Monday, 10 August 2020
Sunday, 9 August 2020
Digital Foundry's John Linneman and Audi Sorlie break down Black Dog Technology's new HDMI mod for the PlayStation 1 console, offering not just digital output but a detailed image processing menu that allows users to upscale and deinterlace to their heart's content. The best bit is when Linneman and Sorlie highlight the modified system's fantastic sound output, briefly recalling an audiophile fad from the mid-to-late 2000s. At one point, high-fidelity sound enthusiasts took to buying second-hand PS1s, hooking them up to their Shindo Masseto Tube Preamplifiers, then enjoying what they described as an 'exceptionally smooth sound'.
After missing a sequel, Gianni Garko is back for Have a Good Funeral, My Friend... Sartana Will Pay. Sporting a blonde horseshoe moustache and a much paler, sickly complexion, the actor now looks more like a boozy, middle-aged Rutger Hauer and less a time displaced Iain Glen. Despite Garko's reappearance, Giuliano Carnimeo's film still has no room for Sartana as a supernatural proposition, instead Have a Good Funeral's portrayal leans further into the assured, high-stakes gambler persona that previous sequels corrected to. Sartana is also firmly grounded by, not just the film's gold rush back-stabbing, but - in a first for the series - human, sexual desire.
Sartana's influence on Daniela Giordano's Abigail Benson is such that the heiress takes to emulating the cowboy's ostentatious-but-grim outfit in a combative coda that suggests a Sister Sartana spin-off that, unfortunately, never came to be. Despite this missed opportunity, Have a Good Funeral is still one of the better Sartana entries. Carnimeo's film demonstrates a firmer grasp on its upheavals, deploying twists and treachery in ways that excite rather than baffle. As always, everyone is on the make, from George Wang's Fu-Manchu-in-repose casino owner to Indian Creek's bank managers and law enforcement. Bounty Killers are incompetents, smuggled in from rival productions, as if to prove Sartana's supremacy over the Spaghetti Western prairie. As always, Garko's gunslinger navigates these dangers with ease, gleefully forking out for increasingly flowery burials as the bodies pile up.
Wednesday, 5 August 2020
Sartana's Here.. Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin starts well enough, the first act detailing the gunslinger's efforts to free a mother and her child from the grip of an overbearing bandit. This vignette, knowingly replaying beats from A Fistful of Dollars (and Yojimbo before that), represents a simplicity of purpose and morality largely absent in this series' sequels. Sartana is briefly allowed to torment and tighten the noose, again a phantom that operates slightly out of step with reality. Original Sartana actor Gianni Garko is replaced by George Hilton for this instalment, the new actor bringing an ironic, detached energy to the incessant betrayals. Hilton's face is gaunt and sunburnt, closer to a Carlos Ezquerra drawing of Walton Goggins than Garko's Eastwood by way of Iain Glen.
This substitution helps massage the decision to move the series away from an Old Testament haunting to conniving, invincible nonsense; Hilton much more able to traverse the farcical twists (including several clashes with the competitor brand that poached If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death director, Gianfranco Parolini) that Trade Your Pistol throws his way. Although Tito Carpi's leisurely screenplay lets him down, director Giuliano Carnimeo again proves himself adept at manufacturing up stress situations. Conspiring with editor Ornella Micheli and cinematographer Stelvio Massi, Carnimeo uses the brief moments where Sartana isn't present to press in on the vulnerable. Nosing into their hopeless scuffles with gold rush heavies - the camera rocking nervously in the face of advancing cruelty.
Since Street Fighter VI is much further off than we suspected, Capcom have another season pass up their sleeve for Street Fighter V. Given that one of the PS5's big selling points is backwards compatibility, we might not even get a next-gen specific SKU of Capcom's divisive sequel at this rate. Still, at least the Osaka dev has finally remembered their wonderful Rival Schools series, drafting schoolgirl on a motorcycle Akira Kazama for V's forthcoming DLC.
Sunday, 2 August 2020
Compared to its predecessor, I am Sartana, Your Angel of Death is an immediately less engaging proposition thanks, in no small part, to the decision to abandon the previous film's supernatural qualities. The ghostly hindrance seen in If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death is replaced in this sequel by a more fallible, human interpretation. Framed for a crime he did not commit, this Sartana not only frets about his good name being tarnished, he also finds himself at a distinct disadvantage when fending off the bounty killers who pursue him - particularly José Torres' tracker, Shadow.
This sense of impending doom only holds for the first act or so, likewise Sartana's evil doppelganger commits no further bank robberies; Giuliano Carnimeo's film apparently completely uninterested in piling on either pressure or tension. While it's laudable that Angel of Death is not constructed to simply replay or remix Gianni Garko's first stab at the role, it is outright bizarre that Tito Carpi and Enzo Dell'Aquila's screenplay does next to nothing with its new, assailed premise. Pray for Your Death's crisscrossing betrayals and paranormal abilities are saved for this film's conclusion, by which time Angel of Death has long since twisted itself to a point of numbed absurdity.
While the film's plot makes little attempt to wring anything fresh from Sartana's loss of control over his image, director Carnimeo and cinematographer Giovanni Bergamini use camera movement to simulate a world slipping out of whack. The frame frequently collapses when describing gunshot injuries, sinking to the floor with the pirouetting dead. Punch outs are even better. The camera either placed directly behind an aggressor so that their arm travels right up the centre of the frame before colliding with a face or, in a later beating, the actual target of these haymakers. Punches are hurled directly at the audience, the fingers of the fist filling the entire screen. Our perspective rocks and recoils with each head-shaking impact - an agitated energy otherwise absent from I am Sartana, Your Angel of Death.
Saturday, 1 August 2020
If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death opens with a rash of betrayals - double-crosses quickly become triple-crosses before ballooning into quadruple and quintuple-crosses. This breathless, action-packed duplicity culminates with William Berger's wild, sun-burnt gringo hand-cranking a Gatling gun at a posse of assembled turncoats - his allies only moments earlier. Co-writer-director Gianfranco Parolini, working with fellow screenwriters Theo Maria Werner and Renato Izzo, use their characters, and the society they inhabit, purely as mechanisms for communicating treachery. A typical scene within the film will work to establish an implied or explicit connection between two parties before one, or even both, quietly reveal some level of deception. All in the service of securing a hoard of gold.
Every character is running an angle, teasing out information on a luxuriously furnished set then scurrying away to plot in another, well-appointed room. All, that is, except Sartana. In contrast to a town lousy with sweating, greedy conspirators (many of which already occupy privileged positions within the settlement's ruling class, it has to be said), Gianni Garko's drifter is cool and elegantly dressed. He's an unflappable expert, loaded down with trick pistols and mocking inaction. Rather than simply manipulate desperate criminals to his own advantage, Sartana actively harasses and ridicules his quarry. Initially it seems that he just wants the gold all for himself but, as the film rolls on, Sartana's derision takes on a ghostly, supernatural quality. As well as disappearing and reappearing in ways that are not humanly possible, the cocksure cowboy also survives fatal gunshots wounds - stepping out of swirling smoke, only moments later, to judge and punish those that would murder for personal gain. As its name implies, If You Meet Sartana Pray for Death is positively biblical.
Tuesday, 28 July 2020
Another waking nightmare from Lucio Fulci, The Beyond traps us in a crumbling Louisiana hotel, riddled with rot. Unbeknownst to the owner, scrappy New Yorker Liza Merrill, the boarding house she has inherited sits on top of a gateway to hell. We witness the membrane between our world and the next being weakened in a sepia pre-credits sequence that portrays the murder of an artist, accused of witchcraft, by a chain-lashing mob. The destruction of this young warlock's body causes reality to dilate, the damage echoing across the decades.
Beyond pointedly doesn't exist in a logical, three-dimensional space; events in the film are knowingly flat, a rolling ordeal confined to cinematographer Sergio Salvati's Techniscope frame. Fulci's film knits together intense micro-incidents and the massive lurches forward required to propel us into the next hideous set-up. In this realm Fulci is all-powerful, able to arrange his props in ways that specifically cater to their slow, methodical, dismantling. As ever, these scourges are expertly constructed by editor Vincenzo Tomassi.
Tomassi employs repetitive, painstaking, movement and Enzo Diliberto's hyperbolic sound effects to suggest and amplify imminent danger. Attention does not depart at the moment of impact either - Beyond lingers, revelling in the revulsion generated by seeing a face pulverised in forensic detail. A sequence in which an unlucky ladder climber is consumed by spiders appals before the arachnids have even had a chance to burrow into the man's skull. The careful approach of the creepy-crawlies, and their lumbering, mechanical co-stars, is accompanied by a slow, deliberate cracking - a percussive note built out of, what sounds like, tiny bones being crushed then suckled upon.
Friday, 24 July 2020
Thursday, 23 July 2020
Hiroyuki Imaishi's Promare is a riot of violet, streaking movement. A propulsive, grandstanding animated feature that dumps gear change level information as quickly, and candidly, as possible so it can hurry off to the next hyperbolic action scene. Imaishi's film, working from a screenplay by Kazuki Nakashima, hurls us into a near future in which mankind has suffered through a global wave of spontaneous human combustions. The survivors of this Great World Blaze include a class of pyrokinetic terrorists - who pride themselves on only ever using their smouldering abilities to gut fascistic buildings - and the teams of superheroic firefighters who tackle their expulsions. Each sect are armed with transforming vehicles and powered suits, all unencumbered by gravity.
Promare's use of 3D animation is novel, at times closer to the kind of blocking and arrangement seen in Japanese, sixth generation, video games. Armoured up characters prowl with the same deliberate gait seen in these supernaturally themed releases - the creeping marionettes of the early 2000s, a style of ambulation currently out-of-fashion following the interactive industry's decision to fully embrace motion capture. Lio Fotia, the high commander of the mutant Burnish, is introduced wrapped in an ink black battle plate. Once cracked, a childlike face oozes through the damage - a snarling cherub, very much in the style of manga greats such as Osamu Tezuka or Mitsuteru Yokoyama. This is what Promare offers: a fluid, expert conversation between classic and futuristic visual techniques. The harsh polygons of computational smoke and flame effects sit perfectly alongside figures that betray a fitful, human, expression.
Since Sega are completely unwilling to bless us with the further adventures of the Jet Set Radio gang (Smilebit - gone but not forgotten), indie devs Team Reptile - previously responsible for the well-received Lethal League Blaze - have taken up the baton, recruiting the series' original bassline hummer, composer Hideki Naganuma, in the process. Expect Bomb Rush Cyberfunk sometime in 2021.
Monday, 20 July 2020
Sunday, 19 July 2020
Jeannot Szwarc's Supergirl sits in a completely different genre to the Christopher Reeve films that predated it. Whereas the series that Richard Donner kicked-off began as something close to a Biblical epic (before slowly evolving into Richard Lester's sight-gag generator), Supergirl is nearer to magical fantasy. It's flippant, even irreverent in how it presents and organises the iconography of its super-characters: Helen Slater's Kara spontaneously assumes the family costume seconds after arriving on Earth. New identity in place, she skips around weightlessly, ballet dancing across a tree line.
The film posits a collision, how a child raised in a sub-atomic commune reacts to life in a, comparatively strange, bra-snapping boarding school. Helen Slater's Supergirl, barely a character in her own story, is an innocent, the kind of guileless, put-upon waif you'd see in British girl's comics of the 1970s and early 80s - the heroines of IPC weeklies like Tammy or Misty. Her worries are kept small - can she win the school groundskeeper away from Faye Dunaway's vampy, experienced, witch Selena? Real danger, and any of the trauma that would normally linger afterwards, is tidied far away from the main plot.
The wider implications of Kara's public and private dilemmas are drowned out by a meandering storyline far more concerned with Selena bumbling her way into total dominion over a one-horse town. Given that Slater is a newcomer, it's an understandable decision but the Supergirl character does offer something distinct. Kara's approach to her superpowers is much more covert than her cousin, she rarely overwhelms obstacles, preferring instead to neutralise them with a well aimed upset. Her adventure also takes her deeper into the Superman mythos, briefly stranding her in The Phantom Zone. Zod's former prison is a crumbling landscape filled with swirling, blood red storms and intoxicating Kryptonite sludge. More importantly though it's a trial that must be overcome without the benefit of Earth's yellow Sun.
Saturday, 18 July 2020
Tuesday, 14 July 2020
A far cry from the expensive, Richard Donner end of the superhero spectrum, Sidney J Furie's Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is content to cheerily motor along, striving to portray Silver Age situations and ideas that far outstrip the film's meagre budget. Following the mixed-to-negative reactions to Superman III and Supergirl, producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind unloaded the ailing franchise onto nonsense specialists, The Cannon Group. Lumbered with less than half the cost of Helen Slater's adventure, Quest for Peace is forced to take significant shortcuts, resulting in - amongst other signs of an impoverished production - crumbling, partially transparent special effects and a frame permanently cluttered up with cheap theatrical props.
Petitioned by a schoolboy to rid the world of nuclear weapons, Superman scours the world, scooping up missiles from either side of The Iron Curtain. Following Kal-El's modern labours, this ballistic haul is then jammed into an enormous steel net before being hurled into the Sun. Thanks to a spot of scheming by Gene Hackman's criminal mastermind Lex Luthor, this disposal method inadvertently creates Mark Pillow's permatanned Nuclear Man. Rather than the decaying, flummoxed Bizarro seen in umpteen comics, Nuclear Man is Superman by way of hair spray rock and pro-wrestling. He's a grimacing vein-popper, completely unable to control the unfathomable powers he's inherited from his clone parent - which, for this instalment, includes an eye blast that spontaneously reassembles shattered historical monuments.
While we wait for news on the NieR Replicant remake, Square Enix have released a new trailer for their forthcoming, not to mention ambitious looking, mobile game NieR Re[in]carnation.