About geelw

Gamer, Writer, Artist, Idea Guy, Mild Curmudgeon With A Long List Of Hidden Talents

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

For Medicinal Purposes Only (Or: Some Capsule Reviews)

In short, where to start other than listing a few flicks that were to me, enjoyable to the point that they’re not any longer (warning: opinions ahead!)

Almost, but not qu(EYE)te…

The Hypnotic Eye (1960) -Slick but eventually overcooked semi-horror about a suave, heavily accented hypnotist (Jacques Bergerac) and his curvy assistant (Alyson Hayes from Attack of the 50-Foot Woman) who seem to be responsible for 11 women mutilating (or killing in one case) themselves with no memory of the incidents afterward. The film kicks off with an amazing and horrific opening, but has to feature possibly the dumbest detective on the planet who allows his girlfriend to act as Hypno-bait for too long to the point of disbelief.

The film starts out strong, but the denseness of the detective and his way too clueless nature hurts the proceedings as it plays out. That said, there are a few high points, such as the interviews with some of the disfigured victims that show off some disturbing makeup, the always pneumatic Miss Hayes and this particular scene, which some of you movie lovers might find yourself identifying with somewhat:

It’s hip to be square.

Things fall apart with a nutty mass hypnosis scene that’s amusing, yet takes a bit too long before motives are revealed with an ending that includes a pretty cheesy makeup job (is that an oatmeal mask left on too long?) and a corny PSA about hypnosis. This one falls into the “Oh well” pile by the time it’s over, but at 79 minutes, at least it doesn’t overstay its welcome. If you’re very sensitive to flashing lights, you might find yourself under it’s spell a bit- just don’t attempt to wash your hair or drink coffee afterward.

“Muthers?” This one made me say “Uncle”

The Muthers (1975) – Thanks to a relative who took me to the movies as a kid, I have the distinct memory of seeing the trailer to this film and it stuck for decades until I finally caved and bought this DVD from Vinegar Syndrome last year, and found it to be somewhat lacking after the fact. Sure, it’s a Z-grade exploitation film and yes, it’s got that going for it from the start. But I actually fell asleep the first time I watched and had to sit through a second time just so I can write that it was actually watched this to the end. And NO, it certainly did not get better the second time around.

Directed in the Philippines by Cirio S. Santiago, this is kind of enjoyably junky if you just turn off your brain and wallow in the film without judgement. On the other hand, there are far better films in this sub-genre that are worth watching than this clumsy, cheaply made affair with its crummy excuse for martial arts and loads of gunplay and explosions. Amusingly enough, I recently found out it’s one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite films, which makes me think that perhaps he should have just made a Fox Force Five flick during his Grindhouse period. Or hell, got a limited TV series out of a those few lines of dialog from Pulp Fiction. I had to dig out a Jack Hill film from the collection just to wash my brain rid of this mess, so I got to see The Swinging Cheerleaders rock this film’s world.


Esta pelicula es pura basura!

The Dungeon of Harrow (1962) – Let’s just say that while the late Pat Boyette was a great comic artist of the era and beyond, his sole directorial effort, the dreary gothic leper flick presented here ends up being as bargain basement as it gets for a “horror” film. The only good thing about this Vinegar Syndrome release is it comes as a double feature with Death By Invitation, which has its flaws but it’s a great deal more watchable than what’s here. Granted. this falls squarely into “cult classic” territory, but the dreadful pacing here makes this a total chore to sit through. When I lent the disc to a friend recently, he returned it while waiting downstairs in his car while he flew the disc upstairs using a drone he purchased. There was a note inside the DVD case stating that the both films were shown to a group of seven and people could barely make it though the main feature.

Must be a death cult. “Classic” my a$$.

Let’s see now: two survivors of a shipwreck have to deal with everything from wild dogs to the creepy Dracula impostor and his dressed for the wrong movie bodyguard. There are two women also trapped on the island, but the whole film looks as if someone went through a random pile of clothing as a Salvation Army, chose the cheapest outfits and made up a plot as they shot. Amusingly, trying to describe the plot is somewhat futile, so this capsule review may actually do the job of selling a handful of copies if anyone is THAT curious. Hey, it’s your money and time, folks. These aren’t exactly bucket list films, but I’ll take one for the team every now and then, Hey, I think I hear some film noir calling me – back in a bit with some other stuff.

-GW

Oh, WordPress is ticking me off because it sometimes won’t allow me to add tags until AFTER a post is made, so I’ll be re-editing this later!

The Gift Or: “Where’s Waldo?” Or: “Really Dead Letter Office”

I blame the banana.

Okay, I’ll admit my choice in multiple titles is directly inspired by watching way too many Rocky & Bullwinkle reruns as a kid. But in this case, every chance at humor is a spoonful of sugar in his particularly grim musical case. I first discovered The Velvet Underground’s now classic 1968 album White Light/White Heat on cassette sometime in the early 80’s, but I only barely managed to make it through the first side before tapping out. Between what I thought bask then were some intensely downbeat lyrics and very heavy use of feedback throughout the album, at that time, I wasn’t quite ready for that aural assault (and I hadn’t even heard of Metal Machine Music at that point!).

Flash forward to 1995 and I’m in a record store that was running a closing/closeout sale where I spy the Velvet Underground box set Peel Slowly and See for under $10. I ended up grabbing that, the James Brown box set Star Time and the Little Richard set The Specialty Story all for $20 new, with the cashier rounding the total down because she ran out of change. In any event, the second time was the charm thanks to a few years of broadened horizons and it was when I re-listened to The Gift that I developed a better viewpoint of the band’s output. All I’ll say is that it’s based on a college writing exercise by lead singer Lou Reed, was recorded using a stereo mix that separated the music and vocal tracks (which works quite well when using headphones) and it’s got a killer ending, courtesy of a creative suggestion by Frank Zappa during the recording process.

Not counting the many live concert versions, The song exists in stereo, mono, vocal only, instrumental only, and live instrumental recordings. Take a listen to two of those (or just one, if you prefer your music sans very fuzzy intentional feedback):

Not based on a true story.

And here’s the vocal only version, although I’ll admit without the fuzz, it sounds like a somewhat more frightening campfire story, especially with that well-timed sound effect at the ending.

Still not based on a true story!

Yes, it’s a bit on the macabre side (and how!), but it’s also darkly amusing what with John Cale’s absolutely deadpan reading of Reed’s story. On a side note, YouTube actually has a Lego version of the song that’s definitely not for kids (like the song), uses a live concert version of the tune and yes, here’s a link if you want more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5I43qhtd1M . Er, don’t say you weren’t warned. Although, my overall opinion that a minor issue with the song is the whole Show Biz Bugs nature of it, where if you listen to it once, the shock value diminishes significantly on a repeat. That said, this may be a one-trick pony, but you’ll want to at least ride it through that flaming hoop one time just for that splash in the pool at the end of the jump.

This is another post in Travel Gone Wrong Blogathon, hosted by 18 Cinema Lane. See a list of the assorted entertainment covered in this event HERE!

-GW

The Passenger, Or: Boarding? Pass!

Long story short department: Way back in late 1983, I recall popping into a local record shop looking for a few new soundtracks or whatever else caught my eye(ear?) and at some point as I was poking around, the cover to this record jumped up and bit a small hole in my wallet (I think I spent around five bucks on it):

Woof. Just keep telling yourself “It’s only an EP, It’s only an EP…”

Truth be told, I was a bit of a WOV fan, having picked up both of the group’s studio albums Dark Continent and Call of the West along with the soundtrack to Urgh! A Music War, which I picked up after seeing that wild concert film here during it’s brief NYC run in 1982. Although initially released in 1980,This particular EP was new to me and I recall a clerk in the shop noting the shop had recently restocked a few copies after the initial run sold out, so this was snatched up and paid for right away.

I didn’t get to listen to the record until a few hours later, so the first play was sometime at night with a pair of headphones on and lets just say, things got interesting as those six tracks played. For starters, the first track, “Longarm” was an amusingly quirky diversion with lines about a 58-hour week and a workforce soon to be replaced by machines. However, the next song was in a way, somewhat less amusing and a bit more haunting. “The Passenger”, a catchy song/story about (of all things) a doomed airliner’s tragic last flight was up next and man, talk about “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, folks. It’s all in the lyrics and delivery with one.

In my mind at that time, the song almost seemed like it was the one was playing inside D. O. Guerrero’s head as he ran to the restroom to set off his bomb in the film Airport. I can remember once thinking that if someone were ever to remake that film, there’s your main theme right there, although the song uses a different final stop (“Polar route, destination: oblivion”) than that film’s Rome. Or perhaps it might have made for a somewhat depressing way, way (way!)-Off Broadway musical, if someone were to actually write a book for a show that might only run less than a week, including previews.

That song jammed itself inside my head for years at random intervals and I recall when I finally took my first plane trip back in 1992 (Hawaii, If you’re curious), yes indeed, that tune was an unintentional part of my internal soundtrack for the long trip. Granted, some real-life turbulence and a wild ride through a storm on the long second leg of the trip where we bounced around over the ocean like an airplane model on visible wires in a badly made pre-CGI movie almost had me thinking this might have been a trip to a different sort of Paradise. Let’s just say that I ended up making myself laugh on that last leg when a certain Ohio Players tune popped into my head suddenly.

Since you asked (I hope), The rest of the EP is fine, with an excellent cover of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire that morphs into the Jerry Goldsmith theme from Our Man Flint midway with a ton of feedback as a finale, “Can’t Make Love“, a somewhat relatable ditty about relationships, “Struggle” which, with all the gasping going on sounds like a brief soundscape from a giallo or some other tense fright film. Finally, there’s the rather unsettling “Granma’s House“, which is just 1:21 of a ringing phone backed by a metronome-like heartbeat sound and perhaps, iffy memories if you take in the atmosphere too literally. Speaking of phones, someone please call David Lynch circa 1977, as that track also sounds as if it would be at home in something like Eraserhead. To be fair, the group also (and often) dipped into humor, like somehow making a pesky Tsetse Fly or even an Invisible Man a lot less threatening (but still scary in a way). And (much longer story short) we wouldn’t have Stan Ridgway’s wonderfully varied output without that best version of the group.

While you can download the entire EP online. I’d highly recommend the larger The Index Masters collection as you get more of WOV’s unique mix of soundtrack-flavored music, including a few live tracks. As a personal preference, I liked the group’s output through 1982’s Call of the West, which gave them “one hit wonder” status with Mexican Radio. On the other hand, if you listen to the band’s output from is late 70’s demos up to that point, you’ll hear more than a few tunes that really make themselves stand out with their unique blend of musical influences.

This post is part of the Travel Gone Wrong Blogathon, hosted by 18 Cinema Lane from April 29 to May 2nd, 2022. You can see a list of the films covered in this event HERE!

-GW