Monday, 30 December 2019

Films 2019

Considering we're a good decade into comic book movies completely dominating the box office, it's nice that someone (hands-on producer James Cameron) has finally decided to create works better aligned with the violent science fiction that appealed to me as a child. The thrills in both Alita: Battle Angel and Terminator: Dark Fate are derivative. Alita is less an adaptation of Yukito Kishiro's manga Gunnm and more a live-action reworking of Hiroshi Fukutomi's Rusty Angel and Tears Sign OVAs. The video release, snapped up for UK distribution by viscera specialists Manga Entertainment, were one of a glut of releases designed to capitalise on sales of Akira VHS tapes and the long-running success of  IPC's flagship future shock comic, 2000 AD. Robert Rodriguez's film inherits some of the splatterpunk morality dubbed onto these Japanese animations; a bloodthirsty irreverence that stands apart from the knightly conduct of the Marvel set.

Dark Fate's appeal is even more specific. Beyond the recycling of ideas and situations present in the other, post-Terminator 2: Judgment Day sequels, Tim Miller's film functions as an expensive realisation of subordinate media, particularly Dark Horse's licensed comic books. Dark Fate features the multiple, harmonious machines seen in The Terminator: Tempest; the grinding, metal on metal battles of The Terminator: Secondary Objectives (a trick T2 missed by deploying a malleable, mercury man); and the malfunctioning chimera of The Terminator: The Enemy Within. As well as these extremely niche pleasures, Dark Fate is a big budget, science fiction blockbuster willing to engage with our current, fracturing reality. The film not only depicts the human misery of the Trump administration's migrant detention centres, it also doesn't shy away from the ways in which these facilities align with the Terminator series' fictional agents of human extinction.

Original review - Alita: Battle Angel
Original review - Terminator: Dark Fate

Set in a Northern Chinese industrial town, Ash is Purest White talks about community, interpersonal responsibility, and the ways in which modernity, as well as the new money it brings, can obscure the connections that keep people together. Zhao Tao plays Qiao, the girlfriend of Liao Fan's Bin, a low level gangster who, really, just looks the part. Bin's a passenger, his only ability an aptitude for glomming on to those in ascension. That he doesn't deserve Qiao's loyalty is a story told over decades in writer-director Jia Zhangke's film. Qiao's love is fixed, a deep root that is never treated as an obligation or weakness within Ash. That Qiao continues to care for both Bin and her community despite all the hardship that comes her way is evidence of an immutable, invincible strength. This canny determination radiates throughout Zhangke's film, begging the viewer to assess Tao, the director's wife and muse, in the same adoring terms as her husband.

Hyperbolic comic book rhythms interpreted as pure, delirious motion. Dragon Ball Super: Broly continues the work begun on Fuji TV's Dragon Ball Super series. What started off as a brightly coloured schedule filler eventually developed into the go-to destination for propulsive, impossible, combat. Character designer Naohiro Shintai is key for this feature, providing new drafts of Akira Toriyama's cast that confer playfulness and flexibility in a series that has sometimes strayed into overblown, stiff, musculature. Broly - like last year's excellent Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse - doesn't over-correct the wonder provided by individual animators to stick, rigidly, to one consistent frequency. Yuya Takahashi's throbbing, wall scroll seconds exist happily alongside Naoki Tate's rubbery, comedic acting and the fluorescent, body-warping histrionics of Yoshihiko Umakoshi. A ferocious, ear-ringing experience.

A mother-daughter relationship examined under extreme, subsistence stresses. Gwen takes the child's perspective, building itself around their universal desire to impress a parent with obedience and maturity during trying times. William McGregor's film unfolds slowly, adopting the halting pace of newly industrial life. This freezing hesitance allows us to marinate in the systems and situations that spell disaster for the titular teenager. Gwen is folk horror without a supernatural component, the driving force here is, instead, avarice, exemplified by a plump English lord protected by wealth and success. Authority in Gwen, as in life really, is power structured around the perception of debt. The men who follow their odious boss to run women and children out of their homes aren't portrayed as rabid here, they're just not brave enough to take a stand against the person who provides them income.

High Life represents space travel at its lowest, least romantic ebb - the interstellar craft that traps the central death row inmates betrays no aerodynamic features, looking very much like several stacked shipping containers hurtling towards oblivion. Claire Denis' film is assembled out of order. We see visions of an Earth irreparably scarred by petrochemical emissions; a zombie crew of young adults wincing their way through intrusive sex experiments to score some form of administered imbalance that might soothe their unending, clearly forsaken, mission. This guinea pig misery is contrasted with short but affecting sequences of Robert Pattinson's Monte caring for an infant named Willow. The child is his anchor, a tiny little person for him to love and care for. She consumes his time. Both parties rely on the other, their relationship conferring meaning and purpose on this otherwise misbegotten journey. 

The least romantic of Scorsese's gangster epics, The Irishman is a tale of compromise and treachery told over decades. It's the organised crime film as a dirge. Scorsese's film is told from the perspective of Frank Sheeran, a delivery truck driver who has come home from war with a newfound moral flexibility that allows the former solider to submerge himself in illegal activities. Sheeran isn't a raconteur though, his position within this subculture doesn't revolve around his ability to spin a yarn or make bold, adventurous moves, Sheeran is simply willing to break the law for personal gain. His own, self-realised attempts at criminality are laughable, easily recognised and thwarted by the people he's defrauding.

Frank doesn't care - this is his strength in this realm, an ability to push on despite all the human wreckage he leaves in his wake. This obliviousness extends to Sheeran's home life. His children, particularly Lucy Gallina and Anna Paquin's Peggy, are scared of him. He's the monstrous, masculine presence in the home, the person they cannot trust with their troubles because he only has one response - hammering, arthritic violence. Sheeran doesn't even recognise this simple fact. He's too hung up on his status and money to notice. The Irishman talks about fatherhood and misplaced priorities as rolling opportunities for long term interpersonal disaster. No matter who you pal around with, how important they are or how wealthy their company makes you, if your children cannot love you then, in the end, you're a failure.

Period films usually encourage filmmakers to explore width and space, the relationship between expanding, pre-industrial scenes and the tiny, extant lives they connect with. Shinya Tsukamoto's Killing heads off in the opposite direction, pulling close to its subjects to examine the strain and agitation that act upon their bodies. Tsukamoto and Satoshi Hayashi's photography depicts the human form as landscape, a quivering vista that must constantly channel deep, emotionally complex, feelings of anxiety and excitement to proceed. The Samurai sword, typically a weapon of supernatural precision, is portrayed here as an object built out of smaller, misaligned components. The Tsuka-Ito stringing chafes against the hand; the Tsuba guard rattles in place against a blade that hasn't cut. Tsukamoto drives at these momentary inconveniences to tell the story of an expert swordsman who cannot bear to strike another person.

Midsommar revolves around Florence Pugh's Dani. The actress providing a vulnerable, human performance, instantly recognisable as someone who has spent her life putting other people, and their problems, before her own. Dani has overcompensated to such a degree that her own wants have shrunken to nothing. Ari Aster's film is a sequence of opportunities to fret about this woman. The potential for hurt that tracks in on Dani is not simply the very real threat of being placed atop a raging bonfire, Dani must also suffer a boyfriend who completely fails to offer any hint of emotional support.

Quite apparently Jack Reynor's Christian considers Dani's exhausted, devastated response to her parents murder as a great big nag. A hassle designed to put a drain of his ability to do, or behave, however he wants. Christian is not just selfish, he's prickly too. A leech insulated from the thoughtless damage he perpetuates by a towering ego that views everyone around him in transactional terms. This arrogance is what prevents him from sensing his own doom. Even when obviously in extreme peril, Christian adopts the haughty bluster of an academic, poking and prodding at a Swedish fertility cult who have already figured out how to use him up. Dani, a person used to genuine, empathetic connection, makes herself useful, helping the women cook and asking questions designed to spark understanding rather than evaluation. She integrates, eventually finding herself in a position where we are no longer expected to worry about her.

With a title like Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, it's no surprise that Quentin Tarantino's latest is a love letter to the heartland of the American film industry. Tarantino's Hollywood concerns itself with actors and agents, the facade rather than the deeper, more obviously odious machinations that power the town. Our guides through the story, such as it is, are Leonardo DiCaprio's handsome cowboy man, Rick Dalton; Brad Pitt's loyal stuntman-cum-personal assistant Cliff Booth; and Margot Robbie's thoroughly guileless Sharon Tate.

Dalton's story is like an aside in a Sir Christopher Frayling film studies book come to life - a television actor sliding towards obsolescence, offered a second-chance at stardom by Italian westerns and poliziotteschi action films. You hang out with the actor as he comes around to the decision, as he seizes on an underexplored instinct for salivating, but credible, melodrama, recapturing the magic that made him a star in the first place. Booth's strand confronts genuine, rather than imagined, desuetude. A damned man with a knack for pulverising violence, happy to eke out a living keeping his temperamental best friend buoyant.

Tate is pure sunshine, a young actress awed and appreciative of her power to entertain. In Tarantino's film, these people - actors and their support doubles - are united by a desire to create, to reach inside and deconstruct their failings and neuroses as a route to powering themselves through their next, exhausting performance. Strength and personal fortitude are expressed through twisting, self-inflicted turbulence. So when Tarantino's idea of industry people crowd up against the curdled end of the back-to-the-land movement - depicted here as stoned children with surface-level pop culture reads - it's no wonder they triumph so easily.

Song Kang-ho's Kim Ki-taek is Parasite's loose cannon. His family's slow, methodical, infiltration of the affluent Park family would likely go further, reaping longer-lasting rewards and siphoning off more money were it not for the father's misplaced sense of male camaraderie. Without realising, Ki-taek has taken on the role with the least amount of social status. He doesn't understand that his job as the Park's personal chauffeur is on the shakiest ground. His wife, Chung-sook (played by Chang Hyae-jin), has taken on the safest position - live-in housekeeper - the woman the Kims bully out of the role had been there almost as long as the house has stood. The Kim children, Choi Woo-shik's Ki-woo and Park So-dam's Ki-jeong, are just as canny as their mother, posing as academics, a social position that occupies a status that stands outside of mere financial standing.

The wealthy, superficial Parks must defer to them - in matters of education, they are the experts. Ki-taek though is just the driver. He's interchangeable, expected to be grateful. When he tries to talk man-to-man with Lee Sun-kyun's Dong-ik, the head of the Park family, he simply irritates, viewed as a bumbling little man trying to impress himself on his betters. Writer-director Bong Joon-ho manages to reduce the unspoken disparity that exists between these two men down to one devastating piece of information - Dong-ik thinks Ki-taek smells. We are told that the offending scent is that of the grasping, sweaty, public transport masses Dong-ik goes out of his way to avoid. In his crisp, freshly pressed shirt, sat in his air-conditioned car, this intrusive, animal odour represents reality encroaching on Dong-ik's lavender-scented success. This whiff, emblematic of every failure the IT CEO has worked to insulate himself from, breaks his carefully cultivated spell.

The forty-odd year saga of the Skywalker clan draws to a close with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, a sequel to the Star Wars: The Last Jedi that makes almost zero effort to honour the characters or concepts contained within Rian Johnson's film. What Rise does offer though is a strained but pleasant sense of mythological reassessment, similar to the one David Lynch (or, perhaps more accurately, the pruning team working at Dino De Laurentiis' behest) adopted when constructing 1984's Dune. Daisy Ridley's Rey and Adam Driver's Kylo Ren, characters who had previously been marked by their mutual, human longing for familial connection, are reorganised into pure, fight comics archetype - two halves of a fabled, convoluted whole.

Rey and Ren's relationship breaks reality, the duo able to reach across time and space to physically connect with each other in moments of crisis. They are completely out of step with the people and machinations that track in on them. Their powers go beyond the material realm, able to transfer life energies between themselves and communicate with the afterlife - following his own death and resurrection, Ren wills a memory of his father, Harrison Ford's Han Solo, into physical being. He replays their tragic, final moments than steers the recollection towards a happier, more constructive resolution. Lacking a pivotal mistake to reconfigure, it is the dead who come to Rey. They sing to her, raising her up with kind words and encouragement to fulfil the destiny they themselves fumbled.

Original review

Alita: Battle Angel // Ash is Purest White // Dragon Ball Super: Broly // Gwen // High Life // The Irishman // Killing // Midsommar // Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood // Parasite // Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker // Terminator: Dark Fate

Also liked:

Amazing Grace // Apocalypse Now: Final Cut // Apollo 11 // Avengement // The Beach Bum // Booksmart // Bumblebee // Child's Play // Crawl // Doctor Sleep // The Favourite // The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil // Godzilla: King of the Monsters // Hagazussa // Hustlers // John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum // Joker // Knock Down the House // Little Women // Memory: The Origins of Alien // The Miami Showband Massacre // Mid90s // Monos // Rambo: Last Blood // Reign of the Supermen // See You Yesterday // 6 Underground // Wild Rose // X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Friday, 27 December 2019

Video Games 2019

Respawn Entertainment kicked off the year in style with Apex Legends, a free-to-play Titanfall spin-off that has ended up completely eclipsing its parent game. Compared to other Call of Duty adjacent Battle Royales, Apex distinguished itself with free-flowing, player-launching, traversal. Instead of attempting to build a reasonably realistic ghost town, Respawn have carefully moulded multicoloured, vertical playgrounds, tailor-made to leap in and around. The scaled up environments and churning vistas (not to mention the shrinking safe area) push the player forward, pressing them up against endless opportunities to panic.

A total cheat, since everything contained within the Contra Anniversary Collection came out decades ago. The justification I'll be using today is that, thanks to ace retro devs M2, this museum compilation finally presents the European version of 1994's Mega Drive classic Probotector without PAL slowdown. This uptick in refresh rate turbo-charges an already unforgiving game, taking it from a methodical 50Hz to a seizure-inducing 60.

An office, the classic video game location. It's recurrence across genres and platforms no doubt reflective of the fact that every person making video games is stuck in some variation of this setting for massive amounts of their lives. So it goes that, classically, video game workplaces are a venue to show off environmental destruction models. Who doesn't want to obliterate their jail? There are desk and chairs to be overturned; papers and their weights to swirl around in throbbing, telekinetic tantrums. Control goes even further, positing its place of business is a vast, churning, concrete space. A headquarters exploded in every single direction, without any care for realistic or even logical architectural traversal. Control is a video game built around exploration and input models that cater to an expanding set of movement abilities and the player's desire to push these emerging skills as far as they can.

I'm still finding my way with Death Stranding. The game's cut-scenes are obnoxiously long and exposition heavy - not ideal when you're trying to squeeze in an hour or two of gameplay when you find yourself at a loose end. What Hideo Kojima's latest does have though, and this is obvious as early as the calibrations menus displayed on first boot, is a world-class level of production. Clearly, no expense has been spared steering Kojima Productions' latest vision into your hands. So far the game has required some only light stealth, steering Norman Reedus' quivering Postman through chasmic gaps in ghostly enemy formations, but the best of these early moments strike a more leisurely chord. The experience sings when it leaves you alone to lug your deliveries over picturesque, prehistoric looking environments with the sounds of Kojima's personal Walkman tinkling away in your ears.

Devil May Cry 5 is a dream come true. Even more so than the Resident Evil 2 remake (see below), Dante's fifth adventure represents Capcom re-embracing their past successes rather than bumbling further towards the exhausting, busywork, game design synonymous with a company like, I don't know, Ubisoft? Following an entire generation of game releases that looked to shallow blockbuster trends and games of telephone with western development studios to set the pace, the Osaka company are back, concentrating their efforts on the finely calibrated combat experiences they made their name with. Devil May Cry 5 makes no attempt to reinvent the idea of one against many, instead the super sequel pointedly inherits a half-dozen games worth of design mechanics, remixing them in a best-of package topped off with a histrionic Jump comic storyline about sons punching fallen fathers, again and again, until they're good again.

Loosely based on Taito's stubborn old belt action coin-op, The Ninja Saviors: Return of the Warriors retains the same rigid horizontal progress but mixes up the slashing and crashing with a gang of controllable ninjas that feel slightly out of whack with their coin-gobbling origins. The original arcade game (available on at least the PS4 as part of Hamster's Arcade Archives series) demanded a rigid approach to gameplay, damning customers with a surprisingly vulnerable robot ninja and enemy patterns designed to expose ignorance of the game's peculiar mechanics. Return of the Warriors is much more sympathetic. Although players are still swarmed from all sides, the characters they control have deeper, more useful move-sets that, at times, feel like the arbitrary inputs and over-powered outcomes assigned to the kind of unplayable Boss characters you might access through ancient hack cart trickery.

Capcom's remake of Resident Evil 2 retains the same, basic, item gathering motor as Hideki Kamiya's original. Players still pinball around a police station, hoovering up intricately designed keys and unattended weaponry, but the opportunity for success in 2019 has been dialled way down. The game no longer stocks you up for action-adventure, bullets are rare and aiming is annoyingly analogue. This Resident Evil 2 then is firmly horror. Raccoon City's police headquarters is a mausoleum; cold, dark and uninviting. The actorly, accentuated movement of your player character registers as a rolling disturbance rather than a keyed-in digital input. You're waking this place up - responsible for all the horrors that stir. You prod at this space's secrets as you sag and bumble towards the next lead. Another tweak: nowhere is safe from recurring annoyance Mr X. An experienced player, saddled with an unshakeable tail, might jog back to the lobby save area for a bit of peace. Not only will the Tyrant follow you all the way but, to your alarm, it'll actually trespass into your former sanctuary.

Like playing every Sonic the Hedgehog special stage all at once, Sayonara Wild Hearts sweeps you up with its swirling, fizzy confidence. Simogo's game transports you to a dreamy abstract, requiring deft but not overly complicated inputs; stages run the gamut from high-speed chases to locked-in rail shooters. The star of the show is Daniel Olsen and Jonathan Eng's electropop soundtrack, the perfect compliment to a gameplay model that recalls the best of Sega's Naomi board era arcade games.

Nominally a part of the stealth action genre, Untitled Goose Game arms players with a waddling, haughty bird capable of incredible malevolence. Unlike sneaking contemporaries that balance out their assassin's power with halting fail states, Untitled Goose Game builds its loop around a title character who simply refuses to be told off. This goose enjoys a privileged position within this world, bolshing and honking its way through all manner of basic swindles and petty larceny with almost complete impunity.

Bitmap Bureau's twin-stick, Mega Drive throwback Xeno Crisis traps the player is a series of claustrophobic rooms, each seething with cutesy, super-deformed monsters and crunchy Yamaha noise. Controllable characters - your choice of colour-coded space marines - snap to your inputs, zipping around like they're on roller-skates. There's even a minimal, pleasurable drift when you stop, a pleasant sop to momentum that (thankfully) never endangers your run. Power-up drops are randomised; sonic electronic ball-breakers are present but a lot less likely to show up than refills for your sputtering, faithful old machine gun. And while the enemy expulsions never get near bullet hell levels, delicate, darting movement is required to navigate the throng of creatures closing in around you.

Also Liked:

Beats Fever VR // Blazing Chrome // Call of Duty: Modern Warfare // Code Vein // Dragon Quest Builders 2 // GRIS // Judgment // MLB The Show 19 // Mortal Kombat 11 // My Big Sister // The Outer Wilds // Paradox Soul // Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice // Shakedown: Hawaii // Solo: Islands of the Heart // Stick Fight: The Game // Stay (PS4) // Wattam // Zanki Zero: Last Beginning // Zeroptian Invasion

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Music 2019

BluntOne - Recogneyes // Carly Rae Jepsen - Now That I've Found You // Charli XCX & Christine and the Queens - Gone // The Chemical Brothers - Eve of Destruction // The Chromatics - You're No Good // Dragnar - Aqua Eroge // Georgia - About Work the Dancefloor // Hotel Pools & ALISON - Drift // Irving Force - Criminal Intent // Jasper De Ceuster - Skyline // Lana Del Rey - Fuck It I Love You & The Greatest // Lucy in Disguise - Heist Money // Perturbator - Excess // Rosentwig - Pripyat // Thom Yorke - Dawn Chorus (Live) // Wun Two - Vio

Thursday, 19 December 2019

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker doesn't pay shallow homage to the Buster Crabbe serials that wowed a young George Lucas. The film takes on both the structural and aesthetic peculiarities of those drip-fed cliffhangers; mixing the breathless, full-speed-ahead pacing with a mise en scene that is deliberately recycled from earlier, related sources. Writer-director JJ Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio seem to have arrived at this wavelength in their efforts to design their sequel as not just the ultimate summation of Star Wars as an organic story, but also as a piece that talks about, and comments on, the systems and mechanisms that have always underwritten the series.

Rise of Skywalker then is a strange film that attempts to account for both its place within this saga, and its various, dangling plots, as well as its status as a cultural touchpoint that is now stuck combining nostalgia cues with mythic storytelling to wring the maximum amount of spend from its audience. As a sequel to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Rise of Skywalker is obtuse and contradictory, junking much of that film's playfulness and rolling sense of mystery to arrive at hard, extremely specific solutions. Rey has an identity forced on her that, at first contact, feels not just illogical but pandering. The answer that Rian Johnson's film so adequately provided is voided to place this young woman at the centre of another dynastic struggle.

George Lucas' monotone rhythms may be back but the knowledge they provide does, at least, build on ideas and inference scattered throughout the wider legend. In Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Ian McDiarmid's Emperor Palpatine took a moment to explain to his pupil, Anakin Skywalker, the ways in which the dark side of The Force could be used to manipulate our concepts of life and death. All Skywalker hears is a route to keeping his beloved wife alive, but the audience discovers something different. This tragic recounting of Darth Plaugueis' fate basically states that wrinkly old Sheev is a key figure in Skywalker's immaculate conception. Star Wars: The Force Awakens seemed to be contextualising Rey in similar terms - another rootless vessel of overwhelming power called into being to answer a specific, metaphysical need.

As it turns out, Rey's origins are rather blunter than that but the data (and it is data, rather than something a little more organic) Rise of Skywalker provides still ends up positioning the character in the same monstrous, emotionally tempestuous terms as her prequel ancestor. Just as Adam Driver's Kylo Ren has allowed the sequel filmmakers to salve and redesign Anakin's explosive, teenage tantrums, Daisy Ridley's Rey provides the opportunity to explore the path Anakin Skywalker chose not to take. Instead of siding with bottomless, ancient evil, Rey can call on the positive teachings and affirmations she has experienced to help guide her decision. Unlike Anakin (and, really, even Luke), Rey has matured in the company of masters who genuinely care for her. This very real, parental, affection allows her to vanquish not only a deeper, hereditary temptation, but the sickness it has transmitted out into the galaxy.

The Rise of Skywalker demands to be considered in these familial terms. Not only are we explicitly dealing with the children of the characters and movements that drove Lucas' original trilogy, the film is also built on top of the intriguing-but-discarded ideas detailed in JW Rinzler's wonderful The Making of... books. The half-formed, usually supernatural, notions that Lawrence Kasdan or Lucas only briefly considered are brushed up here and reevaluated. This necromancy doesn't always work, indeed a number of the more in-your-face, character specific callbacks flounder so badly because they ask the audience to engage, emotionally, with a film that has built itself, almost completely, out of rolling action and hyperbolic imagery. Terrio and Abrams don't accomplish the impossible then but they do deliver a conclusion that feels indebted to a series of films that has run the gamut from genre-defining classic to infuriating waste of time.

Saturday, 14 December 2019

6 Underground

As chaotic as Michael Bay's Transformers films are, there is some level of restraint. Metal titans may blithely crash through intercity coaches but the viewer isn't asked to consider the human cost. Any passengers the bus may or may not have been carrying will always become instantly absent, leaving only gutted, rolling wreckage in the robot's wake. In this way Bay's alien action films keep their transformer-on-people violence at the level of toyetic collision; flaming stunt rolls that speak to expense and skill rather than auto-vehicular terror. 6 Underground displays no such moderation. The car chase through Florence that opens the film betrays an exhilarating contempt for human life.

SUVs batter through crowds, crushing people, market bric-a-brac and even historical art before the vehicles are flipped then torn apart, arriving an inch from the camera heaving with pulverised, extinguished, meat. This may seem like a small, cosmetic correction but, when considered within Bay's wider oeuvre, it removes a contradiction that has kept the director's work registering at the crass, recruitment ad end of the commercial scale. 6 Underground, set up at Netflix to tempt browsing subscribers rather than any particular night-out crowd, doesn't need to undersell its carnage to capture a specific rating. Bay is therefore allowed to indulge his ugly fascination with deanimated bodies.

Frankly, it's a creative wavelength that works perfectly for Bay, a director who otherwise completely fails to convince his audience that he cares about anybody but those who wield the loudest, meanest voice. 6 Underground's vigilantes are Bay's trademark group of expert monkeys - the screeching, scratching, human panic attacks best able to barrel through Bay's kaleidoscopic catastrophes. Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese's screenplay builds an underlining sense of interpersonal apathy that, while overcome to provide an easily recognisable arc, lingers like background radiation. The logistics required to make viewers believe that Ryan Reynolds (snark incarnate, as always) and, by extension, Michael Bay, care about their billionaire black ops missions beyond pricky personal vendettas or an opportunity to play with some new rigs seem insurmountable. To 6 Underground's credit, it doesn't even try.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Resident Evil 3 - LAST ESCAPE

With the Resident Evil 3 remake now finally (officially) announced, the question for all us impatient (not to mention deeply ungrateful) people is: where do Capcom go from here? Do they circle around and mess about with the Dino Crisis series? Or do they forge ahead with another Biohazard? Since the fourth entry is already perfect and unimpeachable, I'd like to see the same kind of atmospheric pizzazz glimpsed here applied to the less well liked Resident Evil - Code: Veronica - that miserable death camp you start the game in would really benefit from a dash of modern, ray-tracing effects.

Tekken 7 - LAST DRAGON

As well as an enormous, science experiment Muay Thai fighter (who must be a Sagat asset flip from the presumably cancelled Tekken X Street Fighter project?), the already heaving Tekken 7 roster expands with Leroy Smith, a Wing Chun practitioner who very much feels like an aged-up take on Taimak Guarriello's character from The Last Dragon.

Scooter (Transformers Style) by Dyemooch

BluntOne - Reflections

Untitled Goose Game - HONK?


Streets of Rage 4 - LIGHTNING CHUCKS

Adam's back! Despite being absent for both Mega Drive sequels (replaced by his younger, zippier brother Skate), the older Hunter brother returns to fight alongside his daughter, the already revealed Cherry. In the original Streets of Rage Adam was the hits harder but moves slower character. Although light on a detailed mechanical breakdown, this trailer does demonstrate the idea that Adam's screen-clearing mobility comes from his lancing special moves rather than the light stroll he uses to position himself on your television.

Axiom Verge 2 - ANOTHER WORLD

Tom Happ has announced Axiom Verge 2! Coming to Nintendo Switch late next year, Happ's follow-up trades in its prequel's blaring, 8-bit neon graphics for the kind of dreamy pastels you might associate with the Euro-platformers seen on 16-bit systems like the Super Nintendo or Commodore's Amiga.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Crystal Cola - シンス精神

Justice League vs The Fatal Five

Justice League vs The Fatal Five aspires to be a movie length episode of Justice League Unlimited. The home video release ropes in voice actors from the classic TV series and Bruce Timm's clean, angular, art style to tell a not particularly interesting story about time-travelling criminals and the mental health worries of teenage superheroes. Aside from the above window dressing, the closest Sam Liu's latest comes to summoning up the vim of its antecedent is in the decision to build itself around lesser known characters. At its peak, Justice League Unlimited was a popped-out plunge into the DC back catalogue; twenty-minute gasps that dredged up a procession of heroes and villains to be pulverised by Dr Fight himself, series co-director Joaquim Dos Santos.

Unfortunately Dos Santos and ace collaborator Lauren Montgomery are both long gone from the DC animation team - the directors are currently booked for Sony's various Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse follow-ups - leaving us stuck with a creative team who churn out cynical, supermarket cartoons. At one point the DC animated universe was the go-to place for comic book histrionics and fluid action cracks. Now we're lumbered with an assembly line producing bumbling, misshapen features, each vid spiked with enough light swearing and pooling blood to avoid babysitter video classifications. Never mind that these additions often register as a creep's idea of maturity. Fatal Five's fight sequences (one moment of axe-meets-Lantern-ring excepted) are cumbersome and under-animated too. Rigid, plastic looking figures collide in a flat, centre space; world-shaking brawls executed with a clod's idea of invention.

Monday, 25 November 2019

Rambo: Last Blood

Based on the evidence supplied by Rambo: Last Blood, Mexico occupies a peculiar place in America's cultural psyche. Despite the fact that, in reality, a significant amount of the United States has been built over Mexican land, it is the UMS that is portrayed as the covetous entity here. In Last Blood the country is a ravenous monster, filled with absurdly antagonistic criminals, eager to chew up and spit out anyone foolish enough to dally there. There may be a throwaway aside between two mob bosses about the export of trafficked women to the United States - which, in of itself, prickles the very real idea that Mexicans suffer to keep oblivious American consumers happy - but, for the most part, the symbiotic relationship between the two lands is limited here to an idea of lawlessness encroaching on sacred, American, soil.

With Mexico positioned as a nightmare blob residing just over the horizon (banished by walls both towering and rudimentary), what prevents Adrian Grunberg's film from registering solely as disgusting, Trumpian wish-fulfilment? Actresses Adriana Barraza and Yvette Monreal are deployed as Rambo's anchors, both playing characters of Mexican descent currently residing in Last Blood's version of Arizona (which looks more like Spain, lending the film and its winding Cu Chi tunnels an exploitative, Macaroni Combat flavour). The women give Sylvester Stallone's character a purchase on reality, but it's a mechanical gesture that seems designed, primarily, to smooth over the savage inhumanity Stallone and co-writer Matthew Cirulnick have assigned to the women's parent country. Neither role is especially complex. Barraza represents maternal worry while Yvette Monreal's Gabriela is a fairy tale innocent; young, beloved and full of promise.

There's precious little depth to Monreal's role - we are instead asked to consider the imperilled, tragic Gabriela within the context of Rambo and the pitiless life he has lead. She's the perfect, idealised child he never had. Her mother is dead, her biological father isn't interested. Rambo has chosen to be the strong, caring man in her life. All hope for his redemption hinges on her and the life she should go on to lead. Since Gabriela is a cipher there's an obvious temptation to think about her role in terms of Stallone's actual life - the writer-actor frequently uses the cover of vein-popping carnage to explore aspects of his own experience. To this end, it's important to note that Stallone lost his own son, Sage, in 2012. Bluntly, this is the power that Last Blood possesses. It's an ugly, filthy examination of parental vengeance fantasies. This isn't grief examined in small, human ways, it's a massive, thrashing tantrum. Stallone plays Rambo as a chewed-up muscle monster struggling through bereavement by pulverising the people who hurt his baby. Last Blood is a film so jaundiced, so confrontational and nakedly functional in its desire to place Stallone in situations where he can growl then deform anonymous, loveless men, that it's actually sort of astonishing.

Tuesday, 19 November 2019


Joaquin Phoenix's performance overwhelms Joker. It's by far the film's biggest component, crowding out a rigid sense of reality, the smoking sewer setting and, even, Robert De Niro. Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a struggling, mentally ill comedian who is no longer able to access the medication that keeps him level after budget cuts in a rotting, overripe Gotham City. Locating the action somewhere in the early 1980s may allow the filmmakers to pile the streets with static garbage and dress everyone up in layered corduroy, but Joker's social issues are timely - an uncaring ruling class mock the disenfranchised through word and deed, prompting a popular uprising.

Todd Phillips' film, much like The Dark Knight Rises before it, is only interested in these developments as colour to chart an idea of acceleration. Arthur Fleck neither buys into nor attempts to escalate the clown protests his criminal actions inspire. Fleck himself states that he has no political aim or objective, he's just reacting to the hand he has been dealt. This statement underlines an issue in Joker's plotting. Despite all the terrible revelations thrown Fleck's way, success lands in his lap with very little active manipulation. Fleck doesn't glom onto his disenfranchised copycats, he doesn't need to. One car-crash stand-up performance, somehow taped for posterity, lands him exactly where he needs to be - in the company of De Niro's bruiser chat show host, Murray Franklin.

De Niro's work, particularly the actor's collaborations with Martin Scorsese, are positioned as antecedent to Joker. A collage of moments to be reconfigured or riffed on. The chimeric Fleck obviously combines elements of Rupert Pupkin and Travis Bickle (the straining musculature of Max Cady is in the mix too), but while The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver frequently affected a dispassionate, observational distance between camera and subject, Phoenix's work bleeds out of the frame and into his film's structure. Significant portions of Joker take place in and around Fleck's waking delusions, fantasies in which he is able to connect with a father figure or a love interest. This interior life is relatively wholesome, even meek then. That the comedian is raised to the level of a chaotic, modern messiah recalls the queasy incredulity at the centre of Monty Python's Life of Brian. So while Fleck never cynically leverages the disorder he arouses, Phillips and co-writer Scott Silver give themselves up to it, using Fleck's slippery grasp on reality to litter their film with orphan scenes of Phoenix plying his trade without any pressure to knit these strange little asides back into the cohesive whole.

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare - SHOOTERS IN THE SHOOT HOUSE

It's been around for a week or so now, but here's my first game on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare's freebie map Shoot House. Compared to the arenas that shipped with the game, Shoot House is snappy, barely allowing players the space or time to hunker down in some dark, foreboding corner and wait for foot traffic. While I'm very aware that the PS4's capture feature can never fully represent the actual calculations and results generated by this kind of online game, it's nice to know it can snatch footage of the general weirdness players encounter. 09:10 in this clip is a good example of the strange anti-auto aim I sometimes come across in Call of Duty games. Rather than allow you to track with an enemy character, you feel like you're constantly correcting an effort to force your aim off your target. 

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Piranha II: Flying Killers

Structurally, at least in terms of the characters and situations that drive rather than hinder the piece, Piranha II: Flying Killers appears to have been designed as a straight-faced follow-up to Joe Dante's gleeful original, trading in that film's knowing carnage for something resembling a late 70s tech thriller. Credited director (and uncredited co-writer) James Cameron famously spent a couple of weeks at this sequel's helm before he was jettisoned in favour of the film's producer, Ovidio G Assonitis. Cameron has described his role as that of a patsy, an American sounding name that could be attached to the film for the US market, belying its more diffuse, European origins.

Piranha II is, for the most part, awful. Despite an obvious through-line centring around several clashing experts and their preferred approach to airborne teeth, the film prefers the company of placeholder people. We suffer through the larks of the doomed and the wild tonal shifts these antics present. Our victims are feckless, moneyed Americans on holiday in the tropics, burning up and snooping around. The women are depicted as oversexed or manipulative; the men podgy and compliant. As a dramatic axis, all these nobodies provide is a brief moment of expectation when, as a blubbery, drunken horde, they prepare to descend on a nighttime beach to scoop up vulnerable, mating fish. We know it isn't loved up grunion they'll find down there but the snarling, gene-spliced Flying Killers. Disappointingly, even this brief thrill is thwarted.

Piranha II's gliding, dry land attacks are laughable. The frenzied, frothy pace dictated by Joe Dante and Mark Goldblatt's cutting on the previous film is nowhere to be found here. Instead puppets blast around on piano wire then flap around uselessly after connecting themselves to their victim's throats. In deference to the works of HR Giger, not to mention the Flying Killers' mad science origin, an effort has clearly been made to render these creatures as bio-mechanical. Their faces are agonised skulls while their bodies resemble industrial tubing painted gunmetal gray. Glimpsed briefly, the design is striking but Piranha II refuses to conceal them, demanding we stare at the puppets in long, neutral close-up until all sense of danger dissipates.

Running concurrently with this mulch plotting are three characters who better align with the combative experts seen in James Cameron's later work. Tricia O'Neil and Lance Henriksen play Anne and Steve, an estranged couple who allow the writer-director to construct a couple of scenes around thwarted expertise and clashing professional objectives. Anne is a marine biologist currently working as a diving instructor; Steve is an intense local cop who lets dynamite fishing slide and enjoys a strange, disposable attitude towards his police helicopter. Frustrating any chance of reconciliation is Steve Marachuk's Tyler Sherman, a military biochemist who poses as a diving student as a way to discretely investigate a wreck that the piranhas have infested. The brief, sexual relationship that arises between Tyler and Anne recalls an infidelity subplot from Peter Benchley's Jaws novel, a complication between Chief Brody and Hooper that never made it into Steven Spielberg's killer fish progenitor text.

All of Piranha II's best moments take place underwater, away from queued-up victims and the actor who decided to interpret the familial love between Anne and her son as a series of leering, nose-jutting flirtations. Submerged, the distraction of misfiring drama disappears, replaced with prolonged, silent exploration. These sequences are not only beautifully photographed by Roberto D'Ettorre Piazzoli, they also facilitate moments of believable, claustrophobic tension - emotional notes completely absent from the rest of the film. Anne and Tyler clawing their way along the rusted interior of a sunken ship while a bomb timer ticks down is a clear antecedent to a similar sequence in Aliens. The scale and stakes may be completely different but both retreats represent action, and its moment-to-moment frustrations, as their own, distinct, approach to storytelling.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Daniel Deluxe - Sojourn

snaer. - Ringleader


Paced to express the mounting sense of anxiety felt by the film's lead couple, Joe Dante's Piranha starts out leisurely, bordering on sluggish, before slowly building to full-on, adrenal mania. Heather Menzies plays Maggie McKeown, a spunky skiptracer hot on the trail of two teenagers who skinny-dipped in the wrong pool. Along the way she recruits Bradford Dillman's topped-up drunk Paul to help investigate the disappearance. The pair stumble on a semi-abandoned military research tank (the kind that holds water) which they promptly, thoughtlessly, drain. Unfortunately, this bone-clogged cauldron housed a strain of super aggressive, selectively bred, piranha, able to survive in the cold, local waters.

After a couple of run-ins with the film's buzzing, agitated shoals, Maggie and Paul abandon their emerging relationship to arrive at a state of total, propulsive motion. This unceasing advance hits a peak 79 minutes into the film - editors Dante and Mark Goldblatt assemble a short, delirious sequence that mixes on-water stunt falls; a speedboat crashing through a smaller vessel (and the subsequent explosion); massing, carnivorous fish and, finally, our heroes launching themselves into space in a stolen, slow-motion police car. Dante's film may be slight in terms of storytelling - a quickly produced cash-in hoping to ride Jaws' wake - but it's assembled in a way that extracts maximum impact out of its (comparatively) meagre budget. The Piranha attacks manage to be both protracted and frenzied. The film's micro maulings communicated with churning, underwater collages that knit together images of teeth, injury and clouding, dilute blood.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare - THE META

Caution is the name of the game in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Ideally, you want to position your in-game character against a peekaboo surface with claymores at your back, guarding you from ambush. Even better if you can post up in a pitch black room, overlooking high traffic movement channels. Running about is discouraged - levels are a nightmare of distracting details and long, overlapping sight-lines; meaning the slightest movement could leave you hopelessly imperilled. Unfortunately, I don't have the patience for any of that shit, so I'm just loading up with whichever weapons are currently tanking the meta.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Terminator: Dark Fate

With James Cameron out the picture - the writer-director still beavering away on his forever project, the Avatar sequels - the task of resuscitating the Terminator franchise falls to Deadpool's Tim Miller. Although not ideal, you can see the thinking. Miller has experience with the elasticated damage expressed at the higher end of blockbuster age ratings; the kind of action that positions the human body as an unyielding doll, to be crushed and stretched as it hurtles around a film's set-pieces. While his X-Men spin-off never fully dialled into this invincible anatomy conceit, Terminator: Dark Fate gives it a good go, assembling and reintroducing all manner of bodies that can soak up inhuman levels of punishment in sequences that seesaw between 'weightlessly balletic' and 'satisfying crunch'.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton are back, both in supporting roles that speak to their legacy status within the series as much as their advancing ages. Sarah Connor and this T-800 share a complementary fate, each having denied the other the life they expected. Schwarzenegger taps into threads left dangling at the conclusion of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, examining how a couple of decades spent orphaned would affect the T-800's emerging simulation of fatherhood (not to mention the Model 101's gift for aesthetic arrangement). Hamilton gets to play the old hand, an expert with no clear direction, seeking a glorious death. Although she begins the film understandably sour, Sarah quickly folds herself into a new collective, adding a layer of firm, maternal protection.

Given that the prevailing genre for big budget entertainment these days skews superheroic, it's fun to examine the ways in which Dark Fate's writing team (consisting of no less than David S Goyer, Justin Rhodes, Billy Ray, Charles Eglee, Josh Friedman and, most happily, series creator James Cameron) have interpreted that suffocating set of demands. Fortunately, since the franchise is rigged around clashing, indestructible machinery, it's certainly an easier fit than most. Mackenzie Davis' Grace represents the biggest alteration; a human resistance fighter from an altered, but no less desperate, future who has willingly allowed her body to become infected with technology. She mixes flesh and machinery, not as a walking abomination blurted out by an unfeeling computer, but as a flawed synthesis.

Grace's augmented identity suggests humanity has made a claim on seized extermination hardware, turning it back against its unseen originator. Conceptually, although she's essentially operating with Logan's adamantium skeleton, it's still a world away from the anti-machine invective heard from The Terminator's Kyle Reese, up till now the only human perspective on our collapsed tomorrows. His memories of a now subverted apocalypse depict humanity as subterranean and struggling to survive. The idea of willing symbiosis with captured enemy science never even seemed possible, never mind preferable. Everything's different now, species lines are deliberately blurred and recontextualised, allowing Dark Fate to have another human agent, someone not only acutely aware of the threat barrelling towards them but also genuinely invested in the target they've been assigned to protect.

Schwarzenegger's all-conquering bluntness has been consistently fun in this shield role but there was value in the icy anxiety Michael Biehn brought to Reese. Why shouldn't that performance be revisited? Davis gets to channel Kyle's nervous, emotionally engaged energy, equally at home pummelling stunned cops as she is sternly telling Natalia Reyes' Dani to buckle up when head-on collisions seem likely. Grace's humanity allows a physical vulnerability to bleed into the action too, changing the shape and procedure of plot. Grace fatigues, her enhancements only allowing her to fight in short, sharp bursts, necessitating the ice baths and drug cocktails of the Universal Soldier series. These flaws weave imperfection into the character's skill-set, necessitating the collaboration that forms the film's thematic backbone.

The adrenal shock that Grace suffers permits Dark Fate's quarry character, Dani, an early opportunity to assert herself in the physical realm, rather than simply rely on the mild hectoring she's perfected in her personal life. Unlike the passive Sarah Connor of pre-intervention 1984, Dani is not only used to taking care of loved ones but also equally capable of confronting anyone who tries to mess with them. The Terminator charts Sarah's growth from a lonely, dissatisfied waitress into the sainted icon of a future militia. Dani is already a couple of steps further along this path, a Mexican citizen close to being nudged out of her job on a car assembly line by the factory's creeping automation.

Not only is Dani used to dealing with a robotic, imperialist regime, she has already assumed the caring, motherly role key to many of James Cameron's heroines. She looks after her spaced-out brother and infirm father; she argues with her American boss, taking other people's responsibilities onto her shoulders when she recognises it is too much for them. She listens to what she's being told then executes on that advice, whether that be hurried compliance or pointed dissent. Dani manages all of this while being unfailingly polite too. She doesn't shout or scream, everyone is spoken to as an equal, never a subordinate. Past Terminator films have talked about their human characters in terms of their destination, usually a role that seems only vaguely fathomable based on their current incarnation.

Dani is different, she explicitly possess most of the character traits that will, eventually, power her destiny. Dark Fate then is more interested in discussing saviours in terms of their innate greatness being prevented by uncaring, inhumane systems. About how a messiah could be thwarted by the gross overreach of a corrupt sitting power in a bloated, neighbouring country. Dark Fate's America is depicted as a vast, technologically advanced prison. A country that perpetuates an idea of siege as a way to divert feeling and basic human empathy in its populace. Over the course of their adventure, Dani and her cohorts are required to illegally cross the border into the United States. Having already anticipated this move, Gabriel Luna's enemy assassin, the Rev-9, uses drone cameras and overeager ICE agents to thwart their progress - there's even a sense that this Terminator has no objection to the very real possibility that these jackboots could end up completing Rev's mission by proxy.

Much like T2's T-1000, this cyborg has quickly recognised that a law enforcement uniform will allow the wearer to violently pursue their human targets with impunity. What's chilling about these moments is how easily the Rev-9 folds itself into the bureaucratic machinery of border control, functioning as an extension of, and answer to, the practice of human data gathering. Where Robert Patrick's mercury man tapped and caressed to gleam data from his analog environment, the Rev-9 couples, regressing to its oily, fibrous form to ooze into the circuitry of surveillance. Although at this point Skynet is a banished phantom, it's sobering that Immigration and Custom's objective both here and in reality - to herd hungry, impoverished people into cages - is functionally identical to the orderly disposal Reese warned us about in the first film. Both systems deny individuality and view mass, trapped, humanity as vermin to be catalogued.

Anamanaguchi - Air On Line

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Halloween (2018)

David Gordon Green's series snubbing continuation of Halloween lacks the mythic, otherworldly sweep of John Carpenter's parent film. It's a fragment blown up to a feature, the basically brilliant idea of a hopelessly broken Laurie Strode taking on aspects of her massive, unkillable nemesis in order to beat him. Rather than build their entire script around a pitch that (admittedly) is better suited to an action movie follow-up, writers Green, Jeff Fradley and Danny McBride keep multiple victim wheels spinning, dedicating long passages of screen time to podcast journalists who (kind of, sort of) reawaken a torpid Michael Myers and a duplicitous psychiatric doctor who smuggles in slasher sequel notes that do nothing but take the shine off their central threat.

Surprisingly, this Halloween lacks the underlining sense of brooding, psychological disquiet Green and McBride routinely bring to their television projects. Perhaps Michael Myers is the issue? After all, the ignorance and mania that power Eastbound & Down, Vice Principals and The Righteous Gemstones rings superfluous when dealing with a tireless Shape. Rather than wriggle into Myers' head space and spend time with him as a character, this menace is simply observed, an out-of-focus object who exists on the frame's perimeter. As if to banish all memory of Rob Zombie's sympathetic take on the franchise, we are never allowed to connect to this Michael as anything other than a drifting force for violence.

Although a more aggressive sense of interior perspective might puncture the killer's boogeyman persona, there is at least precedent in Carpenter's original. The 1978 film gave us a taste of the alien, hammering its unsuspecting audience with long, floating, point-of-view sequences that positioned us inside the killer's head. We gazed out of his eyes. We heard his straining, whooping excitement when he murdered. Moments were burnt listening to his breathing normalise after a conquest. The otherness of the 1978 Michael was made all the more revolting by the ways in which his actions misunderstood basic human impulses - his was a nascent, adolescent sexuality focused around kitchen knives and young women he felt he couldn't otherwise possess. By comparison, this iteration is simply robotic.

Streets of Rage 2 - MANIA

Only accessible via a cheat code, Streets of Rage 2's MANIA difficulty demands prudence. Players hoping for success should creep forward, slowing activating (then thumping) enemy spawns lest they get overwhelmed by the skittish, super-aggressive mobs. Since the above vid is a speed-run though, caution is out the fucking window. Bare Knuckle expert Anthopants, playing as lumbering pro-wrestler Max, is a blur; gleefully hurling his pixelated body around the screen and into danger.

DJ Sabnak - Wig Split feat. DJ Bishop

DJ Spoony with Katie Chatburn and The Ignition Orchestra feat. Sugababes - Flowers

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Invaders from Mars

Like its forebear, Tobe Hooper's Invaders from Mars remake often takes the paranoid perspective of a child when telling its story. William Cameron Menzies' 1953 original trapped its pre-teen hero in dreamy repetition, framing actor Jimmy Hunt inside cavernous, adult spaces that required the manic determination of an all-American do-gooder to surmount. Rather than steer for straight replication, Hooper takes a slightly different tact, tapping into the central child's emotional hysteria rather than his lack of physical presence. So while the camera doesn't specifically take on David Gardner (Hunter Carson)'s point-of-view, it is frequently positioned in ways that denote sympathy to his predicament. Brain-drilled adults are seen as statues, we stare up at them with a mix of awe and nervous apprehension.

Invaders from Mars posits a situation in which a child's safety net has been removed - the loving father who won't even tell you off when you sprinkle your conversation with light swears has been taken, replaced by a robotic pod person fascinated by artificial sweeteners. The unease a child feels trying to fathom their way through adult emotional remoteness, or even basic changeability, is magnified into an all-consuming anxiety that pollutes the safe haven called home. It's a great hook but this '86 mint is hamstrung by its rhythms. Hooper's film is spaced out and unexciting; terrifying alien confrontations are neutralised by flat, inexpert arrangement and a detached, presumably humorous tone. The blubbery alien threat, special effects courtesy of Stan Winston and John Dykstra, are not so much a terrifying affront to individuality but a clique of incompetent, toy town chums who gobble up mean teachers in a half-hearted attempt to understand mankind's unheeded child champion.

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Jushin Thunder Liger by Daniel Warren Johnson


Harakiri by way of ITV4. Jesse V Johnson's Avengement sees Scott Adkins take an entire pub hostage so that he can batter the beefy clientele with his twisting, serpentine memories. Adkins plays Cain Burgess, an amateur boxer who didn't always look like he'd gotten his head stuck in a sandwich maker. Pre-chromed gnashers, Brugess was a hilariously clean-cut, cargo pant prep, dressed head to toe in Burton menswear and looking to open his own gym. The problem? He didn't have the capital, necessitating a trip to his treacherous loan shark brother, played by a scowling Craig Fairbrass.

Armed with a snapback cap, Cain dabbles with some light mugging to win favour. Unfortunately his first mark is so desperate to get her handbag back that she runs straight into traffic, landing a goggle-eyed Cain in prison.Structurally, Avengement is all over the place, Cain's recollections roam up and down his lifespan, pulling out the noteworthy confrontations and how they have shaped his current, double-barrelled identity. This scrambled approach to plot nicely simulates the anxious excitement of a juiced-up maniac creeping closer and closer to his revenge.

Avengement's fights are deliberately excessive too, puncturing the talky stillness of Cain's lock-in with lock-up throw downs that begin with crossed words before dragging in umpteen, gawking bystanders. Mindful of Adkins' already impressive physical dimensions, Johnson and co-writer Stu Small chart Cain's mutation by trashing the star's face. Teeth are stomped out of his skull; boiling sugar water burns away his good looks. Adkins leans into the dead-eyed, reptilian personality that emerges from these injuries - a self-assured creature who takes great delight in redirecting the violence that tracks in at him. A significant step up from Adkins and Johnson's previous efforts, including their droll but meandering adaptation of Pat Mills and Tony Skinner's Accident Man.

Eagle Eyed Tiger - Metropolis

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Masters by Chris Faccone

Child's Play

Set to Evil by a disgruntled Vietnamese programmer after he's bullied out of his assembly line job, Mark Hamill's Chucky is a malfunctioning virtual assistant / nap time pal able to interpret his needy directives without having to worry about any of the plastic, mass-produced ethics synonymous with American popular culture. Rather than mess around with Voodoo spells and avenging spirits, Lars Klevberg's Child's Play posits artificial life as a sponge, soaking up information from its environment then plotting a response using the stunted, commodity framing of a toy built for children. Chucky desperately wants to be loved, a tall order since he's more Garbage Pail than Cabbage Patch; a second-hand example of an outdated model with a new, better coiffed product on the horizon.

Happily, he falls into the hands of Gabriel Bateman's Andy, a poor, lonely teenager who's more comfortable prodding at his starred-out phone screen than he is mixing in and making friends. For a brief period the pair are content, keeping each other company until the curious neighbourhood kids gather round to inspect the glitching doll. As well as stealing away Andy's affections, these bad influences also pollute Chucky's already flexible rule set with their detached, ironic stance. In particular, Pugg's gleeful appreciation of blunt trauma and evisceration while taking in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 during a sleepover ends up teaching the ever-present Chucky that, despite all evidence to the contrary, violence is actually completely excellent.

Functionally, Tyler Burton Smith's screenplay offers viewers a poverty row remix of the more painful moments from the Toy Story franchise. The bereaved, vengeful Chucky isn't that far removed from Joan Cusack's Jessie, another red-haired doll that no-one wants. The difference being that rather than accept obsolescence as a natural part of an object's life, Chucky has decided to win back his prize, using glimpses of violence and Nanny Cam abuse as leverage. The fun in Child's Play 2019 then is that, thanks to a zapped-out populace and their greedy tech overlords, the killer doll is not only morally empty but, essentially, all-powerful. He's a gig culture guru; an ambulating Alexa able to summon self-driving cars to pulverise his elderly rivals. The savagery is catching too, not only can this Chucky weather its innards being swapped out for spares but it can also infect other, similar products with its faulty coding. And if the doll's killing spree never quite scales the Small Soldiers level heights suggested by an entire supermarket teeming with other, malleable vessels, well, that's what sequels are for.