The Point of Smoking Lizard

Posted: June 16, 2018 in Uncategorized

Smoking Lizard is EVERYWHERE!

I do columns here on this blog that are a mix of my personal adventures concerning a subject and pieces that will help others interested in that subject. At the moment, I really only like five things…

WRITING (and the supporting READING): Behold! I give you the Scribbler’s Saga column. I will relate parts of my life as a writer, provide a review of properties I’ve read and tools I’ve tested, post essays about writing and hopefully interview other writers.

Additionally, when I just need to fill my cyberspace with actual writing, whether short one-shots or small pieces of the greater whole: Author’s Assortment.

MUSIC: I’ve been talking big about composing music for a decent while now. As I figure out how to fish or cut bait in this area, you, Dear Reader, will read all about it in the Composer’s Counterpoint column. Posts may include my Woody Allen-esque frustration with thinking I’m better at music than I am, reviews of music, tools and the presently rare live shows. Again, part of the mission is to interview other musicians.

TABLETOP RPGS: Yes, I play Dungeons & Dragons. Yes, I can go on for hours about the time I played a thief that hot-prowled the villain’s house and walked out with a suit of armor. But, that was a long time ago. It’s time to make new stories. It’s time to see if I can create adventures other players want to play. As with the other columns the content of the Dungeoneer’s Diary, will mix the personal and journalistic.

ILLUSTRATION and VISUAL ARTS: While I myself don’t draw, I do okay with a camera and certain apps. The Imager’s Impression column will probably be less frequently advanced, but will discuss my appreciation of pictures and the people who make them. And when I make more images with my script kid tools, the results will go here.

MOVIES: Yeah, I thought I would skip writing about movies. Start laughing now. So anyway if I’m bloviating about movies, it  goes here in the Filmgoer’s Flamethrower.

There will be times when columns will cross over, because working on a fun dungeon will spark a novel idea that may cause me to pull out the harmonica…

Lastly, if you came to the site for my older content click on one of the many pages that will provide links to nearby archive sites. Happy Reading.

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© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

KA-BLAM! Talk about the lead balloon that gave the classic band Led Zeppelin their name. In my arrogance that wants to believe that my positive write up on Solo: A Star Wars Story would have any effect on how the movie landed with the audience…if only I’d posted this review when it mattered two weeks ago. Yeah, right. Anyway, except for that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play? A fun movie if obviously snake-bit.

Young Han Solo is back. Han Solo steals stuff. Han Solo meets and befriends Chewbacca. Han Solo meets and befriends Lando Calrissian. Together everybody makes the Kessel Run shaving two parsecs off the average distance. Lando’s favorite droid incites a droid/slave riot on Kessel before merging her consciousness with the Millennium Falcon. Han Solo confronts the old girlfriend left behind on Corellia. Han Solo plays sabacc with Lando acquiring the Falcon. Things move and blow up. Oh, Han Solo shoots (Han always shoots first) first killing a mentor, an act that said mentor approves of while dying.

Now that I’ve listed the bullet points of the plot, I can see why some people hated Solo. The simple act of paying attention to the Star Wars universe, even at the remove of Wookieepedia, says everybody knew the above plot points in one form or another were coming and completely unavoidable. And I suppose choosing annoyance over “that was actually sort of fun” probably says more about the commenter than anything about the movie that landed on screen. As in, if you hated the movie you’re probably the kind of person that gets suckered into chowing down a bad breakfast burrito. And if you liked the movie (I’m your huckleberry), maybe you had pancakes that morning.

Anyway, Alden Ehrenreich plays young Han Solo opposite Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra (pronounced Kira for those who care). The young friends, grifters on Corellia with highly visible callbacks to Oliver Twist, are separated. And Han goes to the Imperial Starfighter academy only to land in the infantry.

Thus begins a high-speed rollercoaster for the intrepid rogue in training that’s all about stealing vials of hyper-fuel. Han begins to shine soon to earn the title “best smuggler in the galaxy.” We learn about the many criminal organizations that seem like Emperor Palpatine lets them exist to do business because nothing kills the spirit of a people faster than getting caught between Space Hitler and Space Al Capone (of course if it had been Space Lucky Luciano maybe the galaxy wouldn’t be so bad…read a book to understand).

We find Qi’ra ensconced with the Crimson Dawn mob with constant offscreen references to “a gangster on Tatooine putting together a crew.” There is the romantic tension of the old girlfriend and the – “whose side is she really on?” – question. In the midst of this, Han takes on debts incurred by previous people agreeing to find more coaxium proposing the Kessel Run probably because Crimson Dawn frontman Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) is in a kill them all mood.

As good as Mr. Ehrenreich is at playing Han Solo, Donald Glover as young Lando steals every scene he’s in. Especially any scene in which he has a sabacc card dispenser up his sleeve (all the time), or the loving looks given to his droid L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge). Or his pain seeing the droid fail at her side mission of freeing the droid slaves on Kessel. Generally, I liked the whole cast and don’t see why the characters that lived can’t come back in other Young Han Solo movies. Stories that wouldn’t be dependent on filling all the obvious backstory squares in favor of awesome heist movies, but no one actually asked me.

I will say that if I hadn’t been the uber-geek that will see a movie twice to give it the fairest chance possible, I might have really hated the movie. The first screening seemed extremely dark to me in the same way that if I’d stopped watching with the 3D version of Rogue One, I would’ve hated that movie. The cause being the same, lots of foggy scenes. Luckily, the second screening happened at another theater where the projectionist seemed to turn up the lamp on the gizmo and we’re good.

Upon the second viewing, I couldn’t find anything overtly wrong with this movie even though the Star Wars franchise has done better. They’ve also done worse (Phantom Menace, anyone?) and I guess I’ll just have to let the movie slightly pancaking hopefully to be rediscovered on home video remain one of those mysteries of, as screenwriter William Goldman put it – “no one knows anything.”

Yes, the imaginary movie where director Ron Howard gets the job from jump as being the sort of artist that actually fits with Star Wars might have been just as entertaining and less expensive. That unfortunately the necessity of firing the first team would cause a feeding frenzy of – “Oh, my God they just fucked up a beloved piece of my childhood” – or worse – “that sea hag left in charge of Lucasfilm has got to go!” Seems to me that the audience had several reasons for punishing Solo for the perceived sins of previous movies and let fly with all their toxic fury. Or it really was too soon to put movies out five months apart. Time will tell.

So anyway, Solo: A Star Wars Story was to this movie fan a good solid movie that could give us really cool Han Solo sequels of the Han Solo tries to steal X while romancing hot space princess Y (not named Leia Organa) and Lando saves the day with cool maneuver Z formula. I think if Lucasfilm doesn’t panic they could get three movies doing just this. Again no one asked. And because I liked this film and might be the only one in the country that did…when’s the disk coming out?

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

Wow! All the pull quote anyone will ever need. To steal from Yoda, A Quiet Place a great movie is.

A family survives the initial invasion of hostile and hungry aliens that hunt by the slightest change in sound by hunkering down on their farm in upstate New York and tries to hang together with the impending birth of a new baby.

I enjoyed this movie from start to finish mostly because I found the adaptations to the new circumstances fascinating. Good thing it also had good acting and directing, especially on the part of John Krasinski playing Lee Abbott (and director). And the monsters eat people…

We start on an empty small town. The Abbotts follow lines of sand previously laid down to provide noise dampeners on known routes to town to scavenge supplies. They don’t wear shoes.

In the general store the youngest boy, Beau (Cade Woodward), wants a space shuttle toy, the one with the lights and sounds. Dad quickly takes away the toy signing in ASL that it is too loud. Regan Abbott (Millicent Simmonds), the older sister gives the little boy the toy without batteries, but the boy being too young to fully comprehend the danger grabs the batteries on the way out. At the bridge nearer home, the boy puts in the AA cells and turns on the toy and doesn’t live long enough to cry for Mommy.

A year or so later, the world has settled into an awful equilibrium highlighted by newspaper clippings where the government and press finally cooperate to instruct the populace how to survive the monsters. Daddy checks the shortwave radio every day listening for other people; he also climbs to the top of his corn silo to set fires to see if any of his pre-invasion neighbors are still alive. And Evelyn Abbott (Emily Blunt) is noticeably pregnant as in due soon.

While my overall thoughts run to the “great fun Monster in the House movie” variety, whether it’s the cool experimentation in the script where everyone speaks in American Sign Language. Or that nothing about these actors gets in the way of the intended emotional takeaways of a family that could probably be like any of our families. I really felt for Ms. Simmonds as the middle daughter bearing the guilt of the kind of mistake that scars lives for decades in the absence of years of therapy: letting your little brother climb up to the hot stove or, in this case, giving him the toy that kills him right before the family’s eyes.

And Ms. Blunt plays the mother in ways we wish all mothers would be in similar hopefully imaginary circumstances. Especially during the scenes when the birth finally pays off, which we know from everywhere is simply going to be the noisiest thing in that environment where silence is life. She hides in an upstairs bathtub that might provide enough armor to buy time to run out the back door…or lock and load the family shotgun and we see it on her face. Call the Oscar voters…or not.

And I will shout out for the script written by Brian Woods, Scott Beck and Mr. Krasinski, mostly for using a great trick possibly last seen in Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator that when you absolutely need to have silent characters speak they should say the most important words in the movie. Mister Chaplin broke the Fourth Wall and reminded us to be wary of real dictators, some of whom shared his mustache. Here Lee and oldest son Marcus (Noah Jupe) trek to the nearby waterfall where the noise blocks out the monsters’ hearing. Sure enough, Marcus tells his father to actually tell Regan that he loves and forgives her because people make mistakes and that she beats herself up even harder.

My favorite adaptation in this movie has to be the fireworks carefully prepared for the birth. Yes, mothers cry loudly giving their new child his or her life and so will the child. So, anesthetize the child with oxygen and ether or something and fire off a display worthy of the Gruchi family, works for me…mostly.

Now for the questions, Mr. Prime Minister. While I found myself totally engrossed with this story and the cleverness of most of the adaptations shown, I did wonder about certain things. Starting with the no shoes concept. I sometimes go barefoot around the house and down the carpeted hallway, except when there are dead bees to step on (see post).

Now allowing for the fact that the barefoot and those who wear old-timey (pre-1600) soft leather shoes are actually supposed to walk on the balls of their feet to avoid the dangers of the normal heel-to-toe gait instinctively learned when we wear good shoes, does going barefoot over trails of soft sand or concrete powder actually provide more silence than good rubber soled hiking/combat boots or even cross-trainers?

No, I’m not I’m not using the Socratic method like a lawyer having the chapter and verse answer with citations up my sleeve. Other than to say that over thinly carpeted floor on the way to the coin laundry at the end of the hall, I can feel huge vibrations that should make lots of noise meaning my life expectancy might be nil when these monsters show up for dinner.

The Abbotts walk heel-to-toe despite a year and a half of the new reality of the monsters. And perhaps this line of questioning also relies on watching a bit too much Discovery Channel military shows where the soldiers wear good boots that spread out the surface area of the footfall. And they also learn how to walk slowly and carefully, sometimes on the balls of feet despite the hard rubber soles, to avoid twigs and other possible noises that draw snipers, let alone awesome Bug Eyed Monsters. Which is better? Obviously, if the old Mythbusters show were still a thing, I’d send an email…needs testing. And it matters because, yes, Virginia, there is a rusty nail at a key moment in the movie…nuff said.

Another set of related things that just occurred to me about the fireworks display that covers up Mama Abbott’s birthing cries, fireworks are basically black powder explosives optimized for pretty colors and lots of noise, the point of the exercise. But, black powder, nitrocellulose and many other classes of explosive require proper handling and storage because they degrade over time. Depending on when the family scavenged the mortar shells, we have a question about how long they could store the display before replacing them. And this is before we ask the next question about the fact that pre-invasion fireworks are tightly regulated by local governments which might limit their availability when the monsters attack.

All of these are questions for the next time we hang out with movie fans with lots of beer. Fun to discuss and consider while still enjoying a good monster movie where they run here and there avoiding getting killed while discovering how to fight back.

My next concern actually does land a little on the story opposed to the underlying science. I wonder if the screenwriters may have drawn the character of Lee Abbott a little too perfectly for survival in this movie. He is a tinkerer and engineer which allows him to jigger his deaf daughter’s cochlear implant that provides a key element of the movie’s solution where there is a ray of hope at the end. I wonder if we saw a dog eared copy of How Things Work or some other book about technology, carpentry and/or plumbing prominently displayed on his workbench, just to show a man that might have sold insurance before the monsters came and had to learn on the job. As it is, he has the perfect skill set for this story.

However, these questions don’t get in the way of a good family survival story with lots of running, self-sacrifice and emotional cleverness designed to make us think about how we interact with things that make small amounts of noise that we block out on a daily basis. Whether it’s a slow dance to Neil Young on the shared earbuds, or the warm feelings between all of the cast.

In short, when this disk lands on Amazon…I hope I have the cash.

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

The Merc with a Mouth is back. Hide your sense of propriety…and whatever preconceptions you might have about narrative clichés being bad for your story.

Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) has a good life wiping out bad guys and coming home to Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). Naturally, the latest scumbag attacks Deadpool at home and kills the girlfriend right after having a discussion about having a baby. The film chooses to introduce Cable (Josh Brolin) first as an antagonist and then as a gruff ally along with Domino (Zazie Beetz). The mission is to either kill a mutant name Firefist (Julian Dennison) or show him the way back to the Light Side of the Force.

Yes, everything happening in this movie straight up defines cliché for the next hundred years. Kill the girlfriend. The un-killable hero tries to kill himself. Gilgamesh (Deadpool) bonds with Enkidu (Cable) after a great battle because Cable’s wife and child had also been killed. The hero sacrifices himself to save the child from a time traveler bent on revenge. The presence of a time device fixes everything in the end. As promised by Deadpool’s narration, it’s a family film…with a body count and copious amounts of blood.

I should’ve hated this movie for its naked reliance on and wallowing in cliché, but quite frankly this is the one time where worrying about cliché and trite are absolutely irrelevant. Perhaps the movie moves too quickly to care about where you’ve seen these beats before. Certainly, cool set pieces abound rescuing people from a truck convoy or the useless attempt to HALO jump with a team of mutants comprising the comic book team of X-Force who were obviously picked for a level of expendability even greater than DC’s Suicide Squad. They all die splashed in strawberry jam (spoiler: time device).

The main character drives the movie through its paces with his usual need to break the Fourth Wall and drop in jokes of the generally most gruesome and inappropriate kind. However, even more so than the first installment the references in these monologue asides you’ll find a lot of inside baseball for the comic book world and the Marvel MCU films happening in parallel.

There are jokes referring to Cable as Thanos (both played by Josh Brolin). And lots of Frozen jokes. Deadpool says of Cable, “You’re so dark like maybe you’re from the DC Universe.” And my favorite joke was to refer to Cable’s creator, Rob Liefeld, for his infamous presumed inability to draw his various characters’ feet. Hopefully, any viewers to come will look these things up on Wikipedia before buying tickets.

The action also helps the movie into the realm of enjoyable with high-octane set pieces that lead to completely predictable character moments. Swords swing. Bullets fly. Vehicles blow up. Tuesday in Marvel-land. And I really enjoyed Ms. Beetz as Domino, a mutant with the ability to manipulate luck while wise-cracking with the best of them.

Now for the modest pill lurking under this funny movie. Mister Brolin didn’t quite get the same handle on Cable as he gloriously did for Thanos in the other movie. But, he helped things along as a capable straight man for Mr. Reynolds’ Deadpool and as the ally he didn’t need to be on his best game.

Another minor annoyance was that either the sound mix was slightly off or the crowd with whom I saw the show laughed too hard that I think I missed a few references and jokes. I guess these couple/three moments will be revealed when I buy the disk in a few months.

Usually, I don’t write directly about the mid-credits sequences in Marvel/X-Men films, as that would spoil the fun and surprise. But, there is no way I can avoid how hilarious these sequences were, especially the second big one where Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) and her girlfriend, Yukio (Shioli Kutsuna), fix Cable’s time device and sneak it into Deadpool’s grubby mitts. Deadpool uses this device to save Vanessa and…

Shoot the original version of the Deadpool character from X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Shoot Ryan Reynolds, himself, for even daring to consider the script for Green Lantern. And also save one of the throwaway characters dead in the HALO jump. I laughed hysterically.

Pretty much for a solid fun time watching goofy characters say filthy jokes and not care about cliché, you can’t go far wrong with Deadpool 2.

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

People have debated 1-percent motorcycle clubs for decades. Misunderstood and easy targets for fascistic police that enforce conformity more than crime the Hells Angels’ spokesman says. Heavily involved in crystal meth, illegal guns, prostitution and doing violent work for other motorcycle challenged outfits the Federal agency spokesman (typically the ATF) rejoins. And nothing about The Wild Angels (1966) really does very much to contribute to either side’s argument, defining ridiculous for six generations.

Peter Fonda is Heavenly Blues, chapter president for the San Pedro Hells Angels chapter. Bruce Dern is Joe “The Loser” Kerns. Nancy Sinatra is Mike, Blues’ old lady (common law wife). And Diane Ladd is Gaysh, Loser’s old lady.

Blues leads the chapter out to Mecca near Palm Springs. They fight Mexicans they believe (confirmed by finding a chrome kick starter lever) stole the Loser’s motorcycle. The California Highway Patrol gives chase. Loser gets separated and steals an officer’s bike. He gets shot in the back. The chapter led by Blues busts Loser out of the hospital whereupon Loser dies because good medical care ceased. The bikers arrange for Loser’s body to go home to Northern California and stage a biker funeral, after trashing the hell out of the local church. The cops come and Blues stays to bury his friend.

The hilarious laughter this movie caused mostly happened because low-budget film demigod Roger Corman really didn’t care, it seems, to go beyond the hype surrounding outlaw bikers during the second half of the 1960s. Unlike nearly everything else he produced and directed, this story lays flat as a speed bump with asphalt burns. Mostly it’s a superficial script that only fed hype and fears about bikers without giving us characters to give a shit about to blame.

Case in point, everything I’ve ever heard about outlaw bikers IRL screams at me that Blues is a weak leader making bad decisions left and right. How about leaving Loser in the hospital and then sending a lawyer? How about laying down the law that Gaysh needs a few days to mourn before recycling into the chapter as either a mama (female servant) or landing as someone else’s old lady?

And then there’s the whole plot grown around the simple concept of a club funeral procession that leads to a rowdy party. The movies love to play up the ‘invading Mongols’ trope of the biker gang come to town to trash things because they can. What little I know about most 1-percent MCs is that the majority of their rowdy parties happen in venues where they’re already welcome (the chapter house, or cycle friendly roadhouse well away from the straights). And yet, starting with this early biker movie here we go off on decades of depicting outlaw bikers as barbarians despite basically knowing that barbarians don’t last long as the kind of entrepreneurs that allegedly sell drugs, women and guns.

What this adds up to is a main character that really wasn’t allowed to be very human except for what Peter Fonda bravely tried to add from what didn’t appear to be on the page. Blues is Loser’s friend, but the good guy that gets the Weekend at Bernie’s treatment (dead body lugged around for the whole movie) didn’t really get a good scene with Blues before getting shot.

The rest of the movie is filled with attempted rape, actual rape, fights, beer, drugs and a big speech that seems to set the tone for how bikers as envisioned by Roger Corman want to live – “We want to be free and party without being hassled by the man!”

Okay, the straights in the theater just asked themselves and the characters on screen – “Free to do what exactly?” And therein is why nothing about the movie rises above the shock value of its premise and Nazi iconography of the bikers riding around in something that only barely qualifies as narrative.

And no, I don’t hate biker movies and shows. Ask me about Sons of Anarchy or Easy Rider and you’ll get a much better response about really fascinating shows. In fact, The Wild Angels truly benefits from being first, my usual dig at not very entertaining books and movies that start genres and trends that lead to other better work down the road. Three years later, Mr. Fonda gets an idea and ropes his friend Dennis Hopper into his madness…Easy Rider results all because Roger Corman put him in a bad biker movie. A positive outcome.

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

I have seen the modern Ben-Hur and its name is Avengers: Infinity War. I mean this bold statement in the sense of sweeping main category awards this year. None of the Oscar-bait to drop, as it always does, between October and New Years Eve will ever be quite as meaningful as this movie. And the past predicting the future tells me that when the nominations come out next year I expect to shout – “they wuz robbed!” – at the TV and boycott the show.

Why? The Academy has a long history of automatically assigning less value to genres like science fiction and spandex and voting for the usual Oscar-bait. Don’t get me wrong, I like Oscar-bait as one glorious facet of filmmaking (I’ll be caught up with much of last year’s Oscar-bait on this site within four weeks), but eventually science fiction and superheroes have to go to the dance. And, no, this is not about refighting Annie Hall versus Star Wars. The Academy actually had a point there. This is the year and the movie for it. Nothing will come of it.

In fact to grind this axe further, you’d have to send the worst most drunken scary dentist (played by Clint Howard probably) to pull teeth to get a great Horror or Fantasy past the gate as well. The difference is that in some cases the Hollywood system actually sent the dentist for Get Out, Lord of the Rings and The Exorcist. Let’s see if Avengers: Infinity War gets an appointment.

So what is it about this movie that very well could have been a Kitchen Sink movie where everybody and his brother jostles for screen time that just is so good? Everything. Somehow the writers found that sweet spot, the groove where the arrow allows hits as taught in Zen archery. No wasted scenes. Surprises by the dozens and I’m glad to have skimmed over all the social media blovius that needs to predict and spoil the movie.

Thanos (Josh Brolin) seeks to acquire the Infinity Stones and use them to lessen the workload for his holy mission to kill half the universe’s population, the ultimate Malthusian act. No character is safe. Many die or would die but for being characters in a comic book inspired franchise where few stay dead forever. There that’s all the plot you need on this one. The pieces all fit and this screenplay will be taught in film school for generations, possibly replacing or complementing Chinatown in the curriculum.

The script and movie brilliantly handle the “here we are in three locations spread across interstellar distances” necessities of this kind of story. Fights happen in New York (it’s Marvel, sooner or later everybody comes to the Big Apple), several outer space locations and finally back to Wakanda. The filmmakers clearly watched lots of Star Wars to get this part down and they did it better.

Another really brilliant aspect of this script is the pairings. In order to completely imbed all aspects of the MCU in with each other for all subsequent phases of the franchise, they played mix and match giving us at least four mega-crossover giant size annuals if this story were to land back in the comics from whence it spawned. These pairings are all slightly unexpected and therefore brilliant.

Thor ends up with Rocket and Groot (Vin Diesel). Tony Stark, Dr. Strange and Spiderman (Tom Holland) end up teaming up with Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax (Dave Bautista) to handle the main battle in space. Captain America (Chris Evans), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and the rest of the Avengers fall head long for the big meeting in Wakanda. In the years to come there will be a lot of arguing about who really should’ve gone with whom…trust me they got it right the first time.

Complementing this brilliant script is just all around great acting. We get to see Thor (Chris Hemsworth) crying over his recent losses (Thor: Ragnarok) comforted by Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), of all people. We see Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) get into it with each other largely because they’re both personalities that land just south of overinflated and pompous.

But, mostly we get to see Josh Brolin earn what should’ve been Andy Serkis’ Oscar for motion capture acting Gollum. The Mad Titan defines resolute seeing himself as an agent for the good because his slaughter preserves the survivors best chance of a good life with plenty of resources. And despite the pain caused to his daughters, he’s also a proud and loving (after a fashion) father trapped by what he sees as his destiny. Like much of this movie you’ll cry seeing Thanos and Gamora share the screen.

To the extent that I could even tell you about editing and the other technical departments, I found everything served this storytelling very well. I didn’t see any obvious flaws and smarter people than me will tell you why this work was so great. It all fits together to create one amazingly fast paced movie where even the character moments seem faster than they are.

Composer Alan Silvestri finds musical perfection worthy of the Wagnerian scale of this movie. The score is pretty much a wall to wall toss it to the orchestra extravaganza that should be appearing in my Pandora film score music feed as early as two weeks from now. Unlike in other Marvel movies, not all of them named Guardians of the Galaxy, there is only one pop song to complement the orchestral score: The Spinners – The Rubberband Man. However, you don’t notice the lack, nor should you want more.

Anyway, all of these elements mesh together for an amazing fast-paced movie that you absolutely have to sit all the way through. This is not the movie where you will be rewarded if you have to get up to pee. You will miss something far more important than in most movies. Hit the bathroom just before taking your seat. And you should get ready to cry, as this film wallows in sadness. After that you need to repeat to yourself – Right, it’s a cliffhanger ending and they’re all coming back – because, yes, I guarantee you the filmmakers just wanted to see how far they could push the Han Solo in Carbonite narrative trope. We have a year to wait…

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

Fantasy novels and RPG campaigns need fantastic monsters. Start small with blended beasties. May I present the dreaded draco-bear, basically a grizzly (or the extinct super-large cave bear when you really need to go big or go home) that breathes fire? Boom! Instant monster. Did I really invent said growly snarly beast? It will take many thousands of man-hours of reading prose written by literally the whole planet to be sure. I assert that the fire breathing ursine is my invention; if I repeat that often enough and no one else produces copyright dates from 2016 or earlier with torch bears languidly burning the pants off every passing hero I will likely get credit.

At this early stage, I won’t bother you presenting Monster Manual stats for this beast. Probably, you’ll take the existing listing for grizzly or cave bear and add an extra handful of hit dice and strap on a fire damage blast with a damage rating of (X – 2)D6 where X is the total number of hit dice bolted onto the creature. What do I know? I’m so far from a consistent RPG game and might not know jack about current game mechanics that this is me telling you to work it out for yourselves…for now.

I mostly just care about how cool these things look between the pages of my books.

We first meet the torch bear occupying a patch of land alongside an ancient piece of two-lane blacktop at the bottom of a steep hill. Homer the Not-So-Barbaric (he’s a collector and transmitter of knowledge, too educated to fully stand in for Conan don’t you think?) leans into the fearsome downhill curve with a mysterious semi-naked lady (more on her in a future post) on his handlebars. Making full use of gravity in the context of giving a lady a thrill on a bicycle works as intended, she squeaks or even screams like the time you first went on Space Mountain with your SO.

The draco-bear lashes out appearing from behind a rock when Homer’s bike with all the Shimano gears a cyclist could ever kind of want is the fastest it will ever be. Homer uses the built up this fearsome downhill speed to launch off the nearest rock catching lots of air leading into a 540-degree spin whipping the frame around and certainly framed to be backlit by the noon sun (trust me, scenes like this in early chapters of books are pure adaptation bait). Homer displays either the impressive situational awareness of a literary hero to instantly grok out that he can push the woman off the bike so she’ll land in a nearby pond deep enough to brake her fall, or he’s been on this road before and remembers these things.

Homer draws the rapier attached to the bike frame (even I’m not so stupid as to give a bicycle riding hero a hip mounted sword, almost as stupid as capes and jet engines). He rolls under the left paw, at least the size of a dinner plate. I give it three passes between torch bear and wandering hero and then Homer skewers the beast.

Like many other writers, I recycle into other stories. The second time my subconscious mind insisted I meet a draco-bear, I started filling my prescription for the literary methadone needed for the end of the seventh season of Game of Thrones by starting up my own version. I have a recently resurrected mostly Roman hero tricked by various great powers into going far from home and – WHOOSH! – enter the torch bear burning and slashing everything before it.

Whether it’s Homer catching air leaping off his bike into the fray or Pelman Bealis facing the torch bear on his long but unsuccessful journey home to his wife, so far I think I shafted this proud beast in my writings so far. Why? When a writer goes for a monster slaying of anything like a draco-bear in an early chapter, he, she or they are clearly going for something that looks tough to show that your character is tough. Dispatching beasts quickly can ruin the value of said creature.

Everybody beat the crap out of LT. Worf first in the average Star Trek: The Next Generation episode to show the audience how much trouble the Enterprise crew would be in this week. But, I can always rationalize these early ass-whoopings on a – “Dude, it was just a baby, wait ‘til I unleash the Mama!” – basis. My whole career thrives on dramatically rationalizing almost everything.

What would the torch bear, the common name used by the peasants, be like, now that I actually have to say a few words about ecological niches, fantastic biology and its lifecycle?

Gordon R. Dickson brought forth an interesting explanation for fire breathing in his Dragon Knight series that started with The George and the Dragon. The dragon breathes fire because body processes create an excess of flammable gasses. Dragons muscle the local dwarves into giving over copious amounts of calcium carbonate (chalk) that interacts with stomach acid to create methane.

The gas changes the dragon’s density to get past the whole – can dragons actually fly with those bodies seen in the pictures? – question that people have asked since Tolkien first wrote Smaug. The dragon lands by expelling the gas through its mouth past a metal protrusion back in the throat near the human uvula that creates a spark. So when asked about a torch bear, don’t reinvent the wheel. Cut and paste.

Fire breathing would make pretty much any beast a little tougher than the average bear (can’t resist, eh Boob!). Likely, we’ll need to construct a gullet with the kind of thermal insulation similar to those tiles NASA used to bolt onto space shuttles before fuel tank foam knocked them off. Is that accomplished with a substance like asbestos infused throughout the soft flesh of the bear’s GI tract to prevent back flashes of what is essentially a flammable waste product? Or is there another similar way to keep the beast from frying its own innards?

Executive decision happening as I write, I’ll go with asbestos infused into bear flesh laid over the chalk and stomach acid explanation for creating the fire. The bear would grow somewhat because another way to resist fire is to make sure that the fireproofing material is laid on thick which spikes up flesh density, resulting in a massive creature compared to the average bear with muscles to match.

In game mechanics, I’m seeing maybe a spread between 50-80 HP and a good armor class that splits the difference between regular bears (about like leather) and a dragon (practically Chobbam tank armor). The hero party would have a moderately difficult time defeating this beast that would increase exponentially with each one on the field.

Are torch bears social, the way most real bears aren’t? Does that make them rougher because they attack like a wolf pack? Can you bribe/distract them throwing your string of fresh caught salmon that way while running this way? I’m keeping this part of the discussion loosey-goosey because right now it’s up to every GM out there to work the draco-bear’s specifics.

There is one thing I will suggest; the torch bear’s main defense is to blow methane through its mouth and light it up. Assuming the Gordon R. Dickson explanation for fire breathing is given credence, please understand the beast is slightly modified from regular bears so as to fart through its mouth instead of through its ass, like every other terrestrial land animal. Whatever changes happen inside the draco-bear’s body; that sounds painful. Expect the torch bear to be a mean bitch with regard to those puny insignificant hairless apes with the pointy objects.

If you read carefully, I use words that are generally suggestive of a post-apocalyptic world in which to drop the torch bear. Something about this wondrous monster just screams – “made in a lab during the Before Time, possibly as part of a complex lifecycle designed to clean up all of that leftover toxic asbestos, and then it escaped.” Or dropping it into a fantasy novel solves that problem because the writer doesn’t have to answer the why of a beast as long as it leaves scars on which the hero reflects.

So there it is, a few basic thoughts on a solid medium-range utility monster sure to burn the adventuring party’s pants off, a good result. I now send you out with the concept for you to tweak to get it just right. Your results will vary…fun.