Tuesday, 26 October 2010

United Monster Talent Agency by Greg Nicotero

Just in time for Halloween, here's special effects whizz Greg Nicotero's directorial debut, a snappy short entitled United Monster Talent Agency. If I had to make a note, I'd ask if it wouldn't have been a fraction funnier to see some of the more humanoid actors being a little more compliant - who doesn't want to see the Wolf-Man talking about his craft?

When not beavering away on minutely detailed homages to American horror cinema, Mr Nicotero can be found working on basically every well mounted genre film made in the last twenty five years - everything from Day of the Dead and Evil Dead II to Boogie Nights and Casino Royale, with the lion's share of Quentin Tarantino's movies thrown in for good measure. Nicotero's work can currently be seen in AMC's adaptation of Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charles Adlard's The Walking Dead, where Nicotero has perfectly captured Adlard's grimacing, lip-chewed, zombie drafts. Want to hear him talk about his work? Head over to Ain't It Cool News for a great chat piece with Capone.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1

Sonic the Hedgehog 4 disappoints. It tries to juggle nostalgia responsibilities with tick-box rejuvenation, and ends up a muddled thing. It seeks to please Mega Drive gamers by recreating classic stages and giving them a lush 3D scrub down, then fluffs the gesture by tinkering with instinct movement mechanics. In all Sonic's 16-Bit titles the basic joy was running through a series of loops before curling into a ball for a near vertical drop; Sonic would pick up a thunderous momentum that occasionally out-paced the console's ability to process information. In Sonic 4, the curl is recalibrated as purely defensive maneuver that actually whiffs any built-up speed. Rather than mark the beginning of a scroll stuttering peel, it signifies its limp death.

Movement in general stresses strolling - Sonic takes an age to rev up - a concession to a stage design remit that specialises in tease without release. Once out of Splash Hill Zone, levels junk roller coaster breeziness to concentrate on the kind of stop-start platforming utterly antithetical to the core Sonic concept. 1991's Sonic the Hedgehog found a pitch perfect balance between speed-run stages, and obstacle course interruptions that played with your freshly minted desire to sprint. Sonic 4 is a title built entirely out of these punctuations, peppered with enough punishment drops and sudden enemy attacks to make the whole enterprise feel self-defeating. What's the point of Sonic if you're not allowed to run?

Sunday, 17 October 2010


The physical effects work best in Machete, especially the thick workman frame of Danny Trejo. Trejo's Machete is a silent, scowling, granite lump. He meanders swiftly and violently through a burgeoning class war, trapped between sympathetic revolutionaries and crooked politicians as they quibble and posture about border crossing. Trejo is the movie, a GWAR fan's sketch of Charles Bronson, his face an all-points bulletin for lines and lumps; expression carved onto a brick. Elsewhere, find yet more evidence that the inherent falseness of computer generated destruction actually denies the kind of bratty glee it's supposed to induce. If a puppet or appliance rig is mangled during a stunt there's an immediate physical sense that you're watching something being broken. Paint it all in with CG, and the gag stalls on the brain signal that recognises its artifice. We know Machete isn't running real flunkies through, but we'd prefer he was ruining something that has physical space and weight, rather than miming yet another kill-thrust for a MacBook pick-up.

Thom Yorke - Black Swan

"In space..."

This May 1979 teaser trailer for Alien functions rather nicely as a standalone acknowledgement of Ridely Scott's debt to Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre - Scott hoped to take Chain Saw's basic model of sustained imperilment and transpose it into a science-fiction setting. This ad even plays with the visual and aural language of Texas Chain Saw. Like that film, here sound is used as a tool for relentless, unsubstantiated assault. The soundtrack is overloaded with blaring space sounds that pulse over a driving, throbbing beat. Similarly, the visuals splutter forward in a constant state of harassed movement, mirroring Sally's sustained torment in Hooper's 1974 flick. Everything is shot tight and claustrophobic, full of agitated, hand-held fragments of people fleeing. Although we never see a particular threat, we know it's there, and we know it's hunting.

Sketch Sunday: Swamp Zombie

Been doodling a lot of zombies in work recently - make of that what you will. Here's a quick scan of my fav. I'm going to call him Swamp Zombie. It might help to think of Italian horror movie ickiness when you look at him.

Poltergeist by Ken Taylor

Friday, 15 October 2010

Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing

I'm not sure Marvel vs Capcom 3's character roster can get much more awesome. Joining the likes of Super-Skrull and Viewtiful Joe, the game's latest additions include the redrafted Bionic Commando, Sir Arthur from Ghosts 'n Goblins, and, best of all, Tales of Suspense superstar MODOK. Getting to solo a team of video game mainstays with a jet-powered, grossly mutated, Jack Kirby created, science-head is a bit of a dream come true frankly.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Interest Armageddon

This is Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon, the long-awaited (by me anyway) sequel to Sandlot's 360 masterpiece Earth Defense Force 2017. In what appears to be the standard protocol for any Japanese title that meets with modern western success, this follow-up has been wrestled away from the creatives who designed the original sleeper hit, and handed off to a middling western dev, in this case Matt Hazard studio Vicious Cycle Software. If you root around, you can find a producer interview piece where they detail reams of deadly unnecessary upgrades, including an arsenal apartheid class system that threatens to ruin the gonzo flexibility of 2017's core load-out conundrum. Attentive viewers may also note that the whole enterprise has been give the same dreary brown mech-man wash as Crackdown 2. God forbid games look different these days eh? Earth Defense Force 2017 was a triumph thanks a dogged sense of simplicity. Whilst other games jumped through extraneous mechanical hoops to engage the player, 2017 simply focused on filling every inch of the screen with writhing ants to blast. That was more than enough. Forget that lesson at your peril!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Uppercut Launcher into Mid-Air Axe-Handle

Zack Snyder has been assigned the Superman reboot, David S. Goyer's script is reportedly a complete mess, and Darren Aronofsky is rumoured to have been shunned thanks to his desire to take his time, and do a good job. An unkind commentator might note that the whole exercise reeks of a last minute attempt by Warners to get a project rolling before the families of creators Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster are lawfully allowed to recover damages incurred pursuing ownership of Superman. I'm sure it's just coincidence that a condition of a 2009 court ruling by judge Stephen G Larson indicates that Warners have to be in the process of making a new Superman film by 2011 to deny the families this right. But, you know, new Superman movie! Woooo!

Internet vapour indicates this installment will be yet another origin mish-mash, with Kal-El puzzling through the notion of actually even bothering to be Superman at all. That's right folks! This big blue boyscout is an enfeebled toad who'd rather hide his excellence for an easy life. We can all relate to that, am I right? Villain talk has run the gamut from Luthor (again) to Brainiac, before finally settling on Zod. There's a vague tease that Zod could be the galvanising factor in this Superman not being a massive overwhelming coward. Hopefully Zod is placed as an ill-tempered abilities mirror, grown weary at our planet's total weakness - it's the middle chapter of Superman II no current version satisfyingly accounts for.

Regardless of how dreadful this new movie will, or won't be, let's hope they at least get the super-fighting correct. Embedded for your viewing pleasure is a short clip of Justice League Unlimited's finale Destroyer. This Joaquim Dos Santos directed excerpt illustrates both a Superman who is not a quivering wreck in the face of titanic might, as well as how to block Gods battling on Earth. That's right folks! You simply copy the motion moves of Akira Toriyama's Dragon Ball Z.

Cat Mario

Syobon Action is a Japanese freeware title that plays with the playground formula of Super Mario Bros. The conceit operates on an idea that Mario's rules and assets are so well known that there is a shorthand of expectation when playing a visually similar game. The player expects that blocks will reveal rewards. They know that pipes are only infrequent hazards with hidden passageways to underground bonuses. Most of all, they are certain that clouds are just benign background detailing. Not so in Syobon Action. Everything you have learnt is wrong, and you will be punished for presuming those rules are in place here.

Super Super Mario

If you've been paying attention to Saturday-night huckstering, you'll know that Super Mario Bros. recently turned 25. I quite liked Nintendo's Jonathan Ross fronted advert, it was a potent mix of shilling celeb sincerity and bright-faced kids yelping. 25 years is a very long time in video games. A year is a very long time in video games. Play a game you liked from about a year ago. Go on, do it now. Already feels a bit second rate on some level doesn't it? Some small blemish or annoyance you glanced over because it was new will begin to gnaw at you ever so slightly. It makes you worry about your entire critical faculty doesn't it?

Anyway, back to Mario. To celebrate Mario's quarter century, here's some record breaking speed-running. What this super-play elegantly illustrates is how precise and finely tuned Super Mario Bros controls are. You really do control Mario. You do not coerce him through some bizarre half-hearted input limitation left over by lazy developers. You press the button, Mario instantly carries out the function. The game's basics are so solid, you can eventually become this expert.

Happy Birthday Mario!


Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Little Richard - Long Tall Sally

Kanye West - Runaway

Whether unintentional, or by design, Kanye West is able to effortlessly communicate someone teetering on the brink of a complete emotional collapse. Take this performance. He makes you believe he's baring his soul to explore his artistic impulses. The no-filter juggle between evasive eye-contact, centre-stage Dad-dancing, and the childlike sample spamming speak of someone desperate to be remembered. He's a star. Thanks to Miss Disaster for the tip-off.