Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty

I’m a sucker for a good sports story. I’ve watch a lot of the ESPN 30 for 30 specials, more baseball documentaries than I can count, and of course, the Last Dance. When I saw the preview for Winning Time, I didn’t question it at all; I was going to watch it. I’m glad I did, because I really enjoyed the characters and performances, even though everyone claims it’s not accurate. Honestly, everyone is great! My surprise favorites were Jerry West as a rage-aholic. It is something to behold and Jason Segal and Adrian Brody play the two most sympathetic characters in the show. There’s controversy as to the accuracy and depiction of most of the people, it’s probably justified, because everyone is almost cartoonish in their personalities. There’s an emphasis on entertainment, not accuracy. The basketball was fun, the story is good, but the unique thing is how it is filmed. They did some very fun things to make it look vintage. A lot of it looks like it was actually shot in the early 80’s. Winning Time has a lot of style, for sure!

I did leave the show somewhat dissatisfied and I’ve tried to figure out why. The show starts with Magic going to the doctor to presumably find out he has HIV. That was in 90-91. Then the show goes to 1979 and never mentions it again. Why did it start there? It made the entire show feel like a dramatic bomb would drop at any moment, but it never does. Magic definitely gets around in the show, but that’s a dour note to start the show, that isn’t going deal with it. It’s essentially sitting an elephant in the room. Also, Winning Time treats women very poorly, which I assume is to be period accurate, but when one time someone is called out for being horrible, he says, “That’s enough!” and seems like he’s about to learn a lesson. Well, the next time you see him, he uncomfortably forces himself on a the woman he was called out about. There is no recourse. No lesson. No follow-up. In a show that is happy to take liberties with characters, why not take a few more liberties to make things less awkward? It’s a weird choice. So while I love the premise of the show and I found most of it quite enjoyable, the show is quite surface level, except when it isn’t, and then it feels a little incomplete. In the end, the show is worth watching for Larry Bird portrayal if nothing else. Which, even if it is completely made up, is perfection.

Elden Ring

This review is coming from a big FromSoftware fan who really likes the sense of achievement from a really good boss fight. If you dislike boss fights, FromSoftware games are not for you. If you dislike boss fights and still want to play one of the biggest and most interesting games I’ve played in years, Elden Ring is for you! The reason I bring this up is that there are more ways to get through this game than just throwing your corpse at a boss for hours. You can spend an hour or two, quite early in the game, grinding for some levels and items and just exploring. I lost track of the number of times I was astonished by the scope and size of the game and was continually surprised by all the content and how varied it was.

The thing about Elden Ring is that you can customize your play style better than most RPGs I’ve found. You can be a wizard, a brute, an archer, Sonic the Hedgehog (google it), whatever your imagination can come up with. I watched a video of someone beating the entire game as a pacifist. He beat the entire game without ever doing direct damage to anything in game! You can make Elden Ring your own in ways other RPGs only dream. FromSoftware gives you more tools than ever to be successful and “getting gud” is entirely optional. The most inaccessible part of Elden Ring is the lore. It’s buried in the item descriptions and in the world building. Some of my favorite parts of experiencing this game was watching explanations of why things were a certain way after playing it. There is a much deeper meaning than, “That guy is a snake” if you want to look for it. That being said, I spent hundreds of hours beating the 160+ bosses blissfully unaware of what any of it meant, then I watched a couple videos explaining things and the richness of it all helps me enjoy it more. Story is optional. I can’t recommend it highly enough, that is, if it’s your thing.

Demon’s Souls

The Soulsborne games are what they are and I’m not going to go into the merits of the difficulty of the games or obtuse nature of the storylines/ plots. Just know that I really enjoy these games. I love them. I have achieved a platinum trophy in all of them and then kept playing. I might have a problem. E.g., I played Demon’s Souls on the PS3 a little over a year ago and even though it was 10+ years old, required hours of grinding, a completely deserted online component, and old janky, broken-ass game mechanics (tendencies are the worst), and really not being all that fun, I liked it. As I age and become more cynical, I often wonder if I even like video games anymore, because I just don’t get excited about them often. When the PS5 version of DS was announced as a full remake, it became my most anticipated game of the past few years. I couldn’t find a PS5, so I watched hours of people playing it on Twitch to glean some of the experience. I had never watched Twitch for more than a few minutes previous. I was excited.

It drove me to push for an early PS5 and the game is an amazing remake. It’s all positive. BluePoint made a very careful game that improved the visuals, mechanics (tendencies still suck), items, jank, and even added some really cool Easter eggs. They took an unfun game and made it better, but it is still just as unfun! This time I used an early exploit to get endgame gear first thing and just ROFLStomped everything the whole way through. (Soulbrandt FTW!) I wasn’t stressed or worried at all. Combine that with playing with friends and an online community with lots of invasions and it was easily the most fun I’ve had playing a game in a long time. I would highly recommend trudging through Boletaria to you, if these games are your bag. If not, well, it still is what it is.

Star Trek Discovery – Season 2

Season 2 is kind of dumb. Not entirely, but instead of focusing on one really good plot and story line, the show goes all over the place like a traditional TV show. If I am paying for your stupid app, I expect better. Every character gets an episode and every episode seemed to takes our heroes to the most extreme dangers with universe-ending danger only to save it by the end. The problem with this tired formula is that I never felt any of them were in real danger, so I sat there and waited for Pike or Spock to come back on. Those two are great additions and are worth watching, but everyone from season 1 I sort of despise now. It just doesn’t seem like consequences of the first season seem to matter. It feels like their “character progression” is more like complete betrayal of who they were.

I loved parts of this season: The truth about Saru’s home world. Burnham and Spock’s backstory. Pike facing his destiny. Also, I’m a sucker for any time we get to deal with a hyper intelligent AI. There were 14 episodes this season with about 7 worth of decent content. A really great Sci-Fi Star Trek is there, I just had to wade through a lot of shit I didn’t really like to get it. I gave it a lot of chances, and I even like they way things tied into the original Star Trek Series. I just wish it was better. If I’m honest, I hate-watched most of this season. I don’t think I’ll be back for the next one.

Star Trek Discovery – Season 1

I was not prepared for what Star Trek Discovery is. I’ve never been a big Star Trek person, but I heard a lot about this, so I jumped in and I’m very glad I did. Much of what was fun about this season was the surprises, so I don’t want to give many details away. In short, you follow Michael Burnham, played by Sonequa Martin-Green, through her journey trying to navigate through Klingon war. The supporting crew members are fleshed out well and the writers did a great job of keeping me interested in the supporting cast. I particularly liked the dynamic between Burnham and Saru, who is a new alien species played by Doug Jones that has some very interesting characteristics that play well off her arrogance. He’s able to expose a lot of her flaws. The entire cast is great including Michelle Yeoh (I know her for Crouching Tiger) and Jason Isaacs, who again, really shine different lights on Burnham.

As you learn more about the ship and crew, you get to explore Sci-Fi tropes and subjects in a way that’s never been more interesting. Even the budget and special effects of each episode are just below movie quality. So much so, that I was ok that this is the show that Bryan Fuller left American Gods for. Even with all that good, the season suffers from being 3-4 episodes too long. I’m just speculating, but I’m guessing that CBS had everything to do with this decision, because the content creators made such a strong show for so many episodes, and then it just shifts gears and then sort of trips at the finish line. It doesn’t ruin the season, but kind of like this review, you’ll leave somewhat disappointed. My family and I binged the first 10 episodes in 3 days then slowly finished the rest over the following week. Our interest fell off a cliff and I felt the resolution for the season was rushed. I recommend it, but you have to watch it quick if you don’t want to actually pay CBS any money for their stupid app.

Link’s Awakening

Link’s Awakening for the Switch is everything a remake should be. It’s more or less the same game as the original GameBoy release (as far as I can remember), but better in every way. Since it was on GameBoy and hasn’t received the same re-release attention that other games like A Link to the Past or Ocarina of Time have received, I haven’t played it in at least 20 years. My only complaint about the game is the price, but more about that in a moment. Nintendo applied the almost toy-like aesthetic to this game that makes it easily the cutest game I’ve ever played. They even added some new features too, like the fishing and dungeon building (Is the fishing new?) that I enjoyed. The gameplay and story are much sillier and more fun than any other Zelda game and the cameos of chain chomps, goombas, thwomps, piranha plants, and even Kirby add a lot of charm.

I really can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed playing this short and easy game. That’s the real kicker. $60 for a game I was able to get 100% completed in a week worth of moderate to light gaming time seems like too much. That being said, my 7-year-old has played through it twice, my 14-year-old has beat it and even my wife fell in love with and played through the whole campaign. When I look at it from that perspective, that $60 went a lot further than most of the video games I purchase. Is it fun and worth playing? Yes. It worth $60? Well, that’s up to you.