Saturday, 29 August 2009

Sketch Saturday: Bane

Beware Bane! He's a grappler! Created by Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench and Graham Nolan, this Venom fiend first appeared in the winningly titled Batman: Vengeance of Bane #1. Debut outing and he's already grudging!

"Raise a Kung-fu fist against Ogami... and he'll chop it off!"

Poster for Lightning Swords of Death, the English dubbed release of the third film in the Lone Wolf and Cub series Baby Cart to Hades.

Shamelessly appropriated from Wrong Side of the Art, a blog dedicated to the wonders of trash cinema posters. Go look!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time Re-Shelled

It's not often you get to bemoan arcade fidelity. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time Re-Shelled is a visuals led re-cast of a 1991 Konami coin-op. Ubisoft Singapore's remake leaves gameplay largely unaltered, instead electing to rebuild the game as a widescreen lensed 3D rumble. New character drafts resemble smoothed contemporary merchandise, rather than the animation models of the 90s token gobble iteration. The brand has moved on. Ubisoft's sole interact tweak comes in the elimination of separate plain brackets, these Turtles now have fluid three dimensional movement on a locked side-scrolling frame. As adjusts go, this is a curiously self-defeating one. The ability to attack in eight directions is mitigated by the free-flow movement of enemies. No longer are you able to move off their attack line to a brief safety, enemies will twist and turn to follow, eliminating much of the player's ability to corral. This shallows an already simplistic game, matches rapidly degenerating into a maddening thump of multi-directional fury.

It's a shame Ubisoft didn't look to Konami's own adaptation blueprint. When Turtles in Time was ported to the SNES as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time in 1992, a conscious effort was made to optimise the game for its new home system. Although audio visual finesse was dialled down to better match 16-bit capabilities, much was added by way of compensation. Randomised visual flourishes were integrated into the moveset; entire levels were added, including Mode 7 racing bonus stages; and the arcade's rather dull boss cast was greatly expanded to include more in-universe personalities. Who'd rather fight a puny mud man when you have a psychotic shadow Turtle available? There was even an option to palette shift your Turtle avatar's skin tone to better match comic, rather than cartoon, colours. Electing to adapt the arcade, rather than SNES, version feels reductive. Factor in a generous helping of audience nostalgia for that home system serving, and Ubisoft Singapore's reissue can't help but look meagre. Couldn't they have at least included an unmolested arcade port?

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Django, Kill! (If You Live Shoot!)

The success of Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci's Italian westerns allowed for a glut of copycat productions. Director Giulio Questi found himself financial backed for his first feature on the condition that he film a western. Questi and screenwriter Franco Arcalli took the commonplace idea of a gunslinger wandering into town and embellished it with first-hand accounts of the director's time as an anti-Fascist partisan during the second world war. Django Kill! isn't about manipulation and misdirection, it's more concerned with the idea of the mob as an unthinking engine of inhuman brutality.

The town Tomas Milian's Stranger finds himself in is not filled with a cowed citizenship in the thrall of polarised criminality. Instead they're a fired-up throng of homicidal puritans. Children wander the streets like stray animals, and the meagre amount of women are trophies for scheming industry bosses. When the thieves that bushwhacked Stranger breeze into town ahead of the trailing hero, the townsfolk gang up and horrifically murder them. Professional killers proving useless in the face of a ruthless, incentivised herd. Owners dissolved, the ruling class spends the remainder of the film battling over the spoils, with Stranger as the hapless observer. Milian's Stranger is an odd, dispassionate hero. Little attempt is made to pattern Django Kill! after its double-crossing Spaghetti forebears, instead Stranger is a bewildered malcontent struggling to make sense of this Unhappy Place.

One Million Horse-Power?

Latest dreary hawk for Imagi's upcoming Astro Boy. Look out for blink-brief cameos by a rather young looking Osamu Tezuka; and Grant Morrison's Tyrant Sun Solaris, from DC One Million and All-Star Superman, who looks to be pitching in on jobbing heavy duty. If Atom really must be awkwardly transplanted into a Western centric animation adventure, why couldn't Pixar have come sniffing for the rights? I know they're not usually hip to adaptation, but this is Osamu Tezuka for God's sake. At the very least John Lasseter could have conspired with a cackling Hayao Miyazaki to bring some maximum density to the fondest creation of the limited animation mindset originator. That'd be a victory for their way of life. In my head cinema I'm imagining Brad Bird directing a take on The Greatest Robot on Earth episode: a young person-bot struggling to understand the true implications of his power, whilst battling a serial-killer robot. David Fincher could shoot some live action Pluto inserts on gloomy weekends, and there you have it: something perfect.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Inglourious Basterds

Trailed as an ironic, video nasty tribute to men-on-a-mission flicks, Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds instead reveals itself as a disquieting treatise on the nature of vengeance. If Kill Bill told a straight forward revenge yarn, embellished by sublimated best-of genre flourishes, then Basterds is the difficult flip-side: a fantastical reprisal reel, reeking of methodology, anchored in the flexible real of recent, historical events. Rather than diminish Basterds, making it a sleazy pantomime, it informs the piece. Lines are drawn, expectations placed.

There's very little need to further detail the atrocity of a Nazi machine so infamous that it has cast the regime as indefensible, stock movie evil. Such horror is a constant. Inglourious Basterds seeks to play with expectation, toying with the assumption that during the Second World War all Germans were Nazis. Tarantino's film clearly demonstrating that this is not the case. The vast majority of the men slaughtered by the American guerrillas are simply soldiers. They don't scream anti-Semitic slander as they die - all the better to rally against them - instead they weep for their colleagues, steeling themselves for a violent death.

The Jewish commando unit can be read as wish-fulfilment, their kosher carnage feeding into a desensitised audience's expectation for body-warping terror, but that's just half the story. Violence is either accomplished as a punchline, or carefully and precisely distended to evoke discomfort. The Basterds are mostly unsympathetic characters, a gaggle of barely operating psychopaths locked into an eye for an eye mindset. Basterds then is a towering monument to the schadenfreude impulse. We can enjoy the comeuppance if the transgressor truly deserves it, and on who better to demonstrate this than the Nazis? Further, how better to punish and implicate an audience than to rain misfortune on their favourites? Tarantino conducts a dangerous universe, in which lethal peril is just around every corner. One mistake, one dangling comment, and it's curtains. All this is text, if you seek it, but unobtrusive should you disincline, and revert to action-type. Tarantino is quite happy for an audience to lose themselves in the extermination, providing ample opportunity for us to do so.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Point Blank

Such close proximity to a read (however abridged) of Richard Stark's originator fiction recasts Point Blank as something of a critique on romanticised villainy. Stark's hero Parker is largely defined by his ruthless lethality, so potent and honed that even the barest contact can prove fatal for a civilian. In contrast Lee Marvin's Walker, although just as brutally determined, hounds his quarry to fearfully seek auto-destruction. Rather than an explicit murderer, Walker is a nagging guilt figure, clouding the minds of his betrayers. He was a better, simpler, man than they. A pleasant surprise then to discover that John Boorman's elliptical fever dream is made greater by source comparison rather than weaker, functioning as a flip-side companion piece to Stark's fantasy figure.

In Point Blank, however capably Walker asserts, there's always a nagging sense that he's an errand boy to a higher, more duplicitous entity. Manning the frame fringe is a grim accomplice, indistinct enough to be mistaken for a figment of Walker's fractured psyche - an effect enhanced by the relentless unreal that pervades the film. Walker, here a beanpole spectre, haunts the underworld. An omen of ill intent, signifying and expediting calamity, but very rarely physically actualising it. Whereas Stark's hero is the lone architect of such downfall, Walker is an unconscious pawn in the thrall of an answer-man, ticking off his gripes. Point Blank is frequently contextualised as a shut-down fantasy. That reading submits that Walker never leaves Alcatraz Island. Instead, dying alone in a cell, he weaves a revenge fiction to ease his passing. This accounts for his indirect impact, and a reluctance to drag his thoughts away from where he fell. Such a framing device also makes sense of Walker's obedience. Who else but death could manipulate such a man? Naturally, come the conclusion, having been made conscious of his role, Walker resists. Rather than seize his prize and disappear into the machine, Walker flees. A victory of individuality.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Richard Stark's Parker: Book One - The Hunter

A quick word. Unwieldy, but necessary, title aside, Darwyn Cooke's pop-art Parker is a pared snatch of picturebook aggression. Cooke's artwork strays looser than I've ever seen; heavy blacks laced with squared detail and a murky grey depth colour, framed on a yellowed paper stock. The informal brushwork has a hurried, impatient quality to it, matching its prowling centre-man beat for beat. There's a temptation to call it storyboards, simply because it isn't overproduced, and Cooke has a background in animation blocking, but it's an irrelevant sort of snide. Cooke's Parker is breathless, and engaging, the dash renders accentuating that quality.

Cooke's preoccupation with America as an aspirational 60s lifestyle catalogue finds thesis purchase as an empty synthetic contrast to the minimalist hero. It's a counterfeit world built on greed and spectral criminality, poised and placed to be annihilated by this rampaging madman. Parker's a thunderous presence, clipped and direct, where his enemies are bloated and concealed. Parker is rootless in this world. He's an intruder, here drafted as a dishevelled, amoral mirror to the Bruce Wayne of Cooke's New Frontier brand. Both purposed and focused, running on a private objective motor. A wonderful reframing of Richard Stark's career criminal. Cooke can't get to The Man with the Getaway Face quick enough.

James Cameron's Jungle

First footage packed trail for James Cameron's upcoming game-changer Avatar. Sat on this one for a few days waiting for an inbed of serviceable quality. The above will do, although I can't help picturing bleeding-edge Cameron sicking in his mouth over such a tiny 2D window trailing his flick. Avatar broadly concerns a sweeping human tech-empire running into an alien harmony society, and creating remote-control infiltrator mutants to break it. Cameron has spoken of putting his own spin on Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars books, particularly the theme of a visitor going native and becoming a saviour. The culture clash is explicit in the footage, battling aside, it's live action actors trespassing on an animation wonderland. You're seeing real men, armed with recognisably speculative weapons, invading a hyper-stylised imagination jungle. In some shots it's hard to discern what's live and what isn't. The alien expressions are recognisable without straying into caricature, and much of the human arms read as solid forms. This cobalt wonder is due December.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

The Number To Heaven

Above be Jason Eisener's entry for Fantastic Fest 2009's bumper competition. Organiser diktats stated the short be not much longer than 30 seconds, end on the word 'fantastic', and must feature a monster and a person under the age of 18. A child in other words. I dressed that up a bit. Rules didn't mention positing a super-sentai kaiju in queasy 70s paternal unease. That's all Eisener. Eisener previously brought us the magnificent Hobo With A Shotgun faux-ad, trailed on Canadian prints of Grindhouse, and Fantastic Fest 2008 winner Report Card. Impressed? Remember to do a vote.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Pistol Music

Trailer for Sergio Sollima's 1973 poliziotteschi flick Revolver, featuring a mish-mash suite of Ennio Morricone music, including the wonderful Un Amico.

One Piece: Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island

Why watch a film of slight consequence in an ever-rolling shonen maxi-fiction? Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island is directed by Mamoru Hosoda, an ascending star of Japanese animation, responsible for the award winning The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and the upcoming reality bender Summer Wars. Secret Island is simultaneously notable for ratcheting a feverish disquiet in fixed genre fictioning, whilst also playing as an extended allegory for Hosoda's brief, unhappy, stint at Studio Ghibli - Hosoda was originally contracted as the director of Howl's Moving Castle, leaving in the midst of production to be replaced by a fresh-out-of-retirement Hayao Miyazaki.

Secret Island isn't the first time Hosoda has dabbled in brand either, his Digimon movie shorts Digimon Adventure and Our War Game attracted a great deal of positive attention, a success instrumental in landing him the Ghibli gig. Hosoda's stab at One Piece is equally arresting. Animation is wild and playful, adeptly shifting between minimalist naturalism and impossible physiology fights. Rather than discard genre mechanics and expectation, Hosoda accentuates them, transforming them from threat accelerates into tense psychological alarm. Shonen Jump movie tradition dictates that friends must be imperilled to bring out the best in the hero, here pals are not merely roughed up, they are lost in situations that bring out the worst in them, fraying long-standing loyalties and links.

On an adventure time out, a close-knit pirate crew journey to Festival Island, expecting recuperation. Instead they find an overripe monument to 19th century European architecture, staffed by a cultish crew of sycophants and their leader Baron Omatsuri. Before allowing the visiting pirates to sample the amenities, the Baron has the crew engage in frivolous competitions that quickly mutate from simplistic whimsy into acute punishment. The visiting crew are repeatedly allocated insufficient resources, whilst the ageing home team are gifted all manner of expensive hyper-technology.

Reading the hirsute Baron as a Miyazaki analog, you find a lonely old man clinging to extensions of his past. Rather than allow fresh new blood to invigorate his island, the Baron would instead prefer to destroy the visitors, wringing pleasure out of their discomfort. The island tempts the best of the best to enquire, then bowdlerises them, telling them they aren't up to muster. Baron clings fiercely to his own crew, pouring resource onto them so that they may ruin any competition. Baron protects what is left of his fellows, quite willing to tempt his own destruction in doing so. There's even an empty headed child wandering the island, made blind to his flaws and among the dearest to Baron. Are we to read him as Goro Miyazaki, the ill-equipped heir apparent to the Ghibli empire? With this in mind, it would be easy to take Secret Island as a one-note revenge piece, with Hosoda coming to bury his former employers, but the film is keenly balanced on a sense of understanding for the tormentors. Baron Omatsuri isn't evil. He's just stranded.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra

Following a disastrous escort mission, boring studs Channing Tatum and Marlon Wayans are drafted into the eponymous beige-ops smile squad. Tatum broods over his dangerous ex, while Wayans makes a play for the in-house red head - who may (or may not) be already attached to the in-house ninja. This is GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, the Global War on Terror with way less waterboarding and way more Tiger Beat romancing. Unlike the US centric 80s toy franchise, this Joe is a crypto-fascist arm of NATO, responsible for thwarting eurotrash militants, placating influential billionaires, and monitoring picture messaging. After a round of training that resembles video game tutorials, the calamity students get their own Iron Man suits.

Like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, GI Joe peaks early. Instead of a forest set Royal Rumble we get a zippy street-level race through France's capital. Making use of catapulted cars, alarming 12A hyper-violence, and a human-shaped missile called Snake Eyes, this sequence has a dizzy sense of propulsion, knowingly straying into wink-wink territory with a live action steal from Team America: World Police. The yucks don't last. Unfortunately, the remainder clashes resemble 60s spy-capades conducted by the unimaginatives not drafted for Bay's sequel. The conclusion is a playset heavy restage of Thunderball's frogman slaughterhouse, minus spectacle and danger, with a dash of quick-cut martial art bots for taste. Joe keeps it on a mediocre keel, staffed with anti-people, and disinclined to engage.

The Beatles with Billy Preston - Don't Let Me Down

New Low!

Came dead last in Darwyn Cooke's Draw Parker contest. Yeah! Perhaps sloppy inks on graph paper was a bit of an affront? Can't argue with that prize though. Very generous indeed.

UPDATE: Mr Cooke has taken to his not-blog to spin some words about his favourite entries. In each description, Cooke expounds on his preference for a sense of context, or dynamism: two factors sorely lacking in my comp. Where's the suit? Where's the gun? Where's any sense that this is Parker, except in the grim tight-face I gave him?

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Mars Attacks!

Based on a series of sci-fi atrocity cards, Tim Burton's Christmas coloured apocalypse is the harebrained, vandal contrast to your typical Hollywood invasion triumph. Here the human race is a vapid gang of idiots bumbling towards extinction, lest they offend their Martian visitors. Every effort is made to ingratiate the cosmic tourists who never fail to misunderstand, slaughter, then cackle. If you really want, Mars Attacks! can be read as a critique of either political leaning. To wit: 'wimpy' liberals prostrates themselves in the face of something alien while the conservative spectrum is represented by an emotionally sterile WASP, a bellowing military man, and reactionary trailer folk who regard their television set as intergalactic bounty. People, regardless of allegiance, are simply noise in this film.

Mars Attacks! works hard to present a domestic race that not only seems to be actively pursuing annihilation, but perhaps even deserves it too. The relationship between the two species is broadly that of a comedy double-act. The humans are the straight man, the naive stooge to the jittery Martian jokers. We feed the invaders endless rope with which to hang us; the space-men twitching excitedly at the sheer stupidity of their adversaries. Warner Brothers spent $100 million bringing Burton's Topps card vision to the screen, what did they get? A prank. Mars Attacks! is a riot of sugar-high slaughter completely antithetical to any kind of established blockbuster narrative. There's never any sense that the Martians want anything from Earth. There's no asides about plundering resources or any other sort of material currency. Instead, the Martians simply want to destroy everything they see, preferably with the maximum amount of skylarking whimsy. Intergalactic wrong 'uns, with Tex Avery mindsets, and gee-whizz extermination technology. It's impossible not to love these little green men. They just want to have fun.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Bar Fight

An earlier piece by Christy Karacas and Stephen Warbrick. Bar Fight is four minutes of self-medicated pandemonium. Think of it as an intent chaser to a full draft chug of Superjail!. Internet vapour tell holds it that Bar Fight was rejected from every animation festival Karacas and Warbrick attempted to enter into. More fool them. Delving further back on Karacas' CV, find Space War, a student piece. Pen and paper, mouth-sound mayhem!


A shock-hair impulse criminal is cast out into the real-world, whereupon he immediately commits a serious of petty atrocities, drawing the attention of a levitating stooge-bot. Shock-hair is airlifted to Superjail!, an establishment that operates outside of any recognisable judiciary system, with an accent on calamity and unreason. Shock-hair is lost among the inmates, attention shifting to the demented, reality-bending whimsy of the warden. Superjail! is the monstrous gulags of incarceration manga Riki-Oh policed by Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka on a spite tip. Superjail! is an endless roll of gasp-gag digression; yard fights tumble into the supernatural, segueing into mondo food prep, before arriving at rampaging mulch-man idolatry. Superjail! is heta uma design philosophy filtered through Johnny Ryan muscle seizure macabre, and cock-rock poop prodding. Superjail! is! Expect Itchy and Scratchy vile-snatch studded by David Lynch's revolting Dumbland. Imagine twenty impossible ideas a second, each more terrible than the last. I have tried! But Superjail! is barely describable, and nothing short of wonderful. Praise be to Cartoon Network for commissioning it, and fawning superlatives to co-creators Christy Karacas, Stephen Warbrick, and Ben Gruber. I bet you're all ten feet tall.

Monday, 10 August 2009

"He talk about you so bad, turn my hair gray"

'92 critic flavoured trailer for Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant. Extra special for featuring some brief snatches of Schooly D's Signifying Rapper, a piece that used to hum and pulse throughout the film until Led Zeppelin got wise to D's uncleared Kashmir cop, and issued lawsuit. All subsequent releases of the film now have you hearing Ferrara jamming along with buddy-Christ Paul Hipp instead. I caught a watch of the unaltered version one evening on Channel 4 and never forgot. Rolling, self-perpetuating aggression doesn't quite cover what Schooly D did to Jimmy Page. The perfect accompaniment to Harvey Keitel's masterclass in desperation. If you wanna hear D, you know where to click.

Thursday, 6 August 2009


Sam Rockwell labours alone on the moon, mining Helium-3 for Earth's fusion reactors. He's nearing the end of a secluded three year contract, and trying to hold himself together. A problem with one of the automated threshers sends him out into the cosmic wild, where he crashes. Awakening in his base's sickbay, he notes the presence of another. A sombre disquiet follows. Moon recalls the science fiction films made in the decade or so before Star Wars broke - idea-driven meditations, usually starring a character actor. Think Silent Running with Bruce Dern. Histrionics are kept to a minimum as the eminently likeable Rockwell puzzles through a predicament that sees his identity-span splinter, and recoil. Moon rejects any pat scenarios concerning righteous indignation, or aggressive machination. Instead it's about a reasonable, humanistic reaction to being merchandised. Men find themselves cast in the role of utilitarian tools, and an on-the-fly paternity asserts itself between the facsimiles. Moon is about frontier loneliness, tinkered recall, and science doubling. All the good stuff.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Propaganda Basterd

Eli Roth directed ad for Inglourious Basterds' in-universe propaganda piece Nation's Pride - presented like a modern Weinstein roll-out for a forgotten foreign language gem. Easy to imagine this pre-menu, burning up precious disc room on a Dragon Dynasty kung-fu flick. Nation's Pride spins the fictional tale of Fredrick Zoller, a Nazi sniper who, holed up in a resplendent bell tower, manages to off several hundred enemy troops over the course of a few days. Script placed the unfortunates as Soviet, while the film apparently skews American. Zoller plays himself in propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels' Fuhrer affirmed masterwork. Another layer to a work suffused with the love of the mechanics of cinema.


Souls of Mischief - 93 'til Infinity

For Brad.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Pixies - Where Is My Mind?

Excerpt from a performance at London's Town and Country Club, in May 1988. Wanna see the full set? Check it here.

Observe and Report

The most successful comedy this year is Todd Phillips' The Hangover, a not-completely-awful Vegas set jaunt in which a gang of man-children engage in a rolling fuck up until audience placation demands an ending. There are no consequences in Hangover. Everyone leaves sin city much as they have arrived, their dunderhead debauchery even leading to a life-affirming windfall in one case. Should you be the kind of psychopath that demands a message from your films, you'll go home with: blackout binges are A-OK! Similarly, if you just like a bit of cause and effect, or even just plain nastiness, you're out of luck. A sequel looms either way. Nearly two months after release, Hangover still haunts multiplexes, reeling in return audiences. Conversely, Jody Hill's Observe and Report lasted about a week before evaporating. Locally, the film ran on one screen in a why-bother time slot. Arriving a couple of weeks after the execrable Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Observe was pilloried as a mean ape, and discarded. It's the lowest grossing vehicle for star Seth Rogen, and it's also fucking great.

Observe begins by essaying your staple underdog nonsense - dead-beat professional with an inflated sense of being rallies against the forces of darkness, in this instance represented by the aggressively vocal flasher plaguing rent-a-cop Ronnie (Seth Rogen)'s mall. The stage is set for portly blundering, perhaps with Ronnie triumphantly winning the day and claiming the heart of cosmetics counter lush Brandi (Anna Faris). The audience gets to cheer on the lovable loser; events moving and shifting on a movie logic that prizes clumsy naivete over real thinking and action. Fade out on everyone smiling. Go home happy. Observe and Report takes this premise and explodes it, attributing recognisable human disquiet behind the clown mask clod. Ronnie doesn't exist in a universe that prizes his intellectual inadequacies. The detective that visits his mall in the wake of the crime spree does not tolerate his contribution. He screams and belittles him. He's not helping. Like Watchmen, Observe examines the kind of man that wants to dedicate himself to creating opportunities for explosive catharsis, your staple movie-magic leading man. This film likewise finds them to be emotionally unstable, racist and lousy with festering Daddy complexes.

Ronnie isn't a well-meaning schlub, he's delusional, aggressive, and medicated into compliance. He dreams of slaughter, desperate to channel his 'heroic' impulses. Ronnie wants power. He wants to organise and police his surroundings. He wants to be lauded, to be superheroic. He craves vitality through action. He wants the girl. He wants a pervasive, voice-of-God monologue. But above all, he wants to carry a gun. He wants to carry an automatic pistol and shoot it at people. This psychosis is always bubbling under (sometimes over) Rogen's husky, half-handsome exterior. The actor is the perfectly likeable camouflage needed for this keen bit of smuggling. Observe and Report also plays with gross-out comedy components that dictate laughs on slight instances of horror. Except this film goes much too far, treating the revulsion as the build rather than the pay off. There are no easy outs. You sit there wondering if you should be laughing at all, and just when you think you have your expected reaction figured, it shifts tone. Always the contrarian, and unlike The Hangover, all about damage and consequences.