Saturday, 31 May 2008

Quicky Quentin

Just a drop-in link for the time being. Mr Tarantino talks the Death Proof anti-love with Sight and Sound's Mr Nick James. Also: Candid musings on digital shooting! Quentin ain't a fan. Future project musing too - none of it will ever happen!

Do a read! It's a good 'un.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Bad Endings: Grand Theft Auto 4

I finished The Most Expensive Game Ever Made! about a week ago ($100 million by all accounts). It was an occasion not without event, nor near endless retries, and was compounded by my own special brand of inflexible stupidity. It was none-the-less very satisfying indeed. Certain points the conclusion raises have been whizzing round my head ever since. Not only because I managed to breeze through just quick enough to unlock a particularly irksome looking achievement, but because Rockstar remembered to pack some tail-eating revenge daisy-chains and existential fatalism. God bless 'em.

If the subtitle wasn't hint enough, I wouldn't read on if you haven't finished GTA4. Not 100% like, just the story portion. Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers. Don't say I didn't warn ya. I'm not kidding, this'll ruin everything. We pick up events in the dying seconds of story mode:

With Roman's greedy needling ringing in my ears, and my not-quite in-game girlfriend Kate's advice reading more like an order, me and Niko set off to get us some of that good old fashioned revenge. For those of you that haven't played the fourth installment of Rockstar's series, here's a quick (alright, long and meandering) story recap:

Niko Bellic (your grumpy avatar) is an Eastern European gent, quite likely involved in the Bosnian conflict whilst still at an impressionable age. Niko's platoon was betrayed by one of their number and all but wiped out. Niko knows he didn't sell out his mates, so it must be one of the two other survivors. Deductive reasoning! This is the the notional narrative thrust - to track down the chap who gave you up. A winningly vague goal, I'm sure you'll agree, that facilitates much violence / people meeting. If it was good enough for Doctor Richard Kimble, it's good enough for you. Attracted to New York analogue: Liberty City by your flighty but decent cousin's aspirational ramblings, Niko docks and climbs the criminal ladder with startling efficiency.

Along the way you are manipulated and betrayed by a speccy little shit by the name of Dimitri Rascalov (and what a rascal he is!), he even phones you up a few times afterwards on your in-game mobile to gloat. I hate him! Towards the conclusion of the story you get a choice: stow your principles in favour of money and work with The Rascal (and perhaps even complete a kind of redemption in Niko by not opting for the knee-jerk violent revenge response) or track him down to his little ice breaker hideout and exact a horrific knee-jerk violent revenge. Hmm. Decisions. Decisions. Stumbling out the strip-joint meet up, Niko dials up his nearest and dearest. Your cousin sniffs money and urges you chase it; your sort-of girlfriend tells you under no circumstances should you make the deal: "You're not the man I thought you were if you do Niko!"

So! Deal or kill?

Money or revenge?

Of course I chose the latter.

I didn't throw myself into it with any particular haste though, path junctions in GTA4 are fraught with decision anxiety - will I make the right choice? Did I make another save recently if this goes belly up? That sort of thing. Cannily foreshadowing just this dilemma, Rockstar have you catch up with the chap who actually betrayed your platoon (and left you a stumbling monster of a man) a few missions earlier - thank you shadowy CIA style connections!

The showdown you long for is neatly curtailed into nothing more than a ugly, bullying, bit of personal business. The Fink is a rambling, strung-out mess of a man. His name is Darko and he bears an uncanny resemblance to Niko when you first begin the game - same clothes, same haircut, very nearly the same face. You are only one bad decision away from becoming this man. He is hurled into you and your tag-along cousin's laps sobbing and confused from the back of a G-Man van. The location? That Michael Mann perennial: the existentially bleak airport ignore space.

After a cutscene detailing Niko's sheer fucking pain at what happened to him and his friends, you get the choice to kill the man or walk away. Grand Theft Auto 4 throws several curve balls like this your way as you play, usually they have a minute bearing on the overall narrative. That said, they can't help feeling important, mainly because of Niko. Whenever any of these decisions popped up I found myself thinking about it from the characters point of view. A word like avatar does Niko a disservice. He does not feel like a pixel / polygon extension of my will, larking about a sandbox city; he feels like a chap I'm trying to help and steer right. Would Niko do this or not? Would Niko shoot this unarmed, drug addict or simply walk away. Niko's cousin Roman is disturbed by the proceedings and urges you to just forget about it, show mercy. Is there a right decision? If I make the wrong one will the game steer down a irreversible track of doom? Am I doing right by Niko? There's a real weight of responsibility at play whenever you find yourself making Niko's decisions for him.

I ended up shooting Darko. It gave me no satisfaction to do so. I wanted to because I felt Niko would feel he had to; survivor's penance / guilt and all that. The action of doing so though, was anti-satisfying. It does not fill a hole. You are not content.

Turns out, it does not advance the plot in any specific direction. Darko does not figure in a side-strand of repercussion if spared. The repercussions are nil, no swelling triumph music plays out to affirm your decision. No congratulations. No end. Nothing. You're just left with 'why?' Why did I kill Darko? It just felt, in a fraught little instance, like the right thing to do. If you've played the game, maybe you felt different. Maybe you felt Niko would let it go, and try and forget about it. Darko's presented as the sub-human perennial: The Junkie. A derelict. I've heard tell that your make-shift family of friends congratulate you for being the bigger man should you spare him. My path: Niko just wanted to be alone with his thoughts.

Executing Darko is important to the themes of the narrative, if not specifically the direction. In killing Darko I grasped at what I felt Niko wanted, his long-lusted after revenge. In my actions there was the rejection of the carefully cultivated plot whisker of redemption (most explicitly realised through your near relationship with good Catholic girl: Kate). I remembered the past. Your next major plot decision is to work with or against the guy who betrayed not only Niko but the player too. Rascalov. Remember him? Animosity is compounded. This time a trespass not committed in some distant corner of pre-game time, but a couple of hours ago to my considerable chagrin. Plus! This particular dickhole has guns too. And likely an avalanche of well armed bodyguards. He'll put up a fight. Not like Darko, crying and shitting himself as I loomed over him, gun in hand. There might be some sense of satisfaction. He isn't some barely-there needle monkey, he's a snappy little devil with a buzz-cut and a considerable chip on his shoulder. Fuck that guy! I'm not going to work for him. Niko and me are going to kill him. We're going to transplant our long lusted revenge onto him.

And we do.

After cutting a swathe through his personal bodyguards we corner him in the bowels of his ship. He hides behind a box and throws peek-a-boo shots our way. Words are exchanged. Eventually he pops his head up for a gander and we are able to clip his (extended) life away from him.

This choice does have repercussions. Whole game altering ones. Shortly after the completion of the above mission you are asked to attend your cousin's wedding - the Star Wars celebration ending. Roman lives the closest approximation to a 'normal' life. He has money problems, love rivals, and has a crush on a woman who works for him - now his bride-to-be. This is were Grand Theft Auto 4 careens in two distinct, awful directions. One of your immediate circle of friends is going to die. If you listened to your-not-quite girlfriend Kate and took the path of revenge, she catches an angered Italian mob-boss' bullet - meant for you. She dies silently (relationship unresolved!) and you vow revenge. Alternatively if you listened to your greedy (but nice) cousin and took the deal, a bald Agent 47 alike pops up and attempts to slip some lead in your kidneys. One over-excited special forces disarm and an accidental discharge later and Roman is silent and gone. You vow revenge. Revenge is unavoidable. There is no redemption. Niko gets to create another revenge target, facilitated through his actions, and off you go to annihilate them. Sound familiar?

This particular thread of experience is just about were I can see why GTA4 is scoring 10/10s everywhere you care to look. There is no 'good' ending, there is only Bad and Catastrophic.

In the post credits load screen, Niko mumbles:

"So, this is what the dream feels like? This is the victory we longed for..."

A medium pushes onward.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Big Boss Sketch

Very much in his elder-statesman-of-genocide years.

(Don't worry, I know I patched the wrong eye. Curses!)

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Countdown to June 12th!


It's the worldwide release date of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots of course! I am feverish with anticipation.

Kojima's latest spy stomp sees a prematurely aged Solid Snake wetworksing his way through international conflict hot-spots on the trail of his dark-half half-twin Liquid Ocelot. Half Twin you reel? Recap! Well, Liquid Snake (Solid's true twin) managed to survive his own death (remarkable!), in the form of an arm transplant onto wily subordinate Revolver Ocelot. Liquid is able to steal think-reigns from his body donor on whim - typically when his brother's interfering with their plans. Complicated? That ain't the half of it: Both Snakes are clones of a legendary pirate eyed contra named Big Boss, who you got to play as in part3, who twice created first-world threatening military baronys in third-world countries - a plot taken up by the Liquid son. Throw in a surrogate son for our hero (Raiden, who's now more machine than man), an unkillable Vampire renegade, a parade of (literal and lateral) ex's, walking tank-bots, and a cabal of shapeless memetic computer godhead mega antagonists you've got a brief sketch of MGS4's plot outline. Phew!

MGS4 is extra super special exciting for offering the opportunity to finally play with the Solid Snake doll again, a toy out of circulation for the previous two games. What's more, in a Dark Knight Returns style twist, Snake's old and maudlin. Hooray! Solid Snake's on a one-way disaster mission to wipe out every trace of his worldbreaker genes. It doesn't get any better than this!

I cannot wait for this game. It is the single reason I have invested in a PS3. Blu-ray movies are a welcome bonus, but it was all for this. I love this series. It's Fleming James Bond break and entering combined with the sneak stalk of The Terminator's future sequences. Solid Snake is the ultimate soldier-golem figure in gaming. Part Action Man / G.I Joe 12 inch doll, with a hint of First Blood's soulful but damaged John Rambo, capped with a techno clone birth and Freudian identity headaches. He's the plucky underdog. His abilities never upgrade, he never stat boosts in ethereal ascension bombing. He's just a stocky military mullet-man out battling overwhelming odds.

Anyway, here are a couple of my dream scenarios for Metal Gear Solid 4:

1. Nightmares. After Naked Snake / Big Boss' capture and (extreme) torture in Metal Gear Solid 3, our anti-hero ends up in a holding cell. Exhausted, his radio-ops team suggest a nap. Making a save here functions as rest. Loading up this particular save lets you play Naked Snake's nightmare aside mini-game: Guy Savage. Directed by Shuyo Murata (a writer on the Zone of Enders series), Snake's Nightmare is a kind of quick, diverting slashy parody of occult action fighters. You play as a Castlevania trench-coat distortion of Snake battling against zombified US Cops in a slum burrough. It's utterly mindless and quite exceptionally violent. Slash about enough and you do a power up ascend, and you're able to rend zombies apart with with ease. An exceptionally daffy anti-authoirity death-stamp dream yarner - utterly at odds with all of Metal Gear's various forms and mechanics.

Mini-diversions are always welcome, as are playable extensions of a characters harassed
psychological state. If not full-blown nightmares, then something fun and Easter Eggy (but tough), spinning out from the announced Psych and Stress meters would be dreadfully welcome.

2. Mass Production Madness. The undoubted highlight of the End of Evangelion instead-of conclusion feature is the prolonged assault of the mass production Evas - monstrous, pale, snake-like, and manned by imitation pilots; they're a battering, homogeneous threat. The Metal Gear series has long dabbled in clone chaos, the central thesis is Solid Snake's hard-won humanity in the face of his artificial / horrific lineage. Whilst his brothers have flirted with their father's dream of an all-powerful military state, and been sunk in the process, Solid Snake has steered clear; even taking a counter position.

Solid Snake has marked himself as superior by abandoning his legacy. Lets make this action packed game-text by having him fight with a new brand of mass production Big Boss clones. Maybe even fight the
hatchlings en masse. A crucial point of Liquid's agenda in the original Metal Gear Solid was getting his hands on the body of Big Boss to essentially push this point - he was to to indulge in radical gene therapy on his comrade army and produce a legion of father-bots to be at his disposal. Lets hope he succeeds this time! Snake literally facing down that aspect of his nature through prolonged gruelling physical combat would be a fucken tonic. Failing that, I'm all for hatching the old man himself, maybe with the Snatcher augments he got for canon diverging NES series spin-off: Snake's Revenge.

3. Ape Suicide! The complete lack of fun to be derived from PlayStation 3's me-too! SIXAXIS
motion control is total. The only in-game application of his pad waving hell-corner I've had any time for is Resistance's 'Shake the pad!' response to being set of fire. It puts your character out you see. Plausibly interactive, slightly fun, and takes a scent of skill to easily overcome. What I propose for MGS4 is none of these though, it's pure text. A brief detour: MGS3 created a greater sense of empathy between user and inscrutable psycho-in-progress Naked Snake by forcing you to deal with his injuries in the pre-tech fashion of the 1960s. Naked Snake would pop up on a sub menu, flagging and panting if injured, awaiting medical assistance. No cure all salves for Mr Naked. You had to remove bullets, add anti-sceptic lotions, stitch gashes, dress wounds. On higher difficulties you did not want fights. You wanted to follow the series' notional mandate of sneaking around. It was less hassle. Your dwindling medical supplies wouldn't have to be dipped into. Moreover, you would feel for Naked Snake. Beneath the action man bluster was a ludicrously fragile man in need of constant upkeep. Ignore hurt for too long and it'd start to impact on Snake's performance. Shaky aiming and vomiting being some of the highlights.

My concept seeks to combine these two disparate elements - cackhanded shake pads and mundane empathy unity. A recurring image / motif in the first few batches of MGS4 trailers was Snake's suicidal tendencies - jamming a colt alike pistol into his mouth before a fade to black gunshot rings out. If Snake really is on the path to self takedown (and lets face it, who else is capable), I'd like to see an end screen figure presentation - Snake slumped and beaten, with his gun arm at his side. Pistol-arm movements would be mapped to the SIXAXIS in relation to your body - games end that'll likely be on your lap or just to your side.

Let the image sink in.

He's just sitting there starring right back at you. Mission's finished, but still you find yourself here.

A few beats of total silence.

Suddenly you're instructed to take Snake's life. He's finished. He just wants to die.

Pick the pad up, put it to your own head, movements mirrored by Snake, and pull one of the shoulder triggers.

Do it!

Blow your own brains out. Lift up the pad, jam it next to your temple and end the series.

What a finish!

You're Fucked!: Laters Shark Eyed Fake-Bot!

Phew. Michael went then. Thank you Jesus. I was a bit worried there. Judging by his briefed-into-compliance mumble state on the You're Fired! follow-up show it's unlikely we'll be seeing him standing triumphantly over a broken, fading King Alan (perhaps with his foot gently pressing on his throat?). He was a fawning shadow of his former internal assault-man self. Laughing and joking like he wasn't really a badgering stalk-psycho. No means no Michael.

He's gone. Much high-fiving in my company last night. Hand's still throbbing. He's gone! Just in the nick of time too - the interview stage carries itself, it's basically just a series of antagonistic plain-sense wind-ups. No need for colourful little anger trolls there. Judging by next-weeks promo teaser though, blank faced harridan Helene fills that particular niche anyway. She's hurling the 'How To Interview' book out the window! "I'm not used to working with 15 gobshites" or words to that effect. I have been strongly discouraged from saying such things by several interview technique books! Helene is gangster.

Who's left then?

Claire's still there. I'd like to see her place in the final. She's had an actual narrative arc over the series. It's astonishing stuff! Starting off mouthy and abrasive, she's matured into a quiet little closer-troop. I've said it before, but he's Ruth Badger 2.0. The rebuilt shiny Galvatron to Badger's dimmed but punchy Megatron. I watched Transformers The Movie the other day. I'm listening to Vince DiCola's midi grunt space score right now. I particularly like the Unicron bits: Transformation in particular. What's this got to do with The Apprentice? Nothing.

Claire is boss. So is..

Lucinda. Quietly confident, but tarred and feathered as a moaner. Her esoteric boardroom waffle seems to be grating on King Alan. It's not fair! Lucinda has done that which basically no previous Apprentice candidate has done: run a successful team with minimal fuss, and maximum efficiency. Her sales shill may not be anything to scream about, but doesn't innate and confident leadership count for anything? I'd like a Claire vs Lucinda finale, even if that'd probably spell doom for Lucinda.

Preen doll Alex is hanging in. The ladies love him. Unfortunately, he closed £8000 worth of deals this week. The kind of last-minute oomph usually ascribed to back-of-the-pack shoe-ins. Hope he doesn't get it. His frothing lad-mag anti-man attitude gives me hives. All he's demonstrated is an ability to dodge decision making, and flirt. Except, you know, that monstrous haul this week. Curses! You've gone and added a second dimension to his character BBC! What'll I do now? I'll be thinking of the candidates as really human beings next! God.

Helene is exactly as blunt and miserable as troll. A troll that lives under a bridge. She was the mean monotone executor to Red Jenny's wicked winsome witch. She looks like a grim mob enforcer. With any luck she'll top her gobshites quote with some ferocious interview torture. Leap the desk! Bend their fingers! Bend them 'til they snap! You can win Helene! Smash them all. Helene looked shaky this week. I reckon she might do a Lohit next week and get dumped immediately. Who knows?

Last is Lee. I like Lee one minute then think he's a bell the next. I like his utter lack of ego. He vomits ideas 'til some shit sticks. I disliked him hectoring and verbally assaulting that girl with the big eyes. That was mean. He treated Lucinda as a particularly odious turd this week too, sending her off on some nonsense task, then doing anti-logic loops when she asked for direction.


Who knows.

Who do you want to win?

Monday, 26 May 2008

Mr. Jones! I've heard a lot about you, sir. Your appearance is exactly the way I imagined.

Chances are you took in the new Indy film in the last couple of days: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Nifty title eh?

Did you enjoy it? I most certainly did. Although the last act plays like an insubstantial encore for the Raiders of The Lost Ark players (executed in the breathless too-much-action style of Temple of Doom), the first third or so is fantastic. Set in late 50s America besieged by red scares and rock n' roll, our hero dodges Russian commandos and various Americana military test-sites - the pastel purgatory A-Bomb target, the highlight. Indy even falls foul of snooping suspicious Scrubs janitors in full G-Man sleaze scoop mode! Witch hunt! Once our hero(es) reach the jungle though, the picture changes tact - extended chase segments and puerile animal comedy are the orders of the day. Ho-hum. At least the gophers didn't get another airing. It's a real shame after the carefully cultivated zip-think of segment one.

Ah well. The sci-fry conclusion has opinions split too. In Indy 4's favour for my change is the bizarre 'alien' quality of the last gasp conclusion threat - first contact is a brain-cooking peep hole melter: we know not their ways! It's Mars Attacks! with a Mayan twist. It doesn't have the lyrical epicness of near misses with vengeful universe shapers, but it does have its fair share of incomprehensibility. Did she ascend? Was she punished? I can not tell. A greater noggin twister though is exactly why did Beowulf not just pick himself up? He had more than enough time. Was he supposed to be injured / trapped? Atoning for avaricious urges? He just lay there not bothering. Grasp the whip man! My head hurts.

I predict time will be kind to Crystal Skull. After the initial shock of science fiction intrusion into purely mythical ground has abated, I think rejection may turn to affection. Stranger things have happened. Crystal Skull's a stumbling Frankenstein's monster of a film: the first act is as a pure a beat-perfect action belter as Raider's last, Indy's head-first attacks lunges and literal roller coaster ride chase sequences are as tiring as Doom's (not-quite-there matte work seems to be being referenced in the CG work too), and the back-and-forth between Ford and LaBeouf has the cranky charm of Crusade. It's a best beats encore. I've already said that haven't I? It's not art, but it is fun. Grasping, nostalgia baiting fun. Bask in Karen Allen's gainful employment.

Spielberg and Lucas have stepped correct on their pulp archetypes - if you're going to do the 50s, it's got to be Communist invasion and Saucer Men. Chuck in a saucy bog-monster for the Director's Cut and it's a marginalised press history lesson. Crystal Skull's most nagging short-coming though is it isn't the oft-recalled OSS subterfuge adventures teased (but unseen) throughout the film. What a marvellous little strand of excellent they would have been. Every time they were mentioned my mind drifted of into nasty little war-in-progress Indy wetworks missions. Take that Red Skull!

Bank Holiday treats!

Walter Chaw's excellent Indy 4 review over at Film Freak Central has been up for a few days - there's not much more to add to what he's already written (although I did try). Read it here.

If you're still chomping at the bit for Indy content, check out The House Next Door's series retrospective. There's a manful defence of the unfairly maligned Temple of Doom that has to be read. Go do so now.

For the comments section: Favourite Indy? Raiders is rolling action perfection with old Hollywood flair, but there's a lot of love in my dark heart for Temple of Doom. It's relentlessly nasty!

Friday, 23 May 2008

You're Fucked!: Dapper Dan Man

The night before last was 'Shoot An Advert Night!' on Apprentice. 'Shoot An Advert Night!' is always a highlight of the series. You're guaranteed to have at least one candidate unspool into an art attack mess, battling in the face of their artistically bankrupt fellow contestants to fulfil their 'vision'. As paranoid as Coppola at Paramount, and glutinous and footage precious as Michael Cimino, it's the 1970s director-as-God Hollywood on micro-budget anti-art fast forward.

So did everyone dissolve into an auteur stupor? Or did they keep their heads and deliver on the simple brief?

Ha! What do you think? Ha! Stupid assholes!

To the thundering mob sleaze of Angelo Badalamenti's Lost Highway score, King Alan dropped in to fuck with team structure. AGAIN! Keeping his sacred lamb Michael clear of the firing line, King Alan reigned on last weeks plea to let the odious little shite lead a team. Raef and Claire were off to Renaissance, with Raef captaining up. Alex was dumped on Lee and Lucinda in Alpha, and arm-locked into the lead position. Bet his every instinct squirmed at the proposition. Teflon twat.

So! What was the brief? Create a brand of tissues with both TV and print adverts. Sounds simple enough. Cue barmy brainstorming bollocks! Lucinda pushes the idea of an ad featuring a homosexual couple, although I'm not 100% sure I don't think she pushes the couple as specifically male (I'm probably very wrong). Alex balks. Were he to have them in his house / flat / converted dockside industrial place: "(my hypothetical friend would) call me gay!" Lucinda's yaoi fetish down in smoke, dithering Lee stepped up to chew and mumble his own tongue into vomiting suggestions. Some spitty sloshing later and we have: Atishu! It works on so many levels (2)! The final box design (after a near miss with a Kitten) is a floaty head photoshop yuck box, topped off with a heaving yellow background. You'd step over it in the street. Slightly absent Lucinda careens off sanity road into hyper stress argue mode. The boys roll their eyes and get on with being mediocre.

After rejecting a slightly obnoxious stage-school child (grow out of it please), director Alex settles on a curly haired Mum (who resembles previous Apprentice mad-head Jo Cameron), a disinterested work-bot Dad, and a sniffing child so cute, she must have been adopted. Alex has them workshop. The result? A fraught bewilderingly intense 60s kitchen sink piece about absentee Dads and the lot of the stay home Mum. It's terrifying.

Meanwhile! Raef and Michael agree to co-direct their mini tissue opus, promptly disappearing up each others waste pipes. They bond over show tunes and role play bizarre domestic eating-yoghurt-whilst-driving scenarios. Helene and Calire are no-where to be seen. Why? They're doing their fucking job! Raef Vidor hits upon the winning idea of hiring weather-woman Sian Lloyd to act as a tissue spewing domestic goddess. Nick Hewer's eyes roll out of his head. Can Star Power win the day (no matter how dim)?

Brand name? Why it's I (HEART) My Tissues. Don't we all? The mock-up box is a twee pastelly teenage girl cute sop. Equally revolting as Atishu! but at least there's a hint of a whiff of class. Raef gushes all over it.

The day of the shoots arrives. Over at Team renaissance Raef and Michael seem to believe they're shooting an Italian neo-realist piece. Whimsy and needling wide shots are stressed over simple product coverage. Claire's head spins. Raef and Michael form up into a two headed self-copulation bot and shoot a saccharine 80s Yellow Pages anti-effort, occasionally pausing to witter on about craft and gesture. So far, there's not one single close-up of Sian Lloyd. The star is utterly sidelined. It's like a Terrence Malick film, but a billionth as everything. The design brief asks for a thirty second ad. Directorsaurus' deliver a fifty second cut set to Ronan Keating. To get it down to fifty they ditch Lloyd and any hint of their product entirely. Brand close-ups are vulgar says Raef head! Claire creeps out the back door.

Alex Studios shoots long and hard. The nastodrama of earlier morphs into a peppy stream of callous, as Mum and Dad ignore death's door child because the tissues are 'anti-bacterial'. This is stressed several times before Dad escapes of to 'work' (he's probably having an affair). Thanks a lot Dad, you dick! Go right ahead and slip into a coma kid, it'd serve them right. This harsh indictment of the modern family unit is capped with a shot of the Yuck Box in a field of whittling flowers. Lucinda nearly vomits. Alex doesn't care.

Pitch Time!

For Renaissance, Claire pitches, harassing all and sundry with snoozer platitudes: "Vivacious tissues!", "Gap in market!" and "Everything else is boring!". It's a well rehearsed, measured, pitch assault. Claire turns them over in her hands like a practised grappler wrestler. They screen a butchered cut of the ad - Lloyd doesn't even register. Ad as screened is one of this creepy little affairs were adults superimpose sleaze grown-up notions and emotions on kids. A little boy sucks up to a fake crying girl with offer of a tissue. Not once does he pull her hair or pick his nose. It's revolting.

Thirsty Dog-Man Lee launches into his pitch for Alpha. He barks slogans at them and trails off into mindwipe arse covering. It's very boring. They screen their artistic wonder, little has changed, it's still as wince worthy as before. Lee escapes the room into Alex's well rehearsed well done mate! bullshit storm. Lucinda undercuts this feigned male bond bravado with stunningly negative nay saying. You go girl!

Off to The Boardroom.

King Alan wastes no time in sneering at Raef and Michael's pretensions. Did some acting did you? Theatrical experience was it? Titter. Although Nick does praise Claire's no notes 'facts' barrage. Attention turns to Alpha, Lee and Alex turn of Lucinda. She's 'upsetting' apparently. Alex also finds time to take a co-creator credit on Lee's brand name idea. Adverts are screened. despite Raef and Michael's pre-emptive backslap looks, Raef is worried. It lacks artistic content! It's just a shameless shrill product push! "God help us."

Atishu takes it. Atishu even draws praise for its sledgehammer approach to raising the anti-bacterial issue! It's stressed! Repeatedly!

The nouvelle merde ad fails utterly to even describe the product. Michael retreats into dead-eyed Corleone head-space. Alan bungs Alpha a roll and tells them: "buy some gear!" They're off to do some after hours shopping at Harvey Nics. Hooray!

Raef attempts to stress unity and fair play at Cafe Interim, but then in a shocking gent about-face proceeds to blame the non-sell on Michael! Caddy!Michael preaches vitriol and hate, claiming sole credit for anything or any worth ever. Claire cops a telling off for not wrestling the train back onto the tracks. Lips quiver. Helene vanishes in a puff of escape. Raef drags Claire and Michael back for dismissal. In the end it's Raef who departs. He's all hot air apparently. Underneath his dashing 20s homosexual spy good looks lurks... nothing at all. Michael survives, although God only knows how. King Alan seems to have a "it's me, all them years ago!" crush on him. Should Michael win, we can only hope the series will end on a sequence of the young pretender annexing Nick and Margaret for his own nefarious ends, as a door quietly closes on King Alan's gawping mug.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Burn Him!

I have just taken delivery of the first (and hopefully not last) hardcover The Perry Bible Fellowship collection: The Trial of Colonel Sweeto And Other Stories. If you're not familiar with the strip, Perry Bible Fellowship, created by Nicholas Gurewitch, is a three of four panel newspaper style strip in which it is not uncommon for a whimsically sunny sequence of events to get drunk behind the wheel and veer wildly off into nightmare town.

Go here. It's there.

The buried treasure of the hardcover collection is the tasteless strips held over 'til the back (and previously unpublished on the webstite), a macabre little parade of scatology, insider jokes, and aggravated unpleasantness. Worth the price alone.

Packaged in a thoroughly misleading child's picture-book style hardcover window book, and covered in garish sweet pinks and sherbet yellows, a crowd of candy people get mob justice on the treacherous chocolate spy Sweeto. My edition sports a large MADE IN CHINA sticker on the reverse, I wonder if I lick it will I get lead poisoning? Did I just get the joke?

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

More Awesome Imminent! - PlatinumGames

After the premature demise of ex-Capcom computer-game czars Clover, the think-team (key players in Capcom's PlayStation era rebirth) of Shinji Mikami, Atsushi Inaba and Hideki Kamiya - rather than slink back to the parent company - did it all over again, and founded Seeds Inc. Hooray!

So who are this gentlemen of gaming you may ask? Let's find out!

Shinji Mikami, graduating from a string of licenced Disney games, Mr Mikami began work on a (then) next-gen scale up of NES film tie-in survival horror effort Sweet Home, from this rather drab beginning would spring the first in the Biohazard / Resident Evil series. DNA inherited from its 8-bit ancestor include the mansion setting, multiple endings and the hyper-tense load buffer Opening Door sequences between areas; brand spanking new genre defining additions include canted ultra oppressive camera angles, atmospheric pre-rendered backgrounds and a serious crush of George Romero body horror.

Installed as the resident producer of Capcom's survival horror wing, Mikami oversaw the avalanche of Biohazard sequels as well as the Jurassic Park flavoured Dino Crisis. Mikami returned to directing with the underplayed Gamecube commercial dud P.N.O3 (not a sequel), then bounced back wrestling / rescuing the floundering Biohazard 4 project away from Hiroshi Shibata and ghoslty hook men. The following year, Mikami's movie magic gaming went mondo mondo with the 80s post-apocalyptia/ Lucha smash-down God Hand - a thoroughly misunderstood, and misrepresented fix of fighting super duper fun. Inbetween, he found time to oversee Suda 51's mind-scape fuckfest Killer7. Mr Mikami is a gentleman I hold in the highest of regards.

Skinny's a little thin on the ground for the next two..

Atsushi Inaba served as producer for all of Clover Studio's output, and according to the Moby Games website was somehow involved in the Gyakuten Saiban / Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney(!) courtroom melodrama series on Nintendo DS - although they do not list in what capacity.

Games credit listings are in short supply. It really is a tremendous shame. Next!

Lastly is Hideki Kamiya, likely a strapping giant of a man. Mr Kamiya is the man most directly responsible for such pure-joy interact-crack as Devil May Cry, Biohazard 2, and Okami. In short:

Devil May Cry: Ditching the survival / puzzle structure of the first title, Kamiya decided to amp the action quota up into hysteria, and regressed the stagnant(ish) survival horror genre back to 2D action game maths. DMC is the true spiritual successor to the likes of the Castlevania action, and screen management Arcade scrolling 2D beat ‘em ups – both brands of play seemingly unable to translate into consistently entertaining 3D-gen entries.

Techno-flesh pursuit sequel Biohazard 2 saw the twin faux narratives of the first game splinter into a doomed love-affair explore 'em up, and dogged, harassed chase yarn. Featuring scale-shattering zombocalypse city-scapes, and a circus troupe of mutating / writhing post-humans, Biohazard 2 arguably even betters the original.

Okami is a Zelda-bothering, art-craft silk 'em up slice of love and change. You play as a artistic God-on-earth Wolf tasked with cleaning up anti-Shinto evilniks with a celestial paintbrush. Underperforming on PS2, it's headed to Wii soon. Buy it!

One nifty name change (Seeds Inc became PlatinumGames), and a four game distribution deal with Sega later, what have these generous gaming gigantatrons got lined up for us?


Hideki Kamiya expounds Devil May Cry theorem with Bayonetta - likely another super stylish maths fighter. Bayonetta is a Witch with Tango and Cash guns on feet (!) battling against a cadre of dickhole Angels. Bayonetta is expected to collide with Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 sometime in the awesome future.

View the God-botherer bothering Official Sega Europe trailer here.

Next up is Wii exclusive west-sop (I mean that in a nice way) Madworld. Hyper-stylised Frank Miller lifts and debts to Western dev slash classic Manhunt abound. Already being talked up as a Cero Z (an 18 equivalent to Johnny UK) rated Japan non-release. You are cast as a chainsaw lugging muscle mountain Jack (shades of Go Nagai hopefully, the character has more than a hint of Italian cobble-bot RanXerox too), your job? Beat everyone to shit. Pulse-pounding, blood-boiling pose-down mayhem! Hooray! The 1980s never left us.

View the CAUTION ADVISED Official Sega Europe trailer here.

Nintendo DS sci-fi RPG Infinite Line hasn't been trailered as of writing, and Mikami's entry is yet to be revealed.

I am excited. Very very super excited. To the Max.

Friday, 16 May 2008

5 Sci-Fi-Ish Films I Really Like

Here's 5 science fiction / fantasy type films that I really quite like. Actually, two are more sort of superhero films, and one's definitely a bleak 70s conspiracy piece. Hmm. Thoroughly misleading title aside, here's some words.

The Incredible Shrinking Man

Pop sci-fi Tom Thumb nightmare adapted from a novel by Richard Matheson. Rotten 50s radioactive glitter cloud coats strapping Grant Williams in shrink stink. Within months he's diminished into an impotent tin pot sex tyrant harassing and berating his simpering wife from his dollhouse abode. After catching the hassle end of a playful murder cat attack, Williams ends up trapped in murky basement purgatory, battling giant spider monsters for possession of stale cake rock. Incredible sets and scaled up tiny items, combined with exciting micro tension as Williams copes manfully with mundane domestic death trap hell. The ending winningly hints at further voyages with Williams as a sub-atomic cosmological adventure God.

Electric Dragon 80,000 V

Black and white punk-hero urgency as Tadanobu Asano's id suppressing, lightning rod pugilist does battle with Masatoshi Nagase's bored mob-killing superhero: Thunderbolt Buddha. 55 minutes of monochrome rooftop emptiness and Frankenstein's dungeon bondage - Asano
wanders the city by day, looking for physical representations of the dragon inside. Asano is frothing, animalistic violence: we love him. Nagase is literally a half divine vigilante, he's also a bit snotty: he must be destroyed. The two share a psycho-sexual magnetic attraction - their final confrontation is less good vs evil, than curiosity reflection termination. Electric Dragon screams along to a punk sentai apocalypse, complete with pose-downs and trash talking. Mise en scene is frequently shattered and consumed by violent, exploding manga text monologue.

The Parallax View

The definitive 70s paranoia film, Parallax View has a confused, enigmatic quality. Scenes aren't specifically tied together through rhythm or pace, the film seems more assembled through association and motifs. Beatty's character is like a phantom idea, wistfully breezing through people and events tied to overall conspiracy. The downside to this is at times the film feels sketchy and disjointed, but this also helps evoke the queasy machinations of events that are primarily out of Beatty's control.

The American Astronaut

Enormously inventive space-musical. Astronaut shoots about the galaxy making dodgy deals and friends. The design of the film is very much Flash Gordon gee-whizzery bred with range emptiness and Scott's space-truckin' Co. Giant steam press planets - complete with emasculated sweaty workforces - sit alongside space-worthy wooden barns built by hyper-intelligent silver miners. Folksy bluesy mountain man rock-numbers pop up with welcome regularity, and long stretches are dedicated to anecdotal tales that careen wildly out of control. The American Astronaut is hilarious, full of great music, and displays an insane amount of on-the-cheap technical proficiency. It's like a particularly witty album inlay card has come to life and made a film about itself.


One of the more successful of the comic-book-to-movie adaptations. Ang Lee's film starts out obnoxiously slow, full of zombie-like protagonists and dead-end (for now) Jungian images and dream-scape noodling all wrapped up in a comic book panel mimicking, Thomas Crown aping, split-screen ideas factory. It all culminates in laboratory haphazards and nuclear weapon low frequency re-verb imagery signalling birth. Me loves!

Lee takes the origin template - usually the first forty-five minutes or so of a franchise-kicker and stretches it out to feature length. Hulk is essentially a typical superhero first act treated with an exciting amount of seriousness and single-minded vision. Lee's hero is born of repressed memories, unconscious rage and the manifestation of the id as dominant identity. Hulk has a cursory nod to superheroics (he saves an F16 pilot, who mistakes the gesture for an attack), but on the whole the character is played as a frightened, enormously powerful infant. He just wants to be left well alone in his perpetual search for a loving mother figure - easily the most interesting take on Jack Kirby's Hyde.

Hulk is charm itself. A shrugging, pouting, pre-occupied bundle of physical emotion. His CG desert jump / wander has a shocking amount of warmth and character. Hulk leaps and soars only to land awkward. In a world where everyone is recycling decades old Disney school face ticks in lieu of actual craftsmanship, the acting the CG creature does in Hulk is a revelation. Shrinking and contentedly repressing in on itself when it sees Betty - the oedipal love interest. The end is dark and unclear as Hulk battles his absorbing man-ified Freudian bad father in a pitch black scorched desert. Father manifests as various personifications of natural strength - electricity (looking like Arkham Asylum's Maxi Zeus in the process), earth and finally water. Each fold under the sheer infinite weight of his child's rage.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

You're Fucked!

Week 8 of The Apprentice! I dearly wish I'd been bothered to start this blog a little earlier so I could fully chronicle the intense HUMAN drama of The Apprentice Series 4. What's happened so far? Loads of loads of bitching, bullying and backstabbing. Excellent! These aren't real people! They're sleazy hate aggravator cut-out dolls! Marginalised and edited into bite size oblivion. Curse them all. Voodoo roast them all. Bet they bleed black and issue green malfunction flames.

Who's left then (during last night's show at least)?
Wilting under the aggravated bulldog stare of Sir Alan and his two slender ancient wizard advisers we have:

Alex, a
responsibility dodging whinge-bot pretty boy who has a haircut and gets slightly breathless when aggravated. Alex seemed particularly disgusted to be romantically paired in a shakedown vignette with Claire (she's not very thin) last week. What a dastardly cad.

Claire had all the markings of an irritating, overbearing bully in the first few weeks. A stern telling off from King Alan seems to have set her straight, she's let her hair down and is markedly less punchy. She's like a more aesthetically pleasing v2.0 of Ruth Badger - a
gurning business bomb from a few series back. I like Claire.

Helene, a squinting lip pursed boxer of a woman. Helene is a kind of sense-talk bully, she quite clearly hates all the other candidates and would like nothing better than to crush their backs over her knee. This week Helene was project manager for Team
Renaissance / Bullshitters. A team she was newly dumped in for swopsies with Claire. Team Bullshitters seemed made up of the unproven / aggravator set this week. Set up to fail? Say it ain't so!

Lee, a tall, slightly unsteady on his feet man upgrade on Alex. A semblance of the looks have been retained, with added tongue and modesty. Has a
tendency to get overexcited and shout a lot. Lee seems pretty capable, he tends to dissolve into the background and work - a good sign for a last minute victory.

Lucinda, batty beret wearing aunt. Seemingly Katie Hopkins from last year with added decency and integrity. Previous Team Leader experience saw her quietly and
precisely lead the team to victory. Another favourite of mine. Mercilessly bullied in the first few weeks by anvil chinned Jenny and boxer-dog Helene, who clearly thought they'd found a simpering little toff-box insult sponge. They hadn't.

Michael, hanging in on a wing and a prayer. Charm-vacuum Michael is like a bouncy
little puppy if all is going well, if it ain't though he sinks into a shark-eyed misery shrug and blames everyone else. Often seems to be bordering on physical violence. King Alan seems to like him though, even though he's clearly a thuggy little bullshitter.

Raef, upper class jumper shawling gent. Never seen without immaculate hair and attire. Doesn't even look harassed first thing in the morning when the contestants are dragged out of bed to be ordered about. Probably sleeps standing upright. Raef is nice and competent enough. He defended Sara the other week against a gang assault because she had the bare-faced cheek to not be sacked by King Alan. Despite being immaculately preened, Raef looks like he could start some shit. Raef has a tendency to make slightly inappropriate joke clangers, and manfully tries to cope with the "we've won!" displays of excitement / affection. Watch him if they win! It's like Ahnoldt Schwarzenegger trying to smile in the Terminator 2 director's cut.

Finally, Sara. Sara has enormous eyes and sits about being told not to speak. Frequently the target of middle-management ire, Sara tends to make reasonable suggestions before being shot down in "I'm talking now!" flames. Sara becomes
extremely shrill and repetitive when rattled. Could this be her undoing?! Well, yeah it was. It was on last night! This is a retrospective! Keep up. God!







The task last night was to sell Wedding Things at a Birmingham expo. First off the contestants had to flirt their way through a variety of suppliers meetings. Michael (Corleone) used his black-soul bray stare to try and entice award
winning super expensive wedding dress chap Ian Stewart. Inter cut with this was Michael boasting about his ability to be dead inside, and yet still project a perfect impression of interest and likeability. Mr Stewart ended up working with Alpha instead.

Helene inspected a selection of wall-hung g-string
tat and seemed impressed, unfortunately G-String Tat followed the Stewart train and parked up on the other team's stall. Double fuck and curses! Helene's anti-team were left with a selection of mid-price porno Disney princess dresses patterned after those worn by aspirational celebrities: Jordan and Jodie Marsh (divorced). Helene seemed super pleased! She must've worn her way through the range too, everytime we saw her she was in another powder primary dress. The second also-ran seller was a selection of wedding cakes priced to match the dresses. Michael stropped about bully selling and Sara drowned in a pool of her own desperation "It tastes nice! What else matters! BUY IT!" Alex flirted his way around the brides to be, pulling in decent dress sales. Sneaky win on the cards?

Despite ending up with preferred brand, Team Alpha-Rangers struggled through most of the day not making any sales. It was very tense indeed!
Raef looked shit out of luck on his luxury dresses call, whilst Lee sold his way through a variety of lingerie tat. Luckily at the end of the day bored shoppers looking for a purer fix floated back and bought up a few pieces rocketing Alpha into the lead. Claire pleasanted about selling nicely and all was well. As it turned out, the Lucinda-Rangers absolutely twatted the opposition. Bad Lieutenant Nick Hewer even dolled out a few compliments! Sacre bleu!

Nick is kind, but
Margaret is cruel. A couple of Michael's ham-fisted damage control attempts were shot down with direct quotes from himself contradicting his current spin. Not even disagreeing, just firing back his own contradictory earlier spiel in full. Cruel but cool, Margaret wants the fahcken lot gone. So despite another round of Michael's lying / pleading, and Helene fawning over Teflon Alex, Sara ends up going. Why? She's like "a bhladddy air raid siren in me ear!" or words to that effect. King Alan even threatens to pound her head in for knife point cake selling.

That's life in the big city!

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Dark Knight Detectives

With Batman 6 little over two months away, I thought I might as well drop some older Bat writings on you. How's that for a sense of non-occasion? Original pieces to follow shortly I promise. It's just looking a little bare around here.

First up is Tim Burton's 1989 summer sizzler: Batman. An unsung hero of this particular production is screenwriter Sam Hamm. A great deal of what's up there on screen that you'd retroactively assume to be Burtonisms are straight out his pop-nightmare screenplay. Hamm's opening gambit description of Gotham City reads like a particularly evocative tell on Burton cityscape's:

"The place is Gotham City. The time, 1987 -- once removed.
The city of Tomorrow: stark angles, creeping shadows, dense, crowded, airless, a random tangle of steel and concrete, self-generating, almost subterranean in its aspect... as if hell had erupted through the sidewalks and kept on growing. A dangling fat moon shines overhead, ready to burst."

Burton and his team of re-writers Warren Skaaren and Charles McKeown are responsible for Joker's capering and the ouroborus ring "you fucked me first" origin strand. Burton has gone on record several times to state that he's no great fan of the comic medium. In Faber and Faber's excellent Burton on Burton he puts it:

"I was never a giant comic book fan, but I've always loved the image of Batman and The Joker. The reason I've never been a comic book fan - and I think it started when I was a child - is because I could never tell which box I was supposed to read. I don't know if it was dyslexia or whatever, but that's why I loved The Killing Joke, because for the first time I could tell which one to read. It's my favorite. It's the first comic I've ever loved. And the success of those graphic novels made our ideas more acceptable."

Hamm also advocated jumping straight into the piece in motion rather than have a first act dedicated to the whys and wherefores of Superheroing. Advice that most superhero movies would be wise to follow. The origin formula is developing into an inelegant albatross around many tights film's necks. Interestingly, it is Sam Hamm who is responsible for the creation of the Batman mentor character Henri Ducard that went someway to propping up an origins act in Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins. Hamm's Ducard is more of a Parisian master-detective in the amoral pulp mode, rather than a cypher ninja terrorist.

None of this Hamming up is intended to suggest that Burton is a creeping idea cribber, merely to illustrate film is a collaborative medium. Other than a brief stint on Masters Of Horror, it's been all quiet on the Hamm front. No doubt he's seen as having a spectre of failure about after box-office mega flop Monkeybone. It's a real shame. He's tremendously talented. Quentin Tarantino is widely quoted as saying in it's pre-rewrites Hamm form, Batman's screenplay is one of the very finest there is. Google it, and see for yourself. Anyway, without further ado...


A hysterical, nightmarish fairy tale version of the Dark Knight. Burton's film is an astonishingly - even perversely - violent and macabre comedy, blessed with an enormous, insistent, thundering score by Danny Elfman. Keaton plays Batman very much in the Burton hero mold - isolated, childish but with an inkling of sweetness. Kim Basinger plays Vale as a overbearing stalker of a woman one minute, a pedestal blonde the next. Nicholson is portly but terrifying as the clown prince of crime. His violence manifesting as an avant garde experiment.

Batman is an aggressive, slightly awkward, phantom monster, with little of the moral underpinning of the finer comic book iterations. Indeed the end clash plays as the meeting of two rather nasty bullies rather than a heroic triumph. Batman physically and vocally pounding his adversary and obviously quite enjoying it. Keaton plays Wayne as distant and possibly even mentally unhinged. A leaf through Napier / Joker's crime file by Wayne is capped with a dreamy flashback to his parents murder. The whole sequence plays like self manipulation / justification rather than deadly accurate memory.

Pacey, action packed and not afraid to examine the superhero psyche as damaged and aggressive rather than heroic. Burton's film is supremely nasty, even subversive, for a Warner's summer money machine picture. Miraculously, Burton even out-does himself with the frankly sexually perverse sequel - Batman Returns.

And for the collection:

Batman Returns

Second time round, Burton succeeds in simply trying not to please anyone but himself. Returns has the same deeply personal emotional drive as Edward Scissorhands. It's Burton's pox Japanese kitsch Christmas aesthetic amped up into infinity. Everything is overbearing, enormous and expressionist. Returns' locations have nothing in common with reality, the universe existing within a giant German snow globe.

Burton's film is again perfectly complimented by a fantastic ethereal choir accompanied, brooding, Danny Elfman score.

Michael Keaton barely shows his face for much of the first hour of Returns, he's a background spectre, out of the way whilst we are treated to the canon diverging origins of the various super-villains. Rather than undermine the character it gives him a mythic, supernatural quality - we first see him alone, bathed in blue Batsignal twilight; slumbering in his Gothic castle-mansion. Wayne becomes a vampire justice-god figure. He sleeps deep in his fortress till he is needed. It's a significant and welcome step up from the confused bully-thug of the first film. His tenuous, last-gambit relationship with Gotham PD and his flippant use of deadly force lend him an air of absolute danger.

Danny DeVito excels as Burton's take on the dapper little gangster of Kane and Finger's universe. He is transformed into a vile, deformed, sleazy waddling bird-man, backed up with muscle in the shape of a deranged circus act. He's very much Bruce's loss taken hideous, violent shape - indeed Wayne initially feels pity for him.

Phieffer is a believably damaged romantic counterpart for Batman. Catwoman when played correctly is the female reflection of Batman. Equally skilled, intelligent and driven by a need for vengeance. She's the only female in the whole of the Batman canon that makes any sense as a love interest.

Walken appears as the scheming genuine evil that is Max Schrek. His primary motivating factor is greed, rather than an emotional equalizer. Walken plays him with faux-charming, dead inside panache. He also looks like a psychotic Aryan hairdresser.

A beautiful, romantic take on the Dark Knight Detective. Absolutely criminal that the Warner's bean counters managed to block Burton's Superman film after this failed to score with the Happy Meal crowd.