Thursday, 23 May 2019
Hiroyuki Seshita and Kobun Shizuno's animated monster series concludes with Godzilla: The Planet Eater, a fatalistic finale that actually manages to make the previous films' luminous-but-stationary aesthetic work for the story being told. After two instalments of abject failure, mankind is teetering on the edge of oblivion, happy to turn their back on turbo-charged technology to pray to an extraterrestrial God who, they are promised, will rid their planet of Godzilla. The aloof, alien Aratrum worship the golden dragon Ghidorah, a being of pure destruction who appears here as three ferocious, shrieking serpents. Planet Eater's Ghidorah are intangible psychic lightning, summoned by a duplicitous holy man and paid for with human sacrifice.
Seshita and Shizuno's film leans heavily into the idea of Ghidorah as a Lovecraftian horror, a thing that exists beyond time and space that cannot be measured by humans, no matter how advanced they are. The film's feature fight - such as it is - mainly involves the ungrabbable Ghidorah heads clamping down on the King of Monsters then draining his life-force. In the shadow of this titanic rest-hold, our human hero Haruo Sakaki goes on a vision quest steered by the pounding rhetoric of the genocidal Aratrum and backed by Takayuki Hattori's surging, crashing score. Seshita and Shizuno's film is, like its predecessors, allergic to dynamic movement so the decision to strand Sakaki's plastic figure in a series of tumultuous, hallucinogenic environments actually works. This strange, loophole of a sub-series finally fulfils its promise with the sight of Mothra's phantom colliding with the Enola Gay, seconds after the superfortress has dropped its payload on Hiroshima and flung mankind into the Atomic Age.
On the one hand, Linda Hamilton is back, crashing cars and unloading absurd shotguns at surprisingly spry cyborgs. On the other, Terminator: Dark Fates' robot confrontations look completely bereft of physics, substituting grinding, hammering machinery for the kind of weightless elasticity you expect from a substandard X-Men sequel. Cameron should've given John Hyams a ring instead.
Wednesday, 22 May 2019
Tuesday, 21 May 2019
Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an odd duck, a straight-to-video crossover between two children's properties that is spiked with nose-snapping violence and second-tier swear words. You'll believe a Ninja Turtle can say 'frig'. Despite being a standalone feature, Jake Castorena's film unfolds like four episodes of a toy cartoon stitched together for a video release - think 1997's The Batman Superman Movie: World's Finest but much less dynamic. The caped crusader plays Akela to his own teenage wards as well as the oozed-up, chainsticking reptiles, beating back mutated Arkham inmates and ninja masters alike.
The story unfolds in self-contained sequences, each structured with the kind of individual beats you'd expect from one of Nickelodeon's 22 minute long schedule fillers. This bagginess, as well as the feature's arthritic sense of moment-to-moment motion, ensures interest flags long before the film's conclusion but at least Castorena and his crew make a real effort to distinguish their characters not just in terms of personality but in how they fight. Batman and Shredder are equally matched, a good father and a bad father locked into contact-combat demonstrations that burn through the animation budget. Best of all, for his finale throwdown with Leonardo, Ra's al Ghul exhibits a twirling, balletic sword style that mixes swashbuckling caddishness with handicapped wuxia.
Thursday, 16 May 2019
In order to promote their new Transformers toyline, War for Cybertron: Siege, Hasbro Taiwan have been producing short, stop-motion animations of these box-fresh action figures absolutely battering each other. Episode 4 features Optimus Prime and Fortress Maximus' pal Cog ganging up on a poor, defenceless Megatron. Heroic Autobots indeed.
Tuesday, 14 May 2019
Sunday, 12 May 2019
Friday, 10 May 2019
Thanks to Italy's extremely casual approach to copyright law, anyone can present their film as a sequel to an established, successful piece (see also Ciro Ippolito's Alien 2: On Earth and Bruno Mattei's Terminator II). Although positioned in the marketplace to follow, and cash in on, Dario Argento's re-edited, pumped-up release of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, Lucio Fulci's Zombie (released in the UK as Zombie Flesh Eaters, going on to enjoy all the video nasty infamy that name suggests) disregards insinuations about satellite radiation or Cold War biological warfare to offer a definitive, localised explanation for its returning dead.
Co-written by Elisa Briganti and Dardano Sacchetti, Zombie takes a classical, superstitious approach to the genre, presenting an epidemic that stems from pounding, tribal drums and Voodoo incantations. On the remote, unlisted island of Matul the recently deceased are coming back to life. Richard Johnson's sweating, overworked Dr Menard is trying to keep a lid on things by nursing the afflicted then blowing holes through their heads when they inevitably pass. The timeline isn't especially clear - although Zombie is technically superb the film takes a floating, dreamlike approach to plot - but, if Menard's wife Paola (Olga Karlatos) is to be believed, the Doctor's interfering presence hasn't just catalysed this dreadful situation, it's created it.
In Zombie the land itself is a character, a barely settled, decaying expanse that responds to Fabio Frizzi's bubbling, rhythmic undercurrent by vomiting up the bodies buried on the island. The zombies themselves are one offs, make up artists Gianetto De Rossi and Gino De Rossi rejecting Romero's bruised, frozen consumers in favour of putrid, misshapen lumps caked in blood and shit. Fulci's film is especially excited about rot, mummified Conquistadors burp up out of their shallow internments, empty eye holes seething with bloated, blood red worms. It's as if Matul is rejecting humanity altogether or, at the very least, the snooping white settlers who've come to learn her secrets.
Fulci and cinematographer Sergio Salvati pack their frame with broken clutter and wandering animals, suggesting a similar sort of hemmed-in, malarial exhaustion as Lucrecia Martel's Zama. Like that film Zombie posits a white ruling class hopelessly attempting to impose some sort of will on what amounts to scattered indifference. They're not welcome, the land has no use for them. Menard can transpose a wealthy, European domestic situation onto the island but the simulation cannot hold. Matul's inhabitants do not want to share their magic, we are told they have left their homes, disappearing deeper into the island before returning for the finale as an undead throng, ready to break a dilapidated mission church apart with their bare hands and vanquish the invaders within.
Wednesday, 8 May 2019
Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII's supply stream has me back on the treadmill again, checking in every day to play a couple of games, earn a win and get that reserve skip. That's the appeal really, you don't have to learn any new systems or even set aside a significant amount of your time, you can just drop in, rack up the kills then go and do something else. It's relief valve gaming.
Monday, 6 May 2019
Sunday, 5 May 2019
Thursday, 2 May 2019
Reading a synopsis of Ringo Lam's final collaboration with Jean-Claude Van Damme you might come away thinking that In Hell is about your standard prison fighting tournament, the muscles from Brussels stomping progressively larger, more crazed inmates for our buzzed-up entertainment. While that isn't a million miles from the truth, this isn't a Cannon film and Ringo Lam isn't a Cannon director. In Hell is a mutant, a squalid straight-to-video thriller that leans far more on Van Damme's sombre acting abilities and fading star persona than his high-kicking gymnastics.
Van Damme plays Kyle LeBlanc, an American serving a life sentence in a Russian prison / meat grinder for executing the man who raped then murdered his wife. LeBlanc may be determined and forthright but he isn't a karate killer, the confrontations he seeks in the early passages of the film aren't about building up an idea of an unbeatable fighter, they're the desperate actions of a broken man who wants to be thrown away. These pointedly unsuccessful scuffles land him in solitary confinement, a sewage outlet that doubles as a cell, giving him the time and space he needs to retreat completely into his thoughts, fantasising a different life, one in which he and his wife are still together.
When the film's gears shift, thrusting Van Damme into the exercise yard cockfights staged for the amusement of the guards, what follows isn't treated as a triumphant plot development. The violence fundamentally alters LeBlanc. His dream life, his soft interior, is abandoned in favour of an obsessive exercise regimen, stoked by the hate radiating from his cellmate, the glowering Inmate 451, played by Lawrence Taylor. Finding his romantic humanity completely incompatible with his current, nightmarish environment, LeBlanc willingly hardens himself, transforming his body and perspective into that of machinery. In combat he's a slobbering monster, built to break. Away, he becomes a sacrificial calf, willing to suffer to unite the working, criminal classes against their tormentors.
Looted Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII's latest supply stream weapon off a big spender - the Tigershark LMG - and went on a mini-tear. Considering how terrible the last couple of unlock guns turned out to be (the Switchblade sub-machine gun in particular was a massive disappointment, hitmarkers for days), at least this pig handles like something worth chasing. It's a good job really, it's pretty obvious Treyarch and pals have re-adjusted the grind bars to fill significantly slower since the latest patch, that coupled with a shorter event window points to yet another spend prompt in a game absolutely lousy with them.
Tuesday, 30 April 2019
The commemorative plate conclusion to the Robert Downey Jr era of Marvel movies, Avengers: Endgame plays like three wildly different, tonally incompatible passes at an Avengers: Infinity War sequel, knitted together then blasted out into the world. The first, and best, sequence sees our punch-drunk heroes palling up with Brie Larson's golden space God to plot an intergalactic home invasion with the express intention of, basically, making themselves feel better. The scene that follows is not unlike Lee Van Cleef's cold-blooded introduction in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly with computer animated Hulkbuster armour standing in for the grinning, evil Sentenza. Like Angel Eyes before them, our heroes swoop on a farmer, find they don't like what he's selling, then murder him.
This haphazard jab at wet work continues Infinity War's con of consequences in the Marvel Universe, threatening viewers with broader, emotionally upsetting horizons that steer the series away from pop superheroics to something closer to speculative science fantasy. Endgame's Earth is fundamentally different from our own. Half the population are gone and with them any sense or hustle or bustle - sports stadiums lie destitute while seafaring shanty towns throb around iconic American monuments. Endgame briefly posits a distressed world spun out by The Snap. Organised crime, having barely missed a step, has seemingly reorganised around what's-left-of-people trafficking forcing the cosmically powered Avengers to intervene.
These details may be scant and tossed off, essentially used to check in on Jeremy Renner's hollowed-out Hawkeye, but there's something in this idea of post-apocalyptic policing that not only works but demands interrogation, especially since Scarlett Johansson's terminally rootless Black Widow has bagged herself the worried brow of a leader. This bubble is popped once the upbeat, ageless Paul Rudd wriggles his way out of his sub-atomic prison, derailing the misery for a time travel heist that lifts our current, maudlin heroes out of their dreadful future, placing them into a variety of situations hand-picked from previous instalments. Despite the towering, terrifying stakes, this section is a lark. A Back to the Future Part II style victory lap that frames the older blockbusters as sacrosanct legend to be scurried around rather than gleefully vandalised.
This lightness becomes a course correction for Endgame, steering us away from not only the depressive seriousness established in the first act but also a lot of the character writing and acting that seemed to be so important upfront. Black Widow, a pre-Stark Avenger no less, suffers a death so perfunctory that her exit actually grows into a bizarre sticking point the further into the film we are, particularly when latter casualties prompt such extreme fanfare. Likewise Karen Gillan's Nebula is established, in this episode, as a victim of abuse learning to trust and process basic human connections. Scenes of her rattling around a shipwrecked space-fighter selflessly forgoing food and rest to attend to an increasingly skeletal Tony Stark seem, at the very least, to indicate a personality who should be a bit more important than the disassembled captive we end up with.
Structural speaking the film absolutely does pivot on her physical involvement with the Earthling's time heist but Endgame never really finds a way to express that significance with any action determined by Nebula herself. The cyborg pirate's story peters out altogether after she blows a hole through her fanatical past - an act that also fails to invite any temporal consequences for our Nebula. As the rousing conclusion to the story begun in Infinity War, Endgame is content to strive for excess, bringing together the Marvel brand's entire action figure line to battle Thanos' techno-organic hordes in a multi-tiered server seizure that unfortunately has more in common with the noise that capped Ready Player One than the Infinity War's Sturm und Drang.