Friday, 28 September 2018
For a series built entirely around one character, the RoboCop films have a bizarre approach to continuity. The first entry was about a dead man encased in an armoured, metal coffin slowly unravelling from the programming that had been imposed on him. A key scene in Paul Verhoeven's film depicts this reanimated corpse looking at its face in a shard of broken glass. RoboCop, finally free of his bolted-on helmet, pores over lines and features as a way to come to terms with the ruin that has been made of him. Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner's screenplay even concludes with RoboCop discarding his branded identity to proudly declare that he should be known by his human name, Murphy.
RoboCop 2 backpedalled with a lead character who shunned the vestiges of his former life to wrap himself up in duty and his hyper-alloy chassis. Perhaps being a post-human unable to pursue anything meaningful beyond his job was simply too painful? RoboCop 3 goes even further, beginning with a hero who behaves like a lobotomised toy - complete with action accessories - only dimly aware of the connections he made before his death. Part of the problem is the need for an arc, per the three-act mandate, RoboCop must grow and change to satisfy the audience. There's no need for this recap-cum-reset though, RoboCop 3 is even more future-shocked than the first two films.
To make way for OCP's prefab future, American citizens are being packed onto buses by South African mercenaries to be driven to God-knows-where. Their crime? Being poor. That's really the only break you need. RoboCop abandoning the hopelessly compromised police force to embrace a less collectivised idea of civic service is strong enough to build a film around. Director Fred Dekker's threequel, working from a screenplay co-written with chronic worrier Frank Miller, feels revised and re-worked to the point of having lost its basic shape. Scenes in which Robo surveys children being roughed up by the hired goons of corporate America are included to prickle a robot's latent, submerged emotions rather than express the revulsion it should prompt in a person who has fought hard to regain their humanity.
The transition that powers Murphy's story needs to come from the undead police officer's decision to stop collaborating with the corrupt ruling class and become, essentially, a folk hero. The strength of this idea is dampened and distorted by the clattering mechanics of Murphy's clumsy, needlessly synthetic portrayal. Although there's power in Robert DoQui's Desk Sergeant turning in his badge to join the revolution, the film's failures are compounded by Orion's determination to ease off the shredded flesh in pursuit of a family friendly cinema rating. RoboCop's bubbling rage can no longer be expressed with his trademark ultra-violence. Having discovered that OCP's apartheid muscle are liquidating Detroit's working class, Murphy's response should be significantly stronger, and more cathartic, than simply wandering into the Afrikaan's staging area to set fire to their stationary.
Thursday, 27 September 2018
Writer-director Fred Dekker and co-writer Shane Black serve up The Monster Squad, a kids club movie that pits the titular gang of hideous brats against off-brand, toyetic drafts of Universal's featured creatures. Duncan Regehr's Count Dracula is in town, stalking the suburbs in pursuit of an amulet that will grant him world domination (or equivalent). Naturally, this very real threat has completely escaped the attentions of the self-involved adults. Regehr's Vlad is a one-off, behaving nothing like any other big screen Dracula. Rather than your usual cruel, mysterious sexuality, Regehr instead exudes a kind of well-mannered fussiness.
When considering this icon from a child's perspective, Dekker and Black have junked the unfathomable animal magnetism to laser in on the frustrations felt by an ancient forced to rely on misshapen, incompetent henchmen. Jonathan Gries' Wolfman is especially infuriating. When not hulked out and slathering, this loser lycanthrope places anonymous calls to the local police, warning them of the calamities poised to consume their town. Come the wonderfully gooey finale, when the boys have finally deigned to include the friendly little sister character who ends up being key to their survival, Dekker and Black's Dracula goes all out. His shuffling allies either blown up or ventilated, the exasperated Count joins the fray, hurling dynamite sticks into tree houses then twisting and snapping his way through a squad of beat cops like his name was Sonny Chiba.
Wednesday, 26 September 2018
First look at Philippe Lacheau's live-action City Hunter. As the most visible take on the material (for fans outside Japan and mainland Europe at least), it'll be interesting to see what kind of influence Jackie Chan's 1993 adaptation will have on Lacheau's film. Based on this trailer the director is keying into the star's injury-prone shtick with a hero who isn't quite as accomplished as he thinks he is. There are full blown quotes too (which for all I know could be straight from the Weekly Shonen Jump manga) with Lacheau lifting the dance combat sequence right out of Wong Jing's film.
Monday, 24 September 2018
Sprinkled in with Travis Knight's pleasant-looking meet cute are a few, fully-animated glimpses of the Cybertronian civil war, unexplored territory for the live-action robots in disguise franchise. Although unlikely to take up more than about three minutes of actual screentime, it's still a kick to see the likes of Optimus Prime and Shockwave (is Big Purple hanging out with The Rainmakers from the Divide and Conquer episode of the 80s TV series?) rocking designs reminiscent of their Generation 1 animation models. Before Transformers: The Last Knight under-performed there was talk of a feature-length cartoon spin-off based on the Transformer's home planet courtesy of Boulder Media, an Irish animation studio responsible for (among other things) Cartoon Network's The Amazing World of Gumball and the BBC's recent Danger Mouse reboot. Could this be a taste of films to come?
Thursday, 20 September 2018
Worried that Capcom are asleep at the wheel when it comes to zombie Dobermann tech? This latest trailer for the upcoming Resident Evil 2 remake has got you covered. These violent corpses manage to look brand spanking new while still evoking the airbrushed rubberiness of Capcom's vintage Softimage 3D design work.
Devil May Cry 5 looks absolutely amazing, marrying Capcom's current gen push for grimy semi-realism with extreme action gameplay. This brief look at Dante skews nostalgic, demoing the ageing demon hunter as he smashes about with flaming gauntlets and million-stabber swords, the arsenal that saw him through his first adventure.
Wednesday, 19 September 2018
Taking a leaf out of AtGames and Nintendo's book, Sony are releasing a tiny version of the first PlayStation just in time for Christmas. Although promising 20 games, details are sketchy, with only Tekken 3, Wild Arms, Jumping Flash!, Ridge Racer Type 4 and Final Fantasy VII announced. Presumably third-party deals are still being ironed out? Either that or none of the other titles are worth shouting about. For me, this mini-Mini PlayStation needs Konami classics like Metal Gear Solid or Silent Hill as well as either of Capcom's first two Resident Evil games to be truly exciting. Throw in an underappreciated fighter like Rival Schools: United by Fate, Soul Edge or even Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha and the PlayStation Classic would be looking a bit more essential.
Tuesday, 18 September 2018
Thanks to the lack of campaign I'd pretty much written off Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. Although Call of Duty: Black Ops III's single-player was well below par for the series, the threat of an increased focus on the obtuse meta of Nazi Zombies and other, reheated survival gameplay wasn't really registering as fair compensation. Based on this clip though, Treyarch and Raven Software's new Blackout mode could be something special, combining polished, series standard shooting mechanics and frame-rate stability with en vogue battle royale gameplay.
Monday, 17 September 2018
While the rest of the 80s relics struggle with box office obsolescence, Tom Cruise goes from strength to strength. His formula? Rather than hoard the limelight in pursuit of past, pumped-up glories, producer-star Cruise is happy to share the big screen with supernaturally accomplished women, cutting them in on the deal at a conceptual rather than superficial level. Edge of Tomorrow (or Live Die Repeat if you came to the film on home video) charted the rise of Cruise's William Cage from PR ooze to someone Emily Blunt's super soldier Rita Vrataski was happy to co-operate with. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation replays the trick with Rebecca Ferguson's Ilsa Faust, a shadow struck from the Red Grant mould who demonstrates the same capricious, see-sawing interests.
Hunt's fascination with the obviously duplicitous Faust reveals the kind of growth you'd expect in a comfortable, ageing super-spy. At this stage in his life Hunt knows his way around a deception. He's is no longer the delusional worrywart who willed Claire Phelps' betrayal away, he's established and confident enough now to contextualise Faust's treacherous streak as, essentially, flirting. After all, she hasn't killed him yet. Beyond an obvious, fizzy professional respect, Hunt clearly sympathises with the precariousness of Faust's assignment. Like his 96 self, she's gifted but inexperienced, moving amongst sharks at the behest of a paternal overlord that explicitly treats her as expendable.
Cruise's insistence on keeping Hunt monastic, even asexual, post-Mission: Impossible III lends the relationship an interesting tension too. It's nothing so simple as a desire to possess, Hunt seems to see himself in Faust. She's a prospect. Perhaps he'd rather shape the rival agent into an ally than outright dismiss her as a threat? Kill off the bad fathers competing for Faust's soul then reconfigure her into a replacement for the ageing IMF agent. Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie's weaves this conceit into the bones of Rogue Nation, tracking Faust throughout as a co-star. She's always a distinct, dangerous presence with murky, even malleable, purpose. Sometimes she needs to be Hunt's ally. Sometimes she doesn't. Unlike the jealous, threatened Jim Phelps of Mission: Impossible Hunt isn't scared of obsolescence, he's excited by the possibility of a continuity beyond himself. Tested by age, Hunt defeats his mentor yet again by refusing to sink into the same, limited patterns of self-pity.
Sunday, 16 September 2018
Saturday, 15 September 2018
Thursday, 13 September 2018
The Predator lumbers along with three storylines competing for attention. The first, and most obviously similar to director-co-writer Shane Black's previous work, revolves around Jacob Tremblay's Rory, a lonely, autistic child. When not dodging some especially mean bullies, Rory tinkers with the alien technology his drug-warring Dad (Boyd Holbrook) has FedEx'd back to the suburbs. Next there's Olivia Munn as Casey Brackett, a kidnapped biologist so thrilled by the idea of extraterrestrial life that she runs straight at, rather than away from, the intergalactic big game hunter. The third is mostly set on a bus (at night) and concerns a group of committed (as in asylum) soldiers trading barb after barb while preparing to make their big escape.
Each thread contains details that might, basically, align but never with any great thematic heft. There's something vulnerable and complimentary about a bored university lecturer and a precocious kid decoding, then turning the tables on, the invisible alien stranded in their neighbourhood. Maybe at one point that was Black and co-writer Fred Dekker's pitch? Come the finale Casey does more to protect Rory than any other character, including his father, physically placing herself between the child and the enormous fuck ugly mutant that the trailers couldn't wait to tell us about. Unfortunately for fans of The Monster Squad, expecting a similar Vestron irreverence, The Predator is too busy killing time with damned badasses dying in impenetrably darkness to work up any serious, residential chaos.
In fairness the film does have a few good scenes though, bright spots that can't help but sing given their rote surroundings. Rory zipping around the neighbourhood on Halloween night, vanquishing spoilsports with an explosive energy weapon is exactly the kind of comedic lawlessness you expect from a pre-teen in a Shane Black film. Similarly, Casey chasing down seven feet of pure bludgeon, armed with a plastic tranquilliser gun and her supermarket flats feels fresh in a series primarily concerned with bubbling testosterone and wounded masculinity. These clips are adrift though, trapped in a whole that struggles over and over again to establish even basic spacial relationships. The Predator, perhaps fittingly for a film about a transparent monster, is strangely shapeless. It rejects the idea of coverage as a way to deliver information. Scenes do not luxuriate and pertinent details are not poured over. Visually the film so utterly rejects any notion of continuity or readability that it's genuinely difficult to make sense out of routine scene-to-scene transitions.
Wednesday, 12 September 2018
Star Wars is a series choking on criss-crossed continuity and the expectations they invite. The individual Episodes, no matter how they are told, revolve around chosen ones discovering and exploring their destinies, usually at the forefront of galaxy-spanning warfare. They are a prestige brand churning through the same basic set-ups; change and re-evaluation deployed as archetypal modifiers that upset and please in apparently equal measure. Surely, the promise of the A Star Wars Story sub-brand then is to upend these assumptions and hurtle off somewhere new? The Journal of the Whills is fine but isn't there also room for Rogue One's tales of the army-builders?
Solo: A Star Wars Story, despite its big fish lead character, at least starts somewhere pleasantly messy. Alden Ehrenreich's Han is a Dickensian orphan, bullied into lifting techno bric-a-brac for an enormous, incredulous Muppet in a smoke-clogged Armaghetto. Writers Jonathan and Lawrence Kasdan use their hero's introduction as an opportunity to pay tribute to both franchise creator George Lucas and original Solo actor Harrison Ford. Naturally, given his pedigree, Han is a Bob Falfa-esque speed-freak, at home gunning around shipyard slums in a stolen sports car that combines the basic design principles of Luke Skywalker's hovering Landspeeder with the ratcheting oomph of American Graffiti's V8 monsters. Armed with Kasdan, one of Lucas' favourite collaborators, Ron Howard's film covers all the testimonial bases.
Regardless of this obvious talent, Han is still a nobody. He isn't related to anyone important and no Jedi hovers on his periphery, ready to step in then whisk him away. This is fertile ground for Disney's spin-off line. In a universe that ebbs and flows on their achievements, it must be crap not being a Skywalker. Other people have to scam and grift to stay afloat. Solo's path off home planet Corellia involves him enlisting with Palpatine's plastic bovver boys to serve as cannon fodder in some pointless, deliberately ill-defined war. Howard's film, more so than any previous Star Wars entry, really leans into the idea of the Galactic Empire as a lightly dressed stand-in for Britain's slathering colonial ambitions. Reasonable aliens are othered into blood-sucking monsters, dying for the Navy is positioned as aspirational for the dirt poor, and all wars revolve around mud, misery and a misplaced sense of competence.
It's a shame Howard's film isn't a bit more interested in Solo as a lowly grunt bumping up against the machinery of intergalactic oppression. Before long Han is caught in a criminal conspiracy that tracks towards an unspeakably tidy solution, despite Donald Glover's extra-louche interpretation of Lando Calrissian and Paul Bettany's tiger-striped cad. Several parties are undermined by dramatic developments that speak to the kind of corrective numb you expect from a well-oiled production line. These victims include a gang of jet-biking wizards and Emilia Clarke's Qi'ra. Han's compromised, secretive love interest trades a moment of credible, meaty selfishness to quake in the interlaced shadow of an incompetent Sith. In a series seething with spikey, exciting ideas that pointedly go nowhere, straight-laced sequel plotting leaves a medicinal taste.
Unusually, for a set of films built on kaleidoscopic special effects technology, the stars of the Solo show are Howard and his stunt team. For all the medium talent acquisitions thrown the director's way, Howard at least creates readable movement, happy to explore the pure visual mechanics of physical objects hurtling from point A to point B. Set pieces, while not necessarily fraught with the palpable danger of a Tom Cruise vehicle, are instead built around the brief, unmistakable buzz of being a successful show-off. This bluster also finds its way into key CG sequences. Han, on a roll, uses his knowledge of drag-race minutiae to oversteer the Millennium Falcon through an impossibly dense asteroid field. This approach is nothing new for Howard, 1988's Willow described fantastical adventure using the yeehaw language of a Wild West Stunt Spectacular, but these earthy, meat-and-potatoes thrills sing in a series obsessed with luminescent baton twirling.
Thursday, 6 September 2018
Playmaji's upcoming all-in-one retro suite ticks creeps even closer to essential by adding Sega Saturn support. Sega's underappreciated fifth-gen system has been notoriously difficult to get right emulation wise, thanks to the console's mutant, unfriendly innards as well as (honestly) a lack of real, sustained interest.
Again and again! Switch owners will soon have the opportunity to own a modern remake of the 1994 update of the 1987 widescreen scrolling-slasher The Ninja Warriors. Phew. If that has you excited, the original, obstinate coin gobbler is currently available on the PS4 via Hamster's nifty Arcade Archives series.