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The California Bay Area has long been a home to some of the most technical death metal around. The slow but inevitable dissolution of Necrophagist, the continuing studio hiatus of Odious Mortem, and the folding of Spawn Of Possession and more recently Brain Drill has acted as a catalyst for the formation of several domestic and international supergroups. Continuum from Santa Cruz was formed in 2009 by sometime Decrepit Birth guitarist Chase Fraser and is home to former members from Brain Drill, Inanimate Existence, and post-Jacoby Kingston Deeds Of Flesh. After several years of incubation Continuum debuted in 2015 with “The Hypothesis”. “Designed Obsolescence” harkens back to the halcyon days of pre-2005 when Unique Leader was a boutique label specialized in death metal exclusively. With Inherit Disease no longer under contract, Continuum is hellbent on replacing them as the label’s flagship act.

Fraser has surrounded himself with quite the talent. Riley McShane is also in Allegaeon and fronted Inanimate Existence for an album, Ivan Munguia has played with Odious Mortem, Nick Willbrand has recorded an album with Flesh Consumed, and Ron Casey is probably the most in-demand drummer of the last decade and a half. He, like Munguia, was involved with Brain Drill and appeared on their “Quantum Catastrophe”. With an assembly of this caliber “Designed Obsolescence” could’ve easily succumbed to masturbatory excess and egocentric indulgence, yet somehow it never does. Fraser is able to rein in everybody’s showboating tendencies and everything is always in service of the song. The only somewhat puzzling choice is placing Ivan Munguia on rhythm - instead of bass guitar. Willbrand is certainly up for the task but he’s no Jeroen Paul Thesseling, Linus Klausenitzer, Steve DiGiorgio, Michael Poggione, Erlend Caspersen, Giulia Pallozzi, or Éric Langlois. Which doesn’t make Continuum any less than a gathering of local mega talent and something that sounds right at home next to Omnihility, Equipoise, and latter-day Decrepit Birth as well as Canadian acts Augury, Beyond Creation, and First Fragment. For better or worse, Continuum is very much a product of its time.

Continuum takes more than a page or two from now-defunct Swedish act Spawn Of Possession and the shadow of “Cabinet” and “Noctambulant” looms large over “Designed Obsolescence”. Fraser and his men give it enough of a Californian flavor and his soloing is more than a little reminiscent of somebody like Jonas Bryssling. McShane for the most part sounds like Obie Flett from Inherit Disease but tends to alternate more between highs and lows. The swelling orchestral flourish in ‘Designed Obsolescence’ is a nice little touch that immensely enhances the atmosphere. The concept isn’t whole that novel as Soreption did it earlier on “Engineering the Void” in 2014 and bands as Fleshgod Apocalypse and Scrambled Defuncts have made it their entire raison d'être. ‘All Manner Of Decay’ is custodian to probably the best solo of the record. The bass guitar is felt more than heard but is allowed slightly more space in ‘Autonomic’. ‘Repeating Actions’ concludes with the same riff that opens ‘Theorem’ thus creating a semblance of inter-track continuity. The stars of Continuum are definitely Chase Fraser and drummer Ron Casey. The more progressive setup gives Casey is far more freedom to flex his muscles, whereas the narrow confines of Brain Drill restricted what he could do behind the kit. The Pär Olofsson artwork really drives home how apt the Spawn Of Possession comparisons are. At this point you’d imagine the scene having on moved on from Olofsson. Apparently not. For a band as forward-thinking as Continuum it’s surprising that they haven’t discovered Guang Yang, Aditia Wardhana, César Eidrian, Federico Musetti, Dusan Markovic, Monte Cook, or Johnson Ting yet.

It’s not so much a question about ability, either individually or collective, but whether Continuum will be able to differentiate itself enough from competition, foreign and domestic. While there are some mild New Age textures and sparse orchestral enhancements it remains to be seen how and if Continuum will be able to differentiate itself from similar acts as Inanimate Existence, and post-“Procreating An Apocalypse” Inherit Disease. Inanimate Existence is aesthetically different enough through its New Age spirituality imagery and Inherit Disease were among the earlier to push a dystopian futurist and technology-based lyrical concept. Not that that was in any way novel in and of itself. There was after all a little band called Fear Factory who did it earlier than anyone else. The concept of “designed obsolescence” has been commonplace in industrial design and economics for several decades and concerns the intentional planning of a product to become obsolete within a set timeframe as to generate long-term sales volume by repeat purchases of said product. The lyrics about the omnipresence of technology, artificial intelligence, the singularity, and the loss of identity in the digital matrix are interesting and certainly eloquent enough. There’s certainly something slightly ironic about an album title like this when Continuum is one among many such ventures and one bound to tie itself to a certain time-period.

Unique Leader remains one of the most reliable houses of quality death metal, although they arguably lost some of their luster when they started signing deathcore en masse. Continuum is as good as anything from the Unique Leader stable and that they sound like one or two bands that used to be on the label is probably not just a happy coincidence. As a product of the death metal arms race “Designed Obsolescence” sounds like a throwback to the bygone days of 2004-2005 when technical death metal was really taking flight as a genre after the release of “Epitaph” from Necrophagist. In fact Necrophagist would come to define the next decade even if they never came around to releasing that eagerly anticipated third album. Perhaps it is that drives bands like Continuum, the urge to fill that void left by Germany’s last important death metal band. It’s not a bad spot to be in, anyway. With the promotion department of Unique Leader behind them the best is yet to come for Continuum. Here’s hoping they further expand on what they’re pushing here. There’s potential aplenty, for sure.

Plot: contraband runner opposes the mightiest corporation in the world

Among video game purists Tekken is reviled, and while that sentiment is understandable to a degree, it misses the bigger picture that it’s also one of better video game adaptations. Not that the standards have been set high exactly to begin with. It was inevitable that Namco Bandai Games’ popular fighting franchise would eventually get the Hollywood treatment. Tekken’s character roster contains enough interpersonal drama, tragedy, and plenty of colorful personalities to fill multiple features. As a textbook example of a post-The Matrix (1999) American martial arts movie it distinguishes itself with its increased levels of acrobacy, athleticism, and far more complex action choreography. At heart Tekken is closer to Street Fighter (1994) than it is to Mortal Kombat (1995) in terms of faithfulness. Tekken, for better or worse, took the Hong Kong lessons from DOA: Dead or Alive (2006) to heart and did something with them. Sure, Tekken took plenty of artistic liberties with the source material it was supposedly adapting but on the plus side it benefitted for the most part from taking said license. As far as these things go, you could do far worse than Tekken.

That Tekken turned out half as well as it did is something of a miracle considering some of the talent behind it. Director Dwight H. Little is your standard smooth Hollywood filmmaker who worked his way up from the dregs of independent cinema. His style is technically polished but fairly interchangable with people like Renny Harlin, and Simon West. He’s the kind of director ideal for work-for-hire features and soulless Hollywood sequels. Little lensed everything from Marked for Death (1990) (arguably the last good Steven Seagal actioner before his lamentable and steep decline into direct-to-video hell and worse), Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home (1995) (the inevitable sequel to a Hollywood blockbuster), and Murder at 1600 (1997) (back when Wesley Snipes actually had a career) to Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004) (the sort of unnecessary sequel that would have benefitted from J-Lo’s legendary ass).

Worse still is the fact that Tekken was written by Alan B. McElroy, the kind of Hollywood hack who makes Akiva Goldsman, Steven E. de Souza, and Joe Eszterhas look like nuanced scribes in comparison. McElroy infamously penned the Kirk Cameron Christian propaganda piece Left Behind (2000) (given the Hollywood remake treatment in 2014 with a sufficiently bewildered Nicholas Cage neckdeep in financial – and legal woes); that other video game adaptation that nobody talks about, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (2002) with Lucy Liu, Talisa Soto, and Antonio Banderas; as well as Wrong Turn (2003) (wherein Eliza Dushku acted primarily with her tank top) and the thinly-veiled recruiting video for the American military-industrial complex better known as The Marine (2006), or where wrestler John Cena acted better than most action stars at the time. Where did Little and McElroy start? Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), or the last good sequel in a franchise that never should’ve lasted beyond the original.

It’s bad enough that most of the cast consists of television actors and anonymous stuntmen. The only big names (if you’re feeling in any way charitable) present are the always entertaining Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Tamlyn Tomita, and Jon Foo. There’s actually one genuine star to speak of but one-time Hollywood pretty boy Jason James Richter is relegated to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bit part that he’s easily overlooked. Richter, of course, was the kid in Free Willy (1993) and its sequels before being chewed up and spit out by the Hollywood machine. Tagawa famously was Shang Tsung in Mortal Kombat (1995), and Tomita debuted in The Karate Kid Part II (1986). Foo on the other hand was a League Of Shadows extra in Batman Begins (2005). For all the criticism that can be levied at Street Fighter (1994), Mortal Kombat (1995), and DOA: Dead or Alive (2006) at least they had the decency of a halfway recognizable cast. Unlike in the Far East (China, Hong Kong, Japan) where talent is cast based upon past performances and martial arts prowess, Tekken was cast by the old Hollywood adage that they first and foremost must be pretty, irrespective of their fighting ability. Holly Valance was, by far, the worst actress in DOA: Dead or Alive (2006) yet in Tekken the entire female cast is made up of nothing but talent exactly like her. Kelly Overton, Candice Hillebrand, Marian Zapico, and Mircea Monroe are as pretty as they come but couldn’t act their way out of a paperbag let alone pull off a convincing fightscene. For the ladies there are enough shots of the glistening chests of Luke Goss, Roger Huerta, and Jon Foo but since this is a respectable production Overton, Hillebrand, and Zapico never bare theirs, although there’s a brief instance of sideboob from Mircea Monroe. Not that Monroe is in any way vital to the story, but we’ll take what we can get…

2039. In the aftermath of the Terror War what is left of civilization, all divided into territories, are not ruled by governments but by autocratic mega-corporations. The American territories are ruled by Tekken, the mightiest and cruelest of the surviving 8 corporations. Tekken is run by Heihachi Mishima (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) and his son Kazuya (Ian Anthony Dale) in the industrial hub of Tekken City. Annually the 8 mega-corporations - under the collective banner of Iron Fist - organize The King Of Iron Fist tournament as a widely televised event to placate and scare the masses into submission and servitude. In the impoverished, burned out slums known as the Anvil young contraband runner Jin Kazama (Jon Foo) witnesses the murder of his mother Jun (Tamlyn Tomita) and his partner Bonner (John Pyper-Ferguson) by the Jackhammers. Kazama vows retaliation against Tekken CEO Heihachi and, much against the will of girlfriend Kara (Mircea Monroe), enters The King Of Iron Fist tournament. After his surprise victory against disgraced combatant Marshall Law (Cung Le, as Cung Lee) in Open Call Jin is allowed to enter the tournament. There he immediately befriends capoeira fighter Christie Monteiro (Kelly Overton) and lands a sponsorship from boxer Steve Fox (Luke Goss). In short order Kazama wins the crowds, becomes known as "The People's Choice", and a conventient representative for the rebel insurgents. Defeating anything and everyone in his way Jin will soon to able to face the man responsible for his mother’s death, whether that is the person he has in mind is something else…

As can be deduced from the above plot summary, McElroy was never above stealing when it suited him and Tekken is a beautiful illustrative example of just that. In Tekken the world is ruled by rivaling companies competing in a televised martial arts tournament. During said tournament one of the lead’s allies is blackmailed into betraying him, and a potential love interest of the lead is abducted at one point. The lead character is a small and unimportant everyman who leads a group of insurgents against a despotic, in this case corporate, ruler thus defying the existing power structure. If all of this sounds nothing like the Tekken video games and more than a passing resemblance to Heatseeker (1995) by way of Gladiator (2000), then you’d be right because that’s exactly what it is. It’s bad enough when Hollywood starts ripping off Albert Pyun. The story might be typical underdog fodder and not faithful in the slightest to the video game franchise it is supposedly adapting yet there are more than enough shots of Candice Hillebrand’s pink leather corset and Kelly Overton’s toned ass to make forget you about such trivialities as story and plot. To dispense with the obvious, Tekken is the movie that Heatseeker (1995) always wanted to be. If they were going to take liberties with the source material they could at least have traded Anna Williams for the more interesting Julia Chang, King, Combot, or Ling Xiaoju. Alan B. McElroy actually sank low enough to rip off Hawaiian trash specialist Albert Pyun. No wonder Namco Bandai disassociated themselves from Tekken when it was released.

What really kills Tekken is not so much the story it tells, which is pretty standard Hollywood fare, but its apparently random throwing together of characters from the original game as well as those from the sequels 2 to 6. Characters are true to their in-game counterparts in appearance but little else. Where the adaptation takes the most artistic license is with the relations and subplots between all of the characters. In Tekken the video game Eddy Gordo (Lateef Crowder) mentored Christie Monteiro into capoeira (not so here); Nina (Candice Hillebrand, as Candicé Hillebrand) and Anna Williams (Marian Zapico) indeed are sisters-assassins but no mention is made of their rivalry or Nina being Steve Fox’ biological mother; a throwaway line confirms that Bryan Fury (Gary Daniels) is a cyborg but nothing is made of the fact beyond that; Yoshimitsu (Gary Ray Stearns, as Gary Stearns) is not an alien lifeform, but reduced merely to an “advanced swordsman”. Tekken even goes as far as to invent an unnecessary non-canon love interest for Jin in the form Kara, and then proceeds to do absolutely nothing with her. Kara does nothing what the plot couldn't have done with Christie Monteiro. The only thing that McElroy has kept is the animosity between Kazuya Mishima and his father Heihachi and that Jin Kazama is Kazuya’s son and rightful heir to the Tekken empire. From a narrative standpoint Jin Kazama is an understandable choice as he’s the most internally conflicted but a Paul Phoenix, King, Julia Chang, Combot, or Ling Xiaoyu wouldn’t have hurt. Tekken excels in including any number of beloved characters and doing absolutely nothing beyond fanservice to develop them. To make matters worse none of the characters fight in their respective disciplines. In short, Mortal Kombat (1995) or DOA: Dead or Alive (2006) this certainly is not.

The bar is set admittedly low for video game adaptations and Tekken is a lot better than it has any right to be. Tekken is far from the worst of its kind but could have been a lot more than what it ended up being. By trying to please everybody, Tekken ends up pleasing nobody instead. Everything is decidedly vanilla from the start and it never attempts to pay lipservice to the mythos it’s adapting. Some of the creative choices are understandable, others not so much. There’s plenty of beef- and cheesecake to be had and Tekken doesn’t shy away from blood when it matters. Like any post-The Cell (2000) production the color palette is gritty, and desaturated for the sake of “realism”. Tekken (as a video game) was memorable – just like Street Fighter II: the World Warrior before it – because of its rich, candy-colored costumes and arenas. Up until at least Tekken 4 the world was full of warm, deep colors as it became thematically darker. Neither Dwight H. Little nor Alan B. McElroy seem to have understood this. As such Tekken is stereotypical Hollywood product churned out without much care or love. Tekken unfortunately is nothing more than a sum of its various individual parts, and that’s a shame. This could have been so much more, or better, if somebody had cared.