Monday, March 31, 2008

Movie Mon. - When a Talking Cow is Your Movie's High Point, There May be a Problem . . .

The Mist: From the writer/director team that brought you The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile comes a move that has nothing to do with prison whatsoever! Perhaps not coincidentally, it also held no hope of winning an Oscar. This time around, Darabont has chosen to adapt a Stepehn King novella about a small Maine town which becomes cloaked in a mysterious mist, which brings a host of strange and deadly creatures with it. The previews seemed to stress either the conflict between the characters trapped in the grocery store, with a few showing snippets of the creatures, but the creatures are prevalent throughout most of the film, as is the carnage they bring. A much, much bleaker look at the human condition than either Shawshank or Green Mile, and I'm still not sure how I feel about the ending.

Atonement: Well-crafted period piece set in the 1940s about Briony Tallis, an upper-crust British girl whose not-so-innocent lie about a servant's son (James McAvoy) winds up ruining his chance at a normal, happy life, and the lengths she later goes to to atone for his selfish act. Excellent, if mostly bleak, film, with some outstanding performances, especially from the young Saoirse Ronan, whose turn as the young Briony garnered her a Best Supporting Actress nomination. I also have to mention the excellent, Oscar-winning score, which is one of the few times that a movie's score -- in this case, a constant deluge of staccato percussion representing the frantic typing of aspiring writer Briony -- has been such an integral part of the film's tone and mood that I found myself thinking "Dang, the score is awesome." So, yeah, good stuff. Dark and mildly depressing, but good.

Wristcutters: A Love Story:
Oddball comedy about an alternate universe inhabited solely by suicide victims, and the quest of one such victim (Patrick Fugit) to find his girlfriend (Leslie Bibb) after he finds out she also offed herself after his demise. There are moments where it's easy to forget that this is a supernatural film, and then you have someone walking around with a hole in their head as a reminder of their shotgun suicide, or someone causing an object to change colors with a touch because in this post-suicide world such minor miracles are common, or the fact that underneath the passenger seat of one car there is a literal hole to another world down which all dropped items never return. A strange film that has some entertaining moments, but which I probably would have enjoyed more if it had spent more time exploring the dynamics of a world populated by suicides outside of "nobody smiles" and "things are even crappier here than back home."

The Kite Runner:
Adaptation of the best-selling novel by Khaled Hosseini about an Afghan immigrant to America who returns to his childhood home in order to atone for the mistakes of his youth. From what I can recall, this is a pretty faithful adaptation of the novel, which I read a little over a year ago; but, while I enjoyed the book a lot, the movie left me feeling somewhat underwhelmed, and I'm not sure why. I believe a part of it might be that the book managed to immerse me in a land and culture with which I wasn't previously familiar, whereas the film barely skimmed the surface. I can't point to a single thing in the film that was sub par -- except possibly the kite-fighting scenes, which, to my mind, failed horribly at evoking the proper sense of tension and/or excitement -- so maybe the underwhelmed feeling was just a byproduct of my mood.

Revolver:
Convoluted caper film about a former convict (Jason Statham) whose desire to put the screws to the man apparently responsible for his incarceration (Ray Liotta) gets both sidetracked and strengthened by the interference of two mysterious loan sharks. I have to admit, I feel a bit cheated by this film, if for no other reason than I found out that the version I watched was the highly edited U.S. cut, which excised huge sections of character history and the final confrontation between Statham and Liotta from the original UK cut. From what I've read, I think the UK version would have been a much more satisfying experience.

Ils (Them):
French horror film about a couple who are terrorized in their secluded home by a group of shadowy figures. This is one of those that I rented because of a lot of positive reviews online, and after finishing it could only think "What was all the fuss about?" It may just have been a product of me watching this during the day, with the curtains open enough for sunlight to be streaming in, banishing any gloom, but yeah, not a single moment of true tension or suspense in this one for me. Well, except for the scene where the girl puts her eye to the hole in the door, and you just know something's going to happen to her . . . still, one moment in a feature-length film does not an enjoyable horror film make.

Shrooms:
Mildly predictable, cliche-ridden, yet somehow still enjoyable horror flick about a group of American tourists in Ireland who start tripping on shrooms, only to find their planned psychedelic weekend derailed by a psychotic killer. You know, it's really an ingenious idea, having a slasher stalk a group of drugged-out kids, since it means that any time the kids do one of the stereotypical "Don't do that, who in their right mind would do that?!?!?!" moves so prevalent in horror flicks, there's a built in reason for their brainless behavior: they're stoned out of their gourds! Not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but likable performances from the cast and some ambiguity about the nature of the threat throughout the bulk of the film -- not to mention the wonderful talking cow sequence -- kept me entertained, even if I didn't care for the ending all that much.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Written Word Wednesday - The Reading Mood Has Struck Again

Recently, the knowledge that a new Stephen King book had been released prompted me to finally bite the bullet and pay my fines at the public library so I could place a hold on it. And, as long as I was there, I decided to grab a few other things to read as well. While I'm not feeling inspired to do any full-blown reviews right now, I will give you some brief thoughts on what I've been reading the past month or so.

Duma Key by Stephen King: The story of a man whose life is changed after a horrible accident leaves him partially aphasic, one armed, prone to violent outburst, and possessed of a new psychic sensitivity )shades of Dead Zone, eh?) which draws him to relocate to the mysterious house known to him as Big Pink on Duma Key, where he finds himself drawn to paint pictures the hold great power, and great danger as well. While I enjoyed Lisey's Story and Cell quite a bit, I have to say that this is probably my favorite stand-alone novel of King's since Bag of Bones back in '98. And I say "stand-alone" because The Dark Tower books are a special case unto themselves; of course, I have yet to read The Colorado Kid or Blaze yet, but I shall rectify that soon. But I digress; if you're a fan of King, reading this is a no-brainer.

Gardens of the Moon: The Malazan Book of the Fallen Book 1 by Steven Erikson: First installment in a sprawling fantasy series about the domineering Malazan Empire whose new empress has gone through painstaking measures to remove all the supporters of her predecessor from the playing field, in particular the Army unit known as The Bridgeburners, who have been sent on one suicide mission after another. But now they find themselves in real trouble as the mercurial god Shadowthrone has placed an avatar of the Patron of Assassins in their ranks, with the express purpose of killing the empress. There's a lot more to the plot than that, but that gives you the general idea; lots of plotting and backstabbing and murderous gods and wizards and demons and the like. Good times, good times! Picked this one up on the recommendation of Wrath teh Berzerker, and I was not disappointed.

Deadhouse Gates: The Malazan Book of the Fallen Book 2 by Steven Erikson: The second book in the series follows a couple of the Bridgeburners, now outlaws, as they try to return to the center of the empire and confront the empress, a task that is complicated by the rise of the prophesied rebellion on the subcontinent of the Seven Cities, a rebellion which coincides with the mystical alignment known as The Path of the Hands which finds an army of mystical shapeshifters migrating to the Seven Cities searching for the gate which leads to godhood. And yes, there's even more going on in the book than what's listed above; Erikson likes to keep things busy. But, at least he also keeps things moving along, which is more than I can say for some other writers. But again, I digress. Wrath had warned me that he hadn't enjoyed the second book as much as he had the first, and I tend to agree; while still a good book, it didn't grab me quite like the first one had, possibly because I didn't become as attached to the new characters in this as I had the ones in the first book -- I particularly had trouble liking the sullen, self-deluded Felisin, although by the end her character finally went from annoying to interesting. Still worth reading, though, and Wrath assures me that he has enjoyed the third and fourth books as much as the first, so as soon as Memories of Ice becomes comes in for me, I'll dive into it.

The Ruins by Scott Smith: Horror novel about a group of twenty-somethings on holiday in Mexico who elect to help another tourist search for his missing brother, a search that leads them to an archaeological dig near a small Mayan village whose inhabitants refuse to let them leave the dig-site for reasons which soon become clear to the hapless travelers: they are not alone, and their company isn't human. I picked this one up because I'd read a lot of good reviews of it, and I knew it was being made into a movie, and I still tend to follow a "read the book first" policy if at all possible. Smith makes his four main characters embody the horror film victim archetypes -- jokester, slut, preppie, final girl -- and even goes so far as to have the jokester character point this out at one point, but by having the narration live heavily inside the heads of the characters, we are given much more insight into their motivations, which helps subvert the tropes. In the end, while there are some pretty gruesome moments, this is ultimately a character-driven story which examines how people react to life-threatening situations. Not for everyone, but I enjoyed it a lot.

Making Money: a Novel of Discworld by Terry Pratchett: I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I. Love. Discworld. The news that Discworld author Terry Pratchett has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's saddens me on several levels; not just the idea that this could spell the end of one of my favorite series of books, but the thought that the man responsible for some of the wittiest, funniest, most entertaining and captivating books I have ever read might soon have those gifts for wordplay and characterization and satire that illuminates without condescending or preaching stripped from him by the vagaries of this horrible disease . . . it makes the enjoyment of this latest Discworld book bittersweet, to say the least. But enjoy it I did, because it is chock full of the humor and energy that exemplifies the series, and it focuses on one of my two favorite characters in the books, Moist Von Lipwick, conman-turned-postmaster general who is this time coerced by the Machiavellian Lord Vetinari into taking his gift of gab and razzle dazzle and using it to reform the Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork. . . which, of course, is staffed by colorful and quirky characters. As always, I laughed out loud frequently while reading the latest addition to the Discworld oeuvre; with luck, this won't be the last time.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

TV Tues - Ununravellable

Well, here we are, about 5 months after the Writers Strike began, and new episodes of stricken shows have started to appear just in time, as shows which had been stockpiled for the break, like Lost and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles run out of new material. Still not a lot out there for me to talk about, as most of the returning shows won't hit until next month, but some brief thoughts.

MONDAYS

The Big Bang Theory (CBS 7:00):
Still by far the best new sitcom of the season, last night's episode actually had me laughing out loud at a plot that revolved around what is usually one of my pet peeves: people lying and then trying desperately to maintain the lie. But whereas most shows have things spin out of control due to characters spouting off random bits of idiocy, this episode explores the methodology of a lying as viewed through the abnormal viewpoint of socially backward Sheldon, thus adding a new twist and avoiding the usual pitfalls. When Frasier would lie about his brother being gay to impress a girl, it made no sense; when Sheldon constructs a complex "ununravellable" [sic] back-story about his drug-addicted cousin, complete with Facebook page and confessional blog, it fits perfectly with his strange nature. Oh, and his rhythmic knocking on people's doors never failed to crack me up.

How I Met Your Mother (CBS 7:30): Last week's St. Patrick's Day ep was a little weak, and I'm sure most people who watched it are suspecting that the girl Ted bumped into at the party and said "excuse me" to is going to turn out to be The Mother, but last night's ep with Sarah Chalke and Brittney Spears was a vast improvement. I'm sorry that Chalke won't be able to be on any more eps this season due to Scrubs commitments, but the fact that there are going to be even more episodes of Scrubs does take a bit of the sting out of the loss.

Two and a Half Men (CBS 8:00): The return of Rose to the States! Hallelujah! And she's just as crazy as ever, if not more so! I have to admit, I was half-expecting Charlie to wake up at the end to discover that Rose's plot was all some sort of fever dream, since the constant drugging of Charlie and Alan's ambivalence were a bit over-the-top, but in the end I'm glad it was all real, because it means Rose is back for good.

TUESDAYS

There's currently nothing on Tuesday nights that I watch; this is usually a good "catch up on Netflix" night for me.

WEDNESDAYS

I must admit, Wednesdays aren't much better, although there's occasionally a new batch of WEC fights on Versus, and if I remember its on I'll catch South Park.

THURSDAYS

Survivor (CBS 7:00): This has been such a strange season, with so many strong players getting voted out early, and couple of others leaving prematurely. I'm still bummed that Yau Man is gone.

Lost (ABC 8:00): I don't know about anybody else, but I am loving the new season of Lost; it's amazing how much of a difference knowing that they're moving into the endgame makes. I am really hoping that Danielle's gunshot wound wasn't fatal last week; not only because I've loved Mira Furlan ever since Babylon 5, but also because I really, really, really want to see a Danielle flashback that explains just what the heck happened when she first got to the island that made her kill off the rest of her crew. As for my feelings towards my former favorite character Locke, well, I think that can best be summed up by this comic strip.

Eli Stone (ABC 9:00): I haven't watched this since the first couple of episodes because Eli's freaking out over his visions and then having to explain them away made me horribly uncomfortable; I get the feeling from snippets I've seen that that aspect has tapered off now, but I've missed so many eps that if I ever decided to give it another whirl, I'm going to have to wait for the DVD.

FRIDAYS

Yeah, don't watch much on Fridays, either.

SATURDAYS

Ditto for Saturday, although the new Saturday morning Spider-Man cartoon shows promise.

SUNDAYS

For some reason, I've fallen far behind on my viewing of the Fox animated lineup; really need to do something about that.


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Monday, March 24, 2008

Movie Mon. - I Refuse to Say "Enchanted was Enchanting," Even if It Was

Southland Tales: Uneven Sci-Fi satire set in an alternate future where a nuclear explosion in Texas has taken national paranoia to new heights, and where an amnesiac actor (The Rock), an ambitious porn star (Sarah Michelle Gellar), and a man who hasn't had to use the bathroom for a week (Sean William Scott) get drawn into the machinations of a renegade scientist and his experiments with the substance known as Fluid Karma. I wanted to like this latest effort from Richard Kelley, writer/director of Donnie Darko, really I did, but in the end, while I didn't hate it, neither can I say I particularly enjoyed it. One of the difficulties involved with the Southland Tales experience is that, in order to get the full story, you have to read the three graphic novel prequels; I'm glad I read the books immediately before watching the film, it helped put a lot of stuff in context that would have slipped through the cracks otherwise. I had considered watching the film without reading the books, just to see how easy it would be to understand without the extra info, but not even 20 minutes in I had to stop the DVD because I was overwhelmed with the sense that I was missing out on something, and I knew that trying to watch the film while I knew there was extra background information to supplement the plot just sitting there waiting to be read, I would have gone insane. Probably my biggest disappointment with the film was that it was lacking the thing that has made Donnie Darko one of my favorite movies: funny, engaging dialogue. I can rattle off half a dozen snippets of dialogue from Darko that resonated with me the first time I watched it, but not a single example from Southland Tales grabbed a hold of me. I would like to watch it again at some point, if for no other reason than to critically observe all of the parallels to Revelation that are supposed to occur.

August Rush:
Modern day fairy tale about a musical prodigy's search for his birth parents, neither of whom knows he's alive. Pretty predictable, but enjoyable nonetheless. My favorite aspect of the film was the character of Wizard, a sort of musical Fagin who trains his orphan charges to be buskers, not pickpockets, which I found to be an interesting twist. And while I liked all of the music in the film, I wasn't quite as pleased with how the musical sequences were filmed; often there was too much of a disconnect between the actions of the performers and the music that was heard which proved jarring to me. Still, as far as feel-good, manipulative semi-tear-jerkers go, you could do much, much worse.

Enchanted:
Enjoyable spoof of Disney's animated fantasies which revolves around an animated princess-to-be (the incomparable Amy Adams) who gets tossed into the real world by the evil step-mother (Susan Sarandon) of her princely fiancé (James Marsden), where she soon discovers that not everyone in New York gets a happily ever after. Surprisingly enough, out of all the movies I've watched over the last couple of weeks, this one was probably my favorite; yes, there are flashes of sappy saccharine overload, but most of that is undercut by the slightly darker reality into which the fairy tale characters have been thrust, like in the "Happy Working Song" sequence


Adams which pitch perfect in her role, Marsden plays the self-involved prince incredibly well, and the animated chipmunk made me laugh out loud multiple times. All in all, highly recommended to kids of all ages.

Ace in the Hole: This 1954 B&W film from the talented director Billy Wilder (Stalag 17, Double Indemnity, Seven Year Itch, Some Like it Hot, and Sunset Blvd.) stars Kirk Douglas as a fast-talking, self-important newshound who's been drummed out of every major newspaper in the county, and has now taken refuge in Albuquerque, New Mexico where he languishes in small town Americana until he stumbles on a man trapped in a cave-in and realizes that he's now found his ticket back to the big time. The first 2/3 of the film are great, a quick-witted, snappy-patter driven satire of the sensationalist news media and the public that thrives on it, but as the film draws to its conclusion, the dark humor is supplanted by a healthy dose of melodrama and pathos which doesn't age nearly as well as the rest of the film. I liked it a lot, but the ending could have been toned down just a tad and been just as, if not more, effective.

Rambo III:
Not much to say about this one; while the action sequences struck me as a bit more believable than those in the previous film, the previous one remains the more enjoyable. Go figure. Looking forward to seeing the latest installment and its 200+ body count.

The Last Legion:
Mediocre film about the deposed Roman child-emperor Romulus Augustus and his quest to find loyal supporters to help him regain control of Rome, all of which is tied into the Arthurian legend. A pretty impressive cast (Colin Firth, Ben Kingsley) for such an unimpressive film. With a plot driven by coincidences that strained credulity and fueled with dialogue so bland and dry that it's a wonder the cast didn't choke on it, I felt myself straining to bite back my MST3K tendencies while watching this with others.

Hitman: Largely unremarkable action film based on the video game about a super-assassin (Timothy Olyphant) who becomes a target himself and searches for an answer to the question "why?" An action movie so enthralling that Maverick fell asleep on the couch watching it, if that tells you anything. Not nearly as bad as some of the reviews I read made it out to be, but very little here to recommend to anyone.

Dan in Real Life: Comedy about a widowed advice columnist (Steve Carrell) who finds love at first sight with a woman who happens to be his brother's girlfriend. While certain aspects made me cringe -- way too many uncomfortable moments thanks to Dan acting irrationally due to his secret crush, and too many willful daughter sequences -- on the whole I enjoyed this one.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Rinse and Repeat?

Last week, when I was dropping off some contracts at the Dean's office and picking up my PAC binder*, the Associate Dean of the library saw me and inquired as to my health, since apparently word has spread that I am an allergy ridden, sickly individual. She then began to wax poetic on the wondrous preventative powers of something called a "Neti Pot." I had never heard of this before, so she pulled up a video to show me what it was. And, while I totally trust her ringing endorsement of the product, and am tempted by her promise that using something like this would help me tremendously, I still have to say that the thought of doing this every morning



freaks me the heck out.

*Remind me sometime to regale you all with stories of the horror that is the PAC Binder, okay, my blog monkeys?

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Rappelling Not So Repelling, or "Grappling With Rappling"

The bulk of my weekend was spent walking backwards off this cliff.


I know, I can hardly believe it myself. And if you're thinking "Which of the two men capable of talking Todd into doing such a hazardous activity was responsible this time" the answer is: both of them.

"Operation 'Freak Todd the Heck Out' is a go!"

"Damn, I'm good"

Yes, Saturday afternoon The Lovable PigPen got a phone call from Cap'n Shack-Fu who had been inspired by the beautiful weather outside to organize a trip to Mineral Wells State Park to go rappelling. PigPen was equally as gung-ho as Shack at the prospect; I, unsurprisingly, much less so. But, despite my misgivings, I agreed to go along without any arm-twisting from either of them, and then spent the bulk of my time in the car ride to Grapevine Mills, where Shack had to purchase the rope, as well as the time while Shack and PigPen set up the lines trying to psych myself up for walking backwards off a precipice with nothing but a harness connected to a metal ring embedded in rock on one end


and PigPen on the other
"Now, Todd, I want you to put every time I've threatened to kill you out of your mind, okay?"

to keep me from plummeting 30-40 feet to the rocks below.

Did I mention I'm not so good around heights?

My first time up, my feet slipped and I wound up hanging upside down, my left leg bent under me and my right let sticking straight up, both still planted firmly on the cliff-side until Shack was able to get me righted again; I don't know if I would say that's the most scared I've ever been in my life, but it definitely made the top 5. Shack and PigPen would both later tell me that I had done a good job of keeping a hold on the rope when I slipped, since most first-timer's instinct is to let go of the rope and grab onto the rock. Of course, all I know is that my forearms were killing me later that night from the deathgrip I had on the line until I got down to the ground. After I had stopped shaking from the adrenaline rush, and had regained my wind after climbing back up a fairly steep path, I forced myself to go again, so I wouldn't let the panic from my mishap get blown up too large in my head. As he was talking me through my second attempt, Shack-Fu commented "yeah, this isn't really a good rappelling spot for beginners . . ."

If I hadn't had a deathgrip on my line, I would have throttled him.

My second attempt went off without any problems, but I called it quits for the day while Shack and PigPen made one more run each. At that point I had, if not conquered, at least harnessed the fear aspect of rappelling, but I still wasn't quite at the "having fun" stage. After their third run of the day, the sun had started to set and so we packed up our gear, stopped off at Dairy Queen* for some dinner, noticed a Taco Casa shortly afterwards which caused PigPen to bemoan the fact that he had narrowly missed getting to eat at his favorite taco place, and generally made plans for how things would go on Sunday when we invited the rest of the Singles to join us in our rappelling adventure**.

We wound up with a nice sized group of prospective rappellers, with varying degrees of experience.

When we got to the park, the spot where we had rappelled the day before had been claimed by someone else, so Shack-Fu and PigPen scouted out an alternate location which turned out to be a much better spot for beginners. After Trouble went, she made a comment about how fun it was, at which point I commented that I hadn't quite gotten to the "enjoying myself" portion of rappelling. However after my first go, when I was able to make the transition from top-side to cliff-side with no problem, and actually bounced down the cliff instead of just walking down it, I called up "Okay, Trouble, I get it now!"

PigPen belayed for everyone on their first run through,



and after he gave me some coaching, I took over for a few turns so he could go again.


Of course, on his next go-round he decided to get fancy and hang upside down so Shack-Fu could take some pictures

while I eagerly waited beneath, wondering if the redness in his face signaled an impending Scannersesque head explosion.

But, alas, no cranium-bursting pyrotechnics . . . this time.

After everyone had had a chance to rappel a couple of times, we all went for a little hike to enjoy the beautiful scenery, although PigPen and I headed back early so we could each rappel a few more times, bringing my grand total of times jumping backwards off a cliff for the two days to 6.

By the time the rest of the group got back from their hike, it was getting late, and we were all pretty famished, so we loaded up into our two cars and headed to nearby Weatherford to the Sonic. However, just as we were about to get to the Sonic, Shack-Fu called PigPen to make an alternative suggestion, and while I'm sure Shack probably said more than this, I know that he really only had to say two words to change PigPen's mind . . .



I think that picture says it all, don't you?

I have to admit, Taco Casa was quite tasty, and apparently relative newcomer to the Singles Butch Chastity decided to savor the flavor, as we were all done eating long before she was.

After Shack-Fu had given her a hard time for her slow pace of eating several times, B.C. stood up, took her tray with unfinished nachos, dumped it in the trash, looked at Shack and declared "There, don't you feel bad now?" While the rest of us died laughing, she began to snap her fingers "Come on, what are you sitting down for, let's go let's go let's go."

Yeah, she's going to fit in with this group just fine.

In the end, despite some large bursts of fear and the occasional bit of stress-induced tension, I have to admit, rappelling was fun. And, while I'm not exactly chomping at the bit to go again, neither am I planning excuses to back out of going again in advance.

I think that's progress, don't you?

*Where -- and Shack-Fu will back me up on this -- PigPen actually admitted something was his fault. Don't know whether that is more or less shocking than me going rappelling, but I think they're pretty close . . .
**Trouble misread the initial invite PigPen sent her, reading "rappelling" like it rhymed with "grappling." And so thus was "rappling" added to our vocabulary.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Good, The Bad, and the Guilty Pt. 2: The Rogue's Gallery

As always, the most fun for me at our Murder Mystery dinner wasn't the mystery aspect of things as much as it was watching everyone get into character -- some, of course, more than others.

The Lovable PigPen, of course, relished the opportunity to play Elias Truist-Heath, ladies man and reputed fastest gun in the West with a flair for fist-fighting.


And Li'l Random McEvil went all out in his portrayal of Chief Breaking Wind, last of the Cowpai Tribe.

Cap'n Bubbles had fun playing the outwardly pious, perpetual widow Dee Adela Muerte, veil and all, leaning heavily on an accent until it became unwieldy for relaying information.


We had originally given the role of Wyatt Hertz, former sheriff, to Cap'n Shack-Fu, but when he couldn't make it I passed his part on to Cap'n Peanut (originally cast as bartender Bruce Endbattert) who was, shall we say, a bit under-dressed for the role.


Squiggly wore just the cutest little dress on the prairie* as "Doc" Tora L. Theesus.


Angel got to use the Western gear she used for our Celebrity Game Show night several years back as schoolmarm Belle Ringz


Trouble cut me off from the bar as saloon owner Liza Lotts


Maverick took a gamble playing Ace Uppis-Leaf


Cap'n Cluck had fun as the grieving mother of 13 recently deceased boys, Helena Handcart, and also apparently had fun avoiding cameras, as there were apparently no solo shots of her all night long, only making it into the group picture


and Blondie Blaarrrgghhh, who served as semi-narrator and impartial witness, came as Sheriff Reya Sunshine.



And, of course there were quite a few participants who have not yet been blessed with blog monkey nicknames, such as Li'l Random's recently-moved-to-Denton girlfriend as Butch Chastity, seen here doing what all right-thinking individuals should do: pointing firearms at The Lovable PigPen

Pointing guns at PigPen being an apparent theme of the evening

A theme, might I add, I greatly approve of.

Cap'n Bubbles brought several of her friends: from left to right Lil Bighorn, Kim O'Sawbey, Bubbles herself, Frida Rhome, and Suze Jablynd


Lil Bighorn really got into her character as a hater of the Cowpai tribe, flinging invectives at the girls whose characters had flings with Chief Random Wind, calling them "cowchip lovers," while Frida Rhome relished her role as wild child.

There were also some relative newcomers to the Fellowship of Foundations class, such as Nick O'Thyme

May Shirez-Tinpeese,

and P'Elvis Swaggarin (seen here with his co-worker Red E. Hornaught)


as well as a couple of members of the other Singles classes, "Wild" Billie Hiccup


and Eve L. Ayestare, here seen placing her "firm hand" in between her rowdy charge Frida and the overly-flirtation Elias.


And, last, but most certainly not least, was Mei-Mei as madame of The Pigeon Ranch, the self-proclaimed "soiled dove" Elvira Lynn-Fekshin

who confused the heck out of the lady at the costume rental place when she told her that she needed the madame costume for a function at the Baptist church. Mei-Mei had a lot of fun playing her character, taking every chance she could get to direct everyone to her house of ill repute: "Come visit the Pigeon Ranch, just around the corner."

As for myself, well, you can't tell from any of the pictures, but I was walking around in socks the whole evening, one of which had holes in the toes, and the other missing the whole heel. The fact that nobody mentioned it other than Li'l Chief Breaking Random tells me that either (a) nobody noticed Cap'n Cellophane's lack of footwear, (b) people got the fact that I was a shoeless drunk and didn't feel it worth commenting on, or (c) people assumed that I was oblivious to the ratty nature of my socks and didn't want to embarrass me, although if it was the last choice they needn't have bothered, since I think I did a pretty good job of that all on my own .

One of the best things about playing the town drunk -- other than getting to be a general loud and obnoxious disturbance during the proceedings all evening long -- was that it gave me an in-character reason to keep remembering random facts all night long, most of which were prefaced with statements such as "Well, when I was lying in the gutter earlier I saw so-and-so do such-and-such."

My pseudo-drunken ramblings often got me threatening glares and comments from Elias and Wyatt, but I was never too scared, since as one of the few who had read the whole script I knew that neither one of their characters could hit the broad side of a barn at two paces.

Elias-PigPen -- whose character was nicknames "Brawley the Kid" -- was quick to remind me that that fact still didn't affect his punching aim.


*I'm going to pay for that comment later, oh, yes indeed I am.


Go ahead, call my dress "cute" again, I dares ya!

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Good, The Bad, and The Guilty Pt. 1: How the West Was Fun

As long-time blog monkeys might recall, twice before The Singles have hosted Murder Mystery dinners, the first being a scripted Gangster tale with limited number of characters and an audience, and the other being a very loose, improvisational mystery with tons of characters and tons of mingling. Last Saturday we attempted our third not-so-regular Murder Mystery dinner, with this one being a Western whose structure fell somewhere in between the other two.

The mystery we were provided, entitled The Good, the Bad, and the Guilty, had a bit of a railroading structure, i.e. doing everything it could to keep the players on track. Originally designed for eight people, the game was divided up into four rounds of information exchange. Before the game started, each person was provided with a character description to share, as well as character information to keep concealed so that, for example, Helena Handcart was instructed to tell everyone she was the local land baron who had lost all 13 of her sons recently, while keeping secret the fact that her husband had gone crazy and she had locked him in their attic. With each round the characters were given more information to conceal and reveal, with each revealing question or statement leading directly to a piece of concealed information, so that at the end of each round all of the secrets given out in that round would be exposed. At the end of the fourth round, the players would each guess who the killer was, with not even the guilty party knowing the truth.

The rules were that while you could try to evade questions, you weren't allowed to lie about anything, and if pressed must give the info up. In hindsight, we probably should have left out the whole "you can evade" thing from the instructions since, while it probably would work fine with the 8 player version of the game, our version was a bit more, shall we say, complicated. As I mentioned earlier this week, we decided to take the general structure of the game and expand it so that every participant would have a character. The initial idea had been to split guests up into different tables, and have each table be comprised of the 8 main characters, but I hated the idea of segregating people like that and so was a vocal proponent of the "let's just have one big game" idea.

The upside to this was that at the dinner, we got to have a great group experience, with everyone there interacting with everyone else; the downside was that it took a lot longer to unfold than it would have with just eight players, as part of my attempt to make everyone feel involved was to take the revealing information and questions and split them up between all 25 participants. I tried really hard to make sure that the information to be doled out matched up with the character who was doing the doling*, and of course some characters wound up having more to do than others, but on the whole, I think the division of labor worked out fairly well. Except, of course for those few things that served as nice stumbling blocks.

The first is that while most people were giving up information left and right, others played it so close to the vest that some vital information never got revealed, and since the secretive folks were in the minority most people didn't realize they weren't giving up everything they knew and so weren't pressing them. The second was the fact that not everyone who signed up to come actually showed up. In a few cases this was okay, since we had a few people show up who hadn't signed up, and so were able to give the stray parts to them, but in the end I had four different character sheets sitting in front of me so I could make sure that all of the revealing information was given out.

The final stumbling block was a result of my reach exceeding my grasp. You see, part of my plan for the expanded version was to throw in several red herrings so that it wouldn't be immediately obvious that only the 8 main characters were viable suspects; I even gave several characters some "hidden" backstory information to conceal:

Belle Ringz: Before moving to Roadkill, you were an early member of Butch Chastity’s Amazon outlaw gang. You turned to a life of crime after your youngest child was taken from you under mysterious circumstances. You eventually realized the outlaw life would never fill that void and so created the new identity of Belle Ringz to start fresh in Roadkill.

Doc Tora L. Theesus: In addition to the everyday doctoring skills, you spend your limited spare time providing illicit drugs to Butch Chastity and her gang. Because of this, you are one of the few that know that a supposedly upstanding citizen of Roadkill is actually a former outlaw.

Frida Rhome:Your foster-father hasn’t the slightest idea that you spend your bursts of independence not riding aimlessly over the plains, but in emulating your late mother, who was secretly a member of Butch Chastity’s outlaw gang. Butch wouldn’t accept you into her crew, still feeling guilty for your mother’s death, and so you have gathered together a large group of like-minded youth and formed your own gang: The Malignant Seventeen. So far, your efforts have amounted to little in the way of real loot or notoriety, which actually disappoints your rebellious side.

Graize deFields: Nobody in Roadkill knows the true source of the deFields family fortune: organized crime. The real reason you moved out west was to escape the long arm of the law, and while it has been successful so far, you can’t help worrying that that 8th noose might be for you . . .

Lil Bighorn: Although you vocally blame the Cowpai’s for the death of your family, the truth is that your family, a clan of con artists, were actually killed by one of the parties they swindled; and while you know this, you have found that sympathy is much greater for a poor little orphan girl who suffered due to the heathen savages. You have put your knowledge of the world of illicit dealings to good use as advisor to the leader of the second-hand group of outlaws, The Malignant Seventeen. Although the nooses are supposed to be for your more high profile inspiration, you worry that the 8th noose might be for you.

Eve L. Ayestare: Your real reason for moving to Roadkill was not to tutor Frida; that’s just your cover. In reality, you are an undercover agent for The Pinkertons, trying to track down the leader of the new gang of second-hand outlaws with a second-hand name: The Malignant Seventeen. Of course, while you’re being paid well to bring them in, you wouldn’t be adverse to being paid even better by them to forget what you find out . . .

Liza Lotts: You’re no angel, that’s for sure, but neither are you as crooked and conniving as most of the residents of town. Sure, you’ve done your share of cheating and stealing and the occasional bit of blackmail and torture, but you’d never kill anyone . . . although recently some dealings with Judge Payne have made you question that conviction. Adela isn’t the only one whose land the judge owns, nor was she the only one whose property was in danger of being demolished.

May Shirez-Tinpeese: While you are above hobnobbing with the general riff-raff of Roadkill, you are not above rifling through their belongings when they check into your hotel.You’re too smart to take anything too valuable that might get a lot of notice, although occasionally if you stumble across something obvious illegal the temptation might be a little too overwhelming. After all, who’s going to report that someone has stolen their stolen goods?

However, a combination of factors, including the Great Denton Blizzard of Aught Eight and The NeverEnding Last Minute Murder Mystery Costume Quest -- not to mention Sleep Deprived Burnout -- kept me from doing a full-out red expanded mystery . . . which was probably a good thing, considering how long the evening ran as it is. Unfortunately, while I didn't do the full expanded mystery, I did throw in a few false hints into the mix which, due to my lack of time and energy to proofread and double-check the scripts, caused the mystery to come to a screeching halt a time or two.

The prime example of this was my ill-conceived idea to throw in a rival gang to the game's central band of evil-doers, The Malevolent Seven. My gang of young, fool-hardy, second-hand also-rans was named The Malignant Seventeen. In retrospect, a few words in the introduction phase about this other gang would have smoothed over the rough patches as those few characters I gave ties to the gang tried to figure out where they fit in the grand scheme of things, and what their subplot had to do with the main plot.

But despite these stumbles, I have to admit I had a blast coming up with all of the characters and the few bits of hidden back story here and there. I also had fun playing town drunk Tom Bullweed, although I'm mad at myself that I never thought to tell anyone that due to my oft inebriated state most folk's call me Tumblin' Tom Bullweed. Ah, well, that's what blogs are for, right?

Now, if we could just find a way to have a murder mystery that allows everyone to interact in a large group with segregating ourselves too much, but doesn't handcuff us to "you must say statement A at stage B in order to elicit reveal C" type structure, we'll be golden.

*I even made a spreadsheet to help me out; yes, I'm an obsessive geek, what of it?

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Filmtastic Friday - Uneven Week

Rush Hour 3: If someone could give me that hour and a half of my life back, I'd appreciate it, thanks. Man, what a painfully needless film that was. Has Chris Tucker gotten more annoying as he's gotten pudgier, or have I just grown less tolerant?

Hot Rod: Uneven comedy about Rod, a would-be stuntman who decides to stage a huge stunt to raise money for his step-dad's heart transplant so that his step-dad will become healthy enough for Rod to beat up. And if that concept sounds too weird or stupid to you, then stay far, far away from this one, because that's only the tip of the weird, stupid iceberg that is Hot Rod. My biggest problem with the film was that it didn't seem to know what it wanted to be; bursts of absurdity that normally would have had me rolling only left me scratching my head in a "why the heck did they think that fit into this movie?" sort of way. Plus, Andy Samberg came across like he was trying to do his best impression of Billy Madison era Adam Sandler and Napoleon Dynamite era Jon Heder at the same time, and only succeeded in making me wish someone else would come on screen. A couple of flashes of brilliance here and there (punch-dancing out frustrations, the musical interlude that devolves into something else, Rod's contentious relationship with his step-dad), but all too few and far between.

Beowulf: Computer-animated version of the tale of the powerful warrior Beowulf and his epic battle with the monster Grendel and Grendel's monstrous mother. To say that this takes a few liberties with the source material would be an understatement. Whatever you do, kiddos, don't try to disguise a review of the movie as a book report for your English class -- trust me, your teacher will begin to suspect some thing's up right around the time you talk about how Beowulf got to do Grendel's mom who, by the way, was smoking hot. Yup, a tiny bit of a giveaway there. Deviations from the source aside, I wasn't all that impressed with the film. Some entertaining fight scenes, and the changes to the storyline did make sense within the context of the film, but all in all, I was never drawn into the world of the film, and for a fantasy, that inability to make your audience buy into the universe you've created is a virtual death knell.

Slipstream:
And I thought Rush Hour 3 was a waste of time! I don't even know where to begin with this migraine-inducing mess which mistakes the use of near-subliminal stock footage and purposefully stuttering editing for artistic merit. And then, when it finally starts to settle down and tell what could be a linear storyline without any needless camera trickery, it populates the screen with horribly grating and obnoxious characters so off-putting that I actually stopped watching it before it was done. What's most distressing about all this is the caliber of the cast involved with this train wreck: John Turturro, Michael Clark Duncan, Christian Slater, Camryn Manheim, Jeffrey Tambor, and writer/director/star Anthony Hopkins. Sure, there were a coule of things that showed promise, such as Slater's pod people speech, but overall, the movie just made my head hurt, and not in a "man, this is confusing" sort of way, but in a literal, headache intensifying way.

Master of the Game:
Indie film about a group of Nazi soldiers who are drawn into a deadly psychological game by a captured American soldier, who also happens to be Jewish. This is one I heard about years ago, and which I had pretty much given up hope of ever seeing when I accidentally stumbled across it on Netflix. Was it worth the wait? On the whole, I'd say yes. Sure, it's not going to go down as an example of high art, and the way the "game" plays out does stretch suspension of disbelief to the breaking point -- especially the breakdown of the final Nazi -- but overall I enjoyed the dialogue and performances, which is more than I can say for several other, much bigger budgeted films I've seen recently.

Margot at the Wedding:
Drama about the opinionated and controlling Margot (Nicole Kidman) who travels to her childhood home for her estranged sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh)'s wedding to a wannabe artist (Jack Black). Knowing that this film was made by Noah Baumbach, writer/director of the excellent Kicking and Screaming*, I was expecting this dialogue driven film to lean more on wittiness than awkwardness, and those expectations led to a slight level of disappointment with the film. Yes, it was well-written and well-acted, but the tension between the sisters, and Margot's eternal superiority and constant put-upon, martyr attitude wore on me a bit. A good film, but one I'd have a hard time recommending to most.

The Devil and Daniel Johnston:
Documentary about cult musician Daniel Johnston, whose unique musical stylings have brought him almost as much notoriety as his mental breakdowns. Fascinating film about a fascinating individual.

First Blood:
The first Rambo film, which I just saw for the first time. Not sure which was more surprising, the appearance of a very young David Caruso as one of the cops Rambo beats up, or the fact that the body count in this is only four, and three of those happen at once when a car blows up. Enjoyable movie, especially any scene featuring Rambo's old commander Trautman, who steals the show every time he's on screen.

Rambo: First Blood Part II:
Second Rambo film is a vast departure from the first, but since it wound up being the number 2 movie at the box office the year it was released, it's no wonder that it became the template for the rest of the franchise. Quite a bit of cheesiness to wade through here, and more than its fair share of "wow, that made no sense whatsoever" moments, but as far as mindless action goes, you could do worse. Maybe. I preferred the first one with its quieter, more dramatic tone, but this one was entertaining in its own right. Now, on to part 3!


*
No, not the Will Ferrel film

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

An Odd Squodd Shared-Brain Moment, or "Zap Rowsdower and the Most Sensational Soda Pop in the Cosmic Universe!"

Last week it was Li'l Random's turn to pick a movie for The Odd Squodd Mostly-Regular, Dark and Twisty, Strange and Unusual, Off-Beat, Quirky, Movie Fest, and he selected the documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston, a film about an artist/musician whose creativity is often hampered by his mental instability. While discussing the film the next day, we realized we couldn't remember to what song Daniel had sung his proposed Mt. Dew advertising slogan. Last night, as I was getting ready to pop in a DVD, I saw the case for The Devil and Daniel Johnston and figured I should try to find the Mt. Dew song to quench my curiosity before I had to return the DVD-- I should have known all I really had to have done was searched YouTube:



Still, after having listened to the song a couple of times, I whipped out my cell phone to call Li'l Random and leave a voicemail message of me performing my cover version of "We Drink Mt. Dew." I figured I would get his voicemail because Li'l Random rarely answers his cell phone at the best of times, and he was actually out of town on business, making the odds of him answering a call even slimmer. So, imagine my surprise when Li'l Brother actually answered on the second ring. I said hi, and then proceeded to sing "We Drink Mt. Dew," after which I had to go and Google the song to remind us how the lyrics to the real song went, since all either of us could hear in our heads was the Johnston version -- we were both relieved to have the knowledge that it was sung to the tune of "Love Lifted Me" so that our respective curiosity wouldn't keep us both from slumber that evening.

Our conversation then turned to candidates for upcoming Odd Squodd Mostly-Regular, Dark and Twisty, Strange and Unusual, Off-Beat, Quirky, Movie Fest selections, and Li'l Random suggested that at some point we watch a good ol' B-movie and give it the full MST3K treatment, which then led us to discussing some of our favorite MST3K episodes, such as Mitchell and Manos: Hands of Fate. Li'l Random said "There was one that I always loved, but I don't remember what it was called, just that it had a kid they kept making fun of." I replied with "Well, one of my favorites was with this Canadian film with a supposed super-tough guy who was really kind of pudgy and trailer trash looking, his name was something weird like Growsdower or Rightsdower or . . ."

"I think that's it!" Li'l Random exclaimed, and we quickly confirmed that the first movie to pop into my head was indeed the film Li'l Random had been thinking of, further proof that we share the same brain.

Oh, and the name of the film was The Final Sacrifice and the name of the tough-guy was Rowsdower. Zap Rowsdower, to be precise.



Man, if they had that one on DVD I'd buy it in a heartbeat . . . and then invite Li'l Random over so we could watch it while drinking the best new greatest, the most fantastic, the most sensational soda pop in the cosmic universe, Mountain Dewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!

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Monday, March 10, 2008

What a Bunch of Characters

Although I got a lot of movies watched this past week, my brain is currently mush, and so you'll have to wait a few days for my semi-coherent reviews. In the meantime, I'll provide you with one of the reasons my brain is such mush: this past Saturday the Singles had another Murder Mystery dinner, this time set in the Wild West. The Murder Mystery game we were provided -- The Good, the Bad, and the Guilty -- had only 8 characters, and we were planning on having at least 20 people show up. So I, in a fit of borderline OCD behavior, volunteered to create character names and backstories for all of the people who had signed up beforehand. What made it even better is that I had to try to come up with names as pun-worthy as those of pre-existing characters:

BUTCH CHASTITY
Legendary Butch Chastity is the first lady of outlaws. Her all-woman gang are the Amazons of the American West. There's nothing coy or dainty about Butch. She can drink her fellow outlaws under the table; she can hold her own in a game of poker; she can rob a stagecoach in record time; and she can kill a man just as soon as look at him-and often does. In her secret hide-out, a place called the Hole in the Mud, Butch plans the most daring of heists, including her many famed train robberies. It has been rumored that Butch has gotten away with more gold than any outlaw alive.

P'ELVIS SWAGARIN
When a mysterious lone gunslinger rides into some dusty western town, it's usually P'elvis Swagarin. Solemn, poker-faced, bowlegged-he's a cowboy's cowboy. Born Peter Elvis Swagarin, he's P'elvis to those who know him. He's a man with no belongings but the shirt on his back, his gun and his saddle....a man who sleeps beneath the icy stars, a horse his only companion. P'elvis appeared out of the prairie heat just two days ago, and ever since he arrived, the whole town of Roadkill has been whispering in hushed tones, wondering who he is and what he wants...

HELENA HANDCART
Matriarch of the Handcart clan, Helena is the mother of the Handcart boys: all thirteen of them. Billy-Bob, Bobby-Rae, Little Ricky, Martin and Lewis, Harpo, Groucho, Sleepy, Sneezy, Manny, Moe and Jack. Oh-and, of course, the Beav. Unfortunately, she had to bury all thirteen of her sons after they were tragically killed in a shoot-out at a dairy farm. The now infamous gunfight at the Parkkay Corral left her with nothing but memories. A strong woman, she has been able to survive, although most of the time she remains secluded on the sprawling Handcart Ranch, managing the family cattle business. Helena owns half the territory and never lets anyone forget it.

CHIEF BREAKING WIND
Chief Breaking Wind is the distinguished leader of the Cowpai tribe-an honorary position these days, since the entire Cowpai tribe fell victim to a mysterious disease several years ago and perished. Still, the stoic chief keeps his traditions alive, trusting that, with his help, the Cowpai will rise again. Unwillingly relieved of his tribal responsibilities, the chief has since opened a successful barber shop in town and, ignorant historical references notwithstanding, hasn't scalped a soul. Still, no one ever angers the chief.

ELVIRA-LYNN FEKSHIN
Elvira-Lynn is the consummate soiled dove and makes no bones about it, so to speak. She's known throughout the territory, and there's even that famous saloon song written about her- My Heart Burns for You, and Other Places, Too. She's the proud madam of the Pigeon Ranch, the best little you-know-what in Roadkill. Since Judge Waylon Payne is one of her steadiest clients, the law does a good job of looking the other way. To look at her now, you'd never guess she was born in the gutter and suffered a sickly childhood, battling everything from consumption to bubonic plague. But now she spreads, among other things, sunshine wherever she goes.

WYATT HERTZ
Wyatt Hertz is by far the most famous lawman in the West. He kept the wild frontier town of Roadkill under tight control, keeping the locals in line with an iron fist of fear. That is, until a shotgun blast caught him in the tender parts. Legend has it that Wyatt was ambushed by the vicious Partridge Family gang, and he didn't stand a chance. That was a year ago. Since then, he's retired, letting Judge Waylon Payne reign as both sheriff and justice of the peace. Now Wyatt runs a lucrative rent-a-horse business. He never lost a gunfight, and some folks believe he could take out a whole gunslingin' gang with a single round from his six-shooter.

DEE ADELA MUERTE
She is known as just Adela to her friends. Adela is a Mexican beauty with the most pious of spirits but is plagued by bad luck. She's been thrice-widowed-each time as a newlywed. Her first husband, a local politician, died shamefully during one of his secret outings to the Pigeon Ranch. Her second husband, the town pastor, died while preaching, and her third husband, the town undertaker, keeled over from exhaustion while planting the thirteen Handcart boys. Now poor Adela is left to deliver Sunday sermons and forced to become town undertaker. Still, she knows that she will rise above her misfortune. Until then, she'll continue to wear her black mourning veil.

ELIAS TRUIST-HEATH
Young Elias is an up-and-coming heart-throb gunfighter. He can dazzle spectators with his quick draw and a spin from his guns, and when he's not showing off his slinging skills, he's demonstrating his pugilistic prowess. He's known as the best brawler west of the Mississippi and comes out of every fight with nary a scratch. Orphaned as a boy, Elias was raised under the firm, wise hand of Judge Waylon Payne. After a patriotic stint with the U.S. Cavalry, Elias returned home to Roadkill and to the women who adore him.

So, with some help from Cap'n Bubbles and Blondie Blaarrrgghhh I constructed the following brief character sketches.

WILD BILLIE HICCUP : Like lots of other folks, "Wild" Billie Hiccup caught gold fever and headed out west; unlike most folk, however, Billie followed the siren call of gold to the badlands surrounding the town of Roadkill, which have never shown a sign of gold, be it fools or otherwise. Still, Billie has stuck to her guns, telling one and all that there's gold in these parts, if one just knows where to look.

LIL BIGHORN : As a servant for the well-off deFields family, Lillith "Lil" Bighorn has seen and heard more than her fair share of gossip-worthy goings-on, gossip that she is more than willing to share with anyone who cares to reciprocate. An orphan, Lil holds an almost irrational loathing of Chief Breaking Wind, the sole surviving member of the Cowpai tribe, whom she blames for the death of her family.

SUZE JABLYND : One of the most talented lawyers in the territories, Suze never lost a case until she came to the town of Roadkill, and discovered that, where Judge Waylon Payne is concerned, the most important law to remember is Payne's law. The highly competitive Suze refused to be deterred and began trying to find ways to beat Payne at his own game.

LIZA LOTTS : Owner of the local watering hole, The Monkeyhog Saloon, Liza is a shrewd businesswoman, and has her fingers in dozens of different pies throughout the county, but has a special place in her heart for the town of Roadkill. Strong-willed and stubborn, she sometimes butted heads with Judge Waylon Payne over what was best for the town, and always butts heads with Elvira Lynn-Fekshin, owner of the competing saloon The Pigeon House, which doubles as the local House of Ill Repute .

BELLE REENGS : All the children of the town of Roadkill love the town's schoolmarm, Belle Reengs. Belle's devotion to her pupils is admired by all, but few suspect that her passion for teaching hides a desire to fill a void in her life left by the passing of her own child under mysterious circumstances years before she moved to town.

NICK O'THYME : If anyone in town of Roadkill needs to now just how long it takes to get from Point A to Point B on the map, all they need to do is ask the local railroad clerk Nick O'Thyme. A paragon of punctuality, Nick does everything he can to keep trains running on time, and detests disorder of any sort.

"DOC" TORA L. THEESUS ; As the resident sawbones of Roadkill, "Doc" Tora is quite possibly the busiest person in the whole county; just treating the wounds of the poor souls who fall afoul of Elias Truit-Heath's short temper and quick fists is practically a full-time job, and when you add in the victims of Butch Chastity's gang of outlaws, not to mention those who've been unfortunate enough to tangle with the Malevolent Seven. Still, the doc plugs away, hoping against hope that maybe someday she'll get a chance to rest.

BRUCE ENDBATTERT : As bartender at the Monkeyhog Saloon, Bruce also serves as his boss Liza Lott's chief bouncer, trying to keep the rowdy residents of Roadkill in line, at least as long as they're in his place of employment; once they stumble out the swinging saloon doors, he washes his hands of them. A former boxer whose promising career was cut short by a scandal he doesn't like to talk about, Bruce has little patience for most, including big-wig Judge Waylon Payne, but will occasionally display a soft-spot for those he feels have been unjustly wronged.

GRAIZE DeFIELDS : While his property holdings may not be as extensive as that of the Handcart family, Graize more than makes up for it in the ostentation of his palatial family homestead, reluctantly financed by his wealthy parents from the seemingly bottomless pockets of the DeFields fortune. A widower, Graize spends what free time he has away from managing his cattle trying to corral his foster daughter, Frida Rhome

FRIDA RHOME : The high-spirited foster child of wealthy land-owner Graize DeFields, Frida does not think of herself as a rebellious girl, just independent. Having lost her mother at a young age, and never having known her father, Frida often feels herself trapped by her guardian's good intentions, preferring to ride freely across the plains rather than study her lessons with her tutor, Eve L. Aystare. The only thing that makes life in the DeFields household bearable for her is her friendship with DeFields servant and fellow orphan Lil Bighorn.

KIM O'SAWBEY : Owner of Roadkill's only General Store, Kim sees herself as a vital force in the growing community, although she has come to accept that that viewpoint is not shared by some others in town, most notably the powerful Judge Waylon Payne. But Kim refuses to let the dismissive attitude of Payne and his cronies deter her, and continues to push to establish some influence of her own.

EVE L. AYESTARE : The stern Eve was hired by Graize DeFields to keep his high-spirited foster child, Frida Rhome, in check, a task whose appeal for Eve has increased the more challenging it has become; to Eve, simple tasks breed simple minds. A firm believer in the use of a firm hand in instruction, Eve has nothing but contempt for the sweet-natured schoolmarm Belle Ringz.

ACE UPPIS-LEAF : An inveterate gambler, the card sharp who insists on being called "Ace" claims he was born under a lucky star, but many of those he plays against think he was born with a few extra cards tucked here and there. After being banned from the Monkeyhog Saloon for causing a disturbance (i.e. winning one too many hands one too many times causing one too many fights to break out), Ace moved his gambling ways over to the Pigeon Ranch, where he seems to have met his match in the man who makes his own luck, Judge Waylon Payne.

RED E. HORNAUGHT : A long time ranch-hand for the Handcart clan, Red is almost slavishly devoted to his boss-lady, Helena, and has become even more so since the death of her 13 sons. Formerly a regular patron of both the Pigeon Ranch and Monkeyhog Saloon, Red now hardly leaves the Handcart ranch except to attend the local church service by Dee Adela Muerte.

RAY HOFFKEY : Despite earning his living playing piano at the Monkeyhog Saloon, Ray spends most of his wages at the Monkeyhog's chief competition, The Pigeon Ranch, where he feeds his gambling addiction. Ray's nimble fingers on the keyboard don't quite translate to nimbleness elsewhere, either with playing cards -- which is why he never beats Ace Uppis-Leaf or Judge Waylon Payne at poker -- or with firearms -- which is why he never has drawn a gun on either of the suspected cheats, no matter how sure he is that he just got rooked. Instead, Ray merely heads back to the Monkeyhog and pounds out his frustrations on the keyboard, although some are sure that someday it will take more than tickling the ivories to soothe his temper.

MAY SHIREZ-TINPEESE : Innkeeper of the only hotel in Roadkill, May prides herself on maintaining an air of sophistication even in the middle of a town populated by bandits, cutthroats, and cheats. Assiduously avoiding patronizing either the Pigeon Ranch or Monkeyhog Saloon lest her reputation be damaged, May instead spends her spare time cultivating relationships with the rich and powerful members of the community in hopes that some of their luster may rub off on her.

And last, but not least, the character I created for myself:

TOM BULLWEED: The town's resident drunk, Tom was once a respected lawman and deputy in Roadkill, until Judge Waylon Payne stripped him of his badge on what Tom insists were trumped up charges. Despondent, Tom turned to drink to find his solace. Not taken seriously by much of anyone in town, Tom spends most of his time bemoaning his fate to the staff of the Monkeyhog Saloon, some of whom are more sympathetic than others.

Of course, due to the structure of this particular Murder Mystery, creating 17 extra characters led to even more work, since I had to take the clues that were provided for the original and parcel them out to all of the new characters so that everyone could be included. I hope to be recovered enough from the experience to blog about the pros and cons of that decision before the week is up, but no promises.

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