Friday, February 22, 2008

The Little Movies That Could

Amongst all the blockbuster, high action, computer generated, explosion driven, super hero, sci-fi testosterone fests that clog up our cinemas lately, every now and then we get something that is actually worth watching, and even rarer still is something that is worth watching more than once!

This week, I was extremely privileged to see two as a comedy, and the other is a sentimental feel-good movie such movies! One is a drama that masquerades as a comedy. Similar, but entirely different in presentation. Both, however are small, quirky movies that that are more interested in the characters than the action.

Juno is a wonderful movie that made me smile throughout, with a powerful cast that deserve every bit of credit and praise that they are currently receiving. The humour is bang on, and the story is, in my opinion, riveting. The cinematography was beautiful, full of subtle references and wonderful choices of camera angles and movement. There is really very little I want to say about this movie, bar advising you to go see it. I don't want to talk about the story or characters, and there is very little else to discuss. I will warn you that Claire did not enjoy it. She found the movie just didn't grab her, and she made no connection with the story or characters. While I laugh loudly at the few moments in the movie geared toward that response, she just found them mildly amusing. Eh. To each their own. I loved it, and look forward to seeing it again. It reminds me very much of Garden State, another fine example of a quirky American black comedy.

Be Kind, Rewind, however, is much closer to being a quirky British comedy than an American one, yet it is entirely American. Well, almost entirely. It is directed by Michel Gondry, who is best known for his strange and interesting Björk music videos and the wonderfully odd Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Be Kind starts off slow, but escalates into a wildly hysterical ride through a series of old favourite movies being refilmed. Despite strong performances from everyone involved, including an entirely watchable Jack Black, it is the change of pace in the story that makes this movie so incredible. Again, rather like Juno, I hate to talk about this movie too much, suffice it to say, it is a far more intelligent movie than a simple spoof written to poke fun at classics from Driving Miss Daisy to Ghostbusters to Rush Hour 2, as the trailers suggest! I will say that in the case of this movie, it benefits the final product that the trailers only focus on the first half of the plot, as the shift in the final movie has more impact because we see nothing of what is to come prior to it happening on-screen. All that aside, the spoofs are incredible! Watch out for moments like Mos Deaf falling from a building during Rush Hour 2, or Jack Black doing a remake of King Kong! Priceless!

Two in one week! I needs to get my geek on! Come on Iron Man, time to get the adrenaline pumping.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Pulp, Fantasy & Oh So Very British

Six months ago role-playing games didn't even factor in my social calendar, either as a regular or irregular event. I hadn't played in anything for months, and my GMing experiences could be counted on one hand, despite the fact that I really wanted to let people play in some of the fantastical worlds that swam in my head!

But things have started to change in the last few months. I got in on a regular Monday night gaming session with Gar that started off as Spirit of the Century (SotC), in which I played a Gadgeteer. Once it was officially announced that Gar was writing the new edition of Traveller for Mongoose, we started play-testing the mechanics he was working on within the Firefly setting, as none of our group had much experience with Traveller, and were far more keen on playing space-cowboys anyway! In Firefly, I started off as a Rogue, before dieing, apparently completely forgettably, and returning as a Core-Worlds doctor, secretly under the employ of Blue Sun to investigate the origins or Reavers. That wrapped up all too fast before Christmas, and we moved on to something else in the New Year.

Now we're play-testing the upcoming Doctor Who RPG, which is fun, though admittedly, I'm playing it as an SotC game! I play a 1944 RAF pilot accidentally caught up in wacky time-travel shenanigans! Even though I'm not a fan of the Doctor Who series, Gar was careful to gauge our interests and play towards that! Plus, although I dislike the show, I love the concept. I love the time-travel, action adventure, the pulp-styled gadgets and over-the-top fun, the lovable ridiculousness of the TARDIS and the odd creepiness of the Daleks. What I don't like are the cheesy villains (pet hate: living plastic! Whiskey! Tango! Foxtrot!!) and the over use of low budget effects or props. There isn't an excuse for them anymore. The show has both a sizable budget and an endlessly creative crew. Episodes such as Blink, Sound of Drums and Family of Blood illustrate the inventiveness and ingenuity of the crew at all stages of an episodes production, yet despite these few shining moments, we still have to put up with living plastic and gas mask-faced zombies!! If you haven't already seen it, do yourself a favour and watch Blink. It is incredible, and due to the nature of the episode, everything you need to know about the Doctor is explained within the episode, so you could watch it without ever having seen another one!

Sorry... that got a bit rantish there. Well, I guess this is my blog, and I can talk about what interests me, but still. I've gone way off track!! Back to RPGs and the current situation I find myself in.

Um... actually, where was I? *blah, blah, blah* Play-test... *blah, blah* Doctor Who... Oh yes! Now I'm up to my own game! After months of trying to get a group together to play my own SotC game, I finally struck gold and pieced together a stunning and enthusiastic group for a Tuesday night ongoing story. As SotC is supposed to be a "pick-up-and-play" game, I've designed each episode to run within a single night, and there is very little of an over-arcing plot. It's fun, fast and pulpy. Last week was all character generation, which ran longer than expected as three of the five players were new to the system. However, while it officially starts tomorrow, I've spent the last week adjusting some of my stories to fit into characters backgrounds. Instead of Professor Bob, madman extraordinaire, they'll now fight Doctor Eternity, nemesis of Sir Alistair, inventor to His Majesty King George V. Honestly, I've never looked forward to a game more than this one!

And to top it all off, I'm now playing in Claire's D&D game on Sunday nights!! So far, there isn't much to say about this one. We're investigating the spread of a plague that doesn't kill anyone, we have no-one in the party that can heal, and I'm playing a customised version of a WarForged, essentially based exclusively off of RoboCop! This one's gonna be fun.

That brings my weekly gaming experiences up from zip, to three games a week, running Sunday, Monday and Tuesday! Not bad for someone that had lost all interest in gaming not so long ago. I'll try to add various bits of short fiction based on the games as I go along. I enjoy the three settings I'm playing in at the moment, and I love adding to the backgrounds or just general bits and pieces. Keep me bookmarked, and feel free to comment on things, or add your own ideas to my stories!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Personal Diary: Stg. Valentine "Val" McDonald, RAF

May 28th, 1944
By goodness, this house is odd. The upstairs lavatory flushes entirely of its' own accord, and the piano in the dining hall randomly bangs out notes as if a tone-deaf child were playing on it. Worse, the new wing that we were using to bunk in is constantly cold at night. Even with a fire in the hearth it was too cold for a night's sleep. Today we spent the morning moving the bunks into the room we were using for storage, and moving the equipment into that hellish icebox. The storage room is smaller, but at least we'll be able to rest at night. Minor annoyances, but annoyances none-the-less.

Yesterday I was busy helping the lads set up some of the perimeter flak cannons. I've flown through fire from those things quite a few times now, and let me tell you, they're as impressive up there as they are on the ground. With enough firing into the night sky, the law of averages says you'll hit something. We now have the manor surrounded with flaks and two further anti-aircraft guns in the drive. Nothing to stop a tank rumbling up to say hello, but this far into the British countryside, I doubt those krauts will make it here on the ground. We should be fine.

June 1st, 1944
A new month. The boys and I have been here three weeks now, waiting for orders and monitoring the situation on the continent. Reports from command suggests that there is something big going to happen very soon. Thompson has been telling me that he's heard through the grapevine that we're going to assault France, but as usual, the boys here have been left out of the loop. I can't imagine we'll have anything to do. This manor has been under RAF use for four years now and it's the dead-zone assignment. Anyone who gets stationed here just sits on the ground for their term of duty scratching their hind quarters and praying for a scrap.

That is something that still unnerves me. The war is raging across Europe, yet we're here with four Spitfires, three American Hurricanes, our own Lankie and far too much anti-aircraft support for such a small area so far inland. I've seen the command centre in the study. It certainly looks the business, but I can't help feel that it's too far away from anywhere it can do any good. And why have a fully manned bomber here? The Spitfires and Hurricanes I can understand. They're here in case we do end up getting hit. But what would our target be? There's nothing for miles around this manor, and I know even our Lankie would need to refuel before carrying out a mission over the Channel. Sitting in my safe on board the bird is a sealed set of orders. I wish I knew what they said, but I'll have to wait for an attack to open them.

Honestly, I hope I never do.

June 13th, 1944
Reports on the radio say that D-Day was quite the jolly good success. Now that the smoke has cleared and a fair chunk of occupied France is no longed occupied, it looks like this war might finally be coming to an end. The boys around the manor are claiming intelligence has word that Hitler thoughtNormandy was all a decoy! Never underestimate us Brits. Best damned military in the world, despite what the Americans claim. Gretzky loves to get the boys blood boiling, talking about all the great things America has done in the war already. I know he's just having fun, and I try not to rise to the challenge, but he isn't making any friends among the lads, and we've been here long enough now.

Too long for some. Wilkinson worries me. He's gotten used to constantly being on the move, never in one place for more than a few days. Last night he told me that he's been seeing ghosts. He claims to see them moving on the back stairs, but I use that all the time and have never seen anything. If this were any other of the lads, I'd send them packing and restrict rations for a few days for trying to pull such a pathetic prank. But Wilkinson is not like that. I don't think I've ever heard him tell a joke or try something funny. He gets so focused on the task at hand, and he keeps that focus. I think it might be that. He's been focused for five weeks now. Everyone's getting on edge. We've been here too long.

God. Let this war end soon, or let us back in the air for something more than test and maintenance runs. We have a lousy two hours scheduled for tomorrow in the air. We haven't spent more that a few hours among the clouds since we first got here five weeks ago. This is the longest most of us have been on solid ground since the war broke out.

June 15th, 1944
While I was dropping off yesterdays flight check reports to the command room I noticed the pins on the wall-map. Seems like the Luftwaffe is making pushes into the English countryside under the dead of night. I'm not sure what they're looking for, or why it's so important that they are willing to come this far into enemy territory, but if I didn't know better, I'd say those pins were coming here.

Damn this house. Damn this place. Damn this war.