Monday, February 27, 2017

Movie #391: Mallrats

Mallrats is the second movie in Kevin Smith's "View Askew-niverse," and stars Jason Lee, Claire Forlani, Jeremy London, Shannon Doherty, Ethan Suplee, Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes, and Michael Rooker.

TS (London) goes to pick up his girlfriend Brandi (Forlani) to take her to Florida, but learns that her father (Rooker) has tapped her to be on his dating show because the original contestant died swimming laps because TS called her fat. Meanwhile, Brodie (Lee), an abrasive slacker, gets dumped by his girlfriend Rene (Doherty) because...he's an abrasive slacker and she's done with it. They get together and go to the mall, where everything else in the movie happens. Brodie employs Jay and Silent Bob (Mewes and Smith, respectively) to disrupt the dating show that happens to be filming at the mall, Rene is dating a manager at a men's wear store (a very young Ben Affleck) who's deliberately looking for girls on the rebound, TS' ex Gwen (Joey Lauren Adams) is there shopping, and so on and on.

Mallrats is very much Kevin Smith suffering from some growing pains. Clerks was clever and all dialog, but the actors made it work. Here, we have two dudes who can't quite make Smith's stilted dialog sound natural. Actually, hell, that's true of Claire Forlani, too - she hasn't quite shed her accent and she utterly fails at making her character likeable, even though her character is pretty much in the right about the whole situation (to wit: her dad is a possessive ass, but so is TS).

The movie has its moments; there's an embrace of physical comedy and even some magical realism that I find fun, and Adams is always fun (and she can handle Smith's dialog, as can Doherty, weirdly). Mostly, though, the lead characters are kind of dicks, the confrontation between Brandi and TS is oddly hostile, and the women are sexualized in a pretty sophomoric way.

My Grade: C
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: The Maltese Faction, unless I buy Doctor Strange first

Arroz Con Oscars

Yesterday, of course, was the Oscars telecast, which is accompanied (in my house) by two days of furious cooking. Let's start with the menu for this year.

  • La La Land: Absolut La La Land cocktail.
  • Hidden Figures: Somewhat fancy deviled eggs.
  • Manchester by the Sea: Haddock chowdah.
  • Fences: Root beer braised short ribs.
  • Moonlight: Arroz con pollo.
  • Hacksaw Ridge: Okinowan sweet potatoes. 
  • Hell or High Water: Green beans.
  • Arrival: Universal language cheesecakes.
  • Lion: Jalebis. 
Saturday, then we started cooking. We figured we'd get what we could done, so we started out with the line/saffron syrup which would be used to soak the jalebis. 

Most of the ingredients for which you can see here.
Making a syrup is pretty simple; it's just water, sugar, and whatever flavoring you want (in this case, line zest, saffron, and green cardamom). 

A-like so. 
While that was going, we figured we'd do the short ribs, too, because we could cook them and then fridge them, and just reduce the sauce and glaze them right before serving. This would prove to be a really smart decisions for a number of reasons. 

So, first, we have our meat:

And our two batches of veggies and herbs, because we doubled the recipe: 
The appropriate amount of thyme, here, is "fuck it."
And then the veggies get cooked, the meat gets browned, and everything goes into the pot for a few hours. 
Browned meat.
Cookin' veggies. 
Root beer!
While that was going (in the oven), we also roasted some garlic for turning into roasted garlic mustard. 

Garlic pouch!
So fragrant! Fuck off, vampires!
Also on Saturday, we decided we'd make the cheesecakes, which involves Michelle making graham cracker crust:
Crusts. Plural. 
And then filling those little bits of joy with cheesecake filling. 
Cheesecake: Not great for fantasy art, but terrific for dessert!
And that was Saturday. I mean, we baked the cheesecakes and then stuck 'em in the fridge, and put the short ribs in separate tupperwares and poured off the juice into another container, but I didn't get pictures of that. Just know that the fridge was full to burstin'. 

Sunday! Up early, time to make the jalebis. Now, jalebis are basically Indian funnel cakes, but the recipe we found was wrong because the batter was far too dry. Fortunately the way to get around that is to add water. 
Yellow food color and saffron, you see. 
And then we melt a bunch of ghee.
And then we dumped the batter into a piping bag and fried us up some jalebis!

It took some practice to get the thickness and all right, so we wound up with a plate of broken, but delicious, dreams. 

Seriously, so tasty.
But we eventually got it right, made a bunch of jalebis, soaked them in the lime saffron syrup, and stuck them on a drying rack. 
Two thousand jalebis!
No rest for the hungry, though. Figuring that deviled eggs needed time to cool, we boiled them suckers:
Can't really think of a way to make boiling eggs interesting. It's pretty straightforward.
Same with peeling them.
Ah, but then! Time to make the chowdah! We figured we could make it and then put it in a crock pot to stay warm. So that's onions and butter in one pot, potatoes and water in another...

I so want a bigger stove, you have no idea. 
And then hacking up poor defenseless haddock. 
So: haddock in the potato water. Meanwhile, Michelle was mashing up egg yolks and mixing in goat cheese and that fantastic roasted garlic mustard we made yesterday. 

Slightly fancy deviled eggs.
Soup, meanwhile, gets all combined, hit with cream and broth, and simmered. 

Seriously, this was so tasty. 
And then deviled eggs arranged in the nice little plate thingies we bought. 
Which held 17 each. Still haven't figured that one out.
So then, the cheesecakes. Yes, they're done cooking, but we made them for Arrival (the other option was to serve grilled squid, but Michelle vetoed that), so they had alien language written in chocolate on them.
Michelle also discovered luster powder yesterday.
"Costello is dessert-process."
OH SHIT GREEN BEENS. So first, I had to trim them, which is fucking tedious, and then I sauteed some onions and red pepper flakes.
Cast iron is the best thing.
And shocked the green beans.
And into the pan they go, along with bacon!
Secret to cooking literally anything: bacon. 
Figured we'd better get the arroz con pollo going, since it takes a while. This starts with chopping up a whole bunch of onion and red pepper, browning the chicken in a pan, cooking the onions/peppers in said pan, putting the chicken back in, adding a shitload of liquid, adding rice, and forgetting about it for an hour.
The pepper is on top of the onion, if you're wondering. 
Veggies softening. 
One more thing! The short ribs! That mostly involved putting said ribs in a pan with the liquid and boiling it until it was reduced down to sauce.
You can't smell this, but you wish you could. 
And then there were the sweet potatoes. I didn't get pictures of this process because we were scrambling to get them done alongside everything else, but basically they boil, you peel them while going "OW OW OW," and then they get sliced and tossed with a lime/butter.

The cocktail, likewise, didn't get any photos, because it'd just be me adding fruit juice to a glass.

And here are the finished products!

And that's all you get! See you next year!

And the Oscar Goes to...Feng Shui!?!

No, I just have to do some game prep is all. But seriously, wouldn't a movie based on Feng Shui be amazing?

Anydangway, last time the Dragons beat up a bunch of mutants, faced off against Si Borg's reanimated flesh, attuned a new Feng Shui site, and lost Wildfire to radioactive explosions. So now they'll be headed back into the contemporary juncture to pursue Melody, Celeste's sister.

Players, stop reading....NOW!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Oscars: Predictions & Thoughts

So! As is the case every year for the past, like, decade plus, I'm gearing up for the Oscars telecast by considering the nominees in a bunch of categories, who I think is going to win, and who I think should win. Before we get into it: If you don't care, don't post to tell me how much you don't care. If you care but you think the whole thing is problematic, then g'head and post and I'll be happy to talk about it, but just know that this is one of those problematic things I like, so that's where I'm coming from.

With that said...

The slate this year is pretty strong. Often there's a Best Picture nominee that I kinda feel shouldn't be there, and I don't feel that way this year. I mean, sure, disagree with the nominees, but like, The Blind Side should not have been nominated, even within the context of "white people solving racism" movies. This year, I think the weakest movie was Manchester by the Sea, and that wasn't so weak that it doesn't deserve the acclaim it's getting.

Plus, we've actually got some diversity this year. Could/should we have more? Hell, yes. (I'm reminded of Ruth Bader Ginsburg saying that the appropriate number of women on the SCOTUS should be nine, because we've had nine men for many decades and no one much cared.) So - it's a step forward. It's not a run across a finish line, but it's progress, and frankly that's something we can use this year.

Oh, and, before we go any further: Potential spoiler warnings for any and all of the nominated films.

Best Actor: A couple of really strong performances here, and a couple that I'm a little more "meh" about. Let's start with the meh. Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea is playing a man who has suffered an immeasurable personal tragedy, but I kind of feel like the direction of the movie hurt him (more on this later). Ryan Gosling is not my favorite actor in the world anyway, and his performance in La La Land was perfectly good but I don't feel his singing is amazing and I don't think his acting in that film is anything to write home about (I'd rather this slot have gone to Dev Patel, who really deserves this nom rather than Supporting Actor). Viggo Mortensen isn't going to win for Captain Fantastic; the movie was good and he absolutely carried it (though I was impressed with George MacKay, too), but it doesn't have the buzz behind it to get anywhere. That pretty much leaves Denzel Washington and Andrew Garfield.

Denzel is probably going to win it, and I'm fine with that, but let's talk about the reasons (behind his intense performance in Fences). First of all, it's great that there a bunch of POC nominated this year, but if no one wins that's kind of weak. Second, it's probably the strongest performance, and definitely one of the most demanding (Garfield's is the other one). Third, it's a way to recognize August Wilson's work, which is definitely a worthy endeavor.

But then there's Garfield, playing real-life war hero and pacifist Desmond Doss, whose heroics were, if anything, downplayed in Hacksaw Ridge. Garfield manages to put across a man of faith without coming across as corny or condescending, and that's a hard sell (for me especially). I think I'm OK if he doesn't win it, both because I'd hate to see a Mel Gibson film get too much acclaim and because Garfield's young, so he's got time to do something else fantastic and win.

My Choice & Prediction: Denzel Washington

Best Actress: This race is weird in that four of the five movies nominated aren't nominated for anything (or much) else, which is why I think Emma Stone is gonna win it. I'm not thrilled about that, mind. Stone is a fine actress and I love a lot of her work - hell, I loved her in La La Land, but I would so much rather have seen her win for Birdman. I wouldn't be sad to see her win, I'm just not thrilled about the movie she's winning it for.

But, what else we got. Natalie Portman ain't winning for Jackie. I'm not sure how I feel about the movie. I liked her performance well enough (and she basically was the whole movie), but I also feel like the movie wasn't anything new, or didn't do anything daring. I don't know. I sort of feel that way about Loving, too. Ruth Negga (who I know as Raina from Agents of SHIELD) was nicely understated, but maybe too understated? Like, the back half of the movie it felt like they were really struggling to put some tension into it, and it felt sort of flat as a result.

Can't say that Elle was boring, anyway, and Isabelle Huppert played an interesting (if horrible) character. There's actually a lot to unpack in that movie, and I don't have the time or inclination to get into it too deep, but suffice to say that her performance is actually the one of these five that's stuck with me the most. Is that to say it's the best?

Last one, of course, is Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins, which I was expecting to be this silly, light-hearted sort of thing and it wound up being a lot more interesting and dramatic than I was thinking. I hate to say, though, but I'm still of the opinion that we should take a five-year break from nominating Streep for Oscars, just to see some new folks get the noms. It's not that she's not a fabulous actress, she is (and I actually think this was a pretty strong role for her), it's just that she's pretty emblematic of the "oh, well, we gotta nominate her!" problem.

Anyway, I'm not sure how to call this. Well, I think Stone's gonna win, but who do I think should win it?

My Choice: Isabelle Huppert
My Prediction: Emma Stone

Best Supporting Actor: Interesting race, here. I think we can count out Lucas Hedges in Manchester by the Sea. He did well playing a young man who's lost his father and is coping with the shock of that, but is still being a teen (people dealing with loss aren't necessarily nice and aren't necessarily above using that loss to get away with shit). Michael Shannon was one of my favorite parts of Nocturnal Animals, but since that's this movie's only nom, I don't think it's got the oomph to win (Shannon needs to get nominated for a meatier role one of these days). If Jeff Bridges won, I guess I wouldn't cry, but he's basically playing the same role he played in Crazy Heart (except a cop) or True Grit (except in modern day), so that's a little disappointing.

That takes us to Dev Patel and Mahershala Ali. Ali's been all over the place this year; he starred in Moonlight, for which he's nominated, but also shows up in Hidden Figures and, of course, as Cottonmouth in Luke Cage. I think he's doing pretty damn well, and the roles he's playing are distinct. And I really liked him in Moonlight, playing a character who's making his living selling drugs, but clearly not considering the human cost of that until it comes back around. Since drug dealers and drug-adjacent people in movies, black men especially, tend to be much less empathetic characters, it was really refreshing to see someone who was capable of displaying love and kindness for no reason other than that's what he feels.

And then Patel, who, as I mentioned, really should have been nominated for Best Actor, but I don't know how these decisions work. Patel really carried the movie, and I don't think Lion is getting anything else (no way is it beating Fences and Moonlight for Adapted Screenplay). Unless, of course, voters feel that Ali's role was too small (or too black) to take it, in which case we might get Patel or Bridges, but I'll be an optimist.

My Choice & Prediction: Mahershala Ali

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis. We done here? Well, no, of course, not.

So, Davis really should have a Best Actress nom for Fences, because her role is just as important to the movie as Washington's, but my understanding is that they pushed for this category because she'd be more likely to win it. And, I think it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that she will? But let's see.

Naomie Harris in Moonlight plays an emotionally abusive drug addict. An aside: One thing I like about this year is that we've got several women of color nominated and they're not all playing abusers, because the black women who've won acting Oscars while I've been paying attention pretty much all have been (that'd be Halle Berry and Mo'Nique). That's not to say that Harris didn't kill it, because she did, but she was reportedly hesitant to take the role of a crack addict and like, I can understand why. Meanwhile, we've got Octavia Spencer in Hidden Figures, the only one of the cast to get a nom, which kind of chafes me a little. I loved her character and her performance, though I think Janelle Monae might have been the stronger one.

And then we get our two token white girls, Michelle Williams and Nicole Kidman, both previous nominees. I don't think Williams deserved the nom. Her role in Manchester by the Sea was important, sure, but it was small and not on the level of some of her other work. I really don't think Kidman deserved it for Lion, and I frankly can't think of a standout scene. I don't think we'll see either one of them take it. We'd better not, at least.

My Choice: Octavia Spencer (but it's a near thing)
My Prediction: Viola Davis

Best Director: Fuck Mel Gibson. With that said, Hacksaw Ridge is actually really good and really well-directed, dammit. I don't think Gibson's going to win, although it's kind been the year for rewarding anti-Semitism, hasn't it? I'm depressed now. Moving on.

I don't think Denis Villenueve is taking it for Arrival. I don't think it has the juice to overcome La La Land, and it's slow and kind of bland, for what it is. Likewise, I don't think we'll see Kenneth Longeran win for Manchester by the Sea. One of the things about that movie that bugged me was that the reveal about why Affleck's character is such a dick comes too late in the film, and we don't really get time to process it properly; the whole movie is told in dribs and drabs. Pacing's too slow. Maybe it's just me, I dunno, but a movie about a guy who loses his children in a fire should have torn me apart, and it barely registered.

Anyway, that leaves us with Barry Jenkins for Moonlight and Damien Chazelle for La La Land. One is a queer drama with barely any white people in it at all, while the other is a very pretty, very self-congratulatory movie about movie-makers. I wish I could maintain optimism, but I think Hollywood's gonna choose to give itself a handjob, here. I hope I'm wrong; Jenkins would be the first black man to win Best Director if he does win.

My Choice: Barry Jenkins
My Prediction: Damien Chazelle

Best Animated Feature: Once again, I'm one movie down - I could not find a way to see My Life as a Zucchini, so I have no idea what happens. I have seen the rest, however. So, let's discount The Red Turtle. I liked it, it was beautiful and sad and minimalist, but it's not beating the three mainstream movies.

Those movies are: Zootopia, Moana, and Kubo & The Two Strings, all of which I really loved. I don't think Kubo is going to win over the other two; it's amazing, but jesus, the other two were pretty huge and Kubo is weird. So: Disney princess movie or Disney animal movie? (That's an oversimplification and does neither movie any service, by the way.) Moana came out more recently and might be fresh in people's minds, but Zootopia had a worldwide total gross of over a billion dollars, and that's pretty goddamn impressive. I think the ways in which Moana was impressive might slide under the radar.

My Choice: Kubo & the Two Strings
My Prediction: Zootopia

Adapted Screenplay: Two plays, a short story, a memoir, and a non-fiction book, and as usual I've read none of them. I think this is likely to go to either Moonlight or Fences, and that's probably fine. I think Lion is a pretty amazing story, and from what I've found in my light research, they played fair by the story (even softening the blow about how Saroo's brother died, which would otherwise have been a real downer). Arrival was an interesting story, but I kind of want to watch it again at some point. I love time travel and I love linguistics, and I feel like there's probably more there for a second viewing. Hidden Figures, I dunno. We might see this win so the white people can feel good about solving racism (that whole thing with Kevin Coster knocking down the "colored" bathroom sign was fabricated, but then, so was the notion that Taraji P. Henson's character had to run across campus to use the colored bathroom (she claims she refused and just used the white one). I feel like that could have been played for drama just as effectively.

Either way, I don't think I'd cry if any of these took the award, though Hidden Figures would annoy me not because the script was bad, but because of the changes to history that were made.

My Choice: Moonlight
My Prediction: Hidden Figures

Original Screenplay: And here, I'm missing one. Never got around to seeing 20th Century Women, and based on that synopsis, neither did anyone else. There's no way it's beating La La Land, anyway, which I think is the probable winner, but what else we got? This is the category where the weird stuff goes.

Frankly, we could do with a little more weird stuff. We've got Manchester by the Sea again, which I don't think had a strong enough script for this nom, honestly. We've got Hell or High Water, which I think does belong here - it's a neo-noir/Western, which is pretty cool, and it's got a story that's straightforward but not boring. Then we've got La La Land, which I actually do like, story-wise, if for no other reason than the lead characters don't wind up together, and so it subverts a couple of the tropes of its genre, which is always good.

Finally, The Lobster, what my brother might have called a "double blinker," because when it's over you sit there going "blink blink." Absurdist, slow, not funny but not sad, it's just weird, and with just enough magical realism that it kept me hooked.

My Choice: The Lobster
My Prediction: La La Land

Best Picture: OK, here we go.

Hell or High Water ain't winning. It's good and I'm glad it was nominated, because it's nice to have something that's watchable and entertaining, while still being dramatic, here.

Arrival, likewise, ain't winning, but I love seeing genre films get Best Picture noms. I personally think Deadpool should have gotten a nom (and before you say "oh, it's just a by-the-numbers revenge flick," yes, it is, but being representative of a genre hardly disqualifies a film. But I digress).

Manchester by the Sea ain't winning. It's up against too many movies that could make a Statement by winning, but even absent that, I don't think it's got the chops to beat La La Land.

Hacksaw Ridge ain't winning, and man, I'm conflicted about this movie. On the one hand, fuck Mel Gibson. On the other, it's really good. The battle scenes are fantastically and brutally choreographed, Doss' character is really well-realized, and he even gets a harsh lesson in consent when he kisses a girl without asking. A couple of really heavy-handed religious images, but just a couple, and otherwise it's really impressive. Dammit, Gibson, why you gotta be such a douche?

Lion ain't winning, but it tells a really compelling story and it's a good showcase for Patel. I almost wish Sunny Pawar, who plays Saroo as a boy, would have gotten a nom.

And now we're into the stuff that could win.

I don't think Fences is going to win. In addition to being too black (a problem it shares with Moonlight), I think it's too long and I think the Academy will reward Denzel with Best Actor (though I think he might have won Best Director if he'd been nominated).

That leaves Hidden Figures, Moonlight, and La La Land. I think we can probably count out Moonlight. Sure, it's probably the best of the nominees, and sure, it's drawing on the screenwriter and director's life experiences, but it's also too black, and it's up against a chance for the (mostly white) Academy voters to either feel good about the space race or feel good about movie-makers. That's a hard sell to get them to vote for a movie about a gay black man in Miami.

So, if it's between Hidden Figures and La La Land? I think given that the box office on La La Land dwarfed that of Hidden Figures, and since Hollywood really likes giving movies about movies the Best Picture (see also The Artist and Birdman), I think that's probably the way they'll go. And that's...OK, I guess.

My Choice: Moonlight
My Prediction: La La Land

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Movie #390: Kubo & The Two Strings

Kubo & The Two Strings is an animated fantasy movie starring Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei, Brenda Vaccaro, and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. It's probably one of my favorite films of the year.

Young Kubo (Parkinson) lives with his mother (Theron) on a mountain overlooking a village. Every day he goes down to the village to tell stories for money, but he does that with the help of magic - when he plays his shamisen, he can fold paper into characters and make them move and act out the stories. Everyone in the village kind of takes the magic as read, but they're amazed with his storytelling (except that he loses track of time and can't end the stories). His mother warns him to always be inside before the sun sets, lest the Moon King, his grandfather, find him and steal his other eye.

So right away we're dealing with some pretty high-level magical realism, here, which of course makes me happy, but then Kubo does stay out late, and his creepy-ass aunts (Mara) show up to collect him. His mother gives her life to send him away to the Far Lands and animate his Monkey charm (also voiced by Theron) to guide him in finding the armor that will let him stand up to his grandfather. Along the way they pick up Beetle (McConaughey), a cursed samurai who's convinced he served under Kubo's father.

The movie is pretty brutal. It turns out Monkey is really Kubo's mother and Beetle is really his father, but neither of them live long after those revelations come out. Kubo's mother, as it happens, was a celestial being sent to kill his father, but who fell in love with him instead. Kubo is forced to confront his grandfather alone, and tries to kill him with the weapons he's found, but ultimately chooses to give his grandfather the same gift his father gave his mother - humanity. The closing scene where the villagers tell Kubo's now-human grandfather "his story" chokes me up every time, not least because it's really damn Promethean, in a way.

The movie is visually amazing (Laika doesn't always hit home runs, but this one sure is). I think it might have been nice to have a few more Japanese people in the cast, especially the principle cast, but overall the movie feels pretty respectful to the source material (although I'm hardly the one to make that call). The cover of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" by Regina Spector over the end credits is likewise perfect.

This movie probably won't beat Moana for Best Animated Feature on Sunday, but I dunno, I think it's got my vote.

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Mallrats

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Movie #389: It Follows

It Follows is a horror movie starring Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe, Daniel Zovatto, and Jake Weary.

Jay (Monroe) is a college student, seeing a boy named Hugh (Weary). They have sex in his car on a date, after which he immediately drugs her, ties her to a wheelchair, and tells her that "it" is coming for her. "It" can look like a person, even one she knows, but it's not human and no one else can see it. If it catches her, it will kill her and then proceed on to Hugh. She can pass it along to someone else by sleeping with them. He recommends never going anywhere without more than one exit; "It's real slow but it's not dumb." And then he dumps her at home and fucks off.

Jay's sister Kelly (Sepe) and her friends Yara (Luccardi) and the smitten Paul (Gilchrist) don't immediately believe her, but they understand that she's freaked out by something (when the phantom starts to follow her and invades her house), so with their friend Greg (Zovatto) they head out of town to think about it. But then the phantom makes its presence known - it's not intangible, just invisible and apparently immortal. Jay sleeps with Greg who seems to avoid the phantom for a few days (there's some minor implication that he made have banged another girl immediately afterwards and passed along the phantom that way, but it's not clear), but then falls victim to it. Jay and her friends come up with a plan to lure it into a pool and electrocute it, which fails spectacularly, and finally Jay has sex with Paul. The movie ends with them walking hand in hand, someone out of focus in the background following them.

I like this movie a lot. It's original, for one thing. I mean, you could argue it draws on slasher films, but there's only one victim from the main cast, and the movie implies a lot more than it shows, which is nicely effective in psychological horror. Jay is a fun character. I enjoy that she initiates and obviously enjoys sex (and I had it in my head that Hugh was her first, but he wasn't; after she has sex with Greg she quietly mentions that they had sex in high school), and I like that while the creature is obviously sex-focused, it's not necessarily punishing people for fucking. It It's implacable and unrelenting, and it's never explained. There's not an investigation scene where Yara (who's constantly reading on her little weird seashell tablet) goes "Ha! It's an ancient Sumerian sex-demon!" No, it's just a nameless horror, and it's not interested in being defined.

Along with The Babadook, this is probably one of my favorite horror films of the last couple of years. And, because this is how I roll, I think it's a pretty perfect Chill movie.

The cast is, however, entirely white, and that's kind of disappointing.

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Kubo & The Two Strings

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Prometheans in the Big Easy

Gotta start doing these the day after. Long week, though.

Anyway! Last time the characters got to the New Orleans, fought some Pandorans, met Sicky, met Charon, and so forth. This time...

They wake up in the little hovel that Sicky found for them, an abandoned storefront, as Enoch arrives. Enoch had stopped off to visit a demiurge outside of town, someone who had made a Frankenstein (while Enoch hasn't; he's trying to make one of each Lineage, remember). They had a nice little chat about using heat from a crematorium to provide the necessary energy, and then Enoch arrives in New Orleans.

That morning, the owner of the building, Beth Mortaine, comes to visit. Matt immediately recognizes that she's in stage 2 Disquiet, probably from Sicky. She tells Sicky he's got rent to pay, and Sicky begs off, but Matt gives her a grand (which exhausts a lot of his walking around money) and the Prometheans promise that they'll fix the place up, clean it, and paint it so Beth can sell it. They head out and hit a Home Depot to buy supplies (which depletes the rest of Matt's cash, but Skip and Enoch both have Resources, so that's good). Feather looks around the Home Depot for Pilgrim Marks, but doesn't find any.

They head back to the storefront and start working on cleaning it up. They work on that for a few hours, and then talk to Sicky about the Promethean camp and who was there. Sicky mentions that he was surprised that the Pandoran was able to attack Avalon in the sculpture garden - he thought there was some kind of field in place that prevented it. The Prometheans decide that's worth a look. First they decide to go talk to Parris Mick, formerly the Promethean known as Papillion. She's apparently become human, completing her Great Work. Since Avalon already talked to her, they figure it should be one of the others, and Matt is one of the more adept socially (also he's not causing Disquiet since his fire is out). Feather goes with him.

They talk with Parris, and Matt claims to be writing an article for a local arts magazine. They talk about her work in the sculpture garden, but her memory seems hazy. She does agree to talk with them more the next day, though.

They wander around the place and find a planter. Someone has dug up something made of obsidian and wire, and smashed it. Avalon looks over the shards and figures it might have been shaped like a butterfly. Holding the shards, the characters get a sense of sadness and longing, like something precious has been lost. The Prometheans split up and search through the gardens for more Pandorans, and indeed, they all get jumped. A couple of them are injured, but they manage to destroy the monsters before they do any real damage.

As its now night, they decide to go find Charon, since a couple of them need electrical healing. They introduce him to Enoch, and Charon closes a hole on one of their pants (Enoch, I think?). He also tells Skip that now that he thinks about it, he doesn't know that fella with all the jangly charms, but something made him think he did. Probably Skip should be wary.

They head back to the hovel. Interspersed with all of this, too, they've been talking with Matt about his absent Divine Fire and what they might do about that. Matt isn't sure that he wants his Fire back - if he's not causing Wastelands, and he's not causing Disquiet, why, it's like being human, isn't it? The others aren't sure, though, and Matt goes upstairs, lays down, and forces an Elpis Vision.

In the Vision, he sees himself walking into the sun, but it's muted, dull, he's done it before. He's walking in the desert, but he's worn a rut in his path. And up ahead, he sees a cliff, and he knows the only ways are back the way he came or over the cliff. He awakens knowing that he needs to move forward. He needs a leap of faith.

And downstairs, the others realized that a Wasteland has started. Matt apparently still has enough Fire to create one.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Night's Black Agents, Plus Perhaps Promethean Prep

I alliterate like a mo-fo. Anyway, Night's Black write-up from yesterday and then some game prep. Players, don't read past the picture of Kubo.

Last time, the agents got ambushed and barely made it out alive. This time...was not much better, actually.

They'd fallen back to the villa in Tuscany, and regrouped with Drs. Sedillo and Koltay. From them, they learned that Sedillo could not make any more anti-master serum without another sample; there was something in the biochemistry of a vampire that she couldn't replicate. She did make some darts from the "brute" samples they gave her, but she stressed that she wasn't sure what they'd do to a master. Koltay, likewise, said that with a bit more time and data he might be able to figure out the whole "radiation x-ray collar" thing, and maybe even unlock how to replicate this chemical compound that was confounding Sedillo, but not without a sample.

The agents talked about tracking down Ava, but Sedillo pointed out that since they'd darted her and she'd survived, her chemistry might have changed - Sedillo would have to treat any sample from Ava as a new element. That meant finding a new master. Gambone put his ear to the ground and learned that someone had just hired some muscle in Venice...and had been throwing Vilmos Hajnal's name around, which you don't do unless you actually work for him. Someone knew the agents were in Italy.

Into all of this, Ess got a message from Father Calderon, requesting a face-to-face in Florence, which was outside protocol. The team went with him, and Ess talked to the older priest, and learned that the Vatican was disavowing him; his face was on wanted posters (like, you know, virtual ones) and INTERPOL was looking for him. The Vatican was just as full of people who owe favors to other people as anything else, and Calderon couldn't shield Ess any longer. The best he could do was shield his family in Sweden. The agents would need to clear the villa in a few days.

The agents decided to make that work for them. They sent Sedillo and Koltay (along with all their research) to London, and had Calderon dismiss the guards around the villa. Then they went all A-Team on it; they put bear traps in likely sniper's perches out on the perimeter and outside the doors and windows, rigged the garage door to blow, and put a spike-strip in the driveway. And then they waited.

That night, they got their response. Ess took up a guard position on the patio, Hanover a sniper's perch in the second floor, Gambone watched one window, Parker another, and MacAteer in the kitchen. Ess saw some folks break formation at the trees (they must have found or missed the traps at the perimeter) and fired at them. Hanover and Parker shot at them, dropping one, and they fell back, shooting at the agents.

The bear traps outside the kitchen door and window felled a couple of them invaders, and Gambone traded shots with another. Ess lobbed a grenade and scattered the ones in the trees, and Hanover dropped another. A car rolled up but stopped short of the spike strip, and found people piled out, but Parker and Hanover pinned them down. MacAteer grabbed the one who'd gotten a leg trapped and incapacitated him, but another got into the house through the main door and shot at Gambone's back (and missed). Parker hit him with a brute dart, figuring he might be a brute, and he dropped...but then got back up, sweating and bloody in the eyes, and punched her a couple of times with much more force than he should have been able to.

Hanover, hearing this commotion, rushed downstairs and put a bullet in the dude's head. That worked.

The invaders fell back, and the agents regrouped. They opened the bear trap and dressed the dude's wounds, and then tied him up and interrogated him (without torture, because torture doesn't fucking work, despite what our "president" thinks). He was Italian, and had been hired in Venice for a hit job - to wit, kill everyone in this villa. They'd been hired by a dude named Klobucor (whom the agents recognized as the paymaster who'd hired most of them at one point), and they had a Russian guy with them, spotting from a ways back. The agents figured they'd better take that guy out, so they left the two survivors tied up in the basement and went out into the woods.

They found a dead body with two holds in his chest...the Russian guy was apparently a master. MacAteer and Gambone headed back to the villa to get a car (which MacAteer jacked from the invaders; why use their own car for rough stuff?). The others tracked the surviving thugs and found three dudes getting into a car. They fired on them and one of them jumped in the car bolted, leaving the other two (who ran rather than fight). Hanover and Parker shot out the tires, and Gambone and MacAteer arrived in their car. They gave chase, and found the car abandoned, smashed against a tree. The agents got close, but Parker noticed a red light flashing under the seat just in time.

She pulled Ess back, but they were both in the blast range enough that it injured them and knocked them unconscious. Gambone and Hanover, a little further back, were hurt, but not badly, and MacAteer was in the other car, untouched. As they were dragging the injured back to the car, the Russian came out of nowhere and started for the agents. Gambone shot him with the dart and he stiffened up, but kept going. Gambone shot him again and he fell, seizing. MacAteer then ran him over. That did the job.

The agents grabbed some samples and then got the hell out, retrieving their car and then heading to Florence and finding a street doc and a safe house. They're safe, for the moment, but the noose is tightening and they've lost some support.

And now:

If you must blink, do it now.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Night's Black Notents

These are notes for the Night's Black Agents game later today, which I really wish I'd have done after the last game back before freaking Xmas, because I have vague memories of "ooh, gonna do a thing!" and now they're faded, muted, dreams of greater times, like our fucking democracy.


(Players no read. NO READ, PLAYERS. BAD. *WHAP*)

Feng Shui: Fightin' in Caves

Ah, week got away from me. Feng Shui was Monday! Blam-balam-bam!

So! Last time the characters got into a fight with some river pirates, and lost Wildfire down a waterfall. This time, we pick up as they enter the cave system behind said waterfall...and are immediately attacked by hideous cave-crawler mutants!

The Dragons fight off the creatures, and also manage to free Wildfire from the device clinging to his back that prevents him from changing into his monster form. They press on into the cave system, knowing that there's a feng shui site in here that requires them to liberate it. They come to a basin that slides down into a mud pit, and Dani slides down, heedless of danger (we see where Johnny got it).

The crawlers hiding in the mud immediately attack, because of course they do, and are joined by a horrible claw-monster on the ceiling and a mutant with a bow up in the rocks somewhere. Tang teleports up and tries to smack the archer, but misses, and then he throws Wildfire at him, who also misses. Celeste, however, manages to rope his legs with her whip and yank him down to his doom. The Dragons win, but are hurt, and they must press on.

And finally, they find a huge stone dais carved from the rock. A whole bunch of crawlers surrounded it, and also several mutants - one leaking toxic fluids, one wearing a chef's apron and carrying a cleaver, and one who looks...strangely normal. And then a huge, hulking mutant with cybernetics lumbers out. Tang and Dani recognize his face...he's made from the remains of Si Borg.

Obviously, the battle is joined. Dani shoots at false-Si, but the chef-monster whips a tongue at her and pulls her into close combat. The normal-looking one jumps at Celeste and horrible fanged mouths open all over his chest. Wildfire charges in to help Dani and takes a bite out of Cookie (who screams "NOOOO! SEASON ME FIRST!"), but things look bleak. Psycho-Si fires a grenade at the Dragons and fires guns from his hand. Dani runs up to shoot him point-blank, and he backhands her off the dais and knocks her out. Bai smacks Toxie and sets him alight, but takes acid damage in the process.

And then the tide turns! Psycho-Si marks Wildfire with a chemical that makes all the less mutants swarm him, but they can't chew through his hide. Tang throws a stalactite at Psycho-Si and punches him into next week, shutting down his cybernetics, and he falls apart. His parts start beeping ominously, and the Dragons fall back...but Wildfire, still grappling with like a dozen enemies, roars, "GO! I'll hold them off!"

Behind them, as they dive for cover in the mud-basin, they hear a boom. They go back and amidst the bodies, they find Wildfire's human body, wearing blue spurs, at peace, perhaps.

The Dragons claim the site (and get an advancement!). Dani laments that she's been sucked back into the Chi War, but it's what both Johnny and Si - the real Si - would have wanted. The Dragons head for a portal to venture into the contemporary juncture and find Celeste's sister.