Return to the Fever Dreams

Annihilation Poster

Annihilation is the kind of movie that not only makes you think, but causes you to form theories. I have my own personal theories based on the movie, and I think they fit nicely together, but they certainly aren’t iron clad. I have to say, this is the first movie that made me actually want to read the book after seeing the film, because I wanted more information to back up my claim. I’m working on getting a copy now, so that I can write extensive notes on a forum and deliriously declare that I’m correct while frothing at the mouth. The best prediction I have is that Benedict Wong’s character Lomax, who I don’t recall being named in the film, is actually reprising his role from the Bethesda game Prey in a strange prequel that connects the two in unsettling ways. That, or Natalie Portman will be in Avenger’s: Infinity War. 

If it seems like I’m having a hard time describing the film, that’s because there is a lot to discuss that would be spoilers. It’s not that I can’t talk about it but that the omission of certain details might become spoilers as you watch this film. And you should most assuredly watch this film. It’s brilliantly acted, with a deep, complex story about the characters, not just a sci-fi flick for the sake of being a sci-fi flick. This is driven not by the fictional elements but by the very real characters that act in very real ways. It is not for the faint of heart. I’m not particularly squeamish but I, a seasoned veteran of horror, found it to be at once terrifying and beautiful. In that way it truly imitates nature even as it uses a mix of practical and CGI effects to portray the strange land that the characters find themselves in.

These effects were, for the most part fantastic. Everything that was seen was at once impossible and too real. It was a disturbing combination. My mind watched the film unsure of what was going to come next or if I wanted to know. It was a primal experience where all parts of my brain, both sophisticated and primitive, were engaged for large portions of the film. It is not a turn your brain off kind of movie. It is a movie that will have you sitting up and thinking about it late into the night a week after you watched it. That said, there were points where it might not have been terrible if it weren’t for the rest of the movie. By the end it felt like those weird early CG art film pieces from the nineties and early two thousands with greater skill. A couple of times I was certain it was just an HD remaster of an old iTunes visualizer.

Fun fact, the Valkyrie from Thor: Ragnarok is in this movie, and it was a huge surprise to me while I was on the IMDB page. Tessa Thompson is an incredibly versatile actress and I can’t wait to see what she does next.


Monsters Above

I love monster films. Be they slasher or kaiju, under the bed or from the heavens, I love a good monster. For that matter, I love a bad monster done just right. As I write this, I’m listening to the late, great Sir Christopher Lee talk about dinosaurs in movies on a random television movie channel. He’s lumping Godzilla in with the dinosaurs, and I’m not sure how I feel about that, given that I’m pretty sure he’s a mutated iguana or some such. The Wikipedia page says that the name Godzilla is a portmanteau between the Japanese words for gorilla and whale.

I spend a lot of time thinking about why I like things and about monsters. I thought I’d combine the two here and discuss why I think we like monsters. It’s the same reason we’re fascinated with things such as shark attacks and killer gators. When we see something inhuman taking out a person (under the circumstance that it’s done well) we might feel horror, but I think a small part of us is feeling relief. After all, we are the top of the food chain. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a person. When we see the Cloverfield monster come down and wipe out New York we can sit there and pretend that, yes, we are this fragile.

Impostor syndrome is the psychological phenomenon that causes people to feel like they don’t deserve what they have. What little bit of a stretch it would be to say that we often don’t feel like we belong at the top of the food chain. After all, wouldn’t the world be better if dogs were in charge? I’ve heard that before. Watching a movie with an alien invasion, or an unstoppable monstrosity chasing teenagers across a summer camp, or seeing an otherworldly horror haunting a home gives us a short time to feel like we might be as unworthy of being the apex predator as we feel. Knowledge is a burden. Then again, that could only ever be a small part of the full equation of why we like things. Our appreciations are rarely so two-dimensional.

Fate In Your Hands

I wouldn’t consider myself a cheap individual. A broke individual, sure, but not to the point that so many people are broke. Still, I’ve spoken about enough times that it should be clear that I enjoy free things. I enjoy free music, free books, free movies and tv. I still have an antenna so I can watch random television stations for free, and I’ve seen some weird shows flipping through those channels. The one thing that’s always hard to find free are role-playing rule sets. So rare, in fact, that I’ve only seen it three times. Once, on Reddit where a guy posted a one page set of rules that allows players to become bear criminals in a heist style game where the bears have to balance their beariness with their crimey-ness.

The other two times happened today and are for an actual system. They are for the Fate and Fate Accelerated Edition respectively. I’ve only recently come to embrace the Fate system and when I found out that there was another system that was a streamlined version, I felt like I needed to jump right on that. The PDF’s, now downloaded on my computer along with an Epub and Kindle version, will be useful as I’m trying to get some non-RPG playing friends into the game. The focus on story over mechanics is something that I, as an author, can really sink my teeth into. Beyond that, I was surprised by the catalog of clearance items that are clearance in name only. Novels based on the game systems for only two dollars. Additional game system rule sets for fifteen dollars or so. And all of it in PDF form.

For those who don’t know, game rules are typically upwards of fifty dollars a book. The extensive amount of time and man-power that goes into these rule systems, checking and double checking for balance issues, is astonishing. It’s not an easy thing to do. It’s a lot of math and a lot of trial and error. Then, by the end, they may sell only to a hundred thousand people. These projects are often works of love, but breaking even can make them cost prohibitive to get into for newbies. So, if you want to get into it, try these rule sets here and here.

Hitting Retry After Winning

Something terrible happened last night. I lost an entire chapter of my novel right after I had just finished it. Not an easy chapter either. A chapter that I had to struggle with every step of the way. Things were either happening too quickly or too slowly during the chapter and it made things more difficult. The worst part isn’t that the content is gone, so much as it means I have to rewrite it, but here I sit, patiently typing back up to my previous word count in an increasingly sisyphean effort to finish a rough draft. I know that once it’s done, the editing process will come so much more smoothly.

I’ve been using a book called Writer’s Boot Camp by Rachel Federman. It’s a good source of motivation and positive life skills that will help you get better about writing, but I mention it to mention a metaphor in which she states that, like a runner’s first ten minutes are the hardest, the first few days of writing are the most difficult. Those pages were the first ten minutes. Their gone, and it very much sucks that they are MIA. It’s not the end of the world, however. I have a greater inkling of how the pacing needs to go in the chapter. It wasn’t a terribly long chapter, either. It was only ten pages. That can be a lot, but it’s only a small portion of what has already been written.

I’m surprised to find myself impatient to get to work as I write this. I have a busy afternoon ahead of me and I’d like to get as much written as possible before I have to put the computer down for the day. I keep remembering the little details that will make up the chapter that I’m writing. I’m reviewing notes from when I was outlining the chapter in my head. I’m sitting here, unable to think of anything else, as I get ready to embark back on the high seas of creative adventure. I have to cross familiar, if treacherous waters before I can continue my exploration for that tantalizing ending that I see out in the distance.

The Poodle’s Back

The poodle has returned from vacation. Technically, he’s been back for a few days, but I haven’t had the thoughts together to write about it. He was at a farm in upstate New York. He had a day trip to buffalo where he went on a wing eating tour of the city. It was fantastic. He couldn’t imagine a better day than that. “Look,” he often says to us, and often we respond by looking, “You can still see where the sauce has dyed my white fur red.” We nod appreciatively. “Perhaps it still tastes like that hot, delicious sauce.” He will then go about licking his paws for the rest of the morning, which is what has given me enough time to write this post without him looking over my shoulder.

The poodle, whom we used to call Baxter but now insists on being called Bartholomew, didn’t tell us he was going on vacation. We simply woke up one day and he was nowhere to be found. We put up signs and posters everywhere. For a week we were out of our minds with worry. Then, Monday afternoon, we heard the door open while we were all planning out our next search party, and the door opened. A figure wearing a brown pinstriped business suit, a fedora and oxfords entered the home and announced loudly, “I’m back from vacation.” This was extremely upsetting given that, heretofore, the poodle didn’t speak. He came dropped a briefcase and a violin case next to the door and flipped me a quarter, telling me to take his things to his room. When I did, I looked in the violin case. It didn’t have a violin. Instead, there was a pile of rawhide chews. “Had those made professionally,” he said from the doorway of the room, “Want one?”

Other than that, things are pretty normal. He still sleeps between my parents. He doesn’t do much other than chase the other dogs around. The talking is new but all he ever seems to want to talk about is Buffalo, so it’s not like there’s much intelligent conversation to be had. Sure, he wears clothes and just gives you a stern look when you try and get him to chase a ball, or gets unconscionably angry  when you call him Baxter instead of Bartholomew, but otherwise he’s the same.

There’s only one thing worrying me. Why are the stains on his hands so brown if they came from chicken wings? Then again, I’ve never been to Buffalo.

Back on the Track

The worst feeling of being sore is the day after the day I worked out, which is usually when my next work out is scheduled. I did leg day two days ago and standing up and sitting down are the two most difficult things I will do today. And I will do them repeatedly, partially in the gym where I will be working out. It will suck, and I will hate it and tomorrow I’ll be sore in a completely different way. I will walk around with my arms curled up to my shoulders, hunched over because of my poor sorry abs that have been shocked into suddenly existing.

This is a vicious cycle that leads to horrible things like weight loss, confidence boosts, a healthier life, better posture, and happiness. Gross. It’s those kinds of consequences that make me wonder why I get up and go out there and do this to myself. I’m making myself a better person, and that seems ill-advised. The only benefit is that it makes it so that it’s hard to walk, or stand, or lift things, or do anything. Yes, the only benefit I can see is that I can punish myself in a horrible, lingering way.

I’m hurting more than I thought I would be, because I haven’t been lifting weights for a month or so now. This isn’t to say that I haven’t been active. I have a tendency to go to the gym and do cardio. I thought I would be a bit more ready to get back into doing the heavy lifting, but it wasn’t happening. My friend, who has been fit and active for the entire time I’ve known him, is the kind of person who believes that anything under an hour and a half of exercise is just a warm up is the person I’ve decided will be the best person to help me get in shape. I figure the only way things will get better is if he yells at me about pushing myself harder enough that I eventually give up and go lay back down on the couch and watch Parks and Recreation, eat leftover pizza, drink a two liter of diet soda, and pass out from the exhaustion of the activity.

Learning to Dream

I need to get back to learning how to program. I really do. So many of the things my friends and I talk about doing as projects are things like video games. I understand writing video games, though I’m certain I still have much to learn. I also understand the basics of how java works, but that doesn’t mean I could do it ad nauseum like I probably could with writing them. Yet, I have all these games that I want to make a reality, and these ideas that won’t stop coming me.

Last night, for example, I had a dream in which I was playing a video game. It was one of those that’s played in the browser or on mobile devices. While I understand that these games, so often associated with FaceBook have a history of being terrible, lazy and not really games so much as slot machines for the gullible (assuming it’s not a game of slots which is an apparently common theme for mobile games). This game was different, but not too different. My game, which in the dream was called Dresden Crossing, was a game that had several elements, such as a base/town building component. I know that has been done to death by numerous other games, but it’s a component I’ve always enjoyed. A good portion of the beginning of the game is just your fully customizable character going from living in a tent to having some rudimentary needs fulfilled to having an okay house, then other okay houses start getting built by other people around you. All the while, you’re going on Oregon Trail style adventures delivering people’s mail. Along the way there will be the traditional style of things like dysentery to worry about, but also new threats like bandits you have to fight off or run away from, attacks by aggressive wildlife, and more than anything else, actual consequences that make your actions feel important. Don’t like it? Buy stuff to make things easier.

These plans don’t amount to a hill of beans as I don’t know how to program it. So I must learn.

The Dread of a Serious Game

Yesterday marked the first of a new game I’m running in The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game in The Fate System. It is not a system I’m super familiar with, and have only used twice before. As such, it has been a constant comedy of errors getting this game going. This isn’t helped by the banter that my group always gets into whenever we start playing the game. Two hours of game play gets expanded to around five hours. If it was a tv show it would barely amount forty minutes of screen time, which was decided by the group, as they discussed everything but the game.

It’s partially my fault, as I told the group that we were going to have a more serious game. My group of players hears this and takes it as a challenge. This is fine, because the background is actually pretty dark with a serious tone and they can have some room to play in that space. Except that one person thought the best way to play a serious character was to repeat everything I said in his character voice. It was the most frustrating echo chamber I’ve ever experienced. Everyone thought it was hilarious. I then gave a whole speech about how this was going to be a more serious game and that I didn’t want it to devolve to our normal level of irreverent humor, that I wanted people to take the game more seriously because it was dealing with a serious subject matter. Then I remembered that their first encounter was Gulley Gus.

Game creation is a group effort, with everyone pitching in to define the city their game takes place in. What kinds of places they would think they visit a lot, or that they avoid, and what characters they meet in these places. They even have a say about what the overarching threats are to the city. So the first character they created was a villain named Gulley Gus. Gulley Gus is a super intelligent raccoon ringleader, and the least serious threat in the game. I’d included the scene to be an introduction to the group for the conflict mechanics of the game. It also was more than a tad silly, with the raccoons having tied up an animal control officer that was supposed to be dealing with them. All in all, I looked like a bit of an asshole who wanted to have his cake and make jokes about it too.

The Magic of Writing Things Down

This morning, I sat down to write a blogpost with an idea I had the night before but I couldn’t think of what the idea was. Try as I might I couldn’t think of what I was going to write about. Then I remembered I’d written down an idea for a blog post in my bullet journal. I opened my journal only to be met with the title you see above you,, a growing sense of “Oh, yeah,” and an excellent illustration to my point that writing things down helps immensely. Except there’s more to it than that.

Yesterday, when I had planned to write this blog post before interrupting myself to rant about an awful movie, I was fully aware of this idea. It was still fresh in my mind and fresh from the pen. Having waited I didn’t remember anything but that I had a blog post in mind. The second I looked at the title it all came back to me immediately. Science has proven that writing it down helps you remember things. In fact, the words that you write down don’t matter so much as the act of putting an action to the thing you want to remember like doodling on a notebook. The act of putting down something permanent or even semi permanent helps solidify in your mind the ideas you’re wanting to remember. That’s part of the beauty of bullet journaling, you never have a moment where you stop and flail about unsure what you need to do next. You have a visceral, kinetic memory of what you need to do and what you’ve already accomplished.

This magical thing called “writing things down” does have a dark side. Sometimes, you will find yourself committing to too much. I did this yesterday. The weight of all the things I needed to do as I was cooking dinner and putting my day to bed was overwhelming. This, added to by the piled up dishes from the meals I’d cooked that day and hadn’t had time to clean yet really put me out to pasture. I felt like screaming, but I couldn’t escape the little lines. They haunt me still. But, hey, can’t grow if you don’t push yourself.

The Open House Kills Will to Live.

Normally I do reviews on Saturday but I feel compelled to decry a certain NetFlix movie that I watched with my girlfriend last night called The Open House. It’s a thriller with about as many thrills as a wet socks. I will be spoiling the film, not because I need to, but because I don’t think it’s worth watching in any capacity. First spoiler, everyone that you’re supposed to care about dies. Second spoiler, you won’t care about any of them.

The movie starts off with a dad timing his son, Logan, played by Dylan Minnette. They’re a happy family going through financial difficulties which the parents think is appropriate to keep from their nearly adult son. Dad gets killed and we’re supposed to feel sad because the dad was supposedly this great guy. Except he didn’t really seem like a great dad. He seemed supportive of the son’s running, but in a way that seemed a tad profiteering in retrospect, but that might be the tint of the lens. The real weird thing is that he didn’t seem like a father, and more like that cool uncle that is almost closer to you in age than your parents and curses around you and listens to the same music you like, but isn’t really a role model even though he supports your interests, but this support seems like the bare minimum which is what the same as the father’s role in the movie.

The other characters aren’t any better. The mother is angry mom throughout the whole of the film, to the point that she tells the grieving son that his father was a piece of shit that left them with nothing. The son then reveals that his mother hasn’t asked him if he’s okay even once. To be fair, of course he isn’t okay. She tells him that he can’t talk to her that way, and that she has just as much right to be upset, and on paper this exchange sounds like it would be great but it’s stilted. the language feels rough and unpracticed, like they were short on time while they were filming. And it’s frustrating because the writers clearly thought this is what we wanted. That what this movie needed to be scary was some human connection, except that we don’t get that. We just get long drawn out characters that don’t actually develop beyond a simple set of adjectives. Angry, fun, grieving, flirty, and finally Alzheimer’s.

Horror movies, stop using Alzheimer’s as a scare tactic. It’s grossly inappropriate. The thing we should fear is the disease, not the patients. But every third modern horror movie has a person out there with Alzheimer’s that is meant to scare the audience and weird us out. That’s not okay. Stop it.

Let’s talk about the killer in the final sentence and suffice it to say that he is underwhelming. He’s not any of the character’s you see on screen and he doesn’t kill anyone on screen. The mother gets killed on screen and that’s by her son running into her in the dark with a knife, and frankly, I don’t think that would have killed her but I didn’t really care. And that’s how this movie made me feel by the end. Indifferent.