Tuesday, 29 September 2009

La Guerra De Las Galaxias

Pre-release Star Wars poster knocked up in less than two days by brothers Tim and Greg Hildebrandt. Project was bumrushed by an antsy Fox, who needed an image quick for newspaper ads. Armed with a photo of Tom Jung's concept pose, the duo set to work. A final draft added Droids, and a signature. This Hildebrandt render is notable for featuring a particularly bodacious looking Princess Leia. Inspired by Frazetta renders, she's all curves, smokey eyes, and danger. Despite being ultimately rejected to lead the American advertising campaign, the image found a home shilling for the Spanish market, and as a merchandise adjunct.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Zombies vs RAW

Whilst Frank's feuding with Battle of the Planets characters, his progenitor series gets its shill on with a note perfect pay-per-view reel. It's not clear how much of Dead Rising 2's playtime will be spent slumming in a rape-rock grapple card, earlier trailers promised a rotting city-spill in Las Vegas. Perhaps this is a sick-twist opener? Welcome relief to see that Dead Rising's dev shift west hasn't hampered its satirical bent. If this lovely slice of vulgar has whet your appetite for dimwit atrocity, seek out Sega and Platinum Games' recent monochrome muscle-bomber MadWorld. It's fit to burst with nihilistic mini-gaming!

"I've covered cross-overs, ya' know?"

Dead Rising survivor Frank West shores up in Capcom's latest hysterical licence war. The west centric release of Japanese nostalgia brand brawler Tatsunoko vs Capcom promises a roster inflation, including the drafting of a certain Willamette Mall veteran. Apparently absent from upcoming sequel Dead Rising 2, Mr West lives on here as a gimmick heavy seizure battler. Basic moveset looks inherited from Marvel vs Capcom 2's Jill Valentine - zombies can be called upon as flesh ballast, and super bars can be cashed for screen filling firepower.

"That's okay with you, right?"

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Pixel Man

Another Xbox Indie 80 MSP gem. Approximately 68p gets you 30 save-free, iron-man abstract platforming stages. Title screen asks if you're playing? Decline, and you're booted out to the browser. Silly you. Players are granted infinite retries to traverse ever complicating chasm environments. Grey blocks are safe, red blocks lethal, and yellow whisks you off to your next playground. Sound effects are sparse leap-blips, that tickle that 8-Bit recall gland. Early stages are wander warm-ups, that teach you about spatial geography and objective placement. Before long you're juggling pixel-perfect jumps and moving through several fixed screens, with no apparent route in sight. Progress in Pixel Man is a sublime tension: every leap takes you closer to your goal, but further away from an anti-restart safe landing.


That title. A sub-pound price point. How can you resist? I MAED A GAM3 W1TH ZOMBIES 1N IT!!!1 is a top-down twin-stick shooter by James Silva, whose priors include The Dishwasher: Dead Samurai for Indie Xbox Live, and Survival Crisis Z for Windows. Players take control of a lonely lethal-man tasked with vanquishing legions of rapid-assault undead. Front end is epilepsy shimmer, block pixel text on pitch backgrounds. Simultaneous four player. You play yourself. This is an experience. In game: skinny zombie grunts are soon joined by lumbering tanks, and enormous word stamps throb and inform the landscape. Dopey grindcore wails along the soundscape, all price alerts and boast chants, the text feedback making a karaoke of the grinding screech theme. Then spotlights appear, and the game shifts psychedelic, introducing abstract enemy types to match the music's tempo shift.

I MAED A GAME3 W1TH ZOMBIES 1N IT!!!1 nicely straddles the twin disciplines of yuk-yuk retro-by-design blasters, and art installation pieces. It jogs quick enough to please maths-minded bullet hell vets, whilst demonstrating a distinct one-think authoring. Control set-up is instinct accessible, and the title doesn't seek to hide its eccentricities behind mammoth progress. A wonderful introduction to community developed gaming, unfortunately marginalised out-the-box by Microsoft: rather than sell it upfront in the Live boot-up crawl, they'd prefer you to go hunting in sub-sections of sub-sections. The lack of Achievements, yet another bitter slight this title doesn't deserve.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Green Lantern: First Flight

Since Justice League: The New Frontier firmly established an origin for the character, Green Lantern: First Flight is allowed to ditch the usual ability discovery and zap straight into intergalactic policing. Hal Jordan's Green Lantern hasn't ever maintained a constant presence in Bruce Timm's DC animated universe. His priors are limited to the aforementioned period piece and a brief cameo in a time-slipped Justice League Unlimited two-parter.

First Flight plays it taciturn, Jordan quietly sniffing out the motives of his new allies and taskmasters, before shining in a series of hyperbolic beam battles. First Flight seizes the cosmic implications of the Green Lantern Corp, wrapping Jordan's trainee efforts in a rich environment of baffling realities and alien otherness. Jordan, a daredevil test-pilot on Earth, takes it all in his stride. The spikey, extraterrestrial characters also work as a further departure from the usually rounded house style, and then as a subtextual body ideal. Jordan is schlubby in Terra civvies, weighed down by oversized baggies that obscure his outline. In Lantern duds he's sleek and gleaming, his space-cop armour glistening like an insect's carapace. Man takes his place amongst the stars.

INXS - Don't Change

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Batman games are almost uniformly awful. Very little attempt is ever made to submerge the player in the identity or actions of Batman. Instead developers cast him as a karate toy, content to scroll screen right and thump enemies, occasionally enlivening his virtual career with a brief Batmobile racing section. Eurocom and Electronic Arts gambled with on-message predatory stalking in 2005's tie-in Batman Begins, but that game quickly bogged itself down into a witless prompts trail. When Rocksteady began trailering Batman: Arkham Asylum, they were content to focus on Unreal Engine re-drafts of icon figures: the denizens of Gotham as viewed through a slimy, musculature filter that rendered them as stout figurines. How would it play? A Gears of War alike land-grab brawler? Thankfully, Rocksteady were much more ambitious than that.

Loosely patterned after Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean, Batman: Arkham Asylum arms players with a Kevin Conroy voiced action figure stranded in the bowels of the titular madhouse. As Batman, the player must creep and throttle their way to Mark Hamill's Joker, and victory. Rocksteady's enterprising approach to licensed playsets first stresses itself in the playground. The environment bristles with a queasy schizophrenia. It's Victoriana decadence, with rough utilitarian upgrades. Paths available to Batman skew bedrock mechanics - the twilight world of cramped crawl spaces, and forgotten cave foundations. Rocksteady have built Arkham like a seizing mindscape: layers and layers of barely credible security actions papering over huge alarm fissures. Arkham boasts acres of barely developed, and subsequently discarded, framework. The asylum is total malfunction, a space scarred by the madmen it houses, and the spectral owners that haunt it. There's even an ID beast, prowling at the core.

Rocksteady's success isn't just limited to the world they weave, the studio has also minted an avenger simulator that finds equal footing for two disparate disciplines. In administering billionaire justice, Batman can sit aloft and rain gadgets and stalking torment on his foes, or he can descend and thump toe-to-toe. Neither aspect is prioritised, although some snipe strategy is prudent, the player can dispatch their nuisances in whichever manner they deem fit. Players will mostly opt to perch though. Seating themselves ceiling high above the crowd presents frequent opportunity to pick and tease at your enemies. This hunting aspect stresses the singularity and loneliness of the character's fiction mission. Leaping from gargoyle to gargoyle, above foes too petrified to gaze up, gifts players a peerless insight into mind-maths of being a batman. You learn to relish the moment your quarry decides to split up and hunt stag. You delight in gliding down kick-first onto criminals, grappling with their prone bodies, before stamping a stun signature on their foreheads. How wonderful it is to be a bat fixated psychopath.

Floor level combat is a whirl of tight, tapping counter offensives. Players must keep their Batman on the move to clock up combos and unlock coma blows. This pugilism mechanic becomes a reactive Batjob, the regularity of enemy regurgitation spinning a snatch of meta-fictioning: Batman faces the same foes, over and over again, their skillset so limited, they become less a threat, and more an opportunity to transform mind-mapped malaise into a symphony of hammer-blow chains. This vague sense of making a personal fun out of boredom is key to Rocksteady's portrait of what it is to be Batman. Role-playing for such an extended period of time encourages an atypical perspective on being this kind of hero. Batman's near silence shifts from rugged stoicism to agitated impatience. He doesn't want to talk to his enemies because they have nothing new to say. The Riddler's time consuming side-quests do not tax the hero, or player, instead they are just an obstacle that, whilst never boring, must be overcome. It's hard work being Batman. Thankfully, it's also enormous fun.

Roc Raida

Golgo Google

LG recruits ageless murder-man Duke Togo to hawk a mobile. Quick Google access speeds up elimination turnaround! Given Togo's status as a pitch Bond shade (creator Takao Saito even took a shot at 007 in 1964, with a brief manga series), it doesn't ring too bankrupt to see him shilling: international men of mystery gotta have their toys.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Keith Floyd

Death Race

If you browsed print criticism of Paul W S Anderson's Death Race, you'll have noted repeated assurances from critics that the film's aesthetic resembled a video game. It does not. Likening a motion picture to a video game has become lazy shorthand for stressing a shallow artificiality. Death Race is thrash-cut to the point were geography and character are unintelligible. It's superficial, mindless, and designed to elicit maximum gratification from a pubescent, predominantly male audience, hence it resembles a 'lower' art. Comparing a film to a video game is seen as the absolute lowest kind of slight. The filmmakers are so inept they've accidentally made something subterranean. There's an arts class system in place, video games are at the absolute bottom of the heap.

Games are explicitly built from technology in an office setting, a crucible antithetical to most people's idea of art - the sort of people who believe films and music are simply wished into being by magical 'creatives'. Video games are a horrifying example of incomprehensible modernity. They're mass-produced, and largely based on the ability to express urges most adults would deem embarrassing. They're artless simulation. Even with all of this in mind, Death Race does not resemble a video game. More specifically, Death Race does not resemble a racing game. Video games are about play. They're about feedback led choices. Accurate feedback means a static viewpoint, and Death Race is viewed from hundreds of brief, contrary vantages. In video games there is a choice - you are usually either the driver, a child playing, or literally the vehicle. You are never the audience. Death Race is constructed out of tiny disconnected impressions, the crowd's version of events. There is no overall sequence. This is the problem; if you can't understand what is going on, you can't play. Interactive viewpoints for racing games have long been patterned after Claude Lelouch's 1976 short C'etait un rendez-vous. This exhilarating piece is one unbroken eight-minute take, shot through the eyes of a speeding car. This sustained perspective paying dividends in immersion. You're there for the duration, rather than just selected highlights.

Death Race is about a simulated excitement, and perhaps this is were these critics falter. Presumably, nothing genuinely spectacular was captured on film during the making of Death Race, or rather, nothing spectacular enough. No sequences so arresting that whoever directed the film's assembly felt emboldened enough to hold on a particular shot, and allow the audience to take in an overall sense of space. Instead the film is viewed in fragments, the perspective repeatedly juggled in the hopes of suggesting wonder. There is no sense of speed in the film. Rapidly cutting on fast moving cars kills any sensation of speed. There is no propulsion. Cars move by the same bare-dressed warehouse set again and again. They may as well be still. Death Race resembles nothing.

Patrick Swayze

Monday, 14 September 2009

Rory McFarlane - Space Prison

For the UK home video release of Yoshiaki Kawajiri's Cyber City Oedo 808, Manga Entertainment had session musician Rory McFarlane compose a searing cock-rock soundtrack to better compliment their localised potty-mouth speechscape. Here's the adrenalised, fist-pump opener. We're watching violent mid-90s anime! Pitching square at the 18 crowd, the new distributor mutated Cyber City from a melancholic futureshock procedural to a brute-minded curio. Unfortunately, thug vintage Cyber City is lost to digital formats thanks to a rights lapse. Do the right thing Manga Entertainment! Spend some some cyber-coin and get it back out there. We'll have Goku: Midnight Eye too while you're at it.

Sunday, 13 September 2009


Oh dreadful future! Ten years ago I could never have foreseen a day in which I would prefer George Romero to just stop making reanimated dead movies. After an unimpeachable first trilogy, the second movement has erred bowel. It simply isn't fair. Let's recap: Land of the Dead was a stunt-cast mismatch of Romero politicking and budget studio monster mashing. The herd-think shufflers had an agreeable revolutionary underclass vibe, but it was impossible to shake that cheapy feature malaise. Disinterest suffused the film. Diary of the Dead was a shade better. Personally, I could forgive the endless self-analytical prattle because Romero finally got to weave a rotting mansion scenario. The third act was a mini-movie of Resident Evil, a property previous denied to the ageing Romero, that found its way into the hands of anti-auteur Paul WS Anderson. Wilful fanboyism aside, it simply wasn't in the same league as its originators.

Which brings us to Survival of the Dead (previously known as either Island of the Dead, or the definitives baiting ...Of the Dead). The film is still in production, so it seems a little unfair to slander the made-for-TV mise en scene. Romero et al could whisk up some killer filters in the edit suite, couldn't they? Best then to concentrate on the dispiritingly wide-shot anti-impact that frames a tale of boring faith farmers defending their homesteads. In case that got you snoozing, there's a bearded military action doll haunting the fringes walloping kids. Internet vapour press releases hard sell the idea that the characters are (fruitlessly?) searching for a cure. Hmm. I ain't seeing doctors. Hopefully, I'm all wrong and Romero ends up weaving a queasy treatise on man's relationship to God in the context of an apocalypse. This trail ain't convincing though.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Weird Trail

Debut shill for forthcoming Robert E Howard adapt Solomon Kane. Kane, a solemn pulp adventurer, drifts across the world, matching evil in all its guises. Rather than ground the film in the fey realism of John Milius' Hyperboria, director Michael J Bassett pitches closer to the realised allegory of Howard's text. The trail boasts twisted, physical manifestations of satanic peril, and even a rumbling black angel. Being fairly pulp un-read, my nearest brush with Kane was a back-up strip in an old issue of Savage Sword of Conan. Able to flunk the Comic Code by virtue of technically being a magazine, the book skirted saucy. The Kane strip, in particular, struck quite a chord; Kane, trailing a brutal killer, happens across a a burning homestead and a weeping boy. Kane takes in the child, continuing his mission. Over the course of a few nasty accidents it becomes clear that the child is the perp. Kane flintlocks the minor with barely a tremor. Balls nasty!

Monday, 7 September 2009

The Warriors: Ultimate Director's Cut

Anti-definitive device! The cheap, literal comic book crawl added to Walter Hill's Ultimate Director's Cut of The Warriors fails to impress. Doubly so since this is the version that has made the leap to high-definition formats. The preface is poorly and simplistically rendered, bright bordering on luminous. It jibes badly with the neon simplicity of the Coney Island Wonder Wheel. The dull, muscled figures stitched in have nothing in common with the film's malnourished, sinewy heroes. That's not all that has been added. The film is now littered with freeze frames and artificially implemented panel shifts. The audience forced to literally read the film as a comic book. These artless overlays rob the film of it's dystopian leaning, dashing immediacy, and even danger. When the Baseball Furies arrive it blunders the moment to have Hill lay out his subtextual reading, rather than just hold on these facepainted lunatics. The Warriors used to be a bubblegum pop version of A Clockwork Orange, now it's a shameless opportunist jostling for youth money with a misunderstood grab-bag of multi-medium tricks. For shame.

She & Him - Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?

With thanks to Anna.

Red Heat

What makes a great screen actor? In the essentials column would be the ability to communicate verbally, and spatially, the given tone of the scenes in which their characters exists. An actor is the most obvious means of dialogue between filmmakers and their audience. If an actor is off-message, it can confuse intentions. Frequently, it's as much what an actor chooses not to do. A well timed pause, or a silent stare can mean more than any length of dialogue. This also entrusts the audience with a degree of contribution. Just what is the character thinking?

With this in mind, how great is Arnold Schwarzenegger? He does nothing. As the first explicit entry in Schwarzenegger's crossover brand of comedy slash action, Red Heat utilises Arnold as a blank-faced non-reaction to Jim Belushi's incessant crudities. Typically Belushi will spew a venal little insight requiring Schwarzenegger to just stare impassively. It's a back and forth that casts Belushi as the comedian and Schwarzenegger as the straight man.

Unfortunately for Belushi, a silent, still Schwarzenegger is automatically just as hilarious as anything that can be said. His impossible symmetry is accentuated by a too-tall flat-top hairstyle; bulging biceps barely concealed within a cheap, lank suit. Schwarzenegger looks like some absurd manga muscle bomb character - all alert veins and blaring, psychotic eyes. In this context, monosyllabic responses become symphonies of blunt comic misdirection. The dialogue in Red Heat has an air of improvisation, conversations digress and ramble in and out of scenes. Belushi and Schwarzenegger fiercely competing for the last laugh. Belushi rarely wins. How can he? All Arnold has to do is stare straight ahead and say 'No'.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

District 9

A vast interstellar spacecraft shores up in Johannesburg's airspace. Elation quickly turns to disgust when it is discovered that the passengers are a displaced extraterrestrial slave caste. Despised by locals, and lacking in any usable tech or currency, the aliens are corralled into slums and left to rot. This instant underclass eke out a subsistence existence for a few decades until a vile weapons contractor wins a relocation bid. Sharlto Copley's meek middle-manager Wikus van de Merwe leads the resettling operation, a process that begins as an exasperated hoodwink before fear transforms it into something closer to ethnic cleansing. During one particularly aggravated eviction Wikus accidentally ingests an alien aerosol, his subsequent recalibration making him the focus of a city wide manhunt.

Alternating between an in-progress documentary and a blackly comedic identity thriller, Neill Blomkamp's District 9 neatly combines speculative colonial dystopia with cobble-tech catastrophe pistols. Junior effects studio Image Engine have crafted a whole race of minutely expressive visitors. The Prawns are a solid physical presence in this universe, effortlessly interacting with their human oppressors. There's an agreeable sense of other in the creature's scaled-up, insect quick, limb-ticks. A recognisable sentience resides in their sad brown eyes. There's even a hint of shame in their threadbare, scrap clothing. District 9 is a perfect piece of genre fiction, the kind of film that used to haunt late night scheduling on BBC 2 or Channel 4, daring you to stay up later. I can offer no higher praise.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

More Bleeding Edge Warfare

Infinity Ward are keeping up a steady drip of pre-release material for the forthcoming Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Above be the latest. Interestingly, most of the shill snatches tend to focus on the title as a gameplay, rather than narrative, commodity. It's brave, not to mention canny, studio that fronts an online ad campaign with several dead seconds of host migration presentation. Baffling for the out, manna for the in. Still, what have they got to prove? Standing at the head of a franchise adjunct whose previous installment still commands a premium price on the secondary market, why not focus on the background systems that make play that little bit easier? Nobody likes a sore loser.

Ballad Salad

Brand new trail for the next (last?) installment of a wider Grand Theft Auto 4 experience. The Ballad of Gay Tony teases neon Vice lifestylin' and San Andreas recreational pursuits, topped off with vicious calamity vehicle thugging. Previous ep, The Lost and Damned, beefed with a punchier weapon-set, Gay Tony promises a similar ambition for your rides. It's not all aces though. The anti-art stink of PR product positioning gets all up in your nose. How else to categorise that crowbarred back-alley fumbling between new lead Luis and an unnamed lady? "Remember folks, you ain't playing no gay! You're his hired gun!"