Monday, June 12, 2017

Movie Review: Wonder Woman (2017)

Wonder Woman, indeed! The DC superhero's origin movie is a triumph, anchored by Gal Gadot's performance and director Patty Jenkins' focus on what makes the character great: the purity of her strength and purpose.

In the film version, Diana of Themyscira grows up among the Amazons, who are sworn to defend mankind. When an "above average" specimen (according to him) crashes into their hidden refuge, Diana leaves the island with him so she can fulfill what she sees as her sacred purpose: to save the innocent and defeat evil.

The movie takes its time building up Diana, which is the key to its success. Gadot is phenomenal as the goddess in her various incarnations: as a restless young woman questioning her mother; as a stranger to the modern world; as the one person you want on your side in any fight; and finally, as a true friend of and believer in humanity's light. In particular, her fish-out-of-water moments in London serve both as comic relief and further insight into her personality. Highlights include her stern lecture to military officials, a comment on how glasses are a poor way to disguise her looks -- "Great, now she's no longer the most beautiful woman you've ever seen" -- and her rushing off to coo at a random baby.

Diana's unquestionable crowning moment of awesome occurs at No Man's Land, where she puts her bracelets and shield to impressive use. Tired of being told that she can't stop to help, Diana throws off her disguise and powers through the mud and bullets and death. Based on that scene alone, I predict that at least 50% of all Halloween/convention costumes I see this year are going to be Wonder Woman, and rightly so.

Wonder Woman's distinct musical theme is kept in reserve for her truly epic action scenes, which are a joy to watch. Alas, if only the same could be said for her final showdown with the villain. This particular fight just didn't have great CG, and I honestly couldn't take the bad guy seriously after the reveal of his secret identity.

However, this is also the battle where Diana limit breaks, as it were, and the image of her hoisting a tank over her head in a blind rage is now forever seared into my mind. Jenkins knows how to do superhero shots, that's for sure.

In conclusion: as a moviegoer exclaimed after the credits, "I want to be her!" -- amen, sister! While none of us have been trained by a truly jacked Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright), nor were we specifically created by a god to keep other gods in check, we now at least have someone to wonder at and aspire to.

TL;DR: Watch immediately if you haven't yet.

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This post brought to you by the summer heat!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Toddler Potty Training: Finally, Success!

This post is dedicated to parents struggling with potty training.

Last year, my coworker told me that his daughter, at age 2.5, suddenly decided she was going to use the potty, and did so. Additional anecdotal evidence from other parents in my circles seemed to confirm that girls learn to use the potty sooner than boys.

My own experience was a match: at two and a half, Junior was perfectly content to have his toilet attached to his butt, as it were. Oh, he knew when he had to poop, but he would deny it even when caught red-faced and in mid-exertion. He refused to stop playing to empty his bladder or colon. It seemed we would have to wait until he showed signs of being ready AND interested in being potty trained.

I was especially eager to leave diapers behind because cleaning up Junior’s poopy butt and diaper was gross and, I began to suspect more and more, entirely avoidable. He knows when he has to go, he just won’t admit it! Conflicting viewpoints compounded my #firstworldproblems: while Fragrant Mother regaled me with tales of potty training us as infants, Fragrant Husband placidly assured me that Junior would learn when he was good and ready.

I tried to speed the process along by getting books about going potty; he would rather read about trucks. I got him a little potty; he sat on it fully dressed. I got him a potty seat that goes on top of a regular toilet; he tried to wear it as a hat.

derp derp


Nothing was working!

So a month before he was due to transition to preschool, when he was two years and eight months old, we went cold turkey. I bought him Gerber training underwear, which are cotton and have a thick lining in the front to catch some accidents, but would still be uncomfortable when wet. I told him he was a big boy now, and big boys wear underwear, of course with dinosaurs on them.

On Day 1, we spent the whole day indoors, made easier by the terrible spring weather outside. He ran around clad only in a shirt and his new underwear. We had a total of four accidents (3 pee, 1 poo), which upset him very much. But we also had two successes, for which he was rewarded with cheers and iPad time.

On Days 2-4, he was at daycare, where he had zero accidents because his teachers made sure to sit him down every single hour.

By Day 5, I was confident enough in his mad skillz that I took him to our usual Friday lunch spot, a nearby Indian buffet (all the rice he can eat, for free!). I made sure to check in about his bladder and colon needs before, during, and after our meal. He did have to go after he ate, and he was so proud of himself afterward that he announced to the whole restaurant: “I WENT POTTY!” Thankfully, no one seemed to mind.

It’s now been a month since we left diapers behind, and I am so happy. I never thought I’d be delighted to have a bowl full of poop proudly waved right under my nose, but hey, parenting is full of surprises.

In conclusion, I’m a Cool Mom, so instead of a picture of my very own spawn’s very own poop in his very own potty, here’s Junior dressed as his father’s career choice for him:

Ready to colonize Mars!
(See what I did there? "Colon"-ize? It's a post about potty training? hee hee)

TL;DR: Junior is now potty trained, thank goodness.

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This post brought to you by free coffee!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Game Review: Ikenie to yuki no setsuna (PS Vita)

Ikenie to yuki no setsuna (US version: I Am Setsuna) is a melancholy game that mostly overcomes its flaws. It's designed for players to experience "the authentic JRPG style of yesteryear" (per its official website), and it certainly succeeds in capturing some of that magic. I made the mistake of playing in the original Japanese -- more on that below -- but overall it's an enjoyable JRPG.

One-sentence summary: You are a masked mercenary accompanying Setsuna on her pilgrimage to sacrifice herself so humans can have a 10-year respite from monsters.

Snarky summary: Chrono Trigger's Chrono protects Final Fantasy X's Yuna together with a formulaic band of weirdos. Fwendship!

The game's strongest point is probably its beautiful music. Composer Tomoki Miyoshi keeps it simple by using only a piano as accompaniment to your adventure. The soundtrack works because of the strength of each individual composition; standouts include "Beginning of the End," which perfectly captures the somber world inhabited by Setsuna and her companions, and the battle theme "No Turning Back," which kind of cheats by having synth beats, but who cares.

Speaking of who cares...a glaring weakness of ikenie to yuki no setsuna is its silent protagonist who, irritatingly, is frequently prompted with dialogue choices that have no actual effect on story progression. For example, your very first choice is whether or not to swing your sword at Setsuna. The outcome is the same no matter which you choose. Maybe this was for players to establish some sort of personality for Endo...?

On the bright side, the other characters are memorable, especially Setsuna. She's a sweet kid who usually knows more than she lets on. Her honor guard consists of ~mysterious~ magic user Kwon, dishonored samurai-type Yomi, my personal magic tank Kir, and knight and airship-haver Julionne. Oh, and some dude with a scythe who joins like 90% of the way through the game, spoiler alert, I guess.

It's easy to match the characters with my descriptions, yes?

As you can probably tell from the artwork above, the game's visuals are lovely, if repetitive (snow town! Snow mountain! Snow dungeon!). During combat, character motions are smooth and realistic, and weapon animations change according to what you have equipped. The only exception is on purpose: there's a hidden village of developers with retro-style sprites, very cute.

Another plus is the ease of earning money, which is tied to the JRPG staple of grinding. In ikenie to yuki no setsuna, you only make money by selling items dropped by monsters. These items are also the only way to get materia orbment houshi (translated as "spritnite" to fancy it up, I guess), which offer special abilities unique to each character.

The game deviates from JRPG norms by skimping on certain typical elements. There are no armor or accessories, just new weapons, which can be strengthened with special materials, e.g. Damascus or orichalcum. There are no inns on this snowbound continent; your team can freshen up in tents or cottages on the world map. There's some light cooking for buffs, and basic items to restore HP/MP/normal status.

My theory is that the studio needed to clear space for the overstuffed combat system. Like I bragged earlier, I ordered an import so I can play the game in Japanese, and hoo boy did I struggle this time. There are approximately six bajillion materials out there to craft spritnite, plus three nasquillion command spritnites and support spritnites, not to mention shouka, which literally means Sublimation (and what does that mean, pray tell???), aka the "Flux" system in English. I couldn't understand what it was because of all the kanji, boo hoo, so I just soldiered on with normal attacks/spells and made it through just fine.

Note: pressing the square button at the right time when my SP gauge is full was actually really fun!

Okay, one last complaint, I swear: the frame rate drop and loading times were an issue for the PS Vita. The game froze up on me once, and the next time that little transition snowflake was onscreen too long, I hit the home system button and then tapped back into the game. It worked! That's a hot tip, kids!

In fact, I have one final grumble! What epic journey is complete without a worthy foe? Apparently this game! You go from town to town and quest to quest in a fairly minimalist and extremely linear fashion, and then get an infodump at the very end before fighting random backstory monsters that are linked to the final boss, who was a joke.

As for the ending, I thought it was in line with the game's tone and messaging. Honestly, I wanted the twist to be that...Endo was Setsuna all along! a la Sheik/Zelda in Ocarina of Time, but alas.

In conclusion, I finished the game in < 20 hours despite being able to read roughly 0.05% of it, damn you kanji; got challenged by the tough bosses; enjoyed flying around in the non-spherical world on my well-deserved air ship; and had an okay time doing it.
 
TL;DR: A valiant effort, but frankly, if you want the classic JRPG experience, get yourself an emulator and play an actual classic JRPG.

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This post brought to you by unceasing rain!

Movie Review: Black Panther (2018)