About my Patreon

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You might have noticed in the last week the additional links at the top of the page: Support this Blog on Patreon and Beloved Patrons.

After doing some reading online about crowdfunding and blogging I decided to take the plunge. My goal in this is definitely not to “get rich blogging”. I’m under no delusion that I’m building any sort of internet empire. My main goal is to grow a community and connect with other fans of popular media and especially film. My secondary goal is work to get enough monthly donations via Patreon to be able to have movie giveaways and possibly other prizes.

I know through personal experience that employment and income are not a sure thing these days. If you decide to give even a $1 of your own money, know how grateful I am for your contribution. The fact you would even given me that much for the work on my blog stuns me. I will continue to produce content regardless of the donations I receive, probably scaling back when the school year starts.

Have a great day!

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Games for 2: Workplace Bully

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Workplace Bully is a two player tabletop role playing game written by Steve Hickey. The game uses Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World as a basis, but also more importantly Avery McDaldno’s Dream Askew, which gets rid of the dice involved.

In Workplace Bully, one player is the Manager (MGR) and the other player is the Employee (EMP). An audience can be included and will actually have ways to contribute to the game.Players contribute in a rotating series of Goes, verbal exchanges referring to a list of actions exclusive from each other. When the story comes to the point that neither knows what happens next the scene ends and Evaluation begins.

Evaluation is made up of a series of subjective decisions made about the scene that just occurred. The MGR could be rewarded with Stress points and the EMP might get some Insight points based on their growing understanding of what is happening at work. If the MGR gets stress points during Evaluation they decide if the EMP has become more Broken or Transformed (into a bully). The EMP does have three uses of a Panic Button to avoid this, but in turn the MGR can spend Stress to still force the EMP to have some sort of public outburst at work.

Stress and Insight are spent during additional goals to use special moves and permanently unlock moves. For every point of Stress the MGR uses, the EMP gains a point of Insight. This means the more active the bullying the more the EMP learns about what their MGR is doing and their methods. The game ends when either the MGR has blown through all their methods of deflecting and defending themselves from confrontation or the EMP is either Broken or Transformed by the MGR.

Workplace Bully is a great, and sometimes overwhelming, example of asymmetrical play: a game where players have opposing goals and ways to play the game. My wife, Ariana, and I played the game twice, each of us taking a turn in each role.

In our first game I was Manager, Mrs. Farnsworth and Ariana was Employee, Mr. Felt. Our place of business was Heartstrings, an online dating Service, I took the stance of being over concerned with details to mask my personal incompetence as a leader. My main strategy as the bully was to turn everyone against Mr. Felt. Mr. Felt finally gained enough Insight to purchase a cell (more than three victims of my bullying in the office). This led to a complaint filed with the Human Resources department and ended with me begging Felt to back off. Felt didn’t have much sympathy for me and rejected those. Eventually I resigned and left the office quietly.

Ariana said we had to take a break because she was getting stressed out at the passive aggressive attacks from my Manager, so I guess I was pretty effective. Because the game is a playtest we had some confusion about how to activate tags, the main way a MGR defends themselves and an EMP confronts. Before our second game, we sat down and made sure every tag had an explicit way to earn them, which helped the second game run more smoothly.

In our second game, I was the Employee, Stanley and Ariana was the Manager, Jenny. Our place of business was Reassurance Inc., an insurance adjuster.  As the employee I was starting a new career after working as a teacher for a number of years. I had a disabled son and was a single parent. I was able to find allies in fellow employees Rhonda and Stan, as well as Jenny’s own secretary, Megan. Ariana’s strategy was that every time I claimed an ally she spent Stress to make that ally neutral and in one case turned that ally into her pawn. For most of the game Stanley was moving speedily down the Broken path. I accrued a good amount of Insight and began to confront the MGR on a daily basis, faster than she could spend Stress to defend herself. In the end I barely beat the MGR who was fired and left in a very destructive way.

Workplace Bully is a very interesting game about a phenomena we encounter in our lives from time to time. While most games we play are escapist, it is interesting to play a scenario of such real weight. It was also a mental hurdle to get into the Stress/Insight points method after being so used to dice rolling. As mentioned above, Workplace Bully is an alpha playtest so it is rough around the edges and requires players to take an active role in shaping the game if you encounter errors or absences. With people of the right mindset this can be an intriguing experiment into stepping in the shoes of other people.

Download Workplace Bully for free.

Check out more of Steve Hickey’s game work here.

Comic Book Review: The Vision Vol. 1: A Little Worse Than Man

Vision Volume 1: A Little Worse Than Man

Releases July 12th, 2016

Writer: Tom King   Artist: Gabriel Hernandez Walta

“To assert as truth that which has no meaning is the core mission of humanity”
– The Vision, Issue 1

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Cover for The Vision #1. Art by Mike del Mundo.

The title character of the series shares this philosophy with his wife early on and it remains above their heads afterwards. It’s a clear reveal of what this character, who strives be more like us, actually thinks of humanity. I see it as very cynical view of our species, but that may be because of how accurate it is. The “truth hurts” they say.

 

The Vision, by Tom King and Gabriel H. Walta, is about the classic Avenger and the family he has constructed for himself. The Vision is not a robot; this is made explicit in a conversation between the first neighbors to visit them. Instead he is a synthezoid, a being made from synthesizing solar energy into Horton Cells, the same material used to create the original Human Torch. Synthezoids contain internal organs and a nervous system like humans, but have no need to eat or sleep. After shaking The Vision’s hand, a neighbor remarks that it felt like shaking hands with a plastic bag. What we are dealing with are like humans, but very much not humans.

Filling out the family are Virginia and their two adolescent children Viv and Vin. Looking at the covers for issues 1 thru 6 we’re shown very Norman Rockwell-esque presentations of the family but always with some drastic twist that constantly reminds us of their defining lack of humanity. In issue 1 The Vision alludes that Virginia’s brain patterns are modeled on someone he knows, fairly obvious if you are familiar with the character’s history. The children are as close to human children as two synthezoids could make: a combination of their brainwaves.

Right away writer King makes is obvious this is not going to be a series about characters in capes

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Cover for The Vision #2. Art by Mike del Mundo.

and tights fighting global threats. The Vision is much less about the title character than it is about these beings he brought into the world and the hell their life is becoming. Virginia is in constant fear of how the external world will react to she and the children. She questions why they must be sent off to attend school and her husband explains it is important in their development to become like humanity.

 

And this is the core tension of the whole series: Can a family that is obviously not human be accepted by a society that has historically feared and shunned the Other? And in addition, can a family survive if its members are building their relationships on a series of lies? The Vision hesitantly believes the former is possible and his spouse lies on the opposite side of the argument, while fixing herself firmly in the latter category of lying to survive. While The Vision is ever stoic and logical when he speaks to his family, Virginia shows outbursts of violence and rage when outsiders threaten her children. And while Vision constantly emphasizes the need to assimilate he uses his abilities to phase through walls and fly constantly. Throughout the first volume, characters present their ideas of what being human is and then do the opposite, while claiming their desire to be human. Is being human being a bundle of contradictions? Vision may not realize it, but the readers will inevitably come to this conclusion.

It’s not essential to know the details of the Vision’s history but some foreknowledge leads

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Cover for The Vision #4. Art by Mike del Mundo.

to a deeper understanding of the text. The Vision’s previous family with Scarlet Witch ended in a unmitigated disaster that has haunted the character since. By building his own family he is trying to right those wrongs, but also becoming more like his “father” Ultron, a villain notorious for building family members. From the start, his constructions are volatile, but also very human in the quickness of their tempers. Every act of violence is in the context of protecting another member of the family. And when actual death occurs there are circumstances that justify the outcomes. Virginia phases to avoid a bullet and an innocent dies. A villain attacks the family and brutally killed after he almost kills Viv. The Vision is the story of immigrants in a strange land. When violence and trouble occurs they are the first to be blamed because of their Otherness.

I haven’t recommended a comic book as strongly in a long time as I do The Vision by Tom King and Gabriel H. Walta. Of all Marvel’s All-New, All-Different line, The Vision has consistently been my favorite and one of those title you read immediately after you get the new issue. Tom King’s writing feels like a great tv show that you want to binge watch to see where these characters end up. Gabriel H. Walta’s art is simple and messy, but full of emotion. The faces of the Vision family are essentially identical but he gives life and personality to each one. Sadly, King has signed an exclusive contract with DC Comics and will be writing Batman. It’ll be great to read his Batman work, but he has stated his run on The Vision will end with #12 later this year. I’m so intrigued by his work I will be spending the summer reading through his runs on Omega Men, Nightwing, and The Sheriff of Babylon with more reviews to come.

The Lobster (2016, dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)

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I knew I had read literature that fell into the genre of magical realism, but it wasn’t until I read One Hundred Years of Solitude the summer of 2004 and followed that up with a ravenous consumption of Jorge Luis Borges’ short fiction that really came to understand, and in turn fall in love with, the genre. Magical realism is a style of storytelling that presents a normal world where there are extraordinary occurrences that the populace views as simply mundane. This is often used as an extended metaphor to be dissected and explored,usually a commentary on our own perspectives of the world. There are many everyday practices that to alien eyes would pop out as bizarre and unreal, but for us it’s simply life.

The Lobster falls strongly into the category of magic realism, without it become a “cute” gimmick. The film tells the story of David (Colin Ferrell), a divorced man who must stay in a hotel for singles for 45 days and find a partner. If he is unable to find a partner he’ll be transformed into the animal of his choice. In David’s case, he chooses a lobster (They stay fertile their entire lives). There is an eclectic cast of characters that we watch interact, with moments of brilliant dark comedy and painful heartrending tragedy. The film has a very defined split as David makes a drastic decision about his place in the Hotel as well as the society midway through.

This is the second film I’ve viewed from Yorgos Lanthimos, the Greek director. His breakout film, Dogtooth, explores the nature of family units focused on a couple who have kept their adult children locked up on the property for their entire lives. It balances the same comedic tones and horrific violence, but I think The Lobster elevates that to a masterful level. It also continues the director’s work examining the cultural norms of Western society, in this instance the concept of falling in love in the modern era.

Personality is absent from every character in the film. Conversations are monotonous and devoid of emotion. A character is violently punished for self-pleasure and his reaction is fairly muted for what happens. Characters fall in love and barely crack a smile. Characters die and are killed and everyone essentially walks away with a shrug. There’s no room for sentimentality in the world, dating, marriage, and having children are like business transactions. It is expected and frankly demanded of everyone in the world of the film. David is faced with a choice of severe sentimentality at the film’s conclusion and as I simmered on it afterwards it struck me that by not committing this act he would show the strongest sense of individualism in the entire film. So while, the culture around him is unsentimental he would possibly conform to it in the end.

What is most interesting are the “rebel” group in the woods, whose leader (Lea Seydoux) imposes a system of rules between the other loners, especially no physical or romantic contact. We see the bloody results of a simple kiss and worse is implied. While the Leader believes she is shirking the status quo of required relationships, she is actually creating a parallel system of dogmatic social norms that are punished with the most extreme methods. This leaves us to wonder if individualism is even a workable concept in this world.

The couples that do end up together are driven by the requirement of a match up of defining characteristics. David is nearsighted and seeks out a partner who shares that trait. Another character is saddled with a limp (the result of trying to find his mother who was turned into a wolf after a failed matchmaking attempt). Yet more characters present themselves this way: She has chronic nosebleeds, he has a pronounced lisp, she is emotionally distant, she loves butter cookies. Even in the film’s credits a multitude of characters are named by their defining trait. Almost the way, when filling out an online profile for a dating service, you would highlight aspects of yourself that you want to present, aspects that are intended to provide others with a definition of you.

Lanthimos is exploring the way people form romantic relationships in our current era. If you look at the business of matchmaking, whether it is OKCupid or speed dating or Match.com, people are boiled down to their essentials. Personality is near imperceptible and a person’s true nature is impossible to convey through these methods. But Lanthimos isn’t happy to simply comment on technology’s relationship to our relationships, he goes deeper, to the very core of why anyone ends up with anyone else. Characters lie about their defining trait in desperation to end up with someone else. The Hotel guests routinely arm themselves with tranquilizer guns and hunt the band of guerrilla Loners in the surrounding forest. And the Loners in turn sneer at those foolish guests who stupidly pursue companionship. All of these characters are deluded and define themselves based on cultural expectations, whether in conformity or opposition to. The Lobster ends on a suspended note, blatantly letting us stew on what happens next. Is their any way to succeed in this world, or is the best you can hope for to become a lobster?

The Nice Guys (2016, dir. Shane Black)

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Shane Black is one of the fathers of what would become the 1980s buddy cop genre. His addition was Lethal Weapon, written when Black was 23 years old. Black’s career experienced a slump in the 90s and early 2000s when he wrote and directed Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. With this film, Black returned to play with the genre he helped create while poking fun at the movie industry. Some critics disliked the self-awareness of the picture even though it had very sharp, funny dialogue. The Nice Guys has found a nice middle ground, where it plays with genre conventions while also delivering a self-contained mystery film.

Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) is a grizzled private investigator who specializes in helping young women and girls deal with creeps. This crosses his path with who he believes is a creep, Holland March (Ryan Gosling). March is actually a fellow private eye, except he’s a buffoon. The two, along with March’s precocious early teens daughter (Angourie Rice) become embroiled in a mystery that involves the death of a porn star, an enigmatic college student on the run, and the Detroit auto industry.

The Nice Guys does a lot right. It balances being a 1980s buddy cop film set in the late 1970s, as well as being a variation on the film noir genre. There are a lot of failures in the film. Our protagonists are very flawed, as every good noir should have, and they comically fumble and deal with more serious dramatic character flaws. Healy is a man who goes to violence as his first resort and has to deal with a challenge to that way of thinking. March is more of the comic relief, but has his own guilt about the way he’s raised his daughter and how he caused his marriage to go to ruins. The balance between these two and the lynch pin of the entire film is Holly, March’s daughter played by the remarkable Angourie Rice. If this film had been made in the 1970s this is the Tatum O’Neal role.

The mystery is complex and labyrinthine, but with enough clues being delivered through dialogue that a viewer can figure things out as they go. The film does present a hyper-realized 1970s. Driving down Hollywood Boulevard we see posters for a litany of films from the era, characters read newspapers talking about the gas crisis and Los Angeles’ severe smog. In the end, not much of these elements add to up to anything life changing. The resolution of the mystery is fairly straightforward, but keeping in line with the down endings of traditional noir. What The Nice Guys does provide is a fun alternative to the more overblown CGI-fests that typically flood our movie screens this time of year. The film is an enjoyable throwback to a style of film not made often.

Ghost in the Shell (1995, dir. Mamoru Oshii)

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I have a complicated history with anime. First off, I am not an anime fan. There are specific works that I have enjoyed, but as a genre I rarely seek it out. In childhood, I got caught up in the super sentai (think Power Rangers) cartoon serial Ronin Warriors when it aired in syndication one summer. In college I saw the standards (Akira, Vampire Hunter D, lots of Miyazaki). It was in college that one of my roommates rented Ghost in the Shell, but decided to watch it at 3am in the morning and I only remembered faint images. With the upcoming Scarlett Johanssen adaptation I thought it would be good to sit down and watch this now classic anime film.

Motoko Kusanagi is a team leader in Section 9, a paramilitary police organization in an unnamed urban sprawl of the future. Kusanagi is a full body cybernetic being, meaning she was once a human with an organic body who went through a process to transfer her consciousness into a Shell, a la she is the Ghost in the Shell (words are fun). The main case that our protagonist is pursuing is to track down the Puppet Master, a notorious terrorist hacker who has caused deadly trouble across the globe. This leads her into an exploration of her understanding of what makes her human and in turn what she will become.

There’s no argument that Ghost in the Shell is visually stunning. There is minimal computer generated animation, used in the internet and map visualizations. For the most part this is gorgeous hand drawn cel animation and reminds us what a glorious craft and art that style of animation still is. At the halfway mark, there is a famous break in the action for a tour of this future cityscape. This sequence could be cut and out and used as complete short film. As a piece of animation the film stands as a work that transcends the idea of animation as a exclusively children’s genre or something that is schlock.

When we get the themes of the film I start to get less enthusiastic. There is no way you can miss the themes of the film because they are wielded like a sledgehammer. Characters regularly talk in a hyper-philosophical manner, not as terrible as The Architect monologue from Matrix Reloaded, but in the same vein. The film was based on a manga so I suspect, as I found when I read Akira after seeing the film, volumes of content had to be cut to make the run-time. The brevity of the film also left me feeling little connection to the characters. I understood who the Puppet Master was and what happens to Kusanagi but it felt like it all happened so fast I had little time to connect with them.

I am able to see why Ghost in the Shell is such an important work, it builds upon groundwork laid by Philip K Dick and William Gibson in positing not just the technical conceits of our future, but in the philosophical and psychological future of humanity. It also has obviously inspired directors like the Wachowskis and James Cameron in the way they explore notions of human consciousness and altering our forms. I can see revisiting this film in the future to glean more and I am even inclined to delve into the manga to see this world fleshed out further.

Cinematic Immersion Tank #1

If you haven’t been watching the excellent Welcome to the Basement film series on YouTube, start doing that. Hosted by Matt Sloan (Chad Vader) and Craig Johnson, the series has the men watching a film that either both or one of them has never seen before. In one of the episodes, Mr. Sloan brings up the Cinematic Immersion Tank, a variant on some previous challenges where a person would watch a film for a consecutive 30 days or 7 days. Sloan’s variant sets it at five days, a more reasonable accomplishment. The goal of the CIT is that the viewer will begin to extrapolate a greater understanding of themes and more subtle elements of the picture upon viewing it so many times, so close together.

So, whether this is foolish or not, I am going to let you good readers vote on which film I shall go into the tank with. The dates of my immersion will be June 21st thru 25th. The choices you can vote on are listed below with a brief description if you aren’t familiar with the film. I have seen all of these only once. My theme is mysterious films released in the last five years.

Continue reading “Cinematic Immersion Tank #1”