Peak, ahoy!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Movie #201: The Girl Next Door

The Girl Next Door is a 2004 sex comedy starring Elisha Cuthbert, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Chris Marquette, Paul Dano and James Remar.

Matt (Hirsh) is a high school senior who wants to go into politics, has been accepted to Georgetown, and is trying to win a scholarship for moral fiber. His buddies are meek Klitz (Dano) and porn-obsessed, sexist jerk Eli (Marquette), his folks are nice enough, and he's under pressure, but bored and unfulfilled. And then Danielle (Cuthbert) moves in next door, he sees her undress, she comes over and winds up forcing him to strip in the street, and they begin a relationship. She's running from her past in Los Angeles, and he's having fun with someone his own age but with a lot more life experience.

And then the truth comes out - she's a former porn star. He takes his idiot friend's advice and takes her to a cheap motel, and, heartbroken, she returns to the life, with her manipulative, slimeball manager/ex Kelly (Olyphant) dragging her along.

Hirsch "rescues" her, but this brings him into conflict with Kelly, who cons him out of $25K that he'd raised to bring a Cambodian genius to the US. So he winds up partnering with another porn producer (Remar) to make a sex-ed video, which brings in the money and everything works fine!

So, what's really going on in this movie? It could be a story about how a dude redeems a girl or a girl saves a boy from being boring, but it's really about neither. The story arc is about Matt, first and last, but it's about him digging himself into a hole because of his feelings for Danielle, and then digging himself back out by thinking a bit outside the box. And that's nice. Certainly that's better than if the movie had been about him going to LA to "spring" Danielle from the industry; there is a little of that, but it's midway through the movie and not the main arc. Everyone has some issues, but the only one presented as close to irredeemable is Kelly, and the movie treats him strangely - he's very much the antagonist, but he's also a weird mentor figure for Matt, and in the end Matt sends him a box of cigars, signifying friendship or forgiveness.

The most troubling thing about the movie, I think, is Eli's constant banging on about "hot chicks". He's very much a misogynist white nerd, and I guess I'm getting more sensitive to that of late. It's like, I expect it from the jocks in the movie, but I want the protagonists to be a little better. Ah, well.

The movie's funny in a lot of places. Cuthbert manages to deliver her lines, but is mostly bland. The glimmers of talent come from Hirsch (later to star in Into the Wild) and Dano (later to kick ass in Little Miss Sunshine and There Will Be Blood). But it's not as good as I remember it.

My grade: C+
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next up: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Friday, July 26, 2013

Character Creation: Monsterhearts

I'm in Iowa, so obviously I should make a character for a game about sexy, teenage monsters.

No, really, I'm doing this because a) it's quick, b) I'm running this game in a few weeks, and c) I found some fillable Skins online.

The Game: Monsterhearts
The Publisher: Buried Without Ceremony
Degree of Familiarity: None. I've played Apocalypse World, which this is based on.
Books Required: Just the one.

So: Like I said, game about teenage monsters. Now, there are bits of this that would require a group, but I don't have one, so I'll just wing it. First thing I need to do is choose a Skin. "Skin" is, basically, what kind of monster are you.

I think I'll make The Ghoul (one thing that both this game and Apocalypse World - and the forthcoming curse the darkness hack - note is that if you play The Ghoul, you're not a ghoul. You're The Ghoul). I Hunger for something, but not necessarily flesh.

First thing: I choose a name. The book says I want a cold-sounding or guttural name, one that evokes death. I have an image of someone scratching on the inside of their coffin (might be because I just watched "The Grave Danger Job" of Leverage the other day). I'll name him Cask.

Next up, I "circle" two descriptors in the list. I pick "stiff" and "hollow eyes."

And then I pick an origin: resurrected, constructed, disturbed, rejected, sent. Ooh, I like those. Um. I think "sent" would be the most fun to play.

Then, stats. I have Hot -1, Cold 1, Volatile 1, Dark -1. That means I'm better at holding my ground and shutting people down than turning them on. I can add one to one of those; I think I'll add it to Dark.

I get three Moves. I get Hunger, and I get to pick whether it's flesh, fear, chaos, or power. Since I've been sent, I think chaos would be fun. My ghoul feeds on shaking things up, making people fight, getting people at each other's throats (I think maybe he works for a rakshasa).

And then I get two more Moves off a list. I don't want to be stitched together from parts. I do, however, like the idea of being unable to die, so I'll take Short Rest for the Wicked. And then I think Satiety, which means I get benefits when I feed my lust for chaos.

And that's actually it, because the other part of this would involve a group. I'd need to pick someone who reminded me what love was, and they get Strings on me, and then I could say that someone saw me resurrect, which would give us Strings on each other.

Sounds good. That was easy.

Movie #200: The Gift

The Gift is a ghost story directed by Sam Raimi, and starring (deep breath) Cate Blanchett, Hilary Swank, Katie Holmes, Greg Kinnear, Keanu Reeves, Gary Cole, Giovanni Risibi, and hell, who am I forgetting? Well, it's a hell of a cast.

Annie Wilson (Blanchett) is a fortune-teller in a small town in the South (they say the state, I just don't remember - might be Mississippi). She uses Zener Cards to perform the readings (but it's pretty obvious from the movie that the cards are just a focus for her; her psychic talent is obvious ingrained and powerful). She tells her friend Valerie (Swank) that she needs to get the hell away from her abusive husband (Reeves, playing the bad guy, which he should do more of). Wilson is a widow herself, and her three sons aren't dealing with their father's death especially well.

The principal of her sons' school, Wayne Collins (Kinnear) is a little sweet on her, but he's engaged to Jessica King (Holmes), daughter of the rich and powerful Kenneth King (Chelchie Ross). She's also screwing around, which Wilson notices, and then she disappears, and Wilson has dreams that lead her and sheriff (J.K. Simmons) to the pond where she's buried...which is Valerie and Donny's land. He's convicted, and in the midst of the trial, Buddy Cole (Risibi) goes nuts and tries to kill his sexually abusive father. And then the dreams start again - the wrong man got convicted.

Holy shit, this cast. The movie is good and well-directed and scripted and plays fair by the audience. But it's the cast that makes it exceptional. You've got a bunch of real professionals, but the one who anchors it - Blanchett - isn't hammy, she's quietly powerful. And that lets all of them stretch a bit. Swank is vulnerable and weak and kind of stupid. Holmes is slutty and a little mean. Keanu is extremely douchey. It's just a good cast.

Also, it's a good ghost story, and that's always fun. And the end, in which the now-dead Buddy returns to help Annie survive the real killer's attack, is nicely sweet and sad, and extremely well-telegraphed by Risibi (his performance in general might be my favorite).

My grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: The Girl Next Door

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Game Write-Ups Before the Long Road

We're leaving tomorrow, but not on a jet plane. A jet Civic, I guess. Heading for Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Missouri, and then home. I enjoy road trips, I really do, and I'll be doing a running travelogue with pictures and everything!

But for now: Pirates.

Last time we met, we didn't really play much, because Sarah drank something she shouldn't have and got sick. So this time, we had our ambush set up. We got to the island, and found that Jack Snow's treasure was buried (supposedly) in the ruins of an old fort. We set up four cannons, armed two of them with chain shot, and angled them so as to bottleneck any incoming thieves. Then we hid and waited.

Captain Mauser and his crew came aboard, looking for the treasure of the "frosted captain," and we let fly with the chain shot, killing Mauser and several of his people. Blaine stepped around the corner (choking down bile, since he's afraid of blood) and told the survivors to stand down. Morgan rounded the cannons - and they agreed.

We tied them up, and left our captain and a couple of sailors to watch them, while we got on their boats and headed back to the Poseidon's Due. They'd left a few men behind, but we boarded and jumped them. It took some doing - one fellow in the crow's nest had a device that spat fire! But they were outnumbered, and soon enough they were incapacitated.

We discovered that the fire-spitting device was the clapper to the bell, the one that puts people to sleep. So now we have this weird artifact, and two ships...and next time (which is a while from now), we'll flip to the modern day, and find out what has become of these mystical artifacts in the ensuing centuries.

And then, last night, the exciting conclusion to our Demon: The Descent game: How An Angel Dies.

The characters, you'll recall, were in quite a pickle. Will was facing off against the demon-wolf, Marchosias, with Edgar and Luke nearby. Simon had sucker-punched Jamie, and Amy had caught her as she plummeted earthward. And Saskia was stuck in her own little reality-bubble.

Marchosias was cowed, but the characters weren't really sure what to do with him. Edgar used Interference, but instead of scattering the demon-energy around, he tried to focus it all on Marchosias. He did that, and Saskia, stuck in her bubble, saw the world around her in faint, blue-light outlines. And then a wave of...well, light started washing toward her, destroying and resetting everything in its path.

Back in the world, Edgar warned everyone to lie low. Everyone but Will (who was keeping the wolf at bay) dropped back into human form. And then the wave hit.

It filled their Aether pools, so that's good news, but it also reset everything. When the dust cleared, several of them were injured, the Aether scorching them, but it was April 21, 1962. The time-bubble had reset. Marchosias was gone. Amy looked at him with Clairvoyant Sight, and saw him back in his fire-pit. They broke into the house (now empty and not destroyed) and found the basement to be a bit warm...he was trapped again. They looked in on Simon, and he was on top of the Space Needle in present-day, looking sad. Had this reset been the Lambent's mission?

They took a cab to Fremont, hoping to use the Troll's car to get back...and found the gate closed. That left the Space Needle, but they were worried about that, seeing as how a) it's public and b) not all of them can fly. Will suggested going through the Underworld and emerging in modern day, and Luke agreed it might work. He used Rip the Gates, and the six of them trouped through the Underworld, and emerged through an Avernian Gate in the basement of a coffee shop, staffed by a barista called Charlie.

They went to the Troll, and learned that a crazy guy with a hammer had wandered down the street and smashed up the Troll's car. That, then, had been the Lambent's mission. Looking in on Simon again, they found him to be in an office at the Space Needle - apparently he works there. They went there, bluffed their way in (Authorized), and took an audience with him. Will made it quite clear he'd love to kill him, but they were willing to talk.

Simon told them his plan had been for Marchosias to wriggle through the portal into modern Seattle and burn it, but he hadn't known about the Lambent (if he had, he'd have angel-jacked the Lambent himself). The others reminded him that, y'know, they live here, but Simon acknowledged that - he just wanted to see the city burn. Will made it clear that when/if word got out about what he tried to do, it wasn't just this ring he'd have to deal with, and Simon understood that. Jamie said that, instead of trying to end the world to work through his issues, maybe he should just come down to the bar and have a drink?

Simon agreed that, in light of the day/night he'd had, that might be preferable. And so that's where we end - heading to the bar to have a drink and talk this out, like reasonable demons.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Movie #199: The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski is a Coen brothers take on The Big Sleep. The first time I saw it, I didn't get that connection (though I saw the nods to noir and the detective genre) because I hadn't seen Big Sleep, but now that I have, it's pretty obviously a version of that story in the same way that O Brother Where Art Thou is a version of The Odyssey (we'll get to 'O' eventually). Anyway, The Big Lebowski stars Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, Tara Reid (long before her star-making turn in Sharknado) and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

So: Bridges is Jeff Lebowski, known to all as "Dude." He's unemployed (how he pays his rent is never really discussed), and spends his time bowling with his buddies Walter (Goodman) and Donny (Buscemi), drinking white Russians, and smoking weed. And then two dudes kick in his door, pee on his rug, beat him up and demand money his wife owes them...only they have the wrong Lebowski.

The one they want is an older, wheelchair bound millionaire with the same name (played by David Huddleston), whose young trophy wife Bunny (Reid) owes money to a porn magnate. Dude figures the guy owes him a rug, and successfully scams one from him, but then Bunny gets kidnapped, and Dude gets roped into being the courier for the ransom money. And, from there, it just gets really complex, as more and more people start asking Dude to find money, investigate money, find people, and so on. Dude, for his part, is motivated by promises of rewards, but that really only goes so far, and Walter, his violent, Nam-obsessed, know-it-all buddy, really drives things forward by screwing everything up.

The dialog is fast, repetitive and laced with expletives, and you get a good sense of how the friendship between Dude and Walter works (though as Michelle points out, it's not really a healthy friendship, especially for the Dude). Julianne Moore and Philip Seymour Hoffman have awesome supporting roles as Lauren Bacall Lebowski's daughter and his assistant, respectively, and there's a nice bit where Jon Polito shows up as a hired dick, mistaking Dude for a fellow detective. Dude, for his part, refuses to acknowledge what his role in all this is, though he does take the time to call the Big Lebowski out trying to set him up.

All in all, I think this is one of the best Coen films - it's dark without being bleak (like Fargo), but funny enough that I think it qualifies as a comedy. And, of course, it's quotable as hell.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: The Gift

Friday, July 19, 2013

Game Prep

Running Deadlands tonight, so I ought to do some prep, yeah?

Earthdawn, session 1

Monday I ran Earthdawn! No really!

It's a big departure for our group, but I didn't realize how big until we started playing. We play WoD, sure, but NWoD has made an effort to reduce the number of rules and rolls. Earthdawn is very much the old-school style of RPG design, complete with encumbrance, death thresholds and a sesame seed bun.

But - it actually went smoother than I thought, and the system seems to work pretty well (though we are using the 3rd-ed step chart). So, here's what we've got.


  • Arden (played by Sarah), windling beastmaster.
  • Kurita (played by Michelle), t'skrang archer.
  • Cain (played by Matt K), windling thief. 
  • Oolo Ironbeard (played by Toasty), dwarf weaponsmith.
  • Rossana Silverstorm (played by Glen), elf elementalist. 
So we start our story in a little town called Grand Clay, a fief south of the Kingdom of Throal and at the north end of the Servos Jungle. The characters have all wound up here by hook and crook; Cain tried to steal from Arden and got his fingers slapped, and they've been traveling together. Kurita is here to find exotic birds in the jungle (fletching, you see). Oolo is from Throal, and is here to get some clay and ceramic for weapons and smithing purposes. And Rossana lives here, and owns a brewery on the south end of town, near the jungle. 

Most of the characters are in the town tavern (the Devil's Feather), chatting and drinking. Cain wins a sucker bet with Oolo, Kurita suns herself on the roof. Rossana is working her brewery, when she sees someone stumble out of the jungle.

The figure - a young human man - is badly injured. Someone has torn him up pretty badly, leaving multiple wounds and ripping away part of his cheek. Rossana gets him inside and tries to bandage the wounds as best she can, and sends for Arden, who knows animals. Arden doesn't recognize these wounds specifically, but notes that they were made by a creature with five fingers and nasty claws (though no venom, fortunately). She goes to get the town doctor, and the other characters go to investigate (because that's what heroes do!).

The man wakes up, and Arden asks him what happened, but he can't talk. She provides him a scrap of paper and some charcoal, and he writes "brother" and "jungle." 

"Your brother is still in the jungle?" she asks. He nods, and then passes out

Rossana goes to the jungle's edge and casts Plant Talk to speak with the grass. It tells her that, yes, the boy is in a hollow tree in the jungle, but have no way to explain how far in. They identify the creatures as "berbalangs", but none of the characters (Arden included) have heard of them. Arden uses her Tracking Talent and sees the blood trail that the first boy left, and the characters follow it. 

They find where the trail ends, and find the boy in the hollow tree, but aren't sure how he got in - the opening is too small even for the windlings. The boy is bloodied and shocked, but alive. And the berbalangs descend! They hunt in packs, as Arden had guessed, and leap at the characters. 

Arden jams herself against the opening and lashes out with her spear. Oolo attacks with his ax, and Kurita whips at one with her tail. Cain sneaks behind on to use Surprise Strike, and Rossana casts Earth Darts. The initial volley of attacks don't go well - the berbalangs are too fast and vicious. They bite and claw the characters pretty badly. 

But they don't stick around after they're hurt, and the next round goes better. Kurita shoots one with an arrow, and Cain backstabs one. Arden uses Dominate Beast and sends one to attack another, and Oolo clobbers one with his ax. The creatures flee (as I've mentioned previously, I'm not crazy about "to the death" monsters). 

Rossana uses Plant Talk on the tree, and finds that the tree-spirit is awake, aware and much more snippy than she's used to from such beings. She asks nicely for it to let the boy out, and it does - and the characters see runes carved inside the tree. These runs, Oolo notes, indicate the opening to a kaer, one of the underground cities built to hide away from the Horrors.

But that's for later. The characters return the boy to the village and go to tend their wounds. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Movie #198: Ghostbusters II

Ghostbusters II is the inevitable sequel to Ghostbusters. It was most of the same cast - Murray, Weaver, Ackroyd, Ramis, Moranis, Potts, and adds Peter MacNicol as the hapless art restorer possessed by the spirit of a long-dead Carpathian tyrant.

So, five years after the Marshmallow Incident, the Ghostbusters have broken up. Egon is back doing research, Ray runs an occult bookstore (and does humiliating birthday party appearances with Winston on the side), and Peter appears on a terrible TV show called World of the Psychic. And then Dana (now divorced with an 8-month-old son) has a spot of trouble - her baby carriage zooms away and then stops!

The guys investigate and (by drilling through First Avenue) find a river of sludge beneath the city. They get arrested, of course, but the court proceedings turn crazy when the judge (Harris Yulin) goes on a rant that brings two ghosts back, they terrorize the place, the Ghostbusters take care of business, cue the motherfucking montage.

Turns out this all links back the aforementioned tyrant, Vigo (Wilhelm von Homburg). The idea is for him to possess the baby and live again. Actually, he just wants a baby, but Dana is moonlighting as a painting restorer while taking care of the baby until a little older so she can back to the symphony? I don't know, we just kinda ride past that. Anyway, Dana's in the museum where the possessed painting of Vigo is being kept, her boss, Janosh (MacNicol), has a full-on 90s-sexual-harrassment crush, and so bam, her baby gets volunteered.

So we end on New Years Eve with a pink, blobby shield around the museum, Louis (Moranis) donning the Ghostbusters gear to help out in between snogging with Janine (Potts, who apparently just has a thing for nerds), and the guys using "positively charged slime" to animate the Statue of Liberty.

Oy. So, there are some good things, here. The chemistry between the principle cast is good, and feels like it's changed somewhat - in a believable way - since the first one. Murray is sinking into this 90s thing he did where he wasn't so much acting as mugging, but whatever. Ackroyd is, again, the best of the Ghostbusters. Weaver has better chemistry with him and Egon than with Venkman. I spent the movie going "That is Ernie Hudson, right?" because he looks so different without his mustache.

It also really suffers from the "Holy shit, the first one made us all the money, let's do that again! What worked? CATCHY SONGS! Get Bobby Brown and Run-DMC on the phone, now!" The first one wasn't exactly family-unfriendly, but this one is really sanitized. Venkman is much less sleezy (which might be good), but instead of that we get this kind of bland loser thing from him. And the Statue of Liberty thing was pretty clearly tacked on to make up for the lack of Stay-Puft, here, and it doesn't really track.

But hey. My kids liked Slimer driving the bus, so there's that.

My Grade: C-
Rewatch Value: Medium-high, it's pretty unoffensive

Next up: The Gift

Friday, July 12, 2013

Night's Black Agent, 2nd Op: Paris (by way of Zurich)

So! Last night we played Night's Black Agents. Started by spending some XP, and then moving on to the downtime that the characters spent in Zurich looking into the research facility that's been sending blood samples to Macan in Croatia, Tasse Medical Supply, and the human trafficking ring that "recruits" in Paris.

Hanover wasn't able to find much on the latter, but he was trying to do research remotely, and there just wasn't much online. The research facility, though, is just for animal testing - it's not owned by Tasse, and they're one of several companies that farms their work there. Luc Lemarque is a 20something with a degree in biology, trying to get into med school, and seems to have no unusual online or financial activity.

Tasse was purely medical supply until three years ago, when after getting a lot of money from an unknown source (probably Russian mafia), they started bankrolling research. Their research is all on blood and blood preservation, which seems to make sense. Also of interest is the CEO, Simon Thibault. The characters look into his life and find that he has an ex-wife who lives in Zurich and a son in law school in Berlin...but he divorced his wife, swiftly and seemingly out of the blue, three years ago.

The characters dig a little more and find that Thibault paid his wife a lot of money, seemingly to get the divorce done as quickly as possible. There's nothing in the papers that helps, either. Thibault has always done the "rich-guy philanthropist" thing, but he's not heavily into anything in particular. He's visible, but not prominent. His ex, Marie, living in Zurich, does similar things. He's not pictured with dates - in fact, he still wears his wedding ring, and the marriage was never annulled through the Church.

The characters figure something is up, here, and since they're in Switzerland anyway, they decide to meet her. Hanover calls on Liesel Weiss, a friend of his in high society, and scores a couple of invites to a charity ball. He takes Delia with him (using her Cover as Meredith O'Bannon) and meets Marie. Using their Interpersonal Skills, they steer the conversation toward her divorce, and learn that Simon vanished one weekend, then showed up Monday morning completely different. He was distant and cold, and initiated divorce proceedings.

In talking with her, they learn that Marie is still confused and hurt over the whole thing. Gossip says she got to Zurich and immediately checked into a clinic with a "nervous breakdown," which everyone assumed was a drug/booze issue, but to the characters it looks more like she was just really depressed. They also hear that Francois, Marie and Simon's son, flew into Paris when he heard about the divorce but flew out the next day, reportedly after a confrontation with his father.

The characters tap Marie's phone, and sure enough, she calls Francois after the ball and says that she's just lonely and missing Simon. Francois, interning for a law firm in Berlin, offers to come down for the weekend. The characters keep tabs on him, and see him working at a cafe. Rousseau, using one of her Covers, meets him and gets to chatting (mostly about the law, as her Interpersonal skills are lacking). She mostly confirms what the characters already know - something about Simon and about Tasse in general changed three years ago.

But the motivation? The group (Smith in particular) suspects that this might be Simon trying to protect his family from whatever happened to him by driving them away. It was clumsily done, yes, but that's what it looks like. They need more information, and so now, they're heading to Paris.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Night's Black Agents: Preppity Prep

Tonight is NBA. Which means I need to get back into this game's mindset. Got an NSA agent here, maybe I should start illegally listening in to people's phone conversations and reading their emails?

(Note to the NSA: I shouldn't, no. And neither should you.)

Anyway, below the page break is super-secret GMing stuff.

Movie #197: Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters, if you're a young 'un, was one of the greatest movies of the 80s, maybe one of the greatest comedies ever. Directed by Ivan Reitman and starring Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts, Rick Moranis, and William Atherton, it follows the careers of three scientists who become "paranormal elimination experts." And then save the world.

You all know the story, but if you don't, go see the movie. But what the heck. Peter Venkman (Murry), Ray Stanz (Ackroyd) and Egon Spengler (Ramis) are parapsychologists working out of a university in New York. While Stanz and Spengler are quite earnest in their desire to find and even capture ghosts, Venkman is happy just using his position to get laid and kick back. But after an encounter with a real, no-fuckin'-around ghost, they're kicked out of the university for being terrible scientists, and go into business as the "Ghostbusters."

At first, no one bites, but then a musician named Dana Barret (Weaver) hires them because she has visions of a monster-covered ziggaraut in her fridge, and shortly thereafter, they get their first real call to actually bust a ghost. And from there, it all takes off, they become celebrities, they're badly overworked, they hire on Winston Zeddmore (Hudson) to help take the load off...but all the while, more and more ghosts are showing up.

Monsters wind up possessing Dana and her hapless, lovestruck neighbor (Moranis), to pave the way for Gozer, a Sumerian god. Meanwhile, a dickless (look, that's what I heard) EPA agent (Atheron) shuts down the system holding all the ghosts they've captured, and, as Moranis-possessed-by-Vince-Glortho says, "all prisoners will be released."

The movie is incredibly tight. The score is amazing, the background business (watch the maid in the hotel try and put out the burning TP with her spray bottle), the performances (Murray as the cheerfully sleezy Venkman, sure, but my favorite is probably Ackroyd as the constantly earnest and competent Stanz) are all top-notch. The effects have, for the most part, held up really well (some of the shots of the dog-frogs are a little weak).

A couple of problematic elements, mostly from Venkman. We had to make it clear to the kids watching that, no, going into a woman's home when she's invited you there on a professional level, making yourself comfy on her couch, and then telling her you're in love with her is actually really creepy and not endearing at all. The 80s were a different time. (On a related note, upon seeing Gozer, Teagan asked, "Why is she covered in bubbles?" Well, honey, there's this stuff called "cocaine...").

Venkman does, of course, stand up to save the world with the rest of them, so that's nice. I have a hard time seeing what Dana sees in him, other than he's funny, especially since in their first meeting she seriously looks like she's about to punch him in the throat (good acting from Weaver, who we know is capable of kicking ass). I remarked that if this movie were made now, I don't think Venkman would come out as rosy, and I think Stanz, as the good-hearted geek, would probably get the girl. The fact that anyone "gets the girl" has its own issues, of course, but I think there's been some progress.

Anyway, analysis aside, Ghostbusters holds up amazingly well considering it's almost 30 (jeezus).

My grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Ghostbusters II

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Bloody Pirates!

Mine's the only one that's bloody, actually, and that's only because of his nickname.

Anyway, we played Pirates of the Spanish Main some time ago, and once again I let life get in the way and didn't do the write-up. So here we go.

The crew got onto El Gato Del Mar (the ship we found and repaired), got underway, and saw, off in the distance, the Poseidon's Due. Chase was on!

Well, that didn't work out. We chased after them, but even the superb navigation of Francois didn't let us catch up. They escaped out of view, presumably headed for Tortuga. So we headed there as well - we had no food, anyway, and needed to resupply.

We put in to Tortuga, and Magidan got to work on getting us resupplied. She kicked ass at it, too; wound up getting us stocked for a good voyage for the price of a barrel of gunpowder (her winning personality and Attractive Edge may have had something to do with it). Meanwhile, the rest of us started looking for information about what had happened to the Due and its erstwhile captain. It took us a while, but we heard rumors of a sailor from that evil dude's crew who was stuck in hospital with nasty burns. Madigan, meanwhile, had heard rumors of a nasty weapon called "black fire." Hmm.

So Georgina and Blaine went to see the dude, and yes, he was covered in burns and probably dying. Georgina went to fetch medicines and otherwise make him comfortable, and Blaine told him that he sailed under Captain Snow. The man (William) was afraid, but Blaine assured him that he'd never hurt a good sailor in such straits, and that he didn't hold a pirate doing his job against him. William confessed, then, that the Due sailed for an island off the coast of Puerto Rico, looked for the treasure of the "frosted captain."

Blaine thanked him, and then told him that this was no way for a pirate to live, and held his hand over William's face until he died. When Georgina came back, he said that William had passed on. Georgina stayed at the hospital and worked for the night, in exchange for some herbs and medicines, and in the morning, we set sail.

Who, Blaine asked Captain Jack, was the "frosted captain?" "What's my last name, man?" he asked Blaine. "Snow...oh, right."

"It's a three-day voyage," said Snow. "Francois, you're going to buy us half a day."

Francois got to work and charted a route, one that got us there even faster. Next time, fully stocked and there ahead of the Due, we're gonna plan a little surprise. Avast, motherfuckers!