Monthly Archives: October 2019

Nightwing (1979)

*. You’ll often see Nightwing described as one of a sub-genre of horror films about nature biting back. What got the ball really rolling for these “when animals attack” movies was the success of Jaws, which came out in 1975. Martin Ransohoff, producer of Nightwing, said he wanted it to be “Jaws with wings.” That’s not quite what he got.
*. I’d like to say it’s at least an interesting idea, poorly executed, but in fact it’s a really stupid idea. The basic premise, that there’s this giant colony of vampire bats living in a cave out in the deserts of New Mexico, is so far-fetched that even scientist Phillip Payne (David Warner) has trouble selling anyone on it. The way the bats attack also seems sketchy. As I understand it, vampire bats usually just sidle up to sleeping animals and drink some of their blood surreptitiously.
*. Making matters even whackier is the way that the bats, who are also infected with bubonic plague, have apparently been summoned by a Native medicine man to protect his tribe’s sacred places. So in order to defeat the bats our hero Youngman Duran (Nick Mancuso) has to consume the root of a psychotropic plant and receive visions from his ancestors. So yes, it is a stupid idea.
*. Actually, Nightwing can be further pigeonholed as a particular type of angry animal movie, mixing ecological concerns (an oil company is trying to develop the sacred lands) with Indigenous mysticism. Other films we might lump it together with include Prophecy and Wolfen. They are all very silly.
*. Still, it might have worked. It might have been good, stupid fun. Or at least given us a memorable moment like the exploding sleeping bag in Prophecy, or an interesting hook like the wolfvision stuff in Wolfen. Unfortunately, Nightwing is mostly just dull.

*. A lot of the blame lies on the odd choice of director. As Channel 4 remarked, putting Arthur Hiller in charge “is the most interesting thing about the project. A filmmaker who has made a speciality of showing reverence for platitudes has no jurisdiction over a piece of schlock nonsense about bat-killers in the Arizona desert.”
*. This was Hiller’s only horror movie and he clearly had no feel for the material. Oddly enough, this is something else Nightwing shares with the other movies I mentioned, as Prophecy was directed by John Frankenheimer and Wolfen by Michael Wadleigh. Frankenheimer I can sort of see, but even he was slumming it. The others were real stretches.
*. The bat attacks (and there is really only the one attack scene, along with some shots of the bats flying around at the end) have dated badly. Today we’d do such work with CGI, and it would look better. But even in 1979 I think the effects here would have been considered primitive. To make the obvious comparison, they’re nowhere near what Hitchcock did in The Birds.
*. The movie’s lone bright spot is David Warner as the Ahab/Quint figure, “one of the five acknowledged experts in the world” in tracking and exterminating vampire bats. You don’t even have to pay him to go after the colony. It’s just what he does. I was expecting him to give some speech at the end where he’d say how vampire bats killed his family and he’s been on a quest for vengeance ever since, but it’s actually simpler than that. “I kill them because they’re the quintessence of evil,” he says. “For me nothing else exists! The destruction of vampire bats is what I live for. ”
*. Given how loony the plot starts to get, the cheesy special effects, and Warner’s turn as a baticidal zealot, Nightwing should be a lot more enjoyable. Instead it’s been largely forgotten, and for good reason. It still has some moments of charm, like Mancuso turning up his truck’s car radio when Crystal Gayle’s “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” comes on, but in the end it’s mainly just a silly and uninteresting mess.

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

*. The end of the line. Or the culmination of a 22-movie serial called The Infinity Saga. For the record, I’ve only seen maybe half of the preceding instalments. Everyone has their limits.
*. As you would expect from a franchise that has always and only been about going big, Endgame became the highest-grossing film of all time while offering up a full three hours of star-studded, effects-laden action. Or mostly action. The first half is pretty slow, to be honest.
*. But does Endgame mark the end of the line for the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Obviously not. Disney/Marvel only announced it as the end (give or take Spider-Man: Far From Home) of Phase Three. Another slate of offerings was immediately touted. So the attitude taken toward Endgame by most reviewers was to praise the MCU, not to bury it.
*. Of course a lot of people would like to bury it. I’ll even confess to my own bias in that regard. I feel like we passed peak Marvel quite a few years ago. And while I wouldn’t call Endgame boring (which is actually quite an achievement), I would call it heavy, and not in a good way.
*. After Thanos’s purge of half the universe, which took place at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, the world has not turned into the happy domain of sunshine and rainbows that he was aiming for. Actually, we’re not told how things are working out, aside from the glimpses we get of mountains of garbage lying in the street. I guess those jobs were hard to fill even with a huge manpower shortage. Everyone seems to just be sitting around feeling and looking glum. Even Captain America is in group therapy. Bummer.
*. Nor is there a lot of wit in the script to keep things going. Brainy Hulk, Young Michael Douglas, and Fat Thor (the last mentioned done up to look like the Dude in The Big Lebowski) get a smile, but there are no good one-liners, even with Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man playing such a prominent role. Instead there’s a liturgy of lines like “Let’s go get this son of a bitch,” “We have to take a stand,” and “This is the fight of our lives and we’re gonna win.”
*. These cues are just inserted to get the audience to cheer. Indeed most of the film plays this way, right down to the end credits with the big-names all signing off with their autographs. So much for irony. I’d like to say Jeremy Renner’s haircut was intended as a joke, but I don’t think it was. We get a couple of group “slow walk” shots that are played straight, and movies have been making fun of those for years. This is a movie that seems to be turning to stone before our eyes. Even the way the cast have a tendency to start to stutter whenever they deliver the more dramatically intense lines plays into this.
*. As with the small things, so with the big. The story here is so much of a retread it made my head hurt. First off they have to undo everything that happened in the previous movie by way of another time-travel plot. But at least this comes with a bit of knowingness, as we’re told that all previous time-travel movies (catalogued by our culturally hip heroes) were bullshit. Though all the hopping about in different timestreams we see happening here doesn’t make any more sense than it ever has.
*. The rest of the story is just your basic treasure hunt, with the team splitting up to collect the different magic Candy Crush stones that will give them the power to reset the universe yet again. As per formula, it all ends with a massive battle royale which feels like a replay of the end of Infinity War. Or the end of Age of Ultron, for that matter. All these big battles look the same to me.
*. Also the same is the moral lesson. Being a real hero is all about (1) self-sacrifice, and (2) being the best “you” that you can be. Well, these are comic books.
*. I don’t think Endgame is a great movie. In fact, I don’t even think it’s particularly good at what it does. Put another way, I can think of a half-dozen other Marvel movies I enjoyed more. If I had to pick a word to describe it I’d go for one provided by Thanos. It’s inevitable. It was inevitable it was going to be this kind of movie, inevitable that it was going to be received in this way, and inevitable that it was going to make a ton of money. This is exactly the movie I think everyone in the audience expected, or at least should have expected. It was inevitable.
*. But have we passed peak Marvel? Or is that just wishful thinking? It’s hard to see where they go from here. I don’t think they can go any bigger, and if all audiences want from Marvel is more of the same, with only slight variations (the “adult” Deadpool, the meta Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse), how are they going to keep it fresh? And at what point are audiences going to decide they’ve had enough?

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

*. Avengers: Infinity War, which is only the first part of a two-part story arc to be completed with Endgame, is itself two-and-a-half hours long. This is impressive in a good and a bad way.
*. The good: it’s amazing how they manage to keep so many balls in the air for so long without having the whole thing fall apart. Credit the simplicity of the basic premise, or what used to be called “high concept.” Thanos (he’s the big, bald, bad guy) has to collect six “infinity stones,” and when he does he will have control of the universe. A first-time dungeonmaster would be laughed out of town for such a hackneyed scenario, but Marvel movies like to stick to the basics.
*. That simple story, though, is also a problem. There’s really nothing much going on here, aside from our gang of heroes doing their thing. Which is to say fighting each other and the usual legions of alien mooks. The infinity stones are a joke. They look cheap and I was never sure if they had specific individual powers. More than that, however, I had to wonder: has there ever been a duller supervillain than Thanos? There may be a sort of inverse law at work here where the more powerful the bad guy is the less interesting he becomes. I mean, if you’re as powerful as Thanos, why does he even bother fighting people? It’s not like he needs the exercise. And what does he get out of all this? A chance to sit on his front porch looking out at green fields for the rest of eternity?
*. His motivation is truly hard to follow. Basically Thanos falls into the category of bad guy, very popular around this time, who is determined to wipe out a bunch of people in order to deal with the problem of overpopulation (Zobrist in Inferno, Dr. Isaacs in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Valentine in Kingsman: The Secret Service). Except instead of doing this on one crowded planet (Earth) he’s going to exterminate half the life in the universe in some random lottery. Are there no uninhabited planets left in the universe? No more room for the universe to grow? No way to terraform currently lifeless planets? I mean, he is God. And when he says destroy half the life in the universe, does he just mean humanoids? Or all life? He seems to like green forests and birdsong. How does he define “life” anyway? These are not idle questions.
*. Being an actor cast in an Marvel Cinematic Universe movie must be like winning the lottery or going to heaven. I’m assuming they all make a lot of money, and for what? Seriously: what did Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson do in this movie aside from stand in front of the camera?
*. I’m not sure there’s much to say about this one. I thought it dragged in the second half, with too much speechifying and lots of operatic moments involving characters whose quips I can smile at but who I otherwise didn’t care about in the slightest. The ginormous cast of stars leaves many of them with little role to play. There were chunks of the plot I couldn’t follow, like what exactly Thor was doing to reignite the forge at Nidavellir. I wonder if even the writers knew.
*. I probably wasn’t as up on the MCU as I should have been to get all of this. I hadn’t seen Captain America: Civil War so I missed Steve Rogers falling out with Tony Stark. But I doubt it made that big a difference. The thing is, this stuff is now our Lord of the Rings, or even our Iliad and Odyssey. Future generations won’t think much of us, but then I suspect they won’t be going back to look at the evidence either. As I’ve said before, I can’t think of any reason to watch these movies twice. I give Marvel credit for putting out a dependable product, but for all their polish this is assembly-line stuff. Which is pure Hollywood, take it or leave it.
*. I mentioned Homer and Tolkien, who both created mythic worlds that in some way reflected or commented upon their particular cultural matrix, expressing the values that their audiences thought important. Does the MCU have any of the same weight? What does the immense popularity of all this (here I wave my hand at the screen) say about us? Aside from Thanos’s crude environmentalist mission (which, as I’ve said, doesn’t make sense), is there any social or political point being made about who we are or what we value? There’s some underlying message about sacrifice, but it remains so general as to be without meaning, at least to me. And yet I assume people do find a deeper meaning in here somewhere, some myth in all the spectacle. These are the most profitable movies ever made. They can’t just be popcorn. Can they?

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

*. Why Kiss Me, Deadly? Note the comma, so I’m talking about the Mickey Spillane novel this film (whose title goes without the comma) is based on.
*. What I mean is, why bother with a book that producer-director Robert Aldrich didn’t seem to much care for, and that screenwriter A. I. Bezerides thought was “awful”? “I wrote it [the script] fast because I had contempt for it,” Bezerides would later say, “It was automatic writing.” Spillane, naturally, hated what Bezerides had done.
*. Were they just making fun of Spillane’s already cartoonish Mike Hammer, using him as a means to parody the crime genre? That may be, since he’s made into an even less likeable character here than he is in the book. He’s more of a heel, pimping out Velda as part of the scam he runs as a “bedroom dick,” and he seems to take more pleasure in dealing out callous punishment, even to the innocent.
*. As if all this weren’t enough, note how big a brickhead Aldrich makes Hammer out to be. As Alex Cox puts it in his video introduction to the Criterion release, where Spillane’s Hammer is violent, thuggish and stupid, Aldrich’s is violent, thuggish, and stupider. Of course, Christina knows, he doesn’t read poetry. But can he even read? Does he need Gabrielle to read that Rossetti poem to him because he can’t? Then there’s the scene where the feline Pat (Wesley Addy) says to him “Now listen, Mike. Listen carefully. I’m going to pronounce a few words. They’re harmless words. Just a bunch of letters scrambled together. But their meaning is very important. Try to understand what they mean.” Presumably Pat knows Mike pretty well, but it’s like he’s talking to a pre-schooler. And the stubbornly dull look on Hammer’s face as he’s being told off by Pat tells quite a story. Does he get it now?

*. Another nice comment on Hammer’s empty head is the fact that when shot up with sodium pentathol he has nothing to say. Of course he doesn’t give the gang any information about the great whatsit because he doesn’t know anything about that yet. But he doesn’t say anything at all. His stream of consciousness is just a dull moan.
*. What makes Hammer’s dullness even more striking, and perhaps significant, are the number of cultured and intelligent people he’s surrounded by. On the commentary track James Ursini adverts to the “intellectual-artistic patina the film has,” while J. Hoberman, in his essay, notes how “the movie unfolds in a deranged cubist space, amid the debris of Western civilization—shards of opera, deserted museums, molls who paraphrase Shakespeare, mad references to Greek mythology and the Old Testament. A nineteenth-century poem furnishes the movie’s major clue.” All of this goes right over Hammer’s head. Is Aldrich getting at something here?
*. Note what Danny Peary says in this regard: “Culture is on the way out as these barbarians [the brutes and gangsters, like Hammer] take over: Trivaco, who sings opera (badly), is beaten; Velda, who practices ballet exercises (badly), is used by the man she loves as if she were a hoooker and he were her pimp; Christina (the most likable character in the film), who appreciates poetry, classical music, and art, is eliminated. Intellectuals (Soberin) are killed, and the fate of the world rests on the shoulders of stupid Gabrielle.” Yes, stupid, sleepy-eyed, butch Gabrielle (Aldrich wanted Gaby Rodgers to play her as a lesbian). And remember, she’s the one Mike gives the book to so that she can read him the poem!

*. So is all this part of advancing the parody? An example, as Alain Silver suggests on the commentary, of noir’s vision of class war? Is it political? Have Spillane’s dirty commies been replaced by poetry aficionados and gallery owners? Or is the point simply that modern life only proves the survival of the dumbest, its explosive ending expressive of what David Thomson calls “the sheer rapture of stupidity”? Poor Gabrielle just can’t help playing Pandora and opening that damn box. Though why she wants to is beyond me. Soberin was presumably the only guy who was going to be able to fence whatever was inside. It’s amazing how she keeps getting the drop on people. I don’t think that’s because she’s playing dumb. She really is dumb, but that works to her advantage.

*. Is such a movie meant to be torn apart on this level? Are we supposed to wonder about that missing comma in the title? Are we meant to find that significant? Of course noir is notorious for having plots that are balls of yarn, with lots of unanswered questions and threads that lead nowhere, but Kiss Me Deadly seems more chaotic than most. And we never actually see Hammer figuring anything out. There’s no real plot because if there were it would be too difficult for him to follow. So what we get is just an almost random string of incidents and accidents. There are no clues to follow How, for example, does Hammer get from anything in Rossetti’s poem to Christina swallowing the key? There’s no connection at all that I can see.
*. Question: What is the art gallery owner Gish’s connection to all this? Diker points him out to Velda at a bar, but that’s all we’re told. I guess Soberin is his doctor, and Gish sees him as collecting some new kind of art, but what does that mean? It’s just information like Rossetti’s poem, not even a clue. I mean, I could ask the same question as Christina’s connection to all this as well. Was she part of the gang?

*. Perhaps tearing apart and tearing down is the point. The French New Wave were in love with Kiss Me Deadly I think because it’s a movie that seems to be coming undone at the seams. And by that I mainly mean its editing, which is discontinuous and at times incoherent, becoming an all-too-visible art. The early scene where Hammer fights the hood in the street sets the tone. Do the rapid cuts make sense? It seems to my eye as though the two paired closeups are repeated, or at least the one of the hand Hammer is holding behind the hood’s back. It’s quite jarring.
*. To me it seems like a grab bag of a movie. For example, I hate the way things start, after Christina is picked up. While the opening titles scroll backward (something that has always struck me as just a stunt) we get the incredibly annoying heavy breathing/sobbing of Christina over top of Nat King Cole. Her noises sound totally forced and unnatural to me and she goes on far too long, to the point where I have to think Aldrich had a point he was trying to make. I don’t know what it might have been.

*. Standing at the center of it all is Ralph Meeker’s Mike Hammer. Meeker is someone who really shouldn’t work in the role, and it’s a strange performance that has been often remarked upon. He smiles or smirks a lot at seemingly inappropriate times. Some find him sadistic. He’s certainly a bully, slapping people around just for giggles (though I think the coroner asks for it). I guess he’s a tough guy as well (what horrific move does he pull on Sugar Smallhouse?), but he’s just got a jerky quality to him that’s beneath the usual noir hero. It’s not that he doesn’t come off as a latter-day knight or anti-Galahad (as Ursini calls him) patrolling the dirty streets of L.A. — he actually does have some sense of loyalty, at least to Velda and Nicky — as that he’s charmless. Naturally the babes swoon all over him, but even that seems like a joke.
*. In any event, Aldrich was supposed to do a couple of Hammer films, but My Gun Is Quick would be directed by Victor Saville (executive producer of Kiss Me Deadly) and star Robert Bray as Hammer. The Aldrich-Meeks experiment was over. But given that the edited version of Kiss Me Deadly (not the “original” version but the version audiences saw) had Mike and Velda presumably dying in the beach house meltdown I doubt he really had plans for a sequel. As it is, he is often credited for drawing the curtain on the classic age of noir and after Kiss Me Deadly struck out on his own.

*. Of course the ending makes no sense. The box that screams and sends out an incendiary glow before exploding is a wonderful construct, but can’t be squared with any understanding of the behaviour of radioactive material. Silver sees it as something like a dirty bomb but that’s more than a stretch. I wonder if Aldrich or Bezerides even knew about things like that. Well, I’m sure they didn’t care.
*. Many critics comment on the mythic characteristics of the plot, especially given the references made to classical figures. One thought that has always niggled away with me is that Mike actually does die in the opening car crash and the rest of the film plays out like a noir version of Carnival of Souls. I think this occurs to me for two reasons: (1) despite falling down the cliff in his car, without a seatbelt on, and the car bursting into flames on its way down, Hammer seems totally uninjured when he wakes up the next day in the hospital; (2) Soberin makes a strained reference to Christina’s resurrection after he’s killed her, and when Nicky sees Mike after his accident he says “Look Sammy! My friend just returned from the grave!” That may not seem like much, but more has been made of less in suggesting that Lee Marvin is actually dead at the beginning of Point Blank.
*. So maybe the whole thing is the dream of a dead man. It’s a weird enough movie to allow the conjecture, a film “real yet surreal” in Thomson’s judgment. As with most such films you’re left wondering how much of the chaos was intentional. To be honest, I don’t think it’s a very good movie. Much of the dialogue feels wildly overwritten, even for a comic book. The pieces don’t fit together and not all of the pieces are interesting. I couldn’t stand the character of Nick Va Va Voom, for example. Still, it’s a movie I enjoy, and for a genre flick it remains something of a singularity.

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)

*. Jason Takes Manhattan has a special place for me in the canon of Friday the 13th films in that it’s the only one that I saw in a cinema upon its theatrical release. You may judge me accordingly. And by that I mean judge me harshly.
*. It’s also usually regarded as the worst film in the franchise, both among critics and that segment of the general public that cares about such things (meaning fans). This is not, I can personally attest, a revisionist view. We all thought it was shit at the time.
*. There is some legitimate debate over whether this low estimation is because it’s just a shit movie or because the title was so misleading. Jason spends little time in Manhattan, with most of the film’s action taking place on a rusty freighter that has been refitted, rather improbably, as a cruise ship. At least it has a sauna and a disco on board. A bunch of high school grads are taking the ship to NYC. A creepy crew member (the only crew member?) appears at odd times to say things like “This voyage is doomed” and “He’s come back and you’re all going to die.”
*. Of course, the audience is already aware of this because we know that Jason is a stowaway on the Lazarus (get it?). He proceeds to kill almost everyone on board. He then later pursues the survivors through the streets of Manhattan before being dissolved, apparently, in toxic goo.
*. So the story makes even less sense than the previous instalments. The score is less interesting, with none of the signature notes and a very dated theme song (“The Darkest Side of the Night”). They only shot in New York for a couple of days and as far as famous landmarks go only made use of one brief sequence in Times Square. Most of the film was shot in Vancouver, so the streets of the Big Apple are just so many steamy, garbage-strewn alleys.
*. I mentioned how good Jason looked in the previous film, The New Blood. In this version they weren’t trying as hard. Despite Kane Hodder reprising his role they didn’t bother with the rotting physical body and his face isn’t nearly as well done. Basically he’s just a burly guy in a hockey mask.

*. I appreciate that director Rob Hedden wanted to do something different. “The biggest thing we could do with Jason is to get him out of that stupid lake where he’s been hanging out,” he said. Mission accomplished. The script was apparently the result of bolting together two different concepts: Jason on a ship and Jason in a big city. Unfortunately, nothing much is done with either premise and we’re still just watching a string of unrelated killings.
*. As had become usual, these killings were edited to pass the censors. Based on the outtakes I don’t think much was lost though, and only one remains very interesting, with Jason winning a rooftop boxing match with a devastating KO punch.
*. That this is also a very silly scene, ending on a comic beat, gives you some indication of the tone of the film. Let’s face it, we’re all cheering for Jason to thrash the punks he runs into in New York, just as we’re pulling for him to kill mean Mr. McCulloch. But sticking with the latter, I think if you spend the entire movie building up a heel he needs to be given a more spectacular send-off than being drowned in the slum version of a butt of malmsey.
*. It’s not just that the two parts of the film — on the ship and in New York — are only awkwardly linked. The rest of the plot’s construction seems equally flawed. I couldn’t understand how Rennie’s repressed childhood trauma linked her psychically to Jason, as seems to have happened. I also questioned the way Jason reverts to an earlier form at times. What was the significance of that? Was the young Jason supposed to represent his innocent self? Because he seems just as vengeful as the adult version. But then there doesn’t seem much consistency in his appearance among his various youthful iterations either.
*. Oh well. It’s not like anyone would have expected this to be any good. I sure didn’t in 1989, though now I can’t remember just what it was that lured me into the theatre. It had a great poster. Maybe that was it.
*. I may like it a bit more than I did thirty years ago, which is not to say that I misjudged it back then. The passage of time, however, has brought out more of its goofy ’80s charm. It remains a really dumb movie though and I can’t think of any reason to go back to it aside from nostalgia.

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)

*. There’s not much point hating on a late entry in a lousy franchise that was by this time far removed from its not-so-lofty peak. I’ve always tried to find some good in these Friday the 13th films, and I remember being somewhat amused by them as a young man. But The New Blood is a weak entry with little to recommend it.
*. The only new wrinkle this time out is that the last girl figure, Tina (Lar Park Lincoln), has psychokinetic powers. Director John Carl Buechler frankly describes her as “a clone of Carrie.” This actually makes for a fun battle between her and Jason in the final act as she goes all Carrie on him and he is (as always) indestructible. If this sounds a bit like a trial run for Freddy vs. Jason (2003) that shouldn’t be surprising because they were planning at the time on having the two franchise heavyweights face off against each other in a crossover film but the studios couldn’t come to an agreement.
*. Up until the final fifteen minutes, however, this is dull stuff. I can’t think of a Friday the 13th movie where the kills are more perfunctory. As had become usual by this time a lot of the gore had to be taken out to placate censors, but even so most of the kills are just the usual slashings and skewerings. There was a nice bit with a sleeping bag that made me think of the classic scene in Prophecy, and a scene that had to be cut of Jason crushing Ben’s head with his bare hands, but aside from that there’s nothing to get excited about. The circular saw is often cited by fans, but I think it just looks silly.
*. Just as perfunctory are the characters. They are the usual types — the nerd, the preppie, the pothead, the black couple, the slutty rich bitch — but even being this crudely drawn I found them nearly indistinguishable. Usually these people are only so much fresh meat (or “new blood”) anyway, but this movie took my disengagement to a new level.

*. Jason, however, played by Kane Hodder in his first turn under the mask, has never looked better. He’s apparently been rotting at the bottom of Crystal Lake for about ten years, so despite his burly physique he’s also showing signs of zombie-like decomposition, with a visible rib cage front and back. His clothes are covered in a layer of muck and he’s also got a chain wrapped around his neck. When his mask comes off he looks even more zombie-ish, and I mean that in a complimentary way. For the most part he’s just doing the usual Jason things — crashing through windows, throwing other people through windows — but he’s looking good doing it.
*. The script is crap but it does manage to hit with one great line when the nerd, who is an aspiring author, is rejected by the rich bitch. “Rejection? Fine. I can take it. I’ve been rejected by some of the finest science fiction magazines in the continental United States!”
*. So up until the fight between Jason and Tina I would rate The New Blood below average for the franchise. The ending, however, does a lot to redeem it. This was something new for a slasher film. To be sure there’d been feisty and resourceful last girls before, usually in the first part of a franchise (Nancy Thompson in the original Nightmare on Elm Street comes to mind), but I don’t think there’d been anything like Tina going toe-to-toe with one of these superhuman killing machines. Note how, after she discovers that Jason has killed her mother, Tina immediately goes chasing after him!
*. On the commentary Lincoln mentions how she thinks Jason probably enjoys the challenge of fighting someone who is his equal, and I think she has a point. It’s fun seeing these two go at it, and I’d also add that, while nothing spectacular, the psychokinesis effects are pretty good. This is never a scary movie — it’s too formulaic to either care about or be surprised by — but it turns into a decent little action thriller in the end.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016)

*. I binge-watched all six of the Resident Evil movies, which may not have been a good idea. I say that for two reasons.
*. First of all, by the time I got to this, the so-called “final chapter” (where have I heard that before?) I felt like I was being bludgeoned into submission. Surely even for fans of this stuff there’s a limit to how much video game action they can take.
*. The second, and perhaps even bigger problem is that when watching all of the movies back-to-back the disruptions in plot continuity became even more glaring. When we last left the franchise, at the end of Resident Evil: Retribution, Alice and her compatriots were standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Wesker on the roof of the White House to take on the forces of evil unleashed by the Umbrella Corporation, which was now being run by the AI Red Queen. Exactly how Wesker had become a good guy wasn’t explained. It seems they just needed him to perform certain plot functions.
*. Well, as things kick off here Wesker is back being a bad guy; Dr. Isaacs, who we thought had been cubed to death back in Resident Evil: Extinction (yes, I had to go and look that up), is back and somehow in charge; and the Red Queen is helping Alice to shut Umbrella down. Meanwhile Ada Wong and Jill Valentine have unaccountably disappeared (apparently Sienna Guillory wasn’t even asked to return) but Claire Redfield is back.

*. In the face of all this narrative chaos I think you just have to throw your hands up and go along for the ride. Characters are indestructible until they aren’t. If Alice firebombs the armored vehicle that Isaacs is riding in we just have to accept that he steps out uninjured. And even if he did die, maybe it would only be a clone or a hologram that got killed (in fact, we later find out that this particular iteration is only “a poor imitation of a worthless copy”). We’re in a fictional environment here where anything is possible.
*. There is some attempt at making sense of what’s gone before. Apparently Umbrella, knowing civilization to be doomed, was trying to effect an “orchestrated apocalypse” that would eliminate the world’s population while allowing the rich and the powerful to ride out Armageddon in cold storage underground. Later, they were to be awakened and inherit the earth, rebooting it in their own image.
*. I didn’t say it was much of an explanation. In fact, it’s only the tissue of background provided behind most video games, just something to give the action sequences a bit of context. If you think a movie, or six movies, should be giving you something more then you’re being too demanding.

*. Suffice it to say that they do try to wrap things up, however messily. Even Alice’s identity is explained at the end, if anyone might still be interested. Personally, I thought that for a finale it ended up being more coherent than I was expecting it to be, so that’s one positive takeaway. With Alice’s sacrifice and achievement of a fuller humanity, however, it’s also more clichéd. And there’s even a coda that suggests this might not, in fact, be the final chapter. Surprise!
*. What’s up with the opening credits? First we get separate screens giving us the fancy logos for Sony’s Screen Gems, Impact Pictures, Davis Films, and Constantin Film. We then get a title screen that tells us that Screen Gems, Davis Films and Constantin Film present (on yet another screen) a Constantin Film, Davis Films and Impact Pictures production. I think we get it.
*. I’ve said that I found something enjoyable in the earlier films. That may, however, just show how old I’m getting. Resident Evil and Resident Evil: Apocalypse both struck me as retro ’80s SF, while Resident Evil: Extinction was more just a zombie flick. As the series went on though it became even more like a video game, which is a style of filmmaking I can’t stand. To take just one example, they use a ton of flash editing to conceal the fact that the action scenes are no good. A fight scene with a cut every second, or three or four cuts every second, isn’t really a fight scene in my book. But I guess it plays well with the twitch crowd.
*. That may sound overly dismissive of fans of this franchise, but I’m honestly confused as to the appeal of these movies. Alice is the only character. Everyone else is just a prop introduced to perform some plot function and then be disposed of. At least for a while. What was Ada Wong’s purpose, aside from marketing to an Asia audience? Meanwhile, there is no coherent story developed. So all that leaves is fight scenes and special effects. But the fight scenes are crap and the CGI ranges from garbage to average (at best). So who watches this stuff?
*. For what it’s worth, I liked this one a little more than Resident Evil: Retribution, but still found it to be a noisy mess. It did, however, make a ton of money and capped (for now) what has been billed as the highest-grossing horror franchise in film history. That would seem to guarantee that there will be more on the way. I’m checking out now though because I’ve had enough.

Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)

*. I’ve said that Resident Evil: Afterlife (the previous entry in this franchise) was one of the stupidest movies I’ve ever seen. Resident Evil: Retribution may be even stupider. I’m not sure. The thing is, I don’t know and I don’t know if it’s worth the effort to find out.
*. At the end of the last movie there was a fight scene strongly suggestive of The Matrix. I figured they were just ripping off that movie for style points, but as Retribution begins we’re clearly inside the Matrix. Much of the action is pure video game shoot-’em-up, set in an assortment of virtual reality environments. Various cast members from earlier movies reappear, in different roles. So what is reality? Who is a clone? Who is a hologram? Does it make a difference?

*. My sense of mystification began with the opening credits, which play against the battle promised at the end of Afterlife running backward. Yes, backward. Which I guess is different. Interesting? Hm. Stupid? On the DVD commentary writer-director Paul W. S. Anderson doesn’t mention having had anything in mind other than the desire to shoot the opening battle in slow motion. So that’s no help.
*. Sticking with mysteries, why is this movie called Retribution? Payback sure, but again I’m not sure it’s worth the trouble figuring out what this is referring to.
*. It’s a testament to the power of video games in our culture that this franchise kept going, and made the kind of money it did, for as long as it did. The previous instalment, Resident Evil: Afterlife, was crap warmed over. By this time even the built-in audience should have been tuning out. But the video game franchise was still humming and the box office for this film was huge.
*. A number of critics mentioned how this entry seems even more like a video game than the other films. I agree. It goes with the VR territory I think. You have to wonder where the game ends and the movie begins.
*. I’ve said before that this franchise has a pastiche aesthetic, just borrowing bits and pieces from other movies and sticking them together. Or maybe that’s Anderson’s default mode. He did the same thing in Event Horizon and Alien vs. Predator. Whatever the reason, he’s doing it again here. Did we really need that character of the little girl just to give us a scene so derivative of Aliens? Or is it that the Red Queen AI has a head stuffed with all these old movies and just wants to recreate them in various VR environments?

*. On the commentary track Anderson says that he wanted to make an “epic” post-apocalyptic movie. What this would mean is that it would be global, a point underlined by the theatrical release poster that boasted “Evil Goes Global.” I’m not sure how this works though. All of the action in the film except for the very beginning and end takes place in the same underwater base. We’re not really in NYC or Moscow or Berlin. But again: Does it make a difference?
*. Because we’re in video game/comic book land it follows that all the women are kitted out in sexy outfits. Even sexier than usual this time around. Milla Jovovich is in some kind of fetish/bondage gear. Jill Valentine sports a plunging neckline. Ada has a dress slit up to wherever and heels. Producer Jeremy Bolt: “The girls have to wear quite challenging costumes.” All of this is fair enough given the territory, but it seems to me Anderson spends a little too much time staring at Alice’s ass. I don’t mind looking, but I don’t want to leer.
*. I have to say this is the first of the Resident Evil movies that I didn’t enjoy at all. In each of the others there was at least something I liked. That died here. Even with this much action and a quick running time I thought Retribution overstayed its welcome by half an hour. The final battle on the ice was tedious and pointless. And why did it take Alice so long to figure out the way to beat Jill was just to grab the mechanical scarab off her chest? She already knew how those worked because she’d removed Claire’s.
*. Oh well. I’ve waded into this series so far that I might as well keep going. Things couldn’t get any worse, could they?