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

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

Accent Grave, Over the “E”, Or: How Not To Watch Some Films, Sometimes

Well, in short, I caught The French Dispatch on cable before I finally saw the Dune remake and yep, as both films demand multiple views to catch every bit of detail one fine film kind of unintentionally and amusingly ruined the other fine film within seconds. Almost as soon as Timothée Chalamet appeared onscreen as Paul Atredies, I started chuckling, not because there’s anything resembling a poor performance in either film, but I actually wondered at one point how much more visually out there Dune would have been in Wes Anderson had directed it. Not to throw any hint of shade in Denis Villeneuve’s direction at all here as both directors’ work feature meticulous attention to detail along with strong performances. However, I kept thinking while watching both films how Anderson’s use of numerous film techniques would work within Frank Herbert’s worlds.

That or hell, the title to this article partially references one of my favorite comedies, 1940’s The Bank Dick, and part of me wants to see a Wes Anderson version of that at some point, But I’m a bit nuts these days, so file this thought under really wishful thinking, I guess.

-GW

BlendJet 2: Smoothie Operator, Plus

Basic black goes with everything.

Small wonder the BlendJet 2 has thousands of positive consumer reviews as it’s indeed a small wonder of a product. From the new larger size, 5x faster blend speed over its predecessor, water resistant design and self-cleaning at the touch of a button feature, you can create everything from smoothies, shakes, and even a number of adult beverages plus loads more. The company sent over a Blendjet 2 and some very nifty accessories to review and I can safely say this is one of the easiest recommendations I’ve ever had to make. For some, the hardest thing will be choosing a color or pattern design, as there are 21 (currently).

For the record, up until about a month ago. I owned a 30-plus year old big name blender that needed disassembly and cleaning between blends, which was a bit of a pain. When the motor finally gave out after all those years of service, I was in the market for a new model. After one blend with the BlendJet 2 ($49.99), I stopped searching and now use mine on a daily basis. The portability makes the unit perfect for busy users on the go and the one-press lock feature means you can blend and drink your concoction of choice without the need to tote a second container along. That said, the insulated Jetsetter Sleeve ($14.95) and Jetsetter Tote ($29.99) make for excellent ways to bring your blending skills to friends and family. The unit charges in an hour via it’s USB-C port, which gets you 15 or so blends per charge and yes, the cable is included.

“But, does it come in Naugahyde?”

Operation is a simple as it gets, thanks to the excellent design. One press of a button gets you a 20-second blend, while a double press turns the BlendJet 2 into a food processor that allows you to do some heavy duty chopping with dry or wet ingredients. Want to make your own salad dressings, guacamole, dips, or hummus? There’s a very helpful 120-page recipe book available called Next-Gen Blending ($19.95) that features 50 recipes, all easy to prepare and yes, many more appear on the company’s YouTube channel. Also included in the box was a selection of Jetpack smoothies ($3.99 each), which were all gluten and GMO-free, vegan-friendly, a good source of fiber and made with no artificial sugar or flavors. Oh. that $3.99 drops a buck if you subscribe to getting your smoothies delivered monthly.

As for my own recipe ideas, among many other things, I found out the Blendjet 2 is perfect for a traditional New York beverage. Or yes, you can make a proper Egg Cream with it, provided you do a tiny bit of prep work:

10oz whole milk or a mixture of milk ice cubes and milk

2-3 tbsp Fox’s U-bet Chocolate Syrup

Chilled Seltzer for mixing (warning: DON’T use carbonated beverages in a BlendJet!!!).

Add milk and U-bet to Blendjet 2, run for one cycle. Pour mix into tall glass, then add about 4oz of seltzer and stir vigorously. Part of the fun of an egg cream is the mixing part, so this drink should be made fresh each time. You can feel free to use your milk of choice, but I like the old traditional ingredients and as I recall some guy who worked in a delicatessen I used to drop by once saying about U-bet: “THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE.”

A new convert to the Blendjet 2 way of life…

Speaking of milkshakes and such, the Blendjet 2 does it all from shakes, malteds and pretty much anything you can toss into it. For example, I ended up buying a giant can of Ovaltine from a shop here and I haven’t touched that stuff in over 40 years! I’ve also found that if you have freezer space, making coffee ice cubes comes in handy as well as reserving coffee for the fridge so you can make excellent iced coffee the next morning. Also, if you use fruit juice for your smoothies. try adding customized ice cubes of your choice along with that juice for a slushie-like texture along with a chance of brain freeze. A frozen margarita with lime juice and mint ice cubes? I don’t have a proper name for it, but I made one the other night.

There’s nothing negative to say here other than you’ll need to inform some overly eager folks that they can get their very own Blendjet 2 so they can stop making excuses to pop by and nicely ask for a cold drink. I say let them mix their own drinks and tell you about it, of course.

-GW

Catch Me If You Can…

So yeah, folks. After some arm pain, a stretch of extreme tiredness and general blah-ness. I’m finally feeling a lot better. I was warned that second shot would probably knock me for a loop and it did. Masks are still required at the supermarkets around here, so even though I’ve had both shots, I comply, just in case. Hey, I’ve heard a few customers note that either they, a relative or someone close had gotten sick and nope, for the moment, I’m Ieaving nothing to chance, at least for the next two weeks while the vaccine does its stuff.

I was starting to think I was getting a wee bit paranoid, but a few days ago when I got the mail, I rode up in the elevator with a guy who started coughing and sneezing through his mask (ewww). I actually wasn’t wearing a mask, as I figured I was only going downstairs for maybe 50 seconds and hell. what could possibly happen? So much for that now derailed bit of experimentation. At this point. I may just break out that old army surplus gas mask I’ve owned since the 90’s because the ONLY thing I want to catch these days is this:

shut up and dance!

-GW

Double Shot, No Chaser

Oh. I’m doing fine, (mostly), thanks.

So, I got my second vaccine dose last Thursday and feel pretty good overall, but I think I was a wee bit too tired the last few days. I actually slept most of Monday and part of Tuesday away, which was bad for a few reasons – I was so out of it that I missed the primary election (oops), which I thought wasn’t happening this week, but my sense of time has been off with all this self-quarantining stuff. Oh well. Been playing quite a few games of late, so expect some reviews. All I’ll say is Disco Elysium-The Final Cut may be one of the best-written and consistently surprising games I’ve ever played, but it needs a less expensive physical version and I don’t think I can do a game this great much justice in a brief post, but I’ll try.

-GW

Review: Dark Nights With Poe and Munroe (PS4)

They’re baaaaack. Full motion games developer D’avekki Studios has made the big leap to self-publishing with the digital release of Dark Nights With Poe and Munroe,($12.99) which is now available on the PS4, Xbox and soon, Switch. The game comprised of six episodic tales of a somewhat supernatural nature, with ghosts, a werewolf, a hungry painting demon, a bizarre love triangle and more. Although the game features a few toe-dips into light horror, it’s more of a creepy dark comedy where a bit of previous homework with Davekki’s earlier titles goes a long way in explaining some of the quirkier aspects found here.

Poe (Klemings Koehring) and Munro (Leah Cunard) first appeared in 2018’s great little gem The Shapeshifting Detective and they return in this standalone set where we get to know their characters a bit more, but yes, there’s even more mystery going on in the small village of August, which seems to be a magnet for offbeat supernatural occurrences. In “Frankie” the pair need to deal with a persistent stalker with surprising results. Let’s just say Poe has a way with a knife but we haven’t heard the last of Frankie in this game.

“In Bed with Poe and Monroe” is next, and it’s about a 24-hour radiothon where the two characters need to raise funds to keep the station afloat by staying in bed together (not THAT together) while broadcasting live. Well, it’s about so much more, as a sleepy Munro discovers a few times. Poe also makes a few discoveries that are equally revealing as a jealous ghost (Ayvianna Snow) appears to make his love life even more complicated. This episode has a few scenes like the first where shocks drop in and affect the outcomes of paths to wonderfully different results. More of this strangeness will come.

In Episode Three, “Green With Envy”, the pair are racing against time to find a kidnapped and drugged student (Warrick Simon) before his time runs out. Time is of the essence as the duo’s decisions in this chapter affect the ending and all depends on how you choose to investigate the case. There’s a pair of laugh out loud innuendo bits here when Munro visits guest house owner Violet (Aislinn De’Ath) and a little De’ath goes a long way when Munro misinterprets some simple queries before asking her own. Poe gets his way (sort of) with a pretty teacher (Ashleigh Cole) who may be a suspect, but who’s the mysterious Yvette who calls into the show to say she’s the kidnapper?

Episode Four, “Everybody Changes” brings a hypnotist into the studio, Madame Baratsky (Lara Lemon), who puts Munro into a trance where she relives a past life and tells a disturbing tale of murder. As mentioned above, playing that chapter made me go see the Doctor up close and personal (I bought the game last year on the PS4), an experience I highly recommend. In any event, this episode made me want some sort of Doctor Dekker followup, or at least the desire to replay that game again a few more times.

In Episode Five, “Many Happy Returns”, it’s the day before Munro’s birthday, there’s a full moon and a caller rings in to note he may have almost run over a werewolf. Guess where out two intrepid adventurers are headed? If you guessed “Why, to find out if that’s true, but not before a possible time traveler named Kaspar (Vincent Gould) calls, then shows up to the studio!” Well, you need to be in your own game, as you’re psychic. Like all the episodes, there’s a set-up of events and situations here that definitely hints at more. This give players a hint that the sleepy town of August is quite the nexus for bizarre happenings (like the sudden rock, paper, scissors game in this chapter).

Finally, Episode Six gets truly freaky with “It Started with a Wish” where we get a soul-eating canvas demon named Rose (Rachel Cowles) who lives inside a painting. She grants Poe a wish, which he has to pay for by having Munro hide nine capsules as prizes for ‘lucky’ listeners to find. Those capsules are supposed to have museum tickets inside, but (surprise!), they have a less pleasant gift awaiting. You’ll see. Poe’s wish has very huge consequences both he and Munro have to deal with and there’s a sort of David Lynch meets Night Gallery thing here when the characters have to deal with the results.

As noted, the game teases very much that there are many more August takes to be told, and I like that Poe and Munro’s relationship goes where it does in different ways depending on your choices. In terms of production, this one’s pretty solid. Without fancy effects makeup or gore, the game still conveys an eerie, scary vibe when it needs to, But it’s also funny, sexy and mature where it matters. Some may feel the vignette nature of the episodes might be better served as a single story arc. But I found that a game where time travel seems a quiet reality, dryads may actually exist and so many possible outcomes from charming to deadly are at one’s fingers that I’m all aboard for more. Recommended.

-GW