Saturday, 28 March 2020
Thursday, 26 March 2020
Wednesday, 25 March 2020
A genuinely brilliant action film, She Shoots Straight does such an atypically compelling job detailing the personal and professional problems facing Joyce Godenzi's Inspector Kao that, once the difficulties facing the policewoman evolve from gossipy slights and petty jealousies into life-changing violence, the audience is already fiercely protective of her. Corey Yuen's film begins with Kao marrying the only son of a prominent police family. Her beloved (Tony Leung Ka-Fai) is not only her supervisor but the family's only son, brother to four cop sisters whose views on Kao range from ditzy indifference to seething envy.
One sister in particular, Carina Lau's machete wielding Chia-Ling, resents Kao not just for - in her mind - stealing away a doting brother's attentions but because she believe's Kao's mixed-race heritage will dilute their pure, Chinese bloodline. These acute familial resentments peak with a teary, reprimanded Chia-Ling screeching that Kao is a nothing but a mongrel. This interpersonal distress is matched by an action model that can only be described as hysterical, taking every opportunity to accentuate even the most basic of cop thriller machinations with extreme danger. These two emotional frequencies compliment each other beautifully - threat is used to inform then adrenalise the melodrama. The doe-eyed Godenzi is the perfect pilot for this careening vehicle too, her performance a mix of understated, but frayed, emotions and explosive martial arts equalising.
Thursday, 19 March 2020
Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, like Suicide Squad before it, is a lot of set-ups, loose ends and character introductions in search of a consistent narrative frequency. To begin with we're firmly in the orbit of Margot Robbie's forsaken side-kick, motor-mouthing us through an unreliable take on her scattershot life. Robbie's voice-over energises this sequence, easily surmounting the exposition required to get Quinn's franchise refugee off a sinking ship and into a more sympathetic piece, one actually built around the friction inherent to the character rather than another opportunity to sell artfully shredded t-shirts.
Initially it seems as if Birds of Prey will always be organised via this erratic, Harley-first perspective - our jilted gangster's moll spoon-feeding us events and actions that place her in the driver's seat - but, sadly, this violent telenovela doesn't last. Other characters, each with their own backstory and archetypal needs, intrude. The shape of director Cathy Yan and screenwriter Christina Hodson's film warps to accommodate these additions, subordinating Harley's voice to wheel in lukewarm cop drama or a few operatic (but repetitive) stabs at revenge. Birds of Prey builds towards the construction of the titular super-group, an enemy-of-my-enemy moment that ends up playing unusually mechanical, especially given the pretty dire circumstances facing the women.
Unlike Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey manages to successfully paper over its jumbled storylines with a consistently exciting approach to stunt work. Second-unit direction comes courtesy of Chad Stahelski, the director responsible for all three John Wick films as well as the zippy, punched-up verisimilitude present in Captain America: Civil War's many super fights. Here Yan and Stahelski deliver action sequences that combine the madcap stunt-doubling and vehicular jeopardy of 1980s Hong Kong action films with the kind of beautiful, gymnastic collisions you associate with Lucha libre or Puroresu wrestling. Unlike other DC comic book films, that rely on crunchy, metahuman clashes, Birds of Prey uses momentum and weight to describe its devastating death blows. Stand out spots include: a running dropkick that wouldn't embarrass Kazuchika Okada and a fusspot supervillain being hurled off a foggy pier by a dynamite Sling Blade.
Posted by Chris Ready at 22:15:00
Labels: Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, Cathy Yan, Chad Stahelski, Films
If there's one thing Capcom absolutely excels at, it's iteration. Based on half an hour with this Raccoon City demo, this new version of Resident Evil 3 is swifter and snappier than last year's Resident Evil 2 remake, gifting players a controllable character better able to weave in and out of the massing undead hordes. This Jill Valentine, as in the PS1 original, is able to access an inelegant but life saving dodge, allowing her to feint away from incoming danger. The dart is mapped to one single button, already an upgrade on a fifth gen game that required you sit rooted, holding the aim button, then tap attack at precisely the moment you were about to be struck.
Wednesday, 18 March 2020
Tuesday, 17 March 2020
Snuck in before his all-consuming Hasbro trilogy, The Island sees Michael Bay working with a screenplay (courtesy of Caspian Tredwell-Owen; Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci) that is conceptually sound while also allowing the director plenty of opportunities to bring his fashion photographer's eye to scenes of staggering amorality. The idea that people are simply conducted meat is one that recurs with alarming frequency in Bay's films - from Bad Boys 2's pneumatic corpse to the seething, mechanical hatred for all biological life felt by his Decepticons. More recently, 6 Underground relentlessly clipped innocent bystanders in its opening car chase then loaded up exploding SUVs with anonymous, bloody, trunks for punctuation.
The Island imagines a near future in which the ruling class are so egotistical and self-obsessed that they are happy to sponsor bovine copies to be bred for spare organs should the original millionaire fall ill. I know. Do try to stretch your imagination that far. Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson play two of these bodies, a pair of duplicate adults emotionally and psychologically frozen in early adolescence in order to make them more accepting of a short life spent in a high-tech prison-cum-spa. On release this crass, Silicon Valley rec room approach to industrial dehumanisation read, perhaps thanks to all the in-your-face product placement, as if it was intended to be aspirational rather than acutely horrifying.
That the futuristic Microsoft consoles and Puma tracksuits allow a chummy, high-school veneer to develop matters a lot less when you consider the perspective of a support staff who are, at best, happy to play cafeteria favs with the clones. At worst they're herding these childlike Xerox people into incinerators for quick disposal or laughing at the terrified artificial human who stirs back to consciousness mid-vivisection. There's even a dangling insinuation that McGregor and Johansson's characters, lacking a credible moral framework, are more adept at dispassionate ultra-violence. That these moments fail to track back into the film as a thematic whole makes them all the more disturbing - little blips of naked venom intruding into a film that comes on like THX 1138 meets a Spin Class® but finishes closer to a Hot Wheels branded slave parable.
Wednesday, 11 March 2020
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare's basic multiplayer hasn't really clicked with me. Although it hasn't particularly stopped me playing, I haven't enjoyed that lobbies revolve around a matchmaking algorithm that seems to want players to feel like they're constantly underachieving. If, like me, you labour under delusions of adequacy, the constant fight to keep a neutral kill to death ratio saps the fun out of the game. Which is why I'm probably enjoying Warzone so much. Instead of three-lane maps stacked with nesting opportunities, the massive battle royale map allows players to move around in ways that pleasantly mix cautious creeping with explosive, momentary, daring.
Menu turnaround can be pretty brutal in battle royale games. One poorly judged landing spot and you can be bounced out of a game as quickly as you arrived. With this in mind, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare's Warzone modes have introduced a nifty safety net feature - The Gulag. After your eliminated for the first time, rather than be dumped straight to a results menu, Warzone plays a short cutscene that sees your player character dragged off to a Soviet era prison (with an interior modelled after The Rock's shower room shoot-out) for a short, twitchy chance to battle your way back to the main game.
Out today is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare's battle royale mode / free-to-play launcher, Warzone. Despite a truly titanic download - especially if you haven't forked out for the full game - I managed to squeeze a game in before bed, choking it up in the final circle. Like Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII's Blackout mode, Warzone manages (despite an absolutely enormous playing area) to retain the snappy, run-and-gun feel that made the franchise's name.
Wednesday, 4 March 2020
Paul Dini and Chip Kidd's coffee table book Batman: Animated features an illustration by Bruce Timm in which the animator-cum-sequential artist maps out the sticking points their television series encountered when dealing with fastidious network censors. The image depicts a beefy Batman crashing through glass with his hand firmly around the Joker's neck. The Clown Prince of Crime has blown a hole clean through Bruce and, apparently, struck the freaked out child surfing on The Caped Crusader's enormous back. A naked, cigarette smoking Catwoman tumbles with them, as does a syringe, a crucifix and a bottle of XXX hooch.
Sam Liu's Batman and Harley Quinn, yet another supermarket shelf-filler from the once-great DC animated stable, seems to be a feature length attempt to get as many of these taboos onscreen; settling the score with the long-forgotten pearl-clutchers who wouldn't allow a beloved children's television series to function as a cheesecake smuggling device. As such Liu's film ranges from competent to excretable. 74 minutes of padded-out nonsense that sees Dr Harleen Quinzel reject what sound like snuff movie shoots to admire a striptease prompted bulge in Nightwing's bat-suit. Eventually this one-night stand teams up with a wonk-eyed Batman, hoping to put a stop to Poison Ivy's latest attempts to wipeout mankind, but not before Quinn has stunk out an airtight Batmobile with a series of spicy food farts.
Tuesday, 3 March 2020
A disappointingly loose adaptation of Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola's Elseworlds comic. Sam Liu's Batman: Gotham by Gaslight ditches that piece's swirling sense of despair to knuckle down on the assembly of a time-shifted Bat family. The various Robins are drawn from the ranks of Dickensian pickpockets while Selina Kyle is recruited from a go-nowhere dalliance with a married Harvey Dent - an idea that (as far as I'm aware) hails from recent video game tie-ins. A killer stalks Gotham's streets, preying on poor, socially disadvantaged women. The city's police don't seem too concerned, they're more excited about an upcoming World's fair exhibition that, thanks to the slight budgets afforded to these straight-to-video features, looks more like a one-dimensional, MDF backdrop than a glimpse of tomorrow.
Gotham by Gaslight isn't a total loss however. Like Jake Castorena's recent Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, this static, stuttering, film comes alive whenever bodies are in motion, most obviously in a series of hand-to-hand confrontations between Batman and a brawny, invective spitting take on Jack the Ripper. These two bruisers manhandle each other, using crashing weight and directed blunt trauma to eke out any second of advantage. Better still though is the cabaret interlude that introduces us to Jennifer Carpenter's Victorian take on Catwoman, the lead singer / dancer for this music hall performance. Wider shots of this Can-can call attention to a sense of soulless reproduction present in the regimented backing dancers but closer shots, particularly a sequence where Kyle leads the petticoat choreography, offer an fluid exuberance otherwise lacking in Gotham by Gaslight.
Sunday, 1 March 2020
Thursday, 27 February 2020
Wednesday, 26 February 2020
The trick of Superman: Red Son is that the film locates its hero in a specific time, place and ideology, allowing dramatic intrigue to arise from internalised decisions and actions rather than, say, an invading alien of the week. Comparable DC animated features exist in their own bubble realities; isolated incidents that make very little attempt to connect with anything other than whichever live action film Warner Bros is cuing up for a big screen push. Sam Liu's Red Son, adapted from Mark Millar's Elseworlds comic, is the Superman story told in broad, decade-spanning strokes, with the last son of Krypton cast as the living embodiment of the Soviet Union rather than the United States.
Red Son is, on some level, Superman stripped of the contradiction and compromise that a realistic reading otherwise imposes on the character. Portrayed here as the beloved surrogate son of Joseph Stalin, this agitprop Man of Steel explores his sense of messianic duty through direct, seismic leadership rather than street level heroics. Obviously, given this animated feature's country of origin, the technological utopia that Superman builds is flawed and, eventually, tyrannical but this Evil Empire framing allows a curious note to creep into this compromised saviour's interpersonal confrontations. Ironically, this secular Superman is often assessed by the human beings he encounters in terms best described as religious terror.
Unlike their caricatured American counterparts, cornered Easter Bloc citizens wither in Superman's presence, reacting, reflexively, as if they are being judged by an invincible, almighty power. Their presumption is always damnation, prompting either a garbled explanation of their actions or, simply, horror. The most striking of these unexpectedly human moments comes shortly after Superman learns of Stalin's purges. He journeys to a lead-lined Gulag finding malnourished, shuffling dissidents - the victims of his adopted father's all-consuming paranoia. Among the dead and dying is a two-storey pillory housing four broken, contorted bodies. To their side stands a guard, his face painted with a mix of blank obedience and bug-eyed terror. It's a fleeting moment in Liu's action-packed whole but then again what other, recent, image in superhero cinema better illustrates the chasm between these divine, inspirational personalities and humanity's pathetic attempts to emulate their overwhelming strength?
Tuesday, 25 February 2020
Streets of Rage 4's final character has been revealed, the looming silhouette seen on previous disclosures is neither Streets of Rage 2's pro-wrestler Max Hatchett nor Streets of Rage 3's cyborg shock master Dr Zan. 4 instead ships with a new rager named Floyd Iraia, a mechanised bruiser who looks to combine key elements of those previously mentioned one-and-done fighters, as well as a couple of straight lifts from Mortal Kombat's Jax. Fingers crossed that kickboxing kangaroo Roo and series mainstay Skate are unlockable (or more likely available for additional purchase) somewhere along the way.
Sunday, 23 February 2020
Thursday, 20 February 2020
Closer to a loosely connected succession of suspense sketches than a rigid narrative, Dario Argento's Inferno is organised around the sensation of imminent, intrusive danger. The plot is a series of discoveries - each of the film's potential victims inadvertently offending hidden, Satanic, societies simply by obtaining the knowledge that they exist. In each instance, this peril is terrifyingly close to the everyday. Spaces and rooms that run parallel with sleepy apartment buildings or libraries actually house incomprehensible, otherworldly monstrosities. Reality in Inferno then is literally permeable, an easily broken membrane that bursts at the merest prod, revealing the scabs and rot that lie beneath.
Since Inferno is designed around this idea of trespass, Argento builds his film out of incidents in which a character dawdles somewhere they shouldn't be. These people are depicted as innocents, the guileless placeholders of fairy tale, children who put themselves in situations they simply cannot understand. Argento magnifies the minutiae within these sequences to such a degree that, slowly, everything onscreen begins to register as either potentially dangerous or outright alarming. Romano Albani's powdery, impressionistic lighting seems to denote a supernatural force beaming into this world while basic reverse shots take on the quality of a gaze - we feel something withering and hateful staring back at our oblivious adventurers.
Everything in the frame feels, not just authored, but agitating. Personal effects like keys weigh the curious down, their aural presence mutating from a disconnected jangle to the shuddering, submerged peal of a death knell. This sense of impending doom is everywhere in Inferno. The terrors that Irene Miracle and Leigh McCloskey's siblings invite often feel, in the context of this crumbling dollhouse world, corrective - an established power batting away those who would attempt to reveal their existence. This omniscient counteraction can arrive at any time. Detached hands streak into the frame, striking at those who would push the piece towards its conclusion. At these times it seems as if the film itself has come alive, the wrathful celluloid turning in on its subjects, clawing and stabbing until its captives cease their mindless procession.
Friday, 14 February 2020
The Streets of Rage 4 staff talk us through the art end of game development. Despite its brevity, this clip covers a lot of conceptual ground - from how the developers have implemented unrealised graphical flourishes from old, dusty Sega design documents to the importance of a nice, solid, black outline on key character art. If all that wasn't encouraging enough, the glimpse of Akira Toriyama's The World sitting on an artist's desk pretty much seals the deal.
Wednesday, 12 February 2020
Tuesday, 11 February 2020
Saturday, 8 February 2020
On a fundamental level, Monos is a rumination on leadership and the power that comes with it. Alejandro Landes' film (co-written with Alexis Dos Santos) is an unhurried, painstakingly described examination of how challenges and responsibility affect the individual. Some are cowed, straining under the weight bestowed upon them. For others it's an accelerant, one that confers terrifying, extrajudicial, justification to their every thought and decision - they become, ineffably, correct. No one is allowed to disagree.
Although he eventually bullies his way into the top spot, Moisés Arias' Bigfoot is not suited to command simply because he wants it so badly. Bigfoot doesn't want to lead his fellow child soldiers because of an unfailing belief in whichever (deliberately ill-defined) cause demands they all rot together in waterlogged trenches. Instead Bigfoot's idea of authority is simply the muscle and interpersonal influence to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, to whoever he wants. Set on Colombia's mountain ranges, Monos tracks a gaggle of cold, wet teenage soldiers who have been tasked to look after an important, American, hostage.
In its early passages, Monos describes the children's predicament in terms of, basically, school. The hierarchies in play are loose and seemingly malleable - couples pair off (after asking permission from visiting muscle men) and each teenager has a defined, respected role within the collective. This doesn't last. Soon the covetous Bigfoot is in charge. When Bigfoot finally assumes full command of the group, all ideological order is extinguished. His fellow soldiers are required to, simply, follow. They stack themselves behind their aggressive, greedy commander then copy his creeping, predatory lockstep, marching deeper and deeper into the jungle.
Friday, 7 February 2020
Thanks to the relative cheapness of optical media (compared to ROM cartridges at least), the monthly video game magazines that choked up newsagent shelves during the fifth console generation could carry luridly coloured discs stuffed with forthcoming game tasters. You had to be quick though, these thief magnets rarely stayed sellotaped to their parent periodical for long, but if you managed to nab an intact mag you'd be treated to a variety of bite-sized, disparate, input experiences. Hoping to capture something of these forgotten thrills, the Haunted PS1 community have released their first compilation, Haunted PS1 Demodisc 2020, a PC download heaving with short, homebrewed treats.
Wednesday, 5 February 2020
Monday, 3 February 2020
The delight in Katsuhiko Nishijima's Project A-ko is how it juggles, or even outright subordinates, the film's terrifying, principal threat - an invasion from Leiji Matsumoto style space brigands. The desperate situation facing planet Earth is reported in brief, apparently hopeless, asides largely disconnected from A-ko's madcap whole. These apocalyptic blips allow Nishijima and his animation team to not only clue the audience in on stakes the film has no desire to explore, but also permits them the opportunity to work through a series of low-orbit laser exchanges, each boarded with a delirious, satirical, sense of abandon.
Set in Graviton City, a man-made island that has sprung up - in much the same way as Super Dimension Fortress Macross - around the wreckage of a marooned alien spacecraft, Project A-ko centres around an all-consuming friendship between two teenagers. A-ko, an invincible red head able to skip merrily along incoming missiles barrages, and C-ko, a hair-trigger brat who demonstrates her devotion by cooking up repulsive looking bento boxes. Side-eyeing the pair is B-ko, a scorned third nursing a (pointedly forgotten) rejection dating back to pre-school. B-ko, the daughter of a wealthy industrial magnate, won't take no for an answer - whipping up piloted mecha and two-piece powered armour in an attempt to crowbar herself back into her beloved's affections.
A-ko is pastiche first and foremost, a film primarily concerned with a zany maxi-plot that revolves around a super-powered high school love triangle that two of the participants have no idea they're even in. Begun as an instalment of a pornographic home video series, the discursive, comedic value of Project A-ko apparently won out, resulting in a feature-length bid for animated legitimacy from production studio APPP. Although actual titillation is kept domestic and brief, the film's frivolous beginnings linger in both structure and characterisation. Action sequences are built around the fantastical and transgressive intruding on a mundane everyday, while infantilised klutz C-ko is treated like a highly prized object.
Saturday, 1 February 2020
Thursday, 23 January 2020
An unexpected companion piece to last year's Gemini Man, Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah's Bad Boys for Life once again considers Will Smith, and the star persona he has created, in terms of obsolescence and replication. Where Ang Lee's film favoured mechanical reproduction, for Life offers a supernaturally slanted duplicate, a piece of youthful vigour stolen then reconfigured to exact a personal revenge. Smith returns as Mike Lowrey, a sociopathic rich kid turned cop, originally positioned as the cool guy opposite to Marcus Burnett, Martin Lawrence's sweaty, aggravated police detective. The original Bad Boys centred around an identity mix-up with each of the top-billed stars pretending to live the life of the other. Smith got to play the dutiful family man while Lawrence delivered his own snarling take on a moneyed, two-fisted Lothario.
Bad Boys for Life surprises because it remembers these tossed-off building blocks - particularly the ease with which Lowrey took to slipping on a new identity - using them to power events that now stretch backwards and forwards in time. Unlike both Michael Bay entries, films that never felt any particularly need to stay on one firm emotional wavelength, this third Bad Boys actually aims to define several human relationships then extract non-hysterical drama from the ways in which they evolve or clash. This development requires a level of earnest introspection that, while not completely new to the series, is usually smuggled in then drowned out by hideous violence or skits centred on gay panic. Arbi and Fallah's film elides Bay's radioactive mania (and, frankly, the knuckle-dragging director's world class flair for action and visual invention), arriving at a tone that is closer to the chummier end of the Lethal Weapon sequels.
Wednesday, 22 January 2020
Digital Foundry talk us through the PC preview build of Doom Eternal, with special mention to the game's various high-end display settings and how id Tech 7 allows for blubbery, real-time, enemy damage. As well as allowing the player to centre the on-screen weapons straight out of the box (pretty sure we had to wait for that to be patched in last time), this sequel looks to have massively expanded the vertical play area, necessitating all manner of climbing and mid-air dash mechanics.
Monday, 20 January 2020
A sweeping, post-apocalyptic Neo-Testament, set in the ruins of the twentieth century and centred around martial arts monsters able to burst, or cleave, the human body with the lightest of touch. Toyoo Ashida's Fist of the North Star adapts Buronson and Tetsuo Hara's sprawling, circuitous manga, boiling down dozens of serialised chapters into a episodic feature about the kind of messiahs that might rise in a radioactive wasteland. Following a nuclear war, what remains of humanity has devolved to the kind of future-schocked feudalism seen in Escape from New York or the Mad Max series. Rather than gather round the last remaining combustion engines, the conflict's improbably muscled survivors have embraced might, specifically the people descended from warring combat schools who are able to tap into luminous, cosmic energies.
Our hero is Kenshiro, the anointed successor of the Hokuto Shinken style, a position that makes him a target for all manner of jealousies. We meet Ken shorty after we've learnt that civilisation perished in flames. He's attacked by a former friend, Shin, who brutally disfigures Ken then leaves him for dead. This is Ken's scourging, the brutal act that allows him to transform from a person into something inhuman and mythic. We are given very little sense of what Ken's life used to be beyond an arranged, but apparently successful, relationship with Yuria, the woman Shin covets. Ken is so easily defeated by his rival that we're not even sure if he was taking the fight seriously. In one fell swoop Ken has lost an ally and his reason for living. Cast into a pit by another, vengeful, party, we don't see Ken again until he is summoned back to life by a terrified child. For all intents and purposes this is the point where Kenshiro, a person with human wants and desires, dies.
The English script used by Streamline Pictures for their dub organises Ken's reappearance in terms of justice or perhaps mercy. He hears the cries of two imperilled children then makes the journey to assist them. The original Japanese script posits something deeper and altogether stranger - Ken is dragged out of his death state by Lin, an uncanny, mute child able to communicate with Kenshiro psychically. Lin is introduced earlier in a disconnected sequence depicted with a dreamy sense of religious awe. We watch as the plump, cherubic souls of the irradiated dead escape their charcoal skeletons to drift away into space. The shot that immediately follows is Lin, encased in a rainbow coloured womb, slowly walking at the camera. She approaches, her eyes closed, a divine apparition. She represents life and light physically returning to this damned world.
Ken's entrance then is an anastasis. Following Lin's mind zap, Ken's mummified remains pound through the wreckage of a high-rise city, hacking away at sagging skyscrapers until they finally collapse on top of him. Ken doesn't even slow down as the concrete buildings collide with his body - in fact, it is the superstructures that buckle and break on contact. Ken passes through them as if they were smoke, not just unfazed but immune to their incredible weight. It's an outrageous display of power and perhaps even an over-correction designed to distract the viewer in a scene that tethers our hero so explicitly to another saviour figure. Ken is made into an answer, the martial artist organised into a semi-subordinate role, that of a disciple. This sequence, crucial to the film's conclusion, casts Kenshiro as the monstrous protector of a tiny, vulnerable person who might bring salvation to this world. Clad head to toe in clay, he resembles the unthinking might of a Golem.
Shorn of Tom Wyner's overly literal, dubbed-up adaptation, North Star reveals itself to be a film about characters who actually do understand their world-changing power in abstract, mythological terms. Villains, in particular, react and behave in ways that demonstrate both a desire and a willingness to dominate humanity psychologically as well as physically. Kenshiro's older brother Raoh is off on his own sub-adventure throughout the film. He deals with the subversion of his birthright by destroying his family's temple then taking his father's life. Untethered from dynastic expectation, Roah climbs a mountain to literally challenge the heavens themselves. The regime he then goes on to engineer is pure totalitarianism - faceless, expendable, chattel organised around Raoh's absurd, indomitable strength. Despite the number of opponents that come his way, The Conqueror of Century's End doesn't even bother to climb down from his pachyderm sized horse until faced with one of equal strength.
Raoh's withering self-interest extends to issues of basic practicality too - when Lin is captured with her fragile, flowering plant pot, Raoh treats the offending shoot not as the first signs of sustainability returning to this nightmare world but as a dangerous challenge to his authority. Raoh is not simply content to rule through strength, he wants his starving, dwindling subjects to be hopeless too. Of course Fist of the North Star eventually brings Ken, the avatar for hope, and Raoh back together. Their battle is brief but cataclysmic. The Babelian city of Cassandra is shaken to dust by a streaking, psychedelic light show; its populace lifted up and carried away by the tornadoes stirred up by this momentous clash. Surprisingly, at least in terms of your standard heroic journey, the battle does not go Ken's way. Although evenly matched - the two warriors pierce and pound each other until they are both collapsed in a bloody heap - it is Raoh who rises first. Poised to deliver a decisive stamp to Ken's head, his foot is stayed by Lin, the imploring child once again surrounded by a radiant light.
Raoh asks Lin if it was her that called him to this place. The question, and the unexpected mercy that follows, suggests that the conqueror understands these events to be ordained by a higher, unknowable power. These devils, defined by their monstrous self-sufficiency, have fulfilled their function, clearing the decks so Lin and her generation can reclaim the world and bring back the oppositional, synergetic forces of nature. The end credits bear out this despondent, cyclical fate for our high-kicking hero. A revived Ken travels vast, swirling deserts, unable to find his phantom love Yuria. He seems to pass through a revived, resplendent forest, a space where he feels a connection to his absent fiancee. Quickly though, the untouched green dissolves away and we are back in the wasteland. Ken presses on, striding up a sand dune to gaze out on a familiar, unchanged vista - the shattered city we saw at the beginning of the film. Although Ken has travelled far, he is explicitly back exactly where we started. Ashida's film, much like George Miller's Mad Max cycle, views brawn as ultimately expendable. A terrifying, Old Testament asset briefly deployed to vanquish evil but, ultimately, useless in a world struggling to mend itself after having suffered so completely.
Streets of Rage 4 developers Jordi Asensio, Cyrille Lagarigue and Beausoleil Samson-Guillemette talk us through the influences and ideas bearing down on Sega's long-awaited sequel. Happily, Asensio talks about minimising the kind of modern, repeat value influences that have derailed other, promising looking 2D action games. By the sounds of it, Rage 4 is content to be a good, old-fashioned, belt beat 'em up.
Sunday, 19 January 2020
Thursday, 16 January 2020
Hideo Gosha's Three Outlaw Samurai examines chivalry in the context of corrupt, self-serving systems. Tetsuro Tamba plays Sakon Shiba, a ronin who falls in with a group of starving peasants who have kidnapped a Magistrate's daughter in order to accelerate an interest in their desperate cause. Shiba represents the samurai in unblemished, heroic terms, a skilled swordsman who isn't obliged to tow the line or answer to uncaring masters. Shiba can pursue his own interpretation of the honour codes that govern and direct his warrior class. Shiba's resolve is such that he attracts others to his cause, first from the ranks of the men hired to kill him, later from within the Magistrate's own household.
Loyalties are tested throughout the film, hired guns and sworn swords alike chaffing at the promises Hisashi Igawa's Magistrate deliberately and, ultimately, foolishly breaks. His actions send shock waves through the film: if the man at the top (at least in local terms) can break the rules to further his own cause, then why not everybody else? Shiba's honourable example struggles to find purchase because it is altruistic, it doesn't track into the ruthlessly ordered, selfish power structures that define feudal Japan. Gosha stages his film to reflect these disconnections, the director and cinematographer Tadashi Sakai use their actors and environments to construct barriers - arms and bodies combine with the limits of the screen to become bars that trap people, physically separating them from other, potentially sympathetic players.
Gosha, a television director graduating to his first feature project, takes to the wider frame instantly, using the extra horizontal space to tell his story physically, through action and blocking. At one point five men arrive to kill Shiba - three over-confident thugs sprung from prison and two rather more cagey souls. The bruisers advance, hoping to overwhelm their target. The biggest braggart charges, Shiba strikes, quickly felling one of the men and taking himself from the left of the frame to its centre. The remaining criminals, stood either side of Shiba, slowly part like cinema curtains, leaving the frame to reveal the two remaining men - Isamu Nagato's Sakura and Mikijiro Hira's Kikyo - both of whom will become instrumental to Shiba's cause. It's beautifully done.
Tuesday, 14 January 2020
Monday, 13 January 2020
Intergalactic space travel recounted with the fist-pumping enthusiasm of a rock concert. Odin: Starlight Mutiny - a significantly shortened Central Park Media video release of a Japanese theatrical feature entitled Odin: Photon Sailer Starlight - mixes naval battles and mythic seafaring with a heavily commercialised vision of space travel. The central laser schooner, the Starlight, is introduced seconds before its maiden voyage with the kind of booming hard sell you'd expect to hear at an expo show. The youthful crew board the vessel at a hundred miles an hour, racing down winding, futuristic corridors to heavy metal music. Coloured spotlights blare and bleed, lending the casting off sequence, one usually depicted in solemn, ceremonial terms, the frazzled energy of a joyride.
Odin, even in this truncated form, struggles to maintain this youthful enthusiasm, quickly becoming emotionally distant and episodic. Detail, particularly that which might delineate the throbbing, hard-rocking mutineers, goes out the window. Odin then is a relentless push towards speculative material that would end up going unexplored. The heavy insinuation that Earth's Germanic peoples are descended from deposed, alien, adventurers was left dangling after a tepid run at the Japanese box office. Still, we're at least left with a scene in which a dying, Norse cyborg claws a crystal storage device out of his heart cavity with the instruction that its contents be used to ease his passing. The extraterrestrial computer immediately cues up a Planetarium laser show, complete with a pulsing synth score. Hacked to pieces to eschew accusations of tedium, what's left of Toshio Masuda, Takeshi Shirata and Eiichi Yamamoto's film is pure incident, animated with a pleasantly psychedelic sense of fluidity.
Sunday, 12 January 2020
Wednesday, 8 January 2020
Although no date is specified, it's clear that Yoshiaki Kawajiri's Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust takes place a significant amount of time after its predecessor. Whatever power the vampire aristocracy held over humanity has waned to such a degree that the creatures of the night now huddle in their own ghettos for safety. While Toyoo Ashida's film used the bloodsucker mythos to punch up a feudal kidnapping spree, Kawajiri's take on the material digs deeper, embracing the forlorn, romantic aspects of characters who, by their very nature, cannot help but stand apart from the mortals who make an impression on them.
In Bloodlust the titular bounty hunter is contracted to return the daughter of an elderly, dying millionaire. Charlotte, the young woman in question, appears to have been taken by a vampire named Baron Meier Link. Charlotte's father and brother presume an abduction but the truth is more complicated. Charlotte and the Baron, an unusually gentle ghoul, are a couple. Although she pushes him to turn her, the Baron refuses, unwilling to curse the woman he loves. In Ashida's film the monsters were nobility, all-powerful lords who ruled radioactive ruins. In Kawajiri's, the threat has been banished to such a degree that humans now hold fortunes and wield far-reaching powers of life and death.
Vampirism is treated like a disease in Bloodlust, something that needs to be rubbed out. Indeed, Charlotte's father instructs D to murder his daughter if she has succumbed to the temptation of eternal life. Kawajiri marks this shift between films through an aesthetic reevaluation that favours emptiness and desolation rather than, simply, wreckage. Bloodlust explodes its predecessor, tracking design elements to their absurd, beautiful conclusions. D's voluminous, spaghetti western styling is cast aside in favour of a pulp swashbuckler rendered as an insect. His skin is marble. His clothes are closer to armour; a carapace that gleams like a beetle's elytra. His sword is long and thin, curling like a talon. D is supernatural in appearance now, not just deed.
Architecturally we're deeper into a blown-out future - wastelands and modernisme that has slowly, and definitively, returned to nature. Ashida's blend of organic exteriors and mechanical interiors coalesces here into incredible edifices that, finally, resemble a Star City designed by Antoni Gaudi. Carmilla's neo-Gothic castle, the space where our story concludes, is a towering, wrought iron exaltation that contains a cathedral spire able to take to the heavens. The fortress is a place of worship interpreted as unchecked, cancerous growth - a religious structure that has sub-divided and multiplied completely out of control. This impossible series of towers and bridges is explicitly held together by a banished, vengeful spirit who desperately clings to what little life remains to her. Even in death, Bloodlust's vampires suffer.
Friday, 3 January 2020
Thursday, 2 January 2020
Ten thousand years into the future, mankind shivers in ramshackle slums while the world's nobility - undying vampires - lord it up in massive, mechanical castles. The landscape of the hereafter is ruin; buildings sag and decay, accented with scrounged-out zap technology. The toppled skyscrapers of the pre-apocalyptic age have fossilised, now only sand-blasted rectangles with the faintest hint of windows. Livestock survive, encircled by electronic perimeter fences that sometimes manage to fend off the carnivorous clouds that settle into the herd, turning their prey into gravity defying soup. Our hero is the travelling swordsman D, a half-human, half-vampire known to his fellow bloodsuckers by the (presumably) racist invective Dhampir.
Better looking in repose - the OVA's animated fights basically boil down to sweeping lunges and telekinetic bludgeoning - Toyoo Ashida's Vampire Hunter D is an otherwise dynamically drafted adaptation of Hideyuki Kikuchi and Yoshitaka Amano's light novel series. Amano's delicate, porcelain people are rendered here as spiky and determined, weighed down by the heavy, oily paints that chart their figures. D towers like a goth Clint Eastwood; the women he encounters are cherubic. The video (explicitly designed to appeal to teenagers relaxing between study shifts) boils over with creeping monstrosities and their macabre magick. A particular highlight is the entrance-cum-drainage pipe that the title character uses to enter the castle of the evil Count Magnus Lee. Every surface in this makeshift gaol seethes with spluttering, decaying life - the variety of these oozing, occult figures rivalling that seen grumbling beneath the mood lighting of Star Wars' Mos Eisley Cantina.