“Normal” Al Yankovic

I’m in the mood for something simple tonight, so let’s talk turkey about the real Alfred Matthew Yankovic, the man behind the music. The surprisingly average and unremarkable man from the small American town of Lynwood, CA. This man:

weirdalunplugged

Alfred revealed the truth behind his outrageous stage persona in a moving and deeply personal documentary / concert for MTV, “Weird Al Unplugged”. Mental Floss has a clip from the landmark TV special, and background on the satirical songster himself (including surprising trivia, such as his role in the infamous Dr. Demento “Piggyback Payola” scandal) at the link.

Why They Wrecked World War Z

I thought World War Z was a mediocre film. And now I know why: it was. It was an almost-great movie that was lacking a certain something.

Blood.

I’m not talking about the kind of gore that makes the ending of Shaun of the Dead  nauseating, I’m talking about simple human blood. Like a pool of blood on the floor of a pharmacy.

The scene happens pretty early on in the movie (14 minute mark unrated, 13:40 theatrical, if you want to compare). Brad Pitt (fighting zombies with nothing more than his sheer movie-star hotness) needs an inhaler for his asthmatic daughter, so they take to the streets of zombie-infested Philadelphia to raid a pharmacy. During which, they meet this guy:

worldwarzpharmacy

Oooh, scary! Dangerous!

No, not really. The guy is a little bit off, but seems more shell-shocked than psycho, and he has a gun, but so does Pitt. He locates the daughter’s medicine, hands them several inhalers, even suggests another medication that might help the daughter more.

Nothing untoward happens at all, yet Pitt and the daughter act like the guy could jump up and bite their face off for no apparent reason (and the editing and music agree), even without him being zombified. It’s confusing. It’s just an odd little scene, in a movie where odd little scenes aren’t exactly rare.

Then I saw the “Unrated” version of World War Z, and suddenly everything became clear. There’s a bit, a small but key bit, that’s in the Unrated version, but not the theatrical release. Right after the frame above, the camera pans down to the floor and lying behind the counter is a body in a pool of blood.

WWZ2

Suddenly the scene becomes much more tense. Did the freaky hoodie guy kill him? Was it a murder or in self defense? And is he going to shoot Pitt or the little girl? I was tense and anxious even though I had seen the movie before and knew what happened. I knew he wasn’t going to shoot, and still I was worried. It was an effective scene.

Cutting this little tiny piece of the movie took a tense and ominous scene, one which moved the audience, and rendered it a mess which only confused the audience. Nor was this the only instance. Just about every second of actual blood was cut from the movie, leaving a string of half-hearted, unaffecting scenes and wrecking what had been a tense and thrilling zombie movie.

In the Unrated version, the combat scenes were more gripping, the death of the doctor more shocking, and the whole movie seemed more viscerally real. The movie came alive, all because of the blood. When the blood was cut, the movie became plastic and unreal.

The Theatrical Release is almost great. The Unrated version is great.

In movies and books, tiny details make a huge difference.

So why did they wreck the movie? To get it down to the Holy Grail rating, PG-13. Movie studios believe, against all available evidence, that taking a movie which was shot and edited as an R, and gutting it to make it PG-13, will result in a great and popular movie which will net them trillions in gold bullion, cocaine, and hookers. It never does.

Not every movie should be an R. By the same token, some movies must be R-rated. I hate to run to the obvious and lazy example, but Schindler’s List. Case made.

There is no good reason to take a movie which must be R, or which was shot and edited to be R, and eviscerate it. Yet a lot of movies have been gutted recently, all in the hopes of studio double-dipping (release once in theaters at PG-13, once on DVD as “Unrated” R versions). And none of them have been helped by the tactic, either as pieces of cinema or as items of commerce. (Expendables 3 being the most recent example, it having bombed.)

I’d like to take several weeks and produce a cool video, showcasing the history of the PG-13 rating, what passed for PG before it, and how modern ratings decisions have caused a big problem. I’d include cool clips from various landmark films, go into tons of detail, and do a bangin’ voiceover and soundtrack.

I just don’t have the time, but fortunately someone else did that exact same thing for me right here. The vid is short and highly informative. Give it a watch, and you’ll be edified and informed.

You’ll also understand perfectly why the movie studios wrecked World War Z.

Vivid Images Make For Better Games — Get Some!

I play tabletop RPG’s. (In fact, this blog was created to help me write one. It’s metastasized since then.) The big difficulty in tabletop gaming is that everything is imagined: you see nothing, and the visceral experience of actually facing a giant, slavering beast twice your height can be reduced to “-1 AC, -1 Attack Bonus, 4HD”.

How thrilling.

Then again, you could show players something like this:

A Fearless Storm Knight Confronts A Rek Jakutta Creation

That clues them into events real quick.

What about a beautiful, but vulnerable elf maiden, looking for protectors?

Try this:

Elf Maiden in Aysle

Nothing says “beautiful” like a true beauty.

What’s my point? That sometimes, photos and images can help players connect to what’s going in in the game world. All you need to do is find them.

There are many great resources online. DeviantArt (despite the name, not a bondage fetish porn site) has thousands of artists, ranging in talent from kindergarten crayon wielder to industry professional to “After you’re dead, they’ll sell this for a million dollars.” An excellent on-site search engine helps you find just what you need.

Google Images can help, and often does. Or, if you find a pic and need it bigger, GI will search its database and tall you if such exists anywhere.

And, just recently, I’ve discovered Twitter, which has a wealth of photos. Accounts like @SpacePornx@SciencePorn@WowViewPics, and many, many others post images all the time, ranging from galaxies to underground temples to lightning storms. Most of these are photos, not drawings, and so look incredibly authentic.

Temple Deep in the Caves, Borneo, Indonesia

I’ve been posting a series of photos for the Torg RPG on Google+, under the title “Storm Front” (#TorgStormFront). But since Google’s started being a bit twitchy about photo management, I moved on down the line to Photobucket. Though currently a bit sparse (to say the least), the “Storm Front” gallery can still give you some ideas about how photos can work to your advantage as a GM.

So join Twitter, and try the accounts linked above. They frequently retweet from others, so you can begin amassing a list of useful suppliers of photographic excellence. One other thing: my Miscellany List can be a great way to bootstrap yourself. It has a number of such accounts, and you can pick and choose which ones you find useful.

Beautiful and interesting photos can illustrate in-game events more eloquently than the best trained GM. (Some of the time.) Give yourself some time to build up a library of images, and when it comes time to feed your players to a giant, vicious, spiderlike thing, you’ll have the exact image you need right at your fingertips. At least they’ll know what it looks like, before it gobbles them down, one by one.

Worldwide Scam Spams Geeks With Sexy Scans!

So I’m over on Google+, checking on my posts to the Torg tabletop RPG group, when I notice one was “+1’d”. I took a look, and this is what I found:

1eRrswRfT8U

I thought “Huh, that’s odd.” (Also “She’s cute.”) So I checked out Sophia Mias’ profile (she being the “+1”-er in question). Where I found this:

01IjrNrK_aY

Along with 15 other obviously staged photos. And I smelled a rat. A rat who looked like a pretty, pretty girl. There were no text posts on the profile, no personal information, and the last post was this:

maggbox_comYup. Spam. But really, really oddly implemented spam. Very indirect. Here’s their plan (AFAICT):

  1. Set up a profile with a model’s pictures. (More on this in a second.)
  2. +1 a bunch of random posts in various male-heavy, nerdish “Communities”. (Tabletop RPG’s count. If you disagree, you’re crazy and need medication.)
  3. Wait for the men to notice the +1…
  4. See the profile pic, and be attracted…
  5. Come to the profile…
  6. See the ad…
  7. Click it…
  8. Decide to spend money / enter CC info on that site…
  9. Profit.

That’s a plan convoluted enough for a fucking comic book villain. But it works, at least the “attracting nerds” part, she’s gotten lame pickup lines from five different guys (Including one older gent who posted on every single pic, saying that the bikini pic was “Sweet and soft”. Ewwww.), garnered several “+1’s” on various photos, and attracted 28 followers, plus an additional nine in just the few hours I was researching her.

All on a profile that was set up Thursday! 37 suckers in one day? Not bad.

“But wait!” you say. “Maybe she’s a real person! Because Fake Geek Girl.”

Could be. But you’re wrong.

First, Torg has been out of print since 1995. Nearly all Torg fans are middle-aged or older. She’s much younger than that.

More, if you’re a Torg fan, and have been active in the online Torg community any time in the last 18 years, there’s a 99% chance I’d have heard of you, a 97% chance I’d have read a post of yours, and a 95% chance we’d have butted heads at some point. I’ve never heard of her, so she can’t be a real fan. Statistics don’t lie.

But wait, there’s more.

People with passionate hobbies — and a 20-year-old woman of well-above-average attractiveness playing a cult classic tabletop RPG (like with the dice and character sheets and the speaking in funny voices) first published in 1990 would have to be passionate — post something about them. A cute story about the last session, a “hi everybody!” post to the group, a selfie.

At least a selfie. A twenty-something modern American (the profile claims she’s American) woman of that caliber of hotness absolutely will have at least one selfie, and if she’s a genuine geek, a selfie at the table. Plus, almost always, some cosplay photos or two. No way a geek woman that cute doesn’t cosplay. No way. (She’d make a cute Rogue. In the skirt-and-legs photo above, she already kinda has the white streak.)

But wait, there’s more.

Each and every one of the 17 photos in the profile was uploaded within 3 minutes of each other, at 4:00 AM her time (according to the map) today. That’s right, this passionate Geek Girl created a new profile at 4 in the morning, spammed it with 17 photos in less than 3 minutes, dropped a slew of random “+1’s” in a bunch of geek groups, and 8 hours later posted an add for some kind of online game.

It’s a scam! But wait, there’s more.

I did a Google Image search for the photos in her profile. And what I found was hilarious.

Each and every one of them appears on vk.com, a kind of Russian Facebook. And not just once. Many of them appeared in several different obviously spammy groups (“Make Big Monies Today!”). Plus, there are no less than 40 separate user profiles (here’s one), each with a different name, hometown, and birthdate, all of them using her images. 8 or 9 were created on the exact same day (Aug. 11 last year), had multiple photos uploaded to each one, and have never been touched since then.

SCAM! But wait, there’s more.

All of the profiles had additional pictures not appearing in Google+. And all of them were professionally shot. Not a single one was a spontaneous, candid photo. (Even the one nude.)

The woman is a Russian (Ukrainian, etc.) model. Sometime before 2011 (earliest profile I could find) she did a bunch of photos for a studio (Which I didn’t track down, because sanity. Also time.), and the studio sells them as stock photos. Which matches her level of attractiveness: pretty enough to model for stock shots, not pretty enough to do runways or fashion shoots (nor stacked enough to model swimsuits). It also matches the quality of photography: good enough for stock, not for on-spec.

But wait, there’s more.

I also found her photo on a Russian architect’s site (under “Our Team”, so definitely don’t hire them), on a site touting “South Africa’s Hottest Girls Next Door” (I kinda doubt that. Any of it.), and a German anti-scamming site (email spam sent with her photo). Girl gets around.

Also a site asking what Russian women wanted, some kind of Russian phone number lookup site, a social networking database, linking back to vk.com (but broken, so I couldn’t tell which profile it linked to), a Hungarian image blog (Google Translate got a real workout today), a Russian MP3 site, and a Russian Vampire Diaries fan page (with the charming subhead “Being beautiful is hard.”). Also, Google said she was on some kind of porn board, but I didn’t check that one out. So no link for that.

And all this, just from searching for the 17 Google+ photos. There were dozens of other photos on vk.com, none of which I checked. (Not even the nude.) I wonder where else I might have found our pretty little scam-bait, had I looked?

But wait, there’s more.

On vk.com, I found this gallery of our mystery woman, containing 257 photos, most of her. Among them were snippets from web graphics (headers, footers). They were in Russian, so I couldn’t read them, but they were definitely snarfed from a website. There was also this gem:

id# x_3583e844

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a thumbnail from a stock photography catalog. What we have here is an entire gallery mass-downloaded (via wget or something similar) and mass-uploaded, without the uploader bothering to scrub the folder.

Case closed!

So what have we learned? (Besides the fact that DW will chase a story down to the bitter end, if a pretty enough girl is involved.) Spammers are scum. Scummy, scummy, scummy, scummy, scummy, scummy scum that will not hesitate to flim-flam or mislead you, in order to entice you to doing something really stupid, probably involving your CC number.

So pay fucking attention on the net! It’s easy to do something stupid that can bork your bank account something awful.

I have no idea what waited on the other end of the “Join New Cloud Game” link, and I didn’t want to find out. Whatever it was, it wasn’t good. And I’m not dumb enough to click that link, no matter how pretty the woman is.

4utNn9ZDWNs

Even if she’s that pretty.

It’s The One That Says…

There is a word that Samuel L. Jackson says, and golly does he say it a lot.

samuel-jackson
I wonder what it could be?

He says it a lot, and gets paid a lot of money to do it. (I’m in the wrong line of work.) And when he says it, it’s L.E.G.E.N.D.A.R.Y.

So some crazy people went through each and every one of his movies and compiled a short film of the 171 times he’s said this word. In chronological order. And it’s awesome.

You can watch the clip, and read some SLJ trivia, at the link! (Content warning: Left-wing blog.)

(Hint: the word is “motherfucker”.)

Death Of A Legendary Cinematic Bromance

Movies are pretty much impossible to do perfectly, but a very few manage it, including the comedy partnership of  Bill Murray and Harold Ramis. Together the two made immortal and beloved comedies, including Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day.

ghostbusters

And then didn’t speak again for 21 years.

Uproxx has the story behind the death of the famed Hollywood friendship, including Murray’s impromptu tribute to his once-close-friend at the Oscars. Get the whole story at the link!

“The Verse”, In The Firefly Universe

I decided to do this post because of recent “Jayne Cobb” related events (see previous posts). So, hey, let’s talk Firefly.

Firefly was fucking great, but the name was stupid. TV show titles need to tell you what the goddamn show is about. Friends. CSI. Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman. Immediate. Obvious. Clear.

No one in the entire universe would read the title “Firefly” and think “that’s probably a witty action-drama Western, set in space.” The title tells you nothing about the show.

Or rather, it tells you everything about the show… only it’s the wrong fucking show. You see, “Firefly” is a tender-hearted, sentimental, summers-in-the-good-old-small-town drama. Something on the CW, say. To give it the budget to do it justice.

There’s a female lawyer, living in Manhattan, whose family ranch — they raise horses — is imperiled. Her grandfather lies dying. She’s engaged, but has to leave the day before the wedding to return to the small Montana town where she grew up.

She comes home, her grandfather dies, and by a quirk of law she’s forced to stay in town until the reading of the will. She misses the wedding. Along the way, she reconnects with her old high school flame, the local Sheriff. He’s rugged, impossibly good looking, and very single. Sparks fly, but she controls them.

There’s a problem. In order to save her family’s ranch, which they’ve owned for over a century, she has to live in Montana and manage it. If not, it’ll revert to the bank, which will sell it to a giant AG company, who will sell or slaughter the horses, tear down her childhood home, relocate her parent’s graves, and plant GM wheat across her family’s land.

The first episode is wrenching as she returns to the tiny little town she left, abandoning the Manhattan night life and all her high-fashion, big money friends. Then she has to meet all the people she hasn’t seen in decades, including her best friend she grew up with, but left behind after high school and never spoke to again.

Then, at the last, just when things can’t get any worse, her fiancée (a rich entreprenuer) flies in and offers to save the ranch, by buying it for his company and turning it into a rustic getaway for bored socialites and millionaires. With all these problems hanging over them, all her friends get together and have a barbecue and catch fireflies down by the dock at night, just like when they were kids.

See, there’s a local pond where the fireflies fly thickest. And out in the pond is a small chunk of dirt that gave the ranch its name, the same name that hangs over the big sign down by the road: Firefly Island.

When she was small, before her dad died, she liked to wade out to the island. He called her his littlest firefly.

The last shot of the opening credits is of the sign hanging over the entrance to the ranch, at sunset. The word Firefly lights up (FX) and floats away as the rest of the scene fades into black.

That. I get all of that from the name “Firefly”, because a great name can imply everything in the show. “Firefly” implies soft, sweet, tender, sentimental. The show fucking writes itself. (Hence all the cliches. ;) )

What I don’t get from “Firefly” is the Reavers or the Alliance or brutal criminal scum or bank robberies or freezing to death in a metal coffin lost in the vastness of space because a single goddamn engine part just broke down.

And “Serenity” is even worse. That sounds like one of those “woman leaves husband to find herself, ends up sleeping with a yoga master but realizes he’s a douche and goes back to husband” movies. I ripped that plot off GTA V, but there’ve been a spate of similar movies, and (as a movie title) “Serenity” fits right in.

This is a large part of why people didn’t watch the show or go see the movie: nobody knew the hell they were. I had a friend, a rabid sci-fi fan, who had no idea what Firefly or Serenity were until I showed them to him. He heard the title, thought it was a romcom, and didn’t pay it any more attention.

I love ’em both, but their titles sucked. I haven’t come up with a sure-fire title, but I know Firefly and Serenity ain’t it. Here’s one that almost works:

the-verse-loot-crate

The Verse is a fan-film on Youtube, set in the Firefly universe. I just watched it, and it’s not bad. Also has the virtue of being pretty short.

The Verse doesn’t quite solve the title problem, but it gets a lot closer than Whedon did. “Verse” at least implies universe, and hence space travel.

My best guess is Into The Black. Like The Verse, it implies space travel. It also implies danger and solitude, both strong themes of the series. Last, it’s in the lyrics:

Take me out to the black
Tell them I ain’t comin’ back
Burn the land and boil the sea
You can’t take the sky from me

Which perfectly expresses the frame of the show. That’d be my choice.

In any case, The Verse can be seen in all its glory on Youtube, at the link!