Wednesday, 25 March 2020

She Shoots Straight

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.

Krosia - Jewels / Coral

Streets of Rage 4 - SPINNING MACHINE

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (or Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey)

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.

Hazy Year - Fallen


Resident Evil 3 - RACCOON CITY DEMO

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.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

The Island

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.

Haim - If I Could Change Your Mind

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare - HEAVILY MEDICATED

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.

Adam Ford - Adventure / Astronaut / Coming Back Home

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare - GULAG

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.

Chromedome and Rewind by hinomars19

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare - WARZONE

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

Batman and Harley Quinn

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.

BluntOne - Cloud Surfing

Whirl by hinomars19

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight

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.

Acrylo - Ricky (Denzel Curry) x Cutie Cutie (Fusq)