Thursday, 5 April 2012

I'm gonna be writing for Heathen Harvest!

These fine people here. And after I got their name wrong in my Seeds of Iblis vid as well.

This might actually be the encouragement I need to get off my arse and actually keep to a consistent update schedule.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

That sounds serious.

Looks like I'm not going to be browsing there for a while.

EDIT: Wait... it's April Fools Day. That occurred to me literally seconds after I posted this.

Fuck me, I'm slow at this time of night.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Oh dear God.

I'm probably late to the party here, but I couldn't not speak up after watching this thing. I saw this bunch of assholes on the cover of Kerrang! magazine in the supermarket about a week ago with the headline "MOTIONLESS IN WHITE: Meet Your New Favourite Band!" A glance at Kerrang!'s website sees them called "clever [...] exciting, and changing heavy music for the better" Given that this is Kerrang! we're talking about, a magazine whose credibility as an authority on "heavy music" was nearing its expiry date around the time I was born, I naturally took this with a the entire salt shaker, especially considering that they're sporting a similar pallid, watered-down black metal/Misfits chic to that last bunch of tools who were supposed to be our new favourite band.

Mind you, I didn't find myself getting this worked up about the Black Veil Brides. I mean they're not good, but they're certainly not as cancerously awful as fucking Motionless In White.

Jesus! It's like an amalgamation of every last bad idea from the last decade of music, the lumpy pigshit of breakdown driven deathcore in the Oceano/Waking the Cadaver mold and the watery ejaculate of histrionic, self-pitying theatrics derived from My Chemical Romance/Funeral For A Friend/all the songs I used to skip on the Burnout 3 soundtrack, all brewed up into the worst milkshake imaginable. It's almost as bad as fucking Brokencyde, but people are apparently taking this seriously!

That fucking video... you know, if you want to respond to religious outrage, it helps to prompt it first? To the best of my awareness, there's been no puritanical outcry against the music of Motionless in White, and no wonder when you consider there are literally thousands of other bands making music edgier and more threatening than this. Playing the religious persecution angle just makes them look (more) ridiculous, especially given the bands who are operating in the midst of actual religious persecution. In 2012, I have a hard time believing any but the most staunch and out-of-touch American fundie would even bat an eye at these shenanigans. Mind you, if heavy metal all sucked as badly as Motionless In White, I'm not sure it would bother me if it did still get picketed.

Also, Dee Snider was involved in this video!? Goddammit. I like Dee Snider.

Ugh. I've rambled longer than I meant to, and I'm starting to depress myself. Let's listen to a band who are actually pushing the boundaries of heavy music, shall we? Yeah. That sounds like a plan.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Mad German Scientists

Just a few thoughts on these young new prog rockers from Germany, currently supporting Pain of Salvation (my favouritest band of all time, for the record) on their European tour.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

What the hell is that noise?

You know, I'm still not sure I'm sold on Prometheus being a full-blown masterpiece - in spite of Ridley Scott's lofty claims about adressing the origins of humanity and bridging the gap between science and religion, the scenario so far seems awfully like a retread of the original Alien - crew of spaceship reconnoitre an alien planet, discover a terrible secret, carry it onboard the ship with them, and Weyland-Yutani executive probably has undisclosed, less-than-savoury aspirations. With that said, if the film does as good a job at cranking up tension and intensity as this trailer does, we could be in for something extraordinary.

Fingers crossed, between this, The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, 2012 could be set to compensate for 2011's relatively lacklustre summer blockbuster season. Well... then again...

The title was ironic about four years ago.

I´ve been mixing my ass off and things are going smooth and steady now and the
album will be released late summer. Stay tuned for bigger updates about the
album (or should we say "albums", wink wink!) -
Jari Mäenpää, Wintersun

It may have been a while since my first run at this blog, but at least two things haven't changed: Wintersun still haven't released their almost impossibly hyped sophomore album Time after half an eternity of delays and setbacks, and I'm still waiting for it with bated breath. I can't think of a single other metal band who have had a eight-year gap between two albums without having split-up and subsequently reformed; the closest I can come up with are the seven years between Judas Priest's Painkiller in 1990 and Jugulator in 1997. As such, it speaks to just how much goodwill Wintersun's self-titled debut generated back in 2004 that there are still people on tenterhooks to hear more, although Jari's claims that the delays are partly due to the album's insane technical specs (500 tracks per song is the soundbite - for reference, Nightwish's Imaginaerum had about 350) haven't hurt either.

But it looks like the 'Sun is finally being glimpsed after a very long night. As you can see above, Jari's now saying late summer this year, and although deadlines have been broken numerous times before, the signs are positive that this time it's for real. Mixing is apprently going smoothly, they're slated to play a headline European tour in autumn which I doubt organisers would go for if there wasn't a long awaited album release to support it, and "late summer" is only five and a half months at the absolute most. A promo track or a compilation of samples would really seal the deal, but it seems that at long last the planets have aligned.

That sly little "or should we say 'albums'" is interesting in its ambiguity. Has Time filled out to two discs in the process of mixing and the term "double album" just doesn't exist in Finnish nomenclature? Or is a follow up already on the cards. Enticing stuff in either case.

As to what we should actually expect... well, as much of a fiasco as the creation of this record has been, and in spite of the tendency of media with really overlong gestation periods to end up exhibiting a kind of "Spruce Goose" effect, I'm still optimistic. Based on the numbers Jari's been throwing around for years, the album sounds like a behemoth of unprecedented proportions, and with the music made as massive and epic as possible being the subject of some one-upmanship in metal these days (see: Blind Guardian, Nightwish, Therion, Epica, Rhapsody of Fire, Virgin Steele, and pretty much the entire prog metal scene since Images and Words), it should be something to see a record that takes this tendency to its remotest extreme ever if nothing else. That, and the live bootlegs of the track The Way of the Fire that surfaced last summer were incredible. Even with awful sound quality, the song is a joy to listen to, and hearing it with crisp, heavy, clearly distinguished production and orchestration that's more than a semi-audible aural smudge ought to render it easily the best thing they've ever done. Yes, I realise that includes both Starchild and Winter Madness. I love the debut album, but in some ways it feels like a proof of concept for bigger and better things. Wintersun's sound is overwrought and over-the-top by nature, and as long as Jari embraces that sound and channels it correctly, he only stands to gain from making Wintersun more massive, glossy and grandiose.

It's unreasonable to hope for any album to bear up under eight years of expectations, but I can't help but set the bar high. Worst case scenario (other that another delay), Time ends up being an elaphantine monument to creative hubris that buckled under the weight of its own ambition, which still sounds more interesting than the workaday bullshit which makes up 95% of the Nuclear Blast roster. Best case, it tears the universe a new arsehole and leads us to a brave new world of epic melodic death metal. Either way, it'll be a day one purchase for me, and if you love metal, it should be for you too.

Monday, 5 March 2012

The conclusion to the biggest videogame trilogy of this generation (no, the other one).

It's certainly taken us long enough to get here, but at last details on the climactic installment in the Assassin's Creed franchise are starting to flow thick and fast. After being confirmed by developer Ubisoft only a few days ago, here we get our first glimpse of the series' fresh setting, that of America in the throes of the Revolutionary War, and of out newest hooded protagonist, ostensibly named Connor.

George Washington himself seems to be making an appearance at the end of the clip here, begging the question of exactly how the backdrop ties in with the series' ongoing conflict between the Assassin brotherhood and the Templar order. Obviously we don't now much yet about story or motivations, which will doubtlessly be revealed in dribs and drabs as we inch towards the game's prospective release date of October 30th (I'll be disappointed if they don't do something with the Adam Weishaupt conspiracy theory though, that one's ripe for the picking). What we do know is that all of the dangling plot threads, including the journey of Desmond, the modern-day Assassin being made to relive the genetically inherited memories of his ancestors, are due to be tied up in this installment. Ubisoft kind of have to, after all; the end of AC2 tied the series' conspiracy obsessed narrative in with the events of December 21st, 2012, and as such, the series needs to explain its entire elaborate fiction before that date ceases to be in the future.

Gameplay-wise, this installment looks to represent something of a paradigm shift for the franchise, moving away from the densely packed, parkour-friendly European cities that have characterised proceedings until now and moving instead towards the natural environments of the American frontier. It looks to be going a little Red Dead Redemption, with emphasis placed on traversing and surviving unpopulated swathes of wilderness (one gameplay element is apparently killing wild animals for their pelts). All sounds pretty badass to me - Brotherhood and Revelations, while fun, often felt a bit claustrophobic, confining the player to Rennaissance Rome and Constantinople respectively, and this could be the breath of open air the series needs. And of course, the game looks great. Assassin's Creed has always been a handsome series, but in recent years it's lagged behind the very best of the best in terms of technical performance. No more, it seems. That entire trailer was made using the in-game engine, and in terms of the level of detail in environmental effects in particular, it just looks like a step up from previous entries.

All due respect to Mass Effect 3, but for me, this is the videogame event of 2012. Assassin's Creed is damn near the most intriguing and refreshing blockbuster franchise in all of gaming, and its continued success is one of those things that renews my faith in the taste of the consuming public. It's one of the few attempts at a story-driven, high production-value series of games that presents an alternative to the drab, monosyllabic uber-machoism that characterises most Western gaming and the syruppy, rainbow-vomit melodrama that's a staple of the Japanese gaming diet; offering characters who are badass and masculine while still being charismatic and likeable, environments that are colourful and pretty but still feel tangible and lived in. There has been criticism of the series' lack of innovation and forward movement over the course of the last two, non-numbered installments on both the level of story and gameplay, but I don't really see that as a problem. Returning to the universe of Assassin's Creed year on year has felt like watching successive seasons of a really well planned TV show, one that reveals its secrets slowly and deliberately, methodically building to that one big payoff.

Now that payoff is finally on its way. October 30th can't get here fast enough.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Don't see nothin' in need of redeemin'.

If you care now, have ever cared, or are ever planning to care about the state of contemporary martial arts cinema, then I probably don't need to tell you that you should already be psyched out of your mind for The Raid. If, however, you've managed to miss out so far on the buzz for the single most important hardcore action movie in a decade at least (I think Ong-Bak has finally met its match), then here's the lowdown: this is the second collaboration between rising Indonesian martial-arts star Iko Uwais and Welsh-born writer-director Gareth Evans, the first being 2009's Merantau, itself a pretty respectable if unspectacular riff on Ong-Bak that served mainly to introduce the viewing public to the underexposed native Indonesian martial art silat.

That's alright though, because Merantau was little more than a proof of concept. It was the appetizer and now we can see the waiter threading his way to our table with a big, juicy, mouth-watering main course. I'd say it looks indescribably awesome, but if you've watched the trailer, you hardly need me to sell you it any more than it already has. Me, I've been operating at what I thought was optimum hype capacity since the Indonesian trailer hit late last year, but now my brain seems to be overclocking. Seriously guys, holy fucking shit.

One fly in the ointment though, is the new decision to append the useless subtitle Redemption to a title that, to be honest, isn't all that inspiring to begin with. I mean, why? What consumer, exactly, is going to be swayed on purchasing this film by the presence of what amounts to one more word obscuring the poster art? It's not just that Redemption is one of those handful of words that also includes Revelations or Requiem or Evolution that can be thrown into any title without it meaning a goddamn thing, but that this very same subtitle was used for another martial-arts flick that achieved a healthy cult following less than two years ago, and it was at least somewhat justified in the case of Undisputed 3 given that it was a) a sequel and b) a film where redemption actually figured into the plot thematically. Y'know, as far as theme can be read into any flick about a surly Russian kicking men in the throat.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Metal Gear Solid 5: The Misadventures of Colonel Campbell, Geriatric Cyborg Ninja


So, it seems that Metal Gear is happening again. Kojima Productions is on the lookout for "engineers, artists and game creators" to help create a new installment of auteur designer extraordinaire Hideo Kojima's massively popular and utterly insane stealth game franchise. We don't know when, but it does look like Kojima could be shooting for the next generation of consoles - the IGN article does mention "next-gen gaming engine technology" to use with the studio's in-house FOX engine, although that's a slightly ambiguous statement as by some quirk of memetic nomenclature, the current console generation has never really stopped being referred to as "next-gen." Nevertheless, it looks like we're due for a few firsts in the Metal Gear franchise, what with the game seemingly being developed for both consoles and PC and with an apparent emphasis on collaboration between East and West, with work locations listed in both Japan and California.

Now, I'm a pretty ardent Metal Gear Solid fan, and I wish I could say I was turning cartwheels at this news, but for one minor yet significant detail: the series is absolutely over. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a series that's over in terms more absolute than this one. 2008's MGS 4: Guns of the Patriots didn't so much draw a line under the narrative dating back to 1987 as it did carve a fissure under it a mile deep. The Patriots were destroyed and their system of control decommissioned! Revolver Ocelot is dead! Solidus is dead! Liquid is really really dead! Major Zero is dead! Vamp is dead! They brought Big Boss back to life for 20 minutes only to make him even more thoroughly dead! Snake was left with a year left to live at the outside! Raiden got decyborgified and reunited with his wife and child to lead a nonviolent life! Meryl got married to that annoying twat! Everything was explained, revealled and resolved in painstaking, borderline OCD detail. Every theme discussed, there was a conclusive statement made about. There is literally not a single card left in this universe's deck.

I honestly don't know what to make of Hideo Kojima sometimes. Here, he's created one of the deepest and most complex stories in videogame history, not to mention dedicated a quarter-century of his life to it, and yet he seems to have remarkably little regard for the integrity of his creation. Yes, I have the same reservations about the upcoming Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, but then, that game was outsourced to another developer and seems unlikely to retroactively undo MGS4's herculean effort at tying everything up given that it's a spin-off whose status as canon is dubious. Anything more closely tied to series continuity, however, seems to me bound to end in disaster. The image of Big Boss above might indicate we're doing prequels again, as in MGS3 and the two PSP releases, but then, that well's pretty much tapped at this point too. I mean, what else is there left to reveal about the events of Big Boss' life in the 60s and 70s without becoming redundant? One possibility might be a game centred around The Boss' exploits during World War II, but then, she was supposed to have been eight months pregnant during her operations then, and a game where you control a heavily pregnant woman lugging her belly around the French countryside slitting Nazi throats has even greater potential for bathos than a game with the word "Revengeance" in its name.

I know Kojima's gone on record as saying that MGS4 wasn't the conclusion he'd wanted for the series, both in terms of gameplay and story, and I respect the fact that he wants to make the "ultimate" MGS. But I'd much rather see him explore these ideas in a new IP, rather than continue a story that's he's done everything in his power to ensure can't possibly be continued. Drawing everything to a gigantic grand finale in MGS4, and then going ahead and making MGS5 anyway because the conclusion wasn't entirely satisfactory has the uncomfortable feel of George Lucas-esque revisionism. How are players supposed to feel any sort of closure from these games with the knowledge that it could all be undone in a couple of years when another installment comes along? I mean OK, Friday the 13th fans have been doing it for decades, but I really don't want to know how the mind of a die-hard Friday the 13th fan functions. That's a dark and scary place to go.

Oh, and one more thing. Hideo, if you're absolutely committed to bringing the world another MGS title, would you at least consider postponing it until after maybe making that new game in that other franchise that you've been jerking fans (myself included) around over for the better part of a decade now? I don't want to come across like an entitled fanboy, but there's a limit to how much I can be teased.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Faster than a laser bullet, etc. etc.

Yep, it's that time again kids. Dragonforce are back and more in need of ritalin than ever before. Their new album The Power Within - their first studio outing in four years - is due for release in April, and the first official promo track entitled Fallen World hit the web a few days ago.

I'm the kind of asshole who'll dependably boast that he liked something before it was cool, but it's true that I caught Dragonforce earlier than most people. Back in mid-2005 they were one of the bands that shepherded me out of my crap metal-but-not-really Kerrang! fodder phase and into the world of REAL METAL, where men are hairy and guitar solos are long. Ever since Through the Fire and Flames became famous as the greatest challenge the Guitar Hero franchise had to offer, there's been a considerable amount of backlash against their straight-from-the-adrenal-gland stylings, particularly from power metal purists; to this day, you can't swing a dead cat in a Youtube comments section for a Blind Guardian or Lost Horizon song without hitting someone wishing Dragonforce death by stoning. Well sure, their music is essentially shallow, their songs at once extremely formulaic and suffering from rampant ADHD. However, even though I moved on to greener pastures around the time Ultra Beatdown came out, I've never really stopped liking Dragonforce. They're fun, they're energetic and they bear absolutely no pretensions about what they are.

The new track (embedded below) is an encouraging sign in a few ways. The band's DNA is basically unchanged; Herman Li has apparently claimed that this is their fastest song ever, not that I could really say I noticed, seeing as after a certain point the human ears lose their ability to distinguish between stupidly fast and hyperbolically stupidly fast. What is noticeable is that the songwriting is considerably tighter than usual, which I rate as a positive. I generally like my music epic and sprawling, but it's encouraging that Dragonforce actually do know how to bring a song in under five minutes long (Strike of the Ninja doesn't count). Also graciously absent is the blatant studio artifice that plagued Inhuman Rampage and to a lesser extent Ultra Beatdown; no 8-bit video game sound effects here. I still think Dave Mackintosh's use of blastbeats is a bit excessive, a suffocating drumming technique that should only ever be used advisedly in power metal, but hey, Dragonforce have only ever evolved in baby steps, so I'll take what I can get.

Of course, this is all skirting the one big change, which is the first new song featuring new singer Marc Hudson, replacing Z.P. Theart. A few long-time fans have voiced their displeasure about the change, but personally, I was never really that attached to Theart, and I've been on Hudson's side ever since the video announcing his arrival to the band, in which he lets rip a twelve-second war cry that could just about be described as "Heimanian". On Fallen World, he's mostly content to ape Z.P.'s style, but I'm holding out hope that on the new album he'll distinguish himself with a few good sustained, full-voiced banshee screams like an old-school power metal singer. Time will tell. Either way, Dragonforce have piqued my interest for the first time in quite a while.

Friday, 17 February 2012

"I've... heard things you people wouldn't believe."

If you're a fan of prog rock at its most pompous, bombastic and head-spinningly creative, chances are that Arjen Lucassen is a name you're already familiar with. His project Ayreon was one of the premier institutions of prog for over a decade for two good reasons; firstly, the gargantuan, trippy meta-narrative that linked all of its recordings (most of them double-albums) together into one of the most expansive conceptual tapestries in all of music, and secondly, that in spite of the fact that Ayreon was essentially Lucassen's personal vehicle, over the years it played host to literally dozens of guest vocalists, each given their respective characters to play in Lucassen's stories. Ayreon's guest have included some pretty illustrious names in the past, among them Devin Townsend, James LaBrie, Mikael Åkerfeldt, Daniel Gildenlöw, Russell Allen and Bruce Goddamn Dickinson.

Sadly, Ayreon was put on ice after 2008's (kinda underwhelming) effort 01011001, but then again, Arjen Lucassen is one of those slightly unhinged overachievers who seem to be drawn to prog - for every one of his projects that ends, another five seem to spring up in their wake. He has one underway now, in fact, and in its making he seems to have topped himself with regards to awesome and esoteric guest spots:

Yup. Rutger Hauer, he of Blade Runner and Hobo With A Shotgun fame. He's not the first name that would've jumped to my mind for an actor to do a guest spot on a rock or metal album, but when I think about it it makes more and more sense, considering the penchant for monologues he demonstrated in his two most famous roles. Yeah, he's usually more quietly intense than hammy or bellicose, but that may well be more in keeping with Lucassen's typically atmospheric, introspective kind of music. I love me some grandiose concept albums, and this has got me excited now to hear what sort of soap-opera DMT trip Lucassen has planned this time. That, and I'm just happy that an actor I like is being paired with a musician whose work I enjoy and respect, considering Orson Welles and Christopher Lee were taken decades ago by vacuous cheesemongers Manowar and Rhapsody of Fire respectively.

No, really. Orson Welles narrates on Manowar's debut album. It was 30 years ago, and I still can't quite get my head around that.

Happy birthday Quorthon.

Tomas Börje Forsberg, founder and frontman of Bathory and better known by his stage alias of Quorthon, was found in his apartment having died of heart failure on June 3rd 2004. Had he lived, he would've been 46 years old today. Bathory were one of the greatest and most influential metal bands of all time (their 1988 LP Blood, Fire, Death holds the distinction of being my personal favourite metal album ever), having not only provided the blueprint for the genres of black metal and viking metal in the 80s and early 90s, but having also set benchmarks for a primal, passionate, lo-fi sound that remains practically unsurpassed anywhere in the genre. Although his work may not have been as widely known or renowned as that of artists like Cliff Burton, Dimebag Darrell or Ronnie James Dio, his premature passing is felt every bit as accutely among those who loved and admired what he accomplished. Happy birthday Quorthon; I hope you're getting shitfaced up there in Valhalla right now.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

No-one was impaled on the Space Needle. I demand my money back.

Movie Review: Chronicle

(2012: dir. Josh Trank)

A savvy cinephile who's aware of the annual rhythm of film releases has a cache of booze on standby to help them through the desolate months of January and February. This is the time of year when everyone's broke and miserable after Christmas, when the yearly round of Oscar bait has come and gone and the prolonged browbeating of effects-driven action flicks lasting from April through to July hasn't yet started. If you're a movie and you're given wide release in February, it's because the studios didn't have enough confidence in you to release you anywhere else, probably because you suck, and this is doubly true if you're a sci-fi/fantasy blockbuster-aspirant. Just look at I Am Number Four, Season of the Witch and The Green Hornet last year alone, or for that matter, the debacle from 2008 that drove all concerned into an alcoholic coma...


Ahem. My point is that when you hear about a spectacle-heavy movie about superpowerved teenagers being released in February, precedent suggests you'd do well to temper your expectations. There are a distressing number of parallels to be drawn between Chronicle and the likes of Jumper, I Am Number Four and other such YA circle-jerks (don't get me started on Dragonball: Evolution. Just... don't). And that just serves to make the fact that Chronicle completely rocks ass all the sweeter.

I don't just mean it rocks ass by February standards. I mean that the directors of upcoming nine-figure budget SFXtravaganzas like The Amazing Spider-Man and The Avengers ought to be sitting a little less comfortably upon their lofty thrones after seeing what first-timer Josh Trank accomplished on only $12 million. What Chronicle lacks in an effects budget it compensates for a hundredfold in smart, taut screenwriting, distinctive, likeable characters and dynamic, inventive set-pieces. If this doesn't end up as one of my favourite films of 2012, then 2012 will have been a hell of a year.

The protagonist of Chronicle is Seattle high-schooler Andrew (Dane DeHaan), a bitter, unpopular, undersexed loner, who I found myself identifying with really easily FOR SOME REASON THAT'S A COMPLETE MYSTERY TO ME. His mum's dying, his dad's a drunken arsehole, and his days generally consist of a smorgasbord of verbal and physical abuse; his only halfway healthy relationship is with his cousin Matt (Alex Russell), who gives him free rides to and from school and encourages him to get out and socialise in the evenings. It's at a barn party they're both attending in an attempt to fit in a bit better that the cousins, together with resident jock and Popular Extroverted Guy Steve (Michael B. Jordan) discover a perfectly circular hole in the ground with something distinctly alien inside (whether it's a craft or a creature is never really addressed). The hole caves in shortly thereafter, but the three soon find themselves developing telekinetic abilities that seem to be growing steadily stronger.

Chronicle is a lot of things; a found footage picture, a character study, a teen drama and a horror film all wrapped up in a concise 83-minute runtime. What it absolutely isn't, as some critics have asserted, is a superhero movie. Sure, it has a bit of an origin story vibe to it, but there's no spandex, no crime fighting, and no alter-egos. That's an important distinction to make, because it allows Chronicle to do things with the concept of superpowers that superhero movies often can't. For a superhero, all of the awesome things that characters get to do with their powers exists on the other side of a partition from their everyday life, in the realm of battles against evildoers and the heroic pursuit of justice. That's fine and dandy for what it is, but a large part of the vicarious appeal of superpowers is the idea of all the mundane, everyday activities they'd liven up. High school is the perfect venue for this of course: "If I could fly, I'd never have to worry about missing my ride! If I had super-strength, I'd show those bullies a thing or two! If I could read minds, I'd get the answers to tomorrow's test!" There are a myriad little ways your life would (in the ideal case of affairs) be enhanced and made more colourful.

Josh Trank realises this, and exploits the hell out of it for nearly the first two-thirds of the film, the three lads having a laugh as they set about playing pranks, putting on displays that baffle their classmates, and in one set piece moment that's bound to be remembered as the film's high point, teaching themselves to fly. The timbre is similar to the early scenes in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man, but expounded upon much more thoroughly when we see the boys' unchecked joy at the boundaries of their experience being lifted, and we're right there with them, marvelling at the possibilities these abilities they've been given offer.

That's not to say, of course, that the film is simply hedonistic power fantasy - as much as it lets the audience indulge in the coolness of having telekinetic powers, it's also quick to remind us that abilities don't automatically reshape our relationships with others, nor do they absolve us of all responsibility, as Andrew learns to his cost. As the movie goes on, it makes a smooth gear change into Carrie territory, Andrew starting to get even more bitter and angry than ever when he starts to come down from his weeks-long endorphin high and realises his life is still the same wreck it was before. The massive full-blown rampage that results where he proceeds to tear up most of downtown Seattle closes the film on a high note; a lot of visual cues are borrowed from Tetsuo's spectacular wholesale destruction of Tokyo in Akira, and with them, much of that movie's emotional pitch when two friends are pitted against one another, a tragic consequence of power being misused by one not ready to wield it.

For all the spectacle and awe that Trank is able to evoke on a measly budget though, even that's not the main reason you should go and see Chronicle. By contrast, what Trank and co. have to offer is something all too rarely seen and all too often has its absence excused by virtue of compensating factors in modern genre movies - good old-fashioned characterisation. The three leads are worlds away from the cookie cutter drama queens that populate teen movies: for all that I joked earlier, Andrew really is an empathetic and relatable lead. Years of friendlessness have left him hopeless for any really meaningful relationships; introverted in the extreme, his idea of a good day is one where he simply isn't noticed, to the point where he's actually mistrustful of anyone who seemingly approaches him with open affection. All he wants and yet doesn't dare dream of is to be wanted; when he seems to be gaining acceptance as a result of his powers, only to have it snatched away again, the rejection is more than he can take. It's a riff on Carrie without a doubt, but all the same, such a convincing and coherent psychological profile, and one so unobtrusively and naturally built up through the film's events and dialogue, that it can't help but be impressive.

Same goes for everyone else. Matt is introduced as a pretentious brainiac with a very high opinion of himself, freely quoting Plato and Descartes on the flimsiest pretext. His aloof demeanour is revealled quite quickly to be an act though, when he stumbles over himself trying to get the attention of a girl who's wise to his bullshit - again though, this is all handled in an understated way, giving us plenty to like about Matt as well, showing him as caring and concerned for his cousin. Steve as well, is a genuinely nice guy, brash but also self-effacing in defiance of the typical jock stereotype. Even Andrew's dad, although his treatment of his son is in large part inexcusable, has his anger shown to be coming from genuine grief at his wife's condition. Nowhere is Chronicle content to settle for easy archetypes, and it draws us in far more strongly for it.

Now, about the elephant in the room. Yes, Chronicle is part of the trend of "found footage" movies, a la Cloverfield, Blair Witch, [Rec] et al. Does the handheld camera bring much to the film's mise-en-scene? Not really, with the possible exception of the flying sequence where it contributes a lot to the feeling of weightlessness. Does the presence of a camera make sense within the context of the narrative? Hardly - the movie just kind of forgets to provide a reason for Andrew to be filming the events of his day-to-day life. As you may have heard, a short way into the movie he begins to levitate the camera telekinetically which provides for steadier shots, but again, there's never really a reason offered for why Andrew would see fit to exert himself in such a way. For that matter, it's not just Andrew's camera we see the action from; as the movie wears on towards its finale and the scope expands, Josh Trank evidently decided that any diegetically present camera would do - CCTV cameras, bystanders' cameraphones, whatever. To this end, there are a lot of contrived situations where additional cameras are introduced into the script so as to provide for more conventional film grammar.

You might be suspecting by now that despite it seemingly being hinted at right there in the title, Chronicle isn't all that committed to the found-footage thing at all. As likely as not, it seems to me, using handheld cameras through which complex or large-scale special effects need only be glimpsed was probably a means of keeping the film within budget. $12 million, after all, is a lot for a found footage picture (the most since Cloverfield) but a pittance for an effects-heavy blockbuster. Yes, it is an aesthetic flaw in the film, but as has already been argued on Escape To The Movies, if the choice was between a Chronicle which arbitrarily crams handheld cameras into its premise and no Chronicle at all, I know which I'll choose.

Because hot damn guys, if I haven't made it abundantly clear just yet, Chronicle rocks ass. It's the sort of movie that practically seems predestined for cult classic status and a springboard for the career of a new director. It's an absolutely successful mash-up of genres that wears its influences proudly on its sleeve even while carving out a niche for itself simply by dint of rock-solid writing and direction, funny, thrilling and moving all in equal measure. Go see it, preferably more than once; if the ending is any indication, a sequel is a real prospect, and an inviting one.

Come to the Sabbath!

So it only took four-and-a-half decades, but it looks like the Black Sabbath is finally being acknowledged as a local holiday. I can't really think of many better reasons to celebrate being an inhabitant of Birmingham.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Go Go Former Rangers

Movie Review: Broken Path

(2008; dir. Koichi Sakamoto)

I seem to have a peculiar relationship with Johnny Yong Bosch. All my life, he seems to be there in the background, a quiet curator of stuff I consider to be cool. At five years old, I was a die hard fan of the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. I didn't much care at the time who was playing the Rangers, because, y'know, five years old. Nevertheless, there was Johnny Yong Bosch as Adam Park, the Black Ranger, serving up U-rated ass-kickings every day after school. Flash forward a few years and I'm a teenager just starting to get into anime. By the way, did I mention that two of my favourite anime characters are Shotaro Kaneda and Lelouch Lamperouge? Huh. Well, I'm sure it's just a coincidence.

Anyway, a few years further on and I'm an intrepid young student developing a taste for brutal kung-fu flicks, and WELL WHADDAYA KNOW ABOUT THAT.

I'm not actually suggesting that there's some sort of Johnny Yong Bosch-based conspiracy whereby he's contractually obligated to produce content conforming to my tastes in media at any given point in my life. But if I ever get into, say, necrophillic porn, I'm starting to think Mr. Yong Bosch could have reason to worry...

Anyway, Broken Path is one of the few recent western films specialising in the kind of visceral, high-impact choreography that Ong-Bak made such a big deal in 2003, and it's become the subject of some minor cult celebrity amongst martial arts fans on account of the sheer long-windedness of its fight scenes. The sales pitch is a simple one; Yong Bosch is thrown together with fellow Power Rangers alumnus Daniel Southworth and the four members of Alpha Stunts, director Koichi Sakamoto's stunt troupe (because when you have your own stunt troupe, that's when you know you've made it), and they fight. And then they fight. And then they keep fucking fighting.

I'm not be able to make the following statement with absolute certainty, partly because I haven't seen every hardcore fighting movie from the four corners of the Earth, and partly because it can be difficult to qualify what is a fight scene and what's not. It doesn't seem like something that should be complicated - duh, a fight scene is a scene where characters fight - but where exactly does a fight start and stop. Is it when the first punch is thrown? The point at which combat is a clear inevitability? If characters stop to exchange mid-fight banter, should we pause the stopwatch? It's like measuring a coastline: results can change drastically depending on the degree of precision. All the same, it needs to be said - Broken Path has quite possibly the highest ratio of fighting to non-fighting of any film in history. With a running time of 90 minutes, there's not much more than 25 minutes of non-action even at a generous estimate. The remainder - literally every second - is comprised entirely of punches, kicks, throws, stabbings, slashings and occasionally, just to break things up, improvised use of gardening implements as weaponry.

The film that Broken Path most often and vividly calls to mind is Ryuhei Kitamura's low-budget horror-comedy-action triumph Versus, insofar as both movies are low-budget independent efforts following a group of characters around a single setting in a state of bellum omnium contra omnes. And yet, despite having markedly less competent fight choreography and an even lower budget, Versus nevertheless seems to me to be a far superior movie. This is in large part because while in Versus, Kitamura's near-constant onslaught of beatdowns actually went somewhere; there may not have been much of a plot, but stuff certainly happened in that fights were won and lost, contenders dispatched and new ones introduced at a fair clip in order to keep things fresh and engaging. Sakamoto, by contrast, uses only six combatants throughout the entire movie, and for 75 minutes all they do is beat each other down in various permutations, taking an eternity to actually incapacitate each other. It's an unusual paradigm around which to structure an action film. It's also a dumb paradigm. After a certain number of devastating roundhouse kicks and haymakers successfully connect, it becomes apparent that the fighters will continue to get back up and keep fighting as long as the runtime requires it, and once you realise this, the fighting loses all sense of tension. Even when one of the characters is permanently dispatched, it comes at a totally arbitrary juncture, which is to say the kill could obviously have come at any other point in the movie were it not for the mandate of the script that the deaths need to be evenly spaced throughout the latter half of the runtime.

Oh yeah, the script. You'll notice I've avoided any mention of the specifics of Broken Path's story so far. Partly this is because, as with any martial arts flick, story is a secondary concern, and partly it's because I don't really want the headache that thinking about Broken Path's story would bring, seeing as it's death-defyingly retarded even by the skewed standard of a martial arts flick - possibly the only cinematic genre with the required standard for a script actually lower than that of a slasher movie. Jack (Yong Bosch) has just moved into a small homestead in Texas with his wife Lisa (Pamela Walworth) and their daughter Maddy (Lanie Taylor), where they live out the first quarter hour of the film in a blissful familial idyll so sickly sweet it's actually more painful to watch than any of the subsequent stabbings and dismemberments. Then, at exactly 16 minutes and 7 seconds in there comes a change of pace so sudden and jarring that it actually made a more effective jump scare than I've seen in many a horror film, a bunch of knife-wielding, mask-wearing Asian psychos (the Alpha Stunts team; Motoko Nagino, Tadahiro Nakamura, Anthony Nanakornpanom and Sonny Sison to give them their rightful names) burst in and do their damndest to kill all of them. Later a would-be ally, Yoshi (Daniel Southworth, whose martial skill becomes much less intimidating when he turns out to sound almost exactly like Matthew Perry from Friends) comes to bail Jack out, and we learn that the two of them were forced into life as assassins for the Yakuza as children. Jack escaped and started a family nine years prior, and now his past has caught up with him.

It's so fucking stupid! I don't want to repeat myself, but it really does warrant emphasis. It's obvious from the get go that the writers have seen and enjoyed David Cronenberg's A History of Violence, and promptly set about making their own junior-high fanfic level reinterpretation of the same material, in which adult actors utter lines like "that's the prison that's been my life for as long as I can remember" with completely straight faces. And that's even before you factor in the bit where it doesn't make any sense. At all. Ever. How did the Yakuza find them anyway? Why does one of the most organised and ruthless criminal organisations on the planet not think to give its assassins guns? How did Jack convince Lisa he was a ninety-pound weakling for nine years when she's obviously seen him without his shirt and can tell he's ripped like an athlete? These are basic questions which the screenplay must answer, dammit! I wouldn't usually mind, but it's all played so earnestly, steadfast in its conviction that it has as much drama and pathos and nuance as anything that Cronenberg guy can do. Again, I'd raise Versus as a point of comparison. That film was dumber than a bag of particularly dumb rocks, but it knew it and played it for black comedy every step of the way. Its punk rock irreverence was joyous where Broken Path's gestures at tearful compassion are cringeworthy.

With all that moaning out of the way though, Broken Path isn't without its pleasures. The way it's structured aside, the fighting is really good. Not quite the best, mind you; the level of skill the Alpha Stunts team demonstrate isn't quite even from member to member, and Yong Bosch and Southworth are clearly the best screenfighters in the room at any given time (although Nanakornpanom definitely has his moments). The choreography doesn't have quite the acrobatic splendour of a Tony Jaa or Scot Adkins vehicle, or the lean, efficient dynamism of Jackie Chan's fight scenes, but it does have weighty, visceral sequences of fast, brutal bloodletting by the truckload. In the sharpest possible contrast to the script, the film is technically immaculate, with editing, staging, employment of props and gore effects all the best they could be on this sort of budget. And again, I direct your attention to the sheer volume of hitting going on. Seriously people, 75 minutes of fighting, basically non-stop. For better or for worse, being the most efficient delivery apparatus for fighting in cinematic history is definitely an achievement for a film to have. If you've sat through movies like Tom-Yum-Goong or Ip Man and thought "this is good, but it would be so much better without all the goddamn talking," (and you wouldn't be the only one at that) then Broken Path may be your movie.

But even then, I reccommend jamming hot forks in your ears for the first 16 minutes and 7 seconds.

Oh yeah. This place.

Fuck, I have a blog!?

Well, I'm as surprised as anyone else. It looks like I'll have to put some work into rejuvenating this place, starting with the description on the right. I'm 21 now, rather than 19, and that feels every inch as depressing as it sounds. I guess I've also put lie to that whole bit about my insatiable need to write down my thoughts on popular culture, considering it's been more than a year since I even acknowledged this place. When you've got a bigger gap between posts on your blog than news updates on Wintersun's website, you're doing the whole blogging thing wrong.

Anyone who's followed my blogging progress from my halcyon youth as a reviewer for through my vlogging period on Youtube to the present day (and if you fall into that category: hi, Donald!), you're probably starting to recognise a fits-and-starts pattern where I write furiously for a few weeks or months, only to quit in a huff when I fail to become the overnight web celebrity I know deep down I was born to be. I'd say it was my sincere intention to stick with it this time, come hell or high water, but that's the case every time to begin with, so I won't. I'll content myself then to say I hope to maintain a steady schedule of sharp and timely criticism and commentary on the raft of pop culture detritus on which I float through day-to-day life.

Oh, I also do an internet radio show now out of my student union. An hour a week, live from 11.00pm to 12.00 midnight GMT on Thursdays at I intend to mention this blog here on this week's show. If you happen to be brought here after this coming Thursday as a result of listening to my show, my past self greets you and hopes you appreciate the Escher-esque indefinite reccurance of self promotion.

So, what to talk about for my first post back? Maybe a martial arts movie...