Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes - Preview Cut

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the fourth film in the series, is set in a paved-over future in which domestic pets have been completely wiped out by a viral pandemic that has drifted to Earth from space. The one American city we see in the film is a strict police state, constantly patrolled and stringently regimented by brusque, brutal looking, policemen. Bronze statues have been erected in this anonymous concrete expanse to honour the lost cats and dogs - attracting a certain amount of solemn contemplation from visiting outsiders. This absence seems to have had a profound effect on mankind. Everybody, regardless of rank or disposition, is dressed in nothing but black. The future's cowed citizens are a funeral procession, shuffling around their drab, grey, environment in a state of constant mourning. 

In an attempt to fill this companionship void, mankind has worked to domesticate apes. Not through kindness you understand, rather through selective breeding and industrial scale beatings. Since we see real chimpanzees alongside the usual squat, made-up actors, there's an insinuation that the eugenics programme we briefly glimpse during a processing sequence has already put in years of work, directly responsible for the more human looking ape dimensions we're used to seeing in the series - the larger chimps and the smaller, less musclebound gorillas. This is evolution as a direct result of marketplace demand. The children of mankind's closest relatives have been bred to an unnatural order, exaggerating outlier characteristics until they are the norm. The crass, wheezing, commercialisation visited on the Pug dog has therefore migrated to the hominid family. 

Visiting one of these depressed concrete cities is Ricardo Montalban's circus owner Armando - last seen harbouring the time-travelling apes that visited Earth in Escape from the Planet of the Apes - and his prize attraction, a horse-riding chimp. Played by Roddy McDowall, this Caesar is a completely different proposition to his departed parents, Kim Hunter's Dr Zira and McDowall's previous turn as Dr Cornelius. Caesar's relationship with humans is tainted from the off by the knowledge that we killed his parents then tried very hard to kill him. Separated from the nurturing influence of Armando, Caesar quickly becomes a militant presence in the city. He directs his withering glare at his fellow apes, shaming this servant class into minor but consistent acts of public disobedience. When this insubordination bubbles over into outright insurrection, Director J Lee Thompson and Cinematographer Bruce Surtees shoot the action as a series of night-time reports - hand-held glances of massing muscle and weaponry; man and ape slowly making their way through the city, towards each other.  

This Preview Cut, screened to a select audience a couple of weeks before the film's 1972 theatrical release then promptly shelved until a Blu-Ray re-release in late 2008, is only lightly embellished in terms of pure runtime, but the additional seconds really count. The snipped moments are inserts and answers, threaded through the climatic riot, that heighten an already pretty vivid sense of violent, revolutionary, transgression. Flamethrowers are turned on trigger-happy jailors; latex ape masks explode with soupy viscera. Human bodies become shrapnel or ballast, piled high by the rampaging apes to provide cover from any attempt to dislodge their holdings. The biggest difference between the two versions of the film though is a deletion, one that previously tempered the doomsday prophet ravings of a victorious Caesar. As officially released, McDowall's brilliant chimp stayed his hand, sparing Don Murray's blood-thirsty Governor, before portraying himself and his army (through looped dialogue) as a force willing to be humane when dealing with their former slave masters. Thompson's alternative cut makes no such promises. Governor Breck and his inner circle are simply clubbed to death instead. 

Tuesday, 17 August 2021

New Order

Premised on a popular uprising in a near-future Mexico, Michel Franco's New Order isn't particularly interested in exploring an ideological clash between the working and upper classes. Rather, the writer-director elects to focus on opportunism born out of conflict and how rapidly changing power dynamics allow people, at every level, the opportunity to push their luck. New Order begins at a lavish wedding in a gated suburb; politicians and construction magnates churn beneath enormous abstract paintings, their adult children slipping away to do club drugs deep in this labyrinthine mansion. The house staff whisk around the festivities, correcting messes and relaying messages. As the camera snakes around the reception we hear scattered asides about bribery, the hosting family apparently donating their way to cushy government or military contracts. 

These outgoing finances may secure a nuptial visit from a local politician - and the opportunity for the bride's father to then talk business - but, quite apparently, it does not mean that these high-society leeches are truly taken into confidence. When a mob of violent protestors draw closer to the building the politician and his family slip away, without a word of warning. So when a handful of rioters leap the garden wall, the massed reception freezes. At first the partygoers attempt to dismiss the trespasser with barked orders and waving, as if banishing the help. When pistols and other weapons are produced the wealthy cower, instantly recognising that their relationship with those they deem beneath them has changed. No attempt is made to resist, despite the fact that this rich throng - at least initially - comfortably outnumbering their attackers. Perhaps judging that they will be accepted by the invaders, several domestic workers begin violently extracting wealth from their former employers. The rest slip away to avoid being embroiled in the beatings and killings that follow. New Order could now describe a prolonged siege, the pressure cooker back-and-forth between hostages and hostage takers, but Franco's film skips ahead, outpacing these scenes of reparation. 

The uprising that swept the country quickly fades away, replaced on the streets by heavily armed soldiers. This occupying force - one that seemingly waited until the police and protestors had exhausted each other before mobilising - are far from a cohesive unit. While black shirted commandos rally around what remains of the ruling class, a khaki-clad national guard patrol the streets, scooping up high value targets. Rather than return these notables to their families, this rogue unit transfers their young hostages - very much the same crowd seen doing MDMA earlier - to black sites where they are tortured and sexually abused. Fernando Cuautle's Christian and Mónica del Carmen's Marta, members of the house staff who chose to assist rather than attack their former employers, become our guides into the regime's more casual acts of humiliation - the curfews, contradictory diktats, electronic corralling and even an on-the-spot disinfection regimen that sees commuters soaked while seated on blacked-out buses. Conversation and discussion crumble to nothing, Franco filling his frame with the cowed and shuffling. In this way New Order continuously resists sticking with a specific human perspective, instead the film detaches itself from rolling, terrifying, dilemmas to impassively observe the machinery of a nation that has stumbled into dictatorship. 

Saturday, 14 August 2021

PJ Harvey - Naked Cousin (Peel 2.3.93)

The Crow: City of Angels

The Los Angeles of The Crow: City of Angels is a jaundiced slum, a crumbling collection of back alleys and dripping underpasses suffering through a drugs trade that peddles branded hits that look very much like gunpowder. Director Tim Pope and cinematographer Jean-Yves Escoffier have allowed the city's dense smog to settle into the streets, diffusing the sodium lighting and driving away everybody without the means to escape. Scouted destitution is complimented by soaring shots of scale models, a scratch built enclave that has had all the light sucked out of it. Although the police are mentioned as a force capable of encroaching on the criminals who remain, we never get to see LA's bully boys at work. It's bizarre then that the impetus behind the murder of this film's resurrected avenger is a stated desire to escape punishment - Vincent Perez's Ashe and his pre-teen son are gunned down after witnessing a gang hit, their bodies dumped in the river.  

Given new life by his cawing familiar, Ashe erupts from his watery grave to slowly pick off the criminals who wronged him - a surprisingly pathetic clique who offer very little resistance to Perez's painted wraith. The actor leans into a playful affect when pulverising his foes, fawning and even mourning their deaths. These acting and writing choices - particularly the ones surrounding Iggy Pop's ceremonial dispatch - are ones that the rest of the film absolutely refuses to cater to. Whatever thought process underpins the actions of this recently bereaved father remain so mysterious as to be baffling. Crow 2 then is the sequel as an incompetent retread, a thinly written photostat that attempts to transform the collapsing ache of its predecessor into a easily duplicated formula. Although running less than 90 minutes Pope's film still manages to read as rambling and unfocused, a procession of unrelated, aggressively unentertaining, incidents that seem to have had both their methodology and subtext forcibly extracted. City of Angels offers a beautifully photographed inspection of a neutron bomb crater and very little else. 

Friday, 6 August 2021

The Suicide Squad

Set on the fictional island of Corto Maltese, a Cold War critical South American territory named for Hugo Pratt's sea captain that first appeared in Frank Miller, Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley's The Dark Knight Returns, James Gunn's latest, The Suicide Squad, allows the writer-director - not to mention Warner bros' hundreds of millions of dollars - to relitigate the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, substituting in third-string supervillains for history's well-armed exiles. A military coup on the aforementioned isle has allowed an American black site to change hands from a pro-US incumbent to a war-mongering General eager to lay waste to his former oppressor with extra-terrestrial weaponry. To Suicide Squad's credit, the transitioning country does display all the hallmarks of having been a Washington vassal state - the majority of the population suffer in abject poverty while soldiers drive around in General Motors Humvees, loaded down with heavily customised M-16s. 

Naturally, Harley Quinn and pals are far more successful than their real-life counterparts when it comes to violently evangelising CIA sponsored democracy, ceding power to a small group of electable revolutionaries by, simply, killing everybody else who could fill that power vacuum. Pitched at the gross-out comedy end of the superhero spectrum - see also the Deadpool films - The Suicide Squad revels in the kind of mass extermination that is often weaponised against Gunn's former collaborator, Zack Snyder. The city levelling rampage of a villain lifted from the first appearance of the Justice League of America (1960's The Brave and the Bold #28 - the original Suicide Squad appearing in the previous issues) comfortably kills thousands of civilians. Presumably, the lack of outrage at this outcome is due to the audience's ability to tune into Gunn's tonal wavelength rather than, say, the fact that Snyder's Man of Steel demolished literal pillars of western hegemony, ending middle class North American lives, rather than working class Latin American ones. 

Nominally a sequel to David Ayer's chopped and screwed misfire, Gunn inherits several choice pieces of casting for his own film - the most reliable of which are Margot Robbie's Dr Quinzel, the closest thing the current DC cinematic universe has to a lynchpin, and Viola Davis' cold-blooded take on Amanda Waller. Bizarrely, Idris Elba is recruited to repeat a great deal of Will Smith's arc from the previous film, except this time with a greater emphasis on transforming gadgets. John Cena, recently seen failing to plug the Dwayne Johnson sized hole in F9, is much more at home in this film, consciously leaning further and further into the plastic absurdity of the action figure outline he has cultivated. Armed with a helmet that looks very much like a chromed dickhead, Cena's bloodthirsty Peacemaker is the performance most of a piece with Gunn's violent flippancy; likely the reason that the ex-pro wrestler already has a spin-off streaming series lined up. Gunn's film then, loaded down with exploding mutants and cringing misfits, displays an obvious affection for DC's more obscure comic book characters, if not the persecuted citizens of the Second World.


PlatinumGames and Hamster Corporation are prepping Sol Cresta, a belated sequel to Nichibutsu's Moon Cresta and Terra Cresta, a pair of hugely successful 80s arcade cabinets that put their parent company on the map. For a follow-up three decades out of time, Sol Cresta has attracted some incredible talent - including creative director Hideki Kamiya and Mr Ground Upper himself, Yuzo Koshiro. 

Bison by Hungry Clicker

Irving Force - Sedatives (Starving Insect Remix)

Thursday, 5 August 2021

Jackass Number Two

Jackass Number Two is far less interested in foisting chaos on an unsuspecting public. Reactions to the film's towering instruments of self-injury rarely stray beyond the central prankster group. So, instead of a skit terminating on an incredulous glance from a middle-aged man, we either get Chris Pontius sputtering something droll or Johnny Knoxville forcing out a wheezing cackle. This self-contained feedback loop - surely the result of a production model that has completely embraced the gang as celebrities - does several of the film's gags a disservice. They measure their various outcomes against a seen-it-all before audience that, frankly, aren't particularly generous with praise. The only upside then is repetition - why waste a pneumatic fist blasting through a hotel corridor wall on one bruised colleague when you can slowly draw in the entire squad?

Thankfully, not every stunt is performed in isolation. Knoxville's Irving Zisman interludes - successful enough to spawn their own spin-off movie - see the actor-writer-producer slathered in elderly man make-up and, basically, provoking random members of the public to near-violence. This conceptually mean trick works largely because Knoxville both neatly inhabits this ageing piece of shit and is quick on his feet when exacerbating then deflecting the incoming ire. Similarly, the light confrontation of Spike Jonze's recurring bit as an elderly woman whose clothes are falling apart allows the audience to people watch - will anyone summon up the courage to tell this doddery old lady that her blouse is open? Number Two's pièce de résistance though is the superbly cruel Terror Taxi, an extended bit in which Broken Lizard's Jay Chandrasekhar is recruited to kidnap Ehren McGhehey - posing as a suicide bomber - then crash him around a car park, believing that several of his friends have been shot and, presumably, he's next. 

Amenra - Ogentroost

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Jackass: The Movie

Despite a move to big screen projection, the vast majority of Jackass: The Movie has a home video quality to it. Rather than use the inflated budget - when compared to the television series - to stage complicated, locked-down skits, this feature-length experience is made up of planned affronts to the social contract and off-the-cuff incidents captured on shaky DV by the usual documentarians. Really, the biggest indicator of an expanded budget are the brief asides in Japan, sprinkled throughout the runtime. Jackass: The Movie then preserves the mutant identity minted when an MTV executive looked at several separate skateboarding videos - most notably Big Brother magazines' Number 2 and Bam Margera and Brandon DiCamillo's CKY travelogue / prank shorts - and commissioned their own cheap, slapstick, show exploring the apparent invincibility of the young, white, American male.

As well as recycling gags from these previous pieces - The Movie opens with Big Brother import Johnny Knoxville leading us through a stockcar pile-up that has roots in the rental car incident from the second CKY tape - this theatrical adaptation maintains, and is indeed structured to showcase, the peculiarities of this jumbled-up friendship group. Jackass: The Movie provides a safe, solvent, space for these young men to strip off and explore their physical limits. The pranks themselves either track into the surreal intruding upon humdrum reality or the immediate repercussions of a scatological outrage. Occasionally though, these longform bits muster up a sustained level of discomfort rather than, simply, the rush of injury. Bam Margera is usually the ringleader for these hassles - his parents (and their mansion) a frequent, impotent, target of an animosity that is never reciprocated. 

Similarly, the now sadly departed Ryan Dunn is consistently faced with assignments apparently designed to either broadly humiliate him or specifically attack his masculinity. Whereas Knoxville - the gonzo star - is booked to go the distance against heavyweight boxer Butterbean, in Ass Kicked by Girl Dunn is dressed in a sports bra and tasked with defending himself from the no-less-dangerous champion kickboxer Naoko Kumagai. As blows fly Dunn's way, the rest of the gang laugh and heckle his failing attempts to guard his head. Dunn is also the central participant for the finale. For an audience - popping in and out of his hotel room - Dunn lubes a condom containing a toy car then inserts it into himself before heading off to a private hospital for an x-ray. The stunt requires a wearily explained fiction to action its outcome; Dunn questioning along the way if his willingness to participate in this particular segment makes him a man in the eyes of his cohorts? He gets some sort of answer, later, from former flea market clown Steve-O who explains that his Dad would probably disown him if he allowed himself to be penetrated in this way. If the trials and tribulations of the group whipping boy prove too much, there's always the skit where Knoxville dresses up as Bill Murray from Caddyshack and blasts increasingly irate golfers with an air horn.