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End of the World of Warcraft Era

World of Warcraft. It’s geeky as hell, obviously, but it’s been a big part of my life for a lot of years. The last 5 of those years, I’ve done a lot of raiding, often at a decent-to-fairly-high level. Yesterday was my last raid. Allow me to wax nostalgic for a bit.

WoW raiding is probably the most enjoyment I’ve ever gotten out of playing video games. The team effort. The hours you spend with your fellow raiders in voice chat every week for months at a time. The necessity for everyone to perform their role. Having to count on others to do it well, and knowing they’re counting on you. The researching your class and role, and practicing in dungeons and raid finder and even on practice dummies. The wiping. The sometimes endless wiping! And, of course, the thrill of defeating a difficult boss after all that wiping. Read more…

The Beguiled


What’s there to like?

The Beguiled is a dark, sometimes mysterious story. What drew me in was the detailed world of Civil War-era Southern manners and customs. The way they talked, the propriety of how men and women interact with each other, and so on. And most of all, the restraint. But all that wasn’t just a historical curiosity or part of the art direction–it really drove the plot forward. You’ve got this soldier (Colin Farrell), a representation of brutality and power, of masculine brutality and power, entering a secluded girl’s school (led by Nicole Kidman’s headmistress, Kirsten Dunst playing a teacher, and Elle Fanning as one of the students)–this bastion of only women. He’s injured and he needs their care. But the restraint and the polarization between masculine and feminine highlight the sexuality in the air. So you’ve got a blurring of the lines between danger and sexual attraction, at least from the point of view of all these women towards this unknown, scary soldier. Read more…

The Big Sick

What’s there to like?

It’s been a little while–a few months at least–since I’ve seen a nice little indie comedy. In The Big Sick, Kamail Nanjiani plays a Pakistani man in Chicago who falls in love with an American woman played by Zoe Kazan. Cultural obstacles present themselves, and then a serious illness sends everything sideways. Read more…

Dinner With Beatriz

What’s there to like?

To be honest, Dinner With Beatriz started a little slow for me. I wasn’t quite hooked in. Salma Hayek is more off-putting than appealing as a frumpy holistic healer. But then Jay Duplass and Chloe Sevigny (what a pair!) show up as a striving, hopeful, 1%-wannabe couple, and I knew I would enjoy this thing. Read more…

Nutritional Injustice!

As I read more and become more convinced of the insulin resistance model of why people get fat, I find myself becoming disappointed at what Gary Taubes (in Why We Get Fat) calls the injustice of it all: for those more predisposed to get fat by eating carbohydrates (like I am), there’s probably no way of completely getting over it. It’ll probably always be the case that carbs will make me quite fat. Read more…

Land Of Mine

What’s there to like?

I’ve been hoping to get to Land of Mine for a while now. It was nominated for the best foreign film academy award this year. I remember seeing previews for it at some point. (Must have been when I was still in New York?) But I’ve liked most of the several Danish movies I’ve seen, even though I’ve never seen any of the work of director Martin Zvandliet. So, put all that together, and I was happy to be able to see this one. Read more…

Choosing the Next Video Game

With Mass Effect: Andromeda completed, and probably not earning another playthrough immediately, it’s time for the happy task of choosing the next game!

After some research, I’ve got it tentatively narrowed down to three. (I say tentatively narrowed, because there’s no guarantee I won’t get two or even all three, haha!) Read more…

Wonder Woman

What’s there to like?

I guess I’ll come right out and admit it. I just don’t get the hype. I feel like I’m going to come off as a serious crank here, but I don’t relate to the gushing acclaim I see from so many people. I mean, it’s not a terrible movie, just ordinary, and lacking in some key elements.

But this is the pros section. So: Yes, Gal Gadot performs some cool fight choreography, and she’s got a vaguely superman-esque commitment to goodness. The world-building is okay–the island of Themyscira is appealing, even if I’d love to see more of how that place operates and exists. (But all that is the obligatory, boringgggg part of superhero movies, isn’t it? They don’t get interesting until . . . well, I’ll get to that in the next section, I suppose.) Read more…

Mass Effect: Andromeda

Mass Effect: Andromeda

Mass Effect: Andromeda rolled out a couple months ago, amid a flurry of tepid buzz and disappointed reviews. All I remember thinking before I got it was, gee, this sure sounds a lot different from the original trilogy, and maybe not that great. As a fan of recent BioWare games, there was no way I wasn’t going to play Andromeda, but my expectations were certainly tempered.

Maybe that was the key. In any case, for some reason, I enjoyed the crap outta Mass Effect: Andromeda. I don’t care what the buzz and the journalists say.

Andromeda retains one crucial element from the earlier Mass Effectgames: no game franchise makes me feel more like I’m captain of the Enterprise. And, quite frankly, there’s nothing I could want more from a video game. Ever. I assemble my crew and earn their trust. I make decisions that affect the destiny of the galaxy. I understand the importance of following my own chain of command while reserving the right to go against it should circumstances warrant. I get my hands dirty shooting aliens on away missions. I build relationships and choose who to bone. I’m Captain Kirk, Picard, or whatever Star Fleet captain or amalgam of multiple captains I choose. And that is such a thrill to get that in a video game I’ll keep playing any game this series releases.

While I’m singing praises, let me also say that the combat system feels great. I played on normal, and I died occasionally but not much. With more difficulty levels above that, I’m sure it gets plenty hard for those who like that. Me, as you know, I’m all about being a starship captain. And “normal” was a nice, manageable difficulty setting just for people like me. There’s plenty of room to choose to fight with any combination of biotic powers, tech gadgets, or a more conventional shooting weapons.

With such huge entries in the pluses column, any criticisms seem like picking at nits. But I do have some, largely where Andromeda falls slightly short compared to the earlier franchise entries.

For one thing, the choice of main character is lackluster. Shepherd in the original trio was fantastic–both the male and female versions–a special operations veteran and total badass. in Andromeda, you have the choice of playing as Scott or Sara Ryder. They’re twins, and whichever you choose has to step up to responsibilities they’re not quite ready for and strive to grow into the mantle of the job of human pathfinder. I played the opening mission twice, once as each, to see if either impressed me. They didn’t. I arbitrarily chose Scott. There is something about the feeling of being overwhelmed and not ready, but it’s nowhere near as fun as being the formidable Shepard. My fantasy is being the seasoned captain, not Wesley Crusher! (You can technically create your own character, but that doesn’t get me any closer to my badass avatar fantasy either.)

The other characters have their moments, too, but they didn’t win my devotion as much as my crewmates had in games past. (I think that’s a fair criticism, but I will cop to the idea I might be comparing the supporting cast to the extra characters in my other favorite BioWare franchise, Dragon Age, which always had characters even more compelling than Mass Effect‘s.)

Mass Effect has always had this paragon/renegade system, where your dialogue choices could earn you a reputation and unlock options as you leaned into one or the other. It was admittedly slightly gimmicky, but it was also a lot of fun. Andromeda used a four-horned system, where you can choose from among professional, casual, logical, and passionate responses and craft your reputation more organically. Except, I don’t recall any consequences to the reputation I honed. At all. I made sure to answer professionally 90%+ of the time I had the option, and . . . I honestly didn’t see how that affected anything.

I should also note the game does feel a little janky at times and in certain ways. Weird eye movements and faces, squad mates running all over the place, that sort of thing. The menus seem less intuitive than they should be too. None of this was a huge distraction for me, but it seems like most reviewers were awfully put off by it.


The last thing I’ll gripe about is that, as usual for video games these days, it was too long. Still, I was riveted for probably around 60 of the 70+ hours I spent, which is longer than it usually takes for me to get into slog mode. I just love that Captain Me element.

So is Andromeda perfect? No. Is it probably the fourth best Mass Effect game? Yeah, maybe. But does that also make it the fourth best game of all time at making me feel like I’m captain of the Starfleet flagship? Hell yes.

Loved it

Read more…

Protein Power

Just like Gary Taubes’s Good Calories, Bad Calories, this book by Michael R Eades and Mary Dan Eades, Protein Power, has a title that kept me from picking it up for far too long. It sounds like a meatheady, bro-sciencey guide to feeding yourself for maximum biceps growth. I don’t need a book like that. (At least not another!)

Turns out that, also like Taubes’s masterpiece, Protein Power is a book I very much wanted to read. Read more…