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July 2016

Jason Bourne


Last night I had the chance for a 'Dad's Night Out' with one of my friends, Tom. We decided to go and see the latest film in the Bourne franchise, Jason Bourne, on a late showing as that allowed us to get most of the parental things out of the way before we went out.

The Vue Cinema in York was pretty deserted when we arrived around half past nine; perhaps the first week of the holidays or the fact that it was the later half of the showings affected the numbers there, or maybe it's just not what the cool kids do anymore. Popcorn and drinks purchased, we settled down to watch the film.

The Bourne films have always had a visceral, direct and gritty feel. Yes, the action scenes are extreme, but they never quite pushed past the limits of credibility the way that Bond films used to, before The Bourne Identity forced a change upon them. Watching them back recently, in preparation for playing the Dracula Dossier at LongCon, they didn't seem to have dated significantly. The fourth film, The Bourne Legacy, although very much a re-tread of the first film, still manages to have an energy and attitude that sets it apart. Of course, Paul Greengrass' direction and cinematic style seen in the second, third and now fifth film, give a really unique near documentary feel.

Jason Bourne delivers what you'd expect and want from a film in this franchise. From the start, the action and plot grips you, pushing you forward with little chance to catch your breath. Bourne is contacted by an old ally from the first film, who has information that may help him to piece together his back story. When we first see him, he's a lost man, with no purpose, no drive; a man moving along a path of self-destruction; a man who has become visibly worn and aged from the experiences he's been through.

The story snakes through Athens with anti-austerity riots, to Berlin, London and then to the USA. The backdrop is a post-Snowdon, Wikileaks and Facebook world, and the underlying story is about privacy in the modern world. It's also a story about Bourne discovering his past, finding the reasons why certain events occurred that put him on the path he travels. The knowledge brings understanding, pain, but not resolution.

One thing that is noticeable is how little dialogue Matt Damon has to speak as Jason Bourne. His tale is more told through action, expression and the words of others. It's a clever use of exposition rather than narrative.

The action sequences include some of the most spectacular car chases that you'll ever see in Athens and Las Vegas; Bourne certainly isn't low profile in this and the likely body count would have been huge.

The story ends, as ever, satisfyingly and ambiguously, with Bourne’s parting shot a reminder never to underestimate him. There's definitely scope for another film, a story yet untold.

31 July 2016

The Condensed Dracula Dossier


I went to my first Longcon this weekend, kindly organised by John Dodd and held at the Garrison Hotel, which is fast becoming the unofficial gaming capital of the UK (with Furnace, 7 Hills, Longcon and Shacon hosted there). I went to Longcon to defeat Dracula.

I’ve long been a fan of spy fiction (especially John le Carré and latterly I’m appreciating Charles Cumming’s work), I love films like the Bourne movies, and also a wide range of more cerebral espionage flicks like A Most Wanted Man, and I really enjoy vampires done right (for example Ultraviolet or Interview with the Vampire). This made me a natural for the Night’s Black Agent game that Steve proposed exploring the Dracula Dossier.

We started early, at the turn of the year, and between us came up with five individuals who would mesh together as somewhat challenged team; my character was a close-to-retirement SIS/MI6 spy, who had lost his way since the collapse of the Cold War. Alongside him was a former Romanian SRI assassin he’d recruited, played by Guy, a long serving MI6 digital intrusion expert mourning the death of his wife played by Nigel, an ambitious young Doctor working for MI5 (Paul), and a Special Branch pursuit driving infiltration specialist played by Julian. Steve took these characters and meshed their backgrounds into the plot, with Julian’s character being a distant female descendant of Quincy Morris and - likewise - Paul’s character Mark Seward being the descendent of the doctor from Enfield’s asylum.

We had a lot of highs and lows. Stand out moments for me were when I realised that the rest of the team were starting to take my character seriously as he tried to coordinate (he went from pretty much no trust to having the most); the utter terror we had when we visited the tomb (doh) of Lucy Westerna at night (doh) just to see if this vampire theory was right (doh) and found out that it was (doh) when she erupted from her tomb; the slow slide into self destruction that Nigel’s character went through as more and more was revealed; my character bringing Julian’s spy back from the edge when she revealed her treachery; seeing similar lines used by Guy for his hard edged but deeply hurt agent when he met his estranged wife back in Romania; the creeping realisation that we had been sanctioned by our own organisation; a moment of terror on a Bucharest bridge when Dracula killed our contact and we fled and hid in a church until dawn; the pain when Julian’s hard as nails character broke down at the orphanage she had been placed in when she was growing up and at the same time her realisation that Guy’s character had killed her mother, putting her there; and the final showdown where we successfully destroyed Dracula with a rocket launcher, a member of the team embracing damnation to atone and a variety of stakes and other weapons.

We played for around 12 hours the first day and at least another six the next. We used a whiteboard (on two sides, one for the official investigation into terrorism and one for the investigation into vampires), and a cork board with pictures showing the network of conspirators. We used the glass windows around the veranda to show key documents; reports, contacts, cover and key abilities. It felt like and operation room and we found ourselves playing by candlelight at the end of the first day’s play.

It was a fantastic experience, showing what a great GM and a committed group of players can achieve together with time, commitment and effort. This will be a long term gaming memory for me, a big high up there with my Irish Rover Beat to Quarters experience that Neil Gow was instrumental in delivering one Furnace some years ago!

12 July 2016