Turbo Kid! (with no spoilers)

So Turbo Kid ran its limited release in Akron and I did get to see it.The regular D&D group was down two players that week so we decided to catch a flick, and gathered an hour or so ahead of time at the hipster cinema to drink and loudly discuss politics while we waited for the show to start. It turns out that the several beers we tried were all ridiculously strong craft beers (9% ABV or so) so by showtime I was a little tipsy. I expected chemical enhancement to improve the viewing experience anyway and was not disappointed. Though I’ll need to see it again some time stone sober to see if it dampens my enthusiasm.

From the opening credits (listing the distributor as “The leader in laser disk sales”) it was pretty much perfect. Low budget? Yeah. But special effects can still look pretty decent these days on a budget, and the mix of computer and practical effects was never distracting, even though there were exploding bodies, geysers of blood, and laser-powered glove weapons. It all worked. The landfill sets and BMX chase scenes were filmed with love and the cheesiest lines were delivered with heart. You can tell everyone involved was having a great time and wanted nothing more than to make this gory retro sci-fi epic.

The actors are mostly obscure, apart from the always entertaining Michael Ironside. But they all do a great job. Even the wild-eyed, overly enthusiastic Laurence Labeouf doesn’t get old.

Someone has surely already described this movie as “The Road Warrior on BMX bikes,” or “Cherry 2000 directed by Luigi Fulco,” or “The Troma version of the Power Rangers,” so I won’t try to compare it to anything else. Go see it. You’re welcome.

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Published in: on September 9, 2015 at 9:59 pm  Comments (1)  
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Prometheus

Just watched this the other night.  Apparently it’s polarized Alien fans.

I liked it.  It was a pulp sci-fi movie in my opinion. It’s hard to discuss it without spoilers though so there are some below.

Prometheus:Alien::Derleth:Lovecraft.  Same universe, totally different stories.    Like Derleth’s (or Lumley’s) mythos stories, Prometheus has characters that are more proactive, and strive to do more than survive.  In this way it follows in the footsteps of the Aliens sequels.  It is not really a horror movie like Alien was.  It is more of a classic pulp science fiction romp where wild ideas get thrown around.

On the other hand, Prometheus‘ story line is less about the creatures from Alien than it is about the deeper context, as it looks at the origins of humanity as well as the aliens.  Spoilers: The origins of them both appear to be with the same alien race: the Engineers.  These space-faring titans created humans and later planned to send the Alien aliens to wipe us out. (They apparently decide to destroy humanity at about the time Jesus would have been crucified, if he were a real person.  Maybe he was an Engineer too.  The Engineers had a reason to destroy humanity.)  The twist ending suggests there will be a sequel.  It’s not actually a cliffhanger, but it left enough loose strings that the continuation of the story would reveal more of the Engineer’s secrets.

There are a lot of imperfections in the movie (not a lot of characterization of the minor characters, plausibility issues, and very loose science), but the visuals and performances of the main characters make up for these enough to make it a good movie.  As far as writing goes, it is one of those movies like the Matrix that mentions rather than engages in philosophy. (Pulp fiction had deeper discourse going on in the hitmen scenes.)  Still, there is some promise that a sequel might develop some of the ideas the film suggests.

As D&D fodder, Prometheus is in some ways a dungeon crawl, complete with exploring and scurrying back to “camp” and various traps and tricks.  The Titans make great villains, and the monsters (the Alien/worm hybrids and the apparently different sort of infection we see when one character is “infected” by what might be Titan DNA, as well as the supersized face-hugger) would work in D&D.

Published in: on December 7, 2013 at 8:32 pm  Comments (3)  
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36th Cleveland International Film Festival

My wife & I try to make one day of the CIFF (nine-day festival) every year, and this year we went on Friday, March 30th.  We usually manage to fit in one shorts program and maybe a feature, but this year we managed to make two features, in addition to a shorts program.

The stand-out for me was Beauty is embarrassing, a documentary about Wayne White, an artist who worked on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse as a set designer and puppeteer, who also did animation and music videos, and who is now doing ‘serious’ art, like this:

The other feature, General education, was amusing but amateurish.  It had a solid cast and they all did pretty well with the material but I got the feeling that the writing was either really rushed or there were extensive re-writes by committee. (“You know what this movie needs — more gay jokes!” “Yeah, and let’s make sure every single character ‘grows’ by the end, whether or not we have any time to make them interesting to begin with or give them real reason to change!” “Yeah, and let’s make everyone super quirky!”)  There were some decent laughs but I felt sort of embarrassed for the filmmakers, who were at the festival and obviously very proud of their work.  I’d guess they were all under 30, and I’m impressed they made a movie at all, but they either got too many ‘notes’ during filming or not enough criticism of their original screenplay — I mean someone screwed up the writing, either before or after it was green-lighted.  Maybe my standards were too high after the excellent shorts program.

The shorts included a really dark and jarring film about an honor killing (Shirin), a cute adult cartoon (Preferably blue), a very short film about Frank Oz and Jim Henson (Frank & Jim), and really great documentary about some missionaries and locals building a movie theater in Haiti (Sun City Picture House).  Sun City could have been one of those cringe-inducing ‘let’s-feel-good-about-helping-the-locals’ shorts but it was unflinching and moving in its depiction of the horrors of the aftermath of the earthquake.

It’s really cool that so many of the filmmakers were at the festival to answer questions and so on.  The only jerk among them was the guy who did Frank & Jim. Someone in the audience gushed about how great the short was and how it would make for an interesting feature-length film, are you working on one?  Answer: No, I’m not working on a feature, I thought the idea it worked best as a short, and you are a very person stupid for asking.  He didn’t say the last bit out loud but his tone certainly implied it.  I wanted to ask ‘So who were Frank and Jim supposed to be?’ but didn’t.

Overall it was good time, even if my reviews tend to go negative.  I would absolutely recommend Beauty is embarrassing and Sun City Picture House if you can find them.

Published in: on April 3, 2012 at 12:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Books are books, games are games

<I wrote this post back in January and never got around to finishing it.  I don’t remember if this was in response to specific forum or blog posts I’ve read or just wool gathering based on various asides.  Although it’s not exactly polished, and does not really lead to any particular conclusion, I figured I’d better go ahead and publish this to get it out of the way.>

One fairly controversial column Gary Gygax wrote for his “From the sorcerer’s scroll” series in Dragon Magazine was titled “Books are books, games are games” (it originally appeared in The Dragon #31 but I saw it first in the Best of Dragon, vol. II). Gary wrote at length about why epic fantasy (and a certain book about a ring) did not make an ideal setting for D&D games. I can’t really say much on that topic, as I have not really played in games that attempted to create an epic campaign from the start, or at least not one that lasted long enough to be able to say how successful it was compared to other kinds of games. As a player, the most memorable long-term games I’ve played in have been fairly episodic, or started that way. A pair of swashbuckling/pirates GURPS games and many short fantasy games in D&D, Rolemaster, or GURPS, as well as some Westerns in GURPS, stand out and I’ve kept those character sheets for years, perhaps decades. I can also think of a couple that were slowly revealed to be epic-style games, but this was not necessarily obvious at the beginning. One was a semi-historical fantasy game set in Norman England, which began very much like a medieval/Arthurian romance but grew into a massive story involving a Viking invasion (sadly, the game fell apart before reaching any kind of conclusion). The other was a gonzo but really fun riff on Ultima IV, which started as planetary romance type thing as the players made characters based on themselves (idealized, naturally) and ended with a massive battle that involved most of my miniatures. So I can’t dismiss epic style play out of hand even if I’m more interested in picaresque/episodic play now.

Anyway, what I really have been thinking about is the tendency gamers seem to have to go back to the “sources” to promote, justify, attack, or defend their preferred game styles and their conceptions of various fantasy tropes.

What I want to say is that different media like films and books and games are essentially different — that is: are different at a fundamental or essential level as experiences. Reading a book is a different kind of experience than watching a film or playing a game. (Video and computer games are another, fourth thing; board games a fifth; etc.) People don’t always remember this.

I say this because I’ve seen some comments and discussion about how the pulp fiction of Howard and the others don’t have any of the hallmarks of classic D&D (starting weak, working in medium sized parties, looting dungeons, etc.), and how action movies are more like modern editions of the game (ignoring small details and focusing on the big action sequences, heroes from the start, etc.). People often valorize things that make a game “more cinematic,” as if that were inarguably a goal of RPGs. Likewise I myself have been tearing through old sci-fi and fantasy books looking for signs of D&D tropes, and to some extent that seems misguided to me now.

Novels and movies generally don’t have multiple heroes the way an RPG does because of the way those mediums work. It is an exceptional (perhaps experimental, and certainly more challenging than usual) novel or film that features more than one primary protagonist.  Even in the case of literary duos, it seems to me that that one character takes center stage.  (For example, in Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar stories, I tend to see either Fafhrd or the Grey Mouser as the ‘main’ character, following the narrator’s focus from story to story or scene to scene.  In Dumas’ The three musketeers, isn’t D’artangan the protagonist?)

In films, usually it is the hero and some number of sidekicks. Perhaps the hero is not clear at the start but is slowly revealed as in a slasher/horror film where we figure out who is a main character by seeing the others killed off. Ensemble casts in an action or caper film like Ocean’s Ten or the Seven Samurai may be better candidates for exemplifying “parties” of adventurers, but realistically the viewer is unlikely to see them all as equally “main” characters.

In books, there are celebrated examples of rich storytelling where many characters are fully fleshed out, but these are fairly exceptional. The vast majority of novels feature a single main character and editors and publishers encourage this. (JRRT himself thought of Samwise as the central character of LotR, by the way, so don’t point to LotR as an example with multiple “main characters”!)

One suggestion I’ve seen is for DMs to try to make a single PC the “star” of a session, and this seems pretty misguided to me. Among the assumptions you’d need to make for such a suggestion make sense are (1) there needs to be a main character at all; (2) the DM can actually control things sufficiently to keep the spotlight on one PC; and (3) the game is supposed to recreate the cinematic experience. I don’t think any of these assumptions are good ones for a D&D game (although these assumptions could apply to other kinds of games).

I say, play the damn game and let the story emerge from play. Over-planning a story line and assigning a lead character doesn’t sound like the kind of game I’d enjoy at all. I’m not saying you shouldn’t throw in a hook or event that is tied to something a character did or is or which relates to a particular character’s background or goals. You can do that without trying to force the PC in question to take any action about it or to take the lead. Likewise I’ve definitely enjoyed sessions where one PC takes a lead role, but it has to happen naturally.

But unless I’ve been completely deceived, I don’t think I’ve been a player in a game where the DM sets out beforehand to make a certain PC shine in a given session.  So I’m curious, for those who use movies or books as the frame of reference for how a game should play out, how do you handle (or circumvent) the issue of a ‘main character’?

Published in: on September 27, 2011 at 5:00 pm  Comments (5)  
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One page dungeon from the art world

This was in a book of art inspired by cult films — Gallery 1988’s crazy 4 cult.  I haven’t watched the Goonies in a long, long time but it looks pretty accurate.

Published in: on July 20, 2011 at 6:00 am  Comments (1)  
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Satan’s little helpers

Xmas and Santa Claus always reminds me of Satan Claws.  I’m probably the billionth person to make that association, but it really sticks in my mind, for some reason.

Since the mythology projects are done, I got back to painting for my own amusement again, and the latest batch to get done are some imps.

(Gratuitous image at left: one of the the many films I discovered working at a video store.  The big climax has the priest going after Satan himself, wielding a massive flambard (two-handed sword with a wavy blade, also called a flamberge…  Maybe it was a normal two-handed sword, but of the very late German style)).

The group shot.  Bad lighting + bad focus = awesome 70’s look.

Here are the three biggest ones, some Reaper imps about an inch tall.

These guys are also the “newest,” dating from this decade.  But the third guy is clearly channeling the classic Ral Partha ‘commando’ style of Tom Meier’s sculpts.  I must have dozens of his orcs, goblins, trolls and demons with their junk hanging out.

Next, four imps… or an imp and three quasits, maybe.  The two in the center are both the same sculpt.  One is a really old one cast in lead/tin pewter from before the big lead in miniatures scare of the late 1980s/early 1990s.  The other is pure tin, which I bought from a dealer at Origins a few years ago.  Now that they are painted I can’t remember which is which; they are too light to tell apart as you can with bigger tin vs. lead figures.

The penny gives a sense of how tiny these buggers are.

Lastly, a TSR figure, of some kind of minor fire elemental/dwarf monster.  I can’t remember what they’re called but the one thing TSR did right after yanking the AD&D license, in rapid succession, from Grenadier and then Citadel, was to focus on a number of  weird monsters not already available.

Probably more on TSR’s small range of unloved miniatures later…

Published in: on December 30, 2009 at 7:49 pm  Comments (1)  
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Christmas update

Despite having some kind of rotavirus/stomach flu ye olde flux & emesis* pass from my daughter, to my wife, to me in succession, we all managed to be healthy on Christmas Day, which was great. We alternate between my side and my wife’s side each year, and this year was with my side, so the first of the games I made went to my niece.  She is “that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys’ games and books” (to use H.G. Wells memorable phrase). Actually she has long been interesting all things fantastic and fantasy-oriented, but I was afraid I may have gotten to her a bit to late, as she is just now approaching her teen years and, I feared, was ready to put away childish things. I turns out, not so much. (more…)

Published in: on December 28, 2009 at 2:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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