Blu-Ray Review: Cinema Paradiso

Cinema Paradiso_AA001Movies that make you want to see lots of other movies are a very good thing, especially if those movies you end up seeing are plenty you’re going into cold knowing you’re going to like them thanks to that one film that introduces you. Speaking of cold, guess who’s laid up with a bad one and is banging out his work from a partially prone position? Anyway (*cough!*), Cinema Paradiso is one of the all-time greats for such a cinematic education because it’s such an excellently crafted film that it’s worth watching a few times because of all the note taking you’ll very likely end up doing. I’ll save you a tiny bit of time and point you to this IMDB listing which should open up quite the rabbit hole to disappear into for a bit.

Arrow Academy’s solid restoration of the original 124-minute Cannes cut and the extended 174-minute Director’s Cut will fit nicely into your collection and as you can probably tell, is absolutely worth a purchase. Writer/director Giuseppe Tornatore’s film is one where every shot is effortlessly composed and there are moments where you’ll find yourself mildly to moderately in awe at the perfect camera placement that fits in flawlessly with the music (by Ennio and Andrea Morricone). The film is mostly told in flashback as a famous director Salvatore Di Vita (Jacques Perrin) returns to his childhood home after 30 years away upon hearing an elderly friend has passed away. We learn that Alfredo (Philippe Noiret) was a projectionist at the titular theater as well as a mentor to the younger Salvatore (or Toto, as he’s called) from the age of six (Salvatore Cascio) to his teens (Marco Leonardi).

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Tokyo Xanadu eX+ PS4 LE: Falcom’s Box Of Fun Now Available

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If I had the room in my still too large game library and the funds to spare, I’d be all over this like a pack of piranhas chomping on some slow-moving tourists in a sinking canoe. Nihon Falcom’s critical darling Tokyo Xanadu eX+ has been on my backlog radar for a while now, but seeing this lovely looking Limited Edition made me want to go build a shelf and think about selling off a few things just to have  that nice big box to ogle when I’m not busy doing a hefty bit of dungeon crawling.

 

So, what’s in the box, you ask? Well, let’s see now…

 

Tokyo Xanadu eX+ Limited Edition includes:

Tokyo Xanadu eX+ PS4 game with additional game content – new side stories, characters, modes, dungeons, quests, and more!

9-inch Deluxe White Shroud Figure – top-quality, hyper-detailed poly-resin sculpture of the mysterious White Shroud character, fully assembled and painted, with detachable display base.

60-page Exclusive Art Collection – full-color book featuring over 300 of dazzling images of characters and settings plus important information on the world of Tokyo Xanadu.

Blade Card Game Deck – includes boxed set of 44 printed cards and 2-player rules, so you can take the Blade game into the real world!

CD Soundtrack – with 10 music tracks from the game, including the opening song “Seize the Day” (lyrics by Kyo Hifumi).

Collector’s Box – everything immaculately packed, including a separate printed carton for the White Shroud figure.

Note: If you already own the game on Steam, you’ll also get a free Japanese-language update (nice!), but the physical version shown above is only for PS4 owners. Go grab this from one of the retailers listed on the Aksys Games site and maybe be prepared to go build a shelf or move a few books around if you need to.

-GW

Blu-Ray Review: Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno

Inferno_AA023Sometimes, life can be a mystery… and sometimes, you kind of know what you’re getting into but still step into that trap door straight to hell.

In 1964, stoked after the huge box office success of Dr.Strangelove, Columbia Pictures was poking around the film world looking for something guaranteed to be the next big movie and had the wild idea to extend unlimited funding to a new project directed by the great Henri-Georges Clouzot (The Wages of Fear, Diabolique). Based on some striking test footage, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno was, for all intents and purposes, going to be an innovative and mature film that had the potential to make millions for the company while making an even bigger star out of Sissi trilogy star Romy Schneider. Three weeks into production and 185 cans (about 14 hours) of film later, one of the main cast members quit, three production separate teams of 150 people were out of work, and Clouzot had a heart attack that ended up shutting production down for good.

Those cans of film were sitting somewhere in France for decades thanks to the insurance company that ended up with them, but thanks to the obsessive persistence of Serge Bromberg and a meeting with Clouzot’s second wife in an elevator, we have this somewhat spectacular documentary (co-directed by Ruxandra Medrea) that sheds a bit of light on the destined to fail project. While the documentary is quite amazing, you’re in no way getting anything close to a completed version of Inferno despite all that footage that was shot. Most of it was camera tests of actors, loads of exterior tests, and visual effects shots galore in assorted states of completion. All of it was silent, although parts of a separate soundtrack were found and added into the documentary along with parts of the script read/reenacted by Bérénice Bejo and Jacques Gamblin. That said, there’s a lot to absorb here, but the overall takeaway seems to be “Here’s what happens when you throw money at a problem and it doesn’t solve itself, folks.”

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Indies of Note (Part Two Billion!)

I can’t even begin to tell you how many small publishers contact me asking to check out their games in assorted forms of completion. No complaints at all on this as one thing I love is seeing how games come together. That said, I’m a wee bit backed up in codes thanks to all the medical stuff I’ve got going on, but I’ve been playing and compiling lists over the last few months on a few games you may want to take for a spin if you’ve a Steam or console account. Some of these are also on gog.com, gamejolt or itch.io, three of many other very awesome spots to get indie games you absolutely should check out even if you want to browse and be amazed at the variety on display. Actually, you can and should support indie games outright by at least playing demos where applicable and/or buying titles you like outright.

 

 

Mercenary Kings_PSMercenary Kings Reloaded Edition (PS4/PS3/Vita, Xbox One, Switch, PC) – Merry, merry, quite Contra-ry, what do we have here? A pretty damn awesome side-scrolling run ‘n gun from Montreal based independent game studio Tribute Games (Flinthook, Curses ‘N Chaos). Actually, it’s more like Metal Slug with a hefty crafting system and a more diverse cast of characters.

If you’ve played this previously, you’ll find the Reloaded edition adds a bunch of improvements that make this a great deal more accessible without lowering the difficulty. In addition to the stellar pixel art and animation, Tribute’s packed this one with tons of fun and challenge throughout, making a game that’s highly replayable and an excellent arcade experience that’s a must-buy no matter what you play it on. Now, if only Tribute would get Wizorb out on PS4, Vita and Switch, I’d be an even happier guy.

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Blu-Ray Review: Zoology

Zoology_AA018Sometimes, being way, way out of the loop on a film is the best thing that can happen because when you miss all that buzzing and screeching, you get to go in totally cold and be nicely surprised by the results. This is exactly what happened when I finally sat down to watch Ivan I. Tverdovsky’s wonderful, bleak deadpan fantasy Zoology, another solid Arrow Academy release (also available on DVD). This is one of those films with a standout role for a “woman of a certain age” that’s somewhat remarkable until you realize your going into the film with that sort of prejudice might also make you not enjoy it if you think too hard about stuff like that.

Anyway, right off the bat, you’re made to feel sorry for poor Natasha (Natalya Pavlenkova), a sad-looking middle-aged put-upon employee at a dreary Russian zoo. Her somewhat nasty co-workers openly make fun of her frumpy looks and lack of a social life, she lives with her elderly mother and a dying old cat and just as you’re about to throw yourself out the window from the gloom of her daily routine, she faints at work one day and later finds out she’s grown a tail. The doctor she sees sends her off to get an X-ray and Natasha meets radiologist Peter (Dmitriy Groshev), who initially seems nonplussed about her extra appendage. The pair strike up a fast friendship which leads to more, but that’s (almost) all you’re going to get out of me because you kind of need to see how this one plays out.

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Review: Mutant Football League (PS4)

MFL_PS4Okay, confession time (again), For the record, I really don’t care for most professional or what’s positioned as “professional” sports these days. Now, I’m not  completely against your own sports or sports entertainment choices, mind you (if you love what you watch, I’m not stopping you at all). I actually used to be a lot more physically active and have played a bunch of team sports over the years and yes indeed, even had a few favorite pro teams for a number of decades. That said, as I’ve grown older I’ve found myself not caring about overblown, over-hyped event sports as bread and circus spectaculars in the grand scheme of things partly because it only takes a few crazed fans acting up to kill interest in what should be a less mentally stressful entertainment experience.

That said, I could play Digital Dreams’ killer Mutant Football League (MFL) all day and not grow tired of it. This one’s a “Shut up and buy it!” game if there ever was one and if you’re a fan of more arcade-like games in the NFL Blitz vein or recall playing the well-aged but still hilarious Mutant League Football back on the Sega Genesis, this one’s going to be right up your dark alley and waiting to club you on the head and swipe $20 from your wallet before skipping away whistling. Since your cell phone wasn’t lifted, when you’re back to a conscious state, do call up a friends and invite them over for some solid co-op action, online play or hell, even just to spectate and cheer at the mayhem on screen.

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Review: The Aquatic Adventure of The Last Human (PS4)

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TAAotLH.jpegWhile I suspect the “melancholic exploration adventure/arcade-style twitch shooter” isn’t going to be the next big thing anytime soon, if you want a game that fits that bill exactly, you’ll really want to snap up developer YCJY’s The Aquatic Adventure of The Last Human on PS4 (or Steam) at some point. It’s a great and intentionally gloomy game with solid controls and some pretty (and pretty colorful to pretty dark) underwater environments where exploration is somewhat languid until you accidentally or with intent pilot your little gray submarine into brutal boss fights that give you a run for your money.

The game is a somewhat thoughtful and dour (but overall excellent) look at the last survivor of the human race crashing back on earth after an extended space flight only to find the planet covered in water and ice with dead cities full of clues under the sea and assorted sea life. As you explore the non-linear map you’ll discover most of the creatures are harmless, but as noted, you’ll be in for a more than a few jolts when you get into those tough boss battles. It’s more or less a depressing version of Darius done in the versatile Gamemaker engine with some solid pixel art that recalls a nice hybrid of 8 and 16-bit art styles with some modern lighting effects.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Witches

The Witches_AANot at all to be confused with the exact same titled Hammer Film Productions horror flick released in 1966, The Witches (aka Le streghe) is a very fine and very unusual surprise from Arrow Academy that’s worth a look if you like oddball Italian film anthologies that just so happen to feature the lovely Silvana Mangano. Yeah, Clint Eastwood is on the cover as well. But trust me, he’s not why you’ll be watching this hidden gem at all.

Producer Dino De Laurentiis had the idea to bring together five top directors (Luchino Visconti, Mauro Bolognini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Franco Rosso, Vittorio De Sica) and set them the task of crafting am anthology film themed around Mangano portraying a different type of witch in each chapter. The results range from bizarre to compelling, but title aside, this isn’t a horror film at all. It’s more a showpiece of Mangano’s acting talents as well as a not so subtle look at some of the actress’ struggles with fame and fortune (be it up or down)throughout her career.

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