Kevin C. Wong

Spot Reviews 04/12/24

2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984) [+] Recently rewatched this movie and I like it. Nine years after 2001: A Space Odyssey scientist Heywood Floyd (Roy Scheider) finagles himself and two other Americans on board the Soviet ship Leonov in a mission to recover the Discovery and investigate the huge monolith David Bowman (Keir Dullea) found. Meanwhile back on Earth tensions mount as the USA and USSR redo the Cuban Missile Crisis... Like 2001 ASO this is a low action film though fairly suspenseful at times with several 2001 ASO mysteries to unravel. Much like Star Trek: The Motion Picture this is a very think-y, high concept story.

Bloodshot (2020) [/] An origin film based on the super-hero comic book from Valiant. US Marine Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel) is murdered by a terrorist then brought back to life with nanite-infused blood by Dr Emil Harting (Guy Pearce) who then uses Ray as an unkillable assassination machine against Harting's former co-workers. KT (Eliza González), another enhanced soldier, helps Ray break out of his prison but Ray has to battle other enhanced soldiers and then finally defeat Harting who is also enhanced... Does have a bit of a deus ex machina ending and the plot is more complicated than I can summarize in two sentences. The movie is not bad though, other than the ending.

Trader Joe's Olive and Basil Pesto Sauce [/] It's a bit chunky and less saucy than other brands. It has bits of olive and definitely has that flavor (almost too much at times). Tastes fine but the chunkiness makes it a bit hard to use with pasta. It's like $2.50 for a 6-1/3 oz jar so for the price it's great.

Mini Metro+ (2021) [+] In this game you build a metro railway layout. Locations pop up, each with one shape. Connect the locations so that people of each shape can reach any location with that shape. Every week you get a new resource such as a new train line, passenger car, tunnel, or bridge. If too many people stack up long enough you lose the game so you need to build efficient networks (and it's easy to reconfigure networks on the fly or while paused). This Apple Arcade version is essential identical to the App Store version (released in 2015) and the gameplay is still quite addictive.

Use for My Talent (2021) [/]

Use for My Talent is a Chinese romance drama. Shi Shuang Jiao (Shen Yue) is a recent and jobless college graduate who gets a job at Clean First, a cleaning company that is transitioning from manual to robotic cleaning. There she attracts the attention of mysophobic CEO Gu Ren Qi (Jasper Liu) who finds that his phobia mostly goes away whenever he's with Shuang Jiao...

This is either a remake of the Korean Clean with Passion for Now or an adaptation of the same web toon. I found this series not as good. For the most part the Chinese cast is more photogenic and there are two romance subplots which are quite nice.

But the plot elements are more muted. Lu Xian (Dai Yun Fan) is the psychotherapist next door vying for Shuang Jiao's affections but after one episode he quickly gives up. The Korean version has a major end plot element where the Gu family did the Shi family a big wrong but in the Chinese one it turns out to be a misunderstanding. Similarly Ren Qi and his grandfather have an animical relationship but it's only touched upon here. Mysophobia is not nearly as emphasized her.

I guess all the above mens the Chinese show does not hit the dramatic lows of the Korean show but it also doesn't hit the highs. So other than a pretty cast and cutesy storyline there's no reason to watch this after watching Clean with Passion for Now.

Star Trek: Legends (2021) [/]

This Apple Arcade game is a fairly typical free-to-play loot box game without the micro transactions. You are the faceless captain of USS Artemis which has gone into the Nexus to rescue people trapped there. This gives you an excuse to add anybody from any Star Trek series (I think you start with Michael Burnham from Discovery, Worf from TNG/DS9, Leonard McCoy from TOS and B'Elanna Torres from Voyager).

The main story arc is sending four people on missions where you interact with characters cut-scene-like, use your skills to choose paths (not that big a deal though if you want 100% completion you have to redo missions), and do lots of fighting. The main story is eight episodes of six missions each as you collect people and try to find out who is using the Nexus as some sort of power source/weapon.

You collect Nexus shards which allows you to summon random crew (duplicates let you rank up that crew).

You collect items then upgrade your characters. Kind of like the Marvel combat game I was playing you can:

  • level up characters
  • rank them up (not sure what it does in this game)
  • unlock to the full four abilities on each character
  • level up abilities to level 2
  • equip four slots on each character
  • level up equipment to level 5
  • rank up equipment
  • equip two particle slots (Nexus particles for bonuses)
  • level up particles to level 5

You have three shuttles to send three 4-person teams on shuttle missions which take time and then you get rewards. There is a percentage chance of bonus rewards that depends on the crew so you have to send at least some competent crew. Crew on shuttle missions can't be used elsewhere but it gives you something to do with all the extra crew.

There is PvP and Operations which are basically just 4v4 combats either against players or set computer opponents. Daily goals to keep you playing.

Combat is 4v4 in order of speed. Each character has a basic attack and up to three other abilities (which all have cool downs). There's a lot of buffing and debuffing so combinations are nice. Usually two characters on each side start with some cover and some characters can create cover (and as long as cover has 1 hp it'll completely protect the covered character).

You can let the computer fight for you which is fine for most Mission combats since you overpower the enemy so much. But computer control is not very efficient and characters don't try to synergize.

Overall it's an entertaining game for what it is and not one of the best of the genre. Not really what I'd choose to play but at least in Apple Arcade it's not trying to sell you stuff all the time.

Spot Reviews 04/05/24

Ballerina (2023) [/] South Korean action film. Martial arts expert and former VIP bodyguard Jang Ok-ju (Jeon Jong-seo) finds her old friend committed suicide and left a note for her. Tracking down the note she finds the man, Choi Pro (Kim Ji-hoon), who had turned her friend into an escort. Bloody vengeance follows... It's fine as an action film where the plot doesn't need a huge budget.

Liaison (2023) [-] A six episode French/British drama on Apple TV+. Terrorists have burrowed inside the UK's secure networks. A Syrian hacker and refugee might have the code to stop them. Former French DGSE Gabriel Delage (Vincent Cassel) is sent bring the hacker back to France while his former lover Alison Rowdy (Eva Green), a British Home Office special advisor, wants him so he can stop the terrorists... A bit of a confusing plot and not much thriller to it. Episode five has some nice action. But overall I think this series is a waste of time.

Laughing Monk Brewing and Gastropub, Sunnyvale, CA [/] Upscale-ish American bar/restaurant and micro-brewery. Kind of typical for this area. I had the Fish and Chips which was ok. An Apple Cider mixed drink which was also ok. Perfectly fine food and atmosphere though no reason to ever come back here.

Chameleon Run+ (2021) [/] Apple Arcade auto-runner. In each level you want to get to the end as fast as possible. You have a change color button (your guy has to match colors with the ground) and a jump button (and you can do double jump). There are globes to pick up, speedups to run over (and you also get a speed boost by changing color just before you land on the ground), and probably other things. It's a fairly polished reflex game.

Crash Landing On You (2019) [+]

Crash Landing On You is a South Korean romance drama that ran sixteen 70-minute episodes.

South Korean business mogul Yoon Se-ri (Son Ye-jin) while doing a paragliding publicity shoot is caught in a tornado and dumped on the wrong side of the DMZ. Captain Ri Jeong-hyoek (Hyun Bin) finds her and believes her story. He decides to hide her and help her get back to South Korea.

The first half is in North Korea where Se-ri gets to see life in a typical small village and it's quite a culture shock -- little electricity, no hot running water, very little meat in their diet. Besides being noticed by State Security Department officer Cho Cheol-gang (Oh Man-seok) who senses something suspicious about her (and later he becomes intent on murdering Jeong-hyoek to cover his criminal activities) Se-ri has both a romantic rival when Seo Dan (Seo Ji-hye) arrives intent on marrying Jeong-hyoek and Se-ri also has a potential love interest in Gu Seung-jun (Kim Jung-hyun), a South Korean con man who almost married Se-ri.

Anyway eventuall Se-ri realizes that Jeong-hyoek loves her and she loves him. But they can't ever be together once she returns to South Korea. Of course when she does return Jeong-hyoek follows her because Cho Cheol-gang is also in South Korea plotting revenge by murdering her. The second half of the series Se-ri is now the one with power and Jeong-hyoek is the handsome outsider who poses as her new bodyguard. Meanwhile the four members of Jeong-hyoek's squad follow him to bring him back and they end up having adventures of their own as South Korea is quite different than what they imagined (except for the one guy who is addicted to K-Dramas)...

Once again it takes three or four episodes to really get going and then it's pretty good. Romance is great and the contrast between North and South is pretty cool. The ending is not the best but at least a mostly happy ending for the main couple. I quite enjoyed the series.

Fantasian (2001) [+]

Fantasian is a JRPG from the creators of the Final Fantasy series. You're playing a young man with amnesia exploring a fantasy world being invaded by tech globes that poison the land and people. You gain two female companions -- one raised by a hermit mage and has healing magic and the other a princess with cold magic -- who kind of vie for your affections. Later on there is adventuring in the Machine Realm which has been invading your world.

This has a typical 2-1/2 D perspective as you move around, though photo-realistic diorama backgrounds which is a nice effect. Combat is turn based and everyone has special abilities that use magic points. A lot of the exploration is picking up random items, mostly consumables and components (though I didn't get to the part where you use components to upgrade items). In general the UI is easy to use and responsive.

One thing I hate about JRPGs is random combats as you wander around. In this game early on you gain a device that stacks encounters with a limit of 30 monsters. So if you get a random encounter of 4 monsters the device count goes up by 4. At any time you can initiate combat with all stacked monsters which goes into a special combat arena. In the arena you fight 9 monsters at a time (when you kill some more are added not quite immediately) and there are power-ups (regular combats don't have power-ups). In general you can go quite a while before having to fight the monsters which cuts down on annoying combats.

The story is not too bad. You can talk to most people and there are a few side-quests. The game has a nice log where you can see your main quest, side quests, by location and their status. Later on you also get a teleporting device so it's easy to jump around from main quest to side quest. As usual the main quest is gated and fairly plain what you need to do next -- this is not an open world game.

I've played 11 hours and this game is 60 to 90 hours long. Did stop playing because it's kind of a slow game, though typical of JRPGs -- lots of moving around, talking to people in slow dialogs, cut scene-like dialog expositions where you have to keep tapping, also backstory recollections which are just walls of text which are also a bit slow and tap-heavy (though fairly well done for walls of text format). I think JRPGs are not my style.

Still, it's a polished and mostly interesting game that I might come back and continue later.

Spot Reviews 03/29/24

Sisu (2022) [+] Sisu is an over-the-top Finnish action film set during the Lapland War (when Finland declared war on Germany and the German northern troops had to retreat to Norway). A platoon of fleeing Germans encounter a Finnish prospector with some gold. Trying to kill him sets off an orgy of destruction because Aatami Korpi (Jorma Tommila), a war hero during the Winter War versus the USSR. Korpi is relentless and first flees from the Germans then goes to hunt them down. This film reminds me of Tarantino films with creative and graphic deaths. Not a classic but above average.

The Accountant (2016) [/] I rewatched this Ben Affleck film where he plays an autistic accountant for criminals who also happens to be an expert hand-to-hand combatant and shooter. When his current client decides to off him because he knows too much the accountant gets away but has to return and kill everyone in order to protect Dana (Anna Kendrick), a kind woman at the company who was helping him out and is also a witness that they want to silence… Ok action film. Interesting character. A little bit of a weird final fight. Interesting enough that I watched it in two sittings and yet not necessarily a movie I’d recommend.

Pizza My Heart - Vegan Big Sur [+] Went to dinner with my brother on Friday during Lent so he couldn’t eat meat so we shared this. It looks like a normal pizza with pepperoni and sausage. The meat tastes pretty close to meat and the cheese is pretty close to cheese and there are other ingredients so together it’s pretty tasty and I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference without actual comparison to a meat pizza. I’d be quite fine eating this again.

Flipflop Solitaire+ (2021) [/] A solitaire game from Zach Gage who has several polished Apple Arcade games. The base game is that you have five columns of cards, the bottom revealed and you're trying to get them into the top four spots. You can move cards between the columns but the destination and connecting card have to be in sequence. I've played similar games before. This one you can select from one to five suits (more suits is harder) and every game is solvable. Not really my sort of game though.

Delicacies Destiny (2022) [+]

Delicacies Destiny is a Chinese romance drama set of 16 episodes in Imperial China. Ling Xiaoxiao (He Ruixian) is a female chef hired to be chief chef for Crown Prince Zhu Shoukui (Wang Xingyue) who is a very picky eater. She's a blunt person whose creative cooking and quick wit soon entrance the Prince. As his attraction grows she's quite dense to his feelings.

In general the series does mini-subplots that take one or two episodes. Each features some sort of culinary challenge for Xiaoxiao who has to use her skills and cleverness. For example one challenge is to cook a simple meal for Shoukui's brothers even though they have quite different tastes and if they don't like it the Prince will lose face. She accomplishes this with a neat little trick. Later in the episode she also manages to get the Prince to reconcile with his brothers.

Eventually the Prince makes it clear that he wants Xiaoxiao to be his Crown Princess. But eventually we come to the big decision: to be Crown Princess she has to give up cooking as it is too lowly for royalty. Although they manage to solve this conundrum the last couple of episodes are still a bit disappointing in how everything is done.

For the most part I loved this series, I think maybe from the first episode and it just kept building up. Xiaoxiao's cleverness with food and words is endearing and there are no big drama reverses (I watched it on Disney+ and this series is quite up to Disney story standards). As I said though the ending is not amazing but the first 14 episodes are great.

Fallen Empire Series v1-3 (2016) [-]

Lindsay Buroker's Fallen Empire series spans eight novels and some short stories. I listened to the first three books on audio narrated by Kate Reading.

This is a universe where a star-spanning Empire has just fallen six months before and though still around is now confined to one world. The Alliance, which overthrew the Empire, has a core homeworld and a shaky hold on nearby worlds. But it seems like much of the inhabited planets are near or totally lawless.

Alisa Marchenko is a former alliance fighter pilot. In the first book she finds herself out of the hospital after six months -- having been shot down in one of the final battles of the war -- and stranded on a backwards and now unaligned world. She manages to repossess her mother's freighter Star Nomad and gets herself a misfit crew and passengers hoping for transport off world.

This is told in first person from Alisa's point of view though the other main character is Leonidas, former Colonel in the Empire's Cyborg Corps. Although he was an enemy now he's someone with his own mission which might conflict with Alisa's loyalties. But as the story goes on he turns out to be a taciturn but decent person and they have a definite attraction by the end of book three.

Book 1 is getting the people together, getting off planet, then exploring an abandoned science station and tangling with space pirates. Book 2 Alisa returns home to find her daughter has been kidnapped by Star Seers (a psionic faction that almost overthrew the Empire several generations ago). Book 3 they visit a Star Seer temple for information though the Star Seers are not that friendly to outsiders.

It's an ok series. Moves along in a slow way but always forward. It does seem like not much happens in each book so it's not surprising it took eight books to tell the whole epic. Don't think I'd recommend it though. Not that I regret listening to these novels but there must be better stories out there.

Just noticed that all the books seem to have been written over the course of less than a year so i guess that explains the lack of progress in each novel.

Spot Reviews 03/22/24

The Menu (2022) [/] Psychological thriller. At an exclusive island restaurant the guests are horrified when Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) announces everyone here tonight will die and he has his fanatical sous chefs to make sure of that. But that’s because all the guests were chosen by Slowik because of their sins. Except for Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), a last minute replacement, who threatens to derail Slowik’s carefully prepared menu and plans… Not so much a kill kill sudden death movie as a horrible fascination seeing one person die here or there until the final destructive orgy. It’s a very talky movie. In the end I’m not sure if this is a worthwhile movie to watch or not.

Heroes of the Sky: The Mighty Eighth Air Force (2020) [-] National Geographics 90-minute documentary about World War 2's US 8th Air Force which operated out of England and was used to bomb Germany. Lots of period footage, interviews with audio though also voice actors reading letters and reports. I'm not really enamored with how military history programs are presented and this one is kind of typical and seems old-fashioned.

Taste of Sha Xian, San Mateo [-] Came here for dinner with C3, W3 and Dave S. Bright and new, you use an iPad to enter the wait list, can order from your phone, and staff was friendly. Chinese food and it wasn't that great. I think the less trendy Chinese restaurant a few doors down has better food at cheaper prices, though once again it went through an ownership change so wasn't open that night.

Wibbly-Wobbly Dicey-Wicey (2020) [/] A podcast dedicated to Cubicle 7's Doctor Who RPG. Not that many episodes and they experimented with format: converting famous characters to DW RPG; GM advice; RPG book reviews. After a one year hiatus they came back with three episodes covering DW RPG 2E. Now it's on another 14+ month hiatus so we'll see if it comes back. The podcast is of average quality for a table-top RPG podcast and I like the focus on a non D&D game.