Monday, 30 November 2020

Lost Bullet



Guillaume Pierret's Lost Bullet is an understated and efficient action film driven by a morose lead trapped by, and rallying against, his diminished station. Alban Lenoir's Lino is a former ram-raider recruited out of prison by Ramzy Bedia's Charas, a debonair police officer who leads an elite motorway interception unit. Lino's mechanical skills - such that he is able to transform a Renault Clio into a concrete crumbling battering ram - are highly prized by the older man. Unlike the other officers, who regard Lino with a mixture of suspicion and disgust, Charas engages with the man on a personal level, bickering about vintage cars then bending the rules to reward his hardworking charge. 

Their relationship - certainly from the perspective of Lino - resembles that of a knight and his squire, one man with a secure, even special, social standing reaching out to knowingly elevate someone less fortunate. As the film goes on it becomes clear that Lino is not simply battling his heart out to keep his own head above water, he's fighting out of duty - an attempt to repay the debt he feels is owed to Charas. This note of chivalry reverberates throughout Lost Bullet, underscoring scenes of Lino butting heads and hammering through an assortment of flawed or outright amoral police officers. Lenoir, as a bruised up and bleeding ex-con in shabby hand-me-down clothes, is positioned as Lost Bullet's moral authority, the answer to the preening, letter jacket wearing, corruption of Nicolas Duvauchelle's Areski. 

Cazal Organism - Ready (to Learn) feat. Barbara Mason

Saturday, 21 November 2020

Hotel Pools & ALISON - Lunar

Tonebox & Lucy in Disguise - Road Rage

The New Mutants



Conceived and shot during the Fox era but actually released (following a long delay) after Disney's consumption of Rupert Murdoch's former film production company, The New Mutants finds itself occupying a distinct. post-Bryan Singer, space. Rather than function as a grand summation of a now obsolete phase of action cinema, director Josh Boone's film, co-written with Knate Lee, is a dialled-back literalisation of some of the more obvious, but underexplored, themes that pulsed through Singer and Simon Kinberg's entries. To wit: a same-sex relationship is finally allowed to flourish while the figurative, psychically manifested, prisons of Professor X - erected to restrain or outright chain the explosive powers of his young charges - are rendered here as an actual, physical, dungeon. New Mutants revolves around a mouldering psychiatric unit speckled with computerised locks and futuristic surveillance, a depressive billet for these adolescent, would-be, heroes. 

Structurally, the film has plenty in common with A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors; New Mutants offering up a similar gang of misfits, each with their own traumatic past. Chuck Russell's film used these, often only perceived, failings to power bravura special effects sequences of Fred Krueger tormenting then killing his teenagers. Boone's film takes a more positive but ultimately flatter tact, offering up physical manifestations of half-remembered abuse to be fought then vanquished. It's a slasher conundrum executed with triumphant, computer generated colour that, actually, ends up underlining why pick 'em off films work so well - they systematically narrow the audience's focus. Bystanders are chopped up and diced until we're left with a super-character who can surmount the carnage. Here the also-rans are repurposed, becoming love interests or reluctant powerhouses, but always stealing screentime away from the real stars: an out-of-control mutant who, unfortunately, fails to tip over into complete mania and Anya Taylor-Joy's magikally powered mean girl. 

Thursday, 12 November 2020

The Duellists



Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel play Armand d'Hubert and Gabriel Feraud, a pair of French cavalryman during Napoleon's conquest of Europe who spend the best part of two decades in a state of perpetual quarrel. The Duellists, Ridley Scott's feature debut, is brisk and beautiful, a film utterly disinterested in the storied military careers both men clearly lead. Their ascension through Bonaparte's ranks mere circumstance, often contextualised as nothing more than a courtly wrinkle that prohibits their game. Scott's film, working from a screenplay by Gerald Vaughan-Hughes, is instead built around hot spots - the moments when the two men have the opportunity to either encircle each other or outright collide.

Over the years the dispute grows and distorts in both men's minds. d'Hubert, the more fretful and temperate of the two, cannot help but develop a strange sort of camaraderie for his fiery opponent, a respect that, sadly and quite apparently, is never reciprocated. For Feraud, the fanatic, the original ignition point - d'Hubert interrupting the party of a beautiful socialite to inform Gabriel that he is to turn himself in after skewering the mayor of Strasbourg's nephew - mutates over the years. Speaking to a group of lackeys before the pair's final duel, Feraud's grasp on the original tension point has grown from an acute, ego-prickling embarrassment into a thundering, manufactured, outrage regarding d'Hubert's failure to properly honour France's (by now deposed) emperor.

Feraud is a scrapper, aggressive and impatient. The first duel we see him fight (against the aforementioned nephew) represents this wild man in complete control, his movement, or lack thereof, dictating the film's visual grammar. At rest, Scott and Cinematographer Frank Tidy photograph Kietel as a figure - one of many - in smokey, Romantic landscapes. When battle is joined, the film becomes energetic and hand-held, the camera positioned closer so we can see feel the irritation radiating off Feraud. Kietel plays a peculiar sort of neutrality in this scene too. He isn't happy that he's prevailed so decisively in this life-threatening situation, he's frustrated that success was achieved, not through his own skill with a rapier, but because of his adversary's sloppiness and incompetence. He wanted a challenge and didn't get it.

Each of the film's duels follow this template, fight choreographer William Hobbs conferring a distinct structure and identity on each of the altercations. Hobbs posits conflict as a dramatic proposition both synchronised with, and commenting upon, the combatants' physical and emotional distress. Scott and Tidy collaborate, photographing their duellists in such a way that the audience is never allowed to simply sit back and feel the distance between themselves and the film's subjects. We marinate in their anxiety. Again and again Carradine and Kietel are arranged in ways that amplify our connection with them. A mid-film battle, in an airless stone cellar, evokes a bloodied sense of exhaustion. Both men flail about - already injured - crashing into each other with their heavy swords. Onlookers flinch, scrambling out of their way; the sabres striking sparks as they paw at the room's confines - violent but ultimately inconclusive.

The Duellists oozes confidence, Scott's film constructed around opportunities for tension and, eventually, release. A sense of historic chronicle is evoked, not through length or dramatic complication but through the film's mise en scene - the wax and wane of female contact or the ways in which an individual is arranged in massive, bucolic landscapes. Although not singular in its look - Stanley Kubrick and John Alcott had already photographed Barry Lyndon absent of any electrical light - Scott's film finds beauty in the choke of proximity. Verisimilitude deployed as shorthand, suggested through cluttered, smokey frames or even just complicated uniforms. That such a contradictory visual choice exists implies an intent that we may not understand but, nevertheless, instinctively feel. Frequently our noble Hussars are lost in rotting, impoverished environments, their perfectly tweaked moustaches and braided cadenettes instantly recognisable as notes of beautification or ego, battling against the wave of frigid hostility that envelops them.

Demon's Souls - STINKING, ROTTING, MISERY



Now that the Demon's Souls remake is out in America, we can get a look at some of the visual options that Bluepoint have made available. As with their work on the PS4 version of Shadow of the Colossus, the studio have included filters that offset their massive graphical overhaul. The Classic option, demonstrated above, goes some way to aping the depressed, mouldering, greens seen in From Software's PS3 original. 

Aliens vs Predator by Mike Mignola and Dyemooch

Demon's Souls - DANGLY BITS



Digital Foundry's John Linneman's chats with Marco Thrush and Peter Dalton from Bluepoint, as well as SIE Worldwide Studio's Gavin Moore, about their imminent PS5 remake of Demon's Souls. As expected from the development team that wrung the Xbox 360 dry to get the first Titanfall running at a solid refresh rate, the Bluepoint guys - in a pretty unguarded moment for a PR push - state a preference for their rock-solid Performance Mode. The clang is so loud that Moore quickly chimes in to talk up the game's less refreshed (and likely closer to the stuttering PS3 original) Cinematic Mode. New footage of the game is brief, centred around a Penetrator battle that signals a few key aesthetic changes, both good and bad. The boss itself now appears closer to the deep-fried damnation you'd expect from key Dark Souls characters while the Fat Official has been downgraded from an abyssal Beefeater to your standard pustulous oaf. 

Saturday, 7 November 2020

Conquest



Shot to express a swirling veil of shimmering data, Lucio Fulci's Conquest presents the sword and sorcery epic as formless and unknowably mystical - a series of brutal exchanges focused around the transient magics of bodily destruction. Fulci and cinematographer Alejandro Ulloa use double-exposures, smoke packed frames, and even shots aimed directly into the sun, to describe a prehistoric realm ruled by a golden witch and her army of doped-up werewolves. Our heroes are Andrea Occhipinti's athletic bowman Ilias, a trespasser from Greek folklore and Jorge Rivero's Mace, a brawny caveman armed with stone nunchaku. 

Each of these champions has been pulled from completely different swashbuckling sub-genres - two mysterious strangers with faint, Godly aspects. Ilias is the kind of blandly handsome, anointed adventurer that Ray Harryhausen films were often built around while Mace, for all his martial arts prowess, is less Conan the Barbarian and more a Cro-Magnon Cain. This marked wanderer is distinct and damned, wilfully separated from the rutting, pre-verbal peoples of this fog-choked land. Ilias and Mace are united in their understanding of, and interest in, technology. Both men wielding weapons massively out of step with their Stone Age surroundings. Mace's karate flail is confusing and compact while Ilias' bow, even before it receives its laser targeted upgrade, is like something from a completely different millennia. 

Mythic milieu established, Fulci's contribution to the language of pulp adventure centres around dismemberment - both casual and ceremonial. The director laces Conquest's heatstroke dreaminess with jolts of sudden, outrageous, bodily trauma. Sabrina Siani's constant nudity aside, Conquest frequently proceeds with the kind of numbed passivity associated with children's films. None of the characters - good or evil - operate with any great depth, each one-dimensional archetypes battering towards a light-show conclusion. Fulci's twist then is that Conquest dwells on, if not revels in, the minutiae of injury. Helpless women are pulled limb from limb, their warm guts spilling out onto their former grottos; allies are not simply dispatched, their heads are either caved in or spirited away, to power black magic rituals. A third-act funeral pyre - that heroic fantasy stand-by - is shot by Fulci to stress the second-by-second consumption of a human body. Fire licks at dribbling skin while plump, oozing, meat is cooked to ash. 

ALISON - Live Forever

Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition - SEETHE



A ten minute look at Vergil's path through Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition's Legendary Dark Knight mode, a recurring fixture for series re-releases in which enemy counts go through the roof. Already an extremely good looking game (not just technically but aesthetically), the power of PS5 looks to have been put to use generating bodies to strike, and herd attacks to track.  

El Mestizo by John McCrea

Thursday, 29 October 2020

Mortal Kombat



Paul WS Anderson's Mortal Kombat is a plastic, knowingly absurd, take on Enter the Dragon that trades opium ring smashing for textureless CG and lopsided pacts with treacherous, intergalactic, sorcerers. Kevin Droney's screenplay is undercooked, its characters a shallow procession with simplistic, one-dimensional objectives. Exciting trials - some of which have an obvious, dynamic, connection to the Midway Games arcade series the film is based on - are introduced then tossed off, usually in dialogue. The tournament structure that underpins Mortal Kombat is rendered nonsensical too, quickly dissolving into a series of braggadocios challenges that track neither winner nor loser. Anderson and Cinematographer John R Leonetti's film is handsome though, particularly the smoky, visually dense arenas that trap the various ninja fights. 

As is often the case with Anderson's work, Mortal Kombat features one scene that stands head and shoulders above the rest of the film. In this case it's a delirious reshoot sequence, a fight between Robin Shou's Liu Kang and Keith Cooke's Reptile, levered in after test screenings called attention to the lack of punch-ups. The brawl proceeds with the same demented energy as Resident Evil: Afterlife's Axeman interlude - both confrontations seem to be happening just outside of the film they inhabit; digressions that magnify then explode the established language of the piece. In Mortal Kombat this translates to a tighter, meaner, approach to Anderson's twirling take on martial arts - the shorter, more impactful chains between Cooke and D&B Films veteran Shou become an animated, physical, extension of Traci Lords and Juno Reactor's pounding Techno track. Camerawork throughout this fight is looser as well, our perspective frequently becoming a punch-drunk participant. Cooke is even permitted to place his hands on top of the screen, using his weight to angle us down, towards his incoming knees. 

Call of Duty: Warzone - FEVER GONE BUT ITCHY



Wasn't expecting much from Call of Duty: Warzone's seasonal addition, Zombie Battle Royale, but this blink-and-you'll-miss-it mode is a salve for a world that never got as far as a Left 4 Dead 3. Being a modern warfare zombie is actually so much fun that, if you manage to gobble up enough purple serum, returning to human life leaves players acutely bereft - no longer able to hold down L2 to cue up an enormous, distance-munching, leap. 

Hotel Pools & Echosoft - Polaris

Alien: The Original Screenplay #5 by Walter Simonson

Demon's Souls - STONEFANG TUNNEL



Another long, debug assisted, look at Bluepoint Games' forthcoming Demon's Souls remake for PS5. As a preview, this trailer is actually quite instructive, making prospective players aware of the idea that levels don't have to be tackled in one go - that bosses encountered at the end of areas might be massively out of scale with the threats conquered along the way. There's still nothing here to shake the notion that this reappraisal is shaping up to be one of the most beautiful games ever made, either. 

Monday, 26 October 2020

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter



Resident Evil: The Final Chapter posits a conclusion, using the customary Friday the 13th style recap to prepare its audience for a secret history related to Milla Jovovich's hitherto rootless Alice. Final Chapter therefore swerves Resident Evil: Retribution's tease of an apocalyptic revelation centred around The White House - with a Commander-in-Chief who is literally toxic, no less - to put Alice on the road, cruising along endless highways, pursued by a CEO-turned-religious zealot, his killdozer, and an army of ravenous corpses. Jovovich's amnesiac super-soldier battles across the ruins of America, on a mission to save mankind by reaching what's left of a Midwestern city before a computated deadline expires.

Final Chapter allows writer-director Paul WS Anderson the opportunity to tackle several distinct flavours of post-fall science fiction, from 2000 AD style mutant convoys to the feudal barbarism of Italian Escape from New York knock-offs. A medieval siege centred around a gutted skyscraper is particularly entertaining, mixing Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings with the massing rot of World War Z. Alice is promoted to the role of director for this set-piece, prowling the battlements, ordering subordinates - including fellow models-turned-actresses Ruby Rose and Rola - to unleash flaming torrents on the seething undead. The resulting fire storm is spectacular - thousands upon thousands of computer generated zombies sprinting heedlessly into a swirling, beautifully composed, annihilation. 

Despite also being released in 3D, Final Chapter is formally distinct from Anderson's preceding two entries. The film has clearly not been designed with the format in mind, the post-processed sequel exchanging the crawling, stereoscopic admiration of Resident Evil: Afterlife and Retribution for a more typical, rapidly edited, assembly. Although a lot of the film's confrontations are communicated through action movie montage, editor Doobie White (who cut Gamer in 2009) conjures up a genuine sense of straining agitation, reporting escalation in gasping, but always intuitive, bursts. Jovovich is key to this tactic, providing a consistently readable, physical, performance that directs the audience into Alice's shell-fumbling predicament. 

Final Chapter finds Anderson in a self-referential mood too, happy to combine and reconceive beats from his previous work, massaging them towards a more adrenalised outcome. A return to the original film's Hive location offers the director the chance to not only revisit the industrial butchery suggested in 1997's Event Horizon but also permits Anderson another shot at stalking, computer generated, musculature. Final Chapter's skeletal obstacle is a significant improvement on Resident Evil's arthritic Licker monster - the Bloodshot is a flayed orc straight out of The Guyver: Bio Booster Armour, sprinting and snapping at Alice's heels. Brief but effective, this sub-boss sequence's only real flaw is a short shot of an Umbrella branded chainsaw that, somehow, goes unused. Anderson's film resisting the temptation to swerve into full-on splatter. 

So what has Anderson cooked-up in lieu of a 3D Battle of Armageddon? The much copied Alice discovers her place within the warring dynasties behind the evil Umbrella corporation and how her photostat identity threatens their pharmaceutical hegemony. Final Chapter's concluding act then represents Anderson the writer at his best, weaving the acerbic flavour of Pat Mills comics into the bones of this series. An argument between Iain Glen's Dr Issacs and the elderly Alicia Marcus is particularly well observed, illustrating the pure sociopathy of rich, self-appointed, saviours - with humanity's fate on the line, the masters of the universe bicker over controlling interests and boardroom decorum. 

Anderson's film concludes in the company of duelling facsimiles, each with grotesque, clashing, perspectives on how to ensure civilisation's survival. The male clones, represented by twin Glens, attack and belittle each other; both copies eager to be recognised as the definitive mint of a man who has already faced many deaths. The female contingent - made up of Alice, the milk-eyed woman she was copied from and a treacherous computer programme that attempted to freeze a child's identity in a specific moment - have a much healthier perspective, working together to establish one complete, well-rounded, human being. 

Thursday, 22 October 2020

R-Type Final 2 - BYDO



One of the greatest games of all time is getting a sequel. Due Spring sometime in early 2021 on PS4, R-Type Final 2, developed by Granzella Inc and published by Irem, reunites series veterans Goro Matsuo and Kazuma Kujo for another shot at the Bydo's funeral procession.