Sunday, 4 October 2015
Thursday, 1 October 2015
The 1980s was a period of great change for Jackie Chan. The actor-director began the decade re-working the bumpkin persona he had minted in the 70s under Yuen Woo-ping. Chan and his collaborators had been so successful in bringing comedy to the traditional kung-fu film that he was stuck replaying a formula; remixing the same basic format over and over again until it ended up the Hong Kong equivalent of a movie brat disaster.
A run-in with organised crime facilitated an ultimately disappointing attempt to break the American market. Chan was stuck with a string of disinterested, sometimes antagonistic, genre directors, bristling at his lack of control. The star bounced back by focusing on several collaborations with his Peking Opera School 'brothers' Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. Borrowing the rough and ready approach of the Hong Kong New Wave, the trio worked together to devise an electrifying new action template that would end up making Chan the biggest box office draw in Asia.
Below are links to my thoughts on all of Jackie Chan's 80s output, ordered by their Hong Kong release date. Just click on the title to be taken to the review.
The Young Master (1980) dir. Jackie Chan
Battle Creek Brawl (1980) dir. Robert Clouse
The Cannonball Run (1981) dir. Hal Needham
Dragon Lord (1982) dir. Jackie Chan
Fantasy Mission Force (1983) dir. Chu Yen-ping
Fearless Hyena II (1983) dir. Lo Wei
Winners and Sinners (1983) dir. Sammo Hung
Project A (1983) dir. Jackie Chan
Cannonball Run II (1984) dir. Hal Needham
Wheels on Meals (1984) dir. Sammo Hung
My Lucky Stars (1985) dir. Sammo Hung
The Protector (1985) dir. Jackie Chan
Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars (1985) dir. Sammo Hung
Heart of Dragon (1985) dir. Sammo Hung
Police Story (1985) dir. Jackie Chan
Armour of God (1987) dir. Jackie Chan
Project A II (1987) dir. Jackie Chan
Dragons Forever (1988) dir. Sammo Hung
Police Story Part II (1988) dir. Jackie Chan
Miracles (1989) dir. Jackie Chan
Monday, 21 September 2015
Sunday, 13 September 2015
Hopelessly undersold as a mad inventor film, with George Clooney standing in for Jerry Lewis, Brad Bird's Tomorrowland actually roams around in deeper, snappier waters. In their ad campaign, Disney emphasised twee. They proposed an absent-minded boffin tumbling around a house bristling with escape routes lifted from Nick Park's The Wrong Trousers. Clooney playing something magical and childish. His Frank Walker is actually neither.
Walker is an aged baby boomer, retreated and reeling from the sneering fascism he encountered in Utopia. Bird and screenwriter Damon Lindelof might take a grandstanding stance against the dreadful futures of teen-lit cinema but they also torpedo the Ayn Rand exceptionalism of gleaming cities built on clouds. Bird's film rails against the consensus, with various monuments to the mono-culture positioned as dangerous.
As with The Incredibles, the enemy is the willing abdication of personal will as an act of appeasement. Both film's bad guys want everybody to agree with them after all. Stick to your guns! Surround yourself with people worth arguing with. Walker and Casey Newton (Britt Robertson)'s relationship then is deliberately based on antagonism. He's bitter, she's electric.
Their partnership - the regime that will carry Tomorrowland forward - is a constant state of disagreement built on a bedrock of respect. Colleagues then. Bird and Lindelof are focused on the process of collaboration as the real utopian ideal. Diverse personality types knuckling down together to solve a problem beats golden spires every time.
Civics aside, Tomorrowland's ace is Raffey Cassidy's Athena, a diminutive seeker who looks like a cross between Audrey Hepburn and Astro Boy but acts like a cross between a T-800 and Astro Boy. In action, Bird shoots Cassidy and her digital doubles as compact combat platforms, hurling themselves around a series of clumsy, ineffectual giants. Even in the film's brief brace of action, Bird leaves the likes of Terminator Genisys in the dust by keeping physical movement and their bone-crunching results in the same shot.
Wednesday, 2 September 2015
Thursday, 6 August 2015
Wednesday, 5 August 2015
Thursday, 30 July 2015
Out today on Wii U is Renegade Kid's side-scrolling 8-bitter Xeodrifter. Players are not only able to transform into a pebble-shaped submarine to explore underwater caverns, there's also a neat little ability that allows them to switch their location from the foreground to the background. A PS4 version has been announced, but it's already missed a slated April release.
Wednesday, 29 July 2015
Brad Bird's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol understands that easy breezy accomplishment can never register like a dangerous fluke. Seeing Tom Cruise slip effortlessly between steel ventilation teeth raises a smile but it's nothing compared to a clammy leer at the actor struggling up the side of the world's tallest building, lumbered with a pair of malfunctioning Spider-Man gloves.
Bird has the ability to conjure up a sense of anxiety whilst still working within a broad, blockbuster framework. The action doesn't feel handed off and impersonal, it's the opposite of punctuation. Characters are baptised by motion. Stuck in implausible situations, they have to think their way around the problem and stress their bodies to accomplish. Bird and screenwriters Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec know that it's a lot easier to put yourself in the place of a man cooking inside a computer than it is to connect with an invulnerable gunfighter.
Ghost Protocol is also the first Mission: Impossible since Brian De Palma's opening salvo that really revels in the actual process of placing a spy into a situation. Since Ethan Hunt and his crew are super duper disavowed they're saddled with finite, malfunctioning equipment that forces them, not to mention the film, to construct intrigue around bullishness and skill rather than an expensive prop. Since there is no end to his talents, Bird also helps Cruise rejuvenate his star persona in a way that accounts for all the perceived craziness. This Hunt is brilliant but unhinged, an intense, lofty presence with suicidal programming.
Tuesday, 28 July 2015
Three films in and there still isn't a fixed idea of who or what Ethan Hunt should be. The differences aren't just subtle reworkings of a central spy conceit, each Hunt hails from a completely different action subgenre. Brian De Palma's film offered an anxious playmaker called up to the plate, while John Woo's stab strayed into the kind of psychic superheroics you'd expect to find in some slurry manga from the 1970s. Mission: Impossible III diverges again, offering a retired Zen master dragged out of his suburban life to settle a score.
After two mixed attempts to invoke an auteur orientated OO7, Producer Cruise settles for the brisk efficiency of television, hiring JJ Abrams to deliver a supernaturally expensive Alias finale. Actor Cruise struggles to right his derailing career by channelling the film's drama into something more understandable - a beleaguered husband must rescue his nice, pretty wife. While Tom's too busy pretending to be a normal guy, Philip Seymour Hoffman hijacks the film with a barbaric performance as a black market trader.
Owen Davian is a red-headed ogre, the physical and emotional antithesis of the boring fallen spies Hunt has so far faced. Davian has the body of a barrel-shaped primitive. What we mistake for weight and complacency is actually indicative of a human-sized brick. Davian's revenge isn't an attempt to get one over on the arrogant Hunt either. The businessman simply wants to damage the spy so personally, so thoroughly, that Hunt will never dare fuck with Davian's bottom line ever again.
Monday, 27 July 2015
Based on the evidence presented by Mission: Impossible II, it's very important to Tom Cruise the Producer that Tom Cruise the Actor look beautiful at all times. The first Mission: Impossible swirled around a boyish, agitated Cruise who couldn't help but cause a bubbly physical delight in the (older) women he interacted with. For the sequel Cruise, perhaps hoping to conjure up a similar tumescence in his audience, has director John Woo endlessly swishing his camera around the star's dreamy haircut.
Alex Gibney's documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief relates a story about church leader David Miscavige's attempts to maintain Tom Cruise's sense of total entitlement, at a time when he was still married to Nicole Kidman. Upon learning that the couple dreamed of running through a meadow of wildflowers, Miscavige had his Sea Org cronies work day and night, repeatedly ploughing and sodding a section of desert until it met the Hollywood pair's expectations. That's what M:I-2 feels like, a spectacularly expensive ego trip in which everybody bends over backwards to please Cruise.
John Woo's Hong Kong films tend to have a seat-of-your-pants energy, with the director placing his lead, ideally Chow Yun-fat, in squared sets full of erupting squibs. In The Killer and Hard-Boiled Chow doesn't gracefully dance around every single encounter. He often crouches and darts, scared. Sometimes he even fumbles his weapons while leaping away from shrapnel. During A Better Tomorrow Chow's character Mark picks up a debilitating leg injury that sees him demoted from mob hitman to a lowly errand boy.
Woo's characters frequently have interior lives that are framed as disaster areas, monastic slogs with brief bubbles of apocalyptic mayhem. There's a constant sense of vulnerability in Chow's performances too, something utterly lacking in this tedious film. Cruise is perfect and invincible throughout. The Ethan Hunt seen in M:I-2 is no longer a desperate man nursing a never-ending headache. He's an impassive overseer who proceeds from a point of absolute confidence, burning holes through his companions (both in front and behind the camera) with a laser gaze that instantly supplicates them to his will.
Sunday, 26 July 2015
For his pass at Mission: Impossible, director Brian De Palma posits Tom Cruise as a grinning automaton that needs to be put through the wringer. In group briefings, Cruise's Ethan Hunt is the joker, riffing on his boss' advancing age to the delight of his spy pals. We're presented with the idea that the opening case will be routine, to the point where no-one even seems to be taking it particularly seriously. It's clear they all expect to breeze through the assignment.
Hunt's cocky self-assurance is tied into a squad pecking order. He's flanked by talent and has the ear of his warhorse superior, Jim Phelps (Jon Voight). Watched with the benefit on knowing Phelps' true intentions, it's fun to note his apparent hatred of Hunt. The playful back-and-forth about Phelps' dotage is obviously a recurring irritation for the IMF commander. To Hunt it's a gag. For Phelps it's a pack challenge from a juvenile looking to claim his wife Claire (Emmanuelle Béart). Reason enough to wipe out the team and sink the operation.
Although Mission: Impossible dials back on the more Oedipal details (a romantic dalliance between Cruise and Béart was dropped to keep the second act moving), the basic antagonism remains between two men who are essentially the same person glimpsed at different points in his life. Hunt is the young agent on the rise, the film charting his progression from component to leader. Phelps is the seasoned veteran who survived the Cold War and doesn't want to pass the torch. He'd rather bury his protégé instead.
Tuesday, 21 July 2015
A less one-sided game of Ultra Street Fighter 4 this time, For this loser's bracket match-up, Daigo's Evil Ryu takes on Misse's Makoto. During the first two rounds, both players get enough room for a solid demonstration of their character's respective strengths.
Bit Brigade's live performance of Takashi Tateishi's Mega Man 2 soundtrack, perfectly synced to a belter bit of game playing by someone called Noah McCarthy. The set, and a few other tracks from later Mega Man games, was later released as an album entitled Mega Band.
As I understand it, Onisan is attempting to psyche out the notoriously topless Poongko by getting naked quicker. The ploy backfires tremendously with Poongko responding in kind, then using his Seth to casually juggle Onisan's Abel off the screen.
Monday, 20 July 2015
Sunday, 19 July 2015
Wednesday, 15 July 2015
Sammo Hung gathers a who's who of Hong Kong action cinema to play second fiddle to himself and his talented wife-to-be Joyce Godenzi. Set at the tail end of the Vietnam War, Eastern Condors is Hung's abbreviated take on men-on-a-mission movies like The Dirty Dozen or The Wild Geese, with the actor-director playing a taciturn ex-convict so macho that he ends up subordinating Lam Ching-ying's worried looked Lieutenant Colonel.
Long on characters but light on story, Condors tracks a group of ethnically Chinese soldiers who have each been promised $20,000 and American citizenship if they can blow up an abandoned missile stockpile. Avowed genre hopper Hung uses the modern setting to augment his kung-fu repertoire with hand grenades and a machete. Hung has his extended cast thrash about in danger while he quietly sneaks up behind machine-gun posts and carves everybody up.
Yuen Biao comes along for the ride as Weasel, a local black market trader looking for a pay day. There's something refreshing about the use of money as a consistent motivating factor in Hong Kong films. Morals and ideals are all well and good, but why shouldn't our heroes be getting paid? Biao is on typically sublime form, hurling his legs out in perfect, graceful arcs, delivering kicks that look like they could take heads off.
Condors reveals a director obsessed with impact. Sammo Hung can't even shoot a routine climbing insert without dwelling on leather boots clanging down on steel rungs. The pace is relentless, with very few of Hung's trademark digressions. Away from the urban sprawl of Hong Kong, Hung has keyed into the inherent excitement of explosions and assault rifles then focused, taking up the challenge of matching that kineticism with his martial arts.
Hung shoots full-contact, an approach that pays double dividends. First, when the Condors strike their enemies there's a clear moment of collision. Hung employs slow-motion and a tight frame to linger on the details, so when Yuen Biao drive his heel into an opponent's throat it fills up a significant amount of the screen.
Secondly, the Condors tend to travel with their movements. Since they aren't pulling their punches (or kicks) the energy needed to power the attack expires a foot or so behind a skull rather than in front of it. It's a small amendment but it helps give Condors a sense of verisimilitude. Hung's film doesn't look drilled and theatrical, it looks real. There's a palpable, consistent sense of hurt on display.
Yuen Wah's giggling final foe doesn't use his Eagle Claw technique to cover the Condors in photogenic slashes, instead the VC General digs his fingers into Biao's back and attempts to tear the unfortunate merc's shoulder blades off his ribcage. Hung lingers on bodies in distress. Team mates are shredded by heavy artillery and even duplicitous love interests aren't safe from Hung's gleaming cleaver. At rest everyone looks exhausted, sweat pissing out of every pore.
Sunday, 12 July 2015
Dead sporting of Zack Snyder to go to all the trouble of shooting a disappointing Superman film just so he can put Ben Affleck's Batman over. Henry Cavill's supercilious Superman is exactly the kind of prick you can build a Rocky IV narrative around. The real hero is the human who spends months deep underground, angrily dragging around a wet tractor tire so he can bulk up enough to go punch out God.
Saturday, 11 July 2015
In an attempt to kick-off a new string of sequels Terminator Genisys takes the series back to zero, showing us the exact moment John Connor won the Battle of Armageddon by driving up to Skynet's front door hidden in the back of a truck. The Terminator posited a desperate future conflict in which mankind was reduced to the level of vermin. Conversely, Alan Taylor's smudged photostat is full of protein shook bruisers confident enough to charge directly at abstract art shapes armed with laser cannons.
To broker the handover, Arnold Schwarzenegger returns as broadly the same T-800 seen in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Christened Pops by his bratty VIP, Schwarzenegger gets to play old and malfunctioning, a decrepit cyborg used to punching his motorised bones back into shape. Although his voice chip is stuck blurting out a couple of default phrases, Schwarzenegger is easily the best thing about the film, the impassive father figure taken to an absurd, indestructible conclusion.
Clarke's performance is Linda Hamilton's Virgin Mary reconfigured as something from the worrying end of the anime spectrum, a woman who is simultaneously infantilised and sexualised. The latter reading made explicit by a time travel episode that's treated like a skinny dip and the longing looks fired Connors way by a pre-teen Kyle Reese (Bryant Prince). As if to hammer home the idea that all of this is written in the stars, Young Kyle is practically dribbling any time Sarah is in his eyeline.
Basically, Reese doesn't have anything else to do but look beefy and complain. He's surplus to requirement. Reese has fell through the decades to arrive at a point were he's no longer calamity's messenger. Sarah already knows more than he does and has a Terminator Guardian to boot. Perhaps recognising that their leading man is a spare, Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier's screenplay gives Reese the framing monologue and a mutation that allows him to glimpse memories from alternative, concurrent timelines.
Most depressingly of all, Terminator Genisys is a case study in how sequel inflation can numb the experience. T5's Terminators aren't death rendered in metal, they're end of level bosses. Excluding the drone-like Endos that buzz around Skynet's time travel compound, T5 has no less than seven distinct infiltrators going about their business. The singular threat of a Panzer tank sheathed in flesh is gone, replaced with a succession of computer-generated goons that are each dispatched in flat, unconvincing ways.
Lee Byung-hun's T-1000 signs off in a particularly ignominious fashion. A terrible shame since Lee is the only actor who appears to have given any thought to the interior life of something invincible. Instead of just standing there like stone absorbing damage, Lee undulates around sustained fire. It's a movement decision that suggests a creature that finds being shot irritating rather than ruinous.
T5 quickly loses interest in its mercury man, trading in Robert Patrick's Vulcanian demise for a sequence in which the chromed metal monster is transformed into drowning dirt. It doesn't help that the broad idea behind the termination is straight out of a T2 tie-in comic published by Malibu in the mid-90s. It wasn't convincing then and it isn't convincing now.
Kalogridis and Lussier's screenplay demonstrates evidence of a deep dive into ancillary Terminator mythology and little else. The future war opener is a garbled lift from Randall Frakes' novelization of the second film (itself based on early drafts of James Cameron and William Wisher's screenplay), while the battle between two digitally augmented Arnolds is straight out of Cameron's rejected T2 pitch bin. Terminator Genisys is a work mired in brand and its perceived importance, content to cram the screen with loaned out moments shorn of context, excitement and threat.