“School Daze” one-shot: Taco surprise!

Fellow role-players, here are my notes for the School Daze one-shot that Rich C.G. hosted and ran at his apartment in Waltham, Mass., on Monday, 2 July 2012:

>>”School Daze” Player Characters:

-“Lars ‘Weedy’ Wiedermeyer” [Gene D.]-male human senior at Trowbridge High School in Iowa; chemistry whiz, “crank” (small-time drug dealer) looking for a girlfriend for the summer before college

-“Vincent Marsocchi, a.k.a. ‘Vinny Mars‘” [Brian W.]-male human junior at Trowbridge H.S.; resourceful “jank” (mechanic) trying to avoid bullies and pull a prank at the prom

-“Frank Thomas” [Josh C.]-male human student at Trowbridge H.S.; corn-fed hockey player and romantic drunk looking for a prom date

'80s Redux collage 2
Comedies of the 1980s directed by John Hughes

>>Nerds and jocks

Students arrive in the parking lot of Trowbridge High School for classes a few days before the prom. Weedy parks at the edge of the lot and meets with Clark/”Speedy,” a budding journalist and customer. He’s also nervous about getting a date.

Vinny drives up in his vintage Chevy Nova and immediately gets egged by Biff Thompson, captain of the hockey team. Fortunately, Frank shows up. Since he’s friends with both the jocks and nerds, he defuses the situation — this time.

Weedy scopes out passing cheerleaders while Vinny tells him about his plans to pull a prank at the prom. Frank reminds his pals to watch out for the “Monkey Squad,” three A/V geeks who are loyal assistants to Mrs. Moore, the prom organizer.

All eyes at the parking lot and nearby athletic field turn to wealthy heartthrob Lance Ingbert, who is pursued by Morgan L. Fay, a choirgirl, cheerleader, and skank.

Cynthia Hoskins, a reporter for The Sensible Squid, watches as Lance chats with “Fighting Octopi” teammates Troy Vanderbilt and Biff. Morgan isn’t happy when Lance walks off to talk to others.

“Stealth babe” Hoskins also catches the attention of Weedy, Frank, and Speedy. They each vow to try to get her as their prom date. They reunite in homeroom, where Mrs. Moore drones on about the prom and the musical Spring Awakening.

Cynthia delivers a televised report on how the cafeteria’s taco meat contains carcinogens, and she ambushes the lunch lady. Doris is too surprised to say anything.

Weedy goes to Chemistry, one of his favorite classes. Flaky lab partner Stacy Felicity asks him if he can find out if Frank has a prom date. She and Frank have been friends since childhood. Weedy slips a Bunsen burner into his bag to deliver later to his supplier Carlos.

Vinny tries to stay awake in Mr. Buckson’s Algebra class, since he’d rather be in Shop with Mr. Durgin. Frank goes to Mr. Burlaney’s American History class, where he daydreams about Cynthia.

Speaking of which, Cynthia pulls Weedy and Vinny aside and asks them to wear and distribute T-shirts saying, “Taco meat is murder” at the prom. She explains that she has contacted Chet Carlson of Channel 5 News. Smitten — and already intoxicated — they readily agree.

Weedy later gives out shirts to his customers, including Speedy, Otis, football player Brock, preppy journalist Zack, and Beth. They are impressed with his wares and reluctantly agree to wear the shirts briefly at the prom.

Alvin, Simon, and Ted, a.k.a. the “Monkey Squad,” almost corner Vinny into helping them. He begins hatching a plan, with Troy’s encouragement. In the lunch room, Vinny gets an extra helping of tacos from Doris and avoids bully Biff and dreamy Lance. He boldly asks Amy Kwan to the prom, and she surprises everyone by agreeing!

However, Amy has one condition: Vinny must meet her father, Baptist minister Bishop Parsons, for dinner. Frank tries to talk to Cynthia, but she is busy trying to track down Chris and Lance.

Discouraged, Frank ducks into the lavatory. Troy gives him a pep talk. Weedy and Frank are almost caught smoking by security guard Franz, nicknamed “Col. Clink” by some reprobates.

Inspired by Amy, Vinny excels at poetry about butterflies in Daisy Pfeffeneusen’s English class, but Weedy cuts Phys Ed, which is Frank’s favorite. Frank earns praise from Coach “Bullhorn” Lewis.

Weedy does attend Mrs. Iris Carbuncle’s Economics class, one of the few he aces, thanks to his small-business experience. He pays little attention to exchange student Inga, figuring that she’s out of his league.

>>Coming together and falling apart

Wallpaper for Judd Apatow's comedy TV series
Judd Apatow’s landmark high school TV series

After classes, Vinny drives his heap to dinner at Amy’s house in a respectable suburban neighborhood. He is surprised when Doris answers the door. Apparently, the lunch lady is Mrs. Parsons as well as Amy’s stepmother!

Frank practices with Biff, Lance, and Troy on the field, while Weedy conducts business on the sidelines. Weedy draws skulls and crossbones in his notebook because his romantic plans have gone awry. Stacy was heartbroken to learn that Frank expected to go to the prom with Cynthia rather than her. Cynthia, meanwhile, barely acknowledges Frank and Weedy.

At the Parsons-Kwan household, Vincent tries to make small talk over an elegant meal. Bishop Parsons questions his intentions toward Amy, invokes the wrath of God if he should deliver her home later than 2:00 a.m., and invites him to Sunday services. Fortunately for Vinny, Amy is the apple of her parents’ eyes.

Weedy is shocked to learn that Lance shares an interest in unicorns with Stacy, whom he had started to consider as a backup date. With Vinny securing Amy and Frank still pursuing Cynthia, what is Weedy to do? He confronts Morgan after cheerleading practice and tells her about Lance.

Morgan is disgusted. She storms off, but not before telling Weedy that Cynthia has been playing him and Frank all along. Not only will she embarrass Doris — and, by extension, Amy and Vinny — but she’s actually working on an expose of the drug and alcohol dealers in the school, directly endangering Weedy and Frank’s graduation chances!

Weedy goes home to his long-suffering mother Delores and tries to call his friends. They want nothing to do with him as they get tuxes ready for the prom. In homeroom the next morning, Weedy pulls Vinny and Frank aside and tells them everything.

Vinny agrees to turn the “Taco meat is murder” shirts inside-out and stencil “We heart tacos” on them in shop class. Frank is distraught and vows boozy vengeance on Cynthia, who may actually be pursuing Clark. However, before Weedy and Frank can find new dates, they are distracted by a fight in the lunch room.

Handsome Lance and bully Biff brawl among the linoleum tables. Frank and his hockey mates dive in and separate them. Weedy asks Lance and Stacy, who attends to his wounds, what’s going on, but they are reluctant to open up to him.

Vinny happily goes to shop, ready for his unlikely date and to make mischief for the prom….

We all enjoyed this one-shot, which reminded us of John Hughes’ movies in the 1980s or Freaks and Geeks. Character creation is easy for School Daze, which is a rules-light storytelling game somewhat similar to Fiasco. Just jot down your character’s favorite subject, “ranks” (specialties), motivation, and relationships, and you’ll have a recognizable archetype from high school.

I could easily see this game being good for horror (Buffy: the Vampire Slayer), fantasy (Harry Potter), noir mystery (Brick), superheroes (Spider-Man) or science fiction (Teenagers From Outer Space and lots of anime). I’d recommend School Daze for miniseries and pickup games like this past Monday, when we didn’t have quorum for the Way of the Wicked adventure path.

Rich, let me know if I left anything out, and I look forward to upcoming sessions of the FATE 3e “Vortextelecom space opera and Jason E.R.’s “Glassworks” superhero scenario! Have a good weekend, -Gene

Death and humanism, Part 2: The Muppets

The Muppet Show characters
It’s time to meet the Muppets!

I’ve been a fan of the late Jim Henson‘s creations since watching Sesame Street and the original Muppet Show as a child in the 1970s. Henson’s gentle humor didn’t talk down to children, nor was he afraid of including adult jokes that sailed over the heads of then-innocent younger audiences.

Janice has an Animal puppet, and I have a Kermit the Frog — both from before we met. We’ve attended exhibitions of Henson’s work at the Smithsonian Institution and other museums, and we met his widow and son Brian, among other puppeteers. Henson’s gifts of joy and wonder have continued to appeal for generations, but is The Muppets as entertaining as its predecessors? Also, are we able to enjoy our foam and felt friends as we once did?

The good news is that director James Bobin and actor and co-writer Jason Segal have made a strong effort to be faithful to Henson’s spirit and to keep the Muppets as wacky as ever. The Muppets is filled with celebrity cameos, allows us to revisit familiar characters and songs, and should be fast-paced enough for the children of original fans.

The movie follows brothers Gary (Segal) and Walter (voiced by Peter Linz) as they grow up and eventually visit the dilapidated Muppet Studios. Walter uncovers a plot by evil oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to buy and tear down the Muppets’ former digs, so Gary drags his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) along for the ride to reunite the Muppets and hold a telethon to save the theater.

Segal’s love for the Muppets is apparent, and Oscar nominee (and future Lois Lane) Adams’ talents, first seen in Enchanted, are put to good use for various songs. The bucolic Smalltown is nicely contrasted with the Muppets’ latest road trip and the glamorous yet seedy Los Angeles. Cooper is surprisingly game as the villain, even breaking into a rap number, and Rashida Jones is an impatient studio executive.

Other cameos include the indefatigable Mickey Rooney, musician Dave Grohl, and actors Alan Arkin and Emily Blunt. Comedians Whoopi Goldberg, Zach Galifianakis, Jim Parsons, Sarah Silverman, and Jack Black also appear, continuing a tradition from the TV series and 1979 movie.

With iconic characters such as Superman, Mickey Mouse, and Bugs Bunny, their supporting casts grow over the decades and often overshadow them, so I was glad to see the focus back on Kermit in this year’s Muppets. Gonzo, Rizzo the Rat, and Pepe the Prawn are all present, but not dominant. I miss Henson as the voice of the friendly frog, but there were numerous visual cues to his ensemble variety show (one of the best, along with The Carol Burnett Show).

At the same time, I understand why Frank Oz — the original voice of Miss Piggy, Yoda, and many more — chose to step away from this production. I think the filmmakers tried to honor Henson’s idealism, but they were a bit down on the franchise, saying, “It has been years since we were together in the public eye,” even though Disney and Henson Studios have put out several Muppet movies.

There were a few times in The Muppets when Kermit seemed even more discouraged or Miss Piggy was even more of a diva than usual, but I think they were balanced out by the overall sweetness of the script and live-action supporting cast. To me, the moments that felt true included a barbershop quartet singing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and chickens clucking Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You.”

We also saw The Muppet Show‘s opening credits from a new angle, Animal in anger management therapy, as well as old favorites such as “Rainbow Connection.” Overall, I’d recommend The Muppets to anyone who’s still a kid at heart. (The recent comic books weren’t bad, either.) The movie is rated PG-13 for humor and slapstick, and I’d give The Muppets a B+, a 7.5 out of 10, or about three out of five stars. I’m glad I was able to see the film with fellow fans.

My favorite Muppet movies are The Muppet Movie, Muppet Christmas Carol, and Muppets From Space (I’d put The Muppets on par with the last one). I’m less fond of The Great Muppet Caper, The Muppets Take Manhattan, and Muppet Treasure Island. There are also several fun holiday specials — I’m partial to Emmet Otter’s Jug Band — and other TV shows, such as Fraggle Rock and The Storyteller.

Like Segal and company, I’m not sure that many children with their noses in videogames or being shuttled from soccer to dance practice and homework will appreciate The Muppets, but as with classic Star Trek, I think it’s worth making an effort to expose them to Henson’s humanist values of playful curiosity, determination in the face of adversity, and most importantly, kindness and acceptance of all.

Despite an untimely death, Jim Henson left a legacy of family-friendly entertainment as well as more mythic material, such as Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, and Farscape. I’ve got posters of the Muppets and Farscape cast on my bedroom walls, “It’s Not Easy Being Green” on my lips, and a little bit of Henson in my heart.

Winnie the Pooh, a belated review

A scene from Disney's new movie
Winnie the Pooh 2011

I’m still catching up on work, contacting friends, and recorded genre television after last week’s business trip to Chicago. So without further ado, here’s my review for Disney’s latest Winnie the Pooh movie.

Fans of A.A. Milne’s stories or Disney’s 1960s and 1970s film adaptations will be charmed by Winnie the Pooh‘s traditional animation style, its gentle humor, and a cast that’s closer to the familiar voices than the hyperactive shorts or TV shows from the past two decades.

My sister in law Melinda and several young nieces will no doubt be pleased that once narrator John Cleese (of “Monty Python” fame) begins reading from the book of Pooh’s misadventures, viewers are drawn back to Christopher Robin’s playroom and the Hundred Acre Wood as if no time at all has passed since our collective childhoods. The device is similar to Pixar’s Toy Story.

The plot is fairly simple: Pooh Bear goes looking for honey, but his dour donkey friend Eeyore has lost his tail. Pompous Owl, timid Piglet, supportive Kanga and Roo, and nervous Rabbit end up misreading a note from Christopher Robin and look for a monster called “Backson” instead. Sight gags abound, and the script has clever allusions that would likely sail over the heads of younger audience members.

Winnie the Pooh lacks the cynicism, off-color humor, or flashiness of many popular movies, but it is better for omitting them. I’d happily recommend this movie, which was rated “G,” to any parent. Not to slight other works, but Winnie the Pooh is the first film in a long time that felt to me like the Disney classics I watched on Sunday nights.

I’d give Winnie the Pooh a “B+/A-,” three and a half out of five stars, or a solid 8 out of 10. Let’s hope that Disney can continue shepherding quality to the big screen with its upcoming The Greatest Muppet Movie Ever Made, which also looks to revive popular awareness of clever humor, simple joys, and humane (if not human) entertainment.

In related — if somewhat lower-brow — animation, Janice and I have been enjoying the Cartoon Network’s Looney Toons Show, which combines Warner Brothers’ Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck with the absurd situations of Seinfeld.

I’m also catching up on multimedia announcements from San Diego Comic-Con 2011, but I look forward to the upcoming revival of Thundercats, as well as to the return of Young Justice. I’m also impatiently awaiting next year’s Avatar: the Legend of Korra, sequel to the underrated fantasy Avatar: the Last Airbender (not to be confused with James Cameron’s Avatar movie or The Last Airbender movie adaptation dud).

In the coming week or so, I’ve got more movies to review, including Harry Potter [8] and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and Captain America: the First Avenger!

Animation endures on TV

Earth's Mightiest Heroes
Marvel's Avengers

Despite the decline in live-action TV superheroes, The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is both faithful to the comic books and relatively popular. I’ve already mentioned the cancellation of the campy and fun Batman and the Brave and the Bold, but I hope that Young Justice (whose animation is smoother than most Marvel projects) and defiantly kid-friendly Super Hero Squad keep going.

I haven’t watched the latest iteration of Transformers, and it’s too bad that Genndy Tartakovsky’s SymBionic Titan didn’t get the support it deserved. The counterterrorist, anticorporate, and on-the-run take on G.I. Joe is interesting, but I’ve only seen a little of it. Many of the cartoons on the Cartoon Network, Fox, and Nickelodeon aren’t really my style, but I am looking forward to the anthropomorphic animals of the upcoming Thundercats and Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles reboots.

The Looney Tunes Show is an interesting sitcom approach to the classic Warner Brothers characters, and I wonder whether Seth McFarlane’s revival of The Flintstones can succeed alongside the postmodern sarcasm of The Simpsons and its ilk.

In direct-to-video tie-ins, I just picked up Marvel’s Thor: Tales of Asgard, and I’m looking forward to DC’s animated Green Lantern: Emerald Knights, Batman: Year One, and Justice League: Doom. Between live-action movies, video and TV, and of course comic books, it’s no surprise that several role-players in my groups have asked about D20 Mutants & Masterminds 3rd Ed. or Icons! Fellow Game Master Jason E.R. may run a one-shot of Dark Pages this coming summer.

Coming soon: Horror and fantasy TV and games!

Catching up — Megamind

Megamind poster

This past weekend, I met fellow blogger Thomas K.Y. and role-player Josh C. at Thomas’ condominium in Lexington, Massachusetts. We watched Megamind on DVD. I liked the superhero movie more than I expected.

Although it’s part of a recent glut of computer-animated comedies focusing on villains turned heroes — including the Shrek franchise, Igor, and Despicable MeMegamind respectfully spoofs comic book conventions and has a sharp script. The film has numerous allusions to its inspiration but still feels fresh, reminding me of one of my favorite Pixar works, The Incredibles.

Megamind also features a strong cast, including Will Ferrell as the self-absorbed titular alien, Brad Pitt as Superman knockoff Metro Man, and Tina Fey as intrepid reporter Roxanne. The supporting cast also has fun, with David Cross as fishy sidekick Minion, Ben Stiller as museum curator/alter ego Bernard, and Jonah Hill as protégé gone wrong Hal Stewart/Titan. I wasn’t distracted by the celebrity voices, but it helped that I watched the film long after any promotional hype.

Unlike the “uncanny valley” of Robert Zemeckis’ animation, the cartoony yet realistic style of Megamind and movies like Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, How to Train Your Dragon and Legend of the Guardians: the Owls of Ga’Hoole doesn’t bother me. Megamind‘s action scenes were well-choreographed, and we’ve come a long way from the original Tron or ReBoot (whose complete series is finally available on DVD).

I’d give Megamind, which is rated PG for language and violence, a solid B+, 8 out of 10, or three stars. Although I’m still a fan of “traditional,” 2-D animation, I do enjoy the best of the new wave, even if I haven’t yet seen Toy Story 3 or Tangled. I hope to screen the anthropomorphic animals in Western comedy Rango this coming weekend.

After lunch at Watch City Brewing Co. on Waltham’s Moody Street, Thomas, Josh, and I watched Alien vs. Ninja, which is just as silly a “B” movie as the title suggests. Janice and I also ate at regular haunts Comella’s, Acapulco’s, and Wild Willy’s this past weekend.