Tuesday, 29 June 2021
Monday, 28 June 2021
Quintet proposes an apocalyptic white-out, with mankind's few remaining survivors battered to the point of extinction by a new ice age. Paul Newman's Essex and Brigitte Fossey's Vivia are seal hunters, forced south thanks to a scarcity of prey. The city they discover on their trek is shattered, a draughty expo centre gripped by the abnormally cold weather and a complete breakdown in basic human community. The remaining people within are all middle-aged adults, either hypothermic derelicts - a constant source of food for the packs of muscular, well-fed, dogs that nose around the corner of every frame - or local dignitaries, piled with thick, medieval looking, shawls and locked into roles and a class structure that this world, very clearly, no longer has any use for.
Robert Altman's film, co-written with Patricia Resnick and Frank Barhydt, has an almost academic detachment from its subjects, preferring to watch, allowing us to analyse their actions and behaviour rather than press deeper into their emotional struggles. The heaps of padded clothing help in this sense - we're never in danger of discovering any particularly private moments. The string of murders that prod the plot along are executed with the bored detachment of a parlour game winding down; an outrageous series of crimes staged with all the panache of a minor, nagging, correction. The total freeze - and the doom this weather foretells - has chilled these people to a state of almost-static inactivity. They have given up. No-one really helps anyone else. Even the doomsday mission ran by Vittorio Gassman's bloviating Saint Christopher registers like a massive play-act, the self-styled holy man dishing out mere gulps of the prop soup we see churning in a massive, bubbling, cauldron.
Quintet nudges along, events prompted by a board game that has become the totality of this dying culture. Abstract Draughts tournaments continue in spite of the extinction event raging all around the players, Essex pulled into these matches while investigating the murder of his wife and brother. He takes on the identity of another, hacked-up, player - a mask that fools absolutely nobody. The other competitors, staging a maxi-stakes version of the titular game that requires they plunge their knives into each other, barely take any notice of Newman's snooper. Quintet models a destitute psychological perspective, one so completely devoid of hope that the end of the human race fails to inspire any level of cooperation. The most beautiful moments in the film then revolve around the ad-hoc burial Essex stages for the departed Vivia. Rather than allow any of the roaming Rottweilers to sink their teeth into her, Essex burns precious calories carrying her body from a gutted apartment, out of the city itself, all the way to a nearby glacial stream. He sets her down as gently as he can, allowing the water to whisk her away. Through Essex's efforts Vivia is the last member of the human race loved enough to be given a funeral.
Sunday, 27 June 2021
Tuesday, 22 June 2021
Niamh Algar plays Enid, a British film censor slogging her way through a fictionalised version of the video nasty furore whipped up in the 1980s (and again in the 1990s) by the nation's tabloid newspapers. Prano Bailey-Bond's Censor specifically takes place at the point where all video releases required certification, skipping over the wild west days when there was a very real possibility that a corner shop's cassette selection could contain something contextually transgressive, such as a complete copy of a film that had previously been either edited for, or outright barred from, UK cinema distribution. The red top outrage that throbs concurrent to the film's events is therefore a well-worn conceit rather than a brand new reaction - an attention grabber, deployed to distract the British public from the real-life violence that the state was then visiting on striking coal miners.
Writer-director Bailey-Bond and co-writer Anthony Fletcher carefully layer Censor with this bleating, storm in a teacup, hypocrisy - the feigned, and still-rolling, idea that newspapers owned and operated by tax allergic billionaires are willing, or even able, to present their readers with a moral high ground. By avoiding the first wave of nasty pushback Bailey-Bond and Fletcher make the films under examination distinct from the obscenity concerns that swirled around the special effects seen in Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust or the tasteless marketing of Michael Findlay, Horacio Fredriksson and Simon Nuchtern's Snuff. It isn't the foreignness of a low budget Italian slasher or a work of Times Square era grindhouse that spins Algar's hardened snipper out, it's a home grown horror - a British film - that activates uncomfortable, perhaps even self-censored, memories.
Enid fixates on Don't Go in the Church, a back catalogue work by Frederick North, presumably passed, without complaint, at some point for cinema exhibition. The bits and pieces we see of the film are tame, even by the standards of the period depicted within Censor. Visiting producer Doug Smart is even cheeky enough to seek a 15 certificate for the home video release. When viewing Church, Enid is reminded of her childhood, specifically an incident in which her and her sister Nina went for a walk in the woods, against their parent's permission. Nina disappears, leaving Enid to be chastised and screamed at by her mother. Enid's reaction to Church ranges from discomfort to outright alarm, particularly when one of the screen sisters murders the other. Enid puts aside this disconnect with her lived - or rather remembered - experience and goes about trying to locate her missing sister, who she now believes might be an actress working for North.
At work Enid is methodical, turning over objectionable sequences, 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 mind seeking a familiar structure. At this point 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 Enid to cure Britain of its social ills and correct her sister's fate.
Saturday, 19 June 2021
Wednesday, 16 June 2021
Under no circumstances should Nintendo release Sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild under any name, no matter how well it has tested with focus groups, other than Sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
You're a Dog! Wielding a magic paintbrush! Funded within a day on Kickstarter, Chicory: A Colorful Tale is a top-down adventure game that sees player tasked with bringing life and artistic expression back to a monotone cartoon world - a NES era RPG by way of Mario Paint then. Chicory has been out for nearly a week now, with reviews erring on the side of 'incredibly positive'.
A beautifully produced trailer that apportions a significant amount of its runtime to showing off some genuinely lovely parallax scrolling. Hey, if you've got it, flaunt it. Coatsink Software and Sad Cat Studios' Replaced looks to replicate the static menace of Euro-platformers like Flashback or Another World, whilst also drawing the camera a little further away from the player's charmingly animated avatar, further stressing the constant vulnerability of a flesh figure climbing around a heavily industrialised, and apparently post-apocalyptic, landscape.
Originally announced as a Nintendo DS game back in the mid-2000s, Metroid Dread finally becomes a reality, courtesy of Nintendo and Metroid: Samus Returns dev MercurySteam. Dread, a side-scrolling shoot-and-explore, sells itself here with a robotic stalker character who pursues Samus through the game's fracturing stages. Big fan of the camouflage ability, seen in the latter half of the trailer, that has Samus' armour take on the colour and texture of her metallic surroundings as a way to evade the laser scans of her roaming enemy.
Tuesday, 15 June 2021
Apparently already available on every other video game platform under the sun, Konfa Games and Gameplay First LLC's Despotism 3K is on its way to Sony's systems. Despotism casts players as an evil AI overlord, breeding then press-ganging hundreds of fragile humans for amusement and basic sustenance. Think Harlan Ellison's I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream reinterpreted as a mobile strategy game.
Due September on Nintendo Switch, WarioWare: Get it Together! promises dozens upon dozens of perfectly judged input instances, each absolutely seething with the same wit and character displayed by Wario, the game's in-universe designer. WarioWare is a consistently delightful series that, this time out, promises players opportunities for co-operative prodding.
Supergiant Games' Hades finally washes up on Sony (and Microsoft) shores. The Switch release was the proud winner of umpteen Game of the Year awards in 2020, steering the indie friendly rogue-like genre away from repetition - or outright tedium if you prefer - towards a twitchy, beautifully atmospheric, jaunt around Greek myth.
After a few years of radio silence, we finally get a good, rolling, look at Elden Ring, the latest game from Hidetaka Miyazaki and FromSoftware. At first glance this latest iteration of the studio's finely tuned dark fantasy template looks to be selling itself on an idea of vista - vast, horizontal, expanses to plunder, necessitating a phantom steed. A closer look at these gameplay clips reveals, not just context specific jumps and launches but, at least when riding your horse, a double-jump mechanic. These stacked, player inputted, leaps imply vertical exploration, an entirely new dimension of nosing about that, more than likely, builds on the pagoda sneaking seen in 2019's Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.
Thursday, 10 June 2021
Toshiyuki Kubooka's Berserk trilogy continues with Berserk: The Golden Age Arc II - The Battle for Doldrey, a more assured attempt at adapting Kentaro Miura's long-running, now never-ending, manga. The lifeless computer animated dolls, that stood out like a sore thumb in Berserk: The Golden Age Arc I - The Egg of the King, have melted into the background for this sequel. Although figures and their movement routines are still often sourced with 3D animation techniques, Kubooka's follow-up does a much better job of arranging them in ways that are sympathetic to tone and visual style of the overall piece. While it's likely every single frame has at least some element of computer-assisted correction, the stuttering, glaringly artificial, touch that marred the previous film is largely absent.
The Battle for Doldrey's server banks are instead used to provide the massive backgrounds and frothing extras that add a sense of scale to events that teeter on the edge of world-changing. Tolkien-sized castles come under siege - hammered with rotting livestock hurled from enormous trebuchets; scaled by expendable knights who are blasted and burnt for their trouble. When considering our main characters, a digital affect is most obvious in the film's swirling, repetitive, action. Real, observational, detail remains pointedly two dimensional - hand animators trusted to communicate snarling disgust or the first prickles of human affection. For their centrepiece, Kubooka and his animators quote the swirling, simulated, ballroom of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, staging a choreographed dance in which The Band of the Hawk (now elevated to the level of nobility as a reward for their consistent military successes) effortlessly match the Baroque movements of a ruling class who previously spat on them.
Where The Egg of the King centred Guts and his horrifying past, Battle for Doldrey selects Casca, the Hawk's only female commander, when exploring an interior perspective. Her early life, much like Guts', was one marked by violence and cruelty. Casca is preoccupied with one moment in particular, Griffith rescuing her from a brutal nobleman attempting to rape her. In Casca's recollection Griffith is a beautiful fairy tale prince who towers on his horse, radiating light and warmth - a prophet portrayed as an armoured innocent. Casca's dream is at odds with her slowly dawning realisation that this outwardly angelic man views people in stark, transactional, terms. Clarifying this point, Griffith concludes the film by mechanically seducing a naïve Princess, partly to subsume his fixation on a now departed Guts, but also to reassert the sexual power that underlines his hold over other people. While Princess Charlotte responds, delightedly, to his every touch and tweak, Griffith remains impassive. When their mouths first meet, Griffith doesn't even close his eyes.
Tuesday, 8 June 2021
Robert Bresson's Lancelot du lac is hardly explosive but it does begin with a level of clattering action that it has no intention of returning to. Exhausted knights - struggling under the weight of their gleaming plate armour - batter each other, cleaving heads from bodies and stabbing mechanically at groins. Geysers of blood blast from these punctures; lacerations frothing up around the coverall's gaps or seeping through the freshly made dents. Bresson's take on Arthurian legend begins in the midst of cataclysmic failure. The grail knights have returned home empty handed after a long, fruitless, campaign. Sir Percival - the purehearted youth who took possession of the grail according to 12th century poet Chrétien de Troyes - isn't just absent. He has, as the opening legend informs us, completely disappeared.
Bresson portrays the remaining round table knights as listless hooligans, cursed with a deeply ingrained boorishness that ensures that this film never transitions to a state of romantic fantasy. Our brief glimpse of the grail quest is marked by a series of ruinous, and seemingly pointless, encounters that culminate in the armoured survivors thundering past a burning farmhouse and its collapsed inhabitants. Bresson and editor Germaine Artus cut back-and-forth between this pitiless outcome and a squad of polished knights, thundering along on horseback - not just responsible for this atrocity but, quite apparently, completely indifferent to it. Laura Duke Condominas' Queen Guinevere has the measure of these robotic murderers, describing how they all turned on each other when they realised their mission was failing and chiding Luc Simon's Lancelot specifically for believing that God is a transmissible power, to be seized by brutes.
Constructed to deny the visceral release of a well-mounted action sequence, Bresson consistently works against the expected building blocks of a fairy tale epic. Sieges and battles take place off-camera. A jousting tournament is abstracted to four recurring images - a musician's hands pinching and manipulating their bagpipes; standards hurrying up then crashing down a flagpole; the whirling legs of Lancelot's prize horse; and appreciative reports from the audience sat in The King's box. Momentum is directed into the floor then - we see hooves churning up a field rather than a resplendent lobster bearing down on an equally dazzling rival. It's often as if the camera cannot bear to look upon these men, adopting the eye-line dodging perspective of the brow-beaten serfs who buzz around this nobility. Literal extras who - as far as these maniacs are concerned - never quite meet the criteria of people. Even Lancelot, the rugged French knight who makes a cuckold of his dithering British King, makes threats of violence on his social inferiors, promising swift retribution should his fanciful demands not be immediately met.
Friday, 4 June 2021
Thursday, 3 June 2021
Released to the Internet Archive in an interim edit that splices together an open matte VHS with a one-of-a-kind cassette containing an earlier, baggier, edit of the film, Super Mario Bros. - The Morton Jankel Cut proposes, by dint of existing, a rejuvenation for this notoriously troubled production. Liberated from the estate of producer Roland Joffé, this interlaced assembly runs twenty minutes longer than the film as originally screened, offering (at best) trace elements of directors Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton's initial, more overtly dystopian, vision. Massaged to a legibility appropriate for the video tape rental era by Garrett Gilchrist, a professional artist and illustrator with a gift for film restoration, these timecoded additions offer punctuation rather than axis. They provide clarification at a detail, rather than conceptual, level.
Almost unbearably dull, especially in its latter half, this longer Super Mario Bros delivers a brief fizz of ideas and lopsided imagery - particularly when considering the ways in which the film's central, dinosaur-derived, metropolis differs from our own world - then tanks itself with a plot that bumbles back-and-forth, never quite engaging. Like Highlander II: The Quickening before it, Mario Bros is world-class production design in search of a story, or even a consistent tone, to anchor it. The film is physically built around the strangeness of a technological society created by cold-blooded lizards rather than tribal mammals. Muggings are rife in this pollution-choked city. Brightly coloured pedestrians crash into each other, dressed for aggression displays and loaded down with weapons designed to jolt anyone who strays too close. Commuters, packed into sparking dodgems, rush around in an unheeding, almost suicidal, rush.
Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo make for a charming pair of dunderheads, especially in early scenes where the two actors are allowed the space to react to bizarre circumstances rather than tedious plotting. Hoskins, on occasion, even summons up the same righteous, barking, frustration that underpinned his brilliant comedic performance as Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The film's most exciting sequence sees the Mario brothers picked up then processed by the fascist, gun-obsessed, stormtroopers that pass for police in this universe. Fleeing in a squad car so absurdly souped-up that it requires arresting gear to park, a blood-boiled Mario Mario crashes around the city's highways, using the vehicle's bulldozer blade to overturn incoming traffic. The sequence isn't just successful because it transforms a future shocked joyride into a destruction derby, it's also the only time that the film's madcap plotting, ace visual design, and pre-release deletions coalesce into something purely entertaining.
Wednesday, 2 June 2021
The obvious highlight (to me at least) of this instant DLC for the newly released Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown is the Model 1 era costume models. Available for every character, even those that did not appear in Yu Suzuki's ground-breaking arcade hit, the outfits swap out the new, Dragon Engine enhanced, fighter drafts for some lower polygon count figures and beautifully simple block colouring.
Reminiscent of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Superman story, For the Man Who Has Everything, the enormously successful Demon Slayer - Kimetsu no Yaiba - The Movie: Mugen Train traps its Shonen Jump heroes on a living train that has lulled their party, and all the other passengers, into a tranquil slumber designed to massage their digestion. Series lead Tanjiro Kamado dreams of his life before demon slaying, a time of modest routine when his mother and many headstrong siblings were still alive. Crucially, this recollection isn't picturesque or idealised, the family are snowbound and dirt poor. Tanjiro's father is elsewhere, leaving his sickly looking mother to crush up stale leftovers when prepping treat meals. Tanjiro's nostalgia then is rooted in the reality and, quite apparently, the love that underlined these moments - a more powerful tonic than naked wish-fulfilment.
Trespassing in this private realm is an assassin, a sleepless commuter enslaved by the steam-powered monster, looking to hack and slash their way beyond this fantasy construct into a metaphysical space where Tanjiro and his demon slaying friends are especially vulnerable. As a weekly comic lead Tanjiro is, naturally, possessed of a staggering intuition, able to recognise the trap he finds himself in, explain it to the audience, then counter the incoming attacks. The method by which Tanjiro liberates himself is unusually ferocious though - repeated, grim, episodes in which he is required to cut his own throat, over and over again. Tanjiro's enemy quickly recognises this suicidal routine, unleashing scattershot sleep blasts against the swordsman in an attempt to trick Tanjiro's somnambulistic reflexes into ruinous self-harm. The cruelty of these assaults is exacerbated by Tanjiro's sensitive, childlike, demeanour. We're not watching an expert effortlessly overcome challenges, like many of his Jump stablemates, Tanjiro is an innocent forced down a path of repetition and physical reconfiguration.