Friday, January 9, 2015

[Weekly Geeky Report] Presents, Movies and other stuff...

Swag
Over New Years, I received a few extra belated birthday and Christmas presents, the first of which was the 2nd edition of Robin D. Laws' Esoterrorists, courtesy of my friend James. I had sold off my copy of the first edition in a jumble sale last year, knowing that there was a second edition and deciding I'd upgrade to it eventually. Now that I've been saved the trouble of getting it myself, I've been going through it cover to cover and I'm very pleased with the addition of extra background on the setting and the campaign frame included with it. I'll do a full review in a couple of weeks, but all I can say is that I'm very grateful to James for getting me it.

The other two belated presents came from Heather, the first of which was the Doctor Who: Mannequin Mania double boxset. Mannequin Mania collects the two Third Doctor serials featuring the Autons, one of which is Pertwee's debut episode Spearhead From Space. The second, Terror Of The Autons, is the debut of the Doctor's arch-nemesis: the Master. Looking forward to watching both of those!

The other thing Heather got me is a tabletop game called Sultans Of De Karaya. I'd never heard of the game before, but at first glance it seems similar to Coup. Unlike Coup, though, it needs a minimum of five players (much like The Resistance) so I'll need to wait until I can get a decent sized player group together to try it out.

Angela got me a gift voucher for Amazon over Christmas and, to brush up on my post-apocalptic fiction in preparation for running Apocalypse World sometime in the not-too-distant future and in anticipation of the new movie coming out this summer, I decided to spend it on the Mad Max Trilogy DVD set. Other than Beyond Thunderdome, I've never seen any of the Mad Max movies all the way through, so I figured I'd get all three of them together and do a marathon of them sometime.

I also decided to spend the portion of my birthday and Christmas gift money I didn't put into savings on some stuff, starting with Dungeon World. I already had the digital bundle of DW, but before I can really bring myself to run a game I need to have the dead tree edition. So I ordered the Dungeon World softcover from Leisure Games just before New Years' and it arrived this Wednesday. I figure Dungeon World is probably the closest I'll ever come to actually running D&D, and I've never really tried running traditional fantasy before, so it'll be a nice change of genre for me as a GM.

While on my way to Heather's for some movie/TV marathoning, I picked up the trade paperback of Hellblazer, Vol 1: Original Sins. It was inevitable that I was going to start collecting Hellblazer one of these days, given my predilection for dark urban fantasy and anti-heroes. Watching NBC's Constantine recently just gave me the final nudge that I needed to pick it up and I'm glad I did, only about halfway through the first issue in the book and already loving it.

Finally, after much deliberation, I went ahead and ordered Monsterhearts direct from the Buried Without Ceremony website. Of all the Powered by the Apocalypse games available, Monsterhearts is the one I was most conflicted about buying. On the one hand, I loved Buffy and I enjoy both the urban fantasy genre and young adult fiction, so it seemed like it might be worth a look. On the other, I was a bit wary about the focus on sexual content. Yeah, I know, romance and sexuality is a part of teen lit and it's a big part of urban fantasy as well. I'm just not used to dealing with that stuff in my roleplaying yet. It is a boundary I've been trying to explore lately though, and I've been thinking about maybe doing a seperate blog post on the subject. Anyway, I finally set aside my discomfort and ordered the game. But before I try my hand at running it, I'd really like to try playing it. More on that in a future post.

Achievements Unlocked
I'm getting towards the end of Lost Girl's second season and the show is really weaving a tangled thread of debts, tensions and secrets between the characters. The Morrigan (dark fae leader) now has a string on Kenzie (ha, I'm already using Monsterhearts terminology), Dyson has gone lone wolf on everyone and his partnership with Hale is broken, Bo has been flirting with the dark side of faedom even as the Ash (light fae leader) wants her to be her champion against the return of the fae's mortal enemy. Plus, Bo just can't seem to catch a break in her love life. Dyson can't love anyone anymore, Lauren's got her old girlfriend back (though there seems to be trouble brewing there) and Ryan was fun for a while until some unknown effect of Bo's blood turned him into a creepy stalker who almost took advantage of an amnesiac Bo's confusion to make her his bride. At least Kenzie seems to have a stable relationship, though I'm sure her deal with the Morrigan will throw a wedge between them somehow, even if her secrecy about the Fae world doesn't.

On Wednesday, I went to visit Heather for some film/TV marathoning. The first thing we watched was Ghostbusters which, technically, Heather hadn't seen before since she fell asleep during her first viewing of it. While Ghostbusters is a childhood favourite of mine, nowadays I can't help feeling a bit uncomfortable about how women are portrayed in it. There are only two prominent female characters in the film, Dana (Sigourney Weaver) and Janine (Annie Potts). Dana's primary role in the film is to be the damsel in distress that our 'hero', Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) is supposed to rescue and inevitably win over, even though there's really no way she should fall for a creepy 'scientist' who treats her very real problem like a game he has to win, with her as the prize. In fairness, you could say Venkman's womanising ways are played for laughs (at his expense), but it still doesn't sit quite right that he 'gets the girl' at the end. Then there's Janine, who's little more than a stereotypical sour female secretary who fawns over Egon (the late Harold Ramis). Don't get me wrong, I still enjoyed the film as much as I always have (and I think Heather did too), but it was a less comfortable enjoyment than it used to be. It's not even an issue specific to Ghostbusters, it's more a thing about movies from that time.

After that we watched Mad Max, since I had brought my shiny new trilogy boxset with me. To be honest, I think I'm going to have to rewatch it, because I wasn't quite clear on what was going on in parts of the first act. Oddly, the DVD has two English language audio tracks: one with the original Australian voices and another in which they're dubbed over with American voices, which seems unnecessary to me. I mean, they're speaking English anyway, right? Anyway, I'll rewatch it and do a Mad Max marathon of all three films in the near future.

Next, we watched Hunger Games: Catching Fire, having previously watched the first film last year. I think the second installment was a much stronger film than the first, and I was happy to see elements make it into the film which are actually from the first book, but weren't included in the previous film. One such example is mention of the disgusting habit Capitol citizens have of taking a drink which allows them to vomit up the food they've eaten so they can stuff themselves even further, which really shows the excesses of PanAm's upper crust. That said, I also like the addition of scenes showing how President Snow and Plutarch Heavensby deal with things behind the scenes. Whether you've read the books or not, these scenes add an extra dimension to the events portrayed.

Our last film of the evening was Brick, which I hadn't watched in years but it was every bit as entertaining as I remembered. For those who haven't seen it, Brick is a teen noir film about a young outsider (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who delves into the criminal underbelly of his local high school to solve the murder of his ex-girlfriend (Emilie de Ravin). The film is a loving homage to hardboiled detective fiction such as the works of Dashielle Hammett and Raymond Chandler, with all the characters filling traditional noir archetypes. The script is tight, the dialogue sharp (though the juxtaposition of modern teens using 30s to 40s crime fiction slang might be jarring for some tastes) and the performances brilliant. Despite its use of traditional hardboiled trappings, it never feels like a parody and is just mesmerising from start to finish. If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend you check it out.

Once the films were done, we moved on to watching some TV, starting with the mid-season finale of Constantine. John is called out to a convent in Mexico by an old flame who was part of the ill-fated Newcastle crew and has since become a nun. There's a demon stalking the convent and abducting newborn children from there. Meanwhile, Zed's new boyfriend Eddie isn't all he appears to be and brings her mysterious past knocking. The episode finally sheds light on the 'rising darkness' that's been vaguely alluded to throughout the season, who's behind it and what their plans are. Meanwhile, another(?) faction steps out from the shadows in the form of the 'Crusade' which Zed has been running from. As one might expect, the episode ends on a chilling cliffhanger which leaves both John and Zed in dire predicaments.

We also watched an episode of Supernatural season nine, this one being based on the Slender Man internet phenomenon and featuring the return of the Ghostfacers. Harry and Ed are back to working alone and, while the elements of comedy are still there, things are a bit more serious with the Ghostfacers this time around. All is not well and, holding up a mirror to the Winchesters' own broken relationship, a secret is being kept which may spell the end for the duo's partnership. There were a lot of feels in this episode and it offered, perhaps, a glimmer of hope for reconcilliation between the Winchester brothers. It is, however, only a tiny glimmer.

On Thursday, just before I went home, we watched the series premiere of Agent Carter and it was pretty spectacular. It does seem that the Marvel One Shot is not considered canon as far as the show is concerned, but it takes the elements that gave the short film such unrealised potential and expands on them brilliantly. The sexism that Peggy struggles against is a bit more subtle than in the short, and it is played as both a hinderance to her progress as an agent within the Strategic Scientific Reserve and an oversight on the part of her male co-workers and enemies that can be exploited to her advantage. Fortunately, not all men are portrayed in a bad light. Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) is a crippled war veteran and fellow SSR agent who also suffers prejudice due to his disability and is able to relate to Carter as a result of that. Then there's Edwin Jarvis, Howard Stark's charmingly quirky butler, who seems at first to be there mainly as comic relief but may have further depths that are yet to be revealed in full. The premiere sets up the status quo for the series nicely and gives us some hints about what the future holds. Could 'Leviathan' be a hidden remnant of HYDRA operating in the MCU's post-war era? Hopefully this won't be a mystery that gets dragged out as long as Centipede and the Clairvoyant were in Agents of SHIELD.

Works In Progress
With my first Firefly session of the new year coming up on Tuesday, and our long-awaited finale of the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space campaign 'Exiles of Time' hopefully happening on Wednesday night, I've not had a lot of time to focus on writing. Instead, I've been looking back over my notes for both campaigns and figuring out what comes next.

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