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

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

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

Upcoming: “You’ll Hear The Drums & The Brush of Steel”

“There’s only ONE way to deal with tumbleweeds”

Well, that’s more than enough time to give the Blu-ray of Sergio Leone’s rather epic western Once Upon A Time In The West I just ordered a spin or three for Moon In Gemini. I may try another, as the subject this time is more than broad enough to perk my interest in contributing a few reviews. Better yet, I’d bet a few of you out there that blog a bit on film may want to get in on this as well. Side note: I’ve actually scribbled a few reviews in the past on certain films mentioned on Debbie’s site, so feel free to check out my takes on Outland, Battle Beyond The Stars, and Day of Anger, if you like.

-GW

Review: Gleylancer (PS4/PS5)

probably the sole good use of the word “Pow-Wow” these days.

While the SEGA logo is nowhere to be found (they only published the game way back in 1992), Advanced Busterhawk Gleylancer looks, feels and plays like it’s 1992 and that’s a great thing. Ever busy publisher Ratalaika Games and veteran developer Shinyuden go above and beyond the call here with a flawless English translation plus a slew of gameplay improvements that range from a horde of video customization options to some all-new game modes that make this an instant buy at its low $6.99 price point (the original Mega Drive version will set you back about $200, and yes it’s solely in Japanese).

The game is pretty story driven with a lengthy opening movie, but in s nutshell: The story follows Lucia, a 16-year-old star fighter pilot in the Earth Federation. A war breaks out between humans and an unknown alien race in the year 2025. Lucia’s father, Ken, a high-ranking admiral in the Federation Navy, is captured after his ship is warped out of the combat zone with 4 alien modules which have the ability of teleportation.  Lucia, heart-broken after hearing of her father’s disappearance, decides to hijack the prototype fighter CSH-01-XA “GleyLancer” with the help of her friend Teim and go after her father.

Like any decent classic shmup, a good player will complete the game in under an hour, but a smart player will deep dive this and go back for more and unlock every trophy. The fast but methodical gameplay is also customizable to the point of letting players cheat right off the bat if they so desire. There’s also a handy rewind function that’s excellently implemented and like the cheat mode, optional. The really amusing thing here is very likely, a good deal of modern gamers may not have heard of this until this release and may automatically snap it up for the quick trophies Ratalaika games are known for. My bet is they’ll be surprised at the challenge the game presents on its standard mode.

Just another day at the office…

I have no idea what Shinyuden has planned for the future, but there are a ton of other shooters for the Genesis out there that can use this sort of very proper localization. I can name way too many here, but let’s not go over the moon with wishful, wistful thinking just yet. Recommended!

-GW

Review: Ord. (PS4)

From ever-busy publisher Ratalaika games and indie developer Mujo Games comes Ord.($4.99), a minimalist adventure game that tells its short stories three words at a time. Split into five tales with a bit of replay value in each (Quest, Dimensions, World, Foul Things and Heist), the game will also have you brain filling in most of its visuals. It’s also part memory test in that there’s a Groundhog Day-like loop to overcome where choosing certain answers won’t advance the story, but instead, send you back to choose differently.

zzzzzzzz

That said, there are no “wrong” answers here. In fact, choosing every option will lead to some surprises and abrupt (sometimes fatal) endings. The minimalist thing in taken to extremes here on both the visual and aural fronts. Other than the title screen, visuals are just text on a black background with some stylistic touches like thunder, lightning, rain, a bit of fog and yes, you’ll want to have a drink in the tavern just to see the blurred result. For me, the sole flaw here in there’s no story tracker, so on a replay, you may get temporarily stuck (a notepad will come in handy here). Playing the game through once won’t take long and those trophies drop pretty quickly once you get rolling.

Overall, Ord. is a pretty decent and nicely experimental bit of fun. Ratalaika’s been on a roll lately with more hits than misses of late. So I’ll have to get to covering more on their interesting titles from it’s rather intriguing lineup shortly.

-GW

Mail Call, Part 2077…

so far, it’s better than I thought. Ask me again in a week.

So, it was on sale, it was my birthday and I couldn’t resist. Yeah, yeah- I’ve seen some grumpy commentary on the game, but running on the PS5, I’m having quite a load of fun with Cyberpunk 2077, well, so far. I’m only about an hour in, but there’s so much to do (the character creator alone is pretty extensive and that time spent isn’t part of that hour played) that an actual review will be a few weeks away. We shall see where this goes and yes, I’m expecting technical issues galore as the game continues. But I never bought into the pre-release hype train at any point and who knows when (or if) there will be a PS5 port in the future.

-GW

Go Ask Alice… Then Turn to Page 38

I’ve gotten a few more paperbacks since last we spoke, all fantasy themed, as usual. Most have been fun to dip into for a spell, but I’ve had the most fun with Johnathan Green‘s Alice’s Nightmare In Wonderland, published by Winged Hussar and Ace Gamebooks. I had to go buy a deck of playing cards at Dollar Tree, but if you have those, or a pair of dice handy, plus a pencil with a good eraser (plus a notepad so you don’t have to deface the book). you’re good to go.

Yes, this is a fine choose your own adventure novel clocking in at 328 pages, and there are plenty of lovely illustrations by Kev Crossley that look like vintage art from the early 1900’s. In fact, the art charmed me so much. I’m sorely tempted to get back to drawing myself, and soon. Fortunately, the plot is pretty good and indeed, this is quite the page turner, with multiple scenarios for everything from deadly combat encounters to fancy tea parties, Mad Hatter included. There’s a bit of hiariously gory content when things go wrong, but if you got a chuckle out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, you’re pretty much all set here.

The only drawback to this book is it really, really wants you to write in it, making loaning it out a bit tricky, Now, you can do what I did and transcribe certain stat charts to that notepad and pass the book for a friend to play, but that’s up to you, of course. Looking at Ace’s selection of other Gamebooks, I’m tempted to pick another one up to play one of these days, well. once I whittle down the pile of work I’m slowly getting to. Uh, anyone want to borrow a book?

-GW

Crackers

Controversies big and small aside, Phineas Taylor Barnum was quite an interesting guy on a few fronts. “This way to the egress” made me laugh as a well-read kid in grade school who got that little joke and I think that I imagined an egress being some sort of catlike creature one could never quite get a good look at, but everyone would have a description of if asked. You know how that business tends to go, right? Someone asks if you saw the thing and without fail, a person will offer up a thin description that another person will agree with and add to until you have something that might look like a cat (maybe, sort of). No one can agree on the actual size, but sure, it looks like a cat.

Barnum was quite the con man with many successes and failures and even more awful when it came to animal care, but he sure could pack in the crowds for better or worse. The whole egress stuff came about when the folks who came to see his exhibits were sticking around a wee bit too long and he wanted to free up space fast. Granted, it’s entirely possible that a few smarter attendees to his museum knew what an egress was and maybe didn’t fall for the ruse. But I’d like to think that given the rather non-clever state of today’s rubes, people back then were about as smart as they are now. But today, they own assorted computing devices that actually make them less smart because they take too much information they see online as some sort of fact and don’t even consider filtering out the more bizarre things they read.

On another note, I was in the supermarket last week and picking up a box of unsalted tops, I spied a familiar, smaller row of red boxes on a higher shelf. Yes, there were a bunch of Barnum’s Animals staring back at me, now free-roaming without the familiar cage bars. I’ll note that I didn’t like the new artwork, but saw the need for the change. Growing up so long ago, circuses and zoos were part of the childhood routine. But the last time I was at a circus, there were no animals in that big top, and as for zoos, the one up here in the Bronx has gotten a few new attendance rules since the pandemic started. By the way, while I liked those animal crackers as a kid, my preference changed to the Stauffer brand a bit later. That hint of mace and nutmeg did it for me. if you must know.

-GW

Review: Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout (PS4)

FG01

The Chaos Engine, or Circle of Life in action, if you will…

fall-guys-ultimate-knockout-boxartWell, this one’s a pleasant and goofy surprise. Sometimes the silliest and most simple games ideas just work and Mediatronic’s Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout ($19.99 on Steam for PC, Free this month on PSN) reinforces this perfectly. The 60-person enter, one person wins element is pure battle royale insanity (a genre I usually avoid), it’s weaponless mix of puzzle, sporty and trap packed levels offer up some tough and hilarious navigational challenges and overall, it’s just about as good as it gets for a game of its type.

Sure, there are micro-transactions here, but they’re not at all necessary to jump in and start playing. You can get some cool cosmetics with currency earned from just playing the game, or you can pay real money for stuff if you’re in a hurry to look cooler as you fall or get knocked off assorted hazards multiple times. In other words, there are no performance-enhancing purchases here (so far and I hope there won’t be in the future). Besides, the developer and publisher need to make SOME money with this one, but it’s actually nice that PSN users at least get to more or less play free and not choose to pay… well, until they need some of the stupidly cute skins and outfits that pop up.

fall-guys-ultimate-knockout-screenshot-08-ps4-04may20-en-us

It’s all fun and games, especially if someone gets cartoon hurt.

A constantly rotating set of 24 levels means you can’t predict what’s coming, but loads of dying and plenty of practice await. You just need to hope you can survive the chaos as it happens. Yes, there are some super-skilled players out there who can dive and dash through areas and as you play, some tasks get easier to plow through than others. But the lack of voice chat thankfully keeps one’s ears from burning off from what I’d imagine is some hefty amount of creative cursing taking place at some ignominious last second defeats. Although, yours truly actually screamed “Oh, Bugsnax!” at my TV after one terrible but funny loss because I’d exhausted every curse word I knew and that upcoming PS5 game’s name just popped into my head.

Then again, this is a game where you’ll watch someone winning a match and then lose it by accident when a platform vanishes suddenly, or they get beaned by a falling slice of parachuting fruit. Some players seemingly try to take out other players by lurking near an exit (grrrr!) and lunging at them or maybe hoping to be as threatening as a giant jellybean in a funky getup can. It’s all good though – sometimes you get the last laugh (well, until you lose in a future round) when the game decides to drop random survivors at the results screen to get the next stage kicking.

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