Wednesday, 19 November 2014
Monday, 10 November 2014
Sunday, 9 November 2014
In an attempt to finally crack the American market, Jackie Chan is transplanted to New York for some Crocodile Dundee culture clash. Viewed today Rumble in the Bronx is refreshing on several levels. Firstly, Chan makes very little attempt to modify his policeman persona for his new audience. Chan is portrayed as deeply, remorselessly, uncool. No attempt is made to disguise the fact that Chan is a middle-aged man either. He doesn't have any cool affectations or props and everything he wears is made out of stone washed denim. Neither is Chan particularly aggressive. When cornered by a pack of delinquent bikers Chan doesn't batter his way through. He flees, cowering in an alleyway.
Despite ditching on a convenience store job (and a more age appropriate pairing with Anita Mui) to romance Françoise Yip's lingerie model, Chan is positioned as a stable, responsible adult. His presence immediately straightens out his new squeeze and the petty criminals she runs with. Chan admonishes them for wasting their lives, making a heartfelt plea for peace. Contemporary kids must've rolled their eyes into the fucking ground. In that sense Chan is taking a similar tact to Arnold Schwarzenegger in Kindergarten Cop. Both films juggle action and social responsibility, transforming an action vehicle into a brochure for an after-school fitness programme. Masculinity is likewise equated with the ability to give back to your community.
As ever, Jackie Chan is an absolute joy to watch. His narcy, straight-laced character informs the psychological pace of film's action. Fights are tight and frenzied, with lots of inserts of smashing glass and bloody, alarming, escalation. Chan flings himself around mercilessly, demonstrating that he doesn't need any green screen assistance. He is the special effect. The star scrambles all over urban detritus, hijacking a series of exciting vehicles to crash into his enemies. Director Stanley Tong overcranks the action so that we can always recognise Jackie Chan within the danger. Time stalls so we can gaze at Chan's actual body tumbling towards something solid and indifferent. Flubs aren't concealed either. Deep in the third act a key stunt obviously goes very wrong. Chan's ankle bends and breaks as he lands on a speeding hovercraft. His character doesn't even flinch. He's too busy rolling towards a Mafia goon to even care.
Ilya Naishuller's proof-of-concept reel for Hardcore, a POV shoot-out film starring Sharlto Copley as a World War II Tommy, and produced by Night Watch's Timur Bekmambetov. Skip to 3:58 if you want to knuckle down to the carnage. Naishuller came to Bekmambetov's attention after completing a first-person short / music video entitled Bad Motherfucker.
Naishuller's work impresses in the same way as the unbroken hospital takes in Hard Boiled do. We're treated to long, gasping gawps at actors charting a course through a building rigged with explosives. They have to remember their lines and hit their marks if they want to keep their fingers. Naishuller is currently running an Indiegogo campaign to get the movie finished. Donate enough scratch and you can nab yourself one of the many Go-Pros the team trashed.
Wednesday, 5 November 2014
Monday, 3 November 2014
TheSandyRavage wrecking straight out the gate, natch, on Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Ravage runs with an oversized, drainpipe shotgun that looks straight out of Sylvester Stallone's Judge Dredd. I think this is the scattergun that fires 'directed energy' rather than something useful like, I don't know, lead?
Friday, 31 October 2014
Stuart Brown casts his analytical eye over Half-Life for the first in a more detailed retrospective series. Brown is a bit of a treasure. He doesn't rely on manufactured excitement or a cynical gimmick, instead he turns out short, snappy information pieces. He's basically the BBC2 of video game culture.
Thursday, 30 October 2014
Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as a Great Ape in charge of a team of heavily armed Juggalos. Sabotage plays like an old man fantasy with Schwarzenegger's Breacher as the elder gent able to run intellectual rings around the kids. His age makes him mythic and untouchable in their eyes, an abstract idea of masculine supremacy. The kids fucked up though. Although an idea of fraternity or family is repeatedly stressed, usually by the subordinates, it's clear Schwarzenegger has other ideas. Initially Sabotage seems to be a Friday the 13th instalment with Schwarzenegger as a monstrous bogeyman ticking off his disappointing children.
Sabotage, as it turns out, is instead about how disposable everybody else in your life is when measured against loved ones. Schwarzenegger allows his team to eat itself, but doesn't actively participate. Neither does he intervene. He's above the infighting because he's locked in somewhere else, waiting. Skip Woods and David Ayer's ending was allegedly hijacked, pruned and re-arranged to shift overt villainy off Schwarzenegger. All the nervous studio interference has done though is add an air of indifference. Breacher is truly, exceptionally, callous. Schwarzenegger as a giant, flushed knuckle that'll step over the bodies of people prepared to die for him if it'll equalise a personal situation. The team might love him but he doesn't love them.
Ayers shoots Schwarzenegger as an icon. The star's age isn't avoided or concealed, it's almost fetishised. Repeated close-ups let you drink in the decades. Ayers holding on an eyeline that looks more and more like Clint Eastwood's with every passing year. Arnold is shot like he's The Dark Knight Returns' Bruce Wayne, an ageing weightlifter who gets drunk to dredge up the most awful memories he can. Even his haircut is great, a self-administered close crop that undoubtedly reeks of Brylcreem. Sabotage is easily the best post-Governor Schwarzenegger film simply because it approaches the star as a relic. He's from another time. This mechanical male doesn't fit in with his beer-swilling tat-frat. They're flawed and messy. In comparison, Schwarzenegger is steel.
Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Monday, 27 October 2014
Chuck Russell and Frank Darabont hijack Irvin Yeaworth's red scare original, amping up the individualism and transforming it into a strange, outsider movie. As well as having a more politically dubious, terrestrial origin, The Blob systematically kills all the usual male leads until we arrive at the second-banana motorcycle enthusiast and a would-be distressed damsel. The film initially seems to be orbiting a young guy-next-door. Paul Taylor is set up as a Michael J Fox figure, he succeeds by accident in sports and has a friend that gets him into trouble with his prospective girlfriend's father.
Paul appears to be the engine, he has romantic potential and homespun guts. Unfortunately for him The Blob doesn't give a shit about the hero's journey. Next up there's the local Sheriff, initially an antagonistic presence who redeems himself by following logic rather than prejudice. He's killed as an afterthought, his half-digested body showing up as a soupy detail in his love interest's death. The government forces that turn up half-way through end up being completely compromised, leaving local pariah Brian Flagg and cheerleader Meg to take care of business.
Meg and Brian form a back-and-forth, post-Aliens action collective. A couple united through a desire to not be told what to do. While the rest of the town is being rounded up by Hazmat infantrymen - possibly for liquidation - Meg is breaking curfew to find her missing brother. Brian plays rebel by investigating the crash site and turning up a conspiracy. Aside from that, the duo spend the last act rescuing each other. Brian crashes a snow machine into the Blob and ends up rolled and trapped, Meg loots an M16 and lays down suppressing fire.
Sunday, 26 October 2014
In its opening acts Friday the 13th comes on like a safe, corporate alternative to Halloween. There's no real attempt to make the teen victims particularly likeable, Sean S Cunningham's film delivering an in-built emotional distance between the audience and his characters. They act like Porky's extras even though they're in a dire situation. So when they get slashed and prodded we can delight in the Tom Savini orchestrated deaths.
On the face of it, 13th is the slasher film as product, ruthlessly hitting a series of bullet points passed down from realer, rawer examples. Tick them off - mild titillation, spook house gore and everyday objects re-purposed as anti-teen arsenal. The technique's not even really there. Shots that initially appear to be simulating the killer's POV often settle into that of a passive, invisible third-party. This observer is often, obviously, in the actors' way too. 13th can't decide if it's an immediate, Panaglide thriller or a baroque, marshland terror.
Eventually though it becomes apparent that Cunningham was pitching for something a little closer to a reverse-Psycho. Structurally, it was there all along. We opened with a bright, sparkly first girl - who we assumed was the lead - being casually despatched by the, then apparently male, killer. This detail was confused by introducing the rest of the cast half-way through the episode, breaking tension. The danger surrounding Annie wasn't really given a chance to percolate, coming off as a distraction rather than a shock.
Heavy breather percussion aside, much of Harry Manfredini's music is shrill, screeching strings swiped wholesale from Bernard Herrmann's Psycho score. When the killer finally arrives it's a middle-aged woman with a little voice in her head, egging her on. Mrs Voorhees is an odd proposition for a final threat, she looks like a TV busybody in the Jessica Fletcher mold and betrays little savagery beyond a few gleeful head bumps. The rolling confrontation between her and final girl Alice, despite a meaty conclusion, is an airless thing full of rubbish on-the-fly weaponry and arthritic movement.
Saturday, 25 October 2014
I'm finding it hard to get excited about Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Although the air-dashing looks kind of fun, the near-future weapons don't do anything for me. Guns made up in planned city sweatboxes rarely do. They all seem so dull and interchangeable. I spent most of my time with Destiny wishing I had a possessed Mosin-Nagant with a futuristic, retrofitted sight. I want some connection to reality. The classic Modern Warfare games were equipped with the best of Cold War engineering - the M16 platform vs the AK-47, with run-ins by the FN FAL.
Those guns had resonance. I grew up with them, saw them on TV in proxy wars and The A-Team. Good guy and bad guy guns from a million 80s action movies, choose your fav. You can grab an MP5 and play-act as Hans Gruber, or equip an M60 and pretend you're Rambo or Animal Mother. Guns are interesting to me in the abstract, horrifying things that track alongside ideologies and political movements. I can accept them as grey machinery you lug around like an accessory in an expensive, networked game of tag, but I don't want to be told they're awesome. Knee-jerk revulsion is part of the appeal. These new weapons look like something that'd ship with an action figure.
Matt Lees with a superb breakdown of Destiny. Unlike their previous games, Bungie's latest is a game built on constant repetition with zero setpieces that still manages to keep you playing for over a hundred hours. Lees touches on basic feedback loops, something Destiny is incredibly good at, and the only occasionally satisfying one arm bandit reward system. As Lees points out Destiny, like the Call of Duty series come to think of it, is a game experience wholly built out of how well the in-game guns handle. Every single weapon, regardless of class or level, is consistently fun to fire at your enemies.
Thursday, 23 October 2014
The polar opposite of something off-brand and colourful like The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Jonathan Liebesman's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sees an established children's line subsumed in a misunderstood, post-The Dark Knight mire. Urban terror should be a decent fit for the franchise, after all Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's original comics were full of gritty avengers engaging in bootlegged, Frank Miller mysticism. Liebesman's film wobbles though because it's clearly meant to be consumed by kids. Pre-teens at that. The turtles have the sing-song personalities rattled off in Chuck Lorre's 80s cartoon theme and the central character is basically a child detective.
Ninja Turtles 2014 gives the impression of a half-term feature hijacked at the last minute to appeal to the ghoulish spectrum of the superhero crowd. Life-ending bumps and matter-of-fact executions are present but never justified. Shredder has been inserted as a final boss but there's no solid narrative space for him. Villain minutes are instead apportioned to a megalomaniacal scientist who's despatched with a spot of head trauma courtesy of the sixth male lead. Like every other rebooted 1980s toy line Ninja Turtles seems to have been pitched as being exactly the same but with even more violence. It's a playground grasp at maturity, chemical weapons are smuggled into the film as if to denote seriousness and weight.
Likewise the turtles are depicted as seething mini-Hulks with the strength to hurl rival ninjas through speeding subway trains. Raphael and pals are massive, sweating, muscle lumps apparently running on the Unreal Engine. Splinter is positively Cronenbergian and Shredder looks like Michael Bay's Megatron cosplaying as a Predator. All this ugliness directly informs the film's one saving grace - the fights are blocked like a Donnie Yen movie. Liebesman shoots low and wide on full-contact between a menagerie of McFarlane Movie Maniacs. CG stunt work is experienced in sustained, sideslipped takes that emphasise impact with grinding, mechanical noise. The animated delivery in Ninja Turtles' action scenes may undermine any real sense of danger but I appreciated the effort.
Wednesday, 22 October 2014
To mark the 20th anniversary of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 this week, blast processor Christian Whitehead released this proof-of-concept clip for an iOS port. Bizarrely it seems Sega are reluctant to take Whitehead up on his proposal, despite the developer's superb track record with the company mascot. Whitehead's conversions of Sonic 1, 2 and CD are world-class digital curation, Sega should be beating down his door to put together a re-release of Sonic 3 & Knuckles, not the other way around. Really, if the Japanese Corporation had any sense, they'd be issuing his ports on every format and have him building a Sonic game from scratch.
Tuesday, 21 October 2014
Dreary parlour intrigue enlivened by Peter Cushing's lizardy Baron. Terence Fisher and Jimmy Sangster's Frankenstein is a cold-blooded manchild who grew up moneyed. People are treated like possessions, poured over when they have value, discarded when they don't. The Curse of Frankenstein introduces psychosis to the Baron's actions. He uses his steely, detached determination to go shopping amongst his social circle, selecting prized body parts to build a perfect man. Unfortunately, the Monster's brain is damaged between cadavers. Christopher Lee's stiff reanimated highwayman has but two gears - cowering and homicidal.
Friday, 17 October 2014
Terence Fisher and Jimmy Sangster's pass at Dracula stresses the otherworldly sexiness of the Count, comparing his animal magnetism, and any attendant vampirism, to a drug addiction. Dracula's wives know he's wrong for them but they just can't help themselves. Although primarily set in Germany, the cast have the prim disposition of Victorian gentry. They're all buttoned-up and sexually desperate.
Despite having a fiancée, ill-fated vampire hunter Jonathan Harker can't resist falling under the spell of the brunette he meets in Dracula's castle. She flounces around in a nighty and pleads with him to help her, she's being held against her will. Harker is all too willing to play the hero. Her weakness is a ploy though. The second Harker takes her in his arms to smother away her worries, she clamps down on his neck.
Dracula has similar success with the woman in Harker's life. Straight-laced German fraus are no match for Christopher Lee hurriedly running his lips all over their faces. This Dracula isn't a superhuman monster that can transform into a bat, he's a mysterious stranger in complete command of his sexuality. He lures woman from their marital bed and makes them his. He ensnares them with his piercing stare and won't let them go. He awakens things inside them they didn't even know existed. He's the other man.
Thursday, 16 October 2014
'71 trades in danger. It takes the political and ideological framework of The Troubles and uses them to confuse and catalyse a midnight expedition movie. After a police raid becomes an excuse to beat up cowering Catholic mothers, a young Private is separated from his unit by a riot. In terms of genre, '71 immediately recalls The Warriors or John Carpenter's Escape From New York, but this isn't just instant hostility from a city full of droogs. By dint of birth anyone the lost Private meets could be help or hindrance. Likewise, the political perspective doesn't, to this outsider at least, feel shortchanged.
Screenwriter Gregory Burke layers characters with anxiety, creating a sense that no-one in '71 is operating moment-to-moment. Instead everyone is wracked with fear, acting out the labels they've been designated. '71 portrays ethno-nationalist conflict as a compulsion that grips the young and wearies the old, a fever state that various levels of establishment use to get their way. '71 takes a recent and underreported conflict and uses it complicate every level of plotting until the film seethes with total menace. The people the Private meets have interior and exterior objectives, often operating in direct opposition.
The most terrifying group in play though are the Military Reaction Force, a four-man black-ops squad that rolls around Belfast in a clapped-out old banger. The MRF are pure venom. They aren't muscled specimens dressed like film stars, they look supernatural. Razor thin pub fighters dressed like childhood photos of your mad uncle. These guys look like they survive on cigarettes and spirits. Everything in Yann Demange's mise en scene suggesting that they are completely empty, both physically and emotionally.
The MRF aren't there to prop up any local agenda, instead they sow chaos and perpetuate conflict. I mentioned Escape From New York earlier, the MRF's presence here would be the equivalent of having Snake Plissken tailed by a team of CIA hitmen that make counter-productive deals with every side and casually chat about the necessity of rubbing out allies. They're aliens beamed in from the gamesmanship dimension, utterly amoral and working for someone you've never even heard of.