Sunday, 28 October 2012
After a brush with friendly fire and atomic bullets, an injured, despondent Bond retires to an exotic beach to fuck and court danger. Neither seems to make him happy. He's numb, unable to create any joy for himself. It's a brief window into Bond's thoroughly miserable downtime life. He's rootless and restless by design. 007 lives to work. He's a company man through and through. Take that away from him and he's just a loose jumble of self-destructive drives searching for purpose. He needs direction. He wants a parent.
Skyfall explicitly noodles around with the idea of Bond as a lost, damaged little boy seeking approval. It's a reading that Ian Fleming frequently stressed in Bond's relationship with his taskmaster M. Bond wants to please the only authority in his life that he respects. It's an idea that hasn't been particularly well mined in any of the previous films. The various M characters are typically defined as anonymous, interchangeable desk jockeys, fit to issue orders and not much else. Here though, there's history. M's importance to Bond is a central conceit, underpinning the spy's war with a shade, an earlier agent that didn't quite measure up to M's impossibly high standards. A discarded child.
GoldenEye introduced Judi Dench's M as a kind of joke - could an irredeemable misogynist handle taking life-and-death orders from a tiny middle-aged woman? That was 17 years ago. In the interim this M has transformed from Bond's idea of a meddling accountant into a dispassionate iron lady entirely comfortable with feeding MI6 agents into the meat grinder. Naturally, he loves her. She demands complete sacrifice in pursuit of results, something Bond willingly gives. She allows him to test his limits and abilities in pursuit of something he trusts is worthwhile. He almost wants to die, and lacking any workable value system of his own, defers agency to her. Mother knows best.
M's other child, Raoul Silva, although superficially similar, thinks too much. In an aside M reveals Silva outlived his usefulness when he began to make his own moves, gathering his own intelligence. He sought to impress his master with ingenuity and external action. It got him deformed. Conversely, Bond wins his girl's heart by retreating into himself, forcing everyone else to contend with his own internal dilemmas. Skyfall doesn't play the blockbuster game. It doesn't attempt to top the last multi-vehicle pile-up. Instead the action contracts, getting smaller and tenser, until you arrive at a man prowling his own space, protecting that which he has made his own.
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Masters of the Universe toys, Mattel held a Create-A-Character contest that gave the winner the chance to see their design immortalised as part of the super-sized Classics range. Winner Daniel Benedict killed it with the delightfully ludicrous Castle Grayskullman, a generic buff-man body dressed up to resemble the playset fort's boney battlements. For a wheeze, Mr Benedict also knocked together this vintage style trailer.
Thursday, 25 October 2012
I was quite fond of The Expendables. Sylvester Stallone's 80s action mega-mix neatly juggled a reductive police action plot, with some gonzo character moments. Each actor appeared to be playing an amped up version of themselves. Stallone was codgery but desperate to please. Statham, unlucky in love with brunettes. Li working overtime to support two families. Stone Cold Steve Austin quite happy to strike a woman. It was a film with a wrestle card mindset, turning up personality tics and tricks against a backdrop of Commie stomping and big government mistrust. All that and Sly seemed to have spent hours cruising YouTube for bite sized awesome to co-opt for the big screen. Expendables was engaged with the type of viewer who delights at record breaking pistol reloads, or seeing an American twenty-something, pretending to be Russian, chopping up the landscape with his latest combat shotgun. It was crass and shallow, but betrayed a slathering, uncompromised affection for also-ran 80s thugs and their modern equivalents.
The Expendables 2 takes a different tact, perhaps trying to recontextualise the sappy, barely reconstructed personas Sly and the gang struggled with during the early 1990s. Stallone's doomed relationship with a perky surrogate son pokes at the same mutant identity areas as the last film, but the execution is clumsy. The film plays like a TV movie, with a plot better suited to an A-Team 2000 pilot than an all-in genre stomp. Director Simon West lets the Planet Hollywood trifecta burn screen time cracking gentle jokes in static set-ups whilst Jason Statham is relegated to one tiny feature thump - a knife ninja remix of Clint Eastwood's entrance in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.
The rest of the original cast get it worse. The wonderful Terry Crews is made to play shotgun bitch to Schwarzenegger. Jet Li bails out after the first mission. Lundgren is a mere background player, doomed to blow kisses at Stallone's future squeeze Yu Nan. The underdog charm of the first film is jettisoned in favour of (fading) A-list indifference. It's fun to see Schwarzenegger marching forwards firing a Call of Duty gun without blinking, but it's a fleeting joy. With his fright wig hair and advancing age, Schwarzenegger is starting to resemble an overstuffed, mumpy Christopher Lloyd. The only person really trying is Jean-Claude Van Damme. His character, Jean Vilain, seems to be the only role still operating on the first film's private-life-as-action-reality premise. His sinewy, euro-trash arrogance is perfectly suited to make adversary moves against Stallone's dull macho internalism. For all its faults Expendables 2 is one of the few films that really taps into Van Damme's dickish, sport shagger appeal. If we are to suffer an Expendables 3, Stallone would be well advised to seek assistance from some of the behind-the-scenes stars of 80s action cinema. I'm sure Steven E de Souza could knock up a suitably hyperbolic script for jailbird John McTiernan to direct.
Tuesday, 23 October 2012
What is a special effect? Is it seeing a computer animated sequence of Iron Man's house falling off a cliffside whilst our hero struggles to free himself from the rubble? Or is it seeing Dolph Lundgren's wrinkly red face screaming directly into camera about self-determination? Is it more exciting when your brain experiences that tranquilised buzz you associate with CG, or when you see someone real locked into ludicrous? I submit that there's more juice in witnessing a shotgun fired a few inches above a man's hairline than a million missile merchandise helicopters. Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning looks incredible. They should let John Hyams do a Terminator movie.
Shane Black's sequel formula revealed! Obliterate the house on stilts, and dump the main players in the sea. Worked for Lethal Weapon 2. Probably gonna work for Iron Man 3. I wonder how much of a wizard Ben Kingsley's Mandarin will turn out to be? Although we hear him dropping terror rhetoric and doing basic pistol maintenance, we do get a snatch of hero shots on his power rings. With the cosmic peril of The Avengers under the Marvel brand belt, Mandarin doesn't even need to be specifically magical - he could just be wielding hyper-advanced Asgard tech. Fingers crossed for a psychedelic showdown!
Monday, 22 October 2012
Sunday, 21 October 2012
Saturday, 20 October 2012
Sega announce a digitally distributed collection revolving around their Model 2 arcade hardware. Debuting with the insanely successful Daytona USA (already available on Xbox Live and PSN), Sega's Model 2 board formed the backbone of their second generation of 3D coin-ops. Although their are no firm details available at this point, early word is that Virtua Fighter 2, Fighting Vipers, and the incredibly obscure Sonic the Fighters will be available separately or in a specially discounted pack. Virtua Striker and Cyber Troopers Virtual-On will follow in the new year.
Wednesday, 17 October 2012
In a daring break with convention, Resident Evil 6 rejects every aesthetic and mechanical inroad made by previous instalments to concentrate on being the blandest possible cover-shoot clunker. Gone are the days of short, well-crafted bulletin play, replaced by yawning, seemingly endless stages lousy with miserly checkpointing and mind-numbing quick time failure prompts. Resident Evil 6 is misunderstanding and incompetence at every level. Capcom have replaced genuine ideas and thrills with the video game equivalent of buzzwords. Popular, financially successful games are strip mined for play concepts, then hopelessly mangled by Capcom's chronic indecision. Is Resident Evil 6 an action game or a horror game? Two and a half campaigns down, I still can't tell.
Interaction tends towards action concepts. Extended, entrenched shoot-outs sit alongside minimal input cinematic interludes, but the execution is belligerent. Instant kill avoiding button prompts pass in incomprehensible blurs. Camera control, and even character control, is routinely wrestled away from the player until you're not sure what you're looking at. Really Capcom, if you're going to steal Uncharted's calamity sprints, wouldn't it also be worth knocking off their (mostly) clear destinations, and relaxed input demands? Resident Evil 6 either expects players to be permanently scanning the screen to be instantly ready to tap out subliminal commands, or it's okay with them dying constantly. Bluntly, this is play utterly antithetical to the core appeal of the Resident Evil franchise - survival horror, with an emphasis on survival.
Resident Evil 4 mixed up the slow-burn formula of the PlayStation instalments, placing a larger importance on forcing advantage through action, but the survival component remained. Item management was integral to progress, as was wise use of the world's in-game treasure economy. Do you upgrade your pistol's reload speed, or do you pony up for a rocket propelled grenade launcher for the next boss? Players were given carte blanche; they could customise, and thereby influence, their interaction almost to their heart's content. In doing this Capcom created a balance between player expectation and their ability to accomplish. Resident Evil 6 is nothing like this.
Weapons are fixed by character and sub-campaign. They also cannot be customised. There are Call of Duty style perks, but you can only simultaneously equip three out of the dozens available. A 'complete', fully upgraded character is always out of reach. Your health ration is obscured by a pharmacy mechanic that wants seven inputs before you can get yourself back in the pink. That's seven inputs, real-time, whilst frantically trying to escape from enemies. Characters themselves exist in deep-focus, three-quarter close-ups that make the tight, shack geometry of Chris's campaign frequently unreadable. Cheap shots are everywhere, most noticeably in Leon's campaign were possum zombies cannot be melted until they've been allowed to attack you. If they connect, they sap player energy to inches even on Normal difficulty. Health items are next to non-existent - you're lucky if you find one full heal per hour and a half, multi-boss chapter. Resident Evil 6 is irritation at every turn.
If you attempt to play Resident Evil 6 on the terms dictated by the rest of the series you'll spend your days limping between encounters, pressing your player character up against every inch of the environment, desperately trying to locate a herb. You're much better off killing yourself and forcing a checkpoint restart to refresh your meagre health allowance. That's the issue. This is a game so poorly conceived that it's wiser to break narrative and suicide your avatar than bravely muddle on. The core problem then of Resident Evil 6 is that it doesn't mind if you die. It's actually anti-survival. We've somehow gotten to a point were skill, or even just a desire to play with a game on the terms that its genre would seem to dictate, isn't even a positive, it's actually a hindrance. Slugged through several checkpoints on fume health? You're playing the game incorrectly. The game hasn't been designed for the experience you're trying to have. Instead, it's been balanced for an idea truly horrific to any game player - repetition. Failure isn't a negative in Resident Evil 6, it's part of the routine. A by design bullet point on a white board in Osaka. The majestic, genre defining Resident Evil 4 sanded down into a benign, mulchy time-waster. You don't survive in Resident Evil 6, you simply play it until it ends.
Monday, 15 October 2012
Another micro-clip of Call of Duty: Black Ops II's Zombies mode. This time we get some zip skinny on the tool building abilities available to players. Gather relevant trash from around the crumble arenas and you can cobble together some useful items to put dents in the undead hordes. Also of note is the actual environment itself - seems we'll be scavenging around the Earthly ruins caused by the World at War veterans, and their adventures on the Moon.
To test the waters for a potential Street Fighter IV style revival of the Darkstalkers series, Capcom are bundling together Night Warriors: Darkstalker's Revenge and Darkstalkers 3 in a spiffy digital download HD collection. The port is being handled by Iron Galaxy Studios, the people behind the recent, entirely serviceable, repackages of Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike and the Marvel vs Capcom Origins collection.
Sunday, 14 October 2012
Friday, 12 October 2012
Criminally, Schwarzenegger only reads two chapters on the audiobook version of his autobiography Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story. Here are some edited highlights from the book The Guardian is calling "(the) most unpleasant, creepiest celebrity autobiography ever!"
Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Dead nice chap Warwick Johnson Cadwell has been to chosen to illustrate the next leg of Tank Girl's ongoing adventures. This move places WJC in an artistic pantheon alongside mega stars like Jamie Hewlett, Philip Bond, Ashley Wood, and Mike McMahon. Best place for him frankly. Can't wait to get me mitts on this!
Image nicked from Robot 6.