Thursday, 9 July 2020
Tuesday, 7 July 2020
Despite an obvious setback, Bruce Lee's death didn't stop Hong Kong's more devious movie producers from attempting to make new Bruce Lee films. Dozens of counterfeit projects sprang up in the wake of the star's passing, many positioning themselves as sequels or continuations of the actor's brief but transformative career. Dynamo takes a novel approach to this bootlegging, Shan Hua's film forgoes picking at the departed actor's scraps to focus instead on the real life rush to find a credible replacement. Dynamo then is a Bruceploitation film specifically about the unsentimental business practices that drove that particular sub-genre - it acknowledges the cynicism, channelling it into an overarching state of anxiety.
Bruce Li plays Lee Ting Yi, a taxi driver who impresses Mary Hon's charming but unscrupulous talent agent with his martial arts skills and muscular good looks. Lee's hackman is exactly what she's looking for - a fresh face for the fame machine. Despite Dynamo's hard-nosed framing, the film keeps Li and Hon's characters apart, essentially in separate pieces. One concerning a likeable backstabber, making a name for herself in the PR trade; the other a mixed-up martial arts film in which a cabby trains with his very own drunken master (an entertaining Ku Feng) before being relentlessly attacked by mobsters in picturesque environments. That Dynamo survives only as a choppy English dub (that may or may not be missing scenes) only exacerbates this sense of disconnection. Li's energetic fight scenes - choreographed by Yuen Woo-ping - are exciting but the threats he faces are dramatically ill-defined and, despite a last-minute kidnapped girlfriend, even strangely impersonal.
Monday, 6 July 2020
Saturday, 4 July 2020
The Digital Foundry gang take a look at Capcom's iconic brawler Final Fight, detailing the tech behind the original coin-op as well as the many ports and sequels that followed. Of particular note is the news that, for their Mega CD conversion, Sega slowed down each of the playable characters, clipping the overall movement and attack speed of the nimble selections. A similar sort of averaging out plagued the Mega Drive version of Golden Axe - specifically the hit box of the playable character's weapons. Tyris Flare's short sword and Gilius Thunderhead's massive broadaxe both hit with the same medium range assigned to Ax Battler's middle-of-the-road sword.
Friday, 3 July 2020
Thursday, 2 July 2020
Michael Mann's Blackhat is about professionalism and the application of group expertise. Less ambitious action films only have room for one figure of intellectual authority, usually an infallible, young, white male who gets to hurry the whole piece forward. Supporting casts are exactly that, subordinated, typically portrayed as a gaggle of empty suits, only called on to gasp as the lead character makes their latest logical leap. Thanks to Chris Hemsworth's Hathaway, Blackhat does have its own gigantic blue eye, fortunately though Mann is more excited about collaboration - how apparently disparate outlooks and disciplines can, when correctly managed, feed back into a more dynamic, free-flowing whole.
It's this energy that carries the characters, and the film itself. Know-how is deployed as an adrenal rush that collides with, then powers through, the enemy's machinery. Each member of the unit drafted to investigate a trade exchange hack that leaves America embarrassed and China massively out of pocket has a distinct role to play. Viola Davis' FBI Special Agent and Holt McCallany's US Marshal, both prime targets for sneering contempt in a lesser piece, prove themselves indispensable to the investigation. In Mann and screenwriter Morgan Davis Foehl's film every person is in the room for a reason. The team members contribute, each bringing a specialist, singular, knowledge - not to mention slang - to the table.
Viewed in Mann's preferred cut (distribution limited to New York film retrospectives and torrents derived from American pay television), Blackhat often feels like a companion piece to the director's feature debut Thief. Both films are about experts able to surmount catastrophic situations with rapid problem solving. The rush of this incremental success blasting Hathaway and James Caan's Frank towards their conclusions. There are key difference though. Whereas Frank was prepared to isolate himself then physically tear down his life, Hathaway is actually willing to open himself up and collaborate. Rather than push her aside, Hathaway draws Tang Wei's cyber attack partner and love interest Chen Lien closer as their enemies draw near. This remodelling makes for a more visceral, romantic conclusion - perhaps indicative of the director's senior perspective. Mann's juiced-up, metaphysical hero has finally found a counterpart he can trust his life to.
Jump, dash and blast as a flickering, luminescent, piece of living code in Recompile from Dear Villagers and Phigames. Described by its developers as a Metroidvania game in which the player has as big an effect on the unfolding narrative as they do the unlocking game world, Recompile is set for release on PC and both Sony and Microsoft's next-gen systems.
Wednesday, 1 July 2020
Sunday, 28 June 2020
Settled into their flea-bitten cots in a Mexican dosshouse, a gang of down-on-their-luck Americans sit rapt while an aged prospector pontificates on the subject of gold. Although Humphrey Bogart's Fred C Dobbs is evidently only half listening, his antenna is up, scanning for a quick route to solvency. The warnings are lost on him. The older man, played by Walter Huston, talks about the metal's intoxicating effects, how it can ruin an honest man, transforming him into a greedy, insatiable savage. Dobbs isn't an honest man though, certainly not with himself. He is, to some degree, a fantasist. Dobbs wears public and private faces; writer-director John Huston canny enough to begin our time with him before he has any need to maintain a consistent fiction.
We meet Dobbs rambling around the streets of Tampico, an oil-town whose wealth he is unable to access. He accosts American tourists, jabbing at them with a clipped sob story, hoping to needle some change. Despite this destitution, Dobbs still considers himself a cut above the Mexican kids who comb the town, shaking down bar patrons for increasingly meagre lottery tickets. Dobbs is aggressive, both in tone and action, when confronted by one such child - he howls at the eager little hawker, even going as far as hurling a glass of water into the youngster's face. This cruelty is diffused by the boy's reaction - it barely upsets his sales pitch - but we've noted something crucial. Dobbs is mean, disproportionately so, when he feels cornered.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre then does not tell an Old Testament tale of immaculate materialism, Huston's film instead concerns magnification. How an excavated fortune can stir up profound paranoia in a man already capable of a slippery, delusional sort of self-justification. Dobbs' partners, the old prospector Howard and Tim Holt's Bob Curtin are comparatively easygoing; gentle souls who just want to put the work in then retire. Dobbs is out to settle a score. His stated dream is to breeze into a well-to-do restaurant, order up everything on the menu then harass the wait staff, even if the food is beautiful. Dobbs is hemmed in, his personal space incessantly intruded upon. He suffers mine collapses and umpteen unwanted visitors, all prodding away at him and his property. Huston and cinematographer Ted D McCord's academy ratio frame squeezes the film's horizontal space, crowding its subjects together until they can't help but collide.
Wednesday, 24 June 2020
Monday, 22 June 2020
Thursday, 18 June 2020
Digital Foundry take a look at Bluepoint's forthcoming Demon's Souls remake. The vid touches on the (underwhelming) trailer and the gorgeous 4K stills Sony have since released, as well as speculating, based on the studio's PS4 remake of Shadow of the Colossus, what sort of tech options we can expect for this PS5 release.
Monday, 15 June 2020
Saturday, 13 June 2020
Friday, 12 June 2020
A former hero reintroduced as a home invading murderer? Someone at Capcom has clearly been spinning up their Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning BD. Due 2021, Resident Evil Village looks to mix the creeping first-person dread of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard with the miserable, tetanus opulence seen in Resident Evil 4. Can't wait.
Despite the baffling title and a failure to tap into Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse's beautiful pop art sensibilities, it's nice to see a remaster that goes beyond simply upping a last-gen resolution. Spider-Man: Miles Morales plonks Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli's teen hero into Insomniac's Spider-Man, expanding and remixing the 2018 game to take advantage of (amongst other things) the PS5's zippy SSD load times.
Last night's PS5 show contained a surprising amount of platform games - indeed at times it seemed like we'd slipped through a wormhole, travelling back to the days of full-on mascot shovelware. The most inventive looking of the selection is, as it turns out, also the system's pack-in title (another throwback), Astro's Playroom. A sequel to last-gen's Astro Bot Rescue Mission, SIE Japan Studio's latest has been designed around showcasing the DualSense controller's brand new feedback features.
Definitely one of the stars of the PS5 show, at least in terms of graphical fidelity, Horizon Forbidden West promises yet another sunken future for players to snoop around. I never got around to playing the first Horizon Zero Dawn but this sequel, with its mix of massive, pollution-spewing Zoids enemies and a story that seems to be taking cues from Princess Mononoke, certainly appeals.
Neostream Interactive's vapourware Kickstarter game Little Devil Inside springs back to life as a timed PS5 exclusive. Challenging news, I'm sure, for people who backed a Wii U release five years ago. Still, Neostream's game does look delightful, mixing The Legend of Zelda perils with an art style that hovers half-way between a dungeon cooking manga and a Franco-Belgian action-adventure comic.
Beautifully described as 'nekopunk' in the stream comments last night (wish I'd caught the person's name), Stray casts players as a nosy feline, slinking around a futuristic city where robots have finally overthrown, and apparently exterminated, their cruel, fleshy masters.
GNOG devs KO_OP Mode return with Goodbye Volcano High, a handsome looking (and sounding, for that matter) game about sad dinosaurs going to school and trying to work out who they want to be. Impetus fans will be pleased to note that here's a tease of The Legend of Zelda: Majaora's Mask-style impending doom at work too.
Seems like the biggest shock of the PlayStation 5 reveal was that Pragmata wasn't a Hideo Kojima joint. Despite featuring a heavily mechanised person exploring a corrupted, collapsing future, it's combat specialists Capcom that will be steering this sci-fi explore 'em up to PS5 (and PC) in 2022.
GhostWire: Tokyo, the latest game from Shinji Mikami and Tango Gameworks, traps players in a Japanese metropolis teaming with supernatural threats. Although attacks and inputs have that indistinct VR smudge about them, the promise of reality-bending enemies with glowing weak points happily recalls Killer7, Mikami's 2005 collaboration with Suda51.
Nestled in Sony's PlayStation 5 reveal last night was this first look at Bluepoint Games' long-rumoured Demon's Souls remake. While it's exciting to see what magic Bluepoint has worked updating FromSoft's smudgy PS3 game so it runs like a solid, stable next-gen standard bearer, it's a little alarming how fast and loose Bluepoint have been with From's enemy design. The Tower Knight in particular looks to have mutated from a grotesquely scaled-up clunker into a gleaming, Tolkienesque Gundam.
Wednesday, 10 June 2020
A piecemeal picture that subsumes, rather than embellishes, the electrifying remains of a thwarted Bruce Lee film. Game of Death, as released, abandons the actor-screenwriter-director's original concept of a man fighting his way up a pagoda filled with martial arts masters on the grounds that, in the years since Lee's death, the idea had been well worked over by copycat productions. Stuck with less than a hour of fight focused footage and the promise of guaranteed Japanese box office, Golden Harvest recruited Enter the Dragon director Robert Clouse and fight coordinator (listed as co-director on the film's Hong Kong print) Sammo Hung to finish what Lee started.
Clouse and producer Raymond Chow, working together under the screenwriting pseudonym Jan Spears, dashed off a script that looked to the conspiracy theories surrounding Lee's death for inspiration. As completed, the film blurs the lines between fantasy and reality, following an actor named Billy Lo who fakes his death in order to investigate the criminal syndicate that has hounded him into this early grave. Lo's screen presence is an amalgam then, built out of genuine Lee close-ups snipped out of other films, the sequences Lee himself shot for his incomplete project, a couple of rickety optical effects, and the combined efforts of stunt performer Yuen Biao and feature double Kim Tai-chung.
This fractured performance informs Game of Death's structure. Clouse and Hung's film is, essentially, one without a star actor. The scenes and situations attributed to the lead character are evasive out of necessity. We cannot sit and spend time with Lo, we cannot sink into his dilemma, because the film has to keep him at arm's length. Game of Death proposes a fiction, that Lee is still alive to entertain us, then spends its running time concealing or obliterating that which audiences found exciting about the star. Kim, the actor who spends the most time in the Lo role, is never allowed to assume Lee's mantle. Even after Lo face's is surgically rebuilt after being shattered by a bullet, Kim's likeness stays obscured, usually by rapid editing but also by gimmicks such as bandages or oversized sunglasses.
Although a talented kicker, the dangers Kim battles through feel uncoupled from the terrifying, identity shattering situation Lo finds himself in. They are often scuffles, exchanges in which Lo is outnumbered then roughed up. The decisive, overwhelming force that made Lee's name is diffused, never more obnoxiously than when Biao is instructed to tumble incessantly for Hugh O'Brian's lumbering, clumsy enforcer. This disconnect is so pronounced that when Colleen Camp's bereaved girlfriend packs a pistol into her purse and sets out for revenge the film briefly springs to life, buzzing along a credible emotional wavelength. As it is Game of Death all too often seems to be falling in line with its mob of moneyed up white men; spending scene after scene in the company of the syndicate parasites who latch onto Chinese talent then exploit them for their own greedy ends.
Even setting aside Bruce Lee's contribution, it's not too difficult to sniff out which elements of the film can be apportioned to each of the competing directors. As well as working on-set, choreographing the fights needed to drive the new film, Hung was brought back later to pump up the flaccid action that Clouse had delivered. This want as far as shooting a brand new sequence only included in the Hong Kong release (this punchy greenhouse dispute between Kim and Casanova Wong would end up spliced into the English international version of Game of Death II). Sammo also works in front of the camera, battling Robert Wall in a martial arts main event. This clash is easily the best of those shot exclusively for the 1978 film, mixing Hung's trademark hard contact style with a pacing patterned after sports contests.
Clouse's flat intrigue does eventually end up working for the film though. Once Lo learns the location of the syndicate, we're back into middle distance action, watching stunt performers methodically, and silently, break into a shadowy building. It's here that Game of Death is finally able to transition to its mother lode moments - the film that Lee was never able to finish. Once Lo is inside there's a nod to establishing continuity, to knit the empty interior of the Red Pepper restaurant to the stacked, spacious arenas in Lee's tower of death. We see an anonymous body heading up a set of wooden stairs, facing away from the camera. This subdued, mechanical building block proposes nothing but momentum - a man climbs a staircase - but it carries us into the next sequence, giving Bruce Lee the propulsive, energetic entrance he deserves.
Of course Lee relaxes instantly after launching himself up the last few steps, as if anticipating a rapturous round of applause. He deserves one. We've broken through to a completely different realm of filmmaking now, one that does, definitively, have a star. Lee commands attention, reacting to Dan Inosanto's perched weapons expert with a louche, unhurried confidence. When Inosanto begins striking his sinawali sticks together, attempting to intimidate this trespasser, Lee responds by tapping out a beat of his own, using a length of lacquered bamboo that he wields like a rapier. Lee, the director, is assured in his use of space, using inaction and sound to prime his audience for a meatier form of confrontation.
This transformation is striking - Clouse's film described an assailed man who could barely keep his head above water. Lee's film is about mastery, testing observable, incredible, skill against a succession of singular threats. As well as Inosanto, Lee faces Ji Han-jae, a hapkido master and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's gigantic, supernatural fighter. Originally Lee, accompanied by James Tien and Chieh Yuan, would spend at least 40 minutes battling through these opponents. These sequences were not simply action as punctuation then, Lee's Game of Death used the battles as a way to tell a philosophical story about physical and mental flexibility. In Clouse's film these ideas are hacked down to a little over 11 minutes. Tien and Chieh's presence are completely deleted, at times the film optically cropped to ensure the audience doesn't pick up on their phantom performances.
This pruning denies Lee his authorial voice, expunging his metaphysical framing, as well as the knockabout camaraderie that existed between the allied fighters. The tone stays heavy too, the lighter, more comedic touch that Lee the director displayed in The Way of the Dragon all but eliminated. Although Lee's Game of Death was shot without sound, Clouse also remains reluctant to manufacture a vocal performance for his former star beyond a chorus of overlapping kiai calls. It's a strange hesitance in a film so callous that it includes actual images of Bruce Lee's funeral procession. Accompanying this aural assault is John Barry's brooding Bond style score. Barry's music slathered all over these inherited minutes; a pounding loop that reaches too far into heroic to match the gasping choke holds actually up on the big screen.
Despite this tinkering, Lee's ferocity and fluidity remain immutable. The fleeting Lo (not) seen in the rest of the 1978 film is replaced with a big, bold principle actor, one dressed in a yellow jumpsuit, swinging nunchaku straight into the camera. It's not simply gravity that Lee finally provides, the three fights his Lo muscles through each have a separate lesson and psychological trajectory. The Inosanto fight demonstrates the inflexibility of pageantry. When the two fighters find themselves at an expertise impasse, it's Lee's character who gains the upper hand by adapting - in this case kicking his way through his opponent's chain stick demonstration. The Lee and Ji Han-jae set-to that follows hinges on a willingness to injure - ruinously - rather than simply stick to an arcane, uncommunicated scoring system.
Lo stumbles away from the hapkido fight, injured and exhausted. He limps up yet another staircase, entering into the realm of Abdul-Jabbar's Hakim. This encounter explores the tension between exhaustion and frustration. Lo instantly mounts an attack only to be immediately driven away by Hakim's enormous foot. The problems facing Lo are reach and power - Hakim outmatches him in both departments. Over the course of the fight Lo moderates his assault, tuning into an unsportsmanlike form of attack that prioritises strikes that stand outside of the strict formalities of martial arts. Lo stamps on Hakim's foot; directs blow after blow towards his genitals. Eventually Lo settles on his weight as a deciding factor, hooking his arms around Hakim's neck and dragging the pair to the floor. Lo tightens and tightens his grip until Hakim's neck cracks then crumbles.
It's an ugly finish but it speaks to the sense of human emotion, in this case anxiety, that Lee was keen to weave into his films. The actor-screenwriter-director proposes an exhausted, hardscrabble dimension, reflected in his desperate, anything-goes tactics. A framing atypical for a genre that often operates with dream logic. Unfortunately, Clouse doesn't have the good sense to end the film here. Lo must surmount two further challenges, both of which seem designed to neuter any of the rolling excitement generated by the last three Lee battles - the tussle between Kim and Biao's Lo and O'Brian's Steiner might as well be taking place underwater, such is its lack of intensity. The death of Dean Jagger's syndicate boss, Dr Land, is equally airless and haphazard too. Lo essentially chasing the decrepit mobster until he falls off a roof. An anticlimactic end to a piece apparently designed to propose the boon of a brand new Bruce Lee film then deliver on that promise with so little consistent spectacle that audiences are left feeling that they've had their fill.
Friday, 5 June 2020
Thursday, 4 June 2020
Wednesday, 3 June 2020
Sega celebrates their 60th anniversary with a borrower sized re-release of their battery guzzling hand-held, the Game Gear. Issued in a variety of flavours, each Game Gear Micro system has four unique games for modern players to peer at. Going by the lists in this ad, Sega have (mercifully) skipped over their well-received -at-the-time 8-bit version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, a game made significantly more difficult by the pocket system's narrow display dimensions.
Monday, 1 June 2020
For a significant chunk of its running time Game of Death II is farcical, a bankrupt attempt to get another Bruce Lee film onto the marketplace, despite the star having been dead for nearly eight years. Death II uses odds and ends from a variety of incompatible sources in its efforts to gin up any sort of narrative. The film's dubious nature is compounded for this English-dubbed international release - the producers dredging up every single scrap of Lee that their audience hadn't already seen. As well as treating us to yet another glimpse of the late actor's funeral, Ng See-yuen's film cobbles together a plot using distant stand-ins and scenes deleted from the American theatrical release of Enter the Dragon.
We're even subjected to some scratchy black and white clips lifted from Xi lu xiang, a film Lee worked on as a child, here used to describe a wayward adolescence. Helpfully, captions pop up onscreen indicating Lee's age at the time the footage was shot, just in case you were in danger of suspending your disbelief. The most entertaining element of Death II's off-cut opening comes courtesy of director Sammo Hung - a snappy greenhouse fight between Casanova Wong and Kim Tai-chung that was incorporated into the Hong Kong release of the original Game of Death. Kim plays the Lee stand-in character, Billy Lo, throughout this sequence, dodging Wong's powerful but clumsy kicks. The actor returns later in this sequel, graduating to a leading role as Billy's younger brother Bobby.
Game of Death II's first half then is a shuffling mutant, Lee's absence keenly felt in scenes where his character roughs around Tokyo nightclubs, shaking down nervy singers for leads. These scenes are barely functional, never mind credible, but they do suggest a grittier, fluorescent direction denied to Lee - the promise of the superstar's very own Get Carter. An hour in, the film switches up several gears with the promotion of Kim. His Bobby Lo, a fair approximation of Lee's laconic magnetism, packs himself off to a sprawling lair for a series of incomprehensible intrigues. As a finale, this section throbs along beautifully. Bobby surmounting barely articulated betrayals, kung-fu assassins disguised as lions, and even an electrified floor that reduces careless henchmen to ash.
Thursday, 28 May 2020
Sammo Hung's films, particularly those he directs himself, are notable for their wild tonal shifts. Hung consistently delivers pictures that scream back-and-forth between knockabout comedy and extreme peril, often within the same scene. Hung deploys these dangers to shock, to keep the audience involved and excited. Pedicab Driver then is the director's most assured dance yet, the film slowly evolving from a period fairy-tale about Macao's working class into a hot-blooded revenge film. Key to this transformation is John Shum's parasitic pimp - the actor deploying a truly loathsome performance that mixes broad, comedic tantrums with the casual application of unspeakable trauma.
Shum's Master 5 stands in stark, violent opposition to Pedicab Driver's romantic comedy elements. He drools and prods himself in the company of Nina Li Chi's wholesome baker Ping; he sends goons to violently break up a wedding. Worst of all, after having a father murdered just as his beloved gives birth, he condemns the screaming newborn to either a life in the brothel or a quick end in the river. His every action represents that which is low, cynical and revolting in life. He denies people their pride, profiting off their misery. So when 5 and Hung's Lo Tung meet, the actor-director's ferocious, full contact approach to martial arts absolutely sings. We don't want to see 5 put up a good fight, we want to see him get absolutely battered - his body pulverised by a flurry of punches. There's genuine delight in play watching 5's sweaty, shrieking face pirouette in a slow-motion close-up before his body collides with a plate of glass. It's cathartic. Hung understands how to give the audience what they want.
Wednesday, 27 May 2020
Tuesday, 26 May 2020
Gakuryuu Ishii's Electric Dragon 80.000 V riffs on origin stories and how they inform or clash with our notions of superheroics. Here life-changing brushes with the uncanny do not transform men into daring, messianic champions, instead they become dangerous aberrations. Both Tadanobu Asano's Dragon Eye Morrison and Masatoshi Nagase's Thunderbolt Buddha have absorbed unspeakable amounts of electricity as children, unlocking forgotten or suppressed corners of the human experience. After being struck by lightning while climbing a pylon, Morrison is put in touch with his inner reptile. The spiked-up punk now able to channel the snarling, frothing beast that the city and its society have long since papered over.
Thunderbolt Buddha is a little different. Unlike Morrison, his mains-based psychosis was apparently invited - in the film's closing moments we see glimpses of a beaming child sat atop a TV aerial-cum-lightning rod, begging to be hit. The two men have divergent approaches to their current lives too. While Morrison canvases the city, working as a private investigator for people who've misplaced their lizards, Buddha posts up on rooftops, dressed as a cable technician. He watches flamboyant criminals, plotting their demise from afar. This is the first of Electric Dragon's nods to Bruce Lee, specifically Lo Wei's 1972 film Fist of Fury. As well as this disguise routine, Morrison later summons up the hypnotic motion trails that put the zap on Robert Baker's Russian crime boss.
Ishii's film excites because, despite both men's commitment to civic justice, they can't help but collide. Buddha forces the issue of course, apparently unable to tolerate the existence of another electrically charged do-gooder. There's a sense of weariness at play in Buddha's actions, the taser-wielding vigilante seemingly bored with tracking then frying low-level hoodlums. Buddha's body malfunctions too, yanking him around a lair that looks very much like a power station control room. Perhaps he hopes to assign a successor? Ishii's film - a breeze at 55 minutes - pulses with this curious, contradictory energy. Collaboration be damned, there's a real fight in the offing. When spirits run high, Electric Dragon's black and white screen shatters, consumed by the guttural cries of shonen anime guys and the raw, slashing calligraphy of Heta-uma manga.
Sunday, 24 May 2020
Wednesday, 20 May 2020
Peter Fonda plays Paul Groves, a successful but emotionally inert ad director experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs. Reeling from a run-in with his soon-to-be ex-wife - Susan Strasberg's Sally creeps onto set to very patiently remind her husband that he has to actually turn up to their divorce proceedings and make time for their child once in a while - Groves decides to take LSD as a way to gain insight into his personal and professional frustrations. Armed with several cameras, a box of poetry and Bruce Dern's John (a laid-back but still slightly sinister spirit guide), Groves journeys to a seaside squat to take acid. Groves is a bundle of neuroses, approaching his drop in transactional terms - a way to tap into something a little more artistic than the blaring TV noise he usually peddles.
For all its harassed editing and psychedelic imagery, Roger Corman's The Trip is as much about a man puzzling through his inability to maintain relationships with women. Groves craves this kind of insight but he is unable to recognise how his hang-ups influence or pollute his behaviour. He's too busy snooping out something he can sell. As soon as he swallows his pill he's instantly chatting about a violent drug bust, almost willing a swift intervention from all-knowing jackboots. John attempts to gently prod Groves down a path of gentle revelation but the ad-man sees suspicion everywhere. These phantom threats exerting themselves as the deposed, hooded ghouls from counterculture fav The Lord of the Rings or Satanic rites on smokey film sets. The one consistent thread throughout Groves' trip is Sally. Her presence surprisingly comforting, not at all the antagonistic bummer you might expect.
Although Groves attempts to distract himself away from the recollection with umpteen other smiling blondes, he can't help but fixate on a memory of himself and his wife having sex. The reminiscence is fuzzy, like a channel that can't quite be tuned in. Their bodies mix and merge under hot fluorescent lights - different faces bleed in before disappearing - the writhing blobs looking very much like the contents of a Mathmos lamp. This, it seems, is Groves' way into a deeper, more personal form of introspection. Unfortunately the ad-man resists, imagining a murder then fleeing into the night where he eventually meets Salli Sachse's Glenn. When Glenn and Groves have sex Corman ramps up the discomfort. The film thrashes wildly, introducing subliminal imagery and mocking music that jab at Groves' sense of self. The coupling may be exciting, even aspirational, but it leaves Groves none the wiser. Fonda's face remains unshattered in this only lightly altered Director's Cut. Instead we're left with the feeling that Groves, although still psychologically intact, has squandered a real opportunity.
After 25 years away, Frank Miller and Walter Simonson's incomparable franchise throw-down, RoboCop Versus The Terminator, returns to video games via Mortal Kombat 11's latest DLC update, Aftermath.
Thursday, 14 May 2020
Thursday, 7 May 2020
Today's Inside Xbox event served up a quick look at Ebb Software's long gestating, bio-mechanical adventure game, Scorn. Presumed vapourware after an unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign in 2014, Scorn is now locked in as an exclusive for Microsoft's next-gen system. Originally conceived as a Myst-style prod game influenced by the surrealist artworks of HR Giger and Zdzislaw Beksinski, the Series X version of Scorn promises shooting mechanics and landscapes lifted straight out of Hans Ruedi's airbrushed art books.
Friday, 1 May 2020
Although Yoshiki Takaya's original manga is no stranger to body-rending violence, Hiroshi Watanabe's Guyver: Out of Control ups the ante significantly, revelling in a pervasive sense of, not just, physical danger but a lascivious, creeping, disgust. This revulsion isn't expressed simply in terms of Out of Control's violence (although an early confrontation is characterised by straining musculature and the fragility of exposed, snapping, bones), it extends out into the feature, infecting and underlining everything from the behaviour of minor players to how the central bio-booster armour interfaces with its host.
Out of Control's story concerns Sho Fukamachi, a lovesick teenager who inadvertently becomes the human battery for an alien battle suit. Watanabe's OVA trims and reorganises Takaya's story, rolling characters together or changing the gender of major players. Fukamachi's best friend Tetsuro is eliminated altogether, pushing Sho and Mizuki, the object of his affections, closer together. This uneasy proximity lends an underlying note of acute sexual anxiety to scenes in which Sho's body is physical trapped, then violated, by the larval stage of the Guyver. It's not just the interruption of a potentially delicate romantic moment, it's a humiliation - one quickly followed by an engorged retribution as Sho uses his new, powered-up body to tear aggro monsters limb from limb.
Out of Control's most notorious embellishment concerns the second, antagonist Guyver. Rather than the manga's Aryan muscle-man we have Valcuria, a red-headed fitness fanatic. Adulthood in Out of Control is already positioned as its own kind of mutation - a change that activates all kinds of unspoken conspiracy and alarming physical corruptions. Men swell into oversized, sweating ogres who delight in their ability to physically intimidate women and children. Valcuria, our one example of mature femininity, is presented as soft and curvy; a confident, intimidating counterpoint to the shy, respectable Mizuki. While Sho's first transformation has its own, uncomfortable, sexual dimension, Valcuria's is a full-blown rape - one that the filmmakers pore over with sweeping, soft-focus camera movements and a pulsing slow-motion detail that wouldn't look out of place in Hideki Takayam's Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend.
Tuesday, 28 April 2020
Saturday, 25 April 2020
Despite their critical and financial success, Sony's first Spider-Man spin-off doesn't attempt to follow either the tone or the scope of the company's recent collaborations with Marvel. Refreshingly free of aggressive, multi-tiered world building, Ruben Fleischer's Venom instead resembles the kind of superhero feature made in the late 1990s - the three-act mutants that passed for comic book adaptations before Blade hit and showed everyone how to really do it. Venom recalls a time when comic book branding was less important than whichever star actor you could attract to a project - Tom Hardy's casting reaching for a kind of reassurance and bankability almost entirely absent from modern superhero fare.
Venom then is best enjoyed as a throwback, a comic book film that sees its titular property as a jumping off point (one that can steered towards exciting motorbike stunts) rather than a conceptual millstone. Routine, but built in a way that we are no longer accustomed to. Hardy up front, giving the kind of twitchy, physical performance that's closer to a larger-than-life, Schumacher-era, Batman villain than the earnest enthusiasm of Tom Holland's web-head. Although likely completely unintentional, it's interesting to note a few similarities between Venom and Hiroshi Watanbe's 1986 OVA, Guyver: Out of Control. Both revolve around an alien bio-armour that invades every level of a person's experience, wrapping their fracturing body in a black sludge that takes an invasive, basically sexual, interest in its host. Conflict in Fleischer and Watanabe's features also revolve around a similar kind of corporate clash - a big business expert submitting themselves to a colder, crueller creature on their way to a showdown with a discombobulated amateur.
Despite Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon's shortcomings, Sonny Chiba remains an exciting, forward-thinking action proposition. His star persona, largely characterised (in the West at least) by his performances in the Street Fighter films is one of indefatigable violence. He's a maniac, an agony transmitter poised to bludgeon and puncture anyone who offends him or impinges on his particular brand of ruthless self-sufficiency. In this sense he's the perfect actor to embody Takao Saito's relentless, invincible hitman.
Duke Togo is total criminality, an untouchable murderer who exists so far outside the idea of basic dramatic stakes that typical narrative trends (like learning or positive, life-affirming, change) are rendered null. A significant amount of Togo's Big Comic stories only feature him as a phantom presence - the unflappable expert who steps from the shadows to exterminate whichever patsy has been unlucky enough to stray into his orbit. In deference to fidelity, Yukio Noda's film rustles up a second lead to fret and drive Assignment Kowloon, Callan Leung's Detective Smith.
Unfortunately Smith, and his knockabout policing, overwhelm Noda's film, subordinating Togo in ways that end up actually detracting from the character's mystique. Initially this demotion is expressed in terms of plot machinations, eventually though Smith is allowed to lay hands on the assassin, an outrage that goes unanswered. Smith growls, making threats that would never be explored in further films. Assignment Kowloon may belong to another but that doesn't mean Chiba is a slouch. A dockside fight pulses with real venom, Togo brushing off a gang of street toughs with a confident, louche cruelty. Elsewhere, Chiba's athleticism allows him to scramble around Hong Kong streets like they're a giant climbing frame - a fearless physicality that prefigures Jackie Chan's approach to the city.
Wednesday, 22 April 2020
Sunday, 19 April 2020
Wednesday, 15 April 2020
Monday, 13 April 2020
Starting at a hundred miles an hour, Corey Yuen's Yes, Madam! immediately impresses with a heist sequence that ends with Michelle Yeoh shotgunning a perp's hand off - a twist on a similar scene from Don Siegel's slightly more sedate Dirty Harry. Graduating from a bit player in Sammo Hung comedies, Yeoh instantly establishes herself as an energetic, credible martial arts actress - the perfect compliment to Yuen's punchy direction. Yeoh sprints alongside speeding cars then poses with a series of firearms, all the while dressed in roomy pastels with slicked back hair.
Disappointingly, Yes, Madam! isn't centred around this character. Despite an equally convincing action performance from Cynthia Rothrock, playing a bussed-in brute looking to crack heads after her mentor is murdered, both women are sidelined to spend more and more time in the cartoonish company of John Shum and Mang Hoi's petty criminals. What begins as a series of colourful asides soon balloons completely out of proportion with the entertainment they offer, distorting the film's shape and pulling us further and further away from Yeoh and Rothrock.
Initially at odds, the Senior Inspector's detente occurs off-screen. Our only clue that their minds have met is the pronounced change in Rothrock's outfits - her clothes evolve from buttoned-up power dressing to the same flared, sports casual collars that Yeoh wears. That both women are kept at arm's length throughout does have one positive effect on Yes Madam! though: you're always happy to see them. Their presence signals an uptick in excitement, allowing the film's energy levels to finally meet the crackle implied by editor Peter Cheung's exemplary fight assembly. Cheung - the unsung hero of many Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung films - creates a exhilarating sense of rhythm out of bold, pirouetting flourishes and their blunt trauma responses.
Friday, 10 April 2020
Still plugging away at Call of Duty: Warzone when I can. After a couple of weeks spent banging my head against the wall playing opposite PC players who, I'm sure, have acquired their tremor-free gunfire and impeccable situational skills through heavy lifting (rather than, say, running cheat scripts), I decided to limit matchmaking to PS4 only. Immediately seeing a lot less clairvoyance, it has to be said. Click the video above for a particularly hot post-Gulag drop.
Friday, 3 April 2020
Wednesday, 1 April 2020
For a film built around nano-technology and bio-mechanical augmentation, David SF Wilson's Bloodshot isn't particularly interested in how the human experience might actually clash with a cybernetically powered, info-dump, identity. Neither is the film particularly dialled into the finer details of possessing a body that can enthusiastically repair itself, over and over again. Tanked upfront by a dreamy introduction that initially seems to be reaching for Michael Bay Americana but is later revealed to be deliberately awful exposition dreamt up by incompetents, Bloodshot never manages to tune into a mode of storytelling that fully exploits the film's conflicting, disparate, strands.
Bloodshot functions solely at the surface level, failing to dig any deeper on its identikit death squads or corporate megalomaniacs. The film's characters express themselves purely through function, specifically how they are able to nudge the piece forward, towards the next anaemic confrontation. Bloodshot is all grist, no meat. Given that his body is flooded with tiny, fastidious insects that mend every microscopic failing as soon as it happens, it seems natural to expect that star Vin Diesel will be examined in terms of post-human machinery - this film finally delivering on Fast & Furious' dangling insinuation that Diesel is a piston made flesh. At the very least, there's an expectation that we'll see bodies reduced to throbbing, blubbery viscera.
Again though, there's a self-imposed distance between the film's physical action and the fracturing, metaphysical interior of Diesel's growling army man. Although we're treated to views of the vast, crimson topography that pulses away within the newly upgraded Marine, this landscape is bracketed away from non-microscopic pummelling. Diesel's body is barely deformed - never required to visibly knit itself back together from a state of colossal ruin. Damage is only ever portrayed as a cosmetic affectation, a few spiralling lines of flesh code knitting themselves back into Diesel's movie star mug. Consequently, Bloodshot never rises above the level of a humourless, misbegotten vanity project.
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 wipe out 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.