Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Blades in tha DAARRRRRKKKK

Look, I've had a shit week, I'm tired because I'm not sleeping well, I'm feeling better today so my brain is overcompensating and that means you get some silly shit sometimes. DARRRRRKKK.

Anydangway. Last time, the scoundrels robbed a church (or rather, the catacombs beneath said church). This time, they get the payout and deal with the fallout.

(We just did the downtime, because I was depressed and exhausted and one of the other players we sick, so it was a short session. I swear Blades is the new Wraith: Fun, innovative, but fucking cursed.)

The scoundrels head to Charterhall, except for Copper, who is in custody. They meet with Penderyn, who gives them a bunch of silver for their trouble, after exacting a promise from Cage never to break into his office again. They then head back to the lair to divvy up the loot and rest. Except, again, for Copper - the crew's Heat level has gotten a little too high again, so Copper does a month or so in Ironhook to cool things off. She gets off a lot better than Cage did; she makes friends with some of Ulf Ironbeard's crew inside and gets a claim (bribed guards).

The others go about their usual downtime things - training, indulging their vices, and suchlike. Cage works on finding Gargoyle, but isn't quite there yet. Once Copper gets out, they start talking about their next move, and they decide that this whole "Siren has a spirit-well in her head" is an issue. They head to the Veil and talk to Nyelle, their spirit trafficker contact.

After doing some shots of a lovely red liquid that makes them see pretty colors (remember this is One-Eye's hangout/drug den), Nyelle listens to the story and opines that having Kotar in one's head is potentially a problem - the legends about Kotar are inconsistent but they all agree that he's powerful. Siren mentions that she knows that spirit wells absorb spiritual energy and sometimes explode, disgorging demons, and that's not something she wants happening to her head. The crew decides they need to get an expert to look into this, but not someone motivated by faith (like the Circle of Flame, which is almost certainly already aware). Nyelle mentions the Dimmer Sisters, and says she can probably set up a meeting with Roslyn, their rep.

In the meanwhile, though, Copper mentions that she'd like to take a smuggling job - just to get back to what the crew is good at. Nyelle mentions that there's a shipment of Iruvian glass bottle coming into Gaddoc Station. These are effectively "virgin" spirit bottles; spirit bottles wear out after a while if they're used too much, and these are new ones. But the problems on the Void Sea are making imports in general, and that makes these bottles extra valuable. Nyelle points out where the shipment is coming in, and mentions that if the crew were to jack it before it reaches the station and gets split up, that's a bigger payout, but will be much harder. Wait until it's split up and jack a shipment on the canals, that's an easier (but smaller score).

The crew starts running it down, and we'll see what happens next time.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Chill: Beware the Car

Sunday I ran the first session in a new case of my Idaho-based Chill game.

First thing: three of the players made new characters. Two of the players had already done this, both to have a more robust selection of characters and to give folks some backups in case something awful happens to one of the existing ones (which happens, y'know, it's Chill). So we wound up with:

  • Blake Wheeler, the animal control office from Couer d'Alene. that had his first rather graphic encounter with the Unknown here. He has now joined SAVE because Nothing is scary if you know what it is.
  • Annie Crawford: Annie showed up in the last case. She's Dee's lawyer, and has, in her capacity as a lawyer to a SAVE office, wound up seeing some Unknown activity. She joined SAVE because I'm not my father's daughter.
  • Luther Bryson is a former cop, current PI, and a friend of Edward's now-deceased son. He joined SAVE to Protect the innocent
So, on this particular day, Dee gets a call from Rosalita Clemmons, the cardiac nurse at St. Paul Hospital, saying a body was just brought into the morgue that seemed strange. The envoys can check it out, but they're on the clock. Dee calls up Luther (a former cop, remember), Blake, Willa (in case there's ghosts) and Jeanie (since the body was discovered in a rural area) and they head to the hospital. 

Blake, Willa, and Luther check the body while Dee stands guard, and discover that the man (Doug Fuller) was killed by blunt force trauma to the head. That's not the interesting bit, though. The interesting bit is that he's got hundreds of tiny wounds to his face and hands - he was pecked by a flock of good-sized birds. Blake notes that this is not normal animal behavior, and also that the man was alive when they started pecking him - crows are scavengers and they'll cheerfully eat a person's eats, but not while they're alive. Dee senses the Unknown and confirms it - this guy wasn't killed in a normal accident. 

The envoys head out to where his body was found, passing a logging operation. They find the site and investigate, realizing that Fuller rolled down a hill into a ditch by the side of the road. There's a gravel driveway leading up the hill, and the mailbox has been knocked down. It's got blood on it, but it's not the murder weapon - the wood has softened, indicating that it was knocked down some time ago. Dee and Jeanie, being local, recall that this property belongs to the Loomis family. Mrs. Loomis died of cancer some time back, but neither of them can recall hearing from Mr. Loomis recently. 

Doing a bit of mental math, the envoys realize that the Loomis land borders the logging operation on the east side. Figuring that Fuller might have something to offer, Willa has the others lock her in a big dog cage in Blake's truck and uses Voice of the Dead to summon him (she is now Master level at this discipline, meaning she witnesses the conversation). 

Fuller speaks through her, initially terrified of the birds. He tells them that he got lost - he was at the logging site getting a job, was walking back to his car, and went left instead of right. The envoys note this, and then ask what he remembers. He doesn't remember much (he's barely a ghost), but Willa notes that he saw a NO TRESPASSING sign, overgrown with weeds. They ask if he has any unfinished business - any pets to feed? "No," says Fuller. "My wife took the cat." 

Luther, Willa, and Jeanie head back over to the logging operation, while Dee and Blake stay put with Blake's truck. They find a fellow outside the managerial trailer with his arm in a sling, who directs them to the foreman (who's out on site). The foreman is willing to talk to them about Fuller, but doesn't know much - he hired Fuller the other day, Fuller had some experience doing work kinda like this before, seemed a decent enough guy, that's it. The envoys also ask about Loomis, the guy who lives on the property bordering the site. The foreman says that he knows of the guy - he used to come out to the fence surrounding his property and watch the loggers at work. No one ever really had any problem with that. 

The envoys also talk to the guy with his arm in a sling, who is able to recount that some months back, the foreman fired like five guys at once. He's not sure why; he wasn't working that day. 

Meanwhile, Dee and Blake start trudging up the hill. They see a house, and a garage, and in the lawn area in front of the house, a big tree with a tire swing and a firepit. They walk over to the garage and peek in - pickup truck, workbench, bookshelf, but it's too dark to really see anything. No lights on in either the garage or the house.

The others drive Jeanie's jeep up the driveway to meet them. Jeanie gets out and goes to talk to them as they cross in front of the jeep to walk to the house...and the jeep springs to life and lurches forward. Jeanie rolls, but gets clipped on the arm. Blake gets splayed across the hood and feels ribs break, and poor Dee gets nailed right on the hip (but twists to protect Sweet Baby Jesus, riding in her purse). Willa, sitting in back, tries to grab for the wheel but misses and face-plants onto the gearshift, knocking her head pretty good.

The envoys get out of the car and pick themselves up. The sun is setting, and a flock of crows is perched on the house, looking down on them. 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Character Creation: Glimpse the Beyond

It's Saturday night and I'm ready to par-tay! And by "par-tay" I mean "make a character."

The Game: Glimpse the Beyond
The Publisher: Aegis Studios
Degree of Familiarity: None.
Books Required: Just the one.

I think I got this in a bundle, because I only have it in PDF. I also think there's a second edition now available, but that's not the one I have.

Anyway, Glimpse the Beyond is a game in which the world seems the same as ours, but there's magic(k) in it. I would be tempted to say that setup is cliche as hell, but really, I still find it compelling and I'm hardly the only one; there are dozens if not hundreds of games that have the same basic idea (including Chill, if you squint).

I am, however, not crazy about the artwork in this game.
An example.
But I'm not here to judge, I'm just here to make a character.

Character creation is basic point allocation; you get X points to divvy up into various areas, and then 10 "General Points" that can be spent anywhere but aren't necessarily one-for-one. Simple enough. Let's skip ahead and look at some of the world-building stuff so I have more of sense of the game than "like real, but magick."

(Ugh, the art does not improve. There's a sexy nurse.)

We've got list of madnesses, that's pretty 90s.

The magick system seems to indicate that when you do magick, you're building the spell and giving it flavor based on your Affinity, which is pretty cool. Magick is, by default, ritual, though you can fast-cast. And then there's another scantily clad fantasy Everquest cosplayer art piece (thought this was a modern-day game, so why are the women dressed like that? The occasional menfolk in the art aren't, BTW).

OK, then a chapter on supernatural creatures...and the book ends. That's it. Where's the setting? OK, so this is just Witchcraft or Mage with some questionable art? Righty-ho-ho.

Well, in some ways that makes me life easier. Let's just think about concept, then.

I've been listening to a lot of murderfolk lately - Amigo the Devil, Dead South, and suchlike. I think I shall use the following as a character song:

The lyrics are about love, violence, and death. The video does this neat thing where the setting jumps but the performers keep doing what they're doing, which seems pretty magic(k)al. Hmm.

The book says that I can learn magick however; study, freak occurrence, whatever. So we'll say that Miguel Baez learned magick through time loop. His future self came back and started him learning magick, and his present-self has learned that sometimes future-Miguel just pops out of nowhere and says "eh, Miguel, you need to study up on banishing spells" and present-Miguel has learned that shit, he'd better, because he's gonna need to banish something.

I like the idea that Miguel isn't supernaturally or magickally inclined (at least, he didn't think so), but he's got a job that makes him meticulous and detail-oriented. Not sure what yet.

I get 15 points for Statistics, and I've got six of them. Stats indicate how many d6s I'd roll, then I take the highest die and add the Skill I'm using. That makes sense, I think. Well, I picture Miguel as being sharp, quick, and a smooth talker, so I want a high Intellect, Charisma, and Grace. I'll put 3 in each of the those, and 2 in the other 3 (but I'm probably gonna raise some of these with general points, I think).

18 points in Skills; now I gotta think about what Miguel does. Let's say he's an electrician. Not an engineer or anything fancy like that, he's the guy you'd call when you've got a short and you need your box rewired (I, myself, have zero knowledge of electronics, so there'd be some hand-waving here). I'll arrange my Skills thusly:

Athletics 2
Close Combat 2
Computer 2
Drive 1
Electronics 4
Linguistics 2 (side note: I hate it when games make me spend points on languages)
Occult 3
Perception 2

That's 18, so I'm definitely gonna need some more points here.

And now I get 12 points for Resilience...things. Wounds, Critical Wounds, Sanity, Critical Sanity, and Resolve. These start equal to various values, but then I get points for them, but I can increase the values of the things they're based on with General Points, and I can increase these with General Points. This is kinda bad design, I think; rather, it's not bad, but it does require me to keep some plates spinning while I make a character.

Well, my basics are thus: Wounds starts at 2, Critical Wounds at 1, Sanity at 2, Critical Sanity at 1, and Resolve at 2. I get 12 points, and Wounds and Sanity cost 2 while the others cost 1. Or, wait. Check this out. We get this:
And then two pages later we get this:

That's like...those are opposites, right? Well, I'm gonna go with the first one. That means I'll put four each into Wounds and Sanity (raising them both by 2, taking them to 4, and therefore taking their Critical versions to 2), and putting two into Resolve (to 4) and one each into Critical Sanity and Wounds (to 3). Jesus.

OK, now we're over to General Points! (I gotta say, I'm not crazy about this game generally but at least this process is quick.) In addition to boosting the already-described traits, I can buy Merits Edges Advantages Boons with General Points, or take Drawbacks Disadvantages Hindrances Flaws to get some back. I think I shall.

Well, the pickings are pretty slim, but I'll take one level of Unlucky for 2 points, and I think I'll take a "Madness." I could get into why I don't think it's appropriate to list real mental illnesses and psychological disorders and then say "this happened because magic," but eh. I'm gonna take Insomnia as my "Madness", because I figure it'll be easy enough to play, and then hey, maybe Miguel can meet my character from Don't Rest Your Head.

So that gives me 15 General Points. Everything costs one-for-one, except Stats are 2-for-1. I want to look and see if any Boons jump out at me first.

OK, I'm gonna spend 4 points and buy Ally to represent my future self. Sounds good. Then I shall spend four points to raise Spirit to 3 and Will to 3 (which, in turns, ups my Sanity and Resolve by one, to 5). I have 7 points left. I'll buy Persuasion 2, Ritual Magick 2, and Stealth 1.

So, the only blank on my sheet is Affinity, which...seems pretty important. Let's see what I can find.

OK, it's not mentioned until the magick section, and it's basically just you pick whatever you want and if you can include it when you cast a spell, the GM can lower your difficulty. Well, that's nicely uncomplicated. Miguel's Affinity is Time.

Otherwise, let's just describe him a bit? Miguel is Mexican-American (first generation). He's a little on the heavy side, but he's in shape; he plays softball in the season. He's got black hair, brown eyes, and sleeve tattoos on both arms, but nothing above the collarbone (he promised his mom). Miguel has worked hard to lose his accent in English, or at least be able to - white people treat him differently if he talks like them. He's articulate and clever in both languages. He wears glasses to read, but hates them; he looks like his uncle Ricky when he wears them and Ricky is persona non grata in the family these days. Miguel has no idea how future-Miguel (who looks about 50, maybe?) got into magic or where the loop started, but he figures he'll find out.

And that's done! I have to say, I'm not terribly impressed with the game but I do like this character.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Promethean: A Day at the Parp

I'm a fan of Allie Brosh and Hyperbole & a Half in general, but this is one of my favorite of her stories because it highlights something I say to/about parents a lot: listen to your kids. Know what you agreed to. Do not agree to something because it'll shut the kid up in the moment, because kids will remember that shit. Best case scenario, you have to deal with a disappointed kid, but if you say "we're not doing thing" rather than "we'll do thing if you can do other thing," the kid will make every attempt to do other thing if first thing is important.

(That sentence was fucking salad, but what do you want from me, I'm not a professional writer.)

Anyway! This is obliquely related to gaming because it dovetails nicely with my GMing philosophy of never asking for a roll if I'm not prepared for the result. And we gamed on Monday, and the game was set at a park, which is spelled "parp" at that strip I linked OMG FULL CIRCLE.

Last session, the characters rescued Virgil from TFV, stole an RV, and headed to a park that Virgil had overheard had some Lurch sightings. Please note that I had completely forgotten those last two things happened, so they weren't in the write-up, so I didn't plan based on them. But that's fine.

So, we're at the park. Avalon takes the kittens and goes to sit under a tree. Feather starts looking around for signs of Prometheans. Grimm, a tracker, looks for signs of a campsite, and Matt goes looking for Pilgrim Marks and the like. Enoch and Virgil start working on the RV's engine, which seems to have something wrong with it (Enoch's player was out, so he get sidelined).

Skip stays in the RV, not wanting anyone to recognize him. He's dropped back to Ferrum so that he can create an Athanor. He carves scars onto his body and focuses his knowledge of excellence and endurance, and makes a Refinement Furnace - he can access the Transmutations of Corporeum and Vitality without fixing them. This in turns gives him some Vitriol back, which he uses to boost his Azoth (side note, Refinement Furnace seems really broken, but that's only because it is).

Meanwhile, in the woods, Matt finds a cat! The cat has sparkly Azoth-y eyes, so Matt figures it might be leading him somewhere, but as he follows it, it vanishes mid-leap. This correlates with a pop from the RV as Skip's Azoth increases, so Matt and Grimm keep looking. Grimm finds something weird - a section of a tree where the wood has been swiped like it was wet cement. He checks it with Vitreous Humour and confirms that there was a pilgrim mark (for "leave me alone") in there, but Matt notes that Alchemicus Transmutations don't work on living matter so what the hell.

Matt sees someone in the woods and follows, and Grimm follows him. Matt sees that guy is slim with black hair, but that's as much detail as he notes. Grimm looks at spirit-stuff and notes that spirits seem to be leaving the area, not fleeing exactly, but just shunning something. They need Skip for this shit.

Out in the main areas of the park, Feather tries to suss out where Lurch might be, but can't figure it. Avalon has been joined by a couple of little girls who saw the kittens, and then the girls' mother. Avalon and the mom chat a little, and Avalon realizes that this is a perfect nice and normal conversation to be having...which is totally not in line with her current Refinement. She tries to flirt a little, but before she can really get into it, Matt and Grimm appear from the tress and kinda interrupt things.

This does seem to throw the groove off. In fact, she notes that the woman seems to jump a stage in Disquiet immediately, and she packs up her girls and heads off. Avalon is confused - it shouldn't happen that fast. Avalon heads to the playground to flirt with some hot dads, just to check and see if she still can without Disquiet flaring. Meanwhile, Matt, Grimm, and Skip head back toward the woods. Skip turns on Ephemeral Flesh and talks to a deer-spirit, which acts skittish (it is a deer-spirit), but refers to something called an "All-Bane." This worries Skip; all spirits have Banes, but this thing is repelling everything. Worse, the deer-spirit says that Skip (rather, the throng collectively) brought it.

Avalon talks to some folks at the playground and gets some fairly normal responses, so it's not like she's just engendering Disquiet like crazy. The Prometheans fall back to the RV and talk a bit. They speculate that maybe TFV might have done something or put something in Virgil that's screwing with things. Someone brings up the weird person(?) that Enoch was talking to, Rock, and asks if that's who Matt saw. Matt confirms that it looked like it could have been him.

Skip goes to where people are working out and stretching and talks to a competition-spirit (conceptual spirits tend to be smarter). It confirms that the All-Bane came with the Prometheans and it's centered on the RV. Matt uses his Bestowment to grant Feather a vision, and Feather sees herself tossing a coin into a well. The coin bounces and echoes, but then the echoes get louder and a skeletal hand appears in the well. A man (well, a skeleton) crawls out, grows flesh and blood, and turns into Rock, and sits there smiling. Feather thinks about how she'll know when she's completed her current Role (Pilgrim), and realizes she'll know when she sees the end of the Pilgrimage. That seems a bit of a tautology to her, so this is probably worthy of further consideration.

Next time, when we have everybody.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Character Creation: Angel


I don't know. I'm very tired and a little punchy.

The Game: Angel
The Publisher: Eden Studios 
Degree of Familiarity: I don't think I've ever played Angel specifically, but I've played Buffy and All Flesh Must Be Eaten and so on.
Books Required: Just the one.

Now, while I'm more or less familiar with the premise of the show, I've never actually watched Angel. At the end of the day, though, it's a procedural/supernatural drama, and I can get behind that. I was reading through the book the other day and there are creatures called revenants that are basically ghosts of murder victims that possess corpses. If they die, they possess the nearest body of someone who died by violence. As such, the person they really are isn't the person whose body they're in. I have a kind of concept already.

Marvin S. Draper was a fairly popular and well-regarded actor for a few years in the 90s. He won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for a film set in WWI called The Trench (very low budget, minimal sets, he played a young soldier from Idaho how breaks down before going over the top and gets shot by his CO). A year later, one project he was attached to fell through and another one was delayed, so he took a job on a TV shoot to fill the time and pay the bills. Walking back to his car after the shoot was finished, Marvin got grabbed by a vampire, drained dry, and thrown into traffic (the vampire may have thought he was covering his tracks?).

The weird circumstances of the death of Marvin S. Draper occupied the media's attention for nearly a full day, but if they only knew what happened next! Draper woke up in the body of Kim Veidt, a young woman shoved out a window by a demon. Draper wants to hunt down the vampire that killed him and the demon that killed her, but what he doesn't yet realized is that they two events are connected (I'd let me hypothetical GM play with that).

Sounds good! Over to the stat-bits. "Revenant" is a 17-point Quality, but I still have to pick my character type. I think he works best as a Champion. That gives me 20 points for Attributes, 20 for Qualities, a max of 10 in Drawbacks, 30 Skill points, and 10 Drama points.

Attributes first. I get a +2 bonus in Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution and a +3 to Willpower (these are all perks of being undead). I get 20 points here, meaning I could put all my Attributes at 3 and still have two left over. I think I shall put everything at 3 except Intelligence (2), and then put the extra points into my physicals, so that means Strength, Dex, Constitution, and Willpower are all 6, Perception is 3, and Intelligence is 2.

Qualities are supposed to be next. My Revenant Quality includes Regeneration (1) and Unique Kill (5), but also the 3-point Psychic Visions Drawback. I get 3 more points in Qualities, and then of course I can take 10 in Drawbacks if I wish (I guess just 7, actually). So! I'll take Artist (adds 1 to any two Mental Attributes, so I'll add to Perception and Intelligence), and 1 to the Art Skill. That's two points. And I'll take Situational Awareness, which means I get a bonus to notice things, but that also puts me in the hole one point, so I'll need a Drawback. I'll take Adversary at 3 (the vampire/demon thing somehow, but I don't know the details yet). That gives me 2 extra points, of course. I'll take a Natural Weaponry Quality - Draper's hands carry the Chill of the Grave, which does 3xStrength damage on a Grapple.

Skills, then! I get 30 points. I shall take 3 in Art (for a total of 4), 3 in Acrobatics, 2 in Crime, 2 in Driving, 4 in Getting Medieval, 3 in Gun Fu, 5 in Influence, 3 in Knowledge (Hollywood), 4 in Kung Fu, and 1 in Notice. Most of that is just instinctive stuff he's picked up now that he's a walking corpse, but some of it is retained from his life.

Last thing, I guess, is Life Points. I get 58. Undeath points, really.

So, Marvin is still in Kim's body, but he's Marvin - he calls himself Marvin, uses he/him pronouns, and dresses and presents pretty masc. He can play up his body's appearance if he needs to (he's an actor, after all), and honestly he's not really concerned about gender anymore - he's dead, gender isn't the most pressing issue. Kim was a black woman in her mid-20s, dark skinned with short hair (it doesn't grow so Marvin doesn't have to do much with it). Marvin favors black cargo pants and an army jacket. He carries a gun that he stole off someone, but if he needs to do violence, he prefers up close and personal, letting the chill of the grave do the work.

Marvin is still having visions about Kim's life, and he's avoided digging into it because he doesn't want to make things painful for her family, but someone pushed Kim Veidt out that window for a reason.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Oscars: Fishmen and Sunken Places

Sunday night is the Oscars, and as in every year, Michelle and I are spending the weekend cooking. I'll do the Oscar food-post on Monday, though. Today, since I have a little time and I've seen all of the movies I'm likely to be able to see, I shall offer up my thoughts and predictions.

A couple of notes: I'm not going to talk about Best Animated Feature because I've only seen two of the nominees (Coco, the likely winner, and The Boss Baby). Apparently there were some changes the way the nomination for this category is decided this year, which is why, perhaps, we got the usual Pixar offering (in fairness, Coco is pretty baller) but also mainstream crap like Boss Baby and Ferdinand. But then again, I haven't seen Ferdinand, so maybe it's awesome.

Anyway, on we go, in no particular order.

Best Supporting Actor: I missed All the Money in the World, so I don't know if Christopher Plummer knocked it out of the park. I do know that both Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson turned in great performances in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (hereafter called Three Billboards). Of the two, I think Rockwell's was the meatier role and the more deserving performance. I don't think it's real likely that Willem Dafoe is going to take it for The Florida Project; I think the role was too understated and I think Rockwell has more momentum behind him (plus Florida Project isn't nominated for anything else). That leaves "oh hey that guy!" Richard Jenkins as the narrator in The Shape of Water. Jenkins is a reliably good actor, and it might be that Shape of Water has enough steam built up and the Academy wants to reward Jenkins for his career (this is his second nomination, incidentally). That's especially true if two noms from Three Billboards split the vote.

My choice & prediction: Sam Rockwell

Best Supporting Actress: From everything I've heard, this is basically a lock for Allison Janney for I, Tonya. I don't think that Laurie Metcalf's distraught mom in Lady Bird or Leslie Manville's icy sister in Phantom Thread are going to upset that. That leaves Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water and Mary J. Blige in Mudbound. Of the two, I think the latter is the stronger performance; as much as I loved Spencer in The Shape of Water, the performance felt similar to some of the other things she's done. I don't think Blige is going to take the win, but I have to say that Janney's performance feels deserving.

My choice & prediction: Allison Janney

Best Actress: Another lock: Frances McDormand. And I'm fine with that. The only other role that comes close to the same intensity is Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water, and as Elsa Sjunneson-Henry points out here, it would have been nice to see an actress who could sign fluently in the role. Beyond that we the inimitable Meryl Streep in The Post (though honestly my knee-jerk is to grumble when she gets nominated because she's been nominated so many times and yes, she's a fantastic actress, but there are a lot of others, yeah?); Saoirse Ronan as a teen finding herself in Lady Bird; and Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding.

Say what you want about I, Tonya and whether it glorified Harding (I didn't see it that way), Robbie's performance is fantastic and she manages to put across someone who had a shit time of it and is a pretty selfish and terrible person. That's hard to do. She's not going to beat McDormand's performance in Three Billboards, but I kinda think in terms of pure acting, I like what she did more.

My choice: Margot Robbie
My prediction: Frances McDormand

Best Actor: Apparently this one is a lock for Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour. Eh. I'm not a fan of the movie. It was good, it was watchable, some great performances, but it was a biopic and like, I've seen those. Now, looking at the rest of the slate, there are some really good performances. We've got Denzel Washington playing the title role in Roman J. Israel, Esq. It was a good performance, some problematic aspects of the movie aside (to wit, the character is supposed to be "autistic savant", but I think the screenwriter needed to bone up on what autism actually is). We've got Timothee Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name, and while I really loved the movie, I think Chalamet is too young and up against too much love for Oldman to win. Daniel Day-Lewis is up for Phantom Thread, in supposedly his last film role before retiring, and that alone might get him to the win if the Academy thinks they'll never have another chance. Finally, we've got Daniel Kaluuya for Get Out, which I think is far and away the strongest and most nuanced performance here. I don't think, though, that it's going to be enough to get the Academy away from Oldman, sadly.

My choice: Daniel Kaluuya
My prediction: Gary Oldman

Cinematography: So here we have a category that I'm unsure how to judge, but screw it, we'll just wing it. In addition to three Best Picture nominees (The Shape of Water, Darkest Hour, and Dunkirk) we have Mudbound and Blade Runner 2049. Now, Blade Runner 2049 was visually impressive but that was about all it had going for it (sorry, I wasn't a fan). The two historical movies were also really cool to watch, but I don't remember anything jumping out at me cinematography-wise. Shape of Water had some really amazing moments, but I think for my money it needs to go to the understated work in Mudbound (plus, y'know, Rachel Morrison is the first and only woman to be nominated in this category and she was the cinematographer for Black Panther, so). I don't think the Academy is gonna go for it, though.

My choice: Rachel Morrison
My prediction: Dan Laustsen, The Shape of Water

Director: I'm very much in favor of Jordan Peele winning this. Aside from the obvious "POC don't get enough noms" issue, Get Out was fucking amazing and I'd love to see it win everything. I dunno, though. He's up against Christopher Nolan (who's never been nominated before, though his films have), Paul Thomas Anderson, Guillermo del Toro, and Greta Gerwig. Del Toro won the DGA and the Golden Globe, and I think that there's enough oomph behind him that he'll win this, especially since this is Peele's directorial debut (also true of Gerwig, who, incidentally, is only the 5th woman ever to be nominated here). I think Anderson probably doesn't have a shot here, I think it's between Nolan and Del Toro, but hey, I've been wrong before.

My choice: Joran Peele
My prediction: Guillermo de Toro

Visual Effects: Yeah, baby! The boomy movies! Here we've got Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, Blade Runner 2049, Kong: Skull Island, and War for the Planet of the Apes. So, in terms of who had the best visual effects and seamlessly integrated them with the movie itself, ehhhh, it's a toss-up to me. I think I ditch War and Guardians because I don't think they did anything the previous installations didn't do (though I hear War the favorite here, which kinda surprises me). Last Jedi had some neat scenes, and the CGI wasn't as obvious to me as in, say, Rogue One or Force Awakens. Blade Runner looked amazing (it also dragged, but that wasn't the VFX fault). Kong was really the one that I thought was really amazing to watch, but maybe it's that I've seen it more recently? I dunno.

My choice: Kong: Skull Island
My prediction: War for the Planet of the Apes, I guess? Not Last Jedi? Not sure.

Adapted Screenplay: Interesting slate here. Novel (Call Me By Your Name), memoir (Molly's Game), graphic novel (Logan), novel (Mudbound), and memoir (The Disaster Artist). I though The Disaster Artist was a pretty well-realized film, and I though Molly's Game was tight without becoming too much like every other Sorkin thing ever. I loved Logan, but as an adaptation of Old Man Logan it's kinda half there (because Old Man Logan is kinda not great and full of rape). The novel adaptations, I have no idea because I haven't read them.

Well, I think Logan and Molly's Game are long shots. I think Disaster Artist is possible, but I think James Franco may have screwed that particular pooch. If it's between Mudbound and Call Me By Your Name, I think I'd call it for the one that's nominated for Best Picture, although frankly both are really well-told stories. I think Call Me might be a little tighter?

My choice & prediction: Call Me By Your Name

Original Screenplay: Normally this is where we'd find the weird stuff. Dan Gilroy got nominated for Nightcrawler here, but this year his movie got a Best Actor nom instead (and it wasn't as good). Four of the five noms are also up for Best Picture, but this year, that means the weird stuff (The Shape of Water, Get Out, and Three Billboards) are getting wider recognition, too. I read an article that talked about why that was - it has to do with a) the way Best Picture noms are chosen (basically weaker middle-of-the-road choices aren't as safe anymore, and it's the stuff that people are passionate about that's getting chosen) and b) newer Academy voters choosing newer stuff. Suits me.

Anyway, in addition to the three movies I mentioned and Lady Bird, we've also got The Big Sick, this kind of loosely autobiographical story of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. It was funny, but I can't help but notice the sort of similarity between the wanky one-man show Kumail does in the movie and the inherent wankiness of doing a movie like this. In any event, it's interesting to me that normally you'd see Shape of Water OR Get Out OR Three Billboards here, and now they're all Best Picture noms and the rom-com with the woman in a coma is the outlier.

I think Lady Bird is unlikely to win here, but if it wins anything I think it'll be this. I think it's more likely we'll see a streak for Shape of Water, but y'know how I feel.

My choice: Get Out
My prediction: The Shape of Water

Best Picture: OK, here we go!

Unlike in some previous years, there's nothing that's nominated here that makes me go "why was this nominated." I'm not crazy about the two WWII films, but they aren't going to win and they're not bad movies, they're just kinda pale in comparison to the movie innovative or relevant stuff (now, WWII movie that showed the rise of the Nazi party and examined how that kind of shit happened? That would be topical). So that's Dunkirk and Darkest Hour.

Likewise, The Post had the chance to be highly topical. Thematically, it's about the responsibility of the press to tell the truth even in the face of adversity, which is something our press is not really doing. But it wound up feeling like an Oscar movie - it's tense in all the right places, but it winds up with a happy ending an a nomination for Meryl Streep. Eh.

Phantom Thread has gotten more interesting the longer I sit with it. It looks like it's going to be this obsessive, controlling dude kind of abusing his girlfriend, but it turns into this weirdly toxic-yet-functional quasi-BDSM relationship between them. I'm kind of sad Vicky Krieps wasn't nominated for Best Actress over Streep, actually. In any case, I don't think this is winning.

Call Me By Your Name and Lady Bird are character studies, and they're both beautiful films in their own way. Lady Bird gave me flashbacks to Catholic school, and showed us what I thought was a nicely modern struggle of a teenager trying to figure out who she is and where she's going. Call Me By Your Name is a love story, and while the fact that it's between two men is relevant, it's not the focus of the movie (that is, it's not what you'd call tragiqueer). Plus, Armie Hammer was fucking amazing. I don't think, however, that either of these are taking it. I think Greta Gerwig is too new, and I think Call Me By Your Name doesn't have the buzz.

So that leaves us Get Out, The Shape of Water, and Three Billboards. Now, I'll say right now, my choice is Get Out. I love horror movies, but quite beyond that, this is a movie that's not just made about black Americans but by and for them, and I think that's really goddamn important. And, the movie is fantastic on its own merits, and layered like whoa. Three Billboards looks like it's going to be about racism in a small town, but winds up being about bad choices having consequences (I saw someone give a really scathing review in which they claimed that Clarke Peters' character was a magical Negro trope, and I just don't see it) and the lead characters actually exhibit some growth.

The Shape of Water is a beautiful fairy tale, but, IMO, it's not as tight as, say, Pan's Labyrinth, and the dance sequence in the middle kind stuck out for me for a couple of reasons. I'm thrilled it got nominated and I suspect it'll probably win, and I'm actually OK with that because I like it when genre films win this prize.

But, like, consider what it would say if, following Moonlight's win last year, Get Out won this year. That'd be pretty cool.

My choice: Get Out
My prediction: The Shape of Water

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Movie #449: Baby Driver

Baby Driver is an action/crime movie directed by Edgar Wright and starring Ansel Elgort, Lily James, John Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Spacey, Eiza Gonzalez, and CJ Jones.

Baby (Elgort) is a getaway driver working for crimelord Doc (Spacey). He's a bit eccentric; he wears earbuds constantly and plays music to drown out tinnitus acquired as a child in the car wreck that killed his parents, but he's fully aware of what's going on around him and he's a superb driver. He's not really a criminal at heart and isn't at violent, he's just working off his debt to Doc. He lives with his deaf foster father Joseph (Jones), and is somewhat content to dance/groove his way through life.

He meets Debora (James) at a diner and begins a relationship, but has to get around Doc blackmailing him to remain in the life, and then get around Bats (Foxx), another crew member, shooting anyone that looks at him funny. At the end of the day, it all goes to shit, Baby has to kill Buddy (Hamm), another of the crew, and winds up going to prison.

Now, this all sounds very prosaic, but remember this is an Edgar Wright film. That means that nothing is accidental, and the back half of the movie mirrors the first half in a lot of ways. Couple that with a really killer soundtrack and fantastic performances all around, and I think it's one of Wrights best films.

Breaking that down a little, Elgort is great as Baby. He puts across a kind of "I'm aloof because I'm actually scared shitless" kind of thing when he's with a crew, but he loosens up around Joseph and dances, you and can see Elgort's ballet training. Likewise, the fact that they got an actual deaf actor to play Joseph (Elgort learned ASL to communicate with him) is awesome. Gonzalez and Hamm have great chemistry as a kind of Bonne & Clyde team, and Bats is great in his role as "crazy guy" but I was very happy that he doesn't turn out to be the real antagonist of the third act.

The romance between Baby and Debora is nice, too, because the movie lets it percolate a little rather than making it a whirlwind, fall-in-bed kind of thing. Baby is kid, and his relationship with Debora is played very much as two young people getting flirty, and that's kinda sweet.

All in all, it's nice to see Wright breaking away from some of his standbys (with no offense to Simon Pegg).

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: The Mummy

Blades in the Dark: Take Me to Church (So I Can Rob It)

Perhaps we have finally broken the curse and can get back into playing this regularly? WE SHALL SEE.

The city of Doskovol is having problems. The demon-blood shortage is getting worse, and that's causing brownouts and interruptions in power in the poorer quarters of the city. Also, Leviathan Hunter ships are just not coming back as much, meaning that going out to kill sea monsters is getting even more lucrative (but of course you only get paid if you survive). Cage, in chatting with Flint, his spirit trafficker buddy, learns that he (Cage) isn't terribly popular with Lord Penderyn at the moment - apparently his new, vicious outlook isn't making the academics all that thrilled. But, Flint has heard that Lord Penderyn is very interested in the contents of a particular urn beneath the Sanctorium (the main hub of the Church of Ecstasy, the state religion).

The scoundrels meet and discuss their options - they think about expanding their turf a bit, but decide that this "urn" job sounds potentially like it'll pay out well, and besides, they need to do something ambitious. They start looking into the matter. Cage goes to Penderyn's office, hoping to ask him which urn he wants, but the fellow isn't in. Cage breaks in, sneaking past the guards, and searches the office (he winds up talking to a ghost and convincing him he's there under Penderyn's request). He learns that the urn contains the Hand of Kotar (Kotar being a demigod/mythical figure, very important to several religious factions in the city).

The others, meanwhile, start looking for a way in. The Sanctorium is open for service every week, wherein believer destroy rogue spirits using ectoplasm. It's also in Brightstone, where all the rich folks live. The Bluecoats have regular patrols, and the Spirit Wardens oversee the rites. The scoundrels need to be careful and they need to get in and out without being identified. Definitely a stealth job.

Copper figures that they must get the spirits they destroy from somewhere, and asks Cage (a former Spirit Warden). He informs them that the contract with various folks around the city to sell them spirit bottles, but then they get delivered every week. Perfect. Copper borrows a cart from her cousin, and the crew leans on their influence at Ruby to find a Bluecoat with the proper papers. They swap his out for some forgeries that One-Eye creates (she tries to make her own high-quality fakes, but gets a little too stoned while working and burns them).

They've got their in - they'll play like they're delivering ghosts, and then sneak into the church and into the catacombs from there. They figure they'll be able to recognize the urn by the markings of Kotar, and then they just have to get out before they're made.

They arrive and get into the church loading area easily enough (good result on the engagement roll). As they're unloading, Cage breaks a spirit bottle near one of their goats and the ghost possesses it. One-Eye makes a stink about it, causing a diversion, and Cage, Siren, and Copper peel off and sneak into the building, while One-Eye stays behind to "calm the goat down" after a Spirit Warden exorcises it. The others creep about and find a door to the catacombs. Copper breaks the lock and feels a little jolt. Cage recognizes what just happened - a silent alarm, basically. They need to move.

They head down and Siren pulls out a lantern, while Copper pulls out a little arcane implement to help them find what they're looking for. They discover a spoke that's been partially blocked by debris. Copper slips through easily, and Siren follows, while Cage hides, figuring there might be guards coming. Siren finds the urn at the end of the hall and picks it up...and finds herself in a white plain. A man stands in front of her, asking what she's doing; she responds that she's just doing a job. He traces a symbol on her forehead and they wind up back in the crypt. Siren puts the urn in a bag and warns Copper not to touch it.

Copper moves the debris out of the way using the Not to be Trifled With move, and they head out into the catacombs. Cage hears people coming, and the scoundrels hide, avoiding notice. They head up and back toward the loading dock, snagging a robe on the way. Copper puts it on and acts like a priest, trying to bluster her way past the Wardens, but one of them rounds a corner, comes face to face with them, and draws in a breath to yell a warning. Cage flashes his Spirit Warden mask to distract him, but he notices the bag and what it contains. One-Eye hits him with a dart, but the poison kills him. His body falls, but his spirit is still standing there...and then it gets sucked directly into Siren's forehead.

A little horrified, they shuffle his body into a corner and head for the carriage; One-Eye collects the money for delivering the spirit bottles (which is a wash, since she had to bribe a guard to get in; corruption is everywhere!) and they head out. Problem is, alarms were already going in the church, and when they got to the main gate (sealed by sparkcraft), Siren, sitting on the back of the carriage, saw lights flickering (a signal) and caused a diversion by throwing up. The guards, not wanting their nice clean streets sullied, looked away and let them through.

Now outside the Sanctorium, they head to where they stashed their boat, painted to look like a tour boat and with a sign saying "back soon". There are already Bluecoats standing around wondering what to cite them for. One-Eye tries to sweet talk them, but it winds up requiring that they leave Copper there with the carriage while the other three take the boat away. Spirit Wardens arrive from the Sanctorium, but Copper sticks to her story - the goat was possessed, yes, but she had nothing to do with anything else. She winds up getting taken in for questioning, which means this whole thing is going to generate some Heat, but the job itself seems to have done well.

Now, of course, they have to deliver it to Lord Penderyn, who isn't expecting it. And then there's the whole "Siren has a mark" thing.