Thursday, 20 February 2020

Inferno



Closer to a loosely connected succession of suspense sketches than a rigid narrative, Dario Argento's Inferno is organised around the sensation of imminent, intrusive danger. The plot is a series of discoveries - each of the film's potential victims inadvertently offending hidden, Satanic, societies simply by obtaining the knowledge that they exist. In each instance, this peril is terrifyingly close to the everyday. Spaces and rooms that run parallel with sleepy apartment buildings or libraries actually house incomprehensible, otherworldly monstrosities. Reality in Inferno then is literally permeable, an easily broken membrane that bursts at the merest prod, revealing the scabs and rot that lie beneath.

Since Inferno is designed around this idea of trespass, Argento builds his film out of incidents in which a character dawdles somewhere they shouldn't be. These people are depicted as innocents, the guileless placeholders of fairy tale, children who put themselves in situations they simply cannot understand. Argento magnifies the minutiae within these sequences to such a degree that, slowly, everything onscreen begins to register as either potentially dangerous or outright alarming. Romano Albani's powdery, impressionistic lighting seems to denote a supernatural force beaming into this world while basic reverse shots take on the quality of a gaze - we feel something withering and hateful staring back at our oblivious adventurers.

Everything in the frame feels, not just authored, but agitating. Personal effects like keys weigh the curious down, their aural presence mutating from a disconnected jangle to the shuddering, submerged peal of a death knell. This sense of impending doom is everywhere in Inferno. The terrors that Irene Miracle and Leigh McCloskey's siblings invite often feel, in the context of this crumbling dollhouse world, corrective - an established power batting away those who would attempt to reveal their existence. This omniscient counteraction can arrive at any time. Detached hands streak into the frame, striking at those who would push the piece towards its conclusion. At these times it seems as if the film itself has come alive, the wrathful celluloid turning in on its subjects, clawing and stabbing until its captives cease their mindless procession.

Kishin Liger by Ricardo López Ortiz


Friday, 14 February 2020

Streets of Rage 4 - BLACK OUTLINE



The Streets of Rage 4 staff talk us through the art end of game development. Despite its brevity, this clip covers a lot of conceptual ground - from how the developers have implemented unrealised graphical flourishes from old, dusty Sega design documents to the importance of a nice, solid, black outline on key character art. If all that wasn't encouraging enough, the glimpse of Akira Toriyama's The World sitting on an artist's desk pretty much seals the deal.

Billie Eilish - No Time to Die


Saturday, 8 February 2020

Monos



On a fundamental level, Monos is a rumination on leadership and the power that comes with it. Alejandro Landes' film (co-written with Alexis Dos Santos) is an unhurried, painstakingly described examination of how challenges and responsibility affect the individual. Some are cowed, straining under the weight bestowed upon them. For others it's an accelerant, one that confers terrifying, extrajudicial, justification to their every thought and decision - they become, ineffably, correct. No one is allowed to disagree.

Although he eventually bullies his way into the top spot, Moisés Arias' Bigfoot is not suited to command simply because he wants it so badly. Bigfoot doesn't want to lead his fellow child soldiers because of an unfailing belief in whichever (deliberately ill-defined) cause demands they all rot together in waterlogged trenches. Instead Bigfoot's idea of authority is simply the muscle and interpersonal influence to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, to whoever he wants. Set on Colombia's mountain ranges, Monos tracks a gaggle of cold, wet teenage soldiers who have been tasked to look after an important, American, hostage.

In its early passages, Monos describes the children's predicament in terms of, basically, school. The hierarchies in play are loose and seemingly malleable - couples pair off (after asking permission from visiting muscle men) and each teenager has a defined, respected role within the collective. This doesn't last. Soon the covetous Bigfoot is in charge. When Bigfoot finally assumes full command of the group, all ideological order is extinguished. His fellow soldiers are required to, simply, follow. They stack themselves behind their aggressive, greedy commander then copy his creeping, predatory lockstep, marching deeper and deeper into the jungle.

Friday, 7 February 2020

Haunted PS1 Demodisc 2020 - GOURAUD



Thanks to the relative cheapness of optical media (compared to ROM cartridges at least), the monthly video game magazines that choked up newsagent shelves during the fifth console generation could carry luridly coloured discs stuffed with forthcoming game tasters. You had to be quick though, these thief magnets rarely stayed sellotaped to their parent periodical for long, but if you managed to nab an intact mag you'd be treated to a variety of bite-sized, disparate, input experiences. Hoping to capture something of these forgotten thrills, the Haunted PS1 community have released their first compilation, Haunted PS1 Demodisc 2020, a PC download heaving with short, homebrewed treats.

Monday, 3 February 2020

Project A-ko



The delight in Katsuhiko Nishijima's Project A-ko is how it juggles, or even outright subordinates, the film's terrifying, principal threat - an invasion from Leiji Matsumoto style space brigands. The desperate situation facing planet Earth is reported in brief, apparently hopeless, asides largely disconnected from A-ko's madcap whole. These apocalyptic blips allow Nishijima and his animation team to not only clue the audience in on stakes the film has no desire to explore, but also permits them the opportunity to work through a series of low-orbit laser exchanges, each boarded with a delirious, satirical, sense of abandon.

Set in Graviton City, a man-made island that has sprung up - in much the same way as Super Dimension Fortress Macross - around the wreckage of a marooned alien spacecraft, Project A-ko centres around an all-consuming friendship between two teenagers. A-ko, an invincible red head able to skip merrily along incoming missiles barrages, and C-ko, a hair-trigger brat who demonstrates her devotion by cooking up repulsive looking bento boxes. Side-eyeing the pair is B-ko, a scorned third nursing a (pointedly forgotten) rejection dating back to pre-school. B-ko, the daughter of a wealthy industrial magnate, won't take no for an answer - whipping up piloted mecha and two-piece powered armour in an attempt to crowbar herself back into her beloved's affections.

A-ko is pastiche first and foremost, a film primarily concerned with a zany maxi-plot that revolves around a super-powered high school love triangle that two of the participants have no idea they're even in. Begun as an instalment of a pornographic home video series, the discursive, comedic value of Project A-ko apparently won out, resulting in a feature-length bid for animated legitimacy from production studio APPP. Although actual titillation is kept domestic and brief, the film's frivolous beginnings linger in both structure and characterisation. Action sequences are built around the fantastical and transgressive intruding on a mundane everyday, while infantilised klutz C-ko is treated like a highly prized object.

Gabrielle Aplin & Nina Nesbitt - Miss You 2


Thursday, 23 January 2020

Bad Boys for Life



An unexpected companion piece to last year's Gemini Man, Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah's Bad Boys for Life once again considers Will Smith, and the star persona he has created, in terms of obsolescence and replication. Where Ang Lee's film favoured mechanical reproduction, for Life offers a supernaturally slanted duplicate, a piece of youthful vigour stolen then reconfigured to exact a personal revenge. Smith returns as Mike Lowrey, a sociopathic rich kid turned cop, originally positioned as the cool guy opposite to Marcus Burnett, Martin Lawrence's sweaty, aggravated police detective. The original Bad Boys centred around an identity mix-up with each of the top-billed stars pretending to live the life of the other. Smith got to play the dutiful family man while Lawrence delivered his own snarling take on a moneyed, two-fisted Lothario.

Bad Boys for Life surprises because it remembers these tossed-off building blocks - particularly the ease with which Lowrey took to slipping on a new identity - using them to power events that now stretch backwards and forwards in time. Unlike both Michael Bay entries, films that never felt any particularly need to stay on one firm emotional wavelength, this third Bad Boys actually aims to define several human relationships then extract non-hysterical drama from the ways in which they evolve or clash. This development requires a level of earnest introspection that, while not completely new to the series, is usually smuggled in then drowned out by hideous violence or skits centred on gay panic. Arbi and Fallah's film elides Bay's radioactive mania (and, frankly, the knuckle-dragging director's world class flair for action and visual invention), arriving at a tone that is closer to the chummier end of the Lethal Weapon sequels.

Daughter - Smother (Live)

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Hayley Williams - Simmer

Doom Eternal - HUGE GUTS



Digital Foundry talk us through the PC preview build of Doom Eternal, with special mention to the game's various high-end display settings and how id Tech 7 allows for blubbery, real-time, enemy damage. As well as allowing the player to centre the on-screen weapons straight out of the box (pretty sure we had to wait for that to be patched in last time), this sequel looks to have massively expanded the vertical play area, necessitating all manner of climbing and mid-air dash mechanics.

Monday, 20 January 2020

Fist of the North Star



A sweeping, post-apocalyptic Neo-Testament, set in the ruins of the twentieth century and centred around martial arts monsters able to burst, or cleave, the human body with the lightest of touch. Toyoo Ashida's Fist of the North Star adapts Buronson and Tetsuo Hara's sprawling, circuitous manga, boiling down dozens of serialised chapters into a episodic feature about the kind of messiahs that might rise in a radioactive wasteland. Following a nuclear war, what remains of humanity has devolved to the kind of future-schocked feudalism seen in Escape from New York or the Mad Max series. Rather than gather round the last remaining combustion engines, the conflict's improbably muscled survivors have embraced might, specifically the people descended from warring combat schools who are able to tap into luminous, cosmic energies.

Our hero is Kenshiro, the anointed successor of the Hokuto Shinken style, a position that makes him a target for all manner of jealousies. We meet Ken shorty after we've learnt that civilisation perished in flames. He's attacked by a former friend, Shin, who brutally disfigures Ken then leaves him for dead. This is Ken's scourging, the brutal act that allows him to transform from a person into something inhuman and mythic. We are given very little sense of what Ken's life used to be beyond an arranged, but apparently successful, relationship with Yuria, the woman Shin covets. Ken is so easily defeated by his rival that we're not even sure if he was taking the fight seriously. In one fell swoop Ken has lost an ally and his reason for living. Cast into a pit by another, vengeful, party, we don't see Ken again until he is summoned back to life by a terrified child. For all intents and purposes this is the point where Kenshiro, a person with human wants and desires, dies.

The English script used by Streamline Pictures for their dub organises Ken's reappearance in terms of justice or perhaps mercy. He hears the cries of two imperilled children then makes the journey to assist them. The original Japanese script posits something deeper and altogether stranger - Ken is dragged out of his death state by Lin, an uncanny, mute child able to communicate with Kenshiro psychically. Lin is introduced earlier in a disconnected sequence depicted with a dreamy sense of religious awe. We watch as the plump, cherubic souls of the irradiated dead escape their charcoal skeletons to drift away into space. The shot that immediately follows is Lin, encased in a rainbow coloured womb, slowly walking at the camera. She approaches, her eyes closed, a divine apparition. She represents life and light physically returning to this damned world.

Ken's entrance then is an anastasis. Following Lin's mind zap, Ken's mummified remains pound through the wreckage of a high-rise city, hacking away at sagging skyscrapers until they finally collapse on top of him. Ken doesn't even slow down as the concrete buildings collide with his body - in fact, it is the superstructures that buckle and break on contact. Ken passes through them as if they were smoke, not just unfazed but immune to their incredible weight. It's an outrageous display of power and perhaps even an over-correction designed to distract the viewer in a scene that tethers our hero so explicitly to another saviour figure. Ken is made into an answer, the martial artist organised into a semi-subordinate role, that of a disciple. This sequence, crucial to the film's conclusion, casts Kenshiro as the monstrous protector of a tiny, vulnerable person who might bring salvation to this world. Clad head to toe in clay, he resembles the unthinking might of a Golem.

Shorn of Tom Wyner's overly literal, dubbed-up adaptation, North Star reveals itself to be a film about characters who actually do understand their world-changing power in abstract, mythological terms. Villains, in particular, react and behave in ways that demonstrate both a desire and a willingness to dominate humanity psychologically as well as physically. Kenshiro's older brother Raoh is off on his own sub-adventure throughout the film. He deals with the subversion of his birthright by destroying his family's temple then taking his father's life. Untethered from dynastic expectation, Roah climbs a mountain to literally challenge the heavens themselves. The regime he then goes on to engineer is pure totalitarianism - faceless, expendable, chattel organised around Raoh's absurd, indomitable strength. Despite the number of opponents that come his way, The Conqueror of Century's End doesn't even bother to climb down from his pachyderm sized horse until faced with one of equal strength.

Raoh's withering self-interest extends to issues of basic practicality too - when Lin is captured with her fragile, flowering plant pot, Raoh treats the offending shoot not as the first signs of sustainability returning to this nightmare world but as a dangerous challenge to his authority. Raoh is not simply content to rule through strength, he wants his starving, dwindling subjects to be hopeless too. Of course Fist of the North Star eventually brings Ken, the avatar for hope, and Raoh back together. Their battle is brief but cataclysmic. The Babelian city of Cassandra is shaken to dust by a streaking, psychedelic light show; its populace lifted up and carried away by the tornadoes stirred up by this momentous clash. Surprisingly, at least in terms of your standard heroic journey, the battle does not go Ken's way. Although evenly matched - the two warriors pierce and pound each other until they are both collapsed in a bloody heap - it is Raoh who rises first. Poised to deliver a decisive stamp to Ken's head, his foot is stayed by Lin, the imploring child once again surrounded by a radiant light.

Raoh asks Lin if it was her that called him to this place. The question, and the unexpected mercy that follows, suggests that the conqueror understands these events to be ordained by a higher, unknowable power. These devils, defined by their monstrous self-sufficiency, have fulfilled their function, clearing the decks so Lin and her generation can reclaim the world and bring back the oppositional, synergetic forces of nature. The end credits bear out this despondent, cyclical fate for our high-kicking hero. A revived Ken travels vast, swirling deserts, unable to find his phantom love Yuria. He seems to pass through a revived, resplendent forest, a space where he feels a connection to his absent fiancee. Quickly though, the untouched green dissolves away and we are back in the wasteland. Ken presses on, striding up a sand dune to gaze out on a familiar, unchanged vista - the shattered city we saw at the beginning of the film. Although Ken has travelled far, he is explicitly back exactly where we started. Ashida's film, much like George Miller's Mad Max cycle, views brawn as ultimately expendable. A terrifying, Old Testament asset briefly deployed to vanquish evil but, ultimately, useless in a world struggling to mend itself after having suffered so completely.

Georgia - Never Let You Go (Live)


Streets of Rage 4 - THE POETS



Streets of Rage 4 developers Jordi Asensio, Cyrille Lagarigue and Beausoleil Samson-Guillemette talk us through the influences and ideas bearing down on Sega's long-awaited sequel. Happily, Asensio talks about minimising the kind of modern, repeat value influences that have derailed other, promising looking 2D action games. By the sounds of it, Rage 4 is content to be a good, old-fashioned, belt beat 'em up.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Three Outlaw Samurai



Hideo Gosha's Three Outlaw Samurai examines chivalry in the context of corrupt, self-serving systems. Tetsuro Tamba plays Sakon Shiba, a ronin who falls in with a group of starving peasants who have kidnapped a Magistrate's daughter in order to accelerate an interest in their desperate cause. Shiba represents the samurai in unblemished, heroic terms, a skilled swordsman who isn't obliged to tow the line or answer to uncaring masters. Shiba can pursue his own interpretation of the honour codes that govern and direct his warrior class. Shiba's resolve is such that he attracts others to his cause, first from the ranks of the men hired to kill him, later from within the Magistrate's own household.

Loyalties are tested throughout the film, hired guns and sworn swords alike chaffing at the promises Hisashi Igawa's Magistrate deliberately and, ultimately, foolishly breaks. His actions send shock waves through the film: if the man at the top (at least in local terms) can break the rules to further his own cause, then why not everybody else? Shiba's honourable example struggles to find purchase because it is altruistic, it doesn't track into the ruthlessly ordered, selfish power structures that define feudal Japan. Gosha stages his film to reflect these disconnections, the director and cinematographer Tadashi Sakai use their actors and environments to construct barriers - arms and bodies combine with the limits of the screen to become bars that trap people, physically separating them from other, potentially sympathetic players.

Gosha, a television director graduating to his first feature project, takes to the wider frame instantly, using the extra horizontal space to tell his story physically, through action and blocking. At one point five men arrive to kill Shiba - three over-confident thugs sprung from prison and two rather more cagey souls. The bruisers advance, hoping to overwhelm their target. The biggest braggart charges, Shiba strikes, quickly felling one of the men and taking himself from the left of the frame to its centre. The remaining criminals, stood either side of Shiba, slowly part like cinema curtains, leaving the frame to reveal the two remaining men - Isamu Nagato's Sakura and Mikijiro Hira's Kikyo - both of whom will become instrumental to Shiba's cause. It's beautifully done.