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doctorstrangeAbout five minutes into Doctor Strange, Marvel’s newest entry into their global cinematic empire, the world goes catawampus. People of a certain age will know exactly what that means. People younger than that will understand catawampus—perhaps too well—once they have seen this movie.

At about the same time as the world twists in on itself, Tilda Swinton, as The Ancient One, runs out of bubblegum[1]. It is at this moment, while Swinton out-Neos Keanu Reeves, that you realize you are in for a bumpy ride and you had best hang on for dear life.

Unfortunately, the movie then has to give us stock superhero origin story number three: rich jerk discovers the true meaning of life and also really cool superpowers. You can’t blame the filmmakers for this, nor even Marvel. It is endemic to comic books as a whole, where a half-dozen backstories are spread among dozens upon dozens of costumed crime fighters as though they are nothing more than soup cans lined up in rows[2].

Doctor Strange is saved from becoming a dull recitation on the responsibility of great power by the aforementioned visuals, which repeat themselves often enough to heighten your enjoyment of the film without lasting so long as to permanently scar your optic nerves. The film also benefits greatly from the scintillating performances of its cast.

It is, perhaps, fitting one of the themes of this movie is bargaining with the devil, since someone at Marvel has clearly struck a deal that keeps landing perfect actors. From Robert Downey, Jr. to Chris Evans to Chris Hemsworth to Scarlett Johannson to Samuel L. Jackson to Chadwick Boseman to Paul Rudd to Tom Holland and now to Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch embodies Dr. Stephen Strange so perfectly, he almost doesn’t have to act. His costars: Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelson, and Benedict Wong, are also worthy of praise. The one disappointment is Rachel McAdams as love interest Christine Palmer, but the failure is less due to the actor and more to the lack of a decent part. She tries, but her character could have been reduced to “sort-of-friendly colleague” and worked just as well.

Marvel has a formula for their cinematic universe, and Doctor Strange doesn’t mess with the formula. Why should it? The formula works. But it does one thing new—it introduces magic to the MCU, and future films will be all the richer for it. And it makes magic so slick, so eye-popping visual, you can’t help but want more of it. Yes, Marvel keeps serving us the same dish, but it is so good, and always just a little differently seasoned, that you should keep coming back for more.

[1] As in “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick butt…and I’m all out of bubblegum.”

[2] An Andy Warhol reference. Kind of obscure, and sounded way better in my head than it reads.

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Having purchased Skyrim Legedary Edition (part of the Elder Scrolls Anthology box set), I received the Special Edition automagically in my Steam account on Thursday night. Herewith some quick impressions of the graphic improvements accompanied by comparison images. These were taken on a comparatively old system (Core 2 Quad Q6600 CPU @ 2.4GHz, 4GB DDR2 RAM, Radeon R7 250 w/1GB GDDR5 RAM). SE cuts my frame rate in half from standard Skyrim, but the graphic improvements may be worth it. I especially like the more saturated palette and the water effects.

Standard Skyrim (no mods) is the top image, and Special Edition is the bottom image in each pair. You can click any of the below image pairs for a full-size version. Note the full-size versions are 1440x1800 in PNG format and average a little over 4MB in size each.

skyrim01small

Helgen keep, first room if accompanying Hadvar. You can see the darker, richer palette at work here as well as more texture in the moss and rocks. Special Edition has a wider range of lighting as well, contributing to a more realistic look in every area.

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The following discussion contains massive spoilers for Fallout 4 and the Far Harbor expansion. You have been warned. The spoiler-free conclusion is: I’m not particularly fond of Far Harbor. Now, on to the spoilers… (after the screencaps)

fallout4 commonwealth small fallout4 farharbor small

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Here's how the NFL schedule works. There are eight divisions (NFC North, East, West, South, and AFC North, East, West, South). Each division has four teams, each of which plays 16 games. The opponents for those games are determined like so:

  • 2 games against each of the other 3 teams in the same division (6 games)
  • 1 game against each of the 4 teams in another division in the same Conference (4 games)
  • 1 game against each of the 4 teams in another division in the other Conference (4 games)
  • 2 games against the same place finishers in the 2 divisions in the same Conference they are not already playing (2 games)

For example, Jacksonville is in the AFC South and finished in 3rd place in their division. This year, the AFC South plays the NFC North and the AFC West. So 14 of Jacksonville's games are: Indianapolis (2x), Houston (2x), Tennessee (2x), Green Bay, Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit (NFC North teams), Denver, San Diego, Oakland, and Kansas City (AFC West teams). Their final 2 games are determined by their 3rd place finish. They will play the 3rd place AFC North team (Baltimore) and the 3rd place AFC East team (Buffalo).

Every time some NFL "expert" starts jabbering about this or that team's "1st place schedule" or "last place schedule," metaphorically knock some sense into them. A team's placement in their division from the previous year has very little effect on their schedule in the current year.

 

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I’m a completionist; especially in games I like. And I LOVE Fallout 4. But…

There are two trophies* that are incredibly difficult to get. Not difficult in terms of game play (like beating the game in Survival mode, which, thankfully, is not a trophy), but difficult in terms of meeting really weird requirements that can’t be met without special planning or a guide to the underlying algorithms. Trophies like these are a real fun-killer.

Of course, I earned them anyway.

Benevolent Leader (Main game)

fo4 benevolentleader

I tried, and tried, and tried to earn this one. It’s ridiculously hard until someone broke down the algorithms and then it’s just grinding. Start with the “Large Settlement” requirement. That’s not “large” as in size, but “large” as in number of objects built. Eventually, using the method linked above, I got my trophy using one settler working a restaurant at the Red Rocket garage with about 100 wooden crates sitting around to make the settlement “large.” And that was only after two (real) hours of sleeping (in game) + waiting (not game “waiting,” actual sitting there watching the game run without doing anything).

Docile (Wasteland Workshop expansion)

fo4 docile

It’s not that you need five tamed creatures who are normally hostile—i.e. cats and dogs don’t count—or even that you can’t mix-and-match creatures since they will continue to be hostile to each other—I just caught five mutant hounds and that was it. It’s the ridiculous requirements necessary to build a beta wave emitter that tames the creatures. You need at least one rank each in the Animal Friend and Wasteland Whisperer perks. Now, “wasting” 2 perk points on perks I wouldn’t otherwise use is not that bad, but…

Wasteland Whisperer requires a Charisma of NINE. I was fortunate that I had one high-Charisma character I could fall back on to get this perk, but that was unusual. I normally don’t spend that much on Charisma, as the higher-level perks are not that useful. But, even though I had the character, it was a high-level character that had finished the game and I had a lot of slogging about to rise up two levels so I could purchase the two perks. "Grinding" does not begin to describe it.

* On Playstation 4. Achievements for those playing on Xbox One or PC.

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xmenapocalypse

In honor of Quicksilver, this review will be in the form of quick hits (mild spoilers, nothing you wouldn’t figure out from the trailers, but still)…

  • Quicksilver is the best thing about this movie. At this point, I could watch 90 minutes of QS sequences and feel happy for the money spent. Make this happen, Fox.
  • Best Jean Grey and Scott Summers ever portrayed on screen. (Sorry Famke Janssen. Not sorry James Marsden.)
  • Best Nightcrawler ever portrayed on screen. (Sorry Alan Cumming.)
  • Psylocke and Angel might as well have not shown up.
    • Jubilee too.
  • Hey, 20th Century Fox, more Quicksilver, please.
  • Apocalypse wasn’t remotely frightening.
  • But Magneto sure was.
    • I have absolutely no interest in the Assassin’s Creed movie, but might watch it anyway just because Michael Fassbender.
  • I am not happy that Mystique is a good hero. Mystique is a super villain.
  • Based strictly on her performances in the 3 X-Men films, it’s hard to understand how Jennifer Lawrence gets any accolades.
    • And “Apocalypse” was, by far, her worst turn as Mystique.
  • I like Hugh Jackman, he’s even made me a fan of Wolverine, though I never liked Wolvy in the comics. But, c’mon, that whole Weapon X sequence was irrelevant and boring.
    • Not the cleanup after-credits scene, though. That was amusing.
  • I hope DC is taking notes for how to handle Flash in their movies.
    • And, I sure wish Marvel hadn’t killed off Quicksilver in the MCU.
  • Movie could have been shortened by 30 minutes with less talking. These characters natter on WAY too much.
  • Nice little origin story for Storm, but her overall arc was far too rushed.
  • Mind blown during final fight. I wasn’t expecting THAT.
    • Jean Grey. Yikes.
  • We really, really, really need more Quicksilver scenes.
  • Worth a matinee ticket.

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captainvsuperman

“I can do this all day.”

What has become an iconic line for Captain America was not first uttered by the Captain. The first time we hear those words, they are spoken by a scrawny Steve Rogers. Long before the Super Soldier serum coursed through his veins, Rogers was a hero.

DC Comics appears to be pushing Zack Snyder aside in an effort to elevate its Cinematic Universe. While such a move is an important first step, it will do little good unless DC understands why Snyder's movies are provoking great criticism. Snyder makes movies about super-powered people.

But they’re not heroes.

It's fine for our heroes to have flaws, but each franchise needs one linchpin that truly exemplifies the ideal. For Marvel, that is Captain America. For DC it should be Superman, but Snyder has badly mishandled their greatest hero. To bring the DCCU to the level of the MCU, Superman must be remade. It can be done, and in a way that is emotionally and intellectually stimulating. Just watch all three Captain movies.

This is not about DC beating Marvel, or vice versa. There's room at the cinema for two great superhero franchises. I want DC to succeed because I love some of their characters as much as I love some of the Marvel characters.

But until the DC supers also become true heroes, I just can’t watch.