Review: The Uncanny (1977)

It’s both catty and batty, but a fun watch, as long as you don’t take it seriously.

As a horror anthologies go, The Uncanny starts out strong, but it ends with a few eye rolls and a twist when it doesn’t exactly stick the landing in terms of storytelling prowess. The basic setup has Peter Cushing as Wilbur Gray, a superstitious feline-fearing writer who arrives at book publisher Frank Richards’ (Ray Milland) home one night and tries to convince him to print his book about a trio of cat-related homicides that happened over decades. Naturally, abundant skepticism abounds, but Wilbur does his best to back up his tales of terror with plenty of evidence that he relays in three episodes, the first of which in the best in the film, in my opinion.

Ever have one of those nights?

In London, 1912, Susan Penhaligon plays Janet, maid for an elderly woman, Miss Malkin (Joan Greenwood!) who’s rewritten her will and left her entire fortune to her cats, shutting out her only surviving relative, Michael (Simon Williams). Of course, Janet and Michael are canoodling and in cahoots to conspire copping that kitty from those kitties because what use do cats have for cash money, right? Let’s just say things go all sorts of wrong for Janet after she offs her employer and tries to get her paws on that will. Instead, the cats get their paws on her and munch on Miss Malkin in the process. Nicely done, overall with just a bit of gore where expected.

The next segment takes place in Quebec 1975, where a young girl named Lucy (Katrina Holden Bronson) is adopted after her parents die in a plane crash by a family that’s not much into cats at all. Lucy just so happens to bring along her black cat, Wellington along with a bunch of books and notes about witchcraft, which belonged to her late mother. Hmmm… you can guess what happens next (mostly). While her new father is initially accepting to Lucy and her cat, both her new mom (Alexandra Stewart) and stepsister Angela (Chloe Franks) are hostile to Lucy and want to get rid of the cat almost immediately. Angela even flies a radio-controlled plane after Lucy and Wellington in one scene (clearly a North By Northwest in-joke).

“Look, I pain-ted a cat!”

Anyway, their plan to have Wellington disposed of works and Dad shuttles the cat off to be “taken care of”. Lucy finds out, but Wellington returns (I guess he’s been eating 9 Lives) and you guessed it, it’s revenge time in a sequence that combines bits of The Incredible Shrinking Man and some interesting use of a spell which probably wouldn’t work outside of this segment (or, don’t try this at home, folks). The main issue here is yes, the child acting, where every line sounds over-enunciated and frankly, the adults aren’t much better. The funny thing for me was remembering Chloe Franks’ performance in 1970’s The House That Dripped Blood, where she shows a bit more range. At least she’s got a memorable ending here straight out out of an EC Comics horror tale.

“Ham, ham, ham, ham”

The final episode takes place in Hollywood 1936, where hammy horror actor Valentine De’ath Donald Pleasence kills his wife with a guillotine (he’s replaced the rubber blade with a real one) and convinces the studio to hire his new girlfriend Edwina (Samantha Eggar!) as a suitable replacement. Things go from bat to verse when we find out not only that Edwina can’t act to save her life, she’s an awfully awful screamer as well, not a good thing for a horror film. The cat angle comes into play when De’ath tries to dispose of his ex-wife’s cat, then finds out the cat is female and has had a new litter, whereupon he has the babies cruelly dispatched, setting up the revenge part.

Almost everyone camps it up here, to varying degrees of success. Pleasence channels a bit of Vincent Price and even wears a toupee (or is it two?) over his real hair at one point. The main issue for me is the episode seems as if someone gathered whatever spare costumes were leftover from another “period” film and crafted a script around them. When Edwina paraphrases Tweety Bird at one point and is briefly seen reading a modern comic book (likely the same one from the last episode), that “1936” thing gets a tad sketchy. David Ogden Stiers even shows up a few times, but its almost as if he’s acting in another movie, as he mostly plays it seriously while he’s onscreen. The most mind boggling thing, however, occurs right as the chapter starts and we see a photo of Pleasense as Blofeld along with his white cat, which probably cost the studio more to use than the entire episode to shoot. Granted, I did get a laugh at this intro, but I can see some not getting the gag at all in they’re not aware of the link.

“Does he, or doesn’t he?…”

The ending wraps things up for Cushing in a somewhat predictable manner, with kind of a circular, vengeful kitty squad sort of thing happening. Milland has a sort of last laugh (is he on the cat side here?) and the film clocks out at a tidy 88 minutes, which isn’t too bad at all. Your mileage may vary, of course. But on a foul weather weekend, this isn’t a bad choice at all for a double feature starter flick. Amicus lite, if you like that sort of anthology thing happening here.

-GW

Another Nontroversy (Slight Return)

It had to happen eventually…

Apparently, we really can’t have anything fun anymore (part MMII) because some people want to have it their way in every aspect, not seeing the forest for the trees. Anyway, that’s the recently released Super Mario Bros. movie trailer above, which looks like it’s going to be a fun family movie. While I won’t exactly be rushing out so see it in theaters. I’ll hold out for the eventual cable airing at some point in the future as yes, I’m curious as to how it turns out. It certainly looks like it’ll be interesting despite it being a less active experience that sitting down with a controller in hand.

Now to the nontroversy part (ugh). Apparently there are a bunch of folks hating on Chris Pratt’s otherwise fine (albeit intentionally generic) voice acting performance as Mario. I’d planned to write something more substantial on this and even went to the trouble of researching everything I wanted to use an as example, but cutting to the chase is a better use of time here. There’s other and more urgent fish to fry these days and in the grand scheme of things, this is well below stuff I actually care about.

I’d bet a new penny Illumination and Nintendo are simply future-proofing the character against people who want to call Mario’s old faux Italian accent out as insulting to Italians despite it being around for decades.Times change, things move forward. Granted, I’m sure they could also find another actor to pull off that accent, but I’m not sure Chazz Palminteri, Steve Buscemi, Al Pacino or Robert DeNiro would want to take a shot at this one despite the money. Then again, I’m more concerned some otherwise excellent voice actor is not getting a chance at the role of their career, because they can sound just as normal and generic as Pratt’s version and collect a reasonable paycheck at that.

While there’s no word as to whether Nintendo is planning a video game version of the film (which would already need to be in development), this would definitely cement this new version of the character as definitive, should they have him speaking without the accent. We shall see, as usual. Just try not to be surprised if the companies confirm this at some point.

“You ain’t head nothing yet!”

-GW

Review: Cul-De-Sac (1966)

“It’s only an island from the water…”

When I was about 14 or so, I finally noticed that the local public television station had been showing a load of old foreign and domestic films from the late evening into the early morning hours. While I can’t recall the exact date they started, I can remember seeing classics like Seven Samurai, Metropolis, a few Godard films and the occasional silent movie, usually to the effect of me falling asleep on the sofa (hey, not too many kids start out liking everything they watch). It was definitely an eye-opening experience except for me occasionally falling asleep, not really from boredom, but from the films all starting well past my normal bedtime. At least back then, school nights were unaffected by this new hobby although I was pretty useless when I stayed up too late watching all those movies.

“I’m mean, I’m mean, I’m mean – you know what I mean…”

Anyway, one evening I turned the TV on and just missed the opening credits to one film, so all I recall before I passed out about 15 minutes later was a burly guy with a bandaged hand pushing a car down a long road with a seemingly sick or injured passenger inside. The man ends up leaving his passenger alone while he checks out a small castle-like house atop a hill, sneaks in and helps himself to whatever food he can scrounge, including a raw egg. A few years later, I found out that was Roman Polanski’s 1966 film Cul-De-Sac and I ended up tracking the film down at a rental shop here that specialized in obscure films. I also discovered Donald Pleasence in a really quirky role, no truly likeable characters among the main cast and a plot that was a mix of dark comedy and psychological drama which is, of course, better appreciated at an older age.

George (Donald Pleasence) and Teresa (Françoise Dorléac) are a married couple living in a remote island area well off the beaten path (Lindisfarne in Northumberland, according to Wikipedia). As George is entertaining some annoying guests, Teresa is doing her fling with a man who’s not her husband. The odd thing is, George seems a bit intentionally oblivious to this for some reason, but things are about to be shaken up somewhat after his guests leave. That man pushing the car is a gangster named Dickie (Lionel Stander) and he’s come to George’s home just to make a long distance call. It’s a home invasion film of sorts, with Dickie locking the couple in their room while he waits for aid to arrive from a mysterious Mr. Katelbach, who seems to be Dickie’s employer.

“It’s only a flesh wound..

The next order of business is retrieving Albie (Jack MacGowran), Dickie’s literal partner in crime, before he drowns in the stolen car he’s trapped in. This surprises Dickie as well as Albie, as they doesn’t realize they’re on a small island where the tide isolates the area for a few hours each night. We also learn the unseen crime they were paired up for went south quickly before the film begins. Dickie gets wounded in the wrist, while Albie was shot in the stomach and spends his remaining time in the film hallucinating (he thinks George in makeup is his wife at one point) and later, dies from his wound. Dickie initially starts digging a makeshift grave, but Teresa escapes from the room she’s locked in with George and ends up digging willingly for Dickie after offering him some of her homemade vodka. George eventually wakes up to find Teresa free and Dickie forces him to finish the job. George soon ends up as Dickie’s drinking buddy after he’s coerced into a few drinks (and he doesn’t drink at all, which makes him a bit of a mess when he does imbibe).

Just as you’re getting the idea that this odd and temporary friendship may be a way out of sorts for everyone, things go completely awry (even more so than you’d prefer).

“Somebody put something in my drink…”

To add to the madness, a surprise arrival shakes things up when the expected guests aren’t expected at all (or: hell is indeed other people) and Dickie needs to play servant to the couple to keep a ruse going. Jacqueline Bisset gets a tiny cameo, but an increasingly more unhinged George kicks his new guests out and Dickie gets some more bad news after he fixes the telephone and attacks Teresa after she plays a trick on him. George, now nearly completely out of his mind, gets to prove some sort of manhood to his wife as the film takes itself to its bleak conclusion, but you’re treated to an ending that adds at least one final question if you look carefully, guess that a mind was changed and yes, George probably is in for a even ruder awakening than even his now destroyed mind can imagine. I’m not one to rate a film with a proper score these days, but for it’s unusual plot presentation, Gil Taylor’s great black and white cinematography and Krzysztof Komeda’s jazzy score, this one gets a Recommended mention from this end.

It’s a bit twisted in a few ways…

In case you haven’t guessed, this post is part of The Devilishly Delightful Donald Pleasence Blogathon hosted by Cinematic Catharsis and Realweegiemidget Reviews and other entries can be found at both links starting on October 28, I’m posting a bit early due to some medical stuff coming up ths month, so enjoy my scribbling and please poke at the other posts!

-GW

Sega To Bring Phantasy Star Online 2 New Genesis to PS4 in August

From “Don’t hold your breath” to “Can’t wait ’til this launches”

File this news under “It’s About Time” if you’re so inclined, but yes, Playstation 4 owners will finally get to play the US version of Phantasy Star Online 2 New Genesis on August 31st, 2022. The free-to-play online action RPG game will be launching on PlayStation 4 along with an entire year of updates including the newest update, “Frozen Resolution”, which introduces the snowy Kvaris region and a flurry of new enemies, characters, combat and the new “Waker” class. As noted below, the game will also be cross-play between PC, PS4 and Xbox One versions.

PSO2:NGS at Anime Expo 2022

In honor of the upcoming launch, SEGA has commissioned one-of-a-kind art that will be displayed all weekend at Anime Expo 2022 in Los Angeles, from July 1-4. The gallery will also feature concept art, figurines, and additional artwork commemorating PSO2’s recent milestones. There will also be a SEGA photo booth that will transport Anime Expo attendees into the world of PSO2:NGS! Booth visitors will also receive codes to redeem in-game items like ARKS Expo shirts, a mag form, an emote, and a sticker. A limited selection of PSO2: NGS merchandise, including shirts and pins, will be available for purchase; these items are exclusive to Anime Expo and ARKS Expo in Japan.

Players can play nine years of content in Phantasy Star Online 2 and join the newest entry to the series, Phantasy Star Online 2 New Genesis.  Download and play Phantasy Star Online 2 New Genesis on PC and Xbox One for free today.

I hope they’re just here to sing and dance…
  • Free to play! (Some optional purchases may be made)
  • Huge wide-open battlefield environments! Explore a whole new world featuring broad, expansive playfields filled with ferocious enemies waiting for you and your team. Traverse wide-open environments, speed and soar across the giant landscape and skies with new special abilities. Transitioning into a new area is as simple as walking into it — no loading screens.
  • Enhanced character models! Create your identity with any character you can imagine in PSO2:NGS using the powerful creation engine. Adjust every imaginable characteristic to create your one-of-a-kind avatar.
  • Redesigned graphics engine! Witness lush environments, amazingly detailed player characters, and monstrous foes in razor-sharp resolution. Watch spectacular new lighting and particle effects as weapons clash with armor. See the world as you’ve never seen it before.
  • New multi-weapon system and abilities! Combine 2 types of weapons for smoother weapon switching. Battle at lightning speed using a variety of weapons and techniques.
  • Connects with PSO2! Move easily in-game between PSO2:NGS and PSO2.
  • Cross-platform! PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 players can play together side by side.

About Phantasy Star Online 2 New Genesis

PHANTASY STAR ONLINE 2 NEW GENESIS is a new online action RPG game by SEGA. Set 1,000 years after the events of Phantasy Star Online 2, PSO2: NGS takes place on Halpha, a planet on which ARKS (soldiers of the Oracle colony fleet in the Phantasy Star Online 2 series) are locked in a battle for dominance against the mysterious DOLLS.

PSO2: NGS features new and improved action combat and character customization, allowing for more flexibility and expression than ever before. Choosing from four unique races and eight classes, players can join forces with other operatives to experience unforgettable battles and boss fights in brand new locales, with an emphasis on flowing, flashy mobility to conquer and explore sprawling open environments. Players will be able to do all of this with friends on both PC (Steam / Windows 10 / Epic Games Store) , Xbox One and PS4 thanks to cross-platform play.

The Global version of PHANTASY STAR ONLINE 2 NEW GENESIS includes fully localized text and character voices in English and will remain content current with the Japanese servers. Details can be found at https://ngs.pso2.com/.  For additional up-to-the-minute updates, players can follow @play_PSO2 on Twitter, @PSO2Official on Facebook and @play_pso2 on Instagram.

I think I know of a few folks who might want to play this…

-GW

Dragon’s Dogma 2 In Development (And There Goes The Rest Of My Time In The Future)

Yep, played them all (took a few years total), Yes, I also have the PC version.

I was one of many who played the original PS3 version of Dragon’s Dogma while it was on its demo tour at a few comic book conventions and knew right away that Capcom was onto something special. In the final build, Exploring the open world of Gransys made for many hours of near constant amazement at every new encounter, how well connected the dungeons were to the overworld, the day/night cycle which put characters in constant danger if they traveled at night, and much more. The key here is not “better”, but “different” than the games it’s been compared to as the experience does have flaws, but does so much so well on a regular basis.

A bit of much more below:

The later Dark Arisen expansion added a supremely treacherous second map, Bitterblack Island, that was clearly created for expert players and clearly not for the faint of heart. Nearly every major enemy was set on “puree”, including some huge, almost unstoppable bosses that could, if you were under the suggested levels, take a few game days to dispatch. The lure of all those lovely gear drops here was worth a few trips into the dread, because players who managed to survive the first few rooms could return to the main game with some pretty awesome new gear. But enough of that for now- here’s the tenth anniversary video that ends with an announcement of current plans:

Guess who’s pre-ordering this? I usually avoid pre-ordering any games at all.

To Hideaki Itsuno and his team, One word comes to mind: RESPECT. I can only hope they give us the best of the original game and polish up a few of the quirks, like the somewhat suicidal Pawn AI, which would sometimes fling itself into harm’s way when it wasn’t pulling off some stellar support work. I may even start posting gameplay videos again, as I was making some lengthy ones back when the PS4 version dropped. Keep it offline, save for the Pawn loaning between users, or see if some sort of co-op mode can be implemented. I’ll shut up now, as I only play games and don’t make them. Anyway, between using the glorious RE Engine and what’s bound to be some spectacular design elements, I’ll be dreaming of even more mythical and mystical creatures for a while yet. Or just playing the original again (from the beginning, of course).

And it goes like this (sometimes).

-GW

Andy Hardy Goes To Hell, Or: Speaking of Full Circles…

A horse is a horse, of course, of course…

The fun 1937 musical comedy Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry popped up today on TCM and while I usually don’t go out of my way to watch many Mickey Rooney films, this one was quite interesting because it nicely bookends with a certain later TV show. Some of you know where this is going, so just smile and nod, please.

Anyway, I got to laughing at one point for a few key reasons. One being the scene below where after teaching a kid the ropes of riding a race horse, Mickey’s character Timmie Donovan later takes the kid back to his room and attempts to give him a vigorous rubdown, which is unintentionally and hilariously suggestive, as is the previous horse scene.

While this is happening, a young Judy Garland pops up to interrupt things by playing the guitar and singing a catchy song about her new shoes. Don’t believe me? See for yourself, ahem (and just what the heck is going on here?):

“I got my horse right here, his name is Paul Revere…”

Th other funny thing was I immediately thought of The Twilight Zone episode” Last Night of A Jockey”, which was a total solo showcase for Rooney written by Rod Serling. He plays an angry disgraced jockey named Michael Grady who’s accused of horse doping and banned from racing. While in his shabby room, he talks to himself until his alter ego appears and grants him one wish which amusingly enough, goes exactly as planned after he’s reinstated and can start racing again:

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat…”

Anyway, you can pick up the film though Warner Archive here and it’s worth a watch, as it’s the first of eight films Rooney made with Garland, so that’s also important in cinematic as well as historical terms. See, folks- movies like this can also be quite educational when they need to.

-GW

Review: Nun Massacre (PS4/PS5)

As I pressed the Purchase button to get my copy of Nun Massacre ($5.99), I said aloud to no one in particular “I don’t know why I do this to myself”, something I tend to do whenever I buy a horror-themed game. Yes, games like this have me talking to myself frequently (and somewhat nervously). Indie developer Puppet Combo has been making short PS1-style horror games for PC gamers since 2013 and they’ve finally gotten two of them on home consoles (Murder House is the other one). Basically, this is a short, frequently scary and always tense blend of exploration, stealth and puzzle action where you’re trapped in a rundown school with a knife-wielding nun trying (and at many times, succeeding) to violently do you in. There’s a story here told through notes you’ll find all over the place. But you’ll probably be too freaked out to read through all of them, what with that nun popping up at the most inopportune moments. Just keep telling yourself “It’s only a game, It’s only a game…”

Or: Force of Habit, I suppose.

The game got a recent update a few days ago and is now a “definitive” version which adds some new game modes, rooms and new killers to avoid. But you’ll have to survive one play though to unlock some of those options, which will be a pretty harrowing experience. There are video settings to adjust (VCR, PSX, Black and White), the game has a “Nun Tracking” mode that adds VCR like tracking “noise” to the game when the Nun is in the area (a must on your first play) and the game even comically warns you to play only once a day and play as your life depends on it, which is worthy of a chuckle. I mean how scary can this game be, right?

RIGHT??

Next to Nun in the horror genre, ha-ha (STABBY, STAB, STAB!)

Yeah, WRONG. In other words, you’ll be inventing new swear words every few seconds as the tension steadily ratchets up. This is totally old school with NO mid-game or auto save system to fall back on and few choices except running and attempting to hide from that nun, which means if when you die you start over from the beginning each time. While intensely frustrating, you end up recalling where items are located and can survive a few minutes longer before your certain doom. The Nun’s location can indeed be randomized if you want to put yourself into cardiac arrest even faster, so try not to do that on the first run. Oh, there are deadly traps here as well, such as the razor wire you’ll blunder into at one point, which is straight out of Suspira and yes, that Nun pops up while you’re stuck and gets quite stabby.

Amusingly enough, there’s a way to play this as “None” Massacre (my title) where you can explore the game’s room without a nun attack. But I was so wound up by the main game that I didn’t trust this mode to not freak me out somehow, even with jump scares shut off. Turns out I was right (you’ll see). The overall length of this may turn off some players, at it’ll take maybe 30-45 minutes to get through one time, if you move quickly, don’t panic (too much) and use the items you find in the right spots. That said, the game is meant to scare the living hell out of you and I can see some players being turned off by this plus some of the intentional flaws here. By the way, that sound effect when you encounter the nun is like every scream in every horror flick ever made heard all at once, but played by a factory full of alarm clocks. Yikes and turn it down on the options screen before you fire this up or you’ll wake a few dogs in the neighborhood.

It took about two and a half hours to finish on my first time through, and that was with some dumb luck more than skill on my part. Yes, another few plays is required here to unlock more secrets, but not for a while in my case. I’m starting to see nuns when I sleep and they’re not waving around wooden rulers either. Highly recommended, but not at all for the faint of heart. I’m working up the nerve to play again, but I just may attempt to survive Murder House first (maybe).

-GW

Review: Scandal (1950)

Yes, it’s a Christmas movie.

All Ichiro Aoye (Toshirō Mifune) wanted was to get his latest painting done while up in the mountains. But a chance encounter with famous singer Miyako Saijo (Shirley Yamaguchi) leads to an innocent motorbike ride past a bus with a pair of nosy magazine photographers looking for an exclusive interview with her. They don’t get it, but manage to snap the two seemingly sharing a room (they’re not). Once the photo arrives back at Amour Magazine, a salacious story gets written and both Ichiro and Miyako deal with the resulting fallout, even though they both temporarily benefit from career boosts due to the resulting gossip.

Thus begins Akira Kurosawa’s Scandal, which manages to poke a finger in the eye of celebrity worship and the often lousy and slanderous “journalism” that comes with it. The film is also has bits of comedy, does double jury duty as a decent courtroom drama and you’ll also find the old heart string tugboat towing the SS Kleenex for good measure. There’s a big slice of mundane, but honest sentimentality here that still resonates more with age and for me, it’s Kurosawa’s most “American” film, despite the Japanese setting.

in Japan, extreme painting is a spectator sport.

Ayoe goes to the magazine’s office, slugs the article’s writer and tells them he plans to sue. Later, he’s approached at his home by a somewhat disheveled lawyer, Hiruta (Takashi Shimura) who gives him his business card and asks to represent him at the upcoming trial. Ayoe says he’ll give it some thought, but his friend Sumie (Noiriko Sengoku) comments on Hirata’s smelly feet and warns Ichiro about his choice. The next day, Ichiro visits Hirata’s rundown home to accept but meets his bedridden young daughter, Masako (Yōko Katsuragi), who’s had tuberculosis for five years, but still greets him with a joyful smile and shows Ichiro what’s currently keeping her happy: an intricate wedding outfit her mother has made that’s to be delivered the next day to a future bride. That old tugboat is puffing out gently scented tissue smoke right about now.

I am the law?

Inoue also stops by Hinata’s cluttered “office”, a tiny shack on the roof of a building that looks as it it was built by the lawyer himself where he finds some bike racing forms and a photo of Hinata’s daughter tacked up near the door where she’s standing up and still bearing that warm smile. Ichiro leaves a chalkboard note saying he wants to retain the lawyer and leaves. The film gets busy touching on that period between Christmas and New Year’s Day where there are some laughs to be found and you realize that drunken revelers are the same almost everywhere. Hinata’s plans to one-up the magazine by secretly revealing his trial plans to its shady publisher backfires badly and he eventually takes money to gamble on the races, where he seems to keep losing.

See, I told you this was a Christmas movie!

Everything culminates in quite the ending that’s guaranteed to get that tugboat huffing out more tissue smoke of course, but with Kurosawa, it’s in for a penny, in for a few pounds. there are a few ways to watch this from poorly subtitled versions posted online to the far superior Criterion Collection box set you can get here that gets you five of the director’s post World War II films. Whichever way you choose, you’re in for quite a holiday.

-GW

Review: Once Upon A Time In The West

They don’t shoot horses, do they?

An intentionally slow moving, deliberately paced epic “western opera”, Sergio Leone’s now classic Once Upon A Time In The West wasn’t exactly a huge hit back during its 1969 North American release. The film, which was edited for some content (since restored) was probably still somewhat lengthy for audiences of the era and the film’s somewhat glacial pace will be a bit much for some new and impatient viewers.

Interestingly enough, the film is a sweeping and meticulous love letter to the western genre, featuring major and minor visual and aural tips of the hat to many previous westerns. It’s also Leone doing remarkable work with his camera using carefully crafted sets and locations in Spain and some prime locations in Monument Valley to grand effect. There’s also spring loaded tension throughout, such as the brilliant opening sequence where three duster-clad gunmen wait impatiently for a late train to arrive just so they can kill a man (Charles Bronson). Leone uses some humor here to break that tension, having a common fly and dripping water torment two of the men as they wait.

No, he doesn’t do requests…

The would-be assassins fail, save for wounding their target and the film cuts to a man named Brett McBain and his young son hunting birds before taking their catch back home to a ranch named Sweetwater, where the entire McBain family is in turn brutally dispatched by a man named Frank (Henry Fonda!), Then we move to Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale) arriving via train to the town of Flagstone, where no one is there to meet her (thank to Frank and his men). After the buggy she’s hired to take her to her new home makes an unscheduled stop, we then meet Cheyenne (Jason Robards), an outlaw who’s just escaped from jail and ends up at that spot where he meets his gang. Cheyenne meets a recuperating Bronson, who he dubs “Harmonica” upon seeing and hearing him play while wondering if he can shoot as well. Harmonica initially thinks Cheyenne sent his three of his men to kill him earlier because of the dusters they wear, but he’s soon convinced otherwise. Jill eventually makes it to her new home where we see the bodies of the family laid out and a small group of neighbors waiting to give her the sad news. Before the funeral, evidence of Cheyenne’s involvement in the murders is revealed, but Frank is actually responsible.

The next time he rode a train, he made sure no one would shoot him.

It turns out Frank is working for a very wealthy man named Morton, who’s got a disability and travels in a specially customized train. Morton admonishes Frank for killing the family instead of scaring them off, to which Frank coldly replies: “People are only scared when they’re dying”(ouch). Morton wants Sweetwater for its proximity to the railroad and its water source, both of which will add to his wealth, but he doesn’t realize Frank also has his own plans for the property. Meanwhile, Jill is the sole owner of Sweetwater now that her family has been killed and yes, Frank has plans for her as well. Both Cheyenne and Harmonica figure out what Frank is up to, but both men have their own plans for dealing with him and fate also drops into the picture. The theme of water plays so heavily here that I thought of Chinatown for a moment once the overall story was finally revealed. This is a film that takes its sweet time to fully display its plot, using Bronson’s character as the near-silent observer/detective and his reason for being a bit vengeance minded is finally revealed after a trio of initially hazy flashback sequences are spread throughout the film that eventually tell a tragic tale.

John Ford was here…

There’s a lot more, but we’ll talk instead about how Leone’s superb attention to detail in everything from the sets to costumes to his work with composer Ennio Morricone that make this a film worth watching. The scope of the film is constantly amazing down the finest details to the dozens of extras in full costume for a single scenes. Jill’s arrival in Flagstone goes from crowd shot to crane shot to show of the dusty non-splendor of the growing railroad town and as expected, Leone gets in some truly outstanding closeup shots. Morricone has a theme for each of the four main characters and there’s a few uses of sound design in lieu of score, like how the film opens using a mix of insects, a constantly squeaky windmill and other amplified bits. The film stretches scenes and can be deliberately confusing in spots, but that’s Leone wanting viewers to figure out things out as Harmonica does.

Oh don’t you know, that’s the sound of the men working on the train gang?

In other words, take the time to watch this and you’ll be surprised at how well this film works not only as western, but also as a homage to other past westerns. Hey, if you sat through a three hour Batman film, this will be a cakewalk, right? Cheyenne says make a fresh pot of coffee and have it handy (you’ll get the reference from watching the film). by the way, this post is part of The Foreign Western Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini. Pop on by and take a peek at the other submissions for other genre faves!

-GW

Review: Nostalgic Train (PS5)

Or: The small, strange town and its iron horse.

Personally, I’m not a fan of the term “walking simulator” that’s often used with derision by some players about short, mostly first person game experiences that focus around slower, careful movement and exploration, yet that term perfectly describes the lovely, melancholic Nostalgic Train ($13.99), which is available on consoles and PC. The Unreal engine game was created by a very talented solo developer named Tatamibeya and just so we’re clear, the game’s description of itself is “Two fluctuations at journey’s end – Beautiful countryside novel and walking simulator.”

There’s also a bit of a mystery with some semi-supernatural elements and even some time travel tossed into the mix, but the game is actually a text-based record of the town’s origins using a few life stories and key events scattered over a few centuries. The game starts off as its sole playable character wakes up in the tiny (and fictional) Japanese village Natsugiri, which is entirely vacant save for the sound of cicadas, dandelion seeds floating about and the scent in the air of mystery. As you walk around, you can use R2 to reveal glowing orbs that reveal more of the story and lead you to the next hint and more of the story. Visually, there’s a solid sense of reality in the visuals, but I can imagine some players used to ray tracing and other effects griping that certain elements of the game aren’t realistic enough. Whatever, it all looks like a series of gorgeous postcards in my book.

Life is but a dream…

This guided experience format works well for the most part. It makes the game playable by anyone, provided they love to read and can activate their imagination during certain sequences. As you explore the village, you’ll come across some items that need to be used to advance the story. For example, early on you find a discarded life preserver near a schoolhouse by a lake. Touching it reveals a past memory of a child picking it up to attempt to rescue another child which soon turns fatal for one. At this point, the formerly inactive train’s chime starts sounding and that’s your clue that you need to get back to the station and take a ride.

In true Twilight Zone fashion, you end up back at the station and yep, you need to R2 yourself back to find out what’s transpired. The entirety of Story Mode is like this, so it’s almost impossible to get lost. The village is so small, that you can spend maybe less that five minutes walking around if you’re not using the hint system. The story gets more fascinating with each chapter as you’ll encounter others who need assistance, but the village remains empty as you only read about your encounters and have to imagine past, present and future encounters, just as if you’re reading a book. The story takes a few dark turns as it continues and you find out your character simply trying to find out who and where they are and travel back to what’s seen as “normal’ reality can’t keep you from uncovering what’s going on. In fact, there’s a link to everything and the constant cycling back to the village the train takes is somewhat important. Or: “You can check out anytime you like, you can’t ever leave (guitar solo not included)”.

Bring you walking shoes, folks…

There’s also a Free Mode where you can stroll around and find glowing orbs that reveal some historical and other bits and (if you’re a completion fanatic) nab that Platinum trophy. This won’t take long at all, but I’m guessing based on the completion stats I’ve seen, some players haven’t done this yet. Well, it’s certainly not for every taste, but it’ll stick with you like warm summer wind. Cicadas are harmless, by the way and with all those dandelion seeds blowing around. I’d guess you can pocket a few to remind you of this short trip you’ve taken. Recommended.

-GW