Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Movie #420: Mirror, Mirror

Mirror, Mirror is a retelling/reimagining of the Snow White myth, starring Lily Collins, Julia Roberts, Nathan Lane, Armie Hammer, Martin Klebber, Danny Woodburn, and Lisa Robert Gillan.

The movie focuses more on the Queen (Roberts) than on Snow White (Collins) as far as POV goes, but it's really the same story: The evil queen wants to remain the fairest in the land, but as her stepdaughter grows up it becomes obvious that she's going to get outstripped. Meanwhile, she taxes her people into poverty, relying on vague attacks from a "beast" to keep people afraid. Snow White, meanwhile, is kept to her room, until one day she goes walkabout and gets ambushed by seven bandits, who turn out to be dwarves, led by Butcher (Klebber) and Grimm (Woodburn).

Said dwarves have previously ambushed and trussed an adventure-seeking prince (Hammer), who the queen promptly drugs with a love potion, attempts to marry, loses to Snow White (who frees him with a kiss, in a nice little subversion). The dwarves teach Snow to fight, and she eventually does confront the beast, who, it turns out, is her father (Sean Bean), enslaved by the queen.

There's a lot going on here, I realize as I write this up, and most of it works. There are other assorted bits - Nathan Lane plays the queen's scummy little assistant, the prince's love potion makes him think he's a puppy (serious props to Armie Hammer for committing to that), but the best part of this movie is Roberts as the queen. She's evil, no question - she's quite willing to have people killed and she's utterly remorseless - but she's not detached about it, either. She's excited on her wedding day to the prince, she's angry when Snow bests her, and she inhabits the role in a way that's a lot more visceral than such villains often get played.

A really interesting bit: When the queen uses the titular mirror, she enters a little pocket realm inhabited by her reflection, which you'd think would be played by Roberts. Instead, though, they cast her sister (Gillan), who looks really similar, but just different enough that she takes on this ethereal otherness next to the queen. Nice effect.

Also, the whole thing ends with a Bollywood number (it's directed by Tarsem Singh), which was a fun touch. If I have a complaint, it's that the beast doesn't show up until the very end, and up until then it's kind of an afterthought. Generally, though, it's funny and light and enjoyable.

My Grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Misery

Night's Black Agents! Whoa!

I ran this game on Saturday, and then GenCon prep got geared up and I completely forgot to do the write-up. Blah.

So! Last time, the agents ended an op and decided they'd head out Lithuania and see just what the conspiracy was hiding (part of the reasoning was that the last time they did this, it led them to the Isle of Man and they got some pretty useful intel, so). They set themselves up with a safehouse, and then MacAteer started taking low-level thug jobs using a connected cover, someone who knows Matis Bagdones (who, remember, was a merc/driver in the Isle of Man and is now in Budapest prison).

His first gig was just taking a bunch of stolen stuff out of a warehouse. Bringing his impressive array of skills to bear, he noted that one of the guys, Soulis, was being taciturn - he was deflecting questions and just generally not saying anything. They toughs all went out drinking after the job, and Soulis was using the same kinds of tricks MacAteer was to avoid getting drunk.

MacAteer contacted the others, managed to finagle a moment alone with Soulis, and punched him in the head, dazing him long enough to get him to a second site. There, he and Ess got to work on interrogation...

...and realized he was an undercover cop. Shit.

They salvaged the situation, though, with some quick use of Cover and some other skills. They claimed to be Interpol, looking into human trafficking out of Vilinus, and paid for Soulis' emergency dental work. He was glad to have the help, and was apparently reporting to just one CO (probably to avoid leaks getting him killed). That gave the agents an in, and potentially some backup.

Meanwhile, Parker wrote Sedillo a letter and asked about reproduction - the agents had learned that Hajnal supposedly had a son, which they thought gave them a timeline for when he was turned. But if Sedillo was right, if these vampires could reproduce, that didn't necessarily mean anything - he could be hundreds of years old. She wrote back and said that it might very well be possible for a vampire to have a child with a human, but she wasn't sure, genetically, what that would look like. Likewise, the child of two vampires would probably be a vampire from birth, but it was hard to know without experiments that she wasn't equipped to do.

The agents also noticed a lot of interference in wireless communication in Vilinus, which is weird because it's usually really good in Europe. They took a few days to build a device that could analyze and track the disturbance, and then drove around the city following the boops. This led them north, into a state park, and eventually down a disused dirt road. They concealed their van and waited. Hours later, a Hummer emerged and left.

They decided to check it out. Gambone and Ess posed as hikers (backpack to conceal the device) and sneaked through the woods. They saw a jeep with a couple of guards armed with assault rifles, but they weren't sure what was beyond that. We'll find that out next time.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Promethean in the Distant Mists of Monday

It's Friday, you see, and I kept meaning to do this write-up but I've been sick and at work.

Anydangway, last time, we had a bunch milestones. This time, we were missing Feather (because Michelle was sicker than me so she stayed home).

Skip is still at the hospital and Parris had whispered "Nergal" in her sleep. When she wakes up, Skip tries to ask her about it, just to see if she remembered something from a dream, but Skip is not the most socially adept of Prometheans at the best of time and winds up putting her into Disquiet. Parris kinda smiles and nods, asks for a nurse, and Skip gets the distinct feeling he's no longer welcome. He heads for home, calling ahead to have Enoch send Feather out to watch over Parris.

Meanwhile, Avalon, Matt, and Grimm are headed across the river with Charon to get some juice back. They ask about the meeting coming up with the various supernatural folks in the city, but Charon still doesn't know where it's going to be (lots of political nuance there he isn't privy to). They get to the power station and juice up, and then feel Azoth call to Azoth. They followed it back and meet an Osiran, also there for a top-off. Matt uses Heed the Call to take his Measure, and the man introduces himself as Paul DeVries.

The throng chats with him; he's been in New Orleans for a while and he's acquainted with Sicky, Barbara, and (formerly) Papillion. He owns a big house outside of the French Quarter and is a venture capitalist, which surprises the characters (they're used to Prometheans being poor). He talks with them, asking some rather probing questions, including asking Grimm which of the throng he finds the most troublesome (Skip, of course), but then points out that if the problem was really Nergal, and Nergal is gone, what's the trouble?

He gives them a lift in his boat and offers to take them back to his place for dessert. Avalon is game (she sees in him a direction for her Pilgrimage), but Matt wants to head back to the town to check on Parris. He puts it to Grimm to break the tie, and Grimm, uncomfortable, agrees with Matt. DeVries shrugs and drives them back. The Prometheans head back to the storefront (after Matt checks in with Feather).

Skip and Enoch are at the storefront with Sicky (Sicky is bouncing a ball against the wall like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape; turns out Sicky used to hole up in a Blockbuster store at night and watch movies). They talk and Skip reveals that he doesn't really know all that much about Nergal - where he came from, what he wanted, where he went, even what he was. They call Barbara to come over and she says that based on the description Skip gave, Nergal sounds like a spirit of chaos or mischief, but without seeing him it was hard to know. He might not have been able to follow Skip into the Hedge when he flew off the mountain, but again, who can say?

The others arrive in the midst of this, and Grimm wonders if Nergal might be the spirit that was now driving Red, but isn't sure if that was the kind of spirit that worked with "the Bound." It's late, so the Prometheans bed down for the night.

In the morning, Avalon calls DeVries to hang out, and he comes to get her and takes her out on his boat. They head out into the gulf to go swimming, and Avalon notes that DeVris is missing his genitals (it's traditional for some forms of the Osiran creation ritual; DeVries doesn't seem bothered). They swim and talk for a bit, and then DeVries gets a call. At first he refuses whatever it is the caller asks, but then something changes his mind. He informs Avalon that tonight, he'll be hosting a meeting, and she can just come back to the house with him and get ready. He's sure he has something she can wear.

The others spend the day doing...things. Enoch continues work on his Athanor, while Grimm pesters. Grimm also reflects that his choice not to go with DeVries was counter to his Refinement, and falters a bit on his Pilgrimage; he sticks with it, but is a little unsteady. Skip heads to the library to research spirit summoning and occult stuff, but isn't able to find much of real use. He calls Charon, who recommends he talk to Jesse Cartwright at the meeting - Jesse's a ghost and spirit hunter and a decent sort.

Sicky and Matt spend the day walking around the city noting any remaining Pilgrim Marks for Matt's atlas, and get back in time to learn that the meeting is tonight at DeVries' house. Sicky kind of blanches a little; last time it was there a werewolf kinda went nuts and ripped the place up a bit. His name was Jesse. "Cartwright?" asks Skip. "I don't know," says Sicky. "I just knew him as Jesse Burning-Bones." "Great."

(Sicky also mentions that while werewolves don't succumb to Disquiet the way human beings do, it does make them more edgy and angry.)

So with all of that mind, when we reconvene, we'll have this big meeting at the DeVries house.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Board Game: Evolution

Finished the Chill game a little early yesterday, so tried this game out.

The Game: Evolution
The Publisher: North Star Games
Time: About an hour
Players: Me, +Michelle+Dirty Heart+Jessica

Time for the fittest to do a little survivin'.
Game Play: The idea here is to guide your various species to dominance. This involves making sure they get enough to eat, and have the right combination of traits to survive whatever predators might be out there.

Players start off rounds playing one trait card into the middle (the watering hole). Then, they play trait cards on their species, taking them from nondescript lizards or whatever to, for instance, long-necked, hard-shelled, tree-climbing herbivores. Then the cards you played to the middle get flipped, and food gets added to the watering hole. Herbivores eat from that, while carnivores...well.

Sarah is not a carnivore but she's way too happy about punching out those tokens.
All species have Body Size and Population. Carnivores can only attack animals that are smaller than they are, and various traits also preclude being attacked (if you're Burrowing, for instance, you can't be attacked if you have food equal to your Population, while only a Climbing carnivore can attack a Climbing whatever). Population falls if you get attacked or if there's not enough food, and if a species' population falls to zero, it's extinct.

At the end of the game, you get points for surviving species (as measured by population), food that your animals ate (you keep all said food in a bag), and trait cards (diversity FTW).

Dinosaurs!
Opinions: This game is really pretty. The production values are off the charts, the rules were really easy to follow, and while they game does take some table space, it's a lot of fun (as compared to another game on the same subject, which was just meh).

Plus it's fun to imagine how exactly an animal with the various traits might have evolved and what cute sounds it makes.

My little menagerie. 
Keep? Yep.

Chill: Phantom Hitchhikers

Yesterday we played Chill. We were down a couple of players, but I wanted to play, and it was a good place for it.

Dylan, Edward, and Jeannie were recuperating from their last case, and BB went out to LA on business, so that leaves Dee and two heretofore unseen envoys to investigate this case. The envoys are Willa Lane (a woman from an abusive family who accidentally killed her father when he went after her mother) and Jordan Ramsey (a former EMT and now part time massage therapist who was attacked by a ghoul while on the job).

Dee had heard through her usual grapevine that a man down in Bruneau, ID (a town of about 550 people south of Boise) had had a paranormal experience, so the three of them hop in the car with Sweet Baby Jesus (the dog, remember) and head down there. They stop at the diner, run by Stewart Myers, the guy they're there to interview.

He tells them that he was on his way into town at night when a man ran out from the woods and flagged him down. The man - who said his name was Bryan - was black, mid-30s, and didn't seem injured, but was obviously scared. He told the envoys that Bryan got in the car and told him to drive, and then asked to use his phone. Stewart didn't hear what Bryan said on the phone, but when they broke the treeline and could see the town, he glanced over and Bryan was gone. His phone was on the seat, with some kind of milky gunk on it.

Stewart wasn't aware of any local legends about a phantom hitchhiker. Willa, pretty well-versed in ghost matters, notes that normally in these stories, the hitchhiker is a girl, and the fact that "Bryan" was frantic and scared might indicate something else. Stewart reports no after-effects; no harm came to him.

The envoys decide to head out to where Stewart picked Bryan up. They stop the car and wander in the woods a bit; Willa finds some stuff on a tree she identifies as ectoplasm, indicating they're on the right track. They have to be careful, though; the ground has multiple little crevasses, very easily to trip and break an ankle. Jordan senses the Unknown and follows the scent (that's how she perceives the Unknown, as a foul smell) back to a deep crevasse. They toss a road flare down, but can't see anything of interest. It looks about 25 feet deep; they'll need gear to get down there and out again.

They head back into town, and Jordan stars to feel ill. She uses Disrupt and feels better for a moment, indicating that something Unknown has touched her. They arrange with Stewart to stay overnight (there's no hotel in town and Stewart has a spare room), but Jordan is really under the weather, so Willa drops Dee at the diner to try and talk up some of the locals while she goes to buy supplies.

Dee talks with some unfriendly old-timers and the local pastor, but isn't able to learn anything about the hitchhiker. Apparently, it's not a local legend, suggesting it may be something more recent.

When Willa and Dee get back to the house, they see that Stewart is sick, too, though he's still ambulatory, just fluish. Jordan, though, is in bad shape. She's dehydrated and only barely conscious, and guess what, she's the medic. Willa calls Darnell at the bunker and has him head down, and bring whoever's handy.

Next session, we'll see who's handy.

Movie #419: Miracle on 34th Street

Miracle on 34th Street is a remake of the 1947 movie of the same name. This version stars Richard Attenborough, Mara Wilson, Elizabeth Perkins, Dylan McDermott, James Remar, and Robert Prosky.

It's Christmas! And Macy's Cole's is on the verge of bankruptcy, but has managed to stave off doom for the time being. They're getting their annual parade going, and Dorey (Perkins) their...marketing person, I think fires their Santa because he's a drunk asshole. A bystander who believes he is Santa (Attenborough) steps in and kicks ass, and is subsequently hired as the Cole's department store Santa. He winds up driving a lot of consumer loyalty by telling customers that if they want a particular toy cheaper, they can find it elsewhere, which has the effect of breeding loyalty to Cole's. Which, like, that's glurgy because it's nonsense (the real response would be "OK, suckers, guess I'll buy everything at Shopper Express because I can get literally the same thing cheaper there"), but it's like the 100th most glurgy thing in the movie, so let's move on.

Dorey is an overworked single mom, but her neighbor and...boyfriend? Bryan (McDermott) is clearly in love with her and basically helps raise Dorey's precocious daughter Susan (Wilson). Much of the initial plot revolves are whether Susan believes in Santa; Dorey very reasonably tells her Santa isn't real, while Bryan insists that he is and hey, maybe that kindly old gent playing Santa at Cole's really is Santa, like he says!

Eventually, the eeeeeeevil representatives of Shopper Express (James Remar and Jane Leeves) conspire to get Santa arrested and then committed, and he winds up trial with the judge (Prosky) not really wanting say the old guy is nuts and sending him away, but not having a lot of choice (except that this being post-Reagan, if you're mentally ill but not an active threat they kick your ass straight out, so WHY IS THIS EVEN AN ISSUE), and then, I'm not kidding, he decides that since the words "in God we trust" are on money, that means the Federal Treasury recognizes the existence of God, even though there's no proof, and by that logic, the court can recognize the existence of Santa.

Fuck. You.

This movie is about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the nuts. The CEO of Shopper Express is played by Joss Ackland, whom you know as Arjen Rudd, the evil bad guy from Lethal Weapon II. That's how on the nose this movie is. And while it's never explicitly proven that "Kris Kringle" is Santa for purposes of the movie's fiction, the ambiguity is never really addressed, either. Like, if he's Santa, why does he live in an old folks' home and his reindeer(?) are at a local petting zoo? Why the reference to him needing to make Susan and Dorey believe? If he's not, then where does he get his amazing Santa suit (that he's a polyglot is taken as evidence by Susan, but like, she's six)?

Add this to the weird romantic subplot where Bryan comes this close to saying he's entitled to Dorey marrying him for being such a Nice Guy when he fucking proposes out of nowhere, and the fact that "names by which I'm known" in other cultures that Kringle lists off are mostly wrong, and then there's the biggest Santa issue, which is: If Santa is real, does everyone get presents that no one bought? If so, why is believing in Santa an issue? There's proof. If not, why doesn't Santa delivery to poor kids?

I dunno. I know it's a holiday classic, I know it was fairly well-reviewed when it came out, but it just kinda leaves me rolling my eyes. I did, however, love Attenborough in the role. I love how his enthusiasm for dealing with children never dims, and of course the scene where he signs with a deaf girl (Samantha Krieger) is really sweet. I just could do without the clunky-ass faith themes, I guess.

My Grade: D+
Rewatch Value: Low

Next up: Mirror, Mirror

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Chill notes!

So, last time when I ran Chill, the characters kinda got their asses kicked. They headed back to the Boise HQ knowing that while no one died and they did save a man's life, they also inadvertently unleashed some Unknown beasties into the surrounding area, with no way to easily track them down.

Unfortunately, the Unknown is at work in other quarters as well...

(here's where players stop reading)