Saturday, April 20, 2013

Rotten Tomatoes Hates The Lords of Salem

"God Hates the Lords of Salem."

I feel like Rob Zombie's gotten a lot of shit over the years he hasn't particularly deserved... though I guess that's true of literally everyone who did anything after The Internet existed. Don't get me wrong, each year that passes is a year I like House of 1000 Corpses just a little bit less, and I won't say that Halloween 2 wasn't a film rife with both structural and idealogical problems, at least it took a stand against a slasher movie sequel literally being the first film with a number tagged onto the end of it. I'm a firm believer that anything less than praise levied against The Devil's Rejects is little more than bitter heresy, and while I totally understand why some people can't stand the grim, trashy reboot of the archetypal bogeyman, I stand by my affirmation that Rob Zombie's take was dramatically more interesting than John Carpenter's. Perfect? No. A fuck of a lot better than literally any of the other sequels to Carpenter's original Halloween had been (barring, perhaps, Season of the Witch)? You bet your ass, boys and girls.

While I wasn't thrilled hearing that Zombie's new film was being produced by the same folks who were responsible for the Paranormal Activity franchise - my opinions of which can be summed up very well with "Well, that sure was clever. The first time." - the promise of him being offered Final Cut was appealing enough, as was Zombie's own description during preproduction that it would be a film akin to if Ken Russell had directed The Shining instead of Stanley Kubrick. Psychedelic isolated clips and a jaw-dropping gonzo bizarro trailer made the rounds, all of them showcasing Sheri Moon Zombie - Rob's muse, and seemingly his detractor's personified ire - trapped in a supernatural struggle between the world we know and the dark existence of a witch's coven, seeking vengeance for their brutal punishment in the 17th century. Having thought Rob got the shit end of the Internet's opinion stick, and having spent most of my life living in New England - and, being fascinated by horror from a young age, having always been enchanted by the gruesome history of Salem - this was a film set to hit every chord on my list...

And yet I walked out confused, wondering what might have been. I wouldn't say I dislike the film - it isn't terrible, not by any worthwhile measure - it just isn't what it could have been, or perhaps even should have been to justify its very unique and potentially genre-shattering position as a serious horror film sprung from the very real tragedies that befell the accused women of a little town in the Americas. Was this movie for real? Was it an experiment in terror, boiling the elements of the masters down into their most simplified parts as a study of why we're afraid, or the groundwork of a master inspired by his childhood throwing everything at the wall and watching very little of it stick? The answer is inevitably somewhere in the middle, and while it's clear Zombie was pulling from masters like Kubrick, Argento, Polanski and Russell... the final film is more akin to the dreamlike, sometimes wholly disjointed works of Jean Rollin, Lucio Fulci and Karim Hussain. Initially, I'd have compared the films to David Cronenberg or Michael Soavi, but no, both of these men have a grouding of emotional, structural and theological symbolism to tie everything into, at least, a single cohesive whole, if only sometimes in a meta-textual way; Rob Zombie's latest film doesn't seem to be interested in anything grander or deeper, just... well, weirder. It accomplishes that and then some, and I'd be lying if I said the film wasn't quite a bit of fun just to look at all the over the top set pieces lurking in the shadows, even if it doesn't add up to much. It's just not the epic send-off to the supernatural that I still believe is burning away inside of Zombie's brain, and is a frustrating reminder that even talented artists can only accomplish so much when under relatively major time and money constraints.

But what makes this mish-mash of surrealism all the more frustrating is how good the first forty minutes or so of the film are. There's moments of pure, distilled WTF to be sure, but they're balanced by a level of restraint and subtlety that I hadn't been aware Zombie possessed that honestly doesn't break until the final act. Absolutely none of the rampant nudity in the film is there to be sexy (apart from, maybe, the opening titles), and while the brutal punishment of the Salem Witches is presented in the most sadistic manner possible, there's virtually no other acts of murder or blood-letting on screen that aren't trippy cut-aways to what may or may not be a violent realizations of a shattering subconscious.  The mounting, grinding soundtrack and the shifting landscapes of the dull tones of reality clashing with the super-saturated world of Satan's wrath envelop every second, becoming so intertwined that, yes, I'd argue the style is the film's ultimate substance, in the same way that Suspiria and Eraserhead operate entirely on fuzzy dream logic, but become burned into your memory through the sheer hand of the director assaulting you with the raw, unhinged experience of it all.

Sherri Moon Zombie is, as ever, adequate. Look let's be honest; she's gorgeous, she's willing to go to damned ugly places to please her man's need to be a demigod of exploitation film making, and Rob is comfortable asking her to be sexually assaulted in the face by a Satanic blood-belching priest. What the hell else do you guys even want? Can you think of anyone else who'd even agree to be in this mess, much less knock it out of the park if they did? Christ. This really shouldn't warrant special attention - Sherri's merely "okay", not especially noteworthy one way or the other - but I swear, if that ever gets brought up as a complaint against a Rob Zombie movie by default, whoever says it is getting punched right in the dick. Dead goddamn dick-center. Internet, we're officially done with this particular bitching, and we should have been done with it 8 goddamn years ago when she proved herself to be an adequate character actor to begin with.

The three ladies who play Sherri's scheming landlords - all genre veterans, as is typical of a Zombie casting call -  are all fantastic in their own right, and many of the comparatively minor roles are filled with talented Zombie regulars (blink and you'll miss Sid Haig and Michael Berryman!), but hands down it's Meg Foster as the wicked Satanic matron who steals the show. She was utterly terrifying. Seriously, if you only see the first three reels of this movie, she is what the rest of your nightmares will be made of; pure, unadulterated malice. And this is coming from the hot chick in Masters of the Universe - Jesus Christ, how could we have seen that coming?! The film even makes fantastic use of her as a sort of barometer as to how far down the rabbit hole we've gone, slowly wearing down the walls of reality by combining Foster's horrific turn with Sherri's more worldly existence, until the boundary is finally broken, the last seal laid bare, and then... and then...

...and then Satan shows up looking a bucket of KFC haphazzardly glued back together and wearing an El Santo gimp mask. The whole scene is set to glowing, soft-focus, romantic photography and totally un-ironic, sweeping classical music. And then... I can't even tell you what happens next because you won't believe me 'till you see it for yourself anyway. Mrs. Kentai couldn't take another second of it, and just busted out laughing. I couldn't pick my jaw up out of my own lap long enough to make a sound. I'm not spoiling this because it's in the trailer, and it's the Weirdest. Fucking. Thing. I have EVER SEEN in a movie theater... and, sadly, I don't mean that in a good way.

Seriously, Mr. Zombie. Rob. Whatever, I'm asking as a fan here, and as someone with a penchant for loving the hell nonsensical weirdness - what the fuck just happened to your amazing atmospheric horror movie? As director, Zombie walks a fine line for the first four reels, gradually teasing us with what look to be intentionally artificial stage-show quality neon nightmares are juxtaposed on a lifeless, almost uninhabited and monotone vision of Salem, and brings them both crashing into a violent mix that gels neither as a work of pure, apocalyptic terror nor even as B-movie excess as it did, more or less, in House of 1000 Corpses - that film certainly wasn't a masterpiece, but it's still amusing enough watching Bill Mosley turn Rainn Wilson into a bloody arts and crafts project. There's a subplot about Sherri being a recovering junkie, building to the idea that maybe it's all in her head - hey, just like Jack Torrence in The Shining! - but most of that looks like it was left on the cutting room floor, and only pops up when the narrative left them no choice but to bring it to the forefront. A lot of stuff does that, now that I think of it, but that's the most blatant obvious of a loose thread, just waiting for the viewer to start tugging away.

Much like the final confrontation in Argento's Inferno, the film tries to gamble with its big ideas and loses credibility for it, trying to build to a Book of Revelations and ending on a minimalist stage play. I'm not giving Zombie the pretentious benefit of the doubt on this one either, because interviews have all sort of confirmed that the film we saw wasn't the film he wrote; in other words, I "get it", I just don't think it works... and that makes me incredibly sad, because I feel like he was on the verge of something amazing. Not since Prometheus have I walked out of a theater feeling like a masterpiece was side-stepped this hard, but the reasons why both of these films fail are so vastly different, it's not a very fair comparison. Without actually spoiling anything (else?), the final 10 minutes in particular really left me holding my head and wondering if I was just hallucinating. Rob Zombie has ushered in an apocalypse, and it turns into a low-budget music video complete with garish After Effects wipes and Sherri grinding on a Black Metal guitarist for no discernible reason - you know, the sort of goofy, nonsensical bullshit I'm already on the fence with coming from truly independent films made by fucking nobody in Eastern Europe for 1/10th the budget this one had.

It tries to bring it all back just before the end, but it manages to somehow infect both narrative threads so hopped up on its own indulgence that the finale of the Salem Witches is rendered borderline parody, and the final moments in Sherri's story are so over the top that... well, at that point, all I could do was laugh. Because it was so absurd it was funny as hell. It's clear that Rob Zombie was trying his damnedest to become Stanley Kubrick and Roman Polanski, but in the end he crashed and burned somewhere between Jean Rollin and Alejandro Jorodowsky. It's not goofy enough to be a rollicking B-movie to be jabbed at by drunken friends, but it's just not good enough to be anything more than the sum of its fragmented, uneven parts that can't decide if it's a legitimate retro masterpiece of Satanic horror, or a stumbling remake of yet another generic East Asian ghost movie. It's just... a mess. A fascinating, unintelligible mess that's so off the wall I can't help but recommend everyone in ear shot see it for themselves, just to experience it. I can call Zombie a lot of things right now, but "unoriginal", "risk averting", and "giving the slightest of fucks about what a typical audience wants" wouldn't be in the top five hundred.

I can't say a word of this without acknowledging that, why yes, I've followed Rob Zombie's usual press tour of brief, professional interviews. I know that despite having been given Final Cut on the project, the $1.5 million dollar budget and month long shooting schedule simply weren't enough to do whatever he had written. The scene used for the film's poster - the one that proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this film no longer knows what the fuck it's trying to be anymore - was one they had to improvise that day because the original concept was simply never going to be made. I can't fault Zombie's creativity, his aesthetic, or even his heart; all of them were in the right place when he made this film. He just bit off so much more than he could chew, and I have a feeling this is going to sit next to similarly bizarre, transgressive, and frustrating messes like... honestly, I can't even think of a proper comparison. Kazuaki Kiriya's CASSHERN or David Lynch's DUNE both come to mind, gorgeously realized and thematically rich epics that just unwravel before your very eyes, spawning a giant mess that's impossible to fully respect, but too gloriously decadent and bizarre to hate. I'd recommend anyone interested in this film see it - it isn't a swing and a miss scenario so much as it is the ball whizzing right past the batter and decapitating the pitcher. It's literally just that off. And if nothing else, I'm confident it'll be the single strangest, most difficult to describe film I see all year. If that isn't a compliment when I'm looking forward to the next Astron 6 feature, I don't even know what could be.

Rob Zombie has announced that his next film will be a historical drama about the 1974 Philadelphia Flyers team now known as "The Broad Street Bullies". (For those as hopelessly clueless about "Sports Stuff" as myself, just picture The Bad News Bears, but everyone has more whiskey than plasma in their blood and play 'sports' mostly as a legally justified Fight Club. Christ, that does sound kind of fun, doesn't it?) I was honestly sad at the knowledge that Rob Zombie is finished with making horror films for the forseeable future, but having seen him go for the gold and stop half way... maybe it's for the best. I still believe that Rob Zombie is a largely overlooked talent, and if nothing else, this will convince the rest of the world that his talent isn't directly tied to how many throat stabbings a film has. This, however, won't convince anyone but the biggest fans of gonzo insanity that he's got anything else to offer that The Devil's Rejects didn't already cover.

Recommended, but only for those who already know they're walking into a trap. Here's hoping the Blu-ray includes 3 hours of deleted scenes, and a 3 hour epic might at least restore something resembling thematic cohesion to this glorious pile of flaming wreckage. For what it's worth, the original screenplay has been published as an old-school "Novelization", and having heard confirmation that it was based on the last script Zombie made before actual production began, I might sit down with that over the next week and try to piece together what in the name of fuck happened between then and now.

And also, how weird is it that the AMC 16 was doing the semi-fancy Los Angeles premier with Rob and the female leads all doing a Q-and-A? Much as the film wasn't what I had hoped it would be, that whole experience was just lovely, and being able to sit just a few rows behind Michael Berryman and Ken Foree was pretty goddamn nifty. And for the record, however fun and crazy you think Patricia Quinn is, you're wrong. Dead wrong. That sweet ol' biddy is insane.

Warning: The following post is made in a fit of exhausted and fury/coffee fueled frustration. I TRIED not to spoil anything major and make the slightest bit of sense, but I'm not awake enough to tell anymore. Take from this what you will!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Kaze is a Bunch of Creeps!

Ryu's Face = My Brain

A brief, frustrating update in reference to my prior moderately-positive review of STREET FIGHTER II: THE ANIMATED MOVIE: The English dub appears to be the heavily censored PG-13 version which removes all of the swearing entirely. This is opposed to the only slightly-censored "Unrated" version, or the completely "Uncut" version.

[UPDATE:] The Manga Entertainment R1 DVD includes the "Uncut" version on the stereo track, and the "Unrated" version on the 5.1 mix. The only difference between the two - as far as I know, and I am so not the guy to ask about the English version of this particular film - are two lines involving the word 'fuck'.

The PG-13 audio evidently removes all swearing, and hasn't been seen by anyone since the late 90s, which  with massive edits for violence and nudity on top of all the sailor talk. This also means the Kaze Blu-ray is the first time the "Unedited Version" has ever had the PG-13 dub included on it, which is... interesting, to say the least. For those masochistically curious what non-language differences there are between the PG-13 and Unrated prints of this film can check out exhaustive comparisons HERE.

If I'm not mistaken I could probably sync the 'Uncut' dub to the new Kaze Blu-ray, but the Manga release - as you can see HERE - has several relatively minor cuts to the original unedited Japanese prints, which this Blu-ray is based on. This makes syncing it slightly more complicated than usual, but I'd be lying if I said I hadn't fixed so much worse... of course, that was done with the promise of a paycheck on the other end, not because I'm interested in spiting the language track I had no interest in until someone mentioned it was fucked up.

The Madman AU DVD is uncut as well, and synced to a Japanese print... but it's also been sped up to progressive PAL, which means the pitch could be all sorts of wonky when I shift it back. Now that I know the Manga track is uncut, I'm wondering if the best course of action would be to watch both cuts of the dub, figure out what's missing and replace specific lines of dialog... but then, of course, the question becomes just how seamless those audio edits would be.

Geez, who thought the Manga UK dub for Street Fighter would ever be this complicated?


Thanks to Kriztoffer Swank and Sky_Captain for clarifying this infuriating issue for all fans of the English dub. I'm not one of 'em, but I sympathize with your rage all the same.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Rock Out The Dragon


While Ubisoft inexplicably insists that FAR CRY 3: BLOOD DRAGON is an official "Expansion" of their Triple-A Desert Island Tiger Fueled Sandbox styled adventure franchise, the facts are finally in: It is indeed a stand alone download-only game built on the groundwork of the original Far Cry 3, those who have already gotten a chance to play through the entire game (due to a hilarious - and now, quite closed - XBLA release glitch!) says it takes a brisk 8 hours or so to do everything, and will be available for purchase on both XBLA/PSN platforms on April 31st for a mere $14.99. As a point of reference, the last time I played an 8 hour game I loved was Lollipip Chainsaw, and as I dropped sixty bones for the privilege, this seems like a bargain.

As an added treat for those of you with a boner for shooting things on computers that weren't pre-made by Sony or Microsoft, Steam already has the PC version up for pre-order, and is including a full download of the Power Glove OST I've been violently masturbating to for about a week as a free bonus! Needless to say, I whipped out my Visa like it was the last circle jerk before The Big One. If anyone reading this has Steam installed and has even the remotest interest in what you see up there, I suggest you do the same before the OST deal drops off in two weeks.

This has forced me to ruminate, if only (semi-)briefly, on how I feel about "download only" copies of games in general. You surely remember that I hesitated to pull the trigger on Fist of the North Star: Ken's Rage 2 for a wide variety of reasons when the game was released in February, and while I'm a little sad that it's been a couple months and I still don't have the game... well, I still think my hesitation was somewhat justified. The game was too large (space wise), too substantial, and simply too expensive to be justified as a download-only PS3 title for the full $60 MSRP. I get that video games are a luxury item, and that a full fledged AAA title - of which the Hokuto Musou sequel is, arguably, at least an AA "expansion pack and then some" affair - costs $60 because of the development costs and all that. If I had bought the damn game on a disc for $60, I wouldn't have batted an eye, so who does making this one a download-only title bother me on such an oddly personal level?

Yeah, it was dumb, but I still liked the Jackal/Devil Rebirth arc.
Wait, the GOLAN arc is in there, too?! Goddamn you Tecmo-Koei...

I understand well enough that offering the game on a disc versus as a download is offering literally the same content - the data's identical between both formats. You're paying for the same game, so obviously the price should be similar, and that's fine. But cutting out the physical media production, skipping the wholesale discount given to Game Stop and the like, means the publisher is pocketing more money to start with, and in turn is removing the option to ever lend or even, Gods forbid, resell my personal copy has been removed - and it's also hogging up additional space on my less than bottomless PS3 HDD, which only gets more pathetic for Xbox 360 users who (as far as I know, at least) have to buy an MS Branded drive should theirs reach critical mass, and are forced to snap open their system with a goddamn hammer if they want to replace it on the newer models. In short, Download versions cost the same as the Disc versions, but come at no real advantage to myself, other than dodging about $5 in taxes and not having to wait in like at Best Buy for like five minutes. Were they a bit more competitively priced - say, $50 instead of $60, or they cost the same but included the first wave of DLC, or anything like that - I'd probably be more okay with the whole idea, even if I'd avoid it personally.

That's not to say I don't buy download-only games. Blood Dragon is a great bargain, and I'd pay $15 for that on the PS3, if that seemed like the better option. I have no problem with the whole "Virtual Console" concept, where you're paying $10 for a game that's been out of print for 15 years, merely saving the headache of ordering a copy off of eBay only to find it so scuffed up it won't boot to begin with. I'm also going to pick up the Black Rock Shooter PSP game for $20, because A) the price is less than the going MSRP for a typical packaged PSP game - which essentially, doesn't exist anymore, and B) it's a kooky Action-RPG based loosely on a memetic NicoNico Douga music video. This was never going to get a wide US release because it wasn't made to appeal to Western sensibilities to begin with.

Had this been a $30 packaged release, I'd be fine with it, but a $20 download is perfectly acceptable with all of that in mind. I'd have loved to see the utterly insane Premium Edition released in the states, but sadly, I still live on Earth where I still have a substantially better chance of walking outside and randomly being attacked by Olivia Wylde who, for reasons therapists would later go on to describe as the "Kentai Syndrome", threatens to slit her own throat with a hacksaw unless she's allowed to repeatedly suck Spaghetti-O's out of my anus. Seriously, every word of that had a way better chance than anyone in North America packing the White Rock Shooter in a premium translated release, despite the fact that those insanely cool/ridiculously overpriced toys are literally the only reason most of those games exist to begin with!

 Let's see you do THAT with DLC, Sony!

Hell, I'm still not convinced I shouldn't have picked up Hokuto Musou 2 for $60 as a sign of good faith... and then I realized that a $60 download game has over $50 worth of DLC. I was so shocked I had to itemize that shit: $23 on costumes, $18 on unlockable characters, $8 on bonus maps, $3 pack of "upgrade"scrolls, and $3 on a pallet-swap of the "Pre-Order Bonus" DLC costume. If playing the entire experience front to pack cost a hundred bucks, the least you can do is give me a fucking disc to give away should I get bored with it. And, yes, part of the rub here is that Sony is kind of a dick about what does and doesn't qualify as something "worth" releasing on disc, but it still sucks. 360 owners can, I admit, purchase a physical copy, but just wait until we see how true the rumors of the Xbox Durango turn out... that'll be the end of physical copies even mattering for game consoles. (But we'll talk about that if, and when, we have to.)

So, what about downloading PC games that are, by and large, identical to their console equivalents? Well, I feel slightly differently about that, too, mostly because Steam has been a fantastically intuitive service that runs sales that make any semblance of having a valid complaint instantly moot. The fact that I have a 3TB HDD - and smaller drives to spare! - is an added incentive to not give a fuck is my copy is physical or just a few bytes of data on my Steam profile. But there's a fundamental difference between playing on a console and playing on a PC: When you buy PC game discs these days, they're more often than not essentially a glorified Steam installer anyway; simply put, I've been more willing to support download only games on a PC platform more than I have the PS3 because it makes a heck of a lot more sense when the actual disc is irrelevant to playback anyway. If you want to play whatever, fuck it, Bioshock Infinite on the PS3, you can play the game from the disc with only a bare minimal installation to make the auto-saves work properly; if you want to play it on the PC you're going to install the whole fucking game anyway, making the disc little more than a glorified serial number caddy. The formats are inherently different enough that I can accept it as the norm on one and not the other, even if - broadly speaking - it's the same experience for the same price.

I'm clearly thinking about games too goddamn much these days. Not sure why. Anyway, go throw dollar bills at Ubisoft like some sort of 80s satire fueled stripper. I feel good knowing I have, and seeing people on forums who beat the game when it was accidentally released in the wild say they're still willing to buy a copy solely on principle warms the cockles of my black, shriveled heart.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Maverick Hunter X

Oh wow, cool! What is that, a sequel to VANQUISH? That game was cool as shit! Oh man, I can't wait to play--

Wait a second...

...holy crap, this was going to be the Frank Miller styled grim 'n' gritty reboot to Mother Fucking MEGA MAN X .  They produced a number of test renders and gameplay demos back in 2010 with Armature Studios (a studio largely composed of developers who worked on the Metroid Prime series), but Capcom pulled the plug before it ever went public, which is normal for Capcom. For some reason they hate using their ticket to print free money by putting anything with Mega Man on the box that isn't A) a cute retro rehash of the 25 year old games that introduced him, or B) a bad joke using the American box art. And yes, Kenji INAFUNE was totally on board with giving adults who had grown up on his most famous creation a darker, more contemporary take on the franchise - it's not that surprising, when you factor in that he created Zero because he had grown bored of the little blue dude that had been in all the previous games, and only made Zero the supporting character because Capcom wasn't convinced franchise loyals would take to an entirely new hero.

The Mega Man FPS - which was code named "Maverick Hunter" -  was at least aesthetically distinct from the usual parade of military shooters that we've seen from the last decade. It also had a narrative trick up its sleeve that, had I gotten over the initial shock or Mega Man having somehow become a first person murder simulator, I would have eaten up with a goddamn spoon: The first game centers around X finding himself living in a brutal dystopian society only he can save, and the second game would have shown X becoming infuriated and disenfranchised with the world around him, seeking ultimate strength and intelligence in a bid to destroy everything that stood in his way. The final chapter of the trilogy would have been played from Zero's perspective, forcing X's mentor to turn on his own fellow machine for the sake of mankind.

 In other words, it was basically this but in shooter form.

Would the games have been any good, though? Nobody can really say; the development never got far enough along for anyone to make a proper judgment either way. Darker reboots of Capcom's Devil May Cry was highly regarded by critics (though it sold less than any previous iteration of Dante's adventures), and Square-Enix's Tomb Raider was both a top tier seller and a critical darling, though reboots of Hudson's Bomber Man and Capcom's own Bionic Commando were commercial failures with, at best, mixed reviews. So maybe it would have been awesome, and maybe it would have been just as terrible as the phrase "Grim 'N' Gritty FPS Mega Man X Reboot" sounded the moment it popped into my head. Like I said, Capcom hates releasing anything Mega Man related for reasons I don't really understand (perhaps it's just to spite Inafune these days), so this sits next to Nintendo's proposed Sony designed SNES CD-ROM add on, and Alejandro Jororowsky's proposed film adaptation of Dune in that nebulous part of my brain I can't help but be totally fascinated by what might have been...

And yeah, I'd probably be way more angry at the mere thought of this whole thing having potentially existed right now if the last official appearance of Mega Man in a Capcom game hadn't been this atrocity:

Yes, that's actually the in-game prologue for Street Fighter X Tekken. Inafune was apparently cool with this, too, but Inafune also turned his face into a weapon of Mass Destruction in the Hypderdimension Neptunia franchise, so... Kudos on making Roll hot. Too bad about literally everything else.

And, yes, X and Zero are set to appear in PROJECT X ZONE. I can't decide if an officially licensed Mugen PSP game throwing a handful of Mega's in a giant melting pot of Capcom, Sega and Namco heavy hitters is an improvement to the above atrocity or not... but hey, at least now you can stab Ryu in the dick with the cast of Valkyria Chronicles!

Monday, April 08, 2013

Blood Dragon: Why I Love The Power Glove


Can't say I've ever played the FARCRY games up until now. Not that I was unaware of their existence, and the more I saw of the most recent third installment - and heard of war stories from my work pal about how he basically fire-bombed a pirate hovel which then ran out only to be eaten by tigers - but it sounded like a fun thing I should pick up once it's hit that magical $30 price point. Sorry, game industry, but unless you're stuffing it in a lunch box covered in bobbies or happen to be about a 30 year old cartoon franchise I adore, odds are I can wait until you've reached the 50% off mark... which these days is usually 6 months or less, anyway.

My familiarity with this franchise jumped up a billion points, however, when a friend of mine said I needed to check out the soundtrack to the game's upcoming downloadable single-player spinoff, BLOOD DRAGON. The chintzy looking OFFICIAL WEBSITE (check out that store!) opened on April 1st, leaving most of the vaguely interested internet to shrug it off as an oddly elaborate April Fools Day prank... but a few days later official government age ratings, trophy lists, and XBOX LIVE dashboard images popped up as well, suggesting one of two things: Either this was the single most elaborate April Fools announcement ever, or it might be an actual thing.

Far as everyone can tell this is set to drop on May first on multiple gaming platforms, there's a couple of enticing SCREEN SHOTS, and if you aren't worried this nonsense can stick the landing, they even cast Michael Biehn. That's right, Michael Biehn in a role that's neither Aliens nor Terminator related - whooda' thought! Far as everyone can tell the game has some charming 8-bit cut scenes, and the actual aesthetic of the actual FPS gameplay appears to be somewhere between Radioactive Dreams and and 2019: After the Fall of New York in terms of garish post-nuke chic soaked in enough neon to choke a mall tour, giving no quarter to the brown and bland look that's infected the overwhelming majority of "gritty" first person games for about the last decade. It's hard to say at this point if the game will be a playful revival of legitimate cheesy 80s greatness, or just play this all as a bit of an out and out parody - that fine like that separated Jason Eisener's Hobo with a Shotgun from Astron 6's Father's Day - but in either case they have my undivided attention.

But what really sold me on this silly thing was the soundtrack, which you can OFFICIALLY SAMPLE at the band's Sound Cloud page. The best part? The band (Composer? Robot? Monkey with a silver ear?) is named "Power Glove". If you can hear Warzone and not immediately feel like the world is a better place for it, you and I are on totally different wavelengths. I don't think I've ever been prepared to throw dollar bills at my monitor based solely on the goddamn soundtrack, but if there's ever been a time, this is it.

I love the future.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

More Evil. More Dead.

In Soviet Old-Meme, YOU Take Deadites!

I was shocked when the first Red-Band Teaser for the Fede Alvarez' written/directed reboot of Sam Raimi's splatter classic [THE] EVIL DEAD showed so much promise. I'm just as shocked to report that, having seen the actual film, it delivered everything I could have realistically asked for. Anyone on the fence is urged to go see it, now; it's the very best kind of cinematic junk food, and it delivers everything that fans of the original film could have asked for. (Note that I didn't say "The Original Trilogy." We'll talk about that in a minute.)

Without plowing head-first into spoiler territory - which I'll clearly mark in just a minute, so no worries if you're seeing it in the next day or two, just come back later - I can safely say that there's plenty here for fans of Raimi's iconic trilogy to gleefully chew on, but a working knowledge of the original isn't actually necessary to understand anything important. Granted, it's hard for someone my age so thoroughly saturated in genre movie malaise to imagine a world in which someone hasn't seen The Evil Dead '81, but... hey, it takes all kinds.

There's been a handful of critics who have complained that the film can't settle on whether or not it's a gritty Platinum Dunes inspired "hip" remake or a throwback to a goofier, sleazier time. I personally think that the movie intentionally defies this categorization by the sheer fact that it's both; it's a slick, polished, relatively expensive take on what was really just an endlessly lovable and stylish B-movie, but once the supernatural elements hit their stride, the film never throws the throttle back to keep those grim, modern sensibilities in check; it simply lets the fantastic elements evolve and consume everything around them, until the entire film is literally drowning in blood in a manner that's neither quite comedic nor horrific, just mad to its very core.

This is, let us remember, a remake* Sam Raimi's 1981 film, not the brilliant parody sequels that followed and, in the pop-cultural memory, perhaps replaced and even re-tooled the original in retrospect. The Evil Dead '81 had a sense of humor, surem but that was Sam Raimi just being Sam Raimi; most of the moments that come off as funny are moments that everyone involved groans over today, knowing they were all just inexperienced kids just trying to make a scary movie but having neither the experience nor the monetary support to make everything stick. Granted, when Raimi and everyone else involved realized how audiences reacted to the "funny" moments, they decided to just go that direction. I can't claim that Raimi invented the Splatstick film, but with the exception of Peter Jackson, it's fair to say he damn well perfected it, and in proving that he had more talents up his sleeve than the modest Evil Dead '81 alone could provide, launched his career from that of an independent nobody to a genuine Hollywood bigwig. The problem is this has left people with the impression that The Evil Dead '81 was a horror comedy. It wasn't - Evil Dead II was. Army of Darkness (or "Midieval Dead", as it was originally called) was a comedy in Horror Movie Clothing, which is perfectly fine,  but has only further blurred the line as to just how seriously everyone was supposed to take the original film.

*Calling this a "remake" might be... how should I put this. Slightly disingenuous. See the SPOILER TAGGED material for more details.

With this in mind, anyone expecting Fede Alvarez' modern reboot to flip a switch at the one hour mark and fall apart into a parody probably isn't viewing the film as a mounting series of increasingly gross and physically impossible set pieces; they're viewing it through the prism of a decades-long subculture that became so self aware that it spawned Evil Dead: The Musical, and on some level, perhaps we were all waiting for the film to degenerate into that as what would, at first glance, appear to be its only logical conclusion: A Horror-Comedy. But it isn't; it's just slowly unwravelling until the boundaries between "horror" and "absurdity" have ceased to exist. There is a natural, gradual shift from the intensely cold, serious first act and the growing sense of shock and revulsion that the film continues reaching for in its bag of grotesque carnival tricks. The trailer makes the film look terrifying and like an intentionally patched together ghost film full of slow burn jump scares, but in reality, it's closer in tone to the ghost train ride of the original Raimi trilogy than all that. It just takes a little while to show its true colors, is all; by the time it's decided to be spooky, it's already tearing people's faces off and then feeding it to someone else. (Well, not literally. Not in that particular order, anyway.)

The other thing I'll tell you before getting into the nitty gritty is that, oh hell yes, it's just as nasty as you probably think it is. Yes, it's a fun, over the top kind of nasty, but when boiling water, hypodermic syringes and crowbars are all on the table, the flick finds new and exciting ways to make you squirm like a little bitch. Despite the dour, spooky makeup, the "Deadites" (still not a word outside of Army of Darkness, goddamn it...) are still just gigglingly sadistic children, using anything and everything that crosses their paths to make a bloody impact. It's how they use it that'll raise eyebrows, though. Make no mistake, this isn't on par with Nekromantik or Human Centipede 2 [Full Sequence], but the fact that an R-rated film distributed by a major corporation like Sony/Tri-Star got this much in-your-face gore on screen is still a shock, even in the 21st century. Comparisons to Alexandre Aja's The Hills Have Eyes and Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead are absolutely warranted, and that's a very good thing.

So, let's get into the nitty gritty of what both did, and didn't quite work... as said, everything will be marked as spoilers, so if you're not wanting to have your fun spoiled just avoid the RED TEXT. We good?

Hauling someone there for a hardcore heroin detox - and then having her be the first person to be stalked by Naturon Demonto's fury - was a brilliant twist. Not only does it give everyone around her a reason not to freak out, but it also means that everyone staying locked down in an isolated cabin with no communication with the outside world in the middle of nowhere, actively ignoring the person who was just raped by a fucking tree MAKES PERFECT SENSE. (Also, that's gotta be the single least sexy tentacle rape in film history. Trust me on this guys; I'm a goddamn expert.)

The only real weak link, at least that I can remember feeling that way at the time, was "Grampa" being killed suddenly and without any real fanfare felt like kind of a waste. Yes, it's a shocking and unsettling turn of events that doesn't clue anyone in to the fact that Mia might not be herself anymore, but still, no horrific violence? Even the kitten that got hilariously/horribly stabbed to death in Drag Me To Hell got more attention! I had wondered if he'd avoid the possessed Mia, or maybe get injured and become a Deadite Dog himself - wouldn't that have been fun?! But, no, dog gets its fucking head caved in off screen. Eh, kudos for killing the pet at all, I guess? (Wow, that... sounded worse than I'd thought it would.)

That general quality extends to the rest of the script, which is filled with characters who generally don't do anything especially stupid; the "rules" of the Deadites are never made explicitly clear to begin with (it's something the book itself might be trying to hide, for all we know), which make the one questionable moment of someone willing to let a Deadite free once they've "regressed" to human form seem like at least a compassionate reaction. Besides, this is one of the corner stone scenes of the original Evil Dead - bitching about it in a film designed to literally carry on its legacy would be like bitching about a Friday the 13th remake using a POV camera. There's a few moments of questionable reactions sure, such as Eric's almost manic fascination with The Book of the Dead itself, but there's never any especially lulzy, or head slappingly dumb reactions to bitch about. (You know what I'm talking about. Prometheus springs to mind: "HEY LIL' FELLAH!")

The first reel has some of the expected, oddly exposition-heavy dialog flying around just to get the viewer up to speed, but overall the screenplay itself was surprisingly solid, and seems far more aware of things like logic and character consistency than Raimi's own film of the same name. We even learn quite a bit of unusual, unpleasant backstory about two of our protagonists, and that all has a pretty heavy resonance on what follows - a satisfying turn of events from a genre where splatter is the highlight, not character growth.

But is the script a little too clever for its own good by peppering the development through the tragedy itself? I'm a little torn on the fact that there's little to no setup in the film for the actual characters. We learn enough about David and Mia to sympathize and pity them, and Eric does enough hemming and hawing that we get where he's coming from in his bittersweet reunion with what was clearly once his close friend, and even gets to redeem himself for what looks like . Overall it gives us some tasty bits of character development to chew on, and learn primarily through the characters interactions with each other as the horrors unfold around them, but by the end of the film we don't know anyone in any meaningful way... then again, this is a fucking Evil Dead movie. It's not like we're going to see more than one of them in the sequel again.

Unfortunately, Olivia's sole development is that she's a competent nurse with a slightly pissy disposition. It's not much, but it's just enough that her actions and reactions seem consistent enough to recognize her as a person of some kind. As for Natalie... well, she's there to get fucked up with power tools. She literally has no defining personality traits other than "the blonde one" - she doesn't scream, she doesn't fight, she just watches shit explode around her and does what people tell her to do. She's not even interesting enough to become a sort of Damsel in Distress, she's just bland window dressing. Don't know if this a weakness from newcomer Elizabeth Blackmore of if she was simply too underwritten for talent to matter, but I literally forgot she was in the movie for long stretches until something bogus happened to her.

That said, holy shit, Elizabeth's impromptu take on "A Farewell to Arms" was really something. Let's talk about that practical gore, shall we? PHENOMENAL. Yes, I'll admit it, CG could potentially have increased the total squick factor (not to mention the consistency) during the eye-jabbing bit especially, but the fact that everything looks so hyper-real, the direct result of doing everything in a manner that just doesn't exist anymore, was like pure goddamn catnip for a rubbery gore-hound like myself. I'm certain the "falling drop of blood" (you know the one) and the buzzing flies in the basement were added in post, but considering what a bitch having done them any other way would have been - they'd have been optically printed if this were 1981, let's face it - I'm cool with them, even if the former looked a bit cheesy. By the by, I can't wait to see the "Making Of" materials on the upcoming Blu-ray; how on earth did they get that one long shot of Mia hacking up that spiny, blood soaked hairball?! Either it's some kind of magical collapsible material, or Jane Levy has a throat that'd put Linda Lovelace to shame!

Speaking of Jane Levy (in a, y'know, not-throat-fucking sort of way...), she gets serious credit for both pulling off abject spit-spraying hands-shaking terror in a way even seasoned veterans often shy away from. Before "He" has her, there's a moment of undilluted fear and dread that just fills that actress, and she spits it on the screen as nothing but raw, unfiltered honesty. Loving it. Mind you, her inevitable turn as a cheesy ass-kicker is slightly less impressive, but far from bad - just, not as shockingly great as when she was one step away from slitting her own throat to escape whatever else might happen to her. I wanted to give her the crown for playing the raspy, sneering Deadite... until I remembered that "Abomination Mia" is credited to Randal Wilson. I'm hoping she was just the body double for the final reel and not the centerpiece to the film's churlish bellowing menace, but until I get some clarification on who played what, I just can't make that call. Everyone else is competent, professional and not overly showy, but I'm afraid Levy steals the entire show leaving everyone else looking a bit uninspired by comparison.

And hey, let's face it, when you're put up against The Chin himself, you can only ever be so cheesily awesome before you're just bordering on trying to be Ash Williams, both a locing parody and, somehow, the perfect embodiment of the one-liner spewing, firepower toting, stupidly macho 80s action hero. Thankfully the film knows better than to go down that road, and Ash just... doesn't exist in this story. There's winking moments, familiar actions from different characters that recall his spirit and his role, but at the end of it all Mia does not equal Ash With A Vagina. You see that, The Thing 2011? That's how you create a new heroine, rather than gender-swap the one your franchise already had.

...then again...

And yet, the film is missing one core element of the original film; actual terror. There's a handful of jump scares, certainly, and one of the most unsettling moments in the film is purely an effect that was accomplished through sound editing, but... well, there's simply no tension in the film. Raimi's film may have had some ham-fisted moments of unintentional humor, but scenes like watching Linda's eyes flicker as Ash digs her grave, and the long, slow shots of "That Thing" in the woods eyeing potential new victims before bowling them over had a certain overbearing sense of Lovecraft inspired dread. If the cloying, soft-focus softcore porn of horror is the tension and the build up, then Fede Alvarez' stripped down splatter film is gonzo pornography, cutting to the body horror and supernatural spooks early on and never once looking back to question if the audience was on their seats uncertain of what would happen next. We know what's going to happen next; some motherfucker is about to get FUCKED. UP. The only question is how, not if.

Upon leaving, Mrs. Kentai was rather non-plussed about the whole thing. I asked her what she was less than impressed by, and she said, without even thinking about it, that the film simply wasn't scary, which left her looking through her fingers at an hour of increasingly absurd violence. She acknowledged it was all well done and kind of fun in its own right, but it just didn't burrow to the nightmare inducing part of the brain the same way as Raimi's original was designed to. Mind you, this all appears to be by design, but... if the promise of the film's poster was "The Most Terrifying Film You Will Ever Experience", it was a failure. Even those fucking Paranormal Activity flicks pack more actual dread and terror in their 90 minutes of falling pots and attractive ladies sleep-standing for hours on end! "The Most Fun You Have Ever Had Dry Heaving Into Your Popcorn"? Sure, that's a bingo. Whether or not this distinction will harm the film's longevity or appeal, I can't say; I had a blast in the theater, listening to the entire audience around me squirm and gasp and cheer in unison, but I'm still just a little bummed that I'm not looking over my shoulder as I crawl into bed tonight.

On reflection, a big part of my not being upset by the lack of actual 'horror' in what's being marketed as a horror film is that is we've already seen what contemporary remakes of The Evil Dead would have been in both "serious" and "deconstruction"  modes. They were called Antichrist and The Cabin in the Woods respectively, and anyone who feels let down by the lack of balls-out terror or underlying tongue in cheek attitude in this film should be reminded that these two great films covered a lot of ground that Fede Alvarez couldn't, not without being looked at as playing to old-hat tropes already dissected by the masters, anyway.

Speaking of "okay but weird" feelings, what was up with Natalie up and dying after all no apparent head trauma? Was there a consistency with Deadite Death I just didn't catch? Her body was never "cleansed" and her head was never destroyed and she was never burned (a point of consistency to every other Deadite in the film... I think?), I guess it just reached a point where "He" gave up on them? That would made sense, I suppose; Olivia's head was crushed, rendering her base senses useless, and while Natalie still could have bitten someone (hell, Mia bit her!), not having any hands makes her a less than ideal host, that's for sure. This was one of the only things that really bugged me walking out of the theater; then again, these Deadites don't seem to possess severed body parts, so I guess being an animated head might not apply in this reboot the way it did in Raimi's trilogy. Speaking of Deadite consistency, the lot of them never "flying" was probably for the best, but I liked the visual cue of Mia simply scooting along the water's surface as an analog. It's still charmingly retro-spooky, easy to pull off without shitty CGI, and looks unlike anything I've ever seen in film - well, outside of anime, at the very least.

For the record, it's just a little underwhelming to try and put a face on "Him", by the way, even if it was just in passing. (Notice the old Jewish spelling for 'Satan' scribbled on the page where we see "Him".) Evil Dead II went out of its way to show Naturom Demonto's ultimate "form" to be an amorphous Shoggoth that used the faces and voices of those it consumed as interchangeable masks, but I guess the fact that the film ultimately used a ghastly mirror-image of Mia's own self as the creature stalking her in the woods was smarter than anything else they could have done. Actually, I really like the idea that The Book simply shows you what it'll turn you into as a matter of course; that gave Ash plenty of reason to run in the previous trilogy, and gives a plausible explanation as to why he never tried to describe it to anyone else.

Fanservice is abundant, but more subtle than I figured it'd be. Ash's old car is still there, rotting under a tree, we see the necklace (which was... broken earlier, wasn't it?) forming a familiar face, and while the results are completely different this time around, kudos for trying to burn The Book anyway. Hearing Sheryl's voice fill the cabin just before Mia lost all semblance of herself is the kind of manipulative bullshit that sends a shiver up my fanboy spine, but with everything else in place, it's forming a common theme; this has all happened before.

So... is this a remake? Kinda. It's clearly taking place in the same 'universe' as the Sam Raimi trilogy, and Fede Alvarez has made the charming argument that maybe The Book of the Dead makes these things happen in a self-repeating cycle of black magic influence. Yeah, sure, at the end of the day it's a cheap way for the fans to have their sequel cake and eat a remake, too, but it's at least a clever way to look at it, no? With this in mind, is the version of Naturom Demonto in the '13 film a sort of Version 2.0, crafted by the Candarian Demons themselves to lure new souls into their gaping maws? We did see a number of "fake" Necronomicons in Army of Darkness - so hey, who's to say that there was only one Naturom Demonto, or that its texts couldn't be re-created in some way? They're already talking about a sequel to the '13 revamp - plus a fucking sequel to Army of Darkness, plus some sort of wild "Evil Dead vs Army of Darkness" finale to cap off both franchises - which has officially bent the very concept of continuity over the fence and sodomized it until it was a gaping bloody void.

Y'know what's NOT in the film? Mia singing "Not another peep...", or David cutting anything up with a chainsaw and spraying blood on a lamp, both of which were featured prominently in the film's earlier trailers. Were there some major changes late in the game, or are these just goodies we'll see restored for the inevitable Unrated Director's Cut? Only time will tell, I'm afraid.

Let's just throw this one out there and be done with it: Best. Chainsaw. Violence. EVER. That was an award I never thought I'd have to take away from Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, but goddamn, if that wasn't some cheer-worthy gross out greatness, and the biggest high the story as presented could have ended on without going full bore bullshit in the last 10 minutes by remaking the end to Ash's story.

You stayed to the end of the credits, right? If you didn't... well, you're either an asshole or your bladder was ready to blow, but either way you missed the single biggest theatrical fanboy tease since Iron Man. Have fun with that knowledge, tiny bladdered assholes! All kidding aside, that was pretty friggin' awesome (even if it means nothing to a fresh audience), and it leaves me with little doubt that Raimi was confident enough in the finished film to leave the door open for... well, you know where this whole ridiculous franchise is going by now. And as a long time fan, I couldn't be happier for it.

EVIL DEAD '13 probably isn't going to be a trend setter, and while Fede Alvarez has proven himself to be a competent, polished film maker who knows what his audience wants, I don't think we've uncovered the next Sam Raimi here. But it doesn't matter; the film is a gruesome good time for old fans and newcomers alike, and if it doesn't make its meager $17 Million budget back in the first weekend, I swear I'm going to die a little inside. It's not horribly complex, but it has pretty goddamn massive cajones and delights in testing its audiences' limits, even at the cost of literally everything else. With one major stylish choice aside, it's everything that a remake of The Evil Dead probably should have been, and I can't ask for any more than that. Fede Alvarez has done a fine job dusting off the title for an engrossing splatter film, and Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell's involvement has made sure it stayed true to the fans that have been fawning over their almost accidental masterstroke. This might not be an accidental classic, but it's pretty goddamn fun anyway. Highly recommended to people who love movies that hate human flesh.

EDIT: Updated for a few very relevant sections I spaced before publishing (damn my enthusiasm!).
          You'll be surprised how much you forget to clarify at 2 in the morning.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Street Fighter Blu

Street Fighter II is one of those rare video game franchises that needs no introduction; it's been so synonymous with its genre of arcade fighters that it was basically the defacto template every other developer used to make their own fighting games, unless they were specifically trying to knock off Mortal Kombat instead. It generated nearly $200 million in arcade cabinet sales in Japan alone, and introduced the phrase "Shoryuken!" to countries that still weren't sure how to say 'sushi'. It remains as critically successful now as it did in its heyday, and introduced the concept of directional special attacks, P2 Colors, and internalized combo systems to the masses. It was also one of the very first games to prove you could literally re-sell the same exact game just by throwing in a couple new boss characters, so... thanks for opening that Pandora's Box, Capcom. It spun out into what might well be countless revisions, ports, cross overs and sequels running up to this very day. Seriously, if you can ACTUALLY READ this bullshit without stopping half way through to put a shotgun against your own gag reflex in a combination of dementia and a sadness for the lack of progress the human race has made in 20 years, get yourself a cookie. You've earned it.

Perhaps just to fuck with future pop-culture historians, 1994 actually saw the release of two separate theatrical experiences meant to cash in on the game's overwhelming popularity: the ill-fated Van Damme atrocity simply titled STREET FIGHTER, and the Japanese produced STREET FIGHTER II: THE ANIMATED MOVIE/ストリートファイター II MOVIE. Both were technically adaptations of the Capcom video game franchise, and both dealt with the same overall storyline and characters. You'd never know this by actually watching the films, though; the Hollywood adaptation plays everything like a stone-faced serious remake of any second-tier 80s cartoon franchise, giving us numerous characters with the same names but often totally different roles and appearances, with a few of them having been literally reverse-engineered by the script to "transform" them into their familiar game appearances through little more than happenstance, with absolutely none of the high-flying fantasy elements or convoluted backstories that made the game so damn fun to begin with. Raul Julia gives it his all as a super-powered parody of a cartoon villain with all the subtlety of Slidely Whiplash reading for a guest spot as Dr. Claw, but it wasn't nearly enough; the end result was still the kind of extended "fuck you" that video game movies were well known for since their very inception with Super Mario Bros., and at this point the two best examples we have remain Mortal Kombat and Silent Hill suggesting that we still haven't quite figured out how to deal with that.

That said, we did get at least one perfect Street Fighter live action experience... too bad it was a part of the Hong Kong produced City Hunter movie, and as such most people probably forget that the damn thing even exists! Wong Jing was actually courting the rights for a Hong Kong film, but having learned that Universal/Columbia has already picked up the rights, he decided to Wong Jing it up anyway and made the mind shattering ultimate raised middle finger in Hong Kong cinematic history, Future Cops... which is, for better or worse, a story for another day.

Anyway, back in Japan the traditionally animated 2D movie came out roughly as the Van Damme atrocity was stinking up American multiplexes, and while I wouldn't call it a ground-breaking step forward in the history of animation, at least it's fair to say that it doesn't particularly suck. Characters are consistently drawn in a high quality style reminiscent of the original arcade designs, the literal animation itself of showing two characters trading blows is unusually high quality stuff, due in no small part to them having been coreographed by actual MMA fighters Kazuyoshi ISHII and Andy Hug. While there isn't a constant barrage of Hadouken's flying around like some latter day Dragon Ball Z episode, there's just enough fanservice to the game's wild and supernatural special attacks that the final results are... well, honestly, they're about the best movie you were probably ever going to get out of Street Fighter II.

Capcom's 1-on-1 arcade brawler itself isn't exactly War and Peace to start with, and Gisaburou SUGII's direction coupled with the general finesse of Group TAC's production simply made a boundlessly fun, technically polished popcorn movie that was thoroughly unashamed of being a well crafted popcorn movie. According to the production credits, it was all co-written by Kenichi IMAI, but he only worked on this and Suugi's own Street Fighter II V series, which makes me think Sugii grabbed an old drinking buddy to bounce ideas off of as a last-minute measure against things getting too weird. It took its source material as seriously as it could. It's all rather goofy when you get right down to it, but so is Street Fighter to begin with. The problem with every live action adaptation the material has had (to say nothing of the American produced cartoon series!) is that it was a wholly different kind of silly. In other words, it's not the kind that actually worked with any of the silliness that made the games work in the first place.

The Animated Movie had a particularly convoluted release in the US back in 1995, where it was given both "PG-13" and "Unrated" releases, with the former being a heavily censored release and the latter... well, the violence and f-bombs were all left intact, but Chun Li in the shower was still trimmed to the point of redundancy. This English dubbed version was released on every major video format up until the mid 00's, pan-scanned just to rub salt into the wound. The English dub was a unique affair as it replaced the entire soundtrack with Korn, Alice in Chains, KMFDM and other mainstays of vintage MTV in a bid to catch a hipper, cooler audience than... background instrumental tracks, I, guess? Twenty years on, it's almost adorable how hard Manga Entertainment was going out of their way to convince the average British 12 year old how amazingly badass that Street Fighter Cartoon really was. And it is pretty awesome, if you take it for what it is and willfully ignore everything it isn't - like emotionally possessing even the weakest grasp of things like physics and common sense. If you can watch Ong Bak 2 or and walk away with a grin on your stupid face, this film is working on that same basic level - it's just removing itself that much further from reality.

For those wondering where the hell this Region B Blu-ray came from, Kazé is actually a French label that, in recent months, has made a gradual shift to including English audio and subtitle options on their releases for export to the UK (where your options are, basically, "Manga Entertainment" and "Import From Anywhere Else"). I guess it makes sense; projected sales in English speaking Europe have never been especially great for anime, and if Kaze can sell more units while simultaneously bleeding what they may logically see as competition dry, all's the better for them. When you put the disc in, it asks if you want to start the menus in French or English, the latter of which ignores the French audio and subtitles on the disc - and, incidentally, switches up which trailers play after the piracy warnings.

Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie has had a pretty grungy track record on home video. The earliest iteration was the letterboxed LD master minted in 1994, which the vast majority of subsequent "uncut" releases have been based off ever since, in one form or another. (The English dubbed masters were mostly PAL sourced and cropped to 4:3, so let's pretend those just didn't exist.) Australian anime specialist Madman released a "Remastered" version of the film on 16:9 anamorphic PAL DVD, but as OTHERS HAVE ALREADY POINTED OUT, they were still using the same letterboxed NTSC masters - they just did a substantially better job of cleaning them up first. In effect, the bar for this one is so low that the Blu-ray can't help but impress: Manga Video re-released the film on DVD in North America back in 2006 using a DVD-10 (ie: a "flipper DVD), presenting the "Unrated" dub from a PAL conversion source on one side - complete with the Chun Li shower scene partially restored (and in the wrong spot, no less. Classic Manga Entertainment!), and the original, unedited Japanese version with English subtitles on the other. The latter looked about as good as a non-anamorphic analog NTSC master from the mid 90s was going to get, and the former... well, it was still pretty shit, but that surprised no one. Underwhelming as that surely sounds, that's been the best release this poor flick has had up until now.

Kaze presents STREET FIGHTER II: THE [ANIMATED] MOVIE in 1080p High Definition in its complete, unedited form at just shy of 100 minutes, with Japanese credits running over the finale, framed at its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. Having seen this on an uncut VCD* back in the day, and having been fascinated by the evolving ugly DVD releases that followed, I can say this much; Street Fighter II never looked half this good on home video, and I doubt it looked appreciably better on 35mm prints, at that. If you do own this on DVD, you should probably just toss it in the garbage now: While the new Blu-ray might not be absolutely perfect, it's easily eclipsed every previous home video transfer in every way possible, and fans who have put up with crumby looking releases up until now should be very satisfied with the results. Resolution and outline clarity are quite good indeed, print damage is minimal and regulated to minor black and white dust spots, and there's just enough telecine judder during optical effects to remind observant viewers that this was clearly produced before digital editing was in its prime. The image is pleasant in most ways, and anyone who remembers just how damn ugly this film has been on DVD up until now should be satisfied.

That said, the transfer is... kind of a mixed bag, wavering between the extremes of clean simplicity and analog limitations. Brightly lit scenes have the plasticine sheen of a transfer that's been hit with a fairly thick slathering of DVNR, while darker scenes are awash in a harsh noise I can only assume is the result of an old-school CRT scanner. Sometimes you'll have dark blue and browns swimming in noise and brighter greens and peach skin tones utterly devoid of digital noise in the same shot; once you start noticing it, good luck un-seeing it. Final Boss M. Bison's crisp, blood-red uniform has not a speckle of video noise on it, yet his hunter green cape and charcoal gray hat looks like it's made out of undulating sand paper; if anyone reading can come up with a sensible explanation for this disparity that doesn't involve digital noise removal, as always, I'm all ears.

That said, the print is perfectly stable and quite clean, outlines are almost always crisp and defined, and the color timing - while a bit darker than one might expect - remains both faithful to previous releases, and looks like a largely accurate representation of Capcom's iconic original character designs. It looks good, more often than not; much like the Aniplex releases of the Rurouni Kenshin OVA Blu-rays or the Japanese box set for titles like Card Captor Sakura and Space Adventure Cobra, the DVNR has been applied with a substantial amount of care and finesse. I wouldn't say it looks like 35mm, but it's hardly a disaster... it's just so damned inconsistent about it I can't help but wonder how nice it could have looked had we gotten a higher quality 35mm scan and little to no digital tinkering after the fact.

I have little doubt most people will be perfectly content with the video quality, so as long as nobody starts shouting about it being a 10 out of 10 or Five Stars whatever the hell they say when they think things couldn't get any better, I'll just casually shake my head at these Damn Kids and their DVNR Buttons and get back to posting some delicious screenshots:

The AVC encode hovering at 21 Mb/s average is... adequate, a few scenes that drop off to not-quite-black aside (see cap 9 for a painfully perfect example of what I'm talking about). There's actually some pretty garish macroblocking here and there, but the combination of harsh, dancing digital noise and unusually fast-moving animation means that the glaring artifacts you'll see in a random still frame is substantially less obvious on actual playback. If you wanted to be a dick about it you'd surely find a number of macroblocks kicking around Ryu's iconic Hadouken launch right before the opening credits, but that scene is so over the top with its flashing lights and flickering colors that I'd be hard pressed to assume that cranking the bitrate substantially higher would have netted a particularly worth-while improvement.

So, here we are again in the middle. It's neither the gritty perfection attained by Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and The Last Unicorn, nor the digitally scrubbed horrors of Galaxy Express and The Aristocats - it's just a totally middle of the road, adequate HD transfer for a film that, let's face it, probably wasn't ever going to get a lot money thrown at it anyway.

All three audio tracks (Japanese, English, French) are presented as 2.0 LPCM. The JP track is 24-bit while FR/EN are both 16-bit. Whatever. The Japanese mix has some subtle analog hiss over the 'silent' Capcom logo as well as high-end distortions whenever the action picks up, and to be honest I wouldn't be shocked if the sound were pulled from the optical stereo track present on whatever 35mm elements this transfer was pulled from. The English track is substantially louder, crisper and free of any obvious analog distortions when compared to the Japanese audio, but exactly how you'll respond to the "Export" soundtrack (to say nothing of the dated English dub itself!) will determine how much clarity you're willing to settle for pretty damned quick. To be fair, while neither sound incredible, both sound as good as you'd reasonably expect them to; Japanese audio for feature films in general doesn't sound particularly great until you get into the last decade or so, and even then low budgets often prevent all but your top-tier event pictures from having a big, fat, bombastic 5.1 mix.

And, yes, I know, Manga Ent. and Madman have both presented these mixes in 5.1 surround, but if you've ever actually heard any Manga produced 5.1 mixes, you'll know you're not missing out on anything a bog-standard audio reciever with Dolby ProLogic II couldn't easily deliver. Never having subjected myself to the English dub before I couldn't tell you if there are any pitch issues to speak of, but having been produced by Animaze in the USA I can't imagine it would be an issue to start with. Both English Subtitles and English Slates are included, and the film is broken up into 10 chapters.

I don't think any extras were produced for the Animated Movie itself, so while I certainly wouldn't have complained about the inclusion of some original trailers or even a retrospective on the games of some kind, I'm not going to pick any fights over the film being presented without them. This release is already available in (and thus shipping from) France, with the UK release of the same exact disc set to drop May 13th, with a current Amazon UK pre-order price of just under $30. Recommended for those with an affinity for over the top 90s anime; it's aged better than it has any right to, but it was never top shelf material. With Japan dominating the "Region A" market with an iron fist, I can't imagine any theoretical English friendly local release will sell for less (or come with more material) than the Kaze release.