Saturday, 28 February 2015
Rebellion's latest testicle trauma sim is the cheap and cheerful Sniper Elite spin-off Zombie Army Trilogy. The game's dim, conveyor belt enemies simultaneously recall Capcom brawlers like Captain Commando and the nonsense German special forces units dreamt up to keep the latest issue of Battle Picture Weekly exciting. Hopefully one day soon Rebellion will make the most of their 2000 AD properties and gives us a decent Rogue Trooper or, better yet, a Bad Company game.
Friday, 27 February 2015
Thursday, 26 February 2015
A truly bizarre film in which Jackie Chan is trapped in a pocket universe full of action and intrigue while Sammo Hung and pals hang out cracking jokes about gang rape. My Lucky Stars is Hung at his most widely uneven. An opening passage that ends in a Japanese amusement park is an incredible, seat-of-your-pants introduction that takes in muscle car crashing, Chan scrambling up a Ferris wheel, and Yuen Biao being kidnapped by a team of powder blue ninjas.
Hung uses split-focus diopters and Giallo angles to key us into a film and situation that My Lucky Stars isn't particularly interested in. The second Chan's investigation hits a brick wall we're whisked off to Hong Kong for boring mediums and ensemble bullying. As with Winners & Sinners, Hung spends his time in the company of a gang of lecherous convicts. Their target is Sibelle Hu, a rookie policewoman who sullenly complies with extended grab-ass conceits that stop Lucky Stars dead.
Winners suffered from a similar lascivious streak but Lucky Stars takes the drooling somewhere hostile and uncomfortable. Since this is a sequel an appreciative audience is taken for granted, character traits are dialled up into absurdity. Charlie Chin suffers the most. In Winners his character was conceited and pompous, a guy who's funny because he assumes he's dashing and cool. This time out he's just another set of fists to persecute Eric Tsang's whipping boy.
The pervs in Winners were kept in check by a jealous brother and, eventually, Sammo himself. Cherie Chung was in on the joke to a degree too, although she was definitely positioned as a possession. Unfortunately, Sibelle Hu has no-one looking out for her, so it follows she is treated contemptibly. She's never given anything to do and apparently falls in love with Hung moments after being told he wants to rape her. Hu's treated as a punchline, the joke's always on her.
Eventually Hung manages to tear himself away from degrading Ms Hu long enough to stage a virtuoso sequence set in Fuji-Q Highland's endless, neon ghost house. The aggressive mediocrity of the last hour fades away as we track a silent Jackie Chan through a series of violent, supernatural confrontations. Armed with a kodachi sword, a snubnosed revolver and a Fila tracksuit, Chan bops along a set dressed like a head-on collision between Tsui Hark's Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain and Nobuhiko Obayashi's House.
Chan arrives dressed as Akira Toriyama's Arale-chan, literalizing the shonen appeal felt in Wheels on Meals. In full costume, Chan fends off Samurai in Kabuki make-up, then finds himself pushed down a corridor seething with arcade game hazards. Finally, Chan battles two ghosts in an upside down sitting room. As this is a Sammo Hung film, Chan moves and strikes with an assured lethality. Underlings are run through, axe-murderers are blown away.
It's a wonderful example of action cinema, a moment-to-moment adventure narrative built out of a determined individual pressing deeper and deeper into somewhere illogical. Clashing tones are putty in Hung's hands. We skip merrily from carnival shocks to desperate brawling to silent movie mugging. It's just a shame that this light, expert touch didn't extend to rest of My Lucky Stars.
Wednesday, 25 February 2015
Tuesday, 24 February 2015
Cannonball Run II abandons any pretence of racing to concentrate on cramming the screen with as many ageing, liver-spotted stars as possible. Hal Needham's sequel operates somewhere between a Sands Hotel love-in and a Hanna-Barbera pile-up. Everything's off the boil. Burt Reynolds has the familiar, sunburnt bloat of a man clinging desperately to his prime. Reynold's facial hair may look lacquered on, but at least he doesn't spend the majority of his sequel screentime slapping around poor Dom DeLuise. If anything, Reynolds seems grateful to be there.
Jackie Chan returns as, you guessed it, Jackie, this time acting as Richard Kiel's co-pilot in a gadget laden Mitsubishi Starion. Chan is given a little more to do this time and responds with gusto. Whenever the actor's on screen he's moving - whether that be athletic martial arts or just screwing his face up incredulously. Tellingly, Reynolds takes a moment to entangle Chan in a down-with-the-kids handshake, pointedly short-handing an interpersonal relationship we've never seen on-screen. Chan even gets a fleeting love interest although, obviously, she's Asian too.
In spite of a pairing that reads like a mean-spirited comment on their respective heights, Kiel and Chan have a surprising amount of chemistry in their short scenes together. The pair are usually seen cackling at the idiots around them, obviously enjoying each other's company. Interestingly, Kiel's imposing strongman character is named Arnold in the credits. Given that Needham bossed Schwarzenegger around on 1979's The Villain perhaps there's a universe out there with Jackie driving around in hysterics with the Austrian Oak?
Thursday, 19 February 2015
Wednesday, 18 February 2015
Sammo Hung follows up the intermittently wonderful Winners & Sinners with Wheels on Meals, another action packed comedy. Winners was an important film for Hung and his co-star Jackie Chan, it demonstrated that their fight and stunt films could still attract an audience when updated to the modern day. Wheels goes one further, relocating the action from Hong Kong to Spain and setting its stars up against a host of international heavies including martial arts renaissance man Benny Urquidez.
Dramatically, Wheels puts Yuen Biao front and centre. The boyish star plays David, cousin to Jackie Chan's Thomas and co-owner of the pair's fast-food van. There's a sense that Wheels was an attempt by Golden Harvest to push Biao as a leading man. At a purely mechanical level, his desires drive the film. It is David who wants to rescue Lola Forner's Sylvia, a beautiful but charmless pickpocket who may actually be a Countess.
Thomas is a lot less enthusiastic. He'll make an effort if she's around but overall he's reticent to fold her into their little collective. It's an unusual characterisation for Chan, tallying closer to his real-life reputation as a remorseless womaniser than the sexless screen persona forced on him by a jealous, excitable fan base. Even though their relationship remains resolutely chaste, David, in his own bumbling, relentlessly polite way, is the romantic lead. It's a shame Wheels doesn't push Biao a little further.
Often pigeonholed as the perennial little brother, Yuen Biao's raw physicality and speed lend him an almost psychotic edge. He's just far too efficient. Whereas Chan and Hung brawl with the best of them, Biao zaps through the frame steamrolling grunts. This precision coupled with Peter Cheung Yiu-chung's crisp editing means Biao's incidental confrontations are always brutally swift, a quality that seems slightly at odds with his spaced out character. Although this is by no means a deal-breaker, it'd be interesting to see Biao's characters reflect the actor's lithe intensity.
Besides some comedic dithering in the first hour Wheels is a finely crafted film, light years ahead of similar attempts by Hong Kong directors to deliver an international product. Bruce Lee's cross-continental Way of the Dragon in particular looks primitive and mannered in comparison. The Three Brothers' star power ensures Wheels is a moneyed, professional production,
Director Sammo Hung injects even the most rudimentary movement with a sense of energy and purpose. Hung also attracts the best talent. A rough and tumble car chase was arranged by Blackie Ko, a legendary figure in Hong Kong automotive stunts. Biao and Chan are on career best form, everyone's firing on all cylinders. Barcelona isn't just used for brisk establishing shots either. Hung stages his action in and around the beautiful Antoni Gaudi architecture, giving the film the same kind of globetrotting verisimilitude the better Bonds enjoy.
I get the impression that Wheels on Meals was an important film for Japanese audiences in particular. Perhaps it was helped along by a plot that shares similarities with Hayao Miyazaki's The Castle of Cagliostro? Chan himself was a massive star in Japan at this point, attracting a possessive, idol level of attention from his female fans. Chan it seems is perfectly suited to this market. As well as being able to package himself as a cute but masculine boy next door for the girls, he's also the living embodiment of the friends-and-training ethos that drives most shonen manga.
The influence of Hung's film isn't limited to Jackie Chan either, there's an aesthetic fallout too. Similar to how the visual tics and tricks of Star Trek: The Motion Picture were reinterpreted and regurgitated by 1980s sci-fi anime, traces of Wheels on Meals keep showing up in video games, especially early combat coin-ops. Most obviously there's Irem's Kung-Fu Master, released as a Wheels tie-in in Japan under the film's Spartan X rebranding.
Capcom seem to have been paying attention too. Aside from reconfiguring the Evil Count character into their Matador fighter Vega (Balrog if you're Japanese), you can see the film's insert action in how combos are communicated in the Street Fighter II games - that glimpse of limbs already at their destination, movement implied through where the arms and legs are not rather than any specific motion. The interior of the Count's castle has a decor that will echo across the Resident Evil series too, in particular the two Shinji Mikami entries.
What keeps Wheels on Meals memorable for most audiences is the closing fight between Chan and Urquidez. The two are evenly matched, twice mirroring each other with some groundwork that looks like a dropkicking Cossack dance. Urquidez is the perfect opponent for Jackie Chan. He's of a similar height and build, his real-life martial arts credentials (Black Belts in Judo, Jujutsu, Karate, Kajukenbo, Kendo and Kickboxing) feeding into the idea that Chan's films are a hairsbreadth away from full-contact reality.
As this is a Sammo Hung film the violence scales with the stakes. Whereas before we've had head-to-heads that are broadly comedic, the last couple of clashes feature some serious bodily harm. One sequence involving Chan cracking a prone bodyguard across the jaw with a baseball bat is shocking not just for the sheer remorselessness of the strike but for the blood splatter it produces. Thirty minutes ago Thomas was sucking lollipops and pouting like a child.
Head trauma is a recurring theme in Wheels. When he finally has Urquidez on the ropes, Chan hammers at his opponents face, frantically trying to put him down. The blows come in slow motion and look stiff, designed to harm. Urquidez's cheeks are puffed up and swollen. There's palpable desperation in how Chan approaches Urquidez, he can't outfight him so he has to knock him unconscious. Chan even resorts to a cheap chair shot at one point.
The film runs with this idea, focusing every decisive blow around Urquidez's head, even going so far as to have him stumbling around no longer in control of his legs. Brain damage wasn't an unforeseen development, it was the intent. As an outcome this escalation in violence is emblematic of the moment-to-moment pragmatism at work in Hong Kong cinema. Sammo Hung's heroes don't rise above homicidal violence, they match it.
Wheels on Meals confirms a lot of what I suspected watching Winners & Sinners, Sammo Hung is able to tap into Jackie Chan and his abilities in a way no-one else can. Hung, it seems, has an instinctual knowledge of his Peking Opera cohort and is able to push him further to deliver something extra special. It's easy to see why Chan might feel he's in safe hands. Hung's action is clear and sympathetic, perfectly capturing the risk his stars have taken. Any ego or conflict that might exist between the three former classmates is firmly behind the camera, each of the trio consistently get to look absolutely amazing. Biao throws perfect shapes with his legs, Hung moves around like a man half his size and Chan looks like a God in a forearm bruiser for the ages.
Tuesday, 17 February 2015
Monday, 16 February 2015
Splash Wave with a quick primer on Mega Drive music. Although the SNES could sample instruments and make them sound pompous and vaguely farty, the Mega Drive had to rely on Yamaha shrieks surrounded by guttural, arcade growls.
Saturday, 7 February 2015
Thursday, 5 February 2015
Tuesday, 3 February 2015
Jackfrags with some largely positive thoughts on Battlefield Hardline's latest beta test. Just put in a quick hour myself and, to echo Jack's video impressions, the default MP5 wrecks in close quarters. Played the Conquest map, running laps in and around a gutted motel hosing down the opposition. Ambush hip-fire will always be fun. Hardline's open beta is available from today until the 8th.
Monday, 2 February 2015
Horror mogul James Wan keeps Vin Diesel's vest franchise ticking over with Jason Statham and CG devastation. Presumably, considering everyone is decked out in evening wear, Furious 7 is going to focus on the gang hobnobbing and beating up rich people? Really Furious 7 and its predecessors represent the most successful updating of the A-Team formula - easily digestible, chummy archetypes and their endlessly customised vehicles against the world. Plus, what's more exciting than the insinuation that Statham's underslung grenade launcher actually helped propel Big Vin to safety instead of blowing him up? Statham needs to learn Fast Physics.
In stark contrast to the new Terminator, which looks worse and worse the more I see of it, Jurassic World improves with every tease. It helps that the main selling point, the insanely detailed dinosaur renders, improve immeasurably the closer we get to release. Although I'm still disappointed every single dinosaur has evolved bleach bypass camouflage, the Awesomesaurus Rox is shaping up to be something reliably nasty. I especially liked his charging, gaping maw attack and the exposition designed to get us thinking this thing is malevolently evil rather than just a predator. I've read that it also has a chameleon ability on loan from the Carnotaurus in Michael Crichton's The Lost World novel too.
Terminator: Genisys goes for the Dad crowd in its Super Bowl Spot, selling heavily on Schwarzenegger's presence. Shame he looks so rickety. The star's big reveal is a straight cop from Indian action flick Singham, with Schwarzenegger looking pained as he casually disembarks from a speeding car. Genisys, whose best moments here are still essentially nostalgia prompts, looks like a Terminator film filtered like superhero histrionics. The films cyborgs look like they have zero in common with James Cameron's pursuit men, instead they're invincible junk who'll throw their arm away.
Sunday, 1 February 2015
Project A was something of a return to form for Jackie Chan, the star had been knocked around for years both figuratively and literally. An organised crime prompted flight to America had been a dead end and Hong Kong produced films like Dragon Lord had gone monstrously over budget while under-delivering financially. With this in mind Project A plays like a concerted effort to address the problems the star had faced. Most obviously, the film has a clear narrative push with characters and situations that develop in concert with the action.
As well as writing and directing, Chan plays Sergeant Dragon, a high-ranking member of the embattled Hong Kong Marine Police. Aside from a strong interservice rivalry with the Royal Hong Kong Police Force, the organisation faces opposition from both pirates and the wheezy bureaucrats who want to slash their funding. Project A frames this basic tension with an idea of self-determination, Chan representing the bright, young Hong Kong citizen who not only want to seize power for themselves but wield it effectively. Chan is surging, youthful energy butting heads with ancient colonial blowhards.
Project A is the first instance that I've seen of this kind of instructive bent in Chan's films. The Jackie Chan persona is maturing, he's no longer the directionless but talented youth, he's a pillar of the community. The evolution of character also coincides with a new approach to action and violence,
Chan dodges danger and fights out of a sense of civic pride. Perhaps Chan's brush with the Triads not only altered the trajectory of his career but how he came to consider his role as a star. From this point onwards Jackie Chan becomes synonymous with law enforcement, his fighting skills used for self-defence rather than self-promotion.
For his big comeback, Chan surrounded himself with the cream of Hong Kong action talent. As well as a first outing for the official Jackie Chan Stunt Team, fellow Peking Opera classmates Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung appear as allies from both sides of the law. Once again Chan and Hung fight alongside each other, but unlike Winners & Sinners this setpiece is more about how the two performers are able to build off individual movements and compliment each other. Hung's film showcased their ability to dole out world class bumps, Chan focuses on a sense of grace and precision.
Chan instead makes stunts Project A's focus, riffing on the death-defying antics of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. Chan shares the same comedic instincts as those silent film stars. He'll caper, even feign a scrambling, imprecise kind of incompetence to put himself in danger. He's also content to be vulnerable, we're not sure if he's actually going to succeed. Keaton waltzes through peril like Roadrunner, innocent and essentially immune. Jackie Chan is more of a Wile E Coyote figure. He gets harmed.
I can't help but feel that Chan's rough and tumble approach is also informed by Vic Armstrong's work on Raiders of the Lost Ark. Spielberg's film gives us extended glimpses of a man out of his depth, struggling to shuffle his bones around weighty Nazi machinery. Chan goes one further by being both the action actor and the stunt performer simultaneously. Although clearly adept we are given just enough rope to worry as, crucially, Chan never presents himself as invincible. There's always a price for our entertainment. We track with his falls, watch his body upend and bounce like a ragdoll, then dash in to see him dazed and dragged up onto his feet. All in one take.
Saturday, 31 January 2015
Friday, 30 January 2015
David Ayer brings his all-aggression outlook to the second world war, cross-pollinating your standard push for Berlin with the kind of psychological harassment usually seen in prison movies. A squeamish clerical assistant named Norman is billeted in Wardaddy (Brad Pitt)'s tank and forced to scrub his predecessor's face off the dashboard. The bullying of this new fish begins immediately, prompted, mostly, by his inability to act and think like his comrades.
Ayer posits war as a group process, one weak link in the collective and lives are lost. Ayer doesn't sell Norman short, rather than yelp and tantrum like a coward the young Private argues back with a series of reasoned and intelligent points. Unfortunately he's debating shell-shocked brutes emptied out by their experiences. Wardaddy's crew reflex hostile, their cruelty persistently circling sexual violence.
Ayer and Wardaddy's point, illustrated through the wholesale demolition of the Geneva Conventions, is that's the kind of man you have to be to roll over someone else's country. Wardaddy has successfully recruited himself a Sherman full of true believers. Ayer shoots the ensemble as cramped, biological batteries jammed into the shivering, sputtering mechanical whole of the tank. Action is faltering and capricious, the tanks churn on, lighting up distant targets with lancing tracer rounds. Gunfire in Fury reads like laser exchanges, dirty lumbering blocks ejaculating liquid light at tree lines.
Nazi resistance is experienced as a series of ambushes. Children drag Panzerschreck rockets through forests, foxholes are turned into meat fountains by the advancing Shermans. Life beyond the tank is only briefly encountered, the men largely unable to change emotional tact for even a second. Cursory interactions boil with anger, an attempt at breakfast threatens to evolve into a gang rape. Wardaddy's men are like apes, everything is grist for a power play.
Fury's problem is that it does such a good job of sketching a fraught, animalistic war zone that when it dials the mutilation down for a star turn friendly finale the gears start to grind. Sabotage pulled a similar trick to much better success - Schwarzenegger immolating his team to inch towards a two dimensional confrontation worked because Arnold is, regardless of role, an electronic murderer. Genre and star expectations align and are fulfilled.
Unfortunately, Fury's acknowledgement of what its audience, or maybe more accurately its studio, wants works against the film's established ruthlessness. Having Brad Pitt shrug off a full clip of sniper fire, not to mention a couple of potato mashers, without deforming his pin-up looks feels like a sop. Ayer briefly fumbling his abattoir conceit with an incongruous attempt to position Pitt as a flayed angel in a film otherwise obsessed with pancaked Wehrmacht.
TheSyndicateProject takes a break from being super young and successful to bring us a 40 minute glimpse of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare's Exo Zombies mode. Naturally, Syndicate has his routes and pick-ups down so consider this a useful primer on how to get yourself playing up to rounds with double digits.
Monday, 26 January 2015
Sunday, 25 January 2015
For better or worse, Lee Sang-il's retelling of Unforgiven accounts for a profound psychological shift akin to transformation. At journey's end Ken Watanabe's Jubei finds himself staring down a familiar shithole, drunk and out for blood. Lee's film treats this ferocity as a dead end for the character, rather than an aspect of his personality.
Clint Eastwood's William Munny placed himself in a desperate, suicidal situation and reacted with supernatural calm. This is what allows him to clear a bordello. He doesn't hurry, he doesn't make mistakes. Jubei has instead snapped, becoming a kind of demon. Lee's stormy, deteriorating mise en scene suggesting all the great damned Samurai from Ryunosuke Tsukue in The Sword of Doom to Ogami Itto in the Lone Wolf and Cub cycle.
Eastwood and Lee's films differ in how the hero is communicated to us. After his massacre Munny seems to readjust instantly, compartmentalising his violence. It's easy for us to accept this too - the confrontation was cathartic, happening in response to a friend's murder. It's satisfying, it packs you off to bed after your umpteenth viewing. Lee's film is the opposite.
Jubei's moment almost seems like a fumble. Firearms play a key role - always disappointing in a chanbara - and Watanabe sleepwalks through the encounter. Jubei's violence is slow, a deliberate monster in the midst of amateurs. It's messy, more like a scuffle, designed to not quite satisfy. Men aren't cleaved by swords, weapons bite on bone and break. Jubei isn't the same kind of man as Munny either, he can't turn it on or off. Once he's tasted blood he's keyed in, fated to wander, seething, until his batteries run dry.