Thursday, 31 October 2013
The complete unravelling of Judeo-Christian power structures rendered as a series of scuffles between wimpy grad students. Prince of Darkness finds the apocalypse during a burn-out study hall weekend, in which promising physics pupils are gathered to pore over a seven million year old cannister full of anti-life. Easily the least kinetic of John Carpenter's film, Prince of Darkness is instead a prowling mood piece designed to stress unreality. Action is threadbare and unconvincing; the finale little more than playground shoving. Rather than hobble the film though, this authentic clumsiness informs it. It's just another misshapen piece in this queasy whole.
Prince of Darkness is about an idea so big, the protagonists can't process it. If a two thousand year old manuscript is to be believed, there is no celestial structure in place. God doesn't exist as we know him, there is no heaven or afterlife. Humanity is completely alone and the heart of destruction resides in the basement of a skid row church. To deny us hope, Carpenter fills his film full of anti-stars. Although presentable, everybody seems marred in one way or another. There's no obvious avatar of salvation. No sinewy muscles or keen mind to beat a path. Success is achieved accidentally, and opportunistically. The collective muddles through, but there is enough trace failure to unravel everything later.
Wednesday, 30 October 2013
Monday, 28 October 2013
A recently surfaced blooper reel for Star Wars. Outtake delights include drunk Cantina aliens acting belligerent, the cream of British acting talent pulling faces, and wildly over-egged explosions. That Storm Trooper looks concussed! If nothing else, this two minute montage gives us a brief glimpse at the raw shit poor, thankless Marcia Lucas had to beef up.
Call of Duty: Ghosts gets its own horde mode courtesy of Extinction. Up to four players get to lug around digging equipment while skulking aliens swipe at their ankles. As is usual, kills generate currency to buy gun emplacements and other lethal gadgets. As popular as Treyarch's Nazi Zombies is, I've never felt like it held a candle to Modern Warfare 2's Spec Ops suite, so it's a shame to see this reskin replace it. The popularity of these zombie modes baffle me. I get that they help drive DLC sales (like that should mean anything to me), but I've always found them aimless time sinks. There's something about the deliberately obtuse metagame, and lack of win condition that just rubs me up the wrong way.
Sunday, 27 October 2013
Friday, 25 October 2013
After repelling an alien invasion, mankind recruits children to fight an abstract counter-attack. Hoping to tap into the flexible morality of juveniles, the all-encompassing International Fleet scoops kids up at a young age, then pumps them full of kill co-ordinates and deprives them of sleep. Training is experienced as a series of games with win conditions that not only account for cataclysmic sacrifice, but seem to require it. For a film being sold as kiddy franchise kick-off, Ender's Game is incredibly upfront about the emotional violence being perpetrated on these pre-teens. It posits a universe in which the individual is only useful as an amoral aberration, able to dispense with notions of human value and knuckle down to a percentages game. These children aren't loved or encouraged, they're deliberately placed in harsh, damaging circumstances in the hopes that their injuries will temper rather than break their resolve. Ender's Game is the best science fiction war film since Starship Troopers.
My favourite Marvel film gets a sequel directed by the Russo brothers, best known for lensing snappy TV comedies like Community and Arrested Development. Despite being a monolithic sludge company that hates the creators it's indebted to, Marvel are pretty good at picking direct talent. They seem to focus in on people used to corralling mobs of people in light, bright circumstances. Leave all the explosions to an accomplished second unit. Apart from trillion dollar helicarrier bollocks - which looks like it's been imported from a completely different film - Captain America: The Winter Soldier looks markedly less fantastical than similar comic crud. Cars are flipped and people are punched in small spaces. As an action proposition, it's threatening to be immediate and engaging.
Thursday, 24 October 2013
Just so you know it isn't fucking about, Godzilla: Final Wars begins at the South Pole in the midst of a nuclear war. The Japanese Prime Minister from Godzilla: Tokyo SOS commands the submarine battleship Atragon in a final, desperate battle against The King of Monsters while all reality collapses around them. This is Ryuhei Kitamura's film in a nutshell - an adrenalised rummage through the Toho back catalogue with an emphasis on violent flippancy. Kitamura ditches the regal splendour of the last two cycles to zero in on Godzilla as a manoeuvrable, unbeatable scrapper.
Although fresh from international success with Versus and the insipid Azumi, Kitamura is a bold choice for Toho. Like the Bond producers the studio tends to play risk averse, preferring to stick with tested hands and groomed talent. Kitamura's idea of Godzilla is an impertinent slugfest told with the visual language of V-Cinema. Heroes are moustached mixed martial artists or amped-up pop stars with bad attitudes. Heroines are shot leg first, and outfitted for pinku thrillers. It's a trash cinema aesthetic that blends wonderfully with the smoke choked devastation of Eiichi Asada. The special effects director's work is reminiscent of Teruyoshi Nakano, with whom he worked on The Return of Godzilla. Everything is brutal and distinctive, washed in rubble greys and void blacks.
When it can drag its attention away from a team of backflipping mutants, Final Wars puts Godzilla to work. The basic premise of Destroy All Monsters is inverted, placing Godzilla in the antagonistic King Ghidorah role. Freed from a couple of trillion tons of Antarctic ice, The Big G must travel the globe thumping former kaiju allies who are stuck in the thrall of cool guy aliens. Final Wars isn't about radioactive calamity or mankind perverting the laws of nature, it's about who's the best toy. It's Godzilla as the coolest, most powerful action figure grinding lesser merchandise beneath his heel. Although overlong and a little too excited by routine shonen superheroics, Final Wars is basically delightful. It's exactly the kind of film the latchkey kid from All Monsters Attack would make.
Tuesday, 22 October 2013
Monday, 21 October 2013
Saturday, 19 October 2013
Another frenetic treat from Masaaki Tezuka. The director follows up Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla with Godzilla: Tokyo SOS, a Kiryu rematch that ropes in Mothra and two of her offspring. The first out-and-out sequel in the Millennium cycle is a slight, almost supplementary feature that expands on the previous film's resurrection theme in an expertly ordered action setting. Instead of an interesting inflection to be brushed aside for battle, Kiryu's strange half-life informs and drives Tokyo SOS. Mothra, acting as a kind of kaiju envoy, warns humanity that the reanimated Kiryu is an affront to all monsterkind. As long as this Mechagodzilla exists, Godzilla will be drawn to it. Unfortunately Japan's automated saviour is actually its millstone.
It's not clear why Godzilla homes in on Kiryu. It could be that the King of Monsters views the robotic reflection as a threat to his throne. Equally it could be that Godzilla 1954 was a relative, perhaps even a parent. How Kiryu chooses to confront his opponent, when freed from human control, lends a certain plausibility to this idea. Working alongside two silk spitting larvae, Kiryu restrains rather than attacks Godzilla. He traps the beast in his malfunctioning metal carapace, then drags him down to the deepest depths of the Pacific Ocean. Is Kiryu atoning for his radioactive rampages? He certainly seems to have bonded with a few of the humans that have piloted and maintained his metal body. Has he finally learnt to empathise with mankind? Maybe he simply wishes to be dead again, and has correctly deduced that Godzilla's elimination will mean he will be left in peace.
Wednesday, 16 October 2013
Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla's problem is that the hour preceding the Tokyo stomp finale is a little too good. Masaaki Tezuka's film is exciting and genre literate, full of visual quotes from mid-sixties Ishiro Honda classics like The War of the Gargantuas. Against is layered with an obsessive fatalism; plot also shifts based on the malfunctioning agendas of supernatural cyborgs. Basically it promises so much more than the rote last act is capable of delivering. The film builds itself around a sullen mazer technician and her all-consuming survivor's guilt following a disastrous attempt to repel Godzilla. Lieutenant Akane Yashiro gets her chance for revenge when the Japanese Self-Defence Force dredge up the bones of the 1954 King of Monsters, using them to create a bio-robot doppelgänger named Kiryu.
When Godzilla lands again, Akane and Kiryu jet off to face him. After hosing down the nascent monster monarch, Kiryu's death blow is interrupted when Godzilla's roar reawakens this Mechagodzilla's former identity. Akane is powerless to stop the cyborg kaiju from blasting the surrounding city to dust. Godzilla retreats to the ocean, while the JSDF wait for Kiryu to burn himself out. Although included to simply function as your standard mid-point obstacle, this idea of a cybernetically enhanced ghost Godzilla trying to reclaim his throne is so exciting that it dwarfs anything that can possibly follow. The effect is accentuated by the Millennium series' pocket universe remit where, theoretically, anything can happen. When this zombie Godzilla is subsequently discarded via an aside about reprogrammable DNA computers it feels like a betrayal. Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla teeters on the verge of being excellent but, by obeying formula, it ends up only very good.
Monday, 14 October 2013
Saturday, 12 October 2013
Friday, 11 October 2013
Wednesday, 9 October 2013
Not since 1954's Godzilla has The King of Monsters been such an irredeemable force of annihilation. Gamera: Guardian of the Universe director Shusuke Kaneko's sole contribution to the Godzilla series is an apocalyptic royal rumble tinged with world-shredding terror. People don't simply flee from this devil beast, they limp away to dark hospital corners to shiver and convulse at the sheer horror of his existence. Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack doesn't just contextualise Godzilla as an irradiated dinosaur, it presents the monster monarch as a physical manifestation of misery, powered by the tormented souls of the Pacific War dead. His enemies are a trio of Showa beasts, working together as the guardian spirits of Japan. That's Japan as a natural, physical space rather than a country. The landmarks and people that have sprung up all over the archipelago are of supreme irrelevance to these kaiju.
GMK features redesigns for all the major players by fellow Gamera alumni Makoto Kamiya. Undercard scrapper Baragon, inherited from Ishiro Honda's Frankenstein Conquers the World, is leaner and meaner, while Mothra is changed from a glittery butterfly into a cross between a camouflaged jet fighter and a wasp. Her personality is likewise adjusted. The passive peacekeeper becomes an aggressive irritant armed with an abdomen that can fire explosive flechette. Ghidorah is granted multiple physical forms, ranging from a stout, ground attack lug to a celestial gun platform. Godzilla himself is given the biggest overhaul. The coral spined slasher from the last two films is gone, replaced by a more obviously reptilian beast. In deference to his irradiated origins, this Godzilla also looks pained and swollen.
This Godzilla's chest appears smaller than usual, accentuating his neck and bloated undercarriage. His milky white eyes suggest both disease and a seething, satanic power. He's clever too. There's not an attack staged he doesn't anticipate, then counter. Disregarding the light continuity of the two previous eras, the Millennium series has instead riffed on the situations and themes of Ishiro Honda's original Godzilla, with each one approaching the idea of a definitive sequel differently. GMK is the most literate yet. Shusuke Kaneko plays with the prehistoric mysticism lightly stressed in the 1954 film, whilst also accounting for the Utopian spirit of the instalments that followed. Kaneko's command of the material is such that he is able to move seamlessly from scenes of absolute carnage to runtime swamping wrestling sequences without missing a beat.
Tuesday, 8 October 2013
Monday, 7 October 2013
The title may be Godzilla vs Megaguirus, but the King of Monster's most dangerous opponent is Misato Tanaka's Kiriko Tsujimori, an ultra capable Major attached to the G-Graspers, a bright and smiley special forces unit tasked with taking down the kaiju monarch. Godzilla vs Megaguirus exists within a continuity all of its own. In this universe Godzilla is a recurrent threat to Japan, appearing every couple of decades to stamp Japan's latest technological advances into the ground. The monster's usual role is lightly tweaked. Rather than be specific to nuclear power, Godzilla exists as a natural balance to all unchecked, potentially dangerous, scientific progress.
Tsujimori has first-hand experience battling Godzilla during one of these landings. With her unit and commanding officer crushed under rubble, Tsujimori stared down the rampaging beast armed only with a bazooka. After failing to prevent him from destroying an experimental plasma energy, she has spent the intervening years honing her body and waiting for another opportunity to battle the power plant slasher. Tsujimori is exactly the kind of quietly driven lead that could have lit up the military scenes in the limp Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla II. She's focused, professional, and leads by example. Thankfully, the film is also never tempted to define the character romantically. A scruffy scientist exists for her on the periphery, but it's clear she considers him a colleague and nothing more. Tsujimori is allowed to be an individual.
Masaaki Tezuka's first entry in the series is handsome and punchy, despite an obvious budget shrink since the Heisei heydays. Tezuka fills his frame with the monster's faces, holding on their toothy maws, and letting them act. The finale showdown between Godzilla and Megaguirus is a rough and tumble affair, with minimal computer generated augmentation. Rather than hose each other down with laser beams, the two creatures make use of their physical dimensions and attributes. Megaguirus is pretty handy with her stinger, much to the chagrin of Godzilla's crotch. A few glimpses of piano wire aside, Kenji Suzuki's work here is much improved from the lacklustre Godzilla 2000: Millennium. As well as the wonderfully spiky Megaguirus, the special effects director and his team have produced a scale reproduction of the Tokyo waterfront that stands up to the withering scrutiny of daylight filming.
Sunday, 6 October 2013
Respawn Entertainment Community Manager Abbie Heppe presents a 20 minute look at Titanfall for Australia's EB Expo - I'm getting a sense that this audience is a little cooler than she's used to. Unflapped feedback aside, Respawn's game continues to impress. It's pretty exciting to hear that the studio are focused on creating gameplay situations that promote constant movement, since I can't sit still for five seconds when matched up online. Compared to the fantastical Destiny, Titanfall's human vs human conflict and functional, spluttery mech-tech is also a little more my speed.
Saturday, 5 October 2013
TheSandyRavage twitch-shooting his way around the Battlefield 4 beta whilst providing some practical PC performance advice. I'm looking forward to nabbing 4 along with a PS4 sometime before Christmas. Battlefield 3 was a bit of a bust on consoles, the hardware clearly wasn't up to the task. Cursed with a low frame rate, the online felt juddery - an experience you were corralling rather than outright controlling. Added next gen oomph should allow for something a little smoother next time around.
Thursday, 3 October 2013
Despite the hard sell, the new Squads mode in Call of Duty: Ghosts doesn't sound terribly different from the combat training suite from the first Black Ops. Despite all the customisation, it seems like you're basically getting an offline simulation of online play. It'll be interesting to see how accurately Infinity Ward's facsimile troopers reflect real play styles. Really, all they need to do is program some basic herding instincts for the main party, with a few stragglers hunkered down in deep dark corners. Arm the bots exclusively with submachine guns or shotguns and you're golden.
Wednesday, 2 October 2013
I doubt Godzilla 2000: Millennium was much of a film in its original Japanese, but Tristar Pictures' decision to overdub it with nonsensical English and junk the entire foley track in favour of children's television sounds certainly doesn't help. Equally baffling is Toho's insistence that only this version be distributed outside Japan. Although I have read that this re-edit tightens up an otherwise slack film, I could do without a re-recorded babble track that specifically seeks to emulate 1970s hack work. Godzilla 2000 tells the aimless, bloodless tale of kaiju storm chasers that race about in off-road Jeeps tracking the King of Monsters when he's not levelling Tokyo. It's a fresh take on the material that unfortunately never progresses beyond vague set-dressing.
New special effects director Kenji Suzuki repeatedly shoots himself in the foot by trying to composite a suit Godzilla onto daytime, live action footage of military manoeuvres. The end result is actually uglier than similar scale shots created by Teruyoshi Nakano's team for 1974's Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla. Koichi Kawakita, the hero of the Heisei phase, is a terrifying act to follow, but Suzuki's work here is primitive and, when augmented by cheap looking computer-generated effects, distracting. The only notable thing about Godzilla 2000 is an underlining tension regarding its conception and distribution.
Godzilla's main event foe is Orga, a clumsy looking oaf with a snout highly reminiscent of Roland Emmerich's iguana descended Godzilla. Orga also enjoys the CG friendly ability to morph, taking on the form of his opponent. Cue the beast wrapping its gaping snake maw around Godzilla and gaining green textured skin. Disappointingly, Orga's dorsal spines have barely grown in before the beast is defeated and ablaze from Godzilla's raw nuclear energy. Toho's message seems to be that Godzilla cannot be imitated, especially not by soulless virtual effects. Regardless of their intent, Tristar have the last laugh. Whatever the quality of the original, unmolested Godzilla 2000, the American studio's localisation work has since transformed it into exactly the kind of nonsensical trash usually seen polluting late-night TV schedules.
Tuesday, 1 October 2013
With all the major military franchises obsessed with speculative future conflicts, it falls to Rebellion to serve up some next-gen World War II. Sniper Elite 3 deals with the North African theatre of the war, promising a more open, sandbox approach to the series' trademark stalk-and-snipe. I suppose that means we can expect some vast, desert vistas rather than Sniper Elite V2's pervasive rubble. Although rough around the edges, Rebellion's last shot at sniper simulation was a crassly fun boy's own adventure that took grue cues from the nastier end of the British war comics of the 1970s.