Tuesday, 28 July 2020

The Beyond



Another waking nightmare from Lucio Fulci, The Beyond traps us in a crumbling Louisiana hotel, riddled with rot. Unbeknownst to the owner, scrappy New Yorker Liza Merrill, the boarding house she has inherited sits on top of a gateway to hell. We witness the membrane between our world and the next being weakened in a sepia pre-credits sequence that portrays the murder of an artist, accused of witchcraft, by a chain-lashing mob. The destruction of this young warlock's body causes reality to dilate, the damage echoing across the decades.

Beyond pointedly doesn't exist in a logical, three-dimensional space; events in the film are knowingly flat, a rolling ordeal confined to cinematographer Sergio Salvati's Techniscope frame. Fulci's film knits together intense micro-incidents and the massive lurches forward required to propel us into the next hideous set-up. In this realm Fulci is all-powerful, able to arrange his props in ways that specifically cater to their slow, methodical, dismantling. As ever, these scourges are expertly constructed by editor Vincenzo Tomassi.

Tomassi employs repetitive, painstaking, movement and Enzo Diliberto's hyperbolic sound effects to suggest and amplify imminent danger. Attention does not depart at the moment of impact either - Beyond lingers, revelling in the revulsion generated by seeing a face pulverised in forensic detail. A sequence in which an unlucky ladder climber is consumed by spiders appals before the arachnids have even had a chance to burrow into the man's skull. The careful approach of the creepy-crawlies, and their lumbering, mechanical co-stars, is accompanied by a slow, deliberate cracking - a percussive note built out of, what sounds like, tiny bones being crushed then suckled upon.

Ratchet by hinomars19


System96 - Dream

Thursday, 23 July 2020

Promare



Hiroyuki Imaishi's Promare is a riot of violet, streaking movement. A propulsive, grandstanding animated feature that dumps gear change level information as quickly, and candidly, as possible so it can hurry off to the next hyperbolic action scene. Imaishi's film, working from a screenplay by Kazuki Nakashima, hurls us into a near future in which mankind has suffered through a global wave of spontaneous human combustions. The survivors of this Great World Blaze include a class of pyrokinetic terrorists - who pride themselves on only ever using their smouldering abilities to gut fascistic buildings - and the teams of superheroic firefighters who tackle their expulsions. Each sect are armed with transforming vehicles and powered suits, all unencumbered by gravity.

Promare's use of 3D animation is novel, at times closer to the kind of blocking and arrangement seen in Japanese, sixth generation, video games. Armoured up characters prowl with the same deliberate gait seen in these 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.

Altered Beast by Jack Teagle

Bomb Rush Cyberfunk - YOU BETTER WATCH THAT COMING AT CHA



Since Sega are completely unwilling to bless us with the further adventures of the Jet Set Radio gang (Smilebit - gone but not forgotten), indie devs Team Reptile - previously responsible for the well-received Lethal League Blaze - have taken up the baton, recruiting the series' original bassline hummer, composer Hideki Naganuma, in the process. Expect Bomb Rush Cyberfunk sometime in 2021.

Sunday, 19 July 2020

Scorponok by hinomars19


Supergirl



Jeannot Szwarc's Supergirl sits in a completely different genre to the Christopher Reeve films that preceded it. Whereas the series that Richard Donner kicked-off began as something close to a Biblical epic (before slowly evolving into Richard Lester's sight-gag generator), Supergirl is nearer to magical fantasy. It's flippant, even irreverent in how it presents and organises the iconography of its super-characters, most obviously in how Helen Slater's Kara spontaneously assumes the family costume seconds after arriving on Earth. New identity in place, Supergirl skips around weightlessly, ballet dancing across a tree line. The stakes are immediately lower; this superhero is allowed a moment to enjoy their unfathomable powers. 

Szwarc's film posits a cultural collision: how does a child raised in a sub-atomic commune react to life in a comparatively strange, bra-snapping, boarding school? Helen Slater's Supergirl (barely a character in her own story) is an innocent, the kind of guileless, put-upon, waif you'd see in British girl's comics of the 1970s and early 80s. Her worries, like those of the IPC heroines seen in weeklies like Tammy or Misty, are kept small. Will her human identity hold up to scrutiny? Can she win the school groundskeeper away from Faye Dunaway's vampy, experienced, witch Selena? Real danger, and any of the trauma that would normally linger afterwards, is tidied far away from the main plot.

The wider implications of Kara's public and private dilemmas are drowned out by a meandering storyline far more concerned with Selena bumbling her way into total dominion over a one-horse town. Given that Slater is a newcomer, it's an understandable decision to dedicate so much of the film's runtime to Selena's ascension. Nevertheless, the Supergirl character does offer something conceptually distinct from Reeve's hero. Kara's approach to her superpowers is much more covert than her cousin, she rarely overwhelms obstacles, preferring instead to neutralise them with a well aimed upset. Her adventure also takes her deeper into the Action Comics mythos, briefly stranding her in The Phantom Zone prison proposed during the opening act of Superman: The Movie. Zod's former lock-up is a crumbling landscape filled with swirling, blood red storms and an intoxicating Kryptonite sludge. More importantly though it's a physical and mental trial for Kara that must be overcome without the benefit of Earth's yellow Sun.

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace



A far cry from the expensive, Richard Donner end of the superhero spectrum, Sidney J Furie's Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is content to cheerily motor along, striving to portray Silver Age situations and ideas that far outstrip the film's meagre budget. Following the mixed-to-negative reactions to Superman III and Supergirl, producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind unloaded the ailing franchise onto nonsense specialists, The Cannon Group. Lumbered with less than half the cost of Helen Slater's adventure, Quest for Peace is forced to take significant shortcuts, resulting in - amongst other signs of an impoverished production - crumbling, partially transparent special effects and a frame permanently cluttered up with cheap theatrical props.

Petitioned by a schoolboy to rid the world of nuclear weapons, Superman scours the Earth, scooping up missiles from either side of The Iron Curtain. Following Kal-El's modern labours, this ballistic haul is then jammed into an enormous steel net before being hurled into the Sun. Thanks to a spot of scheming by Gene Hackman's criminal mastermind Lex Luthor, this disposal method inadvertently creates Mark Pillow's permatanned Nuclear Man. Rather than the decaying, flummoxed Bizarro seen in umpteen comics, Nuclear Man is Superman by way of hair spray rock and pro-wrestling. He's a grimacing vein-popper, completely unable to control the unfathomable powers he's inherited from his clone parent - which, for this instalment, includes an eye blast that spontaneously reassembles shattered historical monuments.

Deathlok by Artyom Trakhanov


Voyager - Voyager

NieR Re[in]carnation - BECOME AS GACHA



While we wait for news on the NieR Replicant remake, Square Enix have released a new trailer for their forthcoming, not to mention ambitious looking, mobile game NieR Re[in]carnation.

StackOne - Complete This Puzzle

Sunday, 12 July 2020

City of the Living Dead



Released the year after Zombie Flesh Eaters, Lucio Fulci's horror follow-up, City of the Living Dead, takes a similarly dreamy approach to an apocalyptic break in reality. Unlike the shuffling, demonstrably physical corpses seen in George Romero's films, Fulci's reanimated bodies are apparitions, able to appear and disappear at whim. They haunt rather than attempt to overwhelm the living, appearing to them at inopportune or even nonsensical moments. Hollowed out children taunt their siblings then murder their parents, projecting a jealous, visceral hatred of those not trapped in a restless death. In this way Fulci's film, co-written with Dardano Sacchetti, keeps its horrors at a surprisingly intimate level.

Despite the promise of a metropolitan meltdown, City isn't interested in plotting anything other than a mounting, kaleidoscopic, sense of unease centred around a shrinking gang of interchangeable snoopers. Editor Vincenzo Tomassi, the star of the show, splices sequences that pulse with a violent derangement - the film races through self-contained, bubble horrors that stand on their own, each fluent examples of impending and realised doom. The best of these comes when Catriona MacColl's apparently dead psychic, Mary, awakens in her burial plot. Hearing her screams Peter, Christopher George's journalist, rushes to her rescue. Rather than pry at the coffin lid though, Peter whisks up a pickaxe and begins hammering down on the casket - each blow narrowly missing Mary's aghast, screaming mouth.

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Dynamo



Despite an obvious setback, Bruce Lee's death didn't stop Hong Kong's more devious movie producers from attempting to make new Bruce Lee films. Dozens of counterfeit projects sprang up in the wake of the star's passing, many positioning themselves as sequels or continuations of the actor's brief but transformative career. Dynamo takes a novel approach to this bootlegging. Shan Hua's film forgoes picking at the departed actor's scraps to focus instead on the real life rush to find a credible replacement. Dynamo then is a Bruceploitation film specifically about the unsentimental business practices that drove that particular sub-genre - it acknowledges the cynicism, channelling it into an overarching state of anxiety.

Bruce Li plays Lee Ting Yi, a taxi driver who impresses Mary Hon's charming but unscrupulous talent agent with his martial arts skills and muscular good looks. Lee's hackman is exactly what she's looking for - a fresh face for the fame machine. Despite Dynamo's hard-nosed framing, the film keeps Li and Hon's characters apart, essentially in separate pieces. One concerning a likeable backstabber, making a name for herself in the PR trade; the other a mixed-up martial arts film in which a cabby trains with his very own drunken master (an entertaining Ku Feng) before being relentlessly attacked by mobsters in picturesque environments. That Dynamo survives only as a choppy English dub (that may or may not be missing scenes) only exacerbates this sense of disconnection. Li's energetic fight scenes - choreographed by Yuen Woo-ping - are exciting but the threats he faces are dramatically ill-defined and, despite a last-minute kidnapped girlfriend, even strangely impersonal.

Saturday, 4 July 2020

DF Retro - Final Fight



The Digital Foundry gang take a look at Capcom's iconic brawler Final Fight, detailing the tech behind the original coin-op as well as the many ports and sequels that followed. Of particular note is the news that, for their Mega CD conversion, Sega slowed down each of the playable characters, clipping the overall movement and attack speed of the nimble selections. A similar sort of averaging out plagued the Mega Drive version of Golden Axe - specifically the hit box of the playable character's weapons. Tyris Flare's short sword and Gilius Thunderhead's massive broadaxe both hit with the same medium range assigned to Ax Battler's middle-of-the-road sword.

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Blackhat - Director's Cut



Michael Mann's Blackhat is about professionalism and the application of group expertise. Less ambitious action films only have room for one figure of intellectual authority, usually an infallible, young, white male who gets to hurry the whole piece forward. Supporting casts are exactly that, subordinated, typically portrayed as a gaggle of empty suits, only called on to gasp as the lead character makes their latest logical leap. Thanks to Chris Hemsworth's Hathaway, Blackhat does have its own gigantic blue eye, fortunately though Mann is more excited about collaboration - how apparently disparate outlooks and disciplines can, when correctly managed, feed back into a more dynamic, free-flowing whole.

It's this energy that carries the characters, and the film itself. Know-how is deployed as an adrenal rush that collides with, then powers through, the enemy's machinery. Each member of the unit drafted to investigate a trade exchange hack that leaves America embarrassed and China massively out of pocket has a distinct role to play. Viola Davis' FBI Special Agent and Holt McCallany's US Marshal, both prime targets for sneering contempt in a lesser piece, prove themselves indispensable to the investigation. In Mann and screenwriter Morgan Davis Foehl's film every person is in the room for a reason. The team members contribute, each bringing a specialist, singular, knowledge - not to mention slang - to the table.

Viewed in Mann's preferred cut (distribution limited to New York film retrospectives and torrents derived from American pay television), Blackhat often feels like a companion piece to the director's feature debut Thief. Both films are about experts able to surmount catastrophic situations with rapid problem solving. The rush of this incremental success blasting Hathaway and James Caan's Frank towards their conclusions. There are key differences though. Whereas Frank was prepared to isolate himself then physically tear down his life, Hathaway is actually willing to open up and collaborate. Rather than push her aside, Hathaway draws Tang Wei's cyber attack partner and love interest Chen Lien closer as their enemies draw near. This remodelling makes for a more visceral, romantic conclusion - perhaps indicative of the director's senior perspective. Mann's juiced-up, metaphysical hero has finally found a counterpart he can trust his life to.

Super Tight Woody - Hi Fi

The Transformers #1 (UK) by Rui Onishi


PlayStation 5 - Recompile



Jump, dash and blast as a flickering, luminescent, piece of living code in Recompile from Dear Villagers and Phigames. Described by its developers as a Metroidvania game in which the player has as big an effect on the unfolding narrative as they do the unlocking game world, Recompile is set for release on PC and both Sony and Microsoft's next-gen systems.