Tuesday, 11 May 2021
Something of a return to form for the DC animated universe, Justice Society: World War II forgoes caped crusaders and the Man of Steel to place Wonder Woman front-and-centre in an alternative history take on the Second World War. Diana (voiced by Stana Katic, an actress who previous voiced Lois Lane in Superman: Unbound) leads a team of Golden Age, Allied, superheroes, including Omid Abathi's Hawkman, Matthew Mercer's Hourman, Armen Taylor as a period appropriate Flash, Matt Bomer as a time displaced Barry Allen and, best of all, Elysia Rotaru as a scrappy, lovelorn, Black Canary.
This portrayal of an Axis-bashing superteam has its roots in the comics and serials of the time - the Justice Society itself dating back to 1940's All Star Comics issue 3. The film depicts a real war of occupation, complete with war crimes and extrajudicial executions, being fought by bright, four-colour, American personalities. Unlike the comics Justice Society adapts, this film takes place after the United States has joined the war, an event perhaps expediated by the fall of this universe's Soviet Union. Not to be outdone in the propaganda stakes, the Rome-Berlin alliance have their own Übermensch in the form of a blonde, brainwashed, Aquaman - the King of Atlantis providing a friendly dock for German U-boats on their way to New York.
Although taking clear cues from 2002's Justice League season finale The Savage Time, Justice Society avoids replicating Bruce Timm's Alex Toth influenced character designs, opting for a less stylised depiction that instead recalls the light, wooden, caricature of a television series like Archer. Figure outlines in Jeff Wamester's film are thick brackets separating handsome character drafts from their background. Similarly, the meat and potato action sequences have a marionette quality to them - a uniformity of figure that suggests a baked character model being twisted and manipulated rather than an individual piece being animated from scratch. Still, a sequence where Wonder Woman beats up a squad of advancing Tiger tanks - with her bare hands - has more heft and pulverising weight to it than the last half-dozen straight-to-video DC adventures. Justice Society succeeds for similar reasons to 2015's Justice League: Gods and Monsters, it tackles a formulaic story from a less formulaic perspective; a light shake-up confident enough to be mistaken for a feature-length pilot episode.
Monday, 10 May 2021
Wednesday, 5 May 2021
Released the year before Godzilla, and clearly a massive conceptual influence on that film, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms is a far more jubilant experience than Ishiro Honda's unflinching look at atomic firestorms. Adapted for the screen by Fred Freiberger, Louis Morheim, Robert Smith and director Eugène Lourié, The Beast is partly based on Ray Bradbury's The Fog Horn, a short story published in The Saturday Evening Post that told the tale of a sea monster who has fallen in love with a lighthouse, mistaking its warning honks for a seductive mating call. Lourié's film eventually adapts this incident, diverting from the rambling scientific investigation that makes up the majority of the piece to show Ray Harryhausen's beautiful stop motion monster squaring up to the signal light of a similar watchtower, then climbing all over it, humping the building to rubble.
Awakened by a hydrogen bomb test in the Artic, Harryhausen's roaming, quadrupedal, Rhedosaur is very clearly the product of a country basking in the glow of fissile radiance rather than having suffered beneath it. This newfound energy is used as a catalyst for wonder and invention, operating at almost a commercial level - a product of pure, American, invention. Indeed, these world altering explosions have a frightening short half-life in Beast, functioning instead as a current affairs axis from which a long buried creature can spring. Late in the film, when the titular monster has finally made its way to an American metropolis, the soldiers attempting to corral the bleeding beast begin falling sick. Rather than position the predatory sauropod as a massive vector of radioactive contamination, Beast soft-peddles the moment, diverting the film's deeper threat to an ancient germ that has slumbered alongside the massive reptile. For the finale, nuclear energy actually becomes a tool of heroism - the only thing on Earth capable of killing Big Rhed is a radioactive isotope, fired from the service rifle of a young, but still dead-eyed, Lee Van Cleef.
Monday, 3 May 2021
A truly apocalyptic take on intergalactic warfare, Yoshiyuki Tomino's The Ideon - Be Invoked functions as a corrected and expanded conclusion to the Space Runaway Ideon television series, freed from budgetary and, quite apparently, the decency constraints inherent to the small screen. Be Invoked goes far beyond the special effects skirmishes of its nearest live action contemporaries; the scale here is both massive and completely despairing. Dozens of planets are pulverised in the crossfire between the Solo spaceship and the pursuing Buff Clan. The calamity these warring factions generate is not constrained to their deep space front line either, the universe itself is being shook apart.
Multiple sentient civilisations - including both belligerents' home planets - are battered to dust by meteors, the cosmos itself objecting to their ever-expanding conflict. Where other space operas give us a glimpse of the brief hot spots that bubble up during never-ending cold wars, Be Invoked goes much further, depicting the depressed mania that drives two species towards mutually assured destruction. The attacks on the Solo craft - the prehistoric battery that holds the mysterious power of Ide - come in unrelenting waves. The now derelict Buff Clan hurl every remaining member of their race into a suicidal war with an insanely powerful robot and the crew of a reality skipping spaceship.
Be Invoked's death toll is easily in the millions; the hero characters aren't immune either. Tomino wrongfoots his audience at one crucial point, quickly reversing a fatal outcome for a pregnant, plot relevant, Princess and the high-ranking naval officer attempting to protect her. Once we are reassured that our favourites will remain shielded and safe, Tomino begins running rampant through his cast. No-one is safe from an instant, distressing, end. Not civilians or medical officers; not child soldiers or even, in one horrifying instance, a distracted toddler. Be Invoked takes the churning bones of a big mech battle show - the merchandisable machinery and a cast packed with adolescents - then removes all sense of safety, steering the series towards a genuinely astonishing outcome.
Sunday, 2 May 2021
Everyone loves Street Fighter II': Hyper Fighting, right? Best game ever made. Here's the second of the Super Lore Boys' Corner Store Legends tournaments, a five hour championship bracket with competitors hailing from the game's golden age, including all-time legend John Choi, as well as newer hands, such as Zangief-on-main, VodkaGobalsky. Once a winner has been crowned, the organisers then run us through a few exhibition matches, with a special attention paid towards the bespoke palette adjustments made to this custom Fightcade enabled ROM.
Thanks to TurboAnnihilator, every character gets an arresting, but tasteful, makeover. Highlights from the tournament include a greyscale Blanka who looks like he's snapped himself off a church built during the Middle Ages; a Dr Pepper coloured dictator dubbed Bipson; and, in a clear nob to the Violent alternative character from Switch exclusive Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers, a coked-out, radioactive, Ken. Keep your eyes peeled for a late appearance by LeRaldo's boxer, an absolute treat to watch as he elbows his way into specials or throws out 60-second charge Final Punches.
Saturday, 1 May 2021
Yoshiyuki Tomino's The Ideon - A Contact unfolds with the impressionistic fervour of a collage. As a logical, narrative-based, proposition this 85 minute feature is basically unintelligible. Characters intuit incredible perceptual leaps to explain away the pure momentum we are witnessing. Punch card diagnostics become swirling, operatic, rhetoric as teenagers attempt to explain their brief communions with a massive combining robot-cum-God. Similarly, the film's scowling cast find themselves in roles and situations with very little explanation of how they got there or why they might be suitable for a particular task. There's a sense of real propulsion in A Contact though, we see a (pointless) war begin then escalate in real time, sparked off by a defiant alien Princess and her overprotective bodyguards while they nose around one of humanity's far-flung colonies.
Built out of Space Runaway Ideon, a television series that ran for 39 episodes from May 1980 to January 1981, A Contact is not dissimilar to the Neon Genesis Evangelion recap film, Evangelion: Death, in that its main function is to recombine already produced footage to set the stall for a forthcoming theatrical conclusion - in this case, The Ideon - Be Invoked. Tomino's attempt at summation cuts far past the bone though, the director tearing through hours and hours of small screen continuity to flag up complex animation or dream-like moments, rather than the basic grist of plot or character insight, as a way to communicate his expanding tale of a desperate, intergalactic, pursuit. Events in A Contact are therefore (obviously) episodic. A Contact allows us a stuttering glimpse of a larger story that revolves around a mysterious and apparently inexhaustible power source that resonates with imperilled children as well as the dangling insinuation that the otherworldly and, we are repeatedly assured, extra-terrestrial belligerents - the Buff Clan - are not actually that biologically distinct from humans.
Sunday, 25 April 2021
Saturday, 24 April 2021
Mortal Kombat's problem is it keeps proposing situations and scenarios that are far more exciting than anything the film actually ends up being about. Initially it appears the filmmakers have twigged that, for a video game series suffering under mountains of contradictory lore, the franchise's most gripping tension is the one between the two colour-coded ninjas positioned at either ends of the first game's character select screen. Simon McQuoid's film, screenplay by Greg Russo and Dave Callaham, begins in the midst of feudal artifice, with Joe Taslim's Chinese Sub Zero leading an army of expendable goons to the sliding door of his Japanese rival, Hiroyuki Sanada's Scorpion. Whatever the root of their conflict, the two assassins cannot communicate; the pair exchange growls in incompatible mother tongues before cutting each other down.
Although affected in terms of location - a picturesque minka, complete with nearby stream - this prologue is by far the most assured segment in terms of storytelling and action choreography. Taslim and Sanada's mutual loathing is palpable and, once we've been battered over the head by the tragic symbolism of Scorpion's trademark spear tip, the swirling violence that issues from this twilight Samurai often tracks movement from the first twitch of an arm to the clattering, bloody, result. Expectation raised into the heavens, the film comes crashing down with the introduction of Lewis Tan's Cole Young, an MMA tomato, bumming around modern day gyms and marked for death by multi-dimensional wizardry. Taslim reappears in this section as a spectral blizzard, indiscriminately lashing innocent bystanders with a torrent of brick sized hail in pursuit of a Tan's cross-generational loose end. Hand-to-hand kombat is briefly subordinated by weaving trucks and KelTec shotguns, suggesting a prolonged, supernatural, chase.
Sadly, Mortal Kombat isn't interested in hurtling momentum; neither is the film content to build itself around a tightknit family besieged by weather warping button men. Taslim's mighty presence is tidied far away from a scholastic special in which a team of attractive martial artists slowly learn to channel their cosmic energies for a tournament that never actually comes. Mortal Kombat's middle section is massive and yawning, a lumpen mega-act straining to solve a deeply unnecessary storytelling decision that demands that each of our fantasy fighter heroes begin this would-be series as rookies, unable to summon up any of the game's countless special moves. Cole's path to power, training alongside Ludi Lin's Liu Kang, Mehcad Brooks' Jax, Max Huang's Kung Lao and Jessica McNamee's Sonya, is nothing like the computer assisted chanbara that opens the film either, their scuffles often resolving to a weakly animated collage that completely loses track of Kombatants and pales in comparison to the FX studios' blubbery, Body Worlds, fatalities.
Thursday, 22 April 2021
Firmly in the realm of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! nonsense, Scream 3 sees the series slide further into a bloodless, but still entertaining, state of self-parody. Director Wes Craven's third entry, working from a script by Ehren Kruger (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Dark of the Moon and Age of Extinction), allows the characters to drift a little further away from each other before it finds a homicidal cause to reunite them. Neve Campbell's Sidney Prescott lives in picturesque seclusion, fielding crisis calls for victims of domestic abuse. David Arquette's Deputy Dewey, now a little steadier on his feet, works in Los Angeles as a technical consultant on Stab, the schlocky franchise within this film series. Courteney Cox's indefatigable Gale Weathers is also out and about in LA, meeting the actress who portrays her on the big screen - Parker Posey's hare-brained Jennifer Jolie - and investigating the secret Hollywood history of Sidney's dead mother, Maureen.
Seemingly barred from exploring lacerating violence, this sequel leans closer to the strange and supernatural than any previous Scream. Sidney is visited in her dreams by her murdered parent, a restless, rotting, spectre who smears her congealed blood all over her daughter's beautiful bay window. This film's Ghostface - essentially an abandoned child in the midst of violent hissy fit - appears then disappears with the teleporting logic of Jason Voorhees and is similarly immune to small arms fire. This turbo-charged killer also has access to a portable voice changer that allows him to sample and remix speech from any source, enabling all sorts of simulated betrayal. The show business setting, broad enough to encompass other damned citizens of the Weinstein cinematic universe, vacillates between the comedy observed in unacknowledged narcissism and, in its bleaker moments, hints at the yawning chasm within the powerful men who take full advantage of young, struggling, actresses. In this sense, Scream 3 does provide a thematic connection to the first film but the crimes of these sexually abusive men are crowded out by a final act reveal that dares to rewrite established text.
Wednesday, 21 April 2021
Saturday, 17 April 2021
Thursday, 15 April 2021
Rushed into production after the success of the first film, Scream 2 is less concerned with following up on the themes and threads of its predecessor and more interested in examining itself from a metatextual perspective - the quicky sequel as an obligatory, financially lucrative, imperative. Director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson both return, their second stab at the material seeking to deconstruct immediate follow-ups as a concept, specifically the ways in which successive instalments attempt to re-bottle lighting. In Scream 2's case, this is an especially difficult proposition, following on from a film that was designed to present itself as literate, but ironic, and concluded with both murderers definitively vanquished. Turns out branding is the series' most consistent aspect; Scream 2's killers adopt the same ghostly fright mask persona as Stu and Billy Loomis.
Although not necessarily ill-considered, there's a sense of needless haste in Scream 2, particularly when it comes to the finesse side of the production. The first Scream had a strangely indifferent musical voice, crowbarring in Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds or grinding mood pieces to bluntly establish a scene's tone. Scream 2 goes even further into temp-tracking, licensing a Hans Zimmer piece from John Woo's smoky, swaggering, Broken Arrow (released not even two years prior) that springs to life every time David Arquette's unwavering ex-cop Dewey does something gently masculine. The music isn't at odds with the image in this instance, in fact the unhurried plucking compliments them greatly, but you're always aware that these notes have been lifted from another, hardly obscure, source. At the other end of the scale, the fetid approximation of Ska that closes the film does nothing but puncture a bereft Sidney's hard won victory. This clumsiness extends out into Scream 2's structural make-up too - the détente between Neve Campbell's Sidney and Courteney Cox's muckraking reporter Gale Weathers dissolves so instantly that the falling out feels less like a character expressing personal betrayal and more like an artificial obstacle dumped carelessly into the film.
While not as fun as a high school friendship circle in homicidal meltdown, Scream 2's university setting does allow a certain kind of young adult pantomime to emerge. These students dress and behave with an air of affected maturity; teenagers straining to live with a straight-laced professionalism they've only read about in lifestyle magazines. Disappointingly, this tension between commercial façade and disappointing reality doesn't feed into either of the killers' intentions or identity. The duo stalking Windsor College don't have a motive carefully threaded throughout the meat of the episode either, their causes aren't even aligned with each other. Timothy Olyphant's Mickey has a reheated copycat motive while Laurie Metcalf's Debbie Salt eventually drops her phoney reporter cover to behave with the shrieking mania of a slasher movie mother. A far more bombastic conclusion than Scream's idiots dying in slow motion then. While the film doesn't quite come together thematically, it does contain a couple of carefully crafted set-pieces, the best of which sees Sidney and her friend, Elise Neal's Hallie, crawling from the back seat of a crashed patrol car, past the remains of a burst policeman and over an unconscious costumed murderer.
Wednesday, 14 April 2021
Housemarque's PS5 exclusive Returnal promises ground and air dashing (brilliant), as well as a menagerie of alien menaces that run the gamut from moon beasts to slithering approximations of the player character. There are notes of From Software's games, not just in some of the enemy designs but also a gameplay model that appears to be very much rooted in opportunistic attacks and invincibility frame retreats. It's also encouraging that despite their move to a three dimensional movement model, twin-stick shooter experts Housemarque haven't turned their back on resurgent, crashing, waves of regimented bullets.
Tribute Games, the Ninja Senki DX and Flinthook devs, are collaborating with Streets of Rage 4 publisher's DotEmu to deliver Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge. In this first gameplay clip we get a look at simultaneous four player as well as rolling brawls that hint at command dashes and rushing attacks. There's also clear demonstrations of each Ninja Turtle's screen clearing special attacks. Fun on wheels.
Announced during Nintendo's Indie Direct stream, Night School Studio's Oxenfree II: Lost Signals is due sometime this year on Switch and Steam. Fingers crossed other systems follow quickly. The first Oxenfree, released in 2016, was an entertaining coming-of-age adventure game that saw a gang of love sick teens scouring a mysterious island plagued by supernatural radio static.
Monday, 12 April 2021
Remembered for a misleading ad campaign that positioned Drew Barrymore as the star or the ways in which Jamie Kennedy's video shop clerk directly addressed the audience, Wes Craven's Scream - at least on this viewing - plays more like a film committed to detailing a particularly awful relationship. Neve Campbell plays Sidney Prescott, a teenager mourning the brutal murder of her gossip magnet mother. Her boyfriend, Skeet Ulrich's Billy Loomis, quivers with hormonal tension, absolutely desperate to trap Sidney in any situation conductive to him taking her virginity. Knowing the film's twist - that boyfriend Billy and his lickspittle, Matthew Lillard's Stu, are the killers - reorganises Craven's slasher film, magnifying the kind of pleading and placating inherent to any relationship in which one party is doggedly seeking some kind of access from another.
Billy is consistently thoughtless throughout Scream, acting with a creepiness that is only really massaged by the proximity Sidney allows this boy to have to her. Sidney holds a certain kind of status within the film, apart from being the main character she's portrayed as forthright, morally good, and willing to take physical action when prompted. The character therefore works against a designation of one-dimensional victim. This standing has a knock on effect for Billy - if the clever, collected, Sidney sees something in him, maybe we should too? Really, Billy isn't too far away from the hornier male characters present in screenwriter Kevin Williamson's contemporary TV series Dawson's Creek. Billy is pop culture (rather than emotionally) literate and, seemingly, sensitive enough to play the long game with a girlfriend who isn't currently comfortable having sex with him.
Billy needles though. Beginning with an impatient hectoring, his arguments grow over the course of the film, the young man's need to get his own way eventually revealing a complete absence of empathy. The ghost-faced Father Death costume that Billy and Stu wear when on the prowl serves not only this psychological deficiency but also a structural function within the film; The Munch-mask is instantly identifiable as dangerous. It's an anonymous and interchangeable kind of peril though, one that speaks to a violent haunting rather than a calculating but deranged perspective. Unmasked, the individual homicides that Billy and Stu have committed now clearly have roots in human thought processes. What prompted these slayings then? Among the ex-girlfriends and love rivals are Rose McGowan's Tatum, Sidney's similarly direct best friend and the current girlfriend of Stu. Her murder - crushed in a malfunctioning electrical garage door - has a level of perverse curiosity to it, like a smug cat playing with a dying mouse.
When the subject of Tatum's absence comes up, it's positioned as convenient for Billy and his continued attempts to get Sidney on her own. Stu is also dismissive when asked where his girlfriend is, outwardly unconcerned but apparently happy to be either complicit to, or the active element in, her elimination. This casual approach to human cruelty echoes throughout a film filled with myopic, predatory boys and the self-assured women they hope to taint. In this way Craven and Williamson's film skewers a genre often noted for knuckle-dragging sexual politics simply by offering up plenty of confident, capable, women. The whodunnit guessing game is subverted too. By focusing all of the film's male outlooks around some kind of predatory intent, Craven and Williamson implicate all of them. Every male character is used in ways that align with some barely repressed ulterior motive, be that the bumbling cop happy to lead an attractive newscaster down dark country lanes or the high school student who raped then murdered his girlfriend's mother because, in part, he couldn't bully her daughter into bed.
Thursday, 8 April 2021
Streets of Rage 4's Mr X Nightmare DLC adds three new playable characters and a survival mode to one of last year's very best games. This paid update releases alongside a patch with some quality of life tweaks as well as a new difficulty mode and alternative colours for each of the playable Ragers. Perhaps we'll get the strange, Turbo-style colours seen in the western releases of Streets of Rage 3? Axel always looked pretty cool in a yellow T and black jeans. Officer Estel, a boss in the initial release of this sequel, is the first of the revealed fighters, while the shapes of the two remaining silhouettes would seem to suggest another two end-of-level challengers, the brainwashed Max and Mr X's right-hand man, Shiva?