Thursday, 24 May 2018
Battlefield V's reveal is an unbroken gawp at the kind of chaos players can hurl themselves into when the game releases in October. Developers DICE have jettisoned any sense of narrative storytelling for their pitch, electing to build their advert around the sequel's refresh focused gameplay systems instead. Naturally, a sizeable band of people (men) with absolutely nothing better to do have taken it upon themselves to cry foul at the inclusion of female combatants. Apparently it's just not on having women in historical war games. Facts be damned eh? Considering my Call of Duty: World War II avatar has been a brown-haired lady since launch, I'm hoping that I've inadvertently wound up a few of the bores who stick with the square-head male default.
Wednesday, 23 May 2018
Sunday, 20 May 2018
Friday, 18 May 2018
The Matrix Reloaded swaps its predecessor's carefully plotted reveals for a ticking time bomb, urging our heroes forward through a series of loosely connected set-pieces. A swarm (shoal? squad?) of robotic squid is tunnelling down into the Earth's core to murder the freed people of Zion. They must be stopped. While Harry Lennix's exasperated, stick-in-the-mud Commander Lock plots a unified, mechanised defence, his love rival Morpheus gathers the cool kids to put all of humanity's eggs in Neo's basket. Raised to the level of a superman at the end of The Matrix, Neo is the rootless heart of Reloaded, a reality-defying monster who has tasted limitless strength yet finds himself butting up against automated wheeler-dealers attempting to talk him down from his privileged position.
While it is commendable that the path The Wachowskis have chosen for their heroes is a little more complicated than a simple rehash of the previous film's leetspeak cop-killers, the messiness their abstractions invite leaves the film feeling acutely directionless, particularly in its first half. Early scenes deal with the wrong kind of exposition, details and directions that pile-up around organic opportunities for the kind of confrontation studios presume keeps an audience awake. Where The Matrix felt fresh and finely tuned, Reloaded reads as churning and overwrought, a rash of scenes desperately seeking some kind of unifying tone or performance. This disconnection is also felt in how Neo and Carrie-Anne Moss' Trinity conduct themselves in private. There is no change in their demeanour, no sense of a secret, jealously guarded interior to their relationship. Given ship rest, they stay buttoned up. Neo remains a distracted waif, while Trinity never shifts out of grim-but-determined.
Even the film's action takes a hit. Neo's newfound Godhood means interactions with basic enemies have a palatable sense of boredom. He isn't fighting for his life anymore, he's batting away the pathetic swipes of children. Again, it's a conceptually pure idea but not necessarily fun to watch. The much-trumpeted Burly Brawl between Mr Anderson and dozens of identikit Hugo Weavings quickly loses all sense of weight and collision, sputtering on as a boring tech demo of Keanu Reeves rendered as a computer generated doll who has lost his stuffing. Above all, Reloaded's fights lack bite. There's none of the sweaty headbutts or ear claps that got the first film in hot water with the British Board of Film Classification. The Matrix kept an emotional component in its fights. Combatants, regardless of whether they were human or data, expressed pain and frustration, allowing the viewer to get their teeth into a situation. Reloaded repeatedly fumbles this simple premise.
What Reloaded does have though is Lambert Wilson's aristocratic obstacle, The Merovingian, and an incredible freeway chase built around an extended cue of Juno Reactor's pulsing, flamboyant Mona Lisa Overdrive. Merovingian arrives just as the film threatens to go into terminal decline, puncturing the dour, humourless proceedings with a grandstanding slice of smug. This verbal assault then tracks into a feature set-piece refreshingly free from Neo's weary grandstanding. Morpheus and Trinity escort Randall Duk Kim's Keymaker across a seething Autobahn pursued by the police, three new, hunkier Agents and The Merovingian's phantom, albino muscle. The sequence manages to be both breathlessly entertaining and a better expression of each character's physical and psychological disposition than any other scene in Reloaded. Trinity flees relentlessly, whizzing back-and-forth up and down the packed, panicking lanes, ruthlessly attuned to the task at hand. Morpheus is a human roadblock, a surprisingly spry barrel-chest who plants his feet and refuses to budge.
Thursday, 17 May 2018
Considering the sheer weight of exposition required to get the audience up to speed, The Matrix really moves. Co-writers / directors The Wachowskis ration out their (relatively) hard science-fiction premise expertly, using paranoia imagery and a grab-bag of throbbing, pre-millennial worries to tell the tale of a future in which mankind has been reduced to a bio-mechanical battery. Laurence Fishburne's Morpheus shoulders the majority of this burden. The actor prowls around mouldy sitting rooms, flashing mirrored eyes and a knowing Cheshire Cat grin while bombarding Keanu Reeves' spaced-out Neo with the swirling rhetoric of a fanatic.
While The Matrix's core concept takes some explaining, the film's through-line is refreshingly simple, recalling classic mythology. Old hand Morpheus believes Neo is The Messiah while the younger, scrawnier man cannot believe he is so important. After a bittersweet meeting with Gloria Foster's all-knowing Oracle, Neo is able to compartmentalise the dreadful expectation that has been foisted upon him. Despite what he is being sold by his handler / master, Neo is now able to take himself out of the anointed one equation, subordinating himself to the dream of Morpheus' quest. So when Morpheus sacrifices himself to ensure his protege's escape, Neo hurls himself back into danger, convinced his life is expendable when judged against Fishburne's magnetic prophet. The development is basic and transitional, but self-sacrifice is a key trait when considering a hero.
Although The Matrix secured its place in the public consciousness with John Gaeta and Manex Visual Effects' fluid time slice photography, watched today the effect that lingers longest is the pounding, pistolero crack of the one-on-one fights. The Wachowskis present both their heroes and villains as low-level superheroes crashing about a fragile, breakable world. Shamelessly swiped from Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell films, where this pliability had more to do with the tonnage of a fully-mechanised secret agent, the sight of reality bending and breaking around our warring parties stresses a vivid physicality almost entirely absent from the super-expensive films that iterated on The Matrix's success.
Wednesday, 16 May 2018
Discombobulation doesn't quite cover the experience of watching Ready Player One, a film that posits eternal poverty and the total defeat of imagination as acceptable prices to pay to live in a Funko-Popped wonderland. Everything in Steven Spielberg's film is a reference, from feature players to props and laser gun foley. Not the kind of massaged, satirised call-backs you might find in a Bush Sr era The Simpsons either, this is the cold, naked replication of Family Guy. Characters and ideas are torn out of their context then played, at length, as subordinate structural mulch in a narrative that revolves around an unstoppable trivia bore.
Strangest of all, Ready Player One presents your standard heroic journey freed from an overarching sense of defiance. Tye Sheridan's Wade Watts isn't trying to sweep away the dominant culture of zapped-out poors, he's complicit. A collaborator. A zealous fanboy deep in thrall to a dead billionaire who couldn't navigate a conversation unless it explicitly catered to what he wanted to hear. There are asides about food riots and ruinous ecological shifts but it's Mark Rylance's James Halliday that appears to have done the most damage to mankind. Apart from creating an accessible drop-out box, he's tied up trillions and a generation of thinkers trying to decode his death bed tantrum. To wit, the wealthiest company in the world is dedicated to propagating Halliday's (almost) unwinnable treasure hunt while the second wealthiest company in the world runs Victorian workhouses committed to pulling it apart. Pizza Hut's still going though.
Ready Player One's ceaseless use of propulsive movement does, occasionally, threaten to capture the imagination. Spielberg taking a similarly chaotic tact with computer generated cataclysm as his pal George Lucas did with Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith's opening space shoot-out. Layers and layers of detail, piled on top then baked into each other until every big money shot is absolutely swimming with animated actors, each devised to attract your attention. Action in Ready Player One is seldom used to excite in terms of character or accomplishment. It's plotted to overwhelm, rolling over its audience like a crushing wave of hyper-expensive magma. As the film cascades towards its conclusion, the seizure-inducing vistas begin to numb. The prevalence of licensed properties that turn up to look pretty then do nothing inspires nothing less than the acute disinterest felt watching a whacked-out but overplayed sponsored ad.
Monday, 7 May 2018
Saturday, 5 May 2018
Thursday, 3 May 2018
Friday, 27 April 2018
In terms of the ever-iterative Marvel Cinematic Universe, Avengers: Infinity War is refreshingly messy. Previous instalments in the long-running, never-ending franchise exhibit a specific kind of tidiness, one strangely ill-suited to the kind of long-form storytelling Disney are determined to drip-feed. This neatness is usually expressed in how villain characters are organised. They're one and done by design, typically a fractured mirror of whichever superhero is propping up the episode, spectacularly erased during the finale. The only notable foe to stand outside this trend is Tom Hiddleston's Loki, a threat that has recurred so often he's been massaged into an aggro side-kick for his long-suffering brother. Dilute venom played for laughs.
Previous instalment Black Panther invoked dimensionality by actually giving the feature enemy some serious breathing room. Killmonger was granted an interior perspective that demanded, and received, the film's full focus. He wasn't treated as target, time was apportioned to understanding who he was and why he behaved like he did. Infinity War obviously learned the right lessons from Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole because Thanos goes over. Immediately. From a writing perspective it's easy to see why The Mad Titan, and Killmonger for that matter, demand so much attention. They're the characters with a quest, the ones actually pursuing something. Everyone else is just reacting.
Thanos is sadness and might, a strange Wagnerian lump thrashing around the universe, dominating the competition. Josh Brolin's delivery is grim and determined, a fanatic that acts out of reflex rather than passion. The performance and how the character impacts on the film is reminiscent of Ben Affleck's role in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Another burly, impossibly powerful fuck-up who simply cannot be stopped. It's fascinating how much more exciting that is to watch than another one-mode do-gooder doing good. Both films propose a barrel chest chasing calamity. It's fun to just sit back and watch them achieve it. Thanos even has a positive effect on the general rhythms of your typical Marvel scene. The snide, Whedon brand humour usually employed to ease some wild transitions (thankfully) dries up around Big Purple. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely allowing their monster to prompt fear and desperation rather than ridicule.
Wednesday, 25 April 2018
On paper, Lynne Ramsay's You Were Never Really Here seems plotted to allow for bursts of super-Dad wish-fulfilment. Joaquin Phoenix's Joe has both the credentials and opportunity to wield that kind of power - he's a combat veteran and an ex-domestic intelligence agent currently working as an off-the-books rescue service for trafficked children. This promise of mob satisfaction is stressed again in how Phoenix is presented for the screen. His Joe is depicted as a thick, towering man, equipped with mauling hands and a pitiless hammer, desperate to get at the abusers his job propels him towards.
The film denies the release offered by prolonged bloody violence though, obscuring the act either through CCTV feeds that lag behind Joe's sloping carnage or simply by the decision to focus elsewhere at crucial moments. Ramsay isn't interested in how a tortured man inflicts himself on the world, the events of the film are likewise not proposed or communicated in terms of catharsis either. Joe's already broken. No amount of pulverising will fix him. The writer-director's focus is reflective rather than deflective then. A sharp, elliptical continuity constructed out of a lifetime of internalised trauma and the flawed, inadequate responses Joe has employed to placate himself.
Throughout You Were Never Really Here a nagging buzz pours out of Joe. He is restless and artificially animated, propped up by non-prescription medication and a dwindling sense of duty. His fractured sense of the present recalls Lee Marvin's Walker muddling through his own collapsing reality in John Boorman's Point Blank, while the infrequent sound of crunchy, non-diegetic afterburners brings Nicolas Roeg and Donald Cammell's Performance to mind. All three films are united in their examination of male identities with symbiotic, big-screen friendly, relationships to violence. You Were Never Really Here depicts a chasm in Joe, an essential incompatibility with life outside of the mission he has imposed upon himself.
Monday, 23 April 2018
Saturday, 21 April 2018
John Woo's last American film (to date) raids a Philip K Dick short story for a hook and precious little else. Paycheck, like basically every other substandard Dick adaptation (and most of the really good ones), is only interested in the his knack for inciting incidents, refusing to press on into the author's realm of compromised people and how they make peace with their dystopias. Paycheck is, above all else, a holiday season action film. Anxiety exists to be conquered rather than accepted.
Ben Affleck plays Michael Jennings, a brilliant engineer who deconstructs bleeding edge gadgets for the purpose of industrial espionage. Since his work is legally suspect, Jennings is subject to futuristic non-disclosure agreements that involve his memories being zapped out of his brain upon completion of a job. Having finished his latest black out assignment, Jennings expects to be sitting on millions. Instead, during a chatty debrief, he discovers his pre-wipe self traded in his stock options for a manila envelope full of cheap knick-knacks and trinkets.
Paycheck's sci-fi stupor allows Woo to scratch his Hitchcock itch, in particular the bewildered chase central to North by Northwest. A well-dressed but low energy Affleck stands in for Cary Grant, the amnesia forced onto his Jennings simulating Roger Thornhill's essential cluelessness. Woo and screenwriter Dean Georgaris pursue a similar kind of uncompromised, inexpert heroism for their lead character too. Paycheck features precious little gunplay, Jennings preferring to scheme his way out of dangerous situations. It's a novel tact for such an accomplished action director but, in practice, it's a compromise too far. By this point Woo had been thoroughly ironed out by la-la land. The overt Christian imagery that characterised films like The Killer had been reduced to a tick involving a dove; likewise an editing style that found poignancy in chaos has here been transformed into a stuttering series of Avid burps.