Wednesday, November 27, 2019

One Cut of the Dead

One Cut of the Dead is a 2017 horror/comedy directed by Shinichiro Ueda. It follows the cast and crew of a zombie movie whose shoot in a WWII military facility is interrupted by a real zombie outbreak. Its biggest marketing point is a 37-minute opening shot, filmed in a single take, but its most ambitious efforts don't become apparent until well after the first cut.

One Cut of the Dead might be the smartest film I've ever seen, and it's an incredible exercise in setup and punchline.

Without that 37-minute shot, there's not much chance One Cut would have made a big enough name for itself on the festival circuit for a UK Blu release, and that headline is certainly what drew me to watching it. But I was expecting something truly special from that opening 37 minutes, and I grew quite disappointed as it wore on.

Like most things in filmmaking, everything I know about "oners" comes from Tony Zhao. Using the background and foreground to keep a long shot interesting, how the camera movements give each scene a clear structure - One Cut does none of these things.

Its camera is constantly in motion, failing to properly give focus to characters or events. The actors stumble awkwardly over lines, seemingly improvising sections of dialogue; a couple of times the director character breaks the fourth wall in a way that the other actors seem to ignore. The camera work is haphazard, with an escalating number of crash-zooms towards the finale, where we spend over two minutes zooming in and out on the lead actress screaming while we hear a fight between two other actors off-screen. There's a "crane" shot at the end that looks like the cameraman is climbing a ladder instead of using an actual crane.

It's a slapdash, amateurish affair that can't really live up to either its own ambition or the marketing hype - and that's entirely the point, because One Cut of the Dead has the most impressive re-contextualisation of previously-held knowledge of any film I've ever seen.

To say more would spoil it, and you deserve to see the whole thing yourself.

Just trust me when I say that it is absolutely worth sitting through that sometimes-questionable opening oner.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Skills for kills, Agent

I don't remember why I bought the original Crackdown. I wasn't a big enough fan of Halo, so it can't have been the multiplayer beta that came bundled with it. I don't remember playing the demo, either - but for whatever reason, I took a punt on it and fell in love.

It's probably fair to say that Crackdown changed my life. If it hadn't been for that 2007 open-world blow-up-'em-up, I'd never have heard of Realtime Worlds, and I'd certainly never have moved to Scotland to work for them. I am where I am because of Crackdown – literally, I'd not be sitting on this sofa in this house in this city in this country.

The direct sequel never made much of an impression, though. I did play the demo for that one - and its return to the same city (more or less) and the addition of 360-straining crowds of zombies felt respectively like a disappointment, and a distraction from the aimless purity of the original game's experience.

My brother's description of Crackdown as "it's not a game, it's an excuse" has always perfectly captured the anarchic spirit of Realtime's 2007 superhero simulator. You start the game able to leap 20 feet vertically, and as you amass further weaponry, vehicles and skill points for using them, you only become more of a threat to the criminals (and bystanders) of Pacific City. By the end of the game, you're bounding over entire buildings with ease, carpet-bombing the streets with a flurry of homing rocket, and jumping a souped-up monster truck hundreds of yards off freeways.

This focus, or the lack of it, on giving you all the tools and skills you need to do anything and then letting you do it feels like both the forerunner of and a departure from the modern trend of open-world collect-'em-ups. But Crackdown didn't overcomplicate things with sidequests and collectibles (beyond the Agility and Hidden Orbs, neither of which cluttered your map). There were a handful of boss characters to take down with the barest semblance of a plot to tie them together, but no lengthy cutscenes and no lore.

The third installment, which I've been playing via a GamePass trial, is almost a total return to the classic Crackdown formula. The addition of an actual story (which seems to totally ignore the "twist" at the end of the first game) gets in the way more than it helps, but otherwise this is just more Crackdown.

For most franchises that might be a bad thing - yearly releases and stagnation across genres means few titles actually stand out much beyond their presentation, but by returning to its roots Crackdown 3 manages to make an impression. Stripping away most of the cruft, letting the player loose in a sandbox with a ludicrous array of toys and targets, allows you to set your own goals and never feel like the game would rather you were following its breadcrumbs. Want to spend hours collecting orbs? Go for it! Want to get into massive firefights and blow up everything the bad guys can throw at you? Go for it! Want to race? Go for it! Want to progress the campaign? Go for it!

There haven't been many games that give me this kind of reckless abandon - the last one might have been its own predecessor, but by that measure alone Crackdown 3 is a riotous success.