Thursday, August 29, 2013

Monsterhearts!

Takin' notes on characters. Don't mind me:

Dora Martinez, the Witch: Child of Mexican immigrants (father has green card, mother overstayed student visa). Magic from ghost of grandfather. Hates USA, wishes to use magic to fix it (or flee to Mexico, which is obviously superior). Two younger brothers (in elementary school). Edgy. Weird fashion sense. Lots of weird. Thrift store, handmade, tokens from other folks.

Cassi Metz, the Queen: Youngest of three, two twin brothers. Daddy's a consultant, mom's a SAHM. Tanned (on beaches), dark slightly-bleached reddish hair. Three best friends (Alyssa, Madison, Austin), been together since first grade, it's been awesome. On every committee ever at school. Surfs.

Rook Carmichael, the Fae: Dandy-ishly fashionable. Thrift store plus exquisite. Vests, steampunk, dainty, dandy. Very confident. Never bullied. Saw a woman in the woods who dropped a silver key; Rook picked it up and his life changed - finders keepers! (Key is on a chain around his neck.) Hair partially dyed blue. Only child. Mom adores him, Dad doesn't understand (works in construction).

Skylar Grey, the Ghost: Disappeared freshman year, whispers of divorce of parents. Reappeared in sophomore year, but parents have moved away (with his younger sister). Staying with a friend from high school. Mop of blond hair, weird light blue eyes. Wears hoodies and skinny jeans, Chucks. Doesn't know how died, avoids looking into it. People interchange pronouns when talking about Skylar.

Genesis Bell, the Selkie: Came to the land to paint. Family is back in the ocean. Staying with someone. Fair skinned, long curly auburn hair. Paint-stained, loose clothing, always barefoot. Strikingly deep blue eyes. Father - Tobias. Mother - Elle. Brother - Bastion.

So we did our seating chart, and talked about the town a little. The town is Perdido, CA, a seaside resort town of about 3000 (about 20 to a classroom at Perdido High - go Dolphins!), with about 250 in the school in total. Most of the industry in town is tourism related - people come to surf, hike, sunbathe and otherwise experience nature. There's some farming and winery outside the city, and one of the characters' classmates, Omar Davis, his family owns Perdido Winery (so he's popular - he can provide wine).

Next time, we actually play!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Earthdawn!

So! Monday was Earthdawn.

The characters spent some time doing some investigating, asking around about the kaer in the woods. They figured that since it was a kaer, and thus probably empty, it wasn't going anywhere. Arden went into the woods and watched until a berbalang attacked a fawn, and then a couple more came along to share in the feast. She figured the pack that they PCs fought was probably a good 6-10 strong, but they could maybe be lured away from the kaer.

Rosanna talked with the oldest elf in the village, and he told her that no one in the village had come from that kaer. When Grand Clay was founded, the inhabitants all came south from Throal and the surrounding territories. This meant that this kaer might still have inhabitants, or at least their remains.

The characters got together and decided to go check out kaer, maybe just poke around a bit. They took a cow along (old, stringy, dying anyway) and set it down a game trail, and waited until the berbalangs attacked. Then they approached the tree, and Oolo asked nicely to be admitted. It opened, and the characters went into the tree and then fell through a hole, one by one.

Kurita, Oolo and Rosanna slid down a long, wooden slide (Cain and Arden can fly, of course). Kurita managed to jab the slide with a dagger and work her way down slowly, but the elf and the dwarf flew off the end and landed, safely if bumpily, on roots. They were in a huge, column-like central area, surrounded by the roots of the trees, which formed hundreds of tunnels and crevices.

The others joined them, and something flew overhead. Kurita recognized the creatures - huge, bat/manta ray-like things call shadowmants. Cain remembered that their barbed tails carried a poison sting, and the poison is notorious for being resistant to magical healing.

And the characters noticed that the shadowmants were circling...and getting lower.

Next time: Combat!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Earthdawn notes!

Holy cats. Haven't run this in a good long time, and now it's 4:15 and I'm just now putting "pen" to "paper."

I'm having trouble with this game, honestly. I have some ideas, but when I read the book my eyes kinda glaze over. I'm sort of regretting not looking for old sourcebooks at GenCon so I could grab a pre-written adventure just to see what it looks like.

But enough of that whinging. Here we go.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Deadlands: The Deathy Conclusion

Well, no one actually died.

So! Last time, the characters learned the Jean Decoundreau, apparently the one responsible for all of this craziness, died outside Denver just after Nikolai met him. They discussed various options, including road-tripping to Denver to check the guy's grave, but then Mark figured out that he could just telegraph the Marshall's office up there and have them look at said grave.

And indeed - a few hours later the reply came. "EARTH DISTURBED. GRAVE EMPTY."

Nikolai, realizing that he and other members of the community were compromised, went up to his house to avoid being around folks. Suzi started working on some gris-gris to help protect people, and went to Pastor Jacobs to deliver one. Lillie went up to Nikolai's house to give him his.

She realized when she got there, though, that something was wrong. The whole place was covered in night ravens, and the lights were out. She opened the door, and ravens swooped in, trying to scare her off, but she was having none of it. One of the servants approached, and came at her with a knife, but she backed off and called up a whirlwind, scattering the birds. This attracted enough attention for the others to head up.

They got there, and discovered that Nikolai's servants were mind-controlled and armed. They fought, making sure not to seriously injure anyone. Suzi walked in, figuring they wouldn't hurt her, but they actually targeted her specifically - apparently Jean didn't have the same love for her that he had in the past. They worked their way upstairs and checked Nikolai's room, and he blasted them with magic (still controlled). Suzi, figuring this had worked before, smooched him, and he managed to break free of the magic, but was still too dazed to be of much help.

The characters forged ahead, up to the attic, and there, surrounded by night ravens, was Jean. He used a fear power, scared Suzi into running and Lillie into a phobia of ravens. Lillie called up a blast, but had to deal with the Devil to do it, and wound up getting mind-fried for a few turns. Suzi turned the fear right back on him, calling on Erzulie to put the fear of a jealous lover into him. Jean fled, leaping out the hole in the wall, trying to fly...but Suzi saw Erzulie reach out and pluck the "wings" from his back. He fell, impaling himself on the wrought-iron fence.

Suzi was remorseful - she hadn't wanted to see Jean die, just to see him pull himself together. But the loa are cruel and unforgiving, it seems. She exorcised his body, and saw the manitou rise up and vanish, and they buried him in the newly re-consecrated cemetery. I'd like to think someone carved "Love is stronger than death" on his headstone.

Movie #208: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, is, of course, one of the most influential Westerns ever, starring Clint Eastwood, Lee van Cleef, Eli Wallach and a whole lot of Italian folks (it was filmed in Italy and directed by Sergio Leone). It's evidently one of the "Dollars" trilogy (with A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More), but I haven't seen those.

The story follows three men: Angel Eyes (Van Cleef), a hit man who always does the job and kills without remorse, Tuco (Wallach) a bandit on the run, and Blondie (Eastwood), a gunslinger-for-hire. Of the three, only Tuco has any kind of character arc - we never really learn anything about Angel Eyes (he's just kind of there to be scary and provided some opposition) or Blondie (we know he's badass and mysterious and not quite as willing to gun people down as Angel Eyes). Tuco, though, although he's a killer and a scumbag, we actually see his history somewhat when he visits his priest brother, and if we don't exactly feel for him, we at least come to understand him.

Anyway, basic plot: A Confederate soldier who was once a bandit stole a lot of gold and hid it in a grave. Dying, he tells Tuco the name of the cemetery and Blondie the name of the grave, but since neither of them know both, they have to tolerate each other as they search for it. Eventually the run afoul of Angel Eyes, who tortures the information out of Tuco and just offers to split the gold with Blondie (whom he correctly figures wouldn't talk no matter what he did). Eventually, all three men wind up at the graveyard, Blondie shoots Angel Eyes, and splits the money with Tuco (though not before nearly hanging him - it's kind of a thing with them).

This movie is, for me, like Enter the Dragon in that I feel like I'd seen it already. The moments and visuals in the movie show up in so many subsequent ones that it's fun to see where the tropes come from. But man, it's not a short movie, and there are a lot of repetitive shots, and it does sort of drag in places.

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next up: The Good, The Bad, and the Weird

Saturday, August 24, 2013

GenCon 2013! - GM Report Card

I'm a little late getting this one, and of course it's maybe a little funny I'm writing it while I'm at FanExpo (I've got some time before my first panel), but y'know, better to do it while I have a moment. So!

Early GenCon is as it often is: largely devoid of life (I mean, by comparison), and Cardhalla is still being built.

You only get a "before" picture this year because I wasn't around when it fell. 

But that isn't to say that thronging crowds of people were far off! I'm led to understand that attendance was up considerably this year.

Ah, throngs.

I wound up spending a good deal of time in the dealer's room, mostly on Sunday. But I did manage to photograph some strange and beautiful things, such as this freaking amazing cave thingie.

Admit it, you want to make a dwarf character now. 
Did some gaming, as well. I played in two games: Deadlands Noir and Better Angels. And now we get into the "GM Report Card" bit.

Deadlands Noir is, as the name suggests, the Deadlands setting but placed into a noir context, complete with detectives and grifters and femme fatales and so on. We were in New Orleans, and my character was one of the aforementioned grifters - somewhat like the hucksters of Deadlands Reloaded, but without the ability to deal with the Devil (which I missed, and would probably import if I run this). We also had an undead detective (Harrowed), a mad scientist (Michelle, talking fast) and a couple of other folks that I don't remember offhand - one was the femme fatale.

Basic plot: The Big Sleep. Maybe Chinatown, a little. Find the millionaire's missing daughter and wife. Things come to light; the wife was cheating and generally unpleasant, so maybe it's not such a big deal if she doesn't come home. Dude has a son that supposedly died in a flood on their old estate. We wound up at said estate, and the lost son had become an alligator-monster and tried to eat us.

All in all, this is fine and in-setting. The GM got into his NPCs, used a lot of different voices, and kept the names straight (which, given the number of secondary characters, is impressive)

The problem actually came with the system. Savage Worlds is a crunchy, minis-based game. It loses a lot, IMO, if you don't use it, including maps and tokens and so forth. And we just kind of winged positioning and movement during the fights, which means that some of us (the folks with spells and other wonky powers) kind of got shafted because we can't think tactically.

But the other issue is, the last fight involving the gator-dude just dragged out, because said gator-dude has a really high Vigor and armor and a high Parry, which means we can't hit him, and when we do we can't damage him. Which would be fine - we have to work for our hits - but then the GM spent bennies to soak and unshake, and now we're back to the grind. We got out by using some clever tactics, but it felt like the GM was really married to one moment and kind of shoved us into that. My grade: B+

Noir game, so kind of a dark picture. 
Food trucks! I love them, though the lines are long. But you do get to people-watch. Or rabbit-watch.

Hey, Rocky! Watch me pull a magician out of my hat!

Surrounded by severed legs. Art?

Ran afoul of a gorgon. 
Back to the dealer's room, we put some stuff up in the Cheese Weasel section. If you look carefully you'll see a copy of curse the darkness in there.


And in the dealer's room proper, you can see some of my favorite people!

Eloy's a saint. John and Kristen...aren't, but I love them both anyway. 
Friday night was the Ennies. curse the darkness was nominated for Best Electronic Product. It was really a contest for the Silver, because there was a Deadlands product in that category and I knew we wouldn't beat that, because of the way the voting is structured if nothing else (and I'm by no means upset about that - just means we need more visibility for Daedalus next year!).

The venue was really cool:

Waiting for a laser and big ball of popcorn. 
And we got to see Leonard Balsera sing "Take On Me" and completely rock it. So it was all good, even though we lost to Hobomancer and (as expected) Deadlands: The Last Sons.

Next morning (which I guess would have been Saturday), I had a game to run at Games on Demand. So!

Kira, stylin'. 

She's running Dresden Files. Note the awesome board for scene Aspects. 
I wound up running curse the darkness (it was that or Tragedy). I had three players, and they put us in Boston, following an earthquake, and were trying to get their doctor another doctor. None of them played Openers, and the Between was largely ignored. I never realized how great a source of Between Points having Openers really is; they went pretty much unnoticed by Them the whole time. The Removal Challenges came from aftershocks, and that worked just fine. 

Lined up on the wall, ready to die. 
 We finished up early, so I did a stint in the dealer's room.

Kristen, still not a saint. 

Topher and Renee, trying to fix a broken robot. 
And then it was time for Better Angels! This is a one-roll engine game in which you play supervillains possessed by demons. The demon in question (played by the person on your left) will help you out and activate your powers, but it'll ask you to do horrible things. If you're eeeeevil enough, you can avoid doing really terrible, actually evil things. It's a cool premise, and I backed the Kickstarter (and later picked up my copy).

The GM kinda got thrown into running at the last minute, and it sort of showed - pregens, but all handwritten. I personally think we should have made the characters, because the game's terms and systems aren't immediately intuitive and making characters might have helped with that. But the game was fun, the GM listened to us, and it went pretty well. My grade: A-

Also Michelle played a tennis-themed villain named "Zero Love."

And, finally, Sunday, official day of shopping.

Ballonthulhu! 
A Klingon, a Wookie, and a pirate playing in a band. I don't remember what song. 
Will, with his swag.



Monday, August 12, 2013

Movie #207: Gone in 60 Seconds

Gone in 60 Seconds is an action movie starring Nicolas Cage, Giovanni Risibi, Angelina Jolie, Chi McBride, Delroy Lindo, Christopher Eccleston, Vinne Jones, and a bunch of other people. It's a remake of a Michael Caine movie, apparently, which I have not seen.

So. Kip Raines (Risibi) takes a job stealing 50 cars. He fucks up and attracts the attention of Detective Castlebeck (Lindo), and loses the cars he's already stolen. His big brother, Randall "Memphis" Raines (Cage), once the most notorious car thief in California, comes back to town at the behest of his buddy Atley (Will Patton) to get Kip out from under.

The crime boss who engineered this, though, (played with panache by Eccleston) doesn't want to hear it. He wants the cars, or he'll kill Kip, Randall, and their mother. Raines, not having much choice, calls in his old crew: his mentor, Otto (Robert Duvall); his ex, Sway (Jolie); his big, badass, mute friend, Sphinx (Jones); and his now-retired friend Donny (McBride). Kip brings his own crew on (including Scott Caan and James Duval), and the crew gets to work stealing 50 cars in a single night.

I really enjoy this movie, though I don't make the mistake of thinking it's good. It's got a big cast, but it's not the cast that makes it feel scattered. It's more things like the car that one of the youngest crew members steals that has drugs in the back, which creates a point of conflict when Castlebeck shows up sniffing around. Or when the detective figures out three cars on their list and stakes them out, so now they can't steal them so they have to break into police impound to get them...but then they just, like, do that. There's no drama or tension in that scene; there's more in the scene where the dog eats the special keys for said cars.

By far the best action is the car chase at the end, with Raines in Shelby Unicorn Penis-Car 5 Million or something (I DON'T SPEAK CAR) racing across the city. Of course the car gets wrecked, the bad guy doesn't accept the work that Randall did and tries to kill him, but Castlebeck gets involved and said bad guy falls to his death.

The performances are fun. I love Vinnie Jones as the Sphinx, and I really enjoy watching him beat up multiple people. I think Jolie was largely wasted as Girlfriend, but you can't have everything. The chemistry between Cage and the crew, and the tension between Cage's older crew and Risibi's younger crew, is also fun. And Eccelston chews scenery perfectly as Calitiri, a crime boss who's a bit crazy, but not supervillain about it.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: High

Next up: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Deadlands: Love is Stronger Than Death, parts 1 and 2

Yesterday we played Deadlands! And then again today, actually. So here's what happened:

We open in Novygrad, in the cemetery. The characters have been awakened from a sound sleep - well, not so sound, but never mind - by a disturbance in the churchyard. Hideous, dog-like things are digging up bodies and eating them. Mark, Lillie, Suzi and Shortstop are at the churchyard, and Nikolai joins them (Mark notices that he's fully dressed, unlike the others, who pretty obvious just rolled out of bed).

Nikolai casts a Blast spell and kills several of the creatures, and the others attack the characters. Shortstop kicks one, Mark shoots another dead, and Suzi wraps Mina Devlin's whip (which she acquired here and first used here), and the wolf sits and looks blank-eyed. In the distance, the characters hear a rooster crow - odd, since it's the middle of the night.

Putting this aside, Lillie throws her own Blast spell, incinerating the rest of the wolves, including the one Suzi captured. The characters identify these things as cemetery wolves, scavengers that eat carrion, but that can't enter consecrated ground. How'd they get in here, then?

Mark notes that Nikolai seemed well-prepared for this, and Nikolai mumbles a reply - he seems out of it. The characters spread out and find a scent of rum on the cemetery gates. Mark goes into the church to look for Pastor Jacobs (Lillie's one-time fiancee and current enemy, though they tolerate each other well enough for living in the same town), but can't find him. He finds a note saying the pastor has gone to visit family.

This rings false to Lillie (who happens to know Jacobs' family is back east), so she casts Hunch. She sees a man made of shadows rip the gate off the hinges, then extend a shadowy whip from his hand, grab the pastor, and throw him into a grave. Suzi takes his Bible and uses Mind Rider, and sees the pastor in a dark place, pounding on something above him. Figuring him to be buried, Suzi tells the others, and they get started digging.

Meanwhile, Shortstop has gone to the saloon to check on the chickens (he heard the rooster, too). He sees a black rooster that he's never seen before in the yard. He uses Beast Friend, and the rooster (who has a surprisingly deep voice and threatening manner) informs him that he's there at the behest of "the mistress." Asked to describe said mistress, he describes Suzi, but notes that this is just one of her forms.

Shortstop, not able to parse this, takes the rooster with him back to the churchyard.

Back there, they townsfolk have dug up the pastor, who by some miracle (hee!) is still alive. He manages to gasp "Nikolai!" before he passes out. And where is the town's patron, anyway?

The characters ask George (one of the deputies, who acquitted himself well in the first story and got promoted to wild card) to go to Nikolai's house to check on him. He does; meanwhile Shortstop and Suzi question the rooster (whom Shortstop has nicknamed "Bob"). The rooster says that the he is here to protect Suzi, and in fact grows calm when Suzi holds him, but flips out when anyone tries. When asked what he's meant to protect her from, he says "night ravens." He also finally nails down the "mistress" - Maman Brigitte.

The characters head back toward the saloon. Suzi grabs Nikolai's favorite shot glass and uses Mind Rider, but sees nothing (and suffers a crisis of faith into the bargain). And they hear a gunshot coming from up the hill, near Nikolai's house. They charge up there and find George, leaning against the gate, bleeding out. Suzi uses her healing miracle and saves him, and he says that he didn't see who shot him. The characters enter, and find Nikolai, asleep in bed. Informed what's going on, he summons his servants, and at Lillie's suggestion, says that they'll all take rooms at the saloon tonight.

They leave the house, and note huge ravens atop it. Mark shoots at one but misses, hitting a window. The characters head for the saloon, where everyone has a drink. Nikolai notes that this isn't his glass - which is why Suzi's Mind Rider didn't work, she wasn't using an object with any connection to Nikolai. She tells them a little about Maman Brigitte; she's a death loa, she likes cigars and hot rum with peppers.

"Like that?" asks Nikolai. Suzi looks down - that's the drink she's made herself, without noticing.

End of Part 1. 

Suzi doesn't remember making the drink, and it's becoming obvious that a new loa is showing an interest in her. But it's late, so everyone goes to sleep in the saloon, except Mark, who goes to the jail, as he feels is his duty (and gets a bennie for Heroic).

There, he dreams of being in his old town, with everyone he ever knew slaughtered around him, including the other characters. He sees Annabelle, the witch who did it, and levels Justice, his shotgun...but she turns around, and then falls dead. There is no vengeance, nothing he can do to find peace. And then his shotgun crumbles away to nothing...and he awakens, feeling exhausted.

The others, though, wake in the saloon feeling refreshed, including Nikolai, who says he's felt dazed and drunk the last few days. Suzi decides to go on a vision quest and speak with Erzulie. She does, and meets the loa in an opulent bedroom.

She asks Erzulie why Maman Brigitte is suddenly interested in her. Erzulie tells her that she gained her interest when she used the whip. Suzi says that she might be interested in this new path, and Erzulie (known to be a jealous loa) says that that's fine, which means it totally isn't. Suzi asks if Erzulie will help her, and the loa says she will. Suzi awakens, unsure of her path.

Lillie goes and teaches her school, Shortstop is assigned chore upon chore by Master Chen, and Nikolai stays in the saloon doing some paperwork. At the end of the day, the characters regroup, and Lillie casts Hunch to see if she can figure who stole Nikolai's glass.

She sees the shadow-creature enter the bar and grab it with its whip-like hands...but now she can see a person underneath all that darkness. She thinks that person is Spencer Jacobs, the pastor. Concerned, she informs Nikolai of this, and Nikolai decides to have everyone in attendance when they speak with Jacobs ("everyone" here meaning "adult PCs").

Shortstop, meanwhile, is training, when Chen comes to find him and tells him his friends need him. He goes shuffling off down the road, confused as to why the chores, and then the training, and then the advice.

In the saloon, Jacobs enters and sits with the characters. He opines that there has been entirely too much black magic, here - that, of course, is why we're having all these troubles. He's reluctant to talk about his own experiences, but when the characters press, he tells them he was at his writing desk, and then he saw Nikolai, and then he woke up in a coffin.

Suzi approaches, puts a hand on his shoulder, and uses Dispel. Jacobs, apparently in response, pulls a gun and shoots at Mark.

Lillie lunges across the table and casts Armor on Mark, in just enough time to deflect the bullet. Nikolai flings cards...and casts Blast on the immediate area, damaging everyone (including himself!) except Suzi.

The four fellows at the next table all stand in unison. Two go across the room to the gun check, one attempts to grapple Suzi. One shoots Mark, wounding him, and another leaps on top of Lillie. Shortstop arrives and fires his slingshot at the one with the gun, but misses. Suzi gets one guy to snap out of it, and then whips Nikolai around the neck. She feels an immediate resistance on a magical level, but isn't sure why. Nikolai yanks the whip out of her hands, and she runs over to him and kisses him, trying to snap him out of it.

He blinks, and the smiles and says, "j'taime, mon belle Suzi", and they both vanish into the shadows. The others snap out of it immediately. Lillie sends Shortstop for the doctor, and gathers up Mina's whip.

Suzi and Nikolai reappear, somewhere dark. She asks him who he is, and he says his name is Jean. "I've known you for years," he says. "I saw your grandfather die. I'm here for you now."

She asks him why, and he replies, "Love is stronger than death." She asks his full name, and he replies, "Jean De-" before Nikolai finally shakes off the spell.

Back in the bar, everyone reconvenes, and Suzi and Nikolai exit the storeroom (Nikolai can't actually teleport too far). Obviously, this problem extends far beyond Nikolai - the preacher, Nikolai and several of the townsfolk are under someone's intermittent control. Lillie offers that the whip might be a problem - it seems to correspond to several of the more unfortunate events. Nikolai says that he doesn't remember much, but when the whip went around his neck, he heard a man and a woman arguing in a tone of voice that reminded him of his parents fighting. He also remembered meeting a man in Denver, who dressed in black and carried many trinkets, much like Suzi. He'd been drunk, though, so the conversation escaped him.

Suzi, unsure of what all this meant for her, decided to commune with Erzulie again. The loa told her that Maman Brigitte had a husband, and that Jean Decoudreau had loved her for a long time, but that he had his own loa following him. Suzi decided (I think) to stick with Erzulie; Maman's path was interesting and tempting, but would ultimately involve changing everything about who Suzi was.

Nikolai used Hunch and found the name "Decoudreau" as well. He gave that to Mark, and had Mark contact the Marshall's office in Denver. Lillie took the whip to the blacksmith, and had him burn it. Shortstop went home, and asked Master Chen why he'd had him train all day. Chen tried to explain, and then demonstrated the way of Quickness, saying that his English wasn't good. Explaining was too hard - the only way for Shortstop to learn was to train.

Mark sent a telegraph to Denver. It came back shortly: Jean Decoudreau murdered outside of Denver eight months ago.

Next time: The exciting conclusion!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Night's Black Agents: Play, Notes

So! Last night we were down one character (Lockwood) because her player got called out of town, so she stayed in Zurich to keep an on Marie and Francois. The others head to Paris, and Rousseau got them a safe house (using Celeste, her contact in the Police Nationale). 

Rousseau met with Celeste and asked about human trafficking, and got the named Vasily Avilov. Avilov is third-generation Russian mafia, and reported his grandfather started in the KGB. He's young, but dangerous and ruthless - fled to France to avoid arrest in Russia for murder, assault, rape, etc. He's been arrested here but never jailed, and he's smart and connected. And definitely involved in kidnapping tourist girls, getting them addicted, and sending them east.

The characters did some investigating; Hanover and Rousseau went to the law firm that handles Tasse's business and handled Thibault's divorce. Hanover sneaked off and found a computer, hacked into their system and downloaded the relevant files. Simple op.

That night, Smith and David went to the lab (the one that Tasse contracts to do their animal testing; they'd found the samples sent from here when they were in Osijek). They broke in, and David went through the paperwork and found the relevant experiment. The abstract read strangely - it was talking about using a nutritional supplement to help combat chronic fatigue, but in the context of what the PCs knew (i.e., vampires), it looked more like the supplement was meant to make blood more nutritious as a food source. 

Smith noted cameras - too sophisticated for this place. He grabbed on and disabled it, but figured they had been spotted. They left, and everyone met back up at the safe house.

The divorce papers seemed to support what the characters suspected - Thibault was paying a lot more than was probably necessary, and Marie had never asked for more money, only reconciliation. In the event of her remarrying, the money continues, but gets paid to his son. It looked like, for all the world, he was protecting them but keeping them distant. 

They had the camera from the lab, so Hanover whipped together a device to track its signal. They followed that to a warehouse not far from the lab...and investigating, they found the place stores Tasse goods. It also has a refridgerated section, which indicated to the characters that going in would be a bad. David, then, noticed that the signal was getting distorted, so they bugged out, taking a circuitous route home.

Rousseau had another contact, a priest named Father Michel Dumas. The characters went to Notre Dame so she could met with him, and she sat down in confessional. She asked about human trafficking, and he didn't know anything about Avilov, but agreed to put her in touch with a member of the Knights of Malta (the Vatican's intelligence arm), who might be able to help. 

And then she asked about vampires. Dumas was taken aback, but listened to her and her evidence, and then asked: If this was a serial killer, would you stop it? If so, why was this different? Rousseau considered, perhaps regretting leaving three vampires in Osijek who were killing nightly. 

She left, and David (and then the others) noticed a man taking pictures of Rousseau. David walked up on him and stuck him with a needle, and the men took him to the bathroom. His passport (Russian) identified him as Mikhael Golubov. They stole the memory card from his camera and cloned his smartphone, and then the agents separated and met back at the safe house. 

The pictures on the phone were all of Rousseau, but they started at the church. Doing some data recovery, they found older pictures of women at the airport. Rousseau ran those faces through some recognition software - several had been reported missing, some had turned up dead. Golubov, apparently, worked for Vasily. 

His smartphone confirmed that. Someone sent him an email with a picture of Rousseau, telling him to follow her and find where she went. The photo, Rousseau realized, was taken after she met with her contact in Sarajevo, Ivana Zisek. Ivana, apparently, had been made. 

One of the girls on the list was still in France; she'd been arrested for solicitation (Olive Parent). The characters figured they'd better make contact with her, and they needed to find out how Golubov traced Rousseau to the church. So far, it seemed they'd only made Rousseau. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Movie #206: Goldeneye

Goldeneye is the first of the Brosnan Bond films, and stars him, Famke Janssen, Alan Cumming, Sean Bean, Judi Dench, Izabella Scorupco, and Joe Don Baker.

Bond and Alex Trevelyan 006 (Bean) break into a Russian facility of some kind to blow it up. Trevelyan is killed, Bond returns to England, bangs the lady sent to evaluate him after a car chase with a mysterious sexy lady (Janssen), and gets sent to check out a Russian general Gottfried John. Said general and mysterious hot lady who crushes men between her thighs and loves every second of it (her name is Xenia Onatopp, FFS) kill a bunch of people at a secret weapons develop lab, leaving only two survivors - Boris (Cumming) and Natalya (Scorupco). Missed opportunity, there; I'd have named her Natasha.

Anyway, turns out there's a weapon that sends an EMP down to Earth and does EMP things, go to Russia, meet with Russian crime boss (Robbie Coltrane, with a fantastic cameo by Minnie Driver as his mistress), shoot, shoot, sex, sex, bad guy turns out to be Trevelyan, blah blah. It's a Bond film; you can't get hung up about plot too much.

I will say, though, that this was kind of the last really good one before we "rebooted" with Daniel Craig. There are some gadgets, but they don't overshadow the rest of the movie. The action is good and loud (TANK ON THE STREETS OF ST. PETERSBURG), but it gives you some time to breathe (although the jump cuts are terrible). The performances are good. I enjoyed Brosnan's Bond, and I liked Janssesn very much as Onatopp. The glee she shows when killing people or being hurt is just amazing, and you very much buy her in the role. Likewise, Bean's villain is appropriately evil, and manages to hit Bond with a couple of zingers, which is always nice. Cumming really sort of steals the show as the neurotic, sort of slimy computer programmer; his death scene is the one people tend to remember.

The Bond girl (Scorupco) is sort of boring. She's pretty, and she is a hell of a lot more believable in the role than Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist named Christmas (we'll get to "W" eventually), but I think that she didn't stand out overmuch. But for a Bond movie, this one's pretty understated, which considering the amount of shit getting blown up, is a weird statement. So she works.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Gone in 60 Seconds

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Movie #205: Godspell

Godspell is a 1973 film version of the musical of the same name, starring Victor Garber, David Haskell, and eight other folks.

The show is basically the Gospel of Matthew set to 70s music. In the movie, eight people are going about their days, and then John the Baptist (Haskell) appears to them, baptizes them in a fountain, and makes ready for Jesus (Garber) to show up. And then they hit a junkyard and do themselves up like clowns, and perform a bunch of parables. It's all very light, joyous and playful.

But you know how this ends. Judas (same role as John) betrays Jesus and he gets crucified (well, hung from a chain-link fence with red cloth) and "dies".

I have some history with this show. I was in it when I was in college, and the musical director, though younger than me, was a fucking musical genius. He and I ended up dating for a while - he was really my first relationship with a man that had a romantic as well as a sexual component. Matt was murdered in 2008 by two of his students in Vegas. I hadn't spoken to him in years, but the last time I did, he told me that he'd been pretty heavily in love with me during our relationship. I never knew that, and I certainly didn't treat him like I should have (I was in my 20s, my head wasn't on straight). Anyway. All that means for our purposes is that I didn't get through "On the Williows," which he sang in our production, without crying.

Sorry for the digression. Movie. Well, I'm not Christian, but this show has always had an effect on me, and it kinda still does. I really enjoy that the first two-thirds of it are so simple and colorful and playful, and then it switches pretty quickly once we realize that, no, Jesus has to die.

Now, we can get into the debates about whether that actually means anything in the context of the story. Sure, it's moving and all, but only if you accept the premise. There's a lot in the show (and in the Gospel) like that - "Love God above all" only works if you accept that there is a god and that he's worthy of that love, and I don't. And it's really amazing how much of the morality and parables are dependent on that. The whole "lilies of the field" thing, for instance, is only comforting or meaningful if you accept that god exists. And so on.

And yet - the earnestness with which this cast performs this show, and the general love that they show one another, is fun to watch. Even if the larger messages are not really useful, the show is fun, bright, and, again, playful.

And though I'm not any kind of theist anymore, I can't quite bring myself to say I don't like it. I've got too much attached to it.

My Grade: B
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Goldeneye

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Movie #204: Glengarry Glen Ross

Glengarry Glen Ross is a drama based on a play by David Mamet, so right away you know it's going to be a bunch of men cursing a lot. The movie stars Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin (briefly), Alan Arkin, Ed Harris...I guess that's all.

So! All these guys are salesman. They sell property, I guess, real estate? Anyway, Shelley Levene (Lemmon), Dave Moss (Harris) and George Aaronow (Arkin) haven't been doing especially well of late, and they get a visit from a high-rolling salesman from higher up in the company (Baldwin), who basically tells them they either sell or they fuck off. Ricky Roma (Pacino) misses this meeting, but he's the top seller anyway.

The rest of the movie is largely cutting between Aaronow and Moss planning to rob the office, Roma talking with a mark (Jonathan Pryce), and Levene trying desperately to get a promising lead off the manager, Williamson (Spacey) and make enough money to pay for an unspecified medical procedure for his daughter.

And then the office is robbed, and the police show up, and there's more arguing, cursing, and yelling, and eventually Shelly confesses that he and Moss did the robbery. The movie ends with Roma effortlessly getting a lead, and Aaronow finally saying what everyone thinks: "I hate this job," as he sits down to chase leads.

The acting in the movie is amazing. Everyone is spot-on, fast, and brutal, even Jack Lemmon, and it's fun to see him display some teeth before immediately dropping down into terror and pathetic-ness. Pacino is Pacino, but he manages some vulnerability when his deal goes south. This is young Kevin Spacey, but you can see seeds of greatness here. Really the whole cast is great.

The script is well-written, but it's so fucking bleak. (Mamet, man.) And, honestly, it's hard to care. I mean, none of these people are especially likeable. The ones that we feel for the most are Levene (who at least has a strong motivation for what he does), and we would feel a bit for Williamson, maybe, for being so put-upon...except he deliberately gives Levene a lead that takes him to a delusional couple that likes talking to salesmen, which means that sale he thought he made is worthless. So really, fuck these guys.

And "guys" is the right word. The only woman you even see in the movie is a woman working at the Chinese restaurant where they all hang out. Others are mentioned, but never in any way that lets you know anything about them.

Incidentally, there was a live read of this movie (not the play, the movie) with an all-female cast that I really wish I could see somewhere. Robin Wright as Ricky Roma, Catherine O'Hara as Levene, and so on.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Godspell

Friday, August 2, 2013

Movie #203: Glen or Glenda

Glen or Glenda is, of course, the 1953 movie directed (and written by, and starring) Edward D. Wood, Jr. (though he acted under a stage name), Dolores Fuller, Bela Lugosi, Timothy Farrell, and "Tommy" Haynes (I have no idea why the quotes are there).

This movie is a mess, of course. The Scientist (Lugosi) acts as kind of a narrator, but doesn't actually narrate anything relevant to the story. Farrell's character, a psychiatrist named Alton, spends much of the movie talking with a police inspector (Lyle Talbot) about the suicide of a transvestite name Patrick/Patricia, seeking to understand transvestism and transsexualism (not that the word "transsexual" is ever used). Alton tells the story of Glen/Glenda (Wood), who wants to marry his girlfriend Barbara (Fuller) but likes to dress as a woman. And then there's the secondary story of Alan/Anne (Haynes), who lives as a man but wants to be a woman, and eventually gets a sex change.

The dialog is same rambling, nonsensical crap we get in Bride of the Monster, but it's even less focused and more ridiculous, somehow. Alton and the inspector wax philosophical about the nature of man and what makes a man, what induces a man to dress as a woman, pseudo-hermaphrodites and sex changes, and really, if you watched the movie without the context of knowing that Wood was a transvestite, the "wtf" would be seriously amplified. As it is, you feel kind of bad for him - the movie is obviously a plea for acceptance and normalcy for him personally (the opening title card ends with You are society - JUDGE YE NOT), and many reassurances throughout the movie are made that transvestites are totally normal and should be allowed to dress in a way that allows them to feel normal and comfortable, which, of course, they should. (There's also an assurance that, no, they're not homosexual, they're "normal", but hell, this was 1953, and Ed Wood was not a man gifted with good use of language on the best of days - the grammar in his dialog makes me cringe generally).

One of the sad things about the movie is Lugosi. He's playing "the Scientist", and he's got no substantial role, just rambles on about snips and snails and puppy-dog tails and green dragons. But watching him, you can see the actor in there - he's obviously professional and trained, much more so than anyone else in the movie. I really need to watch some of his earlier work.

Anyway, the movie is terrible, but it's more watchable on a second viewing, strangely enough. Wine helps, too.

My Grade: F
Rewatch Value: IINSIAIFWT

Next up: Glengarry Glen Ross

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Movie #202: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an adaptation of Swedish author Stieg Larsson's novel of the same name, and stars Michael Nvquist, Noomi Rapace, Sven-Bertil Taube, Ingvar Hirdwall, and Peter Andersson. This, obviously, is the first film adaptation, in Swedish, not the more recent one with Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, which I don't own.

So: Mikhael Blomkvist (Nvquist) is a journalist who's just been found guilty of libel against a wealthy businessman. He's going to prison for three months, but not for another six months, and in the meanwhile he's offered a job trying to figure out the 40-year-old presumed murder of the niece of another millionaire, Henrik Vanger (Taube). He moves out to the little island where this all happened and starts digging into the pasts of some thoroughly unpleasant people.

Meanwhile, the titular girl, Lisbeth Salender (Rapace) is keeping tabs on him; she was originally paid to investigate him before Vanger hired him. She's a ward of the state, despite being a legal adult (Sweden must be more serious about making sure mentally ill folks get help than the US, not that that's a high bar), and her new guardian ambushes and rapes her. She then ambushes and assaults him, takes control of her finances, and gets back in the game, as it were; she goes out to Hedestad and joins up with Mikhael to figure this all out.

In the end, it turns out that the girl was alive, but her father and brother were serial killers and she killed her father and escaped to Australia with her cousin's help. And then Lisbeth robs the original evil businessman of a lot of money, and the movie ends.

Oy. Well, this version differs from the book in some key places, but I also understand that they filmed the whole trilogy back to back (and I've only read the first book so far). The performances, Rapace especially, are amazing, and I think her interpretation of Salender makes more sense than the American one. Not that the American version was bad, it's just a different take.

I think, though, that the American version might adapt the book a little better. This one simplified Mikhael a little too much (they completely omit his relationship with Erika Berger, for instance), and the American one felt more robust. Then again, I'm a huge Fincher fan, so there's that.

I'm looking forward to reading the other books so I can watch the other movies, anyway.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Glen or Glenda?

Road Trip, part 2: Lizards and Gorges

I'm in Oklahoma! (Not the musical, the actual place.) We'll be here for the next few days, and then we'll escape leave on Sunday. Hopefully Ohio remembers us.

So! Last time we were in Nebraska. We drove from there to Denver, Colorado, and stayed in a lovely hotel called Aloft, where I left my fucking phone chargers. They're sending them back (via FedEx, which made me a little salty - you can't just put them in a padded envelope and mail them? No? FINE.), but it's made communication somewhat difficult.

We did, however, find an awesome little place to have breakfast.

Whaddup. I got a big cock.
I don't take pictures of my food, because I love you all. Here's a thing, though. Across the street was this:


This building just looked creepy as hell. Seriously, my first thought was "Infrastructure."

So from there, we went to the Garden of the Gods. Now, if you've read Hunting Ground: Rockies, you know that this is a meeting place for werewolves. I didn't see any while there (that I know of), but I can see how it would work. Here are some pictures of the natural splendor.











It rained quite a lot while we were in the area, but the bulk of it happened before we got there, so we didn't get drenched. We did quite a lot of walking. I was looking for rattlesnakes, but I did not seen any. More pictures?

A blue bird, for my mom.

A meeting of birds. "Who's for birdstrike, then?"

They must have had a contest. I think this is cute.





Rocks fall...

...everyone dies.
And then back at the parking lot, we saw a bighorn sheep, but waaaaay up on mountain. I did my best, but I don't have a terrific camera.

Majestic!
We were going to drive up Pike's Peak, but we were already running behind and had a bit of driving to do. So we drove into Manitou Springs for lunch.

Manitou Springs is an awesome little town, but the traffic patterns are...well, odd. The dude behind us was a local, and got really annoyed at how slowly I was driving, but I was a) figuring out where I could turn and b) trying to find lunch and parking. I was kind of hoping he'd zoom off in a huff and hit a tree.

A really cool map.

Note Al looming in the doorway.
We found a local cafe to have lunch (above), and then we headed on our merry way.

We wound up in New Mexico. We crossed the Rio Grande Gorge, and stopped for pictures because it's pretty awesome.

You're specifically asked not to throw things off.

Happy folks!

We stayed in Ojo Caliente (Hot Eye? Still haven't figured that one out), right across the street from a natural hot springs. More on that presently.

Now, when Michelle booked the room, the idea was to get a room in the main building. But we're in the off season, so I think we were literally the only guests. So they "upgraded" us to a cabin kind of thing, which was fine - slightly more space, and all. Two main problems.

1) The master bedroom has no door. This is fine if you're staying by yourself, but if you've got two teenage boys and would like some modicum of privacy, not so much.

2) No wifi. And Michelle asked about this, and the owner was utterly confused. Apparently these people are not from the Internet. Arrgh.

But, we managed to find really mediocre Mexican food for dinner (seriously, there is nothing in this town except the hot springs, and their restaurant was closed). Michelle and I went over to the springs and soaked for a while, which was nice. There are multiple pools, each of which supposedly have different mineral content that, allegedly, has a different healing effect on you. I suspect this is largely bullshit, but I'm a big fan of soaking in warm water, so that was fine.

Next day - rafting! We headed out in the morning, leaving early because we were worried about not finding the place (the instructions said "don't put this into GPS, it'll take you 30 miles in the wrong direction"). It was in a little "town" called Pilar, so we found that, and the Rio Grande Visitor's Center (our meeting point). There was a little cafe-type place across the street, though, and that means breakfast.



Michelle and Al are happy to be alive. Will less so. 

We ate breakfast (green chiles in everything, life is good) and headed over to the visitor's center to await our guides.

Our route. Kinda. I just like 3D maps.
The view from the back patio.
And then rafting! Water was low, but the rafting was a lot of fun. Our guide was really awesome, and we found a good flow, because we didn't get hung up on rocks. He said that there had been river otters released into that river, but we didn't see any. I did go swimming a bit in the...um...very bracing water, but obviously I have no pictures.

From there, we went back to the cabin, took the boys over to the springs to soak, got some dinner, and crashed for the night. The next day was a loooooong drive.

Yep. Next morning, we drove first to Santa Fe and had breakfast at Chocolate Maven, which was awesome (I forgot to get pictures). And then we headed in to Corvalles, and stopped at Village Pizza for lunch (I know that seems like two meals right in a row, but there's really not much but driving in between). Village Pizza was awesome (cheeseburger pizza with green chiles - yum). Also there were lizards.
He sat for a picture once he figured I wasn't going to eat him. 
We waited for the pizza a bit...
Waiting.
And then headed out to find a winery. The first one we kinda struck out on (they're only open weekends), but then we went to the Corvalles Winery, and they were open, and it was lovely.




We tasted some wine - they only had four, but holy cats, their Riesling is amazing. We bought some wine, and the boys waited "patiently."

Will, in the running for "world's saltiest boy."
Finally, we got paying for wine sorted (their credit card machine was being stupid), and off we went. We swung through Albuquerque to see Michelle's old house:


And then on to Oklahoma! I'm out of pictures past that point, but I didn't want to leave off on that note, so I saved this picture from New Mexico of a coyote. He stopped to pose for us.

Sup.
More pictures as soon as something interesting happens! In Oklahoma.