Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Films 2020

A comedy of errors, Beasts Clawing at Straws charts the incremental progress of an article of hand luggage - a designer bag stuffed with cash stacks, originating from a dodgy life insurance pay out. The film, based on a novel by Keisuke Sone, allows writer-director Kim Yong-hoon to sketch out a variety of greedy patsies, each brimming with the boundless energy and bad decisions of the unexpectedly wealthy. Along the way, the coveted hold-all briefly comes into the possession of Jeon Do-yeon's Yeon-hee, the madam-cum-muscle for a hostess club. Yeon-hee represents a cooler head in Beasts, a life-long scammer willing to play up to a variety of interpersonal roles - from doting girlfriend to wise mentor - in order to stake a claim. In a film full of excitable amateurs, Yeon-hee displays a detached expertise, quickly calculating her perceived standing in relation to her temporary partner then moulding their relationship in ways designed to exploit their calamitous underestimation. 

The tragic, untimely, passing of the brilliant Chadwick Boseman intensifies an ache already felt in Spike Lee's often unflinching Da 5 Bloods. The film, in part an examination of the devastated psychological landscapes imprinted by the Vietnam War (told with The Treasure of the Sierra Madre action-adventure scaffolding), pivots on memory - particularly those of the men who survived Boseman's commanding officer, Stormin' Norman. The waking recollections of these elderly men - vignettes told without substitute actors or sandpapered avatars - present Norman in adoring terms. He is both ageless and perfect, the star that this disparate, disintegrating, platoon orbits around. In death, Norman represents everything the proxy war conflict took from these soldiers. Not just their youth but their agency; the confidence, or ability, to overcome momentary selfishness or, at their lowest, craven impulses. In the minds of these men, Norman towers. A revolutionary holy man who held stick-up sermons to an always enraptured audience. 

A horror film located in a very specific sociocultural moment, Host charts the rapid disintegration of a socially distanced, video conference séance after one participant - you know the type, thinks they're hilarious - completely fails to take the dead contacting seriously. Writer-director Rob Savage, working with co-writers Gemma Hurley and Jed Shepherd, build their fairground ride out of the pressures and disappointments inherent to this once-removed form of telecommunication - specifically, how it expands a sense of personal disconnection. The central friendship group clearly has factions and sub-groups; straining niceties in the face of the louder, lairier, participants who bubble up and overwhelm this carefully curated spooky Zoom. When calamity arrives, the punishments are varied and overwhelming, completely disproportional to crimes committed and predicated on the swirling tension of an empty background space waiting to be filled. 

Brandon Cronenberg's Possessor traffics in cruelty, using a massive technological leap to explore discordant interior desires, specifically those that revolve around curdled ambitions. Whatever kind of person Andrea Riseborough's Vos was before she embarked on her homicidal career path is irrelevant, she's a communicable idea now, one focused around plunging a knife into a lawyer's throat or the amount of pressure required to shatter a billionaire's jaw. Vos swims on the periphery, initially drunk on the power and immunity her hijacking missions provide, later a fading passenger in a brain-wipe link-up that has overstayed its welcome.

Promare's use of 3D animation is novel, at times closer to the kind of blocking and arrangement seen in sixth generation video games. Armoured up characters in Hiroyuki Imaishi's film prowl with the same deliberate gait seen in supernaturally themed releases - the creeping marionettes of the early 2000s, a style of ambulation currently out-of-fashion following the interactive industry's decision to fully embrace motion capture. Lio Fotia, the high commander of the mutant Burnish, is introduced wrapped in an ink black battle plate. Once cracked, a childlike face oozes through the damage - a snarling cherub, very much in the style of manga greats such as Osamu Tezuka or Mitsuteru Yokoyama. This is what Promare offers: a fluid, expert conversation between classic and futuristic visual techniques. The harsh polygons of computational smoke and flame effects sit perfectly alongside figures that betray a fitful, human, expression.

Writer-director Steve McQueen and co-writer Courttia Newland's Red, White and Blue brings a generational dimension to the real-life activism of London Metropolitan Police Officer Leroy Logan. The film initially proposes a divergence, with the academic Logan forgoing a promising career in Applied Biology to pursue institutional change in a racist police force, much to the frustration of his Jamaican-born father, Ken, a frequent target for white, uniformed, bully boys. John Boyega's Leroy and Steve Toussaint's Ken spend the majority of the film at odds; simmering together in silent, but palpable, disagreement - Ken resenting his son for what he contextualises as a form of betrayal. Ken is portrayed as difficult throughout Red, White and Blue, particularly when he clumsily engages with the women in his family. He's opinionated and disinclined to peace-making but it's this forthrightness that powers his son - a ground floor personality trait that allows Leroy to stride into the lion's den, chest out, then shout down the snivelling cowards who deface his locker. 

Director Masaaki Yuasa and writer Reiko Yoshida manufacture up a beautiful sense of breeziness with Ride Your Wave, a film that plays to the romantic strengths that Yuasa displayed (between the rending) in 2018's Devilman Crybaby. Without giving too much away, the film charts the relationship between Hinako Mukaimizu, a shy surfer, and Minato Hinageshi, a confident but disarming firefighter. Their love is sincerely and unselfconsciously sketched, the duo bonding on their journeys to the beach and their mutual affection for a sing-song chart hit. Hinako and Minato's connection is portrayed in passionate, if not necessarily physical, terms; the pair long for each other, accepting their new partner as the missing piece of themselves. Wave has an ache to it, even before fate intervenes.

Christopher Nolan's temporal thriller Tenet has so much to tell you that it affects an aggressive posture, detailing conversations with the crisp clip of a fist fight. The film is, essentially, Nolan's science fiction take on a James Bond film (or perhaps more accurately, an Ian Fleming novel) with entropy inverted invaders subbing in for the usual megalomaniacs. The concept of rewinding calamity provides Tenet a genuine puzzle to decode, allowing Nolan access to briefing scenes that do not run on the staid explanations of atomic bomb defusal or cyber-security blather. Entertaining a similar sense of trespass to the 1960s Bond films, Tenet's central spy forces his way into simmering social circles, accessing Kenneth Branagh's monstrous Sator through Kat, the estranged wife he tortures (Elizabeth Debicki in a role that oscillates between underwritten and pivotal). John David Washington's unnamed CIA agent may eventually stray into the disconnected realm of the all-knowing but the discombobulated-but-game energy present in the film's early passages is reminiscent of George Lazenby's performance in On Her Majesty's Secret Service - a creeping sense of arrogance informed by narrow successes. 

The tension between expectation and desire rendered as a feature-length panic attack. Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie's Uncut Gems is pure momentum, tracking Adam Sandler's Howard Ratner, a gambling addict who willingly hurls himself deeper and deeper into impenetrable, tail-gobbling, basketball spreads. Despite nothing but set-backs, Howard never loses an assailed sense of optimism, babbling away in shrieking SNL tones, clad head-to-toe in expensive, baggy, sweats. Howard is your typical, hectoring, Sandler character, possessing a face fixed in a leering perma-grin with an outlook geared only for terminal indulgence. Unlike Sandler's 90s smash comedies, Uncut Gems traps this gibbering maniac in a realm of pure hostility. Howard is punished and pummelled, chewed up over and over again for failing to shut the fuck up and fall in line. Absolutely brilliant. 

An escaped man thriller that does not labour under the delusion of flight. Hu Ge's Zhou Zenong represents criminality as a fading tremor, the leader of a small group of motorcycle thieves who operate amongst a grumbling, and ultimately treasonous, co-op. Diao Yinan's The Wild Goose Lake traps its subjects in and around a decaying waterside town notable for labyrinthine food stands and paddling sex workers. Following the shooting of a policeman, a case of mistaken identity, Zhou goes into hiding, prolonging his capture so he can send word to his estranged wife to grass him up for the reward money. Navigating an underworld now teeming with stomping soldiers and swarms of undercover (and underglowing) policemen is Gwei Lun-Mei's Liu Aiai, the bathing beauty selected to be Zhou's contact. Like Zhou, Liu operates from a position of defeat, grasping at fleeting pleasantries rather than seismic, romantic, change. 

Also liked:

Alone // Away // Bad Boys for Life // Beastie Boys Story // Bill & Ted Face the Music // Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn // Borat Subsequent Moviefilm // Burrow // Emma // His House // The Invisible Man // Lamp Life // The Lighthouse // Lost Bullet // Lupin III: The First // Martin Scorsese's Quarantine Short Film // New York New York // Out // 1917 // Puparia // Rocks // The Secret Garden // She Dies Tomorrow // Soul // Superman: Red Son // Time to Hunt // Trip to Greece // Underwater // Wonder Woman 1984 // You Cannot Kill David Arquette

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Video Games 2020

Last year's instalment in the never-ending Call of Duty franchise, the Modern Warfare reboot, didn't really gel with me. As beautifully appointed as that game's multiplayer was, it seemed solely designed around seeking out head-glitches to shoot incoming traffic. All other playstyles, particularly rushing, felt not so much neutered but actively detrimental. While I'm not opposed to vanquishing unthinking invaders - as the above clip demonstrates - I prefer it when multiplayer stages aren't designed to cater specifically to that trepidatious style of interaction. I want to roam around the outside of the map, avoiding the meat-grinder middles to stage a series of base-pushes. Never quite enough so the safe areas flip, but certainly hoping to catch the newly spawned unaware. A few maps aside, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War caters to this seeking, hewing closer to the pre-jump pack era of the early Modern Warfare and Black Ops series. 

A special mention too for Call of Duty: Warzone, the free-to-play battle royale with an elegant armour-up solution that kept Infinity Ward's latest firmly installed, even though the newer game jettisoned Blackout's brilliant weapon accessory gathering loop. Warzone's comparatively massive play area and juiced-up health settings also helped to butt Modern Warfare's weapon meta in a few interesting directions; while the seasonal game mode additions were often superb - particularly the Zombie Royale rules added for Halloween. 


A few one-note redesigns aside, Bluepoint's biggest contribution to FromSoftware's Demon's Souls was technical stability. The 60Hz performance mode tightened the game's drum, lending character movement a darting, anchored, sense of weight rather than haphazard clash experienced on the game's ancient, bloomed-out PS3 version. This rock-solid refresh rate (only really dipping for this player when jostling ogres in fossil-filled spider tunnels) unifies the game's otherwise disparate aesthetics, delivering rolling encounters carried along by superb tank combat and load times that are practically nil. PS5 Demon's Souls is in many ways a dream game, a big budget pass for a series (and, in FromSoft, a game development studio) that excels in every other area but visual stability. For someone who collected a stack of White Dwarf magazines as a child, Bluepoint's authoritative remake is exactly the adventure I was after when tip-toeing through Fighting Fantasy game books like Ian Livingstone's Deathtrap Dungeon or Mark Smith and Jamie Thomson's Sword of the Samurai

Demon's Tier+ curses players to wander pixelated ruins, seeking out keys and blasting incoming hordes. A twin-stick shooter with a roguelike underpinning, Demon's Tier+ welcomes adventurers into a series of procedurally generated dungeons, each requiring the completion of a basic task before you are forced to make a swift exit - completionism is proposed by a slowly unfolding map and treasures crammed into every nook-and-cranny but, dawdle too long, and an angel of death appears, drifting through walls and other obstacles to lay its invulnerable finger on you. Tier+ excels thanks to a 'one more go' difficulty tuning that recalls the great arcade coin gobblers. Opportunities for success, and failure, are innumerable and ever-changing, meaning there's always a reason to take yet another plunge. 

An interactive foam rubber gameshow, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout sees dozens of networked players cramming themselves into a series of obstacle courses, hoping to escape an end of stage cull. Fall Guys has the faint whiff of social experiment about it, especially since each of the unfolding levels contains multiple chances for progress resetting calamity. Since it's not always wise to race ahead, contestants often bunch up, moving as one massive, cowardly, blob. Vulnerable parties are prodded - or outright pushed - forward, to test the cracking ice. 

A stealth action game that massages players towards outright savagery, The Last of Us Part II - especially in its first-half and concluding chapter - delivers an experience less obviously regimented than its predecessor. Part II opens up its combat areas, trapping lead characters Ellie and Abby in expansive, multi-layered dungeons. Threat in this sequel feels more prolonged and less like you're disturbing an otherwise passive arena. In that sense Naughty Dog have successfully modelled enemy encounters much closer to the free-flowing multiplayer of the first game, tasking its audience to be quick-witted and reactive rather than simply dominant.  

A twitchy twin-stick shooter with an extremely basic two colour aesthetic, Null Drifter begins easily enough with a shimmering ship nudging around a one-screen alien invasion. Eventually the trip-hop beats agitate, signalling a head-first plummet into a dithering screen-seizure. Demands on the player become constant, requiring much quicker thinking and reactions than I betray in the above vid. Panda Indie Studio's game reminds me of the ancient Apple Macintosh port of Asteroids, a black and white rock battler that popped up occasionally in the 80s end of my childhood but with a speed and feedback loop now fine-tuned for hyper fighting. 

First time through Resident Evil 3 is a rolling disappointment, a truncated half-game that plays more like additional content for the recent Resident Evil 2 remake than a full-blooded bash at recreating 1999's Last Escape. Resident Evil 3 2020 improves tremendously on a New Game+ file, when expectations have been completely curtailed and the player is tackling the game as a series of closed loops - hunting keys and burning rubber with the in-game Shop in the back of their mind. The post-completion store offers a variety of new weapons and items that upset the finely tuned (but not necessarily super fun) survival horror balance. In truth this 3 is a piecemeal experience, encounters that barely track on an unsullied playthrough are able to shine when attacked in the singular; mercenary rushes disconnected from a half-baked narrative that only pollutes Capcom's dynamic third-person action model. 

Initially wonderful simply because it breaths new life into a long-neglected (but no less beloved) Sega franchise, Lizardcube, Guard Crush Games and DotEmu's Streets of Rage 4 gradually reveals the chasmic depth working beneath the obviously stunning, hand-drawn, artwork. The game rewards a long-term commitment beyond simply thumping the colourful aggressors, building into a thesis-level appraisal of belt action gameplay mechanics. Rage 4's diverse enemy spawns can be directed, pummelled and rearranged into level-long strings with players physically positioning their rager in ways that ensure a straining combo continuity. 

Get a couple of playthroughs under your belt and the game allows players to select classic, sprite-based, characters hailing from the three 16-bit Mega Drive instalments. During their initial reveal I, wrongly, assumed these late additions would be placeholder dumps, covering for this belated sequel's unfinished, not-quite-extended, cast. As it happens these unlock fighters are closer to museum pieces, lovingly transplanted relics with move-sets that both compliment and defy Streets of Rage 4's push-and-pull between jeopardy and empowerment. Rage 4 is an instant classic; gameplay as arcade academia that recalls Capcom's equally wonderful victory lap brawler, Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition.

It definitely helps that I have very little exposure to the Dragon Quest series or SNES classic Secret of Mana. It ensures that the idea of a game dressed up in Akira Toriyama's finest livery remains almost completely novel. With that in mind Trials of Mana is an interactive treat, a bright and colourful landscape full of wonderfully designed monsters to whack. Toriyama is an incredible talent, a genius level cartoonist with a genuinely magical touch when it comes to imbuing knockabout nonsense with a distinct sense of, not just character, but mischief. That's Trials of Mana, an extremely traditional sense of progression massaged with endless encounters with jerks straight off the pages of Toriyama's beautiful The World artbook. 

Monday, 21 December 2020

Music 2020

ALISON - Sunshine Girl // Christine and the Queens - People, I've Been Sad // Crystal Cola - Seaside Cocktail // DEEM - City Walk // Everything Everything - Violent Sun // Fiona Apple - I Want You to Love Me // Haim - The Steps // Hayley Williams - Dead Horse // HER - Hold On // Hotel Pools - Snowfall // Jessie Ware - Spotlight // Kupla - Weightless // lojii - Lo & Behold [prod. Swarvy] // Memorex Memories - Midnight Madonna // Olivier Deriviere - Rising Up (Extended) // Power Glove - Brain Jack // Phoebe Bridgers - Kyoto // Rina Sawayama - STFU! // System96 - Imagine // Tonebox & Lucy in Disguise - Road Rage // Taylor Swift - This is Me Trying (The Long Pond Studio Sessions) // Unfound - Clarity (WIP)

Sunday, 20 December 2020

NiElsir - Aurorean

Mega Drive - ZPF

Coming soon to Sega's 16-bit home system! ZPF, an absolutely gorgeous arcade shooter (that looks like Gynoug by way of Mega Turrican) from Gryzor, jgvex and Tanzer vet Mikael Tillander. 

Saturday, 12 December 2020

Billy the Kid - A Day Out

snaer. - December

Captain America by Tatsuki Fujimoto

NieR Replicant ver. 1.22474487139... - BARRAGE

Described by series producer Yousuke Saito as a 'version up' rather than a remake of Nier Replicant (a Japanese exclusive PS3 release), the thoroughly titled NieR Replicant ver. 1.22474487139... looks to be continuing a new and very much appreciated trend (shouts also to Bluepoint) for the technical rejuvenating of notable curios that otherwise sputtered along on Sony's notoriously fussy seventh gen system. 

Friday, 11 December 2020

Season - JAM JAR

Scavengers Studio follow-up Darwin Project, their stab at the battle royale rush, with Season, a beautifully mounted game that looks to combine the summertime melancholy of a Studio Ghibli film (in no small part due to that Joe Hisaishi soundalike on the piano) with the lonesome but picturesque wandering of Hideo Kojima's Death Stranding

Back 4 Blood - SAFE HOUSE

Speaking of potential (nearly) squandered, Turtle Rock Studios, formerly Valve South, are prepping cooperative horde shooter Back 4 Blood for release. A belated follow-up to the fantastic Left 4 Dead games (a series that Valve themselves quite apparently no longer have any interest in), Back 4 Blood looks to be designed around a similar gameplay flow - coping with the easily vanquished, but sometimes overwhelming ,undead while keeping an eye out for creeping, specialised, super zombies. 

Perfect Dark - FARSIGHT

It's been crazy seeing Rare absolutely die on the vine after Microsoft's purchase of the studio. After a brief rush of early Xbox 360 releases, the British developers - who had, let's not forgot, consistently delivered games absolutely at the level of their internally developed Nintendo stablemates - were demoted to dashboard avatars. Absolutely criminal. What are Rare working on currently? No idea. Certainly not this belated reboot of Perfect Dark - that honour falls to The Initiative, a new studio based in Santa Monica who Microsoft are talking up as their AAAA secret weapon. 

Ghosts 'n Goblins Resurrection - ACME

Based on almost nothing, I'm a bit peeved that Ghosts 'n Goblins Resurrection doesn't have an art style laboriously patterned after the chromed luxury of legendary Famitsu family artist (and Maximo: Ghosts to Glory concept artist) Susumu Matsushita. Still, this watercolour picture book look has has a charm of its own, transforming the digital nudges of a precarious player into the over-ambulated comedy of a Tex Avery cartoon character. 

Capcom Arcade Stadium - GOING ALL-OUT

Rather than release individual emulation suites like Hamster have done with their superlative Arcade Archives series, Capcom are back drip-feeding DLC content packs for a freemium download. Exclusive to Nintendo's Switch, by all accounts, Capcom Arcade Stadium is a bells-and-whistles update of M2's Capcom Arcade Cabinet, released on PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2013 (itself a reworking of the PS1 and Sega Saturn's Capcom Generations series). No word if M2 are involved for this round of coin inserting. 

Warhammer 40,000: Darktide - CHAINSWORD

Since all my Warhammer 40,000 knowledge revolves around half-remembered John Blanche illustrations from Rogue Trader era rulebooks and mid-90s copies of White Dwarf, I'm going to assume that Warhammer: Vermintide developers Fatshark are updating their scuttling horde-shooter to include beleaguered Imperial Guardspersons battling against aggro alien death cults? Surrounding blurbs for Warhammer 40,000: Darktide seem to indicate that the wave-based foe are aligned with Chaos - I was expecting Genestealer hybrid gangs? They were the hive infestation of choice back when I was a bit more attuned to this universe. Have the Tyranids gone the way of the Squats? 

Monday, 30 November 2020

Lost Bullet

Guillaume Pierret's Lost Bullet is an understated and efficient action film driven by a morose lead trapped by, and rallying against, his diminished station. Alban Lenoir's Lino is a former ram-raider recruited out of prison by Ramzy Bedia's Charas, a debonair police officer who leads an elite motorway interception unit. Lino's mechanical skills - such that he is able to transform a Renault Clio into a concrete crumbling battering ram - are highly prized by the older man. Unlike the other officers, who regard Lino with a mixture of suspicion and disgust, Charas engages with the man on a personal level, bickering about vintage cars then bending the rules to reward his hardworking charge. 

Their relationship - certainly from the perspective of Lino - resembles that of a knight and his squire, one man with a secure, even special, social standing reaching out to knowingly elevate someone less fortunate. As the film goes on it becomes clear that Lino is not simply battling his heart out to keep his own head above water, he's fighting out of duty - an attempt to repay the debt he feels is owed to Charas. This note of chivalry reverberates throughout Lost Bullet, underscoring scenes of Lino butting heads and hammering through an assortment of flawed or outright amoral police officers. Lenoir, as a bruised up and bleeding ex-con in shabby hand-me-down clothes, is positioned as Lost Bullet's moral authority, the answer to the preening, letter jacket wearing, corruption of Nicolas Duvauchelle's Areski. 

Cazal Organism - Ready (to Learn) feat. Barbara Mason

Saturday, 21 November 2020

Hotel Pools & ALISON - Lunar

Tonebox & Lucy in Disguise - Road Rage

The New Mutants

Conceived and shot during the Fox era but actually released (following a long delay) after Disney's consumption of Rupert Murdoch's former film production company, The New Mutants finds itself occupying a distinct. post-Bryan Singer, space. Rather than function as a grand summation of a now obsolete phase of action cinema, director Josh Boone's film, co-written with Knate Lee, is a dialled-back literalisation of some of the more obvious, but underexplored, themes that pulsed through Singer and Simon Kinberg's entries. To wit: a same-sex relationship is finally allowed to flourish while the figurative, psychically manifested, prisons of Professor X - erected to restrain or outright chain the explosive powers of his young charges - are rendered here as an actual, physical, dungeon. New Mutants revolves around a mouldering psychiatric unit speckled with computerised locks and futuristic surveillance, a depressive billet for these adolescent, would-be, heroes. 

Structurally, the film has plenty in common with A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors; New Mutants offering up a similar gang of misfits, each with their own traumatic past. Chuck Russell's film used these, often only perceived, failings to power bravura special effects sequences of Fred Krueger tormenting then killing his teenagers. Boone's film takes a more positive but ultimately flatter tact, offering up physical manifestations of half-remembered abuse to be fought then vanquished. It's a slasher conundrum executed with triumphant, computer generated colour that, actually, ends up underlining why pick 'em off films work so well - they systematically narrow the audience's focus. Bystanders are chopped up and diced until we're left with a super-character who can surmount the carnage. Here the also-rans are repurposed, becoming love interests or reluctant powerhouses, but always stealing screentime away from the real stars: an out-of-control mutant who, unfortunately, fails to tip over into complete mania and Anya Taylor-Joy's magikally powered mean girl. 

Thursday, 12 November 2020

The Duellists

Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel play Armand d'Hubert and Gabriel Feraud, a pair of French cavalryman during Napoleon's conquest of Europe who spend the best part of two decades in a state of perpetual quarrel. The Duellists, Ridley Scott's feature debut, is brisk and beautiful, a film utterly disinterested in the storied military careers both men clearly lead. Their ascension through Bonaparte's ranks mere circumstance, often contextualised as nothing more than a courtly wrinkle that prohibits their game. Scott's film, working from a screenplay by Gerald Vaughan-Hughes, is instead built around hot spots - the moments when the two men have the opportunity to either encircle each other or outright collide.

Over the years the dispute grows and distorts in both men's minds. d'Hubert, the more fretful and temperate of the two, cannot help but develop a strange sort of camaraderie for his fiery opponent, a respect that, sadly and quite apparently, is never reciprocated. For Feraud, the fanatic, the original ignition point - d'Hubert interrupting the party of a beautiful socialite to inform Gabriel that he is to turn himself in after skewering the mayor of Strasbourg's nephew - mutates over the years. Speaking to a group of lackeys before the pair's final duel, Feraud's grasp on the original tension point has grown from an acute, ego-prickling embarrassment into a thundering, manufactured, outrage regarding d'Hubert's failure to properly honour France's (by now deposed) emperor.

Feraud is a scrapper, aggressive and impatient. The first duel we see him fight (against the aforementioned nephew) represents this wild man in complete control, his movement, or lack thereof, dictating the film's visual grammar. At rest, Scott and Cinematographer Frank Tidy photograph Kietel as a figure - one of many - in smokey, Romantic landscapes. When battle is joined, the film becomes energetic and hand-held, the camera positioned closer so we can see feel the irritation radiating off Feraud. Kietel plays a peculiar sort of neutrality in this scene too. He isn't happy that he's prevailed so decisively in this life-threatening situation, he's frustrated that success was achieved, not through his own skill with a rapier, but because of his adversary's sloppiness and incompetence. He wanted a challenge and didn't get it.

Each of the film's duels follow this template, fight choreographer William Hobbs conferring a distinct structure and identity on each of the altercations. Hobbs posits conflict as a dramatic proposition both synchronised with, and commenting upon, the combatants' physical and emotional distress. Scott and Tidy collaborate, photographing their duellists in such a way that the audience is never allowed to simply sit back and feel the distance between themselves and the film's subjects. We marinate in their anxiety. Again and again Carradine and Kietel are arranged in ways that amplify our connection with them. A mid-film battle, in an airless stone cellar, evokes a bloodied sense of exhaustion. Both men flail about - already injured - crashing into each other with their heavy swords. Onlookers flinch, scrambling out of their way; the sabres striking sparks as they paw at the room's confines - violent but ultimately inconclusive.

The Duellists oozes confidence, Scott's film constructed around opportunities for tension and, eventually, release. A sense of historic chronicle is evoked, not through length or dramatic complication but through the film's mise en scene - the wax and wane of female contact or the ways in which an individual is arranged in massive, bucolic landscapes. Although not singular in its look - Stanley Kubrick and John Alcott had already photographed Barry Lyndon absent of any electrical light - Scott's film finds beauty in the choke of proximity. Verisimilitude deployed as shorthand, suggested through cluttered, smokey frames or even just complicated uniforms. That such a contradictory visual choice exists implies an intent that we may not understand but, nevertheless, instinctively feel. Frequently our noble Hussars are lost in rotting, impoverished environments, their perfectly tweaked moustaches and braided cadenettes instantly recognisable as notes of beautification or ego, battling against the wave of frigid hostility that envelops them.


Now that the Demon's Souls remake is out in America, we can get a look at some of the visual options that Bluepoint have made available. As with their work on the PS4 version of Shadow of the Colossus, the studio have included filters that offset their massive graphical overhaul. The Classic option, demonstrated above, goes some way to aping the depressed, mouldering, greens seen in From Software's PS3 original. 

Aliens vs Predator by Mike Mignola and Dyemooch

Demon's Souls - DANGLY BITS

Digital Foundry's John Linneman's chats with Marco Thrush and Peter Dalton from Bluepoint, as well as SIE Worldwide Studio's Gavin Moore, about their imminent PS5 remake of Demon's Souls. As expected from the development team that wrung the Xbox 360 dry to get the first Titanfall running at a solid refresh rate, the Bluepoint guys - in a pretty unguarded moment for a PR push - state a preference for their rock-solid Performance Mode. The clang is so loud that Moore quickly chimes in to talk up the game's less refreshed (and likely closer to the stuttering PS3 original) Cinematic Mode. New footage of the game is brief, centred around a Penetrator battle that signals a few key aesthetic changes, both good and bad. The boss itself now appears closer to the deep-fried damnation you'd expect from key Dark Souls characters while the Fat Official has been downgraded from an abyssal Beefeater to your standard pustulous oaf. 

Saturday, 7 November 2020


Shot to express a swirling veil of shimmering data, Lucio Fulci's Conquest presents the sword and sorcery epic as formless and unknowably mystical - a series of brutal exchanges focused around the transient magics of bodily destruction. Fulci and cinematographer Alejandro Ulloa use double-exposures, smoke packed frames, and even shots aimed directly into the sun, to describe a prehistoric realm ruled by a golden witch and her army of doped-up werewolves. Our heroes are Andrea Occhipinti's athletic bowman Ilias, a trespasser from Greek folklore and Jorge Rivero's Mace, a brawny caveman armed with stone nunchaku. 

Each of these champions has been pulled from completely different swashbuckling sub-genres - two mysterious strangers with faint, Godly aspects. Ilias is the kind of blandly handsome, anointed adventurer that Ray Harryhausen films were often built around while Mace, for all his martial arts prowess, is less Conan the Barbarian and more a Cro-Magnon Cain. This marked wanderer is distinct and damned, wilfully separated from the rutting, pre-verbal peoples of this fog-choked land. Ilias and Mace are united in their understanding of, and interest in, technology. Both men wielding weapons massively out of step with their Stone Age surroundings. Mace's karate flail is confusing and compact while Ilias' bow, even before it receives its laser targeted upgrade, is like something from a completely different millennia. 

Mythic milieu established, Fulci's contribution to the language of pulp adventure centres around dismemberment - both casual and ceremonial. The director laces Conquest's heatstroke dreaminess with jolts of sudden, outrageous, bodily trauma. Sabrina Siani's constant nudity aside, Conquest frequently proceeds with the kind of numbed passivity associated with children's films. None of the characters - good or evil - operate with any great depth, each one-dimensional archetypes battering towards a light-show conclusion. Fulci's twist then is that Conquest dwells on, if not revels in, the minutiae of injury. Helpless women are pulled limb from limb, their warm guts spilling out onto their former grottos; allies are not simply dispatched, their heads are either caved in or spirited away, to power black magic rituals. A third-act funeral pyre - that heroic fantasy stand-by - is shot by Fulci to stress the second-by-second consumption of a human body. Fire licks at dribbling skin while plump, oozing, meat is cooked to ash. 

ALISON - Live Forever

Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition - SEETHE

A ten minute look at Vergil's path through Devil May Cry 5 Special Edition's Legendary Dark Knight mode, a recurring fixture for series re-releases in which enemy counts go through the roof. Already an extremely good looking game (not just technically but aesthetically), the power of PS5 looks to have been put to use generating bodies to strike, and herd attacks to track.  

El Mestizo by John McCrea

Thursday, 29 October 2020

Mortal Kombat

Paul WS Anderson's Mortal Kombat is a plastic, knowingly absurd, take on Enter the Dragon that trades opium ring smashing for textureless CG and lopsided pacts with treacherous, intergalactic, sorcerers. Kevin Droney's screenplay is undercooked, its characters a shallow procession with simplistic, one-dimensional objectives. Exciting trials - some of which have an obvious, dynamic, connection to the Midway Games arcade series the film is based on - are introduced then tossed off, usually in dialogue. The tournament structure that underpins Mortal Kombat is rendered nonsensical too, quickly dissolving into a series of braggadocios challenges that track neither winner nor loser. Anderson and Cinematographer John R Leonetti's film is handsome though, particularly the smoky, visually dense arenas that trap the various ninja fights. 

As is often the case with Anderson's work, Mortal Kombat features one scene that stands head and shoulders above the rest of the film. In this case it's a delirious reshoot sequence, a fight between Robin Shou's Liu Kang and Keith Cooke's Reptile, levered in after test screenings called attention to the lack of punch-ups. The brawl proceeds with the same demented energy as Resident Evil: Afterlife's Axeman interlude - both confrontations seem to be happening just outside of the film they inhabit; digressions that magnify then explode the established language of the piece. In Mortal Kombat this translates to a tighter, meaner, approach to Anderson's twirling take on martial arts - the shorter, more impactful chains between Cooke and D&B Films veteran Shou become an animated, physical, extension of Traci Lords and Juno Reactor's pounding Techno track. Camerawork throughout this fight is looser as well, our perspective frequently becoming a punch-drunk participant. Cooke is even permitted to place his hands on top of the screen, using his weight to angle us down, towards his incoming knees. 

Call of Duty: Warzone - FEVER GONE BUT ITCHY

Wasn't expecting much from Call of Duty: Warzone's seasonal addition, Zombie Battle Royale, but this blink-and-you'll-miss-it mode is a salve for a world that never got as far as a Left 4 Dead 3. Being a modern warfare zombie is actually so much fun that, if you manage to gobble up enough purple serum, returning to human life leaves players acutely bereft - no longer able to hold down L2 to cue up an enormous, distance-munching, leap. 

Hotel Pools & Echosoft - Polaris

Alien: The Original Screenplay #5 by Walter Simonson


Another long, debug assisted, look at Bluepoint Games' forthcoming Demon's Souls remake for PS5. As a preview, this trailer is actually quite instructive, making prospective players aware of the idea that levels don't have to be tackled in one go - that bosses encountered at the end of areas might be massively out of scale with the threats conquered along the way. There's still nothing here to shake the notion that this reappraisal is shaping up to be one of the most beautiful games ever made, either. 

Monday, 26 October 2020

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter posits a conclusion, using the customary Friday the 13th style recap to prepare its audience for a secret history related to Milla Jovovich's hitherto rootless Alice. Final Chapter therefore swerves Resident Evil: Retribution's tease of an apocalyptic revelation centred around The White House - with a Commander-in-Chief who is literally toxic, no less - to put Alice on the road, cruising along endless highways, pursued by a CEO-turned-religious zealot, his killdozer, and an army of ravenous corpses. Jovovich's amnesiac super-soldier battles across the ruins of America, on a mission to save mankind by reaching what's left of a Midwestern city before a computated deadline expires.

Final Chapter allows writer-director Paul WS Anderson the opportunity to tackle several distinct flavours of post-fall science fiction, from 2000 AD style mutant convoys to the feudal barbarism of Italian Escape from New York knock-offs. A medieval siege centred around a gutted skyscraper is particularly entertaining, mixing Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings with the massing rot of World War Z. Alice is promoted to the role of director for this set-piece, prowling the battlements, ordering subordinates - including fellow models-turned-actresses Ruby Rose and Rola - to unleash flaming torrents on the seething undead. The resulting fire storm is spectacular - thousands upon thousands of computer generated zombies sprinting heedlessly into a swirling, beautifully composed, annihilation. 

Despite also being released in 3D, Final Chapter is formally distinct from Anderson's preceding two entries. The film has clearly not been designed with the format in mind, the post-processed sequel exchanging the crawling, stereoscopic admiration of Resident Evil: Afterlife and Retribution for a more typical, rapidly edited, assembly. Although a lot of the film's confrontations are communicated through action movie montage, editor Doobie White (who cut Gamer in 2009) conjures up a genuine sense of straining agitation, reporting escalation in gasping, but always intuitive, bursts. Jovovich is key to this tactic, providing a consistently readable, physical, performance that directs the audience into Alice's shell-fumbling predicament. 

Final Chapter finds Anderson in a self-referential mood too, happy to combine and reconceive beats from his previous work, massaging them towards a more adrenalised outcome. A return to the original film's Hive location offers the director the chance to not only revisit the industrial butchery suggested in 1997's Event Horizon but also permits Anderson another shot at stalking, computer generated, musculature. Final Chapter's skeletal obstacle is a significant improvement on Resident Evil's arthritic Licker monster - the Bloodshot is a flayed orc straight out of The Guyver: Bio Booster Armour, sprinting and snapping at Alice's heels. Brief but effective, this sub-boss sequence's only real flaw is a short shot of an Umbrella branded chainsaw that, somehow, goes unused. Anderson's film resisting the temptation to swerve into full-on splatter. 

So what has Anderson cooked-up in lieu of a 3D Battle of Armageddon? The much copied Alice discovers her place within the warring dynasties behind the evil Umbrella corporation and how her photostat identity threatens their pharmaceutical hegemony. Final Chapter's concluding act then represents Anderson the writer at his best, weaving the acerbic flavour of Pat Mills comics into the bones of this series. An argument between Iain Glen's Dr Issacs and the elderly Alicia Marcus is particularly well observed, illustrating the pure sociopathy of rich, self-appointed, saviours - with humanity's fate on the line, the masters of the universe bicker over controlling interests and boardroom decorum. 

Anderson's film concludes in the company of duelling facsimiles, each with grotesque, clashing, perspectives on how to ensure civilisation's survival. The male clones, represented by twin Glens, attack and belittle each other; both copies eager to be recognised as the definitive mint of a man who has already faced many deaths. The female contingent - made up of Alice, the milk-eyed woman she was copied from and a treacherous computer programme that attempted to freeze a child's identity in a specific moment - have a much healthier perspective, working together to establish one complete, well-rounded, human being. 

Thursday, 22 October 2020

R-Type Final 2 - BYDO

One of the greatest games of all time is getting a sequel. Due Spring sometime in early 2021 on PS4, R-Type Final 2, developed by Granzella Inc and published by Irem, reunites series veterans Goro Matsuo and Kazuma Kujo for another shot at the Bydo's funeral procession. 

Mortal Kombat 11 - HE'S HUNTING YOU

Sylvester Stallone's Rambo as a DLC character for Mortal Kombat 11? Just think how little effort NetherRealm Studios would have to exert to make an interactive Sly appealing. License the actor's likeness and the job's pretty much done, right? It's to the studio's credit then that this interactive Vietnam war vet is, and there's really no other word for it, beautifully illustrated. The move set they've cooked up - hammering knife attacks and punji stick traps - looks very much like a mini-thesis on how David Morrell's traumatised soldier mutated from something raw and desperate into the throbbing musculature of Reagan's America. 

SANÓ - CHUVA prd: Madara

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Resident Evil: Retribution

Batter through the treacly violence and it becomes obvious that Resident Evil: Afterlife was a love letter to Milla Jovovich. Writer-director-husband Paul WS Anderson wore his affection proudly, disrupting a mundane action assembly to gaze longingly at his bride. Slow motion was relentlessly deployed in the film, freezing and cataloguing Jovovich's countenance at a scale that could be projected onto the side of a building. Resident Evil: Retribution goes one further, subsuming this adulation into the language of the film's storytelling. Close-ups of Jovovich's face are used throughout as an axis, the wide-eyed constant by which the film levers itself, departing from sleep and a place of safety into extreme, high-score chasing, mania. 

Set in an extremely flexible biological warfare simulation, Retribution is a series of resets and reiterations for Jovovich's Alice. Her consciousness and sense of place are repeatedly interrupted then diverted towards new scenarios that demand a fluent response. This jet-lagged quality brings a biographical dimension to Retribution, Anderson elevating a continent skipping lifestyle from a behind-the-scenes calculation to a full-on narrative conundrum. The ever-changing directorial demands placed upon an actress, or model for that matter, are transformed into an explicit dilemma for Alice. Retribution demonstrating that this psychological flexibility is not only vital for an assailed clone but is, in fact, a crucial aspect of female identity in general. 

These interruptions aren't always immediately deadly either. After tumbling off a flaming oil tanker, Alice awakens in a pastel coloured suburbia. The super soldier quickly changes tact, relaxing into the role of a mother, cooking breakfast and doting on her brand new daughter in a sequence reminiscent of Zack Snyder's take on Dawn of the Dead. Naturally, everything goes terribly wrong, prompting Alice to trade in her boot-cut jeans for towering heels and Kevlar corsets. Retribution's set-pieces, while not as sprawling as Afterlife's stereoscopic clangers, are still centred around a graceful depiction of human pulverisation. Umbrella's capital city dioramas - as well as apportioning some sense to the game series' The Mercenaries bonus mode - allow Anderson a lateral logic when staging atypical clashes, resulting in towering Axemen butchering a New York traffic jam and, best of all, Alice luring the mutated pedestrians of the Shibuya Crossing into a withering, white, kill corridor. 

Megatron by Rui Onishi

FOOL & Power Glove - Mercenary

Acrylo - Cutemonger

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Resident Evil: Afterlife

Writer-director Paul WS Anderson's Resident Evil: Afterlife is designed, first and foremost, as visual spectacle; a 3D circus attraction that prioritises figures in (slow) motion over the lumbering plot machinations of a third sequel. This grasp at awe supersedes not just every aspect of the mechanism driving the film but the also the specific language used to communicate Anderson's extravaganza. Characters have absolutely no depth what-so-ever, operating, simply, as imperilled meat. The ensemble - made up of special forces refugees and victims - are depicted as likeable numbskulls, never asked to be anything more than attractive placeholders who don't so much emote as pose for an end times editorial. 

Anderson's film is given over to sequences, plot bowing out to centre elaborate fantasies involving the director's favourite action figure (and by now wife) Milla Jovovich. Afterlife's elasticated structure allows these newlyweds the opportunity to plunder beats and beat downs from the Matrix series as well as imagery and situations from the anime that informed The Wachowskis and, apparently, Anderson. Jovovich's stereoscopic Alice gets to play Carrie-Anne Moss' human missile, crashing through a gleaming tech facility, before taking on the graceful but expendable mass of the cloned Agent Smith. A moment of extreme peril for one ponytailed facsimile awakens the kind of concrete crumbling psychic powers seen in umpteen Manga Video releases, while a dastardly escape directly hijacks an apocalyptic explosion from Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira

This is not to say that Afterlife exceeds or even equals the pieces it lifts from. Martial arts action registers as stiff and under-drilled while the film's gun fights are robotic, more about affecting a strong silhouette than stressing the power or danger of firearms. The film's special effects confrontations - usually revolving around Shawn Roberts' Wesker - are particularly weak; the villain's darting movement rendered as a stuttering smudge. What lingers though are the ways in which Anderson subordinates even basic tension to arrive at a crawling, hyper-detailed visual design - the screen frequently exploding with impromptu light sources. A shower room fight between Ali Larter's Claire Redfield and Ray Olubowale's towering Axeman is told at a snail's pace, every colliding element trapped in a temporal bubble, attempting to blast away from each other. The sequence is audacious in the sense that Anderson has completely abandoned all filmmaking decorum to describe, at length, the protracted beauty of unyielding forces hammering into extremely movable objects. 

Friday, 16 October 2020

Power Glove - Feel It

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War & Call of Duty: Modern Warfare - THE HEAT (THE ENERGY)


Available to everyone with applicable hardware this weekend, the Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Beta builds on the snappy Alpha by allowing players to experience the doldrums of being lumbered with set weapon loadouts - never particularly helpful - and, when they finally unlock the Create A Class option, underpowered weaponry with occlusive iron sights. 

Still, I'm enjoying Treyarch (Raven Software, Sledgehammer Games, High Moon Studios, Demonware, Beenox and Activision Shanghai)'s hot war simulator, mainly because the multiplayer levels aren't staggered into a series of irritating head-glitch locations. Action is, thankfully, a little more free-flowing than last year's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (currently attempting to steal its little brother's limelight by resurrecting a fan favourite shotgun from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2). I've barely scratched the surface but, if I were to lodge a complaint, it'd be that there's precious little detail or visual cues separating the character models assigned to my team and the enemy's. 

Monday, 12 October 2020

The Haunting

Robert Wise's The Haunting - adapted from Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House by screenwriter Nelson Gidding - examines a vague supernatural force as interpreted by a human conduit, in this case Julie Harris' Eleanor. Locked into an abusive co-dependence with her infirm mother at an early age, Eleanor has been left a lonely fantasist; a brittle person who has retreated, almost completely, into a simplistic interior space. Her thoughts and daydreams echo on the soundtrack, overpowering all exterior cues to create a bubble around Eleanor's stunted ego. Attempts at communication are repeatedly drowned out by Eleanor's inner-monologue, a circuitous disassembly of the polite interactions she has recently fumbled through. Easily offended and prone to sobbing outbursts, Eleanor is a pitiable soul, an outsider undone by parental neglect who has grown into adulthood never having felt loved or even comfortable. 

Recruited for a study into paranormal activity in a mouldering old house, Eleanor jumps at the chance, eager to impress Richard Johnson's urbane Dr Markway. Gentle but ultimately manipulative, Markway's sympathetic approach to Eleanor is misconstrued by the young woman, taken as a romantic interest. Brutally speaking, Markway's relationship to Eleanor is that of a technician surveying brilliant but temperamental equipment. Whatever force is at work in Hill House, it is Eleanor who draws it out, her presence a lightning rod for paranormal activity. Eleanor does make an actual human connection though, one with Claire Bloom's confirmed bachelorette Theo, a woman with a closely guarded psychic ability. Whereas the doctor dealings are marked by invention, Theo is genuinely curious about Eleanor, seeing her as a person rather than an object. She doesn't fawn over the newly liberated shut-in though, Theo challenges, even needles Eleanor. It's a higher form of flirtation that Eleanor cannot quite parse, one dependent on a confidence that utterly eludes the frail participant. 


Sparkly Night - Nightshift Secrets


Sunday, 11 October 2020

King Kong

A deathless, special effects extravaganza that lulls its audience into a false sense of security by packing its first forty minutes with repetition, directionless exposition and a photography model that renders every environment, no matter how exciting, flat and false. Robert Armstrong plays Carl Denham, a fast-talking movie director who anticipates the post-modernism movement by talking directly to his viewers about the film they are about to watch. Denham sings like a canary, describing how his animal feature will likely have to crowbar in a romantic angle to allow for better box office (a genuine concern for King Kong's producer-directors Merian C Cooper and Ernest B Schoedsack in 1933) as well as detailed conceptual readings of the titular ape and his tragic arc. 

Once Denham and his crew of expendable bodies have settled on the uncharted Skull Island, the film transforms completely, scaling up to the level of the monarch monster. Human figures are insects here, vulnerable entities scurrying around beautifully appointed, bracken environments. They shrink into the corners of the frame, overwhelmed by Willis O'Brien's enormous stop-motion projections frothing and grappling above them. Action in King Kong is savage and pitiless; hardy sailors are chased through swamps by ancient herbivores before being chewed up or trampled underfoot. Kong himself is violent but curious, an ever-moving muscle constantly under attack. All challengers are vanquished on Skull Island, Kong ruling as an armature God whose presence is so mighty that he has stunted the humans who share his space into an awed, but fearful, compliance.