Saturday, January 31, 2015

Bram Stoker's Dracula - Sega Genesis

Bram Stoker's Dracula
Sega Genesis
Publisher: Sony Imagesoft
Developer: Traveller's Tales
Side-Scrolling Platform, 1 player.
Based on   artfully directed 1992 film,  for the Genesis casts you in the role of Jonathan Harker, the world's first vampire slayer. The Prince of Darkness has cast a hypnotic spell on your mistress, the lovely Mina Murray, and you intend to rescue her.

Armed with a sword, you must hack and slash your way through seven levels (each of them divided into day and night) of creature feature mayhem. Among other monsters, you'll do battle with bats, wolves, witches, hatchet men and laser-spitting skulls. To help you exterminate these hideous fiends, you can find a gun, some dynamite and several other weapons. Eventually, you'll face Dracula himself. Drive a stake through the world's most famous bloodsucker and you've won the game.
The action in Bram Stoker's Dracula takes place in and around Castle Dracula. You'll walk, jump, crouch and slash your way through a rat-infested inn, mossy fields of jagged rocks, a haunted library, a monstrous barn and a petrified-forest. The levels include moving platforms, secret passages, puzzles, fiery pits, floating tables, hovering walkways, a giant moat and much more.

Bram Stoker's Dracula, starring Gary Oldman and Keanu Reaves, wasn't a masterpiece in terms of storytelling, but it was a lavishly produced film with terrific visuals and some unique camera angles. Bram Stoker's Dracula for the Genesis is also very nice to look at, but if offers nothing new (relative to 1993) in terms of gameplay. The basic platform action is very standard stuff.

There's nothing inherently wrong with a game that brings little or nothing new to the table. After all, every game can't be groundbreaking and revolutionary, but a game should offer some entertainment and a few surprises. Bram Stoker's Dracula offers both of these, but in small doses.
The sword you wield is extremely fast. You can whip that sucker out in a split second and swing it again and again at speeds faster than the eye can see. This would be really cool if it served a purpose other than being able to defeat many of the bosses in a decidedly mindless manner. Some of the bosses require a little strategy to defeat (you must use your special weapons), but others you can just walk up to and kill by hitting them with the sword over and over.

A better use for the sword would be to ward off hordes of rats, bats, skeletons and spiders, but these creatures usually approach you one or two at a time and are easy to kill off. It would be great if at some point in the game you were to get trapped in a graveyard and had to hack and slash your way through hundreds (or at least tens) of skeletons that suddenly began rising from their graves. Rats could even get in on the action.

But, alas, nothing this interesting ever happens in the game. Usually, you just walk and jump along, killing things one at a time, just like in so many other scrolling platform games. At one point some invulnerable witches chase you, and that mixes up the action a little, but with such a fast and powerful sword at your beck and call, it's frustrating not to be able to put it to really good use.

Bram Stoker's Dracula provides a sufficient challenge, but the game is not overly fun. The bosses can be challenging, but you will probably lose most of your health energy by getting snagged on some incredibly annoying spears that pop up at many points throughout the game. There are hidden passages throughout that are marginally enjoyable to explore, and like I said earlier, the graphics are very nice. The music is also very cool. Unfortunately, the game comes up short in terms of pure gameplay.



Friday, January 30, 2015

ColecoVisions Podcast #13 -- Carnival and Antarctic Adventure

Check out the new ColecoVisions podcast, episode 13, where I was a guest. Listen to the whole thing, or tune in at the 1:37:50 mark to hear us talk about Carnival and Antarctic Adventure. Click HERE to listen.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Mouse Trap -- Atari 2600

Mouse Trap
Atari 2600
Publisher: Coleco
Developer: Coleco
Genre: Maze

Based on the 1981 Exidy coin-op game and the ColecoVision hit, Mouse Trap for the Atari 2600 is a maze game featuring one of the oldest rivalries known to man. You are a mouse, and your enemies are cats. Your job is to maneuver around the maze, eating all of the cheese. When all of the cheese is gone, you move on to the next maze, which is the same in design.

As you gobble up cheese, cats will chase after you and try to bite you. Luckily, if you have any bones in your stockpile, you can temporarily turn the tables on your enemies by morphing into a dog. In each maze you will find four bones that you can add to your arsenal.

Situated on the walls of the maze are eight doors. With a push of the button you can open or close all of the doors simultaneously, allowing you to gain access to certain areas of the maze and close off other areas to trap the cats.
Unlike the ColecoVision and the arcade versions of the game, there are no color-coded doors, no prizes to pick up, no hawks to disrupt your pathways and no IN box to escape into. One thing this game does have that is lacking in the aforementioned versions is an option that allows you to play the game with invisible mazes.


It was surprising to see Coleco bring Mouse Trap from their ColecoVision to the Atari 2600. The most unusual aspect of Mouse Trap, whether you are playing it on the ColecoVision or at the arcade, is its system of opening and closing color-coded doors. With the Atari 2600's one-button joystick, this feat is impossible, so what we are left with is a strangely colorless version of Mouse Trap with doors that open or close in unison with the push of a single button. Even with this liability, Coleco did a nice job in bringing Mouse Trap to their strongest competitor's console.
 The action may lack the color-coded door system, but it turns out that Mouse Trap is a good little maze game. It's not as exciting or as colorful as the Atari 2600 versions of Jr. Pac-Man or Ms. Pac-Man, Mouse Trap's controls and graphics are superior.

Other than the game's faded colors, the graphics are very good. The cats, mouse and dog look surprising similar to those in the ColecoVision version of the game. The music is nothing to get excited about, but the dog barking actually sounds kind of like a dog, well, barking.

One area where to fault Coleco on is the omission of the IN box. In the other versions of Mouse Trap you could enter a little rectangle in the center of the screen and instantly transport to one of the four corners of the maze. Wizard of Wor for the Atari 2600 has a similar feature that works just fine.

So, Mouse Trap is a stripped-to-the-essentials game with several features missing, but it is still fun to play.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Fantastic Four Teaser Trailer

I'm a little tired of super-hero origin stories, but I enjoyed the other Fantastic Four movies, so I'll probably go see this one at the theater. It debuts on my birthday, and that would be a great birthday present for my family to go see it with me. Or maybe I'll wait a week or two, so the lines won't be as long. Either way, this teaser trailer looks pretty cool:

The late, great Roger Ebert, whom I usually agree with, gave the 2005 Fantastic Four film a brutal (and undeserved, in my opinion) one-star rating. Here's that review:

So you get in a spaceship, and you venture into orbit to research a mysterious star storm hurtling toward Earth. There's a theory it may involve properties of use to man. The spaceship is equipped with a shield to protect its passengers from harmful effects, but the storm arrives ahead of schedule and saturates everybody on board with unexplained but powerful energy that creates radical molecular changes in their bodies.

They return safety to Earth, only to discover that Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), the leader of the group, has a body that can take any form or stretch to unimaginable lengths. Call him Mr. Fantastic. Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) develops superhuman powers in a vast and bulky body that seems made of stone. Call him the Thing. Sue Storm (Jessica Alba) can become invisible at will and generate force fields that can contain propane explosions, in case you have a propane explosion that needs containing but want the option of being invisible. Call her Invisible Woman. And her brother Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) has a body that can burn at supernova temperatures. Call him the Human Torch.

I almost forgot the villain, Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon), who becomes Dr. Doom and wants to use the properties of the star storm and the powers of the Fantastic Four for his own purposes. He eventually becomes metallic.

By this point in the review, are you growing a little restless? What am I gonna do, list names and actors and superpowers and nicknames forever? That's how the movie feels.

It's all setup and demonstration, and naming and discussing and demonstrating, and it never digests the complications of the Fantastic Four and gets on to telling a compelling story. Sure, there's a nice sequence where the Thing keeps a fire truck from falling off a bridge, but you see one fire truck saved from falling off a bridge, you've seen them all.

The Fantastic Four are, in short, underwhelming. The edges kind of blur between them and other superhero teams. That's understandable. How many people could pass a test right now on who the X-Men are and what their powers are? Or would want to? I wasn't watching "Fantastic Four" to study it, but to be entertained by it, but how could I be amazed by a movie that makes its own characters so indifferent about themselves?

The Human Torch, to repeat, can burn at supernova temperatures! He can become so hot, indeed, that he could threaten the very existence of the Earth itself! This is absolutely stupendously amazing, wouldn't you agree? If you could burn at supernova temperatures, would you be able to stop talking about it? I know people who won't shut up about winning 50 bucks in the lottery.

But after Johnny Storm finds out he has become the Human Torch, he takes it pretty much in stride, showing off a little by setting his thumb on fire. Later he saves the Earth, while Invisible Woman simultaneously contains his supernova so he doesn't destroy it. That means Invisible Woman could maybe create a force field to contain the sun, which would be a big deal, but she's too distracted to explore the possibilities; she gets uptight because she will have to be naked to be invisible, because otherwise people could see her empty clothes; it is no consolation to her that invisible nudity is more of a metaphysical concept than a condition.

Are these people complete idiots? The entire nature of their existence has radically changed, and they're about as excited as if they got a makeover on "Oprah." The exception is Ben Grimm, as the Thing, who gets depressed when he looks in the mirror. Unlike the others, who look normal except when actually exhibiting superpowers, he looks like - well, he looks like his suits would fit The Hulk, just as the Human Torch looks like The Flash, and the Invisible Woman reminds me of Storm in "X-Men."

Is this the road company? Thing clomps around on his Size 18 boulders and feels like an outcast until he meets a blind woman named Alicia (Kerry Washington) who loves him, in part because she can't see him. But the Thing looks like Don Rickles crossed with Mt. Rushmore; he has a body that feels like a driveway and a face with crevices you could hide a toothbrush in. Alicia tenderly feels his face with her fingers, like blind people often do while falling in love in the movies, and I guess she likes what she feels. Maybe she's extrapolating.

The story involves Dr. Doom's plot to ... but perhaps we need not concern ourselves with the plot of the movie, since it is undermined at every moment by the unwieldy need to involve a screenful of characters, who, despite the most astonishing powers, have not been made exciting or even interesting. The X-Men are major league compared to them.

And the really good superhero movies, like "Superman," "SpiderMan 2" and "Batman Begins," leave "Fantastic Four" so far behind that the movie should almost be ashamed to show itself in the same theaters.

Monday, January 26, 2015

A Letter from a Reader

Unless you write best-sellers, like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, writers don't get much feel-good feedback, other than at autographings and, increasingly, on social media. Even most editors don't say much beyond what they want you to write and when it is due. But every once in a while a reader will take the extra step to reach out to you personally and let you know how much they enjoy your work. One such letter I received was back in 2006, when I wrote reviews for the Comics Buyer's Guide. Needless to say, it made my day. Yeah, he wanted me to review his magazine for CBG, but it was still a nice letter to receive.

Here's that letter, written on some nifty Superfriends stationary. Click on the images for a closer look.

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Zaxxon's Motherbase 2000 - Sega 32X

Zaxxon's Motherbase 2000
Sega 32X
Publisher: Sega
Developer: CSK Research Institute Corp.
A highly disappointing modernization of Sega's superior arcade game from 1982 (which was simply titled Zaxxon), Zaxxon's Motherbase 2000 is similar to the original in that players fly their ship from an isometric perspective, and the object is to avoid obstacles and gunfire while shooting enemy ships, gun turrets, and other obstacles. However, the controls are sluggish, the 3-D polygonal graphics are blocky, there's tons of slowdown, and the bosses fill up an inordinate, frustration-inducing portion of the screen. Worst of all, your ship can't climb or descend, making the game all but unplayable. A two-player shoot-out mode and the ability to dock on special couriers in order to gain armor and additional weaponry can't save this game from its mother lode of faults.
The original Zaxxon was a visually arresting and highly challenging Arcade game, and it translated nicely to both the ColecoVision and the Atari 5200 systems. As a huge fan of Zaxxon 3-D for the Master System, my expectations were naturally high for this 32-bit rendering of the Arcade semi-classic. Unfortunately, Zaxxon's Motherbase 2000 didn't come close to meeting a single criterion for what can be considered to be a quality gaming experience.
First of all, the controls for the game are incredibly limited. You can only move in four directions! This is astounding considering the fact that in all previous versions of the game you could fly your ship in eight directions. In this game, you can only fly left, right, forward and back.

Eliminating climbing and descending from the standard Zaxxon control scheme was an inexcusable act on part of the designers. It destroys a big part of what made the original game so very cool, that of flying above and below obstacles and enemy fire.

In addition to limited directional movement, the sluggish controls don't help much either. Most of the ships are clumsy, and tremendous slowdown occurs throughout the game, especially in the midst of a battle with a giant boss. Many times you'll feel as though the game is taking place underwater instead of in outer space.
While not bad in theory, battles with the giant, robot-like bosses present a boring and frustrating experience. The bosses are so big that, when combined with various large obstacles, they often take up an inordinate amount of screen space, giving the game a claustrophobic and uncomfortable feel.

The ability to jump from your standard ship into a courier ship adds little enjoyment to the game, and you won't find any of the weapons systems as very interesting or memorable. Equally, the two-player mode pathetically tries to add some pizzazz and originality to the game. Poor controls, horrendous slowdown and dull gameplay plague this portion of the cartridge as well.

Zaxxon's Motherbase 2000 never gets any less frustrating or dull. Diehard Zaxxon fans and newbies alike will despise this game. It's unfortunate that Sega didn't ditch this title early in production to create an arcade-perfect version of the original Zaxxon for its 32-bit system. Now that would have been something to see!


Friday, January 23, 2015

Q*bert - PlayStation - Review

Q*bert - PlayStation
Publisher: Atari Interactive, Inc.
Developer: Artech Studios Ltd.
Also for: Dreamcast, Macintosh, Windows


Hasbro Interactive continues their series of classic Arcade game remakes with Q*bert for the PlayStation. In this disc you'll find the original game, a new Adventure mode and a special Head-To-Head contest. Those of you who misspent your youths in the Arcades will recall that the original Q*bert stars a little round orange guy with bulging eyes, a round snout for a nose, short legs and no arms or torso. Your job is to hop Q*bert around a pyramid of cubes and change the colors of the cubes to a target color. In later rounds, you will need to change the colors of the cubes more than once in order to achieve your goal. Once the entire pyramid has been changed to the target color, you advance to a new pyramid.
 While you are hopping Q*bert up and down the cubes of each pyramid, enemies, most of which are deadly to the touch, will try and stop your progress. Another way to die is to hop off of the pyramid without landing on one of the three discs that are placed above and beside the pyramid. These discs are useful when enemies, such as Coily the snake (Q*bert's archenemy), are in hot pursuit. Green enemies and objects can (and should be) be touched, and some of them cause trouble. For example, Slick and Sam wreak havoc by hopping on cubes and changing their color.

In the Adventure Game, Q*bert's home world and friends, including Q*dina (a female version of Q*bert), have been kidnapped by Coily the snake. You must brave four unique dimensions with six levels each in order to find four pieces of the Magic Disc. Once again, you must hop on cubes to change them to a target color (or colors), but this time the playfield varies in shape from level to level and there are lots of new enemies and features. You'll discover bonus rounds, secret levels and special cubes that score you bonus points or transport you to new locations. Also, power-ups, such as keys, smart bombs, speed boosters, torches and other useful items, will help you defeat enemies and complete levels.
In the Head-To-Head competition, one player controls Q*bert and the other assumes the role of Q*dirk. Yes, once again, cube-hopping is the name of the game. Q*bert's cubes are orange, Q*dirk's are blue, and green cubes are shared. Players must complete their own color cubes while trying to grab as many green cubes as possible.

Many of the Head-To-Head cubes can be used to foil the other player. For example: A Coily Spawn Cube will produce a snake in your opponent's playing field; a Camera cube reduces the visibility of the opposite player's cubes; and a Trigger cube sets off an explosion for tagged cubes in your opponent's playing field.


Q*bert for the PlayStation is exactly what an updated-for-the-'90s remake of a classic Arcade game should be. It includes a fantastic replica of the original game, a graphically enhanced version of the original game, an utterly mesmerizing Adventure mode and a highly competitive, endlessly enjoyable Head-to-Head mode. Q*bert has made a very smooth transition from all-time classic to PlayStation stalwart. Anyone doubting the validity of Hasbro Interactive's efforts in preserving and expanding upon videogame history should look no further than this disc.

Most anyone who haunted the Arcades in the early 1980s remembers Q*bert. It was a quirky game with unique controls, addictive gameplay, crisp graphics, bright colors and a humorous mascot ("%&@!&!!?#!"). It was a game boys and girls and men and women could enjoy. It was cute and easy to learn, yet challenging once you got past the first few screens. Q*bert for the PlayStation stays faithful to the original game, even in the Adventure and Head-to-Head modes of play. The basic goal of hopping on cubes is left firmly intact while new worlds, cool power-ups and strange camera angles add interesting elements of challenge to the familiar formula.

The variety of worlds in the Adventure mode is excellent. You'll travel through atmospheric lands both near and far that evoke a variety of moods and locations. You'll hop on gothic castles, towering skyscrapers, foreign villas and other cool structures and environments. Whimsical, art deco-style levels will dazzle your eyes with blinding color. There are all kinds of crazy designs and wacky cube arrangements;  fans tired of hopping on the same old pyramid will welcome the variety and constant change of pace.

The Head-to-Head mode adds a whole new dimension to the gameplay; sending Coily or another enemy to your opponent's side of the screen or thwarting your opponent by screwing with the camera angles is a lot of fun. Also, there are strategies involved. Should you try to be the first one to finish a level, or should you go strictly for points? How much should you concentrate on foiling your opponent's game plan? What about the bonus cubes?

There are only two complaints I have with Q*bert, but they are minor. The controls are solid, but they are not perfect. Occasionally, you will die and you will swear that it is the gamepad's fault and not your own. Also, in the Head-to-Head mode, the penalty for dying is not strong enough. You are given infinite lives and you get to return to the action immediately after you hop off of the playfield or get squashed by an enemy. I don't mind the infinite lives within the context of this particular game, but a few seconds should elapse before you are permitted to continue play.

With Q*bert for the PlayStation, generations of gamers can gather around the family television set and have a blast. If you have yet to jump on the retro-gaming bandwagon, now is the time.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

RetroFest Video Game Convention -- Fort Worth, Texas -- April 18

Mark your calendars for RetroFest, a small video game con in Fort Worth, Texas on April 18, from 12-6.

Come buy, sell, and trade your consoles, games, toys, and comics. Street fighter arcade tournament, Smash Bros. tournament for prizes. $4 general admission. 100% of the proceeds go to send kids to summer camp.

Check it out HERE.

Road Movies

My article on road movies appeared this past summer in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Here it is, reprinted for your perusal:

Road Movies

Summer is a great time to gas up the family truckster and hit the road, whether you want to travel cross country or simply dash up to WinStar for a little gambling or down to Austin for some primo live music.

If you want an adventure closer to home, you could take the short drive to your local theater and watch the newly released Road to Paloma, which tells of a Native American named Wolf (Jason Momoa), who travels the American West via motorcycle, looking to unleash some vigilante justice on the man who raped and murdered his mother.

Or you could take the alternate route and check out a road picture in the comfort of your home. Here are 10 such films—all available on DVD and through various streaming services—listed in chronological order:

 Road to Singapore (1940)
Not Rated

The year 1940 is nowhere near as revered as 1939 in terms of famous film releases, but it is certainly no slouch, giving cinephiles such classics as The Philadelphia Story, The Grapes of Wrath, The Great Dictator, and Pinocchio. One of the funniest films from 1940 is Road to Singapore, the first of seven “Road to…” pictures starring Hollywood legends Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.

The comedic duo, who exchange witticisms throughout and sometimes break into song and dance (and fight) numbers, vow to give up women until they happen upon the lovely Mima (Dorothy Lamour), whom they adopt as a caretaker. For good, old-fashioned entertainment with a dash of exotic island irreverence, Road to Singapore is hard to beat.

Easy Rider (1969)
Rated R

Most great hippie movies from the 1960s are music documentaries—Woodstock and Monterrey Pop immediately come to mind. However, there are a handful of interesting hippie dramas from the flower power era, most notably the counterculture classic Easy Rider, in which Peter Fonda (as Wyatt) and Dennis Hopper (as Billy) hit the open road on their motorcycles, heading from Los Angeles to New Orleans.

Their destination is Mardi Gras, but as with Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters (as documented in 2011’s Magic Trip), their true journey is to discover America. In addition to meeting likeminded folks—they hang out at a commune and are joined by comic relief in the form of ACLU lawyer George Hanson (Jack Nicholson)—they encounter nasty, hate-filled rednecks.

Smokey and the Bandit (1977)
Rated PG

Every late 1970s-era teenage male wanted—make that craved—the black, gold eagle-decorated Pontiac Trans Am Burt Reynolds (as Bo “Bandit” Darville) drove in Smokey and the Bandit. A dated but still enjoyable comedy, the film also starred Sally Field as the runaway bride, Carrie. Who can forget Carrie, riding shotgun, changing out of her wedding dress while Bandit speeds down the highway?
Acting as a “blocker” for a truck hauling an illegal beer shipment from Texarkana to Georgia, Bandit is chased by a very funny Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason), a profane, short-tempered sheriff who chews every word of his southern-fried dialogue to pieces. And, of course, there’s the infectious theme song sung by Jerry Reed (who drives the aforementioned truck): “Eastbound and Down.”

The Muppet Movie (1979)
Rated G

If you grew up watching The Muppet Show during its original run, you were likely excited by the release of The Muppet Movie, which revealed Kermit the Frog’s origin and his feet—watching him ride a bicycle is a hoot, not to mention a nifty special effects trick. One day, while Kermit is perched on a log in a Louisiana swamp, singing “Rainbow Connection” and playing the banjo, an agent (played by Dom DeLuise) tells him he ought to be in pictures.

Thus, “Kermie” sets off on a cross-country trip to Hollywood, meeting many of his Muppet buddies along the way, including Miss Piggy, who immediately falls in love with the amiable amphibian. Seven theatrical “Muppet” movies have followed, but the original remains a distinct pleasure and a rollicking good time.

National Lampoon's Vacation (1983)
Rated R

If you’ve ever looked at a famous tourist destination, briefly nodded your head and walked away, you’ve probably seen Vacation more times than you’ve been on vacation. If you’ve ever served a casserole and said, “I don't know why they call this stuff Hamburger Helper; It does just fine by itself,” you probably need a vacation from watching Vacation.

In short, Vacation is one of the most copied, most quotable comedies ever released, nailing the agony and the ecstasy of the family road trip like no other movie before or since. As played by Chevy Chase, Clark Griswold’s sincere desire to provide his wife (Beverly D'Angelo) and kids with “family fun” is truly infectious.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
Rated R

The road movie subgenre is ideally suited to the comedy film. Nowhere is this more evident than in John Hughes’ Plans, Trains and Automobiles, a laugh-out-loud odd couple story in which uptight marketing executive Neal Page (Steve Martin), trying to get home to Chicago for Thanksgiving, pairs with Del Griffith (John Candy), a loud, obnoxious, overly optimistic salesman. Griffith would make for a great crazy uncle, but he’s a terrible (if sympathetic) travel companion, telling bad jokes and setting fire to the quarrelsome couple’s rental car.

Filled with heart and humor, Plans, Trains and Automobiles is most fondly remembered for the burned up (but drivable) car, Page’s F-bomb tirade and the embarrassing snuggle buddy wakeup line, “Those aren’t pillows!”

Thelma & Louise (1991)
Rated R

The ultimate female empowerment film of the 1990s, Thelma & Louise proves that women can hit the road and get into trouble with as much gravitas as any man. Housewife Thelma Dickinson (Geena Davis) and waitress Louise Sawyer (Susan Sarandon), both frustrated with their lot in life, head out in a ’66 Thunderbird convertible for a mini-vacation in the mountains.

Unfortunately, the world is a cruel place, and their two-day dash for temporary freedom is corrupted by theft, murder and attempted rape. Look for Brad Pitt as J.D., a cowboy hat-wearing hitchhiker and “gentlemanly” robber whom Thelma takes a liking to.

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Rated R

There’s a scene in Little Miss Sunshine—an engaging, character-driven, satirical ode to non-conformity—in which the dysfunctional family at the center of the film gets pulled over by a police officer while they are driving to California. The dad advises, “Everybody just appear to be normal.” This is impossible given the makeup of the family, which includes a failed self-help guru (Greg Kinnear), a heroin-addicted grandfather (Alan Arkin), a suicidal Proust scholar (Steve Carell), and a Nietzsche-reading teenager who has taken a vow of silence (Paul Dano). The reason for the road trip is so the bespectacled, somewhat awkward daughter (Abigail Breslin) can enter a beauty pageant.

Fanboys (2009)
Rated PG-13

Released in 1999, Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace was a terrible movie, hampered by wooden acting, a bland plot and easily the most annoying character in the series: Jar Jar Binks. Fanboys, set in 1998, is no masterpiece (The Big Bang Theory does a better, more intelligent job of poking fun at nerds), but it is an amusing (if far-fetched) film in which a quartet of Star Wars fanatics and their female companion (Kristen Bell) scheme to break into Skywalker Ranch, steal a rough cut of The Phantom Menace and see it before it hits theaters. Prior to screening Fanboys, you should set phasers on fun (oops, wrong franchise).

The Road (2009)
Rated R

One of the bleakest stories ever put on film, The Road is based on Cormac McCarthy’s dense, post-apocalyptic book of the same name, which was released in 2006 and won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Unlike most of the other movies on this list, The Road is deeply depressing, offering only the slightest glimmer of hope as a man (Viggo Mortensen) and his boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) travel south (toward the ocean) through a ruined gray wasteland harboring few survivors, including some who have resorted to cannibalism. At various points, the boy asks his dad (and the viewer, perhaps?) if they're “still the good guys.” For the sake of humanity, let’s hope so.