Saturday, 31 January 2015
Friday, 30 January 2015
David Ayer brings his all-aggression outlook to the second world war, cross-pollinating your standard push for Berlin with the kind of psychological harassment usually seen in prison movies. A squeamish clerical assistant named Norman is billeted in Wardaddy (Brad Pitt)'s tank and forced to scrub his predecessor's face off the dashboard. The bullying of this new fish begins immediately, prompted, mostly, by his inability to act and think like his comrades.
Ayer posits war as a group process, one weak link in the collective and lives are lost. Ayer doesn't sell Norman short, rather than yelp and tantrum like a coward the young Private argues back with a series of reasoned and intelligent points. Unfortunately he's debating shell-shocked brutes emptied out by their experiences. Wardaddy's crew reflex hostile, their cruelty persistently circling sexual violence.
Ayer and Wardaddy's point, illustrated through the wholesale demolition of the Geneva Conventions, is that's the kind of man you have to be to roll over someone else's country. Wardaddy has successfully recruited himself a Sherman full of true believers. Ayer shoots the ensemble as cramped, biological batteries jammed into the shivering, sputtering mechanical whole of the tank. Action is faltering and capricious, the tanks churn on, lighting up distant targets with lancing tracer rounds. Gunfire in Fury reads like laser exchanges, dirty lumbering blocks ejaculating liquid light at tree lines.
Nazi resistance is experienced as a series of ambushes. Children drag Panzerschreck rockets through forests, foxholes are turned into meat fountains by the advancing Shermans. Life beyond the tank is only briefly encountered, the men largely unable to change emotional tact for even a second. Cursory interactions boil with anger, an attempt at breakfast threatens to evolve into a gang rape. Wardaddy's men are like apes, everything is grist for a power play.
Fury's problem is that it does such a good job of sketching a fraught, animalistic war zone that when it dials the mutilation down for a star turn friendly finale the gears start to grind. Sabotage pulled a similar trick to much better success - Schwarzenegger immolating his team to inch towards a two dimensional confrontation worked because Arnold is, regardless of role, an electronic murderer. Genre and star expectations align and are fulfilled.
Unfortunately, Fury's acknowledgement of what its audience, or maybe more accurately its studio, wants works against the film's established ruthlessness. Having Brad Pitt shrug off a full clip of sniper fire, not to mention a couple of potato mashers, without deforming his pin-up looks feels like a sop. Ayer briefly fumbling his abattoir conceit with an incongruous attempt to position Pitt as a flayed angel in a film otherwise obsessed with pancaked Wehrmacht.
TheSyndicateProject takes a break from being super young and successful to bring us a 40 minute glimpse of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare's Exo Zombies mode. Naturally, Syndicate has his routes and pick-ups down so consider this a useful primer on how to get yourself playing up to rounds with double digits.
Monday, 26 January 2015
Sunday, 25 January 2015
For better or worse, Lee Sang-il's retelling of Unforgiven accounts for a profound psychological shift akin to transformation. At journey's end Ken Watanabe's Jubei finds himself staring down a familiar shithole, drunk and out for blood. Lee's film treats this ferocity as a dead end for the character, rather than an aspect of his personality.
Clint Eastwood's William Munny placed himself in a desperate, suicidal situation and reacted with supernatural calm. This is what allows him to clear a bordello. He doesn't hurry, he doesn't make mistakes. Jubei has instead snapped, becoming a kind of demon. Lee's stormy, deteriorating mise en scene suggesting all the great damned Samurai from Ryunosuke Tsukue in The Sword of Doom to Ogami Itto in the Lone Wolf and Cub cycle.
Eastwood and Lee's films differ in how the hero is communicated to us. After his massacre Munny seems to readjust instantly, compartmentalising his violence. It's easy for us to accept this too - the confrontation was cathartic, happening in response to a friend's murder. It's satisfying, it packs you off to bed after your umpteenth viewing. Lee's film is the opposite.
Jubei's moment almost seems like a fumble. Firearms play a key role - always disappointing in a chanbara - and Watanabe sleepwalks through the encounter. Jubei's violence is slow, a deliberate monster in the midst of amateurs. It's messy, more like a scuffle, designed to not quite satisfy. Men aren't cleaved by swords, weapons bite on bone and break. Jubei isn't the same kind of man as Munny either, he can't turn it on or off. Once he's tasted blood he's keyed in, fated to wander, seething, until his batteries run dry.
Friday, 23 January 2015
Saturday, 17 January 2015
Winners & Sinners is what happens when several of the world's greatest action directors decide to make their own, culturally specific version of The Blues Brothers or, maybe more accurately, the Carry On films. Briefly, Winners & Sinners is a broad, chummy comedy revolving around the misadventures of a team of criminals determined to go straight after a lengthy spell in prison.
Hung's recruits include Stanley Fung as Rookie, the secretive straight man; John Sham as Curly, a political activist for hire who fumes every time one of his pals sleazes around his sister Shirley (Cherie Chung); Charlie Chan as Vaseline, a self-appointed lothario; and Richard Ng as Exhaust Pipe, a gadget loving thief who's convinced he can make himself invisible. Hung himself stars as Teapot, the group whipping boy who ends up winning Shirley's affections by playing it modest. Jackie Chan cameos as an overenthusiastic cop who's down for casual brutality.
Primarily a comedy, Winners & Sinners is a series of rambling vignettes with occasional action interludes. Unlike many Hong Kong films that attempt to juggle these two clashing tones, Hung's film largely hangs together thanks to a relentlessly energetic pace. The cast, especially Richard Ng, are funny. One sight gag involving voluminous smoke from one of Sammo's trick cigars is inspired.
Hung's setpieces are exciting and dangerous looking. An umpteen vehicle pileup caused by Chan's dogged pursuit of two pickpockets gets very close to John Landis levels of destruction. Hung and action co-director Yuen Biao continuously find new angles on two (or three, or four) bodies interacting, editor Peter Yiu-Chung Cheung making superb use of the absolutely exhaustive coverage.
Of particular note is a forty second exchange in a starkly lit food hall that instantly seems like one of the most exciting uses of montage I've ever seen. It's just so fast. Each shot carefully composed to deliver an almost subliminal glimpse of the action without ever losing the geographical whole, or derailing the hammering rhythm. The sequence even caters for the styles of the two star fighters. Sammo Hung gets to deliver concise devastation blows while Chan moves in and around a stick-up crew attempting to flee.
In many ways the confrontation flies in the face of traditional fight theory. Wides are seldom held, the cuts are very fast, at first glance it almost seems like the excitement has been constructed in editing. Look at the arrangement over and over again though and you start to see that everything has been repeated a great many times from a wide selection of angles, each consistent enough to build a spatially cohesive whole.
I took an ungodly amount of screencaps during this fight, so let's run it down.
Jackie Chan hurls himself in from the left, leapfrogging a goon or two to deliver a kick hard enough to send Vest Top hurtling towards the wall in front of him. Stash Man tracks alongside the group.
A lower angle on Chan using one of his catapult people as a human shield. Camouflage's arm looks like it's twelve foot long. Vest Top winces up against the wall. Stash Man starts to cower.
Chan and the human gymnastic equipment. Chan uses the momentum of the crumbling man to launch a kick at the Camouflage Goon. Vest Top has fully sunk to the floor across these two shots - another layer of movement. Stash Man has gone into a full dither.
A lightning fast shot of Chan accounting for the Blue Goon on his right, then pushing off to deliver a knock down strike to Camouflage Man. Chan instantly changes tact to kick another Goon trying his luck. Note the angle is lower again, making us perceive Chan's legs as longer.
Continuous on the same set-up - Camouflage Man hurtles towards the screen as Chan lines up his kick at a White Vest Attacker. Chan tucks his leg up then throws it out again to meet the incoming attacker. These two planes of movement meet with a crunch. White Vest is stopped dead in his tracks rather than being sent back the way he came.
Pushing off from the pause strike to White Vest, Chan angles his leg up to the Blue Goon on his left, the close-up of the impact matching the position of the leg in the previous shot. Just when you think he must be finished Chan flings his leg out again to hammer White Vest in the face and put him on his back. It's superfluous, excessive, and utterly thrilling.
While Chan struggles with two headlocked Goons, a New Challenger appears - Knife Guy! Please note Sammo Hung crawling around in the background, still stunned from Chan's initial, explosive launch towards the gang.
Before Knife Guy can make any significant gains Chan has him trapped with his Adidas Casuals. The next shot reveals Chan is again using his Blue Goons as leverage, allowing him to push Knife Guy directly into the path of Sammo Hung, effectively tagging his co-star into the fight.
The section I've highlighted lasts maybe twelve seconds, making up just under a quarter of this complete sequence. Straight after Sammo Hung gets his chance to shine, his set-ups are longer and arranged to accentuate the impact of his famously stiff blows. This bodily harm is intercut with Chan snaking around his flailing opponents delivering double groin punches, shot from his character's POV.
If it's ever talked about seriously, Winners & Sinners is usually discussed in terms of how it took Hung and Chan out of period brawlers and into a more contemporary milieu. What I'm wondering though is where did this particular style of shooting come from? Is this the first instance?
A lot of the Sammo Hung films I'm familiar with - Magnificent Butcher and his additional footage in the Chinese cut of Game of Death - were still using long, traditional choreography with an emphasis on limbs cracking against each other. 1981's The Prodigal Son, directed by Hung and starring Yuen Biao, does contain a few exchanges with a similar kind of editing beat but nothing this complicated, claustrophobic or experimental.
Up until now Jackie Chan had matched Hung's bone splintering with his own unbeatable underdog. This was a mutation that saw Chan putting his stunt skills to the test, barrelling through teams of heavies and desperately selling for his final opponent. Chan is always communicating a steep climb. Considering this excerpt relies pretty heavily on call-and-response actions between a team of stunt men, and given that Jackie Chan is happy to slum as a component in his own fight scenes, perhaps he is the primary architect?
It's worth noting that the scene has elements in common with the bathroom fight in Walter Hill's The Warriors, both scenes sharing a similar kinetic punctuation. We're no longer dealing with well-trained experts, these people are more like street fighters, so it makes sense to take a different approach. Is this Chan's take on those kind of ideas? Hill and his editors compiled their fight like an explosion, hurling shrapnel in every direction. Chan and his team instead have every element tracking back towards him - the centre. A deliberately chaotic brawl is reduced down to one determined individual managing and responding to assaults from several different directions.
Most likely of all, Chan, Hung and Biao were goading each other on, pushing themselves to deliver their best possible work. After a string of duds and failures, Jackie Chan must've been especially hungry. Take a glance at the respective filmographies and it feels like there was an arms race going on between the former school friends, each of the stars working like crazy to take fight films somewhere different. Although I'm by no means an expert this short exchange in a strip-lit mall, deep in a crude comedy, strikes me as something new and precious.
Friday, 16 January 2015
Eurogamer's Aoife Wilson talks us through some of the points that keep Resident Evil a deliberate, rewarding experience. Due for an HD re-re-release later this month, Shinji Mikami's masterpiece is an almost peerless trespassing simulator - the deeper into the Spencer mansion you go, the further away from safety you feel. Wilson's video also shows off the new 3D control scheme and all its attendant imprecision.
Thursday, 15 January 2015
Jackfrags and pals talks us through all the tactics and situations keeping them screeching expletives at their screens in Battlefield 4. For opportunist types, this video should serve as some instantaneous counterprogramming - you can learn all the sleazy tricks to keep you irritating. I've jumped back on Battlefield 4 a little bit recently, partly because I daftly forked out for the season pass and want to get a semblance of my money's worth, but primarily because Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is precisely zero fun to play.
Tuesday, 13 January 2015
Monday, 12 January 2015
Saturday, 10 January 2015
Friday, 9 January 2015
An odds and sods effort from Lo Wei and Chan Chuen thrown together to make some money when Jackie Chan broke his contract to follow Willie Chan to Golden Harvest. Fearless Hyena II is an artless, inconsistent thing, cobbled together out of deleted scenes from previous Wei / Chan collaborations, that takes sixty minutes to stumble towards an inciting incident. In the meantime we're subjected to Chan stuffing eels down his pants and wringing a hen's neck.
An early scene, clipped out of the original Fearless Hyena, gives a tyrannical restaurateur free reign to insult the star, drawing attention to his girlish hair, big nose and even his eyelid surgery. After breaking some antique bowls, Lung flees rather than settle up with the owner. Following an interlude featuring Austin Wai's Tung, an obnoxious teenage inventor in possession of an automated shack, we're back with our so-called hero, this time gambling away his friend's medicine money.
Fearless Hyena II often feels like Lo Wei's revenge, a petty attempt to undermine and ridicule the departing star. In a sense Chan actually complies with the conceit, delivering some deeply unenthusiastic capering. Wei and Chuen burn through their new Jackie Chan footage pretty quickly handing over to heavily made-up stand-ins for the remainder of the film.
From a certain point onwards Lung is only seen from a distance or with a branch conveniently obscuring his face. Wei's stunt Jackies aren't even particularly talented, their motions are dull and sluggish. This consistent indignity even extends to the finale fight. Recycled Chan footage is subordinated by Tung's newly discovered kung fu abilities and his elaborate bamboo death traps. Chan is used as a placeholder, manfully wearing down the final opponent so Austin Wai can leap in at the last second to deliver the killer blow.
Thursday, 8 January 2015
In order to extricate himself from a contract with mobbed up director Lo Wei, Jackie Chan turned to Jimmy Wang Yu, an action actor known for his public brawling, incessant womanising, and the One-Armed Swordsman series. Wang was able to settle the dispute through his own Triad contacts, putting an end to a situation in which Chan had taken to carrying around several pistols and a hand grenade for protection. In order to pay Wang back Chan agreed to co-star in a number of the actor's productions, including Fantasy Mission Force.
Jackie Chan essentially plays a special effect here, rolling into frame whenever the filmmakers think the audience's attention is starting to drift. You wonder why they bothered. Fantasy Mission Force may be tonally inconsistent and largely incomprehensible but it's never ever dull. The film has been cited as an early example of mo lei tau, a nonsensical comedic style that has become synonymous with Stephen Chow. Irrelevant and anachronistic elements are jumbled together with little narrative consideration, the emphasis being to deliver an uncomplicated, impromptu kind of trash entertainment.
Chu Yen-ping's film is set during an alternative version of World War II that accounts for haunted houses, a cannibalistic Amazonian tribe, and stock car racing Samurai with a hard on for swastikas. Brigitte Lin is the film's biggest plus, her character a violent, somersaulting version of Karen Allen's character from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Setting off to search for her duplicitous lover, Lin turns back to consider the shack they shared. After a nostalgic beat she whips out a rocket launcher and blows the building off the face of the earth. Wang floats in and out as a gruff Lieutenant tasked with rescuing General Abraham Lincoln from the Japanese. Jackie Chan pops up whenever someone needs kicking in the head.
Wednesday, 7 January 2015
Friday, 2 January 2015
Unfortunately Dragon Lord makes The Young Master look like a coherent, well-structured three acter. Jackie Chan directs and stars as Dragon, a spoiled twenty-something who behaves like he's about 12. Dragon differs from previous Jackie Chan heroes in that his skills aren't strictly martial. Although he'll deign to work through a few kung fu moves when his father's snooping about, his talents are more to do with broad athletics. Dragon Lord is relatively fight free, of the film's four key action setpieces only one, the film's finale, involves a typical, blow-for-blow confrontation.
Dragon Lord is a curate's egg, especially notable for the amount of directorial control Chan was able to wrangle so early in his career. The film begins with a kind of mob football event in which several teams climb a rickety bamboo pyramid to secure a golden egg. Although orphaned by a film that does nothing to set up the sequence, never mind place it in a wider context, the palava entertains because it's obvious a lot of time, money and effort was put into it. Dozens of stunt men are clearly injured, sometimes quite brutally. There's even a long, Panavision take of Chan himself collapsing backwards off the summit and surfing his way over underlings to the bottom.
More so than The Young Master, Dragon Lord feels excessive, the Hong Kong equivalent of a director-driven production like Heaven's Gate (or maybe more accurately, how Michael Cimino's film was described by American critics). There's zero sense of control in the film, we skip from incident to incident with barely any visual or dramatic consistency. Chan has great ideas - every action sequence wows, and the image of the star in an unbuttoned, dishevelled changshan has a certain punky appeal, but it's hard to shake the impression we're just watching an emerging talent fucking about on prefabricated sets.