Monday, 30 November 2009

Turtles Forever

Produced to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, 4Kids Entertainment's feature length reality bender Turtles Forever unites a variety of disparate character incarnations, chiefly 1987's toyline supplement pizza chompers, and 4Kids' own iris free snarlers. These two Turtle groups collide when a madcap dimension hop goes awry, forcing the groups to puzzle through a caper together. There's comedy identity clash as each team struggles to understand the other.

The 80s Turtles derive from a universe that plays by explicitly juvenile rules. Universe pals enjoy regularly scheduled rescues from rampaging mutant food, and impossible techno-solutions can be whipped up on the fly. In contrast, the 2000s model exist in a state heavily indebted to Batman: The Animated Series, and sundry dubbed Japanese serials. Their universe has ongoing plot threads, and kid safe shake-ups. Turtles Forever toys with a rolling sense of agitated desperation as the 'serious' Turtles strain to make sense of their merchandised counterparts, and the power their universe bleed technology allows a competent, contemporary adversary. Even their location as the gruffer alternative is challenged when the two groups wind up in their monochrome inception universe. Immediately categorised as trespassers, the animation Turtles are swiftly battered by motion drafts of the original Eastman and Laird sociopath troupe.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut

A compromised pirate themed draft of that bloodied, iconic smiley; key art that proudly and inaccurately boasts 'The Complete Story'; a four disc added-value Blu-Ray box set heaving with various re-edits and flash glide stagings of the original Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons text. It must be the holiday season. Compiled from various antiquated straight-to-market shelf fillers, the juice in this US only set is yet another version of Zack Snyder's feature. This newly compiled 215 minute print of Watchmen finds further time to digress, widening its sphere of interests to include street level news vendor chatter, and a drifting meta-text.

The animated Tales of the Black Freighter movie has been woven into the feature, mostly in isolation. We aren't treated to Gerard Butler voicing bleak, situationally specific introspections over pre-Giuliani New York. Instead the segments are chaptered into the feature on downtime, usually jumping off from a trip to the newsstand. Bleed-in is minimal, the only non-diegetic intrusion comes from an agitated Silk Spectre II, apparently urging the circling Freighter to wind down a little quicker to allow her a character moment. This brief dialogue intrusion highlights something of a tonal mismatch. The inclusion of this animated Freighter adds another less intended layer of deconstruction. Butler rabidly racing through largely undoctored Moore text is an excitement way out of most of live action cast's range. Disappointing then, but not completely without merit.

While for much of the duration the Freighter segments only obliquely contrast the main movie narrative - they tend instead to operate on a pitch black comedic agenda - a place is found for the pitiless conclusion. Inserted immediately prior to Ozymandias' big reveal, the fate of the mariner neatly undercuts any test audience tinkering in the main feature. In this context, the Black Freighter interludes are explicitly and retroactively positioned as Adrian Veidt's unconscious noodling on his mission, granting the character a head-space he is denied elsewhere. Freighter drains Veidt's 'victory' of even the barest sense of triumph, giving the film's conclusion some much needed mutation. The discovery of Rorschach's diary at the right-wing rag headquarters now plays less like a gag, and more like it did in the original comic: a tiny cog springing to life in a deliberate, unknowable machine. The use here of Freighter falls short of Moore and Gibbons' weaving multi-lead commentary, but it does patch a nagging hole in Snyder's interpretation. As ultimate a cut as we're likely to get.

Sunday, 22 November 2009


Jack Hill's 1973 avenger movie Coffy adds credence to the idea that you can reap a thematic windfall by substituting a woman into a typically masculine role. Pam Grier is Coffy, an emergency room nurse driven psychotic by the corruption of her much younger sister. Coffy opens with Grier playacting as a strung out trick, using her whiles to honey trap a local smack peddler. Registering her complaint with a sawn-off, Coffy drifts back to her life, never quite reconnecting with either her job or her politician sugar daddy. A brief dalliance with a childhood sweetheart turned cop arms Coffy with a paper trail of corruption that takes in pimps, the mob and even City Hall. Deciding her best weapon is her looks, Coffy poses as a prostitute, using her sexuality to get close to her intended targets.

Coffy drives the narrative, she's endlessly capable and on-the-fly calculating. Coffy works with a kind of mechanical disconnection for much of the duration, operating under the sincere deduction that men will put themselves in ruinous situations to posses her. She feigns the kind of fragile femininity typified in low-rent action flicks, then confounds that assumed weakness with improvised maximum violence. Naturally, this revenge is framed within the constraints of attention grabbing, cheapy cinema - you're never more than a couple of minutes away from a day player's torn blouse, or a feature disrobing from Grier. The film has its cake, and shotguns it. Hill and Grier play with the idea of belonging and women needing a place. Coffy has a comfortable, aspirational life, but a deeper underlying need for a social justice. This brings her into conflict with all the established facets of her life. The climax sees Coffy reject material comfort and standing to pursue her own desires, wandering off into the night rootless and damaged, but morally uncorrupted.

Thursday, 19 November 2009


You don't expect an immediate twinge of objective doubt when booting up Namco's 1982 vertical scroll shooter Xevious, but that's exactly what you get. It's the behaviour of the opening waves of alien craft that give pause. These tiny schools of flying saucer drift towards the player, investigating your sudden zip-fighter appearance. The hubcap packs waft about lazily before noticing you're prick hard and ready for war. In the face of your relentless screen climb, the saucers bank rapidly, lurching away in a sharp, fearful peel. They never attack. Mechanically these enemies are tutorial drones allowing you to get your eye in against non-aggressors before the shooting back starts, but there's an underlying disquiet in their pacifist prodding, and your conditioned response to damage. Rather than protecting the Earth against shuffling invaders, Xevious seems to cast you as the trespasser. Armed with a Solvalou gunship, you've leapt into enemy territory and begun blasting commuters. The uniformly green landscape, and only spotted infrastructure seems to suggest you're bombarding an agricultural outpost. In Xevious you're not assaulting a techno-nightmare war base, you're simply severing supply lines.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

"Keep the rest for your time."

That plus 99 more all-killer, no-filler lines from HBO's peerless The Wire. If you ain't viewed series, expect spoils.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Commons Warfare

Keith Vaz: The Minister will be aware that at midnight a new and violent video game, “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare”, is to be released. It contains scenes of such brutality that even the manufacturers have put warnings in the game telling people how they can skip particular scenes. Given the recommendations of the Byron review, specifically paragraphs 32 and 33, what steps do the Government propose to take to ensure that such violent games do not fall into the hands of children and young people? This is not about censorship—it is about protecting our children.

Mr. Simon: The clearest recommendation of the Byron review is that content suitable for adults should be labelled and sold as such, and that it should be an offence to sell such content to children. That is the case under current law and it will be the case when the law changes under the digital economy Bill. The game to which my right hon. Friend refers is certificate 18 and should not be sold to children. The Government’s job is to ensure that what adults should be able to get is clearly labelled, and that children are not in danger of being subjected to adult content.

Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East) (Lab): I have seen the content of the video game. It is unpleasant, although no worse than in many films and books. The game carries a content warning. It is an 18-plus game, and carries the British Board of Film Classification 18-plus rating as well. Does the Minister agree that it would be better for Members of the House to support the many thousands of game designers and coders, and the many millions of game users, rather than collaborating with the Daily Mail to create moral panic over the use of video games?

Mr. Simon: I was in Dundee last week visiting the video games industry, and I certainly agree that it is a large and important industry in which we have a national competitive advantage. It is important that all Members of the House and the Government continue to support it.

A curt rebuttal to Mr Vaz's Commons raised concerns over the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Complete transcript available here.

Thursday, 12 November 2009


DVD cover art for the Criterion Collection issue of Matteo Garrone's Gomorrah. Disc details here.

Monday, 9 November 2009

An Evening with Gay Tony

Spend a little time away from Grand Theft Auto 4 and you forget how to play it. An extended breather unlearns all the ticks and tricks you've amassed to cope with a control system that at its worst feels like mindless corralling. Your car spins out wildly when you attempt corners at speed. The jumble between movement and cover gets you shot in enclosed space. Helicopters often feel completely uncontrollable. This disconnect is more pronounced than ever in latest side-quest Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony. For this installment Rockstar North have decided to include a post-mission breakdown screen that rates and ranks your progress: You didn't do it quick enough. You didn't know to adhere to invisible objectives. You didn't do it first time. Your aim wasn't consistent. You didn't even try and shoot them in the head! It's not enough to scrape through missions now, your method is under scrutiny. By God I resent this! If you want to start cataloguing a player's interact deficiencies, you'd better give them a solid, flexible, interface to begin with. A steady stream of relevant (but skippable) tutorial information would be preferable. It'd be nice if you give players chasing tiny speedboats in a suicidal helicopter at least a taste of a reticule. And if you're going to insert helpful checkpoints, I think it only fair to restore weapon sets and health to the value users reached said markers at. In short, the fault had better lie with them.

Conan the Destroyer

Ditching the Milius flick's brooding Nietzschean menace, Conan the Destroyer instead hitches its wagon to stunt cast action figures, and aimless, yuk-yuk sidekicks. Pitched squarely at kiddy crowd simplicity, this re-packaged franchise jump-off was toned down considerably pre-release to land a US PG certificate. Not that you'd know watching the film. Cannibal's decapitated heads soar weightlessly when swiped, umpteen extras are bloodily eviscerated, and all manner of beasts are punched, pushed, and brutalised. The UK DVD still carries a 15 certificate today, despite judicious snipping to the film's endless scenes of animal tripping.

Between films, Schwarzenegger's Conan seems to have misplaced his calculating mind, devolving into a reactionary muscle man. Destroyer pitches him as a cautious savage, adept at rending regular folk but reluctant to engage with the dark knowledge of wizards. Didn't Conan the Barbarian end with the Cimmerian toppling an entire occult nation? You'd think him emboldened. Contracted by the grubby royal line that has moved in to fill the snake cult power vacuum, Conan must accompany a bratty, virginal princess on a journey to reclaim a God-artifact. Saddled with an excess of people, Conan sets off on the rob. On the way they run into Grace Jones' Zula, a yelping blood-debt bandit who strays after them and isn't given anything to do. Journey's end involves Andre the Giant in a turd brown, Carlo Rambaldi designed swamp-suit selling for Schwarzenegger.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys - Empire State of Mind

Quantum of Solace (Video Game)

The title's a misnomer; this interact adapt is far more concerned with leading players through unseen action brackets in the Casino Royale storyline than allow play-act insight into Quantum of Solace's murky revenge narrative. Upfront, you get a few bare Quantum paths, before the game delves deep into flashback territory. On release, expectation for Quantum of Solace: The Video Game was unusually high. Bond has a fair video game pedigree, mainly thanks to the N64's peerless GoldenEye, and developers Treyarch had Infinity Ward's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare engine to mess about with. The imagination brimmed with ideas of a polished spy-kit shooter, perhaps informed by the black-ops patter that made Modern Warfare sing.

The result, no doubt thanks to inflexible licence paymaster and a satirically short production window, is more like a product push redraft of Namco's on-rails shooter Time Crisis, with Daniel Craig's 007 as the aspiration item. Perspective shifts constantly. First person is used for iron-sighting, and third person for defence snaps. Jab buttons near the ubiquitous cover, and context drifts outside the eyeline, allowing the player to gaze upon Craig, and his relationship to surroundings. The mechanic ticks two boxes: Gears of War's land seizure gameplay is referenced for the magpies, and Craig becomes visible without excessively compromising the point and blast genre stylings. Shame it's such an uninspired affair.

A simulacra of Craig's Bond drifts aimlessly along preordained paths mucking in on sequences that bare no relation to on-screen action. Break stealth and the boring backroom levels swarm with faceless, arcade bold suicide shooters. Time to bog yourself down in cover and fire blind. A neat summation of this game's flaws would be the trailing of the Alex Dimitrios character. In the film Bond weaves in and out of Gunther von Hagens' Body Worlds, the raw exhibit figures providing a garishly fragile contrast to 007's blue-lit machine movement. Were Treyarch inclined to just import a poise shredding shoot-out into this situation, you'd have a startling centrepiece. Instead, action shifts to a nondescript science centre, full of barely breakable techno-nothings.

Bad Dog

Tease shill for IO Interactive's Kane & Lynch sequel. First game implied a playable Michael Mann flick, delivering instead a stodgy re-start shooter that asked for flamboyance, whilst stranding the user with stealth-health and a contrary cover system. We shan't even mention IO's utter failure to tap into Mann's particular brand of rootless masculinity. Poor show! For this follow-up, IO are promising little more than fleeing naked men being savaged by attack dogs. Now that's an achievable remit!

Friday, 6 November 2009

Pulp - Tomorrow Never Dies

Pulp's rejected 007 theme. This gem later shored up under the pre-misfaxed film title Tomorrow Never Lies as a B-Side to Help The Aged, then in a rough mix on the Deluxe mint of This Is Hardcore, where it finally got to die. That guitar noodling gets right in my head.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Monday, 2 November 2009


Nothing nets you a Gradius style sidescrolling shooter; in the fringes of the upper atmosphere your finger piloted spacecraft bobs about whilst you trace targets around polite formation enemies. Prod a destination and your craft will shoot a missile at it. The joy of iPhone freebie SPACE DEADBEEF is firing off a glut of deadly ordnance at these player marked destinations. Mindlessly carpeting an area in laser, as you do in most horizontal shooters, is fun, but getting to actually select a terminus point feels rather novel. It's a simplistic, but effective design flourish, virtually impossible on any other platform. Deadbeef's heat-seeking excess also recalls Treasure's pixel overload puzzle shooter Bakuretsu Muteki Bangaioh (distributed as Bangai-O in Europe), a game brimming with the same targeting pauses and screen filling feedback. Delight holds just as long as the enemies remain reluctant to fire back, once combat intensifies the game asks your one finger input to juggle movement as well as aiming. It's an inelegant set-up frustrated by your craft's tendency to drift in the direction of your frenzied target stabbing. As a teaser though, Space Deadbeef has you rooting for more from creator Yuji Yasuhara and publisher IDP.

Paranormal Activity

Supposedly found footage tweaked and streamlined into a feature isn't a new idea, Cannibal Holocaust and The Blair Witch Project both presented documentary style assemblies of last transmissions. Those films though were about people journeying into a lawless wilderness to find terror, interlopers out of their depth messing with forces they misunderstand. Paranormal Activity instead anchors its scares in a notionally safe domestic environment. This haunted house is completely atypical. Architecturally it is spaciously modern, bordering on prefab, filled with big screen televisions and boasting an outdoor paddling pool. Rather than hobble any potential disquiet, this decision accentuates it. If you're not safe here, in a place entirely too new to boast a spooked past, where can you be safe?

Director / Screenwriter Oren Pali even goes one further, staging the majority of the disturbed action whilst the haunted couple sleep. How more helpless can a person possibly be? For the most part Paranormal Activity elegantly teases at this idea, the couple's CCTV set-up urging the apparition to act in increasingly outrageous ways. There's even a sub-thread that implies one half of the duo has a vested financial interest in the horror escalating, thus smoothing some of the mounting daftness. Paranormal Activity only really disappoints when it explicitly dips into referencing like-minded cinema, thankfully it's a short burst of disconnect quickly resolved. Several different endings exist for Paranormal Activity, the version currently playing with the theatrical release has origins in a series of notes suggested by Steven Spielberg when his company DreamWorks picked the film up for distribution. This conclusion plays conventional, bordering on cynical, especially with sequel rumours flying about. It implies a new horror-identity ripe for further adventures. Much more fitting is the hopeless sting that crowns Pali's 2007 DVD screener edit. That ending speaks to an incalculable mindset that makes games out of misery.

Sunday, 1 November 2009


Between bonus gripes, a crew of grumpy space truckers stumble across what appears to be a distress signal. After a traumatic landing a small team wander out to find the source, inadvertently bringing back an aggressive, mutating infection. The title character of Alien is a curious creation, worlds away from the huffing, invincible clods that typically clog up sci-fi anxiety yarns. 

Designed by surrealist painter HR Giger and played by seven foot plus Bolaji Badejo, the alien is a bio-mechanical agitator blessed with snaking limbs and a camouflage naturally attuned to industrial spaces. The science officer of the besieged ship categorises the beast as the son of the astronaut it births from. This throwaway dialogue frames the monster in the most interesting way - the creature is not wholly alien, it is instead a hybrid that has been calibrated to human dimensions.

The creature even seems to operate with basic hunter-gatherer procreation instincts. It instantly brutalises all the male crew members it encounters. Conversely, it finds the females fascinating. It pores over the women, savouring a proximity to them. Lambert's death in particular seems to be about a grim kind of enchantment. The androgynous alien looms over the shrinking Navigator, excitedly hooking its stinger tail between her legs. Desperate, but apparently unable to rape her, the alien instead skewers its intended. 

This savage survive mind attracts a sense of fraternity in programmed snitch Ash, another bio-mechanoid, this time designed by humans and acting in secret on behalf of evil corporate paymasters. When interim leader Ripley gets wind of the crew's company mandated expendability, Ash attacks her with a rolled-up porno magazine, attempting to force it down her throat. Like the Xenomorph, Ash is another neutered half-man scrambling for a penis substitute. This is the horror of Alien. Death and consumption seem like secondary concerns when you're being considered by a violent extraterrestrial sexuality.