Kevin C. Wong

August 2023

Apple Series - Shrinking s1 (2023) [+]

Shrinking is a half hour drama comedy. Jimmy Laird (Jason Segel) is a therapist kind of going through the motions almost a year after his wife's death in a car accident. After another day of dull sessions where his patients are not progressing he decides to shake things up and starts giving out less safe advice, taking a patient out on a road trip, even eventually having a patient stay at his guest room at his home.

Meanwhile he's slowly trying to patch up his relationship with teenage daughter Alice (Lukita Maxwell) who he ignored for a year. Luckily she's been getting help from Jimmy's boss and mentor, Dr Paul Rhoades (Harrison Ford), and from Jimmy's nosy but well-meaning neighbor Liz (Christa Miller). There's also the third therapist in the practice, the sunny Gaby (Jessica Williams), who goes into a breakup with her boyfriend...

The show has a lot of funny moments and some serious moments. Ford and Williams are hilarious but are infrequent which is good to not overdo them. It's a pretty entertaining show though when I think about it I don't know why I'd watch this in the first place.

Comics - Red Sonja v1 to v5 series

Dynamite publishes the current Red Sonja since 2005 and, like how Dark Horse does their Conan comics, Dynamite started resetting the mainline comic and relaunching it with a new volume starting at issue 1. Like for Conan the relaunches mark quite different comic books though for Conan they were following the books with jumps in Conan's career timeline. For Red Sonja it's a bit more of a reset because Red Sonja turns out to be a reincarnated champion each of whom live their lives, die and are reborn to become the next champion.

Red Sonja v1 (2005) - This is the longest run and has the most normal stories. Originally it went 49 issues then was ended to make way for Queen Sonja. Because of reader demand they re-continued it. Issue 50 was a special issue of reprinted stories (and the issue is not included in the trade paperbacks). Issues 51-80 are stories of Sonja though later in the run they reset and it is Sonja come back as a vampire (from events in some limited series I guess). So overall this makes for an uneven series.

Red Sonja v2 (2013) - Gail Simone takes over writing for an 18-issue run with a new take on Red Sonja. More filthy-mouthed, hornier, a bit bi-sexual, and the violence seems more graphic. It's the best run of the series though a bit different and maybe that's why it wasn't included in previous Red Sonja bundles until the last one.

Red Sonja v3 (2016) - A short 6-issue run comprising of one story. Unremarkable.

Red Sonja v4 (2016) - 25 issues. This one had a great start with Sonja going through a gateway and ending up in modern day New York. Sonja acclimating to this new world is quite interesting. Unfortunately in issue 12 she goes back to Hykarnia and although some of the modern day characters are still around she never returns to New York and it ends up being the usual sword and sorcery Red Sonja vibe.

Red Sonja v5 (2019) - 28 issues. For the most part this is one very long story. The Emperor of Shadizar invades Hykarnia and Sonja is made Queen of Hykarnia to lead the defense. This is a rather dark comedy vibe with some good military tricks. It continues with Queen Sonja going to Khitai for humanitarian aid, then later the Emperor's son seeking revenge on Sonja. Then a last story arc 10 years later when the former Queen Sonja is needed to save Hykarnia once again.

Overall I rank them:

v2 - great
v5 - really good first story running the first 12 issues, rest of run good enough
v1 - first 49 issues fairly good "traditional" sword and sorcery Red Sonja
v4 - first 11 issues in modern day America is a nice change of pace
v3 - seems more of a place holder story while Dynamite worked on the v4 concept

Spot Reviews 08/25/23

Apple Arcade - Beyond a Steel Sky (2020) [/] This is a first person cyberpunk adventure game set in the same city as the first game (Beneath a Steel Sky, which is a side-ish view point and click), sort of a grungy city in the middle of a desert. Seems to have lots of story as the two or three people I talked to had lots of dialog choices and lots of voice narration. But at least on my iPad the first person view was a bit nauseating. Maybe better on a Mac with a good graphics card.

Drano Max Gel vs Liquid-Plumr. They both clear clogged sinks (they're both caustic and dissolve organics). Liquid-Plumr is two-part (caustic liquid and a gel to make it stick to sides of drain) and if you get it as one the gel kind of sits towards the bottom. Drano has both mixed and fairly even so easier to pour so I should use it more.

Movie - Jenny's Wedding (2015) [+] Reviewed this six years ago and thought it was really good. Rewatched it and it's still a very food film. This time I paid more attention to how the parents and sister react to how Jenny comes out to them and how their relationships are strained. Good drama without making anybody a bad guy.

Movie - Ghosted (2023) [/] Apple TV+ action/romantic-comedy. Cole Turner (Chris Evans) is taking over his family farm and meets Sadie Rhodes (Ana de Armas) at a farmer's market. They hit it off but then she ghosts him. But he tracks her down to London where he's kidnapped by arms merchants who think he's CIA operative the Taxman. Turns out it's Sadie who comes to the rescue and he has to tag along as she tries to stop the arms merchants from selling a bio-weapon... It's a fairly well executed film but lacks something. Maybe too much CGI, though some of it is done comedically rather than a substitute for practical effects.

Movie - Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning p1 (2023) [/]

Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning p1 is a 2-1/2 hour action movie that tells half of an epic story. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is brought back from semi-retirement to retrieve a key for stolen by colleague Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) of MI6.

That intro mission leads and further investigation leads him to the big plot: a rogue and independent AI, the Entity, that has infiltrated all governments and private sectors. A two-part key will unlock something that can be used to control it and every government in the world will eventually go after it (though that doesn't happen in part 1).

With such awesome destructive power in the wild Ethan takes it upon himself to find the key and use it to destroy the Entity. To do that he is joined by his long-time IMF support team of Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg). (As a side note those two characters way overlap in specialties leaving Ethan and guest star to do the actioning.) They are later joined by Faust and eventually recruit international thief Grace (Hayley Atwell) who becomes mixed up in this.

Opposing Ethan and team is the Entity, who wants the key that can destroy it. The Entity uses Gabriel (Esai Morales) as his agent though Gabriel is more of a sinister mastermind type and has assassin Paris (Pom Klementieff) to lead his mercenaries. In a flashback we see that Gabriel murdered one of Ethan's (team mates? loves? protection targets? I'm not sure) so he is an old enemy that was presumed dead long ago.

Lots of set pieces, traveling around the globe, interesting action locales. The McGuffin is very McGuffin-y and the Entity is rather over-the-top as a villain. It's a nice summer blockbuster type movie but, like Fast and the Furious, it's a series that's gone way too long with the same main characters. The heists and cons seem more spectacle and less clever. I did enjoy the film but in spite of Tom Cruise and company as it's the guest stars (Atwell, Morales and Klementieff) that kind of steal the show.

Apple Arcade - Little Orpheus (2020) [+]

Little Orpheus is a light platformer with a visual novel vibe.

In the 1960's Russia had a secret mission to explore the hidden lands at the center of the Earth. Bumbling cosmonaut Ivan Ivanovich accidentally got into the mining drill and ended up manning the mission. Three years later he returns and the throughline story is Ivan telling his story to an incredulous General Yurkovoi in both black and white animated interrogation room scenes and via extensive voice-over narration.

There are eight chapters in the main story plus a bonus untold tale. Each chapter takes about 20 to 30 minutes and is basically a side-view platformer though usually only one level with the challenges being jumping over pits and timing to avoid bad guys. Sometimes there are switches to pull and ore carts to move so you can jump higher which is almost puzzle-like but there are never any obstacles I would consider puzzles.

So the gameplay is not much but what you're really doing is enjoying the story being told and watching the great backgrounds (the game uses a 3D engine so even though you're basically moving in 2D there is a lot of stuff going on in the foreground and background. The story is fantastical and fairly 1950's sci-fi hilarity. The ending gameplay is a bit simple to win and the story at the end doesn't quite do it for me either but it was still an enjoyable and kind of relaxing experience.

The bonus level is more of the same though the ending fight is quite different as you're playing a side-scrolling air ship vs bad guys coming from the right, though it's a fairly simplistic mini-game.

Once you finish level 7 you can replay levels and look for bonus orbs that unlock extra content like behind the scenes videos. I haven't tried it.

In the end I'd recommend this game for the story.

Spot Reviews 08/18/23

Movie - He's All That (2021) [/] A gender-swapped remake of She's All That (1999, which itself is based on Pymalion/My Fair Lady). Padgett (Addison Rae) is a popular livestreamer but her latest faux pas threatens to get her cancelled. To recover her viewers she takes on the challenge of turning humble student Cameron (Tanner Buchanan) into Mr Popular... With Rachael Leigh Cook as Cameron's mom and Matthew Lillard as the school principal. This is an ok movie, definitely lesser than He's All That but I guess that's mostly because the two leads are just not going to measure up to Freddie Prinze Jr and Cook.

Movie - Peter Pan & Wendy (2023) [/] One of Disney's retellings of Peter Pan. Wendy (Ever Anderson) has more agency than usual (and the Lost Boys include a few girls). Peter Pan (Alexander Molony) is a bit more annoying. Captain Hook (Jude Law) has a backstory that ties better with Peter's... Production quality is good but not a really engaging story.

Food -
Nona Lim Traditional Ramen [/] If you've ever had the cheap Top Ramen or anything similar this Ramen is better but not as good as a restaurant Ramen. You boil it then add a salty broth which they sell separately. Each pack has two servings so $3 per serving is quite a bit compared to pasta.

Apple Series - Slow Horses s1-2 (2022) [+]

Slow Horses is a British dark comedy spy series centered on a group of MI5 (domestic intelligence) agents assigned to Slough House, where they send the rejects who can't be fired because it's the civil service.

Jackson Lamb (Gary Oldman) is the crusty head of the house, amazingly experienced but seemingly hates everyone especially his people, though it turns out he will all he can to protect them. River Cartwright (Jack Lowden) is the newest arrival, a bright field agent who royally messed up during a training run. Diana Taverner (Kristin Scott Thomas) is the ruthless second desk at MI5, Lamb's superior and willing to burn all of Slough House if it will get the job done.

In season one Lamb and crew decide to rescue a Pakistani student kidnapped by British ultra nationalists who plan to behead the kid when it turns out they're interfering with one of Taverner's black ops. In season two one of Lamb's old assets is murdered and Lamb decides to find the killer when MI5 determines the death was accidental.

This is a fairly tense show. Slough House people die. And yet darkly humorous at times as the team tries to do their jobs but are not especially good at it (though I guess mostly it's more lack of experience which Lamb could impart to his agents but doesn't). Each season is six hour-long episodes so the story goes through fairly quickly.

Definitely recommended.

Book - Napoleonic Armies: A Wargamer's Campaign Directory 1805-1815, 2E (1984) [+]

Napoleonic Armies by Ray Johnson is a reference book detailing those armies to a level useful for miniature or board wargaming. It is divided by country with many of the smaller German kingdoms also detailed.

For each country there is an introductory section then their military organization in 1805 and then each year up to 1815. Many countries have gaps or only a few years due to being amalgamated/created/destroyed during that time period.

The yearly overview is usually type and number of regiments/battalions (sometimes divisions and corps are listed for countries that had them). Then infantry, cavalry and artillery sections to discuss organization at battalion/company levels. Lowest level is how many men in each company and gun type/number of guns in artillery batteries.

This is a semi-scholarly work. Writing style is ok. The reader is expected to know Napoleonic military history. Battle are named but not described. Events of the year may be referenced but not detailed. Politics are rarely discussed.

Layout is not great but acceptable. Obviously edited since I didn't spot any spelling or grammatical errors. But spacing could have been better, tables might have helped, making sure information doesn't split over from even to odd page (so you have to turn the page to compare) would have been nice.

Still, this is a cool book to have even though it's over three decades old. Probably a bit out of date but the level of description is high enough that it's unlikely to have many corrections (due to new research over the last three decades).

Spot Reviews 08/11/23

Apple TV+ Series - Tehran s2 (2022) [/] Tamar Rabinyan (Niv Sultan) is an Israeli Mossad agent undercover in Iran. After a successful mission in s1 she stayed in Iran for revenge on General Qasam Mohammadi (Vassilis Koukalani) who had her aunt and uncle hung for helping her. But Tamar has become a bit of a loose cannon which is a problem for her new handler Marjan (Glenn Close), also undercover in Iran (and in turn Tamar doesn't trust that Mossad won't sacrifice her and her boyfriend if it's expedient)... Tehran remains an interesting and entertaining show but a bit too many twists starts to push it into soap opera. Still, I'm willing to watch s3 which Apple green lit.

Netflix Movie - Make Me Believe (2023) [/] Turkish romantic film. Magazine editor Sasha (Ayça Aysin Turan) to try to convince award-winning photographer Deniz (Ekin Koç) to do an exclusive interview. It's awkward because they were teen sweethearts and it ended badly. But their grandmothers and two friends conspire separately to keep them together until the romance rekindles... Good enough romantic film.

Movie - The Huntsman: Winter's War (2016) [-] A sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) with Chris Hemsworth returning as Eric the Huntsman. There's a 30m prequel showing his origins and how he lost his love Sara (Jessica Chastain) to the Winter Queen Freya (Emily Blunt). Then we're back to post Snow White where Eric must save the kingdom from Queen Freya and her troops, some of them his old comrades... I barely liked Snow White and the Huntsman and I guess I was expecting a prequel movie. Once Sara dies and we move forward 7 years I lost interest and stopped watching.

Sushi Sam's Edomata, San Mateo [/] We went to dinner here. It's a bit more expensive and it's supposed to be good. I had salmon teriyaki and a sushi roll and both were ok. It's a nice place but don't see why it would be more popular than the other sushi places in downtown.

TV Series - Ms Marvel (2022) [+]

Ms Marvel is a 6-episode 45-min episodes series on Disney+ and is a prequel to The Marvels (2023). High schooler Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) finds a gauntlet from her grandmother in the house attic which gives her super powers. With the help of her best friend Bruno (Matt Lintz) she works on being a superhero fulfilling her dreams of being special. But she also comes to the attention of Damage Control, a government agency created to mitigate super hero and villains' destructive tendencies. Also Kamala is contacted by a group of Djinn, really aliens from another dimension trapped on Earth that want Kamala's help in creating a gate home...

A teen coming of age series where the teens aren't annoying. Good action sequences. Pakistani-American heroine is nice and there is an episode that visits the past during the last night before India-Pakistan partition on Aug 15 1947. This is a better series than I expected.

Mecha Press Magazine (1991-95) [/]

Mecha Press was a Quebec-created magazine covering mecha both in anime and hobby.


  • News - new anime, models, gaming products, etc.
  • Anime Overview - great anime synopsis with overview of the anime and descriptions of characters and mechas (with illustrations).
  • Episode Synopsis - Detailed episode by episode summaries, mostly reprinted from college zines.
  • Mecha tech articles - the in-universe tech behind various anime mechas
  • Modeling - mecha model reviews and articles on how to build, kitbash and paint models
  • Gaming - see below

The reason for collecting this was the gaming stuff, specifically BattleTech. Each issue has a few pages of gaming though it's mostly the other content so bang-for-buck is pretty low. Mekton (still in print I think), Mecha! (a small mecha game way out of print), and BattleTech are the main games and in the last couple of issues their own Heavy Gear Fighter and RPG (the people behind the magazine also created Heavy Gear).

Most of the gaming stuff is converted mecha stats in the appropriate gaming system, so taking a mecha from an anime and statting it in the target system. There were some optional construction rules for Mekton and BattleTech, optional battle rules for Mekton, scenarios for each system.

I like the production quality. For a small press the layouts are really good, type is small but very readable, and everything is in English (with very occasionally missteps to my American background -- keep in mind these guys are French-Canadians). Lots of illustrations and photos to show what they're talking about.

Overall, for a gaming guy, I'd say it's not worth collecting for BattleTech stuff since there is so much BT material out there. For Mekton maybe worth it and if you're a Mecha! fan the issues with that material is most likely worth it. You can buy PDFs on DriveThruRPG and I appreciate that the issue descriptions include article lists.

Spot Reviews 08/04/23

Apple Arcade - SpongeBob: Patty Pursuit (2020) [/] Platform continuous runner (in that for the most part you can go left and right but can't stop) where you play Sponge Bob trying to rescue his friends (which then become playable characters). Collect coins, beat up bosses, use special powers. Good enough controller support (unfortunately button actions are not standardized on iOS like on other platforms so every game seems to use a different action button, jump button, etc). Has spot voice acting. Entertaining enough I guess but not worth me keeping it around.

Movie - Evil Dead Rise (2023) [+] The fifth Evil Dead film though all new characters. In a rundown high-rise apartment building son Danny (Morgan Davies) finds an evil book and accidentally summons a demon that possesses mom Ellie (Alyssa Sutherland). Visiting sister Beth (Lily Sullivan) has to protect her nephew and nieces Bridget (Gabrielle Echols) and Kassie (Nell Fisher) from monster Ellie... Like other Evil Dead movies there are lots of jump scares, comically buckets of blood, and a chainsaw-wielding protagonist. It's pretty well done for a smallish budget and nice change having two female leads going at each other (though without the corny Ash Williams lines).

Movie - Mulan (2020) [/] Set during Imperial China, when invaders threaten China the emperor calls for an army. To save her aging father who has no sons to contribute, Mulan (Yifei Liu) disguises herself as a man and joins the army. She makes friends, saves their lives, is forced to reveal her identity, and then rallies the army to defeat the invaders... I haven't seen previous Mulan movies. Entertaining movie not especially good or bad. Imperial China, with it's magical elements, is not that interesting a setting to me.

TV Series - Better Than Us #1.1 to #1.5 (2018) [/] Russian science fiction series. A decade in the future androids are common enough (as workers and as companions) that there is a backlash against them. Arisa (Paulina Andreeva), an experimental android with feelings escapes from her company and imprints on little Sonya Safronova (Vita Kornienko) and her family... This is more drama and social commentary than action. Kind of got bored after five episodes.

TV Series - Andor s1 (2023) [+]

Andor is a Star Wars universe series set during the height of the Empire and prior to A New Hope. The main character is Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a small time thief/rogue in a backwater world who comes to the attention of the local Corps authority which escalates to Imperial attention. He is forced to take a job from shady broker Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgård) and that job is helping a group of rogues/rebels steal the pay shipment of an Imperial base.

On a parallel track the series shows the fledging rebellion. Mon Mothma (Genevieve O'Reilly) trying to keep the funds flowing to the rebellion while being a voice of civil resistance in the Imperial Senate. Rael turns out to be another rebel though more of a compatriot to Mothma as the rebellion doesn't really have a central leadership and arguably Rael is the closest thing to that central hub as he has several projects going.

This is a bit of a darker series showing a bit more of the Empire's pervasive oppression in the minor systems; activities which the big worlds never know about. Strangely it's an interesting series even though Andor is not that sympathetic a character and perhaps neither are the rebels. And the Empire is not shown in an amazingly bad light either. A lot of grays working against each other. But it is very watchable.