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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Salem (has not) Watched a Movie: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

That wasn't a typo. I haven't seen it yet.

Spoilers? I don't know. Can I spoil a movie I haven't seen?

I'm not boycotting it or anything. I literally don't care enough about Star Wars to worry that they're casting the wrong types of people or pushing the wrong types of messages. Hell, I was there for the prequels. Whatever they do, it can't be worse than that.

There's a woman at work who is a massive Star Wars fan and was part of the training process for my new job. She's asked me several times and gets increasingly frustrated when I tell her I haven't yet. Curiously, she's a little confused as to why she hasn't gone to see it a second time, but we'll get to that.

I meant to go on Christmas, when I had a 3 day weekend. I meant to go on New Years' Day, when I had 5 days off. I meant to go this last weekend when I had another 3 day weekend, and every other weekend in between. And granted, I'm in the middle of a major depressive episode, but I went to go see Thor: Ragnarok and Justice League. I even had a $5 movie ticket coupon that could have gotten me into a 3D showing, and I kept putting it off until it expired.

I've quite enjoyed watching the YouTube criticism videos. The memes are fantastic. Luke's Milk and Swolo Ren in particular, and I have no idea if she's a good character or not, but I get a giggle out of Vice Admiral Gender Studies.

What I haven't enjoyed are the conspiracy theories about an insidious plot to undermine western society. Granted, while there are some things to criticize (such as the one-of-each casting that looks like the attractive, yet non-threatening, racially diverse cast of a CW show - thanks, Cat Grant), I don't think Alex Jones needs to worry so much about Star Wars. On the flip side, I also do not enjoy the hyperbolic two-pronged assault of "Star Wars being a triumph in diversity" and "anyone who criticizes it is an evil Nazi Gamergater MRA Drumpfist manbaby." Seriously, knock it off. Stop being so obnoxious about your celebration, and stop attacking anyone who disagrees with you over it.

The Chinese have a word for this now, by the way: "Baizou." This translates roughly to "white lefties" and translates literally, or so I'm told, to "libtard." I don't know if it's related in any way, but despite casting an Asian in a prominent role and putting her front and center in the marketing (which China usually loves), China went to go see The Last Jedi once and never went back.

I guess you could say The Last Jedi had a little trouble in big China.

I'm so not sorry for that.

I think the thing that spurred me to write this was this incident. One guy, somewhere, anonymously edited a cam version of The Last Jedi to remove the prominence of the female characters, which probably took maybe just a few hours, uploaded it to ThePirateBay, and set off yet another internet firestorm. No declaration of intent, just a description of what he did, and some jumped-up lefty lifestyle blog gave him exactly the reaction he was assuredly looking for.

I really should go and see it sometime this week, but I can't help but shake the feeling that I've already had the Star Wars: The Last Jedi experience.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Pellatarrum: Crunchy Bits for PC Races

I've been running a Pathfinder game set in a modified* Pellatarrum since the summer, and over the course of it I've realized that some mechanical changes need to be made to PC races to fit them into my setting.
* Modified because the players didn't completely grok the whole "Church of Light/ Cult of Dark" thing, so I just ruled that the old gods were killed but the heroes of the four Elder Races became the new gods as a result of creating Pellatarrum. I lose some flavor this way, but it means I don't have to re-write a lot of stuff and there's a lot to be said for ease of implementation.
Note: the following rules apply to standard examples of their race. Player characters or notable NPCs may deviate from these standards.


Dwarves
While I am sorely tempted to give dwarves Damage Reduction 5/Piercing to reflect their elemental origins, I fear that this is just me being a dwarf fangirl. If I did do such a thing, it would replace both Defensive Training and Hatred.

Elves
Elves are graceful and smart and beautiful. Elves are not strong, nor are they tough. There is a reason why their racial weapon proficiencies are based around weapons which use dexterity. If they need strong, tough warriors, that's what humans and half-elves are for.
Gnomes were created by elves to be an ambassador race to the dwarves, so having both low-light and darkvision is reasonable.

Halflings
I actually wanted to do so much more with these guys, but I didn't want to turn them into a race of Mary Sues.

Half-Elves
Half-Orcs
    This is essentially "Choose which culture in which you grew up." Half-orcs raised by orcs ought to be very different from half-orcs raised by humans.

    Humans
    • No changes at this time.
    Orcs
    Pellatarran orcs are creatures of fire, and as such suffer no ill effects from bright light.

    Kobolds
    Kobold PCs are weaker than PCs of other races. Giving them +1 natural armor and a 1d8 breath weapon that takes 1d4 rounds to recharge in exchange for a feat goes a long way towards making them playable.

    EDIT:  I had forgotten that all kobolds had +1 natural armor anyway. So 1 feat to allow them a 1d8 cone or line elemental attack every 2-5 rounds seems incredibly fair to me, given how they have -4 Str, -2 Con and +2 Dex. There needs to be some reason to play a race like this, and for me that reason is for people who are fascinated with dragons and want to play one.


    Monday, January 15, 2018

    On the Upswing

    Last week was pretty bad for me, which is why I didn't write anything.

    I'll spare you the details, but the general idea was "monthly depressive cycle coincided with some personal drama and the three-month anniversary of my attack, so I spent a lot of time either feeling sorry for myself or being angry at people for breathing too loudly."

    Part of the problem is that it's mid-January and the swelling on my face, while slowly diminishing, still isn't gone. The plastic surgeon said it would be gone in January, although he didn't specify when, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and say that it MIGHT go away in the next two weeks. I'll book an appointment with him when it does, or when it's February, whichever comes first.

    Someone bought me a package of ScarAway silicone sheets for Christmas and I've been using them. I think they're helping, but I'm not sure; it does feel like the bumps on my upper lip are softening and receding. I can't wear them as often as I'd like, because the scars are on my mouth, which means eating with them on is out of the question. I put them on right before bed, though, so I get at least 8 and sometimes 12 hours with them on.

    I'm trying to carve out more time to write, especially fiction. I'd like to get back to doing that on a regular basis.

    One thing that I have been able to start doing, and which makes me happy, is a return to blogging about preps. I've written two posts on Blue Collar Prepping since the New Year and I hope I can keep it up. I like how it makes me feel.

    I'm not sure why I didn't post the links to those posts here until just now. Maybe it's because I feel strange about not being able to call them SHTFriday, or maybe I'm worried that I might not be able to keep it up.

    I have been creative lately, though. I've been working more on my Pellatarrum setting... which is cool and all, although there are times I wonder why I do it. To say that fantasy settings are a dime a dozen is to severely devalue the dime, and other than you loyal readers I'm honestly not sure who else gives a crap about it. Why does that matter? Well, I had hoped to one day sell it as a setting on Drive-Thru RPG.

    Truth be told, I've had a lot of hopes about being a writer and so far, they haven't panned out.

    Sorry, I'm getting maudlin. Maybe I'm still not 100% over this depressive streak. Anyway, that's what is going on with me, and hopefully I'll have more interesting content for you tomorrow.


    Thursday, January 11, 2018

    A Time to Live, a Time to Die... a Time to Regenerate

    Man, I was *not* looking forward to this.. 

    Has it really been six months? Spoilers...

    So begins the final reprieve of Peter Capaldi, he who is too pure for this world, good enough to transcend any writing problems and turn any bad episode watchable, any decent episode memorable, and any great episode an absolute masterpiece. Sylvester McCoy may always remain my Doctor, but Capaldi is unequivocally the best Doctor. Which is why, even after two excellent seasons, two fun Christmas specials, and one hit or miss season, I wasn't at all looking forward to this episode. To paraphrase the Tenth Doctor, I didn't want him to go. To paraphrase the Twelfth Doctor, I did not want him to change.

    But as he's taught me over many years, all things do change. We have to let go of things, let go of people. They won't always be around but we can always remember them. So how will we remember him, based on his farewell?

    In a word: Gorgeous.

    I am such a nerd. 
    This may well be Moffat's best episode since taking over the show (let's face it, nothing's going to beat The Girl In The Fireplace), and definitely in the top 3 for director Rachel Talala who, for the record, is no slouch herself, having not only directed rather good episodes of Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Supernatural, Haven, and Continuum (all... or most, at least, excellent sci-fi shows) but also Tank Girl and one of the better Nightmare On Elm Streets. Talalay seems to be Moffat's directorial big gun, as he's put her in charge of all of Capaldi's finale episodes, most notably the masterpiece that is Heaven Sent. She's got a real gift for Capaldi's style.

    Let's get one thing out of the way first, as it's the only real complaint that I have about this episode and I need to be very clear about why I have a problem with it: the First Doctor was not a raging sexist, and the lines about Polly or Bill cleaning the TARDIS or a man being a nurse are horribly out of place. One was not discriminatory in being a grumpy old asshole. Unless your name was Susan, you were fair game. Just ask Ian Chesterton. I'm trying to pretend that most of those comments were for the Captain's behalf.

    OK, you get a pass for one of the most beautiful moments in human history.
    Getting that out of the way, though, David Bradley's performance as the First Doctor is absolutely spot-on. While his face my be different, his performance is eerily reminiscent of William Hartnell's original portrayal. He hit all of his marks perfectly, catching the nuances of being a man both younger and older than Capaldi's Twelve, and the chemistry between himself and Capaldi's Doctor's is brilliant. Possibly the best I've seen, even better than Smith and Tennant's interactions. The disapproving looks Bradley shoots Capaldi, and the uncomfortable embarrassment of twelve extremely long lives between them on Capaldi's behalf speak volumes more than could be expected.

    One thing I thought I'd have a problem with, but didn't, was Bill Potts. I'm on record as saying that Bill turned out much better than I'd hoped and expected, and her ending was just that: an ending. A clean break, with a satisfying end that had been telegraphed properly and tied up all the loose ends. So when I heard she was coming back, it felt wrong, but tying it into the main story gave us an opportunity not to continue her story, but to give a proper coda, an epilogue. "The post-script of Bill Potts", so to speak, and it was handled unexpectedly well. What was really unexpected, and handled even better, was the gift given to Twelve: his memory of Clara. By this point in the episode I was already tearing up (especially after the Captain identified himself), and when she appeared to him by way of the glass constructs, I audibly sobbed.

    The most important takeaway, though, is that this episode was small and quiet. Very little actually happened, the vast majority of the episode being character-based moments: a final bit of growth for some, and a proper farewell for others. And I bring this up because it's what Christmas specials mostly aren't. From The Christmas Invasion all the way through The Return of Doctor Mysterio, Christmas specials have been all about giant spectacle and high-level emotional moments, with a healthy side dish of absolute silliness. Twice Upon A Time bucks that trend, and for its own benefit, as the big action-packed scene lasts maybe 30 seconds and is over halfway through the episode, leaving us time to become involved with the characters and invested in them.

    Have you ever had to say goodbye to yourself?
    Which brings us to the regeneration. What are we able to glean from that short moment?

    • There's the obvious: Jodie Whittaker is the Thirteenth Doctor now. 
    • She's kept her accent, from what I can tell from the one phrase we've gotten: "Aww, brilliant!" 
    • She can pull some great facial expressions so far. 
    • Most importantly, they let her crash the TARDIS. This genuinely had me worried, as every modern Doctor so far has done so in their regenerations, save maybe War-to-Nine, and Thirteen has managed to crash the TARDIS in spectacular fashion, perhaps only second to Eight-to-War (which I'm barely counting, considering that he only parked inside a crashing ship). 

    This was very important to me, considering the highly-charged gender politics of the Current Year™, as I was afraid that Thirteen would be treated with inappropriate kid gloves and land the TARDIS safely or leave it parked during her regeneration. Turns out they went balls out (no pun intended) and not only did she blow out the console with her regeneration, but she managed to detonate the central column and get unceremoniously ejected out the front doors mid-flight to fall to her apparent death. Good show, Thirteen. I can't wait to see what happens next.

    I'll have you know I made it through this entire review
    without a single woman driver joke.
    This is absolutely a cannot-miss of an episode. It's emotional, quiet, intense, and touching. The only negative points are the blatant and out-of-character sexism of the First Doctor, and so many things that simply shouldn't work actually end up working really well.

    Friday, January 5, 2018

    Life Post-GunBlog VarietyCast

    People have been expressing various levels of disbelief regarding the sudden cancellation of the GunBlog VarietyCast (that website will be going down at some point in the future; all episodes and show notes are archived at Libsyn and you should be able to listen to the episode on Sean's YouTube channel), and more than a few of you have contacted me by email or private message saying "This is all a joke, right?"

    Sorry, it's no joke. The GBVC is no more. It has ceased to be. It is an ex-podcast.

    Believe me, I'm as irritated about it as you are. Back in October, about two weeks after I'd been mauled by my dog, Sean told me over the telephone that he was going to cancel the show at the end of the year. (He also reassured me that the cancellation had nothing to do with my injury.)

    This was both a disappointment and a relief to me:
    Disappointed because I enjoyed doing the podcast and was proud of all the work we'd done. We've made a lot of great friends, interviewed some amazing people, and put together a stellar collection of information for the past three years.

    Relieved because the podcast ate a HUGE amount of my time. When I started doing it, I was blogging regularly on this nerd blog and editing BCP while writing once a week for it; doing the podcast just meant doing what amounted to another blog entry. But then I was asked to take over as co-host when Adam left, and that increased my workload substantially: instead of just needing a few hours to write my segment and about an hour to record it (that included driving to a quiet location, setting up, breaking down and driving back), I also needed to record a full show which included
    • Creating introductory blurbs (or throws) to the various segments;
    • Helping to create and participate in the Main Topic;
    • Coming up with Plugs of the Week. 
    This effectively doubled the amount of work I needed to do, which all but ate up a day of work for me... and all of this was before the Pulse Massacre and the creation of Operation Blazing Sword, which was another demand upon my time. Since I know that Sean put in even more time on the podcast managing the audio quality, I understood how he could be burnt out. 
    So I was sad to see it go, but I welcomed the time it would open up because now I can devote more time to blogging (I've always preferred writing to speaking) and to making OBS a nationally known name.

    If I may speak frankly, though, I'm not a fan of how the cancellation was handled. My personal feelings on the matter are that we either should have ended the podcast immediately, perhaps with a farewell episode in November, or we should have been straight up with everyone and announced that the podcast would be ending in two months. I was overruled on this. Ultimately, this was Sean's podcast and not mine, because he paid all the bills on it and I didn't.
    By the way: if you joined the podcast FB group in the past two months, you have my sympathies. If you donated to the podcast in November or December, you have my apologies and I hope you're not angry with us. If you are angry, then my advice is that you request a refund. 
    So that brings us to today. This is the first week in a long time where I've had nothing podcast-related to do, and it feels weird. I have a large podcast-shaped hole in my schedule right now and while I can definitely find things to fill that hole, none of them fill it perfectly.

    For those of you who also have a podcast-shaped hole in your lives right now, I offer you this comfort:  Weerd Beard isn't ready to give up on doing This Week in Anti-Gun Nuttery segments. I suggest you go read his entire post on the subject, but here's the money quote:
    Yes I’m planning on starting a new podcast. That’s pretty much all I can say right now, because really that’s just about all I know right now. For fans of the Gunblog Variety Cast, I’ve fallen deeply in love with the “Patented Weer’d Audio Fisk” as Sean called it, so there is a VERY good chance of that being heard again.
    Weerd has asked me to be a part of this Podcast To Be Named Later, and I've accepted. I'm not sure what my role in it will be -- given what I said above, I can co-host or I can do a segment but I don't think I can do both on a regular basis -- but I'm happy to be a part of it. About the only other thing I can tell you is that it won't happen soon, because we're trying to get all of our ducks in order first, but I think it will happen around summer-ish. (Don't quote me on that, though.)

    So yes, GBVC is dead. But long live its successor!

    Thursday, January 4, 2018

    Baruch 'em, boychic!

    Facebook occasionally impresses me by reminding me of an awesome post I made however many years ago via its "Memories" thing. I must say, it's quite cool to read something I wrote and forgot about.

    Back in 2011, I had a hankering:



    Yitzak "Numbers" Deuteronomy, former forensic accountant for the FBI. Now he's traded in that white collar for a black yarmulke as he solves financial crimes that the police are too busy to handle! He's laying down the law, and the bad guys are paying the price. Baruch 'em, boychic.

    A friend replied with:


    Then I came up with Jude Revelations, a jazz saxophonist out of New Orleans with a pack-a-day habit and a voice like miles of bad road.

    Then other people chimed in:

    I rather like the notion of Jeremiah Lamentations and Jude Revelations teaming up, a la Blues Brothers.


    I'm guessing he either has sonic powers or has a multi-purpose gadget that looks like a ram's horn trumpet. 


    I wonder if there's a love triangle between her, Jude, and Jeremiah. 

    I would actually change this to "Ruth Leviticus" and make her a nun who kicks much butt. I honestly want to give her...

    ... wait for it...

    ... nun-chucks.  (grins, ducks, and runs)


    So, new fun challenge for you creative types:
    1. Take two books of the Bible and create the name of a noir or exploitation hero.
    2. Bonus points if you use consecutive books. 
    3. Yes, the apocrypha is allowed.

    Tuesday, January 2, 2018

    Salem Watches A Movie: This Is Not "TV But Better," This Is Life...

    This week, around New Year's Eve, Erin gave a recommendation of the movie Strange Days. I commented that Strange Days is a fantastic movie, and I've been a big fan of it for years. Erin, as she's wont to do, suggested I write about it. This is actually not a terrible idea, as I have a glowing recommendation of this movie as well.

    I make no secret of absolutely loathing the 1990s. The weird middle child of Gen-X decades, the 90s always felt like a half-assed attempt at continuing the craziness of the 1980s while toning it down in shame. The 1990s wanted to be as weird as its big brother, but was afraid to commit. A few good things did come out of this period,  though, and Strange Days is one of those memorable genre films that, alongside Fight Club, The Matrix, and The Crow are known for their anti-establishment nihilism and excellent soundtracks.
     
    The stars of the show on the craziest New Year's Eve of their life
    And the soundtrack for Strange Days is a real cracker, too, the best soundtrack I've heard in a movie apart from The Crow's. It manages to set a mood for the gritty and violent near-real world of the movie while also standing alone as an excellent collection of music. Listing the tracks that aren't top-notch would be shorter (if not more difficult) than the stand-outs, so just click the link instead of worrying about looking it up.

    Director Kathryn Bigelow hasn't made many movies that I've seen, but the ones I have, namely The Hurt Locker and Near Dark,  I've thoroughly enjoyed. I don't normally follow movies by their directors, but now that I've sat down and had time to think about it, I'm definitely going to look up more of her films. She's got a tendency to not hold back at all with emotional, impacting moments, and this movie is no different. 

    Remember when we all thought this was the end of the world? God, I feel old..
    The world that Bigelow built is definitely a product of its time, with a severe but charming case of schizo-tech. Good science fiction, it's said, takes one outlandish or futuristic element and builds around it, and in this case it's the SQUID headsets, that allow people to records and play back memories… from Sony MiniDiscs apparently. Memory capture and playback, but no cellphones? Madness. Then again, if our "hero" Lenny had a cellphone, the entire plot would have fallen apart.

    Bigelow certainly isn't pulling her punches with the story, too, which deftly touches on themes that were highly relevant at the time: a famous black performer is executed by two LAPD officers (played perfectly by Vincent Donofrio and William Fichtner, two guys that are always playing 'that corrupt official'), and one of the girls with him was recording it on a SQUID. The evidence finds its way into Lenny's hands, and there's a mad chase that ensues to ensure the evidence isn't intercepted by crooked officials before it can be properly exposed.

    Themes of loss, racism, escapism, and family are interwoven throughout the story. There's two stand-out moments in the movie that I guarantee will stay with you: an amputee living out a nice run on the beach, and the brutal murder of a character utilizing a pair of the SQUID headsets that, depending on how strong your constitution is, will either disturb or disgust you. 
     
    Yes, that's Top Dollar from The Crow. And yes, I had a crush on Juliette Lewis, too.
    This is also one of the most well-casted movies I've ever seen, too. It's got a few big guns in the cast -- Fiennes and Bassett are at the top of their game here -- along with some B- or C-list actors putting on uncharacteristically great performance. On paper, Ralph Fiennes is slumming it, but in reality he's working the room well both metaphorically and literally. His Lenny is gloriously sleazy around 90% of the cast, but when the veil drops, you can see the loss and sorrow in his eyes. Angela Bassett is the other one slumming it, and she has the same dual presentation, all steel and ice around most of the cast and all maternal instinct when they stop looking. Juliette Lewis is totally believable as that weird ex-girlfriend you just can't let go of, and special mention goes to Michael Wincott and Tom Sizemore's performances.

    Overall, this movie is absolutely dripping with atmosphere. From the dialogue delivery to riding the absolute bleeding edge of cyberpunk sensibility, this movie will hold your attention the whole way through.  Even if the movie didn't take place on New Year's Eve, I'd still recommend watching it regardless of the time of year.

    Strange Days is one of my absolute favourite movies of all time. I am genuinely hard-pressed to criticize this film in any way. It's got nearly everything you could ask for. 

    Monday, January 1, 2018

    Happy New Year!


    Hopefully it will be better than this... but I am expecting more of the same TBQH.

    The Fine Print


    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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