Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Game Review: 'Geometry Survivor'

Single-screen bullet hell survivor games have been making a comeback since "Vampire Survivors" set the scene ablaze in 2021. Along comes "Geometry Survivor," which rides the full head of steam established by the likes of "Brorato" and its ilk.

The premise is simple: Guide your tiny ship through ceaseless waves of rapid-spawning enemies for 20 minutes. You're by no means meant to do this on your first, or even fiftieth try, but as you pick up the ebb and flow of the devilishly difficult proceedings, you pick up little tricks that edge you ever closer to that milestone.

Every death amounts to progress, because you accumulate gems you can spend to make the game a little easier on your next playthrough. You also accumulate power-ups at intervals throughout each run, deciding whether to add a second ship, initiate black holes that suck enemies -- and possibly you -- out of existence, or equip yourself with chonky lasers that can annihilate opponents at your whim.

I am a sucker for single-screen survivors, and "Geometry Survivor" scratched my itch well. My 17-year-old son was able to reach the 20-minute plateau after a few playthroughs, but was still interested in returning to unlock more power-ups. I find myself stuck at the 15-minute mark, ever taking part in the Sysiphean task of putting myself in a better position to fail less badly next time. 

"Geometry Survivor," you've hooked me, and there's no going back.

Publisher provided review code.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Game Review: 'Inkulinati'

A single-lane, turn-based strategy game, "Inkulinati" makes the move to PlayStation after starting last year ago on Xbox. 

The effort from the dev team at Yaza Games captures a whimsical feel. Playing like an interactive storybook, the hand-drawn creatures pivot along parchment scrolls to combat, heal and, when they're tuckered out, nap.

The battles put a smile on my face as I maneuvered adorable characters into position to maximize their effectiveness. There's an admirable amount of strategy at play, making the game easy to pick up but difficult to master.

While its quirkiness and gimmickery can only take it so far, its lighthearetd storytelling and workmanlike combat system manages to keep it engaging from one mission to the next. There is also a stiff challenge confronting you. "Inkulinati" is often so difficult that it's humbling. Some battles can be so traumatizing and exhilarating that you may well need a nap afterward.

Publisher provided review code.

Hot on Home Video: 'Contagion,' 'Migration,' 'Poor Things,' 'Wonka'


Steven Soderbergh's prescient 2011 thriller tells a grim tale of a rapidly-spreading disease, becoming all the more poignant nine years later, when the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the world. The stunning ensemble cast includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Marion Cottilard, Laurence Fishburne, Bryan Cranston, Kate Winslet and Jennifer Ehle.

The 4K ultra HD steelbook includes three featurettes: "The Reality of Contagion," "The Contagion Detectives" and "Contagion: How a Virus Changes the World."


The crowd-pleasing animated tale rounds up an impressive voice cast, including Kumail Nanjiani, Elizabeth Banks, Keegan-Michael Key, Awkwafina and Danny DeVito to follow the story of the Mallard family, who head toward Jamaica from New York City. The flightpath is full of comical misadventures and family-friendly chuckles.

The set is loaded with extras, including the short films "Fly Hard," Mooned" and "Midnight Mission." There are also cast interviews, drawing lessons, a making-of documentary and a bird call tutorial. 


Visionary director Yorgos Lanthimos's stunning effort, which landed 11 Oscar nominations, including best picture, director and actress, features Emma Stone as a woman who is brought back to life by a Frankenstein-style scientist (Willem Dafoe), who undergoes an awakening of consciousness and sexuality, leading her on a winding, allegorical journey that satirizes class, culture, gender dynamics and the human condition. 

Mark Ruffalo turns in a powerful supporting performance as an attorney who becomes entangled in her journey. Stone's powerful lead performance has thrust her to the front of the best actress Oscar conversation.

Extras include a making-of documentary and three deleted scenes.


Timothee Chalamet channels a young Gene Wilder in this musical sequel to the legendary "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." The story finds a young Wonka who endeavors to unleash his wild imagination on the candy industry, only to fall victim to a scam that renders him an indentured servant. Hugh Grant steals scenes as an Oompa Loompa, and Keegan-Michael Key, Paterson Joseph, Matt Lucas and Matthew Baynton round out a strong cast in character roles. 

Extras include a slew of making-of featurettes, including "Unwrapping Wonka: Paul King's Vision," "The Whimsical Music of Wonka," "Welcome to Wonka Land," "Hats Off to Wonka" and "Wonka's Chocolatier."

Studios sent screeners for review.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Hot on Home Video: 'Paprika'

The cult favorite 2007 anime from Satoshi Kon, which no doubt inspired Christopher Nolan's "Inception," weaves a twist-filled tapestry about a contraption that records dreams, as well as a therapist who seeks to track down its whereabouts before nefarious forces capture it and use it for self-serving purposes.

Released in a dazzling steelbook format and looking dapper in a new 4K restoration, the spellbinding visuals pop more than they ever have on home video. The set is loaded with extras, including filmmaker commentary, a making-of doc, storyboards and a featurette that explores the dream world. In addition to Japanese, there are also English, French and Spanish dub traacks. 

Hopefully the rerelease inspires a new generation of anime fans to give it a look. The film was far ahead of its time when it was first released, and continues to stand on the bleeding edge of genre-bending animation.

Studio sent screener for review.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Early Game Review: 'Tomb Raider Remastered I-III Starring Lara Croft'

Released in a whirlwind of innovation from 1996 to 1998, the original "Tomb Raider" trilogy marked a seismic shift in gaming culture, thrusting gaming into the teen and adult markets and turning heads globally.

The dual-wielding, crop-topped heroine defined the era, and has continued to stay relevant in this generation of consoles, thanks to an evolution that embraced the likes of the "Uncharted" series, which it also partially inspired.

Going back to its roots, Crystal Dynamics and Aspyr break into the vault and resurrect Lara Croft's earliest adventures in a budget-priced, remastered anthology. The result is mixed, with glorious nostalgia mitigated by blocky controls that stay too loyal to the original.

It's hard to go home again, and this collection proves that adage with a pronounced thud. While the updated visuals round out some of the rough edges, floaty and stiff controls make the game seem like a relic from the past.

A wholesale reimagining on the lines of what we've seen with "Final Fantasy VII" and the "Resident Evil" series would have been a more intriguing way to go.

Still, the flair and late-1990s goofiness of the gameplay is not without its charms. I smiled as I clumsily renegotiated the adventures I had as a teen, and enjoyed the myriad tweaks and upgrades that offer a light modernized touch to the proceedings.

But all told, my further adventures involving Lara will involve her more recent games -- even the cut-rate, top-down offshoots, rather than these dusty archives. Lara has moved on to bigger, better things, leaving this realm behind for the history books.

Publisher provided review code.

Hot on Home Video: 'McCabe & Mrs. Miller' (Criterion)

Robert Altman's 1971 revisionist Western paired Warren Beatty and Julie Christy as two carpetbaggers new to a Northwest mining town who put together a house of ill repute that transforms the town. They take on a robber baron-run mining company that seeks its undoing.

Slick dialogue, iconic performances and a gorgeous visual flair all flourish in the film, which benefits from Altman's steady hand and a glorious 4K restoration. Well-rounded characters and Altman's flair for characters who talk over one another put an impeccable stamp on the material.

Criterion dug up tons of extras to make the disc the de facto definitive release of the film on home video. Extras include Altman's 2002 commentary with producer David Foster, a making-of documentary and a discussion on the Altman mythos between film historians Cari Beauchamp and Rick Jewell. There's also a vintage featurette from the 1970 filming, excerpts of Dick Cavett interviews with Altman and film critic Pauline Kael, as well as a tribute booklet with an essay by critic Nathaniel Rich.

Studio sent screener for review.

Game Review: 'Skull and Bones'

A swashbuckling adventure a decade in the making, "Skull and Bones" has finally set sail after tantalizing pirate-obsessed gamers with peeks at gameplay for the past several years. 

Once you choose your character skin, you embark on the choppy waters solo or team up with as many as two allies as you vie to outgun and plunder the competition. 

The concept evolved as a spinoff of the Ubisoft seafaring gem "Assassin's Creed: Black Flag," and the finished game reflects its origins well. The controls are sharp and precise, with an arcade-style ability to start or stop your ship nearly at will. Commands that lift or cut your sails act as a veritable throttle and break, allowing you to navigate with almost absurd dexterity. What the game loses in sailing accuracy it more than makes up for in the satisfaction of precision movement.

Risk and reward comes into play, with higher-intensity contracts offering larger payoffs. On the whole, the game figures to become a more realistic replacement for the likes of "Sea of Thieves," which first forged similar waters in 2018.

The four Ubisoft dev teams that worked on the game managed to craft a tight, invigorating loop of looting, upgrading and questing. You face constant bombardment from not only environmental obstacles, including storms, sea life and maritime obstacles, but other players who are looking to either beat you to plunder an outpost or take you down and sack you for all you're worth.

You work to grow your reputation by committing nefarious deeds at sea. The loot you grab allows you to build up ships and increase your arsenal.

A few initial connection issues aside, the game is off to a roaring start. And while time will tell the true tale of whether the game succeeds or fails at reaching its promised shores, it's hard to imagine a more impressive launch for a game with such grand aspirations.

While some may wince at the persistent internet connection, the irritation is a small price to pay for the grand, ambitious vision finally coming to light. "Skull and Bones" waves its Jolly Roger proudly, and it's all you can do to salute it and take the helm as you attack the wild, unfriendly seas.

Publisher provided review code.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Book Report: 'American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer'

American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert OppenheimerAmerican Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kai Bird delves into the fascinating life of Robert Oppenheimer, examining his contradictions, awkwardness, genius and cunning.

I was drawn to the book by Christopher Nolan's brilliant film, and hoped for even more insight and context. That's exactly what I got. Bird manages to make even the moribund aspects of Oppenheimer's life fascinating, and is able to frame the man he became with enough details of his youth to craft a convincing pshychodramatic portrait.

This is a book to savor and absorb. Even though there is a decided slant to the writing, making Bird seem to be a hagiographic apologist, the author allows for enough balance for the readers to make their own conclusions.

A fascinating read from start to finish, "American Prometheus" is an even greater achievement than the landmark movie it inspired.

View all my reviews