Sunday, 30 March 2014
Saturday, 29 March 2014
Introductions out the way, the Marvel movie universe has settled into a groove of pamphlet filmmaking. Captain America: The Winter Soldier motors along with the same brisk efficiency as a 1970s Bond film, that is to say spectacular stunts and tabloid plot prompts wrapped up in an artistically impersonal whole. Terminally decent Steve Rogers lacks any of 007's wry psychosis, the levity here usually provided by the sheer absurdity of Cap fighting normal human beings. Rogers engages like a hit and run driver, crashing into terrorists and putting them in comas.
Despite the presence of sitcom mainstays Anthony and Joe Russo, basic human interaction stalls the film dead. Scenes between the leads grind horridly through plot outlining and graceless dick waving. Cap is approached like a deathless patriotic ideal but the destination is never anywhere other than fisticuffs. This then is the second unit's film, the team clearly obsessed with practical auto-carnage. Nick Fury's invincible car is an opportunity to quote The Gauntlet, while metallic cyborgs weaving in and out of multiple-vehicle collisions recalls the Terminator series.
Hand-to-hand combat doesn't disappear into a mess of rapid cuts either, this is closer to the Sammo Hung school of fight choreography than other, recent spy films. We get a sustained look at short attack chains, often featuring knives, cutting on blocks and impacts. Cap and The Winter Soldier's brawls tell their own story - these two are evenly matched. With the action sewn up, Captain America 2 flirts with ideas like totalitarian surveillance and mindwiped mercenaries, but doesn't really commit to any of them. Instead they're signposts on the way to the next pile-up. Like an ongoing comic, Winter Soldier's happy to shuffle the deck and posture, but is too afraid to burn it all down to the ground.
Friday, 28 March 2014
Tuesday, 25 March 2014
Sunday, 23 March 2014
Ever wanted a nose around Capcom's Street Fighter II design documents? This vid by Did You Know Gaming? offers a quick glimpse at some pencilled out notes and art that look like they were drafted by series planner Akira Yasuda.
Saturday, 22 March 2014
Hideo Kojima talks IGN through the opening cinematic for Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. It's amusing to hear that the distinctive lens flare effect used throughout is nothing more than a visual affectation inherited from Japanese pop music videos. Internet snoops had convinced themselves that the images were a clue to deeper, hidden meanings.
Thursday, 20 March 2014
Jake Kazdal talks us through the influences at work in 17-BIT's super exciting looking Galak-Z. It's cool hearing Kazdal talk about how his love for 70s and 80s anime has shaped the game's aesthetic. Years ago, shortly after a (failed) job interview with a video game company, I pitched them the idea of an episodic racing series that evolved like a Shonen Jump manga.
My idea was to have a character-driven race game full of dastardly enemies and mysterious challengers. The main player character would be your typical skilled bumpkin working his way to the top through guts and determination. Other drivers would be a variety of colourful allies and evil aliens out to thwart your ambitions. Play would be snatched moments of pivotal action accompanied by thwart radio chatter - a bit like Star Fox. Looking back it's probably an idea at odds with ideal racing game state - when you're performing well you tend to slide into a zen reflex mode, you don't want, or need, story pop-ups constantly demanding that you be excited.
A tiny robot traverses a hostile environment by air-dashing and a good chunk of the boss enemies look like 60s genre movie characters. Keiji Inafune's Mighty No 9 is looking pretty nifty. If this prototype is representative of an actual development cycle it's heartening that Comcept are building the game around Beck's range of movement, rather than constructing a set and trying to figure out how they can get a character to negotiate it.
Ultra Street Fighter IV's fifth character has been revealed! It's Cammy, in a mask! Amazingly, Capcom have put almost zero effort into differentiating Decarpe from Cammy. There are downloadable costumes for the established fighters that look more like brand new characters than this. Couldn't they have at least given her a different hairstyle? Unlike Cammy, Decapre is a charge character, so presumably her movelist is an update of Juni's from Street Fighter Alpha 3.
Tuesday, 18 March 2014
Sunday, 16 March 2014
Ten trillion years into the future the universe is ruled by WASPs. The known galaxies are governed by a frumpish emperor who acts like ineffectual middle-management. He gets his orders from an elite class of gigantic foetuses that fold space by expelling luminous space cum. Viewers are prompted to throw their lot in with a Aryan gang named the Atreides who dress in Afrika Korps jodhpurs when visiting the titular planet. Their sworn enemies are the Harkonnen, a family of sadistic gingers who covet disease and pointless violence.
The first part of Dune is dense with exposition. Vendettas are explained at length and each character's inner monologue is expressed through terse, breathy whispers. These early scenes - in which House Atreides sit secure in the galactic hierarchy - have a recognisable order to them. Plots within plots shape the unfolding narrative. When the Atreides patriarch is murdered any sense of organisation is abandoned. Dune stops trying to be a rational series of events, instead becoming a collage of the impossible. This is what makes Dune wonderful. Recognisable human experience dies with Duke Leto. What remains is given over to the callous ascension of an infallible God Emperor and his rock opera earworm.
Saturday, 15 March 2014
Gamera 3: The Revenge of Iris starts incredibly strong. Shusuke Kaneko and Kazunori Ito concoct a first act that functions like the last, confrontational word on the entire kaiju genre. We're not in a fantasy land of last minute evacuations, Gamera doesn't pivot and contort during battle to shield puny humans like he did in Gamera: Guardian of the Universe. When the jet-propelled turtle faces a gang of winged Gyaos over Shibuya there is a human cost. Every step brings calamity. Subways cave in, commuters are vaporised. Even the bubbling mulch of Gamera's vanquished foes ends up flattening a gang of boozed up bystanders.
Gamera is given a makeover to better tally with this imperfection. He's no longer rounded and cute, instead he's spiky. His head is small and brutal like a snapping turtle, his neck ugly and elongated. We're primed for a dour, realistic take on fallibility of gigantic saviour Gods. Unfortunately these thematic ideas don't really inform the ebb and flow of the film. Instead they're consumed to serve the character arc of a sullen little girl. Ayana lost her parents and her cat when Gamera strode through the building they lived in. His actions aren't excused, he isn't thrown into the building by an enemy's attack, he's just, in that moment, oblivious.
Understandably, Ayana detests Gamera. When she discovers the egg of an ancient tentacled God, postulated to be Gamera's opposite, she forms a symbiotic relationship with the creature. This then becomes the film's focus - Gamera and his effect on the world is subordinated to concentrate on two characters whose motives are, at best, remote. Their hatred isn't a burning, maniacal drive, it's a simmering constant expressed through evasive eye contact, ultimately discarded when Ayana finds herself out of her depth. Compounding this disappointment are the numerous asides about Gamera being elsewhere, participating in a more exciting film about an apocalyptic extinction war with armies of prehistoric bats.
Friday, 14 March 2014
Gamera's problem is that he doesn't have a pop. He lacks a memorable roar, a pounding, foreboding theme tune doesn't announce his every appearance. Gamera's appeal is a little less obvious. He isn't a show-off, he's a stocky mid-card scrapper that soaks up punishment and fights like hell. This humble approach to world saving informs the tone and reflects the slighter budget of Daiei's films. So while we don't get the sweeping majesty of a moving mountain bumbling through a minutely detailed recreation of the Tokyo skyline, we do get a screaming, bleeding turtle covered in tiny, razor sharp crustaceans.
The basic thrust of Kazunori Ito's script delivers on misleading American publicity for Godzilla vs The Thing, namely a heroic monster fighting an alien interloper that threatens to consume our world. Gamera 2: Advent of Legion matches the gigantic turtle against multiplying alien drones and their airborne crab queen. Both title creatures take a beating. Shinji Higuchi's team roll with the carnage, dreaming up majestic new modes for the shredded pugilists. Two films deep, it feels like the strength of the Heisei Gamera cycle has been a lack of expectation at a conception level. The Godzilla films of the period started off strong with new, vivid enemies, but got bogged down in repetition when the box office wasn't busted. Gamera succeeds through modesty. His films don't have to be the year's biggest earners, they just have to be solid monster movies. Toho was obviously taking notes, Gamera 2's influence is all over the Millennium Godzillas.
Thursday, 13 March 2014
Gamera: Guardian of the Universe lacks the pomp and circumstance of similar Godzilla cycles. For a start the title character isn't regarded with paralysing religious awe. Despite clearly acting in mankind's best interests, Gamera is treated as an irritant by Japan's political elite and their Self-Defense Force. When large reptilian birds named Gyaos are discovered on a remote island, the fleeting opportunity to trap them and make some theme park money is scuppered by the arrival of the titular jet-propelled turtle. It's not until the Gyaos begin cannibalising each other to create an alpha example that Japan gets on board with its half-shell hero.
Shusuke Kaneko keeps this Gamera clipped and crisp. Basic unstoppable force machinations are flavoured with short, shocking calamity. Aside from a mid-air action finale, the stand out sequence is the attempt to capture the infant Gyaos. Cattle carcasses are piled up to lure them to an empty baseball stadium. Once the birds begin their feast, the military plan to close the retractable roof and tranquillise them. It's an elegant solution to more modestly sized, and budgeted, monsters. Gamera doesn't need to fabricate fantastical sci-fi gun platforms to challenge these new threats, its world instead has a reasonable, but realistically fallible response. Shinji Higuchi's special effects landscapes are also scaled smaller than the Godzilla films of the period, better able to stress the idea that something horrible and alien has infected this environment rather than simply trampled it.
Tuesday, 11 March 2014
Thursday, 6 March 2014
I could never quite get my head around the first Sin City movie. Frank Miller's writing and layouts always suggested something slow and mournful to me. Miller moves his stories in pin-ups and spreads, scattering terse little phrases around the edges. Detail and emotions are expressed in tight, intimate glimpses. He's always inviting you to pore over his lines, to get a little punch-drunk on all the fetishised hardware. Miller is physicality and quiet intensity, the complete opposite of Robert Rodriguez's clipped, green screen workshopping. It's a tonal mismatch. Miller's comics should be shot like a Masaki Kobayashi samurai film, not a flat, computer-generated miasma.
Wednesday, 5 March 2014
How humiliating! When the treacherous humans had finished murdering their saviour, Autobot Supreme Commander Optimus Prime, they gathered up all their spent shell casings and dumped them in his cab compartment. Prime's lifeless shell was now a bin.
Tuesday, 4 March 2014
The problem with José Padilha's RoboCop is that very little pops. The film has a couple of good ideas about state surveillance and American foreign policy, but zero venom to accompany the bites. Everything is experienced as a fleeting surface-level detail rather than the sustained, impassive gaze of Paul Verhoeven, Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner's original. Crucially, the beat by beat updating (that passes for adaptation) invites a level of comparison that hobbles Padilha's film.
When 1987's ED-209 malfunctioned it shredded a bootlick yuppie. His death was then presented as a momentary inconvenience, a secondary concern to corporate grumbling about financial forecasts. '87 RoboCop dwelt on the disengaged, narcissistic environment that breeds men capable of transforming butchery into a career opportunity. 2014 model's has a similar event in a sequence heavily indebted to the ethnic cleansing that opened Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. In Tehran a child seizes a kitchen knife, using it to threaten an invading ED-209. We get a moment to ponder what damage a blunt blade could possibly do to a walking Apache helicopter before the boy is obliterated. We are alarmed, but the film isn't. Whatever issue the people of occupied Iran had with their mechanical oppressors is instantly discarded to concentrate on this America's squeamishness about having armed drone dudes patrolling the nation's streets. Tehran isn't used to fix tone, it's simply an arresting launchpad to blast us into another dull, heroic origin story.
Padilha's film apparently wants a few sour moments to bleed in around the edges, but the overall product remains defiantly safe, rote even. Horror is routinely mishandled. Never more so than in how the film communicates what's left of Alex Murphy. Pre-RoboCop we see him covered in third-degree burns and missing limbs. His left-hand side looks useless and dead, while his right recoverable. Immediately prior to this Gary Oldman's Dr Norton treats amputees with cybernetic limbs. We are given an expectation - Murphy will be completed by similar, military standard additions.
Alarmingly, we later discover that aside from a facelift, OmniCorp has whittled Murphy down to a face, a hand and a few pulsing organs. The obvious reaction to this is revulsion. Dr Norton isn't benign, he's a monster. There was zero communicated reason to dismember Murphy to such a permanent, horrifying degree other than control or boastful corporate posturing. Perhaps Dr Norton just wanted to see if he could scratch build a man? These ideas aren't even entertained. Instead Norton soothes like a father while Murphy experiences an acute kind of sexual shame about his lack of a body. RoboCop 2014 has the building blocks of a modern body-horror update, but it refuses to play with them, instead preferring to occupy its time with zero-stakes shoot-outs in a fraudulently picturesque Detroit.
As jackfrags and AnderzEl discuss here, Battlefield 4 is so infuriating because it's two or three latency patches away from being absolutely fantastic. Within BF4 is a hypothetical experience that me, and everyone I know who plays it, are desperately trying to conjure up. BF4 should be an infantry shooter with a rapid tickrate and actionable feedback. Sadly, this experience is not available. It's been just over four months since release and either the in-game search option is broken or the amount of servers has been drastically reduced; DICE are rattling through the DLC at pace, and EA are gearing up to promote their new FPS property Titanfall. At this stage it's looking increasingly likely that BF4 is going to stay broken.
Monday, 3 March 2014
Ten years ago Capcom released Hyper Street Fighter II, a special anniversary version of Super Street Fighter II Turbo in which players were given the option to select from the five specific arcade incarnations of each of the world warriors. If you so desired, you could pit Championship Edition Bison against the Super version of Sagat or Hyper Fighting's Honda.
HSFII was a showcase for Capcom's fighting game design ethos - balance as imperative. Characters were in a constant state of flux, their moves and control motions subject to tweaks, even outright revision, if it tallied with a better overall play experience. HSFII revealed an evolving approach to the building blocks of fight games, from Street Fighter II's high damage output to Super Street Fighter II Turbo's nascent juggling mechanic. One the evidence above, Capcom are looking to repeat this nifty little trick with Ultra Street Fighter IV.