Hannibal Rising

2007 | dir: Peter Webber | 121 m

I don't think I'll ever understand the urge to try and turn horror icons into badass antiheroes, but I believe I've pinpointed the mistake that serves as the catalyst for that sort of storytelling. Hannibal Rising is the second prequel to Jonathan Demme's seminal The Silence of the Lambs and the fourth - and hopefully last - movie in that particular horror franchise. I had only ever seen The Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon, so I figured that for my annual October horror movie marathon, I'd give the entire series a watch in the chronological order in which the events of the films took place rather than their release dates to watch the Grand Vision unfold. Like all of the movies featuring the iconic serial killer Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lector, Hannibal Rising was based on a book by Thomas Harris, though to what degree this movie - or any of the other Hannibal Lector movies - remained faithful to the books I haven't much of a clue, as I have yet to read any of them. Harris seems to have carved out a financially lucrative literary niche for himself, for which I fault him not one iota. Maybe someday I will delve into the novels, but for now, all I know of the Lector-verse is what I've seen on screen, and well, let's just say that Hannibal Rising was nowhere near the calibre of The Silence of the Lambs and the amazing Hannibal TV show.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

 

2016 | dir: Paul W. S. Anderson | 107 m

I feel a tiny bit betrayed by last instalment of Resident Evil: the series has built itself up as an action series with a hint of being held together by a thin storyline about the evil Umbrella Corporation and Alice’s (Milla Jovovich) quest to dismantle it. I was disappointed that this movie would go ahead and retcon so many things from the previous films but I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised as Paul WS Anderson has prioritized The Action Scene above all other elements of the films, but it still hurts nonetheless. While the story here does feel tightly focused, I found myself a bit confused on the actions of some characters based on the previous films and left wondering where others disappeared. Killing favourite characters off-screen comes across as disrespectful to the viewer at the sixth entry in the series but shouldn’t surprise me at this point either. The series has always been light on story and The Final Chapter is no different, with the main difference being that you know how this movie is going to end.

The action scenes are actually a step down from the previous Retribution, which was probably a height for the series in those terms; The Final Chapter suffers from too many rapid cuts to the point that the action is nearly incomprehensible and I immediately feel bad for the film because of it.

If there was on bright spot here, is the return of Iain Glen as the delightfully evil Dr. Isaacs. Extinction might be my favourite of the series (I’m not making that official yet though) and I loved seeing Isaacs come back – Wesker felt like a square block being smashed into a round hole, while Isaac slipped through the villain role perfectly from the beginning. Of course, with the return of Dr. Isaacs is the return of the killer laser grid, which had me in hysterics: the laser grid WAS in fact one of the most memorable elements of the first film and to see it come back not once, but twice, throughout the series is telling me that either Anderson is giving the fans what they want or lacks the creativity to come up with something original. The real answer is that he is most likely pretty pleased with himself with that death trap and is practicing some form of self-indulgence by continuing to feature it again and again.

While I was feeling bitter at the beginning of the film, I was coming around near the end: you just can’t take these movies seriously. You’ve got Milla, over the top sci-fi, action, a brisk runtime and an excuse to turn off your brain and just when you thought this would be the final chapter, Anderson can’t help himself by leaving the door open a crack for more.

The Old Guard

2020 | dir: Gina Prince-Bythewood | 125 m

The Old Guard is emblematic of all of the worst tendencies of Netflix original content. It's not that it's complete and utter garbage. At least if it were terrible, it would evoke some kind of emotional response. I would rather a movie made me either love it or hate it. But when a movie forces me into the emotional purgatory of apathy, that's something I refuse to forgive. Like the vast majority of Netflix original movies and TV shows I've seen, The Old Guard is neither great nor terrible, but instead aggressively mediocre and eminently forgettable. Sorry, what was I talking about again? 

Netflix's biggest enemy seems to have been its overnight success as the giant of a media streaming industry that they essentially created. At first, their challenge was how to secure all the licencing and rights to hundreds of thousands of movies. To their credit, they never rested entirely on their laurels, and adapted their business model proactively in anticipation of market trends. Knowing that they couldn't keep the entire pie to themselves forever, especially considering how lucrative that pie was, Netflix began the shift from content distributor to content creator. They suspected, quite rightly, that when other studios and companies saw how successful their business model was, that they would, of course, try to carve up that market like a Christmas turkey. (Full disclosure: I'm not sure if this content just lends itself well to food metaphors or if I happen to be working on this article right before supper.) That would, in turn, mean that a whole lot of content that Netflix previously had access to would, by necessity, be diverted to other streaming services, as a huge part of the value proposition for companies in that space is the exclusivity of their content. Especially for those who saw an increasingly overcrowded market and said to themselves "I want in!", there would be no incentive for customers to either leave Netflix or supplement Netflix's service with their own if all of their content was shared.

Resident Evil: Retribution

 

2012 | dir: Paul W. S. Anderson | 95 m

One thing that the Resident Evil series of films manages to do is end on a cliffhanger, then proceed to just zoom past those events in the next installment, like Paul WS Anderson had an idea of where the Project Alice storyline was going, but ultimately decided to change gears and speed off in another direction. Retribution does pick up where Afterlife left off, with a pretty nice sequence of special effects and action before it decides to do away with story and characters from the previous film, so we have at least a bit more coherence to start out with.

Retribution has Alice (Milla Jovovich) captured and in another underground Umbrella installment where she must battle not only the supercomputer Red Queen, but her old shoot-em-up pal Jill Valentine (clearly not in control and turned evil by the devices from the previous film). The film is bursting with characters from previous films and from the video game (of which I only really recognize Leon Kennedy and Ada Wong); I have to assume their characters are butchered much to the distaste of fans of the games as the ‘named’ characters don’t serve up much purpose other than to fulfill the action requirements of each set piece. We’re a long way off from the survival horror roots here.

While the enjoyable action sequences are the film’s best parts, I can’t fully swallow the complete lack of character development and the dry, basic story. At just ninety-five minutes though, things move along at a nice pace and seeing many returning faces was a pleasant surprise.  

Inception: 10th Anniversary

2010 | dir: Christopher Nolan | 148m

As I slowly approached the theatre, I squinted my eyes to avoid both the relentless brightness of the sun and the light dirt blowing across the parking lot from a harsh midday summer breeze. Looking around me, I saw maybe five, six cars in the vast ocean of pavement and curbs that formed the parking lot for this particular movie house. In front of me, was the vast, inoffensive colour scheme of my local multiplex, adorned by tiny empty poster boards and a sense of doom. I looked about me, expecting a local vagrant to warn me of the dangers within, but while there was nobody to be seen I already knew the dangers that lurked before me. While COVID-19 ravished the entire world, the large multiplex stood as stark monolithic houses of contagion and virulent disaster. You would have to be a fool to sally forth, and while the pandemic was at a lull in my local area, and the virus all but absent, I found myself opening the doors of this familiar-yet-unfamiliar establishment to go see an IMAX screening of Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

As I lathered hand sanitizer between my fingers, I took stock of the entrance of the theatre and questioned my own reality: was this a dream? Choosing Inception as the starting point for a journey back into movie theatres seemed disconcertingly appropriate, but it wasn’t an easy decision to make. I feel fortunate that my city has seen (relatively) very few cases of COVID-19, and have our local health teams and vigilant citizens to thank for that. Quarantining has been easier for me, as I have the benefit of continuing to work from home and enjoy many of my hobbies without interruption – that is, I can continue to watch a lot of movies at home. I haven’t missed the theatre experience, but I suspect that’s because there haven’t been any movies coming out to miss – and the ones that do are released digitally with instant at-home access.

Resident Evil: Afterlife

 

2010 | dir: Paul W. S. Anderson | 97 m

It seems like the previous entry, Extinction, left the series in a bit of a dubious situation: the planet was a barren wasteland, with Umbrella operating from various underground facilities, and Alice found a trove of her clones with a promise of that sweet revenge. I had some reservations as I couldn’t imagine them being able to maintain the “desert” setting throughout three more films, and the idea of replacing groups of survivors with an armada of Milla Jovovich's was borderline silly. Just as I suspected, they scaled back on the level of planetary destruction but doubled down on the clone army in the opening action sequence, which was amusing and ended with Alice potentially losing her abilities. This plot point felt more important at the time than it played out for the duration of the film, as we’re left wondering if she retains her superhuman status, but the film doesn’t really revisit it here; maybe they plan to in a future instalment.

The remainder of Afterlife follows familiar zombie-film territory, where Alice meets up with a group of survivors in a prison tower within wrecked Los Angeles. Surrounded by a sea of zombies, the group still aspires to reach Arcadia which stands as a promise of infection-free safety and paradise. All the usual zombie tropes are present here, but with the added storyline of Umbrella and Alice’s journey, although those feel more bolted on, acting as action bookends to a well-tread genre film. Those “lore” bits feel less impactful this time around than the previous entries, and I’m reminded of a serialized television show that advances the season-long story arc by inches every episode and distracts us with filler for the rest of the runtime.

That’s not to say the action and set pieces are boring: with Paul WS Anderson back in the director’s chair, we’re treated to a gratuitous amount of slow-motion and it’s evident that the scenes were filmed with 3D in mind. Although Milla and the rest of the cast look like they are having a blast with these action sequences, they are entertaining at the expense of a lackluster story. Afterlife is so far the weakest of the sequels for me.

Daredevil

2003 | dir: Mark Steven Johnson | 103 m

February 14, 2003: what better day to release a superhero film about a blind, masked vigilante upon the masses, and indeed, what better day for myself and two friends to line up an hour before the box office opens to secure our tickets? I swear, I didn’t have to blackmail them or anything, they just played along! While I’m sure there was some coercion involved, the fact of that matter is that there would be no pity party involved on this Valentine’s Day, and all that would remain is unabashed excitement for the latest Marvel superhero film. Well, from myself at least, probably not so much the other guys. Following hot on the heels of Spider-Man in 2002 and X-Men the year before, it’s easy to see how anyone with a familiarity with these characters would be excited for any of the Marvel films at this time: around the corner we were getting X2 and Hulk, all in one year! 

Unfortunately, that excitement was quickly dashed, as the three of us walked out of the theatre quietly, at which point a wall of denial had built itself within my head and yes, I had decided that I had enjoyed the film. Even revisiting the film now, I’m willing to brush aside many of the issues and come up for reasons why things didn’t work, but mostly, I would just focus on what did work. As I tried to take notes on this viewing, I gave up quickly and threw myself into despair as I came to terms that Daredevil just wasn’t very good. Are there worst Marvel films? Most definitely. 

Resident Evil: Extinction

 

2007 | dir: Russell Mulcahy | 94 m

The third entry in the Resident Evil series surprised me with its quality and coherent, consistent story. I guess that’s not saying entirely too much as the bar was set a bit lower than I had thought in Apocalypse, which seemed to suffer from a seemingly necessary requirement to instill Alice’s continuing story into an adaptation of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. Extinction moves entirely out on its own; although I recognize Claire Redfield’s name, I must assume that the planet becoming one vast desert strays far off the path of the video game series (it would seem to make Resident Evil 4, which I did play, impossible).

I did laugh at some of the silliness on screen here, but the film seems to embrace itself and is pushed forward with a determined Milla Jovovich and an over-the-top mad scientist played by Iain Glen in a lively performance. In a dip into Mad Max territory, Ali Larter’s Claire Redfield is leading a convoy of survivors in search of a safe refuge; the group is at the peril of the elements, including zombie birds and the Umbrella Corporation, who continue their melodramatic evil plans. The film clips along at a decent pace and I’m invested enough with Alice now that I overlook the silly idea that within five years, the entire planet is a wasteland: I would be surprised if this is reversed for the rest of the film series and that Paul WS Anderson just needed an excuse to put a decayed Las Vegas on screen. That being said, the setting actually works for me and the story of this film and I'm impressed that we've actually gotten a variety of settings in each entry. Starting with the first film's claustrophobic halls and rooms, to the dark and grimy city blocks of Apocalypse, to now a bright, sunny wasteland. The finale lacks a bit of punch and is ultimately the most disappointing aspect for me, although I still find enjoyment on the series revisiting a major set-piece of the first film and more of Iain Glen's Dr. Isaacs is never a bad thing. Hopefully the series continues to embrace itself but introduces some originality to the action and set pieces.

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