Sunday, 23 May 2010


Martyrs never sits still. The film plays with a variety of standard horror tropes, from home invasion and spectral doppelgangers to total identity extinction. Scenarios are played out to completion then twisted and recontextualised, jumping off from an idea implicit to the previous sequence. This new stage is then spun to exhaustive conclusion, before the process begins again. Each beat is satisfying in seclusion, but taken as a whole Martyrs becomes faintly mind-boggling. Writer/director Pascal Laugier swerves neat nihilistic zings to press deeper into a mounting, pervasive state of horror that eventually becomes the totality of the experience. This is not to say that Martyrs is simply a series of expert riffs on horror aesthetics, the film routinely plays around with a variety of modern nightmare scenarios, ideas like a determined individual intruding into your 'safe' world, or being unfairly cast into an incarceration system that treats despair as industry. Horror in Martyrs is never a gag or punchline, it's another tool in a thesis that grapples with absolute, systematic misery. Martyrs is a thorough, almost overwhelming trip around the darkest, bleakest states of the human animal.

Justice - Stress

"Jupiter's Cock!"

Basic cable packagers rejoice! Bravo begins broadcasting Starz network's delightfully venal take on socialist superstar Spartacus this week. Spartacus: Blood and Sand is everything you could ever want from a pre-Christian potboiler; it's avowedly anti-classical, brimming with endless body destruction, and incessant period cussing. Season 1 has concentrated largely on Spartacus's time as a commodity, his owned life consists of endless gladiatorial drilling, brief spells in lethal arenas, and occasionally being put out to stud for Rome's wealthy. This is where the series excels, after a few eye-catch episodes full of insane gore and non-stop fucking, the focus narrows to a portrait of brimming revolt. Spartacus's world balances on whims; slave masters emulate their bloated, petulant Gods for larks, shagging and destroying their perceived inferiors for parlour play.

Season 2 is a bit up in the air at this time, show lead Andy Whitfield was recently diagnosed with lymphoma. Production has shifted to a six part prequel series, shooting this summer to air early 2011 in the United States. Disaster Year wishes Mr Whitfield a speedy recovery.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

"Coming to your Galaxy, next Summer!"

Today is the 30th anniversary of the US cinema release of The Empire Strikes Back. To celebrate, here's a vintage trailer! That's Harrison Ford on the shill, contemptuously struggling through mandatory ad copy. Eagle eyed viewers may notice a brief fragment of an unused scene at the 1:32 mark - C3PO vandalising a sign that marked a Wampa Ice Creature holding pen in the hopes of wrong-footing advancing Snowtroopers. Hopefully, Mr Lucas will get his shit dry sometime soon and release a BD set of the Original unaltered Trilogy. Anamorphic this time please.

Invoking Phil Collins

Caught the Ashes to Ashes finale last night, wasn't Daniel Mays good as Old Scratch? I didn't keep up with the series, so discussing content would be a bit of a dead end. Instead, I just wanted to make a quick comment about the musical quotes littered throughout the show. They're a bit of a waste aren't they? Why feature a track like In the Air Tonight if you're only going to play a twenty second micro-snatch, then fade it null? Why risk conjuring up an audience comparison with the above sequence from Miami Vice if you're not going to do anything new or subversive with the piece?

Miami Vice moves entirely on image and a sonic thematic resonance. Phil Collins swallows this sequence, creating a protracted doom mood as the two leads drive towards an idea of extinction. Image and sound are combined to create a profound sense of desperation. Ashes to Ashes used the cue for a similar moment - the protagonist Alex risking her own life to discover the nature of her superior officer / love interest - but only spliced it in for a fleeting flourish then your standard fade down for dialoguing. It's anti-cinematic, and arguably anti-organic. It mugs audience attention away from a moment, creating a dramatic dead space where viewers internally remark about how much they enjoy the 'drum bit'. No mood is established, other than perhaps a kind of dreary nostalgia. At its worst, this kind of slight juxtaposition recalls the assembly of winsome holiday shows where a bored editor fades in something aurally peculiar as a kind of meta-wink to anyone paying attention. Yuck.


Fan of inane bleating? Why not follow me on Twitter! Oh look, here's my page thingy. I wouldn't expect much. Content tends to skew stream of consciousness witterings, usually concerned with whatever media product I'm currently gorging myself on. The current series of Junior Apprentice has exerted itself as a bit of a topic mainstay already. Hooray!

Monday, 17 May 2010

The Offence

After allowing himself to be dragged back to United Artists and the Bond fold for Diamonds Are Forever, Sean Connery was given the chance to instigate a feature or two of his own choosing. The sole result of this opportunity turned out to be 1972's The Offence, directed by Sidney Lumet and based on a play by John Hopkins. The Offence is a tense, claustrophobic thing; a series of fraught overlapping interviews dealing with the fallout of a particularly revolting series of crimes. The film begins as an indistinct blur that drifts in and around a police station. The frame is blighted by a glaring superimposed lamp, speech muffled and warped as if underwater. A rash of lurching thuds ring out, and everyone starts to panic, racing to a secluded room. We arrive at the conclusion: a confused cornered Connery glaring at several prone bodies. He's tense and prowling, like a startled animal.

We're taken back through events that begin to explain a fairly standard sequence of reactionary violence - Connery's Detective Johnson creates an opportunity to question a suspected child molester. Convinced of his guilt he begins to physically intimidate him to force a confession, going too far and critically injuring him. At this point we are allowed to understand Johnson as a plodding avenger performing equaliser violence. The audience is notionally pleased upfront, but The Offence delves deeper, essaying the psychological make-up of such sure and steady thuggery. Opening reel aside, the film is primarily constructed in the form of your average police procedural. Drama is confined to dour utilitarian spaces, and confrontations spin on reams of raw, wordy dialogue. When Johnson is sent home to cool off the film begins to change tact, brief snatches of appalling violence begin to intrude, poking in from Johnson's fracturing psyche. Memory and fantasy mix and become indistinguishable. Initially The Offence seems to be digging into this horror as a way of explaining Johnson's brutalised state. Slowly though The Offence begins to ration out the extent of Johnson's damage, puncturing any idea that Connery is playing another variation of a male ideal. Peculiar behaviour and dead-end mutterings take on ever changing mood and meaning, escalating into a profound sense of disquiet.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Hercules in New York

Appalling in nearly every conceivable way, Hercules in New York still reveals a couple of interesting corners when viewed in the wider context of Arnold Schwarzenegger's career. Schwarzenegger is Hercules, a stroppy Demigod sulking about the Big Apple in a film that presumes to parody a then recent cycle of Italian action yarns. Niche upon niche. Fresh off Mr Universe fame, a 23 year old Schwarzenegger is cast as a buffoonish curio. His lines are short, delivery clipped, and heavy with accent. His body is enormous and rounded; in his Olympian briefs he resembles a gigantic infant, an effect exacerbated by his petulant line readings.

Hercules in New York is shot with an eye for the dull. Sequences are barely framed, and ramble on like leaden, unsophisticated TV skits. The film does occasionally spring to life though, especially when considering Schwarzenegger's physicality. The frame shrinks into a roaming eye, poring over the star's veins and muscles. Attacks are frequently shot from the perspective of Schwarzenegger's victims, his monstrous body swamping the point of view. Tone wise, the film holds back on any of the mechanised horror inherent to Schwarzenegger's body, aiming instead for campy giggles. Fights are grab-ass push contests with an emphasis on burly men made weak in Hercules' presence. At times it seems as if Schwarzenegger is being objectified as a dim-bulb dom, able to easily overpower any man and have his way with them. His companion for the majority of the film is a flustered fey little man, always on hand to gawk and splutter when Schwarzenegger tears his shirt off for the umpteenth time. There is a female love interest, and all the Goddesses fawn and slink whenever Schwarzenegger is about, but the film's heart isn't in it. The relationship with the girlfriend never evolves beyond exasperated culture-clash sight-seeing, and when Hercules finally does bid his farewell, it's his male companion he fobs off with empty platitudes.

William Shatner - Rocket Man


Ain't It Cool News broke this a few days ago, the first legitimate trailer for the forthcoming Machete feature. The bones of this trail are much the same as the phoney shill that appeared in Grindhouse - Danny Trejo is hired to assassinate a politician, and is betrayed by his WASP taskmaster. Unfortunately, since the property is now destined to be a legitimate theatrical release, the idea of a Machete film has shifted conceptually. An actual audience must be accounted for! Hence, this new ad is filled out with B plot eye catches, various stunt cast nudges, and a slightly more sympathetic portrayal of women.

The advertised Machete has transformed from something nakedly exploitative into something mindful of focus groups and test audiences. The Grindhouse clip sold a one-note mangler, brimming with extermination violence and three-in-a-hot-tub sexuality. This promises a multi-lead action ramble with a cursory nod to America's wonky immigration policies. Gone too are the scratchy Grindhouse post-production imperfections. Celluloid no longer seethes and mutates while Trejo is tearing his enemies apart, instead this has the glassy digital shimmer of any modern TV cheapy.

UPDATE: Robert Rodriguez has since gone on record to state that this ad was produced as a satirical comment on Arizona's recent dabble in racial profiling, and does not represent the actual form of Machete. Disaster Year been duped!

Friday, 7 May 2010

Kick-Ass: The Game

It's 1992 all over again! All the big movies gotta have their scrolling beater tie-in. Like Watchmen: The End Is Nigh before it, Kick-Ass: The Game adopts a grime spin on Marvel Ultimate Alliance mechanics. Players select a universe character and rush around urban crime corners assaulting the underclass. WHA Entertainment and Frozen Codebase's Kick-Ass makes for a slightly better diversion than the plodding Watchmen episodes, offering bare environment interacts, a couple of gonzo special actions, and in-game speaks that jive well with established fiction. Kick-Ass' presentation is a bit of a muddle offering movie character drafts in gameplay and John Romita Jr's comparatively kitchen-sink funnybook originals in captioned story sequences. Kick-Ass could be a button mash wheeze, but the developers have implemented a stats hike levelling system, balancing the difficulty on the idea that players will be prepared to replay early missions to farm XP. An optimistic outlook considering the lack of depth in the fighting system, and scarcity of secret areas in the game's few levels. A sour, simplistic experience best suited to people desperate to wildly stab at vaguely related button prompts after having just seen a violent movie.

Guitar Wolf - Jet Generation

Monday, 3 May 2010

Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 is about product. A considerable amount of the film's jeopardy revolves around dictating trends and poaching brand identity. Drama moves on trade show presentations, screamed at docile audiences. In Iron Man 2, Tony Stark is the brand. He's configured his own hyper-armour and won't let anyone else play. Off-screen he's vapourised terror-cells and halted uprisings, instituting a privatised US centric world peace. Stark's non-profit tax write-off is an enforced global stability, not sanctioned by any recognised international authority. No-one can compete with Stark, he is alone.

Iron Man 2 muddles around with the madness of this super-idea, hitting on a fracturing hero and an army of bitter imitators. Stark's industrialised peace doesn't make these people happy, it makes them envious. In this sequel Stark must battle a Soviet era reflection and a tan-hand impressionist, both figures corrupt recalculations of Stark's good fortune. They amount to minor distractions though, Iron Man 2's biggest enemy is the self-destruction reflex. Stark's power is physically poisoning him. Lacking any appropriate equal to confide in, Stark retreats to microfilm of his father. Sensing an end he goes about driving away those close to him, secretly equipping them to continue his ideal. Iron Man 2 is messy, frequently resembling a tangle of vaguely connected improv duels. Equally though, it is frequently about a bored, stupored superman. Stark's is a personality founded on drives, struggling for a challenge. This world conquered, what next? A post-credits clip hints at a cosmic stage for the eventual Avengers tie-in. There's that product again.

Wetwork Simulator

Announce spot for Treyarch's Call of Duty: Black Ops. Sift through the cold war collage and find what appears to be helicopter piloting, supersonic jet fighting, and jungle set mud and blood. The framing device used here suggests a sinister special agent deprogramming. Are we playing a meta-man's memory bubbles? Such a specific lead would be a first for a series that usually trades in identity hopping.

Sketch Monday: Dhalsim

Disaster Year has spent the last few days in the company of Super Street Fighter IV. Most excellent it is too. It's especially nice to have the vandalism accented bonus stages back, even if they're not as fun as they used to be. As with all Capcom interim updates, Super IV has gotten beneath the bonnet and messed about with character values. Amongst the buffed is everyone's favourite offensive ethnic stereotype Dhalsim.

Final Fight: Double Impact

Twenty years on and Final Fight still has some arresting ideas about video game form. Levels are divided into short, punchy vignettes, packed with enemy swamp incident. Currency and vitality pick-ups are situationally abstract treats that operate on attention grabbing shorthand. Bins and crates hide everything from gleaming jewellery to pineapples and roasted chicken dinners, turning the necessary power-up slog into a daffy treasure hunt.

Lightly building on the Double Dragon / Renegade template, player characters have a basic shock of button jabbers, as well as a deeper set of command moves. Muscle bomb Mayor Mike Haggar enjoys the most detailed game, his desperation lariat is complimented by a timing dependent piledriver, forming the bare model for Street Fighter II's grappler Zangief. Player sprites are large, and detailed with a full range of motion. Walking and action animations cycle nicely; each of the three controllable characters bristle with weight and charm. Enemy sprites have slighter motion ranges, but make up for it with a wild variety of colour and form. Thump targets range from lazy-zip knifers to WWF punkers and gymnastic transvestites.

Final Fight isn't perfect though, later stages betray coin guzzle arcade origins with players are stranded in danger tile industrial nightmares, and pitted against bosses with unclear vulnerability states. Even so, Final Fight is still obvious as a premium experience, complimented here by a superb presentation by Proper Games. 2010 players can toggle a wealth of display options, including adding CRT scanlines and monitor fluorescence, as well as a digitised cab reproduction to fill out the 16:9 frame. Equally fantastic is Simon Viklund's reworked soundtrack, Viklund turns in a suite of sweaty synthetic thwacks on a bedrock of juddering collision beats. Final Fight is also supplemented with an unlockables vault, and Magic Sword a complete death-trap dungeon CPS sidescroller. Tackled like a Criterion edition reissue, this should be the model for all vintage gaming re-releases.

2 down, a million to go!

Disaster Year 20XX notched up its second full year on Friday. A big thank you to all the patrons, readers, and bizarre comment spammers. We wouldn't be here without you.