| dir: Russell Mulcahy
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.
| dir: Alexander Witt
With just a brief two years between the first and this sequel, Apocalypse picks up where the cliffhanger ending of Resident Evil left off – for the most part: we’re treated to a recap of the first films events before the action gets started. The story follows a couple of groups of STARS soldiers (Special Tactics and Rescue Service) as they find themselves trapped in virus and zombie infected Raccoon city. Umbrella Corporation has also sealed the cities borders and unleashed another genetic experiment in the form of Nemesis upon any survivors, for no other reason than to see how it performs before wiping the city off the map with an atom bomb. It seemed a bit crazy to me that the city could suffer as much as it did within the thirteen hour time jump we got at the beginning of the film, but I’ll look past that as I suspect this evil corporation to be taking advantage of the situation and artificially spreading the virus just for the sake of being evil. It seems a bit ludicrous that one company could get away with running an entire town like this without government intervention but alas, here we are. It doesn’t help that I recognize the skyline of Toronto as a stand in for the doomed city and my knowledge of the area had me questioning how effective a physical quarantine could be, but it was easy to move on and get lost in the films other failings.
The biggest failing seemed to be the structure of the film: it felt like we had a decent adaptation of the 1999 video game Resident Evil 3: Nemesis but had to find a way to fit Milla Jovovich’s Alice into the story. Well, they didn’t try very hard, and the action sequences that focused on Jill Valentine and her survivors were interrupted and resolved by inexplicable appearances by Alice. The film is less of a survival horror than it is a mystery on what Alice has become, and there’s just a road of unfortunate side characters that get in the way. When the film went beyond the natural ending to focus entirely on Alice, I found myself looking at the runtime to see if I was in for another climax and act in the film, and I assumed as such considering we were only ninety minutes in. As it turns out, the lengthy sequence was just continued setup of the series’ mythology and next installment.
| dir: Baltasar Kormákur
Everest wound up being an incredibly refreshing breath of cinematic fresh air I didn't know I needed. After recently watching some pretty heavy films like Hereditary and Midsommar, Everest was exactly what I needed to clear my palate. It didn't necessarily rise to the top of my all-time favourite movies, but there was something refreshingly earnest about its approach to the disaster movie genre. There were no explosions, natural disasters, evil corporations, or any human antagonists of any variety. Everest simply tells (or tells simply) the story of a disastrous expedition to the summit of the most famous mountain in the world, the highest point on earth at the top of Mount Everest. Up until things go completely sideways - which because this is based on a true story, the audience is expecting the other shoe to drop at some point - proceedings seem to be going quite swimmingly. Which tends to be the way things seem until they don't, I suppose, and the movie does an excellent job at conveying this sense of normalcy. I hesitate to say Everest fosters a sense of complacency, because a huge part of conflict of the film comes from the well-intentioned though ultimately disastrous misprioritizing of other concerns over safety and not a disregard of safety entirely.
The movie does give a sense of how mundane the scaling of Mount Everest seems to have become, in the sense that climbing the famous mountain has been corporatized to a large extent, with a cottage industry of climbing/adventuring companies apparently regularly trekking to the peak with groups of climbers of varying degrees of experience. The impression I got from the movie was that Mount Everest had effectively been franchised and divvied up among these different companies to the point that I couldn't help but immediately think of corporations like McDonalds or Starbucks. I was actually kind of surprised - and a little disappointed - that they didn't at least flash a Starbucks coffee cup or a Big Mac wrapper just to really drive the point home. There was a clear thematic underpinning of the classic clash between the civilized and natural realms, shown through a clearly modern lens where the corporate, ultra-capitalistic gaze sees the world only in terms of what can be bought, sold, commoditized, and/or consumed. It's not even necessarily that the small companies leading groups of tourists to the top of Mount Everest where directly part of that corporate culture, but that the programming from the corporate machine has worked its way into the social source code.
| dir: Paul WS Anderson
I was roughly fifteen years old when the first Resident Evil game appeared on the Playstation and feeding off the hype of a heavy diet of gaming magazines, I was quick to run out and rent the title to see what the fuss was all about. This wasn’t my introduction to survival horror – that had come in Alone in the Dark on the PC – but it was a giant leap forward and ultimately, not a game that I could really get into. I ignored the first three games but absolutely fell in love with the fourth title, which served as a retooling of the series with the advent of an entirely new gameplay structure and embracing more of the shooter aspect of survival horror. With that being said, I can’t pretend to know anything about the series, including any of the characters or the lore of the world that’s been built up for so long. I approach these films as a bit of an outsider, but my gamer roots and knowledge are not entirely forgotten.
Resident Evil has seen live action films over the course of fourteen years, which I find astounding and I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t remember which ones I’ve seen. Are they that forgettable? On the other hand, Paul WS Anderson and Mila Jovovich have been involved with each film, which must say something (even if it’s just that the films remain profitable).
With a tiny bit of trepidation in revisiting the first Resident Evil movie, I never thought that my main gripe with the film – eighteen years later – would be the film’s soundtrack of heavy rock and metal. While the music and score fit the film just fine, I’ve found my musical tastes have strayed quite far from the genre and served as a firm reminder of the year this film came out. I never minded this entry in the series and have typically regarded it as the best of the bunch: I like the tight corridors and claustrophobic rooms as a setting for being terrorized by not only a group of zombies, but a genetic monstrosity that acts with unflinching motivation. Knowing our group is stuck hundreds of feet underground only adds to the tension: there’s no easy escape.
There’s more silliness in the film than I had remembered, including the flashbacks and much of the dialog, but the story is simple and the action scenes good enough that I walked away feeling satisfied. Without being close to the original games, I won’t pretend to pass judgement on the quality of the adaptation, but I must see this as a victory for “video game movies” in general. What other video game series of films have seen so many sequels?
| dir: Gerard Johnstone
After seeing Housebound brought up briefly in a discussion thread, I headed immediately into the movie with entirely way too much expectation. As it stands, anything I've seen out of New Zealand in this horror/comedy genre has been top notch, so it seems like the film was destined to disappoint, which is entirely on me. Housebound is pretty simple in premise, but in practice is a nicely layered film. We follow Kylie Bucknell facing house arrest and serving that time at her mother's house which, conveniently enough, is haunted. Kylie is a difficult character to like at the beginning, and her path seems practically predestined from the beginning, which led me to believe the film would lean heavily into the comedic horror of the genre classification tags. As it is, the first half the film succeeds in being pretty creepy, but also such a slow moving film that I found myself checking the runtime and wondering to myself what I've gotten myself into. There are jump scares that felt out of place to my expectations, and more in line with a traditional fright feature, but felt out of place with a cast of amusingly idiosyncratic characters. Resisting the urge to start browsing my phone, I persevered and was rewarded with a wild theatrical third act that disarranged my previous expectations with some clever chaos, plot twists and ultimately a satisfying finish for our criminal friend. It's a testament to heading into a film with expectations in check, something that I failed to do for Housebound and regret: I'm able to look back and properly appreciate the cast of characters, some truly good humour and some incredible suspense with frightening scenes that bests many genre films.
3.5 / 5
| dir: Max Barbakow
For someone who grew up idolizing Groundhog Day, I had a hefty built-in nostalgia-fueled skepticism of a modern time loop film that could do anything truly innovative or unique with the genre. Palm Springs upends my pessimistic attitude and blew me away: from the moment I saw the trailer a few weeks ago, through watching the film to the mid-credits stinger, I was completely hooked on this time defying romantic comedy. With a stellar script by Andy Siara, Palm Springs follows Nyles (Andy Samberg) and Sarah (Cristin Milioti) as they are seemingly stuck reliving the same day over, and over, and over again. While that seems like familiar territory, the film elevates itself above being a simple clone or rip-off with some fantastic characters and gigantic heart, as well as an acute self-awareness. Indeed, I felt like the film was speaking directly to me – a viewer who is well familiar with the Groundhog Day time loop trope – and indulging in all the meta-topics that friends would discuss about various ramifications of the time-loop mechanic that was established nearly thirty years later.
Such a good script wouldn’t have resulted in such an engaging film without the chemistry of the two leads, and I’m happy to see that Samberg and Milioti bounce off one another brilliantly. I’m liking Samberg in pretty much everything he does, which for some (unfair) reason surprises me with every turn. I restarted watching Saturday Night Live for The Lonely Island’s contributions, and I thoroughly enjoyed 2016’s Popstar. He’s proving himself as a dynamic comedic talent continuously with Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I fell in love with Milioti in The Wolf of Wall Street and her various appearances in great television like Fargo and the more recent Mythic Quest (and I guess How I Met Your Mother). It’s impossible to not get lost in those eyes. Their characters are interesting, layered and sympathetic. I would go into a few examples but wouldn’t want to spoil any moments of the film; it’s pretty short at just ninety minutes and with that kind of runtime, there’s very little waste to be seen on screen, which should make revisiting the film that much more appealing.
I’m very much looking forward to seeing what this group will bring next. 4.5 / 5
| dir: Jon Favreau
What better way to start a new series of posts about Marvel movies than the film that launched an entire cinematic universe and arguably changed the landscape of the modern blockbuster. That film is 2008’s Iron Man, starring a pretty stellar cast led by Robert Downey Jr, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow and Terrance Howard all directed by Jon Favreau in one of the best superhero origin films we’ve ever seen. While you can credit the film for launching the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the film doesn’t focus on that future groundwork and is stronger for it. I can’t imagine that idea being anything but a dream at that point with just a tiny sprinkling of this universe building present in the movie (and of course the juicy post-credits scene). Instead, the film excels because it’s so tightly focused on giving us a grounded origin of an iconic, interesting character and utilizing the talented crew and actors to provide a film with broad appeal that executes blending together an incredible concoction of action, humour and drama.
| dir: Kinji Fukasaku
Battle Royale is perhaps the best film about teenagers killing each other for sport ever made. Granted, that's a pretty small pool of movies. Or at least, I hope it is. Normally, I would do a Google search for this kind of thing, but with my browser history the way it is, searching for "movies about children killing each other" might just be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel's back and earns me an impromptu visit from the FBI in the middle of the night. Originally released in 2000, it would take another twelve years for Battle Royale to be released in North America, likely owing more to discussions over film rights than the more romantic notion of the film being banned because it was so provocative and powerful. Battle Royale is both provocative and powerful, but it definitely did not unite world governments to spend any amount of time and effort to actively ban its distribution en masse. This decision is much to their own detriment, however, as Battle Royale is also a truly subversive film, calling into question the shifting nature of the relationship societies have with their young people, what it means to be both a child and an adult in a modern world, and exactly what is the nature and power of the social bonds between human beings. It also calls into question the amount of blood contained in the human body, because if the characters in this movie are any indication, we are essentially walking balloons filled to the breaking point with blood ready to be popped.