Friday, July 9, 2021

Writer's Block Review: "Lake Mungo" (2012)

              To help me break with some writer’s block I have been suffering from since the large amount of writing I did for my finals in the middle of May, I am going back to basics.  You might be saying, “you haven’t updated this blog in months.”  To which I must replay, “yeah, I had other shit going on.” 

             A large amount of this blog is just me writing about movies I have seen.  For a time I would rank/review all the movies I had seen from a given year.  I stopped emphasizing movies for whatever reason and now my brain is tired from thinking bigger thoughts about the world and suffering and how people in power know exactly how to fix it all, but they don’t.

             Today I am going to write on here something simple, much like how I started simple when I went back to the gym following Covid.

 Lake Mungo (2012)

Written and Directed by Joel Anderson (who is known for this and that is it)

Currently available on Tubi.

 


The Premise

             This is a fictional-Documentary about the events surrounding the death of a young woman and the subsequent haunting of her family by that young woman.

 

The Good

             I found out after the fact that the actors adlibbed most of their dialogue.  The idea being that they would sit down, be told what the idea of the scene was, and just to act it all out.  This strategy sounds like it would be a fucking disaster but turned out quite well.  The reason I found out about this is simply because I found the acting strong enough that I was intrigued with the behind the scenes.

             The haunting material is solid.  The idea of someone appearing in footage or in pictures is a classic “Ghost” thing in folklore/media and it is presented well almost every time (there are some instances in which the ghost is supposed to go unnoticed till a reveal and you are left going, “I saw that earlier”).

             The mysteries and secrets that get revealed are intriguing and spooky in equal measure.

 

The Bad

             Um… I mean, I already mentioned the few instances in which you will see the ghost before they intend you to.  It happens.

             It is a little slow and I think the most interesting bits could fit into a 60 minute format, but compared to the bloated nightmare that is modern true crime documentaries on streaming where 1-2 hours of content is spread over 4-12 because god forbid they cut the fluff… “Lake Mungo” is tight as a drum by comparison.

             I guess the only “complaint” I have is that it is far more sad than scary.  It is perhaps the nature of ghost stories that “grief was the real ghost the whole time”, but this one especially.

 

Conclusion

             “Lake Mungo" is a good, sad, short little ghost story.  It is worth watching.

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            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, share on Twitter (click that link to follow me), Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Writer's Block Review: "The Possession" (2012)

To help me break with some writer’s block I have been suffering from since the large amount of writing I did for my finals in the middle of May, I am going back to basics.  You might be saying, “you haven’t updated this blog in months.”  To which I must replay, “yeah, I had other shit going on.” 

A large amount of this blog is just me writing about movies I have seen.  For a time I would rank/review all the movies I had seen from a given year.  I stopped emphasizing movies for whatever reason and now my brain is tired from thinking bigger thoughts about the world and suffering and how people in power know exactly how to fix it all, but they don’t.

Today I am going to write on here something simple, much like how I started simple when I went back to the gym following Covid.

 The Possession (2012)

Written by Juliet Snowden and Stiles White

Directed by Ole Bornedal

Currently available on Netflix.


The Premise

After a cold opening that makes no sense based on the mythology explored later in the movie and which completely gives the game away on their being some kind of telekinetic ghost/spirit/demon being in a box… we get a movie about a troubled family that buys said haunted box from a yard sale.

This movie is “based on actual events” in that there is a supposedly haunted box owned by notorious ghost hunter and notable fraud Zak Baggins… maybe that is too harsh… let’s change it to alleged fraud.  The actual object It is one of those things that is obviously bullshit but it is fun to pretend, we all need a little magic in our lives.

The Good

The child actors in this work.  Kids often have a hard time putting forth a believable performance, but these kids hit the mark.  I have no complaints about their performances or their roles in the story.

Jeffery Dean Morgan is fantastic in this.  He is so much better than the material that I am vexed as to why he is even in this movie.  Just a paycheck?  Was he taken in by the “based on actual events” tagline?  Apparently, in an interview he shared some of the weird events that happened on set, maybe he is into ghosts?

The use of moths as the signature animal associated with the demon/ghost is different, and I appreciate different.  There are images of the monster as seen in an MRI image that is legitimately creepy to point where I feel a better movie would have used such a scene to elevate itself to “great”.


The Bad

The previously mentioned opening is crap.  I cannot stress enough that having a ghost/demon that can kill and maim people while still in its prison undermines the entire point of the story.  When the box does the same sort of violence later in the movie (I have to imagine a producer said, “you need and action beat”) it again pushes the story away from spooky to goofy.

This is not hard to fix.  In the opening have someone OPEN THE BOX, and then refusing the demon/ghost’s attempt to possess them (let us say the person is an adult and knows not to let themselves be possessed) then the demon uses some kind of power to hurt them.  At the midpoint have the person killed by the demon be killed… BY CHILD WHO IS POSSESSED.  That ups the stakes.  That the monster is able to use their power because they are now free and anchored into a willing host.

Having a third-party victim killed by the possessed person will make the audience worry more for the family members, setting up an internal tension for the little girl who is trying not to hurt her family, but… you know… possessed.  You could even have a scene like the one at the end of “The Exorcist III” where the possessed person fights thru and helps to defeat the demon.

Another big failure of this movie is how they show you the contents of the box almost immediately and there is very little mystery to the box itself.  Weak.

Let’s also talk about the monster, I am always a little iffy when it comes to appropriating other cultures to pepper your ghost movie with some exoticism.  In this case the demon is a creature of Jewish folklore that speaks in Yiddish and is defeated by the drafting of a hip young rabbi who is willing to go outside the rules to help battle the demon.  That is a weird choice.  You don’t often see in the movie, “I must consult with a mystic to battle this evil, gonna have to catch the train to the Bronx.”

So, here is an obvious idea to help reform the plot, why not make the family Jewish?  Shocking to realize that the family is not Jewish (at least not ostensibly) considering the subject matter.  But religion is a thing that can bring people together or be a wedge in a relationship.  You could have the mom be Jewish and she is trying to reconnect to her roots (maybe in response to a family tragedy, maybe there used to be three kids, hell the ghost could pretend to be the third kids ghost making it easier for it to possess the younger sister who is not haling the death of the sibling well). 

This commitment to her religion in the wake of a family tragedy could be why the mom and dad broke up.  The idea that he no longer fit with her increasingly conservative outlook fits better than the “we broke up… for… reasons…” material that is there.  As is, the mother being just pointlessly hostile, petty, and too quick to believe bad things about her ex-husband makes her real hard to root for.

Then you have another interesting way to take things.  That the dad has to embrace Jewish mysticism to defeat the demon/ghost, but the mother thinks he is mocking her or trying to get back with her via some kind of manipulation of her beliefs.  That is real drama.  Then, just like the ending to “Signs” you can have the family come together at the end having had their faith confirmed and tried by horrific circumstances.

Remember "Signs"?
Remember liking Mel Gibson?
Is it disrespectful to bring up Gibson when talking about a movie that centers on Jewish mythology?

Really the ending is weird.  I was expecting a super dark ending, in which the demon jumps to possessing the other daughter; then kills the mom, younger sister, and rabbi; and then frames the dad for it all.  Super downer endings were the family gets murdered by the demon have been shown to work, look at “Sinister”.  As is, the ending peters out on a vaguely happy ending… BUT OH NO THE DEMON BOX ESCAPED.  Weird and not as fulfilling or scary as it should be, just stuck in the middle.

To come back again to the Jewish mysticism angle, this is not the only Jewish exorcism movie I have seen.  The Unborn” also did this and these movies are a study in contrasts.  I find “Unborn” has the better thrust, because the ghost in that story is an unborn twin, and they manage to weave that idea into the Nazi twin experiments.  Using material from the Holocaust is a lot of borrowed pathos to bring into the movie, which is crass… but it is also SOMETHING.  Maybe I should have made this a double feature to compare and contrast the two?  Jazz up this review.  Oh well.

It is cr-ASS on the movie poster for sure.
Holy moly is it tasteless to have this be such a selling point
for a movie about the specter of the Holocaust.

Conclusion

“The Possession” is a hacky bit of forgettable flotsam in the ocean of content that the world has to offer.  It is not bad; it is just typical.  The best scenes in it deserve to be in a better movie, while most of the material is so ‘meh’ you have to wonder why they bothered.

I cannot emphasize enough that the “oops, I bought a ghost” premise is fantastic not just for horror but also comedy.  It is solid gold and if they had chosen to go the route of emphasizing characters being funny/witty like “Hatchet” had done for slasher movies, they could have turned this forgettable story into something interesting.

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            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, share on Twitter (click that link to follow me), Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Writer's Block Review: "Hatchet" (2006/07)

 To help me break with some writer’s block I have been suffering from since the large amount of writing I did for my finals in the middle of May, I am going back to basics.  You might be saying, “you haven’t updated this blog in months.”  To which I must replay, “yeah, I had other shit going on.” 

A large amount of this blog is just me writing about movies I have seen.  For a time I would rank/review all the movies I had seen from a given year.  I stopped emphasizing movies for whatever reason and now my brain is tired from thinking bigger thoughts about the world and suffering and how people in power know exactly how to fix it all, but they don’t.

Today I am going to write on here something simple, much like how I started simple when I went back to the gym following Covid.


Hatchet (2006/2007)

Written and Directed by Adam Green

Currently available on Amazon Prime.

The Premise

A boat tour of character actors sinks in the swamp near a haunted(?) cabin and the various colorful characters are killed off in gruesome fashion by the deformed revenant that stalks the marshland.

The Good

While not everyone in the movie is a great actor even that kind of works as it is more of a comedy.  The dialogue is frequently good, with quips and acting beats making it feel true to the various characters in the movie.  There is really no conversation or line that feels like the wrong person is talking.

The make up and gore effects capture the goofy tone that the dialogue does, and it all fits together quite well.  They go for over the top and a few of them shoot the moon.

Maybe I am shallow in that I consider the presence of Mercedes McNab to be a highlight.  She is gorgeous and has perhaps the best comedic timing one could hope for in a bimbo character.  I loved her as Harmony on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and here she is elevating the dumb bimbo role to an artform.

I am not going to call out all the actors or the cameos/small roles for horror icons, but they all work well enough for this movie.  Just some are better than others.


The Bad

I am glad they leaned in on the comedy.  Holy hell is this one of the most derivative outlines o a script you can get.  This is exactly the sort of cliché riddled movie that “Cabin in the Woods” was mercilessly mocking and if they had tried to play it completely straight it would have been complete garbage.

Bigger issues come with the shoestring budget, as Saturday Night Live has more convincing swamp sets.  Worse for the horror side of the story, everything is lit to a comical level… At one point they find a flashlight and its beam is completely drown out by the lighting they just have as the default.  Keep in mind this is supposed to be night, in a foggy swamp, it should be dark as hell.  I can’t help but imagine how you could light the woods in a way that makes it visually interesting without completely breaking the conceit, but you would need a lighting guy who costs money and they don’t have any of that.

As far as acting, unfortunately the worst performance is the movie’s final girl, played by Tamara Feldman.  She is playing this role way too straight and comes off like someone from a more serious iteration of this material who got lost.  Bad direction?  Maybe she just wasn’t into it because she did not reprise the role for the sequel.  Either way it is the weakest acting on the character with perhaps the 2nd or 3rd most screen time.

My biggest issue is with the ending, which I guess will be a spoiled here.  The ending feels like a cheat on the characters.  They are clever earlier in the movie trying to concoct a plan that played on what they knew about the monster’s origins, “let’s light him on fire, because his tragic death involved him trying to escape a burning cabin” and their plan is foiled by rain.  This plan is good.  And how it is foiled is also good.  That should have been the climax and ending of the movie, but that is instead the end of act two.

The ending comes when the characters have a protracted chase thru a graveyard and seemingly defeat the monster by stabbing it in the face.  Stabbing in the face is not any more effective than the myriad of other bullets, stabbings, and other harm they have visited upon the monster and yet they think they beat it.  The characters are surprised when the monster shows back up and ostensibly kills the remaining characters.  Downer ending, perfectly fine for this kind of movie.  BUT, that feels like a betrayal of the characters who were previously shown to at least be trying to get a handle on things.

To fix this I would have moved the chase scene to act 2, the characters realize they can’t get away after being chased in a circle back to the haunted cabin.  They then try to use the fire plan on the monster back at the haunted cabin, and then their plan is foiled and they all die.  Ramp up the character’s knowledge and insight in how to fight the monster as time goes on, make the audience feel like the characters are going thru an arc.  Currently their knowledge goes up and then crashes down.

For an example of how to do this well I have to point to the first “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie.  Nancy forms a plan on how to defeat Freddy Krueger by pulling him out of the dream world and into her house full of traps, it ostensibly works… but the twist ending shows that Freddy was not actually defeated and the characters die.  “Elm Street” ramped up to the twist ending, it felt like a surprise and it doesn’t feel like the characters failed to try everything they could.

The ending kind of ties into one more issue, there is no character arc.  You usually want to show your protagonists dealing with some kind of trauma or weakness over the course of the narrative, and by overcoming the weakness they help to overcome the monster.  In this instance the main character is dealing with a breakup from a previous relationship and the final girl is trying to investigate what happened to her brother and father.  Logically, neither of these tie into fighting a revenant… The best I could think is that during some key moment the Final Girl’s father and brother could rise up as revenants to try and help her escape?  And logically the main guy getting over his breakup by getting with the final girl would be the other side of things, you would have to establish that she left him because he was not a take-charge kind of guy and by the end of the movie he is a take-charge kind of guy.  Just… Something.

 


Conclusion

I don’t hate this movie, it is watchable.  The humor elevates in enough that the derivative elements and low production values are mostly forgiven.  I can’t help but wonder if they could have done something more creative with the backstory?  Maybe if they had the budget to make the presentation of the setting actually scary?

It is strange that one of my oldest movie reviews on this blog is for “Phantasm” which was similarly low budget but was far more creative with the premise… and I still like this one more because the acting and dialogue is better.  Maybe give Adam Green some money to work with so that he can escape the horror-ghetto his career seems to be in and see what he could do with something bigger and stranger?  I could see him  doing episodes of “Creepshow” or other horror anthology series without breaking a sweat.

This is not the first movie by Adam Green I have seen. “Digging up the Marrow”, which is sort of a cross between a mockumentary and the movie “Nightbreed” was, and it is better than “Hatchet”… and better than “Nightbreed”.

(Sidenote on “Phantasm”, I no longer consider it the worst movie I have ever seen by a long shot.  That title went to “Boyhood”.)


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            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, share on Twitter (click that link to follow me), Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

The Inauguration of President Biden: Some Thoughts From Last Week

            I am writing this a little over 24 hours after President Biden has been sworn into office and a series of executive actions and policies are being reversed.  Criminals previously in control of government departments are being dismissed and the first of a handful of candidates are being reviewed for confirmation into cabinet positions.

            My mood is akin to the relief felt by the survivors of a slasher movie just before the masked killer jumps up from his prone state for another attack on the hapless sex positive teenagers that think it is all over… Maybe my cynicism is too much.  I know, logically that the future is marching on, but I am also acutely aware that Donald Trump did not storm the capital by himself January 6th, which will end up being some sort of parody holiday in the future akin to 4-20 or May the 5th.

             No matter how orange he is, Donald Trump will not magically turn back into a racist pumpkin just because the clock struck 12 yesterday.  The various crooks and schemers that he gave power and influence are still skulking in the shadows, they did not turn back into mice.  Things are still bad.  Trump was not only a culmination of a great many awful things in this country, he was just the latest and he will not be the last.


            It is troubling that Joe Biden ran on the “Build Back Better” slogan that is… nakedly synonymous to the phrase “Make Great Again” and no one seems to care.  Both political parties ran on a message of returning to a prelapsarian past.  And when the restoration of the relatively not-evil political party only takes you back 4 years to the same paradigm that led to the rise of the fascist pumpkin to begin with I have to ask why everyone is so relieved.

           Why is everyone so relieved?

           There is so much pageantry and performative “change”.  You would have thought that a young woman reading a poem had cured Covid for all the people weeping over it.  I get it, I do.  It is not for nothing that the first non-white VP is a thing, a woman likely to be running for President in 4 years.  That is good in the nebulous way all breaking down of color barriers are good.  But that doesn’t actually fix the underlying alienation and toxic bullshit that gave birth to the QAnon death cult or the Nazis-in-all-but-name jerk offs like the Proud Boys or the Boogaloos.

             I actually expected worse.  I had expected the capital to be attacked.  I had expected mass shootings in the inner city on election day as a small army of white nationalists would make the drive to non-white areas and stop voting.  I expected assassinations of Democrats and moderate Republicans.  I expected state capitals to be attacked, the logical escalation of the various “protests” that took place over Covid last year which I said at the time signaled to white nationalists that they would not be treated harshly by law enforcement.

            I am thankful that many of my doom saying did not happen.  But to call back to my horror movie monster metaphor from earlier, it is not that the masked killer is about to get up for one last attack, instead the camera is panning from the house full of sobbing survivors out into the dark of the woods where an entire cadre of masked killers stands in waiting for some unseen signal at which time to strike.

             The sequel to this horror show is going into pre-production as we speak.  And it looks like this franchise will have legs.

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            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, share on Twitter (click that link to follow me), Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

I am Working on the Topic of Racism

            I work as a university researcher while studying as a PhD student.  The last couple months my research has focused on Racism in K-12 education.  The idea being to see how various factors of racism are discussed in the field of education and how it might be applied to Public Policy or Administration.

            Shockingly, researching this topic for numerous weeks left my brain feeling like it had been beaten with a cudgel.

            It was a strange arc to the whole process too.  The first half dozen sources I worked thru I could immediately see a larger narrative (one that held steady thru the remaining research) and enjoyed the act of learning for its own sake.

            Then as I read the next half dozen I started to think, “Oh good, a lot of these literature reviews see policies in action, and it seems like they know how to fix many of the underlying problems.”  During this time is where a normal undergraduate would be able to write a paper spelling out numerous issues and numerous solutions.  Then I kept going…

            The refrain of racism became an earworm.  20-25 sources reviewed and all I could see is the long pattern stretching back thru American and world history and it leading to the current state of things.  The attempts to fix it, the constant push back, and the half-hearted attempts to dig out the infection of systemic racism and cultural bias, it was the arc of history and while things are better, they still suck, and it is too easy for them to get worse.


            Conversations with people at the dog park were a treat for them I am sure.  As puppies played and older dogs sat on benches and got head pats from the various lounging dog owners, I turned conversations with those who would listen to me into town halls.  There a bunch of people listened to me explain how subtle racism permeates every aspect of the primary education system.  And then went on to explain how that racism is part of the legacy of segregation and white supremacy that is as baked into the apple pie of America alongside patriarchy and heteronormativity.

            I was being a bit of a downer.

            By the time I had finished summarizing and organizing more than 30 of these papers (each in turn a literature review or meta-analysis of numerous other studies) I had been thinking about racism constantly for a month… and I stupidly didn’t stop there.

            I am an avid user of audiobooks and I had been listening to some of the free titles offered via my audible subscription on history.  What were two titles I had picked?  A Concise History of the Haitian Revolution” and “Reconstruction and the Rise of Jim Crow” as my stupid ass had decided without really thinking it out, “Hey, I have been wanting to learn a little more about these topics” and ended up reading about a whole other dimension to racism.  (Both of those titles are quite informative; I am not slighting them in the least, do pick them up if you are a fan of history.)

            Racism was the hobgoblin of my thoughts.  You might be saying, “what about your classes?  Didn’t studying for those take your mind off of it?”  Well, one of them deals with philosophy and certainly did, the other… It deals with Welfare Programs in the US and HOLY SHIT is it just racism all the way down.  I kind of lost my mind at some point when we were having class discussion where people were trying to give the benefit of the doubt to… let’s politely call it, “the other side” by spelling out their fiscal conservatism and romanticizing of the Protestant Work Ethic.

            Yeah, I decided not to give the same benefit of the doubt.  Ending up on a mini rant about how we all need to stop giving them credit or listening to them lie.  Spelling out how persistent racism has been the guiding star of so many “reforms” and so many abuses within the American welfare system (and America in general) that we have to stop treating the other side as acting in good faith.  At a certain point you have to come to the realization that you and the public you serve are in danger, that the other side is not acting in good faith, that the other side does not tell the truth, and that if you don’t start acknowledging all that you are going to allow great harm to come to the most vulnerable.

            Regardless of all these attempts to kill my own soul by burning away what little remained of my own ignorance (keep in mind, I am not learning too many new things about racism, it is the wallowing in the subject matter that is getting to me) I did come out the other end and will continue to work on the material.

            I talked to my supervising Professor about how draining it has been to bathe in this topic (it is interesting at least to see which authors look at things with a cold detachment, those that feel a sense of sad pity, and those that have some real fire to their writing) and the professor suggested to distance myself from the material a bit, focus on putting out a useful policy message and maybe making a positive change.

            The professor also made the suggestion to go back over the reading list he had given his students earlier in the semester which included the titles, “White Rage”, “White Trash”, and “White Fragility” and not read those titles for a little while.  The university and our department in particular had been trying to position themselves as “Anti-Racist” (something I support) and that had led to many such reading lists to help the student body understand the context of the university’s work on the subject.  I previously discussed the book “Blindspot” for this very reason.  The Professor saw that I was already knee deep and needed a bit of a mental break.

            Good news is that I might be able to publish some of my work from this and that might do some good in the future.

            Maybe.

            Maybe it will just be the latest in a long line of papers saying, “Here is the problem, we all see it, here is a possible solution, please don’t ignore it” and then it getting filed away to only be referenced by other academics and ignored by policymakers… Cause racism.

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            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, share on Twitter (click that link to follow me), Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Halloween Watching Suggestions

            I figured for Halloween I would do one of the easiest hack blog entries a person can do, a series of movie recommendations based around Horror.

 Franchise to binge: “Nightmare on Elm Street”

            I don’t think I am ruffling any feathers in the horror community to say that the Nightmare franchise has the highest overall quality, ESPECIALLY for a series with as many entries as it has.

            A special commendation has to go to the second entry as being the one with the best themes and best blend of creative dream nonsense with actual horror elements, but I am betting that number 3 is the one that most people will list as the high-water mark of the series.  The fifth entry is perhaps the worst, a shame because I feel it brushes against greatness.  There is just something off about it which kills it.

            With 9 entries it is enough for a whole Halloween, and I think that Freddy the character, the implied mythology, and the various missteps I see in the series could fill a book.  I have talked about the franchise some before, but it was only last year that I finished watching all of it.


TV Shows to Watch

            As a Netflix and Amazon guy there is a lot of stuff on Hulu that I am not able to access (but there is still stuff I would recommend).

            The first pick would be “Hannibal” which is a series I watched on a lark thinking, “A prequel series to Silence of the Lambs…. I bet this is a cash grab mess.”  Turns out it is one of the most visually arresting series I have ever watched, and I consider the heroic protagonist Will Graham to be a character I identify with to a shocking level (like, while watching the show, I would finish the character’s sentences).  The first season is fantastic and will hook you for the second.


            The second is one people have probably already seen, “The Haunting of Hill House” (I did a review of the audiobook).  Mike Flanagan is a creative person who has instantly entered into my “I will consume anything and everything they make” category.  And as soon as I have more time I will be binging his latest series, “The Haunting of Bly Manor”.

Cartoons Series and Animated Movies

            I have talked before about my infinite love of the “Ghostbusters” franchise, and I can point to two opportunities to experience underappreciated aspects of the franchise.  Extreme Ghostbusters” (It has one of the best theme songs ever) the 90’s animated sequel to the 80’s “The Real Ghostbusters” cartoon is probably the most underrated cartoon of the 90’s (plenty of people would point to “Freakazoid”, but that show has gotten a lot more love in the years that followed).  It is currently on Hulu, and I love it.

            Continuing with ghost busting, there is “Filmation’s Ghostbusters”, which aside from having a talking TV, Car, and Gorilla on the team is also one of most fever dream of all the cartoons I have ever seen.  I wish, in the depths of my soul that Filmation had been less of a shit about “The Real Ghostbusters” because I think a crossover animated movie would have been a delightful relic of the late 80’s.  What could have been.

            As far as movies, I have talked about my love of stop motion before, and this is going to be a case of me vigorously pointing at the work of Studio Laika and saying, “Watch their stuff!”  But start with “Coraline” an adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel of the same name (and I love Neil Gaiman).  But then move onto “ParaNorman” a movie that gets the tears welling up at the climax every time I watch it. 



Most Under Rated Movie

            I find myself mentally revisiting the movie “Underwater” all the time.  It is a mix of science fiction and horror tropes that speaks to me.  The acting is great, the use of claustrophobia and aquaphobia are fantastic when coupled with the simple plot of, “We are being hunted and we have to get out”.

            It has perhaps the coolest monster reveal at the films climax I have ever seen.  I was legitimately filled with dread and awe when watching Kristen Stewart trying to deal with these horrifying things in the dark.

            I would also say that this movie benefits from the audience going into it knowing as little as possible to help preserve some of the set piece moments and plot developments.

           Give it more of a shot than the studios did, when they released it to no fanfare, little promotion, and after having shelved it for years.

 

 

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            If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, share on Twitter (click that link to follow me), Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Dungeons and Dragons, "Tomb of Annihilation" ep. 1

             Continuing with my first real attempt to run a published Dungeons and Dragons adventure (and planning to use additional adventures from Kobold Press to make things more weird and interesting).  This is going to cover the first two sessions (you know, with a lot of superficial details cut to keep things manageable) which together form a sort of prequel to the actual adventures in Chult.

The Characters

            I have 3 players currently, with a half dozen others in the wings dealing with life event stuff like children and the plague.  Ultimately a strength of “Tomb of Annihilation” is that players can make new characters without too much difficulty, and new players can enter the game without much trouble, “we are also on jungle safari trying to find the cause of the Curse of Fatal Death” or “I am a big game hunter in the jungle to get at dinosaurs, but I could join your team to save the world”.  There are plenty of options.

            The first member of the team is a Tortle Barbarian following the Ancestral Guardian path from “Xanathar’s Guide to Everything”.  He took the Anthropology background from “Tomb of Annihilation” and decided to make himself quirky by being a food tourist.  He plays him as a good-natured bumbler with this delightful character illustration he found online.


            The second player decided to go with a Tabaxi Monk, with the Drunken Master path… except instead of booze the cat-man uses catnip to get wasted and fight.  The first thing that jumped to mind when I looked over his character was the Kajit from Skyrim and their use of Skooma.  Beyond that his backstory involves being trained for ages to combat a prophesized great evil that threatens the world.

            Lastly is the party’s human wizard using transmutation magic and is based off the villainous wizard from “Conan the Destroyer” who talks like a raving lunatic but is highly knowledgeable.  He is an egomaniacal shouty guy who believes his power comes from the spirit of his dead wife.  His wife having died in Chult years back and now he believes that he should go to the continent to investigate her death.


The Adventure

            I may have mentioned this in past entries, but I am a frequent user of Humble Bundle when it comes to them releasing a bunch of digital 5e content, mostly in the form of adventure modules, so much so that I now have many more adventures than I could ever expect to use, and those I do use I will be modifying the heck out of because I also have lots of books that have monsters and NPC’s that I want to use.


            I settled on “The Hallowed Ring” a 5th Edition Adventure by Stephen Chenault.  Overall I found the premise quite solid, and it would serve as a great introductory adventure for most Dungeons and Dragons games, as it presents a fully fleshed out location to serve as an adventure hub, the Gum Log Inn and Tavern, while at the same time having plenty of lore and hooks to help set up the rest of the campaign: a cult, a legendary heroic duo of a dwarf and giant, a stone book that traps evil outsiders, and a potent magic item that I don’t feel is unbalanced and fits surprisingly well as a useful tool in Chult which involves Giants and Dwarves.  There is even a cool monster, the Flesh Crawler, which I was able to tie into the lore I added to the “Tomb of Annihilation” background in my own game.

            For the stuff I added I pulled on Kobold Press’ Creature Codex.  It is a robust and well-designed collection of monsters that I highly recommend, so much so that I contributed to its sequel’s Kick Starter campaign.  The “Megapede” a giant acid spiting caterpillar which destroys weapons was a good addition to the theme of “Worm Monsters” and I threw in the Void Cultists as part of the ongoing story (I plan to play up the worm monster theme as the machinations of a great classic Dungeons and Dragons bad guy, Kyuss).


How it Went

            I fault myself for putting too many monsters up front and playing them a little too well, a few bad rolls and I had almost steamrolled my players.  Unexpected because they are level 3, even with me pumping up the encounters they still should have had an easier time.

            That being said the theming and lore went over well, I was able to give them several useful magic items, and their success in the dungeon ultimately introduced them to the lore I wanted to introduce and gave them a logical reason to be recruited to go to Chult by the “Tomb of Annihilation” NPC, Syndra Silvane.

            I also added another element, that the cultists of Kyuss had been growing something in the dungeon the group had ventured into, a massive (like the size of a refrigerator) purple heart that had tendrils of violet cartilage reaching out thru the whole dungeon and bleed a thick, stinking, and sticky fluid when cut.  They ultimate took a sample and told Syndra Silvane about it before leaving for Chult, with her assurances that she would look into it.

Recommendations to Others

            I have a feeling that some DM’s will look at my additions quizzically, but I have to say, putting in a bunch of weird elements and allowing the players to fixate on certain elements while the rest fades into the background is a good way to keep them interested over the long haul.

            I have answers for what the big Purple heart is, I have an answer for what Kyuss has to do with things, and I have ideas for how it fits in with Chult, but those things can change to better fit the story as it evolves with my player’s actions.

            You might consider that sloppy, but I find games with too much information and too many definitive answers to be inflexible.  A big problem I had with playing “Curse of Strahd” was how there is always one (and precisely one) answer to a given mystery.  It is possible for the players to guess the right answer easily or for them to wrong foot the whole thing because the clues are too obtuse.  If there are 3 possible bad guys and depending on what clues the players find the bad guy can change (like old adventure game logic on computer) then it allows for twists in the narrative.

            Don’t write out and decide everything ahead of time.

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