Ant-Man: Spoiler-Free Mini-Review

Ant-Man posterWe saw Ant-Man and really enjoyed it. I would never have expected I would like this movie so much, but I had a great time. Viewers are advised to stay until the very, very end for the last Easter egg.

  • Visuals and special effects: 5. It’s as slick as all the previous movies in the franchise, and shows creativity in the visual use of the hero’s powers interacting with the sets.
  • Soundtrack: 4. Largely what you’d hope for in terms of score, plus some really fun choices of pop tunes.
  • Writing: 4. It’s a simple storyline told cleanly, with a great comic-book feel. (If you don’t like comic books, I advise not seeing Marvel Studios movies, just sayin’.) Snappy dialogue, good short-cuts through background materials.
  • Casting: 4. Good, endearing choices. I could do with a more charismatic villain; he wasn’t bad, just not as good as some. Then again, it’s tough being compared to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki or even Lee Pace’s Ronan.
  • Direction: 4. Snappy, generally injecting the right mood into various scenes, keeping everyone focused.
  • Editing: 4.5. Tight, cuts through unnecessary material, trusts the viewer to follow interpolations.
  • Superheroics: 4. Completely in genre with the action, drama, humour and histrionics. Of course it also has comic-book physics.
  • Diversity: 3.5. It has some persons of colour as fun characters but in support roles. I was also initially concerned that they would be just comic relief but they get more depth. I really hope we see them again with more spotlight time.
  • Feminism: 2.5. It fails the Bechdel test, and underplays Evangeline Lilly as far as technically feasible. On the other hand, the two most visible female characters are endearing, resilient, smart, likeable.
  • Reese’s Pieces Award for product placement goes to Baskin-Robbins, with a special mention to Apple’s iPhone.
  • The movie also earns the Academy Awards for Best Use of Tilt-Shift Photography and Best Use of Dialogue Dubbing. You’ll know what I mean when you get to these scenes.
  • Also, the award for most ill-advised target for a bit of “science-y” exposition.

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Convention Season 2015

Things have changed quickly in the last week or two! Edmund and I are now scheduled to attend at least three game conventions this year.

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Dragonflight

Aug. 7-9 (Seattle/Puget Sound Area)

Attending as staff: I’m doing the program layout for Dragonflight Convention, for the eighth year in a row.  I’ve submitted a couple of War of Ashes: Fate of Agaptus events, one in the native setting and one using the Mouse Guard setting. (Official site.)

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CelestiCon

September 4-7 (San Francisco Bay Area)

Attending as guest (ugh, I forgot to send them a picture): running War of Ashes: Fate of Agaptus. Hopefully, I’ll have the print book in hand by then, that would be so much nicer. (Official site.)

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Big Bad Con

October 16-18 (San Francisco Bay Area)

Attending as staff: I’m in charge of coordinating GM recruitment for RPGs. I have not submitted games yet because I’m waiting to see if we have any last-minute GM cancellations I need to fill in for. (Official site.)

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Homework: The Missing Chequebook

GreekRestaurant

For the second week’s homework of the six-week online class I’m taking, “Writing the Other,” we were given ten minutes of role-playing to do through instant messaging or chat:

You’ll need a partner to do this exercise, which calls for a bit of role-playing. First, both you and your partner should mentally pick two numbers between one and twelve. [Note: Naturally, I rolled 2d12!] Write these down, or remember them, but don’t reveal them to each other. The two of you will be having a written conversation, writing from the viewpoints of two complete strangers.

The context for the dialogue is this: One of you (decide which one before starting the exercise) has found the other’s checkbook and would like to return it. As for what the character you assume will be like, that’s up to you—except for two important traits. On the next two pages are four lists, labeled “A, B, C, and D.” Using the numbers you’ve picked, read what it says next to the first number on list A and the second on list B. Your partner will do the same thing, using lists C and D. Again, do not reveal to your partner the numbers you’ve picked or the traits assigned to those numbers. Simply assume those traits as your own, and begin writing.

The lists each contained twelve traits; lists A and C contained primarily traits relating to race, orientation, ability, age, religion or sex (“ROAARS traits” for short), while lists B and D contains primarily non-ROAARS traits. Here is what my assigned partner and I came up with:

Dialogue

Sandra: “Um…excuse?  Please excuse… I found your folder. No… wallet!”

Sophie:  “Hold on… Yes, I did lose it!”

Sandra: “No, no.  Um…your money papers.  Your cheques.  Yes?”

Sophie:  “Yes!”

Sandra: “So, I will like to give it to you after my classes, yes?”

Sophie:  “When is that? Is there any way we could meet sooner?”

Sandra: “My classes?  No, they are in the afternoon.  I work mornings.”

Sophie:  “Where do you work? Maybe I could go pick it up.”

Sandra: “At the restaurant.  You like to eat?”

Sophie:  “Who doesn’t?” [chuckle]  ☺

Sandra: “Pick up?  Excuse?”

Sophie:  “I could go meet you at the restaurant where you work and get the cheque book back.”

Sandra: “Yes!  The cheques!  At the restaurant?  Sure, yes, we could.”

Sophie:  “Where is the restaurant, and when should I show up?”

Sandra: “At the corner of Martin and Sprague.  With the blue birds.  Under the blue birds.  You will see them. The cheques you get before I leave for classes.”

Sophie:  “Lovely!”  [I look it up on Google Maps. What kind of restaurant do I see?]

Sandra: (Greek)

Sophie:  “OK, I can be there at 11am, is this good for you?”

Sandra: “…11 before lunch?  Yes, that is good. Before the rush. Lots of people come in for lunch.”

Sophie:  “Exactly!  Maybe I can have lunch there.” [I plan to tip you hugely .]

Sandra: “Lunch is good.  I will have something waiting for you.”

Analysis

I played someone who was Buddhist and a technical rock-climber, while Sandra, it turns out, played a non-native-English speaker (she picked Russian) and part-time student.  Sandra’s traits were pretty easy to recognize, especially the non-native speech patterns, of course. On the other hand, Buddhist might have affected the choice of meal later on at the restaurant, but not so much this conversation unless maybe karma or the type of restaurant were invoked. I didn’t see technical rock-climber as likely to show up, but I could have forced it; I had in mind that maybe I was in a hurry because I had a trip planned.

Mostly, Sandra and I agreed afterwards that we were just trying to act like people usually do under the circumstances. I figured I would want to get my chequebook as soon as possible. We did interject a few side observations from an omniscient narrator perspective.

Conclusion: A trait, even a ROAARS trait, isn’t everything about a character; sometimes it doesn’t show up at all. (Unlike much Hollywood writing would have us believe!)
checkbook

Cheques? Really?

The exercise made our Finnish classmate Nina chuckle. She says Europeans are perplexed that Americans are still using cheques (it’s also obsolete back home in Quebec too, by the way.) Nina said, “It’s like being offered three cows in payment!”

Next week’s homework: We re-write scenes from a work-in-progress to change some of our characters’ ROAARS traits; and we analyse the class markers for a book, show or movie of our choice.


Credits: Photo (“Restaurant – Naxos”) Dorli Photography, used under Creative Commons license Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).  Clipart from dfunk on OpenClipart, released into the public domain.

 

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I salute the Blue Rose

BlueRoseCover3

Fans of role-playing games are likely aware that the Kickstarter funding campaign for a new edition of Green Ronin Publishing’s Blue Rose RPG is in full swing. If you didn’t know, then go read io9’s interview with line developer and original co-writer Steve Kenson. Hey, while you’re there, I’ll borrow a pull-quote from Steve to describe the genre that Blue Rose emulates, romantic fantasy:

“Romantic” refers to a style and a point of view that’s generally positive, hopeful, and cooperative: good people can make a difference, true love can and does win in the end, we can make the world better, people of good conscience can work together (and even disagree) but still coexist peacefully, and, ultimately, there is good in the world and it’s something worth fighting for. That romance often includes interpersonal relationships, from boon comrades to passionate love, and such things are both the reasons why characters take action and the rewards they receive for their efforts.

Blue Rose will be celebrating its tenth anniversary this year! It’s crazy how quickly time passes. One thing has been nagging at me every time I see someone say that the game was “ahead of its time” in 2005 for its inclusiveness of gender, orientation and even body type diversity.

Ahead of its time? Please. Let’s give credit where credit is due:

The Blue Rose RPG is exactly the kind of game that helped move the gamer and geek mindset forward.

The kind that show that games matter, that they are not just a few hours’ entertainment. They are that, yes, but also so much more. Because the times, you see, they may be a-changin’ but they have to be dragged a-kickin’ and a-screamin’ into it. Otherwise nothing ever advances.

So thank you, Green Ronin. May the Blue Rose bloom pure and bright for a long time.

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Homework: Hothouse Descriptions

On the first week of the six-week online class I’m taking, “Writing the Other,” the homework consisted of the following instructions:

Below are 7 pictures. Do this exercise once with each of them:

Set a timer for 5 minutes for each picture. Take no more than 20 seconds (time yourself!) to take in the picture and the person in it, then start writing a description of that person. You can describe their physical features, you can make up a personality for them, ascribe emotions to them, whatever comes to you. Go with your first instincts and keep your fingers moving until the timer goes off. Like the other exercises, this is not about producing publishable material; it’s about writing, not thinking.

The exercise is called “hothouse descriptions” because it’s like hothouse “forcing,” coaxing blooms out of season. The pictures were all obtained from the fantastic “Humans of New York” project. (I invite you to browse the HoNY site, it’s so much fun.)

Later on, every participant in the class was invited to look at others’ descriptions and highlight words that attracted their attention for whatever reason. Here are my seven descriptions, and notes on the words that other students highlighted. (I cropped the images to fit here.) I’ll add my reflections on the exercise at the bottom of the page.

He was a man with wide features — thick eyebrows, wide eyes, wide nose, wide mouth — emphasized by his horizontal wrinkles on his forehead and ears that stuck out to the sides. His was a pleasantly homely, somewhat dreamy face. He wore a black winter jacket with a plushy collar, and a black-and-white pied-de-poule scarf. He look to the side, perhaps embarrassed by the attention he was receiving. I wondered if his voice would be craggy or soft, deferent or sonorous.

#1 – He was a man with wide features — thick eyebrows, wide eyes, wide nose, wide mouth — emphasized by his horizontal wrinkles on his forehead and ears that stuck out to the sides. His was a pleasantly homely, somewhat dreamy face. He wore a black winter jacket with a plushy collar, and a black-and-white pied-de-poule scarf. He look to the side, perhaps embarrassed by the attention he was receiving. I wondered if his voice would be craggy or soft, deferent or sonorous.

Words highlighted: wide (x2), wrinkles (x2), homely (x3), dreamy (x2), plushy, pied-de-poule (x2), craggy, sonorous.

Comments: I used “pied-de-poule”, the French term for this pattern, because of the time constraint when I could not remember what it’s called in English (hound’s tooth.)

 

She smiled broadly, the sparkle of her eyes barely dimmed by the hipster glasses. A bright blue scarf framed her face, a blue that spoke of sky, sea, flowers, birds, and comfort, and stood out against her black sweater. A bracelet shone around her left wrist with large beads, stones or charms, I could not tell. She seemed like a person I would enjoy sharing a cup of coffee with, and commenting on the unseasonable weather with. Would she think it rude or charming to be asked to coffee by some strange woman?

#2 – She smiled broadly, the sparkle of her eyes barely dimmed by the hipster glasses. A bright blue scarf framed her face, a blue that spoke of sky, sea, flowers, birds, and comfort, and stood out against her black sweater. A bracelet shone around her left wrist with large beads, stones or charms, I could not tell. She seemed like a person I would enjoy sharing a cup of coffee with, and commenting on the unseasonable weather with. Would she think it rude or charming to be asked to coffee by some strange woman?

Words highlighted: broadly (x2), sparkle (x2), hipster, blue, comfort (x3), sharing, rude.

His sharp profile made me think of some famous actor going incognito, perhaps Roy Schneider or Sir Ian McKellan: elegantly disheveled gray hair, dark sunglasses, the sweep of a fedora that sat well on his head, the staunch rise of a Burberry collar, a hint of cashmere scarf. I imagined him a once-famous theatre star, perhaps, now forgotten by many but remembered by fans of discerning taste. Would he flee recognition, or be secretly pleased that someone had seen behind the disguise?

#3 – His sharp profile made me think of some famous actor going incognito, perhaps Roy Schneider or Sir Ian McKellan: elegantly dishevelled grey hair, dark sunglasses, the sweep of a fedora that sat well on his head, the staunch rise of a Burberry collar, a hint of cashmere scarf. I imagined him a once-famous theatre star, perhaps, now forgotten by many but remembered by fans of discerning taste. Would he flee recognition, or be secretly pleased that someone had seen behind the disguise?

Words highlighted: sharp, incognito (x3), elegantly, dishevelled (x3), hint, once-famous (x2), star, discerning (x2), flee, disguise.

She looked lovely, and I wondered if she knew it. Not perfect: a few skin blemishes, a nose slightly too large, made her entirely human. But her hair smoothly brushed back from a well-shaped forehead looked soft and had a lovely depth of walnut hues; her eyes were clear and bright; her eyebrows, though carefully groomed, followed a graceful natural sweep. She looked like someone who took care to look her best, perhaps like all of us worrying over imperfections, but with enough confidence and character to accept them rather than try to look like someone else.

#4 – She looked lovely, and I wondered if she knew it. Not perfect: a few skin blemishes, a nose slightly too large, made her entirely human. But her hair smoothly brushed back from a well-shaped forehead looked soft and had a lovely depth of walnut hues; her eyes were clear and bright; her eyebrows, though carefully groomed, followed a graceful natural sweep. She looked like someone who took care to look her best, perhaps like all of us worrying over imperfections, but with enough confidence and character to accept them rather than try to look like someone else.

Words highlighted: lovely, smoothly brushed, well-shaped, walnut, clear, bright, graceful, character (x3), accept.

I thought he looked like a man well-travelled. He had a strong face, and the lines in it, along with the gray streak parting his curly black hair, suggested he might be in his fifties. Lines around his eyes, and thick eyebrows slightly frowning for the moment, suggested both laughter and inquisitiveness, both wariness and insight. His jacket said “business-man”, his colourful checkered shirt open at the throat answered “on vacation,” and the matching handkerchief emerging from his left breast pocket spoke of a sense of fashion.

#5 – I thought he looked like a man well-travelled. He had a strong face, and the lines in it, along with the grey streak parting his curly black hair, suggested he might be in his fifties. Lines around his eyes, and thick eyebrows slightly frowning for the moment, suggested both laughter and inquisitiveness, both wariness and insight. His jacket said “business-man”, his colourful checkered shirt open at the throat answered “on vacation,” and the matching handkerchief emerging from his left breast pocket spoke of a sense of fashion.

Words highlighted: well-travelled (x3), grey streak, inquisitiveness (x2), wariness, emerging (x2).

She had coaxed her motorized scooter-style wheelchair up the slab of stone and beamed back at the camera. Her short spiky white hair made her look like an elderly pixie, celebrating a prank. I was sure purple must be one of her favourite colours, because it splashed in motifs against the blue background of her patterned skirt, it wrapped her legs in the form of thick stockings, and it shone from the large utility purse hanging from the scooter’s handles. She was bundled up in a jacket against the nippy weather, and I could almost hear her breath coming in as sharp gasps of cold air.

#6 – She had coaxed her motorized scooter-style wheelchair up the slab of stone and beamed back at the camera. Her short spiky white hair made her look like an elderly pixie, celebrating a prank. I was sure purple must be one of her favourite colours, because it splashed in motifs against the blue background of her patterned skirt, it wrapped her legs in the form of thick stockings, and it shone from the large utility purse hanging from the scooter’s handles. She was bundled up in a jacket against the nippy weather, and I could almost hear her breath coming in as sharp gasps of cold air.

Words highlighted: scooter-style, beamed, pixie (x3), prank, splashed (x2), bundled, nippy, gasps (x3).

She was carrying the mail to the post office in a box she cradled with her left arm. She had dressed warmly for the season this morning, with a dark woolen coat and knitted hat, but by now the day had warmed so that she let her coat swing open over a blouse patterned with large tropical flowers in yellows, browns and greens. Her hair was dark and wavy, her roundish horn-rimmed glasses reminded me of the 1980s and I wished I could carry the look like that. She sang softly along with the music player tucked into her right coat pocket, the earphones buried under cap and hair, betrayed only by a white cord.

#7 – She was carrying the mail to the post office in a box she cradled with her left arm. She had dressed warmly for the season this morning, with a dark woollen coat and knitted hat, but by now the day had warmed so that she let her coat swing open over a blouse patterned with large tropical flowers in yellows, browns and greens. Her hair was dark and wavy, her roundish horn-rimmed glasses reminded me of the 1980s and I wished I could carry the look like that. She sang softly along with the music player tucked into her right coat pocket, the earphones buried under cap and hair, betrayed only by a white cord.

Words highlighted: cradled, swing, open, tropical (x2), horn-rimmed, sang (x2), betrayed (x2),

So, final thoughts. After the first two or three, I noticed I was not saying much about possible racial or ethnic markers. I asked myself whether I was avoiding the topic, but I did not feel constrained (except by time) while I was writing, so I decided to just keep doing what came naturally. I was content to suggest rather than state, and I also noticed that my focus was much more on the way people constructed their own look consciously (for example, with sartorial and grooming choices) or unconsciously (for example, with wrinkles from habitual expressions.)

In truth, I often don’t feel confident assigning racial (whatever that means) or ethnic identities; I had no idea for #1, #2 and #7, for example. Sure, I assumed that #2 was Muslim, but that told me nothing about ethnic or racial origin.  On the other hand, #3, #4 and #6 looked like they might be of European descent; in the case of #4, I would have guessed Eastern Europe and recent immigration. And #5, as I said in my description, looked to me like he could have been around the globe before.

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Titansgrave: Yes!

titansgrave-logo-croppedAs a card-carrying (not really) gamer geek, I just had to watch Wil Wheaton’s Web series Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana, part of the Geek and Sundry programming.

This is a ten-episode series in which we follow game-master Wil Wheaton and his four players through a short role-playing campaign based on an original science fantasy setting and using Green Ronin Publishing’s Adventure Game Engine (AGE) system, which also powers their licensed Dragon Age RPG and the upcoming second edition of Blue RoseTitansgrave will soon be released as an adventure and setting sourcebook for AGE.  This professional show offers the high production values missing in amateur recordings of role-playing sessions and is meant to address geeks who are not already role-players.

I’ve posted a review of Dragon Age RPG a few years ago on RPG.net. In short, AGE is a pretty traditional system but a pleasantly streamlined and consistent one. Some of the suggestions for changes which I had at the time are addressed by this most recent version of the system, such as expansion of the use of stunts. But intrinsically, it’s not a hippie game and it should not feel disconcerting for most gamers.

Therefore, it makes a perfect example of how easy it can be to “say yes” as the GM even without fancy system features to support it. I really appreciate that Wil Wheaton has been giving great examples of this throughout the show so far. For example, when a player says she wants to do something fancy and cool, Wil doesn’t say “No, you have to wait until you know whether you have stunt points for this.” Instead he says “OK, and if you have stunts points, [insert cool effect here] may happen.”  I have yet to see him just saying “No” to a player’s idea.

He also wants the characters to have exciting adventures, not just walk along dotted lines through the scenario. When the rolls are failures, he describes the results, or encourages the players to describe them, in terms of bad luck or the opposition countering, not in terms of player characters’ ineffectiveness. Something happens and throws a new twist or danger. And Wil asks his players to create details, to name characters, and so forth, and uses these details to shape the story. Sure, he could fill in all those little details himself, but this is more fun and gets the players more involved, more invested.

I sure hope GMs are watching this!

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Learning to Write the Other

And to become what the other look on . .It’s been a while since I wrote about a class I’m taking. I just started a six-week-long online class, “Writing the Other,” led by writers Nisi Shawl and K. Tempest Bradford. It’s tough for me to fit a class with my work schedule, my interminable commute, my writing, daily life, and just plain recovering from all this. But six weeks doesn’t seem too long, I think I can do this.

The class text is Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, an inexpensive purchase as an ebook and one that can also be used for self-directed learning. We also use the essay collections curated by Jim C. Hines, Invisible and Invisible 2.

The instructors have gathered a collection of interesting links, but I’ll leave it to them to share their class material as they see fit. However, I had done my own gathering ahead of the class (including articles by the instructors), so I’d like to share those articles with anyone interested.

In addition, I would like to share a few tools I find useful in completing the assignments, for the benefit of classmates and others:


Image Credits: “And to become what the other look on . .” by Jef Safi, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

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