(Not So) Random Film of the Week: Smash Palace

Smash PalaceThanks to a few oddball decisions (some made by people connected with his first film) Roger Donaldson’s second feature film, 1981’s Smash Palace almost didn’t get made. I’ll let you go check out the excellent making of feature on the Arrow Academy disc for the full story, but let’s just say everything worked out in the end and we have a strong followup to Sleeping Dogs to chat about for a spell. Donaldson’s film is a wrenching, raw look at a marriage fallen apart thanks to a lack of communication and what happens when decisions made by the adults in the room spiral past the point of reasonable discourse.

Al Shaw (Bruno Lawrence), a former race car driver looking to restart his career is married to Jacqui (Anna Marie Monticelli), a former nurse he met while recuperating in France after an accident that took him off the track. They eventually wed and moved to a remote spot in New Zealand where Al runs the titular wrecking company. Jacqui despises the run-down location and dull (to her) lifestyle, berating Al for not taking  a solid ongoing offer to sell the business. Despite the tension, love for couple’s daughter, Georgina (Greer Robson), or Georgie, keeps things mostly in check. Unfortunately, Al’s best friend, local cop Ray Foley (Keith Aberdein) catches Jacqui’s eye and ear (Al talks a lot, but tends to ignore his wife because he’s happy in his work) and the two get romantically involved. When Al discovers this, he lashes out (in a hard to watch scene) and yes, Jacqui leaves him for Ray, taking Georgie with her.

 

(Thanks, Arrow Academy!)

 

Things go sideways and downhill from that point on even though Al gets back on the race track with a car he spent a year building. Recklessly, he makes a series of somewhat terrible decisions, some of which where his hand is forced and others where he just reacts out of pure but flawed human instinct.

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Review: Western Digital 2TB Gaming Drive

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Okay, I paid good money for some fanfare music, but it hasn’t arrived yet. Eh, just read the article and have your wallet handy.

One of the more easily solved gamer issues is also something that still seems to stymie some gamers who should already know that a mere 1 terabyte of dedicated storage (which is actually less than 1TB thanks to mandatory system clutter) is far too small once one starts purchasing more content. Demos, DLC, system themes, video footage, screenshots and more all require precious space and yes, that 1TB is very rapidly filled (usually sooner than one thinks). Sure, you can delete content left and right when a new game drops, but this becomes problematic for a few reasons.

Western Digital’s Gaming Drive (available in 2TB ($79.99) and 4TB ($119.99) versions) is a solid, solidly built, supremely easy to use affordable solution to this problem and yes, makes for an excellent purchase for yourself and/or any PS4 gamer on your list.

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(Not So) Random Film of the Week: Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs ArrowBased on the novel Smith’s Dream by C.K. Stead, director Roger Donaldson’s 1977 film Sleeping Dogs is not only a remarkable first feature film, it’s shockingly prescient on a number of fronts. Before I get to the film proper, I’ll note that I chose neither this nor Donaldson’s outstanding second feature, 1981’s Smash Palace because of their implied or direct relevance to some of today’s often depressing news. My movie backlog is just so huge that I decided to grab two films off the top of the stack and these Arrow Academy releases were right on top of that stack. Boo-yah, I guess? Additionally, I’d heard good things about both a while back from a few people who didn’t spoil the stories for me other than to note that both were important films from New Zealand that would be well worth watching. Those people were correct, as these two films are simply superb despite their less than Hollywood budgets.

The government in New Zealand is under chaos after oil talks break down, gas is severely rationed and it seems civil unrest is brewing partly as a result of a rather stubborn prime minister determined to keep the peace (or what he sees as peace) at any cost. Meanwhile, rudderless after breaking up with his wife, a man named Smith (Sam Neill) is driving down a highway when he spies a small island in the distance. At a tiny village’s tinier restaurant, he inquires about the ownership of the island and is given directions to a house owned by two Maori men and is told to bring a bottle of whiskey with him. Smith trades the bottle for the island and run-down house on it, but the motor boat he needs to get there? That costs him his car. Well, at least he gets a free cute dog out of that part of the deal, as it’s forced on him during the trade.

 

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Review: Johnny Turbo’s Arcade: Heavy Burger (Nintendo Switch)

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Holy… wow. this game is too freakin’ incredible. BUY IT. Or at least hope that Mr. Turbo has plans to get in onto a platform you can play it on.

 

Ahem. Every so often a good, well-made game of any genre makes me want to wax poetic, so here you go, a rhyming (not “rappin'” as I can’t do that at all unless it’s leftovers that need storage in the fridge) review of quite a fine Switch game you need to buy (ASAP, as its really, really good). Yes, the (very) old Bad the Bard alter ego has resurfaced from the grave, so expect the following verse to be cringe-worthy at best. Very cringe-worthy, apologies in advance…

(Takes out invisible lute and busted Casio VL-10). Er, go watch this rather conveniently placed trailer while I warm up… I’ll be back below the jump.

 

(Thanks, Flying Tiger Entertainment!)

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Review: Ninjin: Clash of Carrots (Nintendo Switch)

ninjin switch cubeHa. less than thirty seconds into developer Pocket Trap’s excellent Ninjin: Clash of Carrots ($14.99) and I’m cackling like Renfield because while it’s being marketed as a “beat ’em up” style endless runner game, it’s more of an arcade shooter/brawler hybrid and a damn good one at that. Of course, you may need to adjust your brain past the clever marketing stuff and your play style from “runner-based slug-fest” to “arcade shmup/beat ’em up”, but trust me, it makes a pretty cool game all the more cooler once you do.

The story is pretty simple, but comic timing courtesy some well-placed jokes and visual gags at every opportunity keep things fresh and funny.  Your character of choice (Ninjin the rabbit or Akai the fox) is tasked with zipping through the game’s super-colorful levels collecting a village’s stolen carrots while taking down waves of enemies and a series of increasingly challenging sub-bosses and bosses. Yes, you can see it as a sort of brawler based on the many weapons and upgrades you’ll recover from downed baddies or in the two shops you’ll discover.  However, switch to playing this as a coin drop arcade shooter and you’ll see those items in a new light.

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It’s either R(abbit)-Type in disguise, a more hallucinogenic Fantasy Zone, or some other old arcade shmup retooled for today’s gamers. At least that what I get from this auto-scrolling and shooting/slicing stuff.

 

Firstly, the constantly scrolling levels and enemy waves are pure shmup, as are things such as recognizing enemy patterns and the necessity of upgrading to better weapons as you go. Granted, the need to tap out moves constantly is more of an old school shmup and fighter/brawler thing , but you also get screen clearing moves, ranged weapons that feel lifted from shooters and an overall sense of fun that’s addictive enough to make one crave more when the experience is over. Yes, you have swords, spears, axes, meat (!) and other weapons to swing away at baddies with. But the non-stop pacing is made to keep you on your toes as enemy speed and ferocity varies from simple to nightmarish, fluctuating a few times as the game progresses.

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Trilogy of Terror: Your Triple Case of Nightmare Fuel TV is Here

As I’m er, vintage enough to have been around to see it when it premiered back in 1975, it’s just great to see Dan Curtis’ Trilogy of Terror getting a snazzy 4K version and unleashed on the masses by Kino Lorber. This flick put me in a sleepless zone for a while, but it also became one of my favorite scary films that’s lingered in the memory in terms of nailing a particular set of moods and generating a superb amount of tension.

While I kind of wish this restoration would have included Curtis’ nowhere as impressive 1996 followup, Trilogy of Terror II, I’ll take what’s here for the pure scare factor and still somewhat timely Richard Matheson stories. Kino sadly has no new trailer up, but this tiny snippet from the final episode of the anthology, “Amelia” is all you need to know about what’s coming your way when you place that order. The rest of what’s on the disc is listed below the jump.

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Review: ZARVOT (Nintendo Switch)

Zarvot Switch CubeTrying to nail down ZARVOT (A Game About Cubes, by the way) into a specific niche is, in an amusing way, a waste of time because it’s a perfect example of using a less by the book scholarly critical analysis and more of a “shut up and play it!” approach. While you can (and should) snap this up for the solid multiplayer modes, it’s worth the $19.99 alone for the brilliant Story mode and its blend of adventure and puzzle game elements, droll to laugh out loud humor and straight up surreal nature. It’s also a master class in game design as well as showing off the versatility of the Unity engine thanks to Sam Eng (@snowhydra), who put 4 years into making this great looking instant classic. Oh, and the soundtrack? yep, worth paying for as well.

In a nutshell, cube pals Mustard and Charcoal set out to put together the ultimate birthday present for their cube pal, Red, stuff goes wrong and needs to made right. There’s a lot of laser fire involved in this and saying anything more would ruin a hell of a lot of surprises. When you find yourself putting down a controller to either laugh at the absurdity of it all or pause to reflect on an emotional issue a character is facing (for cubes, insects and other assorted creatures, they’re quite… human, warts and all), you kind of get a better sense of game appreciation. I actually wish this were on a physical game card because it’s one of those keepers that might get lost in the well over 1200 games (and counting) filling up the eShop.

But I’m getting all scholarly and critical here, so let me stop that and dip into the fun stuff…

 

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Review: MyCharge PowerGame (Nintendo Switch)

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Yep. it does exactly what it needs to do and does a really excellent job in the process.

 

As a recent Switch owner, a few things bug me about the system, one of them being the battery life is somewhat anemic if one tends to play for extended periods of time in undocked mode. I had been poking around looking for affordable solutions and based on some review scanning, there were a few interesting candidates but almost all had some flaws from dangling wires to not enough power for my tastes. Granted, my Switch has generally stayed docked or has only traveled to a few rooms inside the apartment. However, some recent invites from friends to pop by with my Switch to either see it in action or just to play with fellow Switch owners had my eye peeled for something that I could also show off as a solid charger that wouldn’t break the bank and be worthy of a hearty recommend. Well, “Say hello to my little friend (BOOM!)”

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Out of the box and ready for some mating.

 

The MyCharge PowerGame ($49.99) is an absolute must for Switch owners who want a decent price point, portability and most of all, a battery pack that’s packing plenty of power where it counts. Simple to set up and sporting its own kickstand, it’s an accessory that has pretty much no caveats.The 7000mAh battery inside that PowerGame comes holding a charge, so once attached (which took all of ten seconds, but parents will want to show younger kids or attach the battery for them), you’re ready to play. That said, I plugged the included USB-C charger cable unto the nearest USB out (your Switch dock will work nicely) just to top it up for some heavy testing. I really liked the kickstand on the unit because it’s placed in a better spot than the one on the Switch. The only minor (very minor) issue is if you need to add, remove or swap out the micro SD card, you’ll need to remove the PowerGame or do that card change thing before it’s attached.

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Lucio Fulci’s ZOMBIE: 4K, 3 Ways, On the Way in November

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If I’m not mistakes, we got a load of these posters in the NYC subways as well when the film was initially released in the US. I’d kill for a few to sell off now. Uh, figure of speech, that.

 

Yum. If you’re an old coot like me (or old enough to remember), this pair of TV ads for Lucio Fulci’s horror masterpiece, ZOMBIE. Hey, even though I was 15 at the time, they both kind of sunk into the memory like a… well, like a zombie munching on some fresh brains. I didn’t actually see the film until a few years later thanks to a friend who had it and a bunch of other horror flicks on a VHS tape he’d put together and, yeah, it was worth the wait.

Between the jump scares and general relentlessness when things got going, Tisa Farrow (Mia’s sister) getting it in the eye like Moe Greene, but slower and with a rather pointy piece of wood (ouch), a zombie versus shark scene (no pirates, sorry… but that’s a real shark!), and the classic line delivery early on: “Hey, watch out for the sail!” that kind of starts off this gore-fest in the most comic of manners before things get grim. Yes, there are slow stretches, but the film delivers all the goods when it counts from the icky to the just plain weird (conquistador zombies, ftw!).

 

 

Anyway, the fine folks at Blue Underground and MVD Entertainment Group are releasing not one, not two, but THREE 4K cover variants of the film, newly remastered in 4K and set to crawl your way on November 27, 2018. Actually, there are a whopping SIX variants total when you add in the older 2K BR and DVD versions on the BU site listed here, here, and… wait a sec… HERE. Collect ’em all!

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The C64 Mini: Some More Retro For Your Early Gamer Gifting (Or Yourself)

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Remember kids, when you retro-trip, wear proper headgear. Falling too hard can be a hazard to your gaming skills. Or something like that.

 

Remember that C64 Mini post from a few months back? Well, the system is now available and it’s got a fair enough price point ($79.99 US) to recommend if your tastes roll towards the old school and you don’t mind a few quirks from the old days of gaming.  There are a bunch of these mini-consoles out already or coming out this year and next thanks to Nintendo’s success with its shrunk-down NES and SNES systems, so we’ll see how well each does among gamers, collectors and anyone just looking for a simple to get into gift for that special someone.

 

 

Yeah, yeah, the emulation only crowd is chuckling away at these to some extent as they cut themselves a nice slice of Raspberry Pi. But if people who just want a fuss-free gift or just aren’t tech savvy enough to grab some sort of emulation device and swipe ROMs off the internet with relish, I say let them spend their money as they please especially if it makes them happy.

EDIT: Ah, I see one issue I’d read about elsewhere has been addressed. This is a good thimg:

 

 

-GW