Sunday, 28 June 2020

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

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.

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Digital Foundry - Demon's Souls PS5

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. 

Friday, 12 June 2020

PlayStation 5 - Resident Evil Village

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.

PlayStation 5 - Spider-Man: Miles Morales

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.

PlayStation 5 - Astro's Playroom

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.

PlayStation 5 - Horizon Forbidden West

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.

PlayStation 5 - Little Devil Inside

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.

PlayStation 5 - Stray

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.

PlayStation 5 - Goodbye Volcano High

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. 

PlayStation 5 - Pragmata

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.

PlayStation 5 - GhostWire: Tokyo

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.

PlayStation 5 - Demon's Souls

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

Game of Death

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.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Madara - Tricks


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

Game of Death II

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 fact that the star had 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 story. The film's dubious nature is compounded for this English-dubbed international release; the producers dredging up every single scrap of Lee that their American 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 premised on 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 Bruce's age at the time the footage was shot - a documentary note intruding on a narrative feature - 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 otherwise denied to Lee - the promise of the superstar in his very own Get Carter feels particularly potent. 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.

Aliens by Jeffrey Alan Love

NiElsir - Decaf

Lucy in Disguise - Fluorescent Moon