Thursday, 30 December 2021

Films 2021



Although often bizarre to look at, thanks to a digital scrubbing process that bleeds all the grain and noise out of the vintage clips, Peter Jackson's The Beatles: Get Back accomplishes a similar feat to the director's World War I documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old, namely it places the viewer inside an extremely specific space and time then lets them simmer. Rather than cower with rotting Tommies in a French field though, Disney+ subscribers are able to sit-in on three weeks of rehearsal as The Beatles prepare to record one of their last albums. 

Pared down to eight hours (then divided into three episodes) from sixty hours of footage, Get Back differs significantly from Michael Lindsay-Hogg's 1970 documentary Let It Be, avoiding that director's more tabloid instincts to allow stories to emerge, slowly, on their own. Everyone (rightly) mentions Paul McCartney conjuring Get Back out of thin air but just as joyous is the day that Billy Preston visits Apple Studios and is immediately recruited by John Lennon to play electric piano. Preston's contribution to these session is transformative, instantly adding flesh to the bones of I've Got a Feeling and Don't Let Me Down, much to McCartney's obvious elation. 





Paul Verhoeven's Benedetta - much like his book Jesus of Nazareth: A Realistic Portrait - seeks to define a human element that might otherwise be lost when examining booming religious fervour. Virginie Efira's Benedetta then isn't a wide-eyed innocent completely lost to her visions, she's a canny politician with a foresight either broadcast to her from heaven or, simply, originating from her middle-class upbringing and education. Taken to a convent as a child - Verhoeven insisting we see the financial transactions required for a wealthy landowner to secure their child a permanent position with this nunnery - Benedetta is immediately trapped beneath a collapsing statue of a Madonna bearing her breast to nurse Christ. Naturally, she takes comfort from this incident.






Enid's work for a 1980s Film Censorship Board is methodical, turning over objectionable sequences for home video release, looking for ways to lessen their intended impact. As Censor goes on we learn that this meticulous but bowdlerised approach to trauma extends out into Enid's personal life as well. Interactions are trimmed and edited until Enid is able to pass through them unscathed. An awkward moment when a colleague summons up the courage to ask her out for a drink is glossed over, Enid addressing some of his chatter but, crucially, not the invitation for a personal connection. Eventually, these tweaks multiply out of control. 

Conversational elides prickle into an idea of conspiracy, a notion that Enid's parents know something about their daughter that she herself is unwilling to confront. This disquiet grows into instantaneous breaks with painful reality, Enid constructing a completely new - and untroubling - sequence of events the moment her present becomes unpalatable. The further into Enid's psychosis we go, the more of the film is given over to a version of events that exists solely in a damaged brain seeking a familiar structure. At this point writer-director Prano Bailey-Bond and cinematographer Annika Summerson collapse the width of the frame, readjusting the film's landscape to fit the pan and scan dimensions imposed on early VHS, allowing Niamh Algar's Enid to cure Britain of its social ills and correct her sister's fate. 






Throughout Denis Villeneuve's Dune there's a sense that mankind has battered forward through the centuries to arrive at a point where, for all their boons, they are just better able to beam their failures and shortcomings out into space. This pitch black universe, rather than offering brand new opportunities or transcendental experiences, has turned out to be an enormous canvas, just waiting to be painted red with fire and blood. Timothée Chalamet plays Paul Atreides, the heir to House Atreides, a dukedom in a vast - and largely unseen - intergalactic empire underpinned by dutiful servants, who double as human computers, and a powerful cult of witches who plant prospects throughout the empire, armed with breeding instructions. Paul is the result of one of those procreations (if not necessarily the strict order that directed it), a young nobleman afflicted with involuntary glimpses of moments in his life he has yet to live. The tension in Villeneuve's Dune then is that of an assumption. What is it that makes Paul Atreides special? His tragic experiences? His possession of a mind that trespasses outside strictly ordered time and space? Or is it simply his willingness to be battered towards Godhood? 






Evangelion: 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time initially puts Shinji Ikari to one side, the child experiencing a catatonic depressive episode in which he struggles to come to terms with a world he believes he destroyed in the previously instalment. Surprisingly, several of his school friends have also survived the apocalypse and the tumultuous years since, growing to adulthood - an emotional, as well as biological, state specifically denied to the plug suit children. These survivors live on a partitioned scrap of Japan, an agricultural village, protected by fantastical fencing technology, that works in concert with Miss Misato's massive war machine. Unlike the crew of the battleship Wunder, Shinji's Tokyo-3 High School classmates are welcoming, allowing the young man the time and space needed to reach some sort of emotional equilibrium. 






Eventually making his way to the Green Chapel, Dev Patel's Gawain encounters The Green Knight, slumbering. Once awake, the creaking woodsman - portrayed in this setting as a curious mix of Father Christmas and the Devil - hurries, as agreed, to deprive his visitor of his head. Reluctant to give his life up so easily, Gawain attempts to flee. It's here that David Lowery's film lifts a conceit from Nikos Kazantzakis' The Last Temptation of Christ (not to mention Martin Scorsese's filmed adaptation), allowing the sacrificial lamb to experience the life he believes he might go on to live. 

Whereas Scorsese's film depicts a certain amount of human contentment before the rot sets in, Gawain's yuletide present is a lifetime lived in minutes; experiences and events overlapping into one long, thundering, march of despair. Gawain sees his future as a sleepwalker King, finally knighted moments before Arthur himself passes away. Entrusted a kingdom, Gawain allows the hesitancy and indecision that marked his final encounter with the Green Knight to define his reign. Gawain's vision lingers on images of his mother, quietly aghast at her child's repeated failures. Her disappointment is compounded by decisions rooted in Gawain's inflexible idea of monarchy - isolation and brutal attempts at propriety track, neatly, into a bone-deep despondency. 






Although in the early going No Time to Die's action sequences play around with a similar kind of bored expertise as Spectre - most assuredly in a twilit forest where Bond easily outmanoeuvres umpteen vehicular assaults - when Safin's terror presses closer to home, Daniel Craig's Bond is seen to really struggle. In Fukunaga's now signature (anxiety inducing) oner, we see James limping up a mouldering staircase with attacks coming from every conceivable direction. In these moments Craig's physical dexterity and determination - genuine positives when considering this character that have become less and less remarked upon the further away we get from Casino Royale - are truly allowed to shine. Peril is dealt with fractionally, an entire spinning plate apparatus with Craig dead centre, adjusting the henchman, firearms and grenades constantly hurled his way.






A Christmas ghost story, one in which Kristen Stewart's rebuffed princess finds herself trapped, by obligation, in a house and station that seems to slowly - over decades - digests its inhabitants. Pablo Larrain's Spencer is gorgeous, Claire Mathon's photography recalling a specific, period, kind of photochemical processing that leaves images lightly blown-out by the low-hanging winter sun. An icy chill seems to physically roll off early morning shots of this Sandringham Estate, communicating a stillness, not just in temperature but in time. Stewart's Diana is human and modern, a young mother being feed into a system that runs on callous, impersonal, marriages and an impenetrable propriety that transforms mute maids and an overeager equerry - in function - into gaolers. Larrain's film, written by Steven Knight, works against Diana's red top martyrdom by, repeatedly, presenting her as a person - a child - running headlong at an all-consuming disapproval. 





Titane, like Spencer, derives tension from people attempting to silently navigate a series of acute nervous breakdowns while stuck in social situations that require they contribute either a charming or pliant exterior. Julia Ducournau's film is, in one sense, kin to Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo: The Iron Man in that both films consider the ways in which symbiosis with metal can pervert the human body. Skull fractured in a car accident as a child, necessitating a titanium plate that cups her brain in place, Agathe Rousselle's Alexia becomes fixated on violent, speeding, automobiles as agents of sexual desire. 

This affection is reciprocated by a tricked-out lowrider that batters Alexia's changing room door at an expo show she has just worked; their dalliance leaving Alexia swollen with a child that causes her body to leak motor oil. Where Tsukamoto explored metamorphosis in terms of sweaty sexual anxiety - an otherwise smooth face suddenly prickling with steel shavings or a penis mutating into a spinning, lethal, drill bit - Ducournau's film charts her transformations at a stately pace, forcing Alexia to constantly contend with a physical body that refuses to comply with her wishes. Posing as the missing son of Vincent Lindon's bereaved firefighter, Alexia spends the majority of her pregnancy wrapping her body up in a painful bindings, desperately trying to thwart the growing suspicions that surround her. When constriction fails, she takes to punching her stomach; hammering away at the unwanted child that refuses to die inside her. 





Upfront, Zack Snyder's Justice League offers a very clear demonstration of what the slighted director brings to this material, beyond a towering aspect ratio and a colour palette attuned to unyielding metals. In Snyder and screenwriters Chris Terrio and Will Beall's undiluted version, Batman's first meeting with Aquaman on a remote Icelandic outpost is presented as an incredible effort in of itself. Ben Affleck's Bruce Wayne has surmounted cracking glaciers and a storm that grounded all manner of aircraft just be in the same room as the rightful King of Atlantis. Their meeting concluded, Jason Momoa's regal roadie strides off to be in the ocean. Snyder focuses on Affleck's despondent expression, his glance off this would be ally as it starts to snow and a group of women begin singing the kind of mournful, lilting, prayer you'd expect to hear at a monarch's funeral. Bruce worries that his words - his warning - has fallen on deaf ears. When he remembers to look back, Arthur has gone and gentle ripples are fading on the water.

Tuesday, 28 December 2021

Video Games 2021



Astalon: Tears of the Earth is an action-platformer that often reads as a grand summation of one corner of 8-bit gaming. Level layouts are non-linear and full of secrets, like a Metroid; while screens themselves are block coloured and ruthlessly staffed with enemies, similar to a NES era Mega Man. The lack of flicker and an (eventual) ability to instantly swap between the three colour-coded dungeon dwellers indicate that LABSworks' game is, very obviously, operating far beyond the scope of an 80s system but the same sort of cute-but-twitchy compulsion remains. 




Like basically everything else on this list, Crisis Wing is a throwback. In this instance a note perfect evocation of the unloved - almost off-putting - chunky colourful shooters that made up the numbers in 1980s arcades. Pieslice Productions' game is a vertical scroller very specifically in the vein of Toaplan's Mega Drive hit Truxton; a no-frills, Yamaha synthesiser, score attack that has players struggling through the kind of synchronised enemy waves that recall the early, elemental, mechanics that underpin this genre. Crisis Wing's best component is an exceptionally difficult Buss Rush setting that limits both lives and screen shattering smart bombs. It's a mode that demands a completely different frame-of-mind than the main game - all hope is extinguished; deaths are incessant and unavoidable, all you can do is try and lose your ships at opportune times. 




Deathloop is a late entry onto this list. Bought in a Christmas sale, Arkane Studio's game quickly nudged out the likes of Carrion and Call of Duty: Warzone's blown-out Pacific rethink with its sneaky, temporal, hijinks. Players creep about as Colt, an amnesic security guard who begins every day shivering his way through a beachbound hangover. Although I've barely made a scratch at this point, Deathloop's qualities are clear and iterative - the player slowly picks apart each section of this frozen island to discover where and when several high-value targets will make themselves vulnerable on an endlessly regurgitating day. 




A hold-over from late last year, Demon's Tilt is a Satanic, 16-bit, pinball game recompiled for the modern era. Like the ancient ROMs that Flarb LLC and WIZNWAR's game embellishes - most obviously Compile's Devil's Crush and Technosoft's Mega Drive conversion Devil Crash MD (known as Dragon's Fury in the US) - Demon's Tilt takes place on a massive, multi-screen, pinball table; one seemingly hexed by diabolical, high-score granting, creatures. 




Rough around the edges - particularly in terms of how the player is expected to discern which onscreen effects are environmental hazards and which are, simply, graphical flourishes - R-Type Final 2 still manages to evoke the same strange, funereal, effect as its PS2 predecessor. Whereas most side-scrolling shooters prioritise a sense a propulsion, as if the player is controlling a streaking missile, Final 2 is trepidatious. Crafts nervously crawl through the levels, as if hoping not to stir some sleeping titan, while the enemy encounters are often revealed like ambushes - robots burst from rotting shipping containers in the first stage. Above all though, Granzella's crowd funded sequel gets the little things right - the shriek of a charging blast attack or the satisfied purr when that banked beam reaches its most ruinous pulse. 




Despite a dull pre-release demo and an opening hour that leaves the player feeling like they're stuck in a series of static encounters, Resident Evil Village eventually reveals itself to be the best instalment in the series since the 4th - recent remakes included. Notionally tasked with hunting down the chimeric chancers who have kidnapped your infant daughter, Village's best loops happen off the beaten track, when you're circling back to previously cleared areas to see how the always advancing time of day has effected layouts. Has a new enemy type gotten loose in the field? Are you now able to access a rowing boat that allows you to reach a previously unexplored dock? Village also see the return of incrementally upgradable weaponry, a feedback drip-feed so consistently satisfying that you wonder why Capcom made such a concerted effort to forget about it. 




Almost ludicrously difficult - notably so before the temporary save solution was patched in - Housemarque's Returnal is, nevertheless, a complete to dream to play. Movement, both in terms of dashing lunges and locking to static structures when dodging incoming fire, is beautifully implemented. At its best, the game feeling very much like the natural successor to both Devil May Cry 3's Trickster input style and PlatinumGames' Vanquish. Like these Japanese stalwarts, Returnal gifts players the ability to absolutely gobble up the game's prehistoric, Acheron adjacent, scenery; blazing from one end of a fossilised alien play area to another. 




Charm itself, A Short Hike sees players steering a worried bird around a trail that gets increasingly vertical, necessitating they collect discarded feathers to prolong their ability to stay off the ground. Adam Robinson-Yu's game is autumnal, a low-polygonal shimmer that can be rushed through - players combing the island for power-ups allowing them to scale a sheer mountainside - or slowly picked apart with a relaxed hunt for side-quests. Mark Sparling's music is of special note, a wholesome and lightly heroic suite that uses electronic samples straight out of the 32-bit era. 




Downloadable content that not only expands the scope of the base game but introduces mechanical corrections and flourishes that seem to redefine what another, future, Bare Knuckle instalment could be. As well as embellishing the story mode with three fresh characters, Streets of Rage 4 - Mr. X Nightmare introduces a survival sim presided over by Streets of Rage 3's Dr. Zan. Players fight through randomly generated stages - with backgrounds and layouts culled from as far a field as the Game Gear conversion of the original game - with levels ending once all foes are beaten back. Our pugilists are then given the choice of two power-ups; persistent choices that can be used to sculpt a fire-breathing tank or an electrified glass cannon. 




A squishy, squelchy, store shooter; Void Gore begins with the player as a terminally ill-equipped suppository ship blasting their way up an arterial vein. Encircled by swarms of eyes and chomping meat balls, Void Gorers must hammer away at low yield, repeat passes before they amass enough in-game currency to really trouble the game's laser bleeding organs. Although, obviously, the player ends their trophy run significantly stronger than is necessary to peel back the first half-dozen stages, Void Gore quickly finds a sweet spot, a state of play in which inputters are, purely, responding to flashing patterns that mean to kill. 

Monday, 27 December 2021

Music 2021



ALISON & Krosia - Spirit // Arooj Aftab - Mohabbat // Blinker the Star - It's Alright (Baby's Coming Back) // cacho. - Soulless // The Chemical Brothers - The Darkness That You Fear // CHVRCHES - Good Girls (John Carpenter Remix) // count.00 - Glass Heart // Crystal Cola - Ocean View // Daniel Hart - Now I'm Ready, I'm Ready Now // DavZ - Welcome Home // Death from Above 1979 - One + One // Eagle Eyed Tiger -Fly Me to the Groove // Ex:Re - Where the Time Went (with 12 Ensemble) // Halsey - I Am Not a Woman, I'm a God (Live) // Hans Zimmer - Herald of the Change // Hayley Williams - Teardrop // Hotel Pools - Vacation // Myrone - ANIMAL STYLE ANTHEM //Olivia Rodrigo - Driver's License // Radiohead - Follow Me Around // Rosentwig - Latibule // Shiro Sagisu - Gekitotsu! Gouten tai Daimakan // Tom Holkenborg - At the Speed of Force // バーチャル Paragon ™ - 1992 - 空腹の目

Thursday, 23 December 2021

The Matrix Resurrections



Credit to Lana Wachowski, it takes a certain amount of bravery to attempt a fourth entry in The Matrix series during a pandemic with a drastically shortened production cycle and an army of key collaborators off the books. As well as Lana's sister, and co-writer director, Lilly Wachowski, The Matrix Resurrections misses both the gravitas conferred by Laurence Fishburne and the alien jeopardy that radiated from Hugo Weaving. Despite the absence of these actors, their characters remain - one rejuvenated into self-satisfied nanotechnology whose big, plugged-in, scene lands like farce; the other given the handsome-but-dull affect of the American ruling class. Alarmingly, these truancies extend beyond the screen into the technological and conceptual arena too. Bill Pope's (constantly quoted) sulphurous chiaroscuro has been overwritten here with a mode of visual communication that is often indistinguishable from streaming service television. A decision that, in fairness, is genuinely evocative of an artificial construct circling the drain. 

The most dispiriting point of departure for Resurrections though is how the film handles its action. Fight choreographer Yuen Woo-ping was not retained for this fourquel, the decision (or restriction given that Yuen is deep into his seventies and quite likely at least semi-retired) limits not just the movements that have been drilled into the cast but the angles the filmmakers then use to communicate arching limbs and the resulting impacts. The Matrix didn't just vary the speed of reality when employing its time slice visual effects. Bodies hammered each other in violent, exaggerated, flurries; fists detonated concrete structures in beatific crawls. Although Resurrections revisits these ideas, there's no attempt to build on them. The majority of the film's hand-to-hand action instead resolving to a deliberately obscured askance. Where previously we were asked to consider the ways in which superpowered bodies relate to each other - not just in terms of combat, but the twisting poses and power displays that might denote annoyance or an assured tranquillity - here these battles are punctuation, deployed to massage the transition between scenes. These, admittedly older, characters are no longer expressing themselves physically. 

What Resurrections does have though is Carrie-Anne Moss, Keanu Reeves and an on-screen longing between the two that has only deepened with age. Reeves' Thomas Anderson is trapped in the medicated funk of corporate game development, forced to deliver a much delayed sequel to his biggest hit. Although Resurrections' frequently features enormous, projected, clips from the previous Matrix films, everyone in-universe points at these illuminations and identifies them as games - apparently interactive full-motion video was a seismic success on this particular server? Trinity is similarly confined by middle-class domesticity; kept busy by an insistent, hovering, husband and a pair of children portrayed as ongoing irritants. The pull between Neo and Trinity then is initially contextualised as that of an affair - an exciting, instantaneous, connection between two disappointed adults. Since Resurrections suffers horribly the further apart this couple are, it's therefore tempting to imagine a smaller scale instalment that completely forewent the technological ambitions of a big budget action film to concentrate on a bubbling infidelity in a counterfeit world - a Brief Encounter by way of Bound

Malcolm McLaren and The Bootzilla Orchestra - House of the Blue Danube

James Horner - Returning to Vulcan

Monday, 20 December 2021

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock



A sad, supplementary, sequel to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan that picks up in that film's dying moments then immediately sets about undoing its conclusion. In fairness to Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, its predecessor had already worked unusually hard to ensure that viewers were not left feeling that Spock's death was to be a permanent diversion for the series. Not only did Leonard Nimoy's Science Officer put a mysterious mind-zap on an unconscious colleague - key here to the Vulcan's eventual resurrection - but his torpedo chassis-cum-coffin was blasted at the Genesis planet, a cauldron of rebirth born out of an interstellar explosion in a swirling nebula. Search for Spock quickly undermines this potential for an ongoing, artificial, utopia by explaining that one of the project's key scientists, and Kirk's estranged son, cut corners. This attempt to brute force a new beginning has resulted in a planet that has already begun to shake itself apart. 

Although consistent in terms of the endemic arrogance displayed by the Kirk boys, it's a shame there's no attempt to contextualise this fracturing, apparently aggressive, world in terms of Khan's volcanic tempers - Genesis is, after all, a massive rearrangement of the super soldier's genetic material. Either way, this impending cataclysm gives the Enterprise crew a ticking clock; one that forces them to work against orders issued by an unconcerned Starfleet. If the Enterprise crew don't get to Genesis soon, Spock's eternal soul will be lost to the void. Directed by Leonard Nimoy, Search for Spock gets something out of William Shatner that no previous Star Trek feature has managed. His volume is turned right down, to the point where the often truculent actor actually registers as natural, even charming. Although his arc ends up being incurious and underwritten, we are (briefly) allowed to see Kirk experience real pits of despair during this journey. Elsewhere, Nimoy is shaky when it comes to action - the director very clearly having no taste for bloodletting - but happy to turn his frame over to massive, matte painted, vistas that throb with a period allure. 

James Horner - Epilogue and End Title

Godzilla by Brett Marcus Cook

DavZ - Longing Release

Sunday, 19 December 2021

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan



Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan represents a complete rethink of Gene Roddenberry's television series as a big screen property. A course correction even. Nicholas Meyer's film junks the celestial wonder of the financially unsuccessful Star Trek: The Motion Picture to focus on a smaller scale story, one ruled by heated human emotions rather than budget munching miniatures. Frequency and intensity of special effects aside, Wrath of Khan's most obvious and consistent points of departure from its predecessor are the ways in which this future is depicted. Motion Picture offered up an atypically fleshy intergalactic utopia - extras and the main cast both dressed in form-fitting slips that seemed to be reaching for a classical, Roman, immodesty. In practice, the wardrobe department delivered something closer to the lusty permissiveness of a Californian health farm. Wrath of Khan is gussied up by comparison, the Enterprise crew kitted out in ceremonial naval suits with Napoleonic overtones. 

Wrath of Khan then is a high seas adventure; a hermetically sealed submarine film played out against the backdrop of a massive purple nebula. Its climactic action sequence features two blinded, crumbling, craft rooting around in the ocean of space, both Captains attempting to gaze through static screens to get a bead on their quarry. When the Enterprise and Khan's hijacked Starfleet ship do clash they pull up alongside each other, emptying their photon cannons at exposed flank and battering their opponent's vulnerable, human, crew. Khan, played by Ricardo Montalban, thrashes around in a Shakespearean mania throughout; a raging storm of blood and invective, surrounded by muted, beardless, chattel. As wonderful as Montalban is - last seen chanting himself through ruinous head injuries with Herman Melville quotations - it's the dignity and quiet heroism of Leonard Nimoy's Spock that proves indelible. Braving a localised nuclear disaster to save his crewmates, a blistering and irradiated Spock uses his final moments to reassure William's Shatner's cocksure Captain that, despite appearances, he has acted logically - trading his own life for those of his friends.  

James Horner - Epilogue / End Title

Com Truise - I Dream (for You)

Friday, 17 December 2021

Com Truise - Post Hawaii

Jerry Goldsmith - The Cloud // Vejur Flyover

Star Trek: The Motion Picture



Standing in stark opposition to the briskly paced action adventure of its box office contemporaries - see Star Wars - Robert Wise's Star Trek: The Motion Picture is structured more like a seafaring voyage; a methodical pilgrimage into space to meet a machine God on a collision course with Earth. This digital deity seemingly intent on swallowing the planet whole. Wise's film is unhurried, a special effects piece completely infatuated with the miniatures mocked up by Douglas Trumbull and his team to represent warp speed craft and thundering technological landscapes alike. The camera pores over these scratch built mechanisms, demanding viewers slowly sink into the film. Verisimilitude achieved by asking the audience to consider these futuristic wonders in topographical, rather than toyetic, terms. The sequence used to introduce a docked Enterprise is long then but not laborious. William Shatner's Kirk and James Doohan's Scotty travel around the starship, both clearly awed. 

The Enterprise is photographed in segments, the film cutting back and forth between fresh glimpses of hulls or engines and two older men basking in a silent, collective, delight. While the characters gawp, the camera - their viewpoint - appraises the ship as if it is the most enormous, beautiful, body they have ever seen. V'Ger, the undulating plasma cloud that frustrates Kirk and crew, is shot with a similar affection but its form is less inviting; a mix of aortic leaflets rendered in contracting metal and radiant alloy cathedrals. Genuinely foreboding, at least at the outset, Star Trek: The Motion Picture consistently returns to an idea of impartial machinery attempting to assess or decode the human body in a similar fashion to Kirk's appreciative drive-by. An early teleporter malfunction, that results in a barely introduced Vulcan being reduced to (offscreen) screaming blubber, is the first such instance. It's an incident that neatly introduces the idea that when a dispassionate intelligence attempts to communicate with a species it views as vermin, we might then expect to see fragile bodies twisted into wreckage.

Thursday, 9 December 2021

Transformers Reanimated #31 by Geoff Senior

Evangelion: 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time



Begun as a way to reconfigure the Neon Genesis Evangelion TV series, freed from budgetary and technological constraints, Hideaki Anno and Studio Khara's much delayed Rebuild films betray a perspective unwilling to simply repeat their greatest hits, twisting and turning the story of Shinji Ikari far beyond the terrifying apotheosis that concluded TV Tokyo's serial a quarter of a century ago. Evangelion: 3.33 You Can (Not) Redo examined Ikari in terms of redundancy, a spectre haunting shattered barracks, shunned by the two parties battling over the scraps left of Earth. A few throwaway exchanges within the film queried if the little boy rescued from an orbital prison was even the real Shinji - a pressing concern, given that the manufacture of disposable teenagers is standard operating procedure in this universe. 

Evangelion: 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time initially puts Ikari to one side, the child experiencing a catatonic depressive episode in which he struggles to come to terms with a world he believes he has destroyed. Surprisingly, several of his school friends have also survived the apocalypse and the tumultuous years since, growing to adulthood - an emotional, as well as biological, state denied to the plug suit children. These survivors live on a partitioned scrap of Japan, an agricultural village, protected by fantastical fencing technology, that works in concert with Miss Misato's massive war machine. Unlike the crew of the battleship Wunder, Shinji's Tokyo-3 High School classmates are welcoming, allowing the young man the time and space needed to reach some sort of emotional equilibrium. While Asuka withdraws - convinced that she no longer has a place amongst non-mutated humans - Rei flourishes. 

This Ayanami, a clone birthed from the depths of a death cult laboratory, isn't the same Rei that Shinji tried to rescue in Evangelion: 2.22 You Can (Not) Advance. She's newer to human interaction, exhibiting a robotic baseline tuned to expect, then follow, orders. Freed of NERV's withering expectations, this Rei is able to potter about and enjoy a life of her own - attending school lessons or mucking in with the middle-aged settlers to plant seasonal crops. She's curious too, firing off questions about basic human interaction or oblique interpersonal shorthand. This Rei also gravitates to the infant daughter of Shinji's schoolfriends Toji Suzuhara and Hikari Horaki, shadowing and standing guard over the baby like a faithful family retainer. Miss Lookalike - as the villagers dub her in deference to the fact that this isn't the Rei they knew, no matter how much she looks like her - is allowed some measure of a happy ending; a self-determined teenager, no longer forced to be a sexualised prop in the machinations of a middle-aged man. 

Friday, 26 November 2021

Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago - The Ultimate Director's Cut



Writer-director Sylvester Stallone returns to Rocky IV for a (belated) 35th anniversary Director's Cut, determined to trim and repackage his hyperbolic feature until it provides a more obvious point of connection with the rest of the punch-drunk boxing series - particularly the two most recent entries, Ryan Coogler's Creed and Steven Caple Jr's Creed II. Stallone's most obvious alterations then are focused around the character of Apollo Creed, unearthing unseen footage and alternative takes then sewing them back into the film in an attempt to massage the character's previously ignominious death towards some note of dignity. This director's cut also begins with a truly massive recap section, played upfront and presumably for neophytes, that slashes Rocky III down to eight minutes of footage centred around the moments where Rocky and Apollo's relationship thawed, transforming from a bruised-up rivalry into a dear friendship. 

Stallone and project editors Dov Samuel, Justin Barham and Kate Prescott have completely reorganised Rocky IV's first act, deleting Paulie's birthday party, and the rickety robot that his brother-in-law presents to him, to find more space for Carl Weathers and a kitchen corner for Talia Shire's worried Adrian. Weathers benefits the most in this assembly, his Creed elevated from an afterthought in Rocky's Cold War battering arc to an active participant in his own, curtailed, story. With Rocky unenthused by challenges from Drago and his Russian entourage it's Apollo who lobbies for, then receives, the exhibition fight with Dolph Lundgren's Soviet superman. The former heavyweight champion explicitly doing so out of a misplaced sense of patriotism - one lost on the comfortably oblivious Balboas. In the theatrical cut Apollo assumes this sacrificial lamb role out of pure plot mechanism; here Stallone splices around his own indifferent boxer, allowing an anxious Apollo to fill the frame and speak to his friend about geopolitical concepts that - quite apparently - have never occurred to the Italian Stallion. 

Structurally, the fight between Apollo and Drago is completely different here too. Stallone and his editors weave a palpable sense of unease into the deliberately bombastic proceedings. While Apollo dances around with James Brown to Living in America, the film focuses on the grim expression taking hold on the faces of Adrian and Sylvia Meals' Mary Anne Creed. There is no submission to the gaudiness of the pre-fight spectacle. While Drago has been colour corrected to the point where he seems to be radiating light, Apollo's cavorting strikes a note of mania or, perhaps more accurately, desperation in this edit. Weathers plays a condemned man trying to bluster his way through an impending death sentence. Speaking of wives, Drago's other half, played by Stallone's ex Brigitte Nielsen, has been almost completely excised from the film. Ludmilla's role has been reduced to little more than a neutral glance between herself and Mrs Creed and the moment where she allows Drago's handler, played by Michael Pataki, to place a cigarette in her mouth - an interlude that has always suggested a note of sexual impotence in Lundgren's technological titan. 

The decision to omit so much of Nielsen's performance is disappointing - even suspect given Stallone's marital history with the actress - but the deletions do somewhat align a 1985 character - who was, originally, aggressively personable - with the Ice Queen seen in the second Creed film. 2018's Ludmilla, now cushy with the golden oligarchs running modern Russia, goes out of her way to reject her former husband and their child, essentially consigning them to an ongoing exile in Ukraine. Generously, you could offer then that Stallone was simply reaching for a sense of unity with the Caple Jr film rather than, say, picking at a personal grudge. With Nielsen's character all but erased Stallone instead uses Lundgren to suggest a (malfunctioning) human element within the Soviet machinery. Following his fight with Creed - in which Ivan has been used as an unthinking proxy to level a blow against the United States - Drago starts chanting his own name, over and over, as if on the verge of a tearful breakthrough. A programming blip that seems to suggest that the Russians are pumping their prize boxer full of something more than just steroid cocktails. 

Originally screened at 1.85:1, this re-aligned cut crops the image to cinemascope dimensions, Stallone further focusing the eye on contorting faces as the beats powering his film's edit. It's an assembly edict not completely dissimilar to the one Stallone and director John Flynn employed for their prison film Lock Up. There the weather-beaten extras conferred weight on an otherwise light story; here Stallone's choices seem indicative of a nostalgic affection for many of his fellow cast members. Thankfully, none of Rocky IV's unassailable training montages have been altered or re-ordered to any significant degree; if anything the sequences are buoyed by a modern sound mix that discerns discrete layers and electronic separation in Vince DiCola and John Cafferty's adrenalin hammered music. As with the opening Creed bout, the Moscow set sequence that concludes IV has been completely reworked. Stallone's director's cut uses pounding repetition and overlapping, multi-channel, intensity, to place the viewer inside the action. IV now generates a panicking back-and-forth, not just in terms of the physical assaults hammering away at Rocky and Drago but also the confidence-sapping glances they each take at horrified loved ones. This decision - coupled with a foley design that suggests wooden clubs striking meat - leaves the audience with the unshakable impression of having witnessed two beasts, locked together in agony, pulverising each other's ribcage. 

Vince DiCola - Training Montage (Rocky IV Score Mix) // John Cafferty - Hearts on Fire // Vince DiCola - Up the Mountain

Optimus Prime by Livio Ramondelli

Eagle Eyed Tiger & oDDling - Sundown

Jakob Ogawa - You Might Be Sleeping [w. Clairo]

Benedetta



As much a companion piece to Total Recall as anything else in the Paul Verhoeven canon, Benedetta takes a similar tact to Schwarzenegger's Martian adventure when dealing with the truth, allowing delusion and outright fantasy to occupy the same, unbroken, narrative space as events that broadly align with historical testimony. If anything, Verhoeven and co-writer David Birke - adapting Judith C Brown's Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy - have chipped away at the ecclesiastical excess surrounding the real-life Benedetta Carlini, organising waves of religious ecstasy around a reciprocal, romantic, relationship and a genuine desire for a style of local governance that works in opposition to the pustulous buffoons who hold power in 17th century Tuscany.

Verhoeven's Benedetta - much like his book Jesus of Nazareth: A Realistic Portrait - seeks to define a human element that might otherwise be lost when examining booming religious fervour. Virginie Efira's Benedetta then isn't a wide-eyed innocent completely lost to her visions, she's a canny politician with a foresight either broadcast to her from heaven or, simply, originating from her middle-class upbringing and education. Taken to a convent as a child - Verhoeven insisting we see the financial transactions required for a wealthy landowner to secure their child a permanent position with this nunnery - Benedetta is immediately trapped beneath a collapsing statue of a Madonna bearing her breast to nurse Christ. Naturally, she takes comfort from this incident. The other children debate if they have witnessed a near miss or a genuinely supernatural episode.

As an adult Benedetta begins to have intense hallucinations that rack her body like epileptic fits. These night terrors are communicated to us as fantastical interludes in which the vulnerable nun is rescued from slithering predators or rampaging mercenaries by a bloodthirsty, equally ravenous, Christ. Men, regardless of their piety, are depicted as violent and ruinous. Even after communing with Jesus in his most vulnerable, scourged state leaves real, oozing, stigmata all over Benedetta's body. The insinuation throughout this section is that the intelligent, God-fearing, Benedetta is attempting to decode her own sexuality using the only language she has been taught - a faith defined by physical and emotional suffering. Like Sister Jeanne in Ken Russell's The Devils, Benedetta is trapped in a lifetime ruled by dangerous, hypocritical men who routinely batter their women into a cowed compliance. Unlike Vanessa Redgrave's lovelorn hunchback though, Benedetta does eke out a brief period of bliss, initiating a sexual relationship with Daphne Patakia's Bartolomea that - according to one blustery know-it-all at Benedetta's eventual trial - is so materially unthinkable as to be preposterous. 

Friday, 19 November 2021

Sir Arthur by イケノ (@goidanokei)

Memorex Memories - Recursion [Secret Selection]

System96 - Division

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings



Destin Daniel Cretton's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is yet another example of a Marvel film in which a well sketched villain ends up obliterating, rather than elevating, its heroes. Tony Leung Chiu-wai plays the bad guy in question, Xu Wenwu, an ancient warlord who has spent centuries clinging to life as the master of a shadowy assassination syndicate thanks to his collection of alien jewellery. Wenwu's story - threaded throughout via flashbacks lousy with Disney's wrinkle scrubbing digital make up - is that of a thrashing monster, a deathless maniac finally brought to heel, physical and emotionally, by his love for Fala Chen's Ying Li, a tai chi master with ties to an inaccessible, spectral, village who ends up paying for her husband's wrongdoings. 

Wenwu introduces a number of exciting tensions to the Legend of the Ten Rings. First, and most obviously, the character is played by Leung, a veteran Hong Kong actor who worked with Wong Kar-wai and John Woo during their 90s peak. Closing in on his 60s, Leung still possesses leading man good looks and is effortlessly capable of communicating both moral complication and a deep, underlining, sadness. Conceptually, the character is a cocktail, drawing from several separate but essentially Sinophobic sources. In the comics Shang-Chi's father is Dr Fu Manchu, Sax Rohmer's Limehouse mastermind woven into Marvel continuity by Steve Englehart, Al Milgrom and Thanos creator Jim Starlin. Here, the character also offers Cretton and his co-writers Dave Callaham and Andrew Lanham an opportunity to rehabilitate the Mandarin, a supervillain previously portrayed as a nudging critique of American Orientalism in Shane Black's Iron Man Three - apparently a major sticking point for those in the audience who demand obsequiousness in their comic book adaptations. 

Lastly, Wenwu has a clear objective - one that passes for romantic in this hyperbolic, multidimensional, comic book setting - he wants to rescue his dead wife from the afterlife. Comparatively, Simu Liu's Xu Shang-Chi is depicted as a millennial everyman who has abdicated from his father's life of all-consuming criminality to park cars in America with his platonic best pal Katy, played by Awkwafina. Shang-Chi is hiding, denying his terrible heritage to craft an identity centred around a different kind of invisibility to that exercised by his Dad. There's also a dangling insinuation - one that film never capitalises on - that the bones making mission that brought Shang-Chi to the United States was the elimination of an elderly relative of Katy's. Pauses and interpersonal stress are woven into the film but never clarified, denying the otherwise flat Shang-Chi a sticking point that might actually complicate a viewer's response to this fledgling Avenger. 

Aside from a scrappy bus battle that overcomes the film's soft, computer painted, affectation to briefly prickle the urban anxiety felt by Jackie Chan in Rumble in the Bronx, the real meat of the Shang-Chi character resides in his proximity to his all-powerful father. Wenwu subordinates his child, obviously, but it's the supervillain's attempts at instruction or, in one case, rebuttal that provide the film's strongest material. There are two scenes at either end of the film in which Wenwu defines to his son what he expects from his heir. The first sees Wenwu take Shang-Chi on a father-son trip to exterminate a gambling den as a way to salve their bereavement. The ultra-confident Wenwu is never in danger, dispatching his enemies with such ease that a note of distraction or even tenderness is allowed to creep in. The gangsters he kills are props, the emotional back-and-forth in the scene is strictly between father and son. Wenwu demonstrating to his male offspring the weight he ascribes to a blood debt. Much later, when the film is winding down, we discover the private thoughts that prompted that outing: Wenwu expected his children to fight and die, rather than flee, when their mother was endangered. Trapped on a green screen background, Leung plays these withering expectations to thin air. 

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

Hans Zimmer - Grains of Sand

The Chemical Brothers - The Darkness That You Fear

Ultra Magnus by Hidefumi Kimura

Kupla - What We Leave Behind

Raging Fire



With Raging Fire, it often feels as if director Benny Chan has managed to pull a fast one. The late Chan, who also co-wrote and produced the film, manages - despite China's much more granular, sociocultural, approach to film and television censorship - to deliver a film full of morally grey characters. Raging Fire presents an abject panic that springs specifically from an inflexible adherence to state scripture both inside and outside the film. Hong Kong's police force is characterised here as an organisation strangled by a mix of procedure and corruption. Hierarchical virtues have been weaponised, used by those who have power to manipulate then obscure, transforming their formerly righteous underlings into tremendously potent threats to social order. 

Although restorative in its conclusion, as mandated by China's National Radio and Television Administration, Raging Fire's route to this victory is characterised by a pitiless approach to action that sees dozens upon dozens of people chewed up then spat out. Donnie Yen plays Cheung Sung-bong, a senior inspector defined by his rigid approach to policing. Cheung's lifeblood is the law, this cop unwilling to bend the rules even when there are clear financial or occupational upsides. Cheung is able to survive despite this obvious handicap simply because he is truly exceptional at his job, able to apply a twisting, body-straining, martial arts technique to batter through entire drug gangs almost singlehandedly. In this sense Yen's hilariously indefatigable character is very much like Judge Dredd, the uncompromising lawman from the pages of 2000 AD

Like Dredd, Cheung has a mechanical aspect to him, one that that allows him to instantly make blunt, life-altering, decisions whatever the battlefield. He is just that sure of himself. This, in of itself, is entertaining. Cheung navigates Raging Fire with an almost dorkish detachment from his surroundings, our sole insight into his deeper drives is a dreamy fixation on a rain-lashed dockside where a protégé made an error of judgement that completely changed his life's trajectory. We see these moments replayed from the perspectives of both policemen - Cheung remembers himself slogging through a muddy quagmire to reach his colleagues; Nichola Tse's Yau Kong-ngo is instead fixated on the faulty premise that put him on the pier in the first place. Chan's film suggests - and eventually outright states - that the only thing separating a virtuous policeman and a homicidal madman is a moment of circumstance. Both identities are steeped in violence. 

Thursday, 4 November 2021

Riichiro Manabe - Victory (M38)

Godzilla Appears at Godzilla Fest // Godzilla vs Hedorah (2021)



A pair of shorts directed by Kazuhiro Nakagawa, Toho's go-to guy for brief (usually tourist attraction exclusive) glimpses of the King of Monsters. 2020's Godzilla Appears at Godzilla Fest is a sub-two minute piece completed using an iPhone for an online character convention. The slight dimensions of the camera used allow the filmmakers to shoot Godzilla - here represented by one of his more muscular Heisei era suits - from angles that might otherwise prove difficult. The best of these inspections is a point of view shot that seems to originate from the rubble gathering at Godzilla's feet. The angle has a warped, almost fisheye, effect to it - shattered concrete buildings and sagging lamp posts curl in towards the catastrophic weight of Godzilla. Close-ups of the Big G's face aren't quite so forgiving. The auto-focused lens stresses the outfit's rubbery hide to such a degree you begin to wonder if an action figure has been subbed in for a moth-eaten costume. 

Far more entertaining is this year's Godzilla vs Hedorah, a 5 minute film produced to commemorate the 50th anniversary of its Yoshimitsu Banno directed namesake. Given more than twice the runtime of Godzilla Appears, Nakagawa recruits the foam latex suits used in Ryuhei Kitamura's Godzilla: Final Wars, a decision that allows the monster actors a greater degree of freedom in their movements. The Godzilla costume - known as the FinalGoji suit - reigns in the stomping cataclysm of the Heisei era with a design that is leaner in trunk and thigh. The creature's expression is different too, conniving rather than impassive. This is Godzilla as a street brawler, the lightweight apparatus even allowing actor Naoya Matsumoto to lift his leg high enough to hurl a kick at Hedorah's wonderfully sludgy midriff. At least as impressive as the two feature costumes is the conflict's arena, a 70s era power plant filled with rusting buildings and collapsing cranes. Nakagawa and cinematographer Yutaka Adachi's photography may have the same rough-and ready feel as digitally shot Tokusatsu television but the decision to use a more natural style lighting in several shots - appearing to emanate from a setting sun rather than flatly oppressive studio lights - beautifully compliments the peeking, human, perspective on this titanic struggle. 

Sunday, 31 October 2021

Halloween



Halloween doesn't mess around. Once we pass through a jack-o'-lantern's eye we are immediately deposited inside the head of Michael Myers, the supernatural murderer who drives John Carpenter's film. We are helpless passengers; party to his crimes and slowly being instructed in the structural rhythms that will underline this piece. Halloween presents threat as something intertwined with a sustained, voyeuristic, perspective - violence as an actualisation of leering masculinity. If we stay in this space, contextualising the remainder of the film through the lens of these moments, then Halloween's opening - a famous, (fairly) unbroken point-of-view sequence that takes us inside a house then up the stairs to commit a murder - is clearly the defining moment in Myers' young life. It's the night he seized upon his bubbling desires then, clumsily, trespassed into a realm of satisfaction. 

This first murder seems, in as much as this deliberately vague film allows us to ascribe a motive, to be about jealousy and obsession; a very young Myers struggling with the idea that his sister has a life that does not, solely, revolve around him. We are given no real clue about the interpersonal make-up of this household but, unlike Rob Zombie's revision, this Myers family don't seem especially desperate or emotionally violent. Indeed, the shock of the scene is rooted in its mundanity, the senseless aspect to the murder. Judith Myers isn't seen to rebuke or scold her little brother; her boyfriend neither mocks nor embarrasses him. Michael's justification - whatever it is - is internal, an act born out of the singular, secret, desire to take a kitchen knife and plunge it into his sister's chest. It's key then that Carpenter places this sequence upfront. It isn't recapped once Myers escapes or when the bodies start turning up, it's presented as the film's inciting incident. 

Myers' subsequent life appears to revolve around the events of that night, the murders that follow positioned as fragments of his first, perfect, kill. There's a sense that Myers has spent the intervening years turning these seconds over and over in his mind, dissecting then reassembling that night, thinking of new ways to tackle the same problem - the women (in this instance a group of babysitters) who neither notice nor desire him. Myers has grown physically, to manhood, but his emotional landscape has withered, stuck on the same stunted compulsions. This preoccupation with realising fantasy is evident in the massacre he generates later. Each of Michael's killings are orchestrated to satisfy some sort of desire, perhaps a need for variation to exert itself within his first experience? This obviously lends his murderous actions an uncomfortable, sexual, dimension. The women he slays are objects to him, unfeeling pieces for this killer to exhaust himself upon. Dolls to be rearranged then pulled apart. 

Jamie Lee Curtis' Laurie is our way through this madness, her perspective eventually just as important to the film as Michael's. Sequels arranged Laurie into the role of a younger sister for this sitter slasher, making her something closer to an objective that can be chased in perpetuity. Laurie then functioning as quarry across as many films as Curtis was prepared to sign on for. In this first film though the connection between the two characters is based on observation. Michael watches Laurie, sizing her up, marking her as a potential target. Crucially, Laurie notices him too - she stares back at Michael, catching him before he's had a chance to dart away, puncturing the spectral anonymity that Myers otherwise seems to possess. In her friendship group, Laurie is the least experienced. While her friends have steady boyfriends and are both sexually active, Laurie frets about a boy even knowing she's interested in him. In this sense Laurie has not yet fully assumed the self-involved detachment or general passivity associated with adulthood in this film. She survives Michael's attacks because she's still able to tap into the childlike wits we see demonstrated elsewhere, most notably by Brian Andrews' Tommy Doyle, who clocks Nick Castle's The Shape repeatedly.