Darke Reviews | Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016)

Final review of January. Final (?) chapter of the Resident Evil franchise which began 15 years prior.  It seems this month, which is usually relegated to dump slots for the studios has, in addition to its usual role, begun serving this year as the franchise test for long running, often lamented, or forgotten franchises. We had Underworld, xXx, and now this. To their credit each of them have been able to maintain their original star, despite waning bankability as a name. Technically Diesel is still bankable, but only within known franchises. His forrays outside of his own franchise have not done well, even if they were fun. Granted the franchises he is in (Furious, Guardians of the Galaxy) might as well print money. Jovovich is not so lucky, and I was surprised to find she hadn’t been in a major project for a few years. So this makes her first major on screen appearance in almost 5 years, again as Alice.

So should this movie have been put down before it started?

The film is written and directed by the man who started it all…and somehow continued it all – Paul W.S. Anderson, not to be confused with critical darling Wes Anderson. Paul, is also the one who…gifted us..yes thats a good word, with the Death Race remake and AVP: Alien vs Predator and Pompeii. Conversely, he also gave us from the directors chair, Soldier and Event Horizon. In my review of Pompeii I covered that I find most of his bad movies guilty pleasures. Actually, they aren’t bad – they just aren’t cinematic masterpieces. Which is acceptable, as some movies are there to help you escape. It’s why, despite critical and audience appraise I won’t see Hidden Figures. The story is incredible, the acting incredible, the pain very real. The history more relevant than ever, but I often find myself in the movie to escape the real world and real world scenarios. Even with that need for escapism I expect, and so should you, a certain level of quality and care.

There’s something of that here. I get the impression, unlike Uwe Boll, he isn’t doing it for a paycheck. There’s a passion here for this world and this universe he’s crafted over six movies. Granted, from a writing standpoint he’s retconned (Retroactive Continuity adjustment) multiple elements of the story between 2002 and 2017 and this is no exception. The first 8 minutes of the movie, yes I checked my phone, are literally retelling and adjusting the story accordingly to bring everyone up to speed – much like the last two Underworld movies did.  I wonder if anyone is planning to see this who hasn’t watched the others though? The plot is about as thin as cheese cloth, but unlike the past several films when it comes to our heroine herself and her arc – there’s caring involved. I was pleasantly surprised to find that her arc was brought full circle and while she’s still a killing machine – she is not a totally invincible killing machine. I won’t say there’s a lot of complexity but there is a much slower focus as the movie progresses.

Now….while the storytelling and pacing of the movie are surprisingly richer than I thought, the um…camera work for fights and monsters. Yeah, so that was a choice.  It is next to impossible to see what, if anything, is going on for 90% of the fights and creature shots. I understand that the budget is lower, I understand you have a grand vision, but I would caution you to to figure out how to make more practical. If you can’t make it look good – figure out another way!

From an acting perspective – it’s Resident Evil 6. None of the performances are going to really help the careers, buuuuuut – they won’t hurt them either. Everyone is absolutely serviceable from an acting standpoint. Why am I not spelling each and everyone of them out? If you’ve seen the franchise you know why – if not, well…I won’t say more. There’s one call out however, and it isn’t Ruby Rose. It’s our new Red Queen as played by Ever Anderson. Yes, that is her name and yes, she is the daughter of the director and Milla who have been married since 2009. She actually does a good job as the homicidal AI and brings a surprising element to her. So nicely done there as she still had to have the chops to pull it off on her own, even with her father as the director.

TL;DR?

I rather enjoyed Fallout: Raccoon City. It was a good wrap to the franchise if they keep their word. It is not a good movie, it is certainly not a bad movie – but I found I was not rolling my eyes through it. Some of the effects are good and the chances taken with the characters actually work surprisingly well. It bothered to care to set a good pace and when it goes practical does so nicely. There was real tension and some of the camera work was not horrible.

This probably comes in as the 3rd best of the franchise for how it looks and feels and the overall effort put into it.

Not a bad way to end January

Should you see it?

Do you like the franchise? Yes. Just…not in 3-D

Otherwise – no.

Will you buy it?

Yeah, I have the others so might as well. Beyond that no.

Anything else?

I really hope this is the last one. Please?

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Darke Reviews | xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017)

Do we have a January that isn’t complete garbage; for the movie industry anyway. I mean Underworld was very fun, with some return to the 90’s and early 2000’s gothic vampires. Next week we get the ever ridiculous franchise capper for Resident Evil, and tonight we have another long running franchise returning to us. Much like the other two films, I didn’t/won’t go into this expecting much. My exact quote was “I expect this to be ridiculous action, if it delivers that I will be happy.”

So the question is did it deliver?

Written by F. Scott Frazier, writer for the conceptually interesting but underwhelming Numbers Station and former QA for video games, he returns us to the world of the xXx program. A secret arm of the NSA designed to blend in with groups and people that trained spies and hardened military cannot – and look dope doing it. The last part was their words, not mine.  He snaps us back into the world of spy vs spy vs the street that we haven’t seen since 2005’s horrific sequel xXx: State of the Union. I am guessing Vin Diesel is looking for any franchise he can keep going now that he’s matured a bit and likes the steady paychecks. He’s not wrong to come back to this one. Fraziers story feels right at home with the world the previous two created. The parts that don’t – we will get to in a minute.

D.J. Caruso (I Am Number Four, Eagle Eye) is at the helm on this and seems to have a decent vision for how to make this part of the world and look good doing it. Decent, but not great. I think he, cinematographer Russell Carpenter, and the film editors Vince Filippone and Jim Page have some explaining to do. They need to explain to me and you why when you have Tony Jaa and Donnie Yen you need to shoot them in extreme close up,  hand held cameras, with snap and sharp edits. You have two of the most amazing martial artists on screen and we can’t watch them because your combat scenes are a chaotic mess. Sure you can make out some of it and enough to know what’s going on but it is all so very bad American filmmaking on this part.  It is just awful to not be able to really enjoy the fights the way that should have been possible with the cast assembled.

Secondarily, and creepily, Diesel is turning 50 years old this year. Out of context that’s awesome for him to be in such great shape, still fun to watch, and charming. What is not ideal is pairing his character with female characters who are almost literally half his age and look it or even younger. Look people can fall for who they want to fall for, but its still a bit unnerving and on top of it very Hollywood to put the leading man with a significantly younger woman rather than someone even remotely close to their own age. It’s not a major sin of the movie, but its still a sin that I can’t not comment on.

From an acting perspective – oh come on this is xXx, everyone is here for the paycheck, the title, and the fun. It shows. I told a coworker this movie better have its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. I think it had it planted in mine. Literally everyone looked like they were just having fun with their role. Diesel was as solid as you’d expect and made a good on screen partner (and ship) to Donnie Yen (Rogue One, Ip Man). Ruby Rose (Orange is the New Black, John Wick: Chapter 2) made her presence known and stands out amongst the crowd. Apparently I get to see her in Resident Evil next week. I also may have a slight crush on her character (or her) who was a sniper and again made it fun. Indian actress Deepika Padukone steals the show and eats scenery almost as much as Ruby Rose. Both these women easily upstaged the action sequences and most of the movie any time they were on screen. This looks to be her first Hollywood production and I can only hope we get more of her. Her and Rose have some serious charisma and even if a script isn’t that hot can make you not care with pure charm. Game of Thrones fans will have a laugh at their favorite Hound (Rory McCann) in his role as what amounts to be a stunt driver who may have taken too many blows to the head; just as Vampire Diaries fans may enjoy seeing their Elena take a completely different role. She plays the adorkable, excitable, Tech Support for the group and fits right in with the crowd. Tony Jaa is…well Tony Jaa is fun mode.

I find this important to call out – there’s almost a perfect balance of male and female actors in prominent roles in this movie and those roles aren’t just eye candy (mostly). In addition the cast diversity is through the roof. So props to the casting department here.

I talked a bit about the action – which was good but should have been better. Some shots are slowed down to let you savor the moment and this is done well and done for effect on more than one case. What killed me is shots that were so painfully CGI backdrops they kicked me out of the movie. Even accounting for inflation the budget here was $15 million more than the original movie in 2002. With the exception of a few shots and props the first one holds up fifteen years later. This one won’t hold up fifteen seconds later. I get sometimes CGI is needed to make a shot work because its just that insane. No issues there with this franchise, but if you find you can’t afford a specific locale or set piece – don’t use it. Don’t use a matte back drop that isn’t clean. Not a major sin, but sin none the less; especially when there are a lot of practical effects. There are also some interesting trailer shots missing or altered, but I am getting used to that; and it is very clear there’s some additional elements added thanks to Suicide Squad’s success.

TL;DR?

This movie delivered like Domino’s. Everything that was promised in the trailer is delivered. Everything I expected of it was given. There was only a little more I wanted. Cleaner fight sequences, less painful CG when used.

I like it, I like it a lot. It’s fun and doesn’t deserve the January dump slot. It is as ridiculous as I wanted it to be and needed it to be.

Should you see it?

Do you want fun action with not a care in the world? Yes. Yes you should. I don’t know that 3D will add anything, but XD is worth it and even full price would be.

Will you buy it on BluRay?

Not even a question really. Absolutely.

Any parting thoughts?

The trailer said it: “Guns, Girls, Global Domination; Xander Cage is back….”. I am thankful for it and want to see more of this franchise.

Darke Reviews | Underworld – Blood Wars (2017)

I’ve spoken of this before, but for the new readers please know I am the Vampire Queen of Tucson. It may be a type of prison for a vampire lover like myself, but it is where I am. I love Vampires. The first book I ever read on my own (and by choice) was one on vampires. I have a room in my house dedicated to vampires and general gothicness; working on a second even. I believe I have every book published by White Wolf on Vampire the Masquerade as well. I will consume almost anything Vampire related. So what does that have to do with Underworld?

When the first one came out in 2003, I think I watched my DVD copy of it once a week for 3 months. I *like* this franchise unironically. It has entertained me end to end. Sure some of the installments can be classified as

 

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t entertaining. Even the weakest of the franchise tends to put a smile on my face.

So should part 5 be left in the sun or does it continue to entertain?

First, unlike last film the rule of 3 is not invoked – technically. We have the based on characters by Kevin Grevioux, Len Wiseman, and Danny McBride credit, which is required. Then we have a story by Cory Goodman and Kyle Ward, screenplay (comes after the story) by Cory Goodman. Kyle Ward was writer on Machete Kills, which I hear was a blast and this project; while Cory Goodman is responsible for The Last Witch Hunter and Priest. As I said in the LWH review Goodman isn’t known for complexity in his plots, but he does have a taste for atmosphere and a certain air about the project with always a strong touch of the supernatural.

As with all Underworld films,  time is subjective. We’re not sure when the year is, how long between films has actually occurred and it really doesn’t matter. The story so far is recapped again bringing anyone new to the franchise up to speed, then jumps in head first. It plays on one of the more annoying conceits to give the set up, by if you can swallow that pill you can move on. Selene is on the run from well everyone, but is still a level of wicked in a fight that it rarely pans out for the hunters. Now they hunt for her in a bid to find her daughter, the pure blood hybrid of what should be incredible power. Who is they? The Lycans lead by a new mysteriously powerful leader Marius and the vampire council who really just want her dead – save one member of the new vampire council Semira.  Selene must avoid capture and find a new way to survive against the threats from all sides for the purpose of….something. Yeah, ok so much like the others this won’t win any awards for depth or meaning. Power for the sake of Power is the theme of the day and Selene is mostly on the defensive trying to survive against all-comers; which thankfully she is skilled to do. The question you need to see the movie to answer is “for how long?”

Kate Becksinale returns 13 years later from the origin of Selene and full disclosure – I have a massive girl crush on her so I could be more forgiving. She goes for a more weary, battle fatigued Selene; one who has loved and lost and in that she nailed it. Theo James (Divergent) returns as David. He is still trying, but his performance is so wooden I could use him as a stake. I give him credit for trying and there are so many hints of someone who can act and can emote I think he might be fine in the next one….maybe? Conversely Lara Pulver (Edge of Tomorrow, True Blood) as Semira is a joy to behold. This woman went all out for her vampire and while her performance dances a needles line on campy and sexy she brings it all together. Tobias Menzies (Edmure Tully on Game of Thrones, Outlander) playing Marius is one of the more credible villains the movies have had since we lost Michael Sheen. I have to also acknowledge Daisy Head (Fallen later this year) and Bradley James (Damien and Merlin TV series) both turn what I thought would be unremarkable, forgettable characters into something just a bit more. They are still largely a third class character in the hierarchy, but at least these two made it interesting.

Director Anna Foerster (Second Unit director on 10,000 BC, Aeon Flux, Day after Tomorrow) does a good job with her ideas being executed. The actors turn out decent(ish) performances. She (or Cory) made the decision to give both Vampires and Lycans a few new tricks in their arsenal. She introduces some interesting new concepts and unique visuals. Though her combat sequences and cut choices will need some work before the next movie as  the further these movies progress the worse the combat gets – save one scene. It may be reminiscent of other scenes from better movies, but they made it their own under a beautiful (even if it was CG) sky. It also evokes a gothic, sexy vampire feel I’ve been missing.

TL;DR

Underworld Blood Wars is a solid continuation of the franchise. It brings in new ideas, new concepts, while tying up some loose ends and per usual Underworld films sets up a next one. I am not tired of the series and really was entertained for the majority of the film. It has some pacing, continuity, and editing issues but I have seen worse in higher budget films. It won’t likely make its budget ($35 million) back here in the States, but it’s combined worldwide gross should probably double it by the end of its run in a few weeks.

I may have to sit down with some like minded friends to ask why this franchise has such staying power when others of its ilk fail. Kate Beckinsale’s physique not withstanding.

Should you see it?

If you like this series or Vampires? Yes, yes you should. We get precious few GOOD Vampire movies, much less entertaining ones and this fits at least in the latter category.

You talk as if you don’t like it, but say its good?

No. I am commenting on its flaws of which there are many which I can’t in good conscience ignore for the purposes of the review. I still think its OK and I am still entertained by it. I still continue to enjoy these movies without a hint of guilt or irony about it.

I do like this movie. No if’s, and’s, or but’s.

Yeah, but you’re biased.

Maybe, but I also do like movies that entertain me. Last year had so much mediocrity I am not particularly hopeful for this year. At least I felt something as I watched it.

Will you watch it again?

Sure if someone wants to take me out on a date to watch it. Or hell just take me out to watch it.

Buying it?

Without a doubt it will be mine.