Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Superman: Red Son

The trick of Superman: Red Son is that the film locates its hero in a specific time, place and ideology, allowing dramatic intrigue to arise from internalised decisions and actions rather than, say, an invading alien of the week. Comparable DC animated features exist in their own bubble realities; isolated incidents that make very little attempt to connect with anything other than whichever live action film Warner Bros is cuing up for a big screen push. Sam Liu's Red Son, adapted from Mark Millar's Elseworlds comic, is the Superman story told in broad, decade-spanning strokes, with the last son of Krypton cast as the living embodiment of the Soviet Union rather than the United States.

Red Son is, on some level, Superman stripped of the contradiction and compromise that a realistic reading otherwise imposes on the character. Portrayed here as the beloved surrogate son of Joseph Stalin, this agitprop Man of Steel explores his sense of messianic duty through direct, seismic leadership rather than street level heroics. Obviously, given this animated feature's country of origin, the technological utopia that Superman builds is flawed and, eventually, tyrannical but this Evil Empire framing allows a curious note to creep into this compromised saviour's interpersonal confrontations. Ironically, this secular Superman is often assessed by the human beings he encounters in terms best described as religious terror.

Unlike their caricatured American counterparts, cornered Easter Bloc citizens wither in Superman's presence, reacting, reflexively, as if they are being judged by an invincible, almighty power. Their presumption is always damnation, prompting either a garbled explanation of their actions or, simply, horror. The most striking of these unexpectedly human moments comes shortly after Superman learns of Stalin's purges. He journeys to a lead-lined Gulag finding malnourished, shuffling dissidents - the victims of his adopted father's all-consuming paranoia. Among the dead and dying is a two-storey pillory housing four broken, contorted bodies. To their side stands a guard, his face painted with a mix of blank obedience and bug-eyed terror. It's a fleeting moment in Liu's action-packed whole but then again what other, recent, image in superhero cinema better illustrates the chasm between these divine, inspirational personalities and humanity's pathetic attempts to emulate their overwhelming strength?

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Streets of Rage 4 - BEAT AMBIENCE

Streets of Rage 4's final character has been revealed, the looming silhouette seen on previous disclosures is neither Streets of Rage 2's pro-wrestler Max Hatchett nor Streets of Rage 3's cyborg shock master Dr Zan. 4 instead ships with a new rager named Floyd Iraia, a mechanised bruiser who looks to combine key elements of those previously mentioned one-and-done fighters, as well as a couple of straight lifts from Mortal Kombat's Jax. Fingers crossed that kickboxing kangaroo Roo and series mainstay Skate are unlockable (or more likely available for additional purchase) somewhere along the way.

Sunday, 23 February 2020

Thursday, 20 February 2020


Closer to a loosely connected succession of suspense sketches than a rigid narrative, Dario Argento's Inferno is organised around the sensation of imminent, intrusive danger. The plot is a series of discoveries - each of the film's potential victims inadvertently offending hidden, Satanic, societies simply by obtaining the knowledge that they exist. In each instance, this peril is terrifyingly close to the everyday. Spaces and rooms that run parallel with sleepy apartment buildings or libraries actually house incomprehensible, otherworldly monstrosities. Reality in Inferno then is literally permeable, an easily broken membrane that bursts at the merest prod, revealing the scabs and rot that lie beneath.

Since Inferno is designed around this idea of trespass, Argento builds his film out of incidents in which a character dawdles somewhere they shouldn't be. These people are depicted as innocents, the guileless placeholders of fairy tale, children who put themselves in situations they simply cannot understand. Argento magnifies the minutiae within these sequences to such a degree that, slowly, everything onscreen begins to register as either potentially dangerous or outright alarming. Romano Albani's powdery, impressionistic lighting seems to denote a supernatural force beaming into this world while basic reverse shots take on the quality of a gaze - we feel something withering and hateful staring back at our oblivious adventurers.

Everything in the frame feels, not just authored, but agitating. Personal effects like keys weigh the curious down, their aural presence mutating from a disconnected jangle to the shuddering, submerged peal of a death knell. This sense of impending doom is everywhere in Inferno. The terrors that Irene Miracle and Leigh McCloskey's siblings invite often feel, in the context of this crumbling dollhouse world, corrective - an established power batting away those who would attempt to reveal their existence. This omniscient counteraction can arrive at any time. Detached hands streak into the frame, striking at those who would push the piece towards its conclusion. At these times it seems as if the film itself has come alive, the wrathful celluloid turning in on its subjects, clawing and stabbing until its captives cease their mindless procession.

Kishin Liger by Ricardo López Ortiz

Friday, 14 February 2020

Streets of Rage 4 - BLACK OUTLINE

The Streets of Rage 4 staff talk us through the art end of game development. Despite its brevity, this clip covers a lot of conceptual ground - from how the developers have implemented unrealised graphical flourishes from old, dusty Sega design documents to the importance of a nice, solid, black outline on key character art. If all that wasn't encouraging enough, the glimpse of Akira Toriyama's The World sitting on an artist's desk pretty much seals the deal.

Billie Eilish - No Time to Die

Saturday, 8 February 2020


On a fundamental level, Monos is a rumination on leadership and the power that comes with it. Alejandro Landes' film (co-written with Alexis Dos Santos) is an unhurried, painstakingly described examination of how challenges and responsibility affect the individual. Some are cowed, straining under the weight bestowed upon them. For others it's an accelerant, one that confers terrifying, extrajudicial, justification to their every thought and decision - they become, ineffably, correct. No one is allowed to disagree.

Although he eventually bullies his way into the top spot, Moisés Arias' Bigfoot is not suited to command simply because he wants it so badly. Bigfoot doesn't want to lead his fellow child soldiers because of an unfailing belief in whichever (deliberately ill-defined) cause demands they all rot together in waterlogged trenches. Instead Bigfoot's idea of authority is simply the muscle and interpersonal influence to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, to whoever he wants. Set on Colombia's mountain ranges, Monos tracks a gaggle of cold, wet teenage soldiers who have been tasked to look after an important, American, hostage.

In its early passages, Monos describes the children's predicament in terms of, basically, school. The hierarchies in play are loose and seemingly malleable - couples pair off (after asking permission from visiting muscle men) and each teenager has a defined, respected role within the collective. This doesn't last. Soon the covetous Bigfoot is in charge. When Bigfoot finally assumes full command of the group, all ideological order is extinguished. His fellow soldiers are required to, simply, follow. They stack themselves behind their aggressive, greedy commander then copy his creeping, predatory lockstep, marching deeper and deeper into the jungle.

Friday, 7 February 2020

Haunted PS1 Demodisc 2020 - GOURAUD

Thanks to the relative cheapness of optical media (compared to ROM cartridges at least), the monthly video game magazines that choked up newsagent shelves during the fifth console generation could carry luridly coloured discs stuffed with forthcoming game tasters. You had to be quick though, these thief magnets rarely stayed sellotaped to their parent periodical for long, but if you managed to nab an intact mag you'd be treated to a variety of bite-sized, disparate, input experiences. Hoping to capture something of these forgotten thrills, the Haunted PS1 community have released their first compilation, Haunted PS1 Demodisc 2020, a PC download heaving with short, homebrewed treats.

Monday, 3 February 2020

Project A-ko

The delight in Katsuhiko Nishijima's Project A-ko is how it juggles, or even outright subordinates, the film's terrifying, principal threat - an invasion from Leiji Matsumoto style space brigands. The desperate situation facing planet Earth is reported in brief, apparently hopeless, asides largely disconnected from A-ko's madcap whole. These apocalyptic blips allow Nishijima and his animation team to not only clue the audience in on stakes the film has no desire to explore, but also permits them the opportunity to work through a series of low-orbit laser exchanges, each boarded with a delirious, satirical, sense of abandon.

Set in Graviton City, a man-made island that has sprung up - in much the same way as Super Dimension Fortress Macross - around the wreckage of a marooned alien spacecraft, Project A-ko centres around an all-consuming friendship between two teenagers. A-ko, an invincible red head able to skip merrily along incoming missiles barrages, and C-ko, a hair-trigger brat who demonstrates her devotion by cooking up repulsive looking bento boxes. Side-eyeing the pair is B-ko, a scorned third nursing a (pointedly forgotten) rejection dating back to pre-school. B-ko, the daughter of a wealthy industrial magnate, won't take no for an answer - whipping up piloted mecha and two-piece powered armour in an attempt to crowbar herself back into her beloved's affections.

A-ko is pastiche first and foremost, a film primarily concerned with a zany maxi-plot that revolves around a super-powered high school love triangle that two of the participants have no idea they're even in. Begun as an instalment of a pornographic home video series, the discursive, comedic value of Project A-ko apparently won out, resulting in a feature-length bid for animated legitimacy from production studio APPP. Although actual titillation is kept domestic and brief, the film's frivolous beginnings linger in both structure and characterisation. Action sequences are built around the fantastical and transgressive intruding on a mundane everyday, while infantilised klutz C-ko is treated like a highly prized object.

Gabrielle Aplin & Nina Nesbitt - Miss You 2