Monday, 8 February 2016

Super Bowl Spot - Jason Bourne

Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon to the rescue! Rather than let Jeremy Renner tank the franchise, the Bourne Supremacy and Bourne Ultimatum team are back, driving SWAT trucks through brightly coloured gridlock. Based on this short clip Greengrass is still very much in love with chaotic, hand-held reportage. The arrangement does look a little less seizure inducing though - we're asked to drink in Damon as a twisting, mechanical lump here rather than just glimpsing shredded encounters between countless darkly coloured limbs.

Super Bowl Spot - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Bebop? Rocksteady? KRANG?


Super Bowl Spot - Independence Day: Resurgence

Enormous alien superstructures lancing cities while weightless, metropolitan debris fills the sky? While prepping Independence Day: Resurgence, Roland Emmerich and his CG teams were clearly hard at work, studying the destruction of Lithone sequence that opens the magnificent The Transformers: The Movie.

Super Bowl Spot - Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War's superhero piley-on is a strange direction for Marvel's best sub-franchise. Captain America: The Winter Soldier turned heads by focusing on 80s action norms like car crashes and bone-crunching interpersonal violence. Civil War bucks that trend, threatening more weightless, CG tomfoolery.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

13 Hours

Herr Bay dials it down. Instead of his usual coke and catwalks take on American exceptionalism, we get a refreshingly chaotic Fox News reconstruction that proposes the Benghazi siege as a critical moment in the Jocks vs Nerds debate. This is Bay seizing his moment, daring to dream of post-American Sniper box office (Oscar?) glory whilst simultaneously raking away at that security contractor itch that hounded his Transformers franchise.

13 Hours is basically Cemetery Wind: The Movie. A Mozambique drilling, brass-checking, thump of new machinery that dies alone on its arse every time someone tries to string a reflective sentence together. As ever, Bay struggles with human perspectives. The operators are portrayed as malfunctioning kill-bots that occasionally buzz out the kind of human experience an alien might gleam from an infomercial.

Conversely, the CIA are nebbish ditherers incapable of making any decision more forthright than passive observation. David Costabile's Chief is positioned as the kind of hysterical white collar dork Bay insists prop up the flabby mid-sections of his Bad Boys films. He's here solely to frustrate commitment. Contrast that arrangement with a silent, mechanical opposing force that rises out of a literal zombie land before attacking in increasingly hectic wave formations and it's clear where Bay's ire is directed - inaction is the only true opposition.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Sylvester Stallone in the 1980s - Rocky III

Writer-director-actor Sylvester Stallone takes a different tact with the third Rocky outing, arriving at a film that's as much about the numbing effects of money and fame as it is boxing. After several successful defences of the title he won from Apollo Creed, Rocky discovers that his manager has been secretly arranging squash matches to dodge challenges from genuine competition. The deception has a profound effect on Balboa, undermining his achievements and leaving him with an acute case of imposter syndrome.

Conflict rooted in ego drives Rocky III. Just as the title character has to overcome a paralysing lack of self-esteem, every other player is in search of personal validation that can only be conferred by locking horns with Balboa. Inveterate scumbag Paulie wants to be whisked up and given a job despite his unending negativity; Apollo Creed would rather set aside months building Rocky into a fluid fighting prospect than spend time with his own family. Mr T's elemental Clubber Lang has the most to overcome. He needs to conquer this evasive champion to get where he needs to be.

It's not like Lang doesn't put the work in either. While Rocky burns money transforming his training regime into an embarrassing expo event, Lang knuckles down, exercising alone in an environment that resembles the crawl space beneath a murderer's house. Shouldn't we be rooting for this loner? Is Rocky's gauche Scarface lifestyle supposed to be aspirational? Rocky III flips the underdog narrative on its head, asking us to cheer for an established and explicitly unearned status quo. Lang is too violent, too temperamental, too black to be the hero. Despite the two boxers sharing the exact same motivation - the paralysing fear of being poor in Reagan's America - it is assumed that the audience instinctively believes that one of these fighters is worthy to hold the title while the other is not.

Terror of Mechagodzilla by Jeff Zornow

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Sylvester Stallone in the 1980s - Escape to Victory

Sylvester Stallone ticks a box in Escape to Victory. A proven box-office draw, his presence guarantees a certain amount of interest from the otherwise cool-on-football American market. Like Steve McQueen before him, the star also lifts his allied internment film from the staid and faintly comedic situations of The Wooden Horse into the state of bombast seen in something like The Great Escape.

Regardless of whether or not the idea rings true historically, British prisoner of war films tend to revolve around bait-and-switches that have more in common with knockabout boarding school capers than life and death struggle. Accordingly Stallone's interloping brings a sense of desperation to Victory. While everyone else concerns themselves with training for the upcoming, all-consuming football game, Sly's character Hatch takes time to run angles on the guards, looking for a chance to slip out of the camp.

Stallone's is an outsider perspective, to the point of mostly existing within his own sectioned-off, VIP story. While Michael Caine and Max Von Sydow wrap themselves up in romantic notions like sportsmanship and post-war European brotherhood, Stallone has leveraged himself a subplot that takes him to Paris and gets him romancing Carole Laure's resistance contact. Since Director John Huston and screenwriters Evan Jones and Yabo Yablonsky are more interested in the big game as an opportunity for escape rather than an event unto itself, Stallone's contractually mandated holiday does a lot of the dramatic lifting.

RetroAhoy: Doom

After a bit of radio silence Stuart Brown is back with an absolutely fantastic 50 minute documentary focused entirely around everybody's favourite murder simulator, Doom.

Kull #9 by Barry Windsor-Smith

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Sylvester Stallone in the 1980s - Nighthawks

Sylvester Stallone kicks off the 1980s with Nighthawks, a slack and improbable potboiler that reaches for William Friedkin style verisimilitude but instead ends up a Neanderthal example of the star's scowling bruise 'em ups. Stallone and buddy Billy Dee Williams play a pair of insufferable New York cops drafted onto a terrorist extermination squad seemingly because everybody else on the force hates their guts. The duo spend weeks being screamed at by a self-impressed British spook while Rutger Hauer's eurotrash terrorist prowls around the city, murdering women and planning a series of topical explosions.

Ghost-directed at least in part by Stallone, Nighthawks offers long, rambling takes that land like conceited acting exercises. There's none of that marching powder pep the director would later bring to Rocky IV on display in either the framing or the editing. Nighthawks works best as a document, the pivotal moment that Stallone stopped trying to establish himself as the next Pacino and embraced his more violent, guttural instincts. The immediate benefits of this transformative thinking are apparent within Nighthawks. Hamstrung by a meandering, indistinct screenplay, Stallone eventually finds he is better able to hold his audience's attention with close-up grimaces and macho declarations than by pretending to be a real human being.

BluntOne - Rhodes to Nowhere / Simple Cuts

The Duel Begins! by Frank Miller

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Films 2015

5. Straight Outta Compton

Like basically every other rock biopic, Straight Outta Compton is about packaging a series of disparate, contradictory events into a feel-good through line. Presumably the thinking with these things is to renew enough interest to sell some more best-of compilations. Shepherded to the screen by Dr Dre and Ice Cube in full control freak mode, F Gary Gray's film ditches any of the misogyny or outright underhandedness inherent to NWA's story to arrive at a heart-warming yarn about a bunch of friends knuckling down and doing well.

4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

JJ Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt's rejuvenation of the Star Wars brand not only locates several distinct, likeable characters, it also finds time to snatch ideas from the Prequel run and transform them into engaging narrative grist for an expanding saga. It's tempting to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens as Lawrence Kasdan's moment, the Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars sequels writer finally getting to steer one of the great movie brat franchises without Steven Spielberg or George Lucas breathing down his neck. The structural bones may be familiar but the relationships and agendas Kasdan and his co-writers plant promise a different kind of saga.

3. Ex Machina

Ex Machina completes a loose trilogy from writer-director Alex Garland about the effects of othering and automation on the human psyche. Never Let Me Go (adapted from Kazuo Ishiguro's novel) proposed an underclass of clones bred for the express purpose of organ harvest, Dredd a ruling class of men and women trained to act like robots. Ex Machina circles similar neuroses, lasering in on a new lifeform that is able to take the limitations men have imposed upon it and transform them into a formidable arsenal.

2. Bitter Lake

Adam Curtis waded through thousands of hours worth of raw news footage to assemble a piece that presents history as a chaotic beast that refuses to fit into any one narrative. Bitter Lake plays as an antithesis to the kind of glib, bullet point reporting designed to fill its audience full of certainty. The film clocks in at 136 minutes and rambles incessantly. Curtis uses growling sunspot electronica and shapeless video footage to arrive at a street-level impression of how various hot and cold interventions have shaped Afghanistan post-World War II.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

How does this film even exist?

Original Review

Also Liked:

Whiplash / Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation / Chappie / Tomorrowland / John Wick / Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief / Spectre / Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films / Inside Out

Monday, 28 December 2015

Video Games 2015

5. Grow Home

A genuinely stressful experience in which you pilot a shambolic robot as it climbs up a star-scraping beanstalk. Initial prods can cause your droid to stumble off wildly, a model of movement that seems entirely unsuited to a slow, methodical climbing game. Once you finally manage to figure out the finickity controls though, Grow Home comes into its own, mutating from a frustrating Octodad into a tense, physically draining approximation of ascension.

4. Everybody's Gone to the Rapture

Slowly nose around an abandoned, provincial village, activating a series of sparkly, etheral conversations that drip-feed information about the total destruction of mankind as a physical entity. Find enough of these Radio 4 style chit-chats and Everybody's Gone to the Rapture allows you to trigger a cosmos altering crescendo. The Chinese Room's game mixes The Archers with John Wyndham to arrive at a deliberately paced snoop 'em up that faithfully simulates the onion-layered bullshittery at the core of British social interaction.

3. Fallout 4

Potter around an irradiated Boston getting into scrapes. Fallout 4 proposes a storyline about a parent desperately seeking their kidnapped child but this is more of a regulated series of diversions than a narrative backbone. Instead Bethesda's game is at its best when you go completely off-piste, excavating haunted slate mines or dressing up as a radio serial vigilante at the behest of a neurotic zombie.

2. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Hideo Kojima's final game for Konami isn't just the all-time greatest open world adventure game, it also gifts the player a truly wonderful action figure in the form of Venom Snake. Despite some fussiness bumping up against objects and their physical barriers, everything about driving this iteration of Snake is such fun that it takes an eternity for you to recognise the ceaseless repetition that powers this sequel. Whether creeping into Soviet forts or radioing-in precision artillery strikes, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is one-hundred hours worth of opportunities to feel unbridled, interactive joy.

1. Bloodborne

Bloodborne reminds me of Resident Evil or Devil May Cry. It's a game that plonks you in a corrupted version of something recognisable (architecturally speaking) then, when you've found your feet, it forces you further and further towards the source of this malignant transformation.

FromSoftware's genius lies in how this exploration unfolds. Progress is explicitly tied to raising various RPG stats but the environments and enemies are such fantastic actors you hardly notice. Since the player is always pushing deeper and deeper into some hallucinatory, transgressive horror. every step taken feels like trespassing. All visual and aural data demands you turn around and flee. You simply shouldn't be here. You proceed against all reason. How's that for a psychological model for adventure?

Also Liked:

Downwell / Axiom Verge / Xeodrifter / Tearaway Unfolded / Curses 'N Chaos / Arcade Archives: Mat Mania Exciting Hour / Under Night In-Birth / Ultra Street Fighter IV (PS4) / Call of Duty: Black Ops III (multiplayer) / Fallout Shelter / DmC Devil May Cry: Definitive Edition / Resident Evil HD Remaster / Transformers: Devastation / Devil May Cry 4 Special Edition

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Music 2015

5. Lazerhawk - Escape from Germany

Produced for a John Carpenter tribute tape, Lazerhawk crosses the master's burnt-out St Louis beats with Sylvester Levay's fizzy TV music. Charles Bronson's robot brain is telling the attack helicopter to fire hellfire missiles at the muggers.

4. Tame Impala - 'Cause I'm a Man

Slowly sink into a pool of luxurious R&B while some guy who wishes he was Prince sings about being a massive bellend.

3. Blur - Ong Ong

Football terrace knees-up - smiling, laughing, singing, arm in arm with some cunt you've never met before. I have no interest in soccer.

2. Rihanna X Kanye West X Paul McCartney - FourFive Seconds (WoodysProduce Remix)

WoodysProduce slathers sweeping Casio noise all over Rihanna's deliberately spare, acoustic single. Get in there lad. Fuck it up.

1. Gabrielle Aplin - Sweet Nothing

Played this over and over and over trying to work out why I loved it so much. You've gotta do that. You've got to be ruthless with yourself. Everything you like is shite anyway. Finally, I dredged up a feeling of Anna Karina plucked out of Pierrot le Fou to front the Foo Fighters. Not cool, fuzzy 1995 Foo Fighters either, we're talking 1999, Learn to Fly, dadrock era Dave Grohl and pals. Magic.

Also Liked

Le Matos - Like Perfume on a Pig / Taylor Swift - Style /  TV on the Radio - Trouble / Thomas Happ - The Dream / Shamir - On The Regular / Blur - Lonesome Street / Radiohead - Spectre

Who Ha - It's Snowin

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Backwards Compatible - PlayStation 2 on PlayStation 4 #1

Sony's recent decision to begin releasing emulated PlayStation 2 games on the PlayStation 4 opens up a vast library of classics and curios. In this short series I'll be doing a quick run down of the titles that made an impression on me during the sixth-generation.

The three Grand Theft Autos have already been released and other established greats like Resident Evil 4 and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater also have pretty decent high-definition spruce-ups, so we'll be skipping over them to concentrate on some (slightly) more obscure output.

1. Silent Hill 2 

Although we've already had a Silent Hill HD Collection on PS3 and 360, that disaster had to be patched umpteen times to reach a level of adequacy. Better to abandon Hijinx Studios poison port to make use of whatever backwards compatibility solution Sony has dreamt up. 

See Also: Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly

Guide a rickety waif around a spooky castle, exorcising ghosts with an old camera. 

2. R-Type Final

Irem's psychedelic shooter has the player racing after a fleeing alien armada, doing as much damage to the battered, retreating invaders as possible. Alternate gameplay paths take you through diseased futures and bloody field hospitals, whilst also offering the opportunity to betray humanity and mutate into a higher life form. 

See Also: Gradius V

Treasures scroll shooter is available on PS3 but frame rate drops kill the fun. 

3. Shadow of Rome 

Apparently, Capcom's barbaric gladiator sim was a concerted attempt to appeal to the western market. Thanks! I guess. Players are actively awarded for their savagery with a crowd mechanic that revels in creative bloodshed. Cut a man's head off and you'll receive a polite applause. Sever his arm and beat him to death with it whilst also chomping down on a greasy chicken leg and you'll have the auditorium on its feet, screaming your name. 

See Also: Maximo: Ghosts to Glory

Ghosts 'n Goblins repackaged as a third-person brawler. 

4. Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition

Hyper Street Fighter II featured a novel approach to arcade preservation. Rather than limit the players to one version of Street Fighter II, this Hyper upgrade made every update and revision available simultaneously. Want to pit Championship Edition's Bison against his Super Turbo counterpart? Hyper was your game. 

See Also: Capcom vs SNK 2: Millionaire Fighting 2001

Another fantastic Capcom fighter that allowed players to choose from several distinct super gauge mechanics.  

5. Killer7

Like many of Capcom's Gamecube exclusive, Killer7 quickly made its way to the PS2. Killer7 puts the player in charge of a contract murderer with a horde of distinct, playable personalities as they battle against Sentai superheroes and zombie suicide bombers. Killer7 is a delirious, deliberately fractured experience that uses simple inputs to drive players deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness. 

See Also: Michigan: Report from Hell

An earlier, trashier effort from Killer7 dev Grasshopper Manufacture that casts the player as a leering cameraman hoping to video as many grisly deaths as possible. 

Ennio Morricone - Eternity

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Return of the Jedi

Viewed hot on the heels of the Prequel Trilogy, Return of the Jedi sings, managing to tell an emotionally engaging story that thrives on character moments. Jedi is simple, once the gang has disposed of the Hutt fraternity the focus narrows to two mutually supportive storylines - the rebel army's attempts to scuttle the second Death Star and Luke's collision course with Vader. Unlike the messy second trilogy, there is very clearly a main character, Luke Skywalker. His mission is both effortlessly understood and thematically rich.

It would be easy to frame Luke and Vader's confrontation as two gunslingers lumbering up to see who's top dog, but that requires an animosity that neither character possesses. Vader's intentions are particularly cloudy, we're not sure if he's preparing to invite his son into the family business or staging a needlessly complicated suicide attempt. When he talks to Luke he rambles on about fate and the inevitability of Skywalker corruption. Vader is old and broken, a deadbeat father who could never fully pull himself together. Lacking any sense of certainty other than violence, Vader cannot understand his son.

Vader's thinking is built on presumption, he assumes he understands Luke's dilemma, but he doesn't. Neither, for that matter, does Yoda. The ancient Jedi coaches caution first and foremost. He understands the inevitability of Luke and Vader's conflict but his ability, or willingness, to guide is slim. Vader and Yoda both think in the abstract, they understand their power as an ability to tap into something greater than themselves.

Since they both consider this power ultimately unknowable they allow this intangible might to steer them. They are passengers. Luke is not. The Force does not overwhelm his thinking, it is a tool in his arsenal. Luke has not only made peace with his heritage, he has decided it can be changed. Fate is malleable, Vader can be saved. Luke is a redeemer, he allows himself to be captured by his father and The Emperor because it isn't a setback. Luke's identity is fixed and immutable. They won't change him, he will transform them.

This is what makes him so threatening, Luke is certain that no matter what he will not waver. Yoda feared what close proximity to Vader and Papatine would do to the young Jedi. The father turned, why not the son? He needn't have worried, Luke is not so weak willed. When father and son meet on Endor, Vader attempts to gloat about his son's capture. Luke brushes it off, then lasers in on their predicament. There is good in Vader and Luke intends to draw it out.

Vader is instantly subordinated. As the prequels went to great lengths to illustrate, Anakin Skywalker has always been a hollow child desperately seeking approval. He wasn't born into the Jedi's inhuman religion, he was captured by it, crowbarred into a lifestyle that did not suit him. All his misery rooted in a blood-test and some half-remembered prophecy. Luke is different, he sought this life out, seizing it in the company of Obi-Wan Kenobi and conquering it under the tutelage of Yoda.

Luke goes even further than his masters, able to control both The Force and the untidy emotional drives that the Jedi feared and buried. The Prequels are built around an order of Knights that shrink at the sight of their own shadow. Any dalliance with their humanity is treated as an opportunity for total calamity. Luke Skywalker has transcended this limitation. He feels and loves, willing to lay down his life in order to draw out his father's goodness.

When the Force Ghosts appear to Luke at the end of Jedi, they are acknowledging not only his success but also his superiority. He did what they could not. Luke knows love, he felt it and expressed it. He understood its value and therefore its power. Luke walked into Jabba's lair unarmed to rescue his best friend, he removed himself from Leia and the Endor rebels as soon as he realised Vader could track his Force signature.

Luke will die for the people he loves and is willing to bet, given the opportunity, his father will too. The Emperor scoffs and ridicules Luke, assured of his fall, but the son is playing a longer, deeper con. Luke appeals to Vader on the most basic, biological imperative - blood. Service to a dusty old crone is nothing measured against the adulation of your child. In this moment, wracked by Force lightning, Luke is the master offering Vader salvation.

Worry surrounds Luke in Return of the Jedi. His masters advise prudence and his sister pleads with him to flee. Even worse, his enemies assume that Luke's defeat has already been written. Rather than try and understand what Luke has become, everyone appraises this chosen one using their own limitations. When he sets the pyre that burns away his father, Luke Skywalker has become the most dangerous being in the universe. He has surpassed them all, Sith and Jedi alike.

BluntOne - Posionous Potion / Stonery

Darth Vader by Mike McMahon