Monday, 22 December 2014

Music 2014

5. Perturbator - Future Club / Humans Are Such Easy Prey





Video game power fantasy music. If I close my eyes listening to this all I can see is a 16-bit Michael Biehn sprite scaling ladders and hurling grenades at indifferent Schwarzeneggers. Matt Furniss as fuck.

4. Taylor Swift - Blank Space



Sharing a personal stereo with my girl, getting driven to London.

3. Le Matos - Kiyoko



Geinoh Yamashirogumi's Kaneda reinterpreted by Le Matos doing Zombie Zombie doing John Carpenter doing Ennio Morricone.

2. Nice Try - No Good / Feels Right





Sounds like shoegazey Blur b-sides sung by someone else.

1. Lana Del Rey - Shades of Cool



A drunken midnight confessional from one of the poor women Lee Marvin brutalises in Point Blank. David Lynch looks on, scribbling notes.

Also Liked:

La Roux - Let Me Down Gently / Futurecop! - NASA / Forth Wanderers - Tough Love / Lazerhawk - Demo / Mark Ronson - Uptown Funk ft. Bruno Mars / Michael Jackson & Justin Timberlake - Love Never Felt So Good / Greyhat - Departure / Mac DeMarco - Let Her Go / Run the Jewels - Blockbuster Night Part 1 / Kiesza - Hideaway

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Jackie Chan in the 1980s - The Cannonball Run
















The best thing that can be said about Hal Needham's The Cannonball Run is that a lot of the stunts look genuinely dangerous. Needham's team excel at making vehicles appear completely out of control. Cars and planes lurch uncontrollably before their pilots administer an expert, last minute correction. Unfortunately these visceral dangers are fleeting, the majority of Cannonball is spent in the company of boozy celebrity capering. Although Roger Moore is fun as a delusional lothario, Jackie Chan is wasted as an inexplicably Japanese racer who'd rather sneak a look at Golden Age pornos than drive his computerised Subaru.

Chan and his navigator (Hong Kong comedian Michael Hui) speak in a garbled mix of Japanese, Cantonese and Mandarin, their scenes bracketed by racist musical riffs. These indelicacies become even more bizarre when you consider Golden Harvest bankrolled the film. Chan's moment in the sun comes late in the day, helping to fight off some sleazy bikers during a brief pause in the competition. Chan even stays to thrash a few more mooks when the race resumes, ploughing through nobodies with energetic high-kicks. The most consistent barrier to enjoying The Cannonball Run though, apart from a deeply uncharismatic turn by Burt Reynolds, is that it doesn't really have any punchlines. There are comedic premises, we understand jokes are in play, but they never reach a satisfactory conclusion.

Star Wars by Olly Moss


Thursday, 18 December 2014

Jackie Chan in the 1980s - Battle Creek Brawl












Presumably the highest budgeted Bruceploitation film ever, Battle Creek Brawl sees Jackie Chan's natural charisma drowned out by Robert Clouse's static set-ups and Lalo Schifrin's twangy jazz score. Unlike in Hong Kong were Chan is able to burn through takes on a Kubrickian scale in pursuit of perfection, here the star is forced to settle for 'good enough'. This unpolished approach to action is something of a mixed blessing. At its best, Chan's moves acquire a scrappy desperation absent from his highly drilled Hong Kong work. At their worst, they read like fluffed takes.

As with Enter the Dragon, Clouse shoots his lead on a diagonal axis for vendetta fights. Chan pushes from the top right of the frame to the bottom left, stamping and snapping along the way. Unlike Dragon though, there's very little coverage. Clouse never uses the POV size-ups or injury inserts that made Dragon's climatic fight between Bruce Lee and Shih Kien so thrilling. When Jackie's uncle Mako gets an extreme close-up on his eye-line it feels like something from a completely different film. Brawl's not all bad. Jackie Chan and Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Comedy actress Kristine DeBell make a sweet couple, and, if nothing else, it allows viewers the opportunity to see Chan ducking and weaving around brawny, outlaw territory wrestlers.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

GUSOLINE



Mad Max: Fury Road continues to look amazing. Every other action film due next year is in deep shit.

Jackie Chan in the 1980s - The Young Master













Although more a series of disjointed sketches than a strictly structured film, The Young Master is something of a how-to guide for framing action for maximum impact. Director Jackie Chan progresses fluidly between several distinct approaches, always complimentary to the movement and processes being conveyed.

The film opens with an extended, duelling Lion Dance shot primarily in a series of sustained masters that both simulates the point-of-view of the assembled crowd and demonstrates the difficulty of the performance. We spend so much time watching the dancers cavorting inside the bamboo lion heads that the beasts start to register as characters themselves. Chan holds on the performances so that the details can sink in. The lions are bashful and violent, balanced on human legs that strike and trap. Chan's character, Dragon Lung, is introduced as skilled certainly, but more importantly Lung demonstrates the ability to move in perfect harmony with another.

Elsewhere Chan's camera is energetic, participating with the on-screen action in several different ways. During a supplementary fight with a bully from a rival school the frame tracks Lung twirling an ornate fan around his opponent. Chan zooms in and out on particularly delicate actions, timed in the edit to simulate another hit or beat. The camera engages with the fighters, landing its own blows. Chan also uses zooms to crudely replicate emotional states. During a tense, shame-filled moment between a disappointed Kung Fu master and his treacherous pupil the camera repeatedly crashes in on their faces, building a lurching, sickly tempo.

Hwang In-Shik's high-kicking introduction is built around demonstrating the speed and ferocity of this terrifying villain. Freed by his fellow outlaws, Hwang's Master Kim batters everyone in sight. To add to the hysteria, Chan cues up Gustav Holst's Mars, the Bringer of War for background music. Set-ups are edited quicker and quicker, building a demented, thrashing rhythm. Kim's snappy kicks send hapless mooks from one end of the 2.35:1 frame to the other. The camera also tilts down violently to emphasise the descent of the crumbling, defeated bodies. Master Kim is pure, unconquerable power. Even his associates tremble in his presence. He doesn't need them - he's one man acting alone.

The Young Master concludes with an atypical take on final confrontations. Usually there's a sense that two equals are meeting, the bad guy undone by resting on his laurels or a fatal attempt at cheating. The Young Master doesn't attempt either idea. Kim is obviously, persistently the dominant fighter. Over the course of this lopsided battle Lung is subjected to unbelievable suffering. His arms are locked and bent, fingers are broken, his body is tossed around like a rag. It's an approach that shows a refreshing lack of ego on Chan's part. He's not trying to compete with Hwang's skill set.

Dramatically it also makes Kim a mountain to be scaled, playing into the one crucial thing we've learned about Chan's character - he's psychotically determined. When Lung finally lands a punch it's a euphoric moment. Time stalls as he realises what he's done, joy spreading to every corner of his face in glacial slow motion. Of course, this is followed by one of Hwang's trademark Cinemascope kicks. Chan impresses here in his ability to move in and around Hwang's relentless attacks. He doesn't just stand there, heroically absorbing the punishment, he's a victim tossing himself around manically, accentuating the impacts.

Lung then spends a lot of the fight dramatically passive, existing as a vessel to communicate Hwang's world-class talents. Tremendously outclassed, all Lung can do is wriggle around his opponent. He's the stunt man elevated to a leading role, driven mad by the hardships his body has had to endure. When, after almost half an hour of torment, the human punching bag finally gets the upper hand it's because he's guzzled opium water and basically gone insane. The tumbles and catapulting Chan used to accentuate Hwang's assault become Lung's arsenal. His body is completely numb and can therefore be used as an eleven stone projectile. Dragon Lung doesn't win because he's better than Master Kim, instead he triumphs by simply refusing to give up.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

PSX - Uncharted 4: A Thief's End



Uncharted 4: A Thief's End looks fun. Instead of ruthlessly separating gunplay and gymnastics, why not string them together in an unbroken stream of mountain grappling, zoning, and brawling? Based on this footage, Naughty Dog is taking the same stealth sandbox approach as The Last of Us, adding some verticality into that heady mix.

PSX - Gimme Indie





As the year is draws to a close, it's time to compile best-of lists and beat yourself up over all the cool stuff you either didn't see or never got around to playing. Video games pose a particular problem - in order to gorge yourself on everything available you have to buy a fleet of dedicated machinery. Thankfully (for me, since I've only forked out for a PS4) Sony are muscling their way towards a mini-monopoly, meaning two of this year's biggest misses - Shovel Knight and Super Time Force - are due on Sony's system sometime next year.

Tell Your Sister... (Blue) by Dan McDaid


Destiny in Detail - Worries for the Future



What I'm enjoying most about Matt Lees' Destiny videos is the constant back-and-forth in how he describes the game. Destiny is obviously, and persistently, a quality product, there's just nowhere near enough of it. Really, the majority of my objections about the game are about how Bungie have rationed their higher level content.

Jackie Chan - How to Do Action Comedy by Tony Zhou



Tony Zhou talks us through the incomparable genius of Jackie Chan, breaking down what it is that keeps his contribution to action cinema so vital. Zhou's point about pain and fallibility is especially important. If there's no sense that your heroes are out of their depth, then what are the stakes?

Jackie Chan is especially significant because his on-screen suffering doesn't tend to be emotional. Instead it's hardship expressed as visceral, bone-breaking movement. It's cinema. You don't even need to understand the words, Chan's films can be watched raw. Jackie Chan is dedicated to demonstrating how the hero can be injured, but will never break.

Stay tuned over the coming weeks as 20XX delves into the most active stage of Jackie Chan's career - the 1980s.

Friday, 5 December 2014

The Dark Judges by Carlos Ezquerra


Destiny in Detail - Is the Loot System Fair?



Matt Lees makes a convincing case for the longevity of Destiny's multiplayer. A couple of weeks in and I'm already feeling fatigued with its major opposition (and publisher stablemate) Advanced Warfare. I've only played Sledgehammer's game off-and-on so everyone else has long since worked out the best places to set up camp, and which routes to take. Given the fractional health, latency is much more pronounced in AW. Destiny's longer time-to-kill helps to conceal much of these match-up issues, providing an overall fairer feeling experience.

VICTORY



After six years of updates and tweaking, we're finally getting another numbered Street Fighter game. Somewhere in this corporate lifestyle reel is a quick glimpse of Ryu and Chun-Li battling it out in Street Fighter V. At the very least a timed exclusive on Sony's console, which explains Ryu driving around in a cab in those release day PS4 adverts, SFV looks like it's going for a less cartoony design approach. There are no close-ups of howling faces during super move wind-ups and characters are lithe and lined compared to their Street Fighter IV drafts.

The Klams - The Elves Are Back In Town

BluntOne - All We Got Iz Us / Rockers



Thursday, 4 December 2014

GENISYS



This Terminator: Genisys trailer is a strange experience. It comes on strong with re-purposed scenes and ideas from the Jim Cameron entries before morphing into a full-on Marvel movie. If nothing else, it looks like Alan Taylor's film finally gets the complete future war prologue from Terminator 2: Judgment Day's tie-in novelisation on-screen. LA 2029 is a looker too. The human resistance, and their skeletal enemies, are lit like they're fighting in a city sized version of Tech Noir.

Although Jason Clarke is appropriately weathered as John Connor, Jai Courtney is a bizarre substitute for Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese. Courtney has zero of Biehn's wirey, malnourished intensity, the actor instead reads as a sub-Tatum, beefy, romantic lead. Chicken breasts and protein shakes must be widely available in the wasteland. This obvious sop to demographics is leavened by Emilia Clarke's Sarah Connor immediately subordinating her new boy toy.

I wonder how screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier will handle this Sarah? The T2 fringe and ponytail would seem to indicate an all-business approach, perhaps even a character that views her coupling with Reese as a necessary transaction in the process of creating a messiah. Presumably this Sarah is fully aware for how the following decades will unfold. Clarke's youthful, bratty demeanour, not to mention her cyborg father figure, mean this characterisation will probably be closer to Edward Furlong's John Connor than any previous Sarah.

Which leaves us with The Terminators. Lee Byung-hun looks great when he's running around 1980s alleyways, less so when he's hurling his body parts around like spears. Conceptually, there's an instant pop in the idea of a T-1000 interposing itself into The Terminator. It's reminiscent of Frank Miller's Skynet from RoboCop Versus The Terminator - an elemental, God-like force that overwrites time incessantly until it arrives at an advantageous path. It's a situation here born of sequel escalation, but the idea of chaotic agents arriving unexpectedly is pure Terminator.

Surprisingly, Schwarzenegger looks like a bit of a fifth wheel. Aside from junking his youthful doppelgänger, and ticking off another aborted Cameron sequel in the process, it doesn't look like he has much to do. Perhaps it's a sign of the star's waning power? This doesn't look like a top billed role, more a special appearance. Also, a protector Terminator hurling itself out of one helicopter to detonate another is just fucking stupid. At the very least, he's just nixed his camouflage.

It's a shame that Genisys isn't designed to take place on one long night. Even in this brief glimpse there's a sense of bloat. As the trailer rolls on we get further and further into anonymous, boringly framed second-unit work. The afternoon bus flip in particular is straight out of a Marvel sequel. Kramer Morgenthau ain't no Adam Greenberg either. I can see why the cinematographer got the gig, aside from priors with Taylor, his work on the Sleepy Hollow pilot nicely tracked an undying thing through a series of night shoots.

It's hilarious though to note that a two hundred million dollar Summer blockbuster can't wring out the same level of grimey verisimilitude as a six million dollar, non-union shoot. I know it's an entirely different genre - this is Terminator as a palatable franchise proposition rather than a thriller - but threat has taken a back seat. The shot of the T-1000's cop car arrival is, despite the much higher stakes, strangely perfunctory. Compare it to a similar sequence in the original. Cameron and Greenberg signal terrestrial danger with blaring sounds and lights. Taylor and co could have at least hosed the streets down and given the film that sweaty, post-storm texture.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

AWAKEN



Star Wars hasn't looked this visually dynamic since Genndy Tartakovsky was quietly shown the door. Stylistically our first look at Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens is the complete opposite of the static wides used to tease Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. Instead we've got John Boyega stumbling towards us gasping and the camera pushing-in on Daisy Ridley dressed like a Ralph McQuarrie doodle. A trio of tight close-ups reintroduce us to the Empire's bully boys, the clipped, insert inflected energy of the shots stressing something almost hand-held. Everything's moving, from the Falcon's graceful loop de loop to the hammering, lopsided stride of the newest Sith lord.

Judge Dredd by Simon Bisley


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

CLEVER GIRL



Last weekend I trudged around London's Natural History Museum looking at all their monster bones. Despite a lack of Tyrannosaurus rex (the King is only completely present as a twitchy robot replica) the exhibit was fun. They had wrought iron replicas commissioned by Princes, remains of all the big hitter herbivores, and even a G1 Grimlock and some Black Zoids tucked away in a glass display case. This last detail felt especially emblematic of a tour rooted explicitly in a late-80s idea of pre-history, something Jurassic World seems to absolutely revel in.

Based on these glimpses, Trevorrow's terrible lizards are boringly classicist. Drab olives and greys for skin, zero spines or feathers, and, because they don't trust the material, a monstrous gene spliced threat inherited from an 'extreme!' 1990s toyline. Jurassic World was an opportunity to throw around some new information and challenge the preconceived ideas people have about dinosaurs. We could have had a dangerous, omnivore Triceratops gobbling up kids or a Tyrannosaur covered in barbed, downy feathers.

That last one could have been especially great. Introduce the Rex as a bashful thing, almost ashamed of what we've found out about it. Then, as soon as the Park falls apart, sell incredibly hard on the idea that this thing is the most terrifying beast on the planet. Every other scene should be Rex triumphing over some puny contender. Instead of replaying Spielberg beats for nostalgia money, the filmmakers should've sat down and gobbled up some monster-as-protagonist fiction. World's Tyrannosaur should be as visually distinctive as Ricardo Delgado's Age of Reptiles, as Machiavellian as Pat Mills and Mike McMahon's Satanus, and as invincible in a straight fight as Shusuke Kaneko's apex heel Godzilla.

GOJIRA X MACARONI



Steven Sloss makes excellent use of impassive men firing rifles and the soupy injury effects in Jun Fukuda's Godzilla films, crafting a nifty, time travelling conflict between the King of Monsters and two Macaroni megastars. Godzilla as a big game target is a pretty great concept too. It fits in nicely between the moneyed plutocrat who thinks he has a close, personal relationship with a God of Destruction in Godzilla vs King Ghidorah and Godzilla 2000's boring storm chasers.

Scrivello's short also delivers on Toho's habit of abortive, would-be crossovers. Hoping to repeat the success of the studio's King Kong match-up, Shinichi Sekizawa proposed a Batman vs Godzilla project in the mid-60s. Details are scarce regarding Sekizawa's treatment but in my mind's eye Adam West and Burt Ward have been blasted with a growth ray and are high-fiving the Big G over King Ghidorah's cooling corpse.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Rumble in the Bronx


















In an attempt to finally crack the American market, Jackie Chan is transplanted to New York for some Crocodile Dundee culture clash. Viewed today Rumble in the Bronx is refreshing on several levels. Firstly, Chan makes very little attempt to modify his policeman persona for his new audience. Chan is portrayed as deeply, remorselessly, uncool. No attempt is made to disguise the fact that Chan is a middle-aged man either. He doesn't have any cool affectations or props and everything he wears is made out of stone washed denim. Neither is Chan particularly aggressive. When cornered by a pack of delinquent bikers Chan doesn't batter his way through. He flees, cowering in an alleyway.

Despite ditching on a convenience store job (and a more age appropriate pairing with Anita Mui) to romance Françoise Yip's lingerie model, Chan is positioned as a stable, responsible adult. His presence immediately straightens out his new squeeze and the petty criminals she runs with. Chan admonishes them for wasting their lives, making a heartfelt plea for peace. Contemporary kids must've rolled their eyes into the fucking ground. In that sense Chan is taking a similar tact to Arnold Schwarzenegger in Kindergarten Cop. Both films juggle action and social responsibility, transforming an action vehicle into a brochure for an after-school fitness programme. Masculinity is likewise equated with the ability to give back to your community.

As ever, Jackie Chan is an absolute joy to watch. His narcy, straight-laced character informs the psychological pace of film's action. Fights are tight and frenzied, with lots of inserts of smashing glass and bloody, alarming, escalation. Chan flings himself around mercilessly, demonstrating that he doesn't need any green screen assistance. He is the special effect. The star scrambles all over urban detritus, hijacking a series of exciting vehicles to crash into his enemies. Director Stanley Tong overcranks the action so that we can always recognise Jackie Chan within the danger. Time stalls so we can gaze at Chan's actual body tumbling towards something solid and indifferent. Flubs aren't concealed either. Deep in the third act a key stunt obviously goes very wrong. Chan's ankle bends and breaks as he lands on a speeding hovercraft. His character doesn't even flinch. He's too busy rolling towards a Mafia goon to even care.