Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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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© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

Practice makes perfect. When deciding to come back to the world of Tron, the filmmakers chose to hit all the required homages while figuring out an actually interesting script to go with the eye candy of a movie that has defined the term for more than thirty years.

Just a few years after Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) returned from the old Encom system with proof that corporate executives pirated his video game ideas and thus he deserved to be elected CEO, he disappears one night after telling his son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund) about being on the verge of a miracle on the Grid created after the dust settled on the Master Control Program.

Twenty years later, Sam is a shiftless youth with a majority interest in Encom and no interest in running his father’s company. He loves his pranks played on the company at the yearly board meeting. This time he breaks in to release the 12.0 version of the company’s operating system online for free. And must flee the scene base jumping off the roof.

Old family friend and surrogate father, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) bails Sam out of jail and tells him of an impossible pager text from the long since disconnected landline number from Flynn’s old videogame arcade. Sam investigates, soon finding a hidden lab behind a copy of the videogame Tron where a digitizing laser waits to send Sam into the Grid.

And history largely repeats itself, what with Flynn’s old program, Clu (also Jeff Bridges) going wild in his programmed search for perfection taking over the Grid driving his creator, Flynn into hiding to protect his disk with the master codes to the Grid. Clu would very much like to use the codes to launch various programs into the real world…something that just can’t happen because Clu and the disorder of the real world just won’t mix.

The Bread and Circuses nature of the first movie is even more highly developed this time around as Sam is thrust immediately into the updated versions of Lightcycle Race and the Deadly Frisbee game played with each program’s control disk. The games are modestly improved with little tweaks and touches.

Lightcycle Maze Race, where the player rides motorcycles that stream solid walls of colored energy behind with the intent of boxing the other rider in for a vicious smush against a solid wall, gets the addition of three-dimensions with ramps and jumps to go up or down. Deadly Frisbee, where gladiators throw their control disks at each other destroying the glass walls and floors of the combat space, sees upgrades in the form of game physics, where each carom of the disks shatters glass instead of the neat derezzing from the first movie.

Sam survives these games given that his whole life in the real world is training. He rolls around on his father’s old Ducatti and had been playing the videogame versions of these sports since forever. And with the usual events, like trusting the wrong people, that naturally transpire he meets both Clu (age regressed Jeff Bridges) and his father (regular Jeff Bridges) seeing both sides of the coin of a man that tried to seek perfection. Oh, yeah, mustn’t forget Quorra (Olivia Wilde) a woman of mystery.

There are three intersecting relationships in this movie. The father/son relationship of Sam and Kevin. The twisted relationship between Clu and his creator, Kevin. And the whatever you want it to be thing between Sam and Quorra. And buried deep in these connections is a greater use of metaphor that nobody with a functional library card will miss.

For instance, we might liken Clu and Kevin to, perhaps how Yahweh might’ve felt seeing his creation, or child turn away from Grace becoming a violent, needy and scared species. Both Yahweh and Kevin Flynn initially spend a lot of time officially disengaged from the mess of his creation, until the prospect of a son forces changes in the system.

The Biblical metaphor breaks down a bit when you consider that Yahweh sent the son as an intentional shock to the system and Sam is more of an afterthought in the Flynn system aka the Grid. Still the themes of disengaging to avoid doing more harm should the creation acquire the Creator’s tools come through loud and clear, as witnessed by Clu kicking the door to Flynn’s lair and finding a table decoration of a bowl of metallic apples. Like I said the use of metaphor is both obvious as it is profound.

The other important relationship lies between Sam and Quorra. She represents the miracle alluded to by Flynn just before he was trapped in the Grid because it’s easier to get in from the real world then it is to get out. Quorra is the last surviving member of a new hybrid lifeform called an isomorphic algorithm, one that developed spontaneously in the Grid that Clu promptly wiped out to the last woman.

Was Clu jealous of the new species that Flynn promptly gave more attention to because of the possibilities to change the outside world? Does this make Clu Lucifer? Again with the Biblical metaphors.

Anyway, in her sojourn in hiding with Flynn she has learned much about the real world reading the books he brought with him and preferring Jules Verne. She also impatiently plays Go against Flynn’s calm measured Zen style to go with his disengagement with the Grid. She wants to see her first real sunrise in the real world.

I tend to think of Jeff Bridges as having two phases of his career demarcated by The Big Lebowski. After playing the great slacker that unintentionally founded a religion of slacker-ness, Mr. Bridges other roles since all seem measured against the Dude where – ‘that’s just your opinion, Man!” Maybe, he was always the Dude since becoming an adult, but in terms of what showed up on screen, the demarcation seems clear.

The later edition of Kevin Flynn who must act like the disengaged deity gazing his navel and forcing calm and peace around him is vintage post-Lebowski Jeff Bridges (he usually has to play a villain for this trope to be wrong). Nonetheless, he’s a great actor and as always, a joy to watch.

Ironically, despite being titled Tron: Legacy this movie really skimps on Tron the character. Yes, Flynn brought the security program over from the original system when he, Clu and Tron tried to build the Grid into a nice virtual place. But, in keeping with the Biblical metaphors of this movie, when Clu turns Tron leaps to defend Flynn’s much like the Archangel Michael did for Yahweh.

Tron took a beating giving the appearance of being dead only to come back as a servant of Clu. A faceless servant in a black mask recognizable by his two-disk fighting style. I guarantee you someone in the production breathed a sigh of relief at having to use CGI age-regression technology of only one actor, Jeff Bridges instead of two. It also takes Tron out of the movie, except as a plot device.

Anyway, I found myself enjoying the movie even more than the original. I’ve mentioned the thick and heavy-handed metaphor that helps give the illusion of depth. I also loved the fluid motion of the action elements where Mr. Hedlund gets into all kinds of funky positions almost flying as he did his own stunts. Olivia Wilde played her part with the profound innocence even dropping in – “have you met him?” – in reference to her favorite author Jules Verne. Who really wants to explain to a child about Death along with the concepts of Past, Present and Future?

Anyway, the effects and production design proved far more interesting than the original movie. Yes, telling a Tron story requires similar touchstones. Control disks you can throw as weapons. The lightcycles. And the beam riding skyships. The idea was to take what the original movie gave us and bringing it into some semblance of what Flynn and Sam might’ve actually seen with their eyes versus the painted on feel of the original.

I do have one quibble that the filmmakers couldn’t take the opportunity to invent at least one new game for the arena. Going back to the Lightcycle Maze Race and Deadly Frisbee, might have been a necessary nod/homage to the fans, but the Grid, like any society, evolves. Logic suggests that there could have been a third game for the brutal viewing pleasure of Clu as he intends the disposal of his enemies. An opportunity missed.

All in all, I really enjoyed this movie thinking it one of the few times where a sequel improves on the original. Check it out.

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© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

“Greetings programs!”

With that we follow Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) into a world where programs take the faces of their creators, the Users, as they do their thing under the all-seeing oppressive eye of the Master Control Program. The new element of Flynn, a User deified as a god inside the system, brings great change.

Looking back on this classic movie that with The Last Starfighter lays claim to the first large scale movie to rely so heavily on the nascent field of CGI special effects, I see that for myself the movie holds up better as that primary signpost in film technology than as a narrative. Did I hate the story? No. It was kind of there and even average storytelling can engage the willing audience.

When Flynn goes hacking for proof that executives at Emcon plagiarized his video games in the Master Control Program said evil power-hungry AI uses an experimental laser to digitize Flynn into the system. He makes the right kind of friends in programs, like Tron (Bruce Boxleitner) and Yori (Cindy Morgan). They cross great digital expanses…

The main conceit here is that people in the real world are mirrored by their programs that they create to perform functions inside the system. Jeff Bridges was also the hacking program, Clu (died early on). Cindy Morgan also played Yori’s programmer, Lori Baines. And Bruce Boxleitner gave his face to Tron, as well as Tron’s creator, Alan Bradley. David Warner plays Ed Dillinger, the plagiarizing CEO and two programs the Master Control Program and Sark, the MCP’s spear-carrier henchman and master of the digital games.

So, while making the metaphorical point that creator and creation are one and the same, later famously echoed in the Star Trek: DS9 episode “Far Beyond the Stars,” it naturally follows that relationships in the real world are mirrored among the programs. If Lori Baines used to date Flynn but now has landed on Alan Bradley, then Tron and Yori will share echoes of that relationship in the system. And Flynn will just have to get over his regrets for Lori when he sees Tron and Yori kiss.

Throughout the movie, the filmmakers consistently went for the simple story of one User thrown into the new world of the system as catalyst to bring freedom. However, complicating elements like the subdued romantic triangle mentioned above isn’t particularly well realized as we fly around set pieces that even allowing for advances in CGI in approximately forty years are still impressive.

Other elements that are kind of waved at include the obligatory gladiators bonding in the locker room scene. We don’t see very much of programs waiting for the call to the next round of combat disks getting short with the new guy who needs to be told – “we don’t make friends.” They’re there but skimmed over quickly to advance the story of the next station of the effort to make it to the input/output tower with Tron’s disk (a Frisbee) that will splinter the Master Control Program into millions of unformed bits.

Related to the skimmed over romantic triangle in general, I feel there needed to be more scenes between Flynn and Yori to better build up to the kiss between them at the end. Flynn had a hangup about Yori’s creator, Lori, not the software herself. Pretty much one way to expand this movie from its approximately ninety minutes running time is more scenes between Flynn and Yori, where she shares traits with her real-world creator that causes…confusion at the very least. The kiss, as we see it, is unmotivated…unless the filmmakers are just telling us that smooching with the other member of the team when you’ve set up a triangle like with Luke and Han in Empire Strikes Back is just a union mandated thing and kindly please just sit down and shut up.

On retrospect, I would’ve liked to see more cuts back and forth between the computer world and the real world. The Master Control Program doesn’t just boss hapless programs sending the annoying ones to the games much like a Roman emperor consigning his enemies to the arena; he (it?) hacks major companies and government agencies straining for more power (Skynet anyone?). These actions have real world consequences and this is a good way to have Allan and Lori pitch in to save the world from the runaway sentient computer. Just a thought.

What went well. Getting a pre-Lebowski Jeff Bridges to play Flynn proved excellent. He drives the film to the appearance of more story than is really there with his ability to act even when wearing a costume with what must be highly distracting neon lights attached at the rim of his face. This plays out best when Flynn reacts to Tron and Yori’s kiss and embrace in the middle of the movie.

Of course, you can’t talk about Tron without discussing the effects. People now might laugh at the starkly drawn first generation visual effects that look like somebody painting them on with a Day-Glo pen, but for the time they were groundbreaking. The result came out more like a classic mixed animation scene where a live dancer needs to hoof it with a cartoon mouse than the more integrated effects today.

What holds up about the visual feel of the movie are the underlying designs. There are skyships that sail beams of energy like a solar sail spaceship. Light cycles trailing walls of colored energy. Vast structures eerily reminiscent of human cities at night. And even allowing for the primitive and slightly blocky rendering, something about all those designs stay with you.

To wrap up. Tron is a nice average Dark Tower movie that without being an early entry into the then undiscovered country of computer effects might’ve fallen a little flat. The effects and design work combined with good performances from the cast has a way of making the movie rise above the modestly too short script that didn’t make full use of the dramatic elements raised, waved at and then sent back. A good, comfort food type movie.

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© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

On the subject of ruthlessly mining my dreams for the next dream-based idea for my list of waiting concepts, I think I’ve been this way before…too lazy this morning to do the post archeology just yet (see post). And then the white gloves showed up for their closeup. An out and out nightmare…or would’ve been in an earlier time when perhaps I was less weird.

White gloves, by which the reader gets to interpret their choice of opera gloves or cop gloves used only for formal ceremonies and traffic control (white is a high visibility fabric color), kill people. The high points. I’m the investigator. The gloves wipe out some poor schoolgirl, possibly Catholic from the blue tartan pattern, spitting out the uniform like primates tossing aside fruit rinds. I reach through the swirling mist protecting the gloves bringing them fully into the real world (of the dream, at least).

You’d think from past monster movies that I’d burn them. Or whack them bloody on the kitchen island. Maybe made them see the error of their ways talking them to death in Interrogation Three. None of the above.

Yours truly ate the white gloves. No taste, not even silk. It was kinda chewy in a disgusting way and then a gray labradoodle waddled up glad of the snack. Maybe the labradoodle exists as a later addition from the in-between time between the dream proper and choosing to be awake and do my day on the merest pretense of adulthood. At this point, the “dog stays in the picture.”
Not that it’s all that interesting to me, excepting how I can churn this unformed cream into something useful like butter, but I guess I do have to use up a few words speculating as to origin. Is it a Virus-land dream as so many people report?
I suppose yes, in the same way that Die Hard has been adopted as a Christmas movie on the sheer strength of set during the holiday. I could go on about hearing Stephen Colbert ask a guest about his strange dreams…Ooh, a trigger! The reach in and yank the gloves into the light through a haze of smoke, sounds like armchair shrinks will go immediately a need for truth seeking (insert yelling about the Coronavirus politics here).

The chowing down on the gloves was something new. Do I have food issues? Am I stealing from the father of the Olympian gods who ate his children to stay in power? Is it similar to why Akiro (Mako) nearly got barbecued by cannibals in Conan the Destroyer? – “they think if they eat me, my power will become part of them.” I usually duck going that deep being generally comfortable with my personal fucked-up-ed-ness.
I guarantee you the possible first edit of the labradoodle absolutely is a Virus-land adaptation. Look, maybe you don’t hire labradoodle breeders without medical or public health degrees, if you’d like your citizens to dream about bunnies and rainbows. Stephen Colbert on the same show asking about the guest’s dream also did some barbecuing over hiring the former breeder…also a trigger!
I maintain that maybe I’m less fucked up than I think. The labradoodle that may or may not have featured in the main dream, but is there now…because I say so, has been put to better use than his metaphoric former master at the puppy mill. Feed the monster to a creature that regardless of individual breed has historically shown a tendency to eat everything seems like a plan.
In fact, there’s all kinds of reasons to keep dogs around in all kinds of fantastic storytelling. Die with your trusty hound at your side and discover that the first guy at the gate might be lying about the nature of the realm behind (Twilight Zone). Dogs also have a way of sniffing out other forms of bad guys, I’ll have to watch The Car again to refresh my memory if there was a dog snarling at the Lincoln Town Car.
Regardless, dogs jostle with cats for Improbable Script Immunity. A serious and loud pet rumble. Yes, Mr. Snyder did name the trope after cats, but he meant any moment that shows the audience the hero’s nice side. But I digress away from the truth that when confronting killer white gloves maybe we want to harness that our dogs seem to get away with eating our shoes with alarming frequency.
Anyway, the killer white gloves aren’t a completely new thing in my weirdness. My list of as yet unrequited concepts includes at least one tidbit of a comatose writer whose hands break off and do his subconscious bidding. The right hand is almost reasonable. The left hand is pure id, baby! And from there we eventually have a story.
Maybe something out there just tried to slap me around for prioritizing something other things as more interesting. Sometimes, I have to act like a certain governor absolutely convinced that the lockdown can’t end this week.
How much story did the dream give me? Not much. Unlike Robert Louis Stephenson’s claim about getting the full book, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in two dreams from which his wife waked him the first time – “One of these days, Alice! Bang! Zoom! To the Moon!” – my dreams only give me two or three scenes. I’ll still have to fill in the rest.
Starting with answering the question at the top of this post about dress gloves for the opera or those that cops wear. Why is this important? Well, either I’m going to get a rich people milieu or I’m going to get cops, perps and traffic accidents. In theory, until my give a damn flees for something else, I could write both.

And that, Dear Reader, is yet another visit between the ears of the delightfully strange place called Greg-Land. Actually, eating the killer gloves is perhaps the most. Whatever, my takeaway here is that if I’m actually going to eat killer gloves maybe I should come prepared with a bottle of Tapatio. Yum…

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© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

I got Zoom-bombed! No that’s not really much in the way of a positive experience, but it is something about which to write. I’m officially part of the post-pandemic we’re-all-in-it-together club. Still…I was angry for a minute.

The bare bones of the incident. Two weeks after first launching myself online into the Zoom world (no Jitsi, No Discord and certainly no Google Hangouts), I sign up for yet another writers’ group. I go for the greet, write and brag about word count types of groups. I sometimes read at the end of the session. The full-blown critique groups can wait…

So anyway, this group originated from a Dallas coffeehouse and wanted to open up the online writing from home experience to everyone setting the attendance limit quite high. More like the limit Zoom promises when you agree to pay for a Pro account ($150/year), say about 100 guests. Links and passwords went out.

I had been at the tail end of a successful writing day where my space pirate that also serves a mean macchiato became progressively more mind-fucked as his day went along (a playing hooky project when I don’t want to work on anything closer to print). Banging out another page and a half in the notebook seemed like a good plan.

At least 60 people or devices showed up. The first sign of trouble was a douchebag hiding behind a picture of one of those bearded gentlemen from the Middle East with whom the West likes to yell at as high order performance art (Great Satan, Dirty Persian @&$*head, you get the idea). The guy yelled a bunch of obscenities. The host guided by another member who himself hosts other Zooms out of Los Angeles tried to use the tools already at her disposal to kick the Mullah-man out.

Then the Chat function went screwy. More obscenities. Despite the guidance from the off-duty host, the actual host lost the handle on keeping her head long enough to delete anyone just there to selfishly raise hell and she canceled the meeting. Pretty sure the Zoom-bomber(s) declared victory and went home laughing. Obviously, steps were taken.

First off, once a host lets in more people than we have in fingers and toes the risk of some angry douchebag getting in increases geometrically with about every four extra RSVPed guests over 20. I have friends who are better at technology than me who when fed enough beer will loudly proclaim that nine times out of ten the user got sloppy with their passwords causing the problem themselves.

The host learned her lesson, as reported by others, that she immediately lowered the attendance limit to a slightly more manageable (49) number. Presumably there will be all sorts of verification steps like registering and being total dicks about the six-digit password. Things will work out next week…probably.

I first heard of Zoom-bombing right at the beginning of the crisis by way of a Change.org petition in my email inbox. Apparently, a black PhD candidate defended his thesis by Zoom with his family watching from their own devices. The Zoom-bombing event described seemed really bad like you could plausibly use a Dresden or a “took out Rotterdam” metaphor what with frequent N-words and dick picks. The petition was worded in an understandably hurt “Zoom must do something” tone.

I would just log on to Zoom with a link or the similar Meeting ID number, youthful innocence. Then a few days later, the link needed to have the six-digit meeting password. A few hosts required registration where you tell Zoom and the host your name and email and if they don’t match the host doesn’t have to let you in. A few days later, waiting rooms popped up where you logged in with your link, Meeting ID and/or password. A few days after that link info would appear in emails from the host using Meetup.com’s email feature in an attempt to limit who saw the information that anyone could see in a Comment box on Meetup.

Part of the problem is the age-old problem that encryption can sometimes be too complex and thus lock out the legitimate user. Follow the registration link. Here’s the meeting link with the password. It adds steps, but certain things remain constant because the codling team at Zoom knows that certain measures will Night follows Day mess with the users that drive their business model.

For instance, writers are constantly in a variable state between craving the rigid order of “I have my writers’ group at Noon on Tuesday” and the freewheeling joy of “Holy Hell, it’s a re-run of NCIS, might as well pick up my phone to finger-tap.” After a few sessions we start going to the same groups and the link numbers and passwords don’t change because even for the security minded host the hassle of distributing a new link, password and registration page every week induces baldness the way Homer Simpson went smooth (tearing his hair out).

But in the case of this hacked and bombed meeting, I’m pretty sure that the host may have to create a completely new meeting taking place at the same Bat-time and same Bat-channel. The douchebags have the link and password emboldened by the success of ending the meeting the first time to try again – “wow, it was, like, so hilarious that the writers group shut down with the PC bitch host probably blew a gasket like a cartoon!”

Yes, there’s a nasty political undercurrent to some Zoom-bombing. The racist attack on the PhD candidate. And the fact here that the host said – “I’m shutting the meeting down and for next time will have to think long and hard before admitting people who don’t look PC.” – just before closing the meeting.

Which to me as a writer understanding that my Free Speech depends on everybody’s Free Speech, I heard that as troubling in the sense that pure PC is almost equally the problem as douchebags getting a laugh lashing out randomly. Besides, I guarantee that the Mullah-man douchebag heard that comment and took both victory and validation. He’ll try again.

Why was I angry if my liberalism doesn’t run to the Pure PC end of the spectrum? I don’t need politics to get pissed at people with too much time on their hands that like to lash out at people they could safely ignore. These fuckheads wasted my time…the single most grievous sin you can do to me in my moral universe.

At least one of my stories that explain why I infrequently write screenplays and almost never co-write involves a guy only slightly less annoying than these pair (same guy with two devices?) of douchebags. And don’t get me started on how I feel about other people wasting my time since Mom died. If I’m goofing off, I’m not wasting time, but doing something else almost as important as the words…for the moment.

And then there’s the sense of basic respect. Since I’ll get snippy about you wasting my time when I want to spend it working, I assume you’ll be the same way. Besides I can pull a book off my shelf or try to figure out the next three bars of my much-delayed Concerto for Harmonica in F to have things to do inside.

Of course, the I’ve heard variations on the refrain, “what is it with these people that need to do this? Even without being a writer there’s plenty of things to do in the average house!” – or the similar – “who has the time to do this?” – at least twice, once before the Zoom-bombing and once after. There’s no understanding it, some people need to lash because they think it’s funny to watch someone get angry. And there’s the nasty politics underneath, racist douchebags seem motivated enough to make the time. Being that racist and angry also sort of answers the first rant too, we don’t understand the emotion and for the immature among them we’ve forgotten how whiny we got when we were bored as kids.

Several plus sides though. It’s been the better part of five weeks that I have slowly increased my daily Zooms. Only one session has been Zoom-bombed so I’m ahead of the game. The host will figure out her game and life will go on.

And the other thing, Zoom has been a godsend for my productivity. I used to go to coffeehouses either alone and for the in-person version of these groups. I was productive. Measured by squares checked off on my to do list, my best weeks have doubled my before output and more normal weeks the increase runs more like 50-percent more. I just need to save up enough money for an espresso/cappuccino machine and maybe I never leave the house except to support a restaurant I like.

Anyway, I got Zoom-bombed. I took it personally for a minute and a half. I now have a story to tell my nephews – “back in the 2020 Lockdown, there was this one writers’ group that got Zoom-bombed, you shoulda heard what those assholes said…good times!”

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© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

Yet another monster of the week, the Car from Hell. Calling it the Baneful Blue Car is really a Marketing Department decision to go with the toys I have for the picture.

What makes it the Car from Hell? It drives by itself. It hates people in general or perhaps specifically. It mows them down on the pavement because…why not? It’s a really simple and apparently can’t miss horror concept. Stephen King goes back to it more than once (Christine, Trucks/Maximum Overdrive, From a Buick 8). And I keep meaning to publish the collection in which my own effort Cadillac Crusader appears…never mind.

Like most other story tropes, the writer can bend the Car from Hell to his/her own purposes. Even Mr. King varied it up a bit going with a dysfunctional romance between car and driver, or a post-apocalyptic epic of trucks in revolt, almost a slave uprising. I’ll get back to you when I dig up From a Buick 8. Mine had two Cars from Hell, former enemies from the Third Crusade (neither side acquitted themselves very well) who spoke the words that Melville put in Ahab’s mouth at the end of Moby Dick imprinting their anger onto their swords that were later melted down into auto steel. Essentially a heavy-handed treatise on tolerance from very soon after 9-11.

Why does the car drive itself? Usually, the author doesn’t explain beyond a few sentences. Christine, an almost stereotypical Candy Apple red Plymouth Fury (kinda on the nose, Mr. King, just sayin’) just starts killing people from jump on the production line. An evil car from birth. The trucks go nuts because of a passing comet.

The filmmakers of the Christine knockoff movie The Car pretty much just said – “it’s like a demon with bullet-resistant windshields, what did you think I’d give schematics?” I think my deal where a Third Crusade Christian and his blood enemy from among the Society of Assassins imprint their rage upon their swords is about the closest anyone has come to actually explaining the Car from Hell.

Unless perhaps the car is an AI creation of a pissed off mad scientist. It’s always a choice to go with people creating their own problems. Hubris and other forms of lethal stupidity all in one package.

And now we’re back to that scary fan theory about Disney’s Cars where the cars with the big eyes in the windshield are AIs that adopted the personality of their last drivers. So does that mean that Lightning McQueen once drove with Frankenstein (David Carradine)? Or perhaps Matilda the Hun, from before her taking up the Nazi motifs with her Buzzbomb car? Now I’m going to some dark places.

Anyway, it isn’t accidental that I’m tying into the Deathrace 2000 franchise. The difference between death races and Car from Hell is the human at the wheel. Anyway, if our world building says that the AI cars are like impressionable children waiting to learn from “responsible” adults then the Car from Hell very much could be a former death race wagon turning on its former masters. The cars are either done hauling our groceries, like Mr. King’s trucks, or maybe we’re all sick, didn’t stay inside and the getting smeared across the pavement is less painful. The writer/gamemaster gets to choose these things.

This column is loosely about how do you use these monsters in a campaign or other narrative. Several questions need to be asked…

What is the Car from Hell’s relationship to gasoline?

This is a big one that isn’t always addressed. More theological versions of the Car from Hell, like The Car, are just steel-clad demons. If a demon steals a possessed soul’s body and walks around in it for many centuries after the normal sell by date, then the same demon that possesses a 1971 steel gray Lincoln Town Car doesn’t really have to worry about stopping at the Arco.

The movie version of Christine wasn’t depicted stopping at gas stations. But the story undergoes a progression where the red witch car reveals herself slowly as she ensnares her driver-lover becoming viciously powerful in the Third Act. Says to me that if Mr. King thought the car should be limited by gasoline then the car would wheedle and whine until her human rolled up to the pump…ala Audrey the plant begging, “FEED ME!”

The writer that wants the unkillable car will mentally come up with some means of alternate fueling. Pulling water vapor and using electrolysis to crack it into hydrogen and oxygen and then reburning them in the cylinders seems a good approach. Answering the gas question is important…

When I adroitly plagiar…uh, homaged the Car from Hell trope in my own work, the gas problem was the solution. When dealing with count ‘em two cars, the female protagonist pissed the cars off making her bait for her boyfriend the wizard with a handy increased entropy spell. She lures to the LA River. He creates a dome where fuel efficiency goes from, say, 30 mpg to something with the opposite measurement, gallons per mile, the average Main Battle Tank for those keeping score on Quora.

What are the rules for the car taking damage through the course of the story?

Again, the writer/gamemaster is just going to do what he/she wants, all have their place.

James Brolin and his deputies put several 12-guage shells into the Lincoln. Nothing. Dialogue about assuming a set of armor, but it was a literal Car from Hell running down sinners who cuss and curse. It couldn’t enter the old cemetery with a cross, but could enter and open a garage door despite, “no hands, Ma!” And because explosions are always good to end movies, the villagers lured the car to where they could dynamite the cliff onto the car. The demon inside flees the car sneering in the fiery mushroom cloud only to be seen in Los Angeles driving past the Music Center…

Some cars will uncrunch reverting back to normal because the sheer force of evil always seems to want to keep biting our kneecaps off. Christine did this. My hell cars did this and yes using the gasoline problem in the same story is clearly one of those Because I Said So events where when asked for details the best bet is usually, “Hey, what’s that over there!” Other cars will be the hell car equivalent of Eleanor…simply tough to kill.

Okay, I’ll close this out suggesting actual hit points and such for the cars. Keeping it simple…the car has the equivalent of full plate armor. I just sort of assumed that an easy way to assign hit points would be to have the GM look up the horsepower rating of the car being pressganged into service as a hell car. There’re your hit points right there, about 150 hp for rice burners on up to 350 for say a Camaro.

Keep it simple. Don’t cuss. And have the car aim for center mass…

 

 

 

 

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© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

Okay, for this one I’m just going to let you in on several related little secrets…my mother asserted car as my first word. Love driving them, except when I have to deliver your pizza or proof of service (a story for another day and another blog). Slightly know what I’m talking about when the hood’s up; comes from that one time it was still possible to change out an alternator on a motor where said part was at the top of the block.

Get gently yelled at over the size of my Matchbox/Hot Wheels collection by that sister sort of acting like Marie Kondo right now pretty much daily. Went kart racing just enough times to fake it for the story. Used to know the Indy Car guys backwards and forwards, less so F1 and Endurance. Whined really loudly when Mom decreed Speed Racer (unless it’s a G-Damn slow news day and I’m loaded respect for the anime says I’ll never comment on the live action here) to be too violent.

Have pulled Reverse J-Turns during my misspent youth. Have Deathrace 2,000 memorized even to the level of laughing at all references to – “the evil French.” And my first major series protagonist didn’t go pro because she liked writing better.

Oh, and did I forget to mention that the Ford GT-40, the subject of the movie Ford V. Ferrari is my single favorite closed-wheel car that didn’t appear in Speed Racer? From your perspective, objectivity just left the building with Elvis. Good thing, it’s verifiably a great movie…

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There isn’t really anything bad to say about this mostly true semi-tragic buddy movie about a driver, Ken Miles (Christian Bale), and his good friend builder and former driver, Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), teaming up to spend Ford Motor Company’s money to give the hated Enzo Ferrari a metaphorical punch in the nose in the pasta rocket manufacturer’s home break sport of endurance racing, specifically the 24 Hours of Le Mans. All because the Italian gentleman called Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) fat and his cars and factory ugly when Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) reports back from the failure to woo Ferrari from Fiat.

And so it’s a story about boys and their cars. Complete with that special gleam we get when we have the wagon just so. And the somewhat difficult personalities associated with doing cars at the top of the game. A movie where two headstrong personalities throw wrenches and fists at each other all to get that last ounce of performance and air flow over the car body.

Matt Damon as Shelby quickly becomes the translator between the pure driver of Christian Bale as Miles and the business-oriented executives at Ford put in charge of the team. Primarily, this plays out with Josh Lucas playing Leo Beebe, a senior VP likely to insist that Ken Miles “just isn’t a Ford type driver,” during the GT40’s disastrous first year (1965) racing at Le Mans. Shelby apparently solved the problem by going around Leo Beebe and taking Mr. Ford out for a spin in the car…leaving him crying in the shotgun seat. A highlight of the movie.

All throughout 1966, problems with the car, mostly brakes bedevil the team headquartered at LAX. Solutions come from everywhere in the team including redesigning the entire braking system for easy replacement, something that had never exactly been done before under the Le Mans rules. The creative interpretation of – “gentlemen, the rulebook says part and changing out the entire brake system is a part.” – is one of the other highlights of the movie.

Of course, it being a movie and not a Wide World of Sports special, we do have to come off the track and do a little bit of storytelling in rooms, houses and cars. Mostly we get to see Ken Miles’s relationship with his wife, Mollie Miles (Caitrona Balfe), and son Peter (Noah Jupe). We get to see that Ken Miles was really too good at cars without much businessman in him to keep his garage in the Valley from going belly up.

A marriage where the wife drops the hammer on the family Ford station wagon on a lonely two-lane blacktop road revealing that professional drivers really hate being passengers is interesting in the best of times. The scenes with Peter reveal a deep abiding familial love where the idea is to share passion and perhaps a few skills.

And then we finally get to Le Mans 1966, where Ford takes three separate GT40 teams to the endurance race. Once the race officials agree with the Ford interpretation of the rulebook concerning ripping out the whole brake assembly, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that all three Fords will take the top three finishes at the race, especially with all the Ferraris killing themselves before the finish.

Even at this late date, all is not perfect in the race. The cars were driven differently with some teams keeping to the company directives as to how fast and hard to drive the car. Meanwhile, Carroll Shelby puts 7,000+RPM on the chalkboard for Ken Miles, letting him drive full out. Leo Beebe then hits on a “great idea” to slow Miles down so the other Fords can catch up for the great picture of all the Fords crossing the finish line at the same time. I remain surprised that this character agreed.

Anyway, Ford v. Ferrari is exactly what you expect, a racing movie with all the crashes, cool maneuvers and drama in the pits where people do sometimes die. Filmmakers know all the tricks like getting the right music and making the cars look beautiful even disintegrating after pranging in Turn 3. Good thing the real story happening off the appears to have been as equally able to hold the viewer’s interest. A worthy rental…