Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Movie #358: Life of Brian

Life of Brian is a Monty Python movie, and as such stars Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, and Michael Palin. Various other folks, like Carol Cleveland, Sue Jones-Davies, and John Young also drop by.

Brian Cohen (Chapman) is born at the same time as Jesus of Nazareth, and is briefly mistaken for the Messiah at birth. His mother (Jones) gets to receive the gifts meant for Jesus, if briefly.

Grown up, Brian falls in with the People's Front of Judea, a Jewish resistance group led by Reg (Cleese) that spends most of its time griping about the Romans (and other resistance groups). Captured by the Romans during a terrorist attack that fails due to a fight with another of said groups, Brian escapes from the ineffectual forces of Pilate (Palin) and accidentally draws a crowd while preaching to avoid notice. Said crowd thinks he's the Messiah, chase him all over God's creation (lol) and wind up drawing the Romans' notice, which gets him crucified.

In the midst of all this, we get lots of funny bits and vignettes. Palin plays an ex-leper, cured by Jesus, who's pissed off that he's lost his livelihood, but not quite enough to go ask Jesus to change him back. Jones-Davies plays Judith, another member of the PFJ, who winds up becoming Brian's lover (briefly).

As Monty Python movies go, this is probably the tightest, script-wise. Holy Grail is probably funnier and more accessible; this is a little smarter, but we see which one get made into a musical. Chapman (a bit ironically) plays straight man most of the movie, only getting to do comedy himself when he plays Biggus Dickus, who "wanks as high as any in Wome!" as Pilate says. Cleese is perfect as Reg, but also as the harried Centurion trying to make sense of Pilate's ramblings.

I like this movie, of course, because it takes a shot at organized religion, and the Pythons got some major shit for that back in the day. It kinda feels tame now, but I rather suspect that a similar movie would be met with similar shock, especially if it was done well. And given the current rash of religious shit like God's Not Dead and so forth, we desperately need someone with this kind of courage.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Lilo & Stitch

Feng Schweeee

Finally got to play Feng Shui last night. Let's get to the fight!

The characters, heading back to the building holding Johnny Zhu's comatose body after fighting a bunch of apes last time, pulled up at the building and were greeted by a hail of gunfire! Troops from the roof and the street, led by a man in a uniform, a woman in loose, flowing clothes, and a dude dressed all in black, attacked!

They got out of the car and Do leaped over it, cutting two of the thugs down. Leon got out and flew straight at the guy in black, collided...and they both vanished.

(Context: Leon's player had a fucking meltdown during a game a couple of weeks ago and dropped out, so that was me disposing of his character quickly. I have plans.)

In the building next door to the characters', a young man named Johnny Archer saw the action and heard gunfire from the roof. He raced up the stairs, grabbing a folding chair on his way, and leaped forward, smacking one of the gun-toting thugs off the roof! As he got there, the woman in the loose clothing jumped off the roof and slid down the side, kicked off, flew through the air, and booted Do right in the head! He recognized her style of fighting, and remembered her name: Spider Feng.

(That'd be our new character, the Everyday Hero, played by Alisdair.)

The battle raged down below. Tang noticed a dude in a car, drawing a bead on him...and then he got shot. He lurched forward and stove in the car with a parking meter, and then smacked the dude in the uniform with it, knocking him offscreen. A big huge dude carrying a club, Big Ban Wei, stomped into battle, but Celeste jumped up and shot his club out of his hands. Bai kicked him in the knees and clonked him with his staves, but Ban Wei is tough. Bai knocked him back into a lamp shop window, where he settled with a lampshade on his head.

On the roof, the other two gunmen opened fire at Johnny, but he deflected the bullets with the chair, and dispatched them handily. Knocking the second off the roof, thunder clapped, and everyone turned to look up at him! (He rolled boxcars and then rolled a great big Swerve, so.)

The guy in the uniform - Captain Ping - came back and ordered the dude in the car to drive off. He cheesed it, shooting Tang on the way. Tang, annoyed, smacked him with his parking meter and knocked him into the store window. He emerged, and Johnny, on the roof, flung tiles at him...but Ping just tossed a grenade. It exploded, knocking Johnny to the street below. Tang realized that this kid looked a lot like his dead partner in the future...perhaps Johnny was his partner's ancestor?

Spider Feng had taken a few slices from Do, and had enough. She Cheesed It, vanishing in a swirl of silk ribbons. In the lamp shop, Ping emerged again, but Johnny jumped forward with a chunk of wood he'd found and knocked him right out!

Johnny introduced himself, and the characters went into the building to check on Zhu. Johnny realized that Zhu was his neighbor, and had been for many years! Everyone's phone rang; it was Sylvan Master. He told them that this place was a chi site, and they needed to attune it to control its power. They all sat and meditated, and had visions....

  • Bai had a vision of his sister, meditating with him in a garden in his own time, the chi war over. 
  • Celeste saw her sister, surrounded by glowing, magical mandalas.
  • Do saw Leon attacking him, just before he lost his memory!
  • Tang saw himself driving with his partner in the future, before said partner had died, and looking at a sketchbook detailing the chi war - had his partner been a Dragon?
  • Johnny saw his mother in the future, a survivor of the C-Bomb, fighting in the chi war.
The characters now get to awesome up. Next time, we'll see where all this takes us.

No Problem

Tina tapped on the door.

"What are you doing?" Rey hissed. His accent got stronger when he was scared. Tina thought it was cute, but she figured she'd tell him later. Maybe.

"I want to see if anyone's in there." She tapped again.

"But if they hear us-"

"They won't." Leah shook her head, braids slapping against her cheeks. "Their auditory system don't work like ours. Ours works by transduction of sound into electrochemical impulses, but theirs-"

The other two nine-year-olds stared at her.

"They don't hear like we do. They kinda hear with smell. That's why the bug spray."

Rey and Tina nodded, but they didn't really get it. Leah was going to be an ear-doctor after the War, but that meant she had to have gone to medical school, and that meant there wasn't as much Time in her head.

Tina tapped again. Rey still wasn't sure what she was doing. Maybe after the War she would have learned how to hear if someone was in a room by tapping a door, but Rey thought maybe that was BS. She seemed pretty sure, though. She nodded back at Rey. "No one there. Open it."

Rey pulled a slim, black case from his pocket and started pulling out lockpicks, but then he saw the keyhole. It wasn't a keyhole. It was a trap. It had an electronic lock, rigged to look like a mechanical. He knew how it worked, more or less, but...

"I can't pick this," he said. "I didn't...won't...learn how."

Tina checked her watch. "We're almost out of time, Rey-Rey."

Only his mom still called him 'Rey-Rey.' He wondered if that would still be true when he learned to pick locks. He wondered if his mom lived through the War. Checking on people in the future was super Against the Rules, but everyone did it sometimes.

"OK," he said. "Just watch out for me." He closed his eyes.

...the color of the wire doesn't matter...

...always know what the wire leads to...


...back before the War we used to...

...remember how Mom was...

His eyes snapped open. Tina was squeezing his hand. "Rey. Reynaldo." 

"Sí. Yo puedo hacerlo."

"Huh?" Tina saw tears in his eyes. He saw something. He looked at the Future.

Leah stiffened. "Hey. I hear something."

Rey ran his hand down the wall, then pulled a heavy steel pick from his pocket. "Here," he said, and started digging out the wires. 

Movie #357: Howl's Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle is a steampunk-ish anime directed by Hayao Miazaki and starring (in the English dub) Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacell, Blythe Danner, and Billy Crystal.

Sophie (Mortimer) makes hats in a hat shop, but outside, a war rages. Out in the "wastes," wizards and witches dwell, one of whom, Howl (Bale) is rumored to eat pretty girls' hearts. One day a massive with simply called the Witch of the Wastes (Bacall) comes calling, and curses Sophie, turning her elderly (and giving her Simmons' voice). She flees, and winds up taking up with Howl in his immense, moving castle, powered by a fire demon called Calcifer (Crystal).

Much of the movie involved Howl running from his responsibilities as a wizard, and eventually returning to accept his oaths. The war ends, Sophie falls in love with Howl and regains her true age, the castle falls apart after a rival witch curses Calcifer...

So, I have to say, I have yet to find a Miazaki movie that tops Spirited Away (we'll get to the S's). This, Kiki's Delivery Service, Castle in the Sky are all good, but they kind of ramble, there are a lot of characters, a lot of subplots, and a lot going on. With all of that said, the high magic and fantasy are amazing, the animation is, as always, top-notch, and the English voice performances are fun.

Truthfully, I bought this movie because Teagan is a huge Miazaki fangirl and she hasn't seen it. She liked it, I'm glad, I'll keep it around.

My Grade: B
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Life of Brian

Monday, April 25, 2016

Night's Black Agents: High-Grade Belgrade

Last time, the agents whooped a bunch of vampire ass and headed for Italy.

They spent some time outside Florence, chilling out and sifting through their research, and training Dr. Sedillo and Dr. Koltay in how not to get them killed. They also talked through the research that they had.

Dr. Koltay told them that based on specs on the laptop, the conspiracy was designing a collar that would bombard the lymph nodes in the neck with radiation, enough to kill the wearer. He wasn't sure what benefit it would have for the vampires, though.

Dr. Sedillo said she could absolutely help them build a better poison, but she needed tissue samples to do it. And, of course, the agents had used up their stores doing their own research. Time to find another vampire.

They considered their options. They strongly suspected that Dr. Janos Sas at the Budapest prison was a vampire, but he works in a prison, and getting him would be difficult. They wondered about Dierk Essert, and did a little Digital Intrusion to check on his travels - and found he'd flown out of Geneva a day later than he'd been scheduled to, and then into Berlin. They worried a bit about his safety, but didn't have any further info and decided to table that.

Remembering that deaths of transients and tourists had spiked in Osijek while Macan's bodyguards had been in town, Hanover suggested that as an avenue of investigation. They did some digging, and found that when the conspiracy was involved in loud occurrences (the bombing in Budapest, the incident in Bonn, etc.), those deaths spiked after a few days lag. Looking back, the earliest one they could find was in Belgrade in the early 90s; prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall those records weren't so easy to find remotely.

They looked into what was happening in Belgrade at the time, and found a conference on free energy. That particular conference happened in the 90s a few times, and a lot of the same principles the agents recognized in the IFEA. Also, Vilmos Hajnal was arrested in Belgrade during that time, but was released and fled the country before he could be tried. The agents dug into photos of the energy conference, and found a guy involved in the IFEA - Obrad Bugarcic, now the director at the Tesla Museum in Belgrade. Tesla, of course, was known for his work in free energy (among other things).

Belgrade, then, was the earliest known sighting of the vampires, and their base of power was definitely in that part of Europe (none of these "murder spikes" occurred any farther west than Germany). The agents decided to go to Belgrade and see what shook loose.

They smuggled their weapons into the country using Gambone's contact, Ava Kingsilver, and got a couple of apartments. They visited the museum, with Hanover using a new cover. He got to talking with Dr. Bugarcic, and showed him a sketch of the collar. His Bullshit Detector skill, though, picked up that Dr. Bugarcic was shocked to see it. The good doctor asked Hanover if he could make a copy, and went to do so; Parker followed him and heard him make a phone call. She couldn't understand it (she doesn't speak Serbian) but she recorded it.

Bugarcic came back to Hanover and asked him to meet up later in the week and try and verify this sketch as one of Tesla's (which was the line Hanover had opened with). Meanwhile, Esse walked around the building noting security - this place was more heavily surveilled than they would have expected.

The agents met up later and Hanover translated the phone call. Basically, Bugarcic hadn't seen through Hanover's disguise at first, but from the context it was clear that he'd figured it out now. The agents were made...but they knew they were made.

Next time, we'll see where that takes them.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Movie #356: Lethal Weapon 3

Lethal Weapon 3 is, of course, the third in the series, directed by Richard Donner and starring Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Damon Hines, Rene Russo, Stuart Wilson, and Steve Kahan.

After facing absolutely no repercussions from flat-out murdering a bunch of foreign nationals in their previous big adventure, Riggs (Gibson) and Murtaugh (Glover) blow up a building in LA and are busted down to patrolman a week before Murtaugh is planning to retire. Foiling an armored car robbery gets them mixed up in the machinations of Jack Travis (Wilson), an ex-cop stealing guns and selling them to gangstas. Internal Affairs, in the personage of Sgt. Lorna Cole (Russo) is tracking all this, and of course it all ends with gunplay. Yay!

The movie has some twists and turns, though, and one of them kinda bugs me. It's this: Murtaugh shoots a teenage gang member (Bobby Wynn), who happens to be a friend of his son Nick (Hines). And this absolutely wrecks Murtaugh. This is a guy who has callously, casually killed...hell, at least a dozen people between Lethal Weapon 2 and 3 alone. Sure, he knows this kid, but that somehow makes it weirder. And you could certainly make a salient point about a black police officer shooting a black teenager, except a) this kid clearly had it coming, he was firing an automatic weapon at the cops and b) these particular cops commit premeditated murder on a movie-ly basis. So the funeral with Boyz II Men playing feels a little strange.

But, the bright spot of this movie is, without question, Rene Russo. She's basically the intersection of Riggs' martial prowess and Murtaugh's (rather shaky) integrity, and she brings modern know-how to the party as well. And yet she's not "Riggs only better;" she's got some holes in her capabilities (she's afraid of dogs, for one). We actually get to see her working with the boys and making some headway, and then kicking ass...and then in Lethal Weapon 4 they just knocked her up and let her do nothing the whole movie. Ah, well.

I also enjoy the fact that Murtaugh thanks Leo (Pesci) during this movie; the cops still bust his chops, but they also appreciate what he can do and they mostly just fuck with him to keep him out of the way of the police stuff. And, hey, the girlfriend gets to survive the movie, so that's an improvement.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch Value: Medium

Next up: Howl's Moving Castle

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Changeling: Mysterious Strangers

So, it's been a good long while, but Monday we were back in the Dreaming! (Well, not literally. Still in New York.)

Last time, the characters helped a temporarily chimerically dead nocker come back. This time, they figured they should track down a few of the other motleys that had rat-writing in their territories and see if they could learn anything. They spent some time regaining Glamour, first, through their various kith-related means (Revelry, you see. Easter egg!), and then met back up.

They visited a motley of changelings that works out of a Chinese restaurant, and talked to them about the graffiti. They said that they hadn't read it as a threat or a call-out so much as a call to arms. The motley, of course, was concerned about who might benefit from starting up a conflict between nobles and commoners (or Seelie vs. Unseelie), and looked at the wall. While they were investigating, they felt a burst of Glamour, equivalent to a Dream Dance. Zulkis zeroed in on it - the theater where Thaia's friend was rehearsing. But on their way there, the Dream Dance just kind of died. Fearing the worst, the motley arrived and found about a dozen other changelings waiting outside.

The folks were confused; they'd felt the Glamour and then the lack thereof. Thaia entered and found Branziah, and asked him if anything was wrong. He said all was well, they were just rehearsing. The motley followed Zulkis' nose (Kenning, really) to the stage, where they learned that Jeralyne, one of the actresses, had just been taken offstage because she wasn't feeling well. Krysa and Thaia went backstage to try and find her, and overheard a couple of actresses talking about it - Jeralyne had collapsed and been led offstage by a strange, "intense," attractive man.

Ambrose, meanwhile, checked backstage, and smelled something foul. He opened a big trunk and found the body of Rista, the Beastie they'd fought here, stabbed in the throat.

Meanwhile, out by the stage, the others noticed a monkey up in the flies, cutting the cable on a light. Deciding that wasn't a good idea, Zulkis headed up the backstage stairs to the catwalk, and Ambrose followed. Zulkis found the thing - it was indeed a chimp (which isn't a monkey, but close enough) carrying a knife. They squared off, Zulkis attempted to grapple it, and it shrank to half its size. He attempted to stomp it, and it cast a cantrip and tangled him up in cables. It jumped off the flies and turned into an owl, but by this time Ambrose was up here. He used Hopscotch and jumped after it, grabbing it and landing on the stage. Sander, covering of this obviously magical feat, started clapping and saying "wow! How'd you do that!?"

Meanwhile, Krysa and Thaia followed Jeralyne's scent, and it took them to the theater office. Thaia noted that the doorknob had been magic'd. Not wanting to touch it (which was wise), she told Krysa, who squeezed under the door in rat form, and saw Jeralyne. She had a fae mien, but it was strange - beautiful, but not like a sidhe's, and it looked like she'd put on someone else's soul that was too big for her.

Outside, Thaia called a redcap over (remember the other changelings) and had him kick open the door. Jeralyne shot at him, but Krysa used a cantrip on her shirt to jerk her arm, and the shot missed. They rushed over and Thaia used an Oneiromancy cantrip on her to snap her out of the daze she was in, and she told them that Fetinus, the changeling who'd been with her, had gone out the back. They found the door he'd drawn on the wall with a marker to use a Wayfare cantrip. Jeralyne, now free of his influence, took on her true mien - a sugar glider pooka.

The motley went back into the theater and found that Ambrose was wrestling with the owl. He pinned it to the floor with his sword (the mundane folks had been cleared out by now), and it turned into a humanoid figure. Zulkis recognized it as a skinwalker, one of the Thallain. They questioned it, and it told them that what Fetinus (and the other Thallain) wanted was...war.

They decided to bring this dude to the duke and see what he thinks, which is where we'll pick up next time.

Movie #355: Lethal Weapon 2

Lethal Weapon 2 is the second in the series (doy) of buddy-cop movies, directed by Richard Donner and starring Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Joss Ackland, and Patsy Kensit. It's held up pretty well, considering how nuts Gibson turned out to be, except for holy shit, the way it treats women.

But let me back up. Roger Murtaugh (Glover) is a family man; wife (Darlene Love) and three kids (look 'em up), while Martin Riggs (Gibson), while he isn't suicidal and unbalanced so much anymore, is alone other than his relationship with his partner (that'd be Murtaugh). They're chasing down a bunch of drug dealers led by a South African diplomat (Ackland), and the dealers decide to make it personal by threatening Murtaugh's family. This, of course, only inflames the cops' desire to take them down, but it does result in Murtaugh and Riggs getting assigned to babysit a state witness named Leo Goetz (Pesci in an iconic role for him, OK? OK), who happens to know said drug dealers.

This would all be standard action-cop shit so far, but Riggs falls for the drug dealer's secretary (remember, he's pretty blatantly running his criminal syndicate from the South African consulate), Rika (Kensit). Riggs beds her after pretty blatantly ignoring the first 8 times she says "no" (to a date, not to sex; she's a pretty clear "yes" on that), then the drug dealers attack, and they drown her. And, the drug dealer second-tier bad guy (Derrick O'Connor) just happened to have murdered Riggs' wife, as well! So of course Riggs goes nuts and kills them all.

We could talk about how the notion of cops taking the law into their own hands and blowing a bunch of people away hasn't, um, aged well (and it makes parts of the next movie, which is overall better, ring really false), but I think of more immediate concern is the way the movie treats women. There are four prominent female characters in the movie - Rika (dead), Trish (Murtaugh's wife; her big scene is a discussion with Riggs about his dead wife to set up the big reveal later and then getting taped up when the drug dealers attack Murtaugh); Rianne (Tracy Wolfe; Murtaugh's oldest daughter, whose big scene is starring in a condom commercial so she can be objectified and so Murtaugh can freak out - note, by the way, that his biggest concern is the shit he's going to get from other cops); and Shapiro (Jenette Goldstein; a fellow cop who gets blown up on her diving board when the drug dealers declare war on the police). We could go to five if we count Mary Ellen Trainor as Dr. Woods, the police psychiatrist who is portrayed as useless and fawning. My point is that the movie doesn't treat women especially well, even if it has more female characters than you'd expect.

Anyway. The action sequences are fun, and the chemistry between Gibson and Glover is really what carries the movie. It's really in the next one that the relationships are pretty much cemented, but this one carries a lot more of the brutality from the first movie (which I personally don't care for, which is why I don't own it). Still, the nostalgia of 80s action buddy-cop movies is a thing, and this is a pretty good example of the genre.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch Value: Medium-high

Next up: Lethal Weapon 3

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Atomic Robo: Octogent vs. MechaSir

Saturday was Atomic Robo. I should do the write-up before I forget it all.

Last time, the characters realized that the Cetacean Empire was working against them, perhaps by wearing pants. They decided that they'd need to go under da sea in order to investigate, and go to work changing the Dinambulance to be submersible. Since Atomic Robo goes to the trouble of including a cool system for invention, we used it!

They worked on the Dinambulance and made it submersible, and added a harpoon with a cable, grabby arms to the front, and added a function to jam echolocation (damn dolphins). Of course, that took some work, and four catches. It called attention from H.P. Cavy, who read Effy the riot act about the team not informing him about the security breach and their current project; she wound up filling out a lot of paperwork. They also realized they needed a way to make the windshield stronger so it wouldn't fold under the pressure, and they'd need someone to test drive it who was not only aquatic (so if it leaked the driver wouldn't die) but an exceptional driver.

As Reggie started to tell them about someone he'd met who could act as a test driver, Otto interrupted him with a snarky comment about his long-winded stories. For a Gentleman Octopugilist, it was too much. Reggie and Otto squared off, Otto opening with insulting repartee and Reggie following up by grappling him and yanking him into the moon pool (in the...motor pool). Otto considered using his lightning gun, but as he's Like a Sir, that just didn't seem sporting. Both combatants blew through all of their Fate points fighting each other to standstill, and Reggie pulled on Otto's head enough to give him a consequence (Crick in the Circuitry). Finally, Reggie conceded (because it became obvious that Otto's player wasn't going to, even though he wasn't really getting anyway, and no one wants to be taken out because that just ladles on the suck) - he won the fight, but H. P. Cavy caught them fighting and Reggie wound filling out forms and putting Otto back together again.

Meanwhile the two dinosaurs and Effy let the boys dick around and talked about their materials problem. They did some science and developed a system of hexagonal interlocking pieces, much like compound eyes, and that solved their windshield problem.

But the team still needed a test pilot, and now that his honor had been satisfied, Reggie told them about Christopher Sponge, the best test pilot he'd ever met. The characters donned SCUBA gear to go meet with him (except Otto, who is a robot, and Reggie, 'cause y'know) and went to a sunken ship...but there were dolphins there, already meeting with Christopher.

Marsha crept up to the window, with Reggie wrapped around her like a cloak (he can camouflage, you see) and listened - the dolphins were trying to coax Christopher out of retirement to drive something up on land, whereupon the remotes would kick in. Jesse, however, slipped off the rocky outcropping she was standing on (couldn't catch herself; Short Arms, Long Reach) and fell. She didn't bruised anything but her pride...but the dolphins heard. The leader called for an attack, and a pod of dolphins zipped in, battering Jesse (but doing little damage).

Marsha, unseen burst out of her cephalopod "cloak" and tore one of the pods of dolphins apart. Effy activated her DPS stunt, making Jesse and Otto more effectively combatants, and Otto fired his lightning gun at the dolphin leader. Reggie's player compelled the leader's Dolphin Leader Aspect and pushed him to retreat; after all, they were losing.

As the dolphins left, though, they smashed the sunken ship, burying Christopher. Jesse, with her mighty tail, swept the rubble out of the way, and Reggie zipped in to talk with Christopher.

(The running joke here being that everyone talks to Christopher as though he responds, but...he's a sponge, he doesn't move.)

Reggie argued with Christopher about their shared history, and Effy figured out that, due to an incident in the Indian Ocean, Christopher was now addicted to tiki marsala. Promising to provide that for him, the team got Christopher to agree to pilot their sub on its test voyage, and headed back to base.

The test went off (wait for it) swimmingly (again, the "camera" never focuses on the interior so we don't see Christopher actually piloting). Now, the team hypothesized about what the dolphins were actually doing. SCIENCE.

Using the Deduction system, they figured that the device that they were bringing up was big, mostly remote controlled, and was there to capture Boris (remember him?) and bring him back into the ocean for terrible porpoises. They also realized that the dolphins must have an inside man...and they remembered a tech working on the tranquilizers that kept Boris down, name of Franklyn, who had perhaps too much a fondness for the Dauphin's sister.

They raced to the lab, and found the door jammed! Reggie slid under the door, no problem, and popped it open. The lab was destroyed, full of gas, and the team saw Dr. Davy's hamster-ball (I mean, he's a Guinea pig, but you get the idea) full of gas and their boss unconscious. Franklyn was sending a message to his Cosette, and managed to get the message away before Reggie pinned him to the wall.

Now the characters know what's coming...but do the dolphins know what they know? TUNE IN NEXT TIME as the team goes INTO THE CETACEAN EMPIRE!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Game Prep Post #1: Changeling

Look, a woodpecker! It's probably a pooka!

Anyway. Just putting in some filler before the game-talk.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Movie #354: Let the Right One In

Let the Right One In is a Swedish vampire movie starring Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leadersson, Per Ragnar, Ika Nord, and Patrik Rydmark. It's one of the better vampire movies...really ever.

Oskar (Hedebrant) is a 12-year-old boy coping with constant, violent bullying. His parents are split (his father [Henrik Dahl] is implied to be gay, maybe? an alcoholic) and his mother (Karin Burquist) isn't  portrayed as the kindest of people. He meets a girl his age named Eli (Leandersson) who's moved in next door with a dour man (Ragnar). Of course, Eli is a vampire, and the man, Hakan, goes out at night, murders people, and drains their blood for Eli. Oskar, though, just enjoys having a friend, and the two grow closer.

Meanwhile, though, Hakan gets caught and kills himself, and Eli takes to hunting on her own, inadvertently infecting a local woman (Nord). The bullying gets worse, and Oskar fights back, injuring his main bully, Conny (Rydmark). He learns that Eli is a vampire, and that causes some strain (he also learns that Eli isn't actually a girl, but a boy who had his genitals removed - I have no idea how Eli actually identifies, though he does outright state "I'm not a girl" at one point). Finally, the bullies corner Oskar and try to drown him, whereupon Eli appears and slaughters them in some of the most effectively scary filmmaking ever, and the two of them get on a train bound for wherever.

This is one of my favorite vampire movies, because it nicely balances portraying vampires as sympathetic and portraying them as vicious killers. Yes, Eli is a vicious killer. He's not especially happy about that, but as he says, he's been 12 for a long time and he accepts what he is. Oskar, meanwhile, loves Eli for accepting him and protecting him, and is initially (appropriately) horrified by what Eli is. The movie also goes through the supernatural "rules" of vampirism without having a character just list them off, and you come away understanding how these vampires work.

At the same time, a lot of the movie is ambiguous. We don't know why Hakan is feeding Eli, but he's implied to have been with the vampire for a while. We don't know why Oskar's parents split, or, for that matter, why Oskar stays with his mom (he seems to enjoy his dad's company a lot more). Hell, I'd even be interested in knowing what the story is between Jocke and Lacke, but at the same time, none of these things are critical to understanding the movie and the characters. It's a superb Gothic romance and horror movie.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: Medium-low

Next up: Lethal Weapon 2

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Board Game: Wise & Otherwise

Yesterday we decided to shelve our Epyllion game until the full game comes out, having just reached a dramatically appropriate point in the game. We're going to play Ehdrigor instead, but I haven't read it, and it's not something that we could fudge our way through. So instead, we played a board game!

The Game: Wise & Otherwise
The Publisher: wiseandotherwise.com
Time: 20 minutes, but with fewer players it would take longer
Players: Me, +Michelle+Michael+Rob+Jessica

The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step.
Game Play: It's a lot like Balderdash, but since I haven't reviewed that one yet I can't link to it. So. One player is the Reader (this passes every turn) and chooses a saying off a card, and reads the first half. Everyone else writes a completion for said saying on a slip of paper, and hands it in to the Reader. The Reader then reads them all out, and people vote on which one they think is the actual saying.

Michelle & "Snoop Doggy Jess"
If people vote for your saying, you get points. If you vote for the real one, you get points. If no one votes for the real one and you're the Reader, you get points. It flows pretty quickly; the only challenge is making sure people don't give away which ones aren't the real one when they're the Reader (by stumbling over words, making it obvious that they didn't write it, etc.).
The Hippo of Refuge is always there for you. 
Opinions: I like this game; it's actually somewhat easier than Balderdash because you're not coming up with a definition, you can get away with adding a single word to finish a saying and have it be plausible. Plus it's fun to get to see how different cultures' sayings work.

Keep? Yeah.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Character Creation: Nefertiti Overdrive

I asked folks on ye olde Face'd Book for suggestions on games for which to make a character, but, instead of any of the nominees, I choose the legendary HAROLD ZOID!

No, really, I'm gonna make a character for Nefertiti Overdrive, because I just wrote a review of it and I'd like to be able to link to a character in said review. So here we go.

The Game: Nefertiti Overdrive
The Publisher: Sword's Edge Publishing
Degree of Familiarity: Some. I ran a one-shot last week.
Books Required: Just the one.

Nefertiti Overdrive uses basically the same system as Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, so it's weird for players who are used to "roll to pick the lock" and it's a process even for us weird narrative types. That said, I think the system works perfectly well in play. My gripes with the book are mostly that it doesn't tell us enough about what's cool about the setting of the game and spends too much time talking about the meta-aspects of it.

But let's talk chargen. The game really assumes you're going to use the pre-gens, but you know how I feel about that, I want to make my own Egyptian wire-fu badass. Let's use the handy list of Egyptian names in the book and call him Tjepu (although the temptation to use one of the names Bender calls out for the dead Pharaohs in "A Pharaoh to Remember" is great. ANOPSES! CLEOTUT! WHATSHISNAME!).

Anyway, what's next? Well, characters are pretty minimalist in their Attributes, really. We've got four categories, with two Qualities each, and then each category gets a dX/dX; when you roll, you take the lower one by default or the higher one if you can manage a cool description. Two Attributes (so, Quality pairs - the terminology here is somewhat confusing and redundant) are d6/d8, and two are d6/d10.

Concept: These Qualities are for the character's niche in the group, culture, what they're meant to represent, overall culture. OK, gotta thing about Tjepu a little. This is a game of wire-fu set in Ancient Egypt, so while not every character has to be a combat badass, c'mon, let's be real. But I think I want a slightly more bookish character. Ooh, shit, can I play the Hulk? Like, someone who's mostly peaceful but can freak the fuck out?

Let's say poor Tjepu and his mother died during childbirth, but his mother, while weighing her heart against the feather of Ma'at, struck a bargain with Apep. Tjepu has the Heart of the Devourer - he carries a piece of the great crocodile with him always. So his Concept Qualities are "Heart of Apep" and "Unassuming Scribe." Definitely d6/d10 there; I want to be able to bust out the big guns with Heart of Apep.

Elements: This can be skills, training, equipment, and so on. Hmm, maybe Heart of Apep should have gone here? Nah, it's been with him since birth. We'll say he is Knowledgeable and can Scent the Unjust (sounds noble, but remember what Apep does to the unjust). We'll put d6/d8 here.

Traits: Only three choices here: Physical, Mental, Social, and I get two. Physical and Mental, obviously, and we'll put d6/d8 here.

Drivers: This oddly-named category covers motivations, desires, and needs. I want something to indicate that he just can't let injustice or evil go - the heavy-hearted and meant to sate Apep's hunger. Hunger for Injustice sounds good. For the other one, I think the Tjepu is a historian and scholar by inclination, and a rage-monster by birth. Forever Seeking Truth sums it up. Obviously, we've got d6/d10 here.

Pivots: There are like Milestones in MHR. They're just two goals that drive the character. How is that different from Drivers, you might wonder? Well, Pivots aren't Attributes so they don't have ranks. And, um. That's it. They can sure be related to Drivers, though. Let's say his are I must sate the serpent's hunger and I must live up to my mother's ideals. She was willing to haggle with the gods to keep Tjepu alive; he wants to be worthy of that.

There's a section on the (extremely minimalist) character sheet for "Story", but I've kind told it here. I picture Tjepu as being largely unwilling to fight unless he has to (which he always does), and then when battle actually starts his eyes go red and slitted, his skin gets lumpy and tough like a croc's, etc. Lots of fun "avatar of Apep" stuff to do. Frankly, I think this game would benefit from having a bit more obvious magic in the book.

And that's me done, I think! Tune in tomorrow for another character!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Movie #353: Les Miserables

Les Miserables is, of course, the cinematic version of the stage musical, starring Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Sascha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Barks, Amanda Seyfried, and Daniel Huttlestone. And that's not even the whole principal cast.

If you don't know the story: Jean Valjean (Jackman), imprisoned for 19 years to stealing bread (well, 5 for that and 5 for trying to run; not sure about the other 9), gets paroled but discovers the world treats ex-cons...pretty much the same way we do now. When he finally snaps and robs a priest (Colm Wilkinson, who was the original actor playing Valjean in the English cast), the priest backs him up to the police and tells him that he's "bought his soul for God." Valjean promises to be a better man, and sods off.

Years later, he's a mayor and a factory owner, and the cop who used to oversee him, Javert (Crowe) tells him that "Valjean" has been captured. Actual-Valjean can't just let this go, because surely God wouldn't approve, so he exposes himself (not like that) and Javert is back on his trail. Meanwhile, one of his factory workers, Fantine (Hathaway), having turned to prostitution, dies of some disease (pick one) and leaves her child, Cosette (Isabelle Allen as a child, Seyfried as an adult) with Valjean.

Fast forward again and now we're in Paris as a group of students led by Enjolras (Aaron Tveit) is about to lead a revolution. A young man named Marius (Redmayne) sees Cosette, falls in love with her, there's a revolution, everyone dies, it's very sad, look, go buy the soundtrack.

That soundtrack, in fact, was basically the background music to my junior/senior year in high school, but I didn't really get it until I saw it onstage, and then it was really amazing. This movie version is pretty damned impressive, I think; sure, some of the songs have been altered slightly, and they added a couple of new ones (probably to get a shot at Best Original Song), and sure, Eddie Redmayne sounds a little like Kermit the Frog when he sings, and sure, Crowe's voice isn't as strong as the others.

But on the other hand, Jackman and Hathaway are fucking amazing. Bonham Carter is perfect as Mme. Thenardier (Baron Cohen, less so as Thenardier; I kept feeling like he was improvising and screwing with the flow of the songs too much). I personally thought Crowe was fine, if a little out of his element. The cinematography and production design are top-notch, although some of the editing is a little choppy (transitions in movies are very different than onstage).

First time I saw it, I made it all the way to "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" before I cried; this time I didn't get past "I Dreamed a Dream" (watching it at home without people chatting behind me helps). I was struck, too, by how hopeful the story is given how tragic the events are. Sure, everyone dies and the students get shot and lined up like fish, but Cosette and Marius get married, and at the end of his life, Valjean, having proven time and again that he'll show mercy and kindness to people even when they don't really deserve, dies peacefully and goes to be with God.

Look, there's no god in real life, and that means at the end of your days what you get is nothing. But it's comforting to think that maybe, if you live well and love others, that maybe there's some kind of recompense for what you suffer during life. There's not, obviously, it's a story that clever people made up to keep people working and not rebelling (ironically) but it produces some really beautiful imagery.

Note, too, that God is (unlike another recent movie in this list) entirely absent from this movie. It's a story about faith and the different applications thereof (Javert is just as devout as Valjean, in his way), but there are no miracles apart from the usual "holy shit, what a coincidence" you see in theater. People take care of each other, and there is the grace. And that's what always makes me cry when I see this play.

In fact, minor grips about a couple of performances aside, the only alteration I would make to this movie is to have Javert be there to greet Valjean on the barricades at the end.

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium, maybe medium-high if you've got time and a box of tissues

Next up: Let the Right One In