Sunday, April 27, 2008

In Which the Warlock Avoids Pretention...for once...

So, a few nights ago, the PlatinumChick and I sat down and watched a movie that she'd been waiting for quite a while now: Juno. She'd borrowed it from a friend at work, and had to return it, so our evening was pretty much set.

Given all that, I didn't know much about Juno aside from it had to do with Ellen Page getting pregnant and had won an Oscar. That's it. Not much else. So, when I sat down to watch it, I had practically no expectations. They were completely unfulfilled.

Juno is the story of 16 year old Juno MacGuff, a wise-cracking punk-wannabe teenager who ends up sleeping with her best friend Paulie Bleeker and getting pregnant. She attempts to have an abortion, but is guilted out of it, ending up finding an adoption family led primarily by creepy-as-ever-loving-Hell Jennifer Garner. The plot proceeds through her pregnancy in a series of season-themed vignettes and shows the breakdown of Garner's marriage to her (incredibly immature) husband.

Immediately, as the plot became apparent, I smacked my gob--'This is just like
Saved', I said. And it is. I loved Saved--the dialogue was witty, Mandy Moore [Edit--I mistakenly thought this was Lindsey Lohan, but the PlatinumChick straightened me out on the alliterative bitches] played in-type as a righteous bitch, and Macauley Culkin was an unexpected, but pleasant addition. However, two major things drove Saved: the pointed satire of religious hypocracy and dialogue that sounded natural and realistic. Juno, on the other hand, has neither of these.

The framework Juno takes is that of the "hipster"-wannabe...but overshoots the mark so far that it descends into laughability. Juno's dialogue is so unrealistic and pretentious that, instead of looking sleek and hip, it becomes absurd. About a third of the way through the movie, I literally looked at my fiancee and asked "When do people ever talk like this?"

Further, Juno is prone to having acoustic-indie guitar breaks--accompanied by nonsensical rhyming lyrics--at every possible point. The music never varies; it's simply the same sort of tune in a different key or with different lyrics. This bored me, to say the least, yet provided a dissonant chord as the music often didn't fit the action going on-screen.

I realize full-well that Juno was an independent film. When I looked on IMDB, I was actually somewhat shocked at the short shooting period--only 37 days. But that said, the movie is so far up its own ass that it's probably sniffing bile.

Saved was a likeable movie because it appeals to a general audience. That's not necessarily a bad thing! The characters seemed real, because they're people that we can empathize with. We can say "Man, I know someone just like that!" and it draws us into the storytelling.

Juno, on the other hand? Between its bizarre dialogue, its nonsensical guitar breaks, and its unrealistic ending (which really shows no knowledge of the adoption process), it defies us to criticize us, silently screaming "I dare you to not like this." Well, you know what, Juno? Screw you. Saved is a better film across the board and you can suck raw eggs if you don't like it.

That said, Juno does have one bright spot (Ellen Page's semi-nude form notwithstanding): J.K. Simmons. Yes, Spider-Man's own J. Jonah Jameson appears as Juno's sardonic father. Above all others, the best lines are reserved for him, and his presence steals each scene he's in. A fine job, on his part, as he may be the only character that sounds real.

I'm really not sure why Juno won an Oscar. It wasn't a "great" film, and it didn't really accomplish much at the box office. Compared to recent winners, it's mediocre at best. But, then again, that's Hollywood.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Warlock's Movie/TV Rundown

So, in addition to all of the gaming chaos about to be thrown down starting in June, we have a spectacular summer movie season coming up!

Iron Man, I mentioned earlier. I've been a fan of Shellhead for years, and this is just a massive way to start off the season. However, the Armored Avenger isn't alone!

Not two weeks later, we get hit with the full steam of movies:

May 2 -- Iron Man

May 9 -- Speed Racer
I'm not an anime fan in general, and but I'm genuinely concerned with the Wachkowski Brothers' next film. There's only one reason I would personally go see this, and that's Christina Ricci.

May 16 -- Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
When Lion/Witch/Wardrobe came out, it was billed and marketed as a spiritual successor to Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" films. While L/W/W did well, it failed in this regard. Prince Caspian, I believe, will put them back on the right track.

May 22 -- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
I was really skeptical about this one. That is, I was until I saw the trailer. There's hope...especially the section in Warehouse 23!

June 1 -- The Venture Brothers: Season 3
Sweet zombie Christ on a pogo stick, I love this show! The infamous 3rd season has been in development hell for far too long, and it's only finally about to be released.
By the by, here's the trailer!

June 13 -- The Incredible Hulk
A reboot, after the miserable Ang Lee version, I was very impressed by the lead-in and trailer for Edward Norton's newest vehicle. That said, I think this is going to be the red-headed stepchild of the summer blockbuster season. Marketing has really been on the slow side, mainly as Marvel's marketing has headed towards Iron Man instead.

June 20 -- Get Smart
Well, it has Steve Carrell. That's about all. If he can singlehandedly make it float, it'll make some money, but I have few hopes for it.

June 27 -- Wall-E
Pixar has yet to really impress me. Yes, the animation is nice--I get that. Their films are pretentious and lacking real wit. Just try listening to the audio without watching the video. You'll think much differently about their films...particularly Cars and Finding Nemo.

July 11 -- Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Del Toro's vision of Mike Mignola's seminal character was great the first time around, and I'm eager to see more, but I'm somewhat worried about the plot and scripting. Some of the early visuals seem to be less "paranormal, Lovecraftian mythology" and more "Pan's Labyrinth". Still looking forward to this one, though.

July 18 -- The Dark Knight
I had some legitimate problems with Batman Begins, but I genuinely liked it. While Batman-as-ninja and the lack of compelling villainry (Liam Neeson totally phoned in his Ra's al-Ghul, and Scarecrow was a waste of time, which was sad) turned me off, the tone, the visuals, and the attention to detail made me happy. Heath Ledger's Joker, however, looks fantastically insane.

July 25 -- The X-Files: I Want to Believe
Seriously? Are you kidding me? The X-Files are about as relevant as re-runs of Roseanne, by now. I'm not sure who actually green-lit this project, but they need to be flogged for it.

August 1 -- The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
Just like Incredible Hulk, I get the impression that this will be a dark horse candidate. No doubt that it will hit #1 in the country--there's no real competition that late in the season--but can it hold up to the others this year? My guess is 'no, but it will still be fun.'

August 15 -- Star Wars: The Clone Wars
And you thought that you were done watching Star Wars in a theater? Fools! Lucas will bury you! ANAKIN SMASH!
Yeah, I'm going to see it, too. Don't feel too bad about it--it's life. Just accept that you, too, are a geek, and cannot resist the seductive hiss of a lightsaber.

On that note, bed is calling. Tomorrow, you can expect my review of "Juno", which the PlatinumChick and I viewed this evening.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Random Geek Pic

This picture absolutely screams WEGS to me, as El Willy, Wt2 and Ebbs conspire against us mewling players. The look on Nick's face alone is priceless!

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Calm Before The (Molten?) Storm...

So, I'm in something of a role-playing lull right now. Things are a little on the slow side, but with madness on route that's ready to give me all the gaming I can handle.

While WittCon and GloryCon have come and gone, the next major convention that the PlatinumChick and I will be hitting is, in fact, Bookery Fantasy's annual TopaCon. That's not until Memorial Day weekend, so we have a fair amount of time to relax before it kicks off the madness that will be June.

However, we do have a few happy events between now and then, which will keep me occupied.

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm really jazzed about running Dark Heresy this week for our usual weekly crew. I've had an idea for an opening scenario mucking around in my brain for a while, so this will be something fun. Think Aliens meets The Thing, meets Fallout. Should be very interesting.

Lionel and Ebbs have also been diligently planning the Guild's great one shot/LARP for this semester. I can tell this one is going to be great, mainly because Lionel's been so tight-lipped about it. Usually, he and I hash out all sorts of ideas for games that either of us run, but this time? No, not so much. The only thing that I've been able to milk out of him is that it will deal with the Bermuda Triangle, and that the setting is a cruise ship. Now, knowing that my fellow Witt-Wegger Illuminatus just picked up the Call of Cthulhu Bermuda Triangle sourcebook...I get the impression there's going to be some good ol' fashioned sanity-blasting-horror-from-beyond! Woot!

May 2nd, though, kicks of Summer Blockbuster season with a film I've been aching to see: Iron Man. I'll admit, I was really skeptical when Robert Downey Jr. was announced to be playing Ol' Shellhead, but he's really convinced me. He has the smarmy arrogance necessary to pull off the smug Tony Stark. I'm sure I'll be seeing this one on opening day.

It's June that gets it all started, really. The day after I get out Summit, D&D 4th Edition is released, and the PlatinumChick and I head off to Wheeling for a friend's wedding. While we have the next weekend off, the next week is a massive one--my birthday, the 21st, is also Free RPG Day! Thank you, geeks of the world, thank you for a glorious birthday present--lots and lots of RPG swag. Woot!

And then, the big one...Origins. Plans are already set, rooms are already reserved, and we're waiting with baited breath for event registration to start up. It'll be great to hit up all the hot gaming action, meet up with the WEGS-Hogz yet again, and enjoy the massive spectacle.

Regarding Origins, I've finally decided what I'm going to do with my brainchild, Dungeon Slam! While I'm reluctant to show it off to the major populace, El Willy's been aching to play it. So, ideally, we'll pull up one of the open tables at the Convention Center and get our collective crews together to throw down in the Mad Mage's dungeon!

Further, I've come upon a great solution for a problem that's been plaguing Dungeon Slam! for a long time. You see, in Dungeon Slam!, you have 6 major stats:
Strength governs your To Hit and Damage.
Intellect governs your Spellcasting and Puzzle/Trap tests.
Toughness governs your Health and (possibly) your Defense.
Quickness governs your First Strike, Hazard tests and (possibly) your Defense.
Wits governs your Arcana amount.

And Luck...well, Luck really didn't govern anything, for quite a while. However, that's changed!

With our last playtest, we tried out a new rule. Typically, you could spend an Arcana to re-roll any dice roll (once only!). While this was useful, you couldn't necessarily guarantee any results--after all, you've gotta play the Odds and Gods, right?
Our new rule is that, while you can still spend an Arcana to re-roll if you so choose, you also have an option to spend an Arcana to add your Luck bonus to any dice roll. Only thing is that, if you do so, you cannot re-roll that test!

Basically, this gives the players a degree of choice. If it's a test they seriously need help on, adding the Luck score to the roll could make a massive difference. However, if you keep your Luck high, you're keeping your Wits low, which means you have less re-rolls and Luck adds in general. Plus, you're keeping yourself from re-rolling, which can mean the difference between life and death!

At first, I thought adding this rule would be somewhat unbalanced, but preliminary playtesting has shown the breakdown of Arcana use to be pretty equitable. On tests that have a 50/50 shot to succeed, players tend to use Arcana more for re-rolls than Luck adds. However, in more dire straits, the Luck add seems to be more popular--for good reason!

One of the nice side effects of this, though, is that it speeds up the game. Players are more likely to take on higher-level monsters faster, if they know they can add a +5 or +6 to their base die rolls. This leads to faster advancement and loot gain, which means that players start hitting Skull Sanctum a lot earlier. While play-time has been around 3 hours so far, pretty consistently, I wouldn't be surprised to see it trimmed down by a full half-hour simply because of the faster advancement!

It'll be exciting to see how this all hashes out before El Willy and Krew take a look at my project come June. Hopefully, I'll pick up a third revision printing, ready to go for the new sessions!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

WEGS-vangelizing at Glory-Con, and More! So much more!

So, Wright State held their annual Glory-Con this weekend, and the Witt-Weggers were out in-force to sell some of the Wright State folks on the indy-game sensation...

Ebbs and I put together a scenario that was briefly called "Return to the Escape to Castle Von FitzYummenSteinoVich--Part VII, the Revengenationing! (A Prequel). Basic premise of the scenario? The citizens of the nearby village have been traveling in secret to the High Castle on the Hill and returning with delectable sweets, the likes of which you've never seen. The only problem being? The castle is guarded by the spirit of the one of the ancient candy-making elves, the Princess Khee-Blar!

Ebbs' major idea with this one was to create a draw by using various types of candies as minis. While our headliner didn't actually appear--a massive chocolate rabbit, riding a racecar--the battlemap was full of marshmallow peeps, gummi bears and dinosaurs, and Swedish "moat monsters".

Here are the pics!

First, here's the castle itself. Since we didn't have El Willy's Copper Pot to use, we had to make do with his bastard half-cousin, the Crystal Pot!

Here's the Princess, in action during our first session.

So, one of the more complicated elements of WEGS is the "Cold Roll". To make a Cold Roll, you start by rolling 2d6. This is to represent your target number, for a following percentage roll. The highest value on the 2d6 becomes the tens place, the other number becomes the ones place.
Typically, in WEGS, a roll of 00 is a complete and utter failure. However, on a Cold Roll, this is replaced by 'boxcars', or two sixes. A critical success is typically an 01, or in the case of a Cold Roll, snake eyes (two ones).

Given that, I present to you, courtesy of Eric Ebbs....Schroedinger's Cold Roll!

My favorite picture from GloryCon--truly sums up the dice-rolling mayhem of WEGS!

All told, I was fairly pleased with GloryCon, though there's a lot of improvement to be made. Wright State's Adventurer's Guild is really an organization in a rebuilding stage, after a major fiasco several years ago which really killed their funding and their attendance.

That said, there were many fundamental flaws with the con itself. Advertising was incredibly sparse, and the rooms used seemed cavernous and not very well suited to the audience. The biggest difficulty, though, was the lack of a schedule. Every con I've ever been at always has at least some kind of schedule, telling you what events will be held when. it gives patrons something to expect, and something they can rely on.

This really wasn't the case at Glory Con. It was difficult to get things organized, and to get players, so as not to interfere with other events. While our second session had many more players than the first one, it still left some to be desired.

All said, I'm really jazzed about Origins this year. We have 7 Witt-Weggers rocking out in Columbus this year, and will be just in time for the premier of D&D 4th edition. While I'm personally excited about D&D's new incarnation, I'm actually a little burned out on D&D. Needless to say, that's kind of odd for me, as it's my typical game of choice. Our current game group, in fact, has somewhat given up on D&D for a tick--naturally, Pirates of the Underdark is on hiatus--in lieu of a series of one-shots. While we're off next week, as my parents are in town to discuss wedding plans, I'm planning a Dark Heresy game right now, using the new Black Industries/Fantasy Flight rules.

Oh yes, this game makes me happy. Never have I seen a book that so seamlessly blends its crunch and fluff so well. Yes, there are flaws with the book--most notably the utter weakness of starting characters--but those are easily fixed...the God-Emperor commands it!