Wednesday, 29 May 2013
This new Star Trek cycle has a strange relationship with continuity. For the most part Star Trek - Into Darkness uses what came before as a vague talking point, remixing Gene Roddenberry's philosophical space adventures into a breezy incident deluge. Star Trek 2 spends two-thirds of its running time building a pop-art elsewhere tale centred around Benedict Cumberbatch and his piledriver punches. John Harrison starts out as a renegade star fleet operative that forces the Enterprise crew to re-examine where their allegiances lie.
Although played like a twist, Harrison's badly kept secret identity should matter less in this universe, after all, aren't we dealing with a blank slate? Surely we're dealing with a meta flourish designed to amp up an attentive audience for a co-operation themed finale? Why watch Kirk and Khan butting heads when you can see them team up to trash RoboCop's ludicrous stealth starship? Unfortunately for the final act Star Trek 2 pulls the rug. Zachary Quinto's Spock rings up Leonard Nimoy for some message board spoilers, then the film junks any new ideas to replay Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan beats with embedded cop-outs.
After a couple of months of dribble releases, Capcom have finally released a discounted all-in-one pack for their Arcade Cabinet. This digital compilation focuses heavily on the company's mid-80s output, covering a lot of the same ground as the first four Capcom Generations discs did on the PlayStation and Sega Saturn. Thankfully these aren't just dumped ports, emulation masters M2 have included loads of options that allow new players to add lives and tweak difficulty. If you're a fan of the Bomberman series look out for Pirate Ship Higemaru, a cheerful maze game in which a chubby sailor must hurl barrels at beardy jerks.
Saturday, 25 May 2013
Mixed in with Microsoft's Comcast sales pitch was this clip of Call of Duty: Ghosts. This'll be the fourth game in the series that isn't Modern Warfare 2 and we're still stuck rummaging around an on-going apocalypse. Incredibly, Activision once thought a lightly futuristic combat setting was an unsellable proposition. Five games away from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, video games are at the same saturation point with war on terror games that they were with World War II in 2005.
Multiplayer details are light except for a firm assurance from the Infinity Ward understudies that background lumps will frequently spring to life to ruin your killstreaking. Gee, thanks!
At this stage it's difficult to give a shit about a series now hobbled by basic errors. Modern Warfare 3 and Black Ops II both shipped with an online component featuring trace compulsion and irritation to spare. Call of Duty is now laser focused on inch encounters on cramped maps; latency ruined by an unworkable recording system that frequently breaks anyway.
Black Ops II fans upset by a potential emphasis shift needn't fret - there's still a ton of shit left to be crammed down your throat. Weapon camouflage in the Call of Duty series used to signify a player was capable of getting consistent headshots. In MW1 if you wanted the Red Tiger camo you had to able to make 150 skill shots. Not anymore. If you want ugly textures slathered all over your favourite kill-stick you need only shell out some pocket money.
Don't get too excited though, Treyarch's latest artistic affronts are subject to an in-game poll. If you want the opportunity to be able to pay for any of the above gun gunks you'll have to get voting - only two of them are going to be made available.
I haven't a clue which I'd pick, each of the choices look equally unappealing. I suppose Cyborg makes the in-game gun model look like something out of the neon drenched Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. Mind you, if you're desperate to be reminded of that game, why not just boot it up?
If all that commerce (not to mention my grumbling) is too depressing, here's TheSandyRavage and pals tormenting a monotone pub moaner for a couple of minutes, then instantly feeling a bit guilty about it.
Friday, 24 May 2013
Saturday, 18 May 2013
Six films deep and the filmmakers have finally given Michelle Rodriguez something lively to do. Fast & Furious 6 is a continuity critical mass, roping in even more fringe players for a sprawling super-narrative that functions as both a prequel and a sequel. If Fast Five was the Avengers Assemble of the series, then Fast Six is more like a hyper-aware fight manga in which death has ceased to have any meaning. Resurrected as an amnesiac in the thrall of a grinning SAS dick, Rodriguez's Letty must chose between a robotic rugger bugger and Vin Diesel's pristine, vest wearing superman. Not content to just put frowny Rodriguez over as a plot linchpin, the production even hires smiley Gina Carano for some credible girl fighting. Fast Six is film as pure iteration, smoothing out the stumbling points of past entries to arrive at an expertly juggled example of popcorn nonsense.
Friday, 17 May 2013
By virtue of putting out sequels regardless of whether or not the original stars can be tempted back, The Fast and The Furious franchise arrives at its own de facto The Avengers. Fast Five brings back every major-ish character (Devon Aoki's Suki excepted) for a rat-pack heist set in Rio. Charisma holes are plugged by The Rock, playing a perpetually sweating federal agent tasked with taking Vin Diesel's crew out / developing a crush on them. Fast Five represents a series thoroughly mutated from off-season slate filler to full-blown summer tent-pole. The pocket change CG tunnels of the previous film are gone, replaced with a billion dollar central set-piece involving a bank vault being hurled along peopled streets. It's Michael Bay's casual contempt for human life, filtered back through a teatime TV morality that sees terminated cops repeatedly identified as corrupt. One or two Dwayne Johnson scenes short of being very good, Fast Five is the best the series has been since the first film.
Fast & Furious peaks incredibly early with a hero shot of Vin Diesel glowering in front of the clattering, repetitive machinery of a Californian oil field. It's a framing that seems to be deliberately evoking the star's ridiculous / incredible name, as well as his first act calibration as an unhinged, Schwarzenegger style robot. 4 Fast begins as an equaliser vehicle for Vin, allowing him to bounce people around garages then dangle them out of windows. Location and incident both initially stress that other LA set muscle bomber Commando. Unfortunately this doesn't last. 4 Fast quickly settles down into a zero intrigue identity thriller with both Diesel and Paul Walker pretending to not quite be who they say they are. A little too self-impressed with having got the main players back in the same film, 4 Fast stumbles and bores.
Thursday, 16 May 2013
A return to form for the franchise. The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift one ups the white guy acceptance fantasy of the original film by placing the hero in a setting where he can definitively be considered other. Stranded in Tokyo with his disinterested Dad, Lucas Black's Sean even gets to be discriminated against racially - surely a dream of sorts for the kind of flyover Caucasian who strains for any kind of exotic affectation? 3 Fast borrows heavily from Japanese pop culture products like Initial D, emphasising a weaving street race style rather than the drag strip histrionics of the first two films. Director Justin Lin shoots his actors straining to keep control of their cars, using swirling computer effects to stress Japan's dangerous, densely populated streets. A massive improvement on the Hot Wheels unreality of the previous Fast.
2 Fast 2 Furious has more in common with the Police Academy movies than its immediate ancestor. It's an artless, glass house sequel that trades in the faintly believable car culture of the first film for the beer bloat of spring break. Rob Cohen was able to give The Fast and The Furious a kind of grimy verisimilitude, suggesting a vibrant car crash scene centred around teenage rep. Armed with twice the budget, John Singelton struggles to make 2 Fast look like it wasn't shot for TV. Paul Walker once again plays the worst cop in the universe, this time recruited to spearhead another chummy undercover initiative. Joining him is Tyrese as a childhood friend with a chip on his shoulder. The duo spend the entire movie bickering like an elderly couple. There's an idea that Tyrese is supposed to represent the audience, chiming in to undercut Walker's bland heroics. In reality the snide asides are closer to the bitter recriminations of a spurned lover.
The Fast and the Furious is a fad culture magazine article come to life; Saturday Night Fever for petrolheads. Paul Walker plays a dweeby undercover cop scrambling to get an in with Vin Diesel's cool crime gang by making a series of incompetent racing gestures. Although working with a similar framework as Point Break, the identity lines never get quite so blurred. For a start there's never any real sense that Walker's cop gives much of a shit about enforcing the law. Instead he's a skate-punk white kid there to brush shoulders with a minority dominated subculture. Enlivened by a series of car clashes that stress personal danger as much as speed, First Fast is ultimately a high school idea of reality - there is no authority greater than the guy you deify.
Wednesday, 15 May 2013
Friday, 10 May 2013
I want to see Iron Man Three again, which is more than can be said for every Marvel universe film apart from Captain America: The First Avenger. Phase 2 of Marvel's attempt to monopolise Summer drafts in Shane Black to work some wisecracking magic. Although Iron Man Three feels truncated and lacks the pure fizz of vintage Black, the co-writer/director puts a stamp on the film that borders on personal. Tony Stark's aimless basement dwelling and endless suit tinkering apparently comes from Black's own post-The Long Kiss Goodnight experiences. After Renny Harlin's film tanked, Black stopped writing and experimented with redundancy.
In Iron Man Three, Stark has become a hermit struggling to contextualise his part in Avengers Assemble. His loss of control over that situation has left him feeling small and prone to panic attacks. Away from the blockbuster bluster, there's a sub-film here about the sapping quality of the creative process and an artist's relationship with their work. Stark trashes his legacy to start again while Black rummages through career slights and missteps, reworking the ideas that got away from him.
Black reconfigures set-pieces from the various drafts of Lethal Weapon 2 - the falling mansion, a dock set conclusion - and amps them up into an anxious abstraction. Somewhere in the CG rubble of Stark's collapsed stilt house is a frightened man trying not to hyperventilate. Black has always used character as a way into action, Iron Man Three is no exception. In both these sequences, Stark has an emotional investment that reads like a weakness, but ends up ensuring his salvation. Pepper Potts juggles damsel duties with an ability to make the most of loaned power sources. Although the final act hinges on Pepper's abduction, she ends up saving Stark far more completely than he ever manages with her - a step-up from Patsy Kensit sleeping with the fishes. Elsewhere Black takes another pass at kid sidekicks, one of the more lamented elements in his redrafted The Last Action Hero, finding mileage in chummy antagonism.
This is the problem with Iron Man Three, it's best enjoyed as an examination of Shane Black's career highs and lows. The film manages to feel both undercooked and padded, while Black's instinct for the unexpected occasionally undermines, rather than enhances, the broad beats of superhero cinema. The film peaks when it's away from the merchandise iconography, especially when Black stresses Starks' back-to-basics approach by arming him with hardware store kibble. This is what happens when a man obsessed with Christmas tries to make a Roger Moore era Bond flick within a strict, corporate framework.
Commando feels like the first time a film specifically built itself around the emerging star persona of Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the Dino De Laurentiis barbarian films, Schwarzenegger was filling a pre-existing role. When he played the lead in The Terminator Schwarzenegger may have altered James Cameron's idea of who his cyborg assassin should be, but again the role predated the glamour. Commando though seems to be pointedly playing around with the few bankable - pitchable - attributes the actor had displayed.
First and foremost, John Matrix is a strongman. Every obstacle he comes across is expertly dismantled by his huge muscled paws. His feats of strength are so outlandish that Schwarzenegger begins to resemble a cartoonish idea of muscle might. He's basically The Incredible Hulk with an agenda. Commando is also happy to replay several beats and ideas from Terminator, most obviously in the regurgitation of a few of that film's more memorable zings, but also in how Matrix stalks his prey. When pursuing his enemies Schwarzenegger tends to slide back into his surveillance camera acting, scanning with his eyes, then allowing his head to follow robotically. Commando is an iterated example of the mechanical otherness that defined Arnold Schwarzenegger's early roles - the persona beginning to metamorphose from a hunter killer into something human.
Thursday, 9 May 2013
Wednesday, 8 May 2013
Tuesday, 7 May 2013
Ray Harryhausen didn't create special effect distractions, he crafted a series of feature players, imbuing them with character and presence. His work is unrivalled because his puppets don't just hit marks, they prowl and calculate. They're daunting and invincible, able to spring to life and seize control of the films they're in.
Harryhausen's work is a menagerie of creatures operating with a higher level of intelligence than your usual animated brutes. They move slowly and deliberately, calculating and assessing the situations they find themselves in. Harryhausen's puppets never read like glib obstacles or shallow grandstanding, instead they acted like alien intellects awoken into spaces they were still taking their measure of. Ray Harryhausen made arguably the most outstanding contribution to motion picture special effects, and he will be missed.
Monday, 6 May 2013
Saturday, 4 May 2013
Aside from looking like the wank fantasies of someone who's spent the evening burning Action Force figures whilst reading Alex Ross Terminator comics, the most enjoyable thing about Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is how few limits are placed on your basic movement. Your character, Rex Power Colt, runs with the kind of clip that gobbles up even the most long-winded objective trek. Hill summits are briskly mounted and there is no fall in the game that will damage you - vanilla Far Cry 3's irritating insistence on catastrophically tumbling over any descent higher than an anthill is, thankfully, absent.
These adjustments electrify Far Cry 3's already enjoyable prowling. Stuck at the top of a dam with your targets milling around tens of metres below? Simply hurl yourself at them like a human cannonball. Kill-chain assassination abilities are available at default, and Rex's basic jump is high enough to trigger Jason Brody's Death from Above ambush attack. Rex Colt starts out overpowered and ends up as a kind of death-ray sky God. Balance be damned, the emphasis here is firmly on fun. Blood Dragon's design philosophy is a kind of postmodernism - the keys-to-the-kingdom action finale to a thirty hour game you'll never have to slog through. A short, e-number answer to a generation of games woozy from feature glut.
Friday, 3 May 2013
Thursday, 2 May 2013
Wednesday, 1 May 2013
Grand Theft Auto V's character ads, giving us the skinny on each of the game's three protagonists. Michael's a former thug bored with picket fence living, Franklin's spent his life trying to keep his nose clean, and Trevor's a hayseed lunatic. Due September, Rockstar North's swansong for the seventh generation threatens to have a play area larger than those of Red Dead Redemption, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and Grand Theft Auto IV combined.
A Deadliest Warrior flavoured tease for the forthcoming Call of Duty: Ghosts. Details are zero at this point, however the title and emphasis on customised balaclavas recalls the rumours that flew around a few years ago when Sledgehammer Games were being prepped to deliver a third-person Call of Duty spin-off that focused on Ghost, the ill-fated SAS dude from Modern Warfare 2.