The month known as March was surprisingly busy for popular culture, what with films and videogames and comics vying for my increasingly limited attention. Limited because, as I shuffle headlong towards the grave, my attention span’s only becoming smaller. Think of me as a goldfish, all bored after 7 seconds. Hell this sentence has me bored alrea
Let’s start with the bad: the Netflix Iron Fist show is shit. I managed to watch four episodes of it, and it was four too many. Finn Jones is terrible, the fight choreography is terrible, the writing is terrible, even the title sequence is terrible. Don’t bother.
In good title sequences, the American Gods series is to start on late April but its opening has leaked and its breed of maximalism looks kind of amazing.
The first episode of the third season of Rick and Morty dropped (via frankly confusing livestream) and now I’m in want of McNuggets with Szechuan sauce.
You know what makes me happy? That Takeshi Koike, one of my favourite anime directors, is working on Lupin, one of my favourite, well, things. March saw the release of his latest work in the franchise – the excellently named GOEMON ISHIKAWA’S SPRAY OF BLOOD. It’s technically part of the Woman Named Fujiko Mine series (as was the previous Koike-directed special, DAISUKE JIGEN’S GRAVESTONE), but this is all about Goemon and how he became Lupin’s buddy. Also dudes get chopped up. It is awesome.
As I admitted last month, I got Nintendo’s latest console, the Switch. It’s actually a really nice piece of hardware – there’s an element of Nintendo playfulness throughout its design, as one can slot it in and out of its dock, pull out its controllers, slot them back into a controller grip, hold them around for 2-player action… it’s all fun. The best thing about it is brings to life the promise of gaming that’s both on TV and on the go, with the same experience throughout. I actually tend to mostly play with the in handheld mode, since it feels really nice in an oversized PlayStation Vita kind of way.
Of course, the main draw for the Switch is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which is no doubt one of the best games Nintendo has made in, oh, the last decade or so, which makes it one of the best games in the last decade or so. It’s truly a (wait for it) breathtaking achievement, with Nintendo taking on open world gaming with such confidence it’s surprising to think this is actually its first title in the genre. Here’s a very basic example of what I mean – mountains. In most other games, mountains are obstacles one is meant to traverse around, with climbing strictly verboten. Not in BoTW, as the player is encouraged to climb on said mountain. Link is almost Spider-Man here, and if he has enough of stamina he can climb up the tallest mountain range Hyrule has to offer, before gently gliding back down. Simply put, it’s amazing.
However, while BoTW is the superior game of March 2017, the title of most interesting, if not outright important, game of the month goes to Nier: Automata. Technically it is a sequel to Nier, a weird and violent 2010 action RPG about just how weird and violent videogames are, and it has similar commentary on videogames as a medium… in the first playthrough. A second playthrough takes things even further, and one has to play the thing no less than five times to “get” it fully. The fact that it’s all wrapped around a pretty solid Platinum-developed character action framework (not to mention a gorgeous, bleakly apocalyptic aesthetic) boosts its appeal, but ultimately it’s director Yoko Taro that brings both smarts and heart in the initially straightforward tale of 2B and 9S, a pair of androids hunting down machines in the far flung future.
Until a handful of weeks back I had no idea who fine artist turned manga-ka Eldo Yoshimizu is. The situation was rectified thanks to Twitter (justifying the existence of the otherwise pointless social networks), and now I’m the proud owner of the first volume of Yoshimizu’s first work, Ryuko. It’s a yakuza epic all about badass ladies destroying bad dudes, done in a retro manga aesthetic that’s something special. So special, in fact, that I got it in French, a language I can only read very little of. But it was worth it. Ryuko’s great and I can’t wait for the second volume, coming 2018.
Pallbearer released an album this month! It’s called Heartless! The band has moved towards a more prog direction! That is a good thing!
The past few weeks were pretty fruitful for a specific kind of movie – so much so it took me to the cinema not once, not twice but three times in the name of B-grade pulp nonsense. And it was mostly great! I love this shit!
JOHN WICK 2
A definite entry in the inevitable Best of 2017 list, John Wick 2 does like The Raid 2 in expanding the universe first seen at in the original. The sequel gleans further details of its curious underworld of gangsters and hitmen, with plenty of mythological references as the titular John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is regularly likened to Hercules – a comparison further hammered down by the appearance of Antonio Canova’s massive sculpture, Hercules and Lichas1. The action also moves out of the original’s New York as John Wick heads to Rome, a city that also houses any number of amenities required by the discerning hitman, such as a Continental Hotel, equipment vendors and tailors of suits both tactical and stylish. My favourite detail is the appearance of the underworld’s operations centre. Found beneath the Vatican, it is staffed by women of all ages adorned with clan tattoos and clad in 50s pinup outfits working on typewriters and what appear to be Commodore 64 computers. However, at no point does anyone offer any exposition on, say, the history of the underworld or why gold coins make its currency. It’s simply the way this world works, and in any case this is an action film, and the action is what comes first.
Admittedly the action does take time to ramp up – a bone-crunching intros with John Wick destroying an army of Russian mobster in order to get his car back is followed by a good chunk of running time telling how he is brought back to the assassination game by sleazy mafioso Santino (Riccardo Scamarcio). The first Roman action sequence also disappoints slightly, since it is almost videogame-y in its protagonist hunting down mooks in dark tunnels while searching for hidden weapons caches&2. Thankfully, following that the movie kicks into high gear, and John Wick returns to New York with violent aplomb, aside from a brief interlude to meet Laurence Fishburne’s King of Beggars). By the time the finale and its tremendous showdown in an art gallery turned hall of mirrors arrives one can safely declare John Wick 2 as the action film to watch this year, and the sequel can’t come soon enough.
The sombre coda to the X-Men films – at least those starring Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart – Logan is equal parts Unforgiven and Lone Wolf Cub. An old Logan and an even older Professor Xavier play surrogate fathers to Laura, aka X-23 (Dafne Keen), a young mutant bearing the full Wolverine power set (healing factor, sharp claws, unerring instinct for violence), and the little family of sorts sets off sorts on a road trip through a dismal near future America broken into fiefdoms owned by the rich and powerful3. On the chase throughout are the Reavers, mechanically enhanced mercenaries4 hunting for Laura, who’s actually an escapee from one of those mad science facilities found in at least 75% of all X-Men stories, in any form or medium. The road to a seemingly mythic “Eden” is long and hard, and plenty of blood is spilled in the wastelands chosen as arenas by director James Mangold.
Speaking of violence, Logan has an interesting focus on physicality. Not solely in terms of the consequences of what Wolverine does best, which thanks to an R rating proves satisfyingly gross and bloody at times5. Like the its landscapes, Logan’s titular protagonist is ravaged by age and disease. Poisoned by the adamantium making his skeleton indestructible, Wolverine is as damaged physically as he is mentally, his body seemingly held together by knots of scar tissue. This is in sharp contrast with Laura, who’s still fresh to the world (even if she’s seen a fair share of suffering in her young age) and as such full of potential to grow into a better person than her genetic father. Then there’s X-24, a Wolverine clone artificially grown to his physical prime, yet lacking anything akin to experience, making him little more than a vessel filled with directionless rage. The Reavers are also enemies designed to withstand most of the damage Wolverine can dish out – after all, in an age of mechanical enhancement limbs are more or less disposable, flesh and bone easily replaced with metal and piston. This is a strange new future, and it’s just as well that, at the end, the Wolverine physically paves the way for a fresh generation of possible X-People.
KONG: SKULL ISLAND
I have the feeling director Jordan Vogt-Roberts made Kong: Skull Island as a bit of a reaction to the giant monster films of recent years. Gone is the slow buildup of Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla, or the natural disaster imagery of last year’s Shin Godzilla – Skull Island is pure B-grade romp, nothing more, nothing less. It does derive novelty from the Vietnam War setting, but only in the shape of a soundtrack of suitable tunes from the period and inevitable Apocalypse Now parallels. At times it manages to veer towards scenes of beauty or tension, such as Kong striding majestically through a river or the human cast making its way in a graveyard of giant gorilla bones, but these are sooner, not later, interrupted by a giant octopus or Skull Crawlers, weird bipedal monsters acting as Kong’s main antagonists. As such, Skull Island is a coliseum for giant monster battles. Which is not that bad a thing, since ILM’s special effects wizards craft some spectacular visuals, with the camera regularly lingering on the sheer scale and presence of the beasties in question. Look at Kong, the film exclaims. Admire how well he is rendered, as he slices a Skull Crawler’s throat open with a huge ship’s propeller! Witness how far technology has come since the days of the original King Kong6!
However, the spectacle of Skull Island appears to come at expense of the script, since it doesn’t really bother with one. The human cast hardly counts as a sketch, with the exception of Samuel L. Jackson and John Goodman, who are little more than caricatures of their best known on-screen personas, and John C. Reilly as essentially Dr. Steve Brule. Actually Steve Brule on Monster Island would have made for a superior film, even more so if accompanied by the likes of Tadanabu Asano as the Japanese pilot he’s seen crash landing with in the film’s WW2-set prologue7. Alas this was not to be, and while Skull Island is undoubtedly entertaining it makes lazy afternoon viewing at best.
1 my friend Robert suggests John Wick also represents The Wild Hunt, a reading I don’t necessarily gel with but is still worth checking out
2 what videogame manages to reach John Wick‘s combination of martial arts and close quarters gun play, though? Superhot comes close, although it felt too sluggish for my own tastes, so I guess my contender for John Wick: the videogame is actually Capcom’s 1993 The Punisher arcade game, which has plenty of both punching and shooting of many men.
3 as they tend to
4 Logan’s Reaver’s are not very closely based on the Reavers from the X-Men comics – a shame, since their gonzo cyberpunk designs are some of my favourites
5 certainly in comparison to the tediously bloodless Bloodpool, whose R rating was mainly used to pepper the script with mildly amusing naughty words
6 King Kong first opened in New York City on March 2nd, 1933
7 “don’t sit on a log in Skull Island, it might be a giant insect you turkey!“
Marco Attard, chilling at the Dude and Catastrophe, 2017