Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Movie #390: Kubo & The Two Strings

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Grade: A
Rewatch value: High

Next up: Mallrats

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Movie #389: It Follows

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

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

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

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

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

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

My grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Kubo & The Two Strings

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Prometheans in the Big Easy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Night's Black Agents, Plus Perhaps Promethean Prep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now:

If you must blink, do it now.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Night's Black Notents

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

Anyway.

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


Feng Shui: Fightin' in Caves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Character Creation: QAGS

Two chargen posts in a row, whaaaat. I have some time, and this'll put me caught up with my weekly character resolution. (Normally I'd stick a game prep post in there, but Night's Black Agents got cancelled yesterday and I already have my Feng Shui prep done.)

The Game: QAGS (Quick-Ass Gaming System), 2nd Edition
The Publisher: Hex Games
Degree of Familiarity: None. I don't think I've ever played this system.
Books Required: Just the one.

I got QAGS 2nd Ed in the Haiti bundle a really long time ago, and I've read most of it. It's near the top of my list and I think it's pretty simple, so that's a good choice for today.

My first hurdle, though, is that QAGS, like GURPS, is just a system. By itself it doesn't have a setting, but the book handily provides 10, and I just happen to have a 10-sided die right here (because +Michelle didn't put her dice away after Promethean last week). Rolling, I get 2. The 2nd genre setup in the book is...cinema verite. Um, OK. Interesting setup for something as light as QAGS, but I'll give it a shot.

I want to point out that Heathers, "all that Danielle Steel crap," and outright porn are in this list.
The sample campaign they give you for this is Dude, Where's My Cape, in which all the characters are sharing an apartment, all of the characters are superheroes with secret identities, and all of them are hiding the truth from others. I think that's sort of clever. I also think that maintaining that beyond a one-shot would be really difficult, but hey, maybe with the right group? The setup suggests that one of the characters be a super-villain, and hey, you know, that sounds like my jam.

So, let's see how character creation works. First thing I need, as usual, is a concept. Well, with our fairly thin set-up, and assuming I want to be a supervillain in our weird sitcom-ish cinema verite thing going on, and wanting to keep things light, my villain is call the Pedant. He's not really concerned about "good" and "evil" per se; morality is relative and the free market will sort it all out. No, he just wants everyone to be right. Have you considered the data? Have you checked your sources? You'd better have.

In his day job, he's a freelance writer and editor (magazines, mostly), and he makes a living (like most sitcom characters, he has an unrealistically fantastic apartment), but he's always hurting for extra cash. Hence, robbing banks and pulling heists, which supervillains don't do enough of anymore.

His secret identity is Maynard Milton (folks call him "Milt", which he hates, but recognizes that "Maynard" isn't much better). His concept/archetype is "Know-it-all." QAGS lists archetypes, like from Campbell, and I think "Threshold Guardian" fits the Pedant pretty well.

Now I start doing numbers. I had to dig around a little; the GM would decide the number of Yum-Yums players get to make characters (I'm not making this up), but there's a chart in the GM's section, and apparently 100 YY makes an average character. I have to figure that despite our powers, these characters are going to be mostly "average", given the genre (runs in my head there was a super-hero movie that kinda fits this, The Specials maybe?). Anyway, 100 Yum-Yums. You got it.

First, Body, Brain, and Nerve. I don't picture the Pedant as being especially fit. 11 is average, so I'll just do that.

Brain, though, that's where I'm a Viking. I want Pedant's Brain score at the top of the curve. Max is 16, so let's do that. I've spent 27.

And then Nerve. I guess 13, better than average but not amazing? That means I've spent an event 40 points.

Next up, Job. Writer/Super-Villain, sure. I'll say that Pedant is better than average at this, so the score is 10, which costs me 20 points. I've spent half my points.

Now I get a Gimmick. A Gimmick covers a whole lot of ground, and it's probably where my super-powers should come in. I could take something like "Remembers Everything" but frankly with my Brain score as high as it is, I don't really need to. Hmm. I feel like the Pedant should be a mind-controller or other form of psychic? Or, hey. There was a power in Shattered Dreams called "Reality Check" that let you impose the rules of "real life" on dreams. I want Pedant's power to be something like that, except we'll call it "well, actually" - he can shut down other being's powers and impose "reality" on the situation by explaining it. Gimmicks have ratings, which measure how often they show up in a session. It starts at 10, and I've got 50 freaking points left, so I'll pump 10 points into this and take my rating up to 15.

Now I get a Weakness, which is just like it sounds. Pedant's Weakness is that he's Easily Frustrated, in all senses of the word. I'll leave it at 10.

And then I get Skills. Skills aren't covered by my Job, they're things I do as a hobby, basically. I have, what, 40 points left, meaning I could take a bunch (they're three YY for a +1 and then 1 YY for every additional +1 after that, so I could take, what, 10 Skills at +2? That seems absurd. Howzabout I dump 6 more points into my Job, making it 13, which takes me down to 34 points to spend? Sure.

Skills, then. I think "Defensive Driving" sounds good; it's not what Milt is trained in, but it's become necessary. I'll dump 4 YY there for a +2, which leaves 30 points left, my goodness. I'll take "Fisticuffs" at +1, because I'm sure it'll come up. 27 points to go. I see Pedant as being decent at hacking, so I'll take Hacking at +4, which costs me 5 points (down to 22). Wow, 100 is a lot of points (though of course I can't know if this makes for a viable character). Oh, wait, something I missed: If you raise your Gimmick it automatically raises your weakness, so I would need to spend 15 to bring my Weakness from 15 to 10. Shit, sure. That means I have 7 points remaining. That's more better.

Well, my HP starts at 11, but I can raise it, so I'll put it to 13 (4 YY), which leaves me 3, which is fine, because having a few in play is a good idea.

Now a few little quirks: My tag line is "Um, no." Dumb fact is on the sheet, but not actually mentioned during chargen (anyway, Pedant knows all the dumb facts). WWPHITM stands for "who would play him in the movie?" I think Pedant is pretty obviously played by Patton Oswalt.

And there you have it! I think episodes of Dude, Where's My Cape? should all end with the characters playing a board game in Milt's apartment, discussing the events of the episode while the credits roll.