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.



Sunday, March 15, 2015

Food: Happy National Egg Cream Day




An egg cream is a frothy dessert drink made of milk, soda water, and chocolate (modern versions contain neither egg nor cream). When made properly, the mixture separates into two layers; in a single sip, you'll get a foamy head from the top, along with a pleasant burst of bubbly chocolate milk flavor from the bottom.

March 15th is "National Egg Cream Day," so if you have the following ingredients, try one today:

Mulliga's Egg Cream

Ingredients:

1 part milk (works best with whole)
1/4 part Fox's U-Bet Chocolate Syrup, during Passover season (or any chocolate syrup made with sugar)
2 parts Perrier sparkling water

Directions:

1. Pour chocolate syrup into a tall glass and allow it to settle for a minute.
2. Pour milk on top of syrup.
3. Pour sparkling water on top of milk.
3. With long spoon, violently stir and mix the glass. Allow contents to settle slightly before consuming, but drink it before the bubbles dissipate. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

TV: Danger 5

If you liked the absurdity of viral hit "Too Many Cooks," you're probably going to like "Danger 5," an Australian comedy TV series that parodies '60s spy-fi shows (in season 1) and '80s movies (in season 2):




Set in a surreal version of WWII, "Danger 5" follows a group of five headstrong super-spies: straight-arrow Tucker, uptight Claire, the happy-go-lucky Pierre, tough American Jackson (played by series co-creator David Ashby), and uninhibited Russian Ilsa. Each episode, the team tries to disrupt one of Hitler's dastardly plots (like arming the Nazis with "superior golden superweapons, made of gold") and, of course, to kill Hitler. All the while, they battle Nazi henchman (who are based off of real-life villains, like Josef Mengele) and internecine squabbling.

Director Dario Russo and the rest of the "Danger 5" crew take great pains in replicating the look and feel of the material they're aping, whether it's a comically fake scale model of the Eiffel Tower or '80s action movie-inspired big hair and backlighting. The upshot of it is that "Danger 5" feels like it comes from the eras it parodies, which makes the humor hit a lot harder. Also critical is the fact that the cast is playing it Nielsen - that is, completely straight. It gives a nice contrast to all of the Nazi dinosaurs and Japanese robot super-soldiers on screen.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy, 1931-2015

"A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.

Live long, and prosper."


Saturday, February 07, 2015

Guns: HSP/G-Code INCOG holster review

Appendix carry is all the rage these days, and there are good reasons for that. If you want to access a gun during a fight, appendix carry allows you to draw in a wider range of real-world positions, such as when you're pushed up against a wall or lying on your back. The appendix draw can also be incredibly fast if your hands are starting out in front of you:



One good way to appendix carry that I've found is the INCOG holster, created by Haley Strategic Partners and G-Code. It's a minimalist holster (basically a Kydex shell with a couple of IWB clips) that slides easily into the 1 or 2 o'clock positions on your belt. You can also carry in the conventional 3-4 o'clock IWB position, too.


It's a bit hard to see in the pictures, but the Kydex has a nice "fuzzy" exterior that helps keep the holster from sliding around too much. The INCOG has good retention (that familiar thermoplastic "snap") and is completely rigid, making for fuss-free reholstering. I also found it fairly comfy to wear (though with less of a padded feel than a leather-Kydex hybrid holster).  Your body may differ,


The belt clips have a negative cant that forces the gun inward to the body, supposedly for better concealment. I honestly didn't notice much of a difference, but it didn't hurt any. In this view, you can see how the clips are set off from the vertical axis of the holster:


My GLOCK 26 fits into the INCOG with room to spare. This holster can actually accommodate a G19/G23-sized gun, but I kind of like the additional muzzle protection - it prevents the gun from being pushed out of the holster from the bottom:


Overall, the INCOG is very solidly made, and a great option if they make one for your gun.

Movies: Whiplash

They say it takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to make a great musician, and all three are featured literally in Damien Chazelle's "Whiplash":


"Whiplash" is sort of a jazz drummer's version of "The Paper Chase," albeit with a different ending and a different message. The movie follows a young music student named Andrew (Miles Teller) at the elite Shaffer Conservatory. The most intimidating teacher at the school is Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), conductor of the school's studio band. After a chance encounter lands Andrew in the band, a battle of wills erupts between the two, with Andrew's determination and dreams pitted against Fletcher's increasingly harsh tutelage.

This is a very good movie that you don't have to be a jazz aficionado to enjoy (it helps, though - if you like this, you'll like "Whiplash"). Veteran character actor J.K. Simmons is in full J. Jonah Jameson mode, barking and chewing up every scene he's in with foul-mouthed aplomb. His foil, Miles Teller, is blessed with an expressive face and enough musical talent to mime-drum well enough not to be distracting.

The main fault of "Whiplash" is that it's as single-minded as its characters. Setting aside its weird Ayn Rand-ian philosophy of musical talent (which a lot of people have taken issue with), this is a movie where eating popcorn with your dad and playing footsie with your girlfriend are, at best, distractions. I know that's intentional, but it still leads to precious little air for any other characters or stories to play out - a hefty sacrifice to make for a focused film.

Rating: 8/10

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Tech: This War of Mine

In 11 bit studios' "This War of Mine," a civil war rages in a fictional Eastern European city. But this is not a "Call of Duty" or "Battlefield" game, and the battle is not exciting or heroic. Instead, you control a group of ordinary civilians caught in the conflict, desperately trying to survive until the war ends:


Mechanically, "This War of Mine" is similar to numerous other survival-crafting games. Each day, you lay low in your shelter, cobbling together beds, meals, chairs, radios, and other equipment out of the sundries you have on hand. Each survivor needs food, rest, and entertainment by default, and if someone gets sick or injured, you'll need to find medicine or bandages or they might get worse. It's very much a depressing wartime version of "The Sims."

The danger ratchets up during the nighttime, when you lead a single survivor through bombed-out buildings to scavenge for supplies. You are seldom alone, however, and you'll run into all manner of people who may be helpful or hostile - homeless refugees, bandits, soldiers.  While you can craft weapons and armor to protect yourself during these excursions, you're always outnumbered, and your survivors are not soldiers. Rather, the interface emphasizes stealth and surprise over out-and-out confrontation; your line of sight is rendered in real time, and the noise that you and others make is displayed onscreen.

What really sets apart "This War of Mine" is the grim relentlessness of the setting, inspired by the Siege of Sarajevo. As in a real war, there's no karma system in place to reward you for being "good" or punish you for being "evil." Depending on your choices, there may be moments of kindness (helping to dig out your neighbors from the rubble of a shelled building) and/or moments of atavistic brutality (stealing food from a helpless elderly couple when all of your survivors are starving). The game's greatest achievement is showing how fine the line is between those moments.

Rating: 90/100

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Guns: NAA Wasp review - Float like a butterfly, sting like a mousegun

Longtime readers know that I once owned  a .22 LR North American Arms mini-revolver. It was a nifty, well-made gun, but I did eventually sell it because it didn't serve much of a purpose. In the end, it wasn't powerful enough for defense, it wasn't accurate enough for target shooting, and it wasn't convenient enough to really be fun.

Things change, though. In particular, the dress shirts and suit pants I wear to work every day can't take even the smallest normal concealment guns (a Ruger LCP, for instance, creates a noticeable .380-autopistol-sized bulge in such pockets). Absent a smaller gun, I would be relegated to not carrying at all.

Enter the NAA Wasp, with a 1-5/8" barrel and chambered in .22 Magnum. It's noticeably bigger than my previous mini-revolver, and it's packing a (marginally) beefier cartridge. But is it enough to actually be useful for defense?

First Impressions

The Wasp is, in my estimation, one of the neatest looking NAA models. There are decorative touches all over the gun that don't affect function, but look cool: the hammer is skeletonized, the barrel has a vent rib, and both the cylinder and the cylinder pin have concentric engravings that evoke a wasp's abdomen. I did switch out the black rubber grip panels that came with the gun in favor of a lighter, bigger one-piece Hogue grip (the same one that comes standard on the NAA Pug).


I opted for the conversion cylinder model of the Wasp, which comes with an extra .22 LR cylinder. Of course, .22 is basically a precious commodity at this point, but the extra cylinder still makes for a handy way to practice with cheap(er) ammo. If you don't buy the gun with the conversion cylinder, you can get one for your gun afterwards, but it requires a trip to NAA to time the cylinder.


Some of NAA's other revolvers feature fancy swing-out cylinders or top break actions, but the Wasp uses the same pin-and-cylinder assembly as my old .22 model. You pull the cylinder pin out of the gun from the front, knock the cylinder out, and manually extract the fired rounds with the pin. It's laborious and slow, and usually not something that can be done in the middle of a fight.


A Word on Ballistics

.22 Magnum out of a gun this size is better than harsh language, but it's an order of magnitude weaker than a round from a full-size service pistol. The NAA website lists the CCI 40 grain Maxi-Mag JHP at a velocity of about 850 fps. That's about 60 foot-pounds of muzzle energy, roughly as powerful as a typical .25 ACP.

To put this in perspective, all five rounds from a NAA .22 Magnum have less muzzle energy than a single round of standard pressure 9mm. Needless to say, don't carry a .22 Magnum unless you can't carry anything else.

Sights and Trigger

The Wasp features a gold bead front sight that I actually prefer to the wide blade used in other NAA models. Factor in the vent rib barrel, and the Wasp looks a lot like the world's tiniest shotgun. It's relatively easy to get a decent sight picture with the gun, considering its size.

The trigger is the same small single-action spur trigger found on other NAA models. It breaks cleanly, but you'll likely be "pulling" it with whatever part of your index finger will fit on the gun.

Range Report

I discovered that the slightly longer 1-5/8" barrel of my Magnum offered better accuracy compared to the 1-1/8" barrel of my older mini-revolver, while sacrificing almost nothing in concealability. Here are some shooting results:

Federal Bulk High-Velocity .22 LR (10 rounds each, 5 yards) - At five yards, and with bulk .22, the NAA shoots groups that are smaller than the gun.



CCI .22 Magnum 40 gr. Maxi-Mag (10 rounds each at 5, 7, and 10 yards) - The CCI Max-Mags were the only .22 WMR ammo I could find. They performed fairly well, but 10 yards starts to push the gun's limits.






Conclusion

The NAA Wasp, even with a (relatively) long barrel and a (relatively) harder-hitting caliber, is still, in essence, a mousegun that serves very specific niches, either as a deep-concealment carry or a backup. This would not be my first, second, or twentieth choice to bring to a gunfight. However, if someone really intends to inflict death or serious bodily injury on you, I still think it's better than pepper spray.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

TV: Thoughts from the holiday television season...

UNICEF is asking for 15 bucks a month to feed hungry Third World kids, the ASPCA is asking for 18 bucks a month to feed hungry American dogs. Just sayin'...

Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge is like Project Runway crossed with "The Dark Crystal" - a gaggle of very talented puppetmakers create mechanized aliens and monsters, all for a shot at working for the Jim Henson Company. Syfy needs more of this and less WWE.

When I was a kid, I didn't notice the sheer number of coincidences necessary to make the plots in the "Home Alone" movies even remotely plausible. Just in the first movie, there's a lost plane ticket, a case of mistaken identity, and a multi-day phone outage.

I know the Midnight Mass with the Pope is an annual tradition, but it's honestly not all that thrilling to watch. St. Peter's Basilica looks absolutely enormous on TV though.

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