Thursday, 27 January 2022

ALEX - Hero (feat. Megan McDuffee)

Mad God

A stop-motion animation project decades in the making, Phil Tippett's Kickstarted shorts have - finally - blossomed into a full-length feature. Far longer than the constituent parts drip-feed over the tail-end of the 2010s, this Mad God pulls apart those three previously released episodes then stitches them back together around deeper, meaner, digressions. As always, a sturdy looking fellow in a gas mask is airdropped into a Hell of scratch built rot from the skies above, tasked with making sense of a crumbling map and the relentless gnashing around him. His journey excavates dozens of extinct, and still-functional, realms; all fixated on cruelty as an industry with no clear outcome. These wanders take the gas masked assassin to the centre of this sunken creation to set a bomb that has no hope of detonating. A framing device, presented upfront, likens this trial to the Godly tantrum that toppled Babel - an affront fired from Heaven that split a united mankind into countless, warring, factions. 

Alex Cox stands in for the Judeo-Christian creator here, the Repo Man director cast as the sky-faring general compelling thousands of identikit ThreeA action figures to, monotonously, climb into a diving bell to brave automated flak guns and the swirling infernos below. Cox's character, the supremely powerful tinkerer - complete with those Howard Hughesian markers of the moldering magnate, the claw like toenail - is our sole glimpse of a humanity without any obvious physical or temporal distortions. The destiny of our species then to make endless war on our barbarous, animated, offspring: the movie monsters held in a dusted, worshipful, repose or the factory that presses (then batters) a small army of shitty lint people. Tippet's film is marvelous; a kaleidoscopic throb of unexpunged, constantly updating, imagination that deliberately works against niceties like a corporate friendly dramatic wavelength or, even, dialogue. Mad God instead centres itself around consumption and excretion, both in terms of literal on-screen action and the infernal machinery that compels the damned to stagger forward. 

Androids by Lum

Friday, 21 January 2022

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Director Leonard Nimoy follows up Star Trek III: The Search for Spock with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, a light-hearted sequel that sees Kirk and pals using a captured Klingon warship to sling themselves around the curve of the sun, a feat that - thanks to Spock's cigarette packet calculations - hurls them back in time to San Francisco in the mid-1980s. Their mission in The Golden City? To kidnap a pair of humpback whales in the hope that these time displaced sea creatures can then communicate with the cigar-shaped interstellar object currently transforming 23rd century Earth into a boiling cauldron. Voyage Home is the time travel film told with the language of a culture clash comedy; incredulous Russian ensigns standing in for smiling Paul Hogan. Once touched down, the Enterprise crew make little to no attempt to fit in, remaining in their futuristic clothes and doing zero research about the time period they find themselves in. 

Voyage Home, like Ron Howard's Cocoon, is essentially a feature length opportunity for a gang of ageing stars to mix it up with reckless, grey-haired, abandon. Actors who - at this stage in their career - might otherwise be locked into one-note, supporting, roles are given the opportunity to be charming, even irreverent here. While Nimoy's film spends a significant amount of time basking in the chemistry generated by the actor-director and William Shatner's self-proclaimed expert, the rest of the crew do (finally) get their own mini-moments to shine. James Doohan's Scotty hams it up away from his teleporter console, posing as a Scottish Professor happy to trade fantastical chemical compounds with greedy line managers in a bid to secure the specialist water tank equipment their mission so desperately needs. There's a note of joyous vandalism in Scotty's subplot, the chief engineer belligerently dismissive of, and completely unconcerned with, any potential ramifications following his casual correction of history. Voyage Home is funny like that. 

Michael Giacchino - The Batman

Saturday, 15 January 2022

The Spirit

Frank Miller's take on The Spirit is hopelessly mannered but beautiful all the same; a mutant movie that sinks Will Eisner's rough and tumble crimefighter into a live action approximation of the messier, sketchier, panels seen in latter-day Sin City comics. Like a Hell and Back or the shorter, punchline focused, interludes collected in Booze, Broads & Bullets, this Spirit represents characters and situations largely unmoored from a strict, logical, narrative. Miller is freewheeling, pinging from one idea to another without any pressing concern for an organic whole. The Spirit - notable as Miller's only feature not co-directed with Robert Rodriguez - employs constant voiceover, shot through with slang excavated from 1930s potboilers, to place us inside the mind of Denny Colt, a zombie policeman who cannot die. 

The Spirit peaks very early with a sludgy tar pit duel between Gabriel Macht's Spirit and Samuel L Jackson's master criminal The Octopus. Both men batter and hammer at each other with the unceasing, unbloodied, violence of Looney Tunes cartoons; deploying massive industrial hooks, decapitated heads and crumbling toilets in an effort to vanquish the other. There's a dangling insinuation (quickly tossed off) that these two warriors are at least dimly aware that they are not only invincible but taking part in the opening sequence of a narrative that will extend far beyond this encounter. The bodily punishment that they experience, then quickly heal from, a formality of plotting rather than anything that they should be truly concerned about. Unfortunately, the framing of this commonality departs from these metatextual musings, arriving at a strictly recounted origin episode that's not nearly as entertaining. 

Getting back to the asphalt pit punch-up - unlike the dry for wet sequences seen elsewhere in this digital soundstage picture, Macht and Jackson are actually wallowing in this soupy filth. It clings to their clothes and changes their outline. What would be an irrelevant detail in basically any other action entry is lent an extra note of ruggedness here - it's completely at odds with the fast and loose shooting style engendered by this green-screened approach to filmmaking. It's messy and, presumably, requires a lengthy reset. This sodden physicality is further enhanced by cinematographer Bill Pope who, assisted by umpteen CGI studios, manufactures frames busy with particles that are subject to varying degrees of focus. An effect far more in keeping with Miller's ink splashed artwork than anything in either big screen Sin City. The Spirit isn't just this one sequence though. In the main, Miller's film is one long tonal convulsion; a tightrope walk that wavers between a maddening outlet for painfully overwrought acting and the acute visual interest offered by extremely photogenic women acting out their writer-director's dress-up fantasies. 

John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies - Strodes At The Hospital // Cruel Intentions

Megatron by Richard Chen

Tuesday, 11 January 2022

Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Just as much of a 90s throwback as its predecessor, Venom: Let There Be Carnage presents like an out-of-time Summer blockbuster; a Spawn adjacent till-ringer that, similarly, interprets the glistening musculature of these comic book anti-heroes as a knotted web of computer generated effects. Let There Be Carnage is the kind of film that used to come to market pre-packaged - for maximum teenage brain-share - with a soundtrack CD that boasted of music not just from the motion picture, but inspired by it as well. Something of a lost art in this day and age. That's not to say Sony hasn't made any effort with the musical suite of their Marvel spin-off - this sequel's credits are packed with undercooked genre fusions that grimly intone our hero's name, as if summoning the oily symbiote back to the screen for a brain-gnashing encore. 

Director Andy Serkis, who most recently delivered a Netflix adaptation of The Jungle Book - entitled Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle - that skewed far closer to Rudyard Kipling's poems and short stories than any of Disney's efforts, keeps this sequel refreshingly brief. Where other superhero tentpoles dare to reckon with biblical runtimes, Let There Be Carnage wraps up in under a hundred minutes. In an inspired twist on the usual identity splitting, Kelly Marcel's screenplay is constructed with the bashful mechanics of a romantic comedy. Tom Hardy's Eddie Brock and the eponymous sludge monster he has bonded with fall out then back into love, the latter even experimenting with a series of short-lived trysts that (repeatedly) fail to bring the creature comfort. Although not as gruesome as the title suggests - Woody Harrelson's alien costume preferring to generate sinewy whips over the scythes and axe heads seen on paper - Let There Be Carnage does still feature subsurface scattered tentacles forcing themselves down victim's throats. A note of bloodless violence that, as with the film's prequel, sharply recalls the more sordid aspects of Japanese animation. 

Monday, 10 January 2022

DF Retro - The Splatterhouse Saga

John Linneman and Audi Sorlie run down The Splatterhouse Saga for DF Retro. Covering the original, blood-spattered, Namco arcade cab and its home console conversions, all the way up to the Xbox 360 and PS3's underwhelming 3D brawler. My own personal connection to the laceration-heavy series extends all the way back to my teen years, when I bought an ex-rental copy of Splatterhouse Part 2 from Blockbuster Video for £2.50. Comparing my memories to the footage captured here, it seems the PAL 50Hz revision fouled up the video shop influenced electronica, making the game's throbbing Fulci beats sound more like a stalling, burping, dirge. The reduction in overall speed also left the game feeling a touch more sluggish too, is if the player was attempting to control an unwieldy lump rather than a vein-popped slasher killer. Still, even running nearly 20% slower, nothing beats whacking a rotting zombie so hard that they blast away from your walking axis, ending up as a dripping smear on the background tile. 

Monday, 3 January 2022

Teruko Akatsuki - Tokyo Shoe Shine Boy

Halsey - Honey (Live)

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City

With Paul WS Anderson and Milla Jovovich out of the picture, it falls to Johannes Roberts to reanimate the big screen ambitions of Capcom's hugely successful video game series. Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City goes back to the original PlayStation games (or, rather, the recent remakes of those first few entries) to tell the story of a small town on the verge of collapse. Instead of a designer virus transmitted from a chemical weapons facility to a civilian population via infected wildlife though, writer-director Roberts locates Raccoon City firmly within the American poison belt. Portrayed in the console series as a warren of interconnected shops and bars - distinctly Japanese urban planning transplanted to Midwestern America - this Raccoon City is a predominantly working class Podunk that has been slowly and methodically contaminated over the course of decades. 

While Kaya Scodelario's Claire Redfield roots around a dingy suburban hovel in search of her brother, the mother and child next door loom in their rundown home, peering out of windows so we can note that their scalps have been picked clean. Across town, a truck stop waitress weeps blood and thinks nothing of it - spontaneous haemorrhaging apparently an everyday occurrence in this neighbourhood. When an enforced lockdown goes into effect, the town's police are subordinated then routed. Gas mask commandoes line the roads, executing the handful of citizens who have made it as far as the blockades. In its early passages Welcome to Raccoon City, a period piece set in the late 1990s, captures the rhythms of that era's straight-to-shelf action horror; specifically the micro-budget sequels destined for Blockbuster Video. 

Roberts and cinematographer Maxime Alexandre manufacture the look and feel of Dimension Films filler - from the pitch black sets broken up by gun mounted torches to a sulphurous, emergency exit approach to lighting. As Welcome rattles on towards its conclusion, this niche approach to entertainment completely breaks down into a rote, unexciting remix of its source material. Roberts' film leaps back-and-forth between the Spencer Mansion from the original Resident Evil and the equally labyrinthine police station from Resident Evil 2; events in either location failing to either congeal into an effective source of tension or trigger some unseen, and no doubt diabolical, mechanism. The insidious evil of a pharmaceutical corporation that keeps a paramilitary unit on its books gets away from Roberts as well, Welcome preferring to default to an aimless series of confrontations with crude, and obviously computer generated, creatures.