Immortals Fenyx Rising – A Few Thoughts

As you remember, I was crazy for The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of the Wild. In fact, once that game ended, I immediately began researching games of similar play and feel.

Immortals Fenyx Rising kept coming up as a possibility on several lists. It wasn’t rated the highest, nor was it rated the lowest.

I discovered some pretty good sales on Immortals Fenyx Rising for the Nintendo Switch. Honestly, at such a low price, I figured it was worth the risk. I placed my order.

Even through the first several hours of the game frustrated me to no end, I ended up absolutely adoring Immortals Fenyx Rising. It satisfied me just as much as Breath Of the Wild, and in many ways–even more. Let me tell you why.

Story: I’m a sucker for Greek mythology. Fenyx Rising centers on Greek myth, and though I don’t believe it’s based on any one particular myth, it references dozens of them throughout. Best of all? It creates a few myths of its own. The general premise focuses on Typhon, a mad monster out to destroy the gods and man. A lone soldier, Fenyx, must aid the gods and rally them in his final battle against the evil creature if he is to save humanity as he knows it. Speaking of “he” …

Customization: Fenyx doesn’t have to be a “he.” Fenyx can also be a “she.” You can choose Fenyx’s gender, skin color, hair color, eye color, hair style, face paint–and more. I loved that Fenyx is many different things to different players. Furthermore, as the game progresses, you can capture all kinds of armor, weaponry, wings, and helmets that are also customizable. It’s really, really fun to change the main character’s “look” any time you feel like it.

Battles: I struggled for a long time in the beginning of this game when it came to battles. It took me forever to defeat even the simplest of enemies. As the game continued, however, I began to realize how to capture more powerful weaponry, how to increase weapons’ ability to inflict damage, how to bolster my own health, and how to increase my armor’s defenses. I’ll admit there’s a steep learning curve with the controls, but once you’ve got them down, they’ll be like second nature to you. By the time I beat the game, I had my character, his weapons, health, stamina, armor, and helmets so overpowered that I could blow through enemies easily.

Myth Challenges: Again, it took me awhile to catch on, but eventually I realized solving the myth challenges enabled Fenyx to power up. It’s not a one-to-one situation, everything is a process in this game, but you definitely want to engage in the myth challenges as quickly as possible.

Far Sight: I didn’t start using far sight until over half way through the game, and that was a huge mistake. Far sight enables you to locate and mark treasure chests and vaults. Vaults allow you to collect Zeus’ lightning, which allows you to increase your stamina. Chests help you collect jewels that allow you to increase your power. Some chests provide new weapons and helmets. It’s a cool tool that will ultimately help you achieve success.

The Golden Isle: The Golden Isle is the complete world of Fenyx Rising. It’s divided into different realms, and each of those realms is special to certain gods. It is a huge landscape of every terrain and environment imaginable. If you enjoyed the huge, open world format of Breath Of the Wild, you’ll love The Golden Isle.

The Design: I think the design of the gods, the clothing, the monsters, the landscapes, the weapons, the animals, the architecture–to me, it’s all gorgeous. It’s just a beautiful looking game.

Frankly, I’m amazed this game isn’t more popular than it is. There are so many different things to do in Fenyx Rising–it’s constantly challenging and rewarding the player. I honestly loved it. If you like big open world games like Breath Of the Wild, I unabashedly recommend Immortals Fenyx Rising.

Business Made Simple by Donald Miller – A Book Review

A good friend recommended Business Made Simple in order to bolster my business acumen as I continue navigating the corporate waters. There are several elements I appreciated about the book.

First of all, it’s very well organized. Miller broke the book down day-by-day, and even provided supplemental material if you’d like to take it a step further. The sections are short, clearly stated, and easy to comprehend.

Furthermore, Business Made Simple is quickly paced. Miller wasted no time, which is consistent with his theme throughout the book. Miller recognized that busy people often struggle finding the time to read, so he made Business Made Simple as appealing as possible–he made it easy to pick it up when there’s a few extra minutes to spare. And once started, it’s hard to stop.

The first half of the book contained solid information and potent reminders, but Business Made Simple truly shined in the latter half. I particularly found the chapters dealing with negotiations, management, and execution incredibly insightful.

Though new to the corporate world, I believe Business Made Simple will prove beneficial to even the most savvy of business people. I highly recommend you give it a read.

Netflix’s The Sandman – A Few Thoughts

I had my doubts when news broke that Netflix would release a series featuring The Sandman. This particular piece of literary greatness has been the focus of many, many would-be screen adaptations over the years, and none quite reached fruition. Furthermore, of late, Netflix has not bolstered my confidence in its overall quality.

Honestly, even the trailers did not stir any excitement in me. I loved this comic book series, I love Neil Gaiman, and I really, really didn’t want The Sandman to flop. If the show proved terrible, I didn’t want people to assume the books are also terrible, and the creator is also terrible, and all of the people who have been devoted to Dream and his siblings are also terrible. I didn’t want Netflix to taint something so special to so many people.

Fortunately for everyone, The Sandman is absolutely fantastic.

I found myself hooked within the first fifteen minutes. And once that initial episode ended, I couldn’t wait for the next. I haven’t felt that enthusiastic for a show in quite awhile.

When I describe the show to people, I say it has a “mood,” which is one of the things I love most about it. Morpheus, the main character, also know as Dream, is not necessarily nice, but he is good. He is honorable. He is even royal. But he’s also stubborn, and sometimes off-putting, and very often passive aggressive. (Though he can certainly be active aggressive when necessary.) In other words, despite Morpheus’ stoicism, he’s always in a mood, and so the show is as well. (The exquisite soundtrack definitely assists with this.)

Netflix’s The Sandman encapsulates everything I loved most about the comic book series while modernizing elements both appropriately and to the show’s benefit. It truly found a way to stay loyal to the source material while also feeling fresh and in the “now.” The world is no longer the same as it was when the comic book came out, and I’m personally glad the show adapted accordingly. Of course, if you know anything at all about The Sandman’s creator, Neil Gaiman, this should come as no surprise.

I’ll admit that the last half of the season didn’t exhilarate me as much as the first, but know that the latter half laid the groundwork for numerous stories to come. Everything is important–everything is connected.

If you enjoy epic storylines full of mythology, literary references, high-brow concepts, good old fashioned horror, and a huge touch of magic, I highly recommend The Sandman.

Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness – A Movie Review

No pun intended, but it’s very strange to me that Benedict Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Olsen have, in many ways, become the heart and soul of the MCU. I happen to really like both of them as actors, but I never dreamed Cumberbatch would play such a significant role across many MCU films after his initial Dr. Strange movie, nor did I expect Olsen’s character, Wanda, to undergo so much growth after first appearing in Age of Ultron.

Furthermore, Multiverse Of Madness seemed to be the crux of several previous MCU storylines. WandaVision, Loki, Spider-Man: No Way Home and more all seemingly led to this film, which, obviously, created high expectations.

Finally, adding Sam Raimi to the mix elevated the excitement even more. In many ways, Raimi is the unofficial grandfather of the MCU thanks to his Spider-Man movies, and, if you check out his IMDB page, is no stranger to making weird horror films. He felt like the perfect fit for Dr. Strange.

So what did I think of Multiverse Of Madness?

No spoilers, I promise.

In the end, I liked it.

In the beginning, I didn’t.

I felt that Dr. Strange In the Multiverse Of Madness started off maddingly slow. Additionally, the special effects were … not good. Almost laughably bad, in fact. But, the good news is that the movie soon picked up speed and maintained a quicker pace, and the special effects got much, much better. I’d also like to say that some of those slow beats in the beginning paid off in the end. I was surprised that, for a film spanning multiple realities, a coherent, connected storyline eventually emerged.

Dr. Strange is a ridiculous looking character. Benedict Cumberbatch, at first glance, looks ridiculous as Dr. Strange. Yet, somehow, someway, Cumberbatch infuses a strange mixture of arrogance, charm, regality, intelligence, and even heroism into his performance in such a way that the audience quickly accepts all of the visual silliness and commits to the story. There were moments in this movie when I felt that Cumberbatch appeared as though he stepped right out of a comic book panel–and I mean that as a compliment. Cumberbatch plays very similar characters–he’s been typecast to a degree–yet there’s something different about him as Dr. Strange. Even apart from the hair and goatee, his entire appearance and demeanor just seems … different from his real life persona. A transformation occurs.

Of course, who knew Elizabeth Olsen would take an initially paper-thin character like Wanda from Age of Ultron and eventually turn her into perhaps the most sympathetic, relatable, and horrifying character in the MCU’s entirety? Again, no spoilers, but Multiverse Of Madness zigged when I definitely thought it was going to zag. I appreciate the fact that it proved unpredictable, and much of the film’s originality hinged on Olsen’s performance. No matter what, I’m Team Wanda, and I think most people are. That’s absolutely due to Olsen’s portrayal.

As stated earlier, Sam Raimi fit this movie perfectly. On the one hand, there were some obvious Sam Raimi choices. Overlays, fade-outs, audible cues–you’ll easily identify his fingerprints. On the other hand, his experience with horror and super heroes truly paid off. Dr. Strange In the Multiverse Of Madness had some genuinely scary moments. This is not the typical MCU kid gloves. Characters look scary, frightening things happen, and the gore, given it’s the MCU, shocked me on some occasions. I’m not sure we got full Raimi, but we got way more Raimi than I expected! I’m not convinced Dr. Strange In the Multiverse Of Madness was perfect for him, but he was certainly perfect for it.

Let’s quickly touch on some other performances. I loved Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez. Her character’s arc drove the film’s plot, which meant Gomez had to do a lot of work. She had to win over the audience, be both vulnerable and capable, and strike the right chemistry with her co-stars. No easy feat for a first appearance! Chavez pulled it off and I look forward to seeing America again.

Of course, Benedict Wong always steals the scenes. I love that his Wong has somehow become an MCU touchstone.

I’m also so glad that they finally gave Rachel McAdams something to do as Dr. Christine Palmer. The MCU was not especially gracious to its female “love interests” in the beginning, but they seem to be course correcting now. McAdams is an exceptional actor who is finally getting to show her skill to the MCU audience.

I guess we should address the anticipated cameos, right? Wrong. I’m telling you nothing. I’ll just say they made me so, so happy. Yet, like everything else about this movie, things did not go as expected. I’ll just leave it at that.

Credit scenes? Yep. The mid-credit scene is vital and has me SO excited for future possibilities. The post-credit scene is not must-see, but I loved it. It’s the perfect Raimi send-off.

Dr. Strange In the Multiverse Of Madness will prove polarizing among fans and critics alike. It dared to go against the grain, which will surely create some controversy. Another pain point for audiences could be that it does not have any interest in catching people up. It assumes you’ve seen all the Marvel shows and movies, and if you haven’t? Try to keep up. It’s not the best Marvel movie, but Raimi’s direction, the performances, the utter weirdness of it all, and the titillating cameos made for an entertaining experience.

News Of the World by Paulette Jiles – A Book Review

I’ll be honest, I grabbed this book from my local library’s shelf because I recognized the cover from HBO Max and it looked like a fast read. I have not seen the movie adaptation starring Tom Hanks, nor did I particularly want to. You see, from the trailers I watched, the story did not seem all that appealing. A man riding from town to town reading newspapers? No thanks.

Little did I know, however, that News Of the World is actually about so much more.

The novel begins around 1870 as Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a man in his early seventies and veteran of multiple wars, is hired to return a ten-year-old girl to her relatives near San Antonio. This isn’t just any girl, however. This is a girl who has lived with the Kiowa for four years after they killed her family and took her captive. She has fully immersed herself in the Kiowa ways–she seems to have no recollection at all of her previous life. Kidd is headed towards San Antonio anyway, and so he agrees to take her with him.

Though Kidd does indeed read the news of the world to those isolated in Texas, the story is really about the bond he forms with the girl–Johanna–as they must evade danger at every turn and even, at times, face it head on. A patient–though very tough–man with children and grandchildren of his own, Johanna is more than just a passenger to Captain Kidd–she’s perhaps his last chance to do something meaningful in this world.

Paulette Jiles has written a story that is genius in its apparent simplicity. I could easily recount to you the major beats of the entire book. Make no mistake, though, Jiles sprinkles in such nuanced detail that you feel as though you are riding right along with Captain Kidd and Johanna in that covered wagon of theirs. The landscape, the clothing, the politics–Jiles deftly describes all of it with brief, potent, easy to envision passages.

Best of all? The book ended exactly how I wanted it to. I’m not going to spoil anything for you, but Jiles’ writing style reminds me quite a bit of Proulx and McCarthy, and so I naturally had great concern for Kidd and Johanna. In this case, at least, Jiles decided both had already been through enough trauma, which I greatly appreciated. I am definitely excited to read more by Jiles. Plus, you know what? I think I will indeed watch the film adaptation now.

Night Of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones – A Book Review

While visiting the Normal Public Library, this cover and title jumped out at me as it resided in the “new” section. I read the back cover copy, became intrigued, and promptly checked it out. Plus, I had this feeling that I knew the author from somewhere.

Once I got the book home and started reading it, I realized that I enjoyed another work by Stephen Graham Jones called Mapping the Interior.

Night Of the Mannequins proved … interesting. The back cover led me to believe it would be a literal monster story–a story about mannequins coming to life. Instead the book presents a young man seemingly suffering from a psychosis of some sort who wants us to believe that he believes a killer mannequin is on the loose. His strategy for delaying the murder of many innocent people? Kill the mannequin’s primary targets instead so that the mannequin won’t commit any collateral damage. Those primary targets happen be the narrator’s closest friends.

It’s a strange story, to be sure. Part of me wanted to read it as a simple serial killer tale. Another part of me wanted to interpret it as a satire poking fun at modern day film. Yet another part of me felt it could be a story sympathizing with those who completely break from reality. Maybe it’s all of the above? Maybe it’s none of the above?

At just 130 pages, I didn’t mind going along for the ride. I personally didn’t particularly enjoy the book nor would I recommend it, but I’m sure there’s an audience out there for it. That’s the beautiful thing about books–there’s a reader for each and every one of them.

The Batman – A Movie Review (No Spoilers)

I’ll admit that I initially didn’t get too excited by the prospect of yet another new Batman. I happened to like Ben Affleck as Batman and wasn’t quite ready to accept the guy from Twilight as his would-be replacement. To go along with that, I was fully invested in the Snyderverse and didn’t want to switch directions from that, either. Furthermore, it wasn’t the idea of a parallel Earth that bothered me. I’ve been enjoying DC comics since 1980 and am therefore very comfortable with the multiverse plot device. I am fine with a few different Batmans running around in my movies. I just didn’t think I wanted this Batman because it looked as though it would simply be a retread of Nolan’s films.

Let me say this clearly and in all caps: I WAS WRONG.

The Batman depicted the comic book character we know and love more closely than any other version I’ve seen on screen. Also, the film was dark, gritty, street level, violent, rainy, and seething with noir.

Robert Pattinson, the aforementioned Twilight guy–fantastic. His Batman was physical, cerebral, brooding, and emotionally damaged. Best of all? He wore the costume for 90% of the movie. (It had to be absolute hell for Pattinson to film this thing, by the way. I read somewhere the costume weighed 60 pounds.) This Batman truly seemed detached from his emotions. He didn’t strike me as a rich guy with fancy gizmos. He honestly depicted a man unable to overcome his emotional devastation while seeking solace by beating criminals to a pulp. Yet there was an emotional vulnerability to his Batman as well. Watch closely for his reactions when kids are being impacted by crime. It’s subtle, but it’s there, and also laid the psychological groundwork for how a “Robin” could even be possible in Batman’s world. Speaking of subtle, Pattinson is definitely the strong, silent type. The camera made a point to zero in on Batman’s face often. There Pattinson did his best acting. A flutter of the eyelids. The setting of the jaw. The dead stare daring someone to challenge him. It was remarkable.

Of course, I must give credit to Pattinson’s costars as well. Jeffrey Wright as Jim Gordon proved a force. I never thought anyone could challenge Gary Oldman’s hold on the character, but Wright most definitely has. He and Pattinson delivered an unspoken, unbreakable trust between Gordon and Batman. However, I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a more compromised Jim Gordon. Gordon is constantly vouching for Batman, squirming as he’s questioned for bringing a vigilante to a crime scene, yet totally confident in the masked man’s help and moral center. Again, it’s a complicated balance to accomplish, but they managed to pull it off. It mirrored what we’ve seen in the comics for decades. Have you ever seen Batman investigating a crime scene while surrounded by the police in any other Batman movie? No, but it’s common in the comic books. It was stunning to see Batman, Gordon, and a crowd of police officers crowded in a room studying evidence together.

Speaking of stunning, Zoe Kravitz is phenomenal. She’s charming, physical, and magnetic as Catwoman. She and Pattinson have real chemistry, which is quite a feat considering Pattinson had a mask on for all of their interactions. I do think they could have done a lot more with Kravitz, but here’s hoping a spinoff will further showcase her talents.

Paul Dano was creepy as could be. Disturbing. I don’t want to reveal too much, but they definitely tapped into the Joaquin Phoenix “this could be your neighbor down the street” kind of vibe. His intelligence seemed atypical, but his emotional scarring, his need to lash out, and his misguided social affiliations did not.

John Turturro played Carmen Falcone, a character I have never–ever–cared about … until now. Turturro made him strangely human–even likable–as his character helped with heinous actions.

Finally, though, I must give my MVP award to Colin Farrell. Farrell played the Penguin. This ain’t your previously established Penguin, though. Farrell was completely unrecognizable, and with that came a side of the actor that I’ve never seen. I still have trouble believing it was actually Colin Farrell. This man was boisterous, ugly, loud, and decidedly uncool. The opposite of Farrell in every way. He definitely squeezed every ounce from his character that he possibly could.

Matt Reeves wrote and directed The Batman. Yes, you can certainly trace moments of the film to comic book inspirations, but it also felt uniquely different. On one hand, Batman was in virtually every scene and in costume. That struck a chord with me because I remember in my younger days always wanting more Batman, less Bruce Wayne. It also felt far more grounded and realistic, even compared to Nolan’s films. Furthermore, between the rain, the action, the crowded sets, and the many, many close-ups, The Batman appeared to be a very difficult film to shoot. No angle looked easy; no scene took the simple way out.

As I’m sure you’ve gathered, I highly recommend The Batman. Believe it or not, it’s different from any other Batman you’ve seen before. And while I can’t believe I’m saying it, Robert Pattinson’s performance while wearing a mask and Colin Farrell’s performance while wearing copious amounts of makeup proved to be what I enjoyed most. It’s largely a performance driven film, which sounds ridiculous, but is true. I consider The Batman a victory in every facet.

By the way, my sincere apologies to the 1989 Batmobile, but you’ve been put on alert. The 2022 Batmobile is somehow even cooler and looks like something that could actually function on the roads as intended. I’m not saying it’s replacing the 1989 Batmobile as my favorite … but it is in contention.

Star Wars – The High Republic: The Rising Storm – A Book Review

In this second novel of the The High Republic series, author Cavan Scott continues the story initiated in The Light Of the Jedi. Set roughly 200 years before The Phantom Menace, Marchion Ro and his Nihil minions still plot against the Republic. They will do anything to disrupt peace, including a brutal attack against civilians at the Republic Fair, a moment meant to bring the galaxy together.

The first half of The Rising Storm focusses on setting up the Republic Fair and further establishing characters such as the Jedis Stellan Gos, Elzar Mann, and Bell Zettifar. It also allows us to better know Chancellor Lina Soh, reporter Rhil Dairo, and a new character named Ty Yorrick, whom we are led to believe received Jedi training in her youth before going renegade.

To be honest, the first half of the book goes into such detail regarding the Republic Fair and those characters involved that it began to get just a touch boring.

… And then the Nihil attacked.

The second half of this book is nonstop, full-on action. Scott proves masterful at maintaining plot and story amidst constant unfolding physicality. Writing action is no easy feat, but he pulls it off very well. The first half took me a while to get through; I couldn’t put it down during the second half.

There are also some surprising character beats throughout the novel. Characters change. Characters suffer. Characters die.

Which leads to my only general complaint about The High Republic. As potent as some of the characterization is, I cannot connect to most because I simply can’t picture them in my mind. I’ve been a Star Wars fan my entire life, but that doesn’t mean I have memorized every species ever mentioned. I think including a sketch of each character included in the book would be very helpful and assist me with picturing them better in my mind, and therefore helping me bond with them. Yes, I know there are many websites out there with official art, fan art, etc. I’m afraid I’m not willing to put quite that much effort into it. A character guide within the book would be most helpful to those of us unwilling to invest time on the Internet.

In the end, I’m enjoying The High Republic series and The Rising Storm is an exciting installment to the overall tale. I’m not sure where exactly all of this is going or how long it’s supposed to last, but I’m definitely along for the ride.

Nightmare Alley – A Movie Review

Guillermo del Toro is one of my favorite directors. I try to make it to the theater for any of his work. Unfortunately, Nightmare Alley was in and out of the theaters so quickly that I couldn’t free up the two and a half hours necessary to take it in. Luckily, it’s already available on HBO Max.

Here’s what I’d like to say up front: I loved the acting, the costumes, the cinematography, and even the story itself. Conversely–I didn’t care for the movie as a whole.

Let me quickly summarize this 1947 remake … without spoilers, of course. Set in the days before WWII, Nightmare Alley follows Cooper’s character, Stanton Carlisle, as he finds himself adrift and working at a carnival after Clem Hoatley, played by William Dafoe, offers him a position. He falls in with Toni Collette’s character, Zeena the Seer, whose husband teaches Stan little tips and tricks which make people think he can read their minds or communicate with those beyond. Stan develops a relationship with Molly Cahill, played by Rooney Mara, who can seemingly endure electrical jolts. Among many duties, Stan finds himself helping Clem with the carnival “geek,” a nomad they drug, treat like an animal, and then present as a freakshow. Stan hones his mentalist skills to such a degree that he leaves the carnival with Molly in tow and starts his own act. Stan achieves success he never expected, but soon crosses paths with Dr. Lilith Ritter, played by Cate Blanchett. At that point a series of selfish deceits, deceptions, and cons take place, which ultimately seem to convey the message that no one can escape their destiny.

This is a beautiful movie to behold. The texture is so rich, you feel as though you can reach out and touch what you’re seeing on screen. Furthermore, the costumes are gorgeous, the scenery is exquisite, and the cinematography is fantastic. As you can tell by the names above, the acting is topnotch. (There are even more excellent actors in this movie that I didn’t mention.) The story itself is really, really good and the ending, in my mind, is perfect.

Yet, even with all of that being said, I can’t say I like the movie as a whole. In the end, I think it was simply too long with too slow of a pace. Though I loved the conclusion it reached, I think it unnecessarily took too much time getting there.

Though exciting at times, I wouldn’t call it a thriller. Though creepy, it’s not a supernatural tale. Though mysterious, I wouldn’t even call it a mystery. Though accurate to it’s era, it’s not a traditional period piece. In the end, I find the film to be an exceptional example of irony. However, I’m not sure that’s what they primarily intended.

Of course, I encourage you to draw your own conclusions. There’s a lot to like about Nightmare Alley, and you may appreciate the films as whole more than I did.