Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Films 2014

5. Sabotage

Hidden deep within the relentless hostility is a thesis on star power and the incompatibility of our 80s relics with modern, team orientated action fictions. With this in mind Sabotage's key moment comes when Schwarzenegger's Breacher discovers his family have been kidnapped by a cartel. This information comes to light out on an airport runway with a private jet to hand. Mooks on standby, ready to be blazed through.

Schwarzenegger's team resists, they swarm him, restraining him. An 80s action narrative is bubbling up, Commando come again, but this false, self-proclaimed family won't allow it to happen. In doing so, they fail Breacher. They should have smoked those Federales on principle, piled into the jet then crashed themselves into the nearest drug compound.

That never happened and Breacher hates them for it. That's all I could think about watching Sabotage, Schwarzenegger had been denied an instinctual, suicidal impulse. His team should've wanted to die gloriously in their commander's service but they didn't. For all their bluster about brotherhood they weren't truly committed to him, or his psychotic ideals, so he stopped loving them. They ceased to be allies or even people in his eyes. Their short-comings transformed them into grist for Schwarzenegger the walking Gulag, fuel to be consumed and excreted on the way to a petty, self-destructive revenge.

Original Review

4. The Raid 2

What are we getting out of superhero films? The colourful application of overwhelming force? What backs up the anger? What emotions drive these heroes? Do they even suffer? Captain America: The Winter Soldier hits harder than the usual dross because Cap is trying to coax a friend out of a lethal, amnesic funk. It's lip service though. Neither body is broken. Cap's life isn't on the line. Nothing is lost.

In The Raid 2 Rama gives everything he has. He turns his back on his wife and newborn for a bullshitted abstract. He compromises his morality, his identity even, to stay hidden. In a finale fight with a slash happy equal his body is pummelled, gouged, and rended. Rama takes an incredible amount of punishment and still keeps coming. That's the kind of superheroism I can key into. Obstinate, illogical, and utterly devoid of any sense of self-preservation.

Original Review

3. '71

You don't hear a great deal about The Troubles over here. Despite lasting the best part of three decades you're more likely to read about a 74 day conflict with Argentina over the invasion of a distant archipelago. I suppose it's like anything. People are only directed to care about outbreaks and resolutions, the difficult, messy centre is to be glossed over with rhetoric and forgotten.

Go in with zero knowledge, as I more or less did, and '71 is almost like something out of Action or 2000 AD, a terrifying occupation war being fought on the same kind of densely terraced streets you see all over my city. Turns out everywhere that came up during the Industrial Revolution looks the same. All the people sound similar too. It happened 300 miles away and you know fuck all about it. It makes you feel ashamed.

Original Review

2. The Wind Rises

"I've become sceptical of the unwritten rule that just because a boy and a girl appear in the same feature, a romance must ensue. Rather, I want to portray a slightly different relationship, one where the two mutually inspire each other to live - if I'm able to, then perhaps I'll be closer to portraying a true expression of love." 
- Hayao Miyazaki

Original Review

1. Inside Llewyn Davis

I've read a few reviews of Inside Llewyn Davis in which the author hasn't been sure if Davis is supposed to be talented or not. Their take from the Coen Brothers' latest is a pitch black comedy in which a marginally capable person rubs up against failure and refuses to change. For them his craft is indistinguishable from the manufactured graspers he rubs shoulders with. Presumably this failure to connect makes every performance a kind of cosmic punchline in which we are expected to shake our heads and grin at the delusional man with the guitar.

For me Llewyn is obviously, painfully gifted. When he performs diegetic sound dies off, Davis is the focus. During gigs the film's soundtrack is dominated by Oscar Isaac's vocal range. Edits and shots attempt nothing more complicated than a relaxed glance around the show. The meat is always the singing, from hushed, melodic whispers to the peeling, agitated roars of Davis' solo performance of Fare Thee Well. The arrangement is like a fight film or a musical, everything stops dead to drink Llewyn in. We see him in his moment, briefly triumphant and unyielding. Inside Llewyn Davis is a beautiful film about feeling like you're banging your head against a wall. No-one cares, no-one's interested. The only consolation to people in this situation is that at least they're pulping their brains for their own ends and not compromised, in service to someone else.

Original Review

Also Liked:

Under the Skin / Interstellar / The Guest / Map to the Stars / Blue Ruin / The Wolf of Wall Street / The Grand Budapest Hotel / Edge of Tomorrow / The Amazing Spider-Man 2 / Dawn of the Planet of the Apes / Transformers: Age of Extinction

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Video Games 2014

5. Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition

After years of stuttering action adventure games Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition offered a brief glimpse of what it was like to own a maxed out PC rig. After sinking entirely too much money into a current gen system I wanted something to show it off. Although essentially a last-gen game given a cursory makeover, Tomb Raider was made new again by the kind of frame rate and control responsiveness usually reserved for extreme action games. Tomb Raider stood out against the rest of the first-quarter releases, its platform shooting the best of an early crop that tended to skew basic and uninvolving.

4. Desert Golfing

My favourite thing about Desert Golfing is the sound design. Everything is satisfying in its simplicity, from the hollow PUTT when you strike a ball to the crunchy Atari 2600 fizz when you finally manage to sink it. There's no music, no extraneous noises. There's basically nothing. Desert Golfing is relaxing, like someone reached into heyday The Simpsons and dragged out a weird adjunct in the Lee Carvallo's Putting Challenge series.

3. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and PT

Two KojiPro demos that deliver concise, excellent experiences. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes wows thanks to some carefully considered controls. Snake is wonderful to manoeuvre, Hideo Kojima having long since left behind the awkward, claw set-ups of earlier Metal Gears, crafting an interaction model more in line with recent stealth stand outs Hitman: Absolution and The Last of Us.

Ground Zeroes' inputs tend towards simple prods and holds based around how physically taxing each action will be for the player character. There's a constant sense of immersion, risk versus reward. Want to pick that lock? You'll have to sit out in the open while Snake gets to work jimmying it. Snake also moves with an impressive clip, keeping a brisk pace even if he's lying face down and crawling. You'll need all the help you can get. On Hard Ground Zeroes' guards never fail to pursue noises, or really anything out of the ordinary, when conducting sweeps.

PT does as much with even less. The entire game experience is one L-shaped corridor that repeats incessantly. After a few loops new details start to bleed in. You notice the squalor, key colours change, a presence or two makes themselves known. You might even gain access to a bathroom.

PT gives you something mundane then tweaks it over and over, adding jarring sounds and piling on the unease until you don't even want to move. There's no sense of escape, make it to the other end of the corridor and you're back where you started. Games tend to be about progress, ticking up a number or a value. In exploration games you learn the cues that signal you're on the right track - new paths, key items, enemies to fight. PT has none of this, progress is obscure and contradictory. A breakthrough might be stabbing at the analog sticks while on an options screen or examining an item you've already looked at twelve times before.

2. The Last of Us: Left Behind

The best standalone DLC since Minerva's Den for BioShock 2, The Last of Us: Left Behind is a short, supplementary campaign that comes on like an adjunct but ends up being a way for Naughty Dog to explode the form and function of their game. Left Behind is an even split between a romantic stroll through a dilapidated mall with your best friend and a fraught struggle to locate medical supplies in a similar space months later.

Pace in the former is largely dictated by the player, you can rush to conclusions or try and wring out every single item or dialogue prompt. Gunplay and distraction mechanics become literal games, part of your bonding experience with the friend who has returned. You can smash windows competitively or chase each other around a Hi Fi separates store with Super Soakers. The object here isn't survival, it's the simulation of interpersonal connections. Friendship blossoming into desperate, teenage affection.

1. Destiny

Destiny is a tremendous disappointment, particularly for a studio so adept at lacing action setpieces around po-faced intergalactic fictions. Destiny has none of this. There's nothing here to touch Halo 3's Scarab attack, bosses in Destiny are usually scaled up generics with infinite health bars. This dismay is compounded by a post-release maintenance schedule that prioritises wild goose chases and exorbitantly priced DLC.

Fuck all that though, I had my fun. I hadn't gotten caught up in the pre-release hype and I certainly didn't expect to get ten years worth of play out of it. All I wanted was a multiplayer destination. The deciding factor in even purchasing Destiny was knowing I had a ready-made fireteam of work mates chomping at the bit. Co-op can elevate any game, the interplay with your buddies trumping any of the cackhanded moments the game makers have prepared. This emphasis on palling around made a virtue out of Destiny's insignificant framing - barring the pre-gameplay pep talk cum loading screens, there wasn't much story getting in your way. Destiny was all shooting, all the time.

What makes Destiny kind of exceptional is a moment-to-moment gameplay model that is nothing but satisfactory feedback. Shooting is rapid and fun, headshots are unusually easy to score. Mundane tasks stay agreeable far longer than they have any right to purely on the ease of interaction. It's no exaggeration to say that just firing your weapon in the vague direction of an enemy was fun - if it hadn't been people wouldn't have gotten so obsessed with the loot cave. Destiny only really becomes unsatisfactory when you consider the variety of things being shot. Enemies never evolve, locations stay very similar. Destiny is a basic call and response so finely tuned that if the wallpaper changed often enough you'd be playing forever.

Also Liked:

Far Cry 4 / Raiden IV: OverKill / Wolfenstein: The New Order / Alien: Isolation / Escape Goat 2 / Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare / The Uncle Who Works For Nintendo

Gutted I Missed:

Titanfall / Sunset Overdrive / Everything Nintendo put out - the Kyoto company had a banner year.

Jasper Byrne - Decade Dance / Voyager (2015 Mix)

Monday, 22 December 2014

Music 2014

5. Perturbator - Future Club / Humans Are Such Easy Prey

Video game power fantasy music. If I close my eyes listening to this all I can see is a 16-bit Michael Biehn sprite scaling ladders and hurling grenades at indifferent Schwarzeneggers. Matt Furniss as fuck.

4. Taylor Swift - Blank Space

Sharing a personal stereo with my girl, getting driven to London.

3. Le Matos - Kiyoko

Geinoh Yamashirogumi's Kaneda reinterpreted by Le Matos doing Zombie Zombie doing John Carpenter doing Ennio Morricone.

2. Nice Try - No Good / Feels Right

Sounds like shoegazey Blur b-sides sung by someone else.

1. Lana Del Rey - Shades of Cool

A drunken midnight confessional from one of the poor women Lee Marvin brutalises in Point Blank. David Lynch looks on, scribbling notes.

Also Liked:

La Roux - Let Me Down Gently / Futurecop! - NASA / Forth Wanderers - Tough Love / Lazerhawk - Demo / Mark Ronson - Uptown Funk ft. Bruno Mars / Michael Jackson & Justin Timberlake - Love Never Felt So Good / Greyhat - Departure / Mac DeMarco - Let Her Go / Run the Jewels - Blockbuster Night Part 1 / Kiesza - Hideaway

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Jackie Chan in the 1980s - The Cannonball Run

The best thing that can be said about Hal Needham's The Cannonball Run is that a lot of the stunts look genuinely dangerous. Needham's team excel at making vehicles appear completely out of control. Cars and planes lurch uncontrollably before their pilots administer an expert, last minute correction. Unfortunately these visceral dangers are fleeting, the majority of Cannonball is spent in the company of boozy celebrity capering. Although Roger Moore is fun as a delusional lothario, Jackie Chan is wasted as an inexplicably Japanese racer who'd rather sneak a look at Golden Age pornos than drive his computerised Subaru.

Chan and his navigator (Hong Kong comedian Michael Hui) speak in a garbled mix of Japanese, Cantonese and Mandarin, their scenes bracketed by racist musical riffs. These indelicacies become even more bizarre when you consider Golden Harvest bankrolled the film. Chan's moment in the sun comes late in the day, helping to fight off some sleazy bikers during a brief pause in the competition. Chan even stays to thrash a few more goons when the race resumes, ploughing through nobodies with energetic high-kicks. The most consistent barrier to enjoying The Cannonball Run though, apart from a deeply uncharismatic turn by Burt Reynolds, is that it doesn't really have any punchlines. There are comedic premises, we understand jokes are in play, but they never reach a satisfactory conclusion.

Star Wars by Olly Moss

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Jackie Chan in the 1980s - Battle Creek Brawl

Presumably the highest budgeted Bruceploitation film ever, Battle Creek Brawl sees Jackie Chan's natural charisma drowned out by Robert Clouse's static set-ups and Lalo Schifrin's twangy jazz score. Unlike in Hong Kong were Chan is able to burn through takes on a Kubrickian scale in pursuit of perfection, here the star is forced to settle for 'good enough'. This unpolished approach to action is something of a mixed blessing. At its best, Chan's moves acquire a scrappy desperation absent from his highly drilled Hong Kong work. At their worst, they read like fluffed takes.

As with Enter the Dragon, Clouse shoots his lead on a diagonal axis for vendetta fights. Chan pushes from the top right of the frame to the bottom left, stamping and snapping along the way. Unlike Dragon though, there's very little coverage. Clouse never uses the POV size-ups or injury inserts that made Dragon's climatic fight between Bruce Lee and Shih Kien so thrilling. When Jackie's uncle Mako gets an extreme close-up on his eye-line it feels like something from a completely different film. Brawl's not all bad. Jackie Chan and Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Comedy actress Kristine DeBell make a sweet couple, and, if nothing else, it allows viewers the opportunity to see Chan ducking and weaving around brawny, outlaw territory wrestlers.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014


Mad Max: Fury Road continues to look amazing. Every other action film due next year is in deep shit.

Jackie Chan in the 1980s - The Young Master

Although more a series of disjointed sketches than a strictly structured film, The Young Master is something of a how-to guide for framing action for maximum impact. Director Jackie Chan progresses fluidly between several distinct approaches, always complimentary to the movement and processes being conveyed.

The film opens with an extended, duelling Lion Dance shot primarily in a series of sustained masters that both simulates the point-of-view of the assembled crowd and demonstrates the difficulty of the performance. We spend so much time watching the dancers cavorting inside the bamboo lion heads that the beasts start to register as characters themselves. Chan holds on the performances so that the details can sink in. The lions are bashful and violent, balanced on human legs that strike and trap. Chan's character, Dragon Lung, is introduced as skilled certainly, but more importantly Lung demonstrates the ability to move in perfect harmony with another.

Elsewhere Chan's camera is energetic, participating with the on-screen action in several different ways. During a supplementary fight with a bully from a rival school the frame tracks Lung twirling an ornate fan around his opponent. Chan zooms in and out on particularly delicate actions, timed in the edit to simulate another hit or beat. The camera engages with the fighters, landing its own blows. Chan also uses zooms to crudely replicate emotional states. During a tense, shame-filled moment between a disappointed Kung Fu master and his treacherous pupil the camera repeatedly crashes in on their faces, building a lurching, sickly tempo.

Hwang In-Shik's high-kicking introduction is built around demonstrating the speed and ferocity of this terrifying villain. Freed by his fellow outlaws, Hwang's Master Kim batters everyone in sight. To add to the hysteria, Chan cues up Gustav Holst's Mars, the Bringer of War for background music. Set-ups are edited quicker and quicker, building a demented, thrashing rhythm. Kim's snappy kicks send hapless mooks from one end of the 2.35:1 frame to the other. The camera also tilts down violently to emphasise the descent of the crumbling, defeated bodies. Master Kim is pure, unconquerable power. Even his associates tremble in his presence. He doesn't need them - he's one man acting alone.

The Young Master concludes with an atypical take on final confrontations. Usually there's a sense that two equals are meeting, the bad guy undone by resting on his laurels or a fatal attempt at cheating. The Young Master doesn't attempt either idea. Kim is obviously, persistently the dominant fighter. Over the course of this lopsided battle Lung is subjected to unbelievable suffering. His arms are locked and bent, fingers are broken, his body is tossed around like a rag. It's an approach that shows a refreshing lack of ego on Chan's part. He's not trying to compete with Hwang's skill set.

Dramatically it also makes Kim a mountain to be scaled, playing into the one crucial thing we've learned about Chan's character - he's psychotically determined. When Lung finally lands a punch it's a euphoric moment. Time stalls as he realises what he's done, joy spreading to every corner of his face in glacial slow motion. Of course, this is followed by one of Hwang's trademark Cinemascope kicks. Chan impresses here in his ability to move in and around Hwang's relentless attacks. He doesn't just stand there, heroically absorbing the punishment, he's a victim tossing himself around manically, accentuating the impacts.

Lung then spends a lot of the fight dramatically passive, existing as a vessel to communicate Hwang's world-class talents. Tremendously outclassed, all Lung can do is wriggle around his opponent. He's the stunt man elevated to a leading role, driven mad by the hardships his body has had to endure. When, after almost half an hour of torment, the human punching bag finally gets the upper hand it's because he's guzzled opium water and basically gone insane. The tumbles and catapulting Chan used to accentuate Hwang's assault become Lung's arsenal. His body is completely numb and can therefore be used as an eleven stone projectile. Dragon Lung doesn't win because he's better than Master Kim, instead he triumphs by simply refusing to give up.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

PSX - Uncharted 4: A Thief's End

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End looks fun. Instead of ruthlessly separating gunplay and gymnastics, why not string them together in an unbroken stream of mountain grappling, zoning, and brawling? Based on this footage, Naughty Dog is taking the same stealth sandbox approach as The Last of Us, adding some verticality into that heady mix.

PSX - Gimme Indie

As the year is draws to a close, it's time to compile best-of lists and beat yourself up over all the cool stuff you either didn't see or never got around to playing. Video games pose a particular problem - in order to gorge yourself on everything available you have to buy a fleet of dedicated machinery. Thankfully (for me, since I've only forked out for a PS4) Sony are muscling their way towards a mini-monopoly, meaning two of this year's biggest misses - Shovel Knight and Super Time Force - are due on Sony's system sometime next year.

Tell Your Sister... (Blue) by Dan McDaid

Destiny in Detail - Worries for the Future

What I'm enjoying most about Matt Lees' Destiny videos is the constant back-and-forth in how he describes the game. Destiny is obviously, and persistently, a quality product, there's just nowhere near enough of it. Really, the majority of my objections about the game are about how Bungie have rationed their higher level content.

Jackie Chan - How to Do Action Comedy by Tony Zhou

Tony Zhou talks us through the incomparable genius of Jackie Chan, breaking down what it is that keeps his contribution to action cinema so vital. Zhou's point about pain and fallibility is especially important. If there's no sense that your heroes are out of their depth, then what are the stakes?

Jackie Chan is especially significant because his on-screen suffering doesn't tend to be emotional. Instead it's hardship expressed as visceral, bone-breaking movement. It's cinema. You don't even need to understand the words, Chan's films can be watched raw. Jackie Chan is dedicated to demonstrating how the hero can be injured, but will never break.

Stay tuned over the coming weeks as 20XX delves into the most active stage of Jackie Chan's career - the 1980s.

Friday, 5 December 2014

The Dark Judges by Carlos Ezquerra

Destiny in Detail - Is the Loot System Fair?

Matt Lees makes a convincing case for the longevity of Destiny's multiplayer. A couple of weeks in and I'm already feeling fatigued with its major opposition (and publisher stablemate) Advanced Warfare. I've only played Sledgehammer's game off-and-on so everyone else has long since worked out the best places to set up camp, and which routes to take. Given the fractional health, latency is much more pronounced in AW. Destiny's longer time-to-kill helps to conceal much of these match-up issues, providing an overall fairer feeling experience.


After six years of updates and tweaking, we're finally getting another numbered Street Fighter game. Somewhere in this corporate lifestyle reel is a quick glimpse of Ryu and Chun-Li battling it out in Street Fighter V. At the very least a timed exclusive on Sony's console, which explains Ryu driving around in a cab in those release day PS4 adverts, SFV looks like it's going for a less cartoony design approach. There are no close-ups of howling faces during super move wind-ups and characters are lithe and lined compared to their Street Fighter IV drafts.

The Klams - The Elves Are Back In Town

BluntOne - All We Got Iz Us / Rockers

Thursday, 4 December 2014


This Terminator: Genisys trailer is a strange experience. It comes on strong with re-purposed scenes and ideas from the Jim Cameron entries before morphing into a full-on Marvel movie. If nothing else, it looks like Alan Taylor's film finally gets the complete future war prologue from Terminator 2: Judgment Day's tie-in novelisation on-screen. LA 2029 is a looker too. The human resistance, and their skeletal enemies, are lit like they're fighting in a city sized version of Tech Noir.

Although Jason Clarke is appropriately weathered as John Connor, Jai Courtney is a bizarre substitute for Michael Biehn as Kyle Reese. Courtney has zero of Biehn's wirey, malnourished intensity, the actor instead reads as a sub-Tatum, beefy, romantic lead. Chicken breasts and protein shakes must be widely available in the wasteland. This obvious sop to demographics is leavened by Emilia Clarke's Sarah Connor immediately subordinating her new boy toy.

I wonder how screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier will handle this Sarah? The T2 fringe and ponytail would seem to indicate an all-business approach, perhaps even a character that views her coupling with Reese as a necessary transaction in the process of creating a messiah. Presumably this Sarah is fully aware for how the following decades will unfold. Clarke's youthful, bratty demeanour, not to mention her cyborg father figure, mean this characterisation will probably be closer to Edward Furlong's John Connor than any previous Sarah.

Which leaves us with The Terminators. Lee Byung-hun looks great when he's running around 1980s alleyways, less so when he's hurling his body parts around like spears. Conceptually, there's an instant pop in the idea of a T-1000 interposing itself into The Terminator. It's reminiscent of Frank Miller's Skynet from RoboCop Versus The Terminator - an elemental, God-like force that overwrites time incessantly until it arrives at an advantageous path. It's a situation here born of sequel escalation, but the idea of chaotic agents arriving unexpectedly is pure Terminator.

Surprisingly, Schwarzenegger looks like a bit of a fifth wheel. Aside from junking his youthful doppelgänger, and ticking off another aborted Cameron sequel in the process, it doesn't look like he has much to do. Perhaps it's a sign of the star's waning power? This doesn't look like a top billed role, more a special appearance. Also, a protector Terminator hurling itself out of one helicopter to detonate another is just fucking stupid. At the very least, he's just nixed his camouflage.

It's a shame that Genisys isn't designed to take place on one long night. Even in this brief glimpse there's a sense of bloat. As the trailer rolls on we get further and further into anonymous, boringly framed second-unit work. The afternoon bus flip in particular is straight out of a Marvel sequel. Kramer Morgenthau ain't no Adam Greenberg either. I can see why the cinematographer got the gig, aside from priors with Taylor, his work on the Sleepy Hollow pilot nicely tracked an undying thing through a series of night shoots.

It's hilarious though to note that a two hundred million dollar Summer blockbuster can't wring out the same level of grimey verisimilitude as a six million dollar, non-union shoot. I know it's an entirely different genre - this is Terminator as a palatable franchise proposition rather than a thriller - but threat has taken a back seat. The shot of the T-1000's cop car arrival is, despite the much higher stakes, strangely perfunctory. Compare it to a similar sequence in the original. Cameron and Greenberg signal terrestrial danger with blaring sounds and lights. Taylor and co could have at least hosed the streets down and given the film that sweaty, post-storm texture.