Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Films 2015

5. Straight Outta Compton

Like basically every other rock biopic, Straight Outta Compton is about packaging a series of disparate, contradictory events into a feel-good through line. Presumably the thinking with these things is to renew enough interest to sell some more best-of compilations. Shepherded to the screen by Dr Dre and Ice Cube in full control freak mode, F Gary Gray's film ditches any of the misogyny or outright underhandedness inherent to NWA's story to arrive at a heart-warming yarn about a bunch of friends knuckling down and doing well.

4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

JJ Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt's rejuvenation of the Star Wars brand not only locates several distinct, likeable, characters, it also finds time to snatch ideas from the Prequel run then transform them into engaging narrative grist for an expanding saga. It's tempting to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens as Lawrence Kasdan's moment, the Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars sequels writer finally getting to steer one of the great movie brat franchises without Steven Spielberg or George Lucas breathing down his neck. The structural bones may be familiar but the relationships and agendas Kasdan and his co-writers plant promise a saga built around traumatised, disaffected youth.

3. Ex Machina

Ex Machina completes a loose trilogy from writer-director Alex Garland about the effects of othering and automation on the human psyche. Never Let Me Go (adapted from Kazuo Ishiguro's novel) proposed an underclass of clones bred for the express purpose of organ harvest; Dredd offered up a ruling class of men and women trained to act like robots. Ex Machina circles similar neuroses, lasering in on a new life-form that is able to take the limitations men have imposed upon it and transform them into a formidable arsenal.

2. Bitter Lake

Adam Curtis waded through thousands of hours worth of raw news footage to assemble a piece that presents history as a chaotic beast that refuses to fit any one narrative perspective. Bitter Lake plays as an antithesis to the kind of glib, bullet point reporting designed to fill its audience full of certainty. The film clocks in at 136 minutes and digresses incessantly. Curtis uses growling, sunspot electronica and shapeless video footage to arrive at a street-level impression of how various hot and cold interventions have shaped Afghanistan post-World War II.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road

How does this film even exist?

Original Review

Also Liked:

Whiplash / Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation / Chappie / Tomorrowland / John Wick / Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief / Spectre / Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films / Inside Out

Monday, 28 December 2015

Video Games 2015

5. Grow Home

A genuinely stressful experience in which you pilot a shambolic robot as it climbs up a star-scraping beanstalk. Initial prods can cause your droid to stumble off wildly, a model of movement that seems entirely unsuited to a slow, methodical climbing game. Once you finally manage to figure out the finickity controls though, Grow Home comes into its own, mutating from a frustrating Octodad into a tense, physically draining approximation of ascension.

4. Everybody's Gone to the Rapture

Slowly nose around an abandoned, provincial village, activating a series of sparkly, etheral conversations that drip-feed information about the total destruction of mankind as a physical entity. Find enough of these Radio 4 style chit-chats and Everybody's Gone to the Rapture allows you to trigger a cosmos altering crescendo. The Chinese Room's game mixes The Archers with John Wyndham to arrive at a deliberately paced snoop 'em up that faithfully simulates the onion-layered bullshittery at the core of British social interaction.

3. Fallout 4

Potter around an irradiated Boston getting into scrapes. Fallout 4 proposes a storyline about a parent desperately seeking their kidnapped child but this is more of a regulated series of diversions than a narrative backbone. Instead Bethesda's game is at its best when you go completely off-piste, excavating haunted slate mines or dressing up as a radio serial vigilante at the behest of a neurotic zombie.

2. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Hideo Kojima's final game for Konami isn't just the all-time greatest open world adventure game, it also gifts the player a truly wonderful action figure in the form of Venom Snake. Despite some fussiness bumping up against objects and their physical barriers, everything about driving this iteration of Snake is such fun that it takes an eternity for you to recognise the ceaseless repetition that powers this sequel. Whether creeping into Soviet forts or radioing-in precision artillery strikes, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is one-hundred hours worth of opportunities to feel unbridled, interactive joy.

1. Bloodborne

Bloodborne reminds me of Resident Evil or Devil May Cry. It's a game that plonks you in a corrupted version of something recognisable (architecturally speaking) then, when you've found your feet, it forces you further and further towards the source of this malignant transformation.

FromSoftware's genius lies in how this exploration unfolds. Progress is explicitly tied to raising various RPG stats but the environments and enemies are such fantastic actors you hardly notice. Since the player is always pushing deeper and deeper into some hallucinatory, transgressive horror, every step taken feels like trespassing. All visual and aural data demands you turn around and flee. You simply shouldn't be here. You proceed against all reason. How's that for a psychological model for adventure?

Also Liked:

Downwell / Axiom Verge / Xeodrifter / Tearaway Unfolded / Curses 'N Chaos / Arcade Archives: Mat Mania Exciting Hour / Under Night In-Birth / Ultra Street Fighter IV (PS4) / Call of Duty: Black Ops III (multiplayer) / Fallout Shelter / DmC Devil May Cry: Definitive Edition / Resident Evil HD Remaster / Transformers: Devastation / Devil May Cry 4 Special Edition

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Music 2015

5. Lazerhawk - Escape from Germany

Produced for a John Carpenter tribute tape, Lazerhawk crosses the master's burnt-out St Louis beats with Sylvester Levay's fizzy TV music. Charles Bronson's robot brain is telling the attack helicopter to fire hellfire missiles at the muggers.

4. Tame Impala - 'Cause I'm a Man

Slowly sink into a pool of luxurious R&B while some guy who wishes he was Prince sings about being a massive bellend.

3. Blur - Ong Ong

Football terrace knees-up - smiling, laughing, singing, arm in arm with some cunt you've never met before. I have no interest in soccer.

2. Rihanna X Kanye West X Paul McCartney - FourFive Seconds (WoodysProduce Remix)

WoodysProduce slathers sweeping Casio noise all over Rihanna's deliberately spare, acoustic single. Get in there lad. Fuck it up.

1. Gabrielle Aplin - Sweet Nothing

Played this over and over and over trying to work out why I loved it so much. You've gotta do that. You've got to be ruthless with yourself. Everything you like is shite anyway. Finally, I dredged up a feeling of Anna Karina plucked out of Pierrot le Fou to front the Foo Fighters. Not cool, fuzzy 1995 Foo Fighters either, we're talking 1999, Learn to Fly, dadrock era Dave Grohl and pals. Magic.

Also Liked

Le Matos - Like Perfume on a Pig / Taylor Swift - Style /  TV on the Radio - Trouble / Thomas Happ - The Dream / Shamir - On The Regular / Blur - Lonesome Street / Radiohead - Spectre

Who Ha - It's Snowin

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Backwards Compatible - PlayStation 2 on PlayStation 4 #1

Sony's recent decision to begin releasing emulated PlayStation 2 games on the PlayStation 4 opens up a vast library of classics and curios. In this short series I'll be doing a quick run down of the titles that made an impression on me during the sixth-generation.

The three Grand Theft Autos have already been released and other established greats like Resident Evil 4 and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater also have pretty decent high-definition spruce-ups, so we'll be skipping over them to concentrate on some (slightly) more obscure output.

1. Silent Hill 2 

Although we've already had a Silent Hill HD Collection on PS3 and 360, that disaster had to be patched umpteen times to reach a level of adequacy. Better to abandon Hijinx Studios poison port to make use of whatever backwards compatibility solution Sony has dreamt up. 

See Also: Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly

Guide a rickety waif around a spooky castle, exorcising ghosts with an old camera. 

2. R-Type Final

Irem's psychedelic shooter has the player racing after a fleeing alien armada, doing as much damage to the battered, retreating invaders as possible. Alternate gameplay paths take you through diseased futures and bloody field hospitals, whilst also offering the opportunity to betray humanity and mutate into a higher life form. 

See Also: Gradius V

Treasures scroll shooter is available on PS3 but frame rate drops kill the fun. 

3. Shadow of Rome 

Apparently, Capcom's barbaric gladiator sim was a concerted attempt to appeal to the western market. Thanks! I guess. Players are actively awarded for their savagery with a crowd mechanic that revels in creative bloodshed. Cut a man's head off and you'll receive a polite applause. Sever his arm and beat him to death with it whilst also chomping down on a greasy chicken leg and you'll have the auditorium on its feet, screaming your name. 

See Also: Maximo: Ghosts to Glory

Ghosts 'n Goblins repackaged as a third-person brawler. 

4. Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition

Hyper Street Fighter II featured a novel approach to arcade preservation. Rather than limit the players to one version of Street Fighter II, this Hyper upgrade made every update and revision available simultaneously. Want to pit Championship Edition's Bison against his Super Turbo counterpart? Hyper was your game. 

See Also: Capcom vs SNK 2: Millionaire Fighting 2001

Another fantastic Capcom fighter that allowed players to choose from several distinct super gauge mechanics.  

5. Killer7

Like many of Capcom's Gamecube exclusive, Killer7 quickly made its way to the PS2. Killer7 puts the player in charge of a contract murderer with a horde of distinct, playable personalities as they battle against Sentai superheroes and zombie suicide bombers. Killer7 is a delirious, deliberately fractured experience that uses simple inputs to drive players deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness. 

See Also: Michigan: Report from Hell

An earlier, trashier effort from Killer7 dev Grasshopper Manufacture that casts the player as a leering cameraman hoping to video as many grisly deaths as possible. 

Ennio Morricone - Eternity

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Return of the Jedi

Viewed hot on the heels of the Prequel Trilogy, Return of the Jedi sings, managing to tell an emotionally engaging story that thrives on character moments. Jedi is simple, once the gang has disposed of the Hutt fraternity the focus narrows to two mutually supportive storylines - the rebel army's attempts to scuttle the second Death Star and Luke's collision course with Vader. Unlike the messy second trilogy, there is very clearly a main character, Luke Skywalker. His mission is both effortlessly understood and thematically rich.

It would be easy to frame Luke and Vader's confrontation as two gunslingers lumbering up to see who's top dog, but that requires an animosity that neither character possesses. Vader's intentions are particularly cloudy, we're not sure if he's preparing to invite his son into the family business or staging a needlessly complicated suicide attempt. When he talks to Luke he rambles on about fate and the inevitability of Skywalker corruption. Vader is old and broken, a deadbeat father who could never fully pull himself together. Lacking any sense of certainty other than violence, Vader cannot understand his son.

Vader's thinking is built on presumption, he assumes he understands Luke's dilemma, but he doesn't. Neither, for that matter, does Yoda. The ancient Jedi coaches caution first and foremost. He understands the inevitability of Luke and Vader's conflict but his ability, or willingness, to guide is slim. Vader and Yoda both think in the abstract, they understand their power as an ability to tap into something greater than themselves.

Since they both consider this power ultimately unknowable they allow this intangible might to steer them. They are passengers. Luke is not. The Force does not overwhelm his thinking, it is a tool in his arsenal. Luke has not only made peace with his heritage, he has decided it can be changed. Fate is malleable, Vader can be saved. Luke is a redeemer, he allows himself to be captured by his father and The Emperor because it isn't a setback. Luke's identity is fixed and immutable. They won't change him, he will transform them.

This is what makes him so threatening, Luke is certain that no matter what he will not waver. Yoda feared what close proximity to Vader and Palpatine would do to the young Jedi. The father turned, why not the son? He needn't have worried, Luke is not so weak willed. When father and son meet on Endor, Vader attempts to gloat about his son's capture. Luke brushes it off, then lasers in on their predicament. There is good in Vader and Luke intends to draw it out.

Vader is instantly subordinated. As the prequels went to great lengths to illustrate, Anakin Skywalker has always been a hollow child desperately seeking approval. He wasn't born into the Jedi's inhuman religion, he was captured by it, crowbarred into a lifestyle that did not suit him. All his misery rooted in a blood-test and some half-remembered prophecy. Luke is different, he sought this life out, seizing it in the company of Obi-Wan Kenobi and conquering it under the tutelage of Yoda.

Luke goes even further than his masters, able to control both The Force and the untidy emotional drives that the Jedi feared and buried. The Prequels are built around an order of Knights that shrink at the sight of their own shadow. Any dalliance with their humanity is treated as an opportunity for total calamity. Luke Skywalker has transcended this limitation. He feels and loves, willing to lay down his life in order to draw out his father's goodness.

When the Force Ghosts appear to Luke at the end of Jedi, they are acknowledging not only his success but also his superiority. He did what they could not. Luke knows love, he felt it and expressed it. He understood its value and therefore its power. Luke walked into Jabba's lair unarmed to rescue his best friend, he removed himself from Leia and the Endor rebels as soon as he realised Vader could track his Force signature.

Luke will die for the people he loves and is willing to bet, given the opportunity, his father will too. The Emperor scoffs and ridicules Luke, assured of his fall, but the son is playing a longer, deeper con. Luke appeals to Vader on the most basic, biological imperative - blood. Service to a dusty old crone is nothing measured against the adulation of your child. In this moment, wracked by Force lightning, Luke is the master offering Vader salvation.

Worry surrounds Luke in Return of the Jedi. His masters advise prudence and his sister pleads with him to flee. Even worse, his enemies assume that Luke's defeat has already been written. Rather than try and understand what Luke has become, everyone appraises this chosen one using their own limitations. When he sets the pyre that burns away his father, Luke Skywalker has become the most dangerous being in the universe. He has surpassed them all, Sith and Jedi alike.

BluntOne - Posionous Potion / Stonery

Darth Vader by Mike McMahon

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

The prequel series is marked by a conceptual dithering. George Lucas invokes certain themes and ideas but only in a superficial way, so you end up wondering if the insinuation was even intentional. Big, interesting topics exist only as suggestions, colouring the edges of incessantly bland, inhuman exchanges that defy any sense of personal identification. In The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones it's apparent to the audience that the Jedi are not the infallible collective of legend. Their robotic behaviour doesn't mark them as intergalactic samurai, it's the obvious, preventable, flaw that is very clearly sowing the seeds of their downfall.

In this respect Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is a marked improvement. It's an iterative instalment that at least attempts to address some of this phase's communication issues. Most immediately this means giving Anakin Skywalker someone to talk to who is sympathetic to his experience. Skywalker doesn't normally hold conversations, he bubbles over, spewing venom and invective at whoever is near, usually either his mentor Obi-Wan or his wife Senator Amidala. Revenge gives him someone prepared to talk through his thinking rather than just pull a grim face then try to forget he's even spoken at all.

Ian McDiarmid's Palpatine fills a crucial role for Skywalker then. He offers guidance and understanding. He doesn't criticise Anakin for his feelings, he sympathises and congratulates him. Palpatine wins Skywalker's heart by positively reinforcing behaviour that will be useful come their insurrection. Anakin has never had a father figure in his life and none of the Jedi seemed willing to take on the role. The late Qui-Gon came closest but the senior Jedi who have followed are either dogmatic and numb or openly contemptuous of little Ani. On the rare occasion that any of them do attempt to engage with their messiah on a personal level, they assault him with infuriating rhetoric that condemns his feelings.

Palpatine is the opposite. He flatters and encourages Anakin's violence. He's a friend who claims to understand the dark, terrible humanity that lurks inside this young man. Not only is this what Anakin wants, it's exactly what the film needs. The coupling reinvigorates Revenge. Suddenly there's a foothold for emotional investment. The two conspire, Palpatine slowly seducing Anakin and taking an almost sexual delight in his apprentice's pain and moral decay. He's Dracula basically, an impossibly old evil that feeds off youth and turmoil. All told, the Star Wars prequels are a peculiar set of films. George Lucas has built three-acts around a vapid, hollow monster desperate for love and direction. They'd be wonderful if they weren't so dull.

Midge Ure - The Man Who Sold the World

Starcadian - Chinatown

Friday, 11 December 2015

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Like The Phantom Menace before it, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones occupies a non-committal middle ground that strangles any possible hint of enjoyment. Anakin Skywalker's slow metamorphosis from a nasty, entitled, brat into a nasty, entitled, murderer is played at arm's length. Writer-director George Lucas unwilling to really spend time and engage with who, or what, Hayden Christensen's hero is becoming. Therefore Skywalker's story is bracketed off from the usual derring-do, told to us in embarrassed gasps.

Finally let off the Jedi's leash to protect / harass Natalie Portman's Senator Amidala, Skywalker conjures up a reason to return to Tatooine and visit his mother. In a profoundly sterile film that centres around the soulless reproduction of an entire race, Anakin's uncomplicated - even childlike - desire plays refreshingly human. Once home, Skywalker follows a harrowing breadcrumb trail, eventually finding his mother bound and brutalised in a Tusken Raider camp. He reacts as Ethan Edwards, the bigoted cowboy from The Searchers, might have - he slaughters each and every one of the Sand People.

Now while this reaction is neither moral nor heroic, it is emotionally coherent, especially coming from a venomous, supernaturally powerful teenager. Again, self-serving wickedness just seems so much more understandable than Master Yoda's desire to scoop up the galaxy's Force sensitive children, separate them from their families and cultures, then rechristen them Younglings. Lucas, perhaps mindful of revelling in such knee-jerk violence in a PG rated film, keeps Skywalker physically and emotionally detached from the audience. We're never allowed to occupy the same head space as this murderous Jedi. Anakin's poison is kept at a discreet, revolted, distance.

Shmi Skywalker's fate is a crucial moment in the Star Wars prequels, indicative of an alarming disconnect between what we're being told and what we're actually being shown. That Shmi was consigned to slavery at all voids any moral high ground the Jedi presume to hold. All the money and resources at their disposal and they couldn't buy out Shmi's contract then place her in some apartment on Coruscant? Is the emotional and spiritual well-being of their messiah so unimportant to them? Lucas makes the Jedi a monastic cult of Knights who kidnap and brainwash the vulnerable, demanding they measure up to a set of ideals that prioritises emotional remoteness. These are the people we're supposed to root for?

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Star Wars, thanks to some canny salesmanship by George Lucas, quickly became the poster boy for a deluge of blockbuster movies patterned after Joseph Campbell's studies into the monomyth. Although the Luke Skywalker we see in Star Wars isn't a particularly interesting character, he does, per Campbell's instruction, depart from the safety of home and experience profound change in his life. This personal and spiritual growth is something that he himself chooses to pursue. We watch Luke face challenges big and small, building a repertoire of skills that could conceivably take him to the point where he is able to dead-eye a pinhole vent on a cosmic death machine.

In 1977 George Lucas understood how to build a relationship between a character and his audience. Luke is a dreamer who transforms his aspirations into action. He also displays a certain nobility of character, one that allows him to hold steadfast while the world around him becomes insane. We watch him become a man basically. One of the many reasons why Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace doesn't work is that it doesn't have a character we can completely track this kind of growth with. Anakin Skywalker, although crowbarred into this role, cannot fill it. We find him as a complete person, despite his lack of years.

Once discovered by the Jedi order, Anakin is subjected to tests that instantly confirm him as special. This point is hammered home by an exchange between Qui-Gon Jinn and Anakin's mother Shmi that explicitly organises the child as an intergalactic anointed one. We don't watch Anakin becoming something more, he's already an expert blessed with supernatural Soap Box Derby skills. David Lynch's adaptation of Dune took a similar approach with another Man-God rising out of boring political turmoil, but that film at least had the sense to lose its messiah in escalating, identity-shredding violence.

Dramatically, The Phantom Menace is a series of dead ends. Anakin's brush with war is about as damaging as a roller-coaster ride and, despite Pernilla August's nervous, beleaguered performance as Shmi, neither is there any great revelation lying at the heart of her son's conception. Given the hesitant chemistry between Liam Neeson's Jinn and August's Shmi, it's a shame that Qui-Gon isn't a sinner Jedi seeking amends by rescuing his enslaved, illegitimate child. Unfortunately, Anakin Skywalker really was just willed into being by The Force. It's a purely mechanical development that robs everyone around it of any possible agency. That's The Phantom Menace in a nutshell. A strange, passionless film that reads more like an information dump than an organically told tale.

Boba Fett by Cam Kennedy

Sunday, 6 December 2015

007 - Quantum of Solace

Quantum of Solace opens with a shot that suggests a heat-seeking missile tracking in on its mark. We collide with Bond mid-mission, 007 attempting to spirit away a high-value target while the world around him breaks and explodes. Marc Forster's film is cut to the bone, a terse image assault that constantly and continuously stresses hostility. Matt Cheese and Rick Pearson's editing is incredibly confrontational, shots are ordered in either brief, functional reports or elegiac drifts.

Connery era editor (and On Her Majesty's Secret Service director) Peter R Hunt provided a template for communicating Bond's dilemma. Data streamed in from every conceivable direction, sometimes at odds with the preceding image. Quantum marks a supercharged return to that blueprint, emboldened by Christopher Rouse and Rick Pearson's hyperactive work on the Bourne films. This obsessive drive at functionality works perfectly for Quantum, Forster's film arranged to reflect the headspace of Daniel Craig's assailed, venomous hero.

Following Vesper's suicide Bond has, basically, stopped being human. He doesn't eat, he certainly doesn't sleep. 007's inflated musculature is gone too, replaced by the kind of snapping sinew you'd expect of some prowling, predatory lizard. Even his face is different, held in a pained, lopsided scowl that suggests Clint Eastwood staring at the sun. Casino Royale gave us a striver, fine-tuned to evoke understanding and sympathy. Quantum has no such aspiration, this is James Bond as pure machinery.

Quantum of Solace is Bond stripped of all the pretension and lies. An adventure completely outside of the structural formula that keeps much of the series feeling used up on arrival. It doesn't even pass the two-hour mark. Thanks to an aggressive release schedule and the 2007-08 Writers' Strike, Quantum wasn't worked and reworked to fit Eon's template. It's a mutant, a lone voice in a long, self-satisfied string of films that, for once, doesn't care about gadgets or holiday destinations. In their place we have a piece about a phantom that cannot find peace, the revenge mission that Diamonds Are Forever denied, Point Blank in a tuxedo. What higher praise is there?

Batman Beyond by Dan Mora

Yoko Shimomura - Ryu's Theme (CPS-1 and CPS-2 Arrangements)

Thursday, 3 December 2015

007 - Casino Royale (2006)

Casino Royale's James Bond is vulnerable, both physically and psychologically. Run-ins with the films various heavies leave him bruised and bloody. There's always a sense that he's straining, Daniel Craig rarely seen without a veil of sweat. The casual arrogance that has driven four decades of powdered and puckered secret agents is played like a con. Craig's Bond doesn't wade into every situation an expert either, he's a bruiser, careful enough to roam around a room before committing to violence. 

Screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (with Paul Haggis polishing) have re-thought Bond from the ground up, scattering clues and signifiers throughout the film that indicate a markedly different reading of Fleming's old Etonian character. Casino Royale's 007 (if for this film only) hasn't come from privilege. He isn't a gentleman, born to inhabit opulent casinos, he's a chancer. Although Bond never confirms Vesper Lynd (Eva Green)'s pointedly probing assertions about his background, her comments that he doesn't come from money dangle so unopposed it seems sensible to assume they're exposition. Bond is still an orphan, but he's also been made into an interloper.

When Lynd pegs him as having entered an esteemed university thanks to someone else's charity, 007 looks evasive. Casino Royale places a chip firmly on James Bond's shoulder. He's stuck, by his past, by his lack of liquid status, always playing catch-up. Lynd takes pity, furnishing him with a tailored Brioni dinner jacket that better allows him to fit in with the millionaires that encircle the film's high stakes poker table. This new 007 (thankfully) doesn't tally with the invincible, flawless persona we're used to. He's incomplete. Craig doesn't even look the part. Aside from his blonde hair, this Bond is broad and muscular were the last two were dark and wiry. He's heavier and more brutally tuned than even ex-bodybuilder Sean Connery. 

When casting their new Bond, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson have taken Ian Fleming's description of the character as a blunt instrument to heart, chiselling out a version of Craig that looks like he could collide with a small car and come off better. Casino Royale also hones in on Bond's desperate desire to please, an underutilised component of the Fleming character's psychological make-up. Purvis and Wade's approach to this quality (one that could potentially weaken their character and make him appear a toady) is to have him act out. Bond doesn't break into M's house to further his cool-guy agenda, he's doing it to impress her. He's asking her if any other agent has ever been so bold? It's a challenge, absolutely, but it's an audacity born out of an essential loneliness. One that Vesper spots.

She categorises the Double Os, the murderers, as lost little boys, desperate for order. Orphans, malcontents, Bond is doubly damned. Despite what Spectre would have you believe, these are the threads that allow Craig's four to operate as an unbroken run. Skyfall gives us the antithesis of this adventure, a different agent that turned bitter and rogue under torture. Quantum of Solace and Spectre offer resolution, Bond fulfilling his promise then throwing his gains away. Casino Royale is Bond as a superheroic text. The film taking as many cues from Christopher Nolan's Batman and Sam Raimi's Spider-Man as it does the Jason Bourne series. In every case we're watching a man assume and struggle with a mantle. 

Casino Royale does this by proposing a Bond that acts like a working class squaddie who has been elevated, socially, by a mysterious benefactor. Bond took this new arena as a challenge, fine-tuning himself until he was able to hang in there and outlast the better bred competition. That's his power - an idea that has roots in Fleming's books - Bond won't be broken. He'll suffer, bleed, and curse his failing body but he won't give in. He's bloody-minded; cackling all the way into his extinction. Royale complements this idea beautifully by making all of Bond's victories either moral or completely inconclusive. This new 007 isn't someone used to outright triumph then, he just has a nasty habit of living longer than the people trying to kill him.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

007 - Die Another Day

Die Another Day hails from the unapologetically vulgar end of the James Bond spectrum. It's an arrogant, swaggering dickhead of a picture that has a lot in common with Moonraker, only with sludgier special effects. Die moves on hyper-caffeinated reflection, marking several notable milestones with a last case built out of fracturing identities. As well as arriving just in time for the 40th anniversary of Dr. No's release, Lee Tamahori's film was also the twentieth entry in Eon's Bond series. Drunk on its own sense of history, Die doesn't avoid the tropes that Austin Powers had rendered radioactive, instead it embraces them, arriving at a film so exhausting it's no wonder the producers scrapped the entire, unwieldy idea of continuity when devising the following instalment.

Screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade start with an imprisoned and potentially brainwashed Bond, one of the few Fleming plot points that hadn't already been cannibalised for sequels. Although we don't get anything as electrifying as 007 acting out The Manchurian Candidate, Die does at least proceed from something rooted in a primary text. Tamahori and his crew even devise a couple of shots that directly reference the strange functionality of the dust jacket illustrations wrapped around latter Bond novels. Die takes the self-regarding autosarcophagy that has driven the last thirty years of Bond and makes it text. Rather than mask its intentions, the film actually invites the viewer to tick off the call-backs and visual quotes. Tomorrow Never Dies revolved around a Bond that was designed to simultaneously embody the best elements of every previous 007 actor. Since Die is already doing something similar structurally, it takes a different tact with its hero.

In deference to The Matrix's martial arts metaphysics, James Bond becomes a cosmic guru able to stop and start his heart at will. Somewhere in North Korea, between the endless poisonings and water torture, Bond concentrated hard enough to achieve a state of awareness that rendered his ego effectively null. 007 has literally been given power over life and death, he has himself become the ultimate gadget. Bond's existence is no longer defined by moment-to-moment aggressions, he's above that now. Pierce Brosnan instead embodies the genre equivalent of a grey man, able to mount and conquer dangers born from of an entire, idiosyncratic, continuity screaming in at him from every direction. 

The unflappable, self-important Bond has evolved. His practised numbness making him the perfect passenger for a film built entirely out of reconfiguration. The self-immolation trend continues with an enemy willing to destroy his own face to win. Will Yun Lee's Moon is a North Korean colonel who has undergone radical gene therapy, transforming himself into Toby Stephens' Gustav Graves, a white entrepreneur who makes a tabloid splash by staging the kind of daredevil publicity stunts that Eon uses to promote its films in real life. Moon explicitly states that he's based his Seconds identity (there's John Frankenheimer again) on James Bond, meaning 007's final on-screen enemy is a rotting, augmented, doppelgänger who sneers when he tries to smile. Die Another Day is the Bond concept imploding, a film series struggling with CG modernity, unable to find a workable hook outside of self-assessment.

Moondragon - Miramar

K' and Maxima by Falcoon

Shakedown Hawaii - PRO-GEAR SPEC

Shakedown Hawaii is Brian Provinciano and Vblank Entertainments' delightful looking follow-up to Retro City Rampage. Hawaii delivers a Neo Geo style recalibration that promises destructible environments and a wildly increased colour count. The move to 16-bit architectural oomph also allows a driving model that looks straight out of Neo Drift Out as well as Metal Slug's highly detailed interpersonal injury.

Monday, 23 November 2015

BluntOne - Winta

007 - The World is Not Enough

The World is Not Enough is powerful evidence for the idea that the Austin Powers films thoroughly undermined the James Bond concept. Rather than push further into the realms of the unreal, World retracts, attempting a more novelistic approach to Britain's top secret agent. As a pitch World is wonderful, a sour reconfiguring of On Her Majesty's Secret Service that sees Pierce Brosnan's Bond thoroughly duped by his adversary, an heiress who greedily protects her oil fortune. Under Barbara Broccoli's tenure the female roles in James Bond films have come on leaps and bounds; Sophie Marceau's Elektra King is the best yet, a master manipulator who has disguised herself as a willowy little rich girl. 

Marceau is excellent throughout, able to communicate several crucially different readings of the same basic character. To Bond she's a genuine love interest, a beautiful, well-heeled equal who can ski her way out of danger. Elektra gives him exactly what he wants. In his eyes she's another Tracy, his doomed wife come again, demanding protection. An appreciative 007 gobbles her up, greedily. Judi Dench's M gets Daddy's Little Girl, a calculated attempt to exploit the bond between King's father and the MI6 taskmaster. King zeroes in on a maternal pang and ruthlessly applies pressure, causing M to wander into danger with open arms.

Robert Carlyle's disfigured anarchist Renard sees something else entirely. His mind clouded by a (physically at least) reciprocated love. Contrary to his stated beliefs Renard makes Elektra a Queen in his mind, subordinating himself to the role of dutiful serf. He's the gardener to her Lady Chatterley, a vulgar, physical little man who feels himself elevated by an aristocrat's affections. Perhaps at one point Renard was working towards the complete destruction of the capitalist machine, now he's just a zombie, shuffling along at the behest of an oil magnate. The bullet 009 blasted into Renard's skull has made him into an unfeeling, broken, thing. King exploits this flaw mercilessly, folding him and his private army into her own schemes as penance for his inability to summon up an erection.

Sex is always power in James Bond films, a strength focused around 007's indefatigable desire to fuck. World makes this his weakness. Even when Bond has a sense that King is rotten, he's reluctant to make that final conceptual push and recognise her as evil. He just doesn't want to. He'd rather rescue then mend her, use her to fill the hole that Irma Bunt blew through him on his wedding day. When Bond finally does accept the reality of King, that she isn't being puppeteered by a KGB bogeyman, something inside 007 turns cold. King recognises this and flees, attempting to transform the preamble of her termination into a game of kiss chase. King's final appeal is that of an infantilized sexpot, an object that wants to be dominated and penetrated by master adventurer James Bond.

Unfortunately Marceau's grandstanding performance is just a cog in a bigger machine. King's death isn't even the finale, Bond has to stagger off and sink a submarine with Denise Richards' nuclear physicist-cum-wet t-shirt contestant in tow. Director Michael Apted might be able to coach an indelible performance out of Marceau but his action chops are non-existent. Charitably, you could make the case that World's inert, bloodless denouement is a reflection of the head space Bond and Renard share. Their pathetic clashing symptomatic of the psychic damage that Elektra has done to them both. Watching the duo limply exchange kicks over a nuclear reactor may tally with this dramatic throughline but it's zero fun to watch. World has all the raw ingredients to be one of the very best Bonds but Aped's assembly is slack and slow, full of broken men impotently jabbing at their enemies with guns they don't intend to fire. When Marceau is onscreen we're back in the 1960s, drinking in a fresh, young action series. When she's not we're stuck with the kind of punishing, mind-numbing boredom that sank that other missed opportunity, The Man with the Golden Gun.

Judge Dredd (for Vice) by Carlos Ezquerra

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Atmosphere - Southsiders

Star Wars Battlefront - MELT

Star Wars Battlefront is out and picking up umpteen thinkpieces about whether or not its miserly map count represents good value for money. Economic concerns aside, Battlefront has already proven its worth, in my eyes at least, by allowing TheSandyRavage yet another platform to endlessly wreck the unprepared online gamer.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

007 - Tomorrow Never Dies

After three films dealing with a vulnerable, somewhat human Bond, Tomorrow Never Dies reverts to type with an arrogant, self-impressed iteration that skews uncomfortably close to whatever Roger Moore was selling. Tomorrow is a victory lap, the trepidation that ensured GoldenEye's fresh take is tidied away to make room for a haughty Bond powered by test audience suggestions. GoldenEye brushed off its BMW's concealed missiles because, really, who cares? That film was too busy trying to establish some sort of relationship between its two leads. Tomorrow revels in the added value alterations, mindlessly ticking off every little thing Q branch has promised. Similarly, Bond is now a complete expert in every aspect of life, able to drive his radio controlled product placement with pinpoint accuracy despite a cruddy looking touch interface.

Timothy Dalton's Bond floundered because two film's worth of filmmakers couldn't work out what to do with him. His grave, internal acting was eternally at odds with the stunt spectaculars he found himself in. Pierce Brosnan has the opposite problem, they're trying to do everything with him. Barbara Broccoli and pals insist he juggle the violence of Connery with the louche sexuality of Lazenby and the flippancy of Moore. It's too much. A tonal assault that only really settles down when director Roger Spottiswoode starts indulging his fully-automatic John Woo fantasies for the finale. Brosnan then is a post-modern mutant, an amalgamation rather than a character; 35 years of baggage hurling itself at the screen every single second. 007's identity crisis allows Michelle Yeoh's Colonel Wai Lin to breeze in and steal the film. 

Although barely anything of a character, Yeoh invests her performance with a sense of trepidation that registers as an understandably human concern. It's not that she's uncomfortable around the invulnerable Bond, it's that she's aware that he's an assassin and, given the circumstances in which they meet, he might want to kill her. Wai Lin subordinates Bond in a way Xenia never quite managed. She's so quiet and efficient that Bond regresses into a children's entertainer, cracking jokes and fiddling with gadgets whenever she's around. The audience isn't trusted to find two spies uneasily sharing space engrossing so 007 effectively becomes Wai Lin's comic relief. A shame the same courtesy isn't extended to Yeoh's martial arts set-ups - impacts are numbed by a cutting practice that obscures collision and a blunt foley mix that has more in common with sitcom giggle prompts than bone-crunching violence. 

The further away we get from Tomorrow Never Dies, the stranger it looks. Prescient even. Jonathan Pryce's media villain Elliot Carver is a slightly more unhinged version of Rupert Murdoch, a megalomaniac who has traded celebrity phone-taps for nuclear-capable stealth boats. Carver is vile. Like all the Bond villains who seek to trap the secret agent in their social circle, he's never seen without a throng of well-compensated suck-ups. His wife, played by Teri Hatcher, is wise to the narcissism and is therefore off flirting with younger, fitter men. In light of the scurrilous rumours that surround Murdoch's most recent marriage, it's tempting to organise Tomorrow Never Dies as a kind of New Labour fantasy detailing Tony Blair's explosive extra-marital seduction of Wendi Deng. Cool Britannia working its magic to canonise Britpop Blair in a million-dollar shag narrative that finally allows the Prime Minister to openly, and contemptuously, stick it to the Dirty Digger by feeding him to a terrifying chainsaw rocket. If the Bond series are the dreams of Britain then Tomorrow Never Dies imagines a truly fantastical time and place in which the political elite don't have to bow and scrape around unscrupulous newspaper magnates.

RoboCop Versus The Terminator #2 by Walter Simonson

Sheer Mag - Fan the Flames

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

007 - GoldenEye

GoldenEye clears the deck. Another soft reboot for the ageless secret agent that offers us a new Bond and a fresh set of MI6 handlers. Even resident director John Glen is jettisoned to make way for Martin Campbell, a director who made his name on television. Campbell had previously handled the interminable shoot-outs of ITV's The Professionals as well as Edge of Darkness, a critically acclaimed BBC thriller about a Policeman investigating the murder of his daughter. Campbell's contribution is obvious, he suffuses GoldenEye with a sense of luxury, a quality long absent from the series. Campbell and cinematographer Phil MĂ©heux steer 007 away from the flat functionality of Glen into a more sumptuous state of assembly. Licence to Kill borrowed ticks and tricks from the likes of Lethal Weapon and Die Hard without really engaging with why either film was so broadly popular. Simply, they are quality action films, well-engineered scripts in the hands of directors who were able to draw out the spectral beauty of their ruin.

GoldenEye is Bond reaching for that level, a film designed to be a complete experience rather than a routine crawl through the formula factory. John McTiernan and Richard Donner's films are again present in how GoldenEye seeks to include qualities that might register with an audience that doesn't wolf down ice cream on their birthday. If The Spy Who Loved Me was a film designed to introduce the idea of breasts to an appreciative, adolescent, audience, then GoldenEye is a deliberate alternative, a Bond film that attempts to elevate its moth-eaten formula by including female perspectives. Izabella Scorupco's Natalya is the convergence point, the usual one-dimensional love interest raised by the actress, Michael France and a squad of screenwriters to the role of an active participant.

Natalya is a notable character in the Bond pantheon because we're not only allowed a window into her motivations, we also see her forged. She isn't just shoved in from stage left in a bikini, we experience the sequence of events that mutated her from a comfortable cubicle dweller into an accomplice that fills a critical hole in James Bond's technologically outmoded skill-set. During a tense briefing at MI6, Bond watches her digital ghost drag itself out of a pit of fire and mangled machinery. Using a satellite camera, he zooms in on her, noting her importance. It feels like an anointment. 007 gazing across the world and finding what he lacks. In GoldenEye Bond needs Natalya, he could not complete his mission without her.

Famke Janssen's Xenia Onatopp is Natalya's flip-side, the femme fatale of the twin Thunderballs rescued from an early death and allowed to thrive. Xenia is defined by her consumptions - her love of smoking, fast cars and dominating sexuality. She's nothing less than a Soviet approximation of James Bond himself, Connery's take at that. She's a malfunctioning, bizarro clone that conducts herself with the same capricious cruelty. Like Connery she's a sore loser used to the total access her looks provide. In a neat reversal she manages to survive a couple of foreplay altercations with 007, the British spy contriving to spare her rather than really get his hands dirty. Onatopp is the hero of her own story, a perpetual thorn in Bond's side, reappearing again and again to trap him between her pincer thighs. She's even blessed with her own set of morbid quips, delivered while she gloats over her latest merciless extermination.

Xenia represents Bond's unpleasant past. She is a wanton, unchecked, feasting; operating with a sense of impunity. She tries to do to Bond that which he has done to countless women before her. She wants to trap 007 and use him up, an attempt to take a kind of metatextual revenge for everyone the British agent has bedded, then promptly brushed aside. Xenia isn't just trying to kill Bond, she wants to subordinate him, transforming him into a tool that fulfils her desire to cum. This extravagance is her downfall. Unfortunately she's not facing any of the Bond's that minted this idea of unhinged lust. GoldenEye's 007 does not attempt to recruit her or even out-fuck her. 

Pierce Brosnan's model is instead a ruthless but monogamous take on the character, informed by Timothy Dalton's AIDS era adventurer. There's no dominance asserting grapple here. As soon as Xenia turns her back, Bond is using every underhand trick he can to press his advantage. Natalya and Onatopp are conceptually important to both GoldenEye and James Bond the never-ending franchise. Xenia allows the character to shed some unsavoury baggage while Natalya rounds him off, picking up his slack to form an unbeatable unit. Trapped in the liar of the treacherous 006, she resists capture longer than Bond, plonking herself in front of a computer to sabotage the billion dollar plot while the boys bicker. Natalya contributes in a way that Barbara Bach's Agent Triple X was never allowed to - she represents a future for Bond in which women have worth to him as something other than a disposable conquest.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

007 - Licence to Kill

Licence to Kill has a great hook. What would happen if someone pissed James Bond off? How do we organically track 007 to the point were he's standing in-front of M, surrounded by MI6 goons, ready to hurl a kick at his superior's midriff? For the answer, resident screenwriters Michael G Wilson and Richard Maibaum dip into Live and Let Die, Ian Fleming's violent, guttural novel about consumption, dredging up an image of a friend who has had his legs chewed off.

Egged on by the success of Lethal Weapon and Die Hard, Licence incorporates horror certificate gore to make its point. Thanks to Robert Davi's drug dealing supervillain Sanchez, an incompetent middle-man is obliterated in a pressure chamber and Bond's best pal Felix Leiter has his leg torn away from his body by a shark. We're sold stakes. Licence proposes a story running on this kind of physical and psychological damage, then quickly gets cold feet. The film moves with an isolated, vengeful Bond for the sum total of one act before piling on accomplices and diluting the hate with the kind of nonsensical gadgetry that the comparatively grounded The Living Daylights had largely avoided.

Vengeance implies a single-minded cause and effect, Sanchez hurts Bond so Bond hurts Sanchez. mauling Felix - not to mention having the CIA agent's blameless wife gangraped to death - as an inciting incident on yet another tale in which 007 slowly picks at a villain's social circle feels like a waste. Timothy Dalton is more than capable of taking us to the dark, sullen corners of James Bond the character. This is the first film in the series since On Her Majesty's Secret Service to give 007 a reason to sit in the dark and drink, yet it doesn't bother. Unfortunately, the people financially and creatively backing Dalton are far more interested in delivering James Bond the easily digestible action product.

Turboslash - Deathracer

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Fallout 4 - PUNCH MAN

BOYvsVIDEOGAME specialises in playing games in deliberately strenuous ways. Our hero won't just crank up the difficulty to its highest setting, he'll handicap himself in some other irritating way too, like choosing not to level up his character or, in the case of this Fallout 4 video, by not using guns or melee weapons.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

007 - The Living Daylights

Roger Moore's ghost haunts The Living Daylights. The most ubiquitous Bond actor mutated the series, changing it from a succession of doomsday thrillers into light-hearted romps full of knowing winks and outrageous action. 007 was altered at a chemical level to better serve Moore's strengths and weaknesses. His charmless Bond was tidied away from the action, infrequently called upon to deliver his patented Simon Templar sneer in tension shattering close-up.

Still, the formula worked. Budgets and box office soared under Moore's tenure, so even though John Glen has Shakespearean actor Timothy Dalton at his disposal, he's reluctant to really shake things up. Thankfully Dalton isn't content to tread the same water, he's here to work. The actor could sleepwalk through the role, pull a face and collect his cheque. Instead he invests his Bond with real steel, an impatient professional surrounded by suits and amateurs. Dalton's 007 skews tender when he has room to breath but violent and terrifying if he is cornered. Over and over Dalton stresses an idea of calculation and intelligence.

Dalton is so good he manages to spin the same dreadful old quips into frustrated, sardonic, asides. He's got a great look too - roomy suits, eyes ringed by darkness, hair perfectly coiffed and sprayed, like a Paul Gulacy drawing of Dracula. Dalton's biggest obstacle to success is Glen himself. Although a dab hand with action, the director finds himself a bit lost when called upon to arrange dramatic moments. Glen abandons Dalton to large, airy rooms, projecting to nothing. Crucial moments in which Bond browbeats Art Malik's Osama bin Laden stand-in are distorted in the edit too. Dalton's agitated bullet point speech left to die by dead air and a few terminally late cuts.

Leonardo by Dan Mora

Carpenter Brut - Anarchy Road

Tangerine Dream - Love on a Real Train (Betamaxx Remix)

Monday, 9 November 2015

Call of Duty: Black Ops III - BROKEN ARROW

Follow enough screeching YouTubers and you can immerse yourself in Call of Duty content all year round. The fallow, non-DLC months are the most interesting, with content starved vloggers digging into code minutiae or Agony Aunt-style personal experience in a desperate attempt to keep those views piling in. Not TheSandyRavage though, if the last couple of years are anything to go by we'll get about a dozen gameplay massacres before he gets bored and slouches off to something different. As if to prove my point, here's Sandals accidentally getting the highest denoted kill-streak bonus on Call of Duty: Black Ops III.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

007 - A View to a Kill

Roger Moore's sub-series has settled into a pleasant groove under John Glen. The director organises two hour long action collages that only demand the odd close-up from its nip-and-tucked star. Once A View to a Kill has finished grinding joylessly through a toothless social intrusion, the film switches gears, transforming into a rolling calamity generator. View's creaky old 007 is pitted against Christopher Walken's test tube Nazi Max Zorin and Grace Jones' steely, feline, bodyguard May Day. Zorin is that rare Bond villain, a man who doesn't simply see the extermination of human life in abstract, statistical, terms. Zorin revels in the slaughter, snorting and giggling as he fills loyal, blue-collar workers full of lead. Like Hollywood's biggest 80s export Arnold Schwarzenegger, he's another automatic Aryan, blazing through terrified bystanders with aspirational Israeli machineguns.

View's first act may flounder but the back half is energised. Bond shuffles through a variety of prefab identities that keep him locked into the firing line while May Day's allegiances flip-flop after Zorin tries to drown her. Glen is game too, manoeuvring around his stiffening star to deliver his garbled take on en vogue cataclysm - armies of emergency vehicles are chewed up and spat out in a destruction derby that recalls John Landis' The Blues Brothers, lit to resemble Walter Hill's The Driver. Best of all, a finale setpiece on and around San Francisco's immovable Golden Gate Bridge plays out with the same barbaric physics George Miller gave to Mad Max 2. When 007 lashes Zorin's branded dirigible to the invincible monument it doesn't just hang there uselessly, it drifts and buckles. Bond and Zorin's confrontation is given an extra layer of danger by this treacherous, collapsing, stage. Glen's film may have the emotional depth of a puddle but the director goes out of his way to find new and terrifying places to strand his stuntmen.

Vega by Nona