Friday, January 30, 2015

The Loft

Rated R / 1 hr 48 min / Thriller

What is it about?

A group of five friends are at a party for a building opening. One of the friends is the architect that designed the building. He brings them up to a loft in the building and proposes that they all use the place as their spot to relax without having to go to a hotel or have their significant others see it on their credit card statement. The others don't know what to make of it at first. The last of the five friends finally gets married and as his wedding present the architect hands him a key to the place. The others all also get keys at the wedding. After several months of using the place for their secret trysts, one of them comes in to find a dead girl handcuffed to the bed. Now they need to figure out who did it and how to clean it up without giving it away to the police or their wives.

You will like it if...

You like intelligent thrillers. The actors in this movie are decent, but none really carry that star power of the A list actors. Karl Urban and James Marsden come close, but neither distinguishes themself over any or the other actors in the film. The script is the real star. The story builds slowly as they give you a information bit by bit leading to the finale where you learn the why and how of everything. Each twist and turn is doled out in a way to keep an even pace to ensure the audience isn't bored. Even though the film throws a lot at you, it's not difficult to keep up with what is going on. The Loft is an above average thriller, but it never rises to the point of being something special that you must see. In the end it is somewhat interesting and a bit entertaining, but never quite reaches the point of being a great movie.


Friday, January 23, 2015

Mortdecai

Rated R / 1 hr 46 min / Action - Comedy

What is it about?

Follow the misadventures of Lord Mortdecai, a shady art dealer who is completely broke. He meets up with a collector to sell a vase, but the collector decides he is going to double cross Mortdecai. He also wants one of Mortdecai's fingers. His trusty manservant Jock gets him out of trouble. Upon his return Mortdecai is approached by an old friend from school who now works for Mi5. Mi5 Agent Martland needs his connections with the shady underbelly of the art world to help solve a crime and catch a terrorist. A painting has been stolen that many collectors want, and they all seem to think Mortdecai has it. The terrorist, the collector who wants Mortdecai's finger, and a crazy Russian collector are all chasing after him for this painting. Will Mortdecai be able to find the painting before it's too late?

You will like it if...

You like clever action comedies. It's hard to compare this movie to other movies because this kind of movie is very rare. There are many movies that are clever or try to be, like Now You See Me or Law Abiding Citizen. The action comedy genre is dominated by movies like 21 Jump Street. None of these have the zest for silliness that Mortdecai has. From a comedic aspect the movie is hilarious in spots, but in others the jokes completely miss or go over the head of the audience. They don't let Johnny Depp run too far off the ledge with the silliness, opting for a more intellectual humor more often than I thought they would based off the preview. Don't worry, there is still plenty of silly to go around as well. Gweneth Paltrow is fantastic as Lady Mortdecai, but while her character is critical to the story it still feels like she was underused. Paul Bettany isn't given many lines to work with, but he is constantly pulling Mortdecai out of trouble in the action scenes, sometimes to comedic effect. I enjoyed Mortdecai, but it's not for everyone. It's a hybrid movie that tries to do a bit of everything, but doesn't truly excel at anything. The melding of comedy, action, and story makes for an enjoyable experience.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

American Sniper

Rated R / 2 hr 13 min / Action - Biography - Drama

What is it about?

This movie follows the life of Chris Kyle. He starts out as a cowboy who is riding horses in competitions on weekends. After a weekend of competing, he comes home to find his girlfriend cheating on him. He kicks the girlfriend and the guy out. Something important comes out of this encounter. He realizes that he is destined for a higher purpose. He signs up for the NAVY and during Seal training they find that he has skill with a sniper rifle. On his wedding day he finds out that he is being deployed to Iraq. He goes on to become the most lethal sniper in American history through three more tours of duty. His family wants him to come home, but he brings the war home with him.

You will like it if...

You like war films that deal with the tortured souls who fight in it. First and foremost Bradley Cooper gives the best performance of his life. You can tell that he is very passionate about the character he plays. Clint Eastwood has a tendency to make long drawn out movies that have long lulls in the action. American Sniper is the exception. It is long and drawn out, but I never felt like the action dropped off like in his other films. The movie isn't perfect. It displays the horrors of the war in Iraq effectively, but the story flops all over the place like a fish out of water with no direction. I think that is mostly the result of trying to compress several years of Chris Kyle's life into a movie. Clint Eastwood did the best he could with the source material and crafted the best war movie I've seen in several years. It felt like everyone involved brought their A game to try to do justice to the story of Chris Kyle's life.

One last thing I want to mention. I have seen a lot of people spouting hate towards Islam, muslims, etc.. after seeing this movie. This is a story about protecting each other, not hating people for their religion or where they grew up. If you're not mature enough to avoid giving into that stigma then you shouldn't watch this movie because you're missing the point. Chris didn't want to pull that trigger to take a life. He did it because if he hadn't then someone else would have died.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Taken 3

PG-13 / 1 hr 49 min / Action - Crime - Thriller

What is it about?

In this third edition of Taken, Liam Neeson reprises his role as Bryan Mills. His ex-wife meets up with him to say that she is having problems with her current husband. They are trying to work things out, but she still thinks of Bryan. She texts him to meet at his place for bagels. He goes to pick some up. When he gets home, the ex-wife is already there and the door is unlocked. He steps on a knife that appears to have blood on it. He finds her in his bedroom with her throat slit. While trying to check her pulse, the police burst in to arrest him.

You will like it if...

You liked the second Taken movie. Just like the previous movies the action is front and center. There are a lot of jump cuts in the fight and action scenes that gives the illusion of speed, but it also makes it hard to see exactly what is going on at times. It's like watching a flip book where each frame doesn't really match up with the previous frame. The script tries to be clever, but there are too many holes in it to succeed. Liam and Forrest do their usual serviceable jobs, but it seems like they are winking at each other when they interact. Even with all of the issues, the movie still manages to be entertaining. It could have easily been a much better movie than it ended up being. If you love Liam Neeson movies then this is a decent one to go see, otherwise it's just your average action/thriller.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Selma

PG-13 / 2 hr 13 min / Biography - Drama - History

What is it about?

The civil rights movement is in full swing in 1965. Martin Luther King Jr. is looking for a place to push President Lyndon Johnson to pass a bill that would protect those who only wish to execute their legal right to vote. After a terrorist attack on a church that kills four children, King decides on Selma as the place to tackle this problem. Standing in their was in Sheriff Jim Clark who is a bit of a bully. The first confrontation is at the City Hall building where the voting registration office is. The sheriff blocks them there, and the standoff ends in violence. They arrest Dr. King, but that does not weaken his resolve. They decide to organize a march on the state capitol in Montgomery.

You will like it if...

You like moving political dramas based off the civil rights movement. The story in this movie is even more impactful if you consider that it only covers one small part of the story of Dr. Martin Luther King. The story in this film is powerful and moving like many of King's speeches. It's easy to get caught up in the strong emotions of the story. The acting is decent, but at times it can feel a bit like a documentary rather than a movie. Considering recent events you can pick a cause to apply what you learn from this movie. Just think of what the United States would be like today if good men did nothing when they were called to action in Selma. Think of what we could all accomplish if we banded together and tried to fix the problems of today. I would recommend this movie to anyone that is interested in making the world a better place for the future. It's not a perfect movie and drags in parts, but it is an inspiring look at one of the impactful moments of the civil rights movement.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Character Building Guide - Part 4: Basic Attributes

< Previous Post | Table of Contents | Next Post >

In this edition of the character building guide we will discuss how to determine the basic attributes of your character. These describe the physical or mental potential of the character. Whenever a character tries to do anything these attributes come into play and it helps determine their chance of success. Of course, if it's a trivial task that should be easy for anyone then these attributes won't come into play too often. This will help to keep your characters grounded. These attributes may keep your from having your characters perform a task that is impossible for them. I'm using the basic GURPS character sheet which contains four main attributes and several secondary characteristics based on those attributes. We will go over skills in another part of this guide, but every skill is based off these base values. The skills listed on the character sheet are ones that the character has had some experience or training in. Untrained skills use these base values modified depending on how difficult the task is.

Each attribute using the GURPS system is assigned a numerical value. You can write out your own description or use whichever system you choose. For the purposes of this guide I will use values based on the GURPS system on a scale of 0-20 for the main attributes. 10 will designate the average person, 20 would be at an all time best value, and 0 would be so low that the person wouldn't be able to function. Let's dig into it!

Method

Main Attributes

  • Step 1 - Strength. This is pretty self explanitory. A weak character might not be able to do one pull up. This would prevent them from being able to pull themselves up if they are hanging over the side of a cliff. Adrenaline can help them pull themselves up once, but probably not more than that. A strong character might be able to lift a car or perform any of the tasks shown in strongman competitions.
  • Step 2 - Dexterity. This can mean a few things depending on what you look at. I'm using it as a blanket term to stand for the character's agility, coordination, and fine motor skills. You can seperate those out as needed for your character. This can help determine everything from skill at acrobatics to the ability to repair pocket watches. Obviously someone's ability to do a backflip doesn't mean they can pick a lock well. I usually will break this down into smaller categories depending on how vital it may be to the story.
  • Step 3 - Intelligence. The character's intelligence determines their aptitude at any mental skills. This could be further broken down into smaller attributes like memmory, intuition, creativity, reason, etc.. Most RPG systems use this as as a base for all magic use, but I think that depends on the magic system you intend to use or create. Psionics would rely heavily on this attribute as well.
  • Step 4 - Health. This measures a character's vitality. This attribute governs stamina, disease resistance, poison resistance, etc. If you're writing high fantasy or adventure this could be an important stat to keep track of. Stamina may come into play for every genre in one way or another even if your characters aren't in any mortal danger.

Secondary Characteristics

  • Step 5 - Damage based on Strength. This is more useful for people who are playing the characters in a pencil and paper RPG game, but it can be useful for adventure stories using mostly melee weapons. Any story that has hand to hand combat of any sort could use this information. Damage is usually determined by a dice roll in the GURPS system. I prefer to write out a description of the kind of fighter the character is.
  • Step 6 - Lift based on Strength. How much can your character lift with one hand in one second? Strength squared then divided by 5 is the GURPS way of figuring it out. Quadruple that and that is the weight they can lift with both hands. Most RPG systems stuff everything into a backpack and let the character run with it. I like to try to figure out how wide of a wingspan they have as well. Just because your character can easily lift 20 lbs. doesn't mean they have arms long enough to carry a 60 inch TV that weighs 20 lbs without it slowing them down. Wingspan is usually close to the same as the character's height.
  • Step 7 - Willpower based on Intelligence. The character's willpower determines their ability to resist any kind of psychological stress. That includes mental attacks through magic or psionics. It also determines their ability to withstand interrogation, hypnotism, fear, or anything else that could cause a character to panic. Physical resistance of torture to prevent passing out would be controlled by health rather than willpower. The rating for this would be equal to that of the character's intelligence in most cases. Characters who had been trained to resist interrogation or torture may have a higher willpower rating than their intelligence.
  • Step 8 - Perception based on Intelligence. This is vital for mystery or thriller stories as it can determine if the character notices or finds a clue that might make things a bit easier for them. What author wants to make things easy for their characters? This wouldn't necessarily be effected by poor eyesight or blindness as the character's other senses might be hightened to compensate. They may notice it in an entirely different way though. Normally perception rating is equal to the intelligence rating. For detectives or investigators who have experience in investigating minute details, this rating may be higher.
  • Step 9 - Reaction Speed based on Dexterity and Health. This will determine the character's ability to dodge or block an attack. If another character tosses a ball at them unexpectantly then this could help determine if it hits them in the face or if they are able to catch it whole holding something in both hands. The GURPS method requires a bit of math. It's (Dexterity + Health)/4. I prefer to divide it by 2 and use it in a similar manner to the other main attributes (0-20 scale) to simplify things. In GURPS they add 3 to this value to determine your dodge value. I think of dodging as being the character's reaction speed vs. the movement speed of whatever they are reacting to. It makes things easy when their reaction speed is 11 (slightly above the average human) vs. a speeding bullet (a lot faster than the average human). Yea, dodging bullets would be difficult.
  • Step 10 - Movement Speed based on Dexterity. Straight line running speed is depermined by this stat. For the GURPS system this is equal to the reaction speed, but rounding off any fractions. The GURPS number represents how many yards the character can move within a second while sprinting. That works well for short distances while role playing. I like to record this as a 40 yard sprint time similar to what they use at the NFL combine to determine their speed. It's easier for me to imagine the scene that way because I can use NFL players as a point of reference.

Example

  • Strength: 9
  • Dexterity: 12
  • Intelligence: 11
  • Health: 13
  • Damage: She is not much of a fighter. Petra doesn't do much damage with her fists or any melee weapon. She does have a knife that could do damage if applied to the right spot, but she has very little combat training for the weapon.
  • Lift: 9 squared is 81. Divide that by 5 and you get 16.5. Quadruple that and you get 66 lbs.
  • Willpower: 11
  • Perception: 11
  • Reaction Speed: (12 + 13)/2 = 12.5 (The value would be 6.25 using the GURPS system)
  • Movement Speed: 6 using the GURPS system. This would result in a 40 yard time of 6.67 seconds. Slow for an athlete, but the average person would come in around 8 seconds.

Use

Penta flies through the air. She regrets not pulling her hood back up before jumping. It feels like the wind is catching the hood, dragging her down. Her right foot lands on the corner of the ground on the other side. The dirt gives way and her foot sinks down towards the trench. Her momentum carries the rest of her body across. The left knee lands hard on the ground. Penta dips her shoulder to turn it into a roll across and pull her right leg out of the hole.

Penta lays on her back looking up towards the zombies still chasing after her in their slow and steady pace. She gets up as they get closer to the edge. The settlement's outer wall is within sight about five miles away. She sighs and walks towards it. After a few steps, the stench and grunts from the zombies behind make her turn back. The zombies had picked up the pace and were at the edge reaching towards her. She watches a few of them tumble down into the trench. They will wander down there for months clawing at the dirt, but they don't have the knowledge to climb out. That's what Penta has been told all her life anyway.

As she gets closer Penta can see the black paint scrawled on the outside of the stone wall. The uneven letters say "Morgantown". The gate on this side has a drawbridge with another trench that is too long to jump across, but only wide enough to keep any zombies from reaching the one vulnerable spot in the wall.

Penta checks the cross on her forearm. It's her pass to get inside the walls. A voice calls out from the top of the wall. A man with a red beard says, "Have you eaten today?"

She wants to say yes, but her stomach and lack of provisions in her backpack disagree with her. "No I haven't."

"Think Fast!"

An orange flies down towards her. Penta can't remember the last time she had one. It's thrown a bit short, and she has to run forward. She catches it at just below knee height. Tearing into it and with juice streaming down her cheeks, she realizes that she forgot something. "Thank you!"

"Stay where you are, and bare your cross. We're coming out." The bridge drops and Penta can see the heavy chains used to raise and lower it. They must have someone strong. She doesn't think she could do it. Hopefully they will let her in. She could use a warm bath and bed.
< Previous Post | Table of Contents | Next Post >