Sunday, 23 June 2019

Universal Soldier: The Return

Jean-Claude Van Damme is back as Luc Deveraux. Universal Soldier's reanimated infantryman has beaten back the spectre of death and is now living as a regular, boring human with a job and a family (presumably a mortgage too). He's overcome the kill-bot programming written on top of his former personality, as well as the incessant need to ice himself down. Deveraux's a new man. Quite how the pointedly deceased grunt has been able to transition from a walking, rotting corpse to a working stiff isn't covered here in any great detail. Who cares right? Mic Rodger's film certainly doesn't - Van Damme's got faces to pull, stunt men to kick.

Universal Soldier: The Return tosses off any idea of physical or psychological rehabilitation for Deveraux. The character is stripped of all the emotional depth you'd expect from someone who has been friendly fired, returned to life as an automaton, then had to fight through the military's multi-tiered murder coding to stake a claim on his own, lapsed humanity. Gone too is the stability promised by Ally Walker's Veronica Roberts, Deveraux's love interest in the previous film. The spunky reporter has died off-screen, leaving Luc with an accident-prone daughter he barely frets about. It's a lot of circuitous, disappointing corrections upfront just to position Van Damme as a mugging action figure with a pronounced interest in female nudity. Seriously, Deveraux doesn't just go cross-eyed staring at his exposed, fitness model colleague Kiana Tom, the entire plot hinges on his familiarity with Internet strip shows. 

Deveraux, despite being chewed-up, spat out, then chewed up again by the US government, is currently working alongside the next generation of UniSols in some ill-defined PR / scab role. The lumpy, grotesquely muscled zombies, as exemplified by pro-wrestling's own Bill Goldberg, all seem to loathe their human attache, attacking him at every available opportunity. Any notion that this emnity might be grounded in the cold storage lads resenting Deveraux's freedom to leave their air-conditioned mausoleum and father children isn't even on Return's radar. Mic Rodgers' film is content to chug along, monotonously drawing husky men together so that they can pulverise barely dressed sets while the audience suffer through Static-X tracks.

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Universal Soldier

Universal Soldier's finest moments are fleeting but indelible, brief blips revolving around Dolph Lundgren's zapped-out, reanimated war criminal. Despite the film's body horror conceit - dead 'Nam veterans are resurrected as automated meat shields then used to defuse hostage situations - director Roland Emmerich is much more excited about presenting his stars as muscled intruders, upsetting gormless locals with their loud, pneumatic behaviour. These wildly disparate ideas only really knit together in one scene, and it's all thanks to the ear-collecting mania that Lundgren invests in his Sergeant Andrew Scott.

Following an unsuccessful, not to mention incompetent, attempt to capture / eliminate Jean-Claude Van Damme's Luc Deveraux, Scott is lumbered with several chewed-up, unresponsive underlings. In order to function effectively these souped-up stiffs must be kept on ice, leaving Scott no alternative but to drag these mushy comrades around a supermarket in search of cold storage. Scott screams at vacant shoppers and shelf-stackers, demanding they point him towards the nearest walk-in freezer. Once his men are dumped in a meat locker, Scott returns to the shop floor to hold court, ranting and raving to a stunned, schlubby audience about the 'treachery' of the South Vietnamese.

Lundgren's performance defies the neglect of Richard Rothstein, Christopher Leitch, and Dean Devlin's screenplay, motoring along entirely on the actor's raw, babbling enthusiasm. It is to Emmerich's credit that he, quite apparently, just got out of the way. Lundgren shrieks and booms, mispronouncing words then taking rote tough guy talk off in new, incomprehensible directions. Luc Deveraux's reawakening is a slow process, prickled then catalysed by the sameness of the situations he finds himself in. Van Damme portrays his enlightenment as a kind of rebirth, resetting Deveraux to an innocent, almost childlike state. The film leverages this into farcical situations designed to exploit Van Damme's boyish good looks and willingness (need?) to disrobe.

Lundgren gets much more to chew on. Scott, it seems, broke his programming much earlier than Deveraux, happy to play along with the military-industrial complex's latest bone-headed scheme simply because it gave him ample opportunity to brutalise people. Out on his first (screen) mission Scott, referred to by his undead call-sign GR13, is set the task of silently eliminating a posted guard. While Van Damme's GR44 heroically punches his quarry unconscious, GR13 twists his guy's head off then stamps on the prone, already dead, body. Universal Soldier proposes a war between a reluctant professional and a raving lunatic but then gets lost along the way, delaying the expected collision and invincible flesh conceit to amble along sex-comedy side roads that don't actually lead anywhere.

ALISON - Subtract

Forhill - Refractions


Bought Battlefield V in a recent sale. Although it delivers the standard Battlefield weight and momentum, it's surprising how incomplete the game feels. The problems I'm routinely encountering are the kind of things you might excuse at launch - missing stats, bugged-out results screens, halted unlock progress - but not now, seven months after release. Still, no other first-person shooter gives you the sense that you're a lumbering mass struggling with their weapon (in this case a STEN sub-machine gun). That you have to fight against the controls and aiming profile somewhat is half the appeal - it gives the game a terrifying sense of reality.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

E3 - GRAFX-16

Out of nowhere Konami have announced their own take on the mini-console fad, a hand-portable, plug-and-play reconfiguration of NEC Home Entertainment's PC Engine. Just to spite (well, rinse) collectors, there's a different shell for each region with Europe scoring the CoreGrafx configuration, an update that junked the 80s system's RF output for composite. Japan gets the classic white console while America receives the TurboGrafx-16, a handsome, dayglo accented brick that looks like background detailing in a Cyberpunk anime.

It'll be interesting to see how the included games are curated for each individual region - Japan is off to a strong start with Dracula X taking pride of place on their exclusive list. For their Mega Drive Mini, Sega put together radically different selections for each region. Europe and America get a smattering of classics and best-sellers while Japan, where the system was not what you'd call successful, are being gifted a boutique selection, emphasising the kind of rarer carts you'd see clogging up an eBay collector's wish list. Given how the PC Engine failed to catch fire in Europe (outside of France at least), hopefully Konami follows suit, hand-selecting some millionaire gaming for the region.


Link's portable 8-bit adventures return with a cutesy makeover that copies the tilt-shift trickery of 3D Dot Game Heroes to make the game's environments read as beautifully sculpted, scratch-built dioramas. Players of The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening looking to get in on the hobby can muck in with the Chamber Dungeons feature, arranging tiles together to create their own bottomless pits.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019


To be honest I wasn't expecting another adventure for Link so soon after the release of Breath of the Wild. Thankfully Nintendo had other ideas. Given the eerie atmosphere of this trailer, the wonderfully titled Sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild looks to be the Majora's Mask to Wild's Ocarina of Time.


Konami have announced another Contra game, just in time to ride the goodwill generated by their superb Anniversary Collection package. Contra: Rogue Corps swerves the standard platform-shooting for an isometric twin-sticker, reminiscent of the Mode 7 interludes from Contra III: The Alien Wars and Dreamcast hidden-gem Cannon Spike.


Team Andromeda's post-apocalyptic rail shooter Panzer Dragoon is getting a fresh coat of paint courtesy of Forever Entertainment. If you haven't played this Sega Saturn launch game, it occupies the space between Space Harrier and Rez Infinite, with a visual identity firmly indebted to Moebius' Arzach. The sequel, Panzer Dragoon II Zwei is promised too.

Rosentwig - Pripyat

Monday, 10 June 2019

Copra #31 by Michel Fiffe


How do make your Battle Royale game stand out? If you're Media Tonic you have it play just like a Japanese game show. Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout puts you in charge of one of many colourful little blobs, each tasked with the incomprehensible desire to pour themselves into a kaleidoscopic meat grinder. Beat Takeshi would be proud.


Who doesn't want to slime around massive Goth-industrial laboratories pulling blubbery humans into their hungry maw? Carrion offers players the chance to take control of an enormous bacterial infection, thrashing and crashing around, gorging itself on anything that isn't nailed down. Phobia Game Studio's upcoming release immediately looks set to deliver on the game I dearly wanted to play when eyeing up Mega Drive clunker The Ooze in some ancient copy of Mean Machines Sega.


2016's Doom is a strong contender for first-person campaign of the generation (it's either that, Titanfall 2 or the completely slept on Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare) so who wouldn't welcome a sequel that turbo-charges that game's liquid flow of slaughter? Doom Eternal adds even bouncier aerial traversal and big red death buttons just in case there's a chance you might stop killing things for even a second.


Unless you're The Wizard, there's a certain amount of repetition built into the basic experience of playing video games. Luis Antonio's 12 Minutes toys with this idea, trapping the player in a time loop, challenging them to use their foresight to inch themselves and their loved ones towards an outcome that doesn't see them murdered in their own home.


Elden Ring presents an interesting tension, how do you juggle the contribution of superstar writer George RR Martin with a game design approach that tends to be wilfully obscure, if not outright open to interpretation? Hidetaka Miyazaki's next game promises a massive field of landmarks to conquer, a customisable main character, and a story that steers Tolkienian anvils of power down dark, dismembered directions.

Sunday, 9 June 2019


Rare's obnoxiously difficult, pointedly bare Battletoads gets a modern update. The memory-testing NES classic is being re-configured as a super busy beater with an elastic, Saturday morning cartoon style not a million miles away from Nickelodeon's recent, not to mention brilliant, Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Monday, 3 June 2019

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Whether or not it's a deliberate stylistic choice, Michael Dougherty's Godzilla: King of the Monsters manages to perfectly simulate the disparate energy of the long-running series' 1970s entries. In those films humans and monsters each seemed to live in their own bubble universes, rarely, if ever, intersecting organically. Back when Jun Fukuda was working through slashed budgets, mankind was trapped in flat, knockabout setpieces that, at best, only thematically complimented the wild, smoke-clogged phantasmagoria dreamed up by special effects director Teruyoshi Nakano. In Dougherty's film the human cast is stuck staring at monitors, filling in blanks that the film often makes no attempt to illustrate.

Vera Farmiga plays Dr Emma Russell, a bereaved paleobiologist working with Charles Dance's anti-Nick Fury to reestablish Godzilla and pals as Earth's dominant species. The screed she zaps at her former colleagues and loved ones cites climate change, as well as mankind's increasing, ruinous impact on the ecosystem, but only as surface detailing. Her argument is conveyed as gabble, the good doctor denied the fluency, not to mention mania, to make her points register as truly seductive. The audience isn't invited to consider the validity of this extreme approach to a Green New Deal, they're told to be bored by the unfocused lecture. Russell even seems to be on the verge of pointing the finger directly at corporate America before diverging into an extremely general, not to mention toothless, point about the military's preference for hasty, overwhelming action.

Most of Godzilla: King of the Monster's human scenes sputter along, postulating and explaining the actions of the feature titans. Dougherty and Zach Shields' screenplay isn't quite brave enough to let the sombre, apocalyptic mood stand, employing humourless zings to hurry things along, diverting our attention away from anything suitably melodramatic. King of Monsters feels like a throw-back in this sense, kin to the late-90s / early-2000s noise blockbusters that regurgitated 70s disaster films with computer corralled destruction. The one exception to this leaden take on plotting involves Ken Watanabe's Dr Serizawa walking his American equivalent through his decision to sacrifice himself to kick-start a half-murdered Godzilla.

Serizawa holds an old family heirloom - a pocket watch frozen at 8:15, the moment Little Boy detonated over Hiroshima - and talks about making peace with the demons that make the world the way it is. Of course Kyle Chandler's handsome all-American Dad doesn't catch on. His thinking is fixed shallow - find my daughter, defeat the monsters. In fact the only other character in the film who seems to understand the great weight Serizawa is carrying around is Godzilla himself. King of the Monsters positions them as Children of the Atom, the only two who seem to understand nuclear weapons not as explosive, ejaculatory energy but as devices of towering, unalterable permanence. In a film that goes out of its way to reimagine Toho's distinctly Japanese menagerie as naturally occurring manifestations of Greco-Roman or Judeo-Christian mythology, Serizawa's moment with Godzilla allows a contradictory, even subversive, perspective to creep in. It forces us to consider how cultures and their people are mutated by a proximity to nuclear weaponry. Judging by King of the Monsters, you either delight in their application or suffer beneath them.

That's only one part of King of the Monsters though, the other (much better) half revolves around the monsters themselves, mountainous creatures so amazing that they seem to alter reality itself. King Ghidorah, the malleable space dragon used to represent everything from a nuclear capable China to the last hope of future-shocked American capitalism is here imagined as the Serpent of the Apocalypse. A Satanic ruler who has fallen from Heaven, able to summon beasts and Behemoths from the Earth to do his evil bidding. Ghidorah is an ungodly mass of snaking heads and thrashing, spiked tails, dancing inside soot black clouds reminiscent of the turbulent maritime paintings of JMW Turner (The Slave Ship meets Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth Making Signals in Shallow Water, and going by the Lead. The Author was in this Storm on the Night the "Ariel" left Harwich). In the 1970s Teruyoshi Nakano dialled into power plant meltdowns and blazing industrial disasters to compliment his cosmic kaiju. Dougherty's film runs with this dazzling idea, gifting us lightning lashed monsters who pulse with brilliant thermonuclear energy.

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Jazz by Justin Masaru

Rambo: Last Blood - HE'S HUNTING YOU

The best thing about Sylvester Stallone is that he refuses to go away. The guy might be well into his 70s but he hasn't slowed down or retreated into less physically taxing work, like comedy. The aches and pains of age aren't keeping this star stationary, Sly's still happy to pump up his hamburgered frame for Rambo: Last Blood, presenting his swollen, visceral bulk as a symbol of monstrous, American might in a xenophobic fantasy about invading Mexican gangs.

Jasper De Ceuster - Skyline