Posts Tagged as reviews

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  1. Monday, September 17, 2018:
    Review Day   There are no major spoilers in these reviews.       The Woman Who Smashed Codes  by Jason Fagone: This is a biography of Elizebeth Smith Friedman, one of the first cryptoanalysts in the early 20th century. It's rare that a person's life is as interesting throughout as Elizebeth's, leading the biography to be a more comprehensive look at her place in history rather than a set of vignettes separated by long time jumps. There are also great, shallow looks at the world events going on at the same time, revealing some interesting stories such as J. Edgar Hoover's concerted efforts to steal credit for her work for the FBI.   Final Grade :  B+     Fe...
  2. Monday, September 03, 2018:
    Review Day   There are no major spoilers in these reviews.       Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That'll Improve and/or Ruin Everything  by Kelly and Zach Weinersmith: This book does a decent job of pairing interesting emerging technologies (like augmented reality, space elevators, and bioprinting) with straightforward explanations and cute cartoons. It starts to lose its luster when it gets  too  jokey, like the authors think the tech is too boring on its own and readers will lose interest unless there's a neverending selection of humor and bad analogies. These aspects actually reduced my interest in the material and I barely finished the book.   Final Grade :  C...
  3. Wednesday, August 29, 2018:
    Review Day: Dead Cells (PC)   There are no major spoilers in these reviews.       Dead Cells  is an addictive mash-up of three separate gaming genres. At its core, it's a side-scrolling platformer with monsters to kill and challenging boss fights like the Castlevania series. As a Rogue-like game, death is permanent and kicks you back to the beginning of the game with reset stats and basic starter equipment. Some earned abilities are permanent and persist beyond death, allowing you to explore old levels in new ways, evoking comparisons to the Metroid series and reducing the general level of frustration.   This feedback cycle of explore, grow powerful, and die is perfectly implemented, with interesting loot drops,...
  4. Friday, August 17, 2018:
    Review Day   There are no major spoilers in these reviews.       Arrested Development, Season Five, Part One : This batch of 8 episodes is far better than the fourth season, but still not on par with the originals. The characters are all in the same room much more often leading to funnier jokes and reactions. The plot boldly picks up right after season four but there are enough flashbacks to refresh your memory so you don't have to rewatch it. I enjoyed the general silliness, although I felt Gob and Tobias were surprisingly overused this time around and I'm not totally sure where the plot is heading (8 more episodes are due later this year to close out the season).   Final Grade : ...
  5. Wednesday, August 08, 2018:
    Review Day   There are no major spoilers in these reviews.       Rise of the Tomb Raider : I first gave this game a  B-  back in January 2017. I recently picked it up again because I wasn't sure if I'd given it enough of a chance. I can now say that its predecessor, the  Tomb Raider reboot  is superior in every way. The parts of this game where you're actually playing are fun, with tight controls and neat mini-puzzles. However, the game beats you over the head with continuous cutscenes telling a boring story with awful voice acting and much of your time is spent on loading screens, backtracking through old levels to open up impassable barriers with new tools you gained in later lev...
  6. Friday, July 27, 2018:
    Review Day   There are no major spoilers in these reviews.       A Very English Scandal : This three-part mini-series features Hugh Grant as a member of Parliament who has a gay affair and tries to cover it up very poorly. It has a fun voice and pace, although it starts to lose some momentum in the middle act with too many leaps ahead in time. Free on Amazon Prime.   Final Grade :  B-     Atlanta, Season One : This show, created by the multitalented Donald Glover, gets a lot of non-mainstream hype. However, I liked the show it started out as more than the show it turned out to be -- over its short (10 episode) first season, plot emphasis drains a...
  7. Wednesday, July 11, 2018:
    Review Day   There are no major spoilers in these reviews.       Sinfonia Pop  by Mika: This DVD is a delightful live concert of Mika performing with orchestral accompaniment. The conductor is also the arranger, and allows Mika's songs to exist away from Mika's normal electronica. Great performances all around, including the little peppy backup singer who is clearly having a ball. For example, here's the song, Grace Kelly,  as originally recorded  and  orchestrally arranged .   Final Grade :  A     3%, Season Two : I really enjoyed this season (though I could only watch it during Maia naps where I could pay attention to the Po...
  8. Wednesday, June 27, 2018:
    Review Day   There are no major spoilers in these reviews.       No Shame  by Lily Allen: Every artist seems to go through an album fatigue phase where they do a lot of mellow songs and sound in need of a long nap (see also, KT Tunstall's Crescent Empire album, as well as Muse's Second Law album). Lily Allen is no exception. This album has a few pleasant songs but very little that is memorable or in the same vein as her older songs. Also, the album cover looks like her label texted her for art on a deadline and she sent them the last blurry picture from her phone.   Final Grade :  C+     Arrested Development, Season Four Remix : This is a re-...
  9. Wednesday, June 20, 2018:
    Review Day: Beat Saber (Early Access)   "Not to sound like a shitty Ted Talk or anything, but virtual reality is finally here."    I pulled my  Oculus Rift  out of storage last week after not having played with it since that whole "having a kid" thing happened. In addition to re-downloading all of the games I partially played and dropped midway, I also used up some store credit on a pre-release version of  Beat Saber , a rhythm game in which you slash through blocks with light sabers in time to the music. Since the awful first season of  Riverdale  proved that telling is inferior to showing, here is a gameplay video recorded in my new semi-permanent VR room (formerly known as "the workout room" and sometimes known as "th...
  10. Friday, June 15, 2018:
    Review Day: Divinity: Original Sin 2    Divinity: Original Sin 2 is an excellent Kickstarter-based, old-school role-playing game with minor deficiencies that will probably be ironed out in the Enhanced Edition coming out later this year (free for owners of the original). It features a top-down view with a fully rotatable camera, turn-based combat built up around Action Points that allow you to cast, attack, or move specific amounts, and an involving story based in high fantasy without feeling overused. If someone were to modernize  Ultima 6  and  Ultima 7  today, this is probably as close as you could get to those classics.   I enjoyed the original D:OS game until its cumbersome UI got in the way. This round is much more polished b...
  11. Friday, June 01, 2018:
    Review Day   There are no major spoilers in these reviews.       Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle  (PG-13): This unnecessary reboot-sequel to the original movie updates the premise by making the titular board game a video game. It was surprisingly pleasant to watch (especially if you go in with low expectations) as it features actors playing out of their typecast and exploits common video game tropes. I remember very little of the original, other than the fact that it involved screaming children, screaming animals, and very poor sound mixing, but this did not affect my understanding or enjoyment of the new version at all.   Final Grade :  B+     Jon Mulaney:...
  12. Friday, May 25, 2018:
    Review Day: Forbidden Island   There are no major spoilers in these reviews.    Forbidden Island is our latest attempt at finding a two-player game we can play together that isn't just the cripple version of a game for more people. It's designed for 2 - 4 players to play cooperatively and feels well-done at both ends of the range.     Players start on a randomly organized island of 24 tiles and, with limited inventory, must collect enough treasure cards to attain the 4 plastic treasures. Once the team has all of the treasures, they must reach the helicopter landing pad to fly away together. The gimmick of the game is that random parts of the island sink after every turn, at a rate that gradually increases over time (and ...
  13. Friday, May 18, 2018:
    Review Day   There are no major spoilers in these reviews.       Under Stars  by Amy MacDonald: This is a pleasant album full of forgettable cliched lyrics. No album has topped her first,  This is the Life , but some of the more annoying bits of her interim albums are polished away here.   Final Grade :  B-     Wild Pendulum  by Trashcan Sinatras: There are no amazing songs on this album, but it's like spending an afternoon with an old friend. The group has perfected the "chilling in a meadow" approach to songwriting and still sound great for a band that's 32 years old.   Final Grade :  B    &n...
  14. Friday, May 04, 2018:
    Review Day   There are no major spoilers in these reviews.       Sneaky Pete, Season Two : I really enjoyed season one of this show, and the first half of the second season was both fun and funny as the characters deal with the fallout of their choices from the last season. However, the back half of the season is something of a muddle, with too many moving parts and unclear character motivations. It essentially just sputters to a conclusion. Free on Amazon Prime.   Final Grade :  B-     Better Call Saul, Season Three : This show has finally found its stride and was engaging and watchable all the way through. Even some of the artistic choices and ...
  15. Monday, April 16, 2018:
    Review Day   There are no major spoilers in these reviews.       Assassin's Quest  by Robin Hobb: The final book in the Farseer Trilogy outstays its welcome by being longer than the previous books but with less going on. What's sad is that there is a very fulfilling conclusion in the final pages of the book, but it feels almost like an afterthought. If that section had been expanded upon and the previous, repetitive sections of people walking somewhere and being sad had been trimmed by a good 25%, the book would have been much more satisfying.   Final Grade :  C     The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale : This is a fairly silly show (with one new...
  16. Wednesday, March 28, 2018:
    Review Day   There are no major spoilers in these reviews.       Murder on the Orient Express  (PG-13): This is a light, forgettable whodunit with fun performances often overwhelmed by CGI shots of trains. Hyperbolically speaking, almost half the movie consists of CGI trains chugging through the mountains, CGI trains with real people inside, and CGI trains unfolding into weirdly placed camera shots, even though no trains are given mention in the credits.   Final Grade :  B-     American Made  (R): An embellished true tale of a pilot who gets caught up in the 80s drug trade, this movie stars Tom Cruise as Tom Cruise and feels a bit repetitive afte...
  17. Monday, March 19, 2018:
    Review Day   There are no major spoilers in these reviews.       The Goblin Emperor  by Katherine Addison: This is a political fantasy story about a half-breed distant relative of the king who suddenly inherits the throne and must navigate court intrigue and political backstabbing. The book is a good-natured read but it seems to just progress until the end, without much in the way of direct conflict. All of the major plot changes happen just offscreen which, in its own way, mirrors the experience of a powerful ruler who experiences everything secondhand but doesn't make for a satisfying conclusion. The incredibly long names and titles and characters to keep track of also slow down the story. &nbs...
  18. Friday, March 02, 2018:
    Review Day   There are no major spoilers in these reviews.       Dirty Heads  by Dirty Heads: A pleasant, laid-back collection of summer-esque songs, like the catchy   That's All I Need  .   Final Grade :  B     Blade Runner 2049  (R): This is a decent movie irrevocably hamstrung by its extended run time. It has worthwhile character development but takes a long time to build any momentum, often wasting it in long, lingering shots or slow pans. Had an editor trimmed out a good half hour of wasted time, it'd be a fun little outing that benefits from (but doesn't require) familiarity with the original.   Final Grad...
  19. Friday, February 23, 2018:
    Review Day   There are no major spoilers in these reviews.       Blade Runner  (Final Cut) (R): This is one of those classic movies that I always figured I should watch but never got around to. I went in blind and found that it does not necessarily hold up well against modern movie standards. It's not bad, as minimalist sci-fi goes, but seems to spend more effort on establishing setting rather than story. It also has the Star Wars Episode 4 problem where most of the scenes are actually transitions to other scenes rather than important scenes in their own right -- there's only so many scenes of Harrison Ford walking up some stairs or landing a flying car or trying to convey emotion with a blank facial ...
  20. Friday, February 09, 2018:
    Review Day   There are no major spoilers in these reviews.       Lovesick, Season Three : Formerly titled  Scrotal Recall , this clever, warm British relationship comedy remains very watchable even though it has now outgrown its original conceit. I felt like this season wallowed a bit, as if they weren't really sure where to go next, yet I still enjoyed watching it as a pleasant way to end the day.   Final Grade :  B     Super Mario Odyssey : This is one of the flagship games for the Nintendo Switch. Other than a game mechanic where you can become different creatures by throwing your cap at them (which is clearly WAY DIFFERENT from gett...
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