“Escape Plan” trailer – Sly and Arnie go to jail?

As if the continued success of “The Expendables” franchise wasn’t proof positive that there’s an audience for 80’s retro action cinema, here’s the trailer for what Sly and Arnold did next – prison break drama, “Escape Plan” (or “The Tomb”, as it was titled last August when I posted a news story about the flick).

This trailer – which originally premiered over at IGN.com – offers more of a look at the story and confirms that I will be lining up come opening weekend this autumn to see still burly, elderly men thumping the bejesus out of stunt men young enough to be their grandsons.

What can I tell you?   I’m a fan of Sly’s and will see him in just about anything (and, yes – that does include his faintly risible 1989 prison flick “Lock Up”), especially if he’s managed to rope Arnold in for the ride.

There’s something so cheerily high-concept about the pitch – genius prison designer falsely imprisoned inside the escape-proof facility that he designed! – that you can’t let minor fripperies like the two stars combined age being 133 years old distract you from the simple pleasures of cinematic mayhem being (hopefully) wrought well.

The film opens on 27 September in the UK and in the US on 18 October.

“Lockout” review – the future is funny-looking…

Moody blue future?
Moody blue future?

One-man producing machine Luc Besson likes his genre movies.  Witness his success with “The Transporter” series, the “Taken” films, the “Taxi” series and the “District 13” movies.  The guy knows how to crank out a relatively inexpensive B-movie and have it succeed on a global scale.

The recent Cannes film festival, for example, revealed that we’ll be getting Chinese co-produced, Statham-less entries in “The Transporter” franchise (there’s already been a cable tv series based on the concept) and a U.S. remake of “District 13” is in the works with Paul Walker and the Rza under the title “Brick Mansions”.

Last year’s “Lockout” was another would-be franchise-starter from the writer/director/producer, pitting indie fixture and unlikely action hero Guy Pearce into a sci-fi prison movie with more than a hint of Snake Plissken about it.

It’s a tale of disgraced Secret Service agent Snow (Pearce), framed for the murder of a friend and about to spend thirty years in enforced stasis when the U.S. president’s daughter is taken hostage aboard orbital space prison M.S. One.  And that’s about as much as you get in terms of story – this is a very stripped-down film with a brisk running time of 95 minutes and no time for fripperies such as nuance or romance.

In fact, the closest thing that this film has to a romantic sub-plot is the opening sequence, which has Snow being repeatedly smacked in the kisser during an interrogation flashback as he cracks wise at a reliably oily and bastardly Peter Stomare.

Milk.  Good for you. Apparently...
Milk. Good for you. Apparently…

As in the aforementioned adventures of John Carpenter and Kurt Russell’s Cycloptic badass, the kidnapping of a politician’s daughter drives the plot and forces our right guy to be in the wrong place to sort things out and Pearce does a great job of embodying the world-weary traits which we’ve come to expect from the post “Die Hard” action hero.

He sells the fights and stunts well, delivers the script’s great, Shane Black-esque one-liners with aplomb and might have a lucrative future headlining mid-budget B-genre flicks like these – he’s helped by having a truly detestable bad guy to butt heads with in the form of Joe Gilgun, whose hair-trigger psychopath has never met a human being he wouldn’t be happy to blow away with a large handgun.  Gosh, but he’s unpleasant (and I’m not talking about his wandering, not-quite-Begbie-from “Trainspotting” Glasgow accent)

The rest of the cast are fine – Maggie Grace makes for a spunky, witty heroine and conscience for the hero – though the script contrives a little too much to have them meet cute and bicker, setting up a romantic sub-plot which the film rather puts to one side in a rush to blow things up.  Vincent Regan is good value, too, as the nominal leader of the prison uprising – he’s got one of those, “I recognize you from that film…” faces.

One thing is certainly of note – in an age where we go to see science fiction films at the cinema and routinely marvel at the gleaming production design and bleeding-edge visual effects, “Lockout” is a movie which has some of the most eye-poppingly bad CG effects that you could ever hope to see.  Seriously.  There’s a chase sequence at the outset of the film which was apparently rendered on a Spectrum 48K and, for all I know, may have been streaming into the movie from a cassette tape.

Witness, if you will:

A sequence which cost at least £25 to make...
A sequence which cost at least £25 to make…(image via The Knights Blog)

James Cameron is questioning his professional choices as you read this review.  For realsies.

To sum things up – if “Lockout” is playing on TV one night and you happen upon it whilst channel surfing, you’ll probably have a lot of fun with it if only to play ‘spot-the-homage’ and wince at some of the more clout-around-the-ears moments of fisticuffs.  It has good dialogue, occasionally insane plotting (Parachutes?  Really?) and a scrappy charm which is hard not to embrace as an established fan of little genre movies which try to bely their budgets (this funky little effort cost $15 million to make, fact fans).

It’s not a film which you have to own unless you like your action sci-fi unpretentious, eye-wateringly violent and shepherded to the screen by Luc Besson – a small demographic to be sure, but if that’s you, you could certainly do worse than to pick up this film.

 

Microsoft – We listen, honest!

XB1
Now with added hugs and friendliness?

 

Chalk one up for the humble consumer?

On Wednesday night, Microsoft admitted that they might have made a mistake with their proposed DRM strategy for the forthcoming Xbox One console and pulled off quite the reversal in policy.

Going forth, Xbox One games will not be locked to your profile, the trade-in market will be supported and the system will be region-free.

Huzzah!

Would this have anything to do with the post-E3 2013 conversation in the gamer sphere being entirely dominated by Sony, the PS4 and a seemingly never-ending avalanche of negative Microsoft stories?  Seriously, it was getting to the point where I was expecting some NeoGaf sleuth to dig into a trademark filing database and find out that the Xbox One had hidden functionality allowing it to drown family pets and scatter your morning cereal with unmentionable things.

You have to hand it to Microsoft for listening to their audience – or having smart PR people working there who have been face-palming for the last week as Don Mattrick, Phil Harrison and co repeatedly opened mouth and inserted both feet with each public appearance and interview they made.

Does this change anything for MS, then?  I can well imagine that the people who were so utterly aggrieved by the DRM suite of Xbox One might well have found this announcement more to their taste but my own opinion is pretty much the same.

I never had a problem with the ‘always-on’ console check as my cable internet connection rarely craps out, I can count on one hand the amount of times in the last gen that I traded in a game and the cloud functions for distributed processing actually seem vaguely progressive.  It’s the other stuff which bothers me.

An extra $100 for a mandatory Kinect peripheral that literally cannot work with the layout of my living room and which I can’t use.  That infuriating Xbox Live ecosystem which is continually in your face, pimping micro-transaction product at you and charging you a yearly fee for the privilege.  Television services and functions heavily trailered in press conferences and online which won’t be available outside North America.  An endless diet of bro-shooters and EA Sports franchises: None of that stuff has changed in the last 24 hours.

So, good news for many gamers but not an update which changes anything for me.

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E3 – the great Microsoft implosion?

Meet the new PS4.  Yep, that's a black box alright...
Meet the new PS4. Yep, that’s a black box alright…

Well, that escalated quickly, didn’t it?

I was less than impressed with Microsoft’s vision of the future with the debut of the Xbox One console back at the end of May.

In a move perhaps destined to frame the console’s identity for the next few years, Microsoft talked about everything that the console would do other than games, prompting a planetary chorus of core gamers to vent their fury and get bent out of shape about being abandoned.

I confess to being one of those affronted voices – but we were reassured by Microsoft and their press supporters that the full story would be shown at E3 in June when the focus would very much be on interactive entertainment, and that the new system’s list of exclusive titles would silence dissenting voices about the console’s gaming credibility.

Image via Polygon.com
The new sci-fi shooter from Respawn Entertainment, Mech-em-up “Titanfall”

When it came to exclusives, Microsoft’s deep pockets certainly made it rain.  The new game from the creators of “Call of Duty”, Respawn Entertainment’s third-person sci-fi shooter “Titanfall”, “Dead Rising 3”, a new “Killer Instinct”, “Quantum Break”, Crytek’s “Gladiator”-em-up, “Ryse: Son of Rome”, a new “Scott Pilgrim”-meets-“Jet Set Radio”-meets-“Borderlands” shooter from stalwart Sony studio Insomniac, “Sunset Overdrive” were all shown during the Xbox One conference and seemed to inspire a great deal of excitement amongst gamers on Twitter…

…until the price of the system was revealed.

Microsoft, with the tone-deaf and blithely ignorant corporate arrogance which has become their defining characteristic in the last few years, are charging $500.00 for their console.  A price which, of course, remains more or less intact in Europe, with the company using some kind of arcane formula to price the system at £429.00 and 499 Euro.

Microsoft point to the bundled Kinect camera and the fact that it’s now integral to the operation of the console to account for this ludicrous pricing but that’s not really a good explanation – I don’t have a Kinect for Xbox 360 and have never wanted one.  It’s Microsoft’s decision to base their system’s user interface experience largely around a device which only works in the kind of larger living rooms enjoyed by the upscale, cash-rich North American demographic they are solely targeting with this device.

As I’ve posted previously, this will be the first Microsoft system that I won’t be buying and nothing that Microsoft showed or said at E3 2013 has done anything to change that:  draconian digital rights management restrictions on users, games which largely revolve around murdering people, a wholesale lack of interest in engaging with the community who have previously supported their games consoles, a complete inability to head off consumer bewilderment with some of the more divisive messaging employed by MS developers, the utter insanity of having grinning plastic spokes-replicant Don Mattrick head up their conferences…

You have to ask – is Xbox One the biggest troll in history?  Are Microsoft desperately trying some kind of Mel Brooks-like “Springtime for Hitler” gambit in order to once and for all get out of the cut-throat games console business , by publicly espousing notions so dogmatic and abrasive that they alienate the core gamer and allow the company to bail out of the sector once and for all?

As for Sony, they certainly gave the impression of doing everything right.  Their stance on DRM may seem more consumer friendly, but hands responsibility to publishers for locking out access to second-hand games, so is more a guess of letting the EA’s and Activisions of the world be the bad guy than an honest attempt to take an ethical position.

The PS4 is again region-free, with the option again going to publishers to lock-down access to a title – oh hai, there, various Japanese RPG titles! – if they don’t have a publishing deal in a particular global territory.   And their PS4 is around a hundred dollars/pounds/euro cheaper than Xbox One – until you consider the cost of the add-on PS camera and the fact that online multi-player is now embedded within the PS Plus subscriber option, which brings prices of systems roughly in line.  If you’re not bothered about either, or the MS exclusives, the PS4 seems like the system to go for.

I’m going to wait it out and get through my stockpile of PS3 games – which grows ever greater thanks to the wonders of PS Plus – before deciding whether I need to pick up a PS4.  The games don’t appear to be there yet.

For Victoria!  Ready At Dawn's Steamy, Punky "The Order:1886"
For Victoria! Ready At Dawn’s Steamy, Punky “The Order:1886”

We saw lots of multi-platform titles from Ubisoft and Sony promised an extensive tranche of titles in the pipeline but didn’t wheel out much that was concrete – Ready At Dawn’s steampunk action title “The Order:1886” was shown in pretty c.g. trailer form, but there needs to be more meat on the bones.  For a system which is supposed to do games as it’s prime focus, there wasn’t a lot that you couldn’t get elsewhere, bar Sucker Punch’s impressive-looking “Infamous: Second Son”.

 

 

A mixed bag, then?  I’m intrigued to see what the second wave of next-gen titles brings us and what that price difference will add to the conversation this Christmas?  Will all that gamer talk of boycotts and contempt for Microsoft translate into real action when the systems are in shops?

“Fast and Furious 6” review – well-done absurd fun…

All roads lead to this...
All roads lead to this…

The reinvention of the “Fast & Furious” movie series continues with part six.

Where the first three movies cleaved to a fairly distinctive vision of tuner car street racing action and outlaw posturing, the fourth, fifth and sixth films have gradually shifted the focus from quarter-mile pink-slip challenges and drifting shenanigans to increasingly daft, ramped-up action sequences.

“Fast 6” has the gumption to nod to this, giving series mainstay Vin Diesel a moment of wry rumination with more recent addition to the ranks, Dwayne Johnson where they archly discuss Dominic Toretto’s graduation from half-inching DVD players in East L.A. to masterminding globe-trotting, vehicular-assisted heists.

At this point, the “Fast 6” movies have metamorphosed into a blue-collar hybrid of James Bond flick and street-level, bling-bling “Ocean’s Eleven”-esque caper. If you can process the notion that these films now bear the same relation to reality as does the glossy, rabidly capitalistic fantasia of a mid-90’s R&B video, then the escalating lunacy of the set-pieces in this film will hold no concern for you.  It need hardly be said that if you require your evening’s filmic entertainment to possess some grounding in reality then this flick probably isn’t for you.

The film shifts the action from Rio in the last movie to Europe, with a rogue mercenary, Owen Shaw (played with eye-twinkling, goatee-stroking menace by Welsh actor Luke Evans) leading a mirror universe crew of badasses on a fuzzily drawn mission to steal a military McGuffin for sale to the highest bidder.  And that’s mostly it – there’s quite a lot of guff about Dom’s crew being family, a bit of retconning to draw events from 3,4 & 5 together and some comedic diversions but the major business of the film is to stage ever bigger and more elaborate car stunts.

And on that level, “Fast 6” delivers value for money.

A chase through London uses the tight restrictions of London’s layout to great effect, which is then casually upstaged by a Dom/Letty chase which is edge-of-the-seat stuff that’s subsequently schooled by a much-ballyhooed Spanish highway destruction derby which has to be seen to be believed (not least for the amount of innocent bystanders who must have flattened or paralysed during its duration).  And then there’s a bit with a plane.

Biceps bigger than your head?  Check.
Biceps bigger than your head? Check.

The plot makes not a lick of sense, with Dwayne Johnson’s government agent character Luke Hobbs, as but one example,  making decisions during the course of the tale which would have seen him fired, tried and jailed for 150 years if this were a film which took place in our universe.

As this sequel happens in the “Furious”-verse, Hobbs’ gun-t0-head, “Hulk Smash!” brand of catastrophic, city-trashing operational oversight merely keeps the story constantly redlining – he’s like an on-screen stand-in for director Justin Lin, supervising his morally murky, all-star crew of wrong-uns in the manner of a hyper-caffeinated fourteen year-old boy playing an open world Xbox game seeking the fastest way to cause abject chaos with the digital tools at his disposal.

After delivering a suitably cataclysmic ending – one which hasn’t quite been spoiled by its front and centre reveal in the movie’s trailers – departing director Lin offers a tantalising glimpse of next summer’s seventh (!) film with a post-credits teaser which offers closure for Sung Kang’s Han and a look at who will be foolishly pitting their wits against Dom, Brian and Co next time out.

It’s not Woody Allen.  Just saying.

Is “Fast Six” nonsense?  Absolutely.  Is it entertaining?  Completely.