Laidback DM: Pathfinder 2e Review – Cult of Cinders

I’ve been buying all the Pathfinder 2e products, so I may as well review them. Sorry it’s taken me a while to get to this adventure path. Just call me lazy.

Spoilers!!

Cult of Cinders is the second part of the Age of Ashes adventure path. It contains four adventures taking PCs from 5th-8th level, set in the vast and danger-filled jungles of the Mwangi Expanse.

Laidback DM: Cult of Cinders review

This adventure has a great balance of role playing and fighting missions that include befriending the local Ekujae Elves via hunting, attending a feast, matchmaking and storytelling (among other activities); deactivating a number of protective dragon pillars throughout the jungle; disrupting a mining operation and an intense showdown with the Cinderclaw Cult antagonists in the fossilized remains of a giant dragon. Along the way the PCs learn the cult is linked to another, bigger conspiracy, and gain a key to another Elvish magic gate (and thus another part of the Inner Sea Region of Golarion). Age of Ashes is a good introductory campaign as it uses portals to take the PCs to multiple countries across the game world, providing varied environments and challenges in each new instalment.

Along with the adventures are additional rules enabling repair and upgrade of the citadel the PCs took over in Hellknight Hill, copious information on the Ekujae Elves, new treasures and diseases, extensive background information on two major NPCs and 15 new monsters.

Cult of Cinders has the usual high levels of presentation and writing we’ve come to expect from Paizo. It’s less linear than the previous instalment, with more mission variety that also very effectively demonstrates the various P2e rules for downtime and NPC interactions.

Rating: 9.5/10

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Godzilla 2: King of the Monsters. A movie review.

No spoilers!

If you like oversized beasties ripping buildings apart you’re gonna love this pic. Even the family drama at the centre of the movie was good.

I enjoyed the first Godzilla a few years back, and then Skull Island, the Kong movie set in the same cinematic universe. This sequel works as well as the others, setting up Godzilla as the dude Kong will fight in the next movie. Monarch, the semi-secret monster-hunting organisation is back, this time with husband and wife scientists (Vera Farmiga and Kyle Chandler) and their daughter (Millie Bobbie Brown) working with them. There’s a new eco-terrorist (Charles Dance) determined to set the various ubermonsters free and return the planet to a more natural state, but one of the Titans turns out to be more than Monarch can handle.

One problem—Monarch, an almost faceless organisation, is the human link between all the movies, but none of the recognisable characters stay for long, so there’s no one for viewers to emotionally connect with over time (something the Marvel movies do so well). The character development and acting in Godzilla 2 is great, but it doesn’t seem to be enough to just have a big monster as the thing that brings audiences back each time. I’m hoping some of the faces in this movie will be back for Godzilla vs Kong, because we need some likeable ongoing human characters to root for.

Godzilla 2 was enjoyable and well worth a watch. The special effects were amazing! I’m just hoping the connective tissue between these movies becomes a little more recognisable.

Rating: B

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Pokémon: Detective Pikachu. A movie review.

No spoilers!

I hate Pokémon. But my son dragged me to see this because of his lifelong obsession with the cute and annoying cartoon creatures, and I have to say…it wasn’t that bad.

Pokémon-less Tim (Justice Smith) finds out his estranged dad has died in a car accident and travels to Ryme City, where Pokémon live in harmony with humans. Most humans bond with a Pokémon, but not Tim. He meets Detective Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) in his father’s apartment and after breathing a strange gas, realises he can understand what Pikachu says. Pikachu believes Tim’s father is still alive, so they team up.

What can I say about this movie? It’s definitely for kids or lifelong fans. The Pokémon are nicely realised in 3D animation next to their live action counterparts. They’re not as annoying as the cartoons where trainers throw pokeballs at each other and the doofus creatures fight (although there is a scene like that to keep longterm fans happy). There are a few amusing jokes along the way (it seems Reynolds is destined to do his Deadpool-shtick for the rest of his acting career – this version is a lot tamer, of course). The CGI is good, the creatures are cute and cuddly, there’s some cliches and a few nice twists in the story.

Whilst I’m not a fan, I didn’t mind sitting through Pokémon: Detective Pikachu. My son lapped it up. And he’s not exactly a kid anymore.

Rating: C (my son and other big kids who don’t want to grow up: B)

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John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum. A movie review.

No spoilers!

I’m a big fan of the John Wick movies. JW3 is another fine entry in the violent action series.

Keanu Reeves is back as John Wick, the almost-retired hit man who loves his dead wife and wreaks bloody vengeance on, well, pretty much everyone over the death of the dog she left him. JW3 starts where JW2 left off: the High Table of assassins has excommunicated him and he needs to get out of New York fast in order to survive. This leads to lots of murder and mayhem, with Wick disposing of various assassins in new and gruesome ways. JW3 is all about loyalty and the consequences of Wick’s actions in previous films. There’s even a sly Matrix joke.

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There’s a bit more world building about the High Table, some new characters, some new twists and a set up for the next movie (how unexpected), but don’t expect searing dialogue and multi-textured layers of meaning. That’s not what these films are about.

The JW franchise has prided itself on its use of practical effects and wonderfully visceral fight sequences. There are several action set pieces in JW3 and Keanu continues to perform many of the fight scenes himself. But age is catching up with him and in JW3 there’s more use of stunt doubles and CGI than previously. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, it’s just an observation. There seems to be more guys getting punched and kicked in the balls than ever before, but maybe I just noticed it more this time around (there’s lots of crossed-leg moments in this film, especially when the dogs come out—for guys, anyway).

JW3 is great. Wick punches, kicks, throws and shoots his way out of trouble. And back into it. I’ll be back for the next one.

Rating: B+

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Avengers Endgame. A movie review.

Avengers Endgame has been hyped to the nth degree, and for good reason: it’s really good.

The Marvel Studios movie universe has been going for 11 years. 22 movies later, and Endgame arrives as part 2 of the Infinity War saga, and a movie that keeps most of the fans happy. I say most, because not everyone will like the way some of their favourite heroes are treated.

avengers

I loved Endgame, but not because of the huge superhero battles, convoluted time travel plots, occasional plot holes and over-hyped appearances (yep, Captain Marvel is a blink or you’ll miss her opportunity at several points. It appears the only reason she was hyped so much was to sell her solo movie, as her impact on Endgame is negligible). I loved Endgame for the emotional character moments, of which there are many. This movie delivers these in a big way, with gravitas, sensitivity and poignancy. Yes, there is a fair bit of humour (some of which falls flat), and some characters (two in particular) have been transformed into shadows of their former selves, but Endgame really delivers as a bookend to 11 years of superhero movies. Several character arcs are given very satisfying conclusions. If you’re not a wee bit teary by the last scene then you’re obviously heartless.

Avengers Endgame delivers on the hype. This is the kind of movie that makes me happy to be a superhero fan. It has massive moments, dark moments, bright moments and emotional moments, and provides satisfactory closure to the storylines of several major characters. For people only seeing a Marvel movie for the first time, it will be confusing and probably lack the emotional investment required to really experience this movie at its best, but for fans, this is the superhero piece de resistance.

Bravo Marvel Studios. I predict Avengers Endgame will get a best movie Oscar, similar to the way Return of the King won for the Lord of the Rings series. You heard it here first.

Rating: A+ (Non-fans seeing a Marvel movie for the first time: B)

 

 

The Curse of the Weeping Woman. A movie review.

The Curse of La Llorona, or The Curse of the Weeping Woman as it’s called for Australian release, is an okay horror movie that does its best to scare you with a rejigged ghost story that’s fun to watch but fairly shallow and somewhat forgettable.

I don’t watch a lot of horror movies, as I tend to compare them to my fave, The Grudge, which was actually scary. It’s not often that I’m surprised by a horror genre flick, and The Curse of the Weeping Woman is no exception. Sure, there are a few jump scares (okay, I jumped once), but this ‘ghost coming for your children’ story seems a bit old hat, and not just because it’s set in 1973.

The actors are good—the mother and kids are especially great at displaying fear and shock. The practical effects are effective and it’s only when the director decided to use CGI at the end that the effects suffer.

This movie is loosely part of The Conjuring universe, although you don’t need to be a fan of that series to see this one. The Curse of the Weeping Woman is an okay horror movie, which Conjuring completists may enjoy more.

Rating: C (Conjuring fans C+)

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Shazam! A movie review.

Shazam! is an enjoyable, feel-good superhero movie reminiscent of 80’s family flicks.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a resourceful orphan looking for the mother he was separated from many years before. Placed with a new and quirky foster family, he meets Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), foster brother and roommate, who is obsessed with superheroes. After fighting some bullies, Billy escapes via the subway and is magically transported to the cave of the Wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), who grants him superpowers and transforms him into his adult champion, Captain Marvel – oh, sorry, we can’t call him that anymore due to legal niceties (Zachary Levi). His job is to fight the seven deadly sins, who have chosen their own champion in Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong).

Shazam! has a fun premise: what happens when a kid becomes an adult with superpowers? It’s Big for superheroes, and a lot of the humour comes from Zachary Levi learning to use his powers (and abuse them, as any kid in an adult’s body probably would). Along the way he learns responsibility and respect, and it’s no spoiler to say he eventually saves the day (it’s a superhero movie, after all). There are a few unexpected surprises along the way, though…

Director David F. Sandberg and his very diverse cast look like they had a ball. The script is playful and inventive, and sufficiently different from other superhero movies to make this one stand out (DC writer Geoff Johns has his creative footprints all over it). It’s funny, nostalgic (with 80’s references galore), and also demonstrates it is very much part of the existing DC extended universe (DCEU), with numerous character references and a surprise cameo. It didn’t require me to use my brain at all (I generally prefer my superhero films more complex) and I laughed a lot. And there’s nothing wrong with that, especially in the Trump-infested mire of today’s world.

I enjoyed this movie. It’s one for the family, who can all leave their brains at the door and have a nostalgic and wacky time.

Rating: B

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Glass. A movie review.

Minor spoilers!

Glass is the sequel to Unbreakable and Split. It’s the culmination of one journey and the start of another. It’s really good, and deserves more appreciation than it’s gotten from some critics.

M. Night Shyamalan is an auteur director with a reputation for ‘twist’ endings and a distinctly uneven quality to his releases over the years. Unbreakable starred Bruce Willis as David Dunn, a man discovering superpowers and coming to terms with his true purpose, aided by Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Elijah, who believed superhero comics were a mythological representation of real events and people. The film premiered in 2000 as superhero movies were making their comeback and starting to dominate screens. Unbreakable was quiet, deliberate and allegorical. And under-appreciated by critics and the box office.

Split was a more recent (2016) conventional horror/thriller which showcased James McAvoy’s wonderful range as serial killer Kevin Crumb, a man with 23 personalities who could call forth the super-powerful ‘Beast’. Whilst it could have been deeper, it took a more conventional approach and did well at the box office. And included a final reveal that it was set in the Unbreakable ‘universe’. My initial impressions of Split were lukewarm, per my review in early 2017, but this has improved somewhat on consecutive viewings.

The scene was set for a sequel to both, bringing the best elements of the two movies together and providing a fitting conclusion to a trilogy that wasn’t really a trilogy (it’s now referred to as the ‘Eastrail 177’ trilogy, in relation to events from the first movie).

Glass brings together all the major characters from the two prior films. And it does this well, affording each character reasonable screen time to establish their current status quo and motivations. The first act sees David Dunn confronting The Beast. The second act takes place in a psychiatric institution, where David, Kevin and Elijah are assessed by psychiatrist Ellie (Sarah Paulson), who attempts to convince them they are merely human. The third act is the final showdown between the protagonists, with a setup for future movies in the same universe.

Glass succeeds admirably as a sequel. On its own, however, it doesn’t have individual narrative strength—those who have seen the previous movies may appreciate it (as I did), but newbies may find themselves at a bit of a loss without the context of the previous films.

Don’t expect this to be a Marvel-style movie, just because it’s about superheroes. It’s a serious take, and it works. There’s a time and a place for mindless, humorous superhero antics, but Glass is not one of them. Glass is thought-provoking, dark and visceral. The acting, script, direction and music are top notch and show what superhero movies could be if the current mainstream gave intelligent superhero dramas a chance.

I loved Glass. I didn’t find the second act dragged. I didn’t feel any character received short shrift. I felt the movie was balanced in its storyline, and the dialogue was good, in keeping with the prequels. Shyamalan is a stylish director, who can deliver fine films when he puts his mind to it. Smaller budgets appear to have reined in his excesses, and this “franchise” looks like having feet for some time to come.

Rating: B+ (if you haven’t seen the two prior films: C)

Aquaman. A movie review.

No spoilers!

A fun, vibrant and visually spectacular superhero movie.

Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) is the son of a lighthouse keeper and an Atlantean queen. His half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) currently rules the hidden underwater kingdom of Atlantis and plans to bring war to the surface world. Mera (Amber Heard) and Vulko (Willem Dafoe) conspire against their leader to bring Arthur to Atlantis to claim his crown and bring peace. Trouble is, Arthur doesn’t want to rule.

Aquaman is a hugely bombastic superhero movie, full of wild and extravagant designs and visuals. It’s also hugely popular with audiences, so there’s not much I can say, other than its storytelling drives the narrative forward in a straightforward way that appeals to a broad base of moviegoers. It’s not deep, there’s not much in the way of character development, but it’s a fun experience, nonetheless.

I enjoyed Aquaman a lot, despite the fact I prefer more complex superhero movies. Go see it. You’ll enjoy it, too.

Rating: B

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