Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Starship Troopers (OVA)

Frequently touted as a superior adaptation of Robert Heinlein's novel, Tetsuro Amino and Sunrise Inc's six part Starship Troopers is instead a yawning dirge that dances around Heinlein's politics and extraterrestrial engagement to focus on its fey male lead, and the anti-emotion that drifts across his face. The closest thing to a recognisable thesis on the fascist group-think Heinlein dreamt up comes in Rico's passive rise through the ranks. His colleagues back him simply because he fits an agreeable hero mold. He succeeds wildly beyond his means because he is handsome and disinclined to thought. Friends project personality aspects onto Rico, who muddles through lethal powersuit scenarios, finding himself largely inept in any military undertaking. His meekness inevitably causes his friends to perish, Rico soulfully finds strength in their simpering sacrifice. It's a take that borders on bishonen.

There are a few notable elements though. Women are largely aligned with an Officer class - an overwhelming percentage of Rico's superiors are female. These women are rigid and stoic were the male grunts are capering buffoons. Interpersonal relationships live and die on female interest, a narrative element likely included to foster a sense of male fraternity in the corps. It has the reverse effect though. Male empowerment is replaced with an idea of a matriarchal society that has little use for men other than cannon fodder. Throughout Starship Troopers there's an underlining sense that these fretting half-men are struggling to align themselves with a woman in a feeble attempt to grant them status. When Rico rejects university to join the military it's his mother who freezes him out, slapping him the day he wanders off to become part of the collective. His father just fidgets. Rico is in love with Carmencita, a pale go-getter who has everyone's attention. Rather than make a move in High School, Rico holds off, joining the military to ape her ambitions. The couple are only brought together after the pair have been mauled in a disastrous campaign that appears to have solved nothing. The mini-series ends with a blushing Rico failing to articulate how he feels about this woman.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Bleeding Edge Warfare

I can see my post /sketch / life output grinding to a halt come November.

Monday, 27 July 2009

A Stanley Kubrick Film

A censorious MPAA were tricked into believing this was rusty water, when the board raised objection to featuring blood in an all-audiences trailer. It took nine days to set up the shot, and three takes were required to convince Mr Kubrick of grue authenticity.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Photon Cannon!

Madhouse's Iron Man; gadget skin hyper flight vs Mecha Captain Harlock, and his missile-men. No readjustment required. This looks like a keeper!

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Berserker Barrage!

Madhouse's Wolverine; Logan by way of fey Rurouni Kenshin figures, and Yoshiaki Kawajiri stylistics. Wolverine is one of four Marvel animated TV series tailored specifically for Japanese audiences. Wolverine is to be screened Spring 2010, alongside an Iron Man serial, on the Animax channel. I suppose if it tanks in Japan, at least you can sell it back to the Western kids who've grown up with One Piece and Naruto.

My Pitch:

The above is a bit anonymous, but I'm all for the idea of convergence. You just need the right vision. As regards the X-Men's grizzliest, and the model of Japanese migration, I'd like to see Takashi Miike examine the Adamantium skeleton as an infectious body-horror condition. You could begin with the familiar set-up of an amnesia stricken thug stuck in salaryman drag, before work related stresses have blades erupting from his arms. Slick with sweat, he'd fight it for a reel then lose himself in night-mission steel-war. He wants to wear his insides, outside. Maybe have low-level Yakuza victims contaminated, and galvanised, by brushes with Logan; themselves reborn as bastard sword-arm offspring. Imagine: Wolverine battling a city rife with malformed metal pollution men.

Sketch Saturday: Captain Britain

Inspired by Mark's post about fracturing Captain Britain along a variety of creator lines, here's a brief marker muck about. My Captain Britain would be an athletic young man, full of grins. For his outfit, I'm leaning towards a fitted polyester body-suit, with an Adidas three stripe trim on the arms, legs and mask - a bit of a nod to modern UK sports casual loafing, and athlete aggrandising. Out of shot (ran out of paper), I'd have the pants hitting just over the knee, with bare calves and spiffy bright trabs on feet. Ethnicity was dictated by my lack of any credible skin-tone other than Copic's Warm Gray No.4, but I do dig the idea that he'd have a coffee and cream ambiguity.

Please forgive the big black line obscuring his right leg, I started drawing the appendage one way then decided it wasn't no good.

John Ryan

Great piece on Lew Stringer's blog.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Trailing Eli

Ad for Hughes brothers latest The Book of Eli. What's it showing? A gloss-action riff on Cormac McCarthy's The Road, a motion picture of which is due fairly soon. Expect Denzel scurrying all over the ex-United States safeguarding a McGuffin book; pray it ain't a religious text. Is Eli scrambling after that lucrative I Am Legend money? Is black male lead post-apocalyptia the hot ticket? That's how the studio hive mind works: give 'em similar. If so, Denzel's better suited to rugged individualism than chatty Will Smith. Smith's a charmer, Washington can seethe and danger. As previously demonstrated, trailers are notoriously unreliable at communicating a film's virtues, but it sticks in my craw to see the Hughes brothers losing themselves in anonymous tent-pole actionering. We've already lost Alex Proyas to such insidiousness.

Selling Menace

Trail for 1993's Menace II Society. New Line selling it like it's Boyz n the Hood 2. The Hughes brothers' debut skews far bleaker than Singleton's, denying Caine even a passing interest in opportunity. Instead he's drowning in reactionary masculinity. If you've seen the film you'll know that irony brackets the hook unspooling here. Caine tunes Charles S Dutton's sermonising right out, and the remark about father figure Pernell becomes prophetic: Caine doesn't end up in jail like de facto Dad, instead he closes with holes blown in him. That's the economics, then you've got Marvin Gaye's soulful pleading enveloping scuffle montages and inner city nihilism. Thesis seed for Hughes follow-up Dead Presidents.

Teresa di Vicenzo

by Michael Gillette.

Check the rest of his Penguin Edition 007 covers here.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Elektroniczny Morderca

Polish poster for the 1987 release of James Cameron's The Terminator. Designed by Jakub Erol. Doesn't take much of a linguist to work out that the film's riding with the handle Electronic Murderer, a wonderfully blunt bit of cobble poetics. Extra points for being in-text too. Instead of the studio posed tech-noir incongruity our ads enjoyed, here we have an image of Schwarzenegger as he appeared in the film: haggered, with a singed hairpiece, spilling psychedelic automation bubbles from his camouflaged robo-eyes.

Beck - The Golden Age

From Beck's miserablist classic Sea Change album. Best heard, in my experience, lying somewhere comfy dark, with some mid-summer pitter-patter backgrounding, and the first inkling of a lager-pop chill-buzz. Smiles and wist baby.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Nessuni Dollari

Bah. My purchase of an Italian Blu-Ray of A Fistful of Dollars from eBay fell through. Trying times. There's a problem with some nebulous 'consignment' or other. I'm refunded, and the chap got on to me sharpish, so I can't complain. It's a shame though. It would have said Per un pugno di dollari on screen, and everything! The disc also had Italian and English Mono tracks, I coulda enjoyed gleaming scrub-up picture without the garish re-mixed sound effects MGM have recently stunk up the place with. I can't bare to watch the extended The Good, The Bad and The Ugly for precisely that reason: rotten multi-track sound augments fucking with Leone's soundscape. I don't need 'em. It ain't right.

In this whizz-bang hyper-age of DTS-HD Master Audio tweaks, studios have got it right in their heads there's no place for soundtracks as originally issued. While it's nice to have the option to blow your roof off, it's also nice to have the track the director originally signed-off on. Technology shouldn't trump artistry. I don't really need to know what a 60s exploitation western would sound like with contemporary foley. It'd sound stupid, and it does. I also have a profound distaste for Extended / Director's Cuts superseding Theatrical Cuts for re-issues. Both please or not at all.

Watchmen: Director's Cut

Zack Snyder's long trumpeted Watchmen: Director's Cut arrives. Little indication if this is Snyder's preferred edit, or a just a cash-in roll out to keep the property fresh. It doesn't help there's another longer edit on the horizon. That said, away from inflated, possessive, expectation, Snyder's film fares a little better.

Director's Cuts always threaten a transformative quality. An incomplete thesis made whole by the addition of discarded mutant material. Great examples include the identity crisis dreamscape of Blade Runner, and the maternal angst added to Aliens. Both a digression too far for cinema screening. Unfortunately, the term is massively devalued now, bandied about for every other teen-bait head wringer desperate to court extra sell-through sales with a ratings hike. Knowing that Watchmen's alien invasion ending wasn't even filmed does take the shine off proceedings - despite early reports indicating that Cloverfield monster man Neville Page was on the case. In that sense the film will always be 'imperfect'.

The earliest additions to Watchmen are witless violence inflections that stall flow, and further paint these street avengers as X-types. Nuance begins to creep in though. Rorschach's fevered narration is finally allowed to digress bigoted, a crucial character trait that coasted on the big screen. Laurie's father recollections prickle earlier, and Nite Owl II loses it with a (relative) innocent. Best of all is Hollis Mason's bow-out, a straining Queensbury box against otaku thugs intercut with brief recollections of the enemies he vanquished in his heyday. Unfortunately, Snyder can't help cuing up Mascagni's Intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana, famous for scoring Scorsese's Raging Bull.

I'm still not sure if these music choices are designed to stress archetypes, or a desire to position Watchmen: The Movie as a work built out of the scraps of a Hollywood auteurism that likely wouldn't have existed in this timeline. No Vietnam loss, no introspective 70s. Either way, it's still rather flawed in execution. Recognisable music attributed to an incongruous image creates a hurdle. Are we supposed to be patting ourselves on the back for recognising the reference? Or chuckling at the co-opt? Regardless, isn't that breaking scene?

Most disappointing of all is the lack of an origin for Ozymandias. On second view, Watchmen's fragmented narrative displays a talent for immersive digression. Veidt's journey into intellectual hubris would have made for a thrilling counterpoint to Osterman's brushes with infinity. In both versions of the film Veidt is a rootless twist enabler, haunting the fringes. Maybe the Black Freighter bleed-in will bolster this angle? The tale informing Viedt's predicament?

Watchmen becomes easier to admire on subsequent rolls. There's less inclination to call foul on the many deletions and alterations. In particular, the exaggerated hyper-violence becomes recognisable as a counter-point to contemporary super-fiction films. It's a shade rougher, mirroring the position the original comic took. Snyder's film is a faithful, graceless adaptation of material designed to be anti-translation. It hasn't been beaten and tweaked to resemble a knives n' knickers blockbuster. Despite many vulgar choices, Snyder's Watchmen is still a rambling digression on thrill-seeking thugs, and the people who watch them.

007 vs NASA

In honour of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing yesterday, here's James Bond mugging some phony astronauts. This hasn't turned out quite as reverential as I expected. I don't want you thinking I'm one of them "We didn't go!" loonies. We totally did go, and it was awesome. Said scene from 1971's Diamonds are Forever, I especially like how the hoaxonauts are so in character they try to low-gravity accost Bond. Method!

Saturday, 18 July 2009

"You've lost her forever, Django."

Excerpt from Sergio Corbucci's Django, showcasing Franco Nero's lethal drifter-man, and Luis Bacalov's elegiac pop score.

Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That!

The Beastie Boys taped at Madison Square Garden by fifty odd audience members equipped with handheld video cameras. Lo-fi lensing in order to better capture the full range of the concert going experience. Interludes include: excitedly nipping out to take a whizz, and one patron buying what looks like hermetically sealed beers. Not particularly pretty, Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That! instead projects an authenticity, right down to obscured, inconvenient vantage point seating.

Actual track construction is completely dismantled by Mixmaster Mike, cue specific music typically flying off on wild tangents that include aural homages to other NYC hip-hop royalty. All the while the group soldiers through, dropping extra swears for the faithful. The set's a goody - managing to include, and celebrate, nearly all of the band's broad genre noodling (No Country Mike though) - particularly welcome is a mini The In Sound From Way Out set, the band dressed up for a powder blue, Hawaiian wedding jam.

Awesome goes into meltdown for a encore of three classics: Intergalactic as guerrilla rap-warfare - each of The Beastie Boys retreating, running around backstage, then bursting out through different entrance doors, better to run through the crowd screaming the kaiju-invasion monstah stompah. Gratitude disintegrates into 60s vintage acid-art rock, taking on visual motifs common to Kirby / Steranko pop comics. Sabotage ends the show with red alert rock apocalypse. Sped up to Ramones levels at times, some lines even delivered with breathless Cali-punk drawl.

Sketch Saturday: Doctor Manhattan

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' very own quantum superman. From Watchmen, natch.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

A brief whisp of respite before the grand finale. Friends struggle to cope with emerging emotions, whilst Harry's thinking and drive are hijacked, to be directed towards extermination. Finally taken into his Headmaster's confidence, Harry trails alongside his teacher as an ill-informed accomplice and notional equal - a frail old man weaponising a prophecy boy for tasks he cannot himself complete. This idea of sin hand-me-downs looms over Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Although barely glimpsed, Voldemort's presence is keenly felt, his poisonous will to power polluting and ruining a strata of unwilling accessories. New potions master Horace Slughorn holds a particularly shameful jigsaw piece that, once revealed, leaves him a deflated sag-man.

Tom Riddle has snaked up and down generations needling and flattering pawns into compliance. His latest plaything, Draco Malfoy, has been bullied into atoning for his father's recent failure at The Ministry of Magic. Young Malfoy has been given a task he has little chance of accomplishing, the boy buckling under the pressure of being a chosen one. Rake thin and pallid, he's Harry's sad reflection. They are two lonely boys struggling with the weight of staggering expectation. Half-Blood Prince is full of doubling. Malfoy and Snape are aligned as lonesome outsiders; Harry's prospective girlfriend Ginny Weasley bares a striking resemblance to Potter's mother Lily; and, most importantly of all, Harry and Voldemort are twinned by experience. Both are orphans, unloved and finding solace within Hogwart's.

David Yates' film abandons much of JK Rowling's book and reorganises more. Screenwriter Steve Kloves has fashioned an information through-line for the upcoming twin Deathly Hallows conclusion. It's adaptation by bullet-point. Pertinent facts communicated through brief visual signifiers and tart gasps of dialogue, always just enough to maintain the thundering momentum. Mark Day's editing plays willing accomplice, clipped, bordering on harsh throughout, particularly during the memory fragments Harry explores. There are a few upsets - the title reveal means nothing, and Harry gets away with attempted murder, but the majority hangs together beautifully.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Night of the Living Dead

Patient Zero in the ever evolving zombie pandemic. Shot in stark black and white on malnourished sets, George Romero's Night of the Living Dead instantly creates a sense of diminished expectation. The lack of colour processing and impoverished period dressing neatly undermine the film's aggressive hopelessness. At inception, the film resembles an unambitious, melodramatic pot-boiler, the kind of picture routinely regurgitated to prop up a distributor's prestige picture. It's an artifact from another time.

Two siblings amble around a graveyard chatting cute before they are attacked by a shuffling ghoul. One escapes to a seemingly abandoned farmhouse, rapidly unravelling. Focus shifts to Duane Jones' Ben, a thoroughly resourceful individual, hell-bent on surviving. Ben expends little patience with any notions of compromise: the house must be secured and rigidly policed. He's the leader. You're following. Then crumbling bodies try to invade, and the dead begin to feast. Night of the Living Dead quickly becomes an exceptionally lawless piece, as our trapped rats struggle to fend off the heaving mass of weaponised ex-humans, and their obscene appetites. Survivors must shrug off social conditioning and boundaries if they want to make it out alive. Some are more successful than others.

The stumbling dead are a masterstroke, cheap and requiring minimal performance, but ultimately more foreboding than any amount of suit-man monsters. There's no need for an imagination other when you have rotting cannibals with piranha mind-sets. The central conceit of an uneasy alliance battling a brainless mass is also broad enough to cater for any ideological bent the viewer wishes to attribute. Jones' ethnicity making the boldest statement. Successor pictures ran with the idea, usually holing up in think ghettos with casts calibrated to fail. Idiots whimpering in corners, and inevitably, spectacularly, torn asunder. Where else was there to go? Romero et al got it right first time. Break the furniture. Board the windows. Wait it out.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Ghostbusters: The Video Game

What is the primary purpose of a movie tie-in video game? Is it deliver a cutting-edge gaming experience, or is simply to allow players the opportunity to immerse themselves in a familiar, big screen drag act? Ghostbusters: The Video Game opts for the latter, plumping up an outmoded scrap-shooter with acres of Hollywood needling. Character selection unavailable, players are cast as a mute, indistinct everyman. This rookie addition to the Ghostbuster's ranks resembles the sort of man-child that haunts the fringes of Judd Apatow comedies. Interest and enjoyment is maintained through ever present scripted chatter with the rest of the feature film spook slammers. As the game rolls on, group progress splinters into two-man teams, allowing spotlight performance for the old hands. Even Ernie Hudson's oft neglected Winston Zeddemore gets a level to shine, taking exasperated lead whilst marching through a haunted laundromat.

With interact mechanics that'd embarrass a last gasp PS2 title, Ghostbusters is largely irrelevant as a serious gaming proposition. Difficulty calibrated to err on the frustrating - players must frequently vent their proton pack to avoid overheating, and team-mates must be constantly rescued from downed states, the result of the high intensity slime flinging that passes for opposition. Sure signs of short adventure padding. It's a poor substitute for genuine gaming meat. Luckily, this lemon is enveloped in a suite of chat banter that rarely dips below big screen quality. The writing, by Flint Dille, Patrick Hegarty, John Melchior and John Zuur Platten (with a dialogue polish by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis), is amusing and personable, easily outshining the rather tepid re-heat Ghostbusters 2 movie. Ghostbusters: The Video Game is best played at a novice difficulty setting, better to allow a constant stream of dialogue and situational updates, with less time spent hassling with artificial embellishment.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Trying to Watch Watchmen

Heads up! Despite some smug assurance to the contrary, it has become apparent that Paramount Home Video have no present intention to release Zack Snyder's Director's Cut of Watchmen on DVD or Blu-Ray in the UK. The Blighty issue, due July 27th, contains the theatrical minting of Mr Snyder's adaptation only. The reasoning behind such a move is unclear: perhaps extended editions were not covered under Paramount's European distribution deal? Or perhaps they're just completely incompetent? Also excluded from our BD pressing is a bleeding edge video-in-video commentary track, featuring all manner of medium defining gee-whizzery. Ho hum. Luckily for the import minded consumer, the US Director's Cut publisher Warners have a long standing aversion to assigning Blu-Ray region locking. May such practices continue!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Nuovo Argento

An apparently misleading trailer for Dario Argento's latest knickers n' knives flick; word is Giallo skews further into pastiche than this shiny DV Horror reel would suggest. Slightly unfortunate given the definitive article title - Giallo is a term that has come to define late twentieth century Italian genre film making, usually denoting mystery, horror or erotic elements. Giallo, meaning yellow, derives its name from cheapy amber-bound thriller paperbacks published by the Mondadori publishing house in the late 1920s. Setting aside post padding grumbles, why shouldn't a director's authoritative take on the queasy genre he helped create include a satirical slant? That's post-modernity for you!

Saturday, 4 July 2009

007: Far up! Far out! Far More!

George Lazenby's James Bond is an athletic danger man. All body-crash karate and rugged waif physicality. Points neatly surmised by the above, Lazenby's sole 007 gun barrel sequence, from Peter Hunt's On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Alerted to his rifling stalker, Lazenby rapidly drops-knee and comes up gunslinging. Curt killer! Extra natty for the sharp outfit and 60s stride. If only he'd stuck around for the revenge mission.

Sketch Saturday: Red Skull

Joe Simon and Jack Kirby's fright-mask Nazi has enjoyed a variety of ancestor aliases, including an American industrialist spy-master, an ideologically confused Soviet agitator, and an anti-Semitic bellhop. He'll always be Hitler's wet-work wunderkind to me though. Rather than opt for the almost simian blockhead the character often sports, I decided I liked the idea that the mask was the face: a flayed, prickling pain-box resting on fascist fever shoulders. Kept alive by Nazi occult science and seething hatred.

Red Skull!

Thursday, 2 July 2009


French trailer for Inglourious Basterds that's been doing the inter-rounds. This shiller's picking up a buzz for aspiring beyond simply jamming Brad Pitt down the audience's throat. Once again, the titular death squad are front and centre, with female lead Shossana just about creeping in. It'll be interesting to see how the final picture compares with the script I read many moons back. Kill Bill evolved significantly in transition from page to screen: dropping composed action, gaining on-fly expansion, and a completely reordered coup de grace. Can we expect the same for this? Tarantino drafts action as plot-point rather than gaudy movement unravel, so there's a history of inflation. Example: as written, the Crazy 88 army that assault The Bride at the top of Volume 1 chose their name on a cool rather than quantitative basis. If anything, that number now seems like a wild underestimation. Has Tarantino beefed up the Basterds? Can we expect more Dirty Dozening? Or does this all boil down to simplicity selling? Tease wise, wild-man action beats narrative any day. Regardless of how the Weinstein's are choosing to sell this tale, they're certainly keeping the delirium under wraps. Rescue the Summer Basterds!