Derik Badman's Journal

April 2021

2021-04-03 10:45

Still reading Warlock (it's fairly long, a lot more going on than in the movie) and enjoying it. Still watching the last Doctor Who season which I'm getting a little bored with. I feel like they are underusing the companions, particularly Yaz. She's a police officer who basically ran away from her job in her first episode, and then they never really use that fact except one or two episodes early on when they are in their home town. She also has no real... storyline... or consistent traits (which at least is the case for the other two companions). The episodes have also been fairly heavy-handed and obvious about their themes of contemporary relevance. It's good they are trying to work their sci-fi stories with themes relevant to contemporary society (tons of good sci-fi does this), but it always comes off being really shallow and really preachy. One where they discover the post-apocalytic world they are on is gasp actually Earth in the future is particularly egregious.

2021-04-04 09:58

Watched some more westerns as inspiration for my game (which I released a v0.3 version of). Yesterday it was Robert Altman's McCabe & Mrs. Miller which I've been meaning to watch for a longtime and showed up on Criterion this month. I can't say I loved it, but it has a ton of atmosphere. Weather is really important in it, from rain and snow to just shots of the sun behind the trees (another Pacific Northwest type of western, rather than a plains/desert one). The interiors are cramped and dark, the exteriors are often disorienting, no orderly streets in the town, nothing flat, everything looks makeshift, set at different levels with stairs and ramps and a variety of rickety bridges. The soundtrack by Leonard Cohen also adds a lot of mood.

Plotwise it follows a gambler who comes to town (apparently with money) and builds a saloon, brothel, and bathhouse with the help of a woman who shows up with an offer to handle the women. There's almost a love story, or there's a love story in the background held at bay that slips through in one or two scenes. Mostly it is about the man's hubris, and about corporate greed. I've come to expect ensemble movies from Altman based on the ones I've seen, and this one feels a little lacking in that respect, the various side characters aren't much differentiated, and the women in general are underused. Even Mrs. Miller doesn't get much interiority. She smokes dope, but we don't really get a sense of what lead her to it. Really downbeat ending for both of them.

This morning I rewatched High Noon which also is fairly downbeat and dark. Not because there is a ton of violence or that the protagonist dies, but just because it is very cynical about people. Gary Cooper spends almost the whole movie looking nervous and worried. Many of the townsfolks are the same with guilt added in. They all have excuses and reasons for not helping him when a released criminal and his gang come back for revenge. You kind of just want to scream at them "if you all just stood up to them there wouldn't be a problem," or "if you all just hid behind your windows with rifles you could just shoot the bad guys." The shadow of McCarthyism hangs over the film (though I can't say I'd have thought of that without having read some about the movie).

2021-04-07 08:31

Two days ago, while taking a rare walk in the part behind our house, I found a dead fox just off the path. No doubt, one of the ones we saw frequently in the yard last year, less frequently since. I can't tell what happened (I'm not getting too close), but it wasn't long ago. I've been writing an epitaph for that fox, because I felt I needed to express something.

Janus Films is releasing remastered versions of all four of Eric Rohmer's "Tales of the Four Seasons" series. (They will all be (or already are) available online from Film Forum.) I think they are my favorite of his movies. I watched A Tale of Winter the other day. Rohmer was quite religious (Catholic), though it doesn't come up explicitly in his films very often (My Night at Maud's being a major exception). A Tale of Winter does have a strong element of faith in it, despite the protagonist herself claming to not be particularly religious. In the prologue of the film, we see her on vacation meeting a young man, falling in love, and a whole montage of them together, until they must part as she heads home and he goes off to America. She accidentally gives him a wrong address, and he, being in the process of moving, doesn't have one to give. In the age before cell phones this means they lose touch. The majority of the film takes place 5 years later where we quickly learn she had gotten pregnant, never got in touch with the man again, and now has a young daughter and two boyfriends. The movie primarily revolves around her keeping faith that the father of her daughter is the only man she can really truly love, and that despite loving the two boyfriends it's just not enough for her to settle for either.

And then, as these things go in stories, she accidentally runs into the father on a bus. It's a wonderful scene. Rohmer shoots from behind her shoulder as she and her daughter sit down on the bus, and we can see the man in the seat facing her. You identify him before she does. She is getting her daughter and her bags situated. It's kind of the reverse of a suspenseful shot in a thriller where you see the danger before the protagonist. We see the miracle of coincidence, accident, or her faith first. The man recognizes her, and you see the shock and delight on his face. Then the shot cuts to showing her and her daughter from the front as we anticipate her looking up and finally seeing him. The whole scene is great and quite moving.

Finished up Warlock before bed last night. I forgot how downbeat the ending is compared to the movie version, though it shouldn't surprise me. The protagonists all end up dead or alone. One of the cowboys that causes trouble throughout the story, but kind of gets forgotten about as other problems take center stage (like a miner's strike, which I think gets short shrift in the movie (of course)), ends up killing the main deputy as a kind of afterthought in a summary narration in the afterward. All the concern the deputy had earlier dealing with other problems, and he ends up killed by the guy who from the beginning hated him.

2021-04-07 16:54

In one year, I've walked in the park only three times,
despite it adjoining the yard,
despite the gate we keep open in the fence.

The first time I saw a small owl chased by robins.
The second time I think I found your den,
though I knew it was there.
The third time I found you.

Having seen you lounging in our backyard,
on the old wood deck, just torn down last week,
I thought you were relaxing in the shade,
off the path.

But the flies.

Last spring, when we stayed inside and isolated,
you and your family
(for I don't know if you are reynard, vixen, or kit)
delighted us with your visits to our yard,
a reminder of life ongoing.
With frequent glances out the windows at dawn and dusk,
we stopped to watch when you appeared,
snapping distant photos.

During the winter, your tracks
formed a dotted line through the yard,
intermixed with the squirrels', rabbits', and deer's,
never seen, just a trace left behind.

I hope it was quick and quiet.
Know that someone marked your passage.

2021-04-09 08:56

Been obsessively listening to two albums the past week: Sprints' Manifesto EP and Dry Cleaning's new LP New Long Leg. Sprints are an Irish band who play driving guitar based post-punk rock. It's jump around, sing-a-long music, with a powerful female singer. Dry Cleaning are more arty and angular, heavy on flowing bass and sharp guitars. Their singer is awesome, she writes these weird, funny lyrics that are collage appropriation.

2021-04-11 08:56

Watched Shane the other day. Another western that is well regarded. I was going to read the novel (it's in this Library of America collection I've been eyeing, which also includes Warlock, The Ox-Bow Incident, and The Searchers), but figured I'd watch the film first, since it popped up on Criterion. It was... ok. Like in many older films that have a prominent child character, I kept being super annoyed by the young boy in this. He's annoying and loud and whiny. The plot is about ranchers vs. farmers and lawlessness and violence and the oncoming movement of structured civilization, but the resolution is all very... cut and dried. Shane, the protagonist, who wandered into the area and started helping out on a homestead, just happens to be super fast on the draw with his six shooter. So after sitting around not doing much, he goes into town and gets the bad guys to draw on him so he can shoot them. Then he leaves because being the guy that saves the other folks homes by killing other assholes with guns makes him not fit for sticking around I guess. The logic feels a little off, and the solution to all the conflicts seems to just be "shoot the bad guys, the end."

There is a good scene where the main antagonist guy, an old time rancher, basically explains why he's such an asshole to all the homesteaders. He's all old school: "I tamed this land before you were even born," and "now you folks are fencing in the land and using the water," etc. It's a little late into, but you get his side of the story. But the homesteader protagonist is quick to retort: "yeah but the Indians and the trappers were here before you."

Not going on my list of favorite westerns. Doubt I'll read the book now either. Started reading The Ox-Bow Incident via a library copy, but I don't think I'll finish it. Something about the prose style (overly descriptive, I think) makes it really drag for me. I'll try the movie instead.

Also watched A Tale of Springtime via Film Forum, the first of Rohmer's Tales of the Four Seasons (I accidentally watched the second one first). I enjoy this one, maybe not as much as the others, partially because I find the younger protagonist a little grating at times. It seems super obvious she is scheming to get her new friend, a philosophy teacher she meets at a party, hooked up with her dad, who has a girlfriend she doesn't like, but late in the film she claims she wasn't and is all upset about the accusation. I can't reconcile it, unless she's meant to be lying at the end, or else Rohmer just didn't succeed at making the scheming ambiguous enough.

Like A Tale of Winter this one has a kind of coincidence/miracle at the end. Earlier in the film, the girl is telling her new friend about this necklace that got lost. The girl thinks the father's new girlfriend stole it; the girlfriend thinks the girl took it and hid it to frame her; the father just thinks it got lost. They all have these varying stories about what happpened that are colored by their feelings about the other people involved. And then right at the end, the new friend (who's been trying to stay out of the matter), accidentally finds the necklace. It's much less dramatic than the end of A Tale of Winter, more light hearted, but it has that same aspect of the unexpected/accidentally/coincidental positive event. (Trying to remember if there is something similar in Summer and Autumn, but I can't right now...)

Started working through a book on Angular, the javascript framework, yesterday. I need to learn it for work, and I am positively not excited about the idea (I have so many reasons to think a big bulky framework is detrimental), so I figured I should at least learn it while doing some kind of personal project that excites me. Going to try to work up a web version/interface of my western RPG. Since it's pretty much all random tables anyway, I figured I could do a combo that both displays the tables and lets you generate results from them. We'll see how far I get with that.

As I sit here in the gray overcast morning, I can hear Buddy snoring from his chair nearby.

2021-04-14 08:46

Keep getting sucked into work earlier in the morning which then steals my time for working on any of my now rather numerous projects. Started a conversation with the boss about changing my role at work a bit, hoping to be able to shift into more front-end development work and less back-end work. I am much better at the front-end work: I enjoy it more, so I keep up with it more, so I am more skilled and knowledgable about it. Plus all the back-end server, performance, infrastructure, etc. stuff really stresses me out.

Started playing Disco Elysium on the Playstation. Have heard great things about it for more than a year now, and they finally ported it to PS. Trying to limit my playing to 1 hour max a day. It's a extremely strange and interesting rpg. It's a detective narrative in a sci-fi/fantasy alternate world, not explicitly futuristic just... other. Recognizably like our real world but just not it. It makes it rather disorienting at times, which plays into the narrative, because the character you play (a detective) starts the game without any memory (even of his own name), so you basically learn the world as he re-learns the world. It is extremely well written, there is a lot of text as you have not only lots of conversations with other characters, but also intense series of conversations with... aspects of yourself, I guess you would say. The voice acting of all these various characters has also been excellent. A lot of the mechanics of it appear to be happening silently in the background, a noticed once after the game crashed and I had to replay a couple bits, that the internal voices changed on the second playthrough, that is, which aspects talked to me about the same event, as if there is some kind of randomization going on based I assume both on my chosen attributes and skills but also how I've acted in the past. I also really like that when you try something using one of your skills it shows you a percentage chance of success and then shows you a 2d6 roll to determine success. So far it's just been a lot of walking around, talking to people, looking at stuff, and just learning what the hell is going on. I'm supposed to be solving a murder, but haven't even managed to examine the corpse. Your character starts out not only amnesiac, but really hungover and missing his stuff (even his badge), so everything starts out as a struggle. Quite enjoying it.

About halfway through The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold which takes place in the same world as (and precedes I guess) the Penric & Desdemona novellas I read last year. As a fantasy novel it is quite unusual, almost all political intrigue so far. No real fights, no monsters (other than human ones), extremely little in the way of the supernatural excepting a few occurences related to the gods of the setting, and the main aspect of that didn't happen until about halfway through. There's no real quest narrative either, just a protagonist trying to do his best at his job (secretary/teacher to a princess of sorts). Bujold doesn't info dump, but rather just lets the world building happen as necessary for the plot. You have to infer a certain amount as you go. Curious to see where it ends up.

2021-04-20 08:02

Didn't have the best of weekends. Saturday was all these little frustrations that seemed to keep blocking my ability to get anything done, and I wasn't feeling great for much of Saturday both physically and mentally. I feel like there are just all these little things that keep accumulating, dragging me down: stress, anxiety, accidents, problems I can't fix, etc. None of it is really immediate (except when I am actually feeling physically bad) or pressing yet it all just sits there. Was I always this anxious? Maybe I was and I never realized it?

I did manage to run a second season of the faux Warhammer Fantasy game we started a few weeks back. We had our first combat using the ad hoc Dungeon World-esque rules, and I realized how I wasn't sure how to handle some specific things (like saving throws and damage). Nevertheless we got through it without too much confusion, though we didn't get very far, only through... 2.5 rooms of a house. At this rate the first adventure (supposedly planned as a one-shot) will take... probably 4 sessions.

Did I watch a movie over the weekend? I can't even remember. Not a great sign.

I finished up The Curse of Chalion, which was enjoyable. It got a littler more conventional as it went along, eventually (halfway through) the protagonist got a quest attached to the eponymous curse. And the ending was fairly happy. I've got the sequel to read too (though I think it is a sequel more in setting than plot or characters).

Still playing Disco Elysium which is weird and funny and fun to play, if at times a bit slow. There was a point where I was just not sure what to do next, but some wandering around a bit of luck with some rolls lead me off onto a few side quests that somehow mostly manage to bring me back around to the main mystery. The game seems to be designed heavily around failure. Many things you can attempt are nearly impossible at first (depending on your attributess/skills), but often get easier as you interact with the world. Objects can unlock bonuses, having certain conversations can unlock bonuses, thoughts you have can unlock bonuses (there's a whole system where you get these "thoughts" and then can assign them to slots to ruminate on them unlocking conversation paths and bonuses on certain actions or skills). It's expected you will retry a lot of your failures. The map includes a list of the checks and notes which ones you can retry, and those retries change over time or as you perform actions or increase skills. So sometimes you can return to a previous failure and then unlock new information or locations or conversation paths. The game also seems to be tracking various decisions you make (actions and conversation choices) on various scales (kind of like Mass Effect did with its law/chaos axis) including what kind of "cop" you are and your political inclinations (currently I seem to be playing a communist art cop...).

Been getting Hadleyville my rules light western rpg into booklet form as I figure out how Affinity Publisher works. It's functioning is not always clear (and the help docs not always helpful), which has lead me to a few periods of frustration. But I think soon I will have a decent looking 8 page zine-size printable booklet. I added some more tables/lists and started refining some simple rules. Hoping at some point to get to try it out with the group.

2021-04-21 08:38

Walking for coffee this morning I could hear a really loud goose honking. I looked up, as usually the geese are just flying over town, and instead saw two ducks pass by. A block later I found the goose. He was standing high up on the flat part of one of the churches in town's roof. Free alarm clock for all the neighbors.

Been watching Renoir's Rules of the Game, which I am not sure if I ever watched (if so many many years ago). It's one of those movies that's always highly ranked on "greatest movies" list (with Vertigo and Citizen Kane and Tokyo Story), but I am finding it rather... pedestrian, not bad, but not particularly impressive. On the whole it feels very dated as a film both visually and narratively. Upper class French people and their servants and their affairs. There is also a disturbingly too long scene of the hunting where lots of rabbits are running about and getting shot, and I kind of think at that time and place those rabbits were actually getting shot. I almost just stopped watching it there.

2021-04-23 08:38

Gave up on Rules of the Game (which was too boring), gave up on Miranda July's The Future (which was too annoying), but enjoyed Mati Diop's Atlantics (2009) the short film version, not the full length of the same name (which was one of my favorite movies I watched last year). It's basically about young men from Senegal trying to get to Spain via boat, but doesn't address the concept in a straightforward way. We see a few young men talking around a fire about being on the boat, why they would or wouldn't go, dying on the boat, etc. We see a very brief graveyard scene. We see a mostly still shot of a young woman (I think she wipes away some tears, but mostly just looks kind of sad). There is one shot in the beginning, when the title appears of a long shot of the sea with a boat on it. A poem is shown line by line at the end and then a shot of what I believe is the inside of a lighthouse as the casing of the light spins around and around. That last shot was almost... science fiction, like a sun trapped inside some kind of ginormous metallic structure. All in all, powerful and visually engaging. I can see the seeds of the later longer film. Would love to see more films from her, sadly imdb at least doesn't show anything on the horizon except her appearance in the next Claire Denis movie (Diop is also an actress).

2021-04-25 10:01

Finally watched the restoriation of Rohmer's Tale of Autumn, like with Ozu movies, there is something I find comforting in watching Rohmer's films. I am struck now by having nothing to say about this one. I perhaps, having not seen it for a long time (and being the one of the series that was least available to watch in the interim), had higher expectations for my enjoyment of it than my actual enjoyment of it.

Struggling with finding a book to read that I stick with right now. Tried and gave up on a few novels, slowly reading a few Clark Ashton Smith short stories, slowly finishing up some magazines.

Read the first volume of Aki Irie's Ran & the Gray World manga. I've been enjoying her Go with the Clouds, North-by-Northwest which is mostly Icelandic travelogue and partially a really really slow burning mystery/thriller. But this one is about a magical girl who puts on shoes and turns into an... older girl/young woman. It almost immediately gets a little creepy when some older dude seems to fall in love with her.

Finished up Disco Elysium which was a really satisfying game that wasn't overly long. I looked up the ending a bit later, and I didn't totally unlock all the information about what was going on in the overaching plot. As a whole there is a ton of misdirection and sidequests in the game, and in the end it's kind of suprising which ones end up being the important ones. Apparently they are planning a sequel, I will be excited to play it. For now I think that's it for video games until the Mass Effect remaster comes out in May.

Two weekends in a row doing yard work. Since we got the landscapers to clean up, plant, and do some other fixes, I vowed that I wouldn't let it all go to hell again. I'm not finding it too bad so far, though that may change when full summer heat arrives. I always wish I were better, or rather more knowledgable, about identifying plants. Maybe there are ones I'm pulling up that I could let flourish.

Finally got a v1.0 version of my Hadleyville Old West RPG finished in both a pdf for screen and one for printing out as a booklet. First booklet I've made in quite awhile, even had to break out the really dusty long-armed stapler that I've had since... 1995. All in all I'm fairly happy with the result. The art (redrawn from some old western comics) is subpar and the layout isn't amazing, but I think the game can work (not that I've actually had a chance to try it yet) and I'm happy with the work I put into the random tables and lists. Thinking I will finally return to my aborted Ancient Greece RPG notes and do something in a similar vein.

2021-04-26 08:22

Bergman's Hour of the Wolf was a strange movie, kind of horror adjacent. It explicitly treads ground between what is real and what is imagined, leaving you unsure of which was which. A couple return to their home on an isolated island. He is an artist, clearly troubled, she is model, lover, wife (I forget if that is made clear or if I just assumed that). One day he shows her some drawings he's made of these figures, they have names like "the bird man". Both seem a bit disturbed by them. Things get weird when she goes outside one day and suddenly there's an old woman standing there (not a creepy old woman, just a well dressed woman in a hat) who tells her to read the artist's diary that he has hidden under the bed.

As the wife reads the diary, the scenes cut to the artist, and it's not clear if we are seeing a visualization of what she is reading or just what is happening to him while she is reading. He is visited by three people (pretty sure, three) in succession. Earlier we are given the impression the island is isolated and they are alone, so the people are a surprise. The one says he is a baron who owns the island and invites the couple to his estate/castle for a party. The people at the party are strange, almost maniacal, but also not so strange we can't imagine they are just bored nobles who spend too much time with only each other and have grown to rather hate each other. A former lover of the artist is brought up, he drinks a lot, the wife looks nervous.

At one point we see him painting and fishing on a small cliff overlooking the ocean. A young boy is with him. They don't speak. The boy moves around watching the artist, the artist glances back at the boy angrily. Finally, they fight, the man bashes the boy against the rocks, throws him into the ocean. A son is mentioned in an earlier seen, as if he is far away. But this boy seems more like a puck of some kind, almost inhuman.

Later the man goes back to the house, his former lover is there. The people seem to all take on the guise of the characters he drew earlier (one man leads the artist down a hallway filled with pigeons and then seems to sprout wings as he takes his leave). The baron walks up the wall in one room and stands on the ceiling (a nice effect, probably just a room built to be turned on its side and then upside down). The former lover lies naked, covered in a sheet, pretending to be dead.

He flees, he is frantic, he shoots his wife (just a graze), he flees into the woods, he dies (he kills himself? He is killed by the other people?). In the end (and the beginning really, since it's how the movie starts) the wife is telling the story to the camera. She wonders (more than once in the movie) about the idea that people who live together and love each other for a long time become like each other. She wonders if she loved the artist too much or not enough.

In the end I guess I have to assume the other characters were all figments of the artist's brain, and that somehow the wife began to share in his delusions for a time. So much so that she couldn't help him.

That was a long summary... probably too much... And now I've done all that rather than anything else...

I neglected to mention that the other evening I looked out into the backyard and saw some new fox kits. It appears the foxes that have a den behind our house have five new kits this year. I've seen them a couple times now (usually just one or two). They are still quite small, maybe large kitten size, and seem very curious and playful (they pounce like cats with two front paws aimed together at a target).

As we wrapped up the Dragon Heist 5e adventure last session, the regular D&D group started a new campaign yesterday. Eric is running something using The Black Hack rules, which are kind of... somewhere between BX D&D and d20 with a couple things thrown in. We're experimenting with letting the players be more active participants in the world building where we can make statements about the world. I've decided we ride large birds like in Nausicaa rather than horses. So far just intro/setup for our first mission. I'm playing a sorceress character kind of like one of the one's in The Witcher.