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' - not just your typical altruism, Superboy also turns up to film premieres and mixes in with crowds of adoring adolescent fans - 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 but 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 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

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

Crystal Cola - Orion / Summer Night

Fractal Man - Reverie


When not avoiding having to write up my favourite films of 2018 list, I do like to slowly circle the out-of-bounds gas in Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII's Blackout mode. Whereas everyone I watch on YouTube likes to steamroll around, obliterating everyone they come across with pinpoint accuracy, I prefer to get my belly on the ground, waiting for people to turn their dampened, distant crunches into full-blown, impatient mistakes.