Saturday, 31 August 2013
Friday, 30 August 2013
In the early 1990s there was a pronounced shift in the attitude of the United States towards Japan. With the Soviet Union in tatters there was a feeling in some quarters that Japan's rapid economic growth posed a greater threat to American stability than a flagging military superpower. Godzilla vs King Ghidorah takes this fraught, coarsening relationship and uses it as the basis for a time travel action film. In the 23rd century Japan effectively rules the world having diversified its property portfolio to include entire continents. A team of do-gooder terrorists, primarily made up of Americans and Russians, travel back to the 20th century to sabotage Godzilla's birth and ensure a new, more pliable monster is born in his place.
Time travel in Godzilla vs King Ghidorah is a mixed blessing. While it allows the filmmakers to wind the clock back to 1944 and the Pacific Theatre to glimpse a pre-radioactive Godzilla, it also ties the film up in conceptual knots. It's difficult to tell if the film intends to show that these attempts to meddle with Japan's karmic stream are ineffectual, or if it just treats reality bending round-trips as a package holiday. This impotence intensifies the second act sag usually felt in lesser Godzilla films. Instead of helping to drive the narrative, our heroes are just passengers along for the ride. Still, the ends eventually justify the means. Godzilla vs King Ghidorah gives us an origin story for both creatures. The former Monster Zero's conception is engineered by future visitors who leave three repulsive cuddly toys to be fused together by Cold War H-bomb tests, forming the regal golden dragon.
On the same trip, Godzilla is glimpsed as the GI stomping guardian dinosaur of some anonymous Marshall Island. The entrenched Japanese soldiers weep as the ruinously injured Tyrannosaur gasps for breath having just terminated an entire platoon of invading Americans. In these moments the Godzilla series seems to be steering wildly away from the post-war shame that hung over the Showa films. Nationalism in the series has typically been expressed through progressive political thinking and responsible scientific exploration rather than imperialist aggression. Knee-jerk viewers needn't worry. Around the time a dinosaur obsessed businessman reveals his privately owned nuclear submarine fleet, the film, and the Japanese cabinet, register a pronounced disgust with such unmoderated ambition. The self-appointed plutocrat even ends up responsible for a new Godzilla so insanely powerful that benevolent future humans must cybernetically enhance a shattered foe to stand a chance against him.
Thursday, 29 August 2013
Video games aren't so much narrative as a managed stream of escalation. Bankrolling your own ice-cool heists was tantalising enough, but to see that idea blossom into Minigun men flanked by jet fighters inspires nothing short of salivation. Grand Theft Auto V starts cracking glass and rooting in your pocket September 17th.
Wednesday, 28 August 2013
Aside from the two Mechagodzilla films, there was very little continuity in the Showa era Godzilla series. Each instalment functioned as the newest iteration of a Godzilla film with the creature's role and demeanour mutating to express public perception. Godzilla vs Biollante, the second film in the Heisei series, is different. It begins in the radioactive ruins of Tokyo with the paramilitary arms of several international pharmaceutical companies battling over Godzilla tissue samples. Jump forward a few years and although Tokyo has been rebuilt, a small corner of rubble has remained. Hollowed out and repurposed, the site has become a luxurious memorial for young lovers to sit and chat. This idea of consequences is central to the film. Godzilla exists and the world has adapted around him.
Rebooting the series has also allowed the filmmakers to replay certain beats and ideas that although interesting didn't really stick. King Kong vs Godzilla is evoked several times throughout Godzilla vs Biollante. Aside from a stomp through Osaka, the central relationship between the two daikaiju is framed in a similar way. They are equals, the only ones of their kind. This film goes further, explicitly stating that the mutated rose Biollante is, in part, a female clone of Godzilla. There are a couple of moments leading up to their first meeting where you're not quite sure how the two monsters are going to react to each other. Biollante sings a whaling, high-pitched song to attract The Big G. Are they going to mate? Perhaps Biollante even tries to. Her first reaction upon meeting her prospective partner is to trap him with snapping, vine like tentacles. Unfortunately for her, Godzilla's not the submissive type. Godzilla vs Biollante is also similar to Ishiro Honda's 1962 film in that neither beast is a champion for mankind. Biollante is the closest match, but she still kills an untold amount of Japan's Self-Defense Force when lumbering up for the finale. The best humanity can hope for is that the monsters extinguish each other.
Replacing smog monster Teruyoshi Nakano as effects director is Koichi Kawakita, a former understudy of kaiju maestro Eiji Tsuburaya. Fresh off mech-mash Gunhed, the FX director's work is a massive step up in terms of both scale and detail. Where Nakano preferred a impressionistic idea of cataclysm, Kawakita creates vast, minutely detailed expanses for Godzilla to rampage through. Kawakita's work is genuinely beautiful, crafting a believable, utilitarian reality around the fantastical monsters. Fanciful machinery is also given a makeover that stresses verisimilitude. Mazer cannons are shot like cranes, extending and pulsating with lightning energy while the new and improved Super X II aircraft loses its curves, transformed into an olive green kitbash. The monsters are even better again. This is perhaps the best Godzilla has ever looked. The addition of a detailed mouth with sharp, uneven teeth does wonders for the basic creature design. Director Kazuki Omori seems to agree, he can't stop shooting either monster's maw. He pores over them, capturing every inch of Kawakita's obsessively detailed dentures.
Neill Blomkamp follows up the stark, documentary styled District 9 with Elysium, a hijacked man fairy tale with universal health care as the Campbellian boon. Although broadly similar to its predecessor - Elysium again tracks a bio-mechanically augmented Joe Sixpack - Blomkamp's latest lacks the dithering desperation that made District 9 a unique Summertime proposition. Elysium is something closer to Avatar, a left-leaning monomyth that talks about injury and trans-human expression. As in James Cameron's film, Max Da Costa's agency is betrayed by a failing body, for which he must seek an alternative. Unlike Avatar, Max isn't reborn as a sexually virile feline. Instead his transcendence involves having a ugly web of cybernetic braces welded to his nervous system. This cobble-tech allowing him to stand toe-to-toe with the sparkling robots that have replaced Earth's middle classes.
Initially Max isn't even particularly heroic. He isn't working towards a grand goal, he just wants to flush his body of radiation. His part in the peasant uprising is that of a blunt instrument, relentlessly charging forward to clear a path for a civic minded criminal class that respect ability and sticks together. Blomkamp is especially careful to portray Elysium's mobsters as victims of circumstance striving for parity, rather than the usual psychotic opportunists. Elysium benefits from these inversions. By specifically not making Max a charismatic rallying point it allows the film to side-step some (if not all) of the more patronising messianic whitey ideas native to this sci-fi subgenre. Max is bereft of socialist ideology, if anything his personal political outlook is closer to the bootstraps rhetoric of blue collar conservatives. His struggle is instead a series of biological imperatives.
To begin with he just wants to survive, to be able to naturally live out an interminable existence spent assembling robots for almost zero personal gain. After his accident, it's crucial that he returns to criminality because the system refuses to take care of him. Eventually he wants to ensure a favourable future for a child he barely knows. The change is instantaneous and perhaps even poorly handled, but it is consistent with the fundamental characteristics of Max. His robo-crimes are all motivated by class, or an accident of birth, and focused on equalising an unfair situation. There's never a sense that he is striving for more than he deserves. He simply wants a just and reasonable return on his hard work. In this sense Blomkamp has taken a basic sketch of working class masculine drives and blown them up into a Syd Mead slugfest. The disconnected, hard-working father figure presented as the highest heroic ideal. His sole motivation to provide, his greatest ability to destroy himself for those he loves.
Monday, 26 August 2013
Three ads for Takara's Transformers: Super-God Masterforce toyline. These tokusatsu shorts feature Metalhawk, the leader of the Japanese Autobot Pretenders; Buster and Hydra, the Masterforce counterparts for Dreadwind and Darkwing; and Super Ginrai, the toy the west would call Powermaster Optimus Prime.
Saturday, 24 August 2013
Friday, 23 August 2013
Wednesday, 21 August 2013
Spanish devs Tequila Works follow up the spotty Deadlight with Rime. Players take control of a child Prince as he roots around the ruins of a once great civilisation. This watercolour wash explore 'em up was my highlight of Sony's indie focused Gamescom address, simultaneously recalling the sweep of Journey and the overbearing loneliness of Team Ico's games.
Tuesday, 20 August 2013
While the latest Call of Duty rearranges the deckchairs, Respawn Entertainment hit back at their former stablemates with Titanfall. Designed to give us a flavour of the always online mission structure, this gameplay clip takes us into and out of the action, whilst also demonstrating a wild increase in vertical movement compared to the game's contemporaries. Due early 2014, Titanfall remains the most compelling case for Xbox One ownership.
MasterMind Creations staying trumping Hasbro with their third-party Predacons. Feral Rex Bovis is their version of Generation 1 Tantrum. More images, including the figure in alternative Bull mode, here.
Monday, 19 August 2013
Kick-Ass 2 makes you appreciate all the hard work Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn put in transforming Mark Millar and John Romita Jr's loser Daredevil comic into a diverting Summer prank. Even though they filed down some of the spikier edges, taking something notionally designed as damaged and changing it into a power fantasy, at least there was one consistent vision. Jeff Wadlow's Kick-Ass 2 is nothing like that.
The film comes on like a pooh poking teen flick, then can't help divulging into the pitiless torture and murder of loved ones. Scenes of Christopher Mintz-Plasse trying to run a criminal empire whilst twatting about with his mother's gimp gear somehow stumble off into abortive sexual abuse scenarios. McLovin armed to teeth and calling himself The Motherfucker fits in well with the gross-out superheroics proposition. The same guy standing in the corner of a terrified woman's room, desperately trying to tug enough life into his flaccid cock to rape her does not.
Kick-Ass 2 doesn't have anything like the heft required to make these revolting little diversions organic. How can we care about Dave Lizewski's bewildered Dad when every other death is played like a punchline? Are we supposed to be able to invest in the resulting retribution when the guy who rats him out is folded back into the hero team without incident? This sloppiness is all over the film. Action scenes are edited around numb impacts, wasting the serviceable choreography that got them there. Chloe Grace Moretz's Hit-Girl is promoted to dual lead then wasted on a tin eared retread of Mean Girls awash with puking and diarrhoea. Kick-Ass 2 never even tries to outdo its predecessor or their ugly source material. It pisses away its best attribute in a flurry of homely CG and ends allergic to consequences.
Poor Dead Rising. The series began as an Xbox 360 exclusive that had the temerity to talk about Ugly American consumerism whilst offering an endless array of zombies to mush. Lead characters were crass and flabby, the main plot moving on how extreme bovine farming had inadvertently triggered an undead epidemic in Central America. As far as video games go, it was a pretty subversive move on Capcom's part to specifically create a game only available on an American console that so aggressively criticised the nation. With that in mind, it's a shame to see this latest attempt at selling Xbox One exclusive Dead Rising 3. Strap yourself in for four witless minutes of prank reality designed to get teenage Dew guzzlers salivating.
For everyone out there who still misses the halcyon days of knife lunging in Modern Warfare 2, here's a closer look at how stabbing works in Call of Duty: Ghosts. ONLYUSEmeBLADE leads the pack, detailing the kind of range and strike time we can expect in November. Although saddled with a body-check animation that prolongs the cooldown between swipes, Ghosts' slashing still looks much more consistent than Black Ops II's hug range dance offs.
Mr Blade's Juggernaut Maniac footage may well be lost forever, but MrErnestLe has a clip of the killstreak in action. 9 unbroken points allows players to call in an armoured suit that grants them 300% health but limits them to knife only attacks. Vulnerable to headshots and melee attacks, the Juggernaut Maniac is reminiscent of Modern Warfare 2's rage inducing Marathon / Lightweight / Commando builds.
Sunday, 18 August 2013
Friday, 16 August 2013
Thursday, 15 August 2013
Following yesterday's reveal YouTube gameplay for Call of Duty: Ghosts is starting to trickle in. The super excitable TmarTn leads the pack with several short clips explaining basic systems and features.
First up is the Odin Strike, a screen clearing bomb awarded for meeting on-the-fly conditions. Not only does the killstreak wipe out the entire enemy team upon detonation, it also mangles the actual geometry of the stage it was used on. The Odin Strike appears to be limited to certain maps and perhaps even game modes. Also seen here is the new Cranked game mode in which killing an enemy starts a countdown timer. Players are rewarded with speed and agility boosts for quick kills, and an explosive death if they reach zero.
Next up is some L115 hardscoping on a map called Whiteout. New to Ghosts is a clouded peripheral vision surrounding the gun sight allowing snipers to keep a cautious lookout. Although it's difficult to definitively say without knowing what perks or weapon specialisations TmarTn is using, scoping in on a target does look a little slower than Black Ops II. Similarly TmarTn isn't dragging the cursor onto target to correct his quick scope in. Dare to dream?
No! Before you get too excited, assuming you think quickscoping is totally lame, here's tejbz dragscoping with the best of them. He even manages a nifty no-scope.
Tejbz has also uploaded footage of a new Ghosts game mode. Search and Research reads like a cross-pollination of Kill Confirmed and Search and Destroy. Like Destroy there are no immediate respawns, and a bomb must be set at one of two locations. Unlike Destroy, killed players drop tags that can be collected by teammates, getting the dead player back in the action. If an enemy collects the tag though, the respawn is thwarted.
Finally, TmarTn demonstrating some of the destruction features in Ghosts. Aside from the map warping bomb, players can also destroy nominated sections of the play area, ranging from instant head glitch spots to gas station toppling. The ease with which players can alter the environment is the most interesting thing about this feature. Unlike Battlefield, which proposes a reasonably realistic idea of devastation, Ghosts pitches an arcadey instant-effect. Bizarrely, the environmental destruction looks far more compelling in these ancillary clips than in the official trailer.
Grand Theft Auto V's online proposition looks exhaustive. It's games as platform thinking taken to nosebleed heights. Why even bother upgrading to a next-gen console when you already have everything you need to play this?
Strap yourself in for nearly an hour of repulsive excess! It's not enough to simply put out a trailer for the next Call of Duty multiplayer anymore. Activision now feel the need to stream a corporate conference. Hit the top vid for the three minute tease, second for the full beer shareholders meeting. With Battlefield 4 boasting about having a stable 60FPS on next-gen home consoles, it's important for the cross-generational Call of Duty: Ghosts to bring something new to the table.
Judging by the footage shown here, Infinity Ward have locked in on an unbroken stream of movement as their new selling point. The mantling, sliding and manhandle stabbing look like they've been shipped in from Far Cry 3. The worrying thing about such a move is that the last Far Cry was explicitly balanced around the single-player campaign. Ubisoft weren't worrying about the gameplay experience of the nameless heavies you were cleaving your way through. Even if this is obsessively managed hype footage, it's still rather worrying to see a player charging around like a headless chicken and hip-firing their way to pinpoint accurate headshots. Movement in competitive multiplayer should be about flanking, not transforming yourself into a lag trumping missile.
This teaser has been doing the rounds, supposedly giving us a first look at The Raid's sequel. Digging a little deeper though, it seems like this might actually be a proof of concept clip shot before The Raid when Gareth Evans was trying to secure funding for a prison fight flick called Berandal. When that project fell through, Evans narrowed his focus, and began thinking about tower blocks.
Tuesday, 13 August 2013
Japan has completely changed in the nine years that Godzilla has spent dormant. The sprawling concrete space of late 1960s Tokyo is gone, replaced by a vertical growth of glass and steel. A new civic prison has sprung up to trap and frustrate the migrating behemoth. The Return of Godzilla is a reset button, of sorts, for the series, explicitly taking the titular monster back to his radioactive roots. Broadly, this is a remake of the 1954 film with Godzilla cast as a drifting natural disaster.
Not only is Return a continuity restart designed to unravel all those pesky defender of humanity strands, but the actual characteristics of Godzilla are defaulted too. Where later entries made the King of Monsters an elemental deity plucked from polytheistic pantheon, Return reintroduces the idea that Godzilla is a mutant who draws its strength directly from nuclear power. This monster cascades over the landscape, stalking Japanese power plants like a babysitter slasher. Godzilla has awoken from his slumber with a healthy appetite. After a Russian nuclear submarine is chewed-up, the world's superpowers are quickly at the Japanese PM's throat, demanding that they be allowed to bomb this creature, and Japan, out of existence. Naturally, the domestic solution is much more elegant, built on scientific ingenuity and maybe even empathy with this rampaging daikaiju.
Koji Hashimoto's sole Godzilla entry is pitched somewhere between Jaws and Threads, a square-framed apocalypse that is happy to discuss both the micro and macro fallout of a fission-powered God. As well as the usual budding romance between a couple of largely forgettable humans, a significant amount of time is spent with politicians attempting to make sense out of the situation. Initially Godzilla's re-emergence earns a D-Notice, the bureaucrats afraid that the news might spook the stock market and pop Japan's economic bubble. Time is also taken to talk about Nihon's place in the nuclear hierarchy. With Russia and America desperate to fire satellite missiles at their major cities, not to mention a history of actually having been atomically bombed themselves, the Japanese cabinet concludes that their country is seen as no more than a testing ground for the experimental weaponry of their superpowered neighbours. It's an off-hand remark, but speaks to a wider, global, perspective on the culture of fear that ensnared two former allies following the Second World War.
Unfortunately, Return marks the final series credit for the fantastically talented Teruyoshi Nakano. Graduating to a full special effects director credit with 1971's Godzilla vs Hedorah, Nakano injected the then-ailing franchise with a sense of genuine horror. After Sadamasa Arikawa squandered Eiji Tsuburaya's genre defining creations, Nakano came to the rescue with scenes and monsters that stressed genuine cataclysm. His special effects action was trapped in a gloomy world clogged with thick, oozing smoke. Fights between Nakano's juggernauts were likewise tinged with pain and even desperation. Return is no exception. As Godzilla stomps through a scratch built Tokyo, the wreckage piles up until the landscape begins to resembles news footage of an actual catastrophe. If buildings are not burnt down to their steel bones, they sag wearily, burping out plumes of soot. People, particularly military personnel, suffer and die as Godzilla stumbles around searching for his next fissile feast.
Despite Nakano firing on all cylinders, Return fluffs it in a few other areas. Yasuko Sawaguchi isn't given a great deal to do other than look cute as the film's passive heroine Naoko. This reductionism particularly strange in a series that has always insisted on making female characters key components in the various collectives. The appearance of a trillion yen flying saucer is also a peculiar development, from a conceptual rather than practical effect perspective. The craft's impossibly fantastical design is a strange choice in a film largely positioned as a 1980s update of a documentary-style nuclear parable. Still, the Super X aircraft has some nice detailing to it - in order to cope with an enemy that operates as a living, breathing atomic reactor, the Super X is armed with cadmium bullets that are able to galvanise neutron decay within Godzilla, slowing the king kaiju's advance.
Return of Godzilla's problems then mostly arise from an internal tension regarding its relationship to the wider series. Is the film a sequel or a reboot? The more outlandish elements, typical to the kaiju films of the late 60s and early 70s, sit awkwardly alongside the incredible ordinariness of scenes that depict the National Diet pontificating their place in the world. Return is very much like the Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan eras of the James Bond franchise in that sense. Both Return and those 007 films attempt to take their material much more seriously but are hamstrung in their efforts by an inability to fully disconnect from their sillier recent past. There is a sense of uniqueness in Hashimoto's film though, even when viewed in light of the Godzilla sequels that would soon follow. When the monster is eventually beaten, his defeat is marked not with celebration but with a silent, teary, respect. Despite the horrors he has visited on them, the Japanese cabinet cannot find it in themselves to fully hate Godzilla. The passing of this gigantic, nearly invincible creature actually inspires a kind of mourning. This slight tweak of expectation is typical of Hashimoto's film. A scene threatening to descend into hoary Hollywood cliché is given new life simply by being from a different national perspective.
Sunday, 11 August 2013
Ishiro Honda's final film follows on directly from the Black Hole alien threat of Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla, layering in the story of a disgraced scientist and his clairvoyant daughter Katsura. The duo are prompted by the dastardly Simians to take telepathic control of a timid kaiju named Titanosaurus, who resembles an amphibious dragon. The beast is then forced to act as an interim threat to Japan while Mechagodzilla is brought back up to spec. Unfortunately, the first hour of Terror of Mechagodzilla is marred by the kind of hesitation typically seen in Jun Fukuda's films. The human scenes, usually Honda's strongest suit, are harmed by indecision. It seems the filmmakers can't quite decide if they want their film to be a spy thriller or a romantic drama.
Maddeningly we get both, giving the film a stop-start quality. We careen back and forth between scale submarines dodging behemoths and long scenes of two beautiful young things avoiding eye contact. Still, this meandering courtship does allow for one genuinely wonderful moment - an injured Katsura attempting to casually hide her true, robotic nature from the man who has just rescued her from psychic slavery by slipping her hand over her exposed mechanism. Thankfully, Terror shifts up about twelve gears for its finale. While Interpol agents are struggling to put together a sonic death ray, Titanosaurus and Mechagodzilla absolutely level the city of Yokosuka.
The destruction isn't the kind of orgiastic tantrum seen in the last few films; instead it's a slow, measured demolition. As ever, Honda dwells on the aftermath of such devastation, filling the screen with twisted steel and gutted buildings. This is one of the more striking differences between Honda and Jun Fukuda. In Fukuda's films, you get a sense that he delights in the stomping, or simply understands that the audience might. Honda on the other hand always gives these scenes a tragic, human weight. He won't allow any dissonance to develop. In Honda's world death rays always produce ruins. People, particularly children, are likewise always in the cross-fire.
For his last Showa series appearance Godzilla is revealed as a semi-corporeal guardian spirit that can be summoned into our realm by dying adolescents. This Godzilla is a dog-faced brawler, capable of soaking up extreme punishment in the pursuit of cosmic justice. The Big G boxes clever, taking on each enemy in the singular, getting close, then using their own body against them in a series of vicious attacks. Interestingly, when it comes down to it, he is not much of a merciful God either. When Titanosaurus' mind-control link is suspended the King of Monsters has absolutely no problem battering, and perhaps even killing, the hapless creature. He's less a conquering sportsman here, more a physical embodiment of karmic punishment. This is the strength of Terror of Mechagodzilla, it takes the foibles of the 1970s Godzilla films - most notably the tag-team opponents, alien intervention, and youth driven drama - and twists them just enough to arrive somewhere admirable.
Saturday, 10 August 2013
Friday, 9 August 2013
Monday, 5 August 2013
Sunday, 4 August 2013
Friday, 2 August 2013
Released as a supplementary shelfwarmer for Zack Snyder's blockbuster, Superman: Unbound doesn't so much compliment the Man of Steel as embarrass it. In just half the running time, James Tucker's film establishes three different superbeings, each with their own idea of how their power should be used. Superman is there to catch people when they fall, a traumatised Supergirl wants to police the third world, whilst Brainiac catalogues and collects the people of the known universe, whether they like it or not.
The casual inhumanity of Brainiac's mission drives the film, leaving psychological marks on anyone unlucky enough to come into contact with him. Were Steel hesitated and contradicted, Superman: Unbound keeps it simple, letting drama flow from the characters and their relationships. Aesthetically, Unbound ditches on the muscleman classicism of Gary Frank's original art, arriving at something simpler and spikier. His Brainiac design is beefed up to Masters of the Universe dimensions, his clashes with Superman becoming looser and more angular until their final dust-up resembles something like the liquid energy you see in Mamoru Hosada's work.