Monday, August 23, 2010

Watching a Hero Die

I happened upon him quite by accident. I was Googling some info on athiest debates and arguments a year ago. Happened upon a bloke called Christopher Hitchens. Come to find out I had seen him before: on his no-holds-barred report on Mother Teresa and his stint on Bullshit! with Penn and Teller on Showtime.
The man has a gift for oratory. Not loud and brash and solipsistic, but intelligent, erudite and well -- solipsistic.
A Marxist who believes America should be fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, a person who discovered his Jewish heritage only recently and denounces religion in all its forms. Prone to acerbic wit and vertiginous controversy, this man's honesty alone made him a favorite hero of mine. I won't say 'role-model'. I wouldn't want to make The Hitch cross.
I have his book, "God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" on audiobook format and have practically memorized every chapter. I figured out his mannerisms and idiosyncrasies, at least as they bloom on the page. They also have a nasty habit of appearing suddenly in his many locutions on his speech and debate circuits.
He has a habit of losing friends. Gore Vidal, Noam Chomsky and Saul Bellow come to mind, but he is good friends with Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie.
He is a devoted follower of Voltaire and Spinoza, while disdaining Nietzsche and Kant.
So we don't always agree on things, as I am more the reverse. It is obvious, however, that Christopher Hitchens has a great love of the English language and this more than any other attribute, I think, is what binds us in a remote sort of way (as I have never met the man).
I am reading "Hitch 22: A Memoir" his latest book, and find it fascinating as well as poignant and thought-provoking. It was during his tour promoting this book that he discovered that he had esophageal cancer.
His latest interview with Anderson Cooper, as well as one with Atlantic Monthly, showed him as his same old self, sans hair. His eyes at times seemed as if he were fighting tears, but this could have been the chemo acting up on him. He is stalwart in his position despite his condition, as all heroes are, and I am sad to see him in this way. I will not despoil his cause by praying for him as I find all prayers to be ultimately futile, and he, obviously, shares my opinion.
But I will hope he gets better soon.

Perhaps that is a kind of prayer. But rather than asking a dictatorial god for permission to heal or regenerate one who did not deserve such a fate (and few humans do), I rather hope that there is a trend in the statistics of his case -- and in his favor.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Expendables... well... they are.

I thought I would try my hand at movie reviews. And what movie did I see last week? Ah, you read the title! Yes, The Expendables with Sylvester Stallone and various other badasses, contemporary and of yore.
Let me break it down for you: You will not be ecstatic over the plot. In fact, I've seen this plot before... that is, in every 80's man flick. You will not be pleased with the acting, because all the acting stinks. But, if you like loud weaponry, (and what good ork doesn't?) and car chases, and explosions, with little to no sex -- then this flick is for you.
I personally think they should have named this film, Auto-Shotgun Boom-Boom!, but that sounds like an indie flick, more on that later...
Synopsis and stupid spoiler alert, if there can be such a thing in this movie: A group of mercenaries pal around in a biker garage owned by Tool (jesus!) who is played by Mickey Rourke (the new fat one of The Wrestler fame). He owns a tattoo joint called... Tool's which is conveniently located next door. The leader of this group is Sylvester Stallone whose character's name is Barney something or other - who gives a shit - are we really separating the person from the persona in this parody? And there are the rest of Gilligan's Isle... Cauliflower Ear Man, Auto-Shotgun Dude (the n-word with the t-word), Mr. Christmas (you believe this shit?) played by Jason Statham who is the knife dancer, Judas - er I mean, Dolph Lundgren's character who doesn't do anything but break rules, take drugs, and well Judas everybody. More on this piece of work later... Oh, and Ying Yang (holy Christ!) played by Jet Li, why don't we have Chow Yun Fat play a character called Wei Lo Wang, I mean come on! I'm surprised there wasn't a Chinese terrier called Ping Pong or some stupid shit like that. And can you imagine Jet Li as a BIKER?? Anyway, I digress...
The movie starts with these assorted badasses on a Nigerian pirate vessel rescuing some hostages. Short, terse and tense dialogue ensues with the end result being the chief pirate being blasted very graphically in half by a rifle grenade. And that is only the first taste in a long series of bloody pornographia seconded only by Rambo IV and The Passion of the Christ.
After they wrap up the mission and secure the hostages, Judas, er I mean, Dolph Lundgren's character who does have a name but I forgot it and was too lazy to Google it, starts hanging one of the pirates from the ship with some rope.
"We don't do that" Barney Stallone mumbles incoherently, "That's not how we do things."
"But it's fun!" Judas smiles.
They end up beating the shit outta him and holding him prisoner in their Expendable-mobile or a primer-black, Albatross, two-prop, cargo plane straight out of Fantasy Island. They finally cut his bonds while en route (I'm thinking... this is a dumb move) and handing him back his shiny, Klingon knife.
"Is he okay?" Barney Stallone mumbles while piloting the Millennium Albatross.
"Yeah, he's cool." replies Mister Christmas while taking the co-pilot's yoke.
Then they both down a brewski as they fly away into the full moon. Yeah, drinking and flying... at night!! Now, that's manly!!
Then we see the dictator of some South American island called Vilena which sounds as latino as the Ukraine, shooting soldiers execution style for stealing his drug profits, then this American big-shot suit with Steve Austin in tow shoots the final one and delivers some lines that make him a badass. Big Deal. Seen this shit before. Yawn.
Now everyone has heard of the Big Showdown. The Big Scene. Like when Pacino met De Niro in the movie Heat. Stallone meets Schwartzenegger while Bruce Willis does his best stone-cold killer routine as liaison. Schwartz plays an ex-Expendable called Trench who is being offered the same job as Stallone, by Willis. Willis or Mr. Church (so named because the meeting takes place in a church - is that original?) wants to see who will do the job for the least money. In the middle of the tit-for-tat verbal banter between Stallone and Schwartzenpecker, Willis chimes in with this gem: "So are you guys gonna suck each other's dicks?"
Why, Bruce, are you gonna take pics or just stand there and jerk off?
But oddly enough, Trench disses the both of them with some lame dialogue and walks off.
"What's up his ass?" Mr. Church inquires.
"I dunno, I guess he wants to be president." Stallone replies.
This was the Great Scene we waited so long for? You're kidding, right? How limp.
Stallone gets the job and he and Mr. Christmas go into Vilena to check it out. They meet a girl (maria?) who acts as their guide and they essentially fuck up and have to get off the island. But not without spraying the quays with engine fuel from their Albatross and igniting it with .50 caliber cannons on the nose of the plane. Now, here's a part that made no sense to me. Why would Statham have to go under the pilot control deck to pop out in the open air to fire the nose mounted cannons? Why not just stay in the cockpit and fire them from the wheel. Like they actually did in practice, you goddamn morons!!! Suppose it was raining, how accurate are you likely to be with your head out in the wet firing these cannons which can only be AIMED by the pilot anyway!!! They are nose cannons you idiots! How much can you aim these bad boyz with your joystick Jason?? This is like finding a steering wheel in the engine car of a train. Where you gonna go?
So, they decide not to do this job as it's just not worth the money. But Stallone starts thinking about Maria and why she did not go with them when they left Vilena. So, he talks to his buddy, Tool, and here is the only acting you're ever going to see in this movie: The camera slowly zooms in on Mickey Rourke's face while he's puffing on a 1778 pipe while inking a tat on something. The lighting is pale blue and we see his reflection on a bar mirror as he monologues about a time when he was in The Expendables in Croatia. This scene is moving and is a damn good piece of acting. Tool expresses in one story why he no longer goes on missions with them anymore and why Stallone should go back and rescue the girl.
So he does.
Of course the whole group isn't going to let him go alone so they all get involved, except Dolph. He got kicked out of the group after his faux pas in Nigeria, plus he's a drug user and can't be trusted. So he sold himself to the enemy in Vilena, got some guns and some posse and took the fight to Stallone's HQ. Jet Li is with Stallone in a truck while Dolph and his cronies try to take them out with SMG's and a car chase. Jet ends up in the bed of the pickup firing his gat at the goons. And here is where the headaches come in. Bring some aspirin or ibuprofen with you to the theater because the action scenes are so quick and strobe-like with a lot of movement such that you can barely make out who is getting hit and who is firing the weapons. It is like this through the whole movie. Maybe a pair of 3-D glasses will compensate for this.
Anyway, they make it inside Tool's garage and Dolph and Jet Li duke it out until Stallone finally shoots Dolph 2 inches above the heart. I know this because Stallone tells Judas this as he's dying. I would rank that as TMI. In his 'death' throes, Dolph comes clean and tells him about the plan in Vilena (which is I guess the dictator wants to make money with coke and sell it to Americans?)
So the whole group ends up in a night flight to Vilena to take out the dictator and his American master and rescue Maria.
Explosions, explosions, explosions. People blown or sliced in half. Oh.... and the Auto-Shotgun. I play Dark Heresy and there are a few auto-shotguns in that game. I always wondered what it would be like to fire one of those things in close quarters. After seeing this movie. I now know. And it's badassssssssssssssssssss!!!

The End.

Seriously, that's how it ends. Oh -- I almost forgot! There was an epilogue of sorts.
The Expendables end up at Tool's garage and guess who's there? Judas. That's right the whole Dolph thing was a joke! Ha ha ha ha ha! He's stopped using drugs and changed his ways. Buddy-buddy all over again! Ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ridiculous...

I give this movie 2 out of 5 stars. Not one 'good guy' dies... not one. Every 'bad guy' dies... every one. Except Dolph. It was entertaining on the lowest level, and I've seen worse. And there was that auto-shotgun.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Arkham Bullshit or Why Won't This Game Take Off?

I am an avid fan of H.P. Lovecraft and his mythology. Read them since I was a tyke. When the boardgame Arkham Horror came out I instantly grabbed it so I could relive the stark adventure of investigating the horrors of the Cthulhu mythos.
For those familiar with the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game, it is practically a boardgame version of that same thing.
I love the game but it is a love that (like all loves I suppose) is interspersed with pain and loathing. Whenever I drag this game out, (and it takes about 15 to 30 minutes to set up depending on how you store your myriad game pieces and how many players you have and how many have never played the game before or need a 'refresher course'), it has met with disaster (with one exception). I have lately been trying to pawn it off on the Petersens since we have been playing cooperative games a lot lately. The first time I showed them this wonderful game, I came dressed as a '20's reporter with suspenders and slicked back hair with a sharp, black coat. Unfortunately, my attire turned out to be more interesting than the game I brought. After I discussed the rules and set up the game, I chose Yig to be our Ancient One and started 'er up. I should also note that I had the Dunwich Horror expansion attached to this game for this session. (Big Mistake). Well, I think we had six players at this game which meant we only needed 6 gates to be open on the game board for Yig to awaken. I can't remember exactly what we did, but apparently we did close some gates because I recall that Yig filled up with doom tokens and woke up. Now, it only takes 10 doom counters to wake up Yig (he's the easiest Ancient One to awaken) and the ensuing final battle with him accomplished much but not enough as attrition set in (as it often does with these Ancient Ones) and all of us fell before his supernatural might.
The game lasted maybe two hours in total and no one was pleased, least of all me. In my shame, I put the game back into the closet and waited until the stars were right to bring it out into the light.

Arkham Failure part 2
This weekend I sprang the Auld Gaym Boxe out again quite without warning on my non-plussed victims (The Petersens). This time: No expansions. No Yig (We picked Shub-Niggurath the goat lady). Seven players (meaning only 5 gates wake up Shubby).
With Shub-Niggurath in play, all our monsters were tougher to kill and the Goat Spawn were Endless (I think only one ever came out). I made sure to remember that in a game with more than 4 players TWO monsters emerge from opening gates rather than one. So, I thought this would be a pleasurable game.
I played Sister Mary the Nun and traded a spell to Ol' Withers the Astronomer for a .45 Thompson SMG and proceeded to kick ass at the Unvisited Isle by killing a Byakhee and a Deep One. But I kept losing my blessings (I received two during the game) to the luckless upkeep roll.
John played the Reporter and he lost his retainer but not without gaining $8 first. He took some pictures of a ghost at the Unnameable mansion then sneaked past it.
Poor Old Withers was stuck in the drenching rain with his walker and could barely move. He eventually made it to the shelter of the Black Cave where he was swarmed over by thousands of bats and then fell into a chasm taking damage.
Wendy Adams and 'Skids' O'Toole actually were in the process of closing gates by adventuring in the Other Worlds when Boom! the fifth and final gate opened at the Woods and we were all teleported to Arkham to battle the now awakened Shub-Niggurath, the Goat of a Thousand Young!
Because only four of us had monster trophies at the time of her awakening, everyone was instantly devoured except those four, namely, the Reporter, the Astronomer, the Nun, and Mark Harrigan the Soldier who had spent the whole game leaping headlong into combats with multiple monsters with his Mk I Flamethrower and Remington Rifle.
The battle was pathetic. We needed seven successes to take a single doom token off Shubby and I don't think we ever got a single one off. We flubbed and fumbled and diddled and dinked and finally, we failed our Sneak checks and died one by one.

"Brian." John remarked, "Put this game away and don't bring it again. Ever."
"Ever?" I responded.
"Well, give it another six months..." he added.

The one exception I referred to earlier was a game at midnight at Kubla Con '08 where we had eight players and it lasted two hours but it was actually FUN! And we won! None of them were veterans of the game so I don't know what the hell happened. Why was that one fun and the others were not? Still analyzing...

I am dismayed at the quickness of a game that takes so much space and so long to set up. Five gates is not a long time at all (four rounds minimum) so I guess the tactics have to change from closing and sealing gates to stocking up for the ultimate battle with the Ancient One.
Oh well, we'll try again later this year (maybe Halloween) and see what happens then.
I also do intend to break it out during Pacificon this year. I'll give an aftergame report at that time and see if any progress has been made.