Time is a film that takes its time to show you its true character, and as such, you’ll work your way through many assumptions as you watch Ricky Ko’s debut feature. Is it a pastiche of 60s Hong Kong action flicks? A bucket list final hit taken by three ageing assassins? A Leon-style juxtaposition of caring for a young tearaway while killing? A heartfelt, even defeatist, look at the withering pain of old age? Truth is, it’s somehow all of those things, and how it brings all its story threads together is where the true joy of this film lies.
Man, I’m a gaming dinosaur. Most of the time I spend with games now is framed with a never-ending, slow shake of the head as I try to comprehend what it even is these days. From open worlds with endless icons pulling me in every direction to entire catalogues of microtransactions that have been carved away to sell for eternal engagement, it’s all a far cry from the titles that got me hooked so many years ago. For me, the shift from PS3/Xbox 360 to PS4/Xbox One was the most noticeable, as suddenly developers could depend on a consumer internet connection, and so games became a service. I feel like the self-contained, more focused AA game is becoming as much of a relic as those that still want them.
Which is why Aliens Fireteam Elite is such a treat. Sure, it has a few modern marketing points ticked – three-player co-op missions (although it’s perfectly playable in single-player with bots) and the dreaded “Seasons” of downloadable content (to go with the laundry list of things you can unlock through normal play) – but, at its heart, it is a game that has a singular focus and it really wants to show you a damn good time.
There’s an apt dreamlike quality to Dreams On Fire from the very first few minutes, where protagonist Yume announces her wish to become a dancer only to be chased out of her rural Japanese home by her fiercely overbearing father, while her mother can only cry in the corner. Soon she’s relocated to Tokyo, packing her whole life into a tiny noisy apartment that’s barely bigger than her single floor mat, and the rest of the movie’s two-hour-plus runtime takes its time to show us every high and low of her journey.
What do you want in your documentaries? Sweeping views of Colombian jungles? An in-depth exploration of the habits of migrating monarch butterflies? Or a group of bus drivers from Dorset who decide to put on their stage version of the classic sci-fi horror, Alien? Well, good news, you can have all three, but if you’re looking for an almost unbelievable underdog story that leaves you misty-eyed at the end, then the latter is perfect for you.
Matt loves a list way more than I do, not through any sense of my own hatred of them, but more than I find it hard to find the time or energy to rate art against itself. But Matt’s ranking of the Marvel movies was too interesting to resist texting him my own (very different list), which he then encouraged me to put up as a companion post. So here it is!
Please remember that A) lists aren’t facts, art is subjective and B) my value starts and stops at “is it creative/fun?” these days, so feel free to disagree. We’re both right.
Anyway, here’s my list of Marvels.
A tale of true cities.
It took two hours to see the opening title of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and just one more before I knew I was done with it. And that moment of realisation came at the most unlikely of moments – just as I stepped out of my longboat onto the shores of England, not far from where I spent the first eighteen years of my life . It’s not a common thing to have your actual home town in a video game when you’re from the Hampshire green belt, and I’d anticipated a more glowing reaction.
However, as I opened the map and saw the sprawl of space ahead of me, with the towns and icons dotted around the sparse rolling hills, I finally realised why Valhalla – or Odyssey or Origins before it – just had not clicked. And it took the mucky streets of Unity‘s Paris and Syndicate‘s London to bring it all into focus.
I first reviewed Absolute Drift way back in the before-times of 2015 (when I was deep in my lead-with-an-almighty-anecdote phase, apparently) after having met developer Dune of Funselektor demoing his game at a stall in Vancouver’s Chinatown. It’s clear that I loved the game (if fact, it was pretty much love at first sight, from the beginning), and this love only grew stronger as I played it for hours on PC, then on PS4.
You can imagine my glee, then, when I saw the Switch version was incoming.
Absolute Drift is the perfect game for dipping in and relaxing after a hard day, so I was curious as to whether the port would capture that again. Well, thanks to a copy provider by the publisher, I can tell you that I’ve been back in its gloriously minimalist settings for the last week, and it is somehow better than ever.
How do you save a zoo when you have no animals? ‘Secret Zoo”s answer to that central question – let’s dress up as animals and pretend – would be ideal fare for Edgar Wright or Shinichiro Ueda to turn into a heartfelt, zany adventure that builds to a glorious climax. Unfortunately, even though it’s a great concept with moments of brilliant execution, the frequent drops in pace serve just to tantalizingly dangle what might have been.
There’s some important context here: I trained as an actor, then director, then slipped into being a drama teacher for stage and screen. In the UK I taught young adults, but my first teaching job when I moved to Vancouver was at a Korean residential school. Here, I was one of a small team who had to teach performance skills to a throng of nine-year-old Korean kids, then direct them in a final performance (first The Wizard Of Oz, then High School Musical) for all their families. It was a wonderful, exhausting time, and there’s nothing to underline the absolute life-changing power of theatre then to watch young actors discover it in real time.
So go and watch ‘Curtain Up!‘, not just because it’s fantastic, but also because you’ll have a precise peek into that exact part of my life.
From a very early point, you’re under no illusion as to what is going on in ‘The Closet‘, the first feature by Korean director Kwang-bin Kim. It’s common for other Korean horrors to slowly shuffle towards their true nature, hiding clues in events that could easily be passed off as coincidence. Not here; it’s no spoiler to tell you that the closet in question is an ethereal doorway through which a ghost possesses, then steals, an unhappy little girl. However, ‘The Closet‘ defies expectations by constantly weaving through related genres as it tells its story – horror, thriller, even comedy. It’s not until the final third do all these disparate pieces slot together, and the result is mostly satisfying.
Hello friends! Hot on the heels of the Vancouver Film Festival and Blood In The Snow, we’ll be covering yet another film festival – VAFF!
I can’t do religious or mental horror. For whatever reason, I get no enjoyment at all from jump-scares, or possessions, or demonic interactions. So when I say I love horror movies – and I really, really do – I definitely mean those films that have an extra action or comedy element. For instance, I can’t wait to find time for my The Thing double-bill (2011 then 1982, for that glorious dog crossover), but I also really want to find space for Sam Raimi’s wonderfully entertaining Drag Me To Hell before Halloween is over.
I always have a little bit of trepidation when starting an unseen horror film – will it strike the right balance for me? So when I began Shudder’s Scare Me, I was wondering how far the premise would stretch before the scares came in. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried; if anything, Scare Me is much more placed as a dark comedy, but it is one that is unafraid to show its love for horror when it truly counts. It’s also one of the best films you could choose to watch for Halloween.
It’s hard to properly capture how amazing it is to slip into Oculus Quest 2’s alternative dimension. I’ve owned and play a plethora of VR headsets over the years – from the second iteration of the Oculus Rift years ago at an expo, where the blurry Godzilla-style city smashing game made me sick to my stomach in seconds, through to my own Gear VR, Oculus Go, and PSVR. Each has dangled the promise of VR immersion, but with enough caveats (overheating, low resolution, screen door effect, clunky setups) to stop them from realising the medium’s potential.
So it’s with a mixture of triumph and trepidation that I can tell you, after two days with the newly-released Oculus Quest 2, the dream is finally here. Triumph, because it not only removes those lingering issues but its cable-free, high framerate/resolution experience exceeds even your highest expectations. The store is packed with great games and experiences. Digital delivery is quick and easy.
But trepidation because this is very much a Facebook machine, in ways you maybe hadn’t anticipated, which could very well outweigh its incredible potential.
George Orwell’s 1984 has somehow become even more meaningful in the last few years, as those who clearly think it had a happy ending extend their reach through deception and deceit. Its central message has been updated and traced several times onto the current issues of many places. Yet somehow, Shinji Araki’s The Town Of Headcounts uses this same template in a fresh way to paint a metaphor of life in Japan that is as relevant a statement on Japanese culture as Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite was to Korean. The end result is a brutal, shocking parable that will stick in your mind long after the credits have rolled.
Beauty Water‘s central premise holds so much promise for shining a light on the dangerous popularity for constructive surgery among young women. Especially in the film’s native South Korea, women are increasingly putting themselves through regular procedures to attain a vision of beauty incessantly targeted at them from both local and foreign media representations. The idol business is booming, further increasing the pressure. So it’s a real shame that Beauty Water elevates this idea with some significant body horror, only to throw it away with a weak script and inability to focus on the issues in any depth.