So once again we have survived.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse

RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALPYSE is the second one. Part 1’s Paul W.S. Anderson scripted it, but handed directing duties over to Alexander Witt (the second unit director for SPEED and the train heist in FAST FIVE) while he himself focused on ALIEN VS. PREDATOR, and it reminds me a little bit of the sequel to Anderson’s MORTAL KOMBAT: it’s way less like a real movie, but therefore kind of more fun. This sequel looks much more expensive than the original – there are huge crowd scenes, explosions and shootouts, it’s not all confined to some underground tunnels. It’s a chaotic mish-mash of styles (normal movie, shaky news footage, blurred frames) and crazy shit happening, often without much regard to rhythm, flow, or logic.

It starts out with a couple minutes of Alice (Milla Jovovich, HE GOT GAME) narrating exposition over flashy computer graphics, but as soon as the title comes up it ditches her and we go back to the day before in happy suburban Raccoon City while the T-virus crisis is going on underground. A menacing procession of identical Umbrella Corp SUVs plow through the streets to bring important scientists to safety. But Dr. Ashford (Jared Harris, NATURAL BORN KILLERS, THE BOXTROLLS)’s daughter Angie (Sophie Vavasseur) is in a vehicle that crashes, and she gets stranded above.

We meet Raccoon City’s militarized police force as well as a special unit called S.T.A.R.S. (“Special Tactics and Rescue Squad. They’re the best”). These are cops who do things like rappel from a helicopter facing straight down firing two machine guns accompanied by rockin electric guitar soundtrack. The kind of people you want, I guess, in a movie version of a video game version of a zombie outbreak. The most memorable of these characters is a wonderfully ludicrous one called Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory, HIGH-RISE), an edgy suspended cop who looks like a model but luckily switches from stilettos to combat boots when she learns about the zombies from the news and goes into action. She spends the movie wearing a turquoise tube top, mini-skirt and holsters. There’s nothing wrong with that, but everyone else looks like they’re wearing movie costumes, and she looks like a cosplayer.

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Resident Evil

The RESIDENT EVIL movie series is sort of a zombie in its own right – a dead thing leftover from another time, somehow still walking the earth. When the first one came out in 2002, movies based on video games were still a novel concept that had only really been done successfully by this same director, Paul Anderson, with MORTAL KOMBAT (1995). According to a chart I found, the video game industry itself made $48.29 billion in 2002. That’s a bunch of money, but it also says that as of three years ago they were making $76 billion. And I’m sure it’s still going up.

I don’t know of any charts for this, but I bet the revenue from zombie related entertainment has increased tenfold during that period. This may be hard for the youths to imagine, but zombie movies were a genre that had been fallow for nearly two decades, and only horror people obsessed with DAWN OF THE DEAD ever thought about them. This complicated the reception of RESIDENT EVIL for people like me. On one hand, it was exciting to see any take on this type of monster. On the other hand, we were still holding out for a comeback for George A. Romero, who had not yet done LAND OF THE DEAD (or DIARY OF THE DEAD or SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD). We knew because of internetting that he’d shot a series of Japanese commercials for the Resident Evil video game, and had been hired to write and direct the movie until the company didn’t like his script and replaced him.

So it was interesting to watch RESIDENT EVIL again in 2016, remembering that I hated it when it came out, but not much remembering why (here’s the dumb review I wrote almost 15 years ago). At the very least there’s a good opening sequence that I had no memory of. Employees of the Umbrella Corporation in Raccoon City, Wherever arrive one morning at their underground lab work place known as “The Hive,” having no idea that the shit is floating mid-air in a cool MATRIX style slo-mo flight toward the fan, because somebody broke open a vial of the deadly experimental T-virus. (read the rest of this shit…)

xXx: Return of Xander Cage

It’s weird how long I’ve been anticipating xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE. I didn’t actually like the first one very much other than the lovably ridiculous first chunk before the actual mission starts. The second one starring Ice Cube is a fairly enjoyable B movie, but doesn’t live up to part 1 director Rob Cohen’s talk before he and Diesel left. He really sparked my imagination in the interview where he said one of the scripts he was developing “takes place in Washington DC, where, I think, our most colorful character will go up against all the grey men. I can see him mountain-biking on the top of the Capitol Dome, where in a domestic context, as opposed to an exotic context, he gets to shake up old George Bush and all that he represents.”

Nevertheless, ever since Diesel announced his intention to star in a xXx part 3 ten years ago (!) I’ve been anxiously awaiting it. And that optimism, though unearned, wasn’t wrong. RETURN OF XANDER CAGE (no “THE” for some reason) is just the stupid movie I always wanted out of this series. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Shallows

With the inauguration about to happen I think alot of us kinda feel like we’re all alone, torn open, bleeding and floating on a dead whale, unable to get to shore because a shark the size of a fuckin bus wants to eat us and will not leave us be. So I thought you know what, what if there was a movie about somebody else in that situation, maybe if it had a positive outcome it would be a good inspirational tool for all of us as citizens of the United States and the world who hope to somehow survive the coming shit show of dangerous ignorance and blatant, barely-even-trying-to-fuckin-hide-it-at-all corruption.

The title THE SHALLOWS is not about the new management, it’s just referring to an area of not-that-deep water that is the setting for a pleasingly simple 80-minute romp from Jaume Collet-Serra, director of HOUSE OF WAX, GOAL II, ORPHAN and three Liam Neeson vehicles (UNKNOWN, NON-STOP and RUN ALL NIGHT). Liam must’ve been busy doing SILENCE or something, so Collet-Serra went off and made this adaptation of Blake Lively’s one woman off Broadway show about a surfer trapped on a rock after a shark attack.

I lied. It is not based on a one woman show. But it is almost entirely balanced on Lively’s shoulders. She plays Nancy, who is always on screen and usually alone. Supporting characters who she’d also play in the stage version are:

1. Little boy seen on beach in prologue

2. Guy who gives her ride to beach

3. Her friend who was supposed to be with her, portrayed through text messages (read the rest of this shit…)

Fist 2 Fist

Writer/director/actor/martial artist Jino Kang’s first film BLADE WARRIOR had a bit of an EL MARIACHI passionate-no-budget-debut energy to it. It was shot over a few years and bridged the independent film world’s switch from film to digital. (I like the grainy film look better, but of course we’re not gonna see much of that anymore.)

His second film FIST 2 FIST (the distributor changed it from his preferred title HAND 2 HAND, which was meant to have a double meaning) was released a decade later, in 2011. It looks a little more slick and professional and normal, but he still feels like an underdog filmmaker, and with age he’s become an even more interesting leading man.

There’s little flash or ego to Kang’s persona playing Ken, a former criminal turned martial arts instructor for at risk youth. He’s the serious, responsible, grownup badass, the positive role model of asskicking. (read the rest of this shit…)

Monster Trucks

MONSTER TRUCKS is literally about monster trucks. This is a movie about an oil company drilling through a pocket of water deep beneath the earth, accidentally releasing a huge, squid-like creature who crawls into a junkyard and hides inside the chassis of a teen’s crappy pickup truck. Soon the teen discovers that the creature can wrap its tentacles around the axels and spin them, basically acting as its engine. Also it eats oil and it can not only drive and steer the truck but jump and bounce and climb up walls and shit.

So this teen, Tripp (Lucas Till, aka Havok in X-MEN and TV’s new MacGyver), names the monster “Creech” and drives around in him like extreme E.T. But he has to hide him from a private security team led by cruel Burke (Holt McCallany, CREEPSHOW 2, TYSON, BULLET TO THE HEAD, BLACKHAT, JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK) and, like Free Willy or the T-800 or somebody, get him back home. He does it with the help of his squeaky-voiced biology tutor Meredith (I had no idea that was Jane Levy, star of EVIL DEAD and DON’T BREATHE) and a conscience-stricken scientist from the oil company (Thomas Lennon, HERBIE FULLY LOADED). (read the rest of this shit…)

Get On the Bus

Well, I’m skipping ahead in the Spike Lee chronology I’ve been ever-so-slowly crawling my way through, but I thought a movie about a march on Washington would be a good thing to revisit on the Martin Luther King Day starting the week that, as far as we know, will end with the inauguration of the first American president to be 2 degrees of separation from Steven Seagal (they have a mutual friend, a Russian guy named Vladimir something) and subsequent protest march.

GET ON THE BUS is a road trip movie, but it could almost be a play, because the vast majority of it is about conversations taking place inside a charter bus. Around fifteen African American men, most of them meeting for the first time, are headed from a church parking lot in South Central Los Angeles to the Million Man March in Washington DC. If you’re too young to remember, that was the October 16, 1995 gathering of black men organized by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

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Late Phases

a.k.a. LATE PHASES: NIGHT OF THE LONE WOLF

I know this has been said before, but LATE PHASES is kinda like GRAN TORINO with werewolves. By that I don’t mean there’s an old guy who’s racist against werewolves but befriends a young werewolf neighbor, although that would also be cool. What I mean is he’s a grouchy old war vet who is not so happy where age is leading him, has trouble getting along with his kid and is cynical about everything and gets to know the local pastor even though he doesn’t like religion. With werewolves.

He’s a ‘Nam vet instead of Korea, and he came back blind. His name is Ambrose McKinley, and he’s played by my new favorite actor Nick Damici (MULBERRY STREET, STAKE LAND I & II, WE ARE WHAT WE ARE, COLD IN JULY), looking kind of like Fred Ward and talking kind of like DeNiro. His son (Ethan Embry, CHEAP THRILLS) and more patient daughter-in-law (Erin Cummings, BITCH SLAP) help move him into a duplex in the retirement community of Crescent Bay. That very night a fuckin werewolf busts in and mauls his next door neighbor (Karen Lynn Gorney, SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER) and his guide dog Shadow. The police just tell him it’s from living near the woods, wild animals kill people all the time, be sure to keep your doors locked.

“Thanks for the peace of mind,” he deadpans. (read the rest of this shit…)

Full Eclipse

For those of us disappointed that MOONLIGHT, although very good, was not about werewolves, here is a pretty okay wolfman movie to dig up. (You know, like a dog would dig up a bone or something.) It stars Mario Van Peebles, it’s directed by Anthony Hickox right after WARLOCK: THE ARMAGEDDON, and it’s written by Richard Christian Matheson (THREE O’CLOCK HIGH) & Michael Reaves (Super Friends).

I like that it combines werewolves with a straight up cop movie. It’s hard to classify as horror exactly, because the lycanthropy is treated more like super powers than monsters. In fact, they have Wolverine style claws and Magneto type helmets. But they are werewolves in a legit action movie complete with cliches about cops and their partners and one of them saying “I’m too old for this” and everything.

Even better, this came out the year America stole John Woo, and the style seems pretty influenced by him. Lots of leaping through the air to fire guns, slow motion, intense, lingering closeups. For the opening set piece Hickox revisits his HELLRAISER III: HELL ON EARTH idea of terror in a dance club full of big spooky body part sculptures, but with bullets and debris and people flying everywhere, usually with LAPD detective Max Dire (Van Peebles) dropping from above or jumping in the air or laying on the floor while shooting two guns. (read the rest of this shit…)

Moonlight

I seem to remember hearing somebody say that criticism was dead, but MOONLIGHT is a real good movie I definitely wouldn’t have gotten around to seeing if critics weren’t doing flips over it. It’s an indie movie about growing up gay, black and poor around drug dealers in Liberty City, Florida, but it’s not the bummer that might sound like. I think that’s important to say right now: the people talking about crying during this, I’m not 100% sure which part they’re talking about, but it’s not some BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN type tragedy movie. Unless this is like CLUE and they released it with different endings. But as far as I know they didn’t do that.

The structure is basically three vignettes or chapters about this character Chiron as a young kid (Alex Hibbert), a high school kid (Ashton Sanders, “Kid,” STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON) and a grown man (Trevante Rhodes, OPEN WINDOWS). During these times he struggles with his masculinity, trying to understand his attraction to men in a community that considers that soft and highly values the perception of toughness. His friend Kevin jumps him on the field supposedly to prove to the others that he’s capable of fighting back. They wrestle on the field, an indistinct mix of physical struggle and boys touching each other. I’m not sure either of them knows which it is. (read the rest of this shit…)