Saturday, 22 January 2022
Friday, 21 January 2022
Director Leonard Nimoy follows up Star Trek III: The Search for Spock with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, a light-hearted sequel that sees Kirk and pals using a captured Klingon warship to sling themselves around the curve of the sun, a feat that - thanks to Spock's cigarette packet calculations - hurls them back in time to San Francisco in the mid-1980s. Their mission in The Golden City? To kidnap a pair of humpback whales in the hope that these time displaced sea creatures can then communicate with the cigar-shaped interstellar object currently transforming 23rd century Earth into a boiling cauldron. Voyage Home is the time travel film told with the language of a culture clash comedy; incredulous Russian ensigns standing in for smiling Paul Hogan. Once touched down, the Enterprise crew make little to no attempt to fit in, remaining in their futuristic clothes and doing zero research about the time period they find themselves in.
Voyage Home, like Ron Howard's Cocoon, is essentially a feature length opportunity for a gang of ageing stars to mix it up with reckless, grey-haired, abandon. Actors who - at this stage in their career - might otherwise be locked into one-note, supporting, roles are given the opportunity to be charming, even irreverent here. While Nimoy's film spends a significant amount of time basking in the chemistry generated by the actor-director and William Shatner's self-proclaimed expert, the rest of the crew do (finally) get their own mini-moments to shine. James Doohan's Scotty hams it up away from his teleporter console, posing as a Scottish Professor happy to trade fantastical chemical compounds with greedy line managers in a bid to secure the specialist water tank equipment their mission so desperately needs. There's a note of joyous vandalism in Scotty's subplot, the chief engineer belligerently dismissive of, and completely unconcerned with, any potential ramifications following his casual correction of history. Voyage Home is funny like that.
Thursday, 20 January 2022
Monday, 17 January 2022
Saturday, 15 January 2022
Frank Miller's take on The Spirit is hopelessly mannered but beautiful all the same; a mutant movie that sinks Will Eisner's rough and tumble crimefighter into a live action approximation of the messier, sketchier, panels seen in latter-day Sin City comics. Like a Hell and Back or the shorter, punchline focused, interludes collected in Booze, Broads & Bullets, this Spirit represents characters and situations largely unmoored from a strict, logical, narrative. Miller is freewheeling, pinging from one idea to another without any pressing concern for an organic whole. The Spirit - notable as Miller's only feature not co-directed with Robert Rodriguez - employs constant voiceover, shot through with slang excavated from 1930s potboilers, to place us inside the mind of Denny Colt, a zombie policeman who cannot die.
The Spirit peaks very early with a sludgy tar pit duel between Gabriel Macht's Spirit and Samuel L Jackson's master criminal The Octopus. Both men batter and hammer at each other with the unceasing, unbloodied, violence of Looney Tunes cartoons; deploying massive industrial hooks, decapitated heads and crumbling toilets in an effort to vanquish the other. There's a dangling insinuation (quickly tossed off) that these two warriors are at least dimly aware that they are not only invincible but taking part in the opening sequence of a narrative that will extend far beyond this encounter. The bodily punishment that they experience, then quickly heal from, a formality of plotting rather than anything that they should be truly concerned about. Unfortunately, the framing of this commonality departs from these metatextual musings, arriving at a strictly recounted origin episode that's not nearly as entertaining.
Getting back to the asphalt pit punch-up - unlike the dry for wet sequences seen elsewhere in this digital soundstage picture, Macht and Jackson are actually wallowing in this soupy filth. It clings to their clothes and changes their outline. What would be an irrelevant detail in basically any other action entry is lent an extra note of ruggedness here - it's completely at odds with the fast and loose shooting style engendered by this green-screened approach to filmmaking. It's messy and, presumably, requires a lengthy reset. This sodden physicality is further enhanced by cinematographer Bill Pope who, assisted by umpteen CGI studios, manufactures frames busy with particles that are subject to varying degrees of focus. An effect far more in keeping with Miller's ink splashed artwork than anything in either big screen Sin City. The Spirit isn't just this one sequence though. In the main, Miller's film is one long tonal convulsion; a tightrope walk that wavers between a maddening outlet for painfully overwrought acting and the acute visual interest offered by extremely photogenic women acting out their writer-director's dress-up fantasies.
Wednesday, 12 January 2022
Tuesday, 11 January 2022
Just as much of a 90s throwback as its predecessor, Venom: Let There Be Carnage presents like an out-of-time Summer blockbuster; a Spawn adjacent till-ringer that, similarly, interprets the glistening musculature of these comic book anti-heroes as a knotted web of computer generated effects. Let There Be Carnage is the kind of film that used to come to market pre-packaged - for maximum teenage brain-share - with a soundtrack CD that boasted of music not just from the motion picture, but inspired by it as well. Something of a lost art in this day and age. That's not to say Sony hasn't made any effort with the musical suite of their Marvel spin-off - this sequel's credits are packed with undercooked genre fusions that grimly intone our hero's name, as if summoning the oily symbiote back to the screen for a brain-gnashing encore.
Director Andy Serkis, who most recently delivered a Netflix adaptation of The Jungle Book - entitled Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle - that skewed far closer to Rudyard Kipling's poems and short stories than any of Disney's efforts, keeps this sequel refreshingly brief. Where other superhero tentpoles dare to reckon with biblical runtimes, Let There Be Carnage wraps up in under a hundred minutes. In an inspired twist on the usual identity splitting, Kelly Marcel's screenplay is constructed with the bashful mechanics of a romantic comedy. Tom Hardy's Eddie Brock and the eponymous sludge monster he has bonded with fall out then back into love, the latter even experimenting with a series of short-lived trysts that (repeatedly) fail to bring the creature comfort. Although not as gruesome as the title suggests - Woody Harrelson's alien costume preferring to generate sinewy whips over the scythes and axe heads seen on paper - Let There Be Carnage does still feature subsurface scattered tentacles forcing themselves down victim's throats. A note of bloodless violence that, as with the film's prequel, sharply recalls the more sordid aspects of Japanese animation.
Monday, 10 January 2022
John Linneman and Audi Sorlie run down The Splatterhouse Saga for DF Retro. Covering the original, blood-spattered, Namco arcade cab and its home console conversions, all the way up to the Xbox 360 and PS3's underwhelming 3D brawler. My own personal connection to the laceration-heavy series extends all the way back to my teen years, when I bought an ex-rental copy of Splatterhouse Part 2 from Blockbuster Video for £2.50. Comparing my memories to the footage captured here, it seems the PAL 50Hz revision fouled up the video shop influenced electronica, making the game's throbbing Fulci beats sound more like a stalling, burping, dirge. The reduction in overall speed also left the game feeling a touch more sluggish too, is if the player was attempting to control an unwieldy lump rather than a vein-popped slasher killer. Still, even running nearly 20% slower, nothing beats whacking a rotting zombie so hard that they blast away from your walking axis, ending up as a dripping smear on the background tile.
Thursday, 6 January 2022
Monday, 3 January 2022
With Paul WS Anderson and Milla Jovovich out of the picture, it falls to Johannes Roberts to reanimate the big screen ambitions of Capcom's hugely successful video game series. Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City goes back to the original PlayStation games - or, rather, the recent remakes of those first few entries - to tell the story of small town America on the verge of collapse. Instead of a designer virus transmitted from a chemical weapons facility to the wider population via infected wildlife though, writer-director Roberts locates Raccoon City firmly within the American poison belt. Portrayed in the console series as a warren of interconnected shops and bars - distinctly Japanese urban planning transplanted to Midwestern America - this Raccoon City is a predominantly working class podunk that has been slowly and methodically contaminated over the course of decades.
While Kaya Scodelario's Claire Redfield roots around dingy suburbs in search of her brother, the mother and child next door loom in their rundown home, peering out of windows so we can note that their scalps have been picked clean. Across town, a truck stop waitress weeps blood and thinks nothing of it - spontaneous haemorrhaging apparently an everyday occurrence in this neighbourhood. When an enforced lockdown goes into effect the town's police are subordinated then routed. Gas mask commandoes line the roads, executing the handful of citizens who have made it as far as the blockades. In its early passages Welcome to Raccoon City, a period piece set in the late 1990s, captures the rhythms of that era's straight-to-video action horror; specifically the micro-budget sequels destined for Blockbusters.
Roberts and cinematographer Maxime Alexandre manufacture the look and feel of a Dimension Films shelf-filler - from the pitch black sets broken up by gun mounted torches to a sulphurous, emergency exit, approach to lighting. As Welcome rattles on towards its conclusion though this niche approach to entertainment completely breaks down into a rote, unexciting, remix of its source material. Roberts' film leaps back-and-forth between the Spencer Mansion from the original Resident Evil and the equally labyrinthine police station from Resident Evil 2; events in either location failing to build a collective tension or even trigger some unseen, diabolical, mechanism. The insidious evil of a pharmaceutical corporation that keeps a paramilitary unit on its books gets away from Roberts as well, Welcome preferring to default to an aimless series of confrontations with crude, computer generated, creatures.
Sunday, 2 January 2022
Thursday, 30 December 2021
Although often bizarre to look at, thanks to a digital scrubbing process that bleeds all the grain and noise out of the vintage clips, Peter Jackson's The Beatles: Get Back accomplishes a similar feat to the director's World War I documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old, namely it places the viewer inside an extremely specific space and time then lets them simmer. Rather than cower with rotting Tommies in a French field though, Disney+ subscribers are able to sit-in on three weeks of rehearsal as The Beatles prepare to record one of their last albums.
Pared down to eight hours (then divided into three episodes) from sixty hours of footage, Get Back differs significantly from Michael Lindsay-Hogg's 1970 documentary Let It Be, avoiding that director's more tabloid instincts to allow stories to emerge, slowly, on their own. Everyone (rightly) mentions Paul McCartney conjuring Get Back out of thin air but just as joyous is the day that Billy Preston visits Apple Studios and is immediately recruited by John Lennon to play electric piano. Preston's contribution to these session is transformative, instantly adding flesh to the bones of I've Got a Feeling and Don't Let Me Down, much to McCartney's obvious elation.
Paul Verhoeven's Benedetta - much like his book Jesus of Nazareth: A Realistic Portrait - seeks to define a human element that might otherwise be lost when examining booming religious fervour. Virginie Efira's Benedetta then isn't a wide-eyed innocent completely lost to her visions, she's a canny politician with a foresight either broadcast to her from heaven or, simply, originating from her middle-class upbringing and education. Taken to a convent as a child - Verhoeven insisting we see the financial transactions required for a wealthy landowner to secure their child a permanent position with this nunnery - Benedetta is immediately trapped beneath a collapsing statue of a Madonna bearing her breast to nurse Christ. Naturally, she takes comfort from this incident.
Enid's work for a 1980s Film Censorship Board is methodical, turning over objectionable sequences for home video release, looking for ways to lessen their intended impact. As Censor goes on we learn that this meticulous but bowdlerised approach to trauma extends out into Enid's personal life as well. Interactions are trimmed and edited until Enid is able to pass through them unscathed. An awkward moment when a colleague summons up the courage to ask her out for a drink is glossed over, Enid addressing some of his chatter but, crucially, not the invitation for a personal connection. Eventually, these tweaks multiply out of control.
Conversational elides prickle into an idea of conspiracy, a notion that Enid's parents know something about their daughter that she herself is unwilling to confront. This disquiet grows into instantaneous breaks with painful reality, Enid constructing a completely new - and untroubling - sequence of events the moment her present becomes unpalatable. The further into Enid's psychosis we go, the more of the film is given over to a version of events that exists solely in a damaged brain seeking a familiar structure. At this point writer-director Prano Bailey-Bond and cinematographer Annika Summerson collapse the width of the frame, readjusting the film's landscape to fit the pan and scan dimensions imposed on early VHS, allowing Niamh Algar's Enid to cure Britain of its social ills and correct her sister's fate.
Throughout Denis Villeneuve's Dune there's a sense that mankind has battered forward through the centuries to arrive at a point where, for all their boons, they are just better able to beam their failures and shortcomings out into space. This pitch black universe, rather than offering brand new opportunities or transcendental experiences, has turned out to be an enormous canvas, just waiting to be painted red with fire and blood. Timothée Chalamet plays Paul Atreides, the heir to House Atreides, a dukedom in a vast - and largely unseen - intergalactic empire underpinned by dutiful servants, who double as human computers, and a powerful cult of witches who plant prospects throughout the empire, armed with breeding instructions. Paul is the result of one of those procreations (if not necessarily the strict order that directed it), a young nobleman afflicted with involuntary glimpses of moments in his life he has yet to live. The tension in Villeneuve's Dune then is that of an assumption. What is it that makes Paul Atreides special? His tragic experiences? His possession of a mind that trespasses outside strictly ordered time and space? Or is it simply his willingness to be battered towards Godhood?
Evangelion: 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time initially puts Shinji Ikari to one side, the child experiencing a catatonic depressive episode in which he struggles to come to terms with a world he believes he destroyed in the previously instalment. Surprisingly, several of his school friends have also survived the apocalypse and the tumultuous years since, growing to adulthood - an emotional, as well as biological, state specifically denied to the plug suit children. These survivors live on a partitioned scrap of Japan, an agricultural village, protected by fantastical fencing technology, that works in concert with Miss Misato's massive war machine. Unlike the crew of the battleship Wunder, Shinji's Tokyo-3 High School classmates are welcoming, allowing the young man the time and space needed to reach some sort of emotional equilibrium.
Eventually making his way to the Green Chapel, Dev Patel's Gawain encounters The Green Knight, slumbering. Once awake, the creaking woodsman - portrayed in this setting as a curious mix of Father Christmas and the Devil - hurries, as agreed, to deprive his visitor of his head. Reluctant to give his life up so easily, Gawain attempts to flee. It's here that David Lowery's film lifts a conceit from Nikos Kazantzakis' The Last Temptation of Christ (not to mention Martin Scorsese's filmed adaptation), allowing the sacrificial lamb to experience the life he believes he might go on to live.
Whereas Scorsese's film depicts a certain amount of human contentment before the rot sets in, Gawain's yuletide present is a lifetime lived in minutes; experiences and events overlapping into one long, thundering, march of despair. Gawain sees his future as a sleepwalker King, finally knighted moments before Arthur himself passes away. Entrusted a kingdom, Gawain allows the hesitancy and indecision that marked his final encounter with the Green Knight to define his reign. Gawain's vision lingers on images of his mother, quietly aghast at her child's repeated failures. Her disappointment is compounded by decisions rooted in Gawain's inflexible idea of monarchy - isolation and brutal attempts at propriety track, neatly, into a bone-deep despondency.
Although in the early going No Time to Die's action sequences play around with a similar kind of bored expertise as Spectre - most assuredly in a twilit forest where Bond easily outmanoeuvres umpteen vehicular assaults - when Safin's terror presses closer to home, Daniel Craig's Bond is seen to really struggle. In Fukunaga's now signature (anxiety inducing) oner, we see James limping up a mouldering staircase with attacks coming from every conceivable direction. In these moments Craig's physical dexterity and determination - genuine positives when considering this character that have become less and less remarked upon the further away we get from Casino Royale - are truly allowed to shine. Peril is dealt with fractionally, an entire spinning plate apparatus with Craig dead centre, adjusting the henchman, firearms and grenades constantly hurled his way.
A Christmas ghost story, one in which Kristen Stewart's rebuffed princess finds herself trapped, by obligation, in a house and station that seems to slowly - over decades - digests its inhabitants. Pablo Larrain's Spencer is gorgeous, Claire Mathon's photography recalling a specific, period, kind of photochemical processing that leaves images lightly blown-out by the low-hanging winter sun. An icy chill seems to physically roll off early morning shots of this Sandringham Estate, communicating a stillness, not just in temperature but in time. Stewart's Diana is human and modern, a young mother being feed into a system that runs on callous, impersonal, marriages and an impenetrable propriety that transforms mute maids and an overeager equerry - in function - into gaolers. Larrain's film, written by Steven Knight, works against Diana's red top martyrdom by, repeatedly, presenting her as a person - a child - running headlong at an all-consuming disapproval.
Titane, like Spencer, derives tension from people attempting to silently navigate a series of acute nervous breakdowns while stuck in social situations that require they contribute either a charming or pliant exterior. Julia Ducournau's film is, in one sense, kin to Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo: The Iron Man in that both films consider the ways in which symbiosis with metal can pervert the human body. Skull fractured in a car accident as a child, necessitating a titanium plate that cups her brain in place, Agathe Rousselle's Alexia becomes fixated on violent, speeding, automobiles as agents of sexual desire.
This affection is reciprocated by a tricked-out lowrider that batters Alexia's changing room door at an expo show she has just worked; their dalliance leaving Alexia swollen with a child that causes her body to leak motor oil. Where Tsukamoto explored metamorphosis in terms of sweaty sexual anxiety - an otherwise smooth face suddenly prickling with steel shavings or a penis mutating into a spinning, lethal, drill bit - Ducournau's film charts her transformations at a stately pace, forcing Alexia to constantly contend with a physical body that refuses to comply with her wishes. Posing as the missing son of Vincent Lindon's bereaved firefighter, Alexia spends the majority of her pregnancy wrapping her body up in a painful bindings, desperately trying to thwart the growing suspicions that surround her. When constriction fails, she takes to punching her stomach; hammering away at the unwanted child that refuses to die inside her.
Upfront, Zack Snyder's Justice League offers a very clear demonstration of what the slighted director brings to this material, beyond a towering aspect ratio and a colour palette attuned to unyielding metals. In Snyder and screenwriters Chris Terrio and Will Beall's undiluted version, Batman's first meeting with Aquaman on a remote Icelandic outpost is presented as an incredible effort in of itself. Ben Affleck's Bruce Wayne has surmounted cracking glaciers and a storm that grounded all manner of aircraft just be in the same room as the rightful King of Atlantis. Their meeting concluded, Jason Momoa's regal roadie strides off to be in the ocean. Snyder focuses on Affleck's despondent expression, his glance off this would be ally as it starts to snow and a group of women begin singing the kind of mournful, lilting, prayer you'd expect to hear at a monarch's funeral. Bruce worries that his words - his warning - has fallen on deaf ears. When he remembers to look back, Arthur has gone and gentle ripples are fading on the water.
Tuesday, 28 December 2021
Astalon: Tears of the Earth is an action-platformer that often reads as a grand summation of one corner of 8-bit gaming. Level layouts are non-linear and full of secrets, like a Metroid; while screens themselves are block coloured and ruthlessly staffed with enemies, similar to a NES era Mega Man. The lack of flicker and an (eventual) ability to instantly swap between the three colour-coded dungeon dwellers indicate that LABSworks' game is, very obviously, operating far beyond the scope of an 80s system but the same sort of cute-but-twitchy compulsion remains.
Like basically everything else on this list, Crisis Wing is a throwback. In this instance a note perfect evocation of the unloved - almost off-putting - chunky colourful shooters that made up the numbers in 1980s arcades. Pieslice Productions' game is a vertical scroller very specifically in the vein of Toaplan's Mega Drive hit Truxton; a no-frills, Yamaha synthesiser, score attack that has players struggling through the kind of synchronised enemy waves that recall the early, elemental, mechanics that underpin this genre. Crisis Wing's best component is an exceptionally difficult Buss Rush setting that limits both lives and screen shattering smart bombs. It's a mode that demands a completely different frame-of-mind than the main game - all hope is extinguished; deaths are incessant and unavoidable, all you can do is try and lose your ships at opportune times.
Deathloop is a late entry onto this list. Bought in a Christmas sale, Arkane Studio's game quickly nudged out the likes of Carrion and Call of Duty: Warzone's blown-out Pacific rethink with its sneaky, temporal, hijinks. Players creep about as Colt, an amnesic security guard who begins every day shivering his way through a beachbound hangover. Although I've barely made a scratch at this point, Deathloop's qualities are clear and iterative - the player slowly picks apart each section of this frozen island to discover where and when several high-value targets will make themselves vulnerable on an endlessly regurgitating day.
A hold-over from late last year, Demon's Tilt is a Satanic, 16-bit, pinball game recompiled for the modern era. Like the ancient ROMs that Flarb LLC and WIZNWAR's game embellishes - most obviously Compile's Devil's Crush and Technosoft's Mega Drive conversion Devil Crash MD (known as Dragon's Fury in the US) - Demon's Tilt takes place on a massive, multi-screen, pinball table; one seemingly hexed by diabolical, high-score granting, creatures.
Rough around the edges - particularly in terms of how the player is expected to discern which onscreen effects are environmental hazards and which are, simply, graphical flourishes - R-Type Final 2 still manages to evoke the same strange, funereal, effect as its PS2 predecessor. Whereas most side-scrolling shooters prioritise a sense a propulsion, as if the player is controlling a streaking missile, Final 2 is trepidatious. Crafts nervously crawl through the levels, as if hoping not to stir some sleeping titan, while the enemy encounters are often revealed like ambushes - robots burst from rotting shipping containers in the first stage. Above all though, Granzella's crowd funded sequel gets the little things right - the shriek of a charging blast attack or the satisfied purr when that banked beam reaches its most ruinous pulse.
Despite a dull pre-release demo and an opening hour that leaves the player feeling like they're stuck in a series of static encounters, Resident Evil Village eventually reveals itself to be the best instalment in the series since the 4th - recent remakes included. Notionally tasked with hunting down the chimeric chancers who have kidnapped your infant daughter, Village's best loops happen off the beaten track, when you're circling back to previously cleared areas to see how the always advancing time of day has effected layouts. Has a new enemy type gotten loose in the field? Are you now able to access a rowing boat that allows you to reach a previously unexplored dock? Village also see the return of incrementally upgradable weaponry, a feedback drip-feed so consistently satisfying that you wonder why Capcom made such a concerted effort to forget about it.
Almost ludicrously difficult - notably so before the temporary save solution was patched in - Housemarque's Returnal is, nevertheless, a complete to dream to play. Movement, both in terms of dashing lunges and locking to static structures when dodging incoming fire, is beautifully implemented. At its best, the game feeling very much like the natural successor to both Devil May Cry 3's Trickster input style and PlatinumGames' Vanquish. Like these Japanese stalwarts, Returnal gifts players the ability to absolutely gobble up the game's prehistoric, Acheron adjacent, scenery; blazing from one end of a fossilised alien play area to another.
Charm itself, A Short Hike sees players steering a worried bird around a trail that gets increasingly vertical, necessitating they collect discarded feathers to prolong their ability to stay off the ground. Adam Robinson-Yu's game is autumnal, a low-polygonal shimmer that can be rushed through - players combing the island for power-ups allowing them to scale a sheer mountainside - or slowly picked apart with a relaxed hunt for side-quests. Mark Sparling's music is of special note, a wholesome and lightly heroic suite that uses electronic samples straight out of the 32-bit era.
Downloadable content that not only expands the scope of the base game but introduces mechanical corrections and flourishes that seem to redefine what another, future, Bare Knuckle instalment could be. As well as embellishing the story mode with three fresh characters, Streets of Rage 4 - Mr. X Nightmare introduces a survival sim presided over by Streets of Rage 3's Dr. Zan. Players fight through randomly generated stages - with backgrounds and layouts culled from as far a field as the Game Gear conversion of the original game - with levels ending once all foes are beaten back. Our pugilists are then given the choice of two power-ups; persistent choices that can be used to sculpt a fire-breathing tank or an electrified glass cannon.
A squishy, squelchy, store shooter; Void Gore begins with the player as a terminally ill-equipped suppository ship blasting their way up an arterial vein. Encircled by swarms of eyes and chomping meat balls, Void Gorers must hammer away at low yield, repeat passes before they amass enough in-game currency to really trouble the game's laser bleeding organs. Although, obviously, the player ends their trophy run significantly stronger than is necessary to peel back the first half-dozen stages, Void Gore quickly finds a sweet spot, a state of play in which inputters are, purely, responding to flashing patterns that mean to kill.
Monday, 27 December 2021
ALISON & Krosia - Spirit // Arooj Aftab - Mohabbat // Blinker the Star - It's Alright (Baby's Coming Back) // cacho. - Soulless // The Chemical Brothers - The Darkness That You Fear // CHVRCHES - Good Girls (John Carpenter Remix) // count.00 - Glass Heart // Crystal Cola - Ocean View // Daniel Hart - Now I'm Ready, I'm Ready Now // DavZ - Welcome Home // Death from Above 1979 - One + One // Eagle Eyed Tiger -Fly Me to the Groove // Ex:Re - Where the Time Went (with 12 Ensemble) // Halsey - I Am Not a Woman, I'm a God (Live) // Hans Zimmer - Herald of the Change // Hayley Williams - Teardrop // Hotel Pools - Vacation // Myrone - ANIMAL STYLE ANTHEM //Olivia Rodrigo - Driver's License // Radiohead - Follow Me Around // Rosentwig - Latibule // Shiro Sagisu - Gekitotsu! Gouten tai Daimakan // Tom Holkenborg - At the Speed of Force // バーチャル Paragon ™ - １９９２ - 空腹の目
Friday, 24 December 2021
Thursday, 23 December 2021
Credit to Lana Wachowski, it takes a certain amount of bravery to attempt a fourth entry in The Matrix series during a pandemic with a drastically shortened production cycle and an army of key collaborators off the books. As well as Lana's sister, and co-writer director, Lilly Wachowski, The Matrix Resurrections misses both the gravitas conferred by Laurence Fishburne and the alien jeopardy that radiated from Hugo Weaving. Despite the absence of these actors, their characters remain - one rejuvenated into self-satisfied nanotechnology whose big, plugged-in, scene lands like farce; the other given the handsome-but-dull affect of the American ruling class. Alarmingly, these truancies extend beyond the screen into the technological and conceptual arena too. Bill Pope's (constantly quoted) sulphurous chiaroscuro has been overwritten here with a mode of visual communication that is often indistinguishable from streaming service television. A decision that, in fairness, is genuinely evocative of an artificial construct circling the drain.
The most dispiriting point of departure for Resurrections though is how the film handles its action. Fight choreographer Yuen Woo-ping was not retained for this fourquel, the decision (or restriction given that Yuen is deep into his seventies and quite likely at least semi-retired) limits not just the movements that have been drilled into the cast but the angles the filmmakers then use to communicate arching limbs and the resulting impacts. The Matrix didn't just vary the speed of reality when employing its time slice visual effects. Bodies hammered each other in violent, exaggerated, flurries; fists detonated concrete structures in beatific crawls. Although Resurrections revisits these ideas, there's no attempt to build on them. The majority of the film's hand-to-hand action instead resolving to a deliberately obscured askance. Where previously we were asked to consider the ways in which superpowered bodies relate to each other - not just in terms of combat, but the twisting poses and power displays that might denote annoyance or an assured tranquillity - here these battles are punctuation, deployed to massage the transition between scenes. These, admittedly older, characters are no longer expressing themselves physically.
What Resurrections does have though is Carrie-Anne Moss, Keanu Reeves and an on-screen longing between the two that has only deepened with age. Reeves' Thomas Anderson is trapped in the medicated funk of corporate game development, forced to deliver a much delayed sequel to his biggest hit. Although Resurrections' frequently features enormous, projected, clips from the previous Matrix films, everyone in-universe points at these illuminations and identifies them as games - apparently interactive full-motion video was a seismic success on this particular server? Trinity is similarly confined by middle-class domesticity; kept busy by an insistent, hovering, husband and a pair of children portrayed as ongoing irritants. The pull between Neo and Trinity then is initially contextualised as that of an affair - an exciting, instantaneous, connection between two disappointed adults. Since Resurrections suffers horribly the further apart this couple are, it's therefore tempting to imagine a smaller scale instalment that completely forewent the technological ambitions of a big budget action film to concentrate on a bubbling infidelity in a counterfeit world - a Brief Encounter by way of Bound.
Monday, 20 December 2021
A sad, supplementary, sequel to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan that picks up in that film's dying moments then immediately sets about undoing its conclusion. In fairness to Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, its predecessor had already worked unusually hard to ensure that viewers were not left feeling that Spock's death was to be a permanent diversion for the series. Not only did Leonard Nimoy's Science Officer put a mysterious mind-zap on an unconscious colleague - key here to the Vulcan's eventual resurrection - but his torpedo chassis-cum-coffin was blasted at the Genesis planet, a cauldron of rebirth born out of an interstellar explosion in a swirling nebula. Search for Spock quickly undermines this potential for an ongoing, artificial, utopia by explaining that one of the project's key scientists, and Kirk's estranged son, cut corners. This attempt to brute force a new beginning has resulted in a planet that has already begun to shake itself apart.
Although consistent in terms of the endemic arrogance displayed by the Kirk boys, it's a shame there's no attempt to contextualise this fracturing, apparently aggressive, world in terms of Khan's volcanic tempers - Genesis is, after all, a massive rearrangement of the super soldier's genetic material. Either way, this impending cataclysm gives the Enterprise crew a ticking clock; one that forces them to work against orders issued by an unconcerned Starfleet. If the Enterprise crew don't get to Genesis soon, Spock's eternal soul will be lost to the void. Directed by Leonard Nimoy, Search for Spock gets something out of William Shatner that no previous Star Trek feature has managed. His volume is turned right down, to the point where the often truculent actor actually registers as natural, even charming. Although his arc ends up being incurious and underwritten, we are (briefly) allowed to see Kirk experience real pits of despair during this journey. Elsewhere, Nimoy is shaky when it comes to action - the director very clearly having no taste for bloodletting - but happy to turn his frame over to massive, matte painted, vistas that throb with a period allure.
Sunday, 19 December 2021
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan represents a complete rethink of Gene Roddenberry's television series as a big screen property. A course correction even. Nicholas Meyer's film junks the celestial wonder of the financially unsuccessful Star Trek: The Motion Picture to focus on a smaller scale story, one ruled by heated human emotions rather than budget munching miniatures. Frequency and intensity of special effects aside, Wrath of Khan's most obvious and consistent points of departure from its predecessor are the ways in which this future is depicted. Motion Picture offered up an atypically fleshy intergalactic utopia - extras and the main cast both dressed in form-fitting slips that seemed to be reaching for a classical, Roman, immodesty. In practice, the wardrobe department delivered something closer to the lusty permissiveness of a Californian health farm. Wrath of Khan is gussied up by comparison, the Enterprise crew kitted out in ceremonial naval suits with Napoleonic overtones.
Wrath of Khan then is a high seas adventure; a hermetically sealed submarine film played out against the backdrop of a massive purple nebula. Its climactic action sequence features two blinded, crumbling, craft rooting around in the ocean of space, both Captains attempting to gaze through static screens to get a bead on their quarry. When the Enterprise and Khan's hijacked Starfleet ship do clash they pull up alongside each other, emptying their photon cannons at exposed flank and battering their opponent's vulnerable, human, crew. Khan, played by Ricardo Montalban, thrashes around in a Shakespearean mania throughout; a raging storm of blood and invective, surrounded by muted, beardless, chattel. As wonderful as Montalban is - last seen chanting himself through ruinous head injuries with Herman Melville quotations - it's the dignity and quiet heroism of Leonard Nimoy's Spock that proves indelible. Braving a localised nuclear disaster to save his crewmates, a blistering and irradiated Spock uses his final moments to reassure William's Shatner's cocksure Captain that, despite appearances, he has acted logically - trading his own life for those of his friends.