Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Sylvester Stallone in the 1980s - Over the Top

Sylvester Stallone's brief dalliance with The Cannon Group concludes with Over the Top, a picturesque, would-be tearjerker direct from company head Menahem Golan. Stallone plays Lincoln Hawk, an absentee father looking to reconnect with his son before the film's climax press-gangs him into an all-consuming arm-wrestling contest. Over the Top does little to tap into Stallone The Star, his take on Hawk is reserved bordering on flat. Golan instead uses the actor as the personification of inexpressive masculinity.

Despite a few airbrushed posters focused around Stallone's steely, action-ready musculature, Over the Top takes a different tact for the majority of its runtime, unspooling from the perspective of his onscreen son. David Mendenhall's Michael is a child trapped in the company of a parent he doesn't know or really understand. Hawk is a wandering trucker obsessed with bicep expanding repetition, Michael is a hesitant, fragile little boy boxed off to a military academy by his mobbed-up Grandfather so he can learn how to sneer at poor people.

Like all remote, emotionally cool movie fathers, Hawk struggles to comprehend a child that is an individual rather than an extension of himself. Hawk pushes his son into emotional and physical arenas that he has himself mastered with the intention of stressing their innate, biological kinship. Conflict demands Michael fail outright but in the end an ill-advised arm-wrestling contest with a diner tough becomes a confidence builder for the son rather than an opportunity for the father to manage his peculiar expectations. Disappointingly, Over the Top isn't interested in Michael failing or Hawk growing.

Over the Top has the constituent parts to create something quite interesting. Stallone was living, breathing pop culture at this point while Mendenhall is able to communicate a real sense of desperation - although the child star displays a relentlessly toothy smile, his eyes are wide with real mania. Whether or not this is actual acting or simply the boy's physical reaction to playing against Rocky is irrelevant. It works for the character. Unfortunately, Stallone isn't asked to do anything as taxing as love a child that doesn't measure up to his own brawny standards. Over the Top is all the poorer for that.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

E3 2016 - Battlefield 1

Jackfrags and Matimi0 with some Battlefield 1 gameplay. Put all notions of a miserable trench war out of your head, this is The Great War on an adrenaline drip. Tommies and Fritz tearing around France, blasting holes in each other with sexed up identity weaponry. Interestingly, both embedded players have gravitated towards the Assault Class and its not-actually-anachronistic Bergmann MP18, a German submachine gun that was issued in the final stages of the First World War and went on to be banned under The Treaty of Versailles.

E3 2016 - Death Stranding

Despite his move away from Konami, Hideo Kojima has retained the services of former Silent Hills partner Norman Reedus, casting the actor as his latest mullet muscle man in Death Stranding. This being a Kojima joint, actual info is scant. All we really know is that Death Stranding is an action game and (regardless of early word that the game designer was keen to get his next game out quick) we shouldn't expect it anytime soon.

E3 2016 - We Happy Few

Compulsion Games' We Happy Few casts the player as a right old misery guts, the kind of guy who won't take his happy pills and keeps pointing out that the future isn't delightful and charming, it's actually really awful and horrid. Starting life as a Kickstarter that I somehow completely spaced on, We Happy Few looks set to pick up where Ken Levine's original (wonderful) BioShock left off, delivering a tense, hardscrabble jaunt about a future-shocked, psychedelic environment.

E3 2016 - Yakuza 0

Not that you'd know it watching this trailer but Yakuza 0 takes place in 1988 and allows players to mooch around Japanese arcades between scraps, pumping coins into Sega classics like Space Harrier, Fantasy Zone, OutRun, and Hang-On. Sounds like a dream come true to me.

E3 2016 - Days Gone / God of War

Keen to reverse the ailing fortunes of their worldwide studios, Sony have hit upon a bold new strategy: they'll turn every game on their slate into The Last of Us. We've already seen it with Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, Naughty Dog's climb and shoot game given a dour, dialogue heavy tuning in pursuit of a better Metacritic score. Days Gone, from Syphon Filter devs Bend Studio, proceeds from an obvious point of influence - players are tasked with crafting improvised explosives whilst cascading cadavers threaten what's left of humanity.

Even slash 'em up stalwart God of War isn't immune to this company wide brief. Kratos is no longer locked in a vast dynastic struggle with the Greek pantheon, instead he's a grumpy, emotionally cold father bumbling around in his local woods, poaching some scran with his incompetent son. This revision actually works pretty well for Kratos (a character that's always threatened to be a total fucking bore), it gives him some much needed dimension. Turns out the violent relics of sixth-generation video games can become interesting again if you just lumber them with a gentle child. Who knew?

E3 2016 - Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

Or Biohazard 7: Resident Evil if you live in Japan. Despite being Capcom's flagship franchise the Resident Evil series suffers from a perpetual identity crisis. Is it a rickety, zombie infested puzzler? Maybe it's an over-the-shoulder crowd management game? Or perhaps it's a super boring third-person actioner featuring absolutely zero explanation of its deeper movement and melee mechanics? For this 7th sequel, Capcom, emboldened by Hideo Kojima's PT demo, have gone back to tumble-down houses and lurking terror. Due out on everything expensive, the PlayStation 4 version also features full, nightmarish VR support. There's even a playable preview available right now if you fork out for PS Plus.

E3 2016 - Titanfall 2

Finally liberated from an Xbox only exclusivity deal, Respawn Entertainment's mech-murder sim looks set to launch with traverse-everything gameplay, free forever DLC, and a campaign mode with somebody their best Peter Cullen / Optimus Prime impression. Quite why EA have elected to release Titanfall 2 the week between Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare though remains a mystery.

E3 2016 - Let It Die

Suda 51 and pals talk us through Let It Die, Grasshopper Manufacture's upcoming free-to-play brawler. Based on this footage, players get to ramble around squalid environments in their underwear, stealing blunt objects from other wandering lunatics. Since this is a Suda 51 game, players are also able to execute a variety of pro-wrestling maneuvers and gather up a wardrobe full of post-apocalyptic fashion staples.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows doesn't have a lot going for it. For a start the human characters are terminally flat, a gang of ancillary meat puppets, occasionally employed to burn up screentime whenever the budget doesn't allow for six or seven cavorting monsters. The Turtles themselves are given the bones of a self-determination angle, dramatically, we seem to be heading towards the kind of gold-plated acceptance enjoyed by Johnny 5 at the end of Short Circuit 2. The idea of the Turtles being thrust into the limelight and perhaps drifting apart is dangled but eventually rejected. Disappointingly Out of the Shadows ends upholding the sewer dwelling status quo.

Turtles 2 primary joy then is how it translates the oozing, radioactive aesthetics of its progenitor brand. Ninja Turtles is a property that explicitly sprang from drawings of repulsive beings. Instead of anything heroic and relatable, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's original comics gave us malformed faces stamped with rictus grins and empty, blaring eyes. While a cartoon series was content to render the characters as a series of cuddly circles, a simultaneous toy line employed a staggering level of imagination, perhaps looking to David Cronenberg's The Fly for ideas on how the basic Homo sapien outline could be warped and corrupted. Dave Green's film actually manages to bottle some of this lightning, offering up three central villains who range from stout and diseased to a flayed brain seeping out of a metallic titan's guts.

Friday, 3 June 2016

The Hunger

Tony Scott's feature d├ębut examines love and decay trough the prism of Vampirism, finding an undead Queen who cannot bear to be alone. Catherine Deneuve's Miriam Blaylock is evil by omission, an irresistible immortal who draws in lovers then infects them with her disease. She talks of eternity and an undying, never-ending love but what she's selling is actually explicitly impermanent. Neither the youth, nor the affection, she offers will last forever. She ensnares people, making them slave to her before slowly nudging them towards a state of profound, nightmarish, suffering. 

Miriam's partners are doomed to crumble, filed away in boxes while she puts the moves on her next pretty young conquest. Miriam refuses to free her victims from living death because she's sentimental, she'd miss them too much. The Hunger arrived hot on the heels of Blade Runner, both films focused around a cast of characters confronting their own mortality. While Ridley's film finds bravery and vitality in the Replicant's cruelly truncated life spans, Tony takes a different tact, organising the cloying, selfish hopes of the bereaved into the horrid drives of a deathless evil. This unflinching emotional honesty is the core of a film that employed the language of aspirational 80s commercials to map a clear line from Nicholas Roeg's self-imposed sieges to Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo cycle.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Nice Try - Magical Thinking / Your Hair

The Punisher (UK) #23 by Phil Gascoine


John Jansen's Hi-8 masterwork This is SEGA TEST offers a unique glimpse into the job of a games tester working for Sega in the mid-1990s. Testers here juggle incomplete code, eyesight ruining handhelds and acute paranoia all while surviving on a diet of cigarettes and Coca Cola.