Monday, 31 December 2012

Video Games 2012

5. Spec Ops: The Line

A mechanically plain third-person shooter made brilliant by its willingness to engage with the uglier side of Police Actions. Spec Ops: The Line is queasy with kill frenzy mental illness and post-traumatic stress disorder. Your clean-cut Nolan North action figure visibly mutates over the course of the game, transforming from an American Apparel army man into a phosphorus scarred expletive barker. Spec Ops aspires to be the interactive equivalent of Conrad's Heart of Darkness, instead it ends up being something closer to a video game version of 2000 AD's nihilistic war comic Bad Company. That's more than enough.

4. Transformers: Fall of Cybertron

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron took a different tact to every other game based on Hasbro's action figures. Rather than let you choose your favourite from a selection of interchangeable face characters, levels were constructed around the specific abilities of set Transformers. The best stage casts you as a triple changer Decepticon named Vortex. Your task is to assault a vast, rotting metal environment in any way you see fit. Play is a free-flowing sugar rush of strafing gun emplacements as a hovering helicopter, transforming into a robot to mop up survivors, then speeding off to the next destination marker in jet mode.

3. Hotline Miami

16-bit Smash TV recalibrated as an early 80s video nasty. Hotline Miami is installation art presentation and pattern recognition stalk play. Your masked psychopath is tasked with speed running through labyrinthine apartment complexes, stomping generics for high scores. Instant restarts and zero load times for when you inevitably fluff your high-stakes kill spree.

2. Journey

A beautiful desert environment, a wispy player character, and zero HUD cluttering up the screen. As much as Journey is a wistful, undemanding platform, it's also an opportunity to indulge your inner Christopher Doyle. I spent an inordinate amount of time dragging the camera all around the world, crushing my figure down into the corner of the screen. I wanted to make him small and useless looking against the endless sand vistas.

1. Far Cry 3

Far Cry 2 was a loneliness simulator. Other people meant hassle. If they were on your side they always had a sub-mission in their back pocket to stress your resources. If they were your enemies they usually took the form of identikit drones placed along roadsides to make driving intolerable. Your Far Cry 2 life became off-road stalking; taking the long way around to avoid messy divergences. Far Cry 3 embraces this idea, making it the primary means of play rather than a side-effect of miserly design decisions.

In Far Cry 3 you are encouraged to act and behave like a beast. Unlockable skills tend towards abilities that compliment this predatory mindset. Far Cry 3 excels when you're circling your prey, number crunching their demise. When you come across the ubiquitous shanty town hideouts it's tempting to hurl grenades in and mow down the survivors, but noise tends to attract reinforcements. Instead it's tactically sounder, not to mention much more fun, to take your time. Learn their patrol patterns, mark their positions with your telephoto lensed camera, and eventually put an arrow through their neck.

Music 2012

5. Killer Mike - Reagan

Reagan gave me twin flashbacks, evoking Ice Cube spitting hard on AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted paired with the Company Flow seizure sound from Soundbombing II.

4. Grimes - Oblivion

Oblivion was a sweet little girl singing foreboding things over Escape from New York beats, with a breakdown finale that sounds like the animated prog bit from Monty Python's Meaning of Life versus the synth incidentals from Rules of Attraction.

3. Justice - New Lands

New Lands had a Rollerball meets Space Adventure Cobra vid - 70s sport sound for the first half; 80s fuck-everybody-get-shit-done calisthenics music for the second. Mix in a world class Clint Eastwood lookalike and the best torrential rain bone crunching since Billy Cole said fuck it.

2. Das Racist - Girl

Girl had the best shrieking plastic jabs since Kanye stabbed a keyboard to death on Saturday Night Live.

1. The Shoes - Time to Dance

Time to Dance took up residence in my head. I'd wake up to it. Disco alienation music with a marching band chorus line chanting spelling bee answers. Special mention to the Jake Gyllenhaal promo, unfortunately this is as close as the guy is getting to a Kim Ji-woon K-horror or a Canadian remake of Vengeance Is Mine.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Disaster Year 2012

There isn't much 2012 left and I've barely updated this month, so how about a slew of end of year award type posts? The accolades will be broken down into three categories - music, video games, and films. Expect five posts of stuff I liked for each. With any luck I'll actually finish this series. All the best for 2013!

Terminator Model T-800 by Halfdan Pisket

Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

It's getting to the point where I cannot believe directors actually want people to see their films in 3D. Do they have any frame of reference for the consumer experience, or are they just watching tech demo rushes in isolation? Nearly three hours of 3D The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is just punishing. For a start it's like watching the film through a dirty gauze. Rapid movements are unreadable blurs. The Temple of Doom delights of the collapsing Goblin under city, presumably the film's action highlight, becomes a swaying, sickly CG mess. I was aware of a computer animated Gandalf gliding through a series of perils, but there was nothing but distance between me and the on-screen palava.

Firstly the Gandalf drifting across rickety bridges was clearly an animated render rather than a struggling Sir Ian McKellen, so any idea of excitement is jettisoned. 1980s action films taught me to view action in terms of a carnival sideshow - it's always more exciting if someone stands to get hurt. You cannot injure rig nodes and texture maps so my brain switches off. I become a passive observer. Secondly the glasses you're forced to wear lend the entire enterprise a blurry, sunglassed distortion. Take them off and you get a free demonstration of what it's like to have cataracts. It's not ideal. 3D is kind of bearable if the film is a zippy, sub-hundred minute action film, but The Hobbit is three hours of theme park incident. Anonymous dwarves juggle plates and bumble through sequences drained of any sense of danger. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is three hours of endlessly digressing asides that clog up the film's narrative arteries. It plays like a film designed for the kind of people who huffed out of Harry Potter screenings moaning that the filmmakers have ditched Hermione's Elf Rights subplot. Bores basically.

Sketch Saturday: Iron Man

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Galvatron by Warwick Johnson Cadwell

Commissioned as a Christmas present to myself, here's Warwick Johnson Cadwell's take on my favourite Transformer, Galvatron. This piece was ordered through Mr Cadwell's online store. If you want to see more of his recently completed commissions, check out his blog. The last few posts are chock-full of nifty takes on pop culture properties. Aside from this Emperor of Destruction, my favs are the NausicaƤ of the Valley of the Wind and Iron Giant pin-ups.

Monday, 10 December 2012

The Hobbit

Cowardly glutton Bilbo Baggins is contracted by a band of dwarves to play burglar in this truncated adaptation of Tolkien's The Hobbit. Rankin/Bass's NBC TV special is lousy with folk music musing and variety show percussion, tailor-made for storybook and cassette tape merchandise. At a little under 80 minutes, this Hobbit has a contracted, episodic quality that plays nicely with the meandering pace of Tolkien's tale. Exciting characters are introduced then discarded, among them a draft of Gollum who looks like an amphibian's idea of a cuddly toy.

Japanese animation studio Topcraft, a precursor of sorts to Studio Ghibli, render the tale in a style reminiscent of British illustrator Arthur Rackham. This version of Middle Earth is beautiful. Flocculated watercolour backgrounds contrast sharply with sinewy figures covered in heavy black line work. The staging is flat, violence typically depicted as a kind of kaleidoscopic unreality in which vanquished foes dissolve into still images that careen around the screen. The Battle of Five Armies is seen from a bird's eye view - heaving, indecipherable dots clashing and collapsing like some primitive tabletop video game. There is no joy in the action, the fighting is brief, heavy with injury and regret. Unlike many takes on this particular kind of fighting fantasy, the viewer is urged to delight in the imagination that has been applied to creating this world, instead of the usual goblin stomping.


As a child I had a thirty minute VHS tape used for taping all the cartoons I missed while I was wasting my time in school. Seen as how the only thing I was interested in was warring robots, this tape tended to have nothing but fragments of Transformers episodes on it. Presumably when Transformers was shown as part of TV-am's Wide Awake Club it was split into at least two parts to ration out over the course of the program. You don't want the kids switching off after they've had a complete violence fix do you? Much better to keep them glued to the programme, suffering through adverts and waiting for a conclusion. This would explain why my tape never had a complete episode of Transformers on it. It was always set-ups, never conclusions. Thanks to YouTube and, in particular, uploader AeonMagnus, I can now share almost the exact contents of that tape with the wider world. So here you go, two wildly incomplete middle-acts from a 1980s animated toy brochure.

Chasing paper / Getting nowhere

Up until now advertising for The Last of Us has tended to concentrate on injury and body-morphing ultra-violence. While we do get to see a few mutants having their feet blown off in this new trailer, there does also seem to be a complete brand re-alignment going on. With The Walking Dead TV series finally (allegedly) settling into a palatable groove, I suppose it makes sense to cut a tease that reads like an interactive instalment of AMC's post-apocalyptic show. Gameplay wise, it's hard to discern what you'll be tasked to do here. Open world? Platform sneaking? This ad is instead heavy on implied narrative promise and what looks like QTE enemy grappling.


Gremlins is a curious film. It spends a good deal of its run-time devoted to outlining the dynamics of a dwindling small town. Property owner Mrs Deagle holds financial sway over the community, with the local bank deep in her pockets. The snarl faced harridan swaggers around town jumping queues and making threats. Sick children are deadbeats, and cute, mischievous dogs are to be put to death in the most hideous ways. There seems to be a bubbling sub-plot about duplicitous land grabbing, with the locals on the verge of vanquishing this capitalist pig to seek financial self-determination. When a cack-handed inventor smuggles a cuddly critter into this milieu there's an idea that this will be their salvation, doubly so when this super-pet begins wildly reproducing after being exposed to water.

Thankfully, this twee, heart-warming premise is almost immediately junked. Like the central creature, Gremlins mutates from a cutesy Christmas special into a ruthless little video nasty. Peripheral characters are either explicitly killed off, or disappear completely following the varmint's apocalyptic midnight orgy. The majority of the human cast we spent the first act meeting are jettisoned to concentrate our attention on an army of cackling little bastards. It's easy to understand why, the Gremlins are a delight. Pure animal mischief operating with YOLO mindsets and calibrated to Looney Tunes violence cues. Everything is hilarious to them. They have zero sense of self-preservation, as a species they think nothing of breaking their bodies for their craft.

Gremlins is a film completely in love with its monsters, and the possibilities they offer. Massive stretches of the film revolve around time-out sequences where we get to see the Gremlins just being themselves - drinking, smoking, dancing. They perform little skits that usually end in dismemberment, seemingly for their own amusement. Their manic, frat-boy tastes are only calmed by pre-dawn screenings of vintage Disney. Maybe this is why Gremlins is so entertaining. It's not interested in delivering on ramshackle set-ups and boring arcs. Instead it's obsessed with puppetry and sight gags. It's a film firmly aware that seeing Judge Reinhold stumble around a reheated yuppie b-plot is about a millionth as engaging as seeing a three foot tall demon gobble up a handful of glass.

Saturday, 8 December 2012


I'm quite fond of Die Hard 2: Die Harder. It's not a particularly organic sequel, instead it's an amped up, vulgar re-mix of the original. Similar stakes and beats, but with an amphetamine emphasis on increasing the foul language and punishing violence. It's a mechanical approach to devising a follow-up, it reeks of film as heavy industry, but it works here. The whole film takes on a kind of encore quality. A victory lap full of throat-cutting and icicle attacks. This smokey teaser is interesting, I'd never seen it before for a start. Bruce Willis stumbles, rather like a confused old man, through the kind of smokey tunnel you'd expect to see in Alien, Fox's stablemate franchise. It's also pretty upfront about being a rehash, if anything it revels in it.