Monday, February 28, 2011

Hey Old Detroit!

Listen up Mayor Bing, Funny or Die has a message from Robocop telling you what's what.  So yeah, do your city a favor and erect a statue in his honor.  Don't make Robo get his unicorn.

28 Days of Blaxploitation (sort of)

Our friend over at My Year In Crime has just finished a month featuring one of my favorite film genre (meta-genre?), Blaxploitation.  In honor of that, I decided to re-publish an article I did last year on the same subject.  This was original posted elsewhere on 2/28/2010.

According to Wikipedia, Blaxploitation is: “a film genre that emerged in the United States in the early 1970s when many exploitation films were made that targeted an audience of urban black people; the word itself is a portmanteau of the words "black" and "exploitation." Blaxploitation films were the first to feature soundtracks of funk and soul music. These films starred primarily black actors.”

For me, the genre represents an updating of Film Noir.  Working mostly outside of, or on the periphery of the Hollywood film industry, these movies were often filmed on shoestring budgets with casts of mostly unknowns.  Hard luck mainstream actors would often show up for a pay check, so they could add a ‘name’ to the bill.  But working in such a way allowed filmmakers to make stylistically and conceptually interesting films that the mainstream movie industry didn’t have the stomach for.  Like Noir, the films tended toward darker stories and characters, often dealing with crime as a central theme.  The movies usually dripped with sex and violence, much like their Film Noir predecessors (though due to relaxed restrictions, more graphically).  Chances could be taken and boundaries could be pushed because budgets were often kept so low, and returns could be quite high.  And some fantastic talents got their starts, both behind and in front of the camera.

Like Film Noir, the genre has no clear and solid definition.  It’s very difficult to say, ‘this film is’ or ‘this film isn’t.’  To a degree, it becomes a matter of taste.  One can debate what movie is the ‘first’ Blaxploitation film.  Is it Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song?  Or is it Shaft?  Is Shaft really Blaxploitation at all, or simply a 70s cop movie with a black actor in the lead?  Much like Noir, the debates can be endless.  I tend to be pretty liberal in my interpretation of what qualifies.  Still, I ended up watching some movies this month that I don’t feel quite fit.  These are the starred titles.  For whatever reason, in hindsight, I don’t think they count.  And I can certainly see Trick Baby and The Spook Who Sat by the Door being questioned, as well, but they had enough elements that I kept them on my list.

This list is hardly complete.  Many of my favorites aren’t even on here, because I didn’t get to them this year.  Trouble Man, Foxy Brown, and That Man Bolt, just to name a few.  At the tail end of the list is a modern film directly inspired by the original Blaxploitation movies.

1) Cleopatra Jones:  In spite of some pretty good production values, and a few cool scenes, this is not one of the better Blaxploitation films I’ve seen.  Tamara Dobson plays the title character, an international woman of mystery, brought back to her home town when evil drug dealing Shelley Winters attacks her favorite charity.  Winters is at her repulsive best, and her goofy, greasy haired assistant Tony is great.  But Dobson is kind of dull in the lead, and her martial arts are about as convincing as latter day Steven Seagal.  I kept wanting more Bernie Casey, who is woefully underused.  This feels like it could have easily been better, but something is missing. 

2) Black Gunn:  Though the story is pretty standard, this movie is elevated by an army of great character actors. The music is great, and Jim Brown is good in the lead. The villains and various allies, like Martin Landau, Bernie Casey, and Bruce Glover (Crispin Glover's dad) are all great. Even small parts like the hood who gets knocked around in the bowling alley are well played and interesting. And the expected violent climax keeps getting more and more outrageous as it goes on. If you're in the mood for some Blaxploitation, this is a pretty good choice. Not up to Coffy levels, but better than many.

3) Trick Baby:  A good script and solid acting make up for a low budget in this very good conman movie.  When a pair of hustlers pull the wool over the wrong mark, they bring down the wrath of a crooked cop and an angry mobster.  Based on a novel by Iceberg Slim (Robert Beck), it captures the excitement and the danger of life as a conman.  Check this one out. 

*4) Thank God it’s Friday:  Oh, man.  Where does one begin?  This movie is one of those common to the late 70s and early 80s where a bunch of odd people all descend on a specific location and comic hijinks ensue.   The problem is that someone forgot to add the comic part.  Extremely annoying people stand around and act really dumb while playing extra crappy disco music for an hour and a half.  Eventually the Commodores come out and play a dreadful, boring song.  Then the film ends.  Donna Summers stumbles around, looking vaguely confused for a good portion of the film, and also sings a song which sucks.   The movie is really, really bad.  I can only imagine the people involved were dusted on a LOT of coke, else there’s really no excuse for this kind of shoddy work. 

5) The Mack:  Mackin’ ain’t easy.  Unfortunately, sitting through this film wasn’t either.  The typical fall, rise, and fall again story could have been saved had the lead actor, Max Julien been charismatic in any way.  He’s supposed to be a svengali type character, but comes off as a lifeless Matthew McConaughey instead.  I just don’t see him controlling a bunch of prostitutes.  Still, the supporting cast is good.  Don Gordon as the racist cop and Richard Pryor are especially good.  Having long heard about this film, I ended up being pretty disappointed upon finally seeing it.  There are certainly good bits to be sure.  But overall, I just found it dull.  The documentary about making the film that appeared on the DVD ended up being far more interesting.

6) Black Samson:  Dashiki?  Yup.  Lion-headed staff?  Yup.  Actual, living lion sitting on the bar?  You know it.  Samson has all it takes to keep the streets safe in this fairly by the numbers, but very entertaining flick.  Cool dude, Rockne Tarkington is Samson.  Go-to tough jerk William Smith is the racist villain.  There’s plenty of snappy dialog and a few good knock-down drag-out fights.  And, yeah, there’s a lion.

7) Three The Hard Way:  When you team up Jim Brown, Jim Kelly, and Fred Williamson, you know there’s going to be some serious business.  The guys kick a lot of butt, blow up a lot of stuff, and shoot a lot of guns.  Jim Brown has a team of topless dominatri (what’s plural for dominatrix?…never thought I’d have to ask that) on call, so you know this movie is nuts.  Check this one out for sure.  Then check the guys out in Take a Hard Ride, their next movie together. 

8) Super Fly:  Solid performances help this somewhat standard story of a criminal trying to go straight.  There are some excellent sequences and awesome music.  And Julius Harris is excellent in his brief role.  Ron O’Neal is great in the lead.  Worth a watch but not amazing.

9) Mandinga:  Good golly.  Another Italian rip-off; another terrible film.  Chock full of nudity and poorly performed violence, this is sort of the essence of ‘exploitation’ cinema.  Unfortunately, like a lot of Italian films from the 70s, it’s also quite boring.  At least they tried to make up with it by playing the same repetitive music over and over again for the whole danged movie.  If you’re in the mood for crap, take a look.  Otherwise, don’t bother.

10) Three Tough Guys:  This film is a touch slow, and pretty low quality, but enjoyable.  Ex-cop Isaac Hayes and priest Lino Ventura team up to kick some criminal butt.  Fred Williamson plays a rare villainous character.  There are some good lines and a few cool scenes.  And the priest riding around on his ten-speed to get some butt kicking done is fun to watch.  OK 70s cheese if you can get past the low quality of the film stock/DVD transfer.

*11) Greased Lightening:  About a third of the way into watching this film, I started to think to myself that it felt like a bio-pic.  Turns out, it is.  Richard Pryor plays Wendell Scott, the first black driver in NASCAR.  The early part of the film, which starts with Scott’s return from the Second World War, is a great deal of fun.  He teams up with friends to run moonshine in what kept reminding me of an episode of The Dukes of Hazaard.  As the film progresses, in typical bio-pic fashion, things begin to happen with little context, like his sudden friendship with Beau Bridges’ Hutch, or his rivalry with Beau Welles.  Still, there are some very good parts, and Pam Grier looks absolutely amazing in the first half of the film.  The movie does have a somewhat slow pace, perhaps because of its episodic nature.  I was surprised to find out after watching it that it was just over an hour and a half.  It felt much longer.  I won’t say I was bored, but it was slow.  Certainly not amazing, but a pretty good movie.

12) The Harder They Come:  This is the story of an extremely unlikable jerk who moves from the country to the city with a dream of being a singer.  He treats everyone like garbage while expecting everyone to love him.  When things don’t go his way, he steals, kills and basically does whatever he wants.  This is all set against the ultra depressing backdrop of Jamaica.  And, if that doesn’t sell you, it’s also really slow paced.  After fifteen minutes, I disliked the lead so much my attention started to drift.  It’s a very unpleasant movie.

*13) Uptown Saturday Night:  A fantastic cast does a great job in this comic misadventure.  It gets a touch slow in the middle, but for the most part, this is a very enjoyable movie with Sidney Poitier staring and directing, Bill Cosby as his best friend, and a parade of cameos.  The mobsters, played by Harry Belafonte and Calvin Lockhart are especially good.  Their sequence at the church picnic had me rolling on the floor (best comically timed zoom I’ve seen in a while).  There is a bit of strong language, and some violence, but most of it is for the sake of comedy, and it’s not brutal at all.  Even in the shootouts, nobody actually gets hit (like watching a GI Joe cartoon).  If you’re in the mood for a good, fun, lighthearted comedy, check this one out.

14) Bucktown:  Fred Williamson leads a cast of heavy hitters in a cool story about power and corruption.  Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease, as Williamson’s character discovers when he recruits his big city friends to clean up his dead brother’s hometown.  The audio on this movie is a bit spotty.  However, it’s full of some great performances and has some awesome dialog.  And the finale is crazy.  Really crazy.  My one complaint with the movie is Pam Grier’s role.  She’s playing a weak sort of character and she doesn’t wear it well, shrieking and whining much of her dialog.  It may be my least favorite performance from one of my favorite actresses.  This is a really cool blaxploitation film, and a must watch for fans of the genre.

15) Black Shampoo:  This movie is surreal.  It starts out as a cornball comedy, with writing about on par with the average porn (“But I didn’t order a pizza”).  John Daniels is wonderfully awful in the lead.  He’s supposed to be a super-lover that all the women dig, but he comes off as an awkward dullard.  There’s plenty of nudity, lots of bad jokes, and some surprisingly good music.  Then things take an unexpected turn for the dark and violent.  With about fifteen minutes to go, things get really bad.  Lots of people die, in ugly ways.  I have no idea why there’s a sudden shift in tone, but it’s jarring.  Of course, a good deal of this film is jarring, and that’s half the fun.  Oh, man, the cowboy picnic.

16) Slaughter:  A fairly standard plot is improved by some funky direction and some nasty violence. Jim Brown, Stella Stevens, and Don Gordon are a lot of fun to watch, and Rip Torn is awesomely crazy as the racist villain (his final scene had my friends and I laughing pretty hard). This is certainly good for some laughs, especially at the hair and acting of the mob boss.  Slaughter is a solid Blaxploitation film.

17) Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off:  A step down in the crazy factor from the first film, this movie is also sadly lacking Don Gordon as Slaughter’s buddy.  However, it’s still pretty good.  Jim Brown is typically cool in the lead.  And there’s plenty of over the top violence.  Ed McHahon has fun as the evil boss and Brock Peters has a memorable, if small role as a jerk cop.  A good, but not especially great film, and a good companion to Slaughter and Black Gunn.  I was bummed there wasn’t a third film, as the ending of Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off hints at something that could have been a lot of fun.

*18) Let’s Do it Again:  Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier team up again in this spiritual follow up to Uptown Saturday Night.  The cast of great stars and character actors is even longer than the first movie’s, with Jimmy Walker and John Amos, as well as Julius Harris and Ossie Davis.  If the idea of Jimmy Walker playing a boxer is funny to you, or if you enjoy the actors, check this one out.  There are some very funny gags and great little bits.  And Poitier seems a bit more comfortable with comedy than he was in Uptown.  Check this film out for some good clean fun.

*19) Car Wash:  This is one of those sort of hap-hazard ensemble cast films that doesn’t have much of a plot.  Instead we see a ‘day in the life’ of an L.A. car wash and its staff of odd ducks.  Some stories are better than others, and the cast is fantastic (look out for a young Tim Thomerson).  But by its very nature it’s uneven.  Some characters and their story lines aren’t especially interesting.  Still, it’s pretty funny at times, and certainly worth watching.

20) Dynamite Brothers:  Hippie fight!  Extras from BJ and The Bear square off against the cast of a Shaw Brothers film in this wacky 70s gem.  Timothy Brown and Alan Tang are forced together in a quest to fight drug pushers and find Tang’s long lost brother.  Pimps, pushers, Chinese drug lords, open shirts, and lots of red paint for blood.  The editing is laughably bad, as is the film’s sense of geography (why was an apartment across the street in one scene, and across town in another?  Why when you look left on any given busy city street can you find a block of burned out, semi-abandoned buildings?  Hang on; wasn‘t he just driving in the mountains?).  Great fun, and a good watch with like minded friends in the mood for cheese.

*21) Mother, Jugs, and Speed:  There is a lot of good in this movie.  But the movie isn’t very good.  It’s one of those depressing comedies that were so popular in the 70s, like MASH.  You know, plenty of odd, bawdy jokes (most not very funny), interrupted by people getting shot to death, suicide, etc.  But, that said, Bill Cosby owns this movie.  His performance is so good, I kept hoping the film would get better somehow to match it.  And when the combination of characters from the title finally happens, it’s great.  But it comes so late in the film that it makes you wish the film had started there instead.  There is a good idea at the center of this film, and a good cast.  But it never comes together.

22) Abar: Black Superman:  Shockingly bad acting, exceptionally low production values, and some seriously ham-fisted moralizing make this goof-ball movie a blast.  The actors are wonderfully stiff.  There are great sequences where the actors are clearly reading off cards.  They didn’t do retakes.  Stumbling over dialog is common.  And everyone is painted with the broadest of strokes.  Everyone white is evil.  Any black person who doesn’t live in the ghetto is a sell out.  It takes forever to get the ‘Black Superman’ element of the film, but when it happens…Well, not all that much changes.  It’s still a really poorly made film.  But dang, it’s entertaining. 

23) The Spook Who Sat by the Door:  In spite of what must have been a low budget, this film looks fantastic and has a strong cast.  This is a movie that could never have been made at that time within the Hollywood system.  The closest Hollywood could come was Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which had to bury its social relevance in science fiction and makeup.  Lawrence Cook is great in the lead, as a man playing the long game, setting plans that take years to mature.  As one of his women says, he’s a quite guy, but one you don’t mess with.  He’s my kind of hero, a thinker who can still take care of business if it’s called for.  And with plans all his own, taking orders from none.  Like any political/protest film, this movie paints many characters with broad strokes, and its politics are a touch simplistic.  However, the point of a movie like this isn’t to be ‘realistic’ but to provoke thought.  And it does.  Check this one out.

24) Blackenstein:  Surprisingly enough, this movie is poorly made, with awful acting and shoddy editing.  But it’s OK, because Dr. Winifred Walker is there.  At times, it seems like introducing Dr. Winifred Walker (played by Ivory Stone) or pointlessly dropping in ‘DNA’ into various sentences was all the script actually called for.  Ultra-dramatic music plays at totally inappropriate times.  They get all the use out of set pieces from the original Frankenstein set that they can.  The madness (and stupidity) is all presided over by Dr. Stein (played by Dick Van Dyke look alike John Hart).  A really, really awful movie that is sure to please those looking for some MST3K style fun with friends.

25) Savage!:  James Inglehart is not a particularly interesting leading man, but this movie is still fun to watch.  Today we have Prague.   In the 90s, it was Vancouver.   In the 80s it was Argentina.  But in the 70s, if you didn’t have a lot of money, you went to the Philippines.   Lots of very dangerous looking stunts, tons of extras, and some beautiful scenery add to this low budget movie.  Genre regular Carol Speed and former go-go dancer Lada Edmund Jr. (?) play Savage’s lady warriors as he leads a revolution against an oppressive regime (which, of course includes actor Vic Diaz, go-to Pilipino villain).  There’s lots of gunplay.  Some pointless nudity.  Not really a lot of plot.  All that was missing was Pam Grier and Sid Haig.

26) Hit Man:  This adaptation of Ted Lewis’ novel Jack’s Return Home (which also served as the basis of both versions of Get Carter) sees Bernie Casey as the tough dude coming back to town to avenge his brother’s death.  Casey is smooth and dangerous, and I’ve never understood why he wasn’t a bigger star.  The film is grim and relentless, and the last act is bloody and brutal.  There is some humor, but the story is very bleak.  The film also features a young Pam Grier in one of her earlier roles.  If you enjoy brutal revenge films like Point Blank and Death Wish, or want to see another take on the story of Get Carter, check this one out.

27)  Black Belt Jones:  Ooooooo!  Jim Kelly smacks, cracks, rocks, and socks a bunch of drug dealing mobsters.  Oyyyyyyyy!  And he hooks up with the lovely Gloria Hendry.  Ooo! Ooo! Waaaaaah!  The villains are silly; the fights frequent and involved (and often in slow-motion).  Hoyeeee!  I’m pretty sure the score lifts a bunch of samples from the Omega Man soundtrack, which is a bit odd.  OoooWohooo!  And the climactic battle is extremely wacky.  HAAAA!  Check this one out for some lighthearted fun and martial arts zaniness.  WaaChaaaaa!  And really, what’s with all those strange sounds Kelly makes while fighting?  OhhhhHaa!

28)  Black Dynamite:  Solid!  This comic homage to the Blaxploitation genre is smart, funny, and just darned cool.  Michael Jai White busts some jive turkeys and does some crazy kung fu as he follows corruption all the way to the top (ALL the way).  It’s chock full of tons of references for fans.  And the nice thing is that while it’s certainly a comedy, it’s respectful in its own way of the movies that inspired it.  Many of the supporting actors capture the essence genre regulars, too.  Tommy Davidson is doing Antonio Fargas.  Byron Minns does his best Rudy Ray Moore.  And Michael Jai White manages to capture a little Jim Brown, a little Richard Roundtree, and a bit of Fred Williamson at the same time.  And then there’s young Pam Grier look-alike Salli Richardson-Whitfield.  The music is spot on, as well.  If you’re a fan of the genre, this is a must.

That was my 28 Days of Blaxploitation for February of 2010.  I saw a lot that was new to me, and that’s always a pleasure.  I watched a couple old favorites while I was at it.  But, as I said above, this is not a complete list.  If you’re new to the genre, let me make a few suggestions with my current top 10 list. 

10. Hell Up in Harlem
9. Three The Hard Way
8. Shaft’s Big Score
7. That Man Bolt
6. Trouble Man
5. Bucktown
4. Friday Foster
3. Truck Turner
2. Slaughter
1. Coffy


More Darko Art!

Okay, okay, okay.  I promise you we at In The Mouth of Dorkness are not opsessed with Donnie Darko.  That being said, I keep stumbling over really cool Darko Pop Art.  This one comes from Scott Scheidly.  An obvious maniac genius.  

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Prodigal Son: My Return to Gaming

Part One

    I’ve liked telling stories since I can remember.  So, it’s no surprise I started to write them down.  I think I first started trying to write in fifth or sixth grade.  I had this idea about really tiny people in a big world.  Sort of like Honey I Shrunk the Kids mixed with The Lord of the Rings.  My mom had always encouraged me to read, and my dad helped me develop my love of science fiction which would become a near obsession for a long time.  And from that fertile field, I reaped many an idea.  I would talk endlessly about them, until finally my dad told me about roleplaying games, and how they might be a good way to channel my creativity and try out some of my ideas.  I already kind of knew about roleplaying.  As a very small child, my brother had humored me by letting me play in his D&D game (I was a lizard man, and I kept eating people…I guess I’ve always been a little warped).  But my father reintroduced me to gaming with The Basic Roleplaying System and Worlds of Wonder.  This was the same core game mechanic used in the classic, venerable Call of Cthulhu.  The system was very simple and very intuitive.  Percentiles are pretty easy to figure.  You have a 50% skill in sailing.  Roll the dice (two ten sided dice to give you percentiles) and try to get 50 or under.  Simple.  Oh, sure, there were other things you could plug in, more advanced rules, special powers, blah, blah, blah.  But once I had the basic idea down, I ran with it.  I quickly started recruiting my friends into a small gaming group, and we began our wonder filled trips into the imagination.

    Fast forward a few years and my oldest brother opened his own game store, and gave me a job.  I was in heaven.  I suddenly had the opportunity to sample many different games, many different gaming groups, and many different gaming philosophies.  I had conversations with other players, and with other game masters (or dungeon masters, or referees, or what have you).  My worlds opened up and my skills both as a player and a game master improved and went into new and unexpected directions.  I even began to feel confident enough to run games for experienced, and much older, players (at about age 19, I had players ranging from around 14 to 45), and to tackle games I had believed to be too daunting for me (Call of Cthulhu, Ars Magica, and more).  I found many different games to love, a few to hate (Dungeons & Dragons…Rifts…I’m looking at you guys!), and I forged many friendships (some that last to this day, despite vast distances).

    But the years went on, the industry changed, the economy changed, the clientele at my brother’s shop changed, and yes, I changed.  As much as I loved gaming, and as much of my life as I’d put in to the shop, I had to move on.  I didn’t leave gaming behind.  I set up a room in my house and continued to run Fading Suns (still a favorite of mine).  But that eventually fell apart, as these things do.  It had a good run; something in the range of two years of fairly regular weekly sessions.  My games became more and more sparse.  I’d play something here, run something there.  But, not being surrounded by games every day or meeting gamers every day, I just didn’t have the access to the network I once had.  This was still the early days of the internet.  It was common, but not as ubiquitous as it is today.  And even when I was finally online and active, most of the fans of the games I liked were scattered across the country and even the world (why was Fading Suns so popular in Germany, when almost nobody played it in the States?), and almost nobody lived within a reasonable travel distance from me.

    Finally, as some friendships ended and others began, schedules became more and more difficult to work around, gamers started settling down and having kids, and I hung up my gaming hat.  Oh, I didn’t know that I had done it.  I didn’t admit it to myself.  But as months turned to years, I eventually realized that I wasn’t gaming anymore.  At some point, I got into reading graphic novels, and suddenly, I found my game books getting boxed up to make room for trade paperbacks of Hellboy and Conan.  Oh, sure, my GURPS historical supplements were still out, so I could grab one of their well researched overviews of various cultures if I needed an interesting tidbit, or needed to know who the Egyptian god of rivers was.  But more and more, they were packed away, put in a closet, and if not forgotten, ignored.

    Over the years, I’ve had occasional spurts of gaming interest.  I meet someone who is interested in playing, or I have a particularly cool idea.  And suddenly, I’m typing away furiously, getting all my ideas down as fast as possible; reading over a few game books to re-familiarize myself with a system or a setting.  I map out a few sessions, and maybe think about where the game might go if it works out and players want to keep going.  Maybe I’ll ask a few other people if they’re interested in getting in on a game.  But then life gets in the way.  Schedules conflict.  People get married.  People move, jobs change, kids show up, etc.  And after a couple months of trying and failing to get things together, the fire dissipates, I get interested in something else, something that is actually happening, like a new graphic novel, or a new TV series, and the hope of playing a game, or running one, goes away again.  It has now been nearly a decade since I gamed regularly.  About half that since I last played or ran anything at all.  I moved to Virginia from my home state of Maine a few years ago, and every now and then have thought about, even attempted getting a game together.  Nearly two years ago, I got so far as to have people make up characters and design a ship for a Star Trek game, that if my memory serves me was a pretty cool idea.  But, again, life got in the way, and the iron cooled, and I was never able to get it hot again.  Numerous times over the years, I’ve got a hankering to run Ars Magica, which is sort of the Holy Grail of gaming as far as I’m concerned.  It’s a massively demanding, but equally rewarding game of epic scope.  But it takes a certain type to run and to play.  I think I can run it (I have to a limited degree a couple times before).  But I have yet to find one, let alone four, six, or eight people to play.  However, of all the games I’ve run or played, it is the one I most frequently come back to, even if it’s all for nothing, to design characters, scenarios, and the like.  Maybe, one day, I’ll make it happen.  I’m still young, sort of.

    This is where I was at, a few weeks ago.  Sure, I know a few people who might be into gaming, but not enough, or not in the right place to get a group together, or not interested in the same things.  Then my former roommate and frequent partner in crime came to me with a lifeline of sorts.  He had two people, plus himself and his wife, who might be interested in doing a little roleplaying.  All four novices.  The initial idea seemed to have been an attempt at reading about or playing D&D, a game I particularly dislike.  Though I might be desperate enough to try it.  I countered with a few ideas of my own.  Some games that might appeal to non-gamers.  And, somewhat secretly, I rubbed my hands together.  The chance to mold gamers; to direct them into the sort of gaming philosophy I like…  Well, maybe.  In this day and age, trying to get people together for a regular, weekly game night seems to be harder than finding the Gold Monkey.  Heck, getting people together for a single gaming session is hardly a picnic.

    But for the first time in quite a while, people are expressing an interest in something that has been close to my heart for a long time.  That special mix of traditional storytelling, improvisational theater, and game that is roleplaying.  As much as I say ‘I’m a writer’ in my heart, I am now and always have been a gamer.  Gaming has changed, and what I like has fallen out of fashion.  Online gaming has somehow snapped players away (I’ll never get that, as the interaction and imagination just aren’t there, even in the best examples).  Social pressures have always hurt, holding gaming perpetually in the realm of super-nerds.  And the consolidation of so much of the gaming industry into the hands of one multi-headed hydra of a company (Hasbro) has killed a good deal of the creativity and variety of the early 90s’ Golden Age, when new and experimental games were hitting the market all the time, and people had enough disposable income to try them out.  But people have always loved a good story.  And who among us hasn’t heard a story and said to themselves, ‘that’s not what I’d have done.’  So long as that remains true, there will be a place for roleplaying games.  Even if it is a quiet, removed, often overlooked place.

    I’ve been away for many years.  Never quite giving up.  Never quite forgetting.  But away, none the less.  I hope this is the story of my journey back.  Back to something that has given me so much joy, spawned so many memories, made so many friendships, and yes, been witness to an occasional heartbreak.  I’m not returning to my youth.  I wouldn’t want to.  But I do want to rediscover an old joy, and perhaps bring it to some new friends. 


YipYop's Darko

I'm pretty much over my Donnie Darko obsession, but I think that designer/illustrator/musician Yipyop has produced one slick poster.  Reminds me that I have to crack into my Darko blu ray.

A Fistful of Cage!

The Five Best Crazy Cage: 
I feel I have to begin by saying that I was never a Nicholas Cage fan.  In fact, until a few years ago, I probably would have put him very close to the top of my ‘worst actor’ list.  I don’t think he has changed in that time.  However, out of some sick sense of rooting for the underdog, combined with an almost masochistic curiosity, I’ve come to embrace his more recent performances.  I can’t say for sure when it started.  But I think it may have been when my roommate at the time (and current co-Dork) hung a giant blue tinted Cage face on our living room wall, just above the TV.  Oh, Bangkok Dangerous, you bland, bland film.  How I will always remember your bland, bland poster staring at me while I watched TV, read books, slept.  Always, the eyes of Cage were upon me.  

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice:  What’s crazy about Nicholas Cage in this film is actually that he’s not all that crazy.  Cage is playing an ancient wizard who battles evil, wears a goofy hat (on his goofy wig), and generally practices some nuttiness.  Yet, for once, Cage turns in a restrained, almost workman like performance.  

Ghost Rider:  It’s almost too obvious to throw this stinker of a film on a list, but Cage is resoundingly crazy in it, so I think it deserves a place.  His goofy wig (it IS a Cage film) is striking.  But I think it’s the mountain of pointless affectations that really make it.  The movie is relentlessly awful, and Cage must be seen to be believed.  Remember, he loves comics.  This is a guy who should be helping use his star power to make good adaptations.  But, this is Cage, and he’s crazy.  

Face/Off:  When giant lump of ham John Travolta is on the scene, you’ve got to bring your A-game.  No worries.  Cage is on the job.  All the face touching, slow motion, hand waving, and doves you can handle.  Cage just goes bananas with this one.  The scene where he’s dressed as a priest, head banging.  Oh.  So awkwardly, terribly awesome.  The film sucks, and it’s boring as heck.  But man, that’s some crazy Cage.

The Wicker Man:  The BEEEEEESSSS!!!

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call- New Orleans:  Cage turns it to eleven as a hopped up, criminal cop on a spiral of drugs, murder, sex, and madness.  The movie is filled with great one-liners, mostly from Cage.  And he just runs with it.  His usual madness is left unchecked as he spies hallucinatory lizards, break dancing souls, and the first tolerable performance from Eva Mendes in years. 

And I thought I should mention the two films I actually, genuinely liked Nicholas Cage in, and believe he did a really good job with.  His supporting role in Kick-Ass, as an Adam West cadenced caped crusader is both heartwarming and creepy.  And he does a great, neurotic writer in Adaptation that always made me feel very uncomfortable because of how close to me it was.


Top Five Classic Cage

Unlike the Co-Dork above me, I’ve always appreciated the bizarre pull of Nicolas Cage’s affectation acting.  So consider me Owen Gleiberman to Matt’s Lisa Schwarzbaum and prepare yourself for Nicolas Cage: A Second Opinion.

The first film I ever encountered the man of many wigs & hair styles was the Coen Brothers’ Raising Arizona.  But lovable dimwit H.I. McDunnough could not possibly have prepared me for the madness of Cage’s slamdancing, Laura Dern motorboating, Elvis lover Sailor Ripley.  David Lynch’s Wild at Heart is a cinematic nightmare and it was the film that hooked me onto Cage.  Fire Birds, Kiss of Death, 8MM, G-Force, World Trade Center, Ghost Rider, The Family Man, The Weather Man, The Wicker Man.  Honeymoon in Vegas…Leaving Las Vegas.  And I haven’t looked back.

Sure, it’s easy to pick apart a few of those choices but Nicolas Cage continues to put out one interesting role after the other.  These are my personal favorites.

5.  Con Air – Filmed just months after the explosive Blockbuster, The Rock, Con Air ups the ante of crazy by throwing in every character actor willing to work for a sandwich.  John Malkovich, Steve Buscemi, Colm Meany, Danny Trejo, Ving Rhames, John Cussack.  But they’re all just fodder for Cage’s wife-beater suited ass-kicker Cameron Poe.  Cage is just having a good time; this is the first film where he really got to play superhero and he relishes the turn.  “Put the bunny back in the box” indeed.

4.  Red Rock West – The first neo-noir from dynamite stylist John Dahl is also his best.  Cage’s down-and-out Texan is forced to battle wits and wills of various noirish monsters (Dennis Hopper’s Boogie Woogie Hitman, JT Walsh’s unraveling bartender, Lara Flynn Boyle’s typical Femme Fatale) and there really is nothing more enjoyable than watching an unlucky drifter suffer.

3.  Kick-Ass – Sure, this comic book deconstruction is really all about Nic Cage’s mustache petting and Adam West voice, but lurking past those enjoyable affectations is also a rather heartbreaking performance.  Big Daddy tied to a chair, flames licking, and screaming orders to Hit Girl—seriously emotional.

2.  Adaptation – Uncomfortable, awkward, and genius.  Cage does double duty for Spike Jonze and I’m pretty sure I suffered through some fairly serious sympathy flop sweats watching Cage’s Charlie sputter his way through any number of his opposite sex conversations.  And that curly wig has to be one of his best.

1.  1.  The Bad Liutenant: Port of Call New Orleans – One of my favorite movies of the last five years, this not-a-remake of the 1992 original is an insane trip through the twisted—no, broken psyche of an amoral scumbag police detective.  It’s disgusting.  It’s violent.  And it’s hilarious.  “Shoot him again!  His Soul’s still dancing!”  Honestly, I can’t describe it or recommend it enough.  Run, don’t walk, to your nearest retailer and snatch up the blu ray.

-    --Brad