August Schedule and Patreon

If you don’t follow me on Google Plus, then you likely don’t know about the schedules I have on Patreon that let you know what I have coming up on my website. I have just put up the schedule for August and some info about the next couple months.

If you choose you can contribute to my Patreon. Any amount is welcome and appreciated. Thanks!

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Origins 2016 – Games We Play

I gamed too hard.

I’m currently in Columbus, Ohio at Origins 2016 as I type this. I’ll get to a summary of the specific games and characters I played on a later date, but for now I’m going to write about something a little more personal. There won’t be much of that on this blog, but from time to time it will happen.

This afternoon, as I sat in line for my 7th session of Games on Demand I felt more than a sense of fatigue set in, thought I was certainly tired. I felt a real volatile mixture of feelings come over me: ennui, a bit of sadness, a lot of disconnect. If I being entirely honest very deep down there was even a feeling that tears might come up. I decided to leave the line and found my wife chatting with some friends inside the Games on Demand room. I told her I decided to skip this session, that I had just felt overcome and was tired, a half truth? Definitely not the full scope of what was going in my head.

One of our friends was working as the host at the front table and encouraged us to pop back into line so we could play his upcoming game. I mulled it over and I knew that he would run it beautifully and we’d have a wonderful time so I returned to the line and we did have a marvelous time. But when the game was over, those same dreadful sensations returned.

I have had what could be called a rough year since the last Origins. It was a very promising year at the start. But once school began, things fell apart. I was in a work situation that was not what I wanted it to be. I was getting sick often, I believe due to work related stress. In April, I had to go the emergency room after vomiting on and off for 7 consecutive hours. In May I was fired from my job and, as our school district policy allows, was marked ineligible for rehire in the entire district. This led to making a plan with my wife to uproot our lives, I got a new job in a neighboring county, and we’re currently in the process of buying a home. One the day I was fired I told my wife what happened in the car after work, we went inside, I got to my bedroom, I broke down and cried, and I thought to myself the only things in my life at that moment that were good and I knew would help me through this were my wife, my dogs, and the knowledge that I would be going to Origins in June.

Last year’s Origins was a very important experience to me. I met so many kind, welcoming people, and then over the course of the year we continued to connect with people via social media. Our first day at Origins, people we had met last year, and even many we met briefly, remembered us and welcomed us right back in. I can’t emphasize how important this sense of welcoming is and if you have attended a con like Origins you know what I’m talking about. I was ravenous for games. I made sure I was there early on Thursday morning for the first Games of Demand session. And I played in six consecutive sessions (9am, 2pm, 8pm slots) equating to 24 hours of gaming. I don’t even want to attempt to calculate the math on waiting in line. And then I got this afternoon around 1pm.

I’ve mulled over why I felt compelled to game so intensely. I have not slept near enough. I’ve eaten terribly. This afternoon I began to slightly sweat, something that would happen to me in college when I stayed up late many nights in a row while still having to wake up early. I’ve come to the conclusion that I was turning gaming into a filtered, safe way to make connections with others and it was becoming a supplement to actual, organic, honest human interaction. Gaming is fabulous and wonderful and everyone should try it, but it shouldn’t get the point where you are waiting in line while your wife and others go off to have social interactions.

In non-Origins life I am extremely withdrawn. I honestly don’t have real life friends. I was homeschooled growing up and I was around children (very big homeschool group in our area) but I never wanted to be friends with those people. I had friends in college who I loved being around, but we grew distant over time. Then I moved to Bellingham, WA as part of AmeriCorps and we grew even farther apart. My wife is most certainly my best friend and that is something I love, but I do worry that I don’t have flesh and blood people who are IRL friends. That’s not normal, right? I don’t know.

Human interaction is a very complicated thing. I would guess that most participants in the tabletop gaming community would say they have had times, or continue to have those times, where social situations can be difficult. Gaming has likely been, or still is, a space where we can connect with another human being in way that is safe. In particular the storytelling and interpersonal emphasis of the indie games run at Games on Demand feed those sensitive, thoughtful, dreaming, creative people I have sat at many tables with. But safe interactions that entail no risk are completely dead after a while. Hiding behind a character sheet for 24 hours is not a normal thing to do. There should always be enough time to decompress after a gaming experience if it is going to be meaningful, not immediately queuing up for another dose. It cheapens the meaning of those experiences to discard them so quickly simply for the sake of consuming more.

I had moments today where I sat thinking about the people I want to have conversations with outside of game but haven’t because I’ve been too busy consuming. And then made me so fucking sad. Five days out of the year seems to be the only time I have to see these wonderful, amazing people. How wasteful I’ve been. That is not to discount the wonderful gaming experiences I’ve had. But, I had too many of them too soon after one another. And that choice has cost me. I don’t know what specific experiences and interactions have gone by the wayside but there is no doubt in my mind I have missed them.

It’s easier to always pretend. It is much harder to connect. Why does my brain work this way?

It is so utterly banal to blame your father for problems in your adult years. But it’s true. My father was my first bully. And the lessons that were deeply etched and carved into my brain as a result of my life with him are always with me. He taught me to feel that no one actually found me worthy of attention. He didn’t abuse with his hands, except for once when I was 14 and really beat the shit out of me for, of all things, rolling my eyes. His most common form of abuse was emotional. He made you feel as though you were the most pathetic, insignificant, unwanted person on the planet. So, when my wife tells me “Person X said they were sad when they realized they weren’t able to sit down and talk to you yet” or “Person Y said you were such an amazing player in that game” my emotional brain’s first thoughts are “What? I would never have thought they were interested in sitting and talking with me. I don’t think anything I did was as good as the other players.” The logical side of my mind knows I’m a fucking idiot to think that way and I need to stop it. But this is the conflict, much lessened than when I was younger if you can believe that.

I made an effort to go to the bar with my wife after our last game and just fucking talk to people. I still haven’t sat and talked with some people that are important to me and dammit I need to. Five days every year doesn’t equate to much over time so each moment is very important and shouldn’t be squandered. Online interaction is wonderful but it can never trump face to face.

When we arrived at Origins, people didn’t greet us simply because we “gamed good”. People weren’t asking me about how job and house hunting was going because I rolled my dice well. They don’t want to talk to me because I did a halfway decent accent in a session. They’re seeing a person who they have connected with and want to develop that friendship/acquaintanceship/whatevership. I need to start seeing that too.

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016, dir. Dan Trachtenberg)

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Out of nowhere, in March of 2016, J.J. Abrams announced a sequel to Cloverfield had been made in secret. Cloverfield was a found footage movie released in 2008 under similar secretive methods. And I hated the original, mainly because it was yet another found footage movie. It had characters who made stupid decisions that merely happened so that the next plot point was possible. It lacked a meaningful resolution and didn’t even leave things ambiguous enough to think about after the film was over. So, you could say I was cautious about 10 Cloverfield Lane.

10 Cloverfield Lane has incredibly loose ties to the original, and I wouldn’t even call it a sequel, more of a distant relative. It’s not found footage (thank god!). It has characters making intelligent decisions. It has themes and layers of plots and even an ending with some ambiguity. Its story is clearly focused on Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a young woman running from her fear about a relationship who ends up, after a car accident,  trapped in a survival bunker. She’s told by the owner of the bunker, Howard (John Goodman) that he rescued her and that outside the bunker there’s been an attack on the entire nation. These claims are backed up by Emmett (John Gallagher, Jr.), a contractor who helped build the bunker, that yes, something bad did go down. Claims are made that the air is toxic and everyone is kept locked up inside. But there’s more going on here below the surface.

The film was the first major feature from Dan Trachtenberg. I’ve been following Trachtenberg since way back in 2007 t0 2012 when he was a part of the Totally Rad Show, a web series that reviewed popular media of all kinds and was a sort of inspiration to me. I was very happy with the work our director delivers. Every actor delivers a believable and nuanced performance. The film is full of clever camerawork and pacing, that never comes across as showing off. Everything here is a completely solid piece of tense thrilling film making.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead is the big star of the show. One thing I look for in actors, to really see how good their performances are, is to watch them when they are not the one talking in a scene, when their job is to react. Winstead gives a perfect emotional performance and has a quite a few scenes, the majority of the third act for instance, where she only gets to emote and react. It reads as very real and honest. John Goodman was given a tricky role, he has to play someone we need to trust and believe while simultaneously being unhinged. Up until the final moments of the film it is impossible not to have an internal debate about what is really going on with his character.

The plot has three very clear levels: what is going with Winstead’s character emotionally, the interpersonal conflicts between the three characters in the bunker, and the larger global situation outside the bunker. All three are developed wonderfully, given just enough that each deserves. Where the original Cloverfield came across as a glorified amusement park ride, this picture knows character development is key so that when the bigger, spectacular elements start happening we actually give a damn what happens to the people on screen. In an age where we have films that end in citywide killfests, it’s refreshing to have a movie approaching the same world ending subject matter in such an isolated, quiet way.

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016, dir. Bryan Singer)

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Back when the first three X-Men films came out, I opted to skip the third. X-Men: Last Stand wasn’t being directed by Bryan Singer and I’d heard very mixed to negative things. My roommate at the time did see the film in the theater and tried to convince me it was the best X-Men film of the three, I wasn’t buying it. Years later, I finally saw the Brett Ratner helmed flick and was proven right. It was dreadful. Too much crammed into too small a movie. So, when X-Men: First Class, directed by Matthew Vaughn, came out I approached it with trepidation only to be pleasantly surprised. The follow up, Days of Future Past, felt like a nice compliment and I enjoyed having X-Men in period pieces. It’s very different than most of the other comic book films out now. This led to me being pretty psyched about an 80s X-Men movie incorporating the villain Apocalypse.

X-Men: Apocalypse has a lot of plots going on. It continues the ideological struggle between Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr, it gives us the origins of our favorite X-Men (Cyclops, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, Storm, and more), it picks up some loose threads from way back in First Class, and it features the ancient mutant Apocalypse whose plan is to…well, um…I’m not quite sure. Lots of elements work in this film, but the weakest of them all is Apocalypse, portrayed by Oscar Isaac. Isaac does the best he can with the material he was handed but it’s very generic, nondescript villainous motivations. Apocalypse wants to cleanse the earth of all humans…because why? He doesn’t like them, he believes mutants are superior, but there’s no idea given as to what would happen next if he succeeds.

Apocalypse, while I love him visually, is a very complicated character in the comics. I honestly cannot tell you a single one of his plots or plans and I have read multitudes of stories featuring him. He’s become a stand in when you need a big evil mastermind villain in an X-Men story. Characters produced by stories he’s been featured in have been much more interesting then the big baddie himself. Archangel, Caliban, Psylocke, Genesis, and more have all been touched by Apocalypse and become very interesting. I highly recommend Rick Remender’s run on X-Force that did some amazing things with Apocalypse, but mostly with the characters that surround him. The film opts to combine elements of Apocalypse, The Shadow King, and the incredibly obscure Living Pharaoh to try and make him a villain that pulls you in.

When you look at the third act climaxes of the previous films, very rarely are they world ending events. The Cuban Missile Crisis from First Class probably comes the closest. For the rest of the series the stakes and conflict are all about the future of mutant-kind. Villains plot to wipe out all mutants or trigger the mutant x-factor in all humans or unleash an army of mutant hunting robots. Hell, even The Last Stand kept things focused on one location and with a threat that only affected mutants. This is what has set apart the franchise from many of the other comic book series. To now have a finale that involves the very foundations of the Earth being cracked apart and a blizzard of CGI chaos cause X-Men: Apocalypse to feel very dissonant with the rest of the series.

Not even the Horsemen of Apocalypse are all that interesting. Storm (Alexandra Shipp) comes the closest but I suspect she’ll get more development in a subsequent film. Angel and Psylocke are cardboard cut outs with only hints of actual personality, a shame. Magneto is likely the one villain everyone will love, and I do agree Michael Fassbender brings much more to the character than we would expect from this film. However, I don’t feel that we’ve seen Magneto progress as a character since First Class. Once again, we go through the same beats of tragic loss, mindless revenge and anger, moment of clarity, and then parting ways/til we meet again. The promise of a Brotherhood of Mutants at the end of First Class was never fulfilled and the character feels stuck in a rut. Even a solo Magneto film could do a lot to grow the character because it is tiring seeing Charles and Erik argue the same points over and over.

What’s good about the film are the new kids. I previously mentioned Storm, but the rest are great as well. They don’t get enough screen time and we can hope, that if another film is greenlit, we have them featured front and center next time. Evan Peters as Quicksilver continues the actor’s track record of being wonderful in everything he does. The first act of the film is bloated with plot and they do manage to come together, it just takes a while and is hard to keep yourself interested when everything feels so disconnected. This is due in part to Bryan Singer being such a weird director. In all his films there are some really brilliant moments, even here we’re treated to some great set pieces, but they’re surrounded by really dull movies.

Singer has said he is taking a break from the X-Men, and after four films that is probably a good idea. Many people thought the lesson of The Last Stand was that only Singer knew how to handle these characters. But the real lesson came from First Class, that they just required someone who understood them fundamentally and was willing to take risks (changing the time period of the film). The X-Men are not the easiest comic book franchise to adapt to film and I think a pair of fresh eyes, that are allowed to play and experiment, as we saw with Deadpool, could produce some great films.

Why Lost Worked And Its Wannabes Don’t

While its finale brought out strongly differing opinions, its impossible for anyone to say that Lost didn’t have a massive influence on the television landscape. It was the kind of television show that encouraged you to obsess about every last detail. Every episode left the viewer with questions and hints at the truth that laid at the end of the entire series. While, the writers decided to focus the ending on wrapping up characters’ emotional arcs instead of combing over the minutiae of the mystery, I felt very satisfied. What the rest of the television producing world took away from Lost’s success was that they needed to cram their shows with as much mystique as possible.
Continue reading “Why Lost Worked And Its Wannabes Don’t”

2012 – 10 Movies I’m Looking Forward To

With 2012 comes a deluge of new films. I’ve noticed that as summer movies top the anticipation list for me, they are never the films that make my favorites list. Its likely because we’re made aware of the big budget films and have to actively seek out the smaller films that this is so. Well, here are films that I think have the potential to rise above the rest of the garbage.

Cloud Atlas (May 4th)
The Wachowskis (Matrix, Speed Racer) and Tom Twyker (Run Lola Run, Perfume) have teamed up to put David Mitchell’s Booker Prize winning novel on the big screen. Coincidentally, I am about a quarter of the way through the novel and am interested in seeing how they adapt it. The book consists of six narratives that telescope out to the middle of the book, and then telescope back in, making the first narrative the bookends. Each narrative is revealed to be read or experienced in some way by the main character of the following narrative (i.e. Story 1 is a diary, which the character in Story 2 stumbles across). Should be a mind blowing experience.
Continue reading “2012 – 10 Movies I’m Looking Forward To”