Kevin C. Wong

December 2023

Spot Reviews 12/29/23

The Mummy (2017) [/] Action film set in the present. Nick (Tom Cruise) and Chris (Jake Johnson) are US Army Rangers in Iraq who also procure relics for the black market. Unfortunately their latest find leads to Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), a mummified Egyptian queen who comes to life and decides Nick will be a great host body for her beloved… It’s big budget and it shows. Tom Cruise in a scoundrel anti-hero role which is unusual. They wanted to setup a Dark Universe so they include Dr Jekyll (Russell Crowe) and at the end Nick is left with Dark Powers.

20th Century Girl (2022) [-] Korean romance film. Most of the story is set in the past, 1999. While her best friend is in America getting heart surgery high schooler Na Bo-ra (Kim Yoo-jung) is tasked with finding and getting all the details of Yeon-du’s (Ron Yoon-seo) crush Hyun-jin. During that Bo-ra falls for Hyun-jin’s best friend Woon-ho. It’s only after Yeon-du returns that Bo-ra realizes there was mix up and it was Woon-ho (Boon Wook-seok) that was the crush… I’ve been watching some excellent romance drama series with great production and in comparison this movie is a bit flat in terms of music, cinematography and even story. There is no budget listed in Wikipedia so maybe this was more of an indie film. In any case, Kim Yoo-jung is very watchable so was worth it for me.

Offside with Taylor Twellman (2023) [/] Podcast from Apple TV+ and MLS (Major League Soccer). Twellman is a former MLS player with a couple of championships and a respected MLS analyst so he brings a lot of experience and knowledge to his podcast which mainly covers MLS. Lots of interviews with coaches and players. As someone trying to get into MLS I find it good for getting some history as well current news.

Trader Joe’s Organic Pasta - Spaghetti [/] I think twice as expensive as their regular spaghetti but it does taste a little better. Would not say it’s the best pasta I’ve had (Barilla is actually pretty good and there’s a better brand I liked but forgot the name).

Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha (2021) [+]

Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha is a South Korean romance/drama series that ran sixteen 70-minute episodes.

City girl dentist Yoon Hye-jin (Shin Min-a) manages to get herself blackballed in the city and ends up opening a one-dentist practice in the small seaside town of Gongjin with her best friend Pyo Mi-seon (Gong Min-jeung). At first she clashes with the residents because she's rather frank and a bit condescending of village life and really clashes with Chief Hong Du-sik (Kim Seon-ho), a hometown prodigy who does all the little odd jobs that need to be done.

As the series progresses Hye-jin and Chief Hong slowly start to be attracted to each other and by episode ten they admit their feelings and start dating. We get a couple of episodes of them happily dating and driving their neighbors sick before Chief Hong's dark past is revealed which takes another episode or two to resolve. The last episode or two are winding down and ending a bit after they decide to get married.

The supporting characters are interesting and have their own subplots. We have a brief possible romantic rival to Chief Hong in Hye-jin's college friend Ji Seong-hyun (Lee Sang-yi) who is now a successful director and wants to shoot a series in Gongjin. I also like the triangle with Ywo Hwa-jung (Lee Bong-ryun), her ex-husband Jan Young-guk (In Gyo-jin), and recently returned friend Yoo Cho-hee (Hong Ji-hee) who was Young-guk's first crush until Choo-hee moved away and he "settled" for Hwa-jung. In a twist Choo-hee was never into Young-guk and was attracted to Hwa-jung years ago (gay/lesbian characters seem less common in Korean/Japanese/Chinese dramas than in current USA dramas).

Anyways, a good romantic series.

lumen. (2021) [+]

lumen., from Lykkegaard Europe Limited, is a puzzle game played on a small grid (varies in size but 6x10 seems the biggest). Object is to get light emitters to trace their lights to end points, and over the three optional stars on the grid. There are one-sided and two-sided mirrors you can rotate to guide the light beams (and you can rotate the emitters).

Higher levels have double emitters (fixed to emit at opposite sides or two adjacent sides), four-way emitters (light in all four directions), rotatable pipe (which blocks light vertically or horizontally), T-pipes (which split an incoming beam into two beams), squares that block light, and probably others.

There is a daily challenge of four puzzles. There is a weekly maze challenge where your one beam navigates a maze to the end point. Lots of achievements. A bit of a backstory about a female inventor creating these various gadgets and the box you play on unlocks her journals. Lots of puzzles, maybe 300-plus.

Overall I had fun playing the first couple hundred puzzles and I guess that's enough for me.

Spot Reviews 12/22/23

I Hear You (2019) [/] Chinese romance drama with Riley Wang as a violinist and violin maker who is always stoic and doesn’t speak much and Zhao Lusi as an aspiring anime voice actress who wants to study Japanese in Japan. They’re thrown together on a couple dating reality series and to maintain the facade she moves in with him and eventually romance starts… The series has a real problem ending episodes almost mid-sentence. The last episode new drama a resolution is rather weak and maybe it should have ended one episode earlier (the series is 24 40-minute episodes). The best friends whoa are producers for the reality tv show and secretly attracted to each other but it ends badly is a rather sad subplot. After watching Hidden Love (2023) also starring Zhao Lusi I was expecting more from I Hear You but it was disappointing, though still pretty most of the time.

The Morning Show #3.1 to #3.5 (2023) [-] I watched half of season three but it was lackluster. Season one started well with their one big plot. Season two continued the main plot but it was getting stale so they killed it. Season three is chaos as the whole network might be going under and it lost the remaining appeal it had for me.

Shadowrun: The Forever Drug (1999) [/] A paperback novel by Lisa Smedman set in the Shadowrun RPG universe. This one is on the east coast of Canada in Halifax where Romulus — a werewolf, freelance agent for Lone Star, and kind of hated by regular humans and most of his co-workers for being a were — stumbles onto a new drug that leaves it’s victims dead but happy. Most of the plot involves him trying to rescue/protect/save perhaps the drug’s designer, an elven woman, called Jane because she’s an amnesiac… It’s a fairly fast moving story. Not too annoying. Told from Romulus’ POV. Not necessarily a happy ending but perhaps that’s Shadowrun. I haven’t read any other SR novels nor RPG materials so as a first exposure to the SR universe this novel tells a story without being confusing.

Mahatma Extra Long Enriched Rice [/] Seems ok for extra long rice but not my preference as it cooks a bit too dry and is worse when it’s old. Still prefer calrose rice which is bit more glutinous without being sticky rice and even a day or two old is ok.

Who Rules the World (2022) [/]

Who Rules the World is a Chinese historical (maybe fictional historical) romance/drama that ran for forty 40-minute episodes over the course of a month. The setting is the Empire and six kingdoms. As the Imperial family wanes the kingdoms start getting ready for civil war.

Our two protagonists are the heroic martial artists Hei Fengxi (Yang Yang), the Black Fox, and Bai Fengxi (Zhao Lusi), the most beautiful woman in the land. They've been competing for years as to who's the best but they're also kind of secretly in love though neither admits it to themselves.

I like how both Hei and Bai have secret identities and both are royalty but nobody and themselves have figured it out. Nobody has seen Hei and the prince and same for Bai and the princess so without putting on any disguise other than clothing change their ruse has gone on for years.

The historical stuff is pretty good. Lots of period costume and I assume mannerisms and speech patterns. I do like the romance part. The last four or five episodes we get into big battles and lots of Wuxia action and I did find that part a bit boring. Still, it was a really good first 35 or so episodes and of course the last one which wraps up Hei and Bai's story.

Spire Blast (2021) [/]

Spire Blast by Orbital Knight is an Apple Arcade game of color matching. There is a hollow tower with walls (either round or square walls) made of colored blocks. You have a certain number of shots to knock out bricks (and all contiguous bricks of the same color) and eventually tear the whole tower down as bricks and walls fall with gravity and physics effects.

You collect coins which are used to buy boosters that carry over from level to level until they are used up. Boosters like knock out all bricks of the same color even if non-contiguous or knock out all bricks in a row. Stars are also collected (one to three stars per level depending on number of shots it takes to finish) and 20 stars is a special chest with three random rewards.

There are also complications. A dragon that you have to feed with blocks. Locked blocks that you have to unlock by knocking out an adjacent block. Blocks that take two hits, though seems to be the exact same behavior as locked blocks.

The game has nice graphics and sounds. It's fairly simple so I guess for a younger audience. It does feel like a free-to-play game without the FTP purchase mechanisms.

Spot Reviews 12/15/23

Tetris (2023) [+] Movie on Apple TV+ based on how Tetris came to the Nintendo Gameboy. Hank Rogers (Taron Egerton) is the owner of a struggling Japanese software company who sees Tetris at an expo and falls in love. He ends up going to communist Russia in order to get the worldwide rights for Tetris for game consoles meanwhile the people who had the rights for computer Tetris wanted the console rights too. There is a bunch of intrigue and suspense as the other guys have a Russian bureaucrat in their pocket while Rogers has optimism, personality and honesty… It’s an entertaining film. Fictional though based on history.

Gamera Rebirth #1.1-#1.2 (2023) [/] A six-episode anime series (each episode is about 40 minutes so more like a 12-episode series). A group of teens are caught up in events when giant Kaiju attack their city. It’s only the appearance of another Kaiju, Gamera the giant flying turtle, that saves them and may be the city’s only hope… This is really a story about the kids with the big monster battles being more of a backdrop. Not sure if that’s how Gamera movies go but I didn’t really sign up for watching teens doing stupid teen things. Good animation though.

Anne of Green Gables Audiobook (2016) [+] The 9-1/2 hour Audible version of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s book is read by Rachel McAdams. Set in the late 1800’s on Prince Edward Island. Anne is a 13-year old orphan accidentally adopted by the Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert (they wanted a boy). But her energy and overactive imagination an sense of drama win over the couple. The book is a lot of short chapters chronicling Anne’s experiences growing up in that environment — going to school, making friends, making enemies — and ends as she graduates from teaching school and gets the job as the teacher at her old school… McAdams did a good job bringing the characters to life. I didn’t think the story would be that interesting and yet it was.

Wellington: The Years of the Sword (1969) [-] Elizabeth Longford wrote two books on Wellington’s life. Book one is his birth through Waterloo and book two is his later life as a politician. Lots of details with footnotes and good research but I only got through 20 pages or so. Way too much detail. Too many little things and lots of names and places an it doesn’t help that Brits can have a birth name and a titled name. I guess as a second or third book this would be good but as a first book on Wellington it’s just too much.

The Rational Life (2021) [+]

The Rational Life was a Chinese romance/drama that ran 35 40-minute episodes. Shen Ruoxin (Qin Lan) is a lawyer and manager in the legal department of ZenPro Motors, East China Division. She's a workaholic and totally committed to her job and really not into her current boyfriend (and when she tries to break up he tries to get her fired because he loves her so much, yikes). Looking for a new assistant she decides to hire Qi Xiao (Dylan Wang) even though they had an argument a few days ago but he's quite persistent about needing the job.

Unfortunately Qi Xiao is hire just in time to get caught up when office politics force Shen Ruoxin out of the legal department and into the administrative department where careers go to die (upper management really want her to quit). But in those short few days Qi Xiao has seen a different side of Shen Ruoxin and is determined to follow her and continue being her assistant. Together they bring energy into a department where everyone slacks off. Qi Xiao's admiration for Shen Ruoxin starts to become attraction which Shen Ruoxin doesn't begin to realize until episode 21 or so.

Besides work there are other possible love interests for Shen Ruoxin. Xu Ming Jie (Calvin Li) VP of the new electric vehicle division (New Energy Cars as the translation goes). Later on a former classmate who returns to Shanghai from abroad. In both cases the attraction is pretty much on the men's side as Shen Ruoxin feels she doesn't have time for romance and likes being single. Towards the end the other obstacle is Shen Ruoxin's mother Zhou Yilan (Pan Hong) who thinks a romance with a man 12 years younger is doomed. Luckily there is a lot of talking between both moms (Qi Xiao's mom is quite fine with their relationship) and with Shen Ruoxin and Qi Xiao to finally convince Zhou Yilan...

I think as is usual the first couple of episodes are kind of rough with character introductions and showing their routines before meeting. Once you get past that boring part it gets interesting and the romance plays pretty well. Shen Ruoxin is a charming character who loves astronomy (she posts color-corrected astronomy pictures taken by big telescopes), loves spicy food, laughs like a kid, and is always looking out for her people. Qi Xiao is not quite as appealing especially when he's conniving in a young adult way. But when he's looking out for Shen Ruoxin he comes off well.

It was an engrossing series.

The Keep on the Borderlands (1981) [/]

Dungeon Module B2: The Keep on the Borderlands for Basic Set Dungeons & Dragons is meant to be an introductory module and was included in the 1981 Basic Set. On DriveThruRPG it is $5 and includes a scanned version and an OCR version. I've been running this module for half a dozen short sessions using BECMI Basic Set rules (which is an edition later).

Part 1 is GM Advice. The module is intended for large groups with at least one magic-user and one cleric -- smaller parties should get hirelings. The Keep is intended to be home base from where the PCs can range out. There is a repeat of the Armor Class chart and notes that To Hit roll of 20 always hits and 1 always misses. Repeat of movement rates. Then advice on how to read the module,

More advice on being a good GM (be a neutral arbiter). Notes on time and sleep and natural healing (BECMI Basic Set doesn't specify natural healing rates). Notes on dividing up treasure and computing experience (which BECMI Basic Set kind of neglects).

Then a bit about the background of the area, notes about the keep, and a rumors table.

I like this section since older Basic Sets were not great with GM advice (BECMI is a little better). I found the rumors to be too much information to give to players, especially since there are also false rumors.

Part 2 is a description of the Keep. There is a map and each building is described along with inhabitants. Strangely nobody gets proper names so a GM has to come up with their own.

This section seems very old school. It's basically the same amount of detail as a dungeon, I guess in case PCs want to try to loot keep. Just listing the services available (with costs) and personalities would be sufficient. I don't need how many guards in each tower.

Part 3 is the area outside the Keep. There is a grid (squares) map, notes on exploring, and four encounter areas besides the Caves of Chaos (the main dungeon) and the Cave of the Unknown (a place where a GM can put in their own dungeon). I've run this area when I was a kid and wandering around was quite boring so I really simplified it into a hex for the keep and the six surrounding hexes to explore and then a die roll to see if the encounter is found.

Part 4 is the Caves of Chaos. 10 caves each with a different race of monsters. None, except maybe the last, are that big so each cave can be done as one adventure day. There are notes about what happens after a party attacks each cave. Vague notes about which races are allied.

This is very traditionally described. Each room is static and sometimes there is a bit of a plot set up with this format. It's up to the GM to start adjusting once the PCs intrude into each cave. There is no overall plot so the GM can make up their own (or borrow the one from Dungeons and Dragons Online wherein the Temple of Evil Chaos is trying to control all the caves and there are factions for and against the Temple).

Part 5 has a list of NPCs with a table for random personality. Notes on how to design a floor plan and includes a floor plan for the Guild House in the Keep. Player tips and a glossary.

Overall this is sort of the standard for introductory modules. A lot of GM advice packed into a few pages so necessarily broad not deep. A home base area though no subplots (i.e. none of the inhabitants have any sub-quests for PCs). An outdoor area without wilderness rules (found in Expert Set). A simple though big dungeon with enough stuff for several sessions.

It does the job well. I suppose lack of any plot or sub-plots means a GM doesn't have to worry about them or they can come up with their own. I think this is still a good first module for Basic D&D.

Spot Reviews 12/08/23

Alias #1.1 to #2.9 (2001-2) [/] TV action/spy series. Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) is a field agent for a secret branch of the CIA… until she finds out she’s actually working for SD6, a criminal organization. She turns herself over to the CIA who use her as a double agent and her only support is her handler Michael Vaughn (Michael Vartan) and her father Jack (Victor Garber), who is also in SD6 as a CIA double agent… I have fond memories of watching this series but on re-watch it’s a bit dated. I’ve been going through the motions watching s2 so I guess it’s time to stop this trip down memory lane.

Who is Erin Carter? $1.1/#1.2 (2023) [-] UK drama/action series on Netflix. Erin Carter (Evan Ahmad) and her daughter Harper (Indica Watson) are hiding out living in Spain when Erin’s former crew finds out where she lives now. Can she keep living as a substitute teacher with a normal boyfriend or will she be forced to do violence (or one last heist, I didn’t get that far to find out)? The first two episodes were very uninteresting.

Real Science Adventures - The Nicodemus Job (2019) [/] Set in Constantinople 1095 CE. A group of rogues are going to do a complicated heist in order to frame a corrupt official. New characters so we get their backgrounds as the main story progresses. I liked the non-modern-day-heist aspect and because the characters have backgrounds they’re somewhat interesting. The story is complete though the end sets up a sequel that has yet to appear.

Gourmet House, Fremont [/] Chinese restaurant. Perfectly fine food. They have dim sum though we were there for dinner. Beef chow fun was good. Steamed fish I didn't like the fish. Salt and pepper fish (fried fish nuggets) was good. Would come again.

Clean with Passion for Now (2018) [+]

Clean with Passion for Now was a South Korean romance series that ran 16 episodes each over an hour long. Jang Seon-kyul (Yoon Kyun-sang) is a tall, meticulous, mysophobic (fear of germs and contamination) who is CEO of a small cleaning company, Cleaning Fairy. Gil Oh-sol (Kim Yoo-jung) is a messy post-high schooler who can't keep a job.

They've had a couple of unfortunate run-ins but somehow Oh-sol is hired at Cleaning Fairy and turns out she both loves the job and is good at it, though outside of work is still clumsy and messy. Seon-kyul and Oh-sol continually clash but are slowly drawn to each other and it turns out Oh-sol's presence mitigates Seon-kyul's mysophobia.

One obstacle Seon-kyul's grandfather who wants to both cure the mysophobia and control his life by having Seon-kyul take over the family conglomerate. A second obstacle is the mysterious boarder at Oh-sol's house, Daniel Choi (Song Jae-rim) who turns out not only to be Sen-kyul's secret psychiatrist but has love Oh-sol from afar for several years. And a third obstacle towards the end is that the Jang conglomerate indirectly caused the death of Oh-sol's mother...

Seon-kyul is rather annoying for the first few episodes but he eventually becomes a sympathetic character. Kim Yoo-jung is very charming and shows off how she can cry on command (she's been acting since she was 4). Production is good. I found this series quite entertaining.

Sharpe's Assassin (2021) [/]

Sharpe's Assassin by Bernard Cornwell is the first Sharpe novel since 2007. It starts like the next day after the Battle of Waterloo (as told in Sharpe's Waterloo) wherein Colonel Richard Sharpe, Sergeant Major Patrick Harper, and Sharpe's South Essex battalion are tasked with advancing hard, ahead of the army, to free political prisoners kept at a fortress 60 miles away.

Having done that Sharpe, Harper and a few men are sent to not-yet-occupied Paris to find if La Fraternité, a cabal of Napoleon loyalists, are plotting to assassinate the Duke of Wellington when he arrives in Paris. That mission is complicated by Alan Fox, dilettante art dealer who knows about La Fraternité but is more interested in repatriating the vast store of stolen artworks held in Napoleon's Museum (the future Louvre).

In part three Sharpe has found La Fraternité in the form of the last survivor, Colonel Lanier, who has a battalion of light infantry hidden at a nearby vineyard. Sharpe now has the South Essex again and along with a Prussian battalion they plan to storm the vineyard against a foe most likely waiting for them...

The tactical actions are described well. Cornwell is good at depicting action and mayhem and groups doing tactical maneuvering in a way that is easy to picture in my mind. Characterization is fair though not that deep -- not that it needs to be since there are so many novels each building up Sharpe and Harper bit by bit. I like the bits of history thrown in though since the story doesn't revolve around a battle I'm not familiar with the history.

Overall it's a good Sharpe novel and a good read. I wouldn't say a literary classic but well worth reading for Sharpe fans.

Spot Reviews 12/01/23

Meg 2: The Trench (2023) [/] Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) returns to battle Megalodons and mercenaries bent on hijacking his employer’s research. Meg 1 had one or two giant prehistoric sharks. Meg 2 has three plus a giant octopus and raptor-crocs (almost man-sized fish with lots of sharp teeth and can run on land) and the aforementioned mercenaries. It’s fine as a mindless big-budget action film.

The Collective (2023) [-] Small budget spy/action film with Lucas Till as the new recruit of The Collective, a group of assassins that target bad guys, and Ruby Rose as the lead bad guy assassin… Very direct to video quality which means fights/gunplay looks low budget. Could be saved with a good and/or witty story but this film lacks either. Incredibly bad film.

Jack’s Prime, San Mateo - Whiskey Town burger [/] “Seasoned Angus beef patty with Cheddar cheese, covered in bourbon glazed mushrooms, crisp onion strings and Prime Burger Sauce”. I ordered it medium rare with regular fries. It was a bit sweet which I didn’t expect and since it was delivery “crisp onion strings” are not crisp. Still not bad but not something I’d order for takeout/delivery.

Real Science Adventures - The Flying She-Devils in Raid on Marauder Island (2017) [/] 1946 set in the Pacific Ocean area. A group of female pilots set out to steal the big sea plane of a nearby marauder band. Lots of air combat in a Mad Max-style (e.g. marauder planes that will shoot you with grapples and send boarding parties) over a merciless ocean. Interesting but not terribly so because this is their second book so I’m not familiar with the characters and this adventure doesn’t really flesh them out more.