Loominoodle: Let There Be (Ambient) Light

reese fowler

“Hey, kids! Take care of your eyes… OR ELSE!”

loominoodleAs someone who’s done plenty of TV viewing and gaming at night for ages in near dark to pitch black rooms, I’m at that ripe older age where a few things needed to change. For one, a bit of ambient lighting was something I’d looked at for a while on and off, but never quite committed to in that “Oh, I’ll check this out more later” manner us professional procrastinators do so well. Well, not getting any younger and a nice email out of the blue from the PR guy from Power Practical got a Luminoodle Bias Lighting strip sent my way to try out. Before you even ask if it works, yes indeed it does and my eyes are now happier when camped out in front of the TV these days.

The basic Loominoodle ($9.99) comes in white and is fairly simple to install within about three to five minutes (not counting if you need to move your TV off a mounting to dust off the rear panel first or need to remove a few things close to it like a game console or three so you can turn your TV around). All your HDTV needs is a rear USB port to connect to and you’re golden. Note to pet owners: you’ll absolutely want to gently escort them from the room your TV is in into a closed one for a few minutes  before you install the strip. Hey, you try to explain to a over-eager dog or cat that the thing you’re unrolling isn’t a new toy. Notice they aren’t giving a hoot as they try and ruin your installation process?

Anyway, all you do is turn your TV on, look down at the instruction sheet, plug the Loominoodle into the rear USB slot and get to rolling out the strip according to the pattern you’ve chosen. It’s got a very sticky 3M double-sided tape backing that adheres to your set yet is flexible enough for you to overlap edges in order to make perfect corners. Once you’re all done, get that flat screen back in place and get ready to see the difference a little ambient light can bring. In short, my eyes are in love with my Loominoodle and I’d say the rest of me is pleased as well. There’s also a Luminoodle Color Bias Lighting strip ($19.99) that comes with a remote control unit and allows for a number of customization options, so I’m putting that down as a gift suggestion for a few folks I know could use a little extra (ambient) light in their lives.

-GW

Review unit courtesy Power Practical (thanks, Ben!)

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Review: Mary Skelter: Nightmares

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MSN_bg_pcIdea Factory/Compile Heart games can be hit or miss affairs, but their latest, Mary Skelter: Nightmares is (for my money) one of their best games (and best dungeon crawlers) to date thanks to taking chances with a few tried and true formulas and smacking most them right in their sweet spots. It’s got the turn-based dungeon crawl aspects of the Wizardry series mixed in with real-time chase/combat scenarios, excellent production values and yep, a bit of M-rated fan service lightly sprinkled on top for good measure.

While parts of the plot can be somewhat pedestrian in their usage of familiar anime/manga tropes, things take a few interesting turns as the game goes on. The use of well-known mostly female characters from popular fairy tales works quite well provided your brain properly detaches them from any imagery you might recall (or: you need to re-imagine everyone as anime gals). Of course, the gameplay is where it’s at and what’s here will keep you hooked in to the very end (and then some).  If you’re a fan of the aforementioned Wizardry, Etrian Odyssey, Demon Gaze, and Dungeon Travelers 2 among other dungeon crawlers, this one’s a drop everything and go kiss your Vita if you own one event.

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Some Kiwami Films For Yakuza Fans

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With Yakuza Kiwami out now and hopefully selling well for Sega as an evergreen title into the future, overall interest in the long-running series over the past few years seems high enough that I’m thinking some of you folks might be interested in a few of the many Japanese gangster films out there. If you’re new to them, this very short list of recommendations may pack a ton of surprises on a few fronts.

If you’ve played Yakuza 0, Yakuza 4 or more recently, Kiwami (which means “extreme” in Japanese), you’ll very clearly see cinematic influences in abundance throughout the series. Even though the games are set in a more modern version of Japan, most of these films have very similar scenes that show how in general, some criminal behavior never really changes and it’s quite a draw for some who choose to live that lifestyle despite the risks.

Anyway, just step into this alley over here and I’ll set you up right… or set you upright after setting you up, right?

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Cops Vs Thugs * – Prolific director Kinji Fukusaku made a number of great yakuza-themed films, but this 1975 gem is probably his best. Notable for a brutal interrogation scene where an actor playing a gangster is actually beaten by actors playing crooked cops (the rehearsal footage is included as one of the bonuses), that scene is somehow very tame once added to the assorted forms of other violence on display.

When crooked but loyal to a fault cop (Bunta Sugawara) and his equally crooked and loyal to a fault Yakuza pal Hirotani (Hiroki Matsukata) clash with a gung-ho young detective who wants all corruption purged from the force, plenty of mayhem ensues. There’s not a dull moment at all here and it’s also a case of seemingly minor characters having major roles as the plot twists pile up.

Fukusaku’s candid camera catches it all, sometimes tilting mid-action during certain scenes and freeze-framing during others for added emphasis. The imminent threat of random violence and no clear black and white heroes makes you almost root for both sides. But you’ll see that there’s no winners here when all is said and done. This one’s a must despite the kind of goofy title as well as a great way to embellish your Kiwami experience outside the game.

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Review: Night Trap: 25th Anniversary Edition

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Good luck finding one of these, folks!

NT_tinyPlaying Night Trap after about 15 or so years away from any version brought back a few sour memories. Not those about the game’s campy/cheesy vibe and still somewhat clunky gameplay that’s better if you don’t use a walkthrough to blow through your purchase within the first hour of the day you buy it.  Nope, I ended up thinking too hard about how a bunch of overly zealous politicians lied their asses off to the public (and themselves) about an intentionally silly videogame being a potential root cause for real-life violence and mayhem.

Just as they did with comic books, Dungeons & Dragons, and Hollywood movies before that (I’d include Prohibition in this as well, but let’s not get too carried away today), Night Trap was made an easy scapegoat back in 1993 along with Mortal Kombat and a few other games deemed inappropriate for kids who very likely knew they weren’t being brainwashed into axe murderers en masse. As a result, it ended up selling out in spots, was briefly taken off the market but eventually reemerged on 3DO, Sega 32X, MS-DOS, and Mac OS, turning absolutely no one into a sex fiend or blood-lusting serial killer (well, the last time I checked, at least). In terms of the remaster/re-release, Screaming Villains has definitely delivered the definitive Night Trap experience, which is kind of like saying you’re getting dented canned tuna for dinner, but it’s the best damn dented canned tuna you can buy.

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Blu-Ray Review: Brain Damage

BD_AV090 (Custom)I somehow missed out on Frank Henenlotter’s Brain Damage when it was first released back in 1987, but it’s been on my very long list of films to see for quite some time.  Arrow Video’s recent restoration is pretty awesome and is filled to the brim with some great bonus features. Depending on your tastes this is one of those outrageously creative films that you’ll love or hate, but like Henenlotter’s other exploitation flicks (the three Basket Case movies, Frankenhooker, Bad Biology), your best bet is to jump in feet first and enjoy the wild ride.

When a somewhat phallic-shaped brain-eating parasite named Aylmer (or Elmer) escapes from the apartment of the elderly couple keeping it as a twisted addiction source and ends up a few doors away with a new host, Brian (Rick Herbst), things get gory quite quickly. The old couple had been feeding Aylmer fresh from the meat market calf brains thinking they could sate his hunger, but you know how these things go in movies like this, right? Yes, there’s an explanation for how the parasite ended up in the apartment of that couple, but that comes later on in the film and I’m not telling.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Big Knife

The Big KnifeAA014One of those interesting “message” pictures of the 50’s, Robert Aldrich’s 1955 filmed version of Clifford Odets’ 1949 play The Big Knife works pretty well as a sort of riff on Sunset Boulevard, packing in mostly solid performances from a fine cast. Yes, there’s a certain “stagey” feeling to the film as well as a few scenery-chomping bits colliding like lumbering wrestlers in a busted ring. But it works well enough to leave an impression with a few memorable “noirish” scenes that make for a powerful viewing experience.

Jack Palance (trust me, just roll with it and it works) is Charles Castle, hot Hollywood hunk with a particularly pernicious problem. He’s set to sign a seven-year contract extension with studio head Stanley Shriner Hoff (Rod Steiger in full tilt gloriously nasty mode), but his wife Marion (Ida Lupino) has had it with Charlie’s womanizing ways which obviously threaten their somewhat busted marriage and properly raising their young son. As the film begins, the harried couple is estranged and already living apart, but Charlie is constantly working “hard” on keeping the rubble of their happier days somewhat upright. Charlie also finds out Marion has an open marriage proposal from Horatio “Hank” Teagle (Wesley Addy), something that annoys him to no end because he’s something of a hypocrite.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Love Of A Woman

TLOAW_AA015I’d never heard of director Jean Grémillon (1898–1959), but thanks to Arrow Academy, I’m now well-schooled in one of his great films. While not flawless, The Love Of A Woman works just about perfectly if you’re a fan of the pot-boiling tear-jerker romance genre. Granted, it also works fantastically as an example of fine film work as Grémillon was a master behind the camera and there are some striking images here to behold.

When Dr. Marie Prieur (Micheline Presle) decides to take over the job from a well-aged doc at the end of his career on the small island of Ouessant, she’s met by wariness from the locals and made fun of by a part of a crew of men working on the island. After a practical joke by the men on their supervisor, André Lorenzi (Massimo Girotti) ends up in a fight where the doc has to show up to fix a broken nose, Lorenzi begins calling the doctor incessantly asking for a date. After some nudging by a never-married older schoolteacher (Gaby Morlay), The good doctor agrees to André’s request, but their date is ruined after a local child falls gravely ill.

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Blu-Ray Review: Ronin

Ronin_AV098I’ve always viewed Ronin as a sped-up Alfred Hitchcock film, but yep, I’m nuttier than a fruitcake when I need to be. Late director John Frankenheimer’s mostly solid and thrilling 1997 action flick has a few Hitch hallmarks such as an obvious red herring as a major plot device, a bunch of men (and one woman) under pressure crammed into a tough situation, indiscriminate collateral damage thanks to high-speed chases and a story that has at least one major flaw one can overlook when all is said and done.

As usual, Arrow’s stellar Blu-Ray/DVD combo packs in the film and a load of bonus features worth a look. There’s also an alternate ending that is pretty darn awful, but we’ll get to that when we get to that.

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Blu-Ray Review: Re-Animator (Limited Edition)

re-animator le Well, wow. As someone who’d missed out on the film during its theatrical run, I’ve always wanted to catch Re-Animator to see what all the fuss was about. Well, Arrow Video has just released an outstanding 4K transfer of both the theatrical cut and much longer Integral version that’s not not only a must-buy, it’s one of their best releases to date.

Amusingly enough, I’d gotten a copy of Bride of Re-Animator a while back, but stayed away from watching it because I wanted to see the first film before the sequels. Yep, I’m crazy like that. Anyway, yep. This movie is pretty damn great stuff and oh yeah, it’s not for the kiddies at all.

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Take A Good Look Coming to DVD in October

Take A Good Look DVD Ooh, this one’s been a long time coming, but if you like to laugh it up significantly and like old TV (or hey, just want to see something more fun than the usual modern reality junk), well here you go. Okay, so you have to wait until October, but that’s not too far away, right? Right.

Ernie Kovacs: Take A Good Look – The Definitive Collection is now up for pre-order on Shout Factory with the first 1000 copies getting an exclusive bonus disc, Ernie Kovacs: Private Eye, Private Eye. If you’re new to Kovac’s work, you’re in for a real treat. The man did so much to elevate comedy that it’s astounding he only did about ten years worth of work before his untimely death in 1962.

Hmmm… I smell a short press release… it’s minty!
 

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Take A Good Look – The Definitive Collection is now set for release on October 17! This DVD set is the third box set of Ernie Kovacs amazing body of television work (1952 -1962) to be released over the better part of this decade. All 49 existing episodes of Kovacs cockeyed and offbeat gameshow are presented here, fully restored and digitized by the Library of Congress.

Take A Good Look hosted an eclectic mix of guest stars, such as my mom (!), performer Edie Adams, writer/director Carl Reiner, the glamorous Zsa Zsa Gabor, comedian Mort Sahl, Our Gang’s Jean Darling, chess world champion Bobby Fischer, Major League Baseball’s Rogers Hornsby, White House Butler Alonzo Fields, Los Angeles Dodgers Chuck Essegian and Don Drysdale, Hawaiian Congressman Daniel Inouye, Miss America 1959 Mary Ann Mobley, several Olympic athletes, and many mor

-GW