Saturday, 31 October 2020
Thursday, 29 October 2020
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.
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.
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.
Tuesday, 27 October 2020
Monday, 26 October 2020
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.
Saturday, 24 October 2020
Thursday, 22 October 2020
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.
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.
Wednesday, 21 October 2020
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.
Tuesday, 20 October 2020
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
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.
Thursday, 15 October 2020
Wednesday, 14 October 2020
Monday, 12 October 2020
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.
Sunday, 11 October 2020
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.
Rafael Segnini's gorgeous Juspion 3D: Transformation of Daileon / Mad Gallant - Definitive Preview does for classic tokusatsu series Space Wolf Juspion what Rogue One: A Star Wars Story did for George Lucas' original space opera trilogy, namely a meticulous, elegantly arranged, digital recreation of analogue special effects photography.
Posted by Chris Ready at 22:18:00
Labels: Juspion 3D: Transformation of Daileon / Mad Gallant - Definitive Preview, Rafael Segnini, Space Wolf Juspion
Saturday, 10 October 2020
Thursday, 8 October 2020
Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn describes peril as a constant force acting upon its characters; a manufactured propulsion unencumbered by physics or the genuine danger of having to actually perform these ludicrous stunts. Jamie Bell's motion-captured reporter is allowed precious little inactivity in Secret of the Unicorn, the film's expansive, computer-generated stages allowing for long, unbroken takes of hair-raising motion. Even basic camera set-ups take full advantage of the absence of cumbersome photographical equipment, often beginning at impossible vantage points before pressing deep into their image, arriving at an always in-focus face, chattering away.
Purely in terms of the character's likeness, this Tintin isn't the greatest looking interpretation of Hergé's creation. The Belgian cartoonists simple but expressive brushwork is nixed to push at a plastic action figure that seems designed to cater to the emerging strengths of digital performance recording. Instead of a faithful render we have a mannequin, trapped between Georges Prosper Remi's figure and the data culled from Bell's time in a mocap suit. Takashi Yamazaki's recent Lupin III: the First, although positively arthritic by comparison, did a much better job of transcribing Monkey Punch's linework into solid shapes, then transposing them onto beautifully rigged CG environments.
As convincing as his production was, Yamazaki does not possess anything like Spielberg's flair for action, The Secret of the Unicorn gifting the American director a digital chemistry set that allows him to explore his more cartoonish instincts. Weightless, swirling camerawork is immediately provided a lenient context by the film's baked-in unreality. 3D animation then proving the ideal venue for the elastication that marred the latter half of Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Here the possibilities seem both endless and, crucially, natural, motivated by storytelling solutions rather than a simple desire to show off. Why wouldn't desert mirages become incredible sea battles to Andy Serkis' sobering Captain Haddock? The sozzled sea captain broadcasts visions of enormous warships falling on, then colliding with, each other. Masts ensnare, transforming the battling vessels into an impromptu pendulum ride for opposing armies of swashbuckling pirates. A cartoon dreaming in cartoon.
Tuesday, 6 October 2020
A surprisingly tame - despite the presence of a homemade nail bomb - action thriller from Versus director Ryuhei Kitamura. The Doorman is a cheap, tension free rehash of Die Hard that fails to locate either the harried action or chromed beauty of John McTiernan's film. It's an extremely tall order, obviously, but it's Kitamura who repeatedly invites the comparison, even staging our hero's first kill in a half-completed room filled with plastic sheeting. Ruby Rose plays Ali, a shell-shocked former bodyguard who gets mixed up in an extremely slow-moving art heist. Despite a bloviating Jean Reno as the brains of the criminal outfit, Doorman numbs its audience by repeatedly eschewing pounding hyper-violence to return to a sitting room talking-heads that fails to muster any genuine threat.
Ali is a slasher killer in search of a much grimmer home video rating. The polythene wall fight briefly positions her as a phantom, invisible until she intrudes into the frame, harassing her beleaguered prey. The script harps on about secret doors and snaking passages but Kitamura's film proves largely unwilling to stage the kind of ambush kills that could really milk this conceit. The aggressive, coked-out energy the director brought to the best of his Japanese work proves largely absent here, tamed even. Like Die Hard, Doorman's best moment arrives when our hero is at a low ebb. An exhausted Ali zones out, returning to a moment in which she failed, spectacularly, to protect a child. A burning car barrels towards her, the movement built out of a repeating, tightened coverage that registers as impossible rather than impoverished. Ali's bloody face is held in almost religious awe, apparently willing the tumbling machine to collide with her and end the suffering.
Monday, 5 October 2020
Sunday, 4 October 2020
Akio Jissoji's Ultra Q: The Movie - Legend of the Stars is a dirge, an unhurried examination of the ways in which mankind makes itself incompatible with the utopian ideals of 1960s science fiction and the harmonious futures they foretold. The film adopts the perspective of a disconnected observer - Mio Takaki's Wadatuzin, very much the beautiful, heavenly, princess seen in umpteen tokusatsu productions. This archetype, typically depicted as the peaceful emissary of an intergalactic co-op, is a frustrated figure in Legend of the Stars. Instead of a brief, mostly positive, experience with humanity (usually massaged with a romance with some guileless young stud), this alien woman is embittered, having perhaps hundreds of years of experience with a people that have repeatedly betrayed rather than exalted her.
Wadatuzin's connection is contextualised in the film by allusions to folklore, stories like Princess Kaguya or The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter and a less family friendly episode in which a visitor from the sky is aggressively duped. This celestial woman's means of transportation, her cloak, is stolen and hidden by an elderly couple. The adventurer is then trapped on Earth, reduced to making alcoholic elixirs until the toothless thieves decide to kill her. These stories, in which the mundane brushes up against something wonderful then attempts to take possession of it, informs the shape of Jissoji and screenwriter Mamoru Sasaki's film. Legend of the Stars is beautiful but glacial, much more interested in establishing the accusatory mood of the forest waiting to be levelled than the pace of an action-packed blockbuster. Legend of the Stars is far dreamier, a film told like a mass hallucination that draws on fairy tales and special effects television to damn mankind. In Legend of the Stars it is our greed that holds us back. Our society has curdled. Designed, not to ascend, but to mass produce the beach clogging beer cans that swirl in Wadatuzin's wake.
Saturday, 3 October 2020
Friday, 2 October 2020
Thursday, 1 October 2020
For many fans, David Arquette's brief, but notable, intrusion into World Championship Wrestling represents the lowest point for the long-dead company, the moment a promotion that had set trends cashed-in their self-respect to hang their Heavyweight Championship belt off Courteney Cox's (then) better half. Hunched and weaselly, Arquette was a world away from the supplemented monsters that thrived in WCW. His run with the title, such as it was, popped the bubble - the illusory battles of pro wrestling, and the storytelling that surrounds them, very obviously falling afoul of a cynical attempt to sell a film, in this instance 2000's buddy comedy Ready to Rumble. The move did Arquette no favours either, trapping the star between two incompatible strata of showbiz.
David Darg and Price James' You Cannot Kill David Arquette is an apology tour then, a pseudo-documentary told with the same precious, insider myth-making as the sport Arquette was seen to muscle in on. We are told Arquette's acting career has stalled; directed to take note of how degraded and age-worn his body and mental faculties have become. This underdog wants another shot though, to put some much delayed respect on his name by grappling anywhere that will have him. When Arquette is outlining this plan we see him mixing with WCW luminaries like Eric Bischoff, the former company president assaying his former co-conspirator with a mix of fatherly concern and unconcealed alarm.
You Cannot Kill presents a fiction in which the genuinely likeable Arquette goes out of his way to demonstrate respect for wrestling as a performing art, transforming his body from stout to trim by, in part, repeatedly falling on rock hard Mexican mats. Despite this intimate access, the reality of what is unfolding is strictly guarded. So, when blood starts gushing from Arquette's neck during a Death Match with glass tube aficionado Nick Gage, we are never asked to consider the bout as a predetermined dance that has ran afoul but as a fight that has gotten completely out of control. Although, at this stage, the mockumentary concept was likely too ingrained to adjust the tale at a mechanical level, it feels like a missed opportunity to not get a full, detailed, debrief of Arquette's thought process when, after hopping out of the ring to take stock of his pissing injury, he climbed back into the squared circle to finish his match with Gage. To his credit then, even with blood seeping from his throat, Arquette sought to protect the business.