Dark City

Here’s a thing: I was never overly impressed with The Matrix — and even less so with its sequels. While that film does contain some incredibly impressive action sequences, and the Wachowski’s bullet time effect was a genuine innovation, I always felt that the plot was both clunky and incoherent. Part of this is, of course, down to the fact that the plot is both clunky and incoherent but I think my reaction was also affected by the fact that by the time I saw The Matrix, I had already seen a couple of films that handled very similar ideas in a much, much better manner. One of those films was eXistenZ, the other was Dark City.

After an opening monologue which (I believe) is cut from later releases of this film, we are introduced to John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) who has just awoken, in a bath, with no memory.

As Murdoch stumbles around, he receives a phone call from Dr. Daniel Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland) telling him to leave now to escape “The Strangers”. During the course of the call, Murdoch discovers a dead woman in his room, and we’re off.

Dark city has a very noir feel to it, not least in the design of the stylishly anachronistic city in which the characters find themselves. Not least of these is Inspector Bumstead (William Hurt), who is leading the manhunt for Murdoch, a suspected serial killer. Murdoch himself is trying to stay ahead of the police as he looks for his identity, and tries to determine whether he really has committed the crimes of which he is suspected. His estranged wife (Jennifer Connelly) doesn’t know who or what to believe, and then there’s Dr. Schreber whose motivations are kept deliberately unclear.

This makes for an increasingly engrossing film that is both a mystery and a thriller, all built on top of a very smart science fiction premise that leaves us asking even more questions, about what exactly is it that The Strangers are up to and what is the significance of Shell Beach.

Oddly enough, having the premise handed to us up front makes it somewhat unclear as to where the film is going. Initially, at least, but once you get a handle on what is happening it really is gripping.

And disorienting.

Ultimately, Dark City is a meditation on what it means to be human and the extent to which our memories make us who we are. It’s a thoughtful, and thought-provoking, slice of science fiction that is capable of promoting much subsequent discussion.

Quote of the day: The baboon chorus

Large numbers of Tory MPs know that their job involves precious little beyond emitting low level growling noises at noon on Wednesdays to provide a sort of aural white noise masking effect for the blindingly obvious uselessness of the man they chose to be their leader.

Tom Peck explains why the UK’s virtual parliament has been deemed a failure and MPs absolutely must return to their benches after June.

Cherries

Weatherwise, we’ve just had a pretty much ideal weekend. Warm enough to spend most of our time outside but not so warm that no-one wants to do anything. Perfect gardening weather, in fact, which is why all of the nettles around the house have now been pulled. And, since it’s spring, the strawberries are starting to emerge, the blackberries are blossoming and there is even some fruit on the cherry tree.

None of the cherries are ripe yet, of course, which is why we can still see them. I’m sure the birds will be along soon.

We’ve had the cherry tree for several years now and every year I promise myself that I will beat the birds and treat myself to a home-grown cherry. Maybe, just maybe, this year will be the year.

Probably not, though.

Centrepoint

Way back in the late 1980s I picked up an interesting looking strategy game called Centrepoint. Although I played it a few times, it never really caught on with my gaming group at the time and the game ended up at the bottom of a box — dragged around with me but never actually played.

A few weeks ago, the boys found it and asked if they could try it out. Of course I said yes, and the game has proven to have a lot more traction than I remembered.

It’s a game for two to four players that, rather breathlessly, suggests that it’s the best game to come along since Chess. Which it isn’t. But it’s not bad either.

As with chess, each player controls an army the units of which all have different moves. The aim is to get your standard bearer into the middle of the board — the centre point — before anyone else. The moves are pretty straightforward, although the circular nature of the board makes for some quirks that are best ironed out before starting to play, and the game moves along at a fair old clip.

As a two player game, it’s okay, and I wouldn’t recommend the three player version as this is seriously unbalanced with one player always getting crushed between the other two.

It’s as a four player game that Centrepoint really comes into its own. This is clearly how the game was intended to be played and, it’s in this version, that the rules really do work. What’s more, with four players around the board, the opportunities for ad-hoc alliances and non-aggression pacts lift the game above it’s pure strategy origins.

As far as I can see, Centrepoint is no longer published. This is a shame because it is quite a good little game that requires very little explanation but offers plenty of scope for a negotiated victory.

Braindead

Before he became justifiably famous for The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson made several wildly inventive horror comedies, the most wildly inventive of which was Braindead (also known as Dead Alive).

The film is set in Wellington in 1957 and centres on Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme) whose overbearing mother, Vera (Elizabeth Moody) is bitten by a Sumatran Rat Monkey. She deteriorates quickly, and rather disgustingly falls apart — quite literally. Not long after she dies, and promptly returns.

If you’ve ever seen the sitcom Keeping Up Appearances, and can imagine Hyacinth Bucket as a zombie, you’re pretty much there.

And then things begin to get really silly.

Lionel, still the downtrodden son, tries to cope as best he can without letting on the truth of his mother’s condition. Inevitably enough, things quickly spiral completely out of control and we are treated to an escalating stream of utter insanity.

Braindead is pitched as a horror-comedy and, while it is undeniably gory, the film is much more a comedy than a horror film. It’s a slapstick comedy with plenty of blood and some cracking one-liners that still have me laughing out loud every time I watch it.

I can haz haircut?

Yesterday’s big news in Belgium is that the lockdown exit phase 2 starts on Monday. This means, among other things, that hairdressers will be allowed to reopen. And not a moment too soon.

After two months in lockdown, my hair is quite a mess, to put it mildly. I did ask my partner if she wanted to have a go at it with the clippers but she refused, claiming that she was worried about exposing too much of my bald patch. Not that I will admit to having a bald patch — I’m just a little thin on top 😉

Still, on Monday I will be able to book an appointment for a socially distanced haircut. Although, with the various rules still in place, it will probably be June before I get to see a pair of scissors. But better late than never.

A number of other things will be allowed to reopen including, oddly enough, zoos and amusement parks. That said, however, day trips and other non-essential travel is still not allowed so I’m not sure how anyone is supposed to visit these attractions.

We shall see.

The Bloody Red Baron

Way back in 2011, I read Anno Dracula by Kim Newman. In this novel, Dracula has defeated Van Helsing and traveled to London where he becomes the new Prince Consort. Against the backdrop of this alternative history, in which historical and fictional characters crop up all over the place, the plot follows the emergence of Jack The Ripper and the efforts of the main characters to identify and stop him. It’s an excellent novel with an unbelievable amount of detail tucked away (much of which, I am sure, I missed).

I have finally gotten around to reading the sequel, The Bloody Red Baron. In this novel events have moved on and the setting is now the First World War. Dracula, having fled Britain, is the commander in chief of of the armies of Germany and Austria-Hungary.

Charles Beauregard, the hero of the first novel and his protegé, Edwin Winthrop, find themselves facing the lethal vampire flying machine that is the Bloody Red Baron.

The Bloody Red Baron retains the same mashing together of historical and fictional characters that made Anno Dracula so much fun but it doesn’t feel quite as effective this time around. This could, of course, merely be a reflection of my memory or the fact that I am less familiar with some of the WWI references. And even without this, the novel still works very well as a war story with a lot to say.

The book is split into four parts and, initially, feels a little superficial. This led to it taking a bit of time to get going, but by the time I reached part 3, I was utterly gripped and found the novel to be increasingly difficult to put down.

The edition I have also includes a novella, set in 1923, which I shall start reading very shortly.

Versus

Japanese zombies are different. They’re faster, smarter and more vengeful than their western counterparts, and less interested in brains. They also have a habit of popping up at the 444th portal to the other side — the forest of resurrection.

In pre-credits times, a samurai battled zombies here but now it’s just another isolated forest at which escaped convicts meet up with over-acting gangsters who insist that everyone wait for an unnamed leader.

Tempers flare, guns are drawn, and the inevitable ensues.

Versus is all style and very little substance. But the style, consisting of one fight scene after another, is incredible. In any other film any one of these gun battles, knife fights, sword fights, and more would stand out; in Versus, we get two hours of highly stylised extreme violence.

Versus is 100% entertainment, casually throwing together a stack of action and zombie tropes into a plot that does little more than get us from one stunning set-piece to the next. It really is a testament to director RyĂ»hei Kitamura’s sense of pacing that it all holds together so well.

Versus is sometimes tense, often silly and always worth watching.

Five Things #31

The Time Traveler’s Advice to the Lovelorn by Adam-Troy Castro is a gentle, sf inflected reworking of the three wishes trope.

“There is a small but very influential group of politicians and commentators who approach a nexus of issues in the same way be it Brexit, coronavirus, climate change, immigration, sexual harassment or any number of other things. It’s always the same people, and always the same blokey, angry, resentful, constantly triggered but can’t-you-take-a-joke-snowflake, sneeringly superior yet self-pitying victimhood schtick.” Chris Grey examines the connections between Brexit and responses to the coronavirus crisis.

I was slightly surprised to learn that Charles Band is still releasing films. I was a lot less surprised to discover that his latest film is Corona Zombies. Chris Coffel at Film School Rejects takes the opportunity to provide a brief history of exploitation films.

Robbert Dijkgraaf remembers the Unstoppable Freeman Dyson. Physicist, mathematician, writer and idea factory, he died on February 28th at the age of 96, but his influence lives on.

In The Real Lord of the Flies, Rutger Bregman discovers what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months.