Wednesday, June 24, 2015

TV: Daredevil

I don't think the Bennifer-era adaptation of Daredevil is as bad as people make it out to be, though it definitely has more than its fair share of cringe-inducing camp (a playground fight? really?). However, for those who always wanted a darker, grittier, Frank Miller-ier version of Matt Murdock, Marvel has delivered in a big way:

The 13 episode Netflix series follows a fledgling Daredevil as he battles New York's criminal underworld and comes to grips with his unique powers. The early stories depict Matt's double life as a costumed vigilante and a lawyer, focusing on his relationships with his friends Karen Page and Foggy Nelson. The series takes some neat twists and turns from there, though, eventually devoting quite a bit of time to Daredevil's nemesis, Wilson Fisk (played with award-worthy aplomb by Vincent D'Onofrio).

It's an easy show to like. The performances are excellent, and the production values are incredible - most scenes have the moody lighting you'd expect from a big screen crime drama, not a superhero web series. The dialogue can get fairly clunky (characters constantly reference "Hell's Kitchen" and "my city," to the point where it's become a meme), but the fight scenes pick up the slack nicely:


Music: Libertango

A few weeks ago, Dad and I went to see a concert put on by The Symphonia, a non-profit chamber orchestra formerly known as the Boca Raton Philharmonic. The concert, titled "A Little Latin Night Music," was an interesting blend of well-known string pieces conducted by Kyle Prescott and performed before an appreciative outdoor crowd in Mizner Park.

I particularly liked the arrangement of "Libertango," Piazzolla's famous tango nuevo. Too bad there wasn't a place to dance...

Miscellany: Eldritch Horror - Mountains of Madness review

My friends and I are huge fans of Eldritch Horror, Fantasy Flight's world-spanning board game based on the H.P. Lovecraft Cthulhu Mythos. One big omission from the original game, though, was a scenario based on Lovecraft's best story, the haunting novella "At the Mountains of Madness." In that tale, a group of explorers travel to Antarctica, only to encounter an enormous abandoned city full of strange writings and unspeakable evil.

Fantasy Flight's Eldritch Horror expansion, unimaginatively titled "Mountains of Madness," aims to put you in the shoes of those unlucky explorers. It includes a brand new Antarctica sideboard, as well as some non-Antarctic-related goodies - investigators, encounter cards, Ancient Ones, and assets:

The overall effect is to make an already epic game even more epic. Even if you don't use the Antarctica board or the new cold-themed Ancient Ones, the new cards add a lot more options and a lot more flavor to the game. It's also more balanced than most Fantasy Flight expansions - none of the new cards appear to be gamebreaking, and the inclusion of a "focus" mechanic does a lot to smooth out the randomness of the base game. If you're at all a fan of Eldritch Horror, this is a must-buy.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Guns: Walther PPS review - Thin before it was cool

The release of the GLOCK 43 generated a lot of hubbub last month, but those looking for a Tenifer-finished, single-stack 9mm have had a very good option for about a decade - the Walther PPS:

First Impressions - Would a GLOCK by any other name shoot as sweet?

Yes, it's made by German-speaking people in Germany rather than German-speaking people in Austria, but the Walther PPS is still similar to the G43 in many respects. It's striker-fired, with a blade-type trigger safety, and it's significantly thinner than a double-stack pistol like a G26:

A better comparison might be made with another single-stack 9mm, Bersa's BP9CC. With the PPS sporting the extended 8-round magazine to match the BP9CC's default capacity, the two guns are fairly comparable:

Features - "Judge me by my size, do you?"

Overall, the Walther PPS is bigger and heavier than the M&P Shield or the G43, but it does have some unique features that make it worth a look if you're considering this type of gun.

1) There's a bright red cocking indicator that extends from the back of the gun as the trigger is pulled. This gives the user a visual and tactile indication of the position of the striker, and it's quite useful for safe reholstering.

2) The PPS has an accessory rail, unlike most single-stack semis in this size category (another option if you need a light rail is the Springfield XD-S).

3) There are 6, 7, and 8 round magazines available to adapt to different concealment requirements.

4) The gun uses interchangeable backstraps that might provide a better fit with some hands.

5) The paddle magazine release is fully ambidextrous.

Range Report

Shooting the PPS is, well, GLOCK-like, and therefore kinda boring. The trigger is neither distractingly heavy nor pleasingly light, the sights are bog-standard three-dots, and I shot the gun okay, but not well:

I found the PPS to be very reliable, though not perfectly so. About every thousand rounds, I experienced a failure of some sort, which is par for the course in guns of this size:

At 10 yards, I was getting decent groups with various types of ammo (pictured here - Georgia Arms Canned Heat and Speer Gold Dots)

At 15 yards, the groups opened up, but not terribly so (like all my pistol targets, these 15-round groups were shot offhand):

Conclusion - An Overlooked Gem

I like the Walther PPS. It's quirky, but not in any way that would make it impractical for self-defense. It has the drawbacks of being slightly larger and more expensive than its single-stack brethren, but other than that, this is a well-made, solid gun.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Food: Sotto Sotto

My favorite Italian place in Atlanta is Sotto Sotto, Riccardo Ullio's wildly popular Inman Park restaurant. It gets crowded quick, but if you reserve in advance, you can dine out on the back patio and experience some really fabulous pasta and risotto. Here are some of my personal highlights:

Spaghetti alle vongole ($19): This is a pretty straightforward rendition of spaghetti with clam sauce, but it's fresher and tastier than you'll get in your local Italian joint.

The "naked ravioli" (i.e., spinach and ricotta gnocchi, $17): It's tough to tell in the picture, but each one of those greenish globes was really tender and absolutely bursting with flavor. This is one of those dishes that you savor, bite by bite, along with a good glass of wine.

Mushroom risotto ($17): Creamy, al dente, and rich in all the best ways. The only real complaint you'll have is that the dish was over too soon.

3/4 stars

Movies: It Follows

"It Follows" is a horror movie lover's horror movie, but not in the self-referential, "Cabin in the Woods" sense. Instead of winking at the conventions established by giants like Carpenter, Craven, and Cronenberg, director David Robert Mitchell has absorbed most of their lessons and fashioned his own deeply personal nightmare:

Maika Monroe stars as Jay, a pretty young woman living in suburban Detroit. After having sex with her boyfriend Hugh, she wakes up strapped to a wheelchair. Hugh explains that the sex "passed on" some sort of curse to Jay -from now on, a mysterious shape-changing entity will follow her relentlessly. It's slow, but not stupid, and if it ever reaches her, she's dead.

"It Follows" uses this elemental premise the way a musician uses a jazz standard. These are the same teens in danger and creepy suburbs you've seen in dozens of slasher movies, but Mitchell extracts the maximum amount of tension out of eerie Detroit ruins and lingering wide-angle shots. The movie is also blessed with a vulnerable, star-making performance from Monroe and an incredible chiptunes soundtrack by Disasterpeace,

That's not to say the direction is flawless, as several scenes are more or less lifted from "Halloween" or "Nightmare on Elm Street." The movie also loses some steam in its third act, as is typical for the genre. These are small quibbles, though, and they don't change that "It Follows" is a worthwhile nightmare to wake up from.

Rating: 8/10

Books: The Stars at War

"The Stars at War" is a collection of four space opera novels written by David Weber and Steve White.  The novels are set in the "Starfire" boardgame universe, where humans and their alien allies have colonized a handful of planets in a vast and unexplored galaxy. That vastness sets the stage for surprise invasions from two groups of aliens: the fanatical Thebans (the first novel, "Crusade") and the carnivorous Arachnids ("In Death Ground," "The Shiva Option"). It also creates the political tensions that lead to a Terran civil war ("Insurrection").

Weber and White's writing is the military sci-fi equivalent of a Michael Bay movie - there are giant fleets of ships clashing with ever-deadlier technology, big explosions, and broadly-drawn heroes. It's anything but subtle, and if you don't like reading about the point defenses of superdreadnoughts and light cruisers, you're probably not going to like this. That being said, White is a former U.S. Navy officer who served in Vietnam, so the books are also chock full of observations on naval life and fun callbacks to real-world history (the "Great Marianas Turkey Shoot" is referenced by name).

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Tech: Amazon Dash

It's hard keeping track of household products in the modern world. I mean, who can tell when you're running out of fresh Tide® detergent, creamy Kraft® Macaroni and Cheese, or rich Maxwell House® coffee? If you've ever found yourself staring in wild-eyed desperation at the empty rack of your Keurig K-Cup® coffee machine, than you need Amazon Dash:

Amazon Dash seamlessly integrates with your lifestyle. You simply place small plastic buttons, helpfully emblazoned with all of your favorite brands, everywhere around your home.  When pressed, the buttons send in an automatic order to your Amazon Prime account, sending the needed product right to your door. Like with your other Prime orders, you can get products delivered two-day, overnight, or, in some areas, on the same day, so last-minute trips to the store will be a thing of the past! Request your Amazon Dash buttons today!

...April Fool's!

...Wait? This is a real thing?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Movies: Someone Else

Disclaimer - this review may not be objective, since I backed the movie on Kickstarter and talked with the cast and crew (they were all very nice) before and after seeing the film.

At this year's Miami International Film Festival, I attended the world premiere of "Someone Else," a film written and directed by Nelson Kim. The movie starts off as a fairly standard "town mouse and country mouse" story, but things rapidly spin out of control thanks to drugs, deceit, and depression:

Aaron Yoo ("Disturbia," "21") plays Jamie, a shy law student who moves to New York City for a summer associate job. Jamie stays in the apartment of his suave entrepreneur cousin, Will (Leonardo Nam), and is at first entranced by the magic of the big city. But when he meets a mysterious woman named Kat (Jackie Chung), his pursuit of her, and what she represents, threatens to destroy him.

"Someone Else" is Nelson Kim's debut feature, but it doesn't feel like it. The movie is shot and directed skillfully, with some fun mirror scenes and good moody lighting throughout.  The three stars also put in fine performances, especially as the tension rises between the naive Jamie and his brash cousin. Though the stakes in the movie are rather intimate and familial, Aaron Yoo's pained facial expressions keep it from feeling trite.

The major problem I had with "Someone Else" was plotting; not much really happens in the way of action, and even at 72 minutes, the story seemed slight. I also felt that some of the dramatic twists near the end were a bit unfair to the audience, and were not executed as well as other similar films. Overall though, this is a solid first outing that will resonate with anyone who's ever felt dislocated upon moving to a new place.

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Guns: Mulliga's Carbine Weight Loss Program

The Daniel Defense M4 carbine I use as a housegun had some tried and true parts on it, but they were all a bit on the heavy side. So, in the spirit of spring cleaning, I cracked open a Brownells catalog and queued up some replacements...

The Stock

For starters, I switched from a Magpul ACS to the BCM Gunfighter Stock. The ACS is a solid unit with tons of storage capacity (two internal battery tubes and a central lidded compartment), but I had forgotten how bulky it was. Switching to the minimalist Gunfighter stock shaved off half a pound from the back of the gun, made the overall package much slimmer and shorter, and didn't sacrifice much in terms of cheekweld or stability.

The Grip

The Magpul MIAD grip I had on the gun functioned fine, but was, again, a bit heavy. I also didn't see much benefit in the adaptable internal storage system (do you really need to carry a spare bolt inside your grip?). I chose the BCM Mod 3 grip - it's a couple ounces lighter and gives a better wrist angle for the modern, non-chicken-wing stance that everyone uses nowadays.

The Barrel

I've never liked heavy-barreled ARs, and while the original barrel on the DDM4 was fairly svelte, it had an unnecessarily thick area out past the front sight base. To remedy that, I ordered a new lightweight barrel direct from Daniel Defense, which stays pencil thin all the way to the muzzle. Since I was changing everything out anyway, I added on a newfangled BCM Gunfighter compensator for testing, too.  Unless the new comp blows my socks off, I'll be switching back to the good old A2 flash hider later on, though.

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