Sunday, July 30, 2006

 

LinkSlutting, July 2006

posted by Corey Reid

Feeling down on yourself because you can't figure out how a 10-dimensional universe ought to work? Watch The Tenth Dimension and lift your spirits!

Steph sent me this: At last the Bunnies take on Star Wars

And go and yell at the CBC for using WINDOWS MEDIA PLAYER to distribute CBC content on the web.

Not much, I know, but hopefully enough to tide you over for now.

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Monday, July 24, 2006

 

This Is What We Call The Muppet Show

posted by Corey Reid

So Season One of The Muppet Show is under our belts now. As a child I always longed to be a special guest star on The Muppet Show. I guess that's never going to happen, which strikes me as a terrible tragedy.

One of the distinctive qualities of The Muppet Show is the degree to which it embraces mediocrity. There are no great successes amongst the characters -- they're a classic collection of lovable losers. From Fozzie's hoary old standup routines to Miss Piggy's unrequited love for Kermit, there's an ongoing theme of failure. This is not a show about bold, attractive heroes going out and solving problems, accomplishing heroic deeds or getting what they want out of life. It's not even a show about troubled anti-heroes standing up against the system and refusing to accept the status quo. It's not even about tragic failures wasting their potential in foolish pursuits and ending their lives in misery.

Gonzo doesn't really have a lot of potential to waste.

Nothing that dramatic ever happens on The Muppet Show. That's not what it's about. The Muppet Show is not about accomplishing anything; it's about the things we do when we're not accomplishing things.

The act that made me really think about this came on the episode with Phyllis Diller. Ms Diller performs with the Muppet band on the saxophone. I'm not sure if she can play the saxophone with any skill, but she sure didn't in this act. It gave the impression of a star just sort of WANTING to play saxophone on TV, maybe practicing for a bit, and then getting to, because, heck, she's Phyllis Diller and it's The Muppet Show and nobody is expecting anything very much anyway.

This isn't American Idol, here. Not even Fozzie gets booed off the stage. Very often. And even when he does, Kermit won't fire him. Fire Fozzie? It wouldn't be The Muppet Show without Fozzie. Just like it wouldn't be The Muppet Show if Fozzie were actually hilarious. The Muppet Show is about losers.

The Muppet Show really celebrates the community of the show and how it sticks together, even though none of the members are any good at their professions. We don't love Kermit because he's the best stage manager in the world; we love him because for all his hollering "Will you get out of here?" at folks, he doesn't judge anyone, he doesn't get rid of anyone, and he doesn't seem to care if anyone is successful or not. He just looks after everybody. He might lose his temper and tell Fozzie his jokes are terrible, but if the Bear is really down, Kermit's the one who reassures him that he has a place and that he isn't alone.

Western culture, especially over the last fifty years or so, has embraced and deified the idea of success. Those who succeed, succeed at fulfilling their fantasies, succeed at making money or getting laid or defeating their enemies, are those we want to hear about. Standard screenwriting wisdom says that screenplays are about characters who have a problem and seek to solve it. Such thinking encourages a shallow view of human experience, one in which only the setting and achieving of goals matters. Not the building of relationships, or communities. Not the simpler, humbler lessons of acceptance and tolerance. Far more exciting to defy, to stand tall, to seek, to strive, and not to yield.

But The Muppet Show offers those simple and humble lessons. You don't have to prove yourself worthy here; you're automatically worthy. There's never any tension about folks not being good enough; EVERYONE is good enough. The Muppet Show is safe, welcoming, encouraging. A place where anyone can play the saxophone if they want. Young me wanted to be on The Muppet Show, to sit and talk with Kermit, or trade old jokes with Fozzie, just to be a part of the good-natured lunacy of that community.

Talked long ago about the difference between identification and sympathy. The Muppets are a great example of characters we sympathize with rather than identify with. Nobody wants to be Kermit, or Miss Piggy, or any of them. But everyone wants to be the special guest star on The Muppet Show.

Or is that just me?

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

 

Brother Jarhead?

posted by Corey Reid

It's interesting to compare Sam Mendes' Jarhead, an honestly anti-war war movie, with the Hanks/Spielberg extravaganza of Band of Brothers.

First disclosure: I love Band of Brothers. I can watch it again and again. And do.

Second disclosure: I'm not sure what I think of Jarhead. It doesn't seem to earn much emotion by the end. But maybe that's the point. I DO think about it and what it says, that's for sure.

Okay, getting to the point (but not quite): I called Jarhead an honestly anti-war war movie because it really and truly yanks the rug out on every violence-glorifying trick most war movies rely on. Even movies that are supposed to be cautionary. The scene of the Marines cheering the "Ride of the Valkyries" sequence from Apocalypse Now is chilling and hilarious. It seems as though Mendes is telling artists that they don't get to control how their work is interpreted, and that making something beautiful (no matter the intention behind that beauty) is to glorify it. Coppola may have wanted to make a film castigating the American involvement in Vietnam, but these Marines see only the beauty of mayhem and violence, and they respond to it.

Is Mendes chastising Coppola here? Is he saying that Apocalypse Now is just as guilty of glamorizing violence as the most jingoist propaganda film? That there's no escape from the camera's beautifying gaze? That whatever you put on screen, no matter what you intend, will be glorified just by its presence up there in front of us?

The rest of Jarhead seems to bear out this sort of reading.

But that's not really the point I wanted to make. I just thought it was interesting.

No, I kinda sorta wanted to focus on one little moment from Jarhead. When Swofford first shows up at the training camp, a guy at a desk looks at his papers and asks, "Swofford? What the fuck kind of name is that?"

As Swofford tries to explain, the guy just dismisses him and sends him on his way.

That's it. It's a common enough scene, especially in modern war movies where the absurdity of military life figures prominently.

But in all the ten hours of Band of Brothers, there is no scene like it. The military of Band of Brothers is NOT absurd, NOT impersonal, NOT pointlessly bureaucratic. There are MEMBERS of the military who are incompetent (Peacock), or even destructive (Sobel), but they are aberrations within a system that works, that respects the dignity of individuals and that adapts intelligently to make the best use of its members.

Is this because, in our modern world, the efforts of the Allies in World War Two has become sacrosant? Is it because we can't accept any notion that the soldiers and officers who fought the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese Army might have been just as short-sighted and petty and self-centered as we like to believe the soldiers and officers who fought the Vietnamese and Iraqis were? Because the Second World War is so central to our national and cultural identities that to accuse those men and women is to accuse the very basis of our own notions of entitlement (we get to be rich because we beat the Nazis)?

Well, that's a lot of questions. Questions I don't really have the answers to (gee, thanks for asking them, then, ya lazy bastid).

It would be ironic if that were the case, though, since the classic modern tale of military bureaucracy, Catch-22 is set in World War Two. But times have changed since 1961, and the canonization of World War Two soldiers has continued apace.

But it's damn hard NOT to canonize these guys. Just watch the interviews with them in Band of Brothers. Listen to Richard Winters' words: "I wasn't a hero. But I served with some."

Damn.

We canonize them because firstly, we can still believe that their war was worth fighting. That what was happening was important enough to kill and die over. And secondly because, well, just look at how they carry themselves. At their strength and their dignity.

Now maybe it's easier to be strong and dignified when you come home victors to a nation that embraces you. And I know there's plenty of strong and dignified veterans of every conflict. I'm nobody to evaluate that. But I also know it's harder to be critical of your successes than of your failures.

Maybe Jarhead's faceless bureaucratic military is a simplification, one especially comforting to those who want to believe that force is never the right answer. Even if it is, I have to salute Mendes' determination to NOT glamourize war or violence. To not even show it.

But I think I salute more the view that Band of Brothers takes -- that yes, there are experiences that even as horrible as they are, provide us with things that no other experience can, and that in itself makes them precious. That we can hate and be fascinated by something at the same time.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

 

We Love You, Jackie Chan

posted by Corey Reid

Seriously. We love you. You have given so much of yourself over the years to creating moments of pure physical beauty, to providing rich entertainment that will live for ages to come. You redefined the action movie, the stunt sequence, the fight scene. Movies were never the same again after you.

You are one of the greatest movie stars of all time, Jackie, and we love you.

And now, let's face the truth, you're getting too old to do what you once did. Your body can't take it anymore.

But that's okay. You've got NOTHING to prove, Jackie. Nobody can ever take your greatness away from you. It won't fade over time; it will only become more established, more appreciated, more important.

I think the scene that for me sums up so much of your importance and explains your brilliance is in the first Project A movie. You and Yuen Biao in a big brawl right at the start of the film, chairs flying everywhere, bottles smashing and the two of you break a couple of chairs across each other's backs and stand, glaring, unmoved, slowly backing away into opposite alcoves where, once out of sight of each other, you writhe in agony, only to leap back out, brave and resolute, once more.

It's funny and wince-inducing and it charms us every time. Because we can imagine how much that would hurt, and we want to believe that we ourselves would be just as brave and just as resolute, but we know we wouldn't be able to keep from groaning in pain. So when we see you do both, allow us to laugh at your weakness, and then let us cheer at your strength, we feel fortified ourselves.

Jackie, you make us want to be stronger. You show us what's possible for somebody who's willing to risk everything. And you're beautiful. Defending yourself with a jade pipe in Young Master, or that amazing hotel room sequence in Operation Condor, or hanging from a moving bus in Police Story, or the sheer glory of Drunken Master II, all of these moments and so many more are burned into our minds. We love you.

So stop doing stupid shit like this. Please. You are too good, too great, too beautiful for this shit.

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

 

Dino-Pirates, Take Two

posted by Corey Reid

So we had another successful run of THE SLAVE QUEEN OF THE RUINED CITY on Saturday with a trio of almost-complete strangers. I say almost because one of the fellows signed up turned out to be none other than Andrew! Andrew!

Allow me to explain a little further. Far back in the distant past (the era known to historians as "the 80's") Glenn and I decided to join forces and run a campaign at the university D&D club. We were in high school at the time, which made us a bit of a novelty at the club, as did our joint DMing process. Nevertheless, we gathered a good-sized group (at times gigantic) and ran a variety of folks through a campaign we'd more or less outlined in our heads from the beginning.

We hadn't really figured out WHAT was going to happen, but there was this bad guy, the Necromancer, who'd taken over a cult of druids and gotten them performing rituals and whatnot in order to free him from the millenia of bondage in which he'd been placed, yada yada yada. The usual stuff. We were in the middle of geeking out over Glen Cook's Black Company books, and so much of the campaign traded heavily on those influences. At least my contributions did.

The campaign went on for a goodly number of years. I think we launched it in 1985 or so, and I THINK it wrapped up in 1990. Glenn probably remembers better than I (that sentence is almost always true (for any value of Glenn)).

ANYWAYS, the reason I'm dredging up all this ancient history is so you understand when I tell you (as I am about to) that Andrew played in the final few years of that campaign. And then I moved to Japan. And never saw him again.

So I haven't seen Andrew (or even heard from him) in something on the order of SIXTEEN YEARS.

To say the least, I was surprised.

And delighted.

And as they say, a splendid time was had by all. And I learned yet more about running True20 games. For example, my NPC Record Sheets work GREAT. I've got another coming for minions -- even more fun! I am still frustrated by a lot of aspects of the True20 rules presentation -- it's just a pain in the butt working things out. Once you have them sorted, game play is fast and fun, but the rules are often very poorly explained, or hampered by outright errors in the text, and so for us newbies it's frustrating.

But it was a lot of fun. The adventure needs more scope for role-playing and less combat -- this game was pretty much four hours of wall-to-wall combat. That's not at all a bad thing, and nobody complained, but it needs some tweaking. Next playtest will required SOMEBODY else to run it. I will hunt down some poor sap and their pitiful protests I will heed not at all.

DINO-PIRATES is coming together. The first "official" DINO-PIRATES release will likely be this adventure. An adventure is an easy thing to compartmentalize, provides value even to folks who aren't interested in the setting, and can provide plenty of hooks and hints to gain the interest of said folks. A GOOD adventure, anywa, so I'm working hard to make SLAVE QUEEN as good as any adventure can be.

Stay tuned!

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Friday, July 07, 2006

 

Filling Up Fast!

posted by Corey Reid

Our Dino-Pirates game at Drexoll this coming Saturday seems to filling up. Three poor suckers have already signed up, leaving only three more available slots! Hurry before they're all gone!

Seriously, this is pretty cool -- being able to post a game online and watch folks sign up, and it's all for FREE. Sometimes I love the internet.

Very much looking forward to Saturday's game -- we've amped up the storyline and the PCs and I've got a bunch of new True20-customized forms and stuff to ease the GM's job, so it'll be fun.

Yes, I use the words "forms" and "fun" in the same sentence. This is why I like pen and paper RPGs: games that combine the charm of a Pentagon briefing with the excitement of double-entry bookkeeping. I am well-suited for such pastimes.

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Monday, July 03, 2006

 

More Swashbuckling Fun!

posted by Corey Reid

Yes, the Swashbuckling Cards are BACK! Born many moons ago in a long-lost thread on good old ENWorld, Swashbuckling Cards add guaranteed fun to any campaign. We've updated the cards so they play just as nicely in True20 as they do in standard d20 campaigns, and along the way they've been compatibilized (?) with games like Grim Tales and Mutants and Masterminds. They ought to work with pretty much any game that descends from the d20 family tree.

These cards let your players mess with your storylines, cheat certain doom and generally play merry hell with all your plans. If that sounds like fun to you, download the PDF and get cracking!

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