Friday, 30 July 2021

NWA - Appetite for Destruction


F9's most arresting minutes are a series of beautifully grainy, magic hour memories that Vin Diesel's Dominic Toretto uses to make sense of his current predicament. Initially glimpsed as an opening gambit - complete with a period appropriate (and slightly beaten up) Universal Pictures logo - these late 80s recollections move the character further away from the grumpy default first seen in Rob Cohen's The Fast and the Furious, conjuring up a self-consciously mythic backstory involving the bone-deep pain of familial betrayal and a circuit race track straight out of Tony Scott's Days of Thunder. It's notable that the adult Diesel only passes through those moments, observing and reconfiguring them from a detached, third-person, perspective. The actor-producer isn't de-aged or otherwise given a computer generated makeover either. Instead, the task of extracting emotional vulnerability from such a knowingly gruff character is entrusted to Vinnie Bennett, an actor from New Zealand.

Bennett's Dominic, as well as the milieu he inhabits, are a softer, more human, alternative to the state-of-the-art noise around them. Viewed in the totality of Justin Lin's film they are, at least initially, a necessary diversion; textural information spliced into the rigidly digital F9, designed to make sense of John Cena's character - a dark reflection for Dom, foisted on the series ten laps deep. This ungainliness is all over F9, a sequel that seems more concerned with re-stablishing a status quo for further instalments than moving any of these characters in exciting directions right now. To wit, Dwayne Johnson's uneasy ally is replaced by a different, but no less musclebound, WWE wrestler while the death of Sung Kang's Han is rewritten yet again, this time to put his easy-going charm back in an operations room that has, understandably, skewed morose since Paul Walker's real life death. As Lin's film heads deeper and deeper into the tech-babble and empty posturing required to prop up yet-another mind-numbing treasure hunt, the appeal of the NWA scored flashbacks only grows. The seething simplicity of two teenage petrolheads squabbling over the memory of their father - each armed with a distinctly different account of Toretto Sr. - plays sincere by comparison. 

Tuesday, 27 July 2021

The Curse of the Werewolf

The opening credits for Terence Fisher's The Curse of the Werewolf play over an extreme close-up of a weeping beast. We see tears form in his unblinking, contact lensed, eyes then trickle down his hairy cheeks, foretelling an unusually tragic take on the lycanthrope legend. Rather than plug into a general idea of how a person comes to be a werewolf - bitten by somebody else already cursed with the condition - Fisher's film starts from zero, constructing an overwrought sequence of events that ends with Oliver Reed's Leon Corledo sprouting hair and craving blood. Roughly half of The Curse of the Werewolf is given over to this brilliantly melodramatic origin story, presumably so that sequels - which never materialised - wouldn't have to repeat Fisher's symphony of horror. 

Written by Hammer Producer Anthony Hinds, adapting (and sanitising) Guy Endore's 1933 novel The Werewolf of Paris, Curse begins with Richard Wordsworth's beggar wandering into a Spanish village in the grip of a cruel Marquess. When his pleas for charity at the local pub fall on deaf ears, the beggar takes himself off to crash the Marquess' wedding reception, in the hopes of hoovering up some free wine or food. Wordsworth's panhandler is cast into the castle jail for his troubles then forgotten about, fed scraps and bones over the course of decades until his mind is shattered and his body has become absurdly hirsute. When the jailor's beautiful daughter, played by Yvonne Romain, rebuffs the advances of a decrepit Marquess, she is thrown in the cells with the beggar, who promptly rapes her then dies. After a spell in the wilderness, the jailor's daughter is found by Clifford Evans' Don Alfredo Corledo, a gentle academic who welcomes the pregnant woman into his home. 

Leon is delivered on Christmas Day, which we are told by the attending midwives is a slight against heaven itself - Jesus apparently unwilling to share any of the attention on his big day. Leon's mother passes away not long after delivering the baby, but even this isn't the last piece of this little orphan's monster make-up. The final straw comes when a young Leon is taken out on a hunting trip and forced to witness a squirrel being shot. An appalled Leon, we are told, then attempts to kiss life back into the ruined rodent, acquiring an all-consuming taste for blood for his trouble. Curse's latter half concerns Leon's circuitous attempts to be loved; rather sweetly the only circumstance that prevents the beleaguered young man from transforming into a ferocious brute. Reed's make-up during these episodes (created by Roy Ashton) is particularly good, accentuating the actor's jawline and piercing eyes. Dressed in a shredded poet blouse and jodhpurs - leaping from roof to roof - the hunched, snarling, Reed looks like a rock star. 

The Smog Monster by Kazumasa Yasukuni

Sunday, 25 July 2021

Lucy in Disguise & Graywave - Make Me Wana Run

betterthanlynn - Ain't No Love (from NLCC TAPE)

RoboCop Versus The Terminator - VIOLENCE MODE

Replay Burners' latest playthrough vid is especially exciting. This longplay of the Mega Drive / Genesis version of RoboCop Versus The Terminator takes place with the violence mode cheat code activated - this optional input introduces extra enemies to the game, including Terminator dogs in the future and female criminals in the present; RoboCop can also catch on fire, forcing the player to either shoot a fire hydrant or hunt down an automatic sprinkler system. That's not all though, the player behind the run, Jarl HL 3.0, makes a bee line for the game's many hidden stages, reminding me of a long-held query of my own. When you finish RoboCop Versus The Terminator, the closing credits ask you if you are sure you have found all the game's secret levels. This pointed needling always made me wonder if there was an alternative credit sequence that would then congratulate the player for finding all of the game's concealed areas? 

Since I was 12 when the game came out, I had more than enough time to play then replay this game, pushing RoboCop up against every wall and surface to see if they could be passed through. Make it into one of these offscreen spaces and (sometimes) a secret stage could be accessed by pressing up on the d-pad. Happily Jarl, on this impressively thorough run, doesn't discover any more areas than I had done myself. The hidden OCP office packed with Terminator found in the second stage or the Secret Remote Base - complete with background tile designs shamelessly cribbed from the industrial landscapes seen in Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira - were, I think, relatively well known but Jarl even hits areas I remember thinking were particularly obscure, such as the Secret Streets Exit found in the OCP building or the olive coloured, alternative version of Delta City. Watching today, these secret stages offer a slightly more experimental approach to the game, usually by packing the area with enough enemies to simulate a sort of bullet hell but also, in the case of an unfinished, palette swapped city, by focusing the level around a trepidatious, vertical, progression. 

Saturday, 24 July 2021

Angel Terminators 2

Action packed doesn't quite do Angel Terminators 2 justice. Lau Chan and Chun-Ku Lu's film - also known as The Best of Lady Kickboxers - is ninety minutes of relentless argy-bargy. Every scene and sequence in Angel Terminators 2 quickly tracks towards some sort of disagreement or quarrel. There are very few quiet moments in the film; comedy interludes introducing kindly older uncles quickly degenerate into slapping and name-calling before the principles swiftly exit. Even a celebratory night out for a group of teenagers - welcoming Yukari Oshima's Bullet home from prison - ends with the yelping youngsters pouring their beers all over each other. 

Bullet and best friend Chitty, played by Moon Lee, are the resident martial arts experts in a youthful, relatively carefree, friendship group that includes a pair of lusty, interchangeable, nerds and a melodramatic boyfriend and girlfriend - the latter of whom follows a dream of superstardom that, tragically, turns out to be hopelessly naïve. Bullet's father, played by Jason Pai Piao, is a Hong Kong cop who quietly frets about his wayward daughter. His partner, Sibelle Hu's Big Aunt, is a wisecracking lethal weapon, happy to rough up any criminal who crosses her path. These two disparate groups are, eventually, united in pure bloodlust thanks to the antics of Big Mad, played by Chi Yeung Wong, an up-and-coming crime boss who blasts enemies and allies alike. 

Bullet is driven to a Molotov clutching mania by the actions of Hong Kong's hostess gangs. She attacks the pimps - who strung her friend out then murdered her - with the aforementioned petrol bombs and twirling, slow-motion, machete swipes. Despite a star turn from Oshima, decked out in big graphic track pants and a knife edge haircut, Angel Terminators 2 doesn't let the actress hoover up all the screentime. Lee and Hu end the film besieging an island stronghold and killing dozens - Lee somersaults around in a silver windbreaker while Hu, dressed like super-militarised American law enforcement, sneaks around the perimeter picking off hoodlums. Hu's shotgun (this particular pyrotechnic apparently borrowed from the set of Hard-Boiled) fires body-shredding buckshot, incendiary rounds and perhaps even landmines, judging by the sand churning detonations that Sophia Crawford's blonde heavy struggles to outpace. 

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster by Phantom City Creative

Tuesday, 20 July 2021

THX 1138 - The George Lucas Director's Cut

George Lucas' first feature film imagines a near future that is chemically moderated and heedlessly consuming. THX 1138 presents a closed loop of production, humans working on vast assembly belts, heavily tranquilised to be able to perform the keyhole surgery style construction of their android overseers. This population is numb and mumbling, their home lives a mechanical routine of appliance assisted masturbation, capsule cocktails and the hammering, holographic, violence that passes for an evening's entertainment - the projected beatings metronomic enough to be used as a percussive lead-in to Nine Inch Nails' Mr. Self Destruct. Robert Duvall's THX is a worker on one of these robot manufacturing lines, his live-in partner, Maggie McOmie's LUH, is secretly varying his state-issued medicine doses, weaning him off the sedatives in the hope that they can then pursue a romantic relationship, in defiance of this society's laws. 

Despite the all-consuming repetition, putting together mechanical police officers is extremely dangerous work, often resulting in radiation leaks and fiery explosions. Workers, at the end of their seemingly lengthy shifts, are congratulated for completing their duties with only hundreds of lives ending. Later in the film, when THX and LUH have aroused suspicion in the spider-web of bureaucracy that monitors their day-to-day lives, we get some sense of why fatalities are so common. Burping his way through a particularly nauseous comedown, THX is mind-locked, an enforced halt that interrupts his painstaking tinkers, freezing him in a kind of seizure. In this expanded edit, the fizzing radioactive isotope THX had been handling, and attempting to thread into the face mask of a disassembled automaton, tumbles away from the mechanical arms he was animating. The tiny rod burns through anything it touches, setting off all manner of alarms. 

Although THX had found this precision work difficult in his tremoring condition, he was still able to slowly complete the process. This stuttering approach isn't good enough though, interrupted simply on the basis on a perceived mistake. The system simply will not tolerate this quiet irregularity in its components. Not that the lanky, cattle-prodding, cops that ceaselessly patrol the city operate with a perfect record either. We see a couple locked into degraded routines, striding purposefully into walls then cueing up a repeat step, as if expecting a different outcome. As with Lucas' later film Star Wars, there's a tension underlining THX 1138. You do not feel that this is a civilisation that has naturally tracked to this point of technological fluency, there are missing pieces, a pervading sense that something primitive and aberrant has been plugged into a pre-existing procedure. Originally released in 1971 THX 1138 was, like its space opera follow-up, given Lucas' now-customary Special Edition pass. THX's occurred in 2004, re-released to compliment the first DVD release of the Star Wars Trilogy. 

As with the Skywalker series, THX 1138 - The George Lucas Director's Cut has become the only version of the film currently available, leaving a couple of previous cuts and r-edits to languish on analogue formats like video cassette and LaserDisc. Lucas' alterations - conceived and executed following the production of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones - are, by now, either pleasantly quaint or conspicuously artificial. The quantum leap in special effects seen in Star Wars Episode III: The Revenge of the Sith is, notably, still just out of reach here. The creature animations used to depict the mutated Shell Dwellers - originally played by actors with dwarfism, dressed in tatty monkey costumes - are the most obviously jarring, both in terms of their crude motion and the slippery, not-quite-perfect, interactions between the new character models and the vintage footage of Duvall. This admittedly fleeting sequence is a rough gear shift, conjuring up memories of the Jabba meeting that Lucas insists on keeping in Star Wars - a million dollar carbuncle squatting on the middle-act of an American classic.

Not all of this film's additions prickle an acute revulsion, a few inserts are actually beautiful. Skywalker Ranch and ILM's best work in this George Lucas Director's Cut come from the corrections applied to the previously spare android assembly line. The abstracted tinkering of the theatrical cut is given a golden wash, stressing both the unstable energy output of the construction materials and (strangely) the Champagne colourways of Pioneer's combination DVD and LaserDisc players - perhaps the film's intended home? Similarly, the low polygonal androids being repaired have the same simple structure and gleaming carapace as a Hajime Sorayama piece. The robot as a splayed, naked, body rather than just disassembled machinery. For the most part though these computer generated additions are used to expand the otherwise claustrophobic scope of the film, shrinking the captured photography of underground carparks or hotel lobbies into the corner of a frame, then filling in the new space with structures that grow away from the original image. 

These tweaks have a tidying effect on the film, stressing a hive-like sterility already present in the work. The added vertical and horizontal expanse is similar to that seen in the white-out corridors of The Empire Strikes Back's Cloud City or the Kamino clone farm that Obi-Wan investigates in Episode II. Lucas making the connective tissue between THX 1138 and Attack of the Clones - two films produced more than 30 years apart - explicit. Both films are premised on the unnerving horror of a human battery farm. A callous, unnatural, kind of reproduction presided over, in both instances, by tranquil beings completely disconnected from the shock experienced by a human witnessing the slavery of his race perpetuated on an industrial scale. THX 1138 explores a perspective that none of the Star Wars prequels (or sequels for that matter) seem interested in pursuing - that of a person with skin in the game. THX is the product, a genetically engineered person slowly finding their way out of a chemically maintained fog. The film traverses this shock of self-determination, examining how THX's struggling psyche copes with an avalanche of new information, before locking this now enlightened cog into a jet-powered car chase. 

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Le Samouraï

Le Samouraï is the crime film as a series of exacting tasks, each performed - as befits the piece's title -in a methodical, almost ritualistic, fashion. Jean-Pierre Melville's film rejects spontaneity; its central character, Alain Delon's Jef Costello, performs contract executions slowly and conspicuously, preferring to weave dead ends and red herrings into the counter-narrative he provides to authorities rather than, simply, disguise his offence. Paid to shoot holes through a night club owner (for reasons unknown), Costello dresses up in his own idea of ceremonial armour - a sandy trench coat, grey fedora, white gloves and a revolver pistol - then zips around town, establishing a lengthy alibi that ends up providing little protection for the assailed hitman. Once inside the startlingly over-lit jazz club, Jef darts about, perhaps to establish a non-descript figure in the minds of witnesses, or perhaps because Costello isn't quite as cool as his clothing. 

Rounded up for an identity parade hundreds deep, many of whom are carrying their own illegal firearms, Jef arouses a city-wide surveillance level suspicion in François Périer's police superintendent despite being almost unanimously dismissed by the night club witnesses. In this way, Melville's film very openly works against a realistic progression of events. This narrative is built to entertain, our enjoyment drawn out of watching how Delon's emotionally inert button man responds to sabotage, both large and small. In deference to the cod Bushido poem presented during the film's opening credits, Jef proceeds as if he is dead. His personal desires and interior perspective are almost completely sunken into the mechanical villainy he is paid to perform. Jef's apartment is sooty and functional, an impersonal space that provides Costello a venue to brood and issue voluminous clouds of smoke for a chirping, appreciative, bullfinch. The Paris outside this room is similarly dour - a concrete and glass modernism, paved over the usual tourist traps. This is a French capitol that terminates into a maze of underground train tracks and inner city dead ends; secret rooms and installations in which cops and criminals ply their painstaking, laborious, trade. 

Screwjob 2 by Jimmy Giegerich

Monday, 12 July 2021

Black Widow

Cate Shortland's Black Widow provides a belated epitaph for Scarlett Johansson's Russian super spy, Natasha Romanoff, revealing her to be a former sleeper agent who resided in the American Midwest as a child back in the 1990s. Played by Ever Anderson (the daughter of actress Milla Jovovich and director Paul WS Anderson) in a flashback sequence that plays like an action focused adjunct to television's The Americans, a young Romanoff quickly discovers that the familial affection she has experienced is entirely dependent on orders issued from a higher authority. Demobbed in Cuba, Natasha and her younger sister Yelena (Violet McGraw as a child, then Florence Pugh as a wonderfully grumpy adult) are sweet-talked by their phoney super solider father, David Harbour's Alexei, long enough for soldiers to creep up and tranquilise the pair. 

Black Widow then hurls us into a credits sequence that uses Natasha and Yelena as focal points in a montage that revolves around child trafficking. The film cuts back and forth between traumatised children - packed into shipping containers, holding onto their soft toys for dear life - and Ray Winstone's Dreykov, the architect of this outrage. Dreykov here is either instructing faceless militia men to point assault rifles at wailing youngsters or networking with the great and powerful. The insinuation is pretty clear, and underlined by the conspiratorial presence of a smiling President Bill Clinton. This Dreykov is, essentially, this four colour universe's equivalent of Jeffrey Epstein; a monster who abducts then indoctrinates young girls, placating them with drugs, before using them as an expendable commodity in geopolitical power plays. As an opening salvo for a comic book movie, the intentional invocation of a very real and far-reaching human horror seems a step beyond the usual fumbling self-seriousness. 

Foregrounded in Black Widow is the consistent failure of fathers to either protect or nurture their children. Rescued by his daughters from a mountainous Russian supermax, Alexei reverts to treating Natasha and Yelena like accessories, neither awed nor grateful for their intervention. At this point, as with basically every Marvel film, Black Widow defaults to comedy to force the audience through scenes of grinding axis. It's funny that Alexei is so self-centred. It's amusing that his summation of the decades his daughters have spent brainwashed, visiting unconscious violence on the world, is one of pride. They have both killed so many people! This father who, not just willingly but greedily, played a part in their violent inculcation, is thereafter played as forgiven. This unthinking, amoral, slob is absolved in the eyes of the film because he is faintly pathetic - an overweight man forcing his uncooperative spread into the Soviet red Kevlar of his former super identity. 

Black Widow's biggest disconnects come from obeying formula (or, maybe more accurately, expectation), ballooning the drama of a child ticking off the fathers who failed her into a yet-another finale set in and around a fracturing super structure. There's never even a moment when we're asked to consider the precarious nature of this cloud-scraping environment either. The tangible, emotional and physical, violence of two bickering sisters racing through Budapest streets pursued by an unyielding juggernaut (easily the film's best sequence) is long jettisoned. As the film goes on, we sink deeper and deeper into a server bank spectacle that manages only one moment of pure delirium - Romanoff and a pursuing cyborg surfing through the heavens on a collapsing solar wing. Obviously, Dreykov's eventual comeuppance also completely fails to meet the poisonous standard set by the film's opening crawl. Rather than be rewarded with the genuinely fantastical sight of Romanoff force-feeding Drekov his tablet of human misery, Black Widow elects to dispose of its bastard with, basically, a creaky computer generated scene transition. 

April and The Fellas by Sam McKenzie

Tuesday, 6 July 2021

Plein Soleil (and The Talented Mr. Ripley)

Plein Soleil withholds. René Clément's film, loosely based on the book The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith, centres around the various cruelties manifested by Alain Delon's Tom Ripley, a beautiful but empty young man who regards other people with a detached curiosity. Plein Soleil maps out a power imbalance, one between the rich, feckless, Phillipe Greenleaf, played by Maurice Ronet, and Delon's Ripley, an old school friend employed by Greenleaf's father to extract Phillipe from his European jaunt then return him home to San Francisco. Phillipe bullies and babies Ripley, treating him, essentially, like staff. Ripley is to observe and catalogue, not participate in, this lifestyle. In a private moment with his girlfriend, Phillipe states outright that he has no memory of Ripley, despite Tom's nostalgic musings on their childhood relationship. The statement proving either that Ripley has wholly manufactured a foothold in Greenleaf's life or that the young man was so without note that Greenleaf has simply forgotten that he existed. 

Anthony Minghella's 1999 adaptation, The Talented Mr. Ripley, lasered in on the central criminal's ego - bruised by his lack of financial options - then plotted itself around the violent fussiness required to maintain the character's crumbling façade. Matt Damon's Ripley is explicitly gay too, summoning up the courage to murder the object of his desire when his advances are not reciprocated. Clément's take, co-written with Paul Gégauff, never allow us to experience that kind of personal longing within Ripley. Phillipe - before he is violently stabbed - is closer to an obstacle than a beloved, the distasteful task between Ripley and the assumption of riches. Similarly, Marie Laforêt's Marge, Phillipe's gloomy fiancée, is less the prize at the end of this long, serpentine, con and more an amenity that Tom can use up then tick off before seeing where his gift for homicidal assimilation will take him next. Minghella's film is almost heroic by comparison: Tom positioned as a working class striver, slowly weaponising the incestuous web of the upper classes so that he can scratch out some physical or emotional space that belongs to him. His mistakes and failings are human, predicated on a longing to assume a station he was not born into and is therefore not fluent in. 

Delon's performance is colder and far crueller, a confident alien who sinks himself into a counterfeit life and lifestyle, but not before he has calmly laid out the method by which he will take over his quarry's identity. He rejects Phillipe's clumsy attempts to buy him off, happy to forgo a generous bribe - the same amount promised by Greenleaf Sr should Tom succeed in convincing Phillipe to come home to the United States - so he can plunge his diving knife into Phillipe's body and claim the whole pot. While Damon's Ripley is a bumbler with a gift for impersonation, Delon's is brazen, supplementing his good looks and easy charm with a methodical approach to the sort of detailed reproduction required to steer him through the jeopardies he relentlessly generates. The crimes in Minghella's film are opportunistic, born out of acute emotional distress; those in Clément's are laboriously pre-meditated, perhaps envisioned while suffering through Phillipe's barking moods. After one too many murders, when the police really start sniffing around, Soleil's Ripley forges a suicide note from Phillipe, leaving a sizable sum of money to Marge. He uses this transaction as a way to break a chain of deceit, simplifying his route to riches. He no longer has to maintain two separate identities - one of which has become needlessly complicated with bloodshed - or sell off a boat he doesn't actually own. He can revert back to handsome Tom Ripley, unbutton his shirt, then seduce a grieving Marge instead.  

Saturday, 3 July 2021

VIQ & ALISON - L'Echo Des Soupirs

Streets of Rage 4: Mr. X Nightmare - SMS

Finally a release date for Streets of Rage 4's Mr. X Nightmare DLC! Due the 15th of this month, turns out the big boss' bad dreams are full of sandbox survival modes that mix and remix assets pulled from as far back as the Master System / Game Gear ports of the original games. Wonderful stuff. 

Thursday, 1 July 2021

The 10th Victim

Elio Petri's The 10th Victim is a louche, rambling, take on The Most Dangerous Game that sidelines the pursuit, and any specific murder machinations, to gab around the idea of a world where killing is not only legal but commercially and ideologically encouraged. 10th Victim takes place in a society where war - and really any human desire to commit violence - has been successfully subsumed into The Big Hunt, a worldwide game of tick in which volunteers take it in turns to track then be tracked. Should contestants score themselves a specific number of kills then they will get a parade thrown in their honour and never have to pay income tax again. Naturally, this contest doesn't just keep international relations simmering along nicely, it is also the world's number one source of entertainment, allowing players to cherry pick all sorts of lucrative sponsorship deals. 

Marcello Mastroianni plays Poletti, a down-on-his-luck victim who has had all his previous winnings spent by his ex-wife Lidia (Luce Bonifassy), and his mistress Olga (Elsa Martinelli). Ursula Andress is Marcello's hunter, Caroline Meredith, a highly successful contestant looking to make the most of her final (pre-parade) kill by staging a perfect, ad revenue friendly, execution. Caroline's hit is poised to be the centrepiece of a variety show bankrolled by the Ming Tea Company, an American outfit that trades in wonky racial stereotypes and hopes to attach its branding to a moment of triumphant butchery. Caroline just needs to corner the breezy Italian bachelor. Although hardly revelatory in terms of plotting or the ways in which it designs tension, 10th Victim instead delights in its detailing. Roman gladiators clash under jaundiced spotlights for a bored mod audience; ageing parents are locked away in secret mansion rooms, lest they be euthanised by the over-eager state; and, best of all, Big Hunters may well be able to gun down their victims in broad daylight but, if they abandon their car whilst giving chase, they must still suffer a parking ticket from a finger-wagging traffic warden. 

Shattered Glass Goldbug by Casey W Coller

Arooj Aftab - Diya Hai (feat. Badi Assad)