Thursday, 23 May 2019

Godzilla: The Planet Eater

Hiroyuki Seshita and Kobun Shizuno's animated monster series concludes with Godzilla: The Planet Eater, a fatalistic finale that actually manages to make the previous films' luminous-but-stationary aesthetic work for the story being told. After two instalments of abject failure, mankind is teetering on the edge of oblivion, happy to turn their back on turbo-charged technology to pray to an extraterrestrial God who, they are promised, will rid their planet of Godzilla. The aloof, alien Aratrum worship the golden dragon Ghidorah, a being of pure destruction who appears here as three ferocious, shrieking serpents. Planet Eater's Ghidorah are intangible psychic lightning, summoned by a duplicitous holy man and paid for with human sacrifice.

Seshita and Shizuno's film leans heavily into the idea of Ghidorah as a Lovecraftian horror, a thing that exists beyond time and space that cannot be measured by humans, no matter how advanced they are. The film's feature fight - such as it is - mainly involves the ungrabbable Ghidorah heads clamping down on the King of Monsters then draining his life-force. In the shadow of this titanic rest-hold, our human hero Haruo Sakaki goes on a vision quest steered by the pounding rhetoric of the genocidal Aratrum and backed by Takayuki Hattori's surging, crashing score. Seshita and Shizuno's film is, like its predecessors, allergic to dynamic movement so the decision to strand Sakaki's plastic figure in a series of tumultuous, hallucinogenic environments actually works. This strange, loophole of a sub-series finally fulfils its promise with the sight of Mothra's phantom colliding with the Enola Gay, seconds after the superfortress has dropped its payload on Hiroshima and flung mankind into the Atomic Age.

Terminator: Dark Fate - ORDERLY DISPOSAL

On the one hand, Linda Hamilton is back, crashing cars and unloading absurd shotguns at surprisingly spry cyborgs. On the other, Terminator: Dark Fates' robot confrontations look completely bereft of physics, substituting grinding, hammering machinery for the kind of weightless elasticity you expect from a substandard X-Men sequel. Cameron should've given John Hyams a ring instead.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an odd duck, a straight-to-video crossover between two children's properties that is spiked with nose-snapping violence and second-tier swear words. You'll believe a Ninja Turtle can say 'frig'. Despite being a standalone feature, Jake Castorena's film unfolds like four episodes of a toy cartoon stitched together for a video release - think 1997's The Batman Superman Movie: World's Finest but much less dynamic. The caped crusader plays Akela to his own teenage wards as well as the oozed-up, chainsticking reptiles, beating back mutated Arkham inmates and ninja masters alike.

The story unfolds in self-contained sequences, each structured with the kind of individual beats you'd expect from one of Nickelodeon's 22 minute long schedule fillers. This bagginess, as well as the feature's arthritic sense of moment-to-moment motion, ensures interest flags long before the film's conclusion but at least Castorena and his crew make a real effort to distinguish their characters not just in terms of personality but in how they fight. Batman and Shredder are equally matched, a good father and a bad father locked into contact-combat demonstrations that burn through the animation budget. Best of all, for his finale throwdown with Leonardo, Ra's al Ghul exhibits a twirling, balletic sword style that mixes swashbuckling caddishness with handicapped wuxia.

Carly Rae Jepsen - Too Much

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Transformers War for Cybertron: Siege - Stop-Motion Animation Episode 4

In order to promote their new Transformers toyline, War for Cybertron: Siege, Hasbro Taiwan have been producing short, stop-motion animations of these box-fresh action figures absolutely battering each other. Episode 4 features Optimus Prime and Fortress Maximus' pal Cog ganging up on a poor, defenceless Megatron. Heroic Autobots indeed.

Friday, 10 May 2019


Thanks to Italy's extremely casual approach to copyright law, anyone can present their film as a sequel to an established, successful piece (see also Ciro Ippolito's Alien 2: On Earth and Bruno Mattei's Terminator II). Although positioned in the marketplace to follow, and cash in on, Dario Argento's re-edited, pumped-up release of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, Lucio Fulci's Zombie (released in the UK as Zombie Flesh Eaters, going on to enjoy all the video nasty infamy that name suggests) disregards insinuations about satellite radiation or Cold War biological warfare to offer a definitive, localised explanation for its returning dead.

Co-written by Elisa Briganti and Dardano Sacchetti, Zombie takes a classical, superstitious approach to the genre, presenting an epidemic that stems from pounding, tribal drums and Voodoo incantations. On the remote, unlisted island of Matul the recently deceased are coming back to life. Richard Johnson's sweating, overworked Dr Menard is trying to keep a lid on things by nursing the afflicted then blowing holes through their heads when they inevitably pass. The timeline isn't especially clear - although Zombie is technically superb the film takes a floating, dreamlike approach to plot - but, if Menard's wife Paola (Olga Karlatos) is to be believed, the Doctor's interfering presence hasn't just catalysed this dreadful situation, it's created it.

In Zombie the land itself is a character, a barely settled, decaying expanse that responds to Fabio Frizzi's bubbling, rhythmic undercurrent by vomiting up the bodies buried on the island. The zombies themselves are one offs, make up artists Gianetto De Rossi and Gino De Rossi rejecting Romero's bruised, frozen consumers in favour of putrid, misshapen lumps caked in blood and shit. Fulci's film is especially excited about rot, mummified Conquistadors burp up out of their shallow internments, empty eye holes seething with bloated, blood red worms. It's as if Matul is rejecting humanity altogether or, at the very least, the snooping white settlers who've come to learn her secrets.

Fulci and cinematographer Sergio Salvati pack their frame with broken clutter and wandering animals, suggesting a similar sort of hemmed-in, malarial exhaustion as Lucrecia Martel's Zama. Like that film Zombie posits a white ruling class hopelessly attempting to impose some sort of will on what amounts to scattered indifference. They're not welcome, the land has no use for them. Menard can transpose a wealthy, European domestic situation onto the island but the simulation cannot hold. Matul's inhabitants do not want to share their magic, we are told they have left their homes, disappearing deeper into the island before returning for the finale as an undead throng, ready to break a dilapidated mission church apart with their bare hands and vanquish the invaders within. 

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Krosia - Pulse / Slight Days

Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII - ROLLOVER

Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII's supply stream has me back on the treadmill again, checking in every day to play a couple of games, earn a win and get that reserve skip. That's the appeal really, you don't have to learn any new systems or even set aside a significant amount of your time, you can just drop in, rack up the kills then go and do something else. It's relief valve gaming.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

In Hell

Reading a synopsis of Ringo Lam's final collaboration with Jean-Claude Van Damme you might come away thinking that In Hell is about your standard prison fighting tournament, the muscles from Brussels stomping progressively larger, more crazed inmates for our buzzed-up entertainment. While that isn't a million miles from the truth, this isn't a Cannon film and Ringo Lam isn't a Cannon director. In Hell is a mutant, a squalid straight-to-video thriller that leans far more on Van Damme's sombre acting abilities and fading star persona than his high-kicking gymnastics.

Van Damme plays Kyle LeBlanc, an American serving a life sentence in a Russian prison / meat grinder for executing the man who raped then murdered his wife. LeBlanc may be determined and forthright but he isn't a karate killer, the confrontations he seeks in the early passages of the film aren't about building up an idea of an unbeatable fighter, they're the desperate actions of a broken man who wants to be thrown away. These pointedly unsuccessful scuffles land him in solitary confinement, a sewage outlet that doubles as a cell, giving him the time and space he needs to retreat completely into his thoughts, fantasising a different life, one in which he and his wife are still together.

When the film's gears shift, thrusting Van Damme into the exercise yard cockfights staged for the amusement of the guards, what follows isn't treated as a triumphant plot development. The violence fundamentally alters LeBlanc. His dream life, his soft interior, is abandoned in favour of an obsessive exercise regimen, stoked by the hate radiating from his cellmate, the glowering Inmate 451, played by Lawrence Taylor. Finding his romantic humanity completely incompatible with his current, nightmarish environment, LeBlanc willingly hardens himself, transforming his body and perspective into that of machinery. In combat he's a slobbering monster, built to break. Away, he becomes a sacrificial calf, willing to suffer to unite the working, criminal classes against their tormentors.

Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII - TIGERSHARK

Looted Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII's latest supply stream weapon off a big spender - the Tigershark LMG - and went on a mini-tear. Considering how terrible the last couple of unlock guns turned out to be (the Switchblade sub-machine gun in particular was a massive disappointment, hitmarkers for days), at least this pig handles like something worth chasing. It's a good job really, it's pretty obvious Treyarch and pals have re-adjusted the grind bars to fill significantly slower since the latest patch, that coupled with a shorter event window points to yet another spend prompt in a game absolutely lousy with them.

GI Joe: Sierra Muerte #3 by Michel Fiffe

Mild Soap - Night in the City

Side B X Mad Che - Enduro

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Avengers: Endgame

The commemorative plate conclusion to the Robert Downey Jr era of Marvel movies, Avengers: Endgame plays like three wildly different, tonally incompatible passes at an Avengers: Infinity War sequel, knitted together then blasted out into the world. The first, and best, sequence sees our punch-drunk heroes palling up with Brie Larson's golden space God to plot an intergalactic home invasion with the express intention of, basically, making themselves feel better. The scene that follows is not unlike Lee Van Cleef's cold-blooded introduction in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly with computer animated Hulkbuster armour standing in for the grinning, evil Sentenza. Like Angel Eyes before them, our heroes swoop on a farmer, find they don't like what he's selling, then murder him.

This haphazard jab at wet work continues Infinity War's con of consequences in the Marvel Universe, threatening viewers with broader, emotionally upsetting horizons that steer the series away from pop superheroics to something closer to speculative science fantasy. Endgame's Earth is fundamentally different from our own. Half the population are gone and with them any sense or hustle or bustle - sports stadiums lie destitute while seafaring shanty towns throb around iconic American monuments. Endgame briefly posits a distressed world spun out by The Snap. Organised crime, having barely missed a step, has seemingly reorganised around what's-left-of-people trafficking forcing the cosmically powered Avengers to intervene.

These details may be scant and tossed off, essentially used to check in on Jeremy Renner's hollowed-out Hawkeye, but there's something in this idea of post-apocalyptic policing that not only works but demands interrogation, especially since Scarlett Johansson's terminally rootless Black Widow has bagged herself the worried brow of a leader. This bubble is popped once the upbeat, ageless Paul Rudd wriggles his way out of his sub-atomic prison, derailing the misery for a time travel heist that lifts our current, maudlin heroes out of their dreadful future, placing them into a variety of situations hand-picked from previous instalments. Despite the towering, terrifying stakes, this section is a lark. A Back to the Future Part II style victory lap that frames the older blockbusters as sacrosanct legend to be scurried around rather than gleefully vandalised.

This lightness becomes a course correction for Endgame, steering us away from not only the depressive seriousness established in the first act but also a lot of the character writing and acting that seemed to be so important upfront. Black Widow, a pre-Stark Avenger no less, suffers a death so perfunctory that her exit actually grows into a bizarre sticking point the further into the film we are, particularly when latter casualties prompt such extreme fanfare. Likewise Karen Gillan's Nebula is established, in this episode, as a victim of abuse learning to trust and process basic human connections. Scenes of her rattling around a shipwrecked space-fighter selflessly forgoing food and rest to attend to an increasingly skeletal Tony Stark seem, at the very least, to indicate a personality who should be a bit more important than the disassembled captive we end up with.

Structural speaking the film absolutely does pivot on her physical involvement with the Earthling's time heist but Endgame never really finds a way to express that significance with any action determined by Nebula herself. The cyborg pirate's story peters out altogether after she blows a hole through her fanatical past - an act that also fails to invite any temporal consequences for our Nebula. As the rousing conclusion to the story begun in Infinity War, Endgame is content to strive for excess, bringing together the Marvel brand's entire action figure line to battle Thanos' techno-organic hordes in a multi-tiered server seizure that unfortunately has more in common with the noise that capped Ready Player One than the Infinity War's Sturm und Drang.

Irving Force - Criminal Intent

Forhill - Decoupled


Scanning the press release of the upcoming 4 disc Ultra HD set for Apocalypse Now: The Final Cut I noticed there's a featurette tucked away on the supplementary disc that looks at the infamous, deleted monkey sampan scene. If you haven't had access to tape traders and their unofficial, workprint copies of the film (or, in this era of digital duplication, the ability to navigate to YouTube), the three-minute scene occurs just before the gunboat reaches Kurtz's compound, giving the crew a quick heads up on the kind of madness and horror they are about to submerge into.

Yuzo Koshiro & Motohiro Kawashima - Streets of Rage Live

The Street of Rage // Player Select // Make Me Dance // Walking Bottom // Dub Slash // The Poets I // The Poets II // Fighting in the Streets // Never Return Alive // Dreamer // Alien Power // Random Cross // Under Logic // Expander // Boss // Fuze // Bulldozer // Spinning Machine // Spin on the Bridge // Cycle I // Cycle II // Max Man // Dance Club // Go Straight // Jungle Bass // The Shinobi (Stage 1)

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Friday the 13th

Marcus Nispel's Friday the 13th remake takes a relatively fresh (for this series at least) swipe at Jason, grounding him in a specific space and time that defies the drifting, indefatigable presence we're used to. The killer is no longer languid and observational, he's reactionary, jealousy guarding his territory from meddlesome twentysomethings. The film explores Jason in terms of these human, emotional drives using a physical location - a warren of abandoned mineshafts under the wider Crystal Lake area that the movie maniac has nestled into and claimed for his own. Rejected by a society that sees him as a monster, Jason has fashioned himself a home.

The tunnels also allow a sense of logic to intrude into Jason's portrayal, explaining away his ability to be everywhere at once. It's a correction that probably plays well in a pitch meeting, a crisp take on a character that has long since entered into a glib shorthand, but the alteration actually ends up weakening the franchise's swamped-out, Scooby Doo spookiness. Screenwriters Damian Shannon and Mark Swift not only dream up a lair for Jason but also a crude methodology that sees him taking a hostage, Amanda Righetti's Whitney. The latter idea has a vague sense of purchase in some of the series' early sequels, where Jason could be confounded by young women pretending to be his mother Pamela, but even in those entries these interactions quickly segued into building a taller pile of bodies.

Shannon and Swift are exploring the interioirty of Jason, a character who previously enjoyed a profound disconnection from the wider human experience. These corrections propose a person reaching for a brief sense of stability. Jason has his replacement mother chained up in his burrow, if people stop intruding into his space will he be satisfied? Will the killings then cease? In these details Nispel's parochial slant seems less like a robotic Jason sequel and more an abortive pass at reconfiguring The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (a film that this director has already remade). In modernising Friday the 13th Nispel and pals have obscured the peculiar ideas and stoned rhythms that made the original films, at the very least, feel authentic. This disconnect is most obvious in 2009's approach to Voorhees' victims - realistically plain and underdeveloped teenagers are swapped out for hateful, nipped and tucked soap opera actors.

Monday, 15 April 2019

Crystal Cola - City Nights

Cyber Shadow - CYBER ZEED IS BACK?

The first video game I ever bought with my own money was The Cyber Shinobi on the Master System, a turgid, arthritic sequel to (the excellent) Shinobi that completely failed to deliver on the promise of exciting Mushashi movement and occult spells in a soulless, post-apocalyptic future. It's taken 30 odd years but Aarne Hunziker is here to right that particular wrong with Cyber Shadow, an 8-bit throwback that looks exactly like the game I imagined staring down at the boxart image of a golden ninja surrounded by flames.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, New Line's first crack at Jason Voorhees, forgoes the methodical slaughter of camp counsellors to poke at the kind of oozing, sinewy horror that came to define the sequels of studio stalemate A Nightmare on Elm Street. Jason is no longer portrayed as invincible, swamp-bound musculature; in Final Friday the movie maniac is revealed (nine films into the series no less) as a supernatural parasite when the FBI call in the artillery, obliterating his rotting vessel. Fortunately for us, what's left of Jason is able to jump from body to body, desperately searching for previously unmentioned siblings who hold the key to his continued undeath.

Final Friday is a transitional entry, without any real follow-up, that preps the character of Jason for experiences and ideas beyond regurgitated, panty raid slaughter. Director Adam Marcus, working from a screenplay by Jay Huguely and Dean Lorey, proposes a tidied-up approach to the character, working in plot points and set detailing that tries to make sense of Jason's deliberately vague / contradictory past. In a move that pre-dates that kind of all-conquering brand cohesion audiences now take in their stride, Marcus leaves a copy of The Evil Dead's Necronomicon Ex-Mortis lying about the Voorhees household, insinuating not only a potential future crossover but a means by which Pamela returned her drowned child to strapping, homicidal life.

Other than that, Final Friday comes on like supernatural television, concerning itself with John D LeMay's Steven, a jilted baby-Daddy desperate to prove his worth to his more successful ex, Kari Keegan's Jessica Kimble (Jason's niece, natch). Steven is a dull, white middle-class character played by the kind of actor who would otherwise struggle to make it into the second act of a slasher film. Perhaps aware of this potential for disconnect, director Marcus allows his protagonist to dish out a few meaty attacks on our reanimated villain, even weaving in the kind of slow motion gasp imagery usual associated with exciting films made in Hong Kong. Of course any potential for genuine thrills are immediately undercut by the American censor board's spoilsport approach to cumulative aggression. Rather than rely on an excessive, violent hammering conveyed through staccato editing, Final Friday (when compared to notes and Director's Cut screen captures on German movie censorship websites) is forced to drop gags and impacts, rendering the theatrical release strangely numb.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker - LIGHTNING GHOST

Saddled with a wacky, video gamey title, Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker appears to be pushing the series back into the realm of broad mythology, positing Daisy Ridley's Rey as a literal summation of a thousand generations of Campbellian heroism and Ian McDiarmid's cackling, Sith hag as an undying, ultimate obstacle.

Christine and the Queens - Comme si

Son Goku, Frieza and Android 17 by Young Jijii

Monday, 25 March 2019

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

Despite its ungodly length Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan moves like a film on fast-forward. Writer-director Rob Hedden's high concept pitch is to lift Jason out of his backwater stomping ground then set him loose on the Big Apple. The masked killer accomplishes this seemingly impossible feat by stowing away on a passenger ship full of teenagers celebrating after graduating their senior year. Simple really. This pleasure cruise is basically a mini-movie unto itself with Jason teleporting around the various decks, slaughtering kids and Captains alike.

Manhattan's murders are especially cruel. Characters and relationships are barely even established before Jason has waded in, picking people off with whatever weighty lump comes to hand. Instead of the short, sharp shocks of previous entries, Part VIII actually delights in the sheer powerlessness of its victims. There is much more screaming and begging than usual. Jason, typically depicted as a sexless troll, is allowed to luxuriate in the physical domination he represents. His actions are slow and deliberate, mocking even. Its clear he's savouring the moment. So while the killings may be largely bloodless (thanks to the MPAA) they still register as acutely uncomfortable. This abruptness actually works for the film though, who wants to sit through romantic subplots that wouldn't go anywhere anyway?

This curtness plays corrective, Hedden attempting to move Jason away from an ironic audience surrogate and make him loathsome again. The clues are all there. His insatiable appetite for bodily destruction denies viewers the languid, pick 'em off pace they're used to while the anaemic deaths themselves needle the audience with a sense of a pain and terror rather than the usual satisfying splurt. The psychic connection Voorhees shares with Jensen Daggett's aquaphobic Rennie further establishes a weak, tragic core in the masked killer - a quivering child concealed in a shell of oozing, toxic musculature. Is that who you identify with? A violent brat tantruming for attention? Jason Takes Manhattan doesn't just implicate its slathering audience, it attacks them. Punishing fans whose main point of connection with the series is the delight they feel seeing an invincible madman pulverising the popular kids.

Modern English - I Melt With You

Megatron by Josh Perez

Monday, 18 March 2019

Friday the 13th Part VII - The New Blood

For the vast majority of its runtime Friday the 13th Part VII - The New Blood is a slog, mixing a thoroughly unlikable take on teenage life with boring, perfunctory murders. John Carl Buechler's film, written by Manuel Fidello and Daryl Haney, drips venom, particularly when considering the female cast. Diana Barrows' Maddy is punished for daring to put herself out there while Susan Jennifer Sullivan's Melissa is an out-and-out bully, teasing boys for their sexual inexperience and directing straitjacket skits at shy love rivals. Melissa Is cruel and manipulative in a way that feels incongruous for a series built around horny, slightly stoned kids. It does mean that Jason gets to intrude on a fresh emotional stage though - the rotting slasher arriving just in time to puncture the kind of atmosphere that settles on a party when a vocal brat hasn't gotten their own way.

Fortunately The New Blood kicks up about twelve gears for its finale. Lar Park Lincoln's Tina has Stephen King powers, able to break and twist inanimate objects with her mind. Tina unlocks these telekinetic capabilites through trauma, discovering them as a child fleeing from her boozed up, abusive Dad. Years later, saddled with a creepy father figure who's more interested in Tina as a money-making opportunity, she attempts to resurrect the imperfect man she buried under a jetty, unwittingly freeing the sunken Jason instead. Tina's ability to endure, facing Voorhees in her collapsing childhood home, has a knock-on effect for Jason. The mouldering, pointedly virginal murderer is realigned with the towering, terrifying heads of household who relish stomping around their space, using the suggestion of violence to silence their women. Buechler is even brave enough to distort Jason during this finale by taking away his cool, emotionless mask. Without it the killer is rendered ugly and unappealing, a crumbling prehistoric face frozen in a perpetual honk.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Devil May Cry 5 - CROSS-UP

Devil May Cry 5's Dante controls like a dream. I wouldn't say this was necessarily an underrated quality in a video game but it's strange (comparatively speaking) how often players are content to simply steer their onscreen character. DMC5 doesn't just juggle inputs on inputs, it translates them into blazing cracks and crunches. Dante's charging stab, The Stinger, doesn't ask much of the player - lock on, push towards whatever you want to hit and press a face button - but the resulting attack is a treat every single time. Satisfying both as audiovisual expression and as a key tool in your damage output. It's Devil May Cry's Dragon Punch.

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives

Jason's back! He only missed one instalment and the copycat killer who subbed for him did his level best to perfectly simulate Mr Voorhees - even down to a complete indifference to ruinous pain - but who cares? Jason's back! Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives can't get enough of The Big Man, portraying him as a stomping menace to be watched and adored. The long-running concept of the masked murderer as a floating, omniscient presence constantly circling our heroes is replaced here by a centre frame predator thundering through the woods, jealously guarding his Camp Blood territory. Nobody's safe this time, the rotting mutoid expanding his portfolio of pulverisation to include drippy executives frowning their way through corporate team-building activities.

Writer-director Tom McLoughlin steers away from Friday the 13th: A New Beginning's insinuation that scarred survivor Tommy Jarvis has assumed the Jason mantle, repurposing the character as a handsome teen suffering under the terrible knowledge that not only is Jason not an urban legend, as everyone seems to believe here, but his desire to impotently stab at the psycho's maggot-ridden corpse has actually resulted in his resurrection. Lightning is known for its life-giving properties after all - well, as far as monsters are concerned anyway. Jarvis is joined by Jennifer Cooke's Megan Garris, a fearless Sheriff's daughter who humours Jarvis' ravings not just because she thinks he's hot but also because the prospect of driving around really fast in a sports car sounds much more fun than babysitting children.

This brattiness extends to the visual and mechanical language of Jason Lives. Not only does the film have competing plots and arcs, it also finds time for humorous edits and genuinely funny sight gags. Six films deep into a franchise that has, at best, a scattershot approach to even basic continuity, McLoughlin has decided to worry less about the mystique of Jason The Invincible Murderer and more about how he can still be milked for entertainment. A basic correction like placing Jason in-front of rather than behind (or maybe more accurately inside) the camera allows the figure to register as a curiousity. We even get to see Voorhees in a private moment, mindlessly hacking away at the body of somebody he's already killed. When he notices he's being watched, Jason pauses, abashed, before reality realigns and he realises social embarrassment holds no power over him.

MF Doom and RZA - Books of War

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning

So what does a fresh start mean for the Friday the 13th series? While director / co-writer Danny Steinmann doesn't deviate too heavily from the burly-man-tortures-sex-mad-teens format, long time fans might be impressed with how Friday the 13th: A New Beginning plays with established formula. First of all this sequel (mercifully) doesn't make us sit through a recap of the previous film. It was always a strange choice anyway - more often reminding the audience precisely how these episodes fail to knit together. The dream sequence that typically concludes an instalment is used upfront as well, allowing the film to hit the ground running with an accelerated clip of pure, incomprehensible chaos. Shame the rest of the piece isn't so manic.

Jason's apparent death during Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter means we're in need of a new killer, some fresh blood to spice up proceedings. Unfortunately, even divorced from Jason Voorhees the person, the filmmakers cannot summon up the courage to leave behind his methodology. New Beginning offers up a copycat, with the same hockey mask / boilersuit fashion sense, working through their damage by slaughtering pretty much anyone they come into contact with. The murderer can teleport about just like Voorhees too, arriving at destinations mere seconds after his sprinting quarry, despite the monster's languid, mocking gait.

It's a shame the film doesn't lean more heavily into the idea that this isn't Jason, it's someone fallible and human attempting to emulate him. New Beginning's killer shouldn't be so silent and invincible, it only serves to underline the con of producing a sequel without the one character everyone wants to see. A spluttering, screeching madman pushing himself through the sort of injuries a movie murderer can't help but pick up would at least add a note of newness. One thing that New Beginning does get right though is how it allows certain characters to fight back. Melanie Kinnaman's Pam, an assistant director at the mental health treatment facility at the centre of the story, is allowed to pick up a chainsaw and assume the role of the cornered lioness denied to Joan Freeman in the previous film.

Emil Rottmayer - Farout

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter comes on strong by pitching itself as a summation of the previous films, an instalment confident enough to chart its own path to a conclusion. For the first time in the series we get to see the authorities reacting to Jason as an ongoing concern instead of just showing up late to dreamily sift through his wreckage. Final Chapter proposes an idea of scale. There's a hospital, middle aged people with jobs who can provide a perspective outside the knickers and knives bubble. It begs the question, will we finally get to see Jason unleashed? Of course not. Despite the tease, Final Chapter quickly reverts back to the shapeless meandering that has defined the franchise.

Jason slowly and methodically terrorises a herd of witless teenagers too stupored to gang up and retaliate. Given that barely anyone survives these episodes, not to mention that the intended audience has long since latched onto Jason as the only constant, the filmmakers have ceased trying to make anybody pointedly likeable. The teenagers behave as crude archetypes, self-absorbed wastrels who track naturally, and rapidly, from sex to death. Too shallow to truly identify with. For the most part the film asks the audience to simply drift around in the space surrounding these murders, omnipresent observers lucky enough to catch (most of) the feature slayings.

There's one significant blip. Upon returning home to her powerless cabin, Joan Freeman's Mrs. Jarvis peers cautiously up her stairs, catching sight of a window lashed by rain. The shot stands out because the film has briefly asked us to assume the perspective of prey. Mrs Jarvis isn't a strung out teenager though, she's a middle-aged divorcee with two children who runs her house like a boot camp. Has Jason finally met his match? A good, wholesome all-American materfamilias who can stand in opposition to Jason's own, unhinged mother? Again the answer is no. Don't delude yourself. This isn't a work that examines familial abuse and the insidious legacies they inspire, director Joseph Zito is much more interested in muscle men hurling attractive women through first floor windows.

BluntOne - Recogneyes

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered - FLAT SHARE

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered is free this month with PS Plus meaning lots of lots of new players who have no idea what's going on. While not quite on the nuclear streak level, I'm happy with these 15 consecutive kills, especially since (compared to Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII at least) Modern Warfare's multiplayer maps have chaotic layouts, tricky sightlines and fragile player characters.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Friday the 13th Part III

For a series so pointedly disinterested in either plot or continuity, the Friday the 13th films sure do love to gobble up screentime replaying events from the previous chapter. Friday the 13th Part III doesn't even bother to accelerate its recap of Part 2, forcing us to sit through minutes on minutes of the last instalment's conclusion. Perhaps the footage holds some clue as to the direction of this new film? Ginny Field (Amy Steel)'s quick thinking, not to mention a willingness to pull on mouldering, dead lady clothing, allowed her to trick Jason into believing she was his mother, resurrected through some scattershot ritual.

Unfortunately, Field's psychological subordination of Jason doesn't even enter into this film. The hirsute monster man that later dragged her kicking and screaming through a broken window is absent too, disappearing down the same narrative sinkhole as the muddy mutant child that thrashed around at the end of the first film. Part III's Jason is an alopecic muscle man, a thick-necker able to pick teens up with his bare hands then squeeze their heads until their eyeballs are blasted out of their skull and directly into camera. III largely dispenses with the idea of Jason as a prowling menace too - there's not much watching and waiting here - he's straight in, mangling the umpteen teens inexplicably drawn to mosquito country. Why do they come to these holiday camps? Don't they care there's a madman constantly on the loose? Part III's best moments then come during a finale where, thanks to actress Dana Kimmell's harassed interpretation of the uncanny, the film works up an agreeable sense of delirium.

Hotel Pools & Eagle Eyed Tiger - Cruise

BVSMV - Parallels

Monday, 4 March 2019

Friday the 13th Part 2

A mechanical follow-up to a stranger film, Friday the 13th Part 2 isn't so much going through the motions as abandoning all narrative meat to focus on the simulation of activity. We have teenagers and a wheezing slasher but neither get to do much. Even collisions between the two parties amount to very little. Deaths in Part 2 are communicated as brief jolts of electricity, designed to shock in the moment rather than thicken the stew. They don't puncture or enhance the atmosphere either, arriving simply as the forgone, lethal, uses of the various sharp props littered about the camp. Entire trainee counsellors disappear without notice too, lost to authorial indifference instead of a robotic mass murderer.

Director Steve Miner follows Part 1's lead, using the camera to propose the unbroken gaze of a hidden prowler while also allowing the hornier elements in the audience to get a good look at the female cast. There's zero sense that Jason takes any great delight in the observation though, frenzied grunts and wheezes are absent on the soundtrack. Both boys and girls are gobbled up with a consistent indifference; a pronounced sexlessness that registers as even more bizarre in a film where the killer uses a spear to lance a post-coital couple. Jason isn't jealous or impotent as an entity within the film but he is being used as a kind of avatar for frustrated, nascent urges within the viewers. Part 2 seems pitched purely at adolescents who cannot possess the older teens they find themselves attracted to. A strange kind of grot that has decided that women are toys and if you can't physically hold them yourself then you might as well watch someone else break them.

Crazy Riggs by Jack Teagle

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Alita: Battle Angel

Despite the decision to swerve away from the suicidal splatterpunk of Yukito Kishiro's original manga, Robert Rodriguez's Alita: Battle Angel stands out from the superhero crowd thanks to a gleefully confrontational title character and a structural framework that doesn't feel the need to position her desires in terms of higher, altruistic goals. This Hyper Future Vision keeps things personal. Rosa Salazar's Alita is the jet engine that powers James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis' writing, a personality so powerful that the diversions and setbacks usually trotted out to frustrate a hero's progress are, here, easily surmounted.

This is partly a knock-on effect of abridgement. Cameron and Kalogridis' screenplay pulls in material from several successive volumes of Kishiro's work, chopping and changing characters and situations to the point where the film is closer to an expanded adaptation of Hiroshi Fukutomi's 1993 home video telling than Kishiro's originator text. Alita's decisions are often binary, she either loves people or she hates them, reacting accordingly. This simplicity of purpose allows the filmmakers to constantly push at events that might otherwise inspire pause or reflection, then smash through them, off to the next adventure. That the film never feels so nakedly mercenary is thanks to Salazar's passionate, luminous performance.

Found in what amounts to heaven's landfill, Alita begins the film as a nameless trunk, lost in a sea of trash. Her remains are found by Christoph Waltz's Dr Ido, a cybernetics doctor on the hunt for freebies to use in his community clinic. The good doctor's decision to not immediately cannibalise her body for spare parts or monetary remuneration speaks to an innate goodness, which then helps to massage the faintly desperate relationship he goes on to presume. After discovering that her brain is still intact, Ido marries the shattered carcass to an ornate, delicate body he originally designed for his sick daughter. Ido assumes a fatherly role, gifting his new charge the name of his dead child as well as her futuristic frame.

Key to the idea of Alita, the character, is that she never actually feels threatened. Despite her amnesia, Alita still possesses a built-in confidence that she can deal with, basically, anything. Ido may both physically and mentally position her as a baby in need of protection, but the idea doesn't even occur to her. While Ido's assumption of a fatherly role isn't rejected outright, Alita makes him work for the title. As with Cameron's earlier film Aliens, names like father and mother carry a heavier weight than anything simply circumstantial. It's a rank you achieve. So while Alita is grateful for her rescue from oblivion she doesn't let the emotion render her subservient. Neither does she let it cloud her instincts when she hears about a series of gruesome murders and see's Ido dressed suspiciously, sneaking about at night. Her intent isn't merely investigation either, she clearly aims to stop this speculative murderer too.

Alita's first body, which we come to understand in terms of physical limitation, is small, childlike. The clothes Ido gives her are bright and poppy. Given that the doctor has some familiarity with her internal mechanics, perhaps he seeks to divert her attention, to saddle her with a borrowed vessel, steering her away from the conflict she craves? Alita's second body, an intergalactic suit of armour that she carries out of a lake, forces Ido to accept her as she is, not as he wants her to be. The film doesn't ask us to mourn Ido's idea of a replacement daughter either, it's too busy delighting in Alita's fibre optic gymnastics. Battle Angel's biggest departure from Kishiro's text then, and indeed cyberpunk as a genre that interrogates fracturing identities, is that Alita is already emotionally complete and thrusting forwards.

The memories that bubble up in moments of crisis, while intriguing, are treated as curiosities, their weight transitional rather than debilitating. They occupy a separate time and emotional space, one that may fill in some details but will not dictate the current objective. Alita is far more concerned with the present. Unlike her milquetoast, arm-jacking boyfriend Hugo, Alita's wants aren't material, they're interpersonal. Her emotions are raw, terrifying even. A scene in which she opens up her chest and pulls out her heart to underline her investment in a relationship is discussed within the film as alarming. Alita embraces her power and, frankly, delights in violence. We hear her thinking over her cool lines before she delivers them - subconscious memories or purpose that arrive inside specific, heightened instants. She won't allow them to dissipate. Alita's journey does not chronicle circuitous internal discovery, it's about the external realisation of a core, personal ideal. Decisions are discussed and interpreted as physical data then translated into blistering action.

Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII - FULLA LEAD

Hey! I don't just like to sneak around in Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII's Blackout mode, you know? I'm quite happy to stand very still in multiplayer too, blasting anyone unlucky enough to stumble into my general vicinity.

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII - SCOTT KELLY

Finally scored another Quads win on Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII's Blackout mode. I've checked with the two guys I usually play with and they have assured me that rather than pick up that clutch final kill, they were instead cowering in a nearby windmill waiting for everybody else to die off in the gas cloud. Given that I finish this game crawling around on my hands and knees pissing blood, it looks like it was our assigned rando, xenonillume, who snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

Monday, 11 February 2019


The relationship between humans and machines has been a major theme in the live action Transformers films. Michael Bay's quintet, a loosely assembled series if ever there was one, may have taken a different tact every instalment but the underlining thesis was one of disgust. The humans trembled in the company of these walking gun platforms while the Cybertronians regarded their flesh companions with the kind of revulsion usually reserved for vermin.

In Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the massive, barbed Megatron toys with Shia LaBeouf's Sam, delighting in his fragility. The contrast is clear - the Decepticon leader is built to hurt, his hands betray no other function than to slash and tear. Sam is the perfect target, a tiny, blubbery curiosity that would smear at the lightest touch. Even the heroic Autobots recognise a basic disparity between the two races that, apparently naturally, tracks into an acute revulsion. Transformers: Age of Extinction gave us a shellshocked Optimus Prime driven into hiding by mankind's treachery.

Prime's distaste runs deeper than Megatron's tactile disconnection too - he doesn't hate humans because they're physically weak, he distrusts them for their moral and ethical failings. After winning the Battle of Chicago single-handedly, slaying both a mortal enemy and his mentor in the process, Prime's reward is for his friends to be stalked and murdered by American special forces. Their remains pulled apart and reconfigured as toys for the consumer end of the military spectrum. Michael Bay's Optimus Prime is an engine of pure destruction, an indefatigable God Emperor powered by four million years of war and a violent, inflexible idea of egalitarianism. 

Travis Knight's Bumblebee, written by Christina Hodson, is the first live action Transformers film that really pushes at an idea of healthy, mutually beneficial symbiosis between mankind and the Cybertronians. Not even just in a material or technological sense either, the film is built around the friendship between Bumblebee, presented here as an amnesiac child soldier prone to post-traumatic outbursts, and Hailee Steinfeld's Charlie, a lonely teenager who feels alienated from her family. It's the same basic set-up as 2007's entry, except the filmmakers have spent time trying to engineer a dramatic hook with a little more heft to it than Sam Witwicky's eBay grumbles.

Both Charlie and Bumblebee are in mourning. Charlie missing her father, an auto-mechanic whose death curtailed his daughter's interest in, well, basically everything. Charlie stopped diving competitively, the activity too wrapped up in painful memories of Daddy-Daughter bonding. Charlie has grown distant from her remaining family, resenting her mother and brother for allowing another, and as far as she's concerned lesser, man to enter into their lives and take her father's place. Charlie isolates herself, working a demeaning Summer job (hotdog serf for jocks and princesses at a local fair) to hustle up enough cash to continue working on an apparently unsalvageable Corvette, her last physical link with her departed Dad.

Bumblebee's pain is founded in extreme shock. His movement (here called the Autobot resistance) has been routed and the planet he calls home has fallen, consumed by Megatron's lieutenants. Most tragic of all, Optimus Prime is apparently dead, last seen surrounded by an army of cackling Decepticons. Prime's portrayal in this film skews nostalgic and idealised, calibrated to appeal to those raised on Sunbow, Marvel and Toei Animation's The Transformers TV series. Prime pops in and out of the film, springing onto the screen from Bumblebee's fragged memories. The diminutive Autobot recalls his commander as explosively powerful, utterly fluent in combat, but equally willing to lay down his life for his smaller, weaker comrades. Essentially, Bumblebee is pining after his own lost father.

Bumblebee, as in the film, feels unexpectedly fresh because it allows these two characters the time and space to just be in each other's company. They hang out, listen to tapes and talk through their problems. Knight's film isn't an excitable gag machine pushing at slashed-up, chromed-out absurdity, it's actually interested in locating a sombre emotional tone then working through it. The Transformers are allowed to navigate scenes as dramatic participants, responding to, rather than contrasting with, their human companions. That the film is able to carry this off is mainly down to Steinfeld and how she is able to anchor rote situations with a delicacy and innate likeability otherwise lacking in this snorting, reptilian franchise.

Home - Resonance

Left Alive - TIME LAPSE

Wheeljack by Justin Masaru

Contra III: The Alien Wars - HARD SPIRITS

Digital Foundry take a look at SNES classic Contra III: The Aliens Wars and its various conversions. Not to spoil the surprise or anything but who knew that Konami repurposed levels and bosses from (superb) Mega Drive exclusive Contra: Hard Corps to fill out their Mode 7 challenged Game Boy Advance port?

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Resident Evil 2 - STUNLOCK

Finished up Claire's A scenario in Resident Evil 2 earlier, the last stretch was surprisingly difficult. Any sense of confidence earned through running laps and outwitting Mr X in the police station all but evaporated when heading down into the sewers. The final section, set in a laboratory-cum-conservatory, bled me dry, offering only the bare minimum of supplies to run the hothouse gauntlet.

This penultimate boss, the third form of William Birkin's G monster, was a late-game highlight, coming on like a flesh lump that required the player to simply drain their (dwindling) resources when, in actual fact, the correct approach involved baiting swipes, using acid grenades to halt his approach then popping his bloodshot eyeballs with some precision aiming. In many ways the boss reminded me of Bloodborne's Cleric Beast, a towering, surprisingly swift monster who chewed the player up if they tried keeping their distance. Stay close then run into his heavily telegraphed swipes though and the player can slip under his arm, catching the creature unawares.

Hotel Pools - Flare

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Forhill - Expanse

Resident Evil 2 - PETROL STATION

Digital Foundry compares and contrasts the original PlayStation release of Resident Evil 2 with its recently released remake, examining the titles in terms of how they approach the same basic scenario. I've had a few hours with Capcom's wonderful overhaul, the most impressive aspect so far is how it handles an idea of gearing up, not just in terms of player controlled weaponry or inventory space, but in how the game presents threat beyond simply stacking rooms with respawning corpses.

The game's first act is dark, tinged with horror, the player pecking away at shuffling meat with underpowered pop guns. After a few laps, the hallways clear out, promising either a brief sense of release or (if you enjoy the hassle) a mid-scramble slump. Just when you think you've achieved some breathing room, a trench coat Tyrant appears. Pursued room-to-room by this towering monster muscle, Capcom R&D Division 1's game provides its players with a damage dealing incentive to not just wander aimlessly, but to learn layouts and connecting corridors, powering the player towards the kind of interactive fluency that tracks naturally into speed-running.

Xeno Crisis - SHIMA

With Mega Drive super-brawler Paprium missing in action - despite a leathered-up launch party late last year - it falls to Bitmap Bureau's Xeno Crisis to deliver on modern, tricked-out 16-bit thrills.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Reign of the Supermen

Set six months after The Death of Superman, Sam Liu's follow up, Reign of the Supermen, gives us a Metropolis full of pretenders and facsimiles, each desperate to fill the shoes of the absent Man of Steel. These aspirants include a horny teenage clone, Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett's Conner Kent reconfigured as a grasping pop star in the Justin Bieber mold. His 'appearances' are not just your typical tabloid altruism, Superboy also turns up to film premieres and mixes in with crowds of adoring adolescent fans. These public pop-ups are micromanaged by his father-cum-manager Lex Luthor, here voiced by Rainn Wilson who brings his trademark man-on-the-verge-of-shrieking-mania to the role.

Screenwriters Tim Sheridan and Jim Krieg also punch up the Cyborg Superman's origins, marrying the biomechanical horror of the character to the micro-marked flesh of Jack Kirby's Apokolips. The creature's raw material, astronaut Hank Henshaw, perished in the previous film, frozen in the headlights of Doomsday's meteorite delivery vehicle. Moments from death, Henshaw ignored the pleas of his colleagues (including his wife) to do basically anything, instead preferring to sit smiling with the expectation that Superman would rock up any second and put everything right. Reign, a much more fluid and free-flowing episode than its predecessor, has fun working through this raving lunatic's disappointments. The animators warp his body and dimensions, filling the 1.78:1 frame with his screaming, mechanised face as he stomps around, searching for a powerless, party-in-the-back Superman.

SANO - CHUVA (prod. Madara)

Thursday, 17 January 2019

The Death of Superman

Flat and soft where recent big-screen DC adaptations have gone for grunged-up and spiky, The Death of Superman is the rare animated film that manages to create a palpable void around its characters and situations, a death space that nulls attention. This incredible feat is accomplished both through slack, lackadaisical editing and a screenplay scrambling for the cheery irreverence of a Joss Whedon serial. Despite the grave pugilism promised by the title, an inordinate amount of the film's running time is set aside so we can churn through Clark Kent's big, coming out moment with Lois Lane. It's an underdeveloped plot strand that renders Lane atypically bovine while Kent summons up the courage to take off his glasses.

Presumably, these scenes exist to keep this Superman (abnormally inattentive and self-absorbed) from dealing with the film's rampaging threat, Doomsday. Naturally, all the film's best bits revolve around this invincible monster, from his bored pulping of small town policemen to the extra little step he takes after delivering a skull-cracking haymaker to The Flash. The simplistic, multi-camera style set-ups that leave two-thirds of the film feeling like an animated soap opera are abandoned for Death's centrepiece, a twenty minute fight between Superman and a hyper-evolved brute. You can feel thought and consideration bleeding into the film. Teams of animators thinking up new, exciting ways to stage collisions between two ostensibly invulnerable creatures, blowing all the work time and budget they saved up by keeping the first 50 minutes routine.

Andy Shand - Journey to a Nearby Star

Hotel Pools - Nightshade

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Films 2018

Annihilation takes a different approach to alien contact, instead of placing mankind in the driver's seat, solving and conquering an invader, Alex Garland's film makes us subservient. The extraterrestrial presence dividing relentlessly in Area X does not approach us as separate entities, the sanctity of individual identity is not respected, people are reduced to cells and code, building blocks to be disassembled and reconfigured.

Life, sentience, is nourishment for The Shimmer's malignancy, treated as a behavioural quirk to be smothered and processed. Like Alien and The Thing, the horror in Garland's film is in arousing the attention of something so powerful and inscrutable that its designs go beyond the predatory. To be killed and consumed proposes two actors working with differing degrees of agency. To be trapped, examined, pulled apart and replicated goes further still, perverting and offending the basic specialness we feel about our humanity.

Natalie Portman's Lena meets her facsimile shortly after accidentally bleeding into the throbbing, fluorescent fissure that used to be her colleague. The copy, a featureless marionette with a petrochemical iridescence, parrots Lena's movements, dancing and colliding with its mother. Upon waking, a bleeding Lena picks at the combusted remains of her husband, the man she's followed into this nightmare, finding a white phosphorous grenade.

Garlands film proposes a basic invasion building block - the fiery destruction of the mother base, then explains it in a way that that informs the piece's approach to the wider extraterrestrial threat. Lena pulls the pin then hands the flame to the doppelganger. This Promethean boon ignites in the alien's hand, a ravenous, chaotic form of life whose touch renders the copy drunk and floundering. The fire consumes the visitor's cradle, then blazes out across the entire manufactured landscape either destroying and consuming the invader's presence or, perhaps, finally sating its voracious hunger.

Without giving anything away, Calibre is what happens when moneyed self-assurance collides with a situation that cannot be bullshitted or brute-forced. Martin McCann's Marcus is used to getting his own way, he's cocky and successful, a man who treats every interaction as an opportunity to score points. Best pal Vaughn is happy, or at least neutral enough, to indulge his friend's bravado no matter how much it may end up compromising him. He's along for the ride.

Visiting a small town in the Scottish highlands for a hunting trip, Marcus sets to throwing his weight around, winding up the pub regulars by sharing his cosmopolitan coke wraps with the object of everyone's affections then ingratiating himself with the local bigwigs by promising a vague, and presumably fictional, interest in the area's regeneration. Marcus is high on himself and determined to turn the screws on everybody else. Laws and rules are there to be flouted, he cannot conceive of a situation he cannot ooze his way around. Calibre then is about tiny concessions and short-cuts, and how easily basic mistakes, and the desire to avoid any kind of penalty, can lead to full-scale, excruciating, disaster.

First Reformed talks about knowledge and self-examination as weight, burdens to be slogged around and grappled with. Ethan Hawke's Pastor Toller is trapped, servile to an environment that does not nourish him. Writer-director Paul Schrader shoots urban sprawl and obnoxious mega churches as inhumane, alienating constructs that blight and obscure a tactile connection with the physical world around us. Abundant Life, the corporate sinkhole at the centre of the film, peddles compliance, religion packaged up and presented with the tranquillising reassurance of wealth. Toller struggles, attempting to engage with and conquer the emptiness this prompts inside himself, using his faith as a language and means towards personal discovery rather than pat, attention-diverting answers.

A serial killer confessional told with the creepy hesitance of a nerd building himself up to an out-and-out boast. Matt Dillon's Jack, in conversation with an unseen party, starts off describing his crimes - his life's work - not as an indulgence but as a reflex summoned up by his poisonous company. The demanding, insensitive strangers who foist themselves upon him or the greedy widows looking to bleed the system dry. Regardless of how he enters their orbit, Jack is insistent, it's just not his fault.

Writer-director Lars von Trier further massages this sociopathic jabbering with the mocking, sardonic voice of Jack's companion. This decision allows an ironic distance to assert itself in The House that Jack Built, similar to that found in Remy Belvaux, Andre Bonzel and Benoit Poelvoorde's Man Bites Dog. Attention is called to Jack's total misogyny, with just enough distaste that the film remains amusing until the exact point that Trier decides it shouldn't be. In its early passages the film is eating its cake and having it too. It's not until we get three or four recollections in that the mask is allowed to slip completely.

Jack stops talking about his crimes as accidental, situational occurrences that he has had the terrible fortune to stumble into. The icy veneer of buttoned-up, middle-class pretension that has allowed his repulsive hobby to register as acutely comedic is jettisoned for a sweaty, venomous chapter in which he talks about his greatest love and how he literally turned her into an object. The House that Jack Built talks about broadcasters and egomaniacs, men who demand, over and over, to be seen and discussed. They want to be venerated, to be held up and examined as inscrutable puzzles when, in reality, they're just nasty, selfish little pricks.

Leave No Trace is a delicate, deliberate film that examines interpersonal responsibilities and the idea that a parent's job is to prepare their child to deal with the wider world. Will (Ben Foster) finds society completely overwhelming, preferring to live in the bracketed wilderness of a national park with his daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie). Despite the tough, hardscrabble environment they inhabit the pair's relationship has a quiet, idyllic quality to it. There are no distractions or interference, Will can give Tom his full, undivided attention. The problem is that he's only really preparing her for a life exactly like the one she already has. Writer-director Debra Granik, working with co-writer Anne Rosellini, have the restraint to not make their film a series of messy, bubbling confrontations, instead we have ideas and alternatives slowly taking hold in two people who see different things in their futures.

Although The Night Comes for Us does feature guns of every stripe, they represent brief, terrifying expulsions in a whole designed around violent utility. Everything in Night is a weapon, anything with enough weight to crack or sharp enough to puncture is put to work. Goon bodies are blubbery and pregnable, they lack the fortification conferred by intent. Ito and his friends, our guides through this mayhem, are different, their courage armours them.

They aren't soft, malleable flesh, they're hardened and defiant in the face of injury, able to soak up a truly heroic amount of punishment before they yield. They do not surrender to simple slashes or even small calibre gunfire. Their entire bodies act as deterrent, limbs break then redirect blows, telephone directories provide the level of protection you'd expect from a bomb disposal suit. Even when stabbed their wounds ooze around and seize the incoming weaponry, allowing it to be repurposed against its original owners.

Original review

Mercifully short on actual rape, Coralie Fargeat's Revenge is more interested in examining the interpersonal dynamics that lead to certain men deciding they are owed something they haven't been offered. As far as Matilda Lutz's Jen is concerned she is enjoying a couple of days holiday with her married lover Richard in a secretive, secluded desert mansion. She is his girlfriend, he might even leave his family for her, that lends her status. When his hunting buddies arrive a day early, the couple are caught off guard.

Reality has intruded for Richard, he can no longer pretend he's living in a little bubble. These people know his wife. Trapped in the middle of nowhere with three slathering, reptilian men on her trail, Jen slowly starts to turn the tables. These men expect to succeed, they've bought all the weapons and kit, they even have snappy little all-terrain vehicles. What chance does an injured half-naked woman have? Comparatively, Jen is used to difficulty, she's a woman after all. She's adept at modifying her behaviour and persona to better suit the men attempting to overwhelm her. Jen thrives because of her ability to adapt then overcome.

Boots Riley's Sorry to Bother You is genuinely magical, a socially conscious comedy with flights of science fiction fantasy grounded in the (very real, very apparent) callousness casually displayed by the exceedingly rich. Lakeith Stanfield's Cash is an African American telemarketer who is able to adopt the deep frequency-free shriek of a dumpy white actor when fielding calls, naturally this talent brings him nothing but success. Riley's film talks about status and a person's ability to move up and along social classes, asking if they can remain unaffected, uncompromised by their experiences on the other side. Cash finds himself increasingly valuable but, unfortunately, not as a partner or even really as a person. He's a commodity, an opportunity to deepen and protect someone else's fortune.

Jobs eh? Absolute nightmare. Andrew Bujalski's Support the Girls tracks an awful / typical day in the life of a manager working in a knock-off Hooters. Regina Hall's Lisa takes her position as a leader seriously. As far as she's concerned it isn't just a meaningless title to be invoked at will, used to separate herself, socially and financially, from the people she works alongside. To Lisa, management means an ongoing relationship with, and responsibility to, her staff, they're aren't problems to be filed away or discarded, they are, by the nature of their business, young, vulnerable woman finding their way in the world. They need to feel safe and protected, so that's exactly what she does. Lisa's approach is kind but firm, a den mother who, naturally, finds herself in opposition with her weak-piss supervisor, a scrawny nothing completely unable to engage with people beyond their ability to acquiesce to his fantasies.

You Were Never Really Here isn't interested in how a tortured man inflicts himself on the world, the events of the film are likewise not proposed or communicated in terms of catharsis either. Joe's already broken. No amount of pulverising will fix him. Writer-director Lynne Ramsay's focus is reflective rather than deflective then. A sharp, elliptical continuity constructed out of a lifetime of internalised trauma and the flawed, inadequate responses Joe has employed to placate himself.

Original review

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After the Screaming Stops // Andre the Giant // Apostle // Avengers: Infinity War // The Ballad of Buster Scruggs // Black '47 // Black Panther // Chris Rock: Tamborine // Crazy Rich Asians // Creed II // A Futile and Stupid Gesture // Hold the Dark // Jurassic World: Lost Kingdom // The Legacy of the Whitetailed Deer Hunter // Mandy // Mission: Impossible - Fallout // Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle // Nothing Like A Dame // Ocean's 8 // Paradox // Possum // Solo: A Star Wars Story // Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse // Summer of '84 // They Shall Not Grow Old // Upgrade // Zama