Monday, 26 June 2017
Martin Campbell is finally out of movie jail! Six years for the excretable Green Lantern sounds about right, shame he didn't take Ryan Reynolds down with him. Anyway, Campbell is back, coralling a hopelessly mistimed terror revenge film starring Jackie Chan to the big screen. Still, inciting incident aside, looks like The Foreigner will be filled with scenes of Jackie kicking people trapped inside tiny flats with a glum expression plastered all over his face. What more could you ask for?
Friday, 23 June 2017
Tuesday, 20 June 2017
Monday, 19 June 2017
Friday, 16 June 2017
Post-apocalyptic in every detail bar a nuclear exchange, John Carpenter and Nick Castle's Escape from New York takes an action premise then describes it with the kind of anxiety usually reserved for horror filmmaking. Kurt Russell plays Snake Plissken, a raspy ex-special forces operative who made his name sneaking into a litany of Russian cities before dropping out, turning to a life of crime. Snake is a relic from a world that has passed, a rugged, bad-tempered individual bumping heads with the compromised and robotic company men who now rule the country.
Whatever happened in Leningrad burnt Snake out, perhaps exposing the lie that forms the bedrock of a regime that has seen America congeal into a total police state. Snake is a soldier so explicitly used up that orders have no meaning to him. He isn't on this mission into the corpse of the Big Apple to redeem himself and therefore become heroic by the standards of the men who have crow-barred him into this assignment. He's being coerced. Snake is captured, dragged to Liberty Island and injected with explosives before being loaded up with shuriken and an Ingram sub-machine gun for what amounts to a suicide mission. Despite his legendary status he's still just a disposable commodity, an experiment forced into play while jackbooting dead heads weigh up an air strike on the Island.
Snake doesn't represent salvation, he's just another component in a desperate, pessimistic mission engineered by an acting leadership going through the motions. Carpenter and Castle have done something wonderful in Escape from New York, they've taken a scenario that could be told with the sweeping, bullying voice of patriotic duty then torpedoed it. The rescue of an encircled President isn't played for glory, the situation is splayed open, exposing the rot and ruthless opportunism that would be at work if the unthinkable actually happened with these witless bullies at the helm.
The one shred of humanity shown by the establishment comes from Lee Van Cleef's Hauk, an older man with much the same background as Plissken, now acting as the warden of the vast Manhattan penitentiary. Hauk vouches for Snake, his interim criminal years made irrelevant because Hauk remembers when the ex-soldier once did something bold and impressive. Of course Hauk may trust Plissken's skills but he doesn't trust his intentions. This isn't a world founded on honour and pride, instead Escape from New York spins on the kind of utility you'd expect from a world in which Reaganomic rhetoric has infected every aspect of the ruling class. Something terrible must have happened, no-one has any higher, romantic aspirations anymore. Instead everyone behaves like cronies prepping for their next corporate appraisal.
The one nod to chivalry displayed by the government's forces again comes from Hauk. Following the mission's completion he makes himself available to Snake, asking him if he still wants to kill him. Hauk is acknowledging something unspoken, that perhaps by serving this power structure he actually does deserve to die. Snake, the uncompromised hero would actually redeem Hauk somewhat if he chose to take his life. The gesture is immediately poisoned by The Warden's insistence on pitching Snake a potential return to the fold after it's clear that the jail-breaker has chosen to stay his hand. Russell's limping, injured hero couldn't be less interested.
Snake Plissken isn't an action hero and Escape from New York isn't structured to express victory. This massive story is told in details, Snake's individual triumphs are always small and stolen. Carpenter never falls into the trap of letting his main character build up a head of steam, stakes are never lost to scale, every dangerous interaction is essentially Plissken attempting to misinform his quarry, allowing him to strike. Snake by name, snake by nature. Carpenter doesn't linger on the violence either, Escape may miscommunicate a few of its thumps but even these under-covered cracks play into an overall thesis about how liquid power can be. Violence is always a surprise.
Once in New York all bets are off, it doesn't matter if you can talk big or have access to incredible technology, are you vicious? Will you strike first? Escape has a feral quality, man reduced to teeth and claws, roaming around the ruins of a financial fortress. Carpenter and cinematographer Dean Cundey shoot dark and wide, allowing the gutted mise en scene to tell a story and communicate the stakes. Snake is never alone once he enters Manhattan. There's always something or someone else in the frame, running interference or sizing him up.
Escape communicates a state of complete hostility. The film barely jumps around, the opening act in particular charts its discoveries by Snake's slow, hesitant pace. This segment, the film's best, has no sense of release in it. Snake is given an impossible task then we watch his attempt slowly unfold. Carpenter's film delights in this sense of pressure, the siege mentality of his horror films bleeding into the language of action / adventure. Pointedly, Snake does not surmount every challenge or bend the devastated city to his will, the film's too canny for that. Snake creeps around the pitch black streets as quietly as he can, waiting for an opportune moment to lash out and do some damage.
Thursday, 15 June 2017
Tuesday, 13 June 2017
What can you say? Limits are, quite obviously, completely meaningless to Nintendo. Based on this charming little infomercial and the hat mechanic it promises, Super Mario Odyssey is quite simply magical, allowing the player almost infinite opportunities to experiment and, above all, have fun. Stunning.
After their delightful work on Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, Bluepoint Games have been handed the crown jewel of Sony's video game library - Team Ico's Shadow of the Colossus. Predictably, Bluepoint's remake looks beautifully polished, already improving on their 2011 pass for The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection on PS3. Fumito Ueda's baby is in good hands.
Two years later, Sony system owners finally get their chance to give Undertale a whirl. Developed by Toby Fox, Undertale seeks to evoke the unease felt in Nintendo's Mother series by deliberately layering complex themes and decisions into a cutesy, pixel-based RPG. Reading around it sounds like Fox succeeded completely, managing to create a game that plays like you're starring in your very own creepypasta.
Sledgehammer Games pick up where Call of Duty: World at War left off, rolling period specific flamethrowers and player guided aerial bombardments into a gameplay model that, thankfully, appears to have returned to circuitous, map roaming gunplay after years spent leaping in every available direction.
Shades of Vectorman in Housemarque's latest. That is to say Matterfall takes your basic run-and-gun platforming and dresses it up with exciting, modern graphical tricks, in this case a destructible world built out of the clattering voxels that powered the studio's launch day hit Resogun.
Monday, 12 June 2017
Nearly there! Studio MDHR's gorgeous, long-trailed homage to Treasure shooters and Fleischer cartoons is set to release this September. By all accounts, Cuphead's extended development time can be attributed to a greatly expanded game scope that moved further and further away from a Betty Boop boss rush and the developer's decision to hand animate every single frame of the elasticated action.
While never quite in the same league as his two Resident Evil entries, Shinji Mikami's last pass at a letterboxed horror game was full of atmospheric creeps and twitchy shooting galleries. The model was sound, the execution just needed a bit of tweak, its course corrected away from situations that overwhelmingly tracked towards one-hit deaths. Combat in The Evil Within 2 could stand to be a little less fussy, players should be allowed to build towards a firmer sense of power in how they tackle the oozing, creeping horrors in Mikami's latest tetanus prison.
With The Phantom Menace's 20th anniversary approaching rapidly we're probably at a point where the children who greedily gobbled up the adventures of Darth Maul and pals are looking to re-examine their lost youth and spend their way towards resuscitating their long stagnated sense of wonder; hence DICE's tried-and-tested Battlefield 1 sporting a Clone Wars revamp.
Even though they shovel out enough anonymous anime tie-ins to sink a fleet, Arc System Works do occasionally play an absolute blinder. Dragon Ball Fighter Z looks set to do for Akira Toriyama's peerless masterpiece what their 2005 Fist of the North Star coin-op did for Tetsuo Hara and Buronson's, namely transform hundreds of pages of static pose downs into a 2D fighting game kinetic enough to get the Justin Wongs of the world excited.
Sunday, 11 June 2017
The Three Musketeers froths with exuberant, youthful energy. Director Richard Lester is a dab hand at capturing this liveliness, his films revolving around the breathless vitality present in young men desperate to make a name for themselves. Lester channels their exhilaration, crafting visual scenarios that convey an explosive kind of excitement. With A Hard Day's Night Lester took the runaway popularity of The Beatles and transformed it as a series of static, telephoto shots of screaming youths running directly into the camera. In adapting Alexandre Dumas' d'Artagnan romances, Lester starts with a whip-thin, beaming Michael York then allows the actor to hurl himself about the screen, clearly having the time of his life.
The film's sword fights track with this conceit, packaging expert jousting within scrappy, spontaneous confrontations. Any object left lying around can and will be used as a weapon - Oliver Reed's brooding Athos never fails to hurl his floppy, wide-brimmed hat directly into his opponent's face. The goal for these clashes is never really to kill either, instead the combatants seek to humiliate each other by either drawing first blood or by booting any inattentive enemies up the arse. Lester and screenwriter George MacDonald Fraser laser in on the flippant, moneyed absurdity of the 17th century's ruling classes, interpreting their adventures as terrifying flights of fancy, driven by brain-dead and terminally horny aristocrats. Lester is an obsessive entertainer too, layering his frame with slapstick sight gags and grumbling commoners who can always be relied upon to skewer the oblivious, oversexed lords and ladies.
Tuesday, 6 June 2017
Monday, 5 June 2017
So far, the loudest voice in DC's most recent push for a Cinematic Universe has been Zack Snyder, the director of Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Snyder, working in the thrall of 80s comic book smashes like The Dark Knight Returns and Miracleman, proposed a slate filled with passionate, immoral Gods thrashing around seething CG tableaux. Snyder's heroes are not particularly selfless or altruistic, they're introspective and obsessive. They moon and stew over the kind of problems that swim out into an abstract range of thought.
Dawn of Justice (in its expanded form) is a three-hour epic predicated on Batman's gut feeling that a messianic alien has the potential to turn against the people of Earth. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Bruce halts his war on crime to assemble the tools necessary to kill this Superman. It's a decision that deliberately invites accusations of jealousy. Bruce Wayne has seen a power and strength that cannot be bought or duplicated, feeling inadequate he works towards crushing it, reasserting his standing as the ultimate man. Dawn of Justice is Nietzsche's will to power viewed through the prism of Frank Miller's big feet comics, emboldened by poor box office returns for the two previous Superman films.
Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman then functions as a counterpoint, standing in opposition to all these unregulated, male expulsions. Gal Gadot's Diana of Themyscira isn't ancient and embittered, she hasn't seen her parents bleed out or be whisked away into a tornado. Instead she's from a stable, loving background, raised by a doting mother and an island's worth of adoring warrior women. Snyder's twin superheroes spring from altogether less stable situations - the alien moped around in agricultural misery denying who he was while the child billionaire found himself in a bottomless pit filled with clattering rodents. No wonder they export disaster.
Thanks to several superhero cycles that never found the time to bring Wonder Woman to the big screen, Allan Heinberg's screenplay is allowed to discover its character in circumstances that reflect the character's initial creation rather than an angle designed to repackage something people have already bought. William Moulton Marston and Elizabeth Holloway Marston, working with artist Harry G Peter, created Wonder Woman to serve as a powerful, feminine hero who extolled the virtues of love and compassion. William specifically organised his co-creation as a form of psychological propaganda designed to sell readers on the idea of female leaders who ruled without instantly resorting to force.
Jenkins and Heinberg interpret this desire with a hero who approaches the quagmire of the First World War in much the same way as Alexander the Great dealt with the Gordian Knot. Instead of listening to the men who bark orders and limits at her, Diana sees problems then acts decisively, placing herself in the thick of desperate street fighting and frostbitten trench warfare. Diana acts as a leader too - running out into No Man's Land armed with a shield, she soaks up the incoming machine gun fire, allowing the boys that follow enough breathing room to gain precious ground. Her actions invite this collaboration, her strength equalising the otherwise insurmountable danger for her allies.
Jenkins approaches this action atypically, seizing on the regular bulletins as an opportunity to watch and delight in the graceful movements of experts. Gadot and her fellow Amazons are shot in ways designed to capture their power and authority rather than the damage their movements affect. Jenkins isn't interested in the minutia of violence, the destruction and fitful energy of Snyder is tamed here, channelled into brief glimpses of an earthbound Goddess skipping across slate rooftops. It's an action model predicated on delight rather than might, a decision that works hand-in-hand with Mr and Mrs Marston's desire to see unburdened femininity communicated in the language of deification.