Three Minute Review #4: Fist of Fury (1972)

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Fist of Fury is to date the only Bruce Lee film I’ve ever seen, and I was surprised by the actor’s range. For someone who hung their trade off their one inch punch martial arts skills, he turns in a fine young thug, comical phone repair man and romantic lead. Not what you would expect from a Kung Fu flick at all. The other actors fade into the background next to Lee, and the portrayal of the Japanese does come across as bitter (particularly in light of the current tensions between the countries), but in context the Chinese did have a lot to be angry about after their awful treatment at the hands of their oppressors. The version I watched was widescreen and in Cantonese: I can’t abide dubbed foreign film. A good entry point for those who don’t have a clue about martial arts. Or neck punching.

7/10

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Three Minute Review #3: The Sentinel (1977)

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I was disappointed to find out this film was made by white-haired, deceased insurance salesman Michael Winner in the opening credits, and thus predictable boredom turned to irritation after a mere 15 minutes. The plot is absolute guff, special effects only as sophisticated as blue face-paint, and shocks completely absent for what I stupidly assumed was a horror film. I felt sorry for Cristina Reins’ involvement in this rip-off of the more popular religious horrors of the era. Worst of all is the climax, in which Winner’s vision of hell on earth is twenty people with various disabilities and deformities dragging their stumps up a staircase, groaning. Offensive on multiple levels, there’s more fun to be had standing in the rain being kicked in the groin by a tramp.

1/10

Three Minute Review #2: Breadcrumb Trail (2014)

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This superb documentary about the defunct (sort of) post-rock band Slint doesn’t attempt to address the mystique created following their dissolution; merely acknowledge it. Once the songs on Spiderland, the band’s second album, were released, it was up to listeners to absorb, filter and interpret; then share by word-of-mouth (the most effective endorsement even in the days of Twitter). By this time, the members had all moved onto other projects. You could take other things from this documentary, but it remains objective throughout, neither revealing too much about the personal lives of the creators nor their anxieties from the difficult birth process. In the end, it’s just a record. A really fucking great record.

10/10

Three Minute Review #1: The Last House On The Left (1972)

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From the black and white poster I was expecting something much more grim and uncomfortable, but instead ended up watching a cross between Deliverance and Home Alone, more comical than blood-curdling. The odd soundtrack, bumbling cops and cringe-inducing dialogue barely kept me viewing to the end. Rob Zombie ripped off the tone wholesale and the soundtrack, recorded by one of the stars of this gashfest, belongs in a bargain bin. After 85 minutes I wasn’t actually sure what the hell I’d just watched.

2/10

RetroView: Resident Evil (Biohazard) 4 (PS2) [2005]

PS2_Resi4_Sleeve I’ll admit to you now that I’m getting rather long in the tooth these days. I was an early adopter of the PS1 and bought the first Resident Evil when it was released in 1996. Whatever possessed me to buy it in the first place eludes me now, though I suspect it was because I was a teenager and they were marketed as “adult” games before we took that for granted.

Even then, I was appalled at how cheesy the live-action intro was, and I’m glad that it bit the dust and wasn’t included in the remake. It was a Necessary Evil bearing in mind the capabilities of the hardware at the time (sorry for that pun, I’m lazy).

A few years back a friend let me borrow the GameCube version  of Resi 4 but it went neglected in favour of PC gaming. I found the changes to the basic control system difficult to get to grips with and the 360 degree over-the-shoulder camera view threw me totally. The old timer was having a tough time growing up with the game.

Spin on to 2013 and for some inexplicable reason I became compelled to give the PS2 version of Resi 4 a go. And after playing it for the last fortnight, I’ve experienced suffering on an almost unprecedented scale. Died 60-plus times. Reloaded the game hundreds of times. Even did the unthinkable and resorted to all-out cheating. Even in normal, it’s a very challenging game the first time around. But did I enjoy it? Yes, yes, yes.

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Once the issues with the controls were ironed out (which took a few hours), I found myself engrossed with the setpieces, more-so than the mansion or the police station. While the earlier chapters set in the village and the countryside were a departure in both tone and shocking content (the body of the burning policeman was a particularly gruesome visual that had me thinking of The Hills Have Eyes), I had to accept that the series had to move away from the static camera angles, slow-witted groaning zombies and unintentionally dated visuals of the previous instalments. Fighting my way round a village or shooting gems from a rope-bridge to make a few quid was not the Resident Evil I knew anyway. After I battled my way through the graveyard and met the first of the Los Illuminados, I started to feel like I was in more familiar territory: creepy gothic visuals, unsettling noises, surprises from all angles…

Ultimately, the biggest thing to get used to was the fact that this game didn’t feel survival horror any more, but more evolved. There are few scares in Resi 4, unlike Silent Hill 2 which still has the power to frighten the hell out of me, simply because there is no time to be scared. Limited ammo and console processing power meant that you were rarely fighting more than a handful of zombs back in the PS1 days, but when you’re faced with six-plus bloodthirsty villagers with raised scythes and a stack of ammo in your back pocket, you get trigger happy. There’s a definite shift from the empty corridor with a clock puzzle to both barrels blazing at a bunch of cultists. The corpses soon turn to sticky bubbles and you need to keep buying bigger briefcases for all the ammo they drop (as an aside, this is corrected somewhat in Resi 5 where you are limited to 9 active items that makes things a lot harder – I’ll cover that game in a later feature). It also makes you wonder why people infected with Las Plagas are walking around with undigested live ammunition in their stomachs.

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What are the irks? The only one I can think of right now: Ashley. Yes, she may be the reason why you’re playing the game in the first place, but her character is dashed by nailsdownblackboard voice-acting and Super Ham dialogue. Overtime. OVERTIME?!? Kill me now. I wasn’t sure exactly why I needed to switch to her character from time to time as it didn’t feel to me like it was moving the narrative forward. I did like the Harry Potter knights that come swinging at you with huge axes though.

Oh shi-That said, the move away from the zombies and tyrants that we’re all familiar with is a breath of fresh air. The Marilyn Manson-like creepy cultists are high on my list of favourites, the El Gigantes were intimidating and tough to bring down, but my personal fave was the Iron Maiden, not just because they’re named after the first band I ever saw live, but because I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of the room as they slunk towards me. Brown trousers time for the gamer because of its awesome defence mechanism (and the hentai heavy breathing). Lining up those shots with the thermal sight was a real challenge, and it was also the first time in the game where I ran out of ammo and had to bolt out of the room and miss out on the pickups.

Where I found myself struggling most was during the quick-on-the-button ‘dodge the croc’ moments which had me hitting continue so much the bloody controller was smoking. Perhaps old age has made me slow on the draw. I was always a fraction of a second off and so met a grisly demise. This possibly explains why I’ve never played Guitar Hero or Parapa the Rapper. Perhaps I should.

The HD version of Resi 4 is now available on the PS3, along with ports to iOS and mobile devices. For a game that nearly brought an end to the franchise and had four false starts, it was instrumental in giving the series a kick up the arse and introducing mechanics we take for granted in third-person shooters these days. Perhaps not revolutionary, but certainly a great example of evolution in a series.

Next up: Resident Evil 5 (or Biohazard 5 Alternative Edition, as I’m playing the Japanese version!)

A Brief Guide to GANTZ

This article originally appeared on totalscifi.com before the UK release of the first Gantz movie.

You’re at the train station and a drunk man falls onto the tracks. People shuffle nervously towards the yellow line to peer at the lifeless body. Everyone remains motionless, hoping somebody courageous enough will race forwards to help the guy to safety, but no one comes – until, eventually, one brave soul jumps down from the platform. He struggles to lift the lifeless, overweight body onto the platform’s edge. To your horror, he recognises you as a childhood friend. Something clicks within you and you’re standing next to him on the tracks. The light bearing down on you from the darkness of the tunnel makes you wish you’d remained passive like everyone else…

So begins the very first episode of Hiroya Oku’s manga sensation Gantz, the hyperviolent science fiction epic that’s currently being serialised in Weekly Young Jump magazine. Since its first appearance in October 2000, it has spawned a 26-episode anime series, two live-action movies, two novels, a PS2 game and a horde of merchandise that’s had a surprising cross-cultural and cross-gender appeal. The first 27 volumes of the manga has surpassed 10 million sales in its home territory, and Dark Horse Comics, who publish the English edition, have also had tremendous success (they’re currently up to volume 15).

 

The concept is simple: at the moment of death, unfortunate souls are transported to a locked room where a black sphere known as “Gantz” prepares them for battle against unusual and deranged non-human combatants. In some respects, it’s like a real life videogame where black-costumed contestants start off learning to use time-delayed explosive pistols and netting guns against spring onion-headed children, giant Buddhist statues and stripy-shirted robots that house angry birds. Rest assured, the situations are both familiar and completely alien. They’re also utterly demented.

Therein lies the appeal of the series: this is not your typical shoot ‘em up. In fact, the relationship that develops between the initially cowardly Kei Kurono, Masuro Kato and Kei Kishimoto is what keeps Gantz relatively grounded and compulsively readable. Its use of violence and sex is no more shocking than, say, Fist of the North Star or Beserk, but the real life setting makes it easier for us here in the West to jump into.

Viz Pictures acquired the rights to screen the first of two Gantz live-action feature films in the US in January, with the second, Gantz: Perfect Answer, due for release in Japan in April. With a $22m budget, it’s a no-holds-barred and thrilling experience, and the awesome, surreal set-pieces ensure it has plenty of appeal for Gantz newbies.

Two of Japan’s hottest young actors are up front and centre as Kato and Kei: Kenichi Matsuyuma and Kazunari Ninomiya. Natsuna Watanabe, a Japanese ‘idol’ (a word often used to describe attractive celebs in the country), plays eye-candy Kei. Director Shinsuki Sato has pulled back on the sexual content in the manga to make it more accessible to a teen audience, but the OTT violence still remains; one particularly explosive scene in a garage, where a group of contestants face their first true test, leaves the walls dripping with blood and limbs.

The climax at the temple (which also features in both the manga and the anime) boasts some truly stunning special effects that lift the movie from being your standard niche-market adaptation into an all-out action spectacular with wide appeal. In brief: for a condensed version of the Gantz experience, it hits the mark exactly.

Gantz the series is still running in Japan in its ‘final phase’, meaning the creator’s vision will soon be fully realised. If you’ve not had an opportunity to check out one of Japan’s hottest sci-fi exports, there’s plenty of time to get in on the act. Just don’t blame us if you find yourself with a new addiction…

Comic Review: Aliens #1 (Dark Horse)

Funny looking through these old reviews. Prometheus came out to a mixed reception (I actually like it, so stfu) and this series was buried pretty quickly. Perhaps relying on a writer from twenty years previously wasn’t a great move. 

Aliens #1 (Dark Horse)
Written by John Arcudi
Art by Zach Howard & Mark Irwin


This time it’s war. Again…

With the recent announcement that Ridley Scott is to return (on production duties) to the franchise he kick-started back in 1979 and the 30th anniversary of the film’s release this year, there appears to be no abatement of hunger for a new Alien film. Dark Horse Comics have also returned to their own past glories, relaunching a sparkly new Aliens series penned by Mask and B.P.R.D. scribe John Arcudi.

The deceptively short first issue is not as predictable as you may think, but has clearly
been written with an overall story arc in mind that detracts from the fun of reading it as
single issues. The aliens themselves appear on only four out of 21 pages as well,
leaving you feeling a bit short-changed.

Characters are introduced only to be savaged or shot to bits, and while some of the best sequences in the Aliens movie were when the marines were being picked off one by one, having this happen suddenly during the first act feels forced and doesn’t allow you to get to know the characters well enough to appreciate them. See The Walking Dead series for the way comics handle great deaths of subsidiary characters.

On a positive note, Zach Howard’s art works really well — it’s clean, modern and energetic. His backgrounds don’t look out of place from the Alien ‘verse and his characters look interesting. Hopefully he’ll be able to stretch his artistic muscles throughout the rest of the story.