Movie Project #10: Out of Sight [1998]

Eric @ The Warning SignMovies8 Comments

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Out of Sight [1998]

Out of Sight [1998] Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writers: Elmore Leonard (novel), Scott Frank (screenplay)
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy/Crime/Romance
Starring: George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle
Running Time: 123 minutes

Out of Sight has a little bit of something for everyone: comedy, romance, crime, random outbursts of violence… The film is based on a novel by Elmore Leonard, and it is backed by an absolute star-studded cast. It also happens to be one of my early favorites in this year’s movie project.

George Clooney stars as the charismatic bank robber, Jack Foley. After escaping from prison, Foley immediately (and unexpectedly) stumbles upon U.S. Marshal, Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez), waiting outside for an unrelated reason. This mix-up leads to both Foley and Sisco getting thrown into the trunk of a getaway car driven by Buddy Bragg (Ving Rhames). Right away, despite being on different sides of the law, there’s an instant spark between them. They know it, we know it, everyone knows it. You could cut the sexual tension with a knife.

Their trunk encounter is brief, but it sets the stage for a pleasurable game of cat-and-mouse for both sides. Sisco is able to escape when she persuades an accomplice of Foley and Bragg, a perpetual stoner named Glenn Michaels (Steve Zahn), to leave them stranded. Foley then goes on the run, with Sisco always remaining not too far behind.

Out of Sight [1998]

Foley’s end goal is to score one last big heist and then retire to a tropical island somewhere (where have I heard that before?). His target is a financial criminal (Albert Brooks) who, while in prison, had foolishly mentioned how he had millions of dollars in uncut diamonds back at his home in Detroit. Foley and Bragg make the long trek up to snowy Michigan to scope out the situation and see if they can pull this off once and for all.

Of course, everything doesn’t go as planned. Glenn’s big mouth leads to even more people wanting to get in on the action, including an explosively violent ex-boxer named Maurice Miller (Don Cheadle). Soon this seemingly simple burglary turns into a far more complex operation than initially anticipated.

Out of Sight [1998]

The plot is labyrinth-like with its nonlinear narrative, and director Steven Soderbergh expertly weaves his way through the many layers that are always in motion. There is never a dull moment, especially when Clooney is given time to show off his trademark charisma. According to Clooney, this is the kind of role he had always dreamed of: a bad guy who you couldn’t help but root for in the end. He makes his mark in the very first scene, as he pulls off the most nonchalant bank robbery I have ever seen. It can be argued that this performance is what made Clooney a bona fide movie star. Much of the film relies on his chemistry with Jennifer Lopez, and it really is something to behold. This is one of Lopez’s finest performances, as she is effortlessly equal parts sexy and badass.

Although the focus is on the two leads, every character has their chance to shine. I was most impressed with Don Cheadle, whose character grows to become more and more frightening as the film progresses. His two partners in crime, played by Isaiah Washington and Keith Loneker, are memorable themselves. The latter is involved in one of the most unexpected and absurd on-screen deaths I have ever seen.

Out of Sight had me cracking up often, and that was something I did not expect. The humor is very dark (case in point: the aforementioned unforeseen death), but the cat-and-mouse game between the two leads provides a bit of a balance by being fairly light. In the end, this is still a love story more than anything else, but its unconventional format and impeccable performances make the film stand out from the rest.

9/10

Eric @ The Warning SignMovie Project #10: Out of Sight [1998]

Movie Project #9: Major League [1989]

Eric @ The Warning SignMovies9 Comments

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Major League [1989]

Major League [1989] Director: David S. Ward
Writer: David S. Ward
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy/Sports
Starring: Tom Berenger, Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen
Running Time: 107 minutes

For as much as I love baseball, it’s baffling that it has taken me this long to watch Major League. I’m a sucker for films about sports, especially baseball, and this David S. Ward comedy still has a large number of vocal supporters to this day.

It’s easy to see why this film is so revered. For one, it’s a classic underdog story. The protagonists are the perennial losers known as the Cleveland Indians, a team that could be called the Cubs of the American League (now that the Red Sox have snapped their awful streak). When Major League was filmed, the team hadn’t won a World Series in 41 years. Now, 25 years later, that streak is up to 66 years. The idea of turning around a team that has been losers for so long is always appealing, and Major League sets up such a rags-to-riches story perfectly.

After the fictional Indians owner passes away, his wife, a former showgirl named Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton), inherits the team. Although she enjoys baseball, she hates Cleveland. Her goal is to move the team to a much more desirable location, say Miami, but in order to do so she must lower the season’s attendance to under 800,000 tickets sold. She concocts a maniacal scheme to bring in a brand new group of players comprised of has-beens, bottom tier minor leaguers, ex-convicts and anyone else who has no chance of being on a legitimate big league team.

Major League [1989]

This group of misfits includes erratic hurler Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn (Charlie Sheen), oft-injured catcher Jake Taylor (Tom Berenger), diva-esque third baseman Roger Dorn (Corbin Bernsen), voodoo-practicing power hitter Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert), and the speedy but light-hitting Willie Mays Hayes (a young Wesley Snipes). To manage the team, minor league skipper Lou Brown (James Gammon) is brought in.

It could be argued that these guys have talent, but they have significant flaws of varying importance. At first, as expected, they are terrible. The team is regularly blown out at the beginning of the season. The fan attendance dwindles rapidly, and everything seems to be working out according to the new owner’s plan.

But somehow, some way, the team starts getting better. “Wild Thing” Vaughn gets a pair of hipster glasses that improves his eyesight and his game drastically. Willie Mays Hayes uses his speed to beat out tepid ground balls. The offense starts clicking. All of a sudden, the Indians are fighting for the division lead.

Major League [1989]

It’s here where the film starts to lose its footing a little bit. This was going to be a predictable story from the start, but once the team starts winning, the film becomes a series of one sports cliché after another. It still has its moments, but Major League is at its best when we’re watching this group of castoffs failing miserably. Hell, I could watch an entire movie based on the spring training scenes alone — the bumbling introductions of the players is comedy gold. Even better are the scenes that feature an incredibly snarky Bob Uecker as the game’s announcer.

There are plenty of laughs, memorable characters and enough one-liners to grant Major League entry into my regular baseball film rotation. I didn’t fall in love with it as much as, say, Bull Durham, but it still makes for a great time. Now if only the Indians could get their own “Wild Thing” to finally remove them as laughingstocks of the American League.

7/10

Eric @ The Warning SignMovie Project #9: Major League [1989]

New site!

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the-warning-sign-logo

Welcome to the new look of The Warning Sign!

There have been quite a few changes to this little corner of cyberspace this weekend. For one, The Warning Sign’s new URL is http://www.thewarningsign.net. This is much easier to digest and remember than twscritic.com. All of the old links from that domain should redirect to their proper new locations, so there shouldn’t be any issues there. As part of this domain change, I have opted to go the self hosting route using wordpress.org. WordPress.com provides an excellent service and it was very helpful in building a community around this blog, but it was time to move on. Now I have total control over every aspect of the website, and I am excited to dig in and continue to improve The Warning Sign over time. WordPress.com users should be pleased to know that you can still leave comments and ‘likes’ using your standard account.

We also have a brand new design! It’s still fairly similar to the old theme at the moment, but it’s a bit of a work in progress. I just wanted to get everything imported into this new site in an effort to speed up the whole process. One of the things I am most proud of is my new and improved Movie Review Index page. I’m still adding links to it, but it now provides options to sort by title, release year, score and date published. The other subsections will be updated to this new format as well.

Feel free to take a look around. I am open to any and all feedback you may have on the new site. If you notice any issues, please let me know as well, and I will take care of them.

Eric @ The Warning SignNew site!

Movie Project #8: The Insider [1999]

Eric @ The Warning SignMovies22 Comments

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

The Insider [1999]

The Insider [1999] Director: Michael Mann
Writer: Michael Mann, Eric Roth
Country: USA
Genre: Biography/Drama/Thriller
Starring: Russell Crowe, Al Pacino, Christopher Plummer
Running Time: 157 minutes

Whistleblowing reports are ripe for film adaptations, and Michael Mann’s The Insider turns one such true story into a gripping thriller. No action scenes are necessary here; instead, the film builds tension through the tumultuous work that is investigative journalism, and the extreme lengths large corporations will go to cover their asses.

Russell Crowe plays Dr. Jeffrey Wigand, a research chemist who decides to blow the whistle on the illegal behavior of his former employer, Brown & Williamson. Part of the triumvirate that is Big Tobacco, B&W had blatantly lied to Congress about the addictive nature of their cigarettes. Wigand is persuaded to spill the beans about these blatant perjuries by 60 Minutes producer, Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino).

There’s a lot on the line here. Wigand is breaking his confidentiality agreement, thereby risking jail, and he is receiving all sorts of legal pressure from his former company. He becomes paranoid, believing there to be threats on his life, and it begins to unravel his once-stable family. Bergman, determined to get this story out there, is fighting profusely with his superiors at CBS. They are worried about the possible financial repurcussions that could happen if they were to air an interview with Wigand. There’s a lot of back-and-forth drama going on, and the pressure takes its toll on both men. By the end of the film, both Wigand and Bergman look like they have been to hell and back. It’s an increasingly desperate battle between the evil corporation and those seeking to tell the truth.

The Insider [1999]

There is an equal emphasis on both men in this film. We grow to learn more about Wigand early on, as he battles with himself on whether or not to fully go through with his actions. Later, Bergman is the main focus as he fights tooth and nail to get the 60 Minutes interview with Wigand on the air and unedited. Even when things are looking absolutely dire, neither one gives up.

Both characters are well-written and given an ample amount of screen time, and Crowe and Pacino bring out the best in them. As the film goes on, it becomes more and more noticeable just how much of an uphill climb they have ahead of them. Crowe and Pacino are backed by an impressive supporting cast, including Christopher Plummer as 60 Minutes anchor Mike Wallace, Philip Baker Hall as the TV show’s top boss, and Diane Venora as Wigand’s distraught wife.

The Insider [1999]

If there is a flaw in the film, it’s the running time. This is a captivating story, no doubt, but it feels a bit stretched too thin to warrant a running time of over two and a half hours. There are moments where the film drags, and a bit more editing would have been beneficial.

In the end, The Insider asks the question: is justice really worth fighting for? In this case, yes, it appears so. All of the hard work from these two men did pay off, as the Big Tobacco companies reached a massive settlement (over $200 billion) with all 50 states. Wigand and Bergman emerged as different men by the end of it all, but it can be argued their perseverance made them stronger than they ever were before.

8/10

Eric @ The Warning SignMovie Project #8: The Insider [1999]

Month in Review [March 2014]

Eric @ The Warning SignBooks, Movies, Television, Video GamesLeave a Comment

In order of viewing:
1) Captain Phillips [2013] – 8/10
Captain Phillips [2013]

2) Catch Me If You Can [2002] – 7/10
Catch Me If You Can [2002]

3) From Up On Poppy Hill [2012] – 7/10
From Up On Poppy Hill [2012]

4) Blue Jasmine [2013] – 7/10
Blue Jasmine [2013]

5) About Schmidt [2002] – 8/10
About Schmidt [2002]

6) The Insider [1999] – 8/10
The Insider [1999]

7) The Wind Rises [2013] – 7/10
The Wind Rises [2013]

8) The Grand Budapest Hotel [2014] – 8/10
The Grand Budapest Hotel [2014]

9) Falling Down [1993] – 9/10
Falling Down [1993]

10) Harper [1966] – 7/10
Harper [1966]

11) American Hustle [2013] – 8/10
American Hustle [2013]

12) The Counselor [2013] – 5/10
The Counselor [2013]

13) Major League [1989] – 7/10
Major League [1989]

14) Inside Llewyn Davis [2013] – 8/10
Inside Llewyn Davis [2013]

15) Frozen [2013] – 7/10
Frozen [2013]

16) White Reindeer [2013] – 7/10
White Reindeer [2013]

Video Games Completed:
1) SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita] – 9/10
SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

2) Persona 4 Golden [PS Vita] – 9/10
Persona 4 Golden [PS Vita]

TV Shows Finished:
1) Eastbound and Down [Season 3] – 7/10
Eastbound and Down [Season 3]

2) Dexter [Season 8] – 4/10
Dexter [Season 8]

3) Eastbound and Down [Season 4] – 7/10
Eastbound and Down [Season 4]

4) 30 Rock [Season 7] – 7/10
30 Rock [Season 7]

5) True Detective [Season 1] – 9/10
True Detective [Season 1]

6) House of Cards [Season 2] – 7.5/10
House of Cards [Season 2]

7) Girls [Season 3] – 6/10
Girls [Season 3]

Books Read:
1) Fables Vol. 1-3 – 9/10
Fables

Best of the Month: For movies, I was most surprised with Falling Down, which is one of the better films I have seen all year. I’m usually not much of a Michael Douglas fan, but he killed it in that movie. Highly recommended. For video games, I finally finished Persona 4 Golden after starting it over a year ago. It was a blast all the way until the end, and it’s one of the better games on the Vita. SteamWorld Dig was also a nice surprise (see my review). In the TV world, True Detective more than lived up to the hype. Can’t wait for season 2.

Worst of the Month: The Counselor was incredibly disappointing. It had a few memorable scenes, but it could have been so much more considering the talent involved. For TV, I watched a lot of mediocre shows, but the final season of Dexter was easily the worst. It pretty much soured me on the entire series thanks to its laughably awful ending. That series should have ended after 4-5 seasons, not eight.

What was the best piece of media you indulged in last month? How about the worst?

Eric @ The Warning SignMonth in Review [March 2014]

PC Game Review: Franchise Hockey Manager

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Franchise Hockey Manager

Franchise Hockey Manager
System: PC (also on Mac)
Genre: Hockey Simulator
Publisher: Out of the Park Developments
Release Date: Fall 2013

Straight from the creative minds that brought us Out of the Park Baseball comes a new sports simulator geared toward ice hockey. Franchise Hockey Manager has a similar text-based appearance to its sibling, and it comes with many of the same bells and whistles. However, it also has a fair amount of shortcomings that might be expected from a rookie effort.

At first glance, the sheer amount of options FHM has to offer is absolutely mind-boggling. From the title screen, you are able to begin as general manager for teams across the world, not just the NHL. I discovered leagues that I had never heard of, including Asia League Ice Hockey (the only such league outside of Europe and North America), four leagues in England, and a third tier Finland league. If you just want to stick with the NHL, you can play historical leagues all the way from the late 1940s to present day. It’s absurd how many options are available from the get-go.

As general manager, you have control over every aspect of your organization. You are in charge of lineups, including penalty killing, powerplay and who you want to bring in as extra attackers. You can tweak the tactics of every lineup as well, with options to change forechecking, aggressiveness and more to whatever suits your playing style. You can even train players in specific categories. There’s also an in-depth scouting system that monitors young players across the world while also providing development updates on those in your own system. Your team’s owner even checks in regularly during the season to rate your current job performance.

Franchise Hockey Manager

Stat junkies will find plenty to love, as every player has detailed information kept for every season. There are even advanced statistics that I wasn’t familiar with before starting the game. What’s great is that all of this is accessible right from the start. There is a pretty deep learning curve in terms of navigating the game’s menu system, but once you get the hang of it, the possibilities are seemingly endless.

If you prefer to micromanage every detail, you can go through and “play” each game individually. This option, which is my favorite way to play OOTP Baseball, is unfortunately a huge disappointment. Playing an individual game basically consists of watching play-by-play text slowly scroll down the screen. You can go in and mess with lineups and tactics, but you can’t physically do anything while the game is simulating. Each game, even at its max speed, can take anywhere from 15-20 minutes to finish. It’s almost entirely hands-off, making for a frustratingly dull experience. As such, the best way to play FHM is to simulate games and avoid this option entirely.

Franchise Hockey Manager

During my first season as GM, I noticed a handful of bizarre situations unfold. Coaches were fired seemingly every other day (San Jose even hired and fired two coaches in one season!), and at least a half dozen GMs got canned before the season’s halfway point. Perhaps most surprisingly, I received multiple job offers despite only having 25-30 games under my belt. When the simulation stopped to tell me I received a job offer, it was already too late — the teams had already hired someone else. Yet despite their recent hiring, the game still gave me the option to go in and negotiate a contract with them. I didn’t go through with it, so I’m not sure if I would have just stole the new guy’s job, but I found this rather peculiar.

There was also a moment in my first season where my top three goalies all became injured at the same time. My AI assistant had already called up another goalie to replace them, but I still needed to have a backup for him. The game wouldn’t let me call up anyone from my AHL squad, and it refused to let me sign a goalie off the streets even though I had enough cap room. I tried proposing a deal to another team, but they wouldn’t accept anything right away. Eventually, I had to change the position of one of my backup centers to goalie just so I could play my next game. Needless to say, my team got destroyed, and it was the beginning of the end for my once-promising season.

As mentioned earlier, there is a steep learning curve when it comes to learning the ins-and-outs of the game’s interface. While I did get the hang of it after a while, it was still far less accessible than its OOTP Baseball brethren. I feel bad for comparing it to a simulator that has been around for over ten years, but FHM could learn a thing or two in terms of its user interface. It can be difficult to maneuever throughout the myriad of screens available, and sometimes it requires more clicks than seemingly necessary. One small example: why not make the scores at the top of the screen clickable, that way they go directly to their box score? The game recaps are beautiful, but it takes more than a simple click to access them. Some minor tweaks here and there would make for a much more user-friendly interface.

Franchise Hockey Manager

When I first played FHM months ago, I had problems with the game randomly crashing, but I am happy to report that hasn’t been an issue after their latest patches. That is one significant plus in regards to this simulator — it has a dedicated development team supporting it, and it is constantly releasing patches to improve the overall experience. There is still a lot of work to be done, especially in terms of computer AI and team management (not to mention an overhaul of the play-by-play system), but it is promising that major updates are still being delivered.

There is a ton of potential within Franchise Hockey Manager, but it could have arguably used some more time in development before its initial release. It’s still very much a work in progress, and it requires a bit of patience. Hardcore hockey fans should give it a look, as it is still capable of whetting your appetite, but I would recommend downloading the free trial first. Even with its issues, I am remaining optimistic for future iterations. If anyone is capable of making a top-class hockey simulator, it is the folks at Out of the Park Developments.

6/10

(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)

Eric @ The Warning SignPC Game Review: Franchise Hockey Manager

Movie Project #7: About Schmidt [2002]

Eric @ The Warning SignMovies18 Comments

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

About Schmidt [2002]

About Schmidt [2002] Director: Alexander Payne
Writers: Jim Taylor, Alexander Payne
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, June Squibb, Kathy Bates
Running Time: 125 minutes

Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) is a man who has lost everything. At the age of 67, he has retired from his long-held position as an actuary at a prominent Omaha insurance company. Without work in his life, he has too much free time and doesn’t know what to do with it all. He starts to notice little things about his wife (June Squibb) of 42 years that bug him now more than ever — her incessant need to collect ceramic figurines, in particular, really gets under his skin. When he comes home to find her lying face down in the kitchen, dead, he seems oddly calm about it (at least on the outside).

Schmidt is also in the process of losing his daughter, Jeannie (Hope Davis), who is engaged to be married to a waterbed salesman named Randall (Dermot Mulroney). Warren rarely sees her as it is (she lives several hours away in Denver, Colorado), and now he’s worried he will never get to spend any time with her. It’s as if everything is slipping through his grasp all at once.

About Schmidt [2002]

When his daughter turns down his idea of visiting weeks before her wedding, Warren decides to take a road trip in his newly-purchased RV instead. He visits places from his childhood, all within the Midwest, only to find that everything is different. With all of this change in his life, Schmidt’s only form of solace is writing letters to a 6-year-old Tanzanian boy whom he sponsors via the Plan USA foster program. Amusingly, Warren writes these letters as if he were speaking to an adult. In essence, they are a form of therapy for him. He rambles on about many different subjects, basically jotting down whatever thoughts are flowing through his head. These moments give us glimpses into his mindset, humanizing what on the outside appears to be just a grumpy old bastard.

It’s perfect then that Jack Nicholson breathes life into this emotionally-barren character. This isn’t the type of performance we would expect from Jack; he is not loud or wildly animated. In fact, he is rather subdued and he plays Warren with a certain amount of sadness. Schmidt is the perfect encapsulation of the company man, someone who has devoted their whole life to work when he is simply just a cog in the machine. When he retires, someone takes his place and things move on as if nothing changed. It’s depressing, really, but that’s how things go.

About Schmidt [2002]

Warren’s interactions with those he meets on his journey (and later, in Denver) are priceless. He befriends a married couple at an RV park, but that leads to disastrous results when he picks up the wrong kind of signal from the wife. When he arrives in Denver, he struggles to bond with the new in-laws. Randall’s mother, Roberta (Kathy Bates), is the exact opposite of Schmidt. Her freewheeling attitude and extroverted behavior makes him very uncomfortable, though at the same time it seems to bring him ever so slightly out of his shell.

There is humor in the film — mostly in the form of the eccentric people we meet along the way — but it would be erroneous to label this as strictly a comedy. Although Warren is a flawed man, by the end of the film we finally learn more about who he really is. About Schmidt proves that self-discovery is possible at any age, and it shows just how much fun (and emotional) this journey can be.

8/10

Eric @ The Warning SignMovie Project #7: About Schmidt [2002]

Video Game Review: SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

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SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

SteamWorld Dig
System: PS Vita [reviewed], PS4, 3DS, PC, Mac, Linux
Genre: Platformer, Adventure
Developer: Image & Form
Publisher: Image & Form
Price: $9.99 [cross buy for PS Vita/PS4] Release Date: March 18, 2014 [PS Vita/PS4 release]

SteamWorld Dig is a game that feels so familiar yet so unique at the same time. Dubbed a “hardcore platform mining adventure” by its developers, it plays out like a combination of Spelunky, Terraria and the Metroidvania genre. It also just happens to be a perfect fit for the Playstation Vita.

The game places you in the role of Rusty, a steambot who visits the long-abandoned mining town of Tumbleton (current population: 3) at the request of his uncle. Upon arrival, Rusty becomes determined to dig and dig some more in hopes of finding valuable ore that can breathe some life into this barren town.

SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

Originally armed with just a regular pickaxe, Rusty is eventually able to upgrade his arsenal by finding and selling gems and minerals to the few people in town. By continuing to explore deeper underground, hidden mines and powerups can also be found. These provide new abilities to make traversing the increasingly tricky subterranean areas a bit more manageable. Over time, Rusty can learn how to run faster and jump higher, both of which become quite crucial as the game goes on.

Of course, there is more to the underground than just minerals. There are all sorts of creatures roaming around, as well as some that can be found hibernating within individual blocks. If you manage to wake a creature without destroying it in the process, you can quickly find yourself in a world of hurt. That’s not even mentioning the automated lasers and barrels of dynamite that become more and more common the deeper you go.

If you happen to die, you will lose a large portion of money and whatever ore you happen to be carrying with you at the time. You can still go down and retrieve what you left behind, but you will have to do so with less health. There are certain items that can be purchased to help with the constant up-and-down platforming, including teleporters (which are appropriately expensive, given their worth).

SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

The overall exploration can grow to be downright addictive. As Rusty acquires new equipment, more areas can be traversed, and he can dispatch of enemies more quickly. The constant upgrading of drills and other gadgets brings to light the wonderful Metroidvania aspects of the gameplay. By getting new toys to play with, you can go back to other parts of the mine and get to places that were unreachable earlier. I found myself constantly saying “oh, I’m just going to dig until I get to the next marker”, only to end up playing much longer than I planned.

The game’s design really is terrific, as it leads you into new abilities and gadgets at a perfect pace. The first 10-15 minutes are a bit slow since Rusty can only use a pickaxe, but the game opens up quickly after that. On top of that, every playthrough contains a randomly generated underworld, meaning that every experience will be different.

SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

SteamWorld Dig is relatively short — I completed my first playthrough in just over four hours — but it still manages to have a good amount of replay value. I barely scratched the surface of things to do in my first campaign, and I immediately started a second one to see what I missed before. If you’re a trophy hunter, there are quite a few that will provide you with new goals to hit during each session. Best of all, there’s no filler at all — you pretty much just jump in and play right away.

The game nails nearly everything it sets out to do, but I couldn’t help wanting more. I know that this is a small downloadable title, but the gameplay is so enriching that I would love to find even more areas to explore. There is so much potential here for an even better, bigger game, and I really hope that this isn’t the last we have seen of this world. Still, as it stands, this is one of the biggest early surprises in gaming this year.

9/10

(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)

Eric @ The Warning SignVideo Game Review: SteamWorld Dig [PS Vita/PS4]

Movie Project #6: Catch Me If You Can [2002]

Eric @ The Warning SignMoviesLeave a Comment

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Catch Me If You Can [2002]

Catch Me If You Can [2002] Director: Steven Spielberg
Writers: Jeff Nathanson (screenplay), Stan Redding (book), Frank Abagnale (book)
Country: USA
Genre: Biography/Crime/Drama
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Amy Adams
Running Time: 141 minutes

I’m always a sucker for “truth is stranger than fiction” narratives, which is why I made Catch Me If You Can one of my first selections from this year’s project. An imposter movie with Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, a possibly rejuvenated Steven Spielberg… it has all the ingredients for a fun, memorable adventure. For the most part it works, but it doesn’t quite reach the levels it could have.

The story, set in the 1960s, is certainly interesting enough. DiCaprio plays a fresh-faced teen named Frank Abagnale, a con man who manages to pose as a pilot, doctor and lawyer all while earning himself millions of dollars by the age of 19. Tom Hanks is Carl Hanratty, an FBI bank fraud agent who catches onto Frank’s scheme and pursues him endlessly throughout the decade. Both are broken, lonely men who have pushed themselves beyond the point of exhaustion with their cat-and-mouse game. No matter what Hanratty does, Abagnale seems to be one step ahead of him.

Catch Me If You Can [2002]

It’s doubtful that Frank envisioned life as a con man, but his first taste of success pushes him farther and farther down the rabbit hole. If he could impersonate an airline pilot, gain access to their payroll system and even get invited into the cockpit on several flights — with minimal effort, mind you — why stop there? When Hanratty gets hot on his tail, Frank just shifts gears and becomes a doctor, somehow getting himself a supervisor gig at a hospital. At one point, Frank even pulls a fast one over Hanratty, escaping arrest by claiming to be a member of the Secret Service.

Watching Abagnale finagle his way out of tricky situations is always entertaining, though there are several moments that raise questions about just how true his claims really are. In particular, there is a scene near the end of the film in which he somehow manages to escape an airplane as it is landing — it’s as dubious as it sounds. As the film is based mostly on Abagnale’s own stories, it’s reasonable to assume he took some liberties in telling them. Perhaps in the end, he is still conning all of us watching his tale unfold on film.

Catch Me If You Can [2002]

And yet as wild and crazy as this story is, Spielberg never quite lets it reach the next level. The film overall feels safe and never really finds its footing. At times, it comes across as a comical, light-hearted adventure, while other times it gets bogged down by the drama surrounding the two leads. It’s still a fun watch, to be sure, but I can’t help but imagine how this would play out with an edgier filmmaker.

At the very least, the film does have a stellar cast to fall back on. DiCaprio and Hanks, though neither are at their best, are both effortlessly compelling, and they make for a memorable duo. Amy Adams, in one of her earliest roles, is a real highlight, playing the sweet and naive love interest of Abagnale. Christopher Walken is also terrific as Frank’s father who has issues of his own with the IRS.

Even with its flaws, Catch Me If You Can is a likable film that manages to make its extended running time feel shorter than it truly is. It’s not the best film from anyone involved, but it’s fine for what it is.

7/10

Eric @ The Warning SignMovie Project #6: Catch Me If You Can [2002]

Movie Project #5: The King of Comedy [1982]

Eric @ The Warning SignMovies18 Comments

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

The King of Comedy [1982]

The King of Comedy [1982] Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: Paul D. Zimmerman
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Diahnne Abbott, Sandra Bernhard
Running Time: 109 minutes

(This post contains possible spoilers.)

“Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime.”

So says Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) in his fame-making monologue near the end of The King of Comedy. In many ways, Pupkin is right. Many people would likely trade a life of unimportance for one night of fame and possible fortune. Rupert’s problem, however, is that he goes about his night as a “king” in about the most ridiculous way imaginable.

The 34-year-old Pupkin is a fame-seeking, wannabe comedian who worships the late night talk shows. His dream is to be the next Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), the successful host of one such show. Rupert is determined to get his “big break” into showbiz, but he is completely devoid of a portfolio or any sort of real experience. He stays at home, seemingly in his mother’s basement, studies the talk shows and acts as if he is already a famous comedian.

The King of Comedy [1982]

Rather than start off doing small gigs while working his way up like a normal comedian, Pupkin decides he’s going to talk to Langford directly. While waiting outside of the TV studio, he manages to finagle his way into Jerry’s car and even get a ride from him. It’s an incredibly awkward encounter — Rupert just doesn’t know how to end a conversation — but Jerry is surprisingly tolerant. Their encounter ends with the talk show host vaguely suggesting he would check out Pupkin’s tape at a later point.

That’s all the incentive Rupert needs to keep bugging Jerry. He shows up at the TV studio, refusing to leave the waiting room until he gets to talk to Jerry. He shows up over and over again, as annoying as a mosquito that just won’t buzz off. Eventually, when Jerry’s secretary turns him down after finally listening to his recording, Rupert gets the hint. He’s not wanted there, so he’s going to have to take matters into his own hands. Together with the help of his friend, the equally deranged Masha (Sandra Bernhard, playing another celebrity-obsessed fan), the two of them kidnap Jerry and hold him hostage until Rupert gets to be on the talk show.

The King of Comedy [1982]

As Pupkin continues to grow more and more desperate to get his big break, the film often verges into uncomfortable territory. Pupkin is just such a gauche individual (perfectly played by De Niro, by the way), and some of his interactions are just unbearable. There were times where I wished I could just reach in and pull him away before he could embarrass himself even more. The problem there, however, is that he simply has no shame. He is determined to the point of exasperation. Perhaps most amazing is that Rupert’s obnoxious behavior makes it easy to empathize with Jerry Langford, even though the host is pretty much a smug asshole.

It’s clear that Rupert is delusional and suffers from some type of mental illness (in addition to his extravagant narcissism). He is constantly drifting in and out of daydreams; some are obvious fantasies, whereas others could go either way. If taken in its literal form, The King of Comedy appears to be well ahead of its time. The film shows the depths that someone will go to get famous, and it offers an equally important glimpse at how our society is apt to reward criminal behavior. In the end, Pupkin got the fame he wanted, much like Jordan Belfort in Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. And we, as a society, are eagerly there to soak it all up.

9/10

Eric @ The Warning SignMovie Project #5: The King of Comedy [1982]