Poll Results: Best Quentin Tarantino Film

When it comes to Quentin Tarantino, there’s no denying that the man has a pretty impressive track record. From Reservoir Dogs to Inglourious Basterds, QT has always delivered the goods. Still, it wasn’t much of a surprise what was voted as his best:

Pulp Fiction

THE RESULTS:
– Pulp Fiction: 10 votes
– Inglourious Basterds: 4 votes
– Reservoir Dogs: 3 votes
– Kill Bill Vol. 1: 3 votes
– Jackie Brown: 2 votes
– Kill Bill Vol. 2: 1 vote

I thought this would be a little closer, but this one had Pulp Fiction written all over it. Nice to see a couple of votes for Jackie Brown slip in there, as that is certainly an underrated film.

Thanks to all who voted! This week’s poll fits in well with the results for this year’s most anticipated release: who is your favorite Batman actor? Will the current Dark Knight, Christian Bale, be crowned the winner? Or will a former hero prevail?

7×7 Link Award

7x7 Link Award

The latest meme going around the blogging community is the 7×7 Link Award. I had the pleasure of receiving this from three different bloggers, and I am very grateful for this. Thanks to The Focused Filmographer, Anti-Film School and moviesandsongs365 for sending the award my way — you guys rock!

THE RULES:
1.) Tell everyone something that no one else knows about you.
2.) Link to one of the posts that I personally think best fits the following categories: Most Beautiful Piece, Most Helpful Piece, Most Popular Piece, Most Controversial Piece, Most Surprisingly Successful Piece, Most Underrated Piece, and Most Pride-Worthy Piece.
3.) Pass the award on to seven other bloggers.

PART ONE:
I am a big fan of cult movies, and I have seen THE ROOM an unhealthy number of times. Over the weekend, I went to another screening of that film, my second time seeing it with both the director Tommy Wiseau and co-star Greg Sestero in attendance (I wrote about my first Q&A screening last year). This time I took a long-time buddy of mine to see it, as nothing can top introducing someone to the insanity of THE ROOM. He was so hyped up that he even asked a question during the Q&A session. I had told him beforehand that there are two parts of life: life before THE ROOM and life after THE ROOM. He asked Tommy if this was true. I have no idea what Tommy said, but we were both invited on stage, and I shook the hands of Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero. Kind of a surreal experience, and one I was not expecting.

By the way, my friend loved the movie, and now the cult of THE ROOM has one new member.

PART TWO:
1) Most Beautiful Piece: I have only written about sports once on this blog, despite being a very, very big fan of them. Last year, my beloved Detroit Lions made the playoffs for the first time since 1999. I was ecstatic and just had to write about their season, in a post titled “Thoughts from a Devoted Detroit Lions Fan.” I poured my heart into that piece, though I didn’t let it get as long or detailed as I initially envisioned, and it also has a photo of myself and my girlfriend at Ford Field. She is what makes that post beautiful. :)

2) Most Helpful Piece: Probably my Top 25 Albums of 2011 and Top 30 Albums of 2010 posts. I put a lot of work into them, with the ultimate goal being to share new music with my readers. I am a huge music lover at heart, and I especially enjoy turning people on to new artists.

3) Most Popular Piece: Easily the introduction of the 50 Movies Project from last summer. Somehow it became Freshly Pressed and sat on the WordPress homepage for the entire Labor Day weekend.

4) Most Controversial Piece: Maybe my less-than-glowing review of Midnight in Paris? There were also a few movies from my last project that I couldn’t connect with: Akira, 8 1/2, and especially Crash. Just mentioning Crash makes me upset.

5) Most Surprisingly Successful Piece: My silent film review of Battleship Potemkin. I was expecting very little in the way of comments, but I was surprised to see such an enthusiastic response to my post. I ought to write about more silent films…

6) Most Underrated Piece: That’s a tough one. How about my review of Deus Ex: Human Revolution? This was a rare new release gaming review from me, and a bit lengthier than usual. My beer reviews don’t get much love, but that may be because I write about too many local brews.

7) Most Pride-Worthy Piece: I don’t know if I am more proud of one post than any others, but I am pleased with how my recent Into the Wild review turned out. The whole movie project is going quite well, actually.

PART THREE:
Pass the award on to seven other bloggers: I tried to go with some who I haven’t seen receive this award yet.
1) Hot Dogs in the Dark
2) It Rains… You Get Wet
3) Goto Unknown
4) GregHorrorShow
5) My Brain on Games
6) SlickGaming
7) The Vortex Effect

Movie Project #9: Paris, Texas [1984]

Due to the overwhelming success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a second round for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Paris, Texas [1986]

Paris, Texas [1984]
Director: Wim Wenders
Genre: Drama
Starring: Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski and Dean Stockwell
Runtime: 147 minutes

A lot can happen in four years.

Desperate to get away from his past, Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton) wanders mysteriously through the Mojave Desert. When we see him, he doesn’t look well. He is wearing a weathered suit jacket and tie with a worn-out red baseball cap on his head, and he has a scraggly beard that looks to not have been touched in months. Upon stumbling into an old dusty saloon, Travis searches for water before settling on a handful of ice cubes. He puts them in his mouth, begins chewing, and promptly passes out.

Paris, Texas [1986]

When he comes to, he is in a nearby hospital. A German doctor has sifted through Travis’s supplies (essentially just his barren wallet) and finds a phone number. A quick call goes out to Travis’s brother, Walt (Dean Stockwell), and he drives out immediately to pick up his long-lost sibling.

It takes a long time for Travis to begin talking. Once he finally does so, we learn that he suffers from amnesia, often having difficulty putting pieces of his memories back together. He has been missing for four years after he got up and left behind his wife and toddler son without them knowing. He has a penchant for the town of Paris, Texas, which puzzles his brother. There are a lot of question marks surrounding this startling development, and the film follows Travis as he begins to re-connect with his past.

Paris, Texas [1986]

Paris, Texas is a slow and brooding film that places a heavy emphasis on dialogue and character development. Some may take issue with the methodical pacing, but it’s hard to look away from the beautiful cinematography, and to also focus on the incredible acting from all involved. Many claim this to be Harry Dean Stanton’s finest performance, and this is not a point I will argue. The child actor who plays Travis’s son, Hunter (Hunter Carson), does remarkably well at showcasing the uncertainties of developing a relationship with a father he doesn’t remember. Still, special mention must be made of Nastassja Kinski, who plays Travis’s long-lost wife, Jane. The scenes where the former lovers finally confront each other, behind a one-sided mirror, are among the most heartbreaking I have seen.

Paris, Texas won the Palme d’Or at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, and it has developed a bit of a cult following since then. It’s hard to promote the irrational behavior of someone such as the character of Travis Henderson, but the film does a tremendous job of keeping us interested anyway. I can’t say I connected to the film as much as some of its more vocal supporters have, but this tale is one I will certainly not be forgetting.

8/10

 
Interesting bit of trivia: This was the favorite movie of both Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith. It was also a major influence on U2’s seminal album, The Joshua Tree.

Poll Results: What major 2012 movie release are you most looking forward to seeing?

Happy Friday! I have decided to start doing these poll results every Friday, which is why I kept this one open a little longer. The wait turned out to be a good thing, as this poll had its highest participation yet! Thanks to all who voted. Your most anticipated 2012 movie is:

The Dark Knight Rises

THE RESULTS:
– The Dark Knight Rises: 7 votes
– Django Unchained: 5 votes
– The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: 5 votes
– The Amazing Spider-Man: 4 votes
– Skyfall: 3 votes
– Prometheus: 3 votes
– The Avengers: 2 votes
– The Hunger Games: 2 votes
– Other: Looper: 1 vote

No surprises here. It seems EVERYONE is excited to see Christopher Nolan’s conclusion to the epic Dark Knight trilogy. Seeing as how every movie listed got a vote (plus Looper), this just shows how strong 2012’s movie lineup is. I am most looking forward to Django Unchained, simply because Tarantino movies don’t come around too often, but I will almost certainly be seeing all of these in the theater. Great voting, guys.

Speaking of Tarantino, be sure to vote in this week’s poll for your favorite Quentin Tarantino film! As always, the poll can be found on the right side of the page. Also, if you have any ideas for future polls, please share them in the comments. I am always open to new ideas.

One more thing: The Warning Sign is now on Facebook! Don’t be afraid to “Like” us and share the love.

Have a great weekend, folks!

Retro Gaming Project #1: Castlevania [NES]

Castlevania [NES]

Castlevania
System: NES
Genre: Platforming
Publisher: Konami/Nintendo
Developer: Konami
Release Date: September 26, 1986

My first Castlevania game was the PS1’s Symphony of the Night. I bought it on a whim, not knowing what to expect despite seeing great review scores. It didn’t take long for me to get hooked on the game’s mashup of action, platforming and RPG styles, all while providing a massive castle to explore. Even the notoriously bad dialogue did nothing but enhance the experience.

Since then, I have played many of the handheld Castlevania titles, most of which are near the level of quality of Symphony of the Night. I have always been embarrassed to say, however, that I have never played anything before SOTN. Wanting to play through this series from the beginning was a BIG reason why I started this retro project.

Entering the gates of Castlevania. So...much...burnt...orange.

It seems unlikely that Konami knew what they had on their hands while making the very first Castlevania. Surely they couldn’t have expected a seemingly generic horror game to spawn more than a dozen sequels spanning over 25 years. But alas, that is what happened despite its humble roots.

Castlevania begins with our whip-carrying hero, Simon Belmont, approaching the castle’s massive entrance gate. He makes his way through the courtyard, cracking open lamps to obtain hearts and weapon power-ups, before entering the castle itself. The castle shows its age right off the bat, as its wallpaper has random tears, exposing the brick beneath. Simon is quickly greeted by zombies, moving much faster than you would expect, but they can be eradicated by a simple crack of the whip. Candles can be broken for more hearts and items, and the path is generally straightforward.

It doesn’t take long for shit to get real.

Whipping a large skeleton, one of the more easier enemies.

While the first few levels aren’t too difficult, the game sees a drastic spike in difficulty about halfway through the campaign. Medusa heads fly through the air, determined to knock you off the ground and into the deep, dark abyss below. Tiny flea men bounce around as if all hopped up on caffeine, sporadically moving about while constantly bumping into Simon. Getting hit by an enemy in the later levels takes up a significantly larger amount of his health, often causing cheap and frustrating deaths.

Don’t get me started about the bosses. The battles against Death (level five) and Dracula (the final boss) are among the hardest I have EVER played in a video game. It took me a hell of a long time to just get to Death, but no matter what I tried I could not beat the bastard through conventional means. Dracula was just as bad, although his second form doesn’t hold a candle compared to the first.

Frankenstein & Igor, the bosses of stage four

There are unlimited continues, thankfully, but they generally place you at the start of the stage upon going through the original batch of lives. So yeah, Simon has to make his way past all of the Medusa heads, Axe men, flea men and random other horror enemies before facing that son-of-a-bitch known as Death.

What makes the game most difficult are its decidedly poor controls. Simon cannot control his direction once in the air, and he can only crack his whip straight ahead. When he is hit by an enemy, he goes flying several feet backward. This leads to some infuriatingly cheap deaths, particularly from those blasted Medusa heads or flying bats that show up at the most inopportune times.

Climbing the stairs to that son-of-a-bitch Dracula

Borderline extreme difficulty be damned, this is still Castlevania, and damn if it isn’t fun. The classic, sexy 8-bit tunes, the campy horror atmosphere, the random inclusion of cooked turkey hiding in the walls… this is what it’s all about. I haven’t been as pissed off at a video game as much as this in recent years, but I couldn’t stop playing it anyway. A great start to an impressive franchise.

8/10

Movie Project #8: Into the Wild [2007]

Due to the overwhelming success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a second round for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Into the Wild [2007]

Into the Wild [2007]
Director: Sean Penn
Genre: Adventure/Biography/Drama
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Vince Vaughn and Catherine Keener
Runtime: 148 minutes

I was skeptical upon my viewing of Into the Wild. I have friends who swear by this movie, ranking it among their favorites, but I was worried that it would be too similar to Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man, a similarly true tale that did very little for me. While both films have similar concepts — a man giving up everything to live in the wild — I felt that I could empathize more with Into the Wild’s lead character, much to the credit of director Sean Penn’s adaptation.

Emile Hirsch stars as Christopher McCandless, a middle-class kid who promptly gives up everything after graduating from college. He donates his savings (approx. $24,000) to Oxfam, ditches his car near a beach, and proceeds to live as a vagabond, happily drifting across the continental United States. His reason? He doesn’t agree with society, and the feeling of being trapped by its expectations. His ultimate goal is to live alone in the Alaskan wilderness.

This is an admirable notion, to be sure, but his lack of care and respect for his family is appalling. He doesn’t like his parents (Marcia Gay Harden and William Hurt), a stuck-up couple that are abusive to each other, but his little sister (Jena Malone) adores him. He shuns all of them, opting to go on his own personal journey.

Into the Wild [2007]

Christopher’s selfishness is disturbing, but it’s hard to stay upset at him thanks to Hirsch’s fantastic performance. He is charming, intelligent and has a strong set of morals when dealing with stranger (i.e. passing up on the chance to fornicate with a 16-year-old Kristen Stewart).

On the road, Christopher dubs himself Alexander Supertramp, and he meets a wide variety of characters, all memorable in their own way. There’s an old hippie couple (Catherine Keener and Brian H. Dierker) that he develops a strong connection with. In South Dakota, Alexander gets a job with a harvesting company owned by Wayne Westerberg (Vince Vaughn). In California, he meets an old retired veteran (Hal Holbrook, in an amazing performance) who begins to feel as if “Supertramp” is his own grandson. In different ways, Christopher makes an impact on all of their lives, then quickly goes off on his own, seemingly never to be seen again.

Into the Wild [2007]

The film is presented in nonlinear fashion, showing us glimpses of Christopher alone in Alaska, then showing us segments from his road trip leading up to that point. This connection is masterfully created by Sean Penn, who also wrote the screenplay. The cinematography is simply stunning, beautifully showcasing the glorious splendor that can be found in a country as large as the United States, even in places that might not be expected (i.e. South Dakota).

Special mention must be made of the movie’s soundtrack, performed by Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder. I am not a big Pearl Jam guy, but damn if this score doesn’t hit all the right spots. A perfect fit for the vast, expansive nature of the movie’s central theme.

Perhaps Into the Wild runs a little long, and yes, the main character is decidedly selfish, but this film is emotionally stirring in ways that I was not expecting. I felt a connection to this young man and his idealistic beliefs. He had a great message (and could have redeemed himself), it’s just a shame that he took it to such an extreme.

8/10

Movie Review: Jeff, Who Lives at Home [2011]

Jeff, Who Lives at Home [2011]

Jeff, Who Lives at Home [2011]
Director: Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon and Judy Greer
Runtime: 83 Minutes

Living as a 30-year-old shut-in would seemingly provide an ample amount of time to think about things and attempt to gain a greater meaning from life. Especially if said shut-in is a pot smoking slacker who lives in his mother’s basement. This is Jeff (Jason Segel), a guy who coasts through life while waiting for his destiny to come to him. He has a strong affinity for M. Night Shyamalan’s 2002 film, Signs, and he believes that everything happens for a reason, just like in that movie.

One day, Jeff receives a phone call from an angry person looking for “Kevin”. This is a seemingly wrong number dial to anyone else, but Jeff does not see it this way. He takes this to be a sign and heads off to run an errand, which allows him the opportunity to keep an eye out for more potential clues. This simple trip to the hardware store becomes an adventure when he sees a young guy on the bus wearing a “Kevin” basketball jersey. A series of unexpected events leads Jeff to run into his detached older brother, Pat (Ed Helms), who seemingly has it all: a wife, a house, a well-paying job.

However, the two of them stumble upon Pat’s wife, Linda (Judy Greer) having lunch with another man. In an effort to find out what is going on, they begin following her car, acting as amateur private detectives. Suddenly their mundane day has become an adventure.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home [2011]

We also meet the mother of Jeff and Pat, Sharon (Susan Sarandon), who is randomly instant messaged by someone at work, a secret admirer. This gives her normal office routine a pleasant jolt, quite similar to what is happening with her sons.

This all ties together in a charming, pleasing way, and there are quite a few laughs throughout. The Duplass brothers have an offbeat sense of humor (see: 2010’s Cyrus), but it works quite well with such strong names attached to the script. Segel and Helms are given a chance to show off their acting chops, as each are given some surprisingly powerful dramatic moments. One scene involving Helms and Greer arguing about their dysfunctional marriage is about as raw and vivid as it gets.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home [2011]

While sweet and generally pleasing, the film has some noticable issues. The Duplass brothers have a bizarre tendency to frequently zoom in and out at a rapid pace, which ultimately feels unnecessary in the context of the film. I also noticed several instances where the characters would leave a situation without properly resolving the matter (i.e. not paying for a bill at a restaurant, not paying taxi fare, etc.). Minor quibbles, yes, but these loose ends could have been easily tied up.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home has gained a wider release than I would have guessed (I saw it at an AMC Theater), which is a nice surprise for a film like this. While not perfect, the movie is an enjoyable affair that wisely mixes up humor and drama, all while utilizing a great cast with solid chemistry.

7/10

For a counter viewpoint, take the words from another moviegoer at my theater. Displeased with my reaction of “it was pretty good”, this loudmouth patron yelled “Pretty good?!?!? THAT WAS FUCKING AWESOME!” So yeah, your mileage may vary.

Movie Project #7: Casino Royale [2006]

Due to the overwhelming success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a second round for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Casino Royale [2006]

Casino Royale [2006]
Director: Martin Campbell
Genre: Action/Adventure/Crime
Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green and Judi Dench
Runtime: 144 minutes

It seems there is always one startling revelation with these movie projects. Most people couldn’t believe that I hadn’t seen Back to the Future in last year’s edition; this year, the big surprise is my lack of experience with James Bond. Somehow, despite 22 entries into the series, Mr. Bond has eluded me. I feel like I may have seen all or part of Goldeneye when I was much younger, but my memory is foggy at best. I was unsure of where to start, but the seemingly unanimous praise for the fairly recent Casino Royale sent me in that direction.

Let’s just say I want to see more of Bond.

Casino Royale marks Daniel Craig’s first appearance as 007, and the action gets started in a hurry. An early scene shows a frantic foot chase through a Madagascar construction site, including a run up some staggeringly tall ladders that gave me a case of vertigo. Seriously, it was a freakin’ thrill ride, and from that point on I was hooked.

Casino Royale [2006]

The movie follows the early days of Bond’s career as Agent 007. His first mission is to find and stop Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelson), a banker who funds terrorist organizations, from winning a high-stakes poker tournament in Montenegro. In this instance, high stakes equals a $10 million buy-in. Le Chiffre is something of a poker aficionado, so this isn’t an easy task.

Along the way, Bond seduces a married man’s wife, stops a terrorist attack at the Miami International Airport, and falls in love with a stunningly beautiful (and intelligent) Treasury agent, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). Oh yeah, he is also brutally tortured and has a near-death experience. All in a day’s work, right?

Casino Royale is a wild ride, and I wish I had been able to experience this intense adrenaline rush on the big screen. Daniel Craig is on top of his game here, effortlessly stepping in to play one of cinema’s biggest names, and the famous Bond women are phenomenal. I could have done without the stop-start double ending, but I liked the way it set things up for future entries. This movie is a lot of fun, and more importantly, it has me interested in seeing more from the franchise.

8/10

So, Bond fans, where do I go next? I want to see Quantum Solace despite hearing mixed reviews, but what else would you recommend?

Quick Reviews: Detour [1945], Ghost Dog [1999], Series 7 [2001], The Secret World of Arrietty [2010], Mass Effect [2007]

This has been an unexpectedly busy month, but I still found time to do a new batch of mini-reviews:

MOVIES

Detour [1945]
Detour [1945]
This short Film Noir (runtime: 68 minutes) has gained a lot of respect over the years, and rightfully so. Tom Neal stars as Al, a piano musician who decides to hitchhike from New York City to Hollywood in order to meet up with his starry-eyed dame. Along the way, he gets a ride from a well-off bookie in a convertible. This is where shit hits the fan. While taking a turn driving, Al pulls over to put up the top during a rainstorm. It is at this time that he notices the bookie has passed out, and upon opening the car door, his new friend falls out and hits his head on a rock. Al freaks out, takes his wallet and car, and continues on to Hollywood. He meets the femme fatale of the film, Vera (Ann Savage), and boy is she a cold-hearted woman! She is easily one of the nastiest women I have seen in a noir, and poor Al just can’t catch a break. It’s amazing just how much plot was able to get crammed into this brief film, and it is worthy of its praise as one of the more underrated Film Noirs. I could have done without the tacked-on final scene, but this is an enjoyably dark and gritty way to spend an hour. 8/10

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai [1999]
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai [1999]
Talk about an unorthodox badass. Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) is an inner-city self-trained samurai, a guy who acts as a hitman and lives in a pigeon coop. His best friend is an immigrant who doesn’t speak a lick of English. Ghost Dog is a weird dude, but he is lethal with a weapon, and he isn’t afraid of anyone despite getting tangled up in some nasty mafia business. This Jim Jarmusch film is a little slow in spots, but its odd humor (i.e. an old mob gangster belting out some Flava Flav jams) and killer RZA-curated soundtrack work greatly in its favor. 7.5/10

Series 7: The Contenders
Series 7: The Contenders [2001]
This dark satire of reality TV is equal parts Battle Royale and The Hunger Games. The concept is that six contestants are chosen via a ‘random’ lottery, with the ultimate goal being to kill off the other participants and remain the last person standing. Director Daniel Minahan, a former reality TV producer himself, does a terrific job making the movie feel like an extended marathon of an actual reality show, complete with Will Arnett as the narrator. The movie has a cool premise, and the production fits the theme perfectly, but it never really digs into anything meaningful. Yeah, reality TV sucks, and it’s fun to bash it, but the spoof could have had more of a bite to it. Still, an enjoyable enough movie, and a mindless way to spend 87 minutes. 6/10

The Secret World of Arrietty [2010]
The Secret World of Arrietty [2010]
Studio Ghibli’s latest feature is a somber and melancholy affair, yet remains charming at the same time. Arrietty (voiced by Bridgit Mendler) is a “borrower”, a little person who lives under the floorboards of a house with her parents (voiced by real-life couple Amy Poehler and Will Arnett). They make a living by borrowing unneeded supplies from the human beings (i.e. sugar cubes, tissue paper, etc.). Arrietty forms an unlikely friendship with a young terminally ill human boy, Shawn (David Henrie), but these types of interactions are risky for the borrowers, who could lose everything if discovered. The plot plays with our curiosity, but its slow-moving pace may not fare well with young children, and it takes too long to get to the meat of the story. The animation is gorgeous, as expected, but the soundtrack is just cheesy and feels out of place. Arrietty is a decent movie, but does not compare to the high marks previously set by Studio Ghibli. 7/10

VIDEO GAMES

Mass Effect [Xbox 360, 2007]
Mass Effect [Xbox 360, 2007]
After starting and stopping my campaign a couple times, I finally sat down and played through the entirety of Mass Effect. Yeah, I am quite a few years late to the party, but better late than never. This sci-fi action/RPG epic was a lot of fun, though it started off slow as hell. It wasn’t until I left the Citadel, the huge political space station, that the game picked up. I became hooked once I was able to explore the galaxy and began visiting untouched planets. Driving the Mako vehicle was a bit of a chore, to put it mildly, but the rewards of new side quests and items made it worth it. It was a lot of fun to explore character relationships (I romanced Liara) and make an effort to either be “good” or “bad” (I opted for Paragon until the very end — let’s just say I wasn’t a fan of the Citadel). Mass Effect isn’t a perfect game by any means — the freezing and drops in frame rate were especially annoying — but the great story made this a fun experience anyway. Can’t wait to play through the rest of the trilogy. 8/10

Have you guys seen any of these movies or played this video game? What do you think of them?

Video Game Review: Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box [Nintendo DS, 2009]

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box
System: Nintendo DS
Genre: Puzzle/Adventure
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Level-5
Release Date: August 24, 2009

When it comes to puzzle games, the Nintendo DS certainly does not have a shortage of them. There are several great games in the genre, but one series in particular rises above the rest. The Professor Layton series is quickly becoming a favorite of mine, and it has been going strong since 2008. Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box represents the second entry in the series (there are now four, with a fifth on the way).

Everyone’s favorite top-hatted gentleman, Layton, and his young apprentice, Luke, are back and looking to solve a new mystery. After traveling to meet the Professor’s mentor, Dr. Schrader, they are shocked to find him dead in his apartment. The circumstances surrounding his passing are peculiar, and rumors are swirling that his death was caused by the fabled Elysian Box, a chest that is thought to kill anyone who opens it. The only thing left behind in the doctor’s apartment is a train ticket for the luxurious Molentary Express, so the duo hop onboard to learn more about this bizarre situation.

While the story is deliriously offbeat, it does a good job of maintaining interest, especially when the train reaches a small town that is enveloped with secrets.

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box

Of course, no one really plays Professor Layton games for their stories — it’s all about the puzzles! Diabolical Box has received a nice boost to the tune of 150+ puzzles of varying styles and levels of difficulty. Some are simple and can be solved in a matter of seconds; others can take much, much longer. Everything is fair game: logic puzzles, brain teasers, sliding puzzles, peg solitaire, and so on. The variety is very much appreciated, as it helps keeps the gameplay fresh throughout.

If you are familiar with the previous game, Professor Layton and the Curious Village, then you will feel right at home here. The two games are similar in scope, with the differences being a new story and puzzles, as well as different mini-games.

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box

An example of a key puzzle

As rewards for completing puzzles, you can receive different objects that are used for various side projects. Some are silly, such as obtaining toys that will give a morbidly obese hamster a workout, whereas others are more interesting, like finding new herbs to brew different types of tea. There are also bonuses that can be unlocked that show character profiles, sound clips and other gameplay aspects. In total, the campaign should last about a dozen hours or more, if you take the time to investigate each area for new puzzles.

I don’t think I have ever seen a poor review for a Professor Layton game, and there is a reason for that: they are just great, quality titles. It doesn’t hurt that Layton and Luke are a charming tandem, two classy chaps who always take the high road. With 150+ puzzles, a lengthy campaign, and some fun mini-game diversions, there is a lot to like with the Diabolical Box. My only complaint is that I wish there was a greater punishment for incorrectly guessing answers. You lose points the first two times you provide a wrong answer, but that’s it. This makes it a little too easy to “cheat” the system. Regardless, this is a fun puzzle adventure, and I can’t wait to tackle Layton’s next journey.

8.5/10