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Other Pursuits September 2023, Or, A Good Old-Fashioned Skulk

I basically took September off from blogging! That is all you need to know1.

Baldur’s Gate III
(PlayStation 5: The Revenge)

Oh hey look it’s this funky fangly lizardboi!

So dashing, so squamous, so heroic in his relentless search for his heat-lamp and favorite basking-rock

Listen, I don’t have anything analytical to say about this absolutely incredible game that other, smarter, more articulate people haven’t said before and better. Instead, I’ll tell you about my favorite thing I’ve discovered in it so far; I can’t imagine this will count as a spoiler for anyone, but given that this game traffics more in horizontal than vertical story-progression, consider yourselves warned. Also, though I don’t imagine this warning is necessary, shit’s about to get Deep Nerdy, so feel free to skip to the next entry.

So I’m exploring2 a derelict temple of Lathander that, wouldn’t you know it, has been invaded and turned into a Githyanki crèche, big grody eggs stacked to the heavens, you hate to see it3. I convince them I have every right to be there and undertake a good old fashioned skulk about the joint, seeing what I can take that isn’t nailed down and/or red-texted4, and I discover a Githyanki document discussing an event in their history that isn’t named directly but which I instantly reconize as The Pronouncement of Two Skies, the moment at which their species split into the Githyanki and Githzerai5.
Now, the reason I recognized this event, even told from the perspective of xenophobic martial zealots, is because I once spent two straight real-world hours learning about it from one of my companions, a Githzerai named Dak’kon, while playing Planescape: Torment, where talking to your party members is (or can be, if you want) a core game mechanic. The two games do take place in the same very rough cosmic milieu–in the sense that Beowulf and the Chuck E. Cheese electrical automaton-band show both take place on Earth–but are not directly related and are separated by hundreds of years and literal planes of existence, so it’s less a shoutout to P:T and more an example of what I love about this game: it’s made by people who care, not necessarily about +1 greatwords and Amulets of Magic Missile and flumphs, but about these stories, these worlds, and the people who have spent their lifetimes loving them. The history of the two Gith peoples is a relatively minor aspect of one species from one corner of an inconceivably vast world of stories, but it does play very prominently into their relationship with the Illithids/Mindflayers who serve (at least as far as I’ve seen) as the primary antagonists of this story, and the creators of this story understood instinctively that having a conflict involving both the Githyanki and the Illithids without acknowledging their shared history6 would be like having a conflict between woolly mammoths and domesticated dogs without mentioning the fact that humans exterminated one of those species and created the other; you could tell that story, but it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting or meaningful without understanding the bigger whys of it7.

This game is an unbelievable accomplishment that I would recommend not just to D&D nerds and not just RPG nerds, but to anyone who enjoys shockingly competent video games and amazingly well-crafted stories. (Its control scheme might be a little much for someone who hasn’t had much video game experience, but it also does a great job at teaching the basics while allowing plenty of room for exploration and discovery of its deeper, more arcane systems.)

Big Trouble In Little China
(Islands In The Streaming Service)

For many years I thought this movie sucked! I was wrong! This movie rules, it was the ME that sucked! I gave it another try after many years thanks to Blank Check‘s John Carpenter miniseries, and I’m glad I did. Reevaluating this didn’t rock my worldview or anything (or even my Carpenter rankings; I’ll always be a Prince of Darkness/The Thing boi) but it’s a blessing to know there’s one more weird, amazing, hilarious thing in the world.

For those unfamiliar, the basic pitch is that Kurt Russell is a big-rig cowboy-type who finds himself embroiled in A MYSTIC WAR OF MAGIC AND IMMORTALS already in progress in Chinatown, and doesn’t realize that he’s the scrappy ethnic sidekick to the story’s main (Chinese) characters. He even gets to pull the Funny Little Foreigner gambit!

Spoiler: Henry Swanson is not his name, and he is not a boat insurance salesman from Des Moines looking for a wild time in exotic San Francisco

It’s a genius inversion of formula, I am astonished we haven’t seen it applied in other genres and contexts. Bonus, it’s got every pre-2000’s Asian actor you’ve ever seen, and while it is a silly over-the-top fantasy they actually get to act instead of just filling stereotypical, token roles8.

It’s not what I’d call a masterpiece, but I 100% understand people who saw this at just the right age for it to become a cornerstone movie of their youths and personalities and I just missed it in favor of some other movie, like how I saw The Monster Squad instead of The Goonies at the crucial moment; a road less taken. Also look we can sit here and litigate the ways in which The Monster Squad and The Goonies are peak 80’s Problematic Cinema (acidic homophobia vs. ableism so thick you can spread it on toast, etc.), but at the end of the day, only one has Dracula throwing dynamite at squad-cars and backhanding his way through a conga-line of cops.)

Escape Room (2019)
(Streamed Hams)

Look, I have never been involved in the making of a movie and I am 100% certain that even the simplest, most modest production is an unbelievably complex, arduous undertaking. That said, sometimes a marketing budget just isn’t able to pull its weight and you go into the picture with…relaxed expectations.

Well this promises to be a delightful…ESCAPADE???

The Contemptible Cover is a common problem in almost every medium, and while I don’t propose that they all hide secret works of genius I would say that most things are better than their worst cover/promo-art would indicate, as is certainly the case here: this movie kicks ass.

It’s not trying to be the greatest horror movie ever made, but it swings everything it’s got as hard as it can; of especial note is the unusually rich characterization, excellent and original sets and visual design, and effective psychological horror in lieu of the pointless gore and suffering that usually pervade the horror genre.

(Nota Bene: this is the 2019 movie, not the 2017, for which I cannot vouch and will not be held responsible)

Killin’ Me Good – JIHYO
(You Musicry Of Choice)

No real story here, we went to Target last weekend where I saw several prominently displayed JIHYO records, and I’d never heard of her (them? I honestly don’t know if JIHYO is a person or a group), so I did a quick search and tossed the top song into my Liked Songs list to listen to later, as is my custom. AND, AS FATE WOULD HAVE IT, ‘TIS A BOP:

One Piece

Listen I am no expert on One Piece, having only read I think seven volumes and written a few hundred thousand words of fanfic in which Buggy The Clown is conscripted to fight in the American Civil War, but this look of impenetrable, completely unearned confidence tells me everything I need to know: SHOW GOOD.

Well my name’s Luffy D., and I’m here to say
I like to rap in a stretchy way

For the uninitiated, Once Piece is one of the longest-running, top-selling, most critically acclaimed manga (and anime) ever made, and this show is, by all accounts, maybe the first good live-action adaptation of either of those media.
Most realistically I guess you’d call it a fantasy/action-adventure series about the above-pictured red-vested dumdum, Monkey D. Luffy, trying to become King of the Pirates by finding a possibly-fictional treasure hidden by the previous Pirate King, Gold Roger; he assembles a crew of misfits and they set out to make their mark on the Golden Age of Piracy (although it’s possible that their definition of ‘piratical’ might not exactly match our own).

The world of the series is a fantasy kitchen-sink featuring a samurai Zorro, a clown-themed pirate crew and captain, light steampunk elements alongside nautical technology, mutant sea-creature people trying to take over the surface world, and magical(?) fruits that give people powers like becoming a stretchy rubber-person, producing shockwave-attacks, or the ability to split your body into separate, levitating, independently-usable limbs. The manga also features as much racial diversity as is really possible to express in a black-and-white comic, and the show runs with this to a fantastic degree. I can only remember three named white characters from the first episode, among a speaking cast of at least 150, and that taste is mighty refreshing.

It’s fun and I recommend it! Give the first episode a try, you’ll know pretty immediately whether it’s for you or not.

Reconstruction Site – The Weakerthans
(Your Favorite Music-Gettery)

Spotify thought I’d like this band! Spotify was right!

(The Streaming Platform
Formerly Known As HBO)

This show is a ship of fucking monsters, sailing a sea of carnage and cruelty, ripping out their own bones to club each other with, and every single second of it is goddamn riveting. GOD I love these awful garbage humans.

It’s often hard to explain why a show about horrible, horrible people is worth watching; Arrested Development, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, The Righteous Gemstones, all are VERY difficult to make a convincing pitch for, because any description or summary has to start with “So these pieces of shit…”, and that’s naturally a tough sell. BUT THE UPSHOT, she is this: a family of truly sinfully wealthy media moguls, who are in no way supposed to be the Murdochs, vie for control over their father’s empire as he enters his decline. They’re some of the worst people currently living, none of them had a chance growing up with the lonely neglect of all children of wealth and their father’s cruelty and abuse, and watching them struggle with their desperation for human connection while being completely unable to sincerely communicate with anyone is hearbreaking.

An obvious and completely fair criticism of the entire premise is that A-BLOO-HOO-HOO, POOR SAD WIDDLE WICH KIDS, IT MUST BE SO HARD TO BE SO LONESOME IN YOUR FOUR SEPARATE PRIVATE JETS THAT ARE ALL GOING TO THE SAME PLACE, MAYBE DADDY WILL BUY YOU A FRANCE IF YOU FIGHT FOR HIS AMUSEMENT. Furthermore, the show kind of wants to have and eat its gold-leaf-covered leopard-egg cake in regards to its obscene levels of luxury-porn: enormous and beautiful apartments that no one has the time to live in or enjoy, children who are given the finest education and everything they could possibly want except parents who are present in their lives, and most of all they treat absolutely everyone in their personal and professional lives as completely disposable and wonder why they’re always alone; there’s even a storyline in the second season about how they refer to incidents concerning low-level, ‘insignificant’ employees9 as ‘NRPI’, ‘No Real Persons Involved’.

It’s frequently rough to watch for both angry and sad reasons! But it’s also very often hilarious (albeit in the blackest possible comedic voice), almost unparalleled in terms of the performances, the writing deserved every award it’s won the show, the production and cinematography are without equal, and the music is…well, here:

Listen I know I’m gushing. Is it the best show ever made? Of course not, that doesn’t exist. But it’s the best show I’ve seen in a VERY long time, and there are fewer than 40 total episodes; if you like quality television and object lessons in how the bad kind of ambition will destroy your soul, you owe it to yourself to watch the fall of a dynasty who really, really had it coming.

That’s all I’ve got; here, have some context-free memes:

Who Shat On The Floor At My Wedding?
(Wherever Pods Are Cast)

Finally, a podcast that does what it says on the tin; no more murder podcasts called Cereal and no more cereal podcasts called The Woods Are Never Full.
It’s a tale as old as time: two lovely brides marry the hell out of each other on the high seas with friends and family in attendance, and someone shat on the boat’s bathroom floor. Who would do this? How can this have happened the closest you can physically be to a toilet without being on it? When could it possibly have happened? Let’s find out in the funniest way possible as the ladies hire a private investigator who attended the Philomena Cunk School of Detectiving and also several actual professional forensic specialists who readily admit that they have no idea why they took this case and that doing so may well be “career suicide”, but they couldn’t resist the mystery. Who among us could? That’s what mystery’s there for: to tempt. To damningly tempt.

End of list! I’ll probably write more in October! I mean, I’d…pretty much have to!

Until then, be good to yourselves and good to each other or FACE MY SLEEPY WRATH.

–The Bageler

I don’t believe it
There’s a bullet with my name on it now

  1. EXCEPT THIS: I have missed u all
  2. Read: ‘murdering my way through’
  3. By the way some lady working for the Society of Brilliance tried to convince me to steal a Githyanki egg so they could see if they could raise the child to be non-murderous, and that is such a monstrous idea that I killed her where she stood, zero regrets, also she had some sweet loot that’s mine now, so,👍
  4. Meaning me taking it would be noticed and, culturally, an invitation to perforate my kidneys’
  5. Think Vulcans and Romulans, it’s a pretty clean match
  6. Long story short, enslavement and genocide, revolution, species-wide blood oath to hunt the squiddy badstards to the ends of every fucking universe, civil war and split into sister-species
  7. Also that comparison is almost entirely wrong in every particular, but every real-world equivalent example I could think of hit that point where a white person realizes they shouldn’t be talking about something, so we’ll have to make do
  8. Which, look, everybody gotta work, James Hong hasn’t clocked more than 600 film, TV, and video game credits by being picky
  9. y’know, the ones who make their entire company possible
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