Thursday, 6 March 2014
I could never quite get my head around the first Sin City movie. Frank Miller's writing and layouts always suggested something slow and mournful to me. Miller moves his stories in pin-ups and spreads, scattering terse little phrases around the edges. Detail and emotions are expressed in tight, intimate glimpses. He's always inviting you to pore over his lines, to get a little punch-drunk on all the fetishised hardware. Miller is physicality and quiet intensity, the complete opposite of Robert Rodriguez's clipped, green screen workshopping. It's a tonal mismatch. Miller's comics should be shot like a Masaki Kobayashi samurai film, not a flat, computer-generated miasma.
Wednesday, 5 March 2014
How humiliating! When the treacherous humans had finished murdering their saviour, Autobot Supreme Commander Optimus Prime, they gathered up all their spent shell casings and dumped them in his cab compartment. Prime's lifeless shell was now a bin.
Tuesday, 4 March 2014
The problem with José Padilha's RoboCop is that very little pops. The film has a couple of good ideas about state surveillance and American foreign policy, but zero venom to accompany the bites. Everything is experienced as a fleeting surface-level detail rather than the sustained, impassive gaze of Paul Verhoeven, Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner's original. Crucially, the beat by beat updating (that passes for adaptation) invites a level of comparison that hobbles Padilha's film.
When 1987's ED-209 malfunctioned it shredded a bootlick yuppie. His death was then presented as a momentary inconvenience, a secondary concern to corporate grumbling about financial forecasts. '87 RoboCop dwelt on the disengaged, narcissistic environment that breeds men capable of transforming butchery into a career opportunity. 2014 model's has a similar event in a sequence heavily indebted to the ethnic cleansing that opened Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. In Tehran a child seizes a kitchen knife, using it to threaten an invading ED-209. We get a moment to ponder what damage a blunt blade could possibly do to a walking Apache helicopter before the boy is obliterated. We are alarmed, but the film isn't. Whatever issue the people of occupied Iran had with their mechanical oppressors is instantly discarded to concentrate on this America's squeamishness about having armed drone dudes patrolling the nation's streets. Tehran isn't used to fix tone, it's simply an arresting launchpad to blast us into another dull, heroic origin story.
Padilha's film apparently wants a few sour moments to bleed in around the edges, but the overall product remains defiantly safe, rote even. Horror is routinely mishandled. Never more so than in how the film communicates what's left of Alex Murphy. Pre-RoboCop we see him covered in third-degree burns and missing limbs. His left-hand side looks useless and dead, while his right recoverable. Immediately prior to this Gary Oldman's Dr Norton treats amputees with cybernetic limbs. We are given an expectation - Murphy will be completed by similar, military standard additions.
Alarmingly, we later discover that aside from a facelift, OmniCorp has whittled Murphy down to a face, a hand and a few pulsing organs. The obvious reaction to this is revulsion. Dr Norton isn't benign, he's a monster. There was zero communicated reason to dismember Murphy to such a permanent, horrifying degree other than control or boastful corporate posturing. Perhaps Dr Norton just wanted to see if he could scratch build a man? These ideas aren't even entertained. Instead Norton soothes like a father while Murphy experiences an acute kind of sexual shame about his lack of a body. RoboCop 2014 has the building blocks of a modern body-horror update, but it refuses to play with them, instead preferring to occupy its time with zero-stakes shoot-outs in a fraudulently picturesque Detroit.
As jackfrags and AnderzEl discuss here, Battlefield 4 is so infuriating because it's two or three latency patches away from being absolutely fantastic. Within BF4 is a hypothetical experience that me, and everyone I know who plays it, are desperately trying to conjure up. BF4 should be an infantry shooter with a rapid tickrate and actionable feedback. Sadly, this experience is not available. It's been just over four months since release and either the in-game search option is broken or the amount of servers has been drastically reduced; DICE are rattling through the DLC at pace, and EA are gearing up to promote their new FPS property Titanfall. At this stage it's looking increasingly likely that BF4 is going to stay broken.
Monday, 3 March 2014
Ten years ago Capcom released Hyper Street Fighter II, a special anniversary version of Super Street Fighter II Turbo in which players were given the option to select from the five specific arcade incarnations of each of the world warriors. If you so desired, you could pit Championship Edition Bison against the Super version of Sagat or Hyper Fighting's Honda.
HSFII was a showcase for Capcom's fighting game design ethos - balance as imperative. Characters were in a constant state of flux, their moves and control motions subject to tweaks, even outright revision, if it tallied with a better overall play experience. HSFII revealed an evolving approach to the building blocks of fight games, from Street Fighter II's high damage output to Super Street Fighter II Turbo's nascent juggling mechanic. One the evidence above, Capcom are looking to repeat this nifty little trick with Ultra Street Fighter IV.
Thursday, 27 February 2014
March's PS4 freebie for PlayStation Plus subscribers is Housemarque and Climax Studio's Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition. Fingers crossed this is a Street Fighter II' Turbo style overhaul of the meat and potatoes PS3 game. I particularly like the look of that sustained flamethrower use, it's giving me flashbacks to MERCS, another sugar rush Capcom game.
Wednesday, 26 February 2014
Vikkstar123 talks us through some gameplay from Raven Software and Activision Shanghai's Call of Duty: Online. This Chinese market exclusive is a free to play best-of album with fan favourite maps and weapons culled from the earlier Modern Warfare and Black Ops games. Sadly these classic / ancient assets are significantly more exciting to me than whatever Infinity Ward or Sledgehammer have lined up next. The maps may be bare, bordering on prehistoric, but at least they have a natural sense of flow. These stages were designed as conveyor belts for the accomplished to gradually move along. Unfortunately, and to their detriment, the likes of Black Ops 2 and Ghosts have ditched this design philosophy in favour of race-to-the-middle massacres or head-glitch post holding.
I've always loved dinosaurs. When I was a child my Dad would take me to museums where I would precociously correct tour guides who misidentified their terrible lizards. I had books, toys, and spent an inordinate amount of time drawing them savaging each other. This coupled with a keen interest in alien robots probably prompted my Dad to tape Channel 4's late-night Godzilla screenings for me.
These marathons tended to revolve around the poppier, late 60s / early 70s entries, particularly those directed by Jun Fukuda. I was fascinated by them - men dressed as giant toys grappling with each other and stumbling over scale buildings. Armed with a Time Out film guide and a feature on the Big G in an early issue of Manga Mania, I discovered there were more than 20 of these films. I've always wanted to sit down and watch them all so, over Summer last year, I did.
Find below links to all my Godzilla reviews, ordered chronologically and listed by their official Toho title and, when applicable, the titles used when the film was originally distributed in the US / UK.
Toho Showa Series (1954 - 1975)
Godzilla (1954) dir. Ishiro Honda
Godzilla Raids Again / Gigantis, the Fire Monster (1955) dir. Motoyoshi Oda
King Kong vs Godzilla (1962) dir. Ishiro Honda
Mothra vs Godzilla / Godzilla vs the Thing (1964) dir. Ishiro Honda
Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964) dir. Ishiro Honda
Invasion of Astro-Monster / Monster Zero (1965) dir. Ishiro Honda
Godzilla vs the Sea Monster / Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (1966) dir. Jun Fukuda
Son of Godzilla (1967) dir. Jun Fukuda
Destroy All Monsters (1968) dir. Ishiro Honda
All Monsters Attack / Godzilla's Revenge (1969) dir. Ishiro Honda
Godzilla vs Hedorah / Godzilla vs the Smog Monster (1971) dir. Yoshimitsu Banno
Godzilla vs Gigan / Godzilla on Monster Island (1972) dir. Jun Fukuda
Godzilla vs Megalon (1973) dir. Jun Fukuda
Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla / Godzilla vs the Cosmic Monster (1974) dir. Jun Fukuda
Terror of Mechagodzilla / The Terror of Godzilla (1975) dir. Ishiro Honda
Toho Heisei Series (1984 - 1995)
The Return of Godzilla (1984) dir. Koji Hashimoto
Godzilla vs Biollante (1989) dir. Kazuki Omari
Godzilla vs King Ghidorah (1991) dir. Kazuki Omari
Godzilla vs Mothra (1992) dir. Takao Okawara
Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla II (1993) dir. Takao Okawara
Godzilla vs SpaceGodzilla (1994) dir. Kensho Yamashita
Godzilla vs Destoroyah (1995) dir. Takao Okawara
Centropolis Entertainment / TriStar Pictures series (1998)
Godzilla (1998) dir. Roland Emmerich
Toho Millennium Series (1999 - 2004)
Godzilla 2000: Millennium (1999) dir. Takao Okawara
Godzilla vs Megaguirus (2000) dir. Masaaki Tezuka
Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001) dir. Shusuke Kaneko
Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002) dir. Masaaki Tezuka
Godzilla: Tokyo SOS (2003) dir. Masaaki Tezuka
Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) dir. Ryuhei Kitamura
Tuesday, 25 February 2014
Rewatching American Psycho after a read of Bret Easton Ellis' source novel I was initially disappointed that the film skipped over Patrick Bateman's demented spending sprees. The book features frequent digressions in which, out scavenging for the latest status artefacts, Bateman experiences pronounced breaks with reality. His obsessively cultivated snob façade collapses in on itself, leaving the narrator at the mercy of violent consumer impulses. Choice and expectation overwhelm him and he loses basic motor control. These passages, in which Bateman heavily self-medicates, are funny and alarming in equal measure. Primarily they break a carefully composed stream of conciousness in which murders and tortures are treated as asides and punctuation.
Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner may have omitted the actual event of shopping, but this state of Bateman informs how they write him and how Christian Bale plays the character. Ellis' novel is a boast, Batman's life communicated as overwhelming, suffocating bluster. He may be a dangerous sociopath, but his sartorial knowledge is second to none. Bateman's approval and advice are sought by every member of his inner circle. He also portrays himself as an incredible but indifferent lover, able to bring his partners to climax with only the slightest effort. Women are objects to him and he has mastered one of the few ways in which he can find them useful. By wrestling Bateman's narrative away from him, Harron and Turner are able to critique him. We experience his life on different terms. Most obviously this Bateman is not a stud. He's a dork in an oversized suit that stares at his own reflection when he fucks. His partners, either medicated or in his employ, go through the motions with him, but don't particular seem to enjoy the act.
Bateman is no longer an omniscient predator, he's an indulged, wealthy child permitted to act how he pleases. Harron and Turner recontextualise a problematic character by denying him his voice. The duo focus in on the idea that Bateman is able to blunder along killing with impunity because he is widely considered to be a drip. Bale colludes - his Bateman is focused in the singular, sweaty and animated in company. This is adaptation as analytical thesis. The decision to filter Ellis' novel through a female perspective, no doubt born out of some Producer's idea of placation, adds another layer to the conversation. This American Psycho is less about the intense, violent capitalism exemplified by the 1980s and more about the petty aggressions of insecure, moneyed males.
Godzilla is like Batman or James Bond. He's a character that's been around so long he can be talked about in a million different ways. A central idea invincible enough to survive any number of reboots or recalibrations. One cycle ends, another one begins. Shoring up just in time for the 60th anniversary, Gareth Edwards' take looks to be a human-centric nuclear disaster film, very much in the vein of Ishiro Honda's 1954 original and Koji Hashimoto's pearl anniversary remake / sequel. Standing in bold defiance of Roland Emmerich's puny also-ran, this Godzilla accounts for, and has some nifty ideas about, the monster's Atoll origin and American culpability.
Monday, 24 February 2014
With Call of Duty: Ghosts firmly in his rear-view mirror, XboxAhoy looks set to fill his time with Titanfall. His first video is a basic primer on game flow in this multiplayer only title. I'm not sure if Mr Ahoy intends to focus solely on Titanfall's weapons, or if he intends to branch out and cover the game's various systems and mechanics. This video would seem to suggest the latter.
Wednesday, 19 February 2014
Akira Nishimori's The Man Who Bites His Tongue is the best sequel RoboCop never had. It builds and expands on the ideas in Verhoeven, Neumeier and Miner's film by looking at the cyborg predicament as a long-term affliction. In the 1987 film we get to ride along with Murphy on his first few missions when vengeance and his sense of duty still drive him. What happens if that dies away? How does a man act when it becomes apparent he's a walking tank with zero opportunity to experience touch sensation? There are no nerve endings built into those Kevlar fingers. They're just an approximation of human form designed to make using tools and interpersonal actions easier. Eventually your power armour loses its lustre, becoming an all-encompassing state of sensory deprivation.
Monday, 17 February 2014
Sunday, 16 February 2014
Human quarry films rarely get sequels, especially if they end with the status quo intact. Returning to the original winners seems like collaboration - why would the victors subject themselves to another safari? The Hunger Games: Catching Fire tackles this dilemma in a necessary but depressingly honest manner. The heroes don't have any other choice. The system they're up against is too massive to resist, the slightest dissent rewarded with a bullet. With trouble brewing in the outlier districts, Donald Sutherland's Evil Abe Lincoln plans a Hunger Games TV special in which he can dispose of all the dreadful winners that have inspired the proles to hope.
These victors aren't the kind of muscled heavies sequel inflation would have us expect. Instead they're frail older women and flashy celebrities scrabbling for a way out. None of them want to be there. Unlike the more nihilistic teenagers, they're happy to form collectives and work against the system that put them there. During the TV interviews the competitors are downcast, pleading clemency to a grumbling audience. The public are keenly aware of this lack of enthusiasm and riot offscreen. As far as future shock sequel premises go, incompetent PR management as a catalyst for violent social change is at least amusing. The hunt is more exciting this time too, featuring a few in-game hazards that wouldn't embarrass Kazuo Umezu's The Drifting Classroom. It's just a shame more time isn't spent with the malcontents. Too long and overwrought to be truly good, Catching Fire instead entertains by deliberately working against genre expectation.
Thursday, 13 February 2014
At first glance Titanfall's Smart Pistol MK5 looks like the biggest wind-up imaginable. A silenced sidearm that locks on for rapid headshots - Black Ops 2's target finder cheat sight taken to another, aimbot like level. Stick around for the full skinny though and you'll see that the automated shooting is only really useful for breezing through AI controlled grunts. Try and cheese human players and you'll waste time acquiring multiple lock-ons and doing marginal damage. Makes you wonder about how Titanfall is considering balance. With all these disposable bots racing around begging to be killed, are Respawn pitching for a Sandy Ravage experience for every player?
TheRussianBadger is back, this time taking us through the pros and cons of Battlefield 4's carbines. Based on Badger's teachings looks like I'll have to give the ACE 21 a bit more of a go. I've barely touched it. I have spent quite a lot of time with its stablemate, the ACE 52 CQB, after looting a silenced model and going on a tear when I ran dry with my primary on Dawnbreaker. Turns out that's the more obstinate of the two Galil short rifles?
Wednesday, 12 February 2014
With the embargo lifted, beta footage of Titanfall has begun cascading onto YouTube. Predictably enough it looks fun on wheels - infantry shooting for the Call of Duty twitch crowd, and shielded walking tanks for Halo heads. In action, this simultaneous manoeuvre warfare looks like Mirror's Edge with a jet pack by way of an arcade informed, mech suited rebrand of Shadow of the Colossus. Even at this stage, Titanfall looks rapid and responsive, recognisably the next step from the studio who gave us Marathon Lightweight Commando streak stabbers.
What's interesting about the hype surrounding the game's release is that it's not just Microsoft betting the farm on Respawn Entertainment's online shooter. The YouTube crowd that made their names posting killstreaks in the dozens are all over the game, already treating it like The Next Big Thing. With Call of Duty: Ghosts dead in the water, and Battlefield 4 buggy and bordering on sedentary who can blame them?