Tuesday, 30 April 2019
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. The film brings together Marvel'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 Infinity War's Sturm und Drang.
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.
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
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.
Friday, 19 April 2019
Tuesday, 16 April 2019
Monday, 15 April 2019
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, 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
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.