Thursday, 23 October 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (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 though - 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.


The British Film Institute's re-release trailer for Stanley Kubrick's ageless 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The Curse of Frankenstein

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.

Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles The Hyperstone Heist by Joel Chan

Chromatics - I'm on Fire

Friday, 17 October 2014

Dracula (1958)

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.

Despera by Chris Faccone

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Two-Face by Ramon Villalobos


'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.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Крепость / Fortress

Dima Fedotof's CG short is pure Heavy Metal. In a far-flung future automated war machines go through the motions, fighting long past the point of reason. Fedotof's functional aesthetic mixes Dan O'Bannon data read outs with the kind of mass produced monstrosities you'd expect from tomorrow's total war.

Run The Jewels - Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck) [Feat. Zack de la Rocha]

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Dynatron - Throttle Up / Rise To The Stars / 37 Million Horsepower / Intergalactic Highway

Tetsuo: The Bullet Man

Tetsuo: The Bullet Man won't sit still. The film seethes with energy, Shinya Tsukamoto's camera hurtles around with DV abandon, inducing a low-level kind of motion sickness. Bullet Man is often physically uncomfortable to watch. Following the acrobatic motion of our latest mutated salaryman is impossible. His actions are lost in a hyper-caffeinated jumble of destruction and shocked reaction shots. Although obviously employed to mask a meagre budget, the spasming point-of-view perfectly tallies with the psychological state of a man transforming into a Brutalist art sculpture.

Like Tetsuo: The Iron Man this optical assault is backed with a clanging industrial noise that runs through the film like a malfunctioning heartbeat. It's oppressive, a restless note that implores progression. Tsukamoto brackets revelation with screens filled with writhing wires and scratched up medical stills. Bullet Man is a collage, a feature-length music video able to suggest a level of narrative coherence through visual consistency. Until it decides to unspool and explain things, Bullet Man sings, reorganising the Oedipal trauma of Tetsuo II: Body Hammer using the visual language of the first film. Tsukamoto can't resist unpacking his ideas though. A backstory involving human vivisection and sex robots is undermined by the kind of stilted, stumbling line readings usually heard overdubbing imported 80s anime.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Tetsuo II: Body Hammer

Lacking the frenetic, fevered energy of its forebear, Tetsuo II: Body Hammer is instead a series of dreamy interludes linked by variations on the same chase. Tetsuo: The Iron Man was a waking nightmare in which a young man struggled to cope with the changes his body was undergoing. Body Hammer, although apparently unconnected, deals with metamorphosis as an ancient abuse regurgitated in times of extreme stress. Iron Man was concerned with the present, Body Hammer is about tapping into the past and divining memory.

Taniguchi Tomoo and his family live in an apartment straight out of an aspirational hi-fi advert. Tomoo looks like a Steve Ditko drawing, his wife is permanently dressed for a minimalist fashion shoot. This time Tokyo is shot with cool blues, focusing on glass buildings and an attendant sense of alienation. When his son is kidnapped by a team of muscle bombers, Tomoo pursues, his body stretching and exploding to reveal a rib cage made from pistols. Iron Man felt like a city collapsing in on itself, effluence and people mixing to create a creature able to survive in this steaming pit. Body Hammer instead has a city in stasis. Mutation is something to be forced, often leading to rusty, clattering failure. Tomoo then represents a pure evolutionary leap. He is the new life form, a stumbling mix of concrete and artillery. A mobile city state able to consume weaklings and spit out carnage.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Tetsuo: The Iron Man

Shinya Tsukamoto shoots Tokyo as a claustrophobic ruin unfit for human habitation. Tsukamoto's city is a series of tight, cluttered rooms filled with knotted wires and electronic bric-a-brac. Roofs seem far too low - Tsukamoto's characters are always stooping and crawling. They writhe and sweat profusely, the camera pushing in tight on their pained, dripping faces. In this sense Tetsuo: The Iron Man reminds me of Harlan Ellison's I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream. Like Ellison's short story, Tetsuo features a handful of humans trapped in a vast mechanical landscape at the mercy of some sadistic higher being.

Tetsuo's ascended intelligence is The Metal Fetishist, a vagrant that has forced a threaded steel rod into his leg and become a kind of rust God. After a hit-and-run encounter with a bespectacled businessman and his horny girlfriend, Fetishist transforms into a mechanical, viral infection that mutates anybody he comes into contact with. The businessman accidentally triggers his own transformation with his electric razor, causing pustulous steel boils to sprout up on his cheek. Tetsuo takes the body-morphing antics of the Japanese superhero genre and wrings them dry. People in Tsukamoto's film don't become cybernetic do-gooders, instead they shred their significant others with drill-bit dicks and dream of the Earth as an endless factory dedicated to liquefying mankind. Power corrupts them instantly.

Greyhat - Freaking Out All The Time

The Fauns - 4AM (Power Glove Remix)

Thursday, 2 October 2014

The Fog

The Fog opens with an elderly man telling ghost stories to children on a beach. Although brief, and added after reshoots, the interlude is this film's version of Dr Loomis' Halloween framing diatribes. We are told about the destruction of a clipper, the boat shorn apart on rocks after the crew mistook a campfire, set by greedy locals, for a navigation light. The yarn helps us understand the psychological viewpoint of something betrayed and dead, a cold thing at the bottom of sea that hates the living and wants to strike out.

Despite a simplistic set-up, Fog is a little flabby. Themes fire off in a million different directions and never quite coalesce. John Carpenter and Dean Cundey spend a lot of their screentime (beautifully) photographing smoke prowling over various landscapes. Attacks are few and far between and none of the human characters are particularly interesting. Fog's main problem is the menace keeps shrinking. We start out with the idea that everybody and everything in Antonio Bay is imperilled. Unfortunately, this is quickly ditched. We trade a mini-apocalypse for a six man countdown.

Fog, like all campside bullshitting, rambles and disappoints, but the ghost attacks are great. The drowned sailors are swollen, rotting lumps, drained of colour and detail. They snatch at the living, clawing them with fish hooks and plunging kitchen knives into their bodies. Considering its adult rating Fog is unusually anaemic. Instead of arterial blood Carpenter uses a suite of visceral sound effects to turn basic mobbing into something suggestive of a crunchy, X-rated cannibal attack.

Kanye West - Dark Fantasy / Lost in the World ft. Bon Iver

Akira by Jimmy Giegerich

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Big Trouble in Little China #6 by Alexis Ziritt


An action sequence from Transformers: Victory, staged like a side-scrolling shooting game. This two minute sequence encapsulates everything fun about 80s mecha anime. The limited TV animation doesn't hold the excitement back, it enriches and informs it. Instead of complicated movement strings we get unusual angles and tense framing. Seeing the combined Victory Saber ship repeatedly smashing through identical bulkheads doesn't get dull, the loop is too quick.

We also get time to hold on two gigantic heavenly bodies hurtling towards each other, slow motion stretching the moment of impact out for maximum effect. The sound design is wonderful too. When the two machines eventually collide the impact is shrunk down to a tiny detail, noted with the crackling sound of giallo glass shattering. After a brief pause, the destruction blossoms - bizarre vacuumed whines and crunchy, debris field explosions combining to stress the otherness of intergalactic robots tearing each other apart in space.

George Harrison - Wah-Wah / Beck - Wah-Wah