Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Movie #410: Get Out

Get Out is a horror movie directed by Jordan Peele and starring Daniel Kaluuya, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones, Allison Williams, Stephen Root, Lil Rey Howery, Betty Gabriel, and Marcus Henderson.

Chris (Kaluuya) is a young black photographer who goes home with his white girlfriend Rose (Williams) to visit her parents for the weekend. He's nervous enough about that, but discovers that her parents are not only vaguely racist in ways he's probably really used to, but her mother Missy (Keener) is a psychiatrist happy to hypnotize away his smoking habit and her brother Jeremy (Jones) is aggressive and drunk. Likewise, the two household staff, Georgina and Walter (Gabriel and Henderson, respectively) are just...strange. They're black, but they don't respond to Chris like they are.

Well, spoiler alert: The whole thing is a setup. The Armitage family belongs to a cult (an "order", actually, though it's a really brief mention) and the weekend is actually an auction for Chris. His intended fate is to have Jim Hudson (Root)'s brain transplanted into his body, where a sliver of his mind will forever live in "the sunken place," a black pit inside his own mind. They've been stealing black people for this purpose for a long time. Why black people? Oh, they're just in fashion.

This movie is goddamn fantastic, and I say that knowing that I'm a white guy watching it which means I'm missing untold amounts of nuance that I just don't have the life experience to get. Kaluuya's performance is amazing, and his ability to look vaguely uncomfortable for a long beat and then just break is chilling. Williams, likewise, keeps you guessing pretty late in the game as to whether she's really in on it, and you really don't want her to be. The final beat, when Chris' TSA buddy Rod (Howery) shows up, had the whole theater holding its breath.

I'm really, really looking forward to Peele doing more horror. I hope he does. The genre needs this kind of talent, and it needs this kind of perspective.

My grade: A
Rewatch value: Probably low because it's so damn intense

Next up: John Wick: Chapter 2

Promethean: Chats in the Swamp

Last time, which was a while ago, there was some light death and chopping. This time, the characters had stuff to do.

Enoch, Skip, Feather, and Matt took Barbara and stopped by the power line that Sicky had showed them, and then headed out to the remains of the camp. Barbara and Matt started fixing up Barbara's old shack; Matt, reasonably, decided that having this as a backup hovel might be wise. He also talked to Barbara about her Pilgrimage. She wasn't really sure where to go next, having been on Stannum (and chasing the Gator) for so long, and asked Matt about where he'd been. He talked about going out to California and learning who he'd been before (that is, his body's history), and that he found some value in that. He'd been started on that path because a librarian had recognized him waaaaaay back in New Mexico. Barbara noted that she'd never really tried to be out among people, focusing on learning about herself as a Promethean first. Matt, on the other hand, did it the other way: started among people and then self-focused. Barbara decided it was time to learn more about humans (switching to the Refinement of Gold), and Matt made a milestone (help a Promethean choose a new Refinement) and completed his Ascetic Role. He decided to switch to Chronicler and finish the Pilgrim Mark dictionary he was working on, figuring that would dovetail nicely with Feather's work.

Feather, meantime, dove into the swamp, using her Saturninus Transmutations to focus on the Pilgrim Marks. She found a bunch of them, noting parts of the camp, but also found on reading "this place is doomed." She had an Elpis Vision, and saw that all of these Marks were stories and Rambles and she'd learned a lot about them, but what was she doing with that information? She resurfaced with a new sense of purpose.

Skip, standing guard while Feather dove, was wondering about his own path. He'd completed the Soldier Role, but wasn't sure where to go next. He tried to force an Elpis Vision, but failed.

Back in New Orleans, Grimm called up the person that Charon had recommended to ask about "the Bound." She met him at DuMonde for coffee, and he told her about Red and what had happened. She (introducing herself as Anita) told him a little about what "Bound" meant - she was one, too. Red, upon death, had bonded with a powerful spirit. She told Grimm that the Bound were hard to kill because the spirit of death could shunt their death off onto someone else; there were consequences, but someone like Red might not care. She wondered if by having someone like Grimm or one of his compatriots, who could return from death, actually strike the death-blow, the death might not "take" and Red would stay dead. She warned him that they were in highly theoretical territory, though. She said she'd consult a source and get back to him tomorrow.

Avalon did some sketching and went to visit Carroll. He liked her drawings of monsters and body horror, but noted that Ysolde's face kept creeping in and that was where the real emotion lived. Avalon agreed, but asked for him to hit her with another Nightmare. Carroll, perhaps a little taken aback, touched her hand, and as she walked away she felt like all human interaction was fake, no one was being honest with her, and she was alone.

Grimm, back at the storefront, called Rosa, his creator. They talked for a moment he mentioned he might come see her, and as he hung up he got flickers of Elpis, but no vision. Confused, he forced a Vision, and saw that Vitriol could be used to smooth out his stitches, to push himself along on the Pilgrimage, to fix Alembics. He was close, he realized, to fermentatio, but wasn't sure how to get there.

The Prometheans headed back to the storefront and met back up with Avalon and Grimm. Avalon contacted Emil and asked for a local drug hookup (she wanted mescaline to kickstart her creative process). The throng talked about moving - since Red clearly knew where they were, maybe it was safer to move? But then, if Red came back and just found Beth, the owner, who knew what he'd do? They decided it was better to stay safe and just keep watch, and it was getting late anyway.

Grimm talked with Enoch and asked about his vision, and Enoch concurred that using Vitriol to push himself towards humanity sounded about right, given the context. Grimm needed more Vitriol for that, though.

Well, not everyone. Avalon met the dealer and bought her tabs, and then got a little sleep as Feather typed away on her new typewriter, writing up the history of the camp (Matt collaborated on Pilgrim Marks). Grimm and Enoch slept, but Skip was upstairs, trying again to force a vision. He failed again, and, frustrated, he punched a beam. Of course, Skip is ridiculously strong, and cracked it, and the whole roof shifted.

Everyone woke up, and Avalon used her Fortification Distillation to fix it; it would still need some shoring up. Skip was in Torment and probably about to punch something else, but Matt used his knowledge of Saturninus to resolve the Torment and calm Skip the hell down. He then took Skip on a walk and dressed him down a bit; Skip was frustrated because he didn't know where to go and he wasn't getting any guidance, but Matt pointed out that maybe trying to do something different - something creative - was key. Skip got everyone coffee and beignets, and apologized to the throng, which it turned out was a milestone for him.

Now unable to sleep, Avalon popped a whole bunch of pills and got to work. She worked until sunrise, and though her masterpiece isn't done, it's taking shape.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Character Creation: Vampire 20th

I'm going to work tomorrow (yeah, summer, but I need the money so I took some work at the summer clinic), so I figure I should make a character again while I have time, spoons, and...time-spoons.

So! Vampire! There's a new edition coming, this one kinda disconnected from previous editions in terms of mechanics. There's a "pre-alpha" playtest version link floating around, which is fucking dumb because "alpha" literally means "first," but whatever. I'm not involved, and neither is anyone else on the Onyx Path side of things, as far as I know. All I know is: It's going to be a shitshow, even if nuWW manages to make an awesome game, because they kinda already started off with one foot in the shitshow.

But never mind that.

The Game: Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition
The Publisher: White Wolf by way of CCP, with maybe some Onyx Path, I don't remember the timing and I can't be fucked to look it up right now
Degree of Familiarity: Very yes. I worked on this edition a little (bloodlines) and I worked on the line quite a bit
Books Required: Just the one.

I made a character for the 2nd edition of the game some time ago. "Some time ago." That was back in 2008. Remember 2008? Obama was about to be elected, we knew Bush was on the way out. There was hope.

And here we are now, in a World of Darkness. Ah, well. (We just watched the first episode of The Handmaid's Tale, so you'll pardon me if I'm a little bleak.)

So, since my last character was a Camarilla vampire, let's go a little different this time and make a Sabbat one.

Step One: Character Concept. Leon "Franco" Franchetti was a college dropout and a bouncer. Franco was also really smart; he didn't drop out because he couldn't make the grades, but because his father died of a stroke and the money that had been supplementing his income to help with his tuition had to go to the service and then to keep the household running. Franco figured he'd get back into it at some point, but he decided he'd drop out for a while and get a job to pay the bills, and he had a cousin who ran a bar.

Franco was working one night when a group of people rolled up, cut the line, and tried to get in. Franco stepped in front of them, and one of them - a little skinny guy - tossed him out of the way. Franco rounded up the other fellas and went after these pricks, but the woman with them stared all the tough guys down and Franco was left standing there by himself.

The little skinny guy looked Franco up and down and said something in a language Franco didn't understand, and then a third guy got up, handed Franco some folded hundred-dollar-bills, and said "Sorry, man. We'll be more polite." And that was it.

Three nights later, this same group ambush Franco outside his car, and the skinny guy bit him on the neck, drained his blood, and then brought him back. He took the time to educate him, too - humanity was a joke. People were a joke. Death was an afterthought.

Franco's sire wanted him to follow him down the Path of Cathari, and Franco probably would have, but he came to the attention of another local Sabbat vampire with different ideas. Sure, sex and abandon and so on is great, but there's a higher purpose to it all...if you're strong enough to look. Franco's on the Path of Lilith now.

So: Franco's a Lasombra. His Nature is Eye of the Storm; Franco is good at staying focused when everything goes nuts. His Demeanor is Soldier. The Path of Lilith is considered heretical, so he keeps it under wraps.

Good start. So, Step Two is Attributes. I want Physical to be primary, I think. I'll put three into Strength and two each into Dexterity and Stamina (because this stupid system still uses Dex as the "to-hit" stat).

Mental secondary. Three into Intelligence, once into Wits and Perception.

And then one each into the three Social Attributes.

Step Three: Abilities. 13/9/5. SO MANY POINTS. I'll make Talents primary, and put two each into Alertness, Athletics, Awareness, Brawl, Intimidation, and Streetwise. Last point goes into Subterfuge.

Knowledges are secondary. God, these are stupid. "Finance" and "Law" really need to be separate Abilities? Yawn. Anyway, three into Academics and Occult, two into Computer, one into Investigation.

Then Skills. One each into Drive, Etiquette, and Melee, and two into Stealth. Boom.

Step Four: Advantages. I get three dots in Disciplines and five in Backgrounds, but because I'm on a Path, not Humanity, I don't get any free dots in Virtues, except Courage. So I have to spend two of my 7 for a dot in Conviction and Instincts, and then I'll put two more into Instincts and Courage and one more into Conviction.

For Disciplines, I get Obtenebration, Potence, and Dominate. Hrm. Well, I like the shadow-things, but they're all useful, so I'll take one of each.

Then Backgrounds. I'll put one into Herd (folks at the club), two into Generation, and two into Mentor (not my sire, the one who's instructing me in my Path).

I get 5 in my Path (which is as high as it gets as a starting character), three in Willpower (which I have to raise), and roll a virtual d10 for blood pool (4). And of course I get 15 freebies, and I can take Flaws, which I will. I'll take Permanent Fangs (which my mentor sees as a blessing from Lilith, and who I am to argue?). I'll take Sire's Resentment, too; Michele (my sire) kinda takes offense that I think he's a schmuck and a hedonist. And I'll take Repelled by Crosses; Franco's family is Catholic and that respect and fear runs deep.

So that gives me 22 freebies. I have to spend two to raise my Willpower to 5. I'll burn 7 to buy a second dot of Obtenebration. I'll dump some into Backgrounds: Raise Herd to 2, Mentor to 3, and pick up Status 1 and Domain 1 (his cousin's club). That's 13 spent total. I want the Iron Will Merit, so that takes me to 16. I'll blow 5 more on a dot of Manipulation, and my last one I'll put into Retainers (my cousin Paul; he owns the club).

I'll specialize Strength and Intelligence, since I can. For Strength I'll take "Buff" (Franco was something of a weightlifting enthusiast pre-Embrace), and for Intelligence I'll take "Methodical".

And that's me done. Let's go eat some babies!*

*I do not actually advocate eating babies, even when playing Sabbat.

Night's Black Agents: Gotcha!

Yesterday we began a new op in Night's Black Agents. Join us, won't you?

The agents decided they'd take on Dierk Essert, probably the softest target they had as far as known vampires. To do that, they found his getaway in the Alps, and lured his staff away. Then they took the place over.

The place had a panic room, so they painstakingly broke in (figuring, correctly, that getting in roughly would trigger an alarm that would alert Essert. Inside, they found a gun, some cash, and some preserved blood, which seemed to put to rest any question of whether or not he was in fact a vampire. They rigged the room so that they could open it from the outside, and so that they could raise the ambient temperature up to 110 degrees. They also constructed a chair that they felt could hold a vampire. Finally, the put explosive charges up that would cause an avalanche to bury the house (if they needed to wipe out evidence) or make the road impassable.

Having done that, Parker called upon an MI-6 contact in London to help smuggle Drs. Koltay and Sedillo out of England and into Germany, which involved Hanover forging passports, but that's kinda what he does. Finally, they figured they were ready.

MacAteer, still in Berlin, caused a distraction (which we kind of abstracted because his player was absent), which sent Essert running for the hills. A helicopter landed and three guys with assault rifles got out. Realizing that any sign of trouble would make Essert rabbit, Gambone snuck up and planted a small charge on the tail of the chopper. Blowing that, the chopper was disabled, and Hanover and Parker popped out and shot the three security guys.

Essert and the pilot got out of the chopper and Ess shot the pilot in the leg. Essert ran into the snow, running faster than he should have been able to, and the others tried to chase him down. Gambone uncovered a snowmobile (yay Preparedness!) but couldn't really use it effectively (boo no Driving!). Ess shot at Essert, but wasn't able to do enough damage. Preparedness saves the day again, though; the agents had rigged up another charge on the mountain and sent snow after Essert. Even vampires aren't that fast.

They dug him out and shot him a few times, immobilized him, and carted him back up to the house. They gave him some blood so he wouldn't die, and strapped him into the chair so that they could take samples.

Hanover found his phone and saw he'd sent panic-codes to Budapest, Belarus, and Lithuania (that last one's new). The agents figure they don't have long before someone tries to check in with this guy...but they might not need much time.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Character Creation: ScreenPlay

Three chargen posts in a row, whaaaaaaat the fuck?

Well, I mean, normally I post movie reviews, game write-ups, and character creation, right? I haven't watched any of the movies on my list in a while (I just bought a bunch of movies and Get Out is the next one; we're gonna watch it tonight). I've been traveling so I haven't run any games. I want to do a post about Origins but I haven't got round to it yet, so here we are.

The Game: ScreenPlay
The Publisher: Broken Ruler Games
Degree of Familiarity: Some. I wrote a review (which I'm submitting today) and I've run a one-shot.
Books Required: Just the one.

So, ScreenPlay is a setting-less game that focuses on the metanarrative of "people creating a story" and uses details of that story (among other things) as in-game currency. It's a really interesting game, actually, but like a lot of setting-agnostic games (like GURPS or Savage Worlds), I do need a setting (or "treatment") in order to make a character. There's one available for PWYW download (here) but my eyes glazed over when I tried to read it (don't feel bad about that, +Todd, that always happens to me with fantasy settings) so instead I'm gonna use the setting we came up with when I ran it a few weeks ago.

By "we" I mean +Matthew Homentosky+Amanda Slanker, and +Alisdair Lyons. The setting was very World of Darkness-esque; societies of supernatural forces all working at cross-purposes and so forth. We established that wererats exist and are outcasts from the larger society of the Clandestine (the blanket term for supernatural creatures), that vampires exist and there's a secret society trying to take over the world, and that hunters called Nephilim exist and try to steal power from the Clandestine. The players all made leading characters (a wererat, a vampire, and a former Nephilim, respectively), and so if I were going to play this game, I might like to play a warlock or something. Hmm.

Well, tell you what. I'll make the werewolf that the characters wound up fighting in our one-shot (think of it as a pilot for a TV show).

Step One: Mark Character Type. My werewolf is a supporting character; I don't think he'd show up every episode. There's no place to write that on the sheet, though.

Step Two: Choose Your Role. It's not "choose" so much as "create," but sure. His Role is "werewolf enforcer." He works for the Clandestine to keep things quiet, keep the wererats out, and generally keep the peace. His name is Keenrick.

Step Three: Create Your Potentials. Kinda like Aspects, in a way. I'm a supporting character so I only get two. If I'm making this guy as a Writer (i.e., player) rather than as the Director (GM), I have one at d8 and one at d6. I need to take "werewolf" in there somewhere, so I'll make my first one "Werewolf Hunter" and my other one "Grizzled." I fill in the die type and difficulties and details as appropriate.

Step Four: Set Resource Slots. These things allow for shifting die types or doing more damage. I'll put Hybrid Form as one, and Clandestine Status as another. Keenrick enjoy some autonomy to enforce the collective laws of the Clandestine.

Step Five: Motivations and Hindrances. Motivation is just that. A Hindrance grants me another Motivation, and I can use those to get XP. So. I think Keenrick's Motivation is "Protect Humanity From Knowing Too Much." He's a stickler for the law, but that's to protect people, not monsters. I'll take "Feral Rage" as a Hindrance (he's a werewolf, after all), hang on. Feral Hunger. That's better. And then I'll take "Atone for Killing My Friend" as a second Motivation. That'll make for a nice mid-season reveal.

Step Six: Set Maximum Stamina. I can spend Stamina in play to do all kinds of things; remove complications, flip Resources between their functions, make milkshakes. I get 7 Stamina as a supporting character.

And that's it, yo. Character creation is actually pretty quick once you understand all the terms.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Character Creation: Trials of the Magi

Weirdly, I took the little "haven't made a character for this" sticker off this book, but I haven't made a character for it. It's possible that I decided not to, since you're not so much making a character as making yourself as a "candidate" for the "wizard trials," but eh. It's still on the list, so I might as well.

The Game: Trials of the Magi
The Publisher: Sproutli Games
Degree of Familiarity: Some. I ran it and wrote a review.
Books Required: Just the one.

So, Trials of the Magi asks you to apply a magical style to yourself, so as to play yourself as a wizard being tested in a dream. Playing oneself in an RPG is something I've seen done many, many times and I generally find it a little wanky, but what the hell.

If, therefore, I'm apply a magical style to myself, what would that look like? Well, the first step here is to Choose Three Arcana Cards. Now, it sounds like maybe a Tarot deck should be involved, but sadly, no. Instead, we've got a specialized deck that's nothing but cards of four suits (no value to individual cards): Swords, Wands, Cups, and Coins. In play, these cards let you use magic, and they also have suit-dependent benefits, so by choosing which cards you start with, you're really choosing which of those benefits you want. I want a Sword (which lets me lower the difficulty of certain challenges), a Cup, and a Coin (both of which have "healing" kinds of effects).

I then assign a style of magic to those cards by associating each card with something personal to me. For Swords, I can name something that made me yell, laugh, or cry. Hrm.

Well, I cry at movies all the damn time. I think it'd be interesting to use Movies as a style of magic, and since "music" is listed as one of the examples, I think that's not too broad. Using that style to make, like, Clive Owen from Children of Men show up and help out might be fun (I cried like a baby at that movie).

For Cups, I can name something I've card for, protected, or were a part of. Wow, that covers a lot of ground. I have cared for children, but what would that magic look like if I were using it in-game? I don't want to summon little children-minions to do my magical bidding, that's totally counter to the vibe I'm going for. Instead, I'll go for something I was a part of and say "Communication," since it's my job. That would allow for magic like telepathy and translation and so on, I think.

Finally, I get Coins, which means I name something I've worked hard to obtain, collected, or created. Well, shit, I collect RPGs, and having magic based on that opens the door to all kinds of meta-cognitive stuff, and that's before you get into summoning dragons out of nowhere. Pretty cool.

And that's it! That's all you need to do. Not even a character sheet to scan in.

(More involved character coming soon, I promise.)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Character Creation: Becoming

Haven't done a character in a while. A while. Hell, the last one I did was nearly two months ago. NICE JOB ON YOUR NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION, MATTHEW.

Anyway. I'm here now, so let's do this!

The Game: Becoming: A Game of Heroism and Sacrifice
The Publisher: Dangerous Games/Galileo Games
Degree of Familiarity: None. I've read it.
Books Required: Just the one.

Becoming is weird. It's a multi-GM, single player game. The GMs (kinda) play the Fates, whose job it is to make the Hero's life hard, and then one player plays the Hero. For my purposes, I'm going to make a Hero character (which is a very different proposition than doing so in Beast, innit?). Becoming doesn't have a character sheet (like a lot of dirty hippie indie games, it uses index cards).

Creating a Hero means picking a Quest, and then choosing from Assets for the Hero. There are four sample Quests in the book, so I'll pick one at random. I get Long Live the King, which is a story about a kingdom ruled by a cruel despot. I'm the Hero who's gonna stop him and replace him, I suppose.

So, in a real game of Becoming, myself and the three other players would take turns picking Assets, but since it's just me, I'll do the picking. There are nine Assets (three Strengths, three Virtues, and three Allies). I pick these from a list, even.

I'm a peasant from a small village, but that's as much backstory as I have. For my Virtues, I'll take "The people need a hero", Protect those who need it, and Do what's right. I think this guy is the child of someone who likes telling stories about the Heroes of Old, and he very much thinks he's gonna be the one to rise up and take down villainy. That makes him kind of young and naive, I'm thinking.

For Strengths, I'll take Good shot with a bow (I have a fondness for distance weapons), Fearless (which is another word for "dumb"), and People trust me. It occurs to me that I'm on the verge of making Se, my character in +Michelle's Song of Ice and Fire game, but fuck it.

Finally, Allies. I'll take Caleb, a grizzled veteran (I figure he sees potential in me, even if it's "the potential to get killed"), Regar, my brother (older, and a squire to...), and Marc, a devoted knight (...this guy).

So, what we've got here is Jackton, a peasant, tagging along with a grizzled veteran, a knight, and his squire on a quest to unseat the king, depend on how the game would go. I dig it. I also think that all three of these guys are gonna die before the end of the second act, leaving Jackton to face the evil king alone. Brutal.

And that's done, actually!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Movie #409: Men in Black

Men in Black is sci-fi/comedy flick directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (who also gave us Get Shorty and The Adams Family) and starring Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent D'Onofrio, Linda Fiorentino, and Rip Torn. It's very much part of Smith's "oh, hell naw" era.

K (Jones) is a Man in Black, a member of a shadowy psuedo-governmental organization that polices alien activity on Earth and has since the 60s. He runs across a New York cop named James Edwards (Smith) and recruits him following an altercation with a physically adept alien. Meanwhile, a giant cockroach-monster skins and impersonate a farmer (D'onofrio) and tools into town to steal an entire galaxy from yet another alien (Mike Nussbaum). In the end, they triumph, with the help of a medical examiner (Fiorentino) that they pick up along the way.

It's a fun movie. Much of the humor is Smith coping with the insanity of his new life and how deadpan Jones is about the whole thing, but it's important to remember the sheer amount of acting talent in this movie. Joke about Smith all you want, but the man has two Oscar noms and he deserved them, and you can see glimmers of that talent here. Likewise, Jones has certainly done his share of shit work (Batman Forever, anyone?) but here you can see him, like, act a little when he tries to cover up how he still feels about his long-lost love. And, of course, D'onofrio is gross and fun as a giant bug in an Edgar-suit.

But you know what I'm gonna say: I wish they'd given Fiorentino more to do. She's fun, she's sexy, and she manages to do indicate a lot with a smile or a turn of the head. I really love that she's sexually aggressive and just a little creepy with Smith, and then she wasn't in the sequel, and that was annoying (because Men in Black II was fucking terrible, though I thought the third one was pretty good).

Anyway, it's a good 90s comedy, and those are kinda thin on the ground.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: High

Next up: The Mexican

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Movie #408: Memoirs of an Invisible Man

Memoirs of an Invisible Man is an action/sci-fi/drama directed by John Carpenter and starring Chevy Chase, Daryl Hannah, Sam Neil, Stephen Tobolowsky, and Michael McKean.

Nick Halloway (Chase) is a broker who winds up at a scientific lecture when a device malfunctions and turns parts of the building - and him - transparent. He almost immediately winds up on the run from a crazy government spook named Jenkins (Neil), who wants him as an asset. Nick is the bad kind of invisible; he's invisible, his clothes are invisible, but if he so much as eats something non-transparent it shows through until he digests it.

Nick tries to turn the tables on his pursuers, but he doesn't know what he's doing and nearly gets caught. He flees to his friend George's (McKean) beach house, but nearly gets caught when George shows up with his wife and family friend Alice Monroe (Hannah), the woman that Nick was just getting smitten with when the invisibility happens. He reveals himself to Alice and enlists her help in fleeing the government, they fall in love, Jenkins falls off a damn roof, they move to Switzerland and she gets pregnant. The end!

This is not a bad movie. The effects are actually really impressive and have held up well, and I like the romance between Nick and Alice. Alice is careful and soft-spoken, but she's also smart and capable without being that weird hyper-competent that women in sci-fi/action sometimes wind up being. Sam Neil is nicely menacing as Jenkins, moving from kinda patriotic to amoral to outwardly crazy in the last act.

Chase...well, it's interesting casting. He manages to tone down his laconic goofiness and he seems to know he's not in a comedy. His interactions with Alice are also mostly sweet; he's flirty, sure, but she responds well (at one point, when they're kissing, she says she doesn't want to do anything cheap and meaningless and he responds "OK, what do I owe you?", which could have been really scuzzy, but she laughs and tells him he couldn't afford it, so it comes off like two people with good chemistry bantering). What Chase does have trouble with is expressing anger or desperation without seeming just weird (doesn't help that he actually has to deliver the line "I want my molecules back!" which makes no goddamn sense).

All in all, though, it's a perfectly serviceable movie, but it's nowhere near Carpenter at his best.

My Grade: B
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Men in Black

Chill: Take Me to Church

Today we began a new case in my Chill game set in Boise. Hoorah!

Auntie Dee had received an email from a pastor from Coeur d'Alene saying that there was "evil" in his church. She passed this along to the envoys and sent them up to check it out, figuring she'd be along if they found something significant (IRL, her player was on vacation and couldn't make the game).

The envoys arrived in Coeur d'Alene and drove by the church, Falls Baptist. It had been shuttered for a long time, but someone had obviously trimmed the grass and done some basic maintenance on the outside. They peeked in and saw dust, but no damage, and they noted there was no graffiti (but figured that was as much the part of town as anything). Dylan was taking some pictures when a cop car pulled up and the officer asked them what they were doing. He told the cop that they were interested in the property, but the cop clearly did not give a fuck and told them to leave.

They then headed to the pastor's house, and knocked on the door. A woman in her 30s answered, and introduced herself as Joy Taylor. She recognized Dee's name (everyone knows Auntie Dee), and told them that Pastor John was in the hospital; he'd had a heart attack a few days ago and had asked Joy's help in sending the email (for her part, Joy had been a parishioner a long time ago and had remained friends with John). She told them that John was convinced that there was something wrong with the church, and he'd gotten up in the morning every day for the last 20 years to walk down to the church and say a prayer at the door. Now, he was anxious that he wasn't able to do it.

She agreed to take them to the hospital to meet him. John was in relatively good spirits; he was weak, but happy to see them. He told them that when he was actually in charge of the church, something had started to go wrong. A church secretary named Anne Labelle had lost her cat (John remembered the cat perked up and ran into another room, and then no one had ever seen it again but they'd found the cat's collar torn in two). And then Anne herself had died shortly thereafter; she'd apparently tipped over in her chair and jostled a shelf, and a big geode bookend had fallen from the shelf and cracked her skull. It was then that John knew something was really wrong, and had had the church shut down. He even talked to SAVE in 1998 in Seattle (but as Jeannie pointed out, that was a weird time for SAVE).

John said that he went to the church every morning to say a quick prayer and make the sign of the cross on the door, so as to keep the "evil" in. He asked the envoys to please be careful - he didn't want anyone else being hurt. He told them they could find a key at his house.

The envoys headed out, and stopped by the church on the way home so that Edward could use his Clairvoyance discipline. He looked into the church, and smelled dust. He also saw tiny footprints on the ground, but couldn't tell what kind; they looked about cat or raccoon sized. The envoys decided they were better off going back in the morning, and went to a resort (Edward's treat) for the night.

Next morning, they headed to the hall of records to look into some, well, records. They learned that the land had been a Dairy Queen, and then a residence, but it had no particular unsavory history attached. Whatever was happening, it was happening incidentally to the location. They also dug up the blueprints so they had an idea of the floor plan.

From there, they went to Father John's house to look for the keys, and BB found a box upstairs containing a treasure trove of old church records. They found the keys, but also photos and sign-up sheets. They learned that the church had hosted a lock-in for the kids, but the last year they'd done it was 1996 (the church closed in 1998). They found the photo from that year, and saw that one boy had a bandage on his hand. Joy was also in that photo (about 12 at the time). They called Joy up and met her for lunch, and she said that the boy (Logan) had hurt himself in the basement. She'd heard he got his hand caught in something or burned it on the boiler, but had never gotten a straight story. The envoys headed over to the hospital to asked Father John, and noted that he looked weaker today and hadn't eaten.

He was willing to talk, though. He told them that the boy had said he reached into a box and something hurt his hand. John had always assumed it was a rat trap (Logan's fingers were broken and he had stitches), but it was odd that no one ever found the trap. John himself had never stayed for the lock-ins (the very first year he was there, a mother had raised the question of inappropriate relations between the pastor and children, and John had been too gun shy afterwards to stay), but he'd met the chaperone and the mom at the hospital and never gotten a good answer as to what happened. Logan had recovered, though, and still lived in town (Joy had pinged him on Facebook, so we'll see if he answers).

The envoys figured they had enough information to look around in the church (also keys), so they headed there next. BB went in first, felt his leg contact something, and ducked just as a blade nailed to an organ pipe swung down from the ceiling at his head. Jeannie looked at the workmanship - crude, forced, but deadly. Realizing they needed to be careful, the envoys investigated.

They found that the floor by the organ was also trapped; the boards had been weakened so a person standing on them would crash through to the basement (Edward noted this with Premonition). BB dropped the lectern on the spot to set off the trap (why not do it now so they don't do it by accident later?), and they looked down into the hole. It wasn't much of a drop and there were no spikes or anything, but the envoys noticed the basement was trashed and cluttered. Edward noticed a dead dog, split open and dismembered. The kill was fresh. Something was definitely here.

They headed to the offices to rig the stairs with surveillance gear, and then figured they'd come back later. Dylan noted that a widow in this room, though boarded up, had been altered so the board could be moved. He also found little nicks in the walls - claw marks.

Edward, meanwhile, found a false panel on the wall and pulled it out. He heard a paff kind of noise and then got a face-full of black gunk. He turned around, retching and eyes burning...and that's where we left it for now.

Misspent Youth: Preverts

Yesterday was Misspent Youth. Later today is Chill and then my son's birthday party and then I need to write and clean the house and OH GOD AAAAAAAA EGG

Ahem. Authority Figures.

  • Orbu, the for-profit transportation service that takes people around Bardo (the inmates don't generally get to use it because they don't have money). 
  • Tartarus, the prison that they put people found unsuitable for use as meat-suits. 
  • Hugin & Munin, two god-tech ravens sent here to watch folks for the off-planet gods.
  • Thoth, the god of education and wisdom, here to fill the inmates brains with what they need to know to be meat-suits.
  • Vesta, the goddess of purity, here to restore virginity to those inmates who have lost it. 
And then our friendship questions:
  • Kshanta asked Yasha: "Do you want to stop Billy because of your feelings for your friends or your feelings for Billy?" Yasha's response: "Those feelings aren't in conflict."
  • Jacqui asked Kshanti: "Who did you contact in the Resistance when it looked like we might be Chosen?" Her response: "Hanumen, the Monkey God, imprisoned in a rock on Bardo for the last few millennia."
  • Yasha asked Eli: What are you not telling us about the Mojo you supply?" Eli's response: "It's the bad stuff, the cast-off that the gods won't touch."
  • Eli asked Alaska: "What happened to make you so insecure?" Alaska's response: "Ask your dad."
  • Alaska asked Jacqui: "Why were you stealing my panties and scarves?" Jacqui's response: "For a textile art project about sex." 
As a side note, it's always interesting to me which of these things wind up driving most of the story. 

Scene One: What's Up

Eli's player reluctantly starts us off, and chooses Vesta, goddess of purity. We're in the Cone again, but this time it's a presentation on sex and the importance of "respecting yourself" (that is, keeping your body "unsullied" for its eventual divine usurper). Vesta is giving the lecture, but the YOs, predictably, aren't feeling it (Alaska especially). Jacqui reveals her art project - the scarves tumble down from the "roof" (on guide wires, since the Cone doesn't actually have a roof) and each ends with a pair of undies. A big banner says "DROP YOUR DRAWERS."

Vesta is, of course, displeases. She quickly susses out that there's no way someone could have done this without help from Billy, Master of Revels (whom, you'll recall, the YOs compromised last episode), and summons him up to her floating disc. She bursts into purifying fire and grabs his hand, searing him, trying to force him to talk. Alaska yells and tries to distract her while Kshanti causes a feedback loop, and then Eli's player rolls and loses. Not wanting to lose this, she sells out Bad to Perverse, loops the feedback stronger (remember Eli's Mojo-power is to control the Empathy), and Vesta winds up burning herself, looking incompetent in the process. The YOs win this scene.

Kickoff: This episode is about perversion. 

Scene Two: Fighting Back

I set us up and chose the question from Alaska to Jacqui about the missing panties (seemed a logical progression). The YOs are on the underground train back to the dorm. Alaska confronts Jacqui about her missing clothes, and while she's initially annoyed, she concedes the point that her underwear is fabulous and made the statement well. She further agrees to never wear underwear again as a matter of principle. 

The YOs notice that some of the other inmates are sniggering at them, mostly Alaska. And then the train breaks down and the lights go out, and they feel pinches and people grabbing at them. Alaska and Eli loudly confront the people doing this, while Yasha goes to the front of the train to get it started again. She finds no sign of the conductor, so she starts it up. Meanwhile, Alaska has faced off with some twerp named Chad and, becoming angry, turned into him. Eli, curious as to how deep this connection is, punches real-Chad in the face to see if Alaska feels it (she doesn't) and a brawl starts. 

The train eventually pulls into the station, and the brawl spills out on the platform. The security gods are there and tap a bell-like device that paralyzes everyone with hyper-loud sound, and then demand an explanation. Eli taps Wrathful and angrily calls out Chad and his buds, Yasha taps Trusted to back Eli up and call out the conductor (who immediately lies; he was in a back room with an inmate named Thaddeus when the train stopped), and Kshanti stands up and loses. She sells out Orphan to Helpless, and mutters, in the chaos, "there are security cameras on the train." Reviewing the footage, the conductor and Thaddeus are taken away. Alaska realizes, for the first time, how strict and unforgiving this system is. 

Beat: Discovery: Things are much stricter than they were. 
Question: How far is too far?

Scene Three: Heating Up

Jacqui's player sets us up, and chooses the question from Kshanti to Yasha about Billy and her feelings thereof. We're back at the dorm, and the YOs each have something waiting for them. Alaska has a red rose, Yasha has a bit of halva, but the others just have work orders. Kshanti starts doing her chores, but Yasha and Alaska start fighting. The crux of this seems to be that Alaska feels that she's entitled to fuck anyone she wants, but she wants Yasha to stay exclusive to her, which Yasha isn't having. The argument escalates, till Alaska grabs the entire portion of halva and eats it in one bite. 

Shortly after, her eyes start glowing and she floats off the ground. She finds herself able to change into another person entirely, not just superficially (and she does, changing into Theo and being horrified). She realizes that she is capable of using this energy to reach out into the stars, to hear the voices of the gods, to learn the truth...and she really doesn't want to. 

Eli taps Perverse to help keep her grounded, but then Jacqui stands up and loses. Alaska learns the truth. She sees what happens when someone is overtaken by a god. They are entirely annihilated, their soul and self gone and replaced by the invading god's persona. She is horrified - she never realized before exactly what the stakes were, here. "We have to stop this." (And of course, the others were responding, "yeah, that's what we've been saying".)

Scene Four: We Won

Yasha's player sets this one up and chooses Jacqui's question to Kshanti about the Monkey God. Following immediately on the previous scene, Yasha asks Kshanti if, as the resident expert on Bardo, she knows anyone outside the confines of the dorm who could help. Kshanti tells the clique about the Monkey God, but warns that his first love is himself (and chaos). They think that sounds workable, and take one of the Cerebus (remember they still have access) zipping through the tunnels to the Monkey God's domain. 

Here on the dark side of Bardo, they hear laughter from the shadows. Jacqui demands that Hanumen show himself, and he appears in a jump-scare as a zombified monkey creature. But then he brings more light and sits on the floor with the YOs, in a simple disguise as a normal man. Hanumen reveals that the stuff that Alaska ate was meant to be consumed slowly (it's a spread, after all), and eaten that way, it would make someone more susceptible for being overtaken. This makes Yasha a little uncomfortable. Hanumen agrees to send the YOs to the source of this Mojo, but asks Alaska for a kiss to trace it. While kissing, he turns into Theo, because it's funny to watch her react. (The Monkey God is something of a dick.)

But the YOs do win the struggle; Kshanti wins on Yasha's Liberation Theology Conviction. Hanumen sends them on...

Scene Five: We're Fucked

Alaska's player sets us up, and picks the question from Eli to Alaska ("ask your dad"). We wind up in the liminal space between the light and dark sides of Bardo, at a small white house near a waterfall. A man is sitting on the porch. Alaska greets him. "Hi, Bruce." Eli greets him. "Hi, Dad."

Bruce is surprised to see the YOs, but provides them dinner and talks with them about the Mojo. He says that the Mojo is brought in from off-world, and the only stuff he gets (and provides to Eli) is the stuff that isn't good enough for the gods. That implies that the Mojo could be tainted, and Jacqui, the sangromancer, gets a brilliant idea - menstrual blood would "taint" the Mojo, at least to the god's, as hung up as they are on purity. 

Bruce provides them information on when the next shipment is coming in. They sneak aboard the train taking it to the hub, where Veris, the spider-like god of bureaucracy, will divide it up. Before that, though, Eli knocks out the guards, and Jacqui wins on Eli's Perverse Conviction. The YOs bleed on/in the Mojo drams, which Veris then throws out. They save one dram, figuring that with the same amount of power that Alaska wielded, they could really kick some shit off. 

Alaska is hesitant. She knows too much already. 

Beat: Reversal (dram of mojo)

Scene Six: Who Wins 

Kshanti's player sets us up and chooses Thoth, the god of education and wisdom. The YOs are back that the dorm with their Mojo. They discuss, at first, consuming it one at a time, but then "fuck it" wins out and they divide it into fourths (Alaska, having been through this already, agrees to babysit). They go to class with Thoth as the Mojo starts to kick in.

Jacqui realizes that she has control over every platelet in the room. She could kill everyone here if she wanted to. And maybe...cause a small brain bleed, not enough to kill or harm, but enough to prevent use as a meat-suit? 

Yasha touches her stylus and it disintegrates. Her power to destroy god-teach makes her hand shake, and she's afraid to touch anything lest she destroy it...but what if her power let her reshape matter as well?

Eli feels everything...including the thoughts and feelings of the gods off-planet. Eli is connected to everyone on a level they've never considered, and tries to nudge their classmates towards rebellion. 

Kshanti, for her part, can feel the currents of Mojo everywhere, and focuses on Thoth. He knows everything. Can she access that vast knowledge? 

The YOs decide to take this public. Yasha starts shaking the room, bringing down the braziers. Jacqui stands up and yells "The time has come!" but Thoth silences her immediately. Eli stands up and loses. Chaos reigns and the revolution starts, but the YOs vanish. They reappear at Bruce's house, with Hanumen. Their powers are still unstable, and the god-like power from their Mojo consumption is fading. 

"I gave you the best source of chaos I could: Freedom. You're free! Go!" (maniacal laughter)

The YOs have lost the episode, and Eli feels the connection to Interstellar Empathy close off. If they YOs separate, if they go off-planet, they'll lose their connection to each other. The gods have sealed Bardo. 

Scene Seven: Dust Settles

Back to Eli's player, who chooses Orbu, the for-profit transportation service. The YOs decide to head in to the market (Bardo has a civilization beyond the prison, it's just that the YOs haven't really seen it). They call a driver and Bruce gives Eli some money (Eli is Rich, after all). On the way in, their driver realizes that these kids are inmates (probably something to do with that big kerfuffle at the dorm), and drops a dime on them. The consequences of that are something we'll deal with next time, perhaps, but the YOs are out of prison and ready to cause some real trouble. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Movie #407: Memento

Memento is a neo-noir crime drama directed by Christopher Nolan in his pre-Inception days, and starring Guy Pearce, Carrie-Ann Moss, Joe Pantoliano, and Stephen Tobolowsky.

The movie is told backwards, starting with the murder of Teddy (Pantoliano) by Leonard Shelby (Pearce), and moving back, revealing what happened to lead up to it. Shelby suffers from a condition called short-term memory loss, which makes him unable to form new memories. As such, he forgets people, places, and events, and carries an instant camera around to help; he'll take a picture of someone and then write their name and whatever important information he might need on it for reference later. The trouble with that, of course, is that he's at the mercy of his own mind - his note about Teddy at the beginning of the movie says "HE IS THE ONE - KILL HIM," so he does...but is Teddy the one?

("The one" in this context means "the dude that raped and murdered Leonard's wife and left him with brain damage.")

As the movie progresses, we learn the sad truth: Leonard killed the guy responsible years ago. His wife didn't die in the attack, she died of insulin poisoning trying to get Leonard to snap out of his condition (a story that Leonard has displaced onto a man he once investigated during his days as an insurance adjustor). In the meanwhile, we find that Leonard has immersed himself in a world of drugs and low-grade crime, but is slowly redacting elements of the crime that "killed" his wife so that he can continue his quest. He can't ever actually finish it, after all, since he won't remember it, and if you take the premise that his story about Sammy Jankis (Tobolowsky) is really about him, he's not physically incapable of forming new memories, so he trains himself by rote to do things (this also explains how he can remember his own condition, by the way).

I really like this movie; like Nolan's first film, Following, it's bleak and noir and shady and a lot of fun. Unlike a lot of his later work, this movie also includes a female character (Moss' quasi-femme fatale Natalie) who's not there just as a foil to the lead, but who has an agenda and is capable of being sympathetic or sinister depending on which segment of memory we're in. It's definitely a movie that requires a rewatch to fully appreciate, but it's short enough that that's not an unattractive prospect.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Memoirs of an Invisible Man