Thursday, 21 May 2015
George Miller talking over a genuinely great fight scene from Mad Max: Fury Road and an interview with Kim Taylor Bennett for Vice. In the featured scrap, Miller uses geography and Max's obscured point of view to introduce Furiosa as a convincing physical threat.
Furiosa is established as being stood at such distance that Max feels comfortable enough to take a glance at the woman snipping his muzzle. Furiosa's already advancing. We see it before Max does.
She's on him before he even thinks to look back. There's another great touch in how Max tackles her attack, as soon as he manoeuvres her underneath him Max begins scooping sand onto her face, presumably to blind her. Max knows he's in serious danger and adjusts his tactics accordingly. He may not want to bash her head in but he knows he has to incapacitate her somehow.
Tuesday, 19 May 2015
Monday, 18 May 2015
In Mad Max: Fury Road the title role slips a little further into the mythic. George Miller and co-writers Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris deliberately posit a situation that doesn't quite align with the previous Max Rockatansky stories. Tom Hardy's take hears voices. He's haunted by visions of a woman, an Aboriginal man, and a child who calls him by his first name. Max hasn't just failed a family (his?), he's failed a community. Mel Gibson's Max wandered out into the wasteland to find something big enough to kill him. Hardy's Max seeks escape.
This Max is out of time, the factions and systems he brushes up against are well-established to the point of enjoying several distinct industries. This isn't the day after, this is decades. A generation. The Smegma Crazies have settled into a corner and started breeding. Hugh Keays-Byrne's Immortan Joe is the convoy Khan, a diseased, barrel-chested Daddy who's willing to risk everything he's made just so he can hold a perfect son. His Citadel is awash with water and greenery but his humans, his property, are still born with lumps and irradiated half-lives.
In Joe's world healthy women are fashion shoot chattel to be hoarded in bank vaults. Joe's wives flee after collectively deciding that they don't want to raise warlord juniors. Men are surplus to requirement, Joe's doing all the fathering so their shaved heads are filled up with white line fatalism, McCarthy's Skin kids swept up in a Freakwave. God is the all-powerful V8, a burning chromed skull that sits under a divine light hoarding fetishised steering wheels. These War Boys spray paint their teeth, hoping to emulate this deity on their way to the great pile-up in the sky.
The Radback teems with enemies to all, scattered gangs with graphic identities, their prevailing aesthetics weird off-shots of Joe's roughly hewn hot rods. The most striking are The Buzzards, a gang of shrivelled up sand people encased in vehicles that look like the Monster Minds from Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors as dressed by Peter Weir's The Cars That Ate Paris. Each machine is a mess of rusty bayonets, pregnant with tetanus, outfitted with grasping mechanical arms and circular saws.
Despite all this progress, Max hasn't aged. He's a raggedy man frozen in his defining moment. This free-wheeling approach to continuity recalls Akira Kurosawa's two bodyguard films, Yojimbo and Sanjuro. Each film taking place in a completely different time period. the spectral, problem solving hero the only constant. There's also a touch of Seiji Miyaguchi's super swordsman from Seven Samurai in how Max casually tackles a pursuing tank. OO7's in the mix as well - like Hardy, Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan all cracked skulls for decades while nursing a vague, sense memory of George Lazenby's departed wife.
Since this is a reintroduction Max has to develop and change. He begins his adventure in bondage, an O-neg commodity, muzzled and manacled so he can be slowly drained to prolong Nicholas Hoult's flagging War Boy, Nux. When Max joins the freedom convoy he's violent and irritable. Max is the nervous energy in Fury Road, it falls to Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa to provide a sense of stability. She's Aliens' Ellen Ripley come again - quiet, capable and utterly commanding. If anything, Max is trying to impress her.
Theron has priors with this kind of role. Her Meredith Vickers in Prometheus was also essentially the same kind of character as Ripley was in Alien. Unfortunately Ridley Scott's newer film chose to interpret Vickers' by-the-book pragmatism as the behaviour of a spoilsport. In Fury Road Theron's allowed to sing. She drives the rig, she calls the shots. Rather than jostle for the lead Max slots into a similar role as Michael Biehn's Hicks, a comfortable component, happy to assist. Eventually their relationship transcends language entirely, both parties able to scramble around the tanker, assured that their ally is doing exactly what needs to be done. Their actions are ultimately interchangeable.
George Miller and cinematographer John Seale approach action laser focused on clarity. The frame is stable, often dreamlike in how it hovers around the conflict. Moments are expressed clearly and concisely, you never feel like editor Margaret Sixel is having to engineer excitement. Everything you need to know is communicated in an image or a sound. Since the entire film is a never-ending chase we spend a lot of that time watching fragile, barely clothed humans climbing all over speeding, filthy machinery. It's the thrill of watching Peter Kent casually hop from a pickup to a big rig in Terminator 2: Judgment Day exploded to feature length.
During Dredd's original theatrical release Alex Garland spoke about a sequel that would adapt Pat Mills, Mike McMahon and Brian Bolland's The Cursed Earth storyline. After that film tanked it seemed unlikely that we'd see a film about a highly motivated cop leading a ragtag group across an unyielding desert, pursued by radioactive mutants. As it turns out, George Miller has delivered the best possible version of that premise. Fury Road is an overcranked treat full of white impact frames and distant carrion squawks that's exactly as excellent as your memory of Mad Max 2.
Wednesday, 13 May 2015
Tuesday, 12 May 2015
Sunday, 10 May 2015
Jackie Chan was in his thirties when he directed and starred in Project A II, the hot-headed youth persona that had served him well during the 1970s and early 80s was starting to look a little frayed. Police Story had rounded off that identity nicely, Chan delivering a film about a man pushing himself so far in pursuit of his goals that he ends up burning his entire life to the ground.
Armour of God tinkered with the idea of mapping en vouge American action heroics onto Chan, that move floundered through injury and a resultant film that promised far more than it delivered. Project A II then is a little different, even to its predecessor. It's not about proving yourself, it's about being established, part of the system.
Although Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao are nowhere to be seen - the duo were in the Philippines shooting Eastern Condors - Chan again plays Dragon Ma, the best cop in all Hong Kong. Dragon is headhunted and transferred to the West District after the local Superintendent stages a robbery to impress his superiors. The ploy unravels when the criminals start loudly objecting to sentences more severe than previously agreed. Rather than be caught out, the Superintendent executes his accomplices in the street.
Dragon is brought in to whip the local precinct into shape, he does this purely by example. He doesn't punish or berate his men, instead he performs a series of civic feats so incredible that they all spontaneously transform into hard-working policemen out of pure respect. Dragon brushes shoulders with Chinese intellectual revolutionaries, Hong Kong's ruling class, and a squad of vengeful Pirates. He turns all their heads, impressing them with his unfailing decency. Project A II is a fable, a heartfelt ode to the politically moderate self-made man. Chan plays a person who isn't interested in praise or acclaim for his actions. He just wants to get on and be left alone to do his job.
A key component of Jackie Chan's appeal is his physical versatility, the man can very obviously do anything. This is usually noted in how he approaches props, seamlessly incorporating them into his martial arts repertoire. His talents run deeper than this, Chan is also adept at structuring his stunts around the physical locations available to him. Everything is grist. A seething modern Hong Kong, like the one seen in Police Story or Heart of Dragon, amps up the intensity, Chan caught in a suffocating glass maze.
Project A II is about encroaching modernity, both in thought (Dr Sun Yat-sen's revolutionaries) and geography. Period Hong Kong is then rendered as an expansive series of dares, towering bamboo and wood structures that demand to be climbed. We all know Chan can do anything so he's saddled with a succession of normal people to be managed and protected. Handcuffed to a dastardly cop the athletic Chan must account for the man's cowardice. Chan leaps to soar, his cuff-mate oozes low.
Dotted around this relentless drive for verticality are a couple of charming comedic scenarios. First there's some parlour room hide-and-seek that falls somewhere between The Marx Brothers and Frasier but with added pistols. Unlike Chan's earlier, unsatisfying attempt at farce in Armour of God, there are five or six levels of incompatible factions shuffling around Yesan (Maggie Cheung)'s apartment. A flabbergasted Cheung is superb throughout.
As with most of her appearances in Jackie Chan films this character is bratty and prone to pouting. Fortunately, Cheung gets a little more to work with here. The actress plays everything on her face, hurtling back and forth between a momentary, self-satisfied smile when she packs someone into a wardrobe and slack-jawed horror when another warring party turns up looking for a chat.
Her expressions are silent movie big, a person completely out of their depth trying to cope with relentless upsets. Her posture and demeanour is in a constant state of change - who can see her at this moment? What emotion should she be projecting? The stress is palpable. It's an expertly layered performance from an actress not usually noted for her comedic chops. When no-one's looking Cheung collapses ever so slightly, exhausted.
Next is Dragon's desperate attempt to gain an advantage in a prolonged fight with several imperial enforcers. Finding himself in a dusty market, Dragon shovels fistfuls of chilli peppers into his mouth. His intent seems to be harking back to the wacky martial arts styles of Chan's late 70s output, in particular Drunken Master and Fearless Hyena, the hero imbibing something ruinous to get them looser and fired up.
The chillis have the opposite effect - Dragon is reduced to a wheezing wreck but not before he's spat the contents of his mouth all over his hands and rubbed them on his enemy's faces. It's haphazard and thrilling, a bad call turned into a brief benefit. Dragon doesn't become numb and unbeatable, he's a man-sized Mace can.
Chan also isn't interested in portraying a succession of stand-and-fights. Dragon is usually outnumbered and outmatched, confrontations are therefore fleeting, embroiled in extended chases that focus on comedy rather than a martial arts back-and-forth. Project A II's last opponent isn't even an equal for Dragon, he's a snake attempting to slither away while a series of paper craft buildings topple to the ground.
This destruction is the film's true finale, allowing Chan to work in an homage to Buster Keaton's collapsing house gag from Steamboat Bill Jr. Dragon can shrug off a massive wall falling on him. His foe can't. Project A II represents Chan further differentiating himself from Sammo Hung, the action movie polymath committing himself to delivering a wholly different product focused around death-defying stunts.
Thursday, 7 May 2015
Saturday, 2 May 2015
Friday, 1 May 2015
Thursday, 30 April 2015
Wednesday, 29 April 2015
Armour of God is the film that came closest to killing Jackie Chan. The stunt in question involved the star jumping and grabbing hold of a tree branch then relying on his weight to bend it just enough to allow him to glide gracefully over a stone wall. Bear in mind that at this stage Chan had already gotten the shot he needed. He just wanted to see if he could get a better one.
Taking cues from the Faces of Death video series, Chan includes the injury take in the bloopers that roll under the credits. In a jumble of tight, low angles we see Chan, sporting uncharacteristically buzzed hair, hurl himself at the tree, grasping for a branch. It breaks and he plummets to the ground. The camera goes wild. Chan fell 15 feet and cracked his head open on a rock. A piece of his skull lodged in his brain necessitating emergency surgery.
The film's no-goods focuses in on Chan's deathly pale face as blood oozes from his ear. After a few extreme close-ups we see the hyperactive star motionless on a stretcher, being bundled into a van. Jackie Chan is partially deaf in one ear now and has a plastic plug in his head. He wears his hair long ever since either to cover up the hole or because he thinks short hair brings him bad luck. Good wasn't good enough for Jackie Chan. He wanted perfect.
Understandably, the rest of Armour of God is a slack endeavour that unsuccessfully tries to combine the grave robbing hijinks of the Indiana Jones series with the easy, breezy charm of Richard Lester's The Beatles films. Cantopop icon Alan Tam co-stars as the weight around Jackie's neck, anchoring him to a lame duck situational comedy that leans heavily on love triangles and drawing room farce.
Aside from his pop concert introduction, Tam is a poor substitute for Sammo Hung or Yuen Biao. There's just no joy in the pairing. Tam is best utilised as a prop, a precious something Chan has to exert himself around, keeping his pal out of trouble. Chan's Wheels on Meals co-star Lola Forner appears as another headstrong aristocrat with an underexplored romantic interest in Jackie. Forner's character May is exactly the kind of partner Chan needs. She gets stuck in and mixes it up while Tam cowers behind his new best bud.
Teary-eyed MacGuffin Rosamund Kwan is stuck playing the same kind of pretty, infantilised doll that she did in Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars. Kwan is drugged up and hypnotised, a pliant, almost robotic temptress lumbered with an arc that offers zero dramatic pay-off. Armour of God is stuffed with story elements that never really go anywhere, they're affectations there to grease the path to the next bit of action. Jackie Chan is no stranger to jarring plot mechanics but Armour of God just feels synthetic.
This brings us to the film's other major issue, the film's setpieces are best consumed in isolation. They simply don't match the tone of the film they're in. Armour of God's highlight is a bravura kidnapping that cuts back and forth between Rosamund Kwan at a fashion show in a stunning palace setting and Alan Tam stamping around a disco odyssey rock concert. Monks armed with Kalashnikovs storm the catwalk and blaze through the bumbling security. It's an amazing sequence that posits a level of danger that the film is otherwise uninterested in pursuing. That's Armour of God in a nutshell - great premise, messy execution.
Tuesday, 28 April 2015
Like last summer's The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Joss Whedon's Avengers: Age of Ultron is an accurate big-screen simulation of randomly dipping into Marvel's pre-Image output. Although a complete villain originates and disintegrates over the course of the film, you're left with an overwhelming sense that you've just had a brief insight into a larger, never-ending epic. Age of Ultron is reminiscent of an incomplete run fished out of a ballast bin or an 80-page Summer Special jammed with luridly coloured crossovers.
The first Avengers was notable for its smoothness. Whedon juggled umpteen leads, a get-the-gang-together plot, and a few decent car crashes with such ease that it was actually jarring. Whedon was too efficient, nothing stuck in your throat. Avengers was entertaining with well-structured character interactions but it didn't feel particularly personal. It was more like billion dollar problem solving. Momentarily exciting then quickly forgotten, like the red plastic lump Robert Duvall obliterates in THX 1138. In comparison, Avengers 2 is messy and overloaded. A rampaging mutant that offers zero resolution.
This cinema release (home video hype suggests an utterly superfluous hour is to be added for the BD/DVD release) is so laser focused on hitting beats that there's nothing else. The story's all in place but the communication is rarely verbal, it's geography or image or sometimes even a sound. The film is also littered with sequel embeds. Spotted around the action are elliptical, slashed to the bone interludes that promises further, catastrophic product. As far as the blockbuster sphere goes, this is world-building straight out of David Yates' Harry Potter playbook. Make it vague, keep them wanting more.
Doom is treated like a destination or a feeling, a word on the tip of your tongue. You can't quite get it out. A hypnotised Tony Stark sees Hulk pinned to an asteroid with barbed, alien spears. Thor takes a dip in a holy well and dreams of Ragnarok. Avengers 2 is the tipping point, permanence creeping in around the edges, putting the team off their stride for a two-part finale written and directed by someone else. Whedon's sequel is breathless, a smarmy setpiece generator that doesn't stop building momentum. The writer / director's parting gift to the Marvel Universe is an action collage that has learnt a valuable lesson from apex franchise entry Fast & Furious 6. Stay in your seats. There's a great big bruiser on the way.
Monday, 27 April 2015
Treyarch's Call of Duty: Black Ops III is a dark, gritty futuristic shooter that follows on from Sledgehammer's dark, gritty futuristic shooter Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Infinity Ward's dark, gritty futuristic shooter Call of Duty: Ghosts. The series' three studio set-up is really paying dividends in terms of originality isn't it?
Friday, 24 April 2015
Joss Whedon brings his ensemble cast skills to bear on The Avengers, a billion dollar victory lap for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Whedon finds plausible perspectives for each of his heroes as they find themselves unwittingly enrolled into the financially lucrative collective. Dr Banner wants to stay in the lab, Iron Man and Captain America rub each other up the wrong way, a bemused Thor acts like he's working with a gang of tall monkeys.
Although no individual hero (or constituent franchise element, to be more exact) gets special treatment, Whedon puts work in elevating Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow from the haircut we saw in Iron Man 2 to an indefatigable linchpin. Johansson gets the real hero moments - shaking herself out of Hulk-induced shock to go punch some memories into her amnesiac friend or impressing the living embodiment of the Greatest Generation with her suicidal enthusiasm. While the guys call and play a cosmic game of gridiron, it's notably Widow who zeroes in on the source of the threat and sets to trashing it.
Come the finale - Thor's bad-egg brother Loki summons an anonymous intergalactic army to level New York - Whedon uses action to express character beats, demonstrating how the team works instead of just telling us. It's all faintly reminiscent of the Nuke in Hell's Kitchen interlude in Daredevil: Born Again, a page full of grimey panels blown up into a chromed, forty-minute setpiece. Cap shouts strategies, his team dutifully obey. It's Hulk who steals the show though, moving with the same soaring, anvil like grace as he did in Ang Lee's gem. Hulk is Mark Ruffalo scaled up into a ferocious hybrid of Lou Ferrigno and a Sal Buscema drawing, his gleeful lack of restraint is easily the film's giddiest thrill.
Tuesday, 21 April 2015
Just in case you're not sold, here's another Jurassic World trailer that blows all the big moments. Still, taken as a two minute audio / visual assault this ad scratches that Dinosaurs Attack! itch Tim Burton left us dangling with.
Saturday, 18 April 2015
"I don't think this stuff happens in a Mylar-snug vacuum. I think that it's when this kind of material works, it's drawn from the sources around you but it's turned into metaphor.
I'm waiting for the pop-cultural metaphor for 9/11. I haven't seen a sign of it yet. But just like Invasion of the Body Snatchers was a response to Communism, and film noir itself was a response, essentially, to Pearl Harbor and the Second World War, there will be something that surfaces. It might be a Western. It won't, specifically, resemble what happened."-- Frank Miller speaking to Gary Groth of The Comics Journal in January 2003.
There's a case to be made that the Marvel cycle currently tearing down the box-office is exactly what Miller is describing - a pop-culture reflex that clearly delineates good and evil. The Avengers, made up of an ex-GI, an arms dealer, and a couple of rehabilitated assassins on super-secret service retainer, are the good guys. Thanos and the army of vaguely Egyptian jackal-men he gifts Loki are the bad guys. As with Star Wars and Vietnam, the culture heals itself by dreaming up realms untainted by implication.
That's not to say the Marvel material isn't evolving. Captain America: The Winter Soldier talked about the potential for duplicity when you have an organisation that puts itself above the governments of Earth. Avengers: Age of Ultron might even demonise Tony Stark's relentless push towards total automation. Those ideas are trace elements though. In comparison, this trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice reads like vandalism.
Although casting rumours point towards an overstuffed mess, this trailer is refreshingly simple. A mechanised Batman has made it his business to tear Superman out of the sky. Colour provided by talking heads that reference The Church of Superman that rose out of Metropolis' ashes in The Dark Knight Strikes Again. This underwhelming, underperforming Man of Steel is explicitly framed as a God. Ben Affleck's Bootstraps Batman means to teach him some humility. A different kind of simplicity, aggressive and nihilistic, but at least it's cinematic. Warner Bros and DC are blowing their wad, racing through Frank Miller's deathlessly antagonistic work to firmly establish an alternative to Marvel's conveyor belt of three-star entertainment.
Friday, 17 April 2015
There's precious little wriggle room with John Wick. Keanu Reeves stars as the titular assassin, out for justice after a Russian mob brat steals his ride and pulps his dog. That's it. The film is a collision course, nothing more. John Wick impresses because of this purity. Every line exist solely to feed into the idea of Wick as a horrifying, supernatural presence in the Golgo 13 mold. His enemies understand the danger he represents and quake accordingly.
Back in action, Reeves resembles something dragged out of a deep deep well in feudal Japan. A vengeful wraith, dredged up and dressed to impress, marksmanship skills eternally set to aimbot. Literally no head goes unplugged. Directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch construct a series of athletic gunfights that revolve around a basic one-two boxing rhythm. If Wick can't immediately ventilate the cranium in question he'll put lead into a limb or sternum, explicitly paining his enemies so they reveal their unguarded head.
Thursday, 16 April 2015
So far, the most impressive aspect of JJ Abrams' approach to Star Wars is that the director isn't content to just sit back and replay specific beats from previous, successful films. He's gone back a little further and fell in love with the concept universe Ralph McQuarrie dreamt up. That scrapped Star Destroyer is more exciting than anything on offer in the Terminator: Genisys trailers. It's world-building rather than just reconfiguring.
Continuing the trend of sprucing up late last-gen releases for a quick this-gen sale are Godzilla: The Game and Earth Defense Force 4.1: The Shadow of New Despair. Godzilla didn't get the best reviews and the rosters pretty slim but at least you get to match up Jet Jaguar with Hedorah. Chronic underachiever SpaceGodzilla and a three-way battle royale mode are your PS4 exclusive features. Is it too much to expect every single version of Godzilla and a comprehensive custom kaiju maker?
EDF adds palette swapped ants and a towering boxer mech you can use to punch the alien invaders into oblivion. These may sound like slim additions but EDF is already rolling with enough content to make you feel like you've got a second job. Of the two I'd say Sandlot's game was the safest bet for a monster fix. Both titles struggled to maintain a decent frame rate on PS3 so hopefully that was top of both developer's to-do lists. If you've got the best part of ¥7000 going spare, EDF is already up on the Japanese PSN store.