| dir: Paul W. S. Anderson
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.
| dir: Mark Steven Johnson
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.
| 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: 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.