Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010 – Paul W. S. Anderson)

With his return to the franchise, Paul W. S. Anderson sought for the first time in his career to create a distinct visual identity.  Always a competent director, one who worked very much in the classical composition and beautiful photographed production design in the tradition of Ridley Scott, Anderson imposed a defiantly elegiac note to his film.  Action sequences were continuous; they focussed less on verisimilitude and more on creating striking visual images.  There is a moment where Alice swings through the air on a rope; its patently ridiculous, and honestly, a little bit naff to look at.  But it is distinct, and captures a vision of heroism that the character embodies, and it is memorable.  Few action directors are capable of one of these traits in a shot; to incorporate all three is a real achievement.

There is always a sense of delight when the hopeful ending of one instalment in a franchise is undermined by the despotic start to the next entry.  Here, the series transforms itself into a base-under-siege narrative.  Always good value for claustrophobic action sequences and panicked turn-of-events, the well-defined location almost perversely gives a sense of epic scale to proceedings.  The regular use of CGI allows for an enormity (both senses of the word) to the action; there is a moment where our protagonists’ building is revealed to be surrounded by masses of zombies.  They stagger around like ears of wheat waving in the wind.  It is quite beautiful.  Similarly, the zombie become enhanced; now their humanity is abandoned and they become a ravenous squid like monstrosity.  As the series moves further into its exploration of cloning, it denies us any form of humanity.

With its striking imagery and intense narrative, Afterlife marks itself as a high point of the series, a series that is truly embracing its genre heritage.  Watching the villain of the piece, I was struck by how much he looked like a white ‘Blade’.  Why aren’t there scuzzy superhero movies?  Why does every entry in that genre have to be prestigious?  The Resident Evil franchise prides itself on its commitment to pleasure.  There is no time wasted in needless character backstory; motives become defined by action.  Even its central protagonist – a clone of a clone of a clone – becomes heroic solely through her willingness to protect the vulnerable and ability to defend them against evil.  The purity of this, combined with the thrill of genuinely impacting action sequences, ensure that watching these films is an absolute pleasure.  I once described watching The Avengers (2012 – Joss Whedon) as being like having McDonalds for dinner; it was tasty at the time, but you were hungry half-an-hour later.  Well, Resident Evil: Afterlife isn’t a McDonalds… it’s more of a hotdog.  You’re not quite comfortable with what went into the product, but it hit the spot.

Resident Evil rankings:

 

  1. Resident Evil: Afterlife
  2. Resident Evil: Extinction
  3. Resident Evil
  4. Resident Evil: Apocalypse

Resident Evil: Extinction (2007 – Russell Mulcahy)

There is conscious effort within this series to ensure that every film ‘feels’ different.  From a sci-fi action adventure, to a more traditional horror movie, this third film takes on the sensibility of a post-apocalyptic terror.  The film drips with an antipodean sentiment; it is heavily in the Mad Max (1979 – George Miller) tradition.  The series really starts to deal with the consequences of the world they’ve built.  Society has broken down, and human beings function on a survival instinct that modernity had long suppressed.  For the first time the series becomes about landscapes; bleak, oppressively hot environments.  Environments that make you thirsty even looking at them.  This movie is presenting a life of grime and hunger and tenacity.  It’s shattering to watch.

Visually, the settings have ensured that the colour scheme of each film is distinct.  The stark whites of the first instalment transformed into the deathly black-blues of the sequel.  This film is a riot of blown-out yellows, yellows that infrastructure and urbanisation have sought to obliterate.  They remain a powerful reminder of an almost reverse scenario of terraforming; no longer as a species do we have the ability to transform the landscape.  Now it transforms us.  The humans in the picture become sedimentary; their skin is blistered and burnt in the oppressive sun.  As a species there is less and less aesthetically distinguishing them from the zombie hoards.

If the zombies represent some of the basest instincts in humanity, then the survival drive narrows the gap even further.  Morality is a tenuous concept in a dystopian world.  In addition, the series begins to remove Mila Jovovich’s Alice further away from a sense of humanity.  Here she is worse than cattle; a cloned experiment birthed solely for the potential to cure an incurable disease.  Is she less human than the zombies?  For they were at least human once… The ethics of making such a convincing simulacra are shaky, but through her empathy and determination, she reveals herself to be more human, more real, than the nominally human supporting cast.  She is the only spark of life left within the brutality of existence.

  • This film features one of the most engaging openings to any movies I’ve seen, as Alice wakes up and replays the opening of the first film. However, here she discovers discarded cloned versions of herself, discarded into rotting piles of flesh.  Outside these piles, swarm thousands of ravenous zombies, all desperate for the opportunity to feast upon herself.  It introduces us to the uncertainty of the film, where there will be no easily identifiable protagonist to guide us through the narrative.
  • Easily the most horrifying image of these films are the disgusting blood-stained dogs that feature in every instalment. They are genuinely unsettling.

Resident Evil rankings:

 

  1. Resident Evil: Extinction
  2. Resident Evil
  3. Resident Evil: Apocalypse

Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004 – Alexander Witt)

Twice in the last twelve months have my energy bills gone up, and this is with no significant change in oil wholesale prices.  I moan about this, because it highlights the cruelty corporations will inflict upon working people in order to make profit for its major shareholders.  Housing is not a luxury; it is a necessity.  The fact that this necessity is exploited, and that individuals rarely even complain or resist such exploitation, is significant.  Most people choose to blame society’s ills upon those people living off benefits.  It strikes me that we have lost a degree of humanity when we choose to attack another human being rather than a faceless corporation.  It’s an argument that not all people appreciate at the photocopier at 8:30am on a Monday morning…

Resident Evil: Apocalypse pushes the insidious Umbrella Corporation to the forefront; they are clearly responsible for monetarising healthcare and denying ordinary civilians health, security and justice.  As such, the zombies become positioned as easy targets – they are people, nominally like us, yet different in small, but significant, ways.  George Romero’s greatest strength in his zombie films, particularly in the abandoned second trilogy that began in Diary of the Dead (2007), was to accept that the zombies were a unique lifeform in and of themselves.  He began to explore the consequences of humanity sharing this planet with another lifeform, albeit one that was predatory.  There is little such exploration in the Resident Evil films, the series instead choosing to present a streaming mass of villains, as a hostile ‘other’.  They become the ignorance of man; our inability to understand the ‘other’ and subsequently treat them as fodder.

Apocalypse moves away from the sterile, almost futuristic laboratory setting of the first film and into more traditional landscapes.  This is a horror/action picture set in abandoned churches and schools and graveyards.  It is a safer terrain; a less intimidating aesthetic to an audience primed on an endless stream of horror movies.  There are a few nods made to the videogame origins of the series – such as some fairly pedestrian first-person visuals – but largely, this is a fairly standard piece of genre filmmaking.  It lacks the visual strangeness that Paul W. S. Anderson brought to his instalment.

  • At this point the series begins to position Milla Jovovich as iconic. From now on, the franchise will take every opportunity to show her, legs astride, arms locked out in front, two pistols in hand.
  • Frustratingly, this film has more tedious endings that The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003 – Peter Jackson).

Resident Evil rankings:

 

  1. Resident Evil
  2. Resident Evil: Apocalypse

Resident Evil (2002 – Paul W. S. Anderson)

I’ve never owned a games console.  And really, apart from some vague memories of Vice City and multi-player Halo from my first year at university, I can’t really remember a time when computer games had any kind of impact upon my life.  It’s not that I don’t find them appealing.  If anything, I find them too appealing, and I am just self-aware enough to realise that if I bought a MegaDrive or whatever, entire evenings would be wasted in front of it. (This logic does not extend to watching black and white Italian movies.)

Which is to say that there are aspects of this film – boss-level baddies, relentless hordes of zombies to mow down – that I recognise, but have no affection for.  Like videogames, there is an ease with which these films employ gunfire; there is rare consideration given to the number of bullets than can be held in a clip.  At one point, a computer within the narrative demands murder, and that seems to be the point of these movies – that at a certain point, the level of unreality we are exposed to dehumanises ourselves.

It’s been acknowledged that the anger we feel towards other drivers largely stems from the fact that we can’t recognise apologetic facial expressions in our fellow drivers.  Whilst we know that another human being is driving the vehicle, we don’t always appreciate this.  Similarly, the bile that is spewed on the internet seems to derive from an inability to recognise avatars and handles as aspects of humanity.  Much of the modern world, with its endless stream of misinformation, seems designed to prevent us from recognising the common decency in others.

Resident Evil plays upon this symptom of modern, interactive life.  Computer games allow us to find murder easy.  I have a friend who trains armed police officers – when he is sent on training exercises he says they feel like heightened rounds of Quasar.  They seem designed to prevent us recognising that the figure at the end of the barrel is another soul, as equal to our own.  There are studies (that are somewhat disputed) that talk about how soldiers would often fire above their enemies’ heads in earlier conflicts, such as WWII, such that it was that they recognised their enemy as another human.  It is a feature that is disappearing in modern warfare, and whilst this may be due to the difference between conscripted and enlisted warriors, perhaps the ubiquity of computer games allow us to pull that trigger easier.

Zombies represent the ultimate fantasy of this trigger-happy approach to warfare.  There can be no guilt, no shame, in murdering a zombie.  They have only the appearance of humanity.  It is only a superficial masquerade; they are driven by an insatiable appetite.  They are all-consuming.  All they great monsters represent our most potent sins; vampires are lust, Godzilla is wrath and zombies are gluttony.  At this point, Anderson is not dwelling on driving that point home.  His use of zombies represent no great metaphor in the way that George Romero employed them.  There is no consideration that they were once a human, or that they may be an entirely new species, one that unfortunately feeds om human flesh.  But as a representation of some of our basest instincts, the wilful destruction of them is an act of self-loathing.  It is a destruction of the mirror that we avoid looking in; our furious, selfish appetite for meat.

  • There is some fairly cheap CGI employed within the film. It’s an easy thing to mock, but it’s at the point now where we have to forgive the limits of this technology in the way we forgive matte paintings and model shots.  At least here, the CGI is used to present images that could not be completed in any other medium.
  • Anderson employs every trick in the book to get the scares out of the audience. There are false scares where animals jump out and clanging noises in the background employed on several occasions.
  • The film very much operates on a puzzle logic – at times it feels like those irritating side-puzzles in a computer game where you have to unlock a door or something. It is a film where they aim is to escape, rather than survive.
  • The highlight of the film is undoubtedly Michelle Rodriguez’ performance – a terrifyingly compelling actress who I adore in every film I see her in… and who, because of the vagrancies of her work, I have absolutely no desire to explore her back catalogue.

Resident Evil rankings:

 

  1. Resident Evil

Films seen July

Baby Driver (2017 – Edgar Wright)

 

One of those films that gets inordinately over-praised because it is an ‘original idea’, Baby Driver had a few decent car chases (but don’t get carried away – these weren’t anything special) and a jukebox, almost musical, feel to the soundtrack.  But aside from Jamie Foxx, the film struggled to find a single decent, engaging performance.  Kevin Spacey sleep-walked, John Hamm was woefully out-of-his-depth (the man is little more than a small-screen actor) and Lily James took a role that could have been performed by any one of the attractive, capable performers that flood into Hollywood.  But most egregious was the central performance from… christ, I can’t remember his name.  And I am tempted to google it – as I have been tempted to research as to why exactly he was foisted upon us, given that I have never seen him before (is he on telly or something?) – but I can’t find the willpower, given how irritating his performance was.  Much is made out of the fact that ‘Baby’ doesn’t talk much, but the reality of the film was that he wouldn’t shut up.  His performance was needy and inhuman, so committed was he to dancing and prancing and posing in any conceivable situation.

In short; there was a much better film here if only there had been a decent cast.

 

Seen on a large screen at the Bluewater Showcase.  Ticket cost £11 or so.

 

 

Song to Song (2017 – Terrence Malick)

 

In the UK this film has only been released for a two-week engagement on one solitary screen in London… so of course I went to see it.

By now, the critics have turned on Malick, and with the same level of predictability, a few lone voices have rushed to his defence.  Both groups are as frustrating as the other, because this was a moderately engaging film that seemed to explore two ideas with a degree of inscrutable intensity.  Firstly, that it takes an awful long time to figure out who you are, what your values are, and how you want to live in the modern world.  And that secondly, during this process of figuring yourself out, you will make some compromises that you will live to regret.

Now, neither of those ideas are particularly earth-shattering.  Nor are they permissible by those who see themselves surrounded by a generation of fecklessly indulgent millennials getting very passionate about various meaningless ideals (foremost of which are their own identities.  Second of which is Buffy feminist?).  But they are truthful (if not particularly honest) ideas, and this film, clearly suffering from Malick’s usual affectations, excavated them within a non-linear, but easily pieced together, narrative.  I liked it.

(Plus, I took the day off work to see it, and movies are always better when you are playing truant.)

 

Seen on the upstairs screen at the Prince Charles.  Ticket cost £4.50.

 

 

The Road Warrior (1981 – George Miller)

 

There’s only so much exploitation I can handle in my life, and Ozploitation can’t quite reach the upper echelons of my interest.  I think it’s something to do with the insincerity of the accent.  But this sequel becomes something radiant; a sweaty, almost impossible car chase that is littered with leaking petroleum and mangled carburettors.  It presents the utter hopelessness of dystopia; where the last remaining semblances of dignity and compassion have been abandoned, and only the survival instinct remains.

Seen on the downstairs screen at the Prince Charles.  Ticket cost about £8.50.  35mm screening – a lovely print (that called it Mad Max 2)

 

 

The Warriors (1979 – Walter Hill)

 

Wonderful to see, not least because I’d only ever seen Walter Hill’s very silly director’s cut before.  The heightened horror of New York City felt more and more perverse on the big screen… though I can’t help but feel that the ending just comes out of nowhere.  It almost feels like the budget just ran out at some point.  It doesn’t hold the same passion for me as some of Hill’s contemporaneous works, but it was still a delightful hour-and-a-half.

 

Seen immediately after the above on the downstairs screen at the Prince Charles.  Ticket cost £8.50, though why this wasn’t a double bill, I don’t know.  35mm screening and a lovely print.

 

 

The Beguiled (2017 – Sofia Coppola)

 

I had, rather shamefully, put an awful lot of hope into this film, such was my mealy-minded dismissal of some of the sexual politics at play in Don Seigel’s version of the same film.  But those criticisms (available here) were shallow in their thinking, and susceptible to the quick condemnation of art that plagues my generation.

Because those hopes were ultimately misguided.  This was a beautiful film, and full of some rich performances, but it was a superficial affair.  Coppola displayed little inclination to examine any of the sexual (or indeed, racial) politics that are inherent to the set-up.  Moments of heighted tension in the original film, such as the visit from the confederate soldiers and the destruction of the tortoise, seemed limp and lacklustre in this version.  A beautiful waste.

 

Seen on one of the small, but still bigger than most, screens at the Bluewater Showcase.  Ticket cost £9.

 

 

Dune (1984 – David Lynch)

 

You’re struck by just how fully realised the world the Lynch created on screen.  It may be a little ridiculous in places, but you never feel that any performance or detail of set design is drawing attention to the unreality of it all.  Everyone is fully committed to the world; a world that is clearly as much of a nightmare as the one presented in Eraserhead (1977 – David Lynch).  This is not true of most science-fiction.  These kinds of stories rely on an almost biblical sense of prophecy and world-building, and Dune is no exception.  So much time is spent establishing the messianic journey of Paul Atreides, that his ultimate fulfilment of his potential seems a little rushed.  It’s a film that makes you pine for a series of increasingly desperate sequels.

 

Seen on the downstairs screen at the Prince Charles.  Ticket cost £11.  70mm screening!

 

 

Eyes Wide Shut (1999 – Stanley Kubrick)

 

I was very hungover when I saw this.

(Which is to say that it remains my favourite Kubrick, but the uncomfortable exploration of sexual desire that haunts this film was lost on me as I fell asleep on several occasions whilst watching the film.  What I will say is that the quickly issued dismissals of certain affected aspects of Kubrick’s style, such as his use of rear projection, were almost unnoticeable when viewed on a big screen from a celluloid projection.  It’s one of those many instances where the clarity of home viewing, and the easily accessible pause button, do no favours to a film.)

 

Seen on the downstairs screen at the Prince Charles.  Ticket cost £8 or so.  35mm screening – lovely print.

 

 

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017 – Matt Reeves)

 

Planet = good

Beneath = brilliant lunacy

Escape = bit dull

Conquest = oooh, this is really quite good

Battle = yawn

Planet = affection for, given this is the first one I saw in the cinema

Rise = much, much better than it deserved to be

Dawn = awful hideous mess

And now War which was pretty decent, but no matter how good the CGI gets, and no matter how manipulative the plots of these movies are, I can’t help but get distracted by the fact that I am watching a bunch of cartoon monkeys on screen.  I suppose that at the end of the day I am going to root for a drunk, malicious Woody Harrelson over a bunch of anthropomorphic pixels.  He’s a better special effect at the end of the day.

 

Seen on a medium-sized screen at the Bluewater Showcase.  Ticket cost 6.50.

 

 

My Cousin Rachel (2017 – Roger Michell)

Another film dampened by a particularly wet performance – this time from some overpromoted posh boy actor (whose name is also not worth looking up) – who struggles to bring any shade to his character.  This is all that more pathetic when you consider that he essentially wants to sleep with his mum.  It is the weakness of the film that his character is placed at its centre, when the interesting person is Rachel Weisz’s eponymous cousin Rachel.  Indeed, Roger Michell’s (an above average director who always includes at least one breath-taking sequence in each of his films) direction only comes to life when she is on the screen.  Beyond that, the film is little more than the extreme competence of mumbling yokels and lavish production design that comes with any British costume drama.

 

Seen on the small, but adequate screen at the Panton St. Odeon.  Ticket cost £6.50.

 

 

Unstoppable (2010 – Tony Scott)

 

I just get really sad when I see a Tony Scott film.  Because it just breaks my heart that I’ll never have a new one to see.  He was (and is) my absolute favourite director, and…  it’s really difficult to get this down.

Like, I accept that there will be a lot of art that I will never get on top of.  I will never read all the books that I should read, or want to read.  I get that there will be James Bond films made long after I die, and therefore, there will be Bond films I don’t get to see.  But Tony Scott is finished.  His work is accomplished.  And there is part of me that desperately wants it to be unmanageable.

Because Unstoppable was so full of life and so focussed that you feel things would have started to turn around for him.  The critical establishment (which had been very sniffy about the last decade of his work) would have been presented with a series of deliberate, spectacular thrillers.  It felt like we were just about to enter a new phase of his work, that would have been as distinct as his 2000s work was from his nineties work.

The painterly exploration of image and editing had been mastered.  And what strikes you when you see these films on the screen is how controlled the shots he uses are.  He’s not cut-cut-cutting in that way that we simplify his style to; instead he only brings in the multiple camera presentation at moments of high tension, where he uses them to draw out the suspense and prolong the nervousness we feel whilst we watch the spectacle on screen.

And the film contains everything we love about him.  The texture of celluloid.  The verisimilitude of exact details within the production design and script.  The dedication to practical effects.  The central performance of such charm and charisma from Denzel Washington.  It makes you wonder how some films still manage to be good without any of those ingredients.

Unstoppable is Scott’s exploration of how competence is something essential that we don’t value enough.  We’re all looking for people with flair, but the reality is that it is the people who can get the job done, without fuss or arrogance, are the ones who ultimately prove to be exceptional.

Seeing this film made me go home and watch several other Tony Scott movies.  Hell, I watched Man on Fire (2004) twice in two days.  It’s that good.  He was that good.

And god, I miss him.

 

Seen at the NFT screen 1 at the BFI Southbank.  Ticket cost £8.  35mm screening – beautiful print.