Tuesday, 26 December 2017
Carly Rae Jepsen - Cut to the Feeling // Com Truise - Memory // Curtis Harding - Face your Fear // Do Make Say Think - Bound and Boundless // Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch - Rain // Harry Styles - Sign of the Times // Myrone - Sky Rogue 1.0 Trailer // Pixx - I Bow Down // バーチャル Paragon ™ - クリス // Radiohead - Lift // Selena Gomez - Bad Liar // Skyzoo - Finesse Everything
Akira Kushida – Ultimate Battle // BluntOne - Dealing with Demons // Calvin Harris – Slide ft. Frank Ocean // 猫 シ Corp - You Make it Happen (with プラザ Inc) // Daniel Deluxe - Darkness // David Bowie - No Plan // Fumesss - Odd Man Out // Goldfrapp - Anymore // Gorillaz - Hallelujah Money (feat. Benjamin Clementine) // Joey Bada$$ - Land of the Free // Jonwayne - TED Talk // Keiichi Okabe - Become as Gods // LCD Soundsystem - Call the Police // Little Mix - Power ft. Stormzy // MegaDrive - Integral Crisis // MYDREAMYADVENTURE - Fresh Air // Myrone - Keepin' On // Myrone - Treezy Breezy // The National - The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness // NERD & Rihanna - Lemon // 1995 Zellers - Paradise // Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds - Holy Mountain // バーチャル Paragon ™ - Luxury Districts // Paramore - Hard Times // Radiohead - I Promise // Radiohead - Man of War // Sadsic - III Year // Stormzy - Big for your Boots // Sunglasses Kid - Night Swim feat. Myrone // Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - John Carpenter's Halloween // WoodysProduce - Make You Feel
Friday, 22 December 2017
Firmly estranged from creator George Lucas, the third Star Wars cycle has struggled to beat its own, distinct path. The two films that precede Star Wars: The Last Jedi have cannibalised Lucas' entries, remixing and rehabilitating ideas to generate new material. Disney's contribution to the series seems to be focused on safety; incremental product that recycles past successes so as not to upset their lucrative apple cart. Star Wars: The Force Awakens plotted out a familiar heroic journey with characters that struggled with dead-end jobs and post-traumatic stress disorder, all the better to appeal to millennial spenders.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story proposed a desperate war story told with a visual language indebted to the interlaced buzz of an NTSC LaserDisc, then reverted to type with your standard three-front battle. Given Rogue One's well-documented reshoots, not to mention Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's ejection from the Han Solo film for termination catch-all 'creative differences', there's an expectation that Rian Johnson's Star Wars: The Last Jedi would have to play it safe, spinning the galactic wheels just enough for Colin Trevorrow or JJ Abrams to swoop in with a satisfying (rhyming) conclusion. If Disney demand a specific tone and structural stranglehold for their side-stories, then surely actual saga installments don't stand a chance?
Watching The Last Jedi it's immediately obvious that this is not the case. Johnson's film is playful, irreverent even. The opening crawl has barely faded before we're straight into something resembling a skit - hot shot pilots prank calling the fascists while Vyvyan from The Young Ones paces the deck of the feature Star Destroyer. As the film unfolds it becomes clear that Johnson's approach to Star Wars isn't a bit cautious, it's impulsive and sweeping. The Force Awakens isn't treated as a holy text to be slowly decoded. Johnson instead positions the predecessor as a jumping off point, a platform that allows the writer-director a natural point of conflict when steering the characters into situations he finds exciting. Rian Johnson is having fun.
Unlike your standard middle chapter, The Last Jedi hasn't been written to signpost a route to an eventual outcome. The film races straight into conflict, arriving at moments that push resolution then demand a wider re-evaluation. Rather than write to please the kind of episodic drip-feed you might expect, Johnson has constructed his film around Daisy Ridley's Rey and Adam Driver's Kylo Ren. The film moves on their decisions, using their mounting sense of uncertainty to posit routes and solutions that lie outside the strict binaries their masters are selling. Even an important, legacy character like Luke Skywalker is examined and deconstructed in ways that predominantly cater to the needs of Rey and Ren's arcs.
Since this isn't his trilogy, Luke Skywalker is played at arm's length, his failure rationed out in short, contradictory recollections that hit like confrontations. Johnson and Mark Hamill propose a Skywalker struggling to reconcile his status as an intergalactic messiah with the knowledge that he wasn't strong enough to protect his pupil. This Luke hasn't been defeated by the resurgence of a galactic dictatorship or the dark lords that steer it, he has chosen to remove himself because, just for a moment, he couldn't shoulder the burden of another family member hurtling deeper into hate. Luke is presented in strictly human terms in The Last Jedi. Specifically, he's an anointed one deaf to the hubris his achievements should arouse.
Johnson and Hamill's skill is that The Last Jedi's Luke doesn't feel dissonant when compared to one we saw in Return of the Jedi. Given the circumstances, it's the only Luke Skywalker that could exist. The details of Skywalker's interim years may be disappointing in terms of a promise unfulfilled but they are instantly understandable. Luke's inability to dredge up the compassion that saved his monstrous father when faced with a corrupted innocent would undermine his sense of self. Johnson puts the dour Jedi we met in the prequel trilogy to good use too, using Luke's knowledge of their dogmatic thinking to exacerbate his sense of personal failing. What use is the most powerful being in the universe if he can't even take a child in hand?
Thursday, 21 December 2017
Tuesday, 19 December 2017
Monday, 11 December 2017
Action-adventure films unfold as a series of waves, setting up characters and situations before introducing a trickle of intrigue to keep their viewers interested. Levity is important too, a smile here or there helps to keep the characters feeling human, extra necessary if a writer is pushing too hard in a structural direction, exposing the on-screen action as a series of ruthless data points. A well-written character then will allow a viewer to simmer in their company, charting a growth in their gradual response to the unfolding mayhem.
This is, in part, the strength powering television streaming's current golden age - personalities are afforded the space, time and storylines required to simulate evolution. Running a scant 106 minutes, Dunkirk doesn't have the luxury of time, it isn't able to slowly pick its characters apart to see what makes them tick. Instead it takes a series of easily understood archetypes - the teenage soldier, the father, the ace - then endangers them. With not a second to spare, writer-director Christopher Nolan explores his characters in their minute-by-minute response to this sustained, mounting terror.
Heroism, if and when it manifests, is not expressed through triumph. Success is measured only in the decision to continue struggling, to stare directly into calamity and keep heading towards it. The rout at Dunkirk and the subsequent evacuation are the perfect scenarios to draw out these kind of details. Running time doesn't need to be dedicated to any kind of overarching exposition, beyond a clipped opening brief. Likewise characters aren't required to do anything more complicated than survive. Dire situation in place, Nolan can knuckle down on the finer, more expressive moments that a locked on-spec cinema experience can provide.
Nolan's thundering insistence that his film be viewed under very specific conditions makes more sense when we see how he uses the verticality provided by IMAX's 1.43:1 frame. With The Dark Knight the effect was perfunctory, arriving infrequently to stress the towering, monumental scale of the city at the centre of Batman's mission. On Dunkirk Nolan uses the elevated ratio to create images that expand in every direction, depicting unconquered, threatening space above and below his subjects.
These shots, working in concert with gun reports that hit like cannons and Han Zimmer's clattering approximation of a heart-attack, congeal into an ever-present sense of doom. Death can come from any and every direction. This effect is further accentuated by Nolan's decision to fold the Nazi menace into the environment itself, never breaking from his subject's limited, blinkered perspectives. The presence of U-Boats, for instance, isn't established through miniature coverage or a prowling, CG effect, that would break the carefully calibrated illusion.
Viewers are quickly conditioned to expect the promenade strafing runs, to know that making it on to a fleeing boat does not guarantee safety. Dunkirk pulses with this anxiety, a film primed to cascade into full-on horror at a moment's notice. The scope for danger is exacerbated by the tall frame; a towering expanse primed to overwhelm and consume the tiny, vulnerable figures limping across the frothing, voided landscapes.
If the pace ever threatens to slacken or, God forbid, provide a gasp of breathing room, the film hurtles off to another temporal point where jeopardy can be piled on until the next natural break. The three stories - The Mole, The Sea, The Air - collide and interconnect frequently, working in service to their own individual dramas and a wider perspective on the unfolding nightmare. Nolan doesn't hold back these convergence points either, we often see disastrous results long before any of the boys summon up the courage to instigate them. These shifting, even clashing viewpoints are another tool used to express the terrifying indifference of collapsing, ruptured machinery.
Released just in time to completely miss the actual 30th birthday of the original Street Fighter's debut, Capom's Street Fighter Anniversary Collection brings together the obstinate 1987 arcade cabinet as well as eleven of its sequels, including series best installments like Street Fighter II' Turbo: Hyper Fighting and Street Fighter III 3rd Strike: Fight for the Future.
Capcom and curator devs Digital Eclipse have, thankfully, resisted the urge to repaint and reorganise these classics, delivering them in a package not unlike Hamster's wonderful Arcade Archives series. The only thing holding this suite back from being absolutely perfect is the omission of the various Alpha series revisions, like Zero 2 Dash or Zero 3 Double Upper. Also headed our way in 2018 is Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition, a rebalanced and expanded re-issue designed to banish the collective memory of the title's original, criminally undernourished 2016 release.
Sunday, 10 December 2017
Friday, 17 November 2017
Tuesday, 14 November 2017
Brawl in Cell Block 99 asks the viewer to reassess the looming physical presence of Vince Vaughn. Usually seen with a medicated sweat, bug-eyed and chattering away in a buddy-buddy comedy, Vaughn has never been cast explicitly to make use of his considerable size. Preconceptions aside, it seems obvious that the six foot plus actor is capable of the kind of towering menace that would be right at home in a prison combat movie. Despite this, Cell Block acknowledges the potential disconnect of Vaughn as a meat-and-potatoes Riki-Oh by slowly deconstructing the audience's baggage with the actor, drip-feeding incident and visual information that teaches us about his character, Bradley Thomas.
Cell Block teases Bradley's startling capacity for violence with a series of basic danger flags. These are then undermined with a couple of deft, contradictory feints regarding the man's temperament and how that feeds into an ability to subsume instinct and quietly calculate. When we meet Bradley he's working, the camera notes that he's tall and frowning, clad in faded black denims and a matching, washed out black t-shirt. While not quite speaking to the ordered perfectionism of a well kept uniform, there is a sense that Bradley dresses himself a little neater than a jobbing tow truck driver really needs to.
The cut of the clothes, not to mention Bradley's scowling attitude, suggest the kind of blue collar snobbery you find in minimum wage white supremacists - they might look like a lower income grasper but they've made their outfit drabber, as if a neat, character free fit combined with a funereal affectation inherently makes them more professional. Bradley's head is also bald, shaved down to the bone, a bovver boy look that aligns with our worries about Bradley's personal politics or, at the very least, suggests the seething intensity of a man who has abandoned personal image as a way to power his ego.
The cross stamped on the back of his head completes the maladjusted look. The tattoo is black and blocky, dressed with a few light, runic details. Christian imagery with a Norse twist. Is Bradley a full-on Nazi? Has he branded himself to atone for some past sin? Cell Block appears to be presenting a protagonist who will resort to violence as a reflex, a way to contextualise and work through any emotion or issue that overwhelms his dull processing powers. Writer-director S Craig Zahler then contradicts this knee-jerking assumption with two back-to-back scenes of emasculation that should, if we successfully judged this book by its cover, instantly summon up savagery. First Bradley loses his job, then his marriage is threatened.
The first detail Cell Block uses to dispel our worst fears about Bradley is a brief look at the interpersonal dynamics at play in the job he has just lost. While Bradley's white boss demonstrates commiseration, it's clear he's going through the motions. The sole note of sincerity comes from a black colleague named James (Peter Jay Fernandez) who goes out of his way to assure Bradley that if work picks up, he'll nag the boss to get him back. Bradley is polite but curt in this instance but Vaughn's performance speaks more to a wounded pride than any underlining bigotry.
Regardless of how the exchange fits into the film as a whole, there's a nagging sense that the James character interjects at this point to signal (rather bluntly) to the audience that Bradley might not be quite as vile as we assume. Zahler has used this slippery trick before, utilising a minority voice to dispel any mounting unease surrounding both the in-text white leads and the artistic intentions of the filmmakers - before the residents of Bright Hope posse up in Bone Tomahawk they take the time to consult with Zahn McClarnon's Professor, a Native American who exists in the film solely to explain, then condemn, the actions of the film's cave-dwelling troglodytes.
Cell Block quickly gets back on track with a second, more personal note of castration. Bradley returns home to find his wife Lauren (Jennifer Carpenter) sat in her car. It quickly emerges that she's been seeing someone else and that she's considering leaving him. He sends her into their poky little home and stays outside to seethe. Finally he explodes, attacking her car. He starts by shattering the side window with his bare hands. His fists don't instantly accomplish the task, it takes a few goes before he is able to punch through the laminated glass. He destroys the wing mirror then attacks the hood of the car, prising it off with his bare hands, tossing it aside when he's finished.
The violence starts explosive and frenzied but quickly becomes calm and methodical, therapeutic even. Bradley is expelling his emotions through systematic destruction. In this moment he is scary and monstrous, like some unfeeling slasher movie monster. Zahler immediately undercuts this sense of mounting threat by having Bradley calmly enter his house and engage in a conversation with his wife that is not only sensible but surprisingly tender. He is willing to listen to Lauren and talk through her feelings regarding the failings in their relationship. Most importantly, he is prepared to make an immediate commitment to her and their future together.
Before he has even set foot in Don Johnson's decaying medieval clink Bradley has beaten a car to death with his bare hands then calmly devised a plan to make his wife happier and more comfortable. He decides to return to a life of crime, transporting drugs for a local crime boss. The decision has a sacrificial quality about it - Bradley is prepared to feed himself into a meat-grinder to ensure that he can provide for his family. Brawl in Cell Block 99 takes its time, building early scenes and situations around a character that we come to understand as grim but determined. There's a certain inevitability about Bradley Thomas. If he says he's going to do something, come hell or high water, he will do it.
Monday, 13 November 2017
Thursday, 9 November 2017
Wednesday, 8 November 2017
6 Days opens with six determined men jogging along resplendent Kensington streets, barely even attempting to conceal their Soviet surplus machine-pistols. After spooking a few pedestrians they pile into a Hyde Park terrace (that looks like a fortress rendered as a listed building) then take hostages, initiating 1980's Iranian Embassy Siege. Director Toa Fraser doesn't dwell on this seizure as an embedded, boiling point situation though. Likewise, Glenn Standring's screenplay doesn't delineate each individual member of the Democratic Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Arabistan, their wider political motivations or even the majority of the captives they take.
The event is instead used to power a film assembled from differing viewpoints within the British establishment; how they intertwine and sometimes contrast. The weakest, and most underwritten, of these viewpoint comes from the small army of journalists that gather outside the building to rubberneck and then weakly discuss the ethical implications of said rubbernecking. Abbie Cornish, as BBC reporter Kate Adie, opts to deliver the journalist's signature staccato readings as the kind of breathy bellows you'd expect from a Chris Morris newsreader. Mark Strong offers the police perspective as Chief Inspector Max Vernon. The Metropolitan policeman functions as an intermediary, desperately trying to negotiate a peaceful resolution with Ben Turner's Salim, the sympathetic voice of the hostage takers.
6 Days most exciting moments revolve around the SAS team hiding in an adjacent building, posing as cleaners. The group spend the days leading up to their eventual assault drilling a variety of potential attacks and watching the snooker. Their scenes have an anxious, stop-start rhythm to them as the soldiers plan around both the terrorists' actions and the limits placed on them by a top brass looking for a public relations coup - a nighttime ambush is mooted but dismissed by a grumbling Cobra committee for being too aggressively efficient. This simmering, violent frustration is exemplified by Jamie Bell's performance as Rusty Firmin, an elite soldier blessed with the cocky enthusiasm of a pub fighter. Fraser successfully channels the actor's fitful, overflowing energy with an exemplary piece of mid-point violence that sees Firmin and pals smashing a stout, Plaxton coach to pieces with gleaming fire axes and a stainless steel ladder.
Wednesday, 25 October 2017
Monday, 23 October 2017
Ever wonder why Resident Evil 4 always feels so rewarding to play, regardless of how well you're doing? Mark Brown thinks he has the answer - a hidden difficulty modifier that took stock of how the player was progressing then fine tuned the experience based on that information.
Tuesday, 17 October 2017
Sunday, 15 October 2017
Blade Runner winds down with Rutger Hauer's Roy Batty delivering a poetic speech about the incredible, mind-bending events he has experienced while toiling at the far end of the galaxy as a synthetic soldier. The soliloquy bubbles up out of Roy in the company of Harrison Ford's Rick Deckard, the policeman-cum-assassin who has hunted and killed all of the combat model's beloved companions. Deckard has stumbled at the last hurdle though. Despite Batty's waning energies, the replicant has overpowered his executioner then, pointedly, saved his life.
Prior to delivering his final, grandstanding statement, before he's even lifted Deckard to safety, Batty pauses to say the following: "Quite an experience to live in fear, isn't it? That's what it is to be a slave." The decision to spare Deckard's life means something to this futuristic mamluk. The action stresses a humanity apparently alien in this used up world. The android has defied both his programming and social conditioning to forgive. By showing mercy to a wounded inferior, Batty has asserted a fleeting moment of moral superiority. The machine is closer to the divine than the man who pursued him.
Denis Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049 explodes out of this moment, conflating the experiences of Batty and Deckard to arrive at a new character, Ryan Gosling's K. Screenwriters Hampton Fancher and Michael Green neatly side-step any dangling threads regarding Deckard's biological identity by taking how society treated him at face value, then using that status to make a comparison with their own downtrodden hero. It doesn't matter if the viewer believed Rick to be the advanced Nexus 7 (a model conspicuously absent from 2049) replicant Ridley Scott has described in retrospective interviews or, like Harrison Ford, they assumed he was simply a man. Los Angeles 2019 responded to Deckard as a human, therefore, as far as power structures were concerned, he was. K is afforded no such luxury. He is a slave. He lives in fear.
2049 then explicitly delivers on Blade Runner's spectral notion that the hunter, rather than pursuing a supernatural other, might be tracking a variant of himself, a machine created specifically to eliminate other machines. K is a docile, compliant Nexus 9 who hunts and kills his mutinous antecedents. Despite holding the same position within the LAPD as Deckard, K is, at best, treated as a curiosity. Armoured pigs spit invective at him, while a sympathetic superior draws out their meetings to hint at a sexual fascination with plastic boy toys. Off-duty, K returns to a modest cell where he play-acts a loving inter-personal relationship with a lower form of artificial intelligence played by Ana de Armas.
K is free to pursue basic consumer delights and not much else. He isn't programmed to wonder, the overt rebellious streak that drove Batty and the rest of the Nexus 6 replicants has seemingly been nailed down to bad code and suppressed. Initially, K doesn't dream, he harbours no desire to escape. He knows he's a tool and accepts it, trapped and complying within the limits imposed by both his captivity and the orders that have been written into his DNA. K does have a tiny release valve though, a small exploit that he can use to needle away at his fractional freedom. He uses the money he collects retiring his malfunctioning brethren to buy piecemeal upgrades for his holographic girlfriend Joi, allowing her greater freedom of movement and purpose within their living space.
Pre-tweak Joi is designed solely to please, clumsily cycling through various domestic and sexual fantasy archetypes to arrive at a state that her owner finds acceptable. Post-tweak Joi's attempts at seduction take a finer, more nuanced approach. Rather than simply offer up a visual that excites in the moment, Joi constructs an entire series of interactions around the notion of a loving spouse who desires physical and emotional intimacy. She even goes as far as to hire Mackenzie Davis' replicant prostitute Mariette to be her physical surrogate. Joi maps her own image over Mariette, an imperfect solution that blends their features and occasionally lags, creating a chimeric sexual partner for K.
K has slowly and methodically built a being with the ability to think and diverge in ways that his programming and stringent defragging struggle to allow. It's revolt as a micro-aggression, an underling using the only means afforded to his social class to make the tiniest, most private statement of defiance. 2049 never clarifies if Joi has become self-aware or if her upgrade has simply allowed her to present a deeper, more nourishing approximation of a relationship. Her sacrifice is real though, her decision to leave the safety offered by their apartment and its back-up hard drives denotes a selflessness surely beyond the scope of a consumer product.
Joi's customisation says something about K too, emblematic of a deep-seated desire to nurture the sort of life that he feels unable to seize upon himself. He's a synthetic man attempting to transform the actions of a murdering scab into the emancipation of a kindred program after all. Basically, like all screen replicants before him, K wants something at odds with his core servility. 2049's central plot - the quest for a bio-mechanical anointed one - allows K the scope and opportunity to veer away from his usual, plodding wet work.
Deckard's investigation allowed him to study his artificial quarry, he sifted through their meagre, flea market belongings to discover a blazing desire for self-determination. K's experience is altogether more tragic. The memories he excavates undermine his basic sense of belonging before taking on an explicitly personal dimension. As the details and information pile up, K uses the data to replace his baseline mantra, recalibrating himself to think and act as a being with an inherent destination. K reprograms himself, briefly tasting a life beyond killing in which he is allowed to carry his own personal purpose.
Saturday, 16 September 2017
Friday, 8 September 2017
Takashi Miike brings his breathless V-Cinema flair to a video game adaptation, transforming Sega's long-running Yakuza series into a one-crazy-night movie set in a sweltering red-light district. Kazuki Kitamura plays Kiryu, an indefatigable brawler who has set himself the task of reuniting a street waif with her absent, mobbed up, mother. This search forms the backbone of the film, allowing Kiryu to cross paths with a variety of strange people on their own discursive adventures. It's not often a video game movie even attempts to translate its originator's mechanical make-up but Miike is happy to engage here, successfully tapping into the side-quest system of the PlayStation releases to power his own street-level Short Cuts.
This anthology approach keeps Kiryu present but once-removed, a force of nature who briefly disrupts and even alters the trajectory of people's lives - a young couple who witness Kiryu's louche, expert violence are inspired to turn to criminality themselves. The real fun in Like A Dragon though are the film's fight scenes. Miike and editor Yasushi Shimamura combine the propulsive, hand-held energy of a genre classic like Kinji Fukasaku's Street Mobster with the engorged, eye-catching visual language of interactive games. An early to-do in an overstocked discount store stands out thanks to Kitamura's ability to convincingly roll from opponent to opponent, trashing both his assailants and the towering bargains that encircle them. Kitamura's got a great look, decked out in a fitted grey suit with slicked back hair; the actor is able to convey both the noble centre of a do-gooder like Kiryu as well as the bullying, venomous streak that keeps him mired in this shady profession.
Friday, 1 September 2017
Unlike the plodding superhero serials Netflix is famous for, Adam Wingard's Death Note adaptation really moves, quickly churning through several successive stages of dramatic possibility offered by a dusty old book that allows its owner to instantly kill anyone, anywhere in the world. After taking delivery of the tome and chatting with Willem Dafoe's cackling demon, Nat Wolff's Light Turner uses this power over life and death to settle a number of personal scores, beginning with a recent slight from an oversized grade repeater then progressing to the ignominious destruction of the man who killed Light's mother.
These early passages of Death Note delight thanks to their aggressive lack of moral dimension. Aside from a weak, barely communicated plea for Christian forgiveness from Light's father, revenge (and then cosmic capital punishment) are organised using the petty principles of the high school loner. The film's deaths are gooey and amusing, using the sudden, Mouse Trap style mini-disasters seen in Richard Donner's The Omen or the Final Destination series to smuggle in the film's otherwise alarming extermination conceit whilst also presenting the incidents as an opportunity for a well-constructed, luridly shot gag.
Rather than tread water constructing increasingly elaborate murders, Death Note uses Margaret Qualley's Mia and Lakeith Stanfield's L to expand the film's conceptual boundaries. Mia pushes Light to broaden his horizons by aggressively punishing every level of human criminality. The resulting carnage is pointedly sloppy, the aftermaths woven in and around the film's eradication montages include all manner of bystanders, be they bunny girl sex workers or just hapless commuters. The couple are drunk on their power, delighting in not so much the mission but the way in which their actions are understood as those of a powerful, vengeful God.
Death Note uses these images of overseas destruction to draw a nagging visual connection between the impersonal violence of America's drone program and these two vengeful high-schoolers. Both are evidence of a stunning application of force coupled with spotty, perhaps even disinterested on-ground intelligence. Mia, in particular, relishes the slaughter, viewing it as something on-going and sustainable rather than Light's short but explosive fix. Stanfield's L is even better again, the actor deftly combining a combative physical fluidity with the pained, knowing expression of someone magnificent confronting the disappointingly messy patterns of his intellectual inferiors.
Wednesday, 30 August 2017
Friday, 25 August 2017
Blue Steel gives Kathryn Bigelow and Jamie Lee Curtis the opportunity to deliver a fresh take on the kind of wild card policing popular in the big deal action films of the 1980s. Instead of exploring something typical, like how a well-trained killing machine might fit into day-to-day law enforcement, Bigelow and co-writer Eric Red use gender identity to power their conflict. Curtis plays Megan Turner, a rookie cop surrounded by men who make repeated, verbal objections to her mere existence.
This conflict is an ever-present stress on Turner. At home, Turner's oafish father beats her peacemaker mother whenever his daughter isn't around. When she drops by he swills cheap beer and rants about the shame her career has brought on the family. At work even would-be allies, like Clancy Brown's Detective Nick Mann, make it their business to comment on her attractiveness and spin ribald tales about severed manhoods. Bigelow frames these situations in terms of territorial markers; established men communicating their indifference to Turner's presence, and any attendant (or expected) social niceties, by being deliberately vulgar. There will be no concessions for Turner based on her sex, she is treated as an interloper who must do all the adjusting in this new, hostile environment.
After gunning down Tom Sizemore's wild-eyed armed robber, Turner is unable to locate the criminal's pistol. It's been pocketed by Eugene Hunt, a gibbering commodities trader played by Ron Silver. Hunt becomes obsessed with Turner, he talks about her and her act of violence in terms of revelation. She has, quite accidentally, revealed something mind-blowing to this maniac. He attempts to court her as a civilian, taking her to expensive restaurants and charting impromptu helicopter rides, then emulates her in private by blasting holes through the hapless citizens of New York City. Blue Steel staggers a number of conclusions, each detailing how Turner copes with the bizarre responsibilities that have been thrust upon her.
Hunt looms large come the finale but Turner also finds time and space to resolve the situation at home. After another bruise appears on her mother's arm, Turner beats her father prone then threatens to turn him in. He repents and communicates his failings - he feels weak sometimes. Although she has overpowered her father physically Turner is still able to listen to and understand his flawed emotional needs. Unlike similar scenes in umpteen other, male dominated, action films the act of intervention is soothing and corrective rather than just nakedly assertive. Bigelow and Red are able to breath new life into a stale genre by using their female lead as a perspective (rather than a cheap device) that informs then reconfigures every aspect of their plotting.
Monday, 7 August 2017
Does the idea of laying your hands on dozens of 8-bit video games quicken your pulse? Would you like to simulate the experience of owning a NES Classic beamed in from an alternative dimension where Mario and pals never really took off? Derek Yu, Eirik Suhrke, Jon Perry, Paul Hubans and Ojiro Fumoto have got you covered! UFO 50 is an instant library of flickering, game jammed gems, courtesy of the developers and musicians behind Spelunky, Downwell, The Indie Game Legend and card game Time Barons.
Friday, 4 August 2017
Monday, 31 July 2017
Friday, 21 July 2017
Thursday, 20 July 2017
George Romero's pointedly unromantic take on the vampire myth drops any semblance of Eurotrash sophistication to recast the central bloodsucker as a prowling, sweaty home invader. John Amplas' Martin, who's either a directionless youth emblematic of inner-city rot or a hundred year old creature, resists being completely deciphered. His crimes are cowardly and opportunistic, often involving people that have either been kind to him or those who are simply down on their luck. His motives are selfish, hinging on supernatural details that the film, wisely, chooses not to clarify.
The rush of full-blooded sexual excitement usually associated with the amorous undead is replaced by clinical encounters in which Martin dopes and abuses his victims. Romero (who writes, directs and edits) uses an early encounter on a train to establish Martin as both dangerous and repulsive. After attacking a woman in her carriage room with a syringe full of tranquilizers, he lulls her to sleep with soothing baby talk before staging her suicide, drinking and bathing in the gushing blood. Despite the sudden and alarming violence done to the woman's wrist, it's Martin's lies that linger.
Most screen monsters, especially in their moment of victory, would allow delight to creep into their demeanor, to gloat over their prey. Romero and Amplas never permit their creation that kind of power. Martin is always pathetic, pleading even. He isn't strong enough to overwhelm, nor alluring enough to seduce. He sedates and supplicates, a methodology that slowly seeps out into the film itself. Scattered throughout are brief black and white interludes depicting Martin drifting around billowing, Hammer Horror situations. These clips are layered into the film at crucial moments, representing either memories that clash with Martin's current, depressing reality or juvenile justification dreamt up to protect the killer's fragile sense of identity.
A short extract from an Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers tournament that shows off, among other things, how utterly broken the new Violent Ken character is.
Ansel Elgort's Baby isn't your typical wheelman. He isn't an intense spectral presence waiting to be prodded, he's gangly and animated, an observer, locked into his own headspace by a cocktail of tinnitus, crate-diver playlists and some truly terrifying associates. The titular Baby Driver copes with this stimulation overload by obsessively recording and cataloging his interactions, then retreating to his apartment to transform them into chopped up musical loops.
Baby doesn't allow information to stream in at him, he blocks out as much as he can, pruning and refining whatever penetrates until he has his own product at the end of it - be that the terse half-sentences he uses to communicate or the hundreds of C-90 audio cassettes he consigns to an unwieldy briefcase. It's a small detail in the overall film but Baby's analog audio suite, rescued from flea markets by Edgar Wright's pal Kid Koala, reads like a physical manifestation of the writer-director's magpie process.
Baby Driver is built out of Wright's earworms, the shots and movements that have lodged in his brain and refused to budge. Wright's film chews up and recontextualises the bits and pieces of film history that the director has clung to, be that the freewheeling buzz of The Blues Brothers or the unkillable enemy of The Terminator. Given Wright's big screen fluency, Baby Driver has a lot of material for editors Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos to cleave through. The duo assemble the film on pronounced, insistent beats, using music and diegetic sound to layer and dictate pace even outside the action. This energetic, often chaotic, approach to film form peaks with a warehouse shoot-out that uses automatic gunfire to transform a geographical mundane sequence into a ferocious series of jolts.
Wednesday, 19 July 2017
Sometime in the early 1970s jobbing Hollywood screenwriter Walter Hill put the word out that he was a big fan of director John Boorman and the film Point Blank in particular. This effusiveness was rewarded with a copy of Alexander Jacobs' mythical (in writing circles) screenplay. Hill has described the reading experience as revelatory. Jacobs didn't waste a word, rattling out scene directions as bursts of pure information; haiku compared to the flowering prose of his contemporaries.
Jacobs rejected standard screenwriting assembly, doling out detail in a manner that hewed closer to bullet points or pure, impartial data. Hill was impressed. Jacobs had created a document that wasn't simply an anonymous filmmaking blueprint. The writer clearly had a voice, a sensibility that demanded his work be read as a complimentary piece of art rather than a disposable outline. Hill resolved to bring the same terse, vital readability to his own work. The Driver stands as the purest example of those labours.
As filmed, Point Blank follows a spectral criminal fixated on the former allies who acted against him. The film presents its lead character as an emotion writ large, pushing closer and closer to the people who turned him into an undying engine. Hill goes a step further, boiling his characters down to even simpler motivations - their job and an attendant will to succeed. Ryan O'Neal isn't playing a heroic archetype struggling manfully against impossible odds, he is simply The Driver. His character defined by an unshakable belief in his own abilities rather than any romantic, interior ambitions.
Although Driver takes payment for his services there is no evidence that he does anything with the cash. His apartment is barren, the cars he uses are procured on-site and trashed immediately after they have served their function. Driver pointedly doesn't care about the money he accumulates, it's just part of a necessary transaction that brings him closer to an opportunity to excel. His opponent, Bruce Dern's rabid Detective, is similarly bloody-minded, willing to break the law in the hope of trapping his quarry. Their conflict exists in the abstract, rules and regulations are irrelevant to both of them, they are simply two experts testing their limits by colliding with each other.
Thursday, 6 July 2017
Monday, 3 July 2017
Thursday, 29 June 2017
Michael Bay's problems are rooted in cohesion, specifically he struggles to arrive at a consistent tone or emotional wavelength. With Transformers: The Last Knight the director appears to have manufactured a solution - endless, breathless propulsion. Tossed off concepts and writer's room notes boil in a cauldron of pure, kinetic imagery. Bay is keyed into a ratcheting, agitated movement that extends to every facet of the filmmaking experience, even a constantly changing aspect ratio. The film never sits still, there's none of Christopher Nolan's stately approach to IMAX inserts, Bay's film is rabid, hurtling back and forth between the towering, vertical photography of super projection and letterbox vistas that read left-to-right.
Viewers are warned early and often that The Last Knight has been assembled to express a specific vision. It is not an easily digestible Summer product. Even for a Michael Bay film Last Knight is aggressive and inflexible, chewing up hundreds of millions of dollars so the director can scratch his various itches. Like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword before it, The Last Knight holds up John Boorman's Excalibur as a primal filmmaking text. Ever the obsessive, Bay zeroes in on the details, littering the battlefield with the swords that assailed Gabriel Byrne's Uther Pendragon and replicating Terry English's chromed plate armour on a massive, techno-organic scale.
Although The Last Knight lacks Excalibur's mythic sweep, God-King Optimus Prime notwithstanding, Bay's film does attempt to replicate the elliptical storytelling of Boorman, a model in which image and feeling trump structure and order. Boorman's compression came from a desire to fit a storied King's entire lifetime into 140 minutes of film. Bay's truncation is different, more about removing any peak on the film's carefully calibrated emotional chart that isn't total, screaming noise.
The Last Knight then allows us an insight into how Bay chooses to interpret the screenplays he's assigned. An undercooked example like Bad Boys urged the director to lean heavily on his cast, using them to create skits that conveyed critical plot details in a package that, if not organic, at least had a fair opportunity to be entertaining. The career that has followed that film is indicative of a talent not completely sold on writing as anything other than a blueprint used to string together disparate, fantastical situations.
Armageddon and Pearl Harbor stand as garbled attempts to ground the director's bombastic leanings in human stories about amateurs under stress. Bay fails to draw out any finer details in these situations because he either doesn't believe the moments or simply cannot relate to them. The Last Knight is, at a conceptual level, a committee crafted jump-off designed to dangle threads and hit specific, audience friendly targets. Bay has been handed a piece wringing with a particular kind of arrogance, it's a franchise maker. Bay may be on his fifth Transformers film but the director has never been asked to do anything as vulgar as consider continuity.
Each Transformers film has been an iterative example of what a live action interpretation of the 80s toyline could be. Love interests and even protagonists have come and gone; doomsday scenarios are replayed and reconfigured; the Transformers themselves die and are resurrected over and over again with zero regard for where the previous films left them. The Last Knight places a marker and, barring another entry that dispense with the concepts presented here, asks that further sequels proceed from a point where the Earth is slowly mutating into Unicron, the world-eating machine from Nelson Shin's The Transformers: The Movie, and Optimus Prime is battling a malevolent robotic Gaia.
With very little need to spin wheels, Bay delivers a film that moves at two hundred miles an hour. Aiding and abetting this rampage is Sir Anthony Hopkins, the actor brimming with the kind of unfiltered glee he brought to the later, trashier Hannibal Lecter films. In Hopkins Bay has a collaborator genuinely capable of plugging one of the director's most obvious leaks. Hopkins can deliver stilted, stuttering exposition as a lark, turning the kind of heavy lifting usually reserved for a bug-eyed John Turturro into something that actually moves.
The winding, circuitous logic of Hopkins' info dumps are adrenalised by a companion action sequence that sees super-charged sports cars attacking London's landmarks and side-roads. The set-piece focuses on tourist destinations and the old city arteries that connect them. Bay forcing a McLaren 570GT down cramped, atypical alleyways manages to evoke the brief, busy thrill of Claude Lelouch's C'était un rendez-vous if not that piece's sustained, death-defying intensity. The image of gleaming, finely-tuned automobiles struggling along cobbled streets could even be read as the director using the absurdity of the film's unceasing momentum as a literal, self-referential component. Michael Bay has been allotted several finely packaged ideas and they're going down your throat whether you like it or not.
Monday, 26 June 2017
Martin Campbell is finally out of movie jail! Six years for the excretable Green Lantern sounds about right, shame he didn't take Ryan Reynolds down with him. Anyway, Campbell is back, coralling a hopelessly mistimed terror revenge film starring Jackie Chan to the big screen. Still, inciting incident aside, looks like The Foreigner will be filled with scenes of Jackie kicking people trapped inside tiny flats with a glum expression plastered all over his face. What more could you ask for?
Friday, 23 June 2017
Tuesday, 20 June 2017
Monday, 19 June 2017
Friday, 16 June 2017
Post-apocalyptic in every detail bar a nuclear exchange, John Carpenter and Nick Castle's Escape from New York takes an action premise then describes it with the kind of anxiety usually reserved for horror filmmaking. Kurt Russell plays Snake Plissken, a raspy ex-special forces operative who made his name sneaking into a litany of Russian cities before dropping out, turning to a life of crime. Snake is a relic from a world that has passed, a rugged, bad-tempered individual bumping heads with the compromised and robotic company men who now rule the country.
Whatever happened in Leningrad burnt Snake out, perhaps exposing the lie that forms the bedrock of a regime that has seen America congeal into a total police state. Snake is a soldier so explicitly used up that orders have no meaning to him. He isn't invading the Big Apple to redeem himself and therefore become heroic by the standards of the men who have crow-barred him into this assignment. He's being coerced. Snake is captured, dragged to Liberty Island and injected with explosives before being issued with shuriken and an Ingram sub-machine gun for what amounts to a suicide mission. Despite his legendary status he's still just a disposable commodity, an experiment forced into play while jack-booting dead heads weigh up an air strike on the Island.
Snake doesn't represent salvation, he's just another component in a desperate, pessimistic mission engineered by an acting leadership going through the motions. Carpenter and Castle have done something wonderful in Escape from New York, they've taken a scenario that could be told with the sweeping, bullying voice of patriotic duty then torpedoed it. The rescue of an encircled President isn't played for glory, the situation is splayed open, exposing the rot and ruthless opportunism that would be at work if the unthinkable actually happened with these witless bullies at the helm.
The one shred of humanity shown by the establishment comes from Lee Van Cleef's Hauk, an older man with much the same background as Plissken, now acting as the warden of the vast Manhattan penitentiary. Hauk vouches for Snake, his interim criminal years made irrelevant because Hauk remembers when the ex-soldier once did something bold and impressive. Of course Hauk may trust Plissken's skills but he doesn't trust his intentions. This isn't a world founded on honour and pride, instead Escape from New York spins on the kind of utility you'd expect from a world in which Reaganomic rhetoric has infected every aspect of the ruling class. Something terrible must have happened, no-one has any higher, romantic aspirations anymore. Instead everyone behaves like cronies prepping for their next corporate appraisal.
The one nod to chivalry displayed by the government's forces again comes from Hauk. Following the mission's completion he makes himself available to Snake, asking him if he still wants to kill him. Hauk is acknowledging something unspoken, that perhaps by serving this power structure he actually does deserve to die. Snake, the uncompromised hero would actually redeem Hauk somewhat if he chose to take his life. The gesture is immediately poisoned by The Warden's insistence on pitching Snake a potential return to the fold after it's clear that the jail-breaker has chosen to stay his hand. Russell's limping, injured hero couldn't be less interested.
Snake Plissken isn't an action hero and Escape from New York isn't structured to express victory. This massive story is told in details, Snake's individual triumphs are always small and stolen. Carpenter never falls into the trap of letting his main character build up a head of steam, stakes are never lost to scale, every dangerous interaction is essentially Plissken attempting to misinform his quarry, allowing him to strike. Snake by name, snake by nature. Carpenter doesn't linger on the violence either, Escape may miscommunicate a few of its thumps but even these under-covered cracks play into an overall thesis about how liquid power can be. Violence in Escape from New York is always a surprise.
Once on Manhattan Island all bets are off, it doesn't matter if you can talk big or have access to incredible technology, are you vicious? Will you strike first? Escape has a feral quality, man reduced to teeth and claws, roaming around the ruins of a financial fortress. Carpenter and cinematographer Dean Cundey shoot dark and wide, allowing the gutted mise en scene to tell a story and communicate the stakes. Snake is never alone once he enters the prison city. There's always something or someone else in the frame, running interference or sizing him up.
Escape communicates a state of complete hostility. The film barely jumps around, the opening act in particular charts its discoveries by Snake's slow, hesitant pace. This segment, the film's best, has no sense of release in it. Snake is given an impossible task then we watch his attempt slowly unfold. Carpenter's film delights in this sense of pressure, the siege mentality of his horror films bleeding into the language of action / adventure. Pointedly, Snake does not surmount every challenge or bend the devastated city to his will, the film's too canny for that. Snake creeps around the pitch black streets as quietly as he can, waiting for an opportune moment to lash out and do some damage.
Thursday, 15 June 2017
Tuesday, 13 June 2017
What can you say? Limits are, quite obviously, completely meaningless to Nintendo. Based on this charming little infomercial and the hat mechanic it promises, Super Mario Odyssey is quite simply magical, allowing the player almost infinite opportunities to experiment and, above all, have fun. Stunning.
After their delightful work on Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, Bluepoint Games have been handed the crown jewel of Sony's video game library - Team Ico's Shadow of the Colossus. Predictably, Bluepoint's remake looks beautifully polished, already improving on their 2011 pass for The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection on PS3. Fumito Ueda's baby is in good hands.
Two years later, Sony system owners finally get their chance to give Undertale a whirl. Developed by Toby Fox, Undertale seeks to evoke the unease felt in Nintendo's Mother series by deliberately layering complex themes and decisions into a cutesy, pixel-based RPG. Reading around it sounds like Fox succeeded completely, managing to create a game that plays like you're starring in your very own creepypasta.
Sledgehammer Games pick up where Call of Duty: World at War left off, rolling period specific flamethrowers and player guided aerial bombardments into a gameplay model that, thankfully, appears to have returned to circuitous, map roaming gunplay after years spent leaping in every available direction.
Shades of Vectorman in Housemarque's latest. That is to say Matterfall takes your basic run-and-gun platforming and dresses it up with exciting, modern graphical tricks, in this case a destructible world built out of the clattering voxels that powered the studio's launch day hit Resogun.
Monday, 12 June 2017
Nearly there! Studio MDHR's gorgeous, long-trailed homage to Treasure shooters and Fleischer cartoons is set to release this September. By all accounts, Cuphead's extended development time can be attributed to a greatly expanded game scope that moved further and further away from a Betty Boop boss rush and the developer's decision to hand animate every single frame of the elasticated action.
While never quite in the same league as his two Resident Evil entries, Shinji Mikami's last pass at a letterboxed horror game was full of atmospheric creeps and twitchy shooting galleries. The model was sound, the execution just needed a bit of tweak, its course corrected away from situations that overwhelmingly tracked towards one-hit deaths. Combat in The Evil Within 2 could stand to be a little less fussy, players should be allowed to build towards a firmer sense of power in how they tackle the oozing, creeping horrors in Mikami's latest tetanus prison.
With The Phantom Menace's 20th anniversary approaching rapidly we're probably at a point where the children who greedily gobbled up the adventures of Darth Maul and pals are looking to re-examine their lost youth and spend their way towards resuscitating their long stagnated sense of wonder; hence DICE's tried-and-tested Battlefield 1 sporting a Clone Wars revamp.
Even though they shovel out enough anonymous anime tie-ins to sink a fleet, Arc System Works do occasionally play an absolute blinder. Dragon Ball Fighter Z looks set to do for Akira Toriyama's peerless masterpiece what their 2005 Fist of the North Star coin-op did for Tetsuo Hara and Buronson's, namely transform hundreds of pages of static pose downs into a 2D fighting game kinetic enough to get the Justin Wongs of the world excited.
Sunday, 11 June 2017
The Three Musketeers froths with exuberant, youthful energy. Director Richard Lester is a dab hand at capturing this liveliness, his films revolving around the breathless vitality present in young men desperate to make a name for themselves. Lester channels their exhilaration, crafting visual scenarios that convey an explosive kind of excitement. With A Hard Day's Night Lester took the runaway popularity of The Beatles and transformed it as a series of static, telephoto shots of screaming youths running directly into the camera. In adapting Alexandre Dumas' d'Artagnan romances, Lester starts with a whip-thin, beaming Michael York then allows the actor to hurl himself about the screen, clearly having the time of his life.
The film's sword fights track with this conceit, packaging expert jousting within scrappy, spontaneous confrontations. Any object left lying around can and will be used as a weapon - Oliver Reed's brooding Athos never fails to hurl his floppy, wide-brimmed hat directly into his opponent's face. The goal for these clashes is never really to kill either, instead the combatants seek to humiliate each other by either drawing first blood or by booting any inattentive enemies up the arse. Lester and screenwriter George MacDonald Fraser laser in on the flippant, moneyed absurdity of the 17th century's ruling classes, interpreting their adventures as terrifying flights of fancy, driven by brain-dead and terminally horny aristocrats. Lester is an obsessive entertainer too, layering his frame with slapstick sight gags and grumbling commoners who can always be relied upon to skewer the oblivious, oversexed lords and ladies.
Tuesday, 6 June 2017
Monday, 5 June 2017
So far, the loudest voice in DC's most recent push for a Cinematic Universe has been Zack Snyder, the director of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Snyder, working in the thrall of 80s comic book smashes like The Dark Knight Returns and Miracleman, proposed a slate filled with passionate, immoral Gods thrashing around seething CG tableaux. Snyder's heroes are not particularly selfless or altruistic, they're introspective and obsessive. They moon and stew over the kind of problems that swim out into an abstract range of thought.
Dawn of Justice (in its expanded form) is a three-hour epic predicated on Batman's gut feeling that a messianic alien has the potential to turn against the people of Earth. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Bruce halts his war on crime to assemble the tools necessary to kill this Superman. It's a decision that deliberately invites accusations of jealousy. Bruce Wayne has seen a power and strength that cannot be bought or duplicated, feeling inadequate he works towards crushing it, reasserting his standing as the ultimate man. Dawn of Justice is Nietzsche's will to power viewed through the prism of Frank Miller's big feet comics, emboldened by poor box office returns for the two previous Superman films.
Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman then functions as a counterpoint, standing in opposition to all these unregulated, male expulsions. Gal Gadot's Diana of Themyscira isn't ancient and embittered, she hasn't seen her parents bleed out or be whisked away into a tornado. Instead she's from a stable, loving background, raised by a doting mother and an island's worth of adoring warrior women. Snyder's twin superheroes spring from altogether less stable situations - the alien moped around in agricultural misery denying who he was while the child billionaire found himself in a bottomless pit filled with clattering rodents. No wonder they export disaster.
Thanks to several superhero cycles that never found the time to bring Wonder Woman to the big screen, Allan Heinberg's screenplay is allowed to discover her in circumstances that reflect the character's initial creation rather than an angle designed to repackage something people have already bought. William Moulton Marston and Elizabeth Holloway Marston, working with artist Harry G Peter, created Wonder Woman to serve as a powerful, feminine hero who extolled the virtues of love and compassion. William specifically organised his co-creation as a form of psychological propaganda designed to sell readers on the idea of female leaders who ruled without instantly resorting to force.
Jenkins and Heinberg interpret this desire with a hero who approaches the quagmire of the First World War in much the same way as Alexander the Great dealt with the Gordian Knot. Instead of listening to the men who bark orders and limits at her, Diana sees problems then acts decisively, placing herself in the thick of desperate street fighting and frostbitten trench warfare. Diana acts as a leader too - running out into No Man's Land armed with a shield, she soaks up the incoming machine gun fire, allowing the boys that follow enough breathing room to gain precious ground. Her actions invite this collaboration, her strength equalising the otherwise insurmountable danger for her allies.
Jenkins approaches this action atypically, seizing on the regular bulletins as an opportunity to watch and delight in the graceful movements of experts. Gadot and her fellow Amazons are shot in ways designed to capture their power and authority rather than the damage their movements affect. Jenkins isn't interested in the minutia of violence, the destruction and fitful energy of Snyder is tamed here, channelled into brief glimpses of an earthbound Goddess skipping across slate rooftops. It's an action model predicated on delight rather than might, a decision that works hand-in-hand with Mr and Mrs Marston's desire to see unburdened femininity communicated in the language of deification.