Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Game Review: Assassin's Creed II (PS3)

I was in Gamestop with the original Assassin's Creed in hand, determined to make a proper go of the series because the latest one has pirates (pirates!). The sales rep, bless his heart, stopped me right in my tracks.

"That one sucks," he said, plucking another game off a shelf. "If you're going to start, start with this."

And so it begins.

I've played Assassin's Creed IV (review here) and enjoyed its straightforward gameplay. Assassin's Creed II has a denser plot and ends with a cliffhanger, but it has all of the same elements that make the whole series so diverting: sneaking-heavy side quests, collecting challenges, and entire cities with buildings to climb using your character's improbable upper body strength. Bits of actual history are sprinkled into the gameplay, which is always fun, because history is fun. Also: assassinations.

Assassin's Creed II follows Ezio, a young nobleman-turned-Assassin in Renaissance Italy. His journey of revenge begins with his father and brothers' hangings at the hands of the Templars. Throughout the 22 years that it takes him to murder every major person involved in his family's misfortune, Ezio is assisted by a number of characters, including his uncle, two bordello madams, Leonardo da Vinci, and even Machiavelli, because why not. The Assassin's targets are real historical figures with some embellishments to their backstories, I'm sure.

In terms of graphics, the cities look amazing. Ezio travels from Firenze (Florence) to Tuscany, Rome, Venice, and other smaller locations in his quest for the Templars. Venice is hands down the most gorgeous locale, and this game convinced me to go there one day. Ezio and the NPCs who wander mindlessly in the streets and rooftops are rendered well, and Ezio looks sharp in his threads and armor. Meow.

Speaking of meow, the heavy-handed randiness of Ezio and his ladies had me rolling my eyes. Yes, yes, Ee-tah-lee, ee-tah-lee-ans, they arrrre so full of amorrrre! Gawd, the only thing worse than the flirty dialogue was the accents. They were almost comical. Ezio is the worst offender since he has the most lines, but a lot of the NPCs are truly atrocious. "What's gotten EEN-to HEEM?"

Ezio's adventures are framed as a narrative within a narrative -- his ancestor, Desmond, is reliving his experiences using a hacked version of the Animus, which is a device used by the modern-day Templars in their own unending quest for something unknown. Ezio eventually reaches the heart of the mystery in his time, but the reveal only creates more questions for Desmond, who ends the game proper with a heartfelt, "What. The. Fuck." I like Desmond. And, bonus: Kristen Bell is the voice of Lucy Stillman, an undercover Assassin. Coolness!

Since ACII ended with a question mark, I have no choice but to play the other two games in trilogy. Just kidding, I already looked at the Assassin's Creed Wiki and read about the origins of the sikrot mysterious "Pieces of Eden."

I guess...I guess I just like looking awesome and hurtling from heights to stab bad guys.

This post brought to you by UP by Jawbone. UP by Jawbone: if you want one, buy it in your size and gift  it to a larger loved one!*

*Or just buy one.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Wedding Tips for the Chill Bride

There are women out there who have no cherished dream weddings, who like the idea of the ceremony because of the food follows that after, but are averse to the work that goes into the whole event. I was one such. And, per Nature's Law of Compensation, I ended up with a meng who had a vision for his wedding. Humans with vision are wonderful because they are driven and do stuff. Long story short: I got to chill and have the wedding happen to me.

Even if you're lucky enough to be a Chill Bride, you still need to pitch in. Like marriage, wedding planning is a two-person effort.

Here's a list the things you should do, in recommended order. Note that this presumes a timeline of at least six months from the actual wedding date.

1) Draw up your own guest list.

And remember: this is your wedding, so feel free to skip right over the peeps you barely hang out with or talk to. If all you want at your special day is your parents, the family dog, and that woman you met on the train one day who shares your obsession with Rainbow Brite, go for it. Save a fortune on the reception!

Sub-tip: If you encounter plaintive questions about the lack of invitation and you're comfortable with lying, say "Oh, we're keeping it to family-only as much as possible," or some other variation. Does not work with actual family members.

2) Select a venue.

This is when you choose the wedding date based on availability at your desired location. Most places will also quote prices based on guest numbers, so do this after you've finalized your respective lists. Remember: quality trumps quantity, especially if you're footing the bill.

3) Choose your wedding party.

Your maid of honor and bridesmaid(s) will throw your bachelorette and will be crucial for step 4.

4) Buy your wedding gown.

This sucker will take months to be ready. After the purchase, the bridal shop will usually recommend a tailor, who needs at least two fittings to make sure you look perrrr-fect, daaaah-ling, as you walk down the aisle. And if she's good, she'll have a ton of other clients who are much more high-strung than you, so be patient. Finally, some tailors forbid the menfolk from entering their premises, so you need your lady friends with you for zippers and such.

5) Book the photographer.

Good wedding photographers get booked insanely fast. As an example, we cluelessly started our search in March for our May ceremony, and the person we talked to was already booked to 2014. Fortunately, she was free on our particular weekend, because, like that obscure Buddhist sect that teaches us not to seek enlightenment to find enlightenment, you will be prepared for your wedding by not being prepared. Such deep.

6) Get a DJ.

We got a friend to be our DJ. If going this route, make sure the event staff know he's a guest, not a vendor, because otherwise they will give him/her a hard time for drinking.

7) Choose seasonal flowers.

Seasonal = cheaper. Just, y'know, avoid colors and sizes reminiscent of Shub-Niggurath or some other Lovecraftian monstrosity.

8) Prep your family for pre-ceremony pictures.

Applies if some of your family members like to nap at every opportunity and need to be awoken because we're ready to take the pictures, the groom's entire family is here, where are your father and brother?

9) Profit!

Chill Bride, you have somehow hit the jackpot! Live it up! Your dress turns back into a pumpkin after midnight!

10) Send thank-you cards

This is the denouement. Give yourselves three months max to write thank-you notes to the gift-givers.

Once all this is done...

...it begins...


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Book Review: Dumb Witness (1937)

The dog did it!

Just kidding. Agatha Christie’s Dumb Witness tells the story of a wealthy person surrounded by money-strapped relatives, as per formula. Emily Arundell, a no-nonsense Victorian lady, falls down the stairs while said relations are visiting, and then a few weeks later dies of “natural causes.”

But—twist!—she writes a letter to the mustachioed Belgian, Hercule Poirot, vaguely hinting at her suspicions, and naturally Poirot must investigate. Alas, the client is deceased, and so Poirot must make his inquiries directly to the suspects: (1) Charles, the amoral yet charming nephew; (2) his sister Theresa, the beautiful and self-indulgent socialite, (3) her dry and precise fiancĂ©, Dr. Rex Donaldson, (4) cousin Bella, a devoted mother who desperately tries to copy Theresa’s style, (5) her genial Greek (omg! foreigner!) husband, Dr. Jacob Tanios, and (6) Minnie Lawson, Emily’s companion who inherited the bulk of the estate.

Or, perhaps the dog, Bob, is secretly taking orders from our cat overlords, and offed his human for their amusement!

Dumb Witness only takes a few hours to read and is enjoyable because it drops just enough hints to keep the reader engaged in the mystery, but also sneaks in some misdirection to help keep us guessing until the final reveal. The characters are well developed, especially Emily Arundell, whose death propels the plot. She's a fierce woman of the old school who tsk-tsks at the decay of the younger generation, because that is what the Olds do.

The book also offers plenty of one-liners by Poirot and his partner-in-crime-solving, Captain Hastings—usually around Poirot’s accent, ridiculous moustache, or his tortuous refusal to be straightforward about his conclusions.

The best part is, this detective fiction story avoids the frustrating, out-of-nowhere twist that makes everything clear, like, “The gardener with job-related access to poison was a sikrot relative all along!” I’m looking accusingly at you, The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

Bottom line: A pleasurable diversion! Recommended!

This post brought to you by an unlabeled Chinese pastry with mysterious filling that tasted of chalky apathy.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

PAX East 2014

Gamers unite!

Spring in Boston brings sunshine (!), warmth (!!), and 70,000 nerds in one spot (!!!). Yes, it's already time for the annual Penny Arcade Expo!

And here is Day 2:

PAX splits the enormous Boston Convention and Exhibit Center essentially in two: PC/video games, and table top games. 

The former attracts more people, which means you can walk around in a bikini top, a microskirt, and flip-flops thanks to all the body heat and, alas, the wanton farting. The smell of the unwashed is much stronger in this area, too, but statistically speaking that is extremely predictable. 

The good part is, the video games area also contains the highest concentration of people who are really into their costumes, see above. 

Meanwhile, the table top area is a bunch of grown men and women using their imaginations (and miniatures or cards) to play games:

We started off with a Star Wars game (my team, the Imperials, won without my firing a shot because I'm a poor combat pilot--the one always facing the wrong way).

Then we tried the Pathfinder card game. I was an Elf Rogue and it was fun because we won.

Now they're playing some sort of mercenaries game while I blog, see photo above. Given Fragrant Husband's frantic calls to retreat, I believe his side is losing.

While there are a number of babies, children, and women, the menfolk still outnumber us, so some women's restrooms have been relabeled as man-bathrooms, causing no end of confusion when men walk in to find (1) a lack of urinals, and (2) a clean bathroom. Just kidding, ladies can be just as filthy. But since PAX thinks of everything, facilities staff basically never leave the bathrooms so they're always in good condition. This ensures a pleasant experience for all! Take note, Six Flags.

Welp, I'm off to see what my grazing options are. It's been ten minutes since my last snack and we are hungry.

One parting shot:

This post brought to you by Flour Bakery. Flour Bakery: sure the line goes out the door, but the egg in your breakfast sandwich is the size of the hen that hatched it, so: worth it!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Movie Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the lovechild of The Avengers and The Bourne trilogy. It's got intense action, impossibly enormous things blowing up, and beautiful people running around being perplexed. At one point, it even felt like a Michael Bay movie, but thankfully it only lasted for two seconds. Otherwise, Cap's second outing as the leading man is a terrific sequel and a fine action/thriller movie.

The movie benefits from good writing. After a mission alongside fellow SHIELD Agent Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) has some pointed questions for his boss, Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), especially after he's let in on the intelligence agency's latest project. Cap's attempts to uncover the truth behind Project Insight underline the movie's major themes: what is freedom and who deserves it? When is the line crossed in its defense?

But if you're not in the mood for contemporary political commentary, you're in luck! Brutal ass-kicking abounds! All the fight scenes are choreographed so that you practically feel the blows being exchanged. Black Widow is up to her usual acrobatic moves, while Cap in particular is almost unstoppable when he has his shield, which reduces a bit of the tension--where's the suspense when you know the hero is just going to plow down everyone?

Enter the Winter Soldier, sporting a metal arm and a platoon of dudes to hand him a series of progressively bigger weapons. When he runs out of ballistics, he has an apparently unlimited supply of knives. He proves to be a match for our hero, omg!

Speaking of "omg!," there is a scene where Evans is in a tank top, and I went like this:

He is the beefcakiest beefcake to ever beefcake. At that moment I cursed the 3D, which makes everything dark. I repeat: this movie does not need to be seen in 3D. You can see Evans' abs rippling through his shirt just fine in 2D.

Of course, there's more to admire than stunning physiques. The second Captain America continues right where the original left off in presenting a person with firm convictions and solid morals, who has firsthand experience with both weakness and strength. As a bonus, Director Fury and the Black Widow are also shown in more depth than in the previous Marvel movies. Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) is the new kid on the block this time around, another good soldier who will sacrifice for his friends.

Friendship and trust are major themes in this movie, too. Fury isn't shy about expressing his trust issues, and it's hard to tell if the Black Widow is entirely trustworthy. Still, that doesn't stop her from being wildly charismatic with her one-liners and playful repartee with the often-solemn Cap. There better be a Black Widow movie after this, is what I am saying.

Bottom line: legitimate blockbuster! Go watch! Captain's orders!

This post brought to you by Game of Thrones, season 4, episode 1. Kill it, Arya.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Improper Bostonian Fashion Show

Step One: Wear to Office
Step Two: Profit!

Last night Crispy and I went to see The Improper Bostonian Fashion Show at a posh spot in Chinatown. I know that pairing "posh" and "Chinatown" seems odd, given its history as the infamous Combat Zone (Porn! Strip clubs! Murder!). But changes, they are in the air, and on the streets in the form of new luxury high-rise buildings for young professionals seeking an overpriced domicile while they rat race away.

The event was full of promises, encapsulated first and foremost by the three blonde goddesses who were standing in the lobby to indicate via their beauty that, yes, there is a Beautiful People Event occurring in the premises, are you lost, ma'am?

Once on the proper floor, the two of us zeroed in immediately on the food offerings, which were plentiful, if in microscopic amounts. Imagine a large man's hand. Now imagine his pinkie fingernail. That was the size of the foodstuffs proffered.

There was the requisite buffet table, and there were also servers who wandered about with trays of delicacies. As the evening wore on, they learned to recognize my round face shining at them from across the room as I spied their delicious cargo. I helped myself to plump mushrooms stuffed with Parmesan, slivers of asparagus in the delicate embrace of whole wheat wraps, an apricot pretending to be a clam, and three helpings of something puffy that must have originated from nature at some point.

After our bellies were mildly satisfied, thus rendering us slightly less homicidal, we walked back into the room and shamelessly ogled the models outfits on display along with the people who were special enough, like us, to be invited to this super sikrot event. 'Twas a veritable who's-who of Boston's downtown office drones. We spotted many a finance type: tall, sleek, impeccably attired in business suits. The women were exquisitely garbed in fanciful skirts and dresses. There were some Olds as well, trying not to look too nervous at all the staring Millenials.

There was only one rapey guy who was stage-whispering his plans for taking a model home, and he was dressed like this:

So, yeah.

Apparently, the alt-fashion types had come in first, all tatted and dyed and spiked and studded, but got bored and wandered out for a while. We encountered them coming back in when we were on our way out.

As for the fashion show itself--there appeared to be six models doing shifts on three pedestals. They usually needed help getting off and on 'em, mostly because of their toight, toight outfits. My favorite, of course, is the one pictured above: the Backless Sideboob Jumpsuit. I had many earnest conversations with my coworkers today about how versatile this outfit is: you could just slap on a blazer, wear it to work, and then whip the covering off the goods at five o'clock! Such brilliant.

In conclusion: I need more clothes.

This post brought to you by almonds. Almonds: what morally upright people stuff into their (sobbing) faces instead of Cheetos!

Movie Review: Hereditary (2018)