Posts Tagged ‘2018’

Halloween (2018)

October 23, 2019

A lot of us have those family members that we are forced to cut ties from, the ones who haunt us sometimes with thoughts that we may see them again. The bonds of family are intense and almost impossible to erase. We do not choose these bonds and they can quickly become chains in bad situations, burdens we can only remove by limiting access. Of course, when those family members are mentally unbalanced, things become even harder. Dealing with unbalanced people like that is bad because they are extremely predictable until they become erratic. They lull you into a false sense of security and then they are suddenly in your face and potentially causing mental or physical harm. While none of my relatives have ever been potentially violent, I have known people who were. The scars of the past fade with time but they never truly go away. Any reminder can bring those scars back into focus and sometimes reopen the wounds we thought were closed.

I guess I should explain why I do not talk much about the Halloween franchise. The fact of the matter is that I held a grudge. I felt that the original Halloween was really good as you would expect from John Carpenter. After that movie is when they made a mistake. Originally, Halloween was intended to be an anthology series. Mike Myers was the villain for the first movie but any subsequent movies were to have different plots and different antagonists. Unfortunately, the studio got cold feet and pulled the trigger on Halloween 2 which featured the return of Michael Myers. Then they proceeded to their original plan and released Halloween 3 which featured a wildly different plot that mixed science fiction and magic. The movie was really good and felt more innovative than Halloween 2 and it showed promise for the original plan. However, the fans were confused and the studio panicked and they went back to Michael Myers and scrapped the original plan. I had sour grapes about that but now I’m willing to revisit the franchise.

The first thing I noticed was how the movie referred to the franchise history without really talking about it too much. Michael is set up to be almost a demigod of murder because his legend has been told for 40 years. I also really liked how they told a story rarely told in horror movies. They showed the survivors and the toll the event took on them and not just the survivors but the effect it has generationally. I love the slow burn of this movie and the deliberate pacing which causes tension long before anything actually happens. I love when horror villains are treated like forces of nature where everybody sits up and takes notice. The effects felt straight out of the seventies and eighties, all practical and all-natural. This is a straightforward slasher/action hybrid as if it was a sequel of the original movie, bypassing eight movies in the process. I really liked the cinematography and the set design which always provided for the perfect staging ground for the action.

Of course, if you have seen even a whiff of the promotion for this movie then you know that the star of the show is once again Jamie Lee Curtis. Except whereas she earned the same “scream queen” status of her mother in the first film, here she radiates different energy. She is a woman 40 years removed from the worst night of her life and she is not about to let it happen again. Michael does all of his acting through body language and that is done well by Nick Castle (the original) but mostly stuntman James Jude Courtney. Andi Matichak steps into the position that Curtis originally occupied and she is instantly likable. Haluk Bilginer takes the place of Donald Pleasance, a psychologist desperately trying to help. The rest of the cast is really good and provides plenty of depth to the movie.

Overall, I really liked the movie as it provided a good, straight-up horror movie and actually fought against some of the tropes and cliches of the genre while still honoring it. Obviously, the makers of this film loved the original franchise but wanted to reign it in by giving it a soft reboot. In that way, they simplify the lore and give a new starting point for horror fans like me. It makes me really want to see what the two planned sequels will be.


Media Update 7/5/18

July 5, 2018

The World Cup 2018

So I have been spending time at my mom’s house which is one of the few occasions that I watch sports. My jet-setting mother recently got back from a trip to Colombia where she saw Colombia take on Japan in the first round of the World Cup. She went alone to a bar at six in the morning and enjoyed it so much that she decided to cheer on Colombia for as long as they could stay in the tournament. So I have ended up watching a few of their games and a few others besides that. It is a hard game not to get excited by. The game rarely stops and it is thrilling to watch them try to score goal after goal. I watched two games that went into double overtime and both ended on thrilling shootouts. I did root for Colombia like my mother but I am also pulling for England and I rooted for Mexico before their elimination as well. The games I have watched so far have been pretty crazy and as of writing this, the tournament is starting to wind down. I am not much of a sports fan, I am a Baltimore fan and Baltimore has no professional football team. I have a lot of friends who are fans of the sport and I can see why. The sport is really exciting. I am looking forward to the rest of the tournament and hopefully Russia losing in the next round (go Croatia!). It is also fascinating to watch the fans as they seem to treat the sport like a religion, openly cheering and weeping in the stands. I definitely recommend watching it at least as a cultural experience.

Bend it Like Beckham

I had heard of this movie back in 2002 but I was kind of busy in college. Also, I was virulently opposed to sportsball at that time and I have since mellowed out a bit. I only have a passing knowledge of British culture but I have talked to people about things like assimilation and being a second-generation immigrant. Although, I have never experienced that world myself. The main character is a young woman raised by Orthodox Sikh parents who are very much in touch with their Indian heritage. She is played well by Parminder Nagra who was a relative newcomer but does a great job of showing hope, frustration, and desire for a better future. She is joined by a young Keira Knightley and both young women have a desire to play football professionally. Nagra’s character idolizes David Beckham who is probably more popular in the US for being handsome than he is for playing football. Both are working with their coach played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers with a big grumpy yet lovable streak in him. The extras are all professional football players so the action is pretty hot and heavy and accurate to the sport while the acting is both good and fun. I really felt the frustration in different ways from both female leads as they not only struggled in their chosen sport but they also struggled to live their lives on their own terms while still under their parents’ roofs. I definitely recommend it as a fun, insightful (if somewhat dated) movie.

Forever Pure

It is not a big deal in the United States but in much of the rest of the world, football is a cornerstone of life and an important part of a country’s cultural identity. Many watch the games and cry and scream for their team, for their nation or for their hometown. The point is, it is a very emotional sport that it is easy to get swept up by. This documentary is about Beitar Jerusalem Football Club. Their owner made a bid to be mayor of Jerusalem but that campaign failed and because of that and failed business deals, he was running short on money. Meanwhile, the team was not doing so great. In order to help out the team and to drum up publicity, the owner added two Muslim players from Chechnya to the team. There was a problem with that because Beitar fans were well known to be virulently nationalistic and racist. The worst group was a group of fans called La Familia who protested practices and games and made violent threats. In this world, we often rightfully call out anti-semitism but there are those in Israel (and our own nation) who are unfairly racist against those of Arab descent. It is definitely a tough documentary to watch, akin to watching stuff about apartheid or the American slave trade. The documentary is entirely in Hebrew (but English subtitles are available). I recommend it because it was eye-opening.

Music of the Week:
IU – Palette

Tres Coronas – Envidias

England – Three-Piece Suite

X – Kurenai

Leuz Diwane G – Early in the morning

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “World Cup 2018”
– I finished watching Legends of Tomorrow Season 3
– I watched more Arrow Season 6
– I watched more Supergirl Season 3
– I watched more The Flash Season 4
– I watched more Agents of Shield Season 5
– I watched more Sleepy Hollow Season 2
– I started watching GLOW Season 2

A to Z Challenge Reflections 2018

May 7, 2018

It was certainly a long but interesting April, was it not? I tend to prepare for April months in advance and this year was no different. I worked fairly hard at picking my posts carefully based on what I thought would be fun to write about. On April 1, I was over two weeks ahead which was really nice. It gave me plenty of time to work on Media Update posts and to actually take a little break from blogging. During week 2 I wrote week 3 and then took another break and then I banged out the rest. For the most part, the writing went easily. Some of it was done at lunch hour at work, some on the train to and from the movie theater, but most of it was done from my couch.

This month was a little bit interesting for me because, as we all know, the real world does not stop while we blog. There was a little family get together for Seder and Easter during the weekend of April 1 so I was out of town. That’s what buffers are for. There was a much larger family get together two weeks later which was a memorial for my Great Aunt Tuta. I saw a lot of family that I had not seen for a while, some of them for at least over a decade. It was really fantastic to have a buffer built up so I could concentrate on hanging out instead of taking that time to write. I also started seeing a psychiatric nurse in April and tending more to my physical and mental health. I started on Zoloft last week.

I thought the posts I came up with worked out pretty well. Some of them ended up a little weirder than I originally intended. For example, Xenopus was a little slice of life story about a frog trying to date a human and realizing he never wanted such things. As with most one-shot stories I do, it is a reflection of what I was feeling at the time. I felt similarly odd about the story of a guy who gets dragged under a commuter train and then resurrects (Died on a Saturday). I also spent quite a bit of time doing some fan gushing about Critical Role, Undertale, NSP, and other favorites of mine. I usually never write such gushing posts but I felt like the challenge was a good excuse for it. I reviewed some movies I had I had been meaning to see. I reviewed the law (twice) and had a lot of fun doing so. Finally, I did three parts of a new as yet unnamed ongoing story.

I hate to talk numbers on my blog as I have stated over and over that I do not write this blog for page hits or views or anything. However, I was touched at how much this little blog was visited over the last month. The first year I did this challenge in 2015, I got 142 views which blew my mind. Last year, I got 398 views which really made me happy. This year, I got a whopping 528 views with 243 visitors and I am at 1000 views for the year. To put that in perspective, I am now at 2/3 of the visitors I had all year last year and it is only May. I am so glad to have all of you and that you spent even a moment on my shenanigans. Your kind words in your comments and your insightful questions were really encouraging. I hope I responded to all of you. I made a point of doing so.

I visited a lot of blogs this past April. I had a lot of fun reading your stuff and seeing how I could improve my own material. It felt really good to be so connected just like I am every year at this time. I always wish I could have done more and seen more every year but there is only so much time and energy in my day. I loved the utilization of Google Sheets to really lay out who was participating. I wish all of the links had worked but I feel that had a lot to do with people posting links before publishing the accompanying post. Once again, I feel like there is a divide between WordPress and Blogger. I wish the two linked together better but I think everything mostly worked out. I had to dust off the old HTML skills to post links in Blogger comments and I was glad to still have those skills.

I would like to give a shout out to the people who were particularly vocal in my comments and whose posts I also enjoyed:

Iain Kelly

Silvia Writes

An Artist’s Path

Beyond the Flow (Rowena)

Donna B. McNicol

Colette Bates

And many more and also the people who visited but did not comment, I hope you enjoyed yourself!

Faith of the Raven Pt. 2

April 19, 2018

Carania took a big gulp of wine as she processed this. The goddess of death was sitting in front of her quite casually. It was unnerving but it all fit. The black on black, the white mask, the feathered dress, the aura of immense power. Carania felt she had probably been impertinent to a goddess and that had to be remedied. “I’m sorry for offending you.”

“Offending me?” The queen said with a laugh. “You have impressed me. As for how I know your name, I am a goddess but you are not unknown in the world. You are Carania, possibly the best with a sword in Silverlight not to mention your proficiency with other weapons. But what interests me most is your name. You were born Cara. Caring Cara, always helping everyone as you grew up. You not only played with other children, you watched over them too. However, when you took your fencing training, you added the ‘nia’ at the end of your name.”

Carania nodded. “Yes, ma’am. I felt like I needed a change at the time. I never tried to hide anything about myself.”

“Ma’am?” the Queen asked and she laughed again. It was an almost musical laugh. “Very cute.” She waved her hand and her mask was suddenly gone and Carania immediately averted her eyes, looking down at her empty glass. There was rich laughter from the other side of the table. “You can look, dear girl. Few are allowed to see the true face of death but I trust you. Death can seem cruel but death is kind, I assure you.”

Carania looked up and saw what looked like a young woman Amela’s age. She was breathtakingly beautiful. Her waist length hair had suddenly gotten shorter and wavier and it was gathered in a stylish bun atop her head. Her face was painted to accentuate her features with striking black lips and heavy black around her eyes. Her skin was actually dark which was a bit surprising compared to the ghostly white of the mask. She looked almost like she was from the deserts to the north but she was a goddess so that could not be.

“It is like you have two names or two parts to your name. It illustrates the two sides of you. Compassion and the Sword. Both tools can be a great asset in what comes next and I need you to have every advantage you can get your hands on. I need you at your best, Carania.”

Carania swallowed the rest of the wine. “You need me? What possible use can the Raven Queen have for a mortal such as me?”

“I cannot walk the material plane as easily as you can,” the Queen said. “I need a champion out there fighting for me. I have many enemies and many things to set right and I need help. I think with your mind, your heart, and your sword, I think you can be exactly who I need.”

Carania blinked. “This is a job offer? I feel silly reminding you but I’m dead.”

“I can send you back,” the Raven Queen said. “As long as you agree to be bound to me.”

“What exactly would I do?” Carania asked.

The Raven Queen leaned forward. “You would be my sheriff. You would roam the world, mostly sending undead back to their graves by force. Undead rise all the time and they are unnatural and should be put down without hesitation.”

Carania nodded. “I’ve never met any undead but I would agree. Am I supposed to do this alone?”

“I would suggest that you partner with other people once you get back. Clergy and paladins of great faith are especially useful for this cause.”

“So, go back, recruit a fighting force and eliminate undead around the world? Is that all?” Carania mimed writing a list on her palm.

The Raven Queen laughed again. “For that, you get your life back and, seeing as how you’re an elf, you have a long way ahead of you. There will be adventures and I’m sure there’s some coin in what I’m asking if riches are your thing.”

“Where would I even start?” Carania asked.

“You would start with revenge.” Suddenly, the Raven Queen was holding up one of the arrows with the black fletching. “This is an insult. Their arrows are not even fletched with raven feathers. These are crow feathers. Fitting since the people who shot you are interfering with my harvest.” Carania looked a little lost. “There is a necromancer using human thugs to kill people for the necromancer to raise later. This necromancer is pathetic but he could become a problem later. I want you to take him and any undead out.”

“There’s plenty of incentive for that first mission,” Carania said. “I can’t pretend that the rest of it isn’t attractive either. You’re right. I do want to protect people and I have heard how nasty the undead can be.”

“Very nasty,” the Raven Queen said. “The unthinking undead such as zombies and ghouls are bad enough but the ones that think are even worse.  Eventually, you will be hunting down wights, vampires, death knights, and even liches. Do you think that you are up to the task?”

“As long as you’re not sending me back in this dress,” Carania said.

The Raven Queen laughed. “You can’t wear your armor all the time, Carania. If you do, it becomes a part of you and it becomes harder to take off when you need to. Figuratively, of course.”

“So, how does this work?” Carania asked. “How do you send me back?”

“Carania Garon, I charge you to purge the land of the undead scourge and to kill those who would unleash that threat on the world. In return, you will be resurrected, you will be harder to kill, and you will be granted special abilities to carry out your mission. In short, you will be a paladin and champion in my name. Do you accept this charge?”

Carania swallowed and nodded but looked at the Raven Queen with a steely gaze. “I do.”

“Take my hand, Carania,” the Raven Queen said. When Carania reached out to shake the Raven Queen’s hand, there was an incredible feeling just from her touch. It was cold but there was an odd tingling energy as well. The Raven Queen bent down and kissed Carania’s hand and Carania felt some of that power enter her body. She realized at that moment that she had been comfortably numb and now she felt everything again and it was exhilarating. “Goodbye for now. See you in your dreams.”

Carania suddenly woke up on the forest floor and stumbled to her feet. There was still blood everywhere but there was not even a single hole in her armor. She looked at her right hand and there was an imprint of the Raven Queen’s lips. The imprint slowly blossomed into the image of a raven with its wings spread. Carania looked out into the forest. It was time to go hunting.

Is it Thursday Yet? : Critical Role

April 10, 2018

You might be confused. When I post something titled “Is it Thursday, Yet?” on a Tuesday, you might check your smartphone and answer “No” and you might follow up with “What happens on Thursday?”. Well, I will tell you which was the whole point of this post so I was going to explain anyway. On Thursday nights a program known as Critical Role airs online. It airs on something called Twitch which is a video streaming platform built for live shows. It is produced by a company called Geek and Sundry which was founded by the wonderful Felicia Day. Critical Role is a Dungeons and Dragons show where sessions of a campaign are played live on camera.

The stars of the show are a bunch of professional voice actors who discovered a love of the game. The history of the show is that Liam O’Brien had discussed Dungeons and Dragons with his colleague Matt Mercer with Matt trying to get Liam to play. Eventually, Liam and Sam Riegel decided to take Matt up on the offer for Liam’s birthday. They gathered a group of friends and work acquaintances and did a one-shot adventure. They were all quickly hooked. The group slowly grew to a whopping nine people playing their game in Matt Mercer’s house. After over a year of playing together, they were offered a deal by Geek and Sundry to make their home campaign into a show.

That is the strength of the show, at least for me. The show began as something all of them did for fun and as an excuse to spend time with friends and work colleagues. The whole cast chose to do the show because it was an excuse to get together weekly instead of monthly and they could call it work. The show started small on Twitch and nobody involved knew if the show would attract much interest. The show may have started small but the word started to get out quickly and it was soon gathering subscribers and fans like crazy. The show made a point to interact with fans without letting them guide the show or the characters. This created a strong, mostly positive community that were united in their love for the show and the people involved.

The Cast is as follows:

Matt Mercer – Matt is the Dungeon Master and is therefore in charge of the world that surrounds the player characters. He writes the world of the game in response to the decisions that the character’s decisions. He also voices the hundreds of non-player characters that the players meet and each one is beautifully voiced by Matt in countless different voices that he invents for each character. He is a tough but fair DM and he seems to love bringing his friends through new adventures every week.

Liam O’Brien – In the first campaign, Liam plays Vax’ildan, a half-elf rogue who is reckless and broody but he also enjoys playing pranks on his friends. Vax is the twin of Vex much to the constant confusion of everyone. In the second campaign, Liam plays Caleb, a human Wizard who is fearful and grubby. At some point, Liam loved the game so much that he started to DM for his kids.

Laura Bailey – In the first campaign, Laura plays Vex’ahlia, a half-elf ranger who seeks to hide her lowborn, poor upbringing by acting like royalty. Vex is the twin of Vax, which (again) is confusing. In the second campaign, Laura plays a tiefling cleric (and thief) named Jester who says whatever she is thinking and is constantly stirring the pot. Laura is superstitious about her dice and is constantly switching them out when they start to roll poorly.

Sam Riegel – In the first campaign, Sam plays Scanlan, a gnome bard who handles every situation with bravado, style, and poop jokes. Whenever Scanlan sang in-game, Sam would sing parody versions of popular songs with lyrics to match in-game events. In the second campaign, Sam plays Nott, a female goblin rogue who wears a porcelain doll’s face as a mask. Sam is constantly trolling the fans on camera and adds a ton of easter eggs to the experience.

Travis Willingham – In the first campaign, Travis plays Grog, a goliath barbarian who is bloodthirsty and dumb but he has a good heart deep down. Travis played his character’s stupidity to the hilt. In the second campaign, he plays a half-orc warlock named Fjord who wields sword magic and his razor wit. Travis is hilarious and is constantly hitting up subtle and blatant puns.

Marisha Ray – In the first campaign, Marisha plays Keyleth, a half-elf druid who is basically a clumsy homeschooled girl with a good heart. Keyleth ended up being the conscience of the group. In the second campaign, she plays Beau, a human monk who has a very laid back personality but she stands up for what’s right. Marisha is probably the most excitable cast member.

Taliesin Jaffe – In the first campaign, Taliesin plays Percy, a human gunslinger who invented the world’s first gun and struggles with his morality. Taliesin was very creative and he was constantly trying to introduce new elements into the game. In the second campaign, he plays Mollymauk, a tiefling bloodhunter who used to work for a traveling circus. In both campaigns, Taliesin plays custom-made character classes that were created by Matt.

Ashley Johnson – In the first campaign, Ashley plays Pike, a gnome cleric who was basically team mom. In the second campaign, Ashley plays Yasha, an aasimar barbarian who is tough but fair as she used to be a bouncer for the circus. During the first campaign, Ashley was cast in the TV show Blindspot. Since it films in New York, she often has to miss out on being on the show if she cannot Skype in.

Orion Acaba – In the first campaign, Orion plays Tiberius, a dragonborn sorcerer whose lack of social graces are balanced out by his immense magical power and creativity. Orion was constantly pushing the boundaries of the rules in a bid to be as effective as possible. He left the show about thirty episodes in.

The show has never gotten old to me as Matt and the cast are constantly balancing the progression of the main plot and also each character’s personal goals. The voice actors who play these characters imbue their characters with such personality that it feels like they are real at times. As the first campaign progressed, I got to watch people who were work friends become real friends. The adventures they go on are thrilling, funny, and sad. When my mom asked what it is like to play Dungeons and Dragons with my friends, I showed her an episode of Critical Role and said: “just take away the cameras”. I recommend the show but I acknowledge that each episode is long. The episodes average about four hours each and the first campaign was over 447 hours from 115 episodes. The new campaign is only over a dozen episodes and is an easier entry point.

Gaming Chronicles: PlanetFall

April 7, 2018

(When last we spoke, we talked about the very first campaign I took part in The Frozen Star Among Us. Today I will be continuing the series chronicling the games I have taken part in so that I can remember them.)

When the Frozen Star ended, I had been playing with the group for months and I had started to figure out the dynamics of this tabletop roleplaying game thing. I felt like I was slowly making friends with the group and I was gaining courage with my choices. When we decided to move to the next campaign, I knew that I had to do better. My earlier characters felt more like cardboard cutouts than actual characters. I looked back at what they were and realized that they barely wanted anything beyond “to save the day”. I needed to reach back to the brief training I had in acting. It would help me focus on what my character wanted at the moment and also overall.

The new campaign was helmed by a different Game Master. This gamemaster had been a player who had previously pushed me to do better in my disastrous first character. I had thought that he did not like me but I now know that I was projecting my fears. But back then I was nervous to start a new campaign with him in charge. This new campaign was another science-fiction story. It was about people who lived on space stations who did not conform to society and were banished to an alien planet as a prison colony. This was immediately an exciting idea. My character would have a life before and after his fall from grace.

I started to try and figure out who I was going to be. I started with how my character fit into the society on the space station which would also shape his role among the other player characters. The background information we had been given had mentioned that the planet was littered with alien technology. I thought I could be useful as a repairman, a guy who worked in an appliance repair shop and fixed things people brought him. This was later shifted to being an engineering worker as our world changed and we reimagined the space station a little bit. So what was the fatal flaw that got my character banished? I knew that he was a good guy. To support his family, he had started to fight in an underground fighting club and he had been arrested when it was raided.

Later, as we played more and I thought about it more, I came up with more of the backstory. He and his sister had been orphaned when their parents died of a drug overdose. He was the only one captured in the raid because he lost the fight and was knocked unconscious. He was deeply troubled by being banished to the planet because his little sister had been left alone on the station. He felt that he had been betrayed by the government that he had respected but he also felt that he belonged down below. All that was left was a name for my character. I decided to name him Phillip Brooks, stealing CM Punk’s real name. This started the trend of me creating characters with pro-wrestlers’ names but this one was the most egregious.

On arrival at the planet, my character teamed with a ragtag group. There was a thief, a computer programmer, a fashion designer, a mad scientist, a religious zealot, and arms dealer. (Later, the arms dealer was replaced by a soldier). Not long after getting to the camp that would be his new home, my character was propositioned by the mad scientist. It was mindless, meaningless sex but it was a comfort in the new situation. Later, on an expedition to explore their surroundings, the group found foreign berries. Before the scientist could taste test them, my big strong character volunteered with the belief that he would survive. The berries were basically a strong narcotic and my character became an addict. Phillip became angry and sullen and eventually, he nearly died. The scientist saved his life, bringing him back from a coma.

The combination of her saving his life and their brief sexual encounter made Phillip want to protect her. That became my character’s prime directive and he often hung around her, making sure she was safe and practically became her pet. He became dedicated to proving that he was actually a good person and that he was not the monster that he had become. He wanted their community to thrive even if he and the rest of them probably did not deserve to do so. Along the way, they fought the planet’s natives who were strange cat people who may have had good reason to fight the new invaders. The group also discovered a race of sentient trees which were later used as part of a water filtration system for the camp.

In the end, Phillip and the party were sent out on a mission to reestablish contact with a mining operation in the mountains. Phillip was starting to feel better about himself and when they arrived, he was pointed toward a busted radio. The radio was the reason that contact had been lost. Given the opportunity to fix something electronic unlocked something in Phillip and for the first time in a long time, he felt happy again. Unfortunately, an explosion went off in the mines where the rest of his party was and we left the campaign on a cliffhanger on whether everybody else survived or not.

This game was my first experience with the FATE system. For those who do not know, the FATE system is an attempt to simplify the usual D20 system of play. Players role four six-sided die with pluses and minuses on them. A failure on a roll would be mostly negative dice and a success would be mostly positive dice. There were also many skills that characters could have. In addition, characters had abilities and character flaws that responded to “fate chips”. These chips were used to help to reroll or alter rolls to succeed where a player might have failed because of a bad roll. It was an interesting system to learn and, so far, it is the system we have used the most in our group.

Game Soundtrack:

The Pretty RecklessHeaven Knows

I still think this is the perfect song to describe the ragtag group that Phillip became a part of. They were a group of criminals and misfits (for the most part) and they probably all deserved the punishment they got. It was best to just own it. It also described Phillip’s guilt at being banished to the prison planet in the first place.

The Pretty RecklessMy Medicine 

I heard this song and I instantly thought of Phillip’s battle with addiction. He thought he was eating some berries that would at worst make him feel ill but ended up an addict like his parents had been. He felt so hopeless.

Avenged SevenfoldBat Country

This was one of my jams during the time that we played this campaign and it just seemed to reflect where Phillip was. “Too many doses and I’m starting to get an attraction”, “My hand is on the trigger”, “Nobody can save me”, and other phrases just seemed to reflect who Phillip was becoming from the addiction. But what really sold me is the quote “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.”

The Faith of the Raven

April 6, 2018

Carania lay on the cold, wet ground of the Hernon forest. The ground was cold and wet from the melting frost of an early spring morning. The sun was just rising to burn the cold away and the morning was still in that middling period between cold night and warm day. There was also a decent fog going which is the excuse Carania was giving herself for why she had not seen the arrows heading in her direction. Three of them had hit her and one of those three was currently buried deep in her gut. It had been like this for quite a while but Carania no longer had the strength to move. She was powerless to do anything but watch her blood mingle with the wetness of the grass beneath her. She suspected some sort of paralyzing agent or enchantment. Either way, she was definitely going to bleed out and it would not be long.

She wished she had seen who had shot her. It would not have helped her situation any but it would have lessened her confusion as her life dripped out of her and fed the grass. She could see the fletching on one of the arrows and there were some greasy black feathers sticking out. The work was crude but it had obviously done well enough to end her life. That was the only real evidence she had of her murderers. She had not been expecting trouble. In fact, she had merely been looking for a shortcut as she traveled toward a gig in Silverlight. She had been a bodyguard for a niece of the Silverlight family for years but the family had gotten her a more prestigious job in the Capital. She hated to say goodbye to Amela but she could not turn down an offer to walk the streets of the capital. Of course, now that was definitely not going to happen.

As her vision started to grow dark, she wondered if the Silverlight family would have her resurrected. She doubted they would ever find her body to perform the ritual and somewhere in her heart, she doubted their professed loyalty to her even in return for her years of loyalty. She had given up a normal life and more specifically any chance of romance for years of service. Now, she would die and it would not even be in the defense of a client or for any good cause. Her heart began to hurt and she was not sure if it was literally hurting or if it had broken from thinking these thoughts. She realized at that point that she could not see anymore and in the darkness, she tried to reach out but her arms still could not move. She tried to cry out but she made no sound although she wondered if she could even hear anymore. Then there was nothing.

Then her eyes were blinking open and there was black tile beneath her. She was in exactly the same position on her side she had been on the grass of the clearing but there was tile instead. Carania was intensely confused. She slowly moved her eyes toward her stomach and she could not see the arrow anymore. This was even more confusing. She stayed there on the floor for some time and nothing changed. She felt weak and helpless for the first time since she was a little girl. She never wanted to feel this way again. She used that desire as power.

“Help,” she called out but it sounded weak, her voice cracking. “Please help.” A little stronger but not by much.

“Oh, are you going to lie on the floor any longer?” A feminine voice called out. “Feel free but I am getting bored over here.”

“I got shot,” Carania said. “I can’t move. Some sort of poison or magic. Sorry for boring you.” She sounded annoyed. The woman was not being nearly sympathetic about the situation as she should be.

“Do you not remember what happened after you were shot?” The woman asked. “You’re dead. You don’t have to act hurt after you’re dead. Especially in my domain.”

It was as if a spell was cast and suddenly Carania could move and she realized that she felt no pain. She was not even breathing. She rolled onto her hands and knees and, from there, she pushed herself to her feet. She realized her armor was gone and she was in a dress that had previously been shoved to the bottom of her pack which was also missing. It was a pretty dress that she had been forced to wear at formal occasions that Amela attended. She hated it now just as much as she hated it then. She looked around the room. The floor was matte black tile and there was jet black wallpaper with dull silver detail. There was a spindly onyx chandelier hanging above with blue-flamed candles that somehow cast the perfect amount of light. Black on black on black was an interesting style choice.

She turned toward where it sounded like the woman had been. There was a young woman sitting at a table. She had long black hair but her face was covered by what looked like an expressionless porcelain mask. Carania blinked twice and the mask was now smiling. A laugh came from behind that mask as if it was not there and the effect was a little disturbing.

“Welcome to the Outer Planes and my home,” the woman said. “At least, this is one of the more stable parts of it. Do you like the decor? It’s easy to keep changing it when reality is so… subjective.”

All Carania could do was make a confused, hopeless noise as she just stared at the woman. This was not what she had been expecting from the afterlife at all.

“Sit down, Carania,” the woman said. “We have much to discuss.  I also have tea.” There were two steaming cups of tea sitting on the table. Had they been there before?

Carania slowly, cautiously lowered herself into a chair. “I don’t really like tea.”

“Wine? Ale?”

“Wine? It’s not even noon yet,” Carania said with disapproval.

“You are dead,” the woman said. “I think the rules don’t apply to you anymore.”

There was suddenly a glass of dark black wine in front of Carania and she decided to sip it. It was surprisingly sweet. It reminded Carania a little of the one glass of wine Amela had convinced her to drink back in Silverlight. “Who are you? Where am I? How do you know my name.”

“You haven’t guessed?” The woman asked. “I am the Raven Queen and I wanted to meet you.”


Eat S**t, Bob!

April 5, 2018

I am a huge fan of political humor and I am a big nerd when it comes to research. Research is actually a big part of why I decided to become a paralegal. If I had more time, I would do a lot of research in my free time as I looked up a lot of things that interest me. So it is that I like shows like Jon Oliver’s Last Week Tonight. The show is a weekly show that examines current events and tries to explain and reveal its subject matter so that people can get another perspective from actual journalism and social media. The show is known for singling out a specific topic or event and doing a deep delve into it. Oliver and his crew research the heck out of things and then contact all parties involved in the issue to allow them to comment. But, let us see what we can do with just a little bit of research and examine one of the funniest legal documents I have had the pleasure to read.


The issue at hand in this post is Jon Oliver’s episode segment about the coal industry and in particular, he decided to shine a spotlight on Bob Murray. You can see the entire segment above on YouTube but I will try to make this post make sense without watching. Robert “Bob” Murray is CEO of Murray Energy which is the largest coal mining company in the United States of America. In the show, Oliver took Murray to task mostly for not caring about coal workers and various lies he had (allegedly) been caught in. Bob Murray is notoriously litigious so few people have ever really gunned for him like Oliver and his team did. Oliver acknowledged that he was opening himself up to a potential lawsuit but stood by his words and dared Murray to bring it on. He ended his show by having a man in a squirrel costume say “Eat S**t, Bob!”.


Predictably, Murray filed a complaint for defamation in a West Virginia court. All of this happened in off camera and definitely was not a publicity stunt, at least not on Bob Murray’s part. What I wanted to teach you about today is something called an amicus curiae brief. An amicus curiae brief is literally a commentary on the issue at hand from a “friend of the court”. This “friend” is a party not involved in the suit (as plaintiff or defendant) who wants to offer their interpretation of the law and any recommendations they might have for the judge involved. This commentary attempts to provide arguments or additional information that the courts may not be considering. In this case, the amicus brief came from the West Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. I am admittedly a big fan of the ACLU and I follow their journey to defend freedom in the land of the free.

The ACLU correctly points out that the first defense to defamation is always truth.

The first defense the ACLU points out is that since all of John Oliver’s speech is protected as free speech by the First Amendment, Bob cannot sue him for being mean. The First Amendment of the Constitution places limits on what is and what is not defamation. One of the forms of protected speech is satire which Jon Oliver’s show definitely falls under. Oliver and his team use ridiculous overtures and comedic statements to highlight an issue that is of public interest. As the ACLU points out, the segment begins with Oliver saying that coal is “Basically cocaine for Thomas the Tank Engine”. While Oliver and his team make sure to include plenty of facts, the show is heavy on opinion which is also protected speech under the First Amendment. Opinions are not to be combatted in a court of law but are supposed to be solved through competition and debate. If Bob Murray wants to convince people that Jon Oliver is wrong, he needs to debate it in the court of public opinion and not waste the time of the actual courts of West Virginia.


The ACLU also takes issue with Bob Murray taking further action by trying to slap a restraining order and an injunction against Oliver and HBO. Restraining orders and injunctions are intended to get somebody to prevent somebody from doing something and to stop somebody from doing something respectively. In this case, Bob Murray filed both of these to make sure that Oliver’s show could not talk about Murray or Murray Energy again in order to stop them from tainting a potential jury. In reality, his feelings were hurt by Oliver’s piece and now he wants to make sure that Oliver never tries to hurt him again. When an action like an injunction goes up against a constitutional right, there needs to be intense scrutiny. Basically, while Murray is trying to gag Jon Oliver, he is holding press conferences about the case himself which is unfair. In addition, the First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press and, as long as the speech is not defamatory (hurtful lies), no private citizen can tell the press what to report. Oliver is the first to say that he is not really a journalist but his show is news media adjacent and the rule still applies.


Basically, the ACLU is saying that there is nothing actually actionable in the complaint (lawsuit) against Jon Oliver and Home Box Office. In layman’s terms, Oliver and company never actually did anything illegal and therefore the lawsuit should be dismissed out of hand. The elements of defamation are as follows:

(1) a false statement about the plaintiff is made, (2) that statement was broadcast, (3) the defendant is responsible for the broadcast, and (4) the broadcast caused damage to the plaintiff. When a celebrity or famous figure is the one filing for defamation, there is an additional element in that (5) there was actual malice in the broadcast.

Oliver and HBO definitely broadcast their information (2 and 3) and the broadcast probably damaged Murray’s reputation (4). Actual malice is not what it sounds like. It means that the defendant knew the false statement (1) was false or did not care enough to fact check it. If you go back to my first paragraph, you will remember how much work Oliver’s crew puts into research and none of his stated facts were proven false. Also, opinions and flat out insults cannot be “false” by definition. The complaint falls apart there which is exactly what the judge in the case ruled in the end.

Died On a Saturday

April 4, 2018

(Edit 5/11/18: Yesterday, a man was hit by a light rail train during my morning commute.  I use those trains almost every day and that is where this story came from.  It is morbid and I kind of regret it now knowing that it can easily happen in real life.  I will not be removing it but I did not intend any offense to loved ones of those who have been hit by these trains.)

I remember the bus. No wait, it was a train. A train is way more impressive anyway. The local Light Rail train’s lights were flashing and the horn was blaring and the driver’s eyes were wide. They were really wide. As wide as I have ever seen eyes. I suppose I may have changed his life. I remember all of that. I do not remember the impact although I imagine there must have been one. Perhaps several impacts followed by a prolonged dragging. It is hard to tell, the report is kind of redacted on the specifics. I am not sure if that is for liability purposes or to spare me some kind of emotional or mental trauma. Either way, it is both a relief and an annoyance.

Let me take it back a little if I can engage in a little bit of a Hollywood cliche. I was heading to the Charles Theater in Station North. They were showing The Sting and Oh, Brother Where Art Thou? both of which I had already seen several times over. I kind of decided informally a while ago that I was not going to rewatch things since there is too much on my plate to watch but this was too good to pass up. I had never seen The Sting on the big screen and it is one of my favorite movies. Anyway, I plugged my headphones into my phone and walked to wait for the train.

The train took forever to come but soon I was hopping aboard and I even quickly found a seat which often doesn’t happen on workdays. As heavy metal songs gave way to musicals, I rolled my way through two stops, finally hopping out right near the Lyric, the sight of my college internship. To think, I outlasted an institution like Baltimore Opera Company. I shook my head and started to cross the tracks, thinking the train would have to stop for traffic like it does when I get off at Lexington. I was wrong. A horn, a flashing light, a scarred driver and then darkness. Pure darkness. Painless darkness.

But not forever. The darkness I woke up to was a different sort. There was still an absence of light but not an absence of consciousness. There was also the presence of a crick in my neck and a throbbing in my temples. I reached out blindly and felt what I imagined was steel. I traced my hands along the metal, and when I found that I was in a box, I started banging on it wildly. Eventually, somebody in blue scrubs opened the drawer I was in and I climbed out, nearly knocking the man over. He started screaming and it was probably not because I was naked. I felt a little dizzy so I sat down and held my head in my hands as the screaming continued.

And that more or less brings me to now. The above statement is everything that I can remember happening. Well, a whole crowd of doctors and security flooded the room after that. After they realized that I was not a zombie (at least not in the traditional sense, the security guys backed off and let the doctors go to work. They examined me top to bottom and I got a plate full of cafeteria food after I put on some clothes. There were all sorts of apologies but I figured that I was alive and in good health. No harm, no foul. Still, they wanted me for observation and doctors started to interview me.

Finally, I decided to question one of them. “Why are you asking me all of these questions?” I asked. “You guys messed up. You made a mistake. You thought I was dead and you were wrong.”

The young man was a medical student and he seemed astonished by my question. “You mean, nobody’s told you?”

“Told me what?” I asked. “They keep asking questions. They don’t actually tell me things.”

“You definitely died,” he said. “Look at this.” He handed me a packet of papers and I started to look through it. As I did, my stomach started to do somersaults and I was at risk for throwing up some more of that cafeteria food. The first thing in the packet was my death certificate. I shrugged that first blow off as a mistake. Then I got to the actual technical mumbo jumbo. It was a lot harder to shrug off. “Look at the time they signed of on your death. Last Saturday at 1 PM.”

“Died on a Saturday,” I half-mumbled. “Good thing I wasn’t buried the next day.”

“What?” He asked, a funny look on his face.

“Oh, just a poem that I remembered,” I said. “Google Solomon Grundy.”

“Died on a Saturday. Reborn on a Wednesday?” He asked.

“I guess that’s how my poem goes,” I conceded. “But I still argue that I could have been in a coma that whole time.

“Look at the last page,” He said. “When they brought you in you were in two pieces. You look fine to me.”

I could feel the blood drain from my face. “I’m feeling less fine all the time.”

The student looked at me kindly. “Just relax. You’re back in one piece. You’re walking and talking. You’ve got clothes on again. All the tests came back with healthy results.”

“No wonder you all are studying me before I can go,” I said. “Well, study on then. I want to know the answer.”

* * *

“So that’s the story,” I said. “My death and resurrection.”

The investigator from the MTA was completely shaken on the other side of the table. She had been jotting down notes at first but at some point in the story, she had just stopped. “So, what does it all mean?”

“Well,” I said. “I guess it means the Maryland Transit Administration is definitely not liable for running me over. I’ve studied enough to realize there are no real damages to sue for.”

“No, I mean, well, yes thank you,” she said. “I mean what does it mean in general? Why did you come back like you did?”

“I have no idea,” I said with a shrug. I leaned back in my chair.

Barton Fink (1991)

April 2, 2018

I used to work a lot in live theater and I still hold a lot of love for the medium in my heart. While I was working for theaters, I wrote a play and more recently I wrote another play. The first was kind of teenage angsty and I would need to dig to see if I could still find it. In case your curious, it was a one-act play about a young woman visiting her sister in a mental institution. I cannot remember the general arc of the play but I do remember thinking it was super deep. It had one reading and it was in our high school creative writing class. At one point, the patient whispers something into somebody else’s ear and the person blushes. People asked me what she said and I shrugged and said that it was up to people’s imaginations. This was not a satisfying answer to my classmates. I wrote the whole thing in the lobby of Spotlighter’s Theater (a theater here in town). The second play is kind of a meta-fantasy adventure that has to do with identity politics and my obsession with finding one’s narrative. The point here is that writing scripts is difficult but interesting.

I am completely enamored by the world of Hollywood. At least, I am enamored with the glitzy, positive side of the business. I have been watching movies since I was a tiny tot but I have been interested in behind the scenes information since I was about fourteen. I worked in live theater but I knew people who worked for the Hollywood system (though mostly in Baltimore). It always seemed mythical and larger than life to me. However, I have read enough to know the downsides. The theater is a highly collaborative art form as the cast and crew find the play through weeks (or months) of rehearsal. In film, there is more a series of final decisions. The director does not wield as much ultimate power in the Hollywood system. The studios are always breathing down their necks to make changes. For writers, it is even worse. You work hard on writing a script and then you sell it and they can bring any number of writers to rewrite your work and make it unrecognizable from what sprouted from your mind and heart. Of course, this is all what I have gathered from interviews and articles and I am sure it cannot all be that negative all the time.

First and foremost, this is a period piece written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen (popularly known as the Coen Brothers). Period pieces created by the Coen Brothers are a proven commodity in Hollywood and their movies, in general, are things that I will always give a shot. Movies like O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Fargo, and Hail, Caesar! are among my favorite movies. Even movies that I did not like as much were far better than other movies that I have seen. This is one of their early movies (their fifth) and it definitely fits in with their best. It is set in Los Angeles in the early forties at a time when the movie business was really growing. The movie follows John Turturro as an awkward yet passionate writer whose success on Broadway earns him a deal to write for Hollywood. Turturro is such a versatile actor. I have seen him as an unintelligent thug, a cartoon monkey, and a racist ass. Here he plays an intelligent man out of his element well. John Goodman is his main co-star and he plays the common man who Turturro’s character strives to write about but finds is different from his assumptions. There is also Tony Shalhoub as a hardened, cynical producer, John Mahoney as a contemporary writer, and Judy Davis as a beleaguered secretary.

This was a very interesting movie and there is not much that I could write here that could spoil the experience of watching it. The movie is notoriously hard to pin down as it could be film noir, horror, or several other genres. In fact, I read after watching that the movie is highly debated and the Coen Brothers have only confirmed a few theories. I have a few takeaways myself. The movie has a lot to with class differences. When we get separated from other walks of life, we start making generalizations and assumptions about people who are different from us. The life of the mind is also a big part of it and how dangerous one’s mind can be. Movies like The Shining and 1408 have tackled the kind of dangers one faces when they get too far inside of their head. There is also a deep unhappiness that can form from success, where we start to feel trapped by advancements that we never aimed for. I also really got a vibe about expectations and when our expectations exceed reality and how disillusioned we can get. There is a lot to unpack in this movie and far more than I have written here. All of it is done in kind of an offbeat, surreal style that just seems to be driven by awkwardness.

Overall, I loved the movie. While the movie does remain something of a strange mystery, I love a good mystery. This will be something that my mind will be chewing on and deciphering for quite some time. The dialogue is strange but also very human in certain ways, similar to The Big Lebowski (which the Coens also wrote). The pacing is unnerving and after a while, I was afraid to see what would happen next but I also needed to see it. Maybe it is because I consider myself a writer, but this movie really struck at the core of me. But I think that in many ways Turturro’s plight is universal, something that everybody faces at different times in their lives. I definitely recommend this movie but do not strain yourself too hard trying to decipher the meaning of everything.

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