Tuesday, 17 September 2019
Twenty-odd films in, the Marvel Cinematic Universe largely functions as an on-going, episodic serial rather than a collection of distinct, individual pieces. Characters are seemingly allowed one film to set their stage before the demands of a wider playing field bleed into their space, polluting their identity. Case in point, Spider-Man: Far From Home, a film that uses a loose, poppy superhero-on-holiday structure to definitively paint over the incalculable trauma of Thanos' snap while simultaneously wallowing in the departure of Robert Downey Jr. Stark's shadow is such that the very idea of Peter Parker as a sweet, working-class prodigy is obliterated. This Parker is an heir, fumbling his way around with a fantastical pair of DITA sunglasses that constitute his terrible, unmanned combat vehicle inheritance.
Convoluted and episodic, Far From Home simulates that stale comics standby, the Summer Special. It's a bumper compendium of half-baked ideas and sketches not fit for general consumption; all the odds and ends lumped together in one volume with very little care for tonal or creative consistency. In terms of the intrusive Marvel bookkeeping and SHIELD autophagia, consider those encroachments trace crossover, the storytelling equivalent of some particularly nasty background radiation requiring extended stretches of corporately mandated attention. What makes Far From Home all the more frustrating is that there are blips of purchase here and there. Moments that threaten to arrest interest before they're lost in the churn of droned-out entitlement.
Aunt May hurling bananas at her nonplussed nephew, not to mention Peter's general anxiety about his so-called 'tingle', seems to suggest that Parker is losing touch with his innate spider-skills by focusing so heavily on Stark's endowment. As it is, the idea exists as a proposition and a tumbling, back-flipping conclusion embedded within the finale. The pain of this disconnection is never mapped out, we aren't given the opportunity to understand Peter's apparent disassociation. This tidiness extends out into the film, denying the human level conflicts the rough interactions they require: Peter's best friend Ned is enjoying a holiday romance, so he can't possibly feel ignored. Mary Jane definitively rejects a handsome rival suitor, meaning Peter doesn't have to spread himself thin to grasp at a private life.
Emotionally, at least in terms of interpersonal relationships, Jon Watts' film is chronically neat, leaving all sense of self-shredding conflict to the special effects realm. It is to Far From Home's credit that visual effects house Framestore, channelled through Jake Gyllenhaal's precious, artistic performance as Mysterio, deliver an incredible illusory sequence that hammers Spider-Man with images and situations in which he is either specifically powerless or, if he manages to react quickly enough, simply hurling his body weight against unyielding phantasms. Regardless, Parker is being mocked, forced to respond to immediate, confusing visual and audio data. Framestore use shattering mirrors and the dense choke of poisonous green smoke to suggest the swirling anxieties that underline the best of Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko's work. These apparitions strip Peter of his Iron Lad exterior, forcing him to contend with his beginnings as a child in a personalised hoodie. Unfortunately this ordeal does not force Parker to re-examine his methodology, the teenager is quickly aboard a Stark branded VTOL jet using the billionaire's impossible-tech to manufacture a toyetic costume change.
Monday, 16 September 2019
One last clip before the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare beta becomes a dead boot, hogging valuable space on the HDD. Since this game is pitching itself as more of a tactical shooter, I decided to play tactically; holding down a nice set of stairs that were, apparently, of great interest to the enemy team. It's a shame that FAMAS could not be used outside of the default class set-ups. Still it was good to have Le Clairon back in any form - filling the same precise, burst-fire niche that made it a Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 fav.
Sunday, 15 September 2019
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare's beta test has been running this weekend. First for people who had pre-ordered the game then, when all the big spenders had suitably levelled up, the preview event was opened up for myself and all the other cheapskates. In terms of gameplay, it pays to sneak around or plant yourself somewhere with lots of cover. Interiors are extremely dark when viewed at distance, meaning window camping is a frequent tactic. I myself am having a little trouble adjusting how I aim the guns, bad habits mainly. I tend to start firing before I'm properly zeroed in then adjust along the subsequent kick. Given this game's negligible health, short time-to-kill, and wild (possibly largely cosmetic) recoil, this is an absolutely awful approach to gunfights.
Thursday, 12 September 2019
Despite an early brush with executive action - rescuing a brace of astronauts from their own interstellar incompetence - X-Men: Dark Phoenix's mutant teenagers are allowed to explore their relationship with superheroics from an emotionally human perspective. Conflict is treated as scary; violence its own kind of metamorphosis, forcing these children to confront aspects of their identity activated by some unknowable hereditary vandalism. Writer-director Simon Kinberg grounds his characters in a fragile world, not at all equipped to deal with the power proposed by mutant kind.
These X-Men aren't soldiers, or even experts, they are aberrations, not in the sense that they are warped or inferior to the people around them, rather they are a terrifying evolutionary leap. A caste of distinct individuals who, when not safely tucked away in their compounds, must bow and scrape so as not to upset the apple cart. This proposition is magnified in Dark Phoenix thanks to James McAvoy's pointedly useless Professor Xavier. It's an idea that Kinberg toyed with in his screenplay for the basically dire X-Men: The Last Stand, the all-seeing headmaster shown to be not just flawed but actively insidious, an egomaniac who has caused untold damage to one of his young students by actively burying her emerging, psyche-splitting abilities.
Shakespearean barker Patrick Stewart was not the best way to communicate this take, especially coming off two films in which he had been presented in patient, regal terms. McAvoy's Professor X is an entirely different proposition though, introduced in X-Men: First Class as a groovy pub tosser cracking on to any woman in sight. This Professor X has slowly, naturally, transformed into a starfucker, shilling for an elevated position within the kingdom of America. In Dark Phoenix he's made it, enjoying a presidential hotline in his headmaster's office while the school's graduates are discussed in flattering asides that contextualise their current relationship with the public as one-part celebrity to two-parts Thunderbirds.
By making Professor X so consistently unreliable and self-serving, Kinberg denies the film's mutants a credible sense of foundation. They are each adrift, having to count on the connections they have made themselves to navigate the constantly changing expectations thrust upon them. These ideas inform and contextualise Sophie Turner's Jean Grey, a nice but dull young woman who suddenly inherits incredible cosmic powers. Indeed the film is built around this character and Turner's limited but likeable performance - the capricious, indecisive nature of youth blown up to body warping proportions. Despite a body count, Grey never truly becomes evil. Her one brush with sadism is even somewhat justified - scooping up and puppeteering Xavier's unresponsive body; a cruel literalisation of the emotional and psychological manipulation the Professor has heaped on this child.
Dark Phoenix's main problems are structural, Kinberg is reaching for a 90s character action piece but he's stuck with the expectation of explosive, superhero noise. We should spend a little longer simmering with the changing Grey, experiencing moments that underline not just the toll this power is taking but how her newly acquired Godhood upsets her basic sense of self. The detailing isn't quite there and Turner's nice girl interpretation stays firmly within the lines. Still, there's something to be said for banality, especially when dealing with such a young character. Jean Grey isn't Magneto. Therefore her new powers are treated as momentarily intoxicating rather than morally altering. Friends may be pushed and prodded with abandon but when cold, hard reality intrudes the spell is broken.
Kinberg's biggest crime then is that he isn't interested in making a film that adheres to the Marvel template. Characters are allowed to fade into the background. There's no push to massage their roles, to write and rewrite until everybody has something cool or funny to say. Similarly, Dark Phoenix isn't full of dopamine drip confrontations, it wants to unsettle, to invite disquiet. Like X-Men: Apocalypse before it, Kinberg's film does not want to reassure the audience about superpowered beings, in this series their very existence is never treated as anything less than a threat to the rest of mankind. After all, mutants are less our champions and more our evolutionary replacements - do you think Neanderthals cheered on the rise of Homo sapiens?
This ever-present tension is best expressed in the film's deliberately grounded action sequences - the best of which takes place on the edge of Central Park. Kinberg forgoes massive, intricately photographed exchanges, deciding instead to keep the warring mutants at ground level, fighting in and around helpless, bovine civilians. People freeze or flee, forced to dart away from the impossible feats that are exploding around them. Again, we are not soothed - normal people are, at best, irrelevant to these warring mutants. At worst, they're shrapnel. The film's best moment, indeed one of the finest in the whole series, sees Michael Fassbender's Magneto summon up a subway carriage from New York's underground. The action is brilliantly callous, a self-styled Übermensch casually warping the basic rules of civic reality (not to mention placing dozens of commuters in serious danger) just to achieve momentary respite from the flies buzzing around him.
Tuesday, 3 September 2019
Monday, 2 September 2019
Friday, 30 August 2019
John Wick: Chapter 2 ended somewhere wonderful by weaponising the secret, subdermal societies that otherwise strain to give the films any sense of a terrifying, vampiric centre. It was a smart decision - taking the series' weakest, chummiest element then transforming it into a rolling, enormous threat. Wick trespassed against the rule-set, killing an enemy currently under the protection of the sacred hotel chain that offers its clients boutique ceasefire. Thanks to this action screenwriter Derek Kolstad was able to pivot, taking Wick out of the comfort provided by being a murderer among murderers. There's a bounty on his head. He's prey now.
John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum begins shortly afterwards, plunging the title character into an Invasion of the Body Snatchers sized nightmare in which every single person in New York is living a pantomime life, concealing incredible martial arts skills and an intent to collect on Wick's head. For one act Parabellum keeps us locked into this paranoia - we see the bounty ticking up, our favourite assassin burning through former allies (including The Matrix Reloaded's Randall Duk Kim) and pointedly battling against foes he enjoys an otherwise friendly rapport with. Wick is attacked and injured, losing all access to the city's network of underground death bazaars. Gunless, he is forced to break into a museum armoury to assemble a six-shooter from antique parts like Tuco in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.
Parabellum's problem is that it isn't interested in working through this idea of an assailed Wick. The character's fracturing sense of self is suggested then played at arm's length, the film preferring instead to lean back into the circuitous, disinteresting machinations that prop up this counterfeit world. Wick seeks audiences with higher and higher authorities, begging forgiveness along the way. These acts, which at least seem to be taking John somewhere compromised, are instead ways to massage through the dramatic dead-end of two opposing powers that cannot, yet, taste defeat. Still, the finale's the best yet - the aperitif before the tower climbing, Game of Death style, main course sets Wick against special forces soldiers clad head-to-toe in the same bulletproof material used by the assassin's tailor. Sustained gunfire does nothing but wobble the incoming hordes. Wick must instead get in close and use his pistol like a dirk - jamming its muzzle into the armour's creases to score the kill shot.
Thursday, 29 August 2019
It's all a matter of taste but I bounce off a lot of the detailing in the John Wick universe. The baroque rule-set baked into the stories often seems unduly synthetic; a series of hanging excuses designed to stop or re-start the action whenever the screenwriters (in this instance, Derek Kolstad) can find no other, meaningful way to push our hero forward. Likewise, the technological leaps in tactical tailoring - that keep Wick buttoned up and protected without ruining his silhouette - suggest a heroic immunity that, really, stands to undermine any sense of situational distress. Nevertheless this particular flight of fancy does give rise to one fantastic moment - Reeves tugging at his slim-fitted jacket, forcing his lapel up over his face to protect his head from incoming bullets.
What is unmistakably and consistently brilliant about John Wick: Chapter 2 though is its star, Keanu Reeves. The 53 year old actor's movements stand in tonal opposition to the flamboyant nonsense around him. His Wick gait is stiff and deliberate, arthritic even. A living testament to a career filled with colliding bodies. The film's interpersonal action - just as frequent as the close-quarters shoot-outs - sees Wick using his size and weight against his enemies. His signature move is to trap his assailant's arms or pistol in some way, then kick away at their legs until both of their bodies collapse in a heap. Wick is then able to use them as an axis to take aim at other, incoming goons. Another choice that stands out is the actor's speed or, rather, his lack of it. There's no great hurry in Chad Stahelski's film. We see Reeve's body contorting and crashing in ways that let us know that it is pained, that these manoeuvres require an effort beyond simply shifting mass. A small but perfect note that lends every single confrontation a faint sense of fallibility. John Wick will win. But it will hurt.
Monday, 26 August 2019
JJ Abrams can pile on as much C3PO-with-murder-eyes, stroke Evil-Rey-is-Kylo-Ren's-saucy-Dagobah-tree-fantasy misdirection as he likes, the one thing you cannot take away from the Star Wars series is the sheer, awe-inspiring scale of John Williams' music. A couple of creeping notes and you're instantly transported to this place of space opera adulation that you might not even otherwise possess. That's the power in Williams' brooding, heroic score - it's authored - connecting you with an instant sense of fondness that no temp track snippet could ever inspire.
Sunday, 25 August 2019
Friday, 23 August 2019
A slow start on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare's new Gunfight mode but I get there in the end. The decision to preview Infinity Ward's big money reboot with this small, stop-start, cage match style mode is unusual. Rather than prowl around looking for backs to ventilate, players are immediately confronted with short but intense bouts where victory hinges on their ability to read their opponents then react accordingly. In this way it is somewhat similar to Call of Duty: Black Ops 4's Blackout mode - death as a real, meaningful loss condition rather than just a minor setback on your path to scoring sky-filling killstreaks.
Wednesday, 21 August 2019
Fancied some modern warfare so I reinstalled Battlefield 4. Despite the last-gen geometry, DICE's game still presents as pretty nifty thanks to the blaring, exaggerated lighting effects and the all-encompassing clacks and cracks of frustrated conflict. Unfortunately official servers are a thing of the distant past, leaving server trawlers at the mercy of cranky admin looking to orchestrate fish-in-the-barrel spawns for their greedy pals.
Tuesday, 20 August 2019
Jackfrags with a snappy gameplay clip for Infinity Ward's upcoming Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Mr Frags' approach to games-casting is a little different in that he takes some time to focus on options browsing and mechanical interaction. For instance, if this video is indicative of final gameplay balance, then at least some gun recoil is superficial - animation traits and ostentation designed to evoke a sense of reality rather than offer a true representation of the path you can expect your in-game bullets to follow.
Monday, 19 August 2019
Since Paprium is never (ever) coming out, I'm pinning all my belt-action hopes on Streets of Rage 4. This fourth entry introduces yet another member of the Hunter family, Cherry - the daughter of one-and-done hero Adam and niece of follow-up thumper Skate (or Sammy if you're Japanese). Cherry battles street scum with jumping fierces and a malfunctioning electric guitar.
Since Blasphemous kind of reminds me of deliberately dreary, licensed platformer Chakan: The Forever Man - a punishing Mega Drive game that has you bopping biomechanoids with a puritanical ghoul - I decided to look up Team 17 to see if they were producing anything similar during their 16-bit days. Turns out as well as pumping out Alien Breed sequels, the British devs were also involved in a long-running feud with Amiga Power over lower-than-expected review scores that culminated in the team filing an unsuccessful lawsuit against the magazine. Thankfully, for anyone looking to turn a critical eye over 17's latest game, Blasphemous is looking pretty fucking nifty.
Friday, 16 August 2019
Thursday, 8 August 2019
Monday, 5 August 2019
Digital Foundry talk us through the new resolution and anti-aliasing tech powering Infinity Ward's latest, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Just in case that all sounds incredibly dry, stick around for an extended look at the multiplayer night-vision stage designed to place you in a Sicario set-piece, Azhir Cave. According to reports from the various press events, this optoelectronic level proposes a variety of limits on how players approach the level. Gun-sighting is restricted; hit-markers and point reports are gone, while paths through the area track towards confined. As with last year's Call of Duty: Black Ops 4's Blackout mode, creeping and the correct assessment of audio information will be your bread and butter.
Thursday, 1 August 2019
Monday, 29 July 2019
Xu Haofeng's The Final Master plays around with the assumption that onscreen martial arts experts are austere, unfeeling machinery. The writer-director (most famous in the west for co-writing Wong Kar-wai's The Grandmaster) presents his characters not as surging, unconquerable heroes but as sweaty human beings who have to fit in or around the bizarre sociopolitical etiquette of an untouchable, self-appointed ruling class. Liao Fan's Master Chen Shi is not presented as an avatar for justice or decency then, he's simply a man. The last member of a waning dynasty who wishes to settle in the combat school mecca Tianjin and make a living passing on his teachings.
Unfortunately this is not a simple process, in order to be allowed to open a school by the other, established educators Chen must jump through specific, florid hoops while simultaneously maintaining an outward appearance of spontaneity. A less complicated film might have the stern, lightning-quick Chen rock up and dole out lessons to his corrupt peers. The Final Masters though is happy to submerge its unbeatable hero in these machinations. Chen plots and corrects; using other people's lives and dreams as stepping-stones to further his own ends. This callousness is refreshing and, frankly, tallies with the kind of focused, ego-maniacal edge required to power through decades of punishing repetition and revision.
Chen has devoted his all to developing a self-defence style that transforms its practitioner into a flurry of attacking, angular arms. Of course his perspective is skewed. He's seeing his impact as a lineage that will live for centuries, not as the discourtesy of an indifferent day-to-day. Chen's route to his dream is circuitous and illogical, forcing him to slum it in a battered house, take on a wife he is happy to dispose of later, and train a student for, essentially, the slaughter. The strength of his style, in terms of an actionable, analytical result, is immaterial against the serpentine route he has taken to please his contemporaries - class and decorum are just additional weapons for the establishment dojos of Tianjin.
As plot devices they strengthen and complicate a structure of interaction that frustrates open conflict. That is why it's all the more satisfying that, eventually, The Final Master places Chen Shi at one end of an alleyway and a city's worth of heavily armed martial arts masters at the other. Chen, armed with two thick knives, battles through the crowd, asserting his dominance. The film's soundtrack collapses, until all we're left with are brief notes to confer intrigue (a welcome change from the farcical sitcom transition music heard elsewhere in the film) and the sounds of human exertion. Steel swishes and slashes, hammering the audience with the idea that all these weapons are lethally sharp, that just one mistake could be death. From Chen's perspective though this fight, or rather the violence he's directing towards it, is neither blood-thirsty nor desperate. His proficiency is such that he affects a relaxed, reactionary stance when meeting with the swings of his fellow experts. He adapts then overcomes, demonstrating both the flexibility and superiority of the movements he has drilled into his body.
Sunday, 28 July 2019
Thursday, 25 July 2019
Considering the totality of the film's post-apocalyptic framing, the stakes in writer-director David Webb Peoples' The Salute of the Jugger (released in the United States as The Blood of Heroes) are surprisingly small scale, even interpersonal. The plot centres around a group of wandering athletes who travel along dust bowl trade routes playing a sport called simply The Game. Since civilisation has been completely buried by bombs and an endless desert, these Juggers, as they are called, are the only distraction from a life spent sifting rubble or hacking away at irradiated crops.
The Game is played by two teams of armoured players, competing to take possession of a dressed-up dog skull. Rather than have the contenders spread out to meet in various configurations, each person must attack their opposite on the other team and defeat them before mixing in to help their cohorts. Although The Game is violent - one player's sole role is to walk around spinning an enormous chain flail above their head, hoping to catch someone's face or fingers - it is not sadistic. Ears may be bitten off during play but the athletes embrace and laugh when the competition ends. Personal preservation is not a driving force in this world, the future is not a concern, there is only now.
The Game has a religious aspect to it - Juggers seem genuinely honoured to bleed for the amusement of the shell-shocked masses. The audience is appreciative, offering up their meagre trinkets to catch a glimpse of play. These primitive societies reward these athletes too, feeding them up, getting them drunk then allowing the Juggers their pick from the village's fresh-faced groupies. Sex, as with all human interaction in this world, is not about love or shame. It's either purely transactional or a brief opportunity to experience unity with another person before feelings have to be filed away somewhere distant. In such a relentlessly bleak (not to mention mind-numbing) milieu, romance is much more abstract, born out of vaulting, personal action rather than tender interaction.
Rutger Hauer plays Sallow, an expert old hand forced to slum it in the wasteland. There is, we find out, a more centralised, professional strain of The Game but Sallow has been banished from it. His transgression as much about distinct, immutable class divides as it was specifically about having an affair with some bloated, self-appointed lord's wife. Joan Chen's Kidda is the young prospect, the acrobatic seeker who directly pursues the prize animal bones while her teammates knock lumps out of the competition. Peoples and cinematographer David Eggby use their actor's faces to chart their progress within a sport that seems only to take - Sallow loses an eye while Kidda begins the film chiselled and youthful, ending it covered in scar material accented with the swell of blunt trauma.
If the detailing hadn't already made it clear, The Salute of the Jugger is not an aspirational future-sport movie. Victory here is bittersweet rather than all-encompassing. Sallow and his team aren't putting their bodies on the line for an assured, affluent future for themselves, they're doing it on the off-chance that just one of their number might make it into a higher, more protected strata of their game. This idea is either subtext or explicit text depending on which version of the film you are viewing. The American release trails off after Sallow and Kidda grind out a winning play. We leave the team deep in the bowels of the subterranean city that plays host to the premier league of The Game. Chen is photographed within a throng of money men poring over their new star player. Hauer is kept at a distance. He makes eye-contact, smiling with his protege, but from a distinct, pointedly separate space. A baggier international release goes a little further, underlining this point. We see Sallow back in the desert, talking up a different young player, perhaps hoping to strike yet another blow against the shitheads who rejected him.
Sunday, 21 July 2019
Saturday, 20 July 2019
A pair of teases for Genndy Tartakovsky's latest wheeze - a television series for Adult Swim entitled Primal. The plot synopsis floating around makes the show sound like a Devil Dinosaur-ish tale, focusing on the friendship between a primitive brute and a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Friday, 19 July 2019
There's a shot in this featurette for Terminator: Dark Fate that appears to be Gabriel Luna's carbon fibre cyborg dressed as an ICE officer, pirouetting through his fellow, border patrolling goons. Behind them, dishevelled people hurry out and away from chain-link holding pens. In terms of thematic consistency, this is exactly the sort of the-future-is-now moment I expect from a series that, in its best episodes, talked about mankind's propensity for self-immolation.
Wednesday, 17 July 2019
Although it would be absurd to claim Gamera vs Barugon as some sort of unfairly maligned masterpiece, director Shigeo Tanaka's film does contain individual ideas and moments that range from conceptually sound all the way up to genuinely beautiful. Gamera's second big screen outing largely dispense with the rocket-powered turtle to mooch around with a gang of lawbreakers chasing a magnificent opal that is, in fact, a monster egg. Koji Fujiyama's Onodera is the most thrilling element in this human strata, a greedy, cowardly thug who is allowed a tremendous lack of repercussion for his murderous actions, enabling him to hurry the plot forward whenever the boring do-gooders hit a brick wall.
Onodera's most incredible moment arrives deep in the third-act, the burly wrongdoer staging a diamond heist in the middle of a calamitous, barely-holding-together military operation. With the Japanese Self-Defence Force distracted dangling glimmering trinkets in front of lead pest Barugon, Onodera blasts in out of the darkness, interrupting the attempt to lure the materialistic monster to his doom. Fujiyama's thief crashes his speedboat directly into the command vessel, jumps aboard then outguns the soldiers guarding the dazzling diamond being used as bait.
Onodera's unapologetic villainy is such that he feels precisely zero shame about inflicting Barugon on the world. He just wants to get paid, even if that means stealing the solution to the problem he has directly caused. Human greed and an indifference to ecological balance is a frequent driving force in Kaiju films but it's fun seeing these ideas expressed specifically in terms of street level criminality and passionate (but illogical) self-interest. The Gamera series is so committed to making human ingenuity a plausible solution to monster landings that it seems equally important, not to mention exciting, to pursue the ways in which the individual can scupper an otherwise unified defence.
Which brings us to the monsters themselves. While both Barugon and the barely featured Gamera conduct themselves with a stiffness normally associated with poorly pressed pocket money toys, Gamera vs Barugon does have an ace up its sleeve - special effects director Noriaki Yuasa. Daiei Film may not have the same kind of money, or international appeal, as Toho's output but Yuasa is able to iterate and innovate on the established language of monster confrontation. The special effects director's approach is distinct from that of Godzilla powerhouses Ishiro Honda and Eiji Tsuburaya in that Yuasa is less interested in terrifying cataclysm, preferring to luxuriate in the company of these Kaiju and their surreal, seismic relationship with our world.
Perhaps lacking the confidence that Gamera and Barugon's Imperial stamped outfits will stand up to close scrutiny, Yuasa hides the creatures in nighttime sorties, lit by tracer rounds and blanketed by luminous but sooted smoke. The background and foreground are stacked with shattered detailing, stressing both the danger of proximity and the sheer scale of these beasts. This smouldering approach to monster mise en scene is absolutely rooted in Tsuburaya's work on the original Godzilla but Yuasa pushes the smoked-up technique further, accounting for clashing, blood-thirsty characteristics in these less otherworldly creatures. Tsuburaya's Kaiju tower over their surroundings, Yuasa's are caged by them, stuck thrashing against humanity's structures. This is wonderful, influential, work. Yuasa's gloriously gritty approach to special effects staging clearly discernible in Teruyoshi Nakano and Eiichi Asada's later, exemplary runs with the Godzilla franchise.
Thanks, in part, to the Brave Wave Productions music label, the Streets of Rage 4 development team have been able to assemble an absolute dream team of Japanese video game music composers. New bop tracks from Bare Knuckle stalwarts Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima would be more than enough, but those two masters are also joined by Yoko Shimomura (Final Fight and Street Fighter II), Keiji Yamagishi (Tecmo Bowl and NES Ninja Gaiden), and Hideki Naganuma (Dreamcast Sega Rally 2 and the incomparable Jet Set Radio).
Thursday, 11 July 2019
At the time of Spider-Man's cinema release there was a sense that this was a lesser Sam Raimi film, that the director of The Evil Dead was holding back on the camera tricks and stylistic flourishes he'd made his name with so as not to overload Sony's super-marketable super-story. While this franchise launcher may not be as bombastic as Raimi's earlier work, it's still breathlessly energetic and no less excited about pummelling its lead character. In Tobey Maguire, Raimi has found an actor capable of communicating an earnestness that, while it doesn't track into the all-conquering power fantasy at the centre of similar tales, is capable of providing their hero with a basic, indefatigable, working class decency.
Financial stability is something that Maguire's Peter Parker has to reach for - the teenager's elderly Aunt and Uncle are struggling to keep a roof over their family's head. Cliff Robertson's Uncle Ben is out of work and finding it hard to adjust, meaning Peter's difficulties are often expressed in economic terms. The Parkers are not dirt poor, but their future isn't certain. They have to be careful. This frugality has a knock-on effect for Peter, meaning he stands out at school - chided and despised for not fitting in with the frosted tip bullies who stamp around in their cavernous polo shirts. Parker hasn't got a car to impress the girls either. He's trapped in his bedroom, scheming ways to equalise his situation; dreaming of, essentially, growing up. Bitten by a genetically spliced spider on a school trip, Parker comes home and strips, revealing a pale, weedy body before blanking out.
The transformation in Raimi's Spider-Man is pointedly biological, a turbo-charged puberty. Overnight Parker's body becomes tanned and lean, his eyesight improves and he's more able to stand up straight. Parker is momentarily allowed to feel good about himself. This aspirational reconfiguration isn't perfect though, at first it's just an enormous pustule on his hand where the spider clamped down, eventually its spinnerets in his wrist that look like crisscrossing scar tissue. Later Spider-Man film adaptations honour Steve Ditko and Stan Lee's source material, making the character's web-slingers a mechanical device dreamt up by Parker between classes. Here they're orifices that have grown out his flesh, a note from an earlier, unrealised James Cameron project that not only explains away a teenager producing still-futuristic technology but underlines the secret metamorphosis Parker is experiencing.
The brilliant thing about this Spider-Man then is that this isn't a story that tends towards bitterness or dreary introspection, rather it's about a young man puzzling out what kind of person he wants to be and how that desire, rather than material wealth or influence, is what ends up winning over the woman he loves. The superpowers do help but, really, the biggest boon they offer is a stable physical and psychological framework for Parker's identity to grow into. Uncle Ben's great power speech isn't experienced as an abstract over decades of average Joe life, it's a mantra steering Spider-Man's sense of civic duty. This is the long-term price Parker pays, he cannot turn away from the responsibility his altered state has enabled him to embrace. Raimi undercuts this ceaseless altruism with an idea straight out of his Necronomicon work - the hero as an assiduous doll to be thrown at (or through) every available brick wall.
Parker's physical suffering is scaled up with his increased endurance. Grenades explode directly into his face and flying buzz saws score tracks up and down his arms. Raimi isn't interested in superpowers as a path to invulnerability though, the director is much more excited about pushing the limits of bodily harm within a Summer movie setting. Confrontations with Willem Dafoe's cackling, never-not-entertaining Green Goblin absolutely crackle, particularly the final dust-up. Editors Bob Murawski and Arthur Coburn portray Goblin as a series of incoming knees, the impacts to Parker's face drawn out with slow-motion photography and slobbering expulsions. Peter's face bleeds and swells; collapsing onto bricks provoking tiny, defeated yelps rather than the impatient grunts of a rabid action man. Raimi is relentless, never allowing the audience to think of Parker in conceptual, invincible terms. Again and again Parker is presented as a teenager, out of his depth, struggling to come to terms with his new form. Raimi using unrelenting punishment as an empathy prompt.
Wednesday, 10 July 2019
Far from feature length, Koichi Takemoto's big screened Spider-Man: The Movie is essentially a 24 minute episode of Toei's webslinger TV series shot in (or masked for) widescreen. The short length means this Spider-Man's story beats are aggressive and elliptical; frame work is thrown up with blasting expediency, their images designed to linger like radiation. The fun here is in how Toei translate Marvel's superhero and his powers. Instead of bookish nerd Peter Parker we have Takuya Yamashiro (played by Shinji Todo), a motorcycle tough with a girlfriend and two siblings. Spider-Man's powers, gymnastics aside, are technological, including a wrist computer and an enormous space-craft capable of expelling dragsters or transforming into a sword-wielding super robot.
Although the film eventually reverts to type, throwing up titanic (but barely interactive) battles between spider-machinery and a torpedo-spewing monster-of-the-week, there's a lot of action in this Spider-Man that's refreshingly assailed. On his way to the film's comparatively rote finale, Todo's webhead clambers and scutters around like a genuine house pest, avoiding kicks and stabs from a swarm of grey generics. Spider-Man even gets to embrace the unconventional warfare tactics of Ninjutsu, substituting himself for gunfire-drawing duplicates or that Kawarimi classic, a block of wood. The fun peaks with a sequence straight out of Shaft's Big Score! - Spider-Man and his gassed Interpol buddy are pursued along a flat, featureless vacant lot, buzzed by a hovering helicopter. A hunched Todo darts about, attracting attention while a cross-eyed grunt hangs out of the chopper, blazing away with a flash-paper machine gun.
Tuesday, 9 July 2019
Director Okihiro Yoneda is back to close the curtain on Mothra's Rebirth trilogy, bringing with him the fairy tale framing that distinguished his opening instalment. Despite the film's modest budget, Rebirth of Mothra III aims for the top, drafting The King of Terror himself, Ghidorah, to make trouble for everybody's favourite insect. Arriving from space via meteorite, the three-headed monster sweeps over Japan, gathering up the nation's children and atomising corporate landmarks. The kids are imprisoned in a massive, undulating egg filled with stalagmites that ooze liquids corrosive enough to reduce a school bag to soup. The Golden space dragon apparently prepping himself an enormous, and quite appalling, omelette.
Positioning King Ghidorah as The Enemy of All Children makes for a great match-up with the friendly, neighbourhood Mothra Leo. If nothing else, the gleaming monarch's raw star power helps to eclipse a previous film in which our dusty hero was stuck colliding with a villain that looked like a lacquered, swimming pool flotation device. No matter how many transformations this mutating Mothra has under his belt, King Ghidorah still registers as basically insurmountable. Yoneda's film is canny enough to follow through on this imbalance. The fights in Rebirth III then have a sense of hopelessness to them, especially since Leo doesn't look like he'll be laying any eggs if the worst happens. This Mothra doesn't just airily circle his foe either, blasting away with Koichi Kawakita's laser beams, he gets in close, clawing and biting at Ghidorah's many faces. Even that doesn't work.
Any success Leo enjoys is tied directly into third-party machinations. The Earth's human, insect and even dinosaur inhabitants willing him on in each different epoch. As well as a friendly family who all very obviously love and care for each other - the cuddly, emotionally accessible parents even refer to each other by the titles 'Momma' and 'Papa' - the three Infant Island priestesses are promoted from irritants (for the feature enemy) to full-on plot participants. Megumi Kobayashi's Moll drains her entire life force to power Mothra back through time for a dust up with an adolescent dragon; Aki Hano, consistently the most energetic performer in these films, steers evil pixie Belvera through a change of heart when confronted by the totality of Ghidorah. The black sheep of the family working with, rather than against, her sisters. Again and again Rebirth stresses unity and collaboration in the face of a terrible, singular threat. Mothra is portrayed as not simply the most powerful monster but an avatar for everyone who just wants to live in peace.
Thursday, 4 July 2019
Wednesday, 3 July 2019
A Summer holiday snoozer that barely gets going, Rebirth of Mothra II dispenses with any kind of adult framing to congeal in the company of children. Not that there's anything wrong with pushing kids upfront to do the dramatic lifting, umpteen Amblin efforts demonstrated that a younger perspective does not have to mean shallow or simple-minded. Rebirth II's problem is that none of its characters seem to have any interior drives or motivations. They don't strive for goals or reflect, they're not even particularly naughty. Instead they're simply a throng of brightly dressed visual markers tasked with carrying a piece of fluffy merchandise around the spacious, technologically advanced sand castle that has sprung up off the shores of Nagasaki.
Mothra's son, Mothra Leo, doesn't fare much better either. Rebirth II punts the character out of the usual cycle-of-life arc, making him a permanent, heroic fixture. This lack of tragic machination leaves the lepidopteran with little to do other than soak up death-ray punishment from Dagahra, an amphibious dragon choking Japan's waters with inflamed, caustic Starfish. Stepping behind the camera, Rebirth II is the last big screen work by the late special effects director Koichi Kawakita. Sadly it isn't his best, largely repeating the same kind of blasting inactivity that marred his contribution to Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla II and Godzilla vs SpaceGodzilla. It's a shame, especially since the first Rebirth film seemed to be a return to thrashing form. Perhaps the problem is Mothra himself, extended exposure reveals that there aren't a great deal of interesting ways to shoot the hovering insect. Like his mother, Mothra Leo is essentially just a massive, brilliantly coloured kite.
Monday, 1 July 2019
Unlike the prowling, combative Godzilla, Mothra's relationship with mankind skews benign. Rather than the apocalyptic, finger-wagging alternative she is explicitly a guardian, correcting mankind's mistakes, healing us and the Earth we share. In that sense the character is perfect material for a children's film, a graceful lepidopteran happy to muck in and offer security in times of great need. Rebirth of Mothra keys into this maternal aspect, positioning Mothra as an ancient, expectant mother, guarding her slowly gestating offspring. Her fairy pals, the Shobijin twins who sing dreamy power-up songs for their fluttering masters, are here revealed to be triplets. The third sister, Aki Hano's Belvera, is a Gothed-up trouble-maker angling to unseal prehistoric dragons from their magical prisons.
Our charmless human guides through this adventure are the Gotos, a bickering, alienated upper-middle class family who have made their fortune in logging. Naturally this environmental encroachment is partly to blame for the resurrection of Rebirth's feature villain, the four-legged dragon Death Ghidorah. Like his namesake, King Ghidorah, this three-headed honker revels in pointless, agitated cataclysm. Although there's never much of a sense that Death's tantrums are threatening any urban areas, special effects director Koichi Kawakita has a ball rigging overcranked, tightly framed images of churning, earthy destruction. Director Okihiro Yoneda and editor Nobuo Ogawa compliment this orgiastic thrashing by killing off the majority of diegetic sound then amping up Toshiyuki Watanabe's music, lending the film's many moth on dragon confrontations a spaced-out, magical quality.
Saturday, 29 June 2019
Thursday, 27 June 2019
Wednesday, 26 June 2019
Sunday, 23 June 2019
Jean-Claude Van Damme is back as Luc Deveraux. Universal Soldier's reanimated infantryman has beaten back the spectre of death and is now living as a regular, boring human with a job and a family (presumably a mortgage too). He's overcome the kill-bot programming written on top of his former personality, as well as the incessant need to ice himself down. Deveraux's a new man. Quite how the pointedly deceased grunt has been able to transition from a walking, rotting corpse to a working stiff isn't covered here in any great detail. Who cares right? Mic Rodger's film certainly doesn't - Van Damme's got faces to pull, stunt men to kick.
Universal Soldier: The Return tosses off any idea of physical or psychological rehabilitation for Deveraux. The character is stripped of all the emotional depth you'd expect from someone who has been friendly fired, returned to life as an automaton, then had to fight through the military's multi-tiered murder coding to stake a claim on his own, lapsed humanity. Gone too is the stability promised by Ally Walker's Veronica Roberts, Deveraux's love interest in the previous film. The spunky reporter has died off-screen, leaving Luc with an accident-prone daughter he barely frets about. It's a lot of circuitous, disappointing corrections upfront just to position Van Damme as a mugging action figure with a pronounced interest in female nudity. Seriously, Deveraux doesn't just go cross-eyed staring at his exposed, fitness model colleague Kiana Tom, the entire plot hinges on his familiarity with Internet strip shows.
Deveraux, despite being chewed-up, spat out, then chewed up again by the US government, is currently working alongside the next generation of UniSols in some ill-defined PR / scab role. The lumpy, grotesquely muscled zombies, as exemplified by pro-wrestling's own Bill Goldberg, all seem to loathe their human attache, attacking him at every available opportunity. Any notion that this emnity might be grounded in the cold storage lads resenting Deveraux's freedom to leave their air-conditioned mausoleum and father children isn't even on Return's radar. Mic Rodgers' film is content to chug along, monotonously drawing husky men together so that they can pulverise barely dressed sets while the audience suffer through Static-X tracks.
Saturday, 22 June 2019
Wednesday, 19 June 2019
Tuesday, 18 June 2019
Universal Soldier's finest moments are fleeting but indelible, brief blips revolving around Dolph Lundgren's zapped-out, reanimated war criminal. Despite the film's body horror conceit - dead 'Nam veterans are resurrected as automated meat shields then used to defuse hostage situations - director Roland Emmerich is much more excited about presenting his stars as muscled intruders, upsetting gormless locals with their loud, pneumatic behaviour. These wildly disparate ideas only really knit together in one scene, and it's all thanks to the ear-collecting mania that Lundgren invests in his Sergeant Andrew Scott.
Following an unsuccessful, not to mention incompetent, attempt to capture / eliminate Jean-Claude Van Damme's Luc Deveraux, Scott is lumbered with several chewed-up, unresponsive underlings. In order to function effectively these souped-up stiffs must be kept on ice, leaving Scott no alternative but to drag these mushy comrades around a supermarket in search of cold storage. Scott screams at vacant shoppers and shelf-stackers, demanding they point him towards the nearest walk-in freezer. Once his men are dumped in a meat locker, Scott returns to the shop floor to hold court, ranting and raving to a stunned, schlubby audience about the 'treachery' of the South Vietnamese.
Lundgren's performance defies the neglect of Richard Rothstein, Christopher Leitch, and Dean Devlin's screenplay, motoring along entirely on the actor's raw, babbling enthusiasm. It is to Emmerich's credit that he, quite apparently, just got out of the way. Lundgren shrieks and booms, mispronouncing words then taking rote tough guy talk off in new, incomprehensible directions. Luc Deveraux's reawakening is a slow process, prickled then catalysed by the sameness of the situations he finds himself in. Van Damme portrays his enlightenment as a kind of rebirth, resetting Deveraux to an innocent, almost childlike state. The film leverages this into farcical situations designed to exploit Van Damme's boyish good looks and willingness (need?) to disrobe.
Lundgren gets much more to chew on. Scott, it seems, broke his programming much earlier than Deveraux, happy to play along with the military-industrial complex's latest bone-headed scheme simply because it gave him ample opportunity to brutalise people. Out on his first (screen) mission Scott, referred to by his undead call-sign GR13, is set the task of silently eliminating a posted guard. While Van Damme's GR44 heroically punches his quarry unconscious, GR13 twists his guy's head off then stamps on the prone, already dead, body. Universal Soldier proposes a war between a reluctant professional and a raving lunatic but then gets lost along the way, delaying the expected collision and invincible flesh conceit to amble along sex-comedy side roads that don't actually lead anywhere.
Bought Battlefield V in a recent sale. Although it delivers the standard Battlefield weight and momentum, it's surprising how incomplete the game feels. The problems I'm routinely encountering are the kind of things you might excuse at launch - missing stats, bugged-out results screens, halted unlock progress - but not now, seven months after release. Still, no other first-person shooter gives you the sense that you're a lumbering mass struggling with their weapon (in this case a STEN sub-machine gun). That you have to fight against the controls and aiming profile somewhat is half the appeal - it gives the game a terrifying sense of reality.
Friday, 14 June 2019
Wednesday, 12 June 2019
Out of nowhere Konami have announced their own take on the mini-console fad, a hand-portable, plug-and-play reconfiguration of NEC Home Entertainment's PC Engine. Just to spite (well, rinse) collectors, there's a different shell for each region with Europe scoring the CoreGrafx configuration, an update that junked the 80s system's RF output for composite. Japan gets the classic white console while America receives the TurboGrafx-16, a handsome, dayglo accented brick that looks like background detailing in a Cyberpunk anime.
It'll be interesting to see how the included games are curated for each individual region - Japan is off to a strong start with Dracula X taking pride of place on their exclusive list. For their Mega Drive Mini, Sega put together radically different selections for each region. Europe and America get a smattering of classics and best-sellers while Japan, where the system was not what you'd call successful, are being gifted a boutique selection, emphasising the kind of rarer carts you'd see clogging up an eBay collector's wish list. Given how the PC Engine failed to catch fire in Europe (outside of France at least), hopefully Konami follows suit, hand-selecting some millionaire gaming for the region.
Link's portable 8-bit adventures return with a cutesy makeover that copies the tilt-shift trickery of 3D Dot Game Heroes to make the game's environments read as beautifully sculpted, scratch-built dioramas. Players of The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening looking to get in on the hobby can muck in with the Chamber Dungeons feature, arranging tiles together to create their own bottomless pits.
Tuesday, 11 June 2019
To be honest I wasn't expecting another adventure for Link so soon after the release of Breath of the Wild. Thankfully Nintendo had other ideas. Given the eerie atmosphere of this trailer, the wonderfully titled Sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild looks to be the Majora's Mask to Wild's Ocarina of Time.
Konami have announced another Contra game, just in time to ride the goodwill generated by their superb Anniversary Collection package. Contra: Rogue Corps swerves the standard platform-shooting for an isometric twin-sticker, reminiscent of the Mode 7 interludes from Contra III: The Alien Wars and Dreamcast hidden-gem Cannon Spike.
Team Andromeda's post-apocalyptic rail shooter Panzer Dragoon is getting a fresh coat of paint courtesy of Forever Entertainment. If you haven't played this Sega Saturn launch game, it occupies the space between Space Harrier and Rez Infinite, with a visual identity firmly indebted to Moebius' Arzach. The sequel, Panzer Dragoon II Zwei is promised too.
Monday, 10 June 2019
How do make your Battle Royale game stand out? If you're Media Tonic you have it play just like a Japanese game show. Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout puts you in charge of one of many colourful little blobs, each tasked with the incomprehensible desire to pour themselves into a kaleidoscopic meat grinder. Beat Takeshi would be proud.
Who doesn't want to slime around massive Goth-industrial laboratories pulling blubbery humans into their hungry maw? Carrion offers players the chance to take control of an enormous bacterial infection, thrashing and crashing around, gorging itself on anything that isn't nailed down. Phobia Game Studio's upcoming release immediately looks set to deliver on the game I dearly wanted to play when eyeing up Mega Drive clunker The Ooze in some ancient copy of Mean Machines Sega.
2016's Doom is a strong contender for first-person campaign of the generation (it's either that, Titanfall 2 or the completely slept on Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare) so who wouldn't welcome a sequel that turbo-charges that game's liquid flow of slaughter? Doom Eternal adds even bouncier aerial traversal and big red death buttons just in case there's a chance you might stop killing things for even a second.
Unless you're The Wizard, there's a certain amount of repetition built into the basic experience of playing video games. Luis Antonio's 12 Minutes toys with this idea, trapping the player in a time loop, challenging them to use their foresight to inch themselves and their loved ones towards an outcome that doesn't see them murdered in their own home.
Elden Ring presents an interesting tension, how do you juggle the contribution of superstar writer George RR Martin with a game design approach that tends to be wilfully obscure, if not outright open to interpretation? Hidetaka Miyazaki's next game promises a massive field of landmarks to conquer, a customisable main character, and a story that steers Tolkienian anvils of power down dark, dismembered directions.
Sunday, 9 June 2019
Rare's obnoxiously difficult, pointedly bare Battletoads gets a modern update. The memory-testing NES classic is being re-configured as a super busy beater with an elastic, Saturday morning cartoon style not a million miles away from Nickelodeon's recent, not to mention brilliant, Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Thursday, 6 June 2019
Monday, 3 June 2019
Whether or not it's a deliberate stylistic choice, Michael Dougherty's Godzilla: King of the Monsters manages to perfectly simulate the disparate energy of the long-running series' 1970s entries. In those films humans and monsters each seemed to live in their own bubble universes, rarely, if ever, intersecting organically. Back when Jun Fukuda was working through slashed budgets, mankind was trapped in flat, knockabout setpieces that, at best, only thematically complimented the wild, smoke-clogged phantasmagoria dreamed up by special effects director Teruyoshi Nakano. In Dougherty's film the human cast is stuck staring at monitors, filling in blanks that the film often makes no attempt to illustrate.
Vera Farmiga plays Dr Emma Russell, a bereaved paleobiologist working with Charles Dance's anti-Nick Fury to reestablish Godzilla and pals as Earth's dominant species. The screed she zaps at her former colleagues and loved ones cites climate change, as well as mankind's increasing, ruinous impact on the ecosystem, but only as surface detailing. Her argument is conveyed as gabble, the good doctor denied the fluency, not to mention mania, to make her points register as truly seductive. The audience isn't invited to consider the validity of this extreme approach to a Green New Deal, they're told to be bored by the unfocused lecture. Russell even seems to be on the verge of pointing the finger directly at corporate America before diverging into an extremely general, not to mention toothless, point about the military's preference for hasty, overwhelming action.
Most of Godzilla: King of the Monster's human scenes sputter along, postulating and explaining the actions of the feature titans. Dougherty and Zach Shields' screenplay isn't quite brave enough to let the sombre, apocalyptic mood stand, employing humourless zings to hurry things along, diverting our attention away from anything suitably melodramatic. King of Monsters feels like a throw-back in this sense, kin to the late-90s / early-2000s noise blockbusters that regurgitated 70s disaster films with computer corralled destruction. The one exception to this leaden take on plotting involves Ken Watanabe's Dr Serizawa walking his American equivalent through his decision to sacrifice himself to kick-start a half-murdered Godzilla.
Serizawa holds an old family heirloom - a pocket watch frozen at 8:15, the moment Little Boy detonated over Hiroshima - and talks about making peace with the demons that make the world the way it is. Of course Kyle Chandler's handsome all-American Dad doesn't catch on. His thinking is fixed shallow - find my daughter, defeat the monsters. In fact the only other character in the film who seems to understand the great weight Serizawa is carrying around is Godzilla himself. King of the Monsters positions them as Children of the Atom, the only two who seem to understand nuclear weapons not as explosive, ejaculatory energy but as devices of towering, unalterable permanence. In a film that goes out of its way to reimagine Toho's distinctly Japanese menagerie as naturally occurring manifestations of Greco-Roman or Judeo-Christian mythology, Serizawa's moment with Godzilla allows a contradictory, even subversive, perspective to creep in. It forces us to consider how cultures and their people are mutated by a proximity to nuclear weaponry. Judging by King of the Monsters, you either delight in their application or suffer beneath them.
That's only one part of King of the Monsters though, the other (much better) half revolves around the monsters themselves, mountainous creatures so amazing that they seem to alter reality itself. King Ghidorah, the malleable space dragon used to represent everything from a nuclear capable China to the last hope of future-shocked American capitalism is here imagined as the Serpent of the Apocalypse. A Satanic ruler who has fallen from Heaven, able to summon beasts and Behemoths from the Earth to do his evil bidding. Ghidorah is an ungodly mass of snaking heads and thrashing, spiked tails, dancing inside soot black clouds reminiscent of the turbulent maritime paintings of JMW Turner (The Slave Ship meets Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth Making Signals in Shallow Water, and going by the Lead. The Author was in this Storm on the Night the "Ariel" left Harwich). In the 1970s Teruyoshi Nakano dialled into power plant meltdowns and blazing industrial disasters to compliment his cosmic kaiju. Dougherty's film runs with this dazzling idea, gifting us lightning lashed monsters who pulse with brilliant thermonuclear energy.
Saturday, 1 June 2019
The best thing about Sylvester Stallone is that he refuses to go away. The guy might be well into his 70s but he hasn't slowed down or retreated into less physically taxing work, like comedy. The aches and pains of age aren't keeping this star stationary, Sly's still happy to pump up his hamburgered frame for Rambo: Last Blood, presenting his swollen, visceral bulk as a symbol of monstrous, American might in a xenophobic fantasy about invading Mexican gangs.