Saturday, June 11, 2022

Movies: Horrow Widow Double Feature

It might be cliché, but there's no easier way to make the lead character in your horror movie vulnerable than having her husband killed off at the beginning of the movie. Today's post features two films that do just that.


Malignant

In Malignant, Madison (Annabelle Wallis) is stalked by an evil force that kills her abusive husband and her unborn baby. It just gets worse for her from there:


Malignant bombed at the box office, partly because of the pandemic, and partly because it is just plain weird. James Wan, flush from his success with entries in The Conjuring, Annabelle, and Aquaman franchises, swung for the fences with a mix of psychological horror and over-the-top giallo. I liked the third act surprise, but it is certainly not for everyone.

Rating: 6/10


The Night House

After her husband's suicide, a woman is haunted by an unseen presence in their isolated lake house.  Is it her husband talking with her from beyond the grave? Or something more sinister?


Acting can sometimes elevate a mediocre horror movie, and Rebecca Hall's excellent performance in The Night House does just that. She spends much of the movie petrified, of course, but also captures the grief and guilt of her widowed character. It's a shame the movie doesn't have the story or pacing to match Hall's talent - not much happens, and the plot hinges on (of all things) a truly groan-inducing ambiguity.  The dead shouldn't need a disambiguation page.

Rating: 7/10

Books: Fledgling

 


Sometimes it's more interesting to read a flawed book with weird ideas than a good one that puts you to sleep. That's what I thought about Fledgling, Octavia Butler's final novel and our book club's latest selection. It's about a little black girl who discovers she is a 53-year old genetically modified vampire...and the people who are out to kill her.

Fledgling is, truth be told, not very good. Butler herself did not like how it came out, but she was suffering from terrible writer's block when she wrote it and hadn't written a novel in years, so she accepted the story that came out. In many ways, Butler's struggles are similar to those of the book's protagonist, who suffers from amnesia and must re-learn the ways of her kind.  Fledgling is oddly paced and ends abruptly - Butler regrettably passed away months after it was published.

Miscellany: 2022 Weekend EDC


On the weekends, I can carry a lot more gear since I'm not wearing dress clothes, so my EDC setup gets pretty complex. Medical? Check. Less lethal? Check. Fire-starting? Check. 

For me, all this stuff mounts on a standard CCW belt and clips into a pair of non-cargo shorts, making it concealable under a T-shirt.  Your mileage may vary...

Top row, left to right (changes in bold):

SureFire Stiletto Pro flashlight - still my go-to flashlight. It's not a candela monster like the handheld lights from boutique manufacturers (I'm looking into getting a Cloud MCH), but it is relatively slim, has multiple brightness modes, and features a momentary-only max brightness tailcap button for defensive use.

SlimFold MICRO softshell wallet - starting to be too small for the amount of cash you need to carry in these inflationary times.

iPhone 7 smartphone - a relic that was released almost 6 years ago, but it still works okay.

Keychain with:

Wazoo Survival SOS Micro whistle - I've started carrying a keychain whistle, since you never know when you might need to signal other people. This model from Wazoo is cheaper than the titanium ones you see around the web but still fairly loud.

Victorinox Manager knife - this is basically a Rambler with a ballpoint pen instead of a toothpick. It allows me to forego the bulk of a separate keychain pen.

Skilhunt E3A flashlight - one of the smallest keychain lights around that uses a AAA battery.  Long-term durability is still a question mark, but this is only a backup flashlight, after all.

Maratac Split Pea (Gen 2) lighter - an easy source of fire, as well as a lighting tool of last resort. Because of the screw-top cover, the fluid in these things lasts for months without drying out. I might switch the lighter out for an Exotac nanoSTRIKER XL, which is a more durable firestarter but much less convenient if you don't have tinder or time to light it.

S&W Shield Plus 9mm in PHLster Skeleton holster - the original Shield was one of America's most popular pistols, and the Plus model gives you 10+1 rounds in almost exactly the same footprint. Full review is coming.


Bottom row, left to right:

POM pepper spray - still the easiest brand of OC to carry.

CAT (Gen 7) tourniquet in LTC Direct Action Tourniquet Holder - The CAT-7 is my favorite tourniquet, but it's bulky and tougher to carry than a SOF-T. The Live the Creed holder is a good minimalist solution - I rigged it to carry OWB by threading my belt through a Maxpedition polymer TacTie.

ShivWorks Clinch Pick knife - still the easiest small fixed blade knife to carry

Casio G-Shock watch - same watch as always. Tough as nails with tons of features, including a compass.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Music: Con Moto

"Con Moto" is a track from "Inner Symphonies," a contemporary classical album recorded during the pandemic from Fryderyk Chopin University of Music grads Hania Rani and Dobrawa Czocher:

 

It's one of the more energetic pieces on "Inner Symphonies," which on the whole is rather contemplative, as the album title might suggest. The rhythm of the piano builds with other instruments in a manner reminiscent of other tracks by Rani, like "Hawaii Oslo." If you like your minimalism studded with emotional warmth, it's a worthwhile listen.

Books: Why We Sleep


The last couple of months have been pretty busy at work, and I haven't been getting as much sleep as I normally do. Now I know that's a pretty serious problem, thanks to researcher Matthew Walker's book, Why We Sleep.

It's part evolutionary biology history, part medical report, and part how-to guide for improving your sleep patterns. Dr. Walker starts with "why" we sleep, in terms of how sleep developed, both for humans and most other animals on Earth (even insects sleep). Then he talks about "why" we sleep, in the sense of how the human body and mind need sleep to function, something that scientists are still trying to figure out. Finally, the book tackles "why" we sleep, in terms of eliminating the obstacles to proper rest that are ever-so-common in the 21st century: caffeine, alcohol, and late-night device scrolling.

As a "wake-up call" for better sleep (pardon the pun), Why We Sleep is surprisingly engaging and effective. I did some of the things Dr. Walker suggested (like quitting caffeine) and noticed that my sleep quantity and quality markedly improved. If you've ever woken up and felt fatigued instead of rested, try putting Why We Sleep on your nightstand.

Tech: Tiny Tina's Wonderlands


My friend and I got a lot of mileage out of Borderlands 3, so when Gearbox released a fantasy-themed spinoff, Tiny Tina's Wonderlands, we grabbed it on launch day and plowed through the campaign. We knew going in that it would be little more than a re-skin of the mainline Borderlands games.  We were okay with that, though - the looter-shooter formula is more than a decade old at this point, and we're well past the point of carping about the Skinner box.

In Wonderlands, you play through Tiny Tina's homebrew session of "Bunkers and Badasses," a thinly veiled D&D parody that just happens to contain more guns than a National Guard armory. The game-within-a-game conceit is charming and occasionally clever (there's an RPG-like overworld made to look like someone's gaming table, complete with cheese puffs and soda cans), but it also sometimes serves as just a meta-excuse for lazy writing.

On the plus side, the shooting and looting is as polished as ever, and Wonderlands gives you new toys to play with, like melee weapons and magic spells (in place of the usual Borderlands grenade slot). With the right combo of stat points, skill points, and equipment, you can create characters that lay waste to enemies. The game isn't terribly difficult, but there's nothing wrong with a little power fantasy once in awhile.

Rating: 80/100

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Miscellany: I Think I'm Learning Vietnamese, Part 1

One of my biggest regrets is never learning a second language growing up, but thankfully that's something that can be rectified with some dedication.  After reading this review of DuoLingo from Justin at Swift/Silent/Deadly, I'm taking the plunge and trying to learn some of my mother's tongue, Vietnamese:


Of course, just typing words into an app (DuoLingo to start) isn't enough to really learn a language, so I am supplementing with textbooks and phrasebooks, audio courses, and plenty of interaction with a native speaker (thanks Mom). I'll post updates on the blog as my journey into tiếng Việt continues.

Guns: S&W 640 Pro review - The Riddle of Steel

Introduction

Even in 2022, my most carried gun is the humble five-shot S&W J-frame, a 70-year old design that still has some advantages over a small .380 in extreme close quarters fighting. If you want to keep your proficiency with these snubnose revolvers, though, you have to train with them, and that's where the S&W 640 Pro comes in.


The 640 features a steel frame that ups the weight on the gun by about half a pound.  That's too heavy for most people to conceal in a pocket, but much more pleasant to shoot at the range.  It's a great training aid, sparing both your hands and your CCW gun from the wear and tear of recoil.

Sights and Trigger

The "Pro" model comes with a couple bells and whistles over a normal 640, including front and rear tritium sights and a cylinder cut for moon clips.  The dovetail sights are pretty much the best available for a J-frame; they're tough, low-profile, and visible in all light conditions. The moon clip-compatible cylinder is nice to have, but not significant for most people.


One thing the "Pro" model does NOT have is any trigger or action work done on it. In fact, this particularly 640 Pro had the worst trigger I've ever experienced on a J-frame, a very heavy and creepy double-action. I had a local gunsmith work it over, and also added a Pachmayr Compac grip (too big for pocket carry, but perfect for a steel-framed revolver).

Range Report

Theoretically, you can shoot .357s in the 640 Pro, but the concussion and recoil from this 2-1/4" barreled snub is so severe that it's really impractical to use .357 ammo, including for self-defense, unless you have no other choice.  I carry and shoot .38s and .38 +Ps out of this gun, which I think will serve most people well.

At 10 yards, the 640 Pro shot decent groups with old-school 158 grain lead round nose:


Things get spicier with the Federal HST Micro .38 round, which has a flat ogive hollowpoint giving it a profile similar to a wadcutter. This is one of the newest, most advanced .38 Special self-defense rounds on the market, and it shot reasonably well once I got used to the recoil.



Conclusion

In my mind, an all-steel 640 Pro is a very specialized gun. If I'm going to carry a 22 ounce piece on the hip, it's going to be a modern slim polymer 9mm, which holds more than twice the ammo, is more accurate and powerful shot-for-shot, and easier to reload and maintain. On the other hand, if I need to throw down a couple boxes of .38 Special every month to keep my snubby revolver skills in shape, the 640 Pro is one of the only choices on the market.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Books: The Snubby Revolver, 3rd Edition

Despite the continuing popularity of the snubnose revolver for concealed carry, there are very few books covering the defensive use of the snubby. One of the best (and only) choices on the market is Ed Lovette's classic, The Snubby Revolver, now in its third edition.

Lovette is a retired police officer and CIA paramilitary operations officer, with decades of experience instructing agents in the finer points in concealing the humble short-barreled wheelgun. You'll get information on shooting, reloading, and carrying the snub, along with personal safety tips and tactics to keep you out of trouble. The book reads like a scrapbook of information Lovette has deemed worthy of retaining; many portions are directly sourced from interviews or even guest-written by other fine instructors like Lou Chiodo, Massad Ayoob, John Benner, Dave Spaulding, and Craig Douglas. 

Lovette is the editor in chief of it all, however, and the best parts of the book are his sobering examples of the consequences of breaking the first rule of gunfighting (such as the tragic kidnapping and death of Bill Buckley). If you need motivation to bring that J-frame with you whenever you walk out the door, let The Snubby Revolver be that reminder.

Movies: Everything Everywhere All at Once

In a cineplex stuffed to the gills with superheroes, sequels, and remakes, Everything Everywhere All at Once is the proverbial breath of fresh air - a wild adventure that's part slapstick and part serious:


Michelle Yeoh plays a downtrodden laundromat owner straining over her relationships with her husband and daughter. On a particularly dreary visit to the IRS for an audit, she becomes aware of the presence of parallel universes - an Everett many-worlds collection of possibilities showing choices she could have made and lives she could have lived. But there is a darkness out there in the multiverse, and it's up to Yeoh's character to make things right, using all the skills and knowledge of her other lives.

Everything is sort of like that old Jet Li flick, The One, if you crossed it with Kung Fu Hustle and The Joy Luck Club. I can see the trailers struggling to communicate what the movie is about - is it action? Is it comedy? Drama? Well, it's all of those things, and if each genre perhaps isn't executed as well as a standalone piece, the directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert do a good job of keeping the mélange entertaining.

Rating: 8/10