Thursday, 31 October 2019
Tuesday, 29 October 2019
Thursday, 24 October 2019
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 a 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 out 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, star-making, 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 mass 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.
Monday, 21 October 2019
Sunday, 20 October 2019
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.
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.
Thursday, 17 October 2019
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
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.
Tuesday, 8 October 2019
Sunday, 6 October 2019
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.
Saturday, 5 October 2019
Tuesday, 1 October 2019
Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare proposes big ideas, using blip-blop computer readouts to place us in a near future where Freddy Krueger has grown strong enough to completely dominate his little corner of America. All of Springwood's children are dead, absorbed into the melted murderer after he's had his fun with them. This sinister Quickening has allowed Krueger a certain amount of power over the real world, blurring the lines between waking and dreaming life. In Fred's dominion the streets loop in on themselves, trapping visitors; the remaining, shell-shocked adults shuffle around dilapidated fairs, either hysterical at the sight of youth or lost to an unresponsive funk.
This idea, like many in Freddy's Dead, is really only a fleeting aside. Minutes burnt on the feature clock as the film churns on through other, only partially developed, sequel pitches. Freddy's Dead is to be a funeral after all. Why waste original thinking on that? To her credit, director Rachel Talalay does at least attempt to invest her film with momentum - actors hurl themselves into shot while the nightmare sequences that bleed into the film's reality are conducted with a manic, elasticated zeal. The real let down is the script, credited to Freddy's Nightmares writer and hotshot New Line producer Michael De Luca. No idea is adequately developed, the film doesn't feel designed, it's simply a series of half-hearted sketches pummelling their way towards a conclusion.
The one fragment of cohesion in the film arises from the unspoken bond between Lezlie Deane's Tracy and Lisa Zane's Maggie. They have both suffered under abusive fathers. When facing their demise, Freddy's Dead's male characters are tasked to struggle with a speculative impotence, typically the loss of complete physical control over their bodies. In contrast, the women are fed into night terror scenarios constructed out of trauma they have already experienced. They are being explicitly confronted with their past. Tracy is locked in a sweltering, cluttered apartment with her hulking, sexually aggressive father. No matter how she beats and pounds at his face, he still keeps rising for more. Maggie's dreams take her even deeper, trapping her in a forgotten life as Krueger's young daughter. She discovers her father's lair beneath their perfect, picket fenced house then watches, powerless, as her mother's head is dashed against the stairs leading to her tree house.