Thursday, 26 March 2015

Bonnie and Clyde




















Arthur Penn, working from a screenplay with a Robert Towne credit, puts aside knee-jerk morality to consider the titular duo as modern entities who take advantage of contemporary technology to push their legend. Bonnie and Clyde takes place in the dust bowls and foreclosed homesteads of the Great Depression. Bonnie starts out as a bored, flirty waitress, Clyde her skeezy carjacker. Terminally savvy, the gang concentrate their crimes on the villainous banks seizing local property, becoming folk heroes in the process.

Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty play the pair as youthful, sexually frustrated outlaws oblivious to the chaos they cause. Their robberies are just scaled up versions of tick (or tag if you're an American reader), with the couple causing some chaos then seeing if they can get to the state border before they're caught. To them it's a game, an opportunity to push their stolen cars as far as they can while spraying Thompson machine guns out the window. Penn's film seems to agree, scoring their escapes with hyperactive bluegrass.

The chic couple pose for photographs and mail in poems, always with a mind to how their story is being managed. The push back on this is particularly hateful. Bonnie and Clyde haven't just broken laws they've transgressed against the natural order of things. They've taken money from banks, made fools of Policemen. They've given people ideas. Lawful society doesn't just have an obligation to stop them, it needs to shoot them so full of holes that they no longer even resemble people.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

CLAWFUL







































Captain Toy

CHEW



Schwarzenegger with whiskers bopping around a desolate post-fall landscape? We'll ignore the PG-13 rating for now and focus on how Maggie has the same visual throb as Sylvain Despretz's storyboards for Ridley Scott's MIA I Am Legend adaptation. Director Henry Hobson has priors with the apocalypse too, having designed the buzzy, black-and-white title sequence for The Last of Us.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Blur - Go Out / There Are Too Many of Us



American Gigolo


















Richard Gere is Julian Kaye, a perfectly poised male escort who has made an armour out of his Armani suits and sexual distance. American Gigolo is his unravelling. Kaye is in the frame for the particularly brutal murder of a former client. Since Kaye plies his trade nuzzling up to the bored wives of the rich and famous, an alibi is hard to come by. Writer-director Paul Schrader isn't particularly interested in the homicide case, instead he homes in on its effect on Kaye's psychological well-being.

Kaye prides himself on being a kind of toy. Sex with him is a transaction, with Kaye working his damnedest to help his ageing employers get off. When he talks about his trade Kaye focuses in on his ability to slowly draw out this pleasure. He can take an ageing woman and fuck her until she feels young again. That's what does it for him. That's what makes him valuable as a commodity. He'll take the time, put in the work. Kaye is a people pleaser. When he interacts with his pimps, there's an underlining tension. He'll let them set up a job, but he cashes them out of any repeat business. The Madams eat shit because Kaye's that good, he confers quality.

This is the key to the Kaye character, he's desperate to hold onto this power. As far as he's concerned he's at the top of the prostitution totem pole. He interacts with clingy women who, if he's good, will buy him an expensive stereo. As things get worse and the cops and conspirators get closer, we start to see where Kaye came from, street corners and leather clubs, working tricks that make him spit out invectives. Kaye is revealed as not even sexual malleable, he's probably closer to asexual. His drives and desires have nothing to do with it. Love making for him isn't anything other than an act that ascribes him class and status.

POWER GIVE ME MORE POWER



Do we still get excited for new games? I can't remember. I guess we've firmly at the point were video games are no longer transient distractions, they're fixed properties to be released and re-released over and over. Like movies! With that in mind Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition is the current gen equivalent of a Criterion Collection scrub-up.

Battlefield: Hardline - GET RAVAGED





TheSandyRavage getting stuck into Battlefield: Hardline. As ever, Ravage is able to move and brutalise at speeds so fast it looks like his opponents are broadcasting from a different hemisphere. Ouch on them! While the lethal cops and robbers premise still reads as incredibly tin eared, at least this game looks like it has routes. Remember those Call of Duty?

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Jackie Chan in the 1980s - Heart of Dragon
















Co-directors Sammo Hung and Fruit Chan subvert a tearjerker premise by playing it straight, bordering on mean. In Heart of Dragon Jackie Chan is a selfish cop struggling to look after his intellectually disabled older brother. Considering the matinee popularity of Chan and his co-star Sammo Hung, it'd be tempting to assume that the pairing will largely be played for laughs. It isn't. Heart of Dragon might careen headlong into melodrama, but it also isn't afraid to push the actors in unusual directions.

Chan plays Tat Fung, an action figure working as an ancillary member of a Police special forces team who dreams of becoming a merchant seaman. Unfortunately the frustrated Fung is stuck babysitting a mentally challenged adult in an aggressive, hardscrabble borough of Hong Kong. Sammo's Dodo is a towering manchild who hangs out with the local brats and plays with Masters of the Universe figures. Dodo isn't even the smartest member of the gang. The kids have him pegged as a dimwit and exploit him accordingly.

This callousness is everywhere in Heart of Dragon. Every single adult Hung meets feels obliged to bully and take advantage of him. A local job search quickly turns demeaning with Dodo prompted by a cruel restaurant owner to wriggle around on the floor, acting like a succession of animals. It's the flip side of the aspirational Hong Kong lifestyle seen in the Lucky Stars films. These people aren't upwardly mobile, they're stuck and lashing out.

A Japanese exclusive version of the film (entitled The First Mission) accentuates this effect by weaving in two extra fight scenes. Since the confrontations are absent for every other territory, their justification is throwaway and deliberately flimsy. Whereas in most films their inclusion would read as a cynical attempt to keep the audience awake, in Heart of Dragon they're just another angle on this dog-eat-dog world. Action director Yuen Biao matches this hostility with some savage fight set-ups involving submachine guns, machetes and even a pickaxe.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Le Matos - Pray for Death (Ninja Eliminator Theme)

Jackie Chan in the 1980s - Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars















Released just six months after the last instalment, Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars plumbs new depths in mind-numbing incoherence. Although not all-the-way dreadful (Sammo Hung couldn't fuck up an action scene if his life depended on it), the film still has the stale whiff of contractual obligation about it. Sammo Hung kicks off proceedings by taking a forty minute holiday with an extended cast of hangers-on and lookalikes. That's right, Pepsi fanatic Charlie Chin couldn't even be bothered to stick around for the whole film, sending doppelgänger Michael Miu along to make up the numbers instead.

Despite being the director, and therefore theoretically on-set at all times, Hung's role in this early section is fleeting. Maybe he's bored with the series too? Sammo's character Fast Buck kills time mooning over a disinterested Sibelle Hu then sabotages an elaborate peeping tom routine, all while wearing a chubby-toddler-visits-the-circus outfit. You'd swear it was a cameo. Hung looks tired and disinterested, moving with the frustrated snap of a man who knows he's not putting in his best work. 















Sammo's gang are in Thailand sleazing around a group of girls that aren't involved in the story in any way. Since the third act revolves around babysitting a young actress, couldn't she have been introduced earlier with these women as her entourage? Guess not. Instead Richard Ng takes a course in Thai black magic, focusing on sexual magnetism and makeshift Voodoo dolls.

The ladies play along with Ng's supernatural sex appeal until it's funnier not to. That's it for them, as quickly as they're introduced they're discarded to make way for Rosamund Kwan, Twinkle's feature punching bag. Kwan, like Sibelle Hu before her, is grabbed and groped in punishing comedic set-ups that make the Police Academy series look progressive.

All this drudgery plays counter-intuitive to the aims of ensemble films. If the filmmakers are going to crowd out the plot with cartoon characters you should at least feel like the cast are having fun, even if you're not. There's precious little pleasure on display here. Jackie Chan looks pained and overworked. Kwan has the dead-eyed stare of someone pretending to be game. Stanley Fung looks like he wants to punch someone.















Twinkle still has blips of excitement though. Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao drop in briefly as two cops assigned to sit outside a mob boss' house and pull faces. They're joined by rising star Andy Lau for an exemplary warehouse dust-up in which the trio have to ditch their Police special pistols. Why? The set is dressed with barrels of explosive toxic waste, that's why.

Lau is gifted martial arts abilities through some beautiful editing while Biao once again proves he's the safest hands (legs?) in the business. Shame Hung and pals still refuse to let him display much of a personality. Even sandwiched in amongst the film's best elements, Chan's contribution to Twinkle sticks out like a sore thumb. Although injured and clearly frustrated, the actor is able to convey a level of charm utterly lacking anywhere else in the film.

Twinkle's main problem is that it doesn't have a central idea, or really any ideas. To compensate, the film's heaving with guest stars. A last-minute gag involves the entire Hong Kong film industry stampeding out of a lift. They all look like they're nursing a low-level headache. Before that Michelle Yeoh shows up as a Judo instructor in a sequence constructed around the idea that, if pushed, Sammo is happy to hurl a woman around for an adoring teenybop audience. As well as having his female leads fawn all over him. Hung seems to enjoy busing in physically impressive women only to demolish them in one deft shot. It's a very strange point to keep harping on about, but hey, this is Sammo's world.  

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 - RESPAWN



Drift0r talking us through his thoughts on a potential remake for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. While there's no doubt in my mind that the early Modern Warfare games are the series peak, as with all nostalgia, there's a sense that we're trying to recapture something that doesn't exist anymore. Friends have grown up and moved on. Even if they're still up for it, do you both own the same console? No-one I know wants to spend every spare minute racing against spawn routes hoping to call in an AC-130. That was Friday night six years ago.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Wrestling Isn't Wrestling



Spent a bit of time lately browsing through the original programming section of the WWE Network. I don't have the patience to delve into any specific eras, so the hyperbolic overviews the company specialises in are right up my street. Aside from the Rivalries series, the best so far has been The Monday Night War: WWE vs WCW, a multi-part show in which the head-to-head scheduling between the two companies is exhaustively examined.

As Wrestling Isn't Wrestling details, Triple H went over during the Attitude Era, a sweaty, masochistic blip laser targeted at porn consuming, black t-shirt wearing teenagers. Since I was exactly that age at exactly that time, I got fairly into the WWF.

My favs were Stone Cold Steve Austin and Mankind, two dinged up wild cards. One was a mouthy redneck who hated everyone, the other a Texas Chain Saw reject. I never warmed to Triple H though. You could feel the push. The company wanted you to like him. He had the arrogance, but it was charmless, conceited and, above all, humourless. In that sense, Max Landis' decision to frame The Game as a weasely little grasper is actually kind of perfect.

PROJECT Y // TulioAdriano Sampler





Watermelon's latest resus effort for Sega's 16-bit system is Project Y, a brawler RPG heavily indebted to the Streets of Rage series. The company have priors with the Mega Drive, delivering the well-received homebrew RPG Pier Solar and the Great Architects back in 2010. There's no concrete word when we can expect Y but, based on this brief glimpse, it looks we can expect a game that wouldn't embarrass the Neo Geo.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Chappie















Neill Blomkamp expands his Tempbot short to once again posit sentient machines as bewildered innocents caught up in mankind's repulsive urges. It's an accusatory stance that shares a lot of headspace with Alex Garland's excellent Ex Machina, Blomkamp and co-writer Terri Tatchell just soft pedal the punches with a madcap, comedic framing.

A bleep-blopping Sharlto Copley plays Chappie, a one-off consciousness program running in the junked shell of a former police robot. Chappie is explicitly created without a strict purpose. His creator, Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), apparently compiles the identity just to see if he can. We don't spend too much time with Wilson so it's never clear if Chappie was always just a vanity project or maybe even a result of the developer's loneliness. After all Wilson's living room is a Google Village version of JF Sebastian's residence. Regardless, the robot quickly falls into the hands of a stick-up crew cum hip-hop collective who approach him as an invincible accomplice.

Chappie's mind is stuck in a formative state. He's not accepting commands, he wants to be nurtured. Short Circuit is an obvious point of comparison, although that film (and its pretty decent sequel) are more about rehabilitation. Johnny 5 has to forget that he is a gun and take up civic responsibility to earn his citizenship. The Short Circuit films equate consciousness with a desire to obey the laws of man and thereafter eke out a lower middle-class, tax paying existence.

Chappie doesn't have this chance. He billets with screeching mutoids who fill his head up with martial arts ultraviolence. In between shuriken lessons, a (broken) family dynamic begins to emerge from the robot's primary care givers. Yolandi becomes a spaced out mother figure, childlike and tender but too frail to resist her aggressive mate. Ninja is the impatient father figure who expects Chappie to quickly assume his identity. In Blomkamp land AI aren't equals scratch built to share utopia, they're sponges that risk soaking up all our bad habits.

Crucially, Chappie retains a certain level of interpersonal obliviousness. He's wild and chaotic, like a child desperate to impress. Unlike say Uncle Bob from Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Chappie never really learns to moderate his basic physical interactions. Fist bumps are painful for the recipient and a routine third-act confrontation, in which the robots intends to deliver a mild beat down, is disproportional and terrifying.

Chappie has never learnt who or what he is. No-one bothered to teach him. He doesn't have a superior moral framework in place. Similarly his drives aren't mysterious, they're direct products of his immediate, occasionally harrowing, experience. The film rejects the typically grand approach of mankind as incompetent Gods and instead wonders what if we were just really shitty parents?

Orion by Walter Simonson


METS



Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Jackie Chan in the 1980s - The Protector















Although widely derided for attempting to transform Jackie Chan into a grim, no-nonsense cop, The Protector starts strong, positing a hairspray hell straight out of 1990: The Bronx Warriors. We open on an 18-wheeler sitting at a red light while splatterpunks scramble all over the vehicle, stripping it for parts.

James Glickenhaus' New York is an apocalypse in progress. Street gangs look like they're dressed in irradiated rags and tiny fires burn in the brick cadavers that used to be a neighbourhood. When Chan and his bullet magnet partner rock up to inspect the wreckage, Jackie is humping around a bullpup automatic shotgun that shorthands a level of future shock sadly absent from the rest of the film.

Like Robert Clouse before him, Glickenhaus kicks off by matching Chan against an American bear. Jackie doesn't bother dancing around this mountain, instead he blows fist-sized holes through him. Glickenhaus proposes a queasy pre-Giuliani slaughterhouse full of coked up mutoids and lingering shots of location colour, before whisking Jackie Chan and new best friend Danny Aiello off to a Penthouse Letters version of Hong Kong.

















Glickenhaus anticipates, and perhaps seeks to salve, this disappointment by staging one of the least propulsive speedboat chases ever filmed. This is a recurring theme in Protector, pursuits are slow and circuitous, edited with the clip of a Sunday stroll. Glickenhaus doggedly refuses to kill his darlings - he shot it, so he's got to use it. Around this point it also starts to become apparent that the director is either lazy, pushed for time, or deliberately working against his star.

Chan's lines haven't been slashed or restructured to accommodate his broken English, likewise the actor is seen handling his sidearm like a child having to play-act recoil. The absolute least you can expect from an action director is the desire to make their star look cool. Glickenhaus doesn't care, he's a maverick. He'd rather stage everything flat, thereby sucking out any potential for excitement. The Exterminator director just isn't interested in the mechanics and movement of on-screen action, just the gorey, screaming result. He's all punchline, no set-up.

















Glickenhaus brings his outsider's eye to Hong Kong, finding only poverty and decrepitude. The Hong Kong of The Protector is a world away from the neon strip malls of Sammo Hung's contemporary movies. Hung seeks to present the island city as a go-getter's paradise, teaming with people and product. Hung is business district, Protector skews cathouse.

Sammo Hung was making movies for an embedded audience living through an economic boom. Glickenhaus shoots like he's catering for people that want to believe everywhere foreign is parochial and, basically, backward. It's the tonal opposite of James Bond's travel brochure approach. Hong Kong isn't presented as a picturesque destination, it's just another dirty city. We devour its sights in the company of Aiello's doughy Vietnam veteran, a man more concerned with sticking his dick somewhere unusual than pursuing his case.

Famously Jackie Chan was deeply unhappy with The Protector, taking the opportunity to reshoot and recut the film for his home audience. Chan's version of the Bill Wallace fight is lightning compared to the US cut's morose brawl. Chan's frame is tighter, the staging full of danger and acrobatic detail. Chan seeks to put the audience in the fight with him, Glickenhaus prefers a cool, dispassionate distance. Jackie Chan was developing a brand, one that Protector, with its perfunctory action and sleazy sexuality, didn't fit. This disconnect though is a big part of why Glickenhaus' film remains fascinating.

The Protector represents Chan firmly at the mercy of a director who doesn't care how gracefully the actor can launch himself across the screen. Glickenhaus is completely indifferent to Chan's Peking Opera perfection, he's just wants to make another vicious cop movie. In a broad sense then Protector isn't that different to Chan's post-Rush Hour doldrums, although at least Glickenhaus' film has the common decency to be alarmingly violent.

Molasar - Molasar / Dreams / Dread / Talisman







Saturday, 28 February 2015

Leonard Nimoy reads Ray Bradbury's There Will Come Soft Rains and Marionettes Inc



TRAITOR GENERAL



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.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Jackie Chan in the 1980s - My Lucky Stars
















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.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Jackie Chan in the 1980s - Cannonball Run II















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?