Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (7/10)

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There’s no escaping these superhero movies. I was trapped in rural America with two hours to kill and this was literally the only show in town. I’ll admit I was a curious as to whether Sam Raimi’s style would come through and it does a little here and there. Overall, it’s a fairly blah installment to the Marvel franchise. It wasn’t horrible, but who cares about this stuff anymore? The two seconds of Bruce Campbell squirting mustard in his face was far superior to the endless scenes of actors shooting colored LASER beams out of their hands.

Spider-Man: No Way Home (8/10)

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I don’t really have any attachment to the old Spider-Men movies so the gimmick of bringing back the previous heroes and villains didn’t mean much to me. It does remind us of how cliché superhero movies are as we reminisce about those times when other actors did the exact same things decades ago. But still, the Spider-Man movies were some of the better Marvel films mostly because they keep the kid-centric tone of the comic books. My big complaint is that bringing in this multiverse stuff makes anything possible, which just lowers the stakes of everything.

Caladrius Blaze on PC (7/10)

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For some time now I have been interested in playing various SHMUPs in MAME. Some of the best looking pixel art exists in these titles and, even though I am terrible at them, I’ve spent hours on games like Gun Lock and Raiden. I was looking for a decent PC-based title and got this one off of Steam based on some of the reviews.

Unlike 90s classics of the genre, this one is full-on 3-D. As a result, it really doesn’t look anywhere near as nice as sprite-based shooters. Also unlike those 90s games, this one features character portraits which lose their clothes as they take on more damage. Japanese culture is really weird.

Idiotic aesthetics aside, the game plays pretty well. It is a bullet-hell game so it is beyond my middle-aged reflexes on any setting above easy but I can manage to hold my ground reasonably well on the first few levels. The main gimmick (besides the partial nudity) is that each ship has three special, upgradable shooting modes. The elemental shots will drain as you use them, taking time to refill, but they are the key to survival. The modes range from impenetrable homing missile attacks to a little golden palm tree they sprouts an inch away from your ship and doesn’t do hardly anything.

I have played a few more modern shooters since I got this, and, in hindsight, I think Caladrius is missing a little bit of the excitement of the top-teir SHMUPs. Yet I found it was a good entry point into the genre even if you are not a pervert.

Wasteland Remastered on PC (6/10)

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Wasteland is considered a classic RPG from the Apple ][ era but it’s one that I never played back in the day. I have tried it in AppleWin emulation and then later with the modified MS-DOS port on In both cases I only made it to the second town before giving up. These original versions required looking up flavor text in the manual for various hints and passwords. This kills whatever sense of immersion they may have been able to squeeze out of 8-bits of computing power. I think much of the nostalgia for this game is built on the knowledge that the same team would eventually create Fallout. Well that and the memorable box cover art.

After the success of Wasteland 2 Kickstarter, Inxile proceeded to create a remaster of the first game. If I was ever going to tackle it, it was going to be with a modernized version. Of course the graphics have been completely updated into 3-D. Character sprites now look like board game mini-figurines on a detailed 3-D map. The pixelized monster portraits and character designs have been smoothed over with Photoshop brush work. There is also a full soundtrack and plenty of battle sound effects.

There have been quality of life changes too. The first big change is that the manual look-up references are built into the game, many of which have been illustrated and narrated as cut scenes. There are dozens of save slots. The game can be played entirely with the mouse. In reality, most of the remastering seems to be limited to the aesthetic details.

Wasteland Remastered

The game still plays clunky as hell. Combat is not terribly exciting and can be hard to follow. You see flashes of damage on character portraits but it never really seems to match what is being described in the text scroll. There are also many times when the text box fails to tell you how many enemies you are facing. This is too bad because this combat system is mostly the same style as the one in the Bard’s Tale games, but in those games it at least feels like there is some strategy.

The biggest problem with the game is the inconsistent ways in which you solve puzzles and interact with the world. There’s this seemingly robust skill system, but most problems can be solved with either a rope, a lockpick or punching. Interacting with NPCs is really goofy too. Some characters require you to turn on combat in order to allow them to join your party. Others require you to stand in a specific spot and then trigger a skill. There is no “Talk” command. If you are going to play this game, a walkthrough is almost mandatory especially when it comes to the endgame. I think you are probably able to put the game into an unwinnable state.

All that said, I did manage to get through it. While the world is nowhere near as fun and creative as Fallout or even the Wasteland sequels, I did enjoy some of the sections of the game quite a bit. I probably wouldn’t recommend this to more casual fans of CRPGs. If I were writing an SAT question based on this game it would be: Wasteland is to Fallout as Mad Max is to The Road Warrior or something like that.

Self Portrait 2022 - Wood Engraving

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This is the second self-portrait engraving I have made. The last one was in back in 2009 and I don’t think I ever editioned the print. In this print I am showing off my tools while seated in front of tiny renditions of other prints I have created over the past couple of years. It’s so meta.

In-Progress Images

Video of the Printing Process

I created this video documenting the printing of this engraving. Hopefully it won’t get taken down for the music I used:

The Girl in Room 2A (7/10)

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This Dick Randall produced giallo is, as one would expect, a complete mess. The plot seems to unfold randomly as it hard cuts from one disparate scene to the next. The idea here is that a young woman is released from prison into a halfway house or something: the titular Room 2A. The previous tenant was found dead of a suspected suicide (her car exploded falling from a cliff, but, whatever. Logic). Now our heroine is being haunted by visions of a red-masked torturer alá The Bloody Pit of Horror. This sounds awesome but it’s mostly boring talking scenes. That is, until the last twenty minutes. The climax is a frantic collage of ridiculousness that completely redeems the rest of the movie. It still doesn’t make any logical sense but everything about it, from the venomous snake rescue to the satanic torture cult to the final killer chase, will have you cheering for more.

The Making of Nox Archaist by Mark Lemmert (8/10)

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Here we go, yet another post about Nox Archaist. This book probably won’t be of much interest to people who have not played the game, but it does do a good job of painting a picture of what it takes to create a massive CRPG game for an ancient computing system. There are plenty of technical details but it doesn’t go too deep into actual coding and mostly deals with working around the limitations of an 8-bit computer. I’ve had been following this project since the early days of its development and appreciated learning more about the many contributors and of the details behind the game’s creation.

Bruegel: The Complete Graphic Works by Maarten Bassens (9/10)

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I still chuckle every time I read the name Hieronymus Cock. Maybe I’m just an immature fool, but Hieronymus is a really goofy name. He’s mentioned a lot here in the many essays about Bruegel and his work at the Aux Quatre Vents publishing house. Each gives a bit of insight into this legendary painter’s graphic output and some of the commercial motivations behind the designs.

But, let’s face it, the reason you get this hefty coffee table book is to impress your art historian friends with the beautiful reproductions of Bruegel’s prints. The images are big and there are plenty of zoomed-in details as well. It’s just like being in the KBR print room but without the stupid rules about not drinking orange Fanta while browsing the flat files.

The Devil In Maddalena (8/10)

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Like most who discover this movie, I knew about it only from Ennio Morricone’s legendary score. The title would suggest that this is horror film or another Exorcist cash-in, but, in actuality, it’s mostly a drama with art-house visual sensibilities. It’s a modern (well, 1970s modern) retelling of the story of Mary Magdalene. In this version, a promiscuous married woman attempts to seduce a young priest. Throughout she has fantasies of being another woman who is chased by dogs, or trapped in a prison ward. Again, I’m dumb and am not quite sure what it all means but it all adds up into a mesmerizing tale with a gut-wrenching ending.

The Laughing Woman (9/10)

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The Blu-Ray version of The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion’s interviews and commentary mentioned Femina Ridens as Dagmar Lassander’s previous (and better) role. A quick search and I realized that this was the disc currently being advertised by the excellent Mondo Macabro as available for preorder. The trailer has me intrigued and I immediately pre-ordered the Blu-ray.

This is definitely a strange and beautiful film that doesn’t quite sink in on the first viewing.