Thursday, 29 December 2016

Films 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - Ultimate Edition













Restoring entire sub-plots worth of Superman scenes elevated Zack Snyder's film from a meandering punch-up to a timely jab at toxic media. We see Superman struggle against Lex Luthor under the microscope of a 24 hour news cycle designed to wilfully misunderstand and misinterpret events and actions. You've got to fill that never-ending schedule somehow.

As if to atone, an implicated Clark Kent pounds pavement, talking to street level observers as he investigates Gotham's brutal vigilante. Naturally, he is scolded by his boss for abandoning his assigned puff-pieces. No-one cares anymore. The Ultimate Edition of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice weaves this slow-acting poison into the bones of the film, so when a despondent saviour scales a snow-capped mountain to ponder if it's worth continuing his mission, we understand his deep-seated sense of rejection.

Theatrical release review

Ultimate Edition review


Elle

















Isabelle Huppert plays a woman in total control of herself. Michele is the co-owner of a successful video game company, she lives in a wealthy Parisian suburb and all the people in her life adore her or, at the very least, defer to her opinion. Elle begins with Michele being attacked and raped in her own home. Any presumption that these terrifying events will have a profound, destabilising effect on Michele are immediately silenced by her reaction - she slowly and methodically tidies up, then orders take away.

As the film unfolds we start to understand that Michele has seen (and perhaps even participated in) horror before. It's nothing new to her, she can cope with anything. Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter David Birke string together a series of events and situations in which Michele should register as distasteful - at work she demands her game's interactive sexual assaults be more violent and visceral; she takes time out at her mother's funeral to let her dimwitted son know that everyone is laughing at him for not realising that his long-term girlfriend has been unfaithful.

A lesser film might ask us to hate Michele, but Elle doesn't. Instead, Huppert makes us feel her frustration. The film's other characters, particularly the men, struggle to contextualise their feelings and drives, leading to an unhappiness that pores out of them and infects the world. These men register as ditherers or weaklings, desperately seeking an approval they don't know how to ask for. Comparatively, Michele exudes strength. She understands what she wants, no matter how alien it may seem. Her ability to act upon these desires makes her invincible.


Green Room


















Nazi punks. Nazi punks. Nazi punks, fuck off.

Original review


Hunt for the Wilderpeople













Taiki Waititi's Hunt for the Wilderpeople pulls a similar trick as early seasons of The Simpsons. The film sketches out flawed but lovable characters, then puts them through the wringer, expertly darting back and forth between surreal mischief and all-consuming despair. Waititi makes it look easy too. It helps that his cast are so talented. Julian Dennison, in particular, is delightful as Ricky Baker, able to effortlessly convey the kind of complex emotional damage experienced by someone who has been treated like a nuisance his entire life.


The Nice Guys

















Even when you're watching a Shane Black film, it's easy to forget just how talented a writer he actually is. The Nice Guys begins by making this case on two fronts - character and detail. Ryan Gosling's Holland March is one of our narrators, the role implying a certain kind of omniscience within the film. Russell Crowe's Jackson Healy seems to know what he's doing, so why shouldn't March? We assume Gosling's private detective, despite him telling us exactly how burnt out he is, will have some kind of handle on things.

He doesn't. He can't even perform basic burglary without nearly ending his own life. With March's incompetence firmly established, the film motors on, using March and Healy's relationship to put a fresh twist on breadcrumb detective work. Then, just when you think you see where The Nice Guys is headed next, Black pulls the rug and the film darts off in a completely different direction. Black has perfected the 90-minute Hollywood action pal movie. He knows the notes so well he can diverge at will then, when he's finished having his fun, he can pull it all back together to deliver an organic, satisfying finale.


Shin Godzilla
















Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi's beautiful, standalone take on the King of Monsters bucks the recent trend of making disconnected sequels to Ishiro Honda's original, choosing instead to reset the series and proceed from zero. Shin Godzilla doesn't take place in a Japan that has weathered kaiju incursions and learned to cope, this Godzilla is an incomprehensible nightmare that refuses to follow the basic behavioural patterns laid out by in-universe experts.

Anno's screenplay repeatedly stresses reality, finding tension in a mundane, human response to a destructive, wandering God. Rather than narrow the film's focus to a couple of charming principal players, Shin Godzilla takes a similar approach to 1984's The Return of Godzilla, locating the unfolding drama in featureless rooms full of printers and stressed out politicians desperately measuring unpopular but necessary decisions against their career aspirations.

Since Shin Godzilla prizes verisimilitude, Anno and Higuchi use the visual language of fly-on-the-wall documentaries, shooting people either once removed or as part of an uneasy collective, daring us to discern a favourite from the crowd. They are subjects rather than participants. We aren't allowed to get too close to them, their interior lives are extraneous details. All that matters is how they contextualise and react to the bubbling crisis.

Similarly, glimpses of the Godzilla monster itself are captured rather than shot. Unconsciously, we know these images arrive from an observer's vantage point. Street-level views stress his nauseating verticality - a blistered, volcanic giant towering over picturesque rural scenes. In-action shots are data culled from the various airborne antagonists struggling to stay alive in his presence. Regardless of how we see him, Godzilla's behaviour is constant, he's a lurching, cascading disaster that cannot be stopped.


Train to Busan
















Gong Yoo's Seok-Woo isn't a great Dad. He's absent, emotionally inert and keeps buying his lonely daughter the same, thoughtless present over and over again. Seok-Woo acts mechanically, defined by an all-encompassing sense of greed. His job involves moving other people's riches around then taking a cut for himself, while the relationship he has with his daughter seems less about love and more about holding onto a prized possession to spite his ex-wife.

Yeong Sang-ho's Train to Busan tracks with this selfish loner, relentlessly placing him situations he cannot exert control over. He expects to thrive, given his wealth accruing background, but is repeatedly thwarted. The slimy leg-up tactics that steered him to financial success in the corporate world offer very little protection from carriages and carriages filled with ravenous body-popping zombies. Seok-Woo's path is clear. If he really wants to save his daughter, he'll have to knuckle down, get his hands dirty and learn what it means to be a real father.


The VVitch: A New England Folk Tale


















Even before Satan reveals himself, Robert Eggers depiction of life in pre-industrial America skews dangerous and chaotic. Against all reason, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy)'s family depart from the safety of civilisation to make their own way in the world. Unfortunately for them, the patch of land they choose has no intention of being conquered.

The VVitch: A New England Folk Tale plays from the perspective of a daughter who is undervalued and unceasingly chastised, Thomasin is trapped within a family that barely even pay lip-service to the idea of love. She's just another hand to toil in their rotting fields, chattel to sell off when the harvest fails to come in. When events start spiralling out of control, it's her that the family blame. No wonder she rebels.

Original review


The Wailing


















The Wailing takes an unusual but immersive stance when plotting its own emotional pitch, it uses Kwak Do-won's officer Jong-goo as a mood guide, patterning developments in step with his understanding of the unfolding events. So when Jong-goo is dealing with a few scattered incidents of homicidal strife, the film is comparatively comedic and hands-off. After all, it's easy to blame the psychotic episodes on country bumpkins eating psychedelic mushrooms.

When the horror steers closer to home, The Wailing picks up, locking us into the mission mode of an incompetent but determined father dealing with a series of terrifying supernatural events. Writer-director Na Hong-jin weaves a scenario that not only deals with the paranormal in terms of scenes and information but also motive.

The Wailing contains several, distinct players whose intents are, frankly, unknowable. They don't have Jong-goo's simple, earthly ties, each giving the impression of having been summoned. They are chaotic agents, converging on the isolated village to exploit an imbalance, working in service of the incomprehensible. Since the drives of these characters stray beyond a contextual remit based on Jong-goo's understanding of events, Na doesn't waste any of the film's time (or mystery) trying to explain them.


When Marnie was There















Hiromasa Yonebayashi's second (and final) film for Studio Ghibli is a patient, emotionally delicate piece about a lonely little girl named Anna. In terms of plot, When Marnie was There is about a young woman who experiences a brief, powerful bond with a ghost while on holiday.

Yonebayashi's film, adapted from a children's book by Joan G Robinson, tracks a deeper, more glacial progression though, we're watching Anna come to terms with the various aspects of her life and experience that, she feels, have marked her as an outsider. The phantom Marnie gives Anna someone and something to latch onto. Their relationship is complicated and contradictory, encompassing the first, electric prickles of a romantic crush and a deep, enduring love that will linger forever.


Also Liked:

Arrival / Blair Witch / Bone Tomahawk / Captain America: Civil War / The Childhood of a Leader / Creed / Doctor Strange / Hail, Caesar! / The Hateful Eight / High-Rise / Hypernormalisation / The Jungle Book / The Legend of Tarzan / The Neon Demon / Rogue One: A Star Wars Story / Sing Street / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows / 10 Cloverfield Lane / 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi / Victoria / Wiener / X-Men: Apocalypse / Zootopia

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Video Games 2016

Battlefield 1
















Growing up reading Pat Mills and Joe Colquhoun's Charley's War left me with an indelible interest in shell-shocked men winging their way around muddy mazes, clubbing and shooting everything in their path. That, and an all-consuming hatred of authority. Battlefield 1 is the first game to really scratch that first itch, framing popular seek-and-shoot multiplaying within a gorgeous, smoke-choked evocation of The Great War. Armed with primitive, era-specific weaponry, players find themselves relentlessly trapped in situations that naturally track from long-range snipe-offs to desperate trench thwacking.


Dark Souls III
















At one point during Dark Souls III you get the opportunity to slip out of the natural order of things and explore the ruin that awaits should you fail in your quest to rekindle the world's flame. The Untended Graves is a short, completely missable area that houses a depressed boss thrashing around in his failure and precious little else. It's dark and unforgiving, the few basic enemies that have survived long enough to dwell here are twisted and malformed, perhaps feeding off the unending night.

Press on and you'll discover a forgotten version of the game's usually friendly hub area. It's empty this time, except for an old crone who thinks she might've met you before. There's no sense of relief or safety here anymore. The place feels invaded, hope has been vanquished. Dark Souls III builds itself around these kind of feelings, exploring an apocalypse as a state of existence that can be traversed rather than an end unto itself. Failure is never final in this world, that'd be too easy. Instead it's grist for your relentless, pig-headed march towards victory.


Doom
















Not since Halo 3 has a shooter campaign taken such delight in assuring the player that they are this realm's apex predator. It's not enough to just shoot your way through the flailing, injured hellspawn, Doom wants you to catapult yourself towards your foes, dig your fingers into their body and rip them apart. Played at maximum clip, Doom has you careening around occult arenas blasting demons until they're groggy, then auto-angling your looming, POV presence in particular, unintuitive ways just so you can activate the most visceral coup de grace possible.


Hidden My Game by Mom - Escape Room

























Hidden My Game by Mom - Escape Room sees you assume the role of a child scouring the living room in search of his confiscated 3DS. The first few levels have you snooping around, smashing pots and toppling bookcases in an attempt to reveal the contraband handheld. Before long though the titular Mom gets inventive, employing acrobats to block your path or feeding your toy to a hungry elephant. Escape Room is a series of simple tapping puzzles that lean heavily on joke manga staples like magical pendants and defecating animals. Perfect for short commutes.


Inside
















Playdead's Limbo follow-up steps back from exhausting puzzles and pixel-perfect leaping to focus on a series of alarming reveals. Where Limbo skewed abstract, Inside stays investigative, slowly prodding your wheezing, vulnerable child along a conveyor belt of horrors that run the gamut from extrajudicial killings to the body-rending expulsions of an enormous, industrialised nightmare. Inside isn't the least bit precious about the human body either. Like Dark Souls III, your failure to protect a fragile little figure is as much a part of the story as any of your successes.


Ninja Senki DX
















Like Mega Man games? Disappointed that Capcom have stopped making their faux 8-bit sequels? Furious that Mighty No. 9 turned out to be an opportunity for Keji Inafune to build a multimedia empire rather than a deeply personal passion project? Not to worry, Tribute Games have got you covered. Also ideal for those of us who missed out on Alex Kidd in Shinobi World on the Master System.


Oxenfree
















A supernatural adventure game about extremely talkative teenagers looking for terrifying, inter-dimensional triangles. Oxenfree is a scavenger hunt in which you comb the landscape for fixed items and buttons that allow progress. Night School Studio massage this basic interaction with a deep and well thought out conversation system that allows you to play a variety of roles within the high schooler collective. You can slowly prod romantically interested parties together and make nice with your new step-brother, or you can slap people around and burn bridges. If you really want to, you can say nothing at all and score a trophy in the process.


Rez Infinite
















Completely immersive, even without Sony's VR head-set, Rez Infinite surrounds the player with colourful, pulsing feedback as you glide through a psychedelic shoot-out. Tetsuya Mizuguchi has built his career around visual signals and gameplay elements that build on and around an all-encompassing soundtrack. His games give players the opportunity to feel like they're directly interacting with a living, evolving musical experience. VR takes this even further. You're not just staring at a bright little window, now you're inside the action, turning your head to watch the targets as they obligingly queue up on their way to being blasted.


Stardew Valley
















Eric Barone's love letter to 16-bit farming games is a beautiful example of loop gameplay. Your early days in Stardew Valley will be spent rising early to water your slowly expanding farm before limping off into town to burn your last dregs of energy networking and scouring the notice board for quests. Concepts that break or compliment these tasks are introduced slowly and surely. Pop into a one of the shops near the pier and you'll score a fishing rod, keep planting the same seeds and eventually you'll be introduced to the pitfalls of seasonal crop. There's no hurry in Stardew Valley, precious little danger either, instead you get to enjoy a slowly expanding sense of routine.


Titanfall 2
















In a year full of excellent shooter campaigns, Titanfall 2 is the very best. Respawn approach game design in a similar way to Nintendo or Valve, filling their single-player full of situations and ideas that can only be expressed through gameplay. Story and character both play important roles in Titanfall 2 but they are secondary to the sheer joy wrung out of stages designed like luxuriously curated dares.

Every level Respawn introduce a new input proposition that takes the game's core mechanics and asks you to do something a little bit different. The studio twist and invert these concepts over the length of the course before discarding them and moving onto their next eureka moment. You know, just in case there was any chance you could get bored of scaling an enormous conveyor belt producing futuristic Ikea showrooms or skipping back and forth in a building's lifetime.


Also Liked:

BioShock: The Collection / Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare / Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered / Dead Rising (PS4) / Dex / Islands: Non-Places / The Last Guardian / Let It Die / No Man's Sky / Pang Adventures  / Sky Force Anniversary / SteamWorld Heist / Street Fighter V / Uncharted 4 / Virginia / We Become What We Behold

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Music 2016

Beyoncé - Sorry




Carly Rae Jepsen - First Time




Christine and the Queens - Tilted




Gryffin - Heading Home ft. Josef Salvat




John Carpenter - Distant Dream




L'Equipe du Son - Night Drive




Radiohead - Daydreaming




Sia - Waving Goodbye




Two Door Cinema Club - Bad Decisions




Vulfpeck - Dean Town




Also Liked:

Beyoncé - Formation / Julian Winding - Demon Dance / Myrone - Clear Eyes Clear Skies / Nice Try - Your Hair / Perturbator - Neo Tokyo / Porches - Underwater / Portishead - SOS / Power Glove - Punch! / Sadsic - Son / The Weeknd - False Alarm / Yuka Kitamura - Soul of Cinder

2000 AD by Carlos Ezquerra


Saturday, 17 December 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story


















In its early passages Rogue One: A Star Wars Story manages to present something as dispassionate and mechanical as a holiday season blockbuster in personal, perhaps even obsessive terms. It's fitting that Rogue One explicitly stands outside the numbered instalments, the story is smaller, the telling more obviously coming from a place of deep affection rather than brand maintenance. Shots and digital effects are framed to capture the obscure, visual affectations of analogue home video; the story revolves around the kind of people that had action figures you had to mail away for.

Gareth Edwards begins with broken 'scope homesteads then switches street level, weaving in and out of exciting background players while rebel spies actually act like they're under extreme stress. Edwards' approach is reminiscent of the one Genndy Tartakovsky took with Star Wars: Clone Wars, a fan's work that accounts for their own disparate influences, using them to compliment and mutate George Lucas' core product. So while Tartakovsky amped up the Akira Kurosawa influences and smuggled in some Sergio Leone and John Milius for flavour, Edwards shoots a desperate information exchange like one of Sorcerer's early exposition interludes then gives an alliance extremist a character tic on loan from Blue Velvet's Frank Booth.

Rogue One toys with a real sense of danger in these moments. The Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire are both shown to require a certain amount of savviness to navigate, neither ruling with absolute consensus. They're messy. There are factions within factions, each trying to make their voice heard, to seize credit and take control. George Lucas' disappointing prequel trilogy gave us something similar, a sense of how dangerous it was for an individual to exist within the various machines that ruled the galaxy. Unfortunately, Lucas' precariousness tended to track towards petulance and tantrums, Rogue One's filmmakers aim for motor.

This uncertainty is best expressed by Ben Mendelsohn's Orson Krennic, an ambitious middle-manager trying to stake a claim and be noticed by his monstrous overlords. Krennic pursues gain in anxious, selfish terms, he wants to stand out in a system built on uniformity. He wears white and a cape rather than the typical grey tunic; his entourage are cast in black and called Death Troopers. He is a human personality trying to bend totalitarianism to his own ends, building bigger and bigger mega-weapons to score himself a nice apartment on Coruscant. Krennic is a new kind of character for the saga, an opportunist jealously guarding his achievements, aware that CG seniority will gobble them up given the slightest provocation.

Before long though Rogue One has to start tidying itself away. Characters must shed their doubts before they can be summed up in the series standard, three-front battle. It's an understandable development, given the franchise and release date, but the way it is communicated feels synthetic. This tonal shift is more of a lurch, transforming the piece from a war film that just happens to be set in the Star Wars universe into an organised, contextualised shot at the latest, bleeding edge action noise. For a long stretch Rogue One is dramatically distinctive, fulfilling the promise of  'A Star Wars Story' sub-brand as a place for individual voices to exist within a wider product slate. Then the third-act happens and the plotting reverts to type, using shell-shocked loners to nakedly state the film's emotional objectives at each other.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Transformers: The Last Knight - 'TIL ALL ARE NONE



Presumably sad robot Dad Optimus Prime is possessed or reprogrammed or whatever, based on all his boring, stated regret, not to mention those glowing purple eyes he's sporting in this Transformers: The Last Knight trailer. Bit of a shame really, it'd be fun if Michael Bay and pals really leaned into their portrayal of Prime as total weaponry by having him return to Earth after communing with some spectral ancestor who instructs him to completely eliminate the ongoing, intergalactic threat the Transformers race represents. Failing any of that, it's comforting that it actually looks like Bay's remaking Claude Lelouch's landmark speed-racing short C'était un rendez-vous using Lamborghinis and IMAX cameras. Something for everyone.

Madballs by Jimmy Giegerich


Battlefield 1 - ARMS TRADE



Jackfrags talks us through some guns he thinks EA might want to sell to us in the near future.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril













The Lone Wolf and Cub series takes place within a society that fetishes death. Life under the Shogunate is a brief, transitory state where something as final as suicide becomes a bureaucratic equaliser for elites who have fallen out of favour. There's always a sense in these films that the lives of commoners are worth very little. The brutal, pre-industrial caste system places them at the bottom of the heap, to be used as playthings by a sadistic ruling class. Former state executioner Ogami Itto would seem to be an exemplification of these horrifying, fatalistic ideas, since he kills basically everyone who crosses his path, but Itto's ire is aimed firmly at the untouchables who govern the nation.

In Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril Itto is tasked with eliminating Michie Azuma's Oyuki, a renegade bodyguard who has turned on the household that raised her up from a wandering circus performer to the servant of a prominent feudal lord. Oyuki is discussed as an aberration, she's a woman who has dared to bite the hand that feeds, committing violence not only against the lord's men but the entire concept of samurai chivalry. Naturally, this is enough to arouse sympathy in Itto. He still kills her, of course, but he also goes on to manufacture a series of situations in which the people who wronged her come to sticky ends themselves.

Buichi Saito takes over directing duties from Kenji Misumi for this fourth Baby Cart instalment. Saito's major contribution to the roaming, episodic house style is the decision to dispense with Misumi's oblique, illusory framing. Baby Cart in Peril, despite introducing elements that are firmly supernatural, loses Mizumi's deliberately hazy sense of proceedings, punching up the brief run time with multiple voice-overs that explain the concepts guiding people's actions. Action scenes, frenzied and chaotic under Misumi, now advance along strictly ordered horizontal plains that show off Tomisaburo Wakayama's snappy in-camera stunt work. His Itto is presented as less emotionally superhuman in this film too. He isn't just stone throughout, Saito and Wakayama finding a way into Lone Wolf's stuffy emotions. After Daigoro scrapes through yet another dangerous incident, we see this strange father visibly moved, clutching his tiny son close to him.

Optimus Prime #4 by Kei Zama and Josh Burcham


Yuzo Koshiro - The Shinobi / China Town