Sunday, February 23, 2014

Matt’s Week in Dork! (2/16/14-2/22/14)

    This ended up being something of a week of rest for me.  Following last week’s crap-ton of awesome crazy, I started this week with a very busy Sunday, preparing and then running my first major tabletop roleplaying session in a long, long time.  I’m always a ball of nerves when it comes to running games, and this was no exception.  In fact, that morning, I was sporting a raging headache and cloudy thinking that made me worry I was going to have to cancel.  Thankfully, it cleared up by around 2PM and the rest of the day and that evening went pretty well.  The next few days, I didn’t do much but zone out and try to sleep.  Reading, sure.  Though I’ve been having a hard time for a while (a few months, I think) with concentrating, thus I haven’t been reading as much as I should.   However, I did knock out a couple Lovecraft-ish tales.  His ‘revisions’ of Elizabeth Berkeley’s The Crawling Chaos and The Green Meadow.  Both stories remind me of Lovecraft’s Dreamlands stories, as well as some of the more flowery and weird writing of C.L. Moore, Clark Ashton Smith, and others.  And I read Hazel Heald’s Winged Death (also with revision from Lovecraft), which was OK.  It had some cool ideas, but it felt a little too much like a wannabe Poe story.  It also features some blatant racism, though from a character we know from the start is an evil bastard.  That was about all I could muster until Thursday morning (the start of a 4 day weekend), when I watched my first movie of the week.

     I was also surprised to find out this week that the HBO show True Detective is apparently dropping a lot of references to one of Lovecraft's inspirations, Robert W. Chambers and his King in Yellow.  This is pretty crazy to me, but pretty awesome.  It's especially weird, because one of the plots in the RPG I'm running (which the party hasn't stumbled upon yet), deals with the King.  Don't know if it will play out, and I don't think anyone in the group is watching the show yet, so it shouldn't be an issue.  It makes me want to watch the show even more, though.

Heroes Two:  Though a pretty good story, this film never reaches ‘classic’ level.  Much of the problem is in the fighting, which though copious, isn’t especially well choreographed.  It looks like they needed to do a few more run-throughs before filming.  That said, I do like the ending, and the weird MURDER VISION that kicks in whenever rebels get whacked in that last fight.  A fine, middle of the road, Shaw Bros. kung fu flick.

The Jazz Singer:  Elephant in the room, first.  Yeah, Al Jolson does blackface in this movie, and yeah, that’s really f’ed up.  I knew it would happen, but it was still horrifying when it finally did, and really sours the whole movie.  Now, it’s not done with the contemptuous maliciousness of Birth of a Nation, but that doesn’t make it OK.  It also  comes out of nowhere and goes nowhere.  Why is it even in the movie?  The only explanation I’ve got for that is it’s what Jolson was known for, so they worked it into the film.  There’s no plot reason it needs to be there.  And I can imagine someone who isn’t familiar with blackface being very confused by why he suddenly slathers on make-up to sing two songs, nobody seems to notice or comment on it, and there are no contextual clues for why it happens.  OK.  All that aside, I was mostly interested in the film because I knew it was a pioneering effort in the addition of sound to motion picture.  It isn’t a full fledged ‘talkie,’ though.  The musical numbers are synched, and occasionally also have synched dialog accompanying them.  However, the rest of the film is a standard silent film, with title cards.  The story, about a Jewish kid growing up in New York City, who dreams of being a jazz performer, is sweet and somewhat emotional.  Honestly, I was shocked at how openly Jewish the story was, too, as I’m a little more used to heavy Christian dominance in pre-60s films.  And in spite of the skin-crawling that accompanied the blackface scenes, the finale where he has to deal with his career or his parents had a lot of heart.  It is sad that, like Birth of a Nation, this momentous occasion in the history of film has to be tainted with some rather egregious racism, but unlike that Ku Klux Klan love letter, the Jazz Singer may be flawed, but does not feel like it comes from an evil place, only a misguided one.

    Thursday night, Ben and I went over to Cinema Arts to check out a special screening of Knights of Badassdom, a low budget comedy about live action role players.  I’d seen the trailer quite a while back, and according to the woman hosting the screening, it had been held up for a couple years due to some legal issues.  The showing was weird, because the audience was full of LARP people, which I did not expect.  I guess it was like seeing the premier of a comic movie at a comic convention.  I don’t think anyone was in costume, though some of the people look like their normal wardrobe is costume.  Still, other than a few people unable to keep their boisterous nerdiness in check, it was a pretty good crowd.  They laughed a lot more than I did, and I guess there must have been a lot of in-jokes I didn’t get.  As a long time tabletop gamer, I’ve been aware of live action gaming from pretty early on.  It’s a weird combination of D&D (ugh!) and Historic Reenacting.  What I was exposed to most was the Vampire LARP people, who tended to be representative of a lot of things I hated about the 90s, and so soured me on the hobby.  Is that unfair?  Perhaps.  But it’s what happened.

I wish I was born in the 17th Century!

Knights of Badassdom:  LARPing (live action role playing) has always been the fringe of the already fringe hobby of tabletop roleplaying games.  Though on more than one occasion, I’ve been sorely tempted to give it a try, I think my short lived career in Lazer Tag was as close as I’ll get.  This movie embraces the hobby, and manages to laugh with it at least as much as laugh at it.  There are some pretty funny bits, but I found the whole to be uneven, too scattered.  It felt a bit like the scrapped remains of several different scripts that somehow came together, but never quite meshed.  Seemingly destined for cult status, it’s not the kind of thing that’s going to sweep the nation.  I’d recommend it to gamers, particularly LARPers, but otherwise…Well, if it hits NetFlix instant, check it out.  There are some funny gags.  And surprising levels of gore.

Death on the Nile:  There’s something grandly cinematic about this movie.  I think the location shooting and the music have a lot to do with it.  Like the classic Bond film in the overall vibe.  The story?  She's not so good.  Agatha Christie’s work has always had more of a made-for-TV vibe, in my mind.  It works in the small doses of episodic television.  The cast, too, feels made for TV.  Older actors who weren’t getting parts in big films (Bette Davis), up and comers (Olivia Hussey), and those actors who achieved fame for one reason or another but were never especially good (Mia Farrow).  All led by an the usually awesome Peter Ustinov, who seems unusually disengaged in the role of Hercule Poirot.  I liked the film, but didn’t love it.  It certainly played on my nostalgia for films of that era (1978), though it didn’t do an especially good job of transporting me to the era it was set in (1920s?).  The film is very uneven.  There are aspects and scenes I like a lot, however the movie as a whole is just OK.  It’s also one of those 70s PG movies that would shock and appall today.  There are some rather gruesome killings in it, including a nasty shot to the face.  Actually, everybody seems to get shot in the head, except for one, who gets his/her throat cut.

    On Saturday morning, I finally got back into Boardwalk Empire after a prolonged break as I was distracted by shiny things.  I’m now about half way through the second season, and it’s so good.  I don’t even feel the irritation toward Michael Pitt I normally do.  What’s that about?  I’ve got the next disk up close to the top of my queue, so I should be able to get through the season fairly soon.  Thanks to running some Call of Cthulhu, I’m really into the 20s stuff right now, and this is a fine show for that.

Evil Under the Sun:  Ustinov is back and the obnoxious Belgian, Hercule Poirot, in this noticeably lower rent sequel to Death on the Nile.  Oddly, a few members of that film’s cast have returned, but playing different roles.  And this time around, it really feels like a TV episode.  Location shooting or not, it doesn’t look or sound in any way ‘cinematic.’  James Mason only is awake in one of his scenes, though for that scene he’s quite good.  Otherwise he looks bored, sleepy, and confused.  Diana Rigg looks like she thought it was going to be a different film and is now killing time 'til her boat leaves.  Maggie Smith and Peter Ustinov are better used in this movie than the first, but still not given much to work with.  And the whole Agatha Christie, “let’s all go have drinks in the lounge, while I reveal all the clues the viewer wasn’t given, and tell you who did it” thing is especially insufferable.  It’s less uneven than Death on the Nile.  Unfortunately, that’s because it never hits any particular high notes, preferring to languish in mediocrity.

    And that’s it.  Like I said, a week of rest.  I was hoping to force myself to get more reading done, but this fidgety lack of concentration thing is hampering things.  I’m doing some more prep-work for the next game session, which sadly looks like it’s going to be a month away.  Blasted people and their busy schedules.  Stupid retail makes social lives difficult.


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