I watched all the Resident Evil movies this summer… parts 1-3 here.


Resident Evil 4: Afterlife (2010)

After the Umbrellas of Cherbourg opening titles, we get the best scene in any Resident Evil movie yet – Alice storming Umbrella headquarters with an army of her clones. I was hoping for an entire Cherbourg musical installment of this horror series, but I’ll happily settle for this instead: Anderson immediately leaves behind the halfassed effects and sorry filmmaking of previous movies and crafts a loving homage to The Matrix, with better-than-usual electro music by former Low collaborators Tomandandy.

Shades-sporting Umbrella boss Wesker (crossover zombie-movie actor Shawn Roberts of a couple Romero Dead films) escapes in a chopper, nuking the Alice clones on his way out, and injects the stowaway Alice with an antivirus, removing her awesome powers, a major bummer.

After somewhat-destroying Umbrella, Alice starts a vlog and goes to Alaska in search of her buddies from the previous movie, scooping up a lone amnesiac Claire (infected by a Cronos scarab), then crash-landing in a prison surrounded by zombie hordes and meeting a new bunch of doomed friends, led by panicky movie producer Bennett (Kim Coates of Sons of Anarchy, Silent Hill) and cooler-headed Luther (Boris Kodjoe of Surrogates, Starship Troopers 3), also including a guy from The Tracey Fragments who will soon be cleaved in half by a superaxe. But before that, we’ll discover Chris Redfield (Wentworth Miller of Prison Break, writer of Stoker) suspiciously located in a locked cell. He’s Claire’s brother, not that she remembers, acting kinda like movie star Lucas Lee in Scott Pilgrim.

Then the zombies break in and everyone dies. New zombie developments since the last movie: sometimes zombies will spawn quadropus parasites from their mouths, a familiar detail from the only Resident Evil game I’ve played. And it’s not really new since we’ve always had final-boss mega-zombies, but instead of a chain gun, this movie’s giant has a pinhead burlap mask and giant axe, with which he smashes in the prison gates. Bennett defects to the dark side, Luther goes missing, and our surviving heroes (Alice and the Redfields) escape through tunnels and head for the offshore cargo ship where Wesker has started eating people (incl. Bennett) to stave off infection. Wesker flees, our heroes free the captive humans, and all is well for about 15 seconds before a fleet of gunships led by a scarab-wearing, mind-controlled Valentine (from part two! with different hair) descends on them as a Perfect Circle song blares to complete the Matrix feeling.


Resident Evil 5: Retribution (2012)

I must have watched the opening titles ten times… starting exactly where the last movie left off, Evil Valentine’s troops wipe out the unarmed survivors on the cargo ship, an explosion throws Alice into the ocean, and it’s all running in reverse super-slow-mo.

In every movie it seems that Umbrella’s head has been destroyed, but there are always new evil leaders and massive research facilities popping up. Now we’ve got an training holodeck in Kamchatka, where multiple Alices and Rains (Michelle Rodriguez, for the first time since part one) and other clones are killed in various zombie-attack scenarios.

Evil Valentine has triggered a bunch of allegiance shifts in the script. Now Wesker, displaced from Umbrella by the still-functioning Red Queen A.I., has sent his warrior Ada Wong (Detective Dee and Snow Flower star Bingbing Li) to rescue our Alice underground, while on the surface, team leader Leon (Johann Urb of the Witches of Eastwick TV series) with Luther (from part four) and Barry (Kevin Durand of Guillermo del Toro TV series The Strain) prepare to destroy the place (a countdown timer is naturally involved).

Alice picks up a deaf girl (Aryana Engineer of Orphan) whose clone-Alice mom was killed. There are good Rains and evil Rains, multiple Michelles Rodriguez. Valentine is back, under command of the evil Queen, alongside resurrected actors from parts one and three. After a clip show near the beginning, this movie is full of callbacks to part one, but the story is also overexplained for the sake of newcomers, and dialogue is never great (it’s still better than the games). With the clones and the new/old characters in virtual environments, we’ve reached new, reality-bending heights… each of the previous movies had an older film it was imitating, from Romero to Cube to Mad Max to Hitchcock to The Matrix, and now the series has come into its own, this film’s primary influence being the previous Resident Evil movies (secondary influence: Aliens).

With Leon and Luther:

I was blissing out to the action sequences and kinda lost track of everything that happens, but here are some notes I took:

Music is good, but all rhythm and no tune.

I noticed in the last movie, but now it’s starting to bug me that one of Alice’s guns seems to shoot coins – an overly literal videogame reference?

Milla dials it down when the movies focus on survivor communities, but whenever her solo warrior awesomeness is called for, she’s happy to comply.

The zombies have guns!

Parts four and five are a total blast, with coherent action, proper lighting and hugely improved CG beasts.

Evil Michelle uses the five point palm exploding heart technique on poor Luther

We end on humanity’s last stand against the red queen’s forces, in the White House, Alice and Wesker newly allied, each with renewed mutant super-abilities.


Resident Evil 6: The Final Chapter (2016)

“I propose that we end the world, but on our terms – an orchestrated apocalypse.”

Based on the final shots of part five, we should have Alice, Wesker, Ada Wong, Valentine and Leon in a showdown against an army of undead at the White House – but that’s not what happens. Instead we get a backstory intro explaining that the Red Queen A.I. was constructed from video of the benevolent Umbrella founder’s child, after Dr. Isaacs (mad scientist killed in part three) has the founder murdered. Then the movie betrays all our hopes, having Alice awaken in the ruins of the White House, beat to hell, with no powers, narrating some shit about Wesker having betrayed them all. And thus begins this increasingly great series’s joyless finale, a color-desaturated, underlit, over-edited slog of close-shot action scenes, where I never knew what was going on or even what characters were in the movie. This is not the kind of homage to part one I was hoping for.

Since we’ve established that anyone can be a clone, Dr. Isaacs is back, now leading a fanatic tank convoy to Raccoon City. Even without mutant virus powers, Alice is still a badass soldier, but she’s knocked out and captured more than once along the way (and Isaacs has super-speed and can dodge bullets, but can’t dodge the computer keyboard she whacks him with).

In another doomed Last Human Settlement, Alice finds Claire, traitor Doc (Eoin Macken of TV’s The Night Shift) and a bunch of newcomers with colorful names who will be killed one by one. An actor from John Wick 2 gets sucked into a turbine, a Cuban TV star is savaged by dogs, and so on.

Here are some of them, maybe:

Finally back in The Hive from part one, Alice encounters the Original Dr. Isaacs, who is soon killed by Fanatic Warlord Dr. Isaacs, who is soon killed by Alice inside the Cube chamber, which turns out to have glass walls so I guess people in earlier movies could’ve just slammed against a side wall with all their might to escape. Alice also meets her former self (the Red Queen, now played by Anderson and Jovovich’s daughter) and future self: a convincingly makeup-aged Milla, playing “Alicia,” from whom all Alices were cloned. Alicia and Wesker are the remaining leadership of Umbrella until she pulls out an excellent Robocop reference (“Albert Wesker, you’re fired”) and security chops his legs off. Alice hands him a Terminator 2 killswitch attached to a massive bomb, downloads her childhood memories from dying Alicia, and heads out to cure the entire world with the airborne antivirus in a tiny capsule, which I don’t think is how airborne antiviruses work, but at least the movie admits it will take a few years to spread globally and in the meantime Milla Jovovich is gonna ride the country in a motorcycle blasting hellbeasts with shotguns, a comforting thought.

Final Series Ranking: 5 > 4 > 3 > 2 > 1 > 6

Best reviews: Neil Bahadur on Letterboxd: parts four, five, and, featuring a Dr. Isaacs/Steve Bannon comparison, six. And Christoph Huber wrote the Cinema Scope story in issue 70 that convinced me to watch this series in the first place (thanks).

If the scenario of 10 Cloverfield Lane was filmed with the emotional sensibility of The Road. Opens with the Joel Edgerton family (with Sarah and teenage Travis) murdering and burying grandpa, who has become infected with whatever killed the world, and only gets darker from there. Soon the Chris Abbot family (with Riley Keough and a young kid) shows up, and after a few days of Joel being extremely suspicious, they’re allowed to move in. But paranoia and infection follow, and the Abbots are evicted and killed.

It was sold as a horror movie (according to Indiewire, Black Phillip even has a cameo), but it’s a particularly grim sort of postapocalyptic thriller… effective, but somehow I didn’t go for it – too much grim hopelessness, not enough Take Shelter mystery/wonder – and it somewhat reduces my desire to catch up with Krisha. It’s not a bland genre exercise, tho – interesting ideas within.

Shults:

The ultimate unknown is death — I think that’s all over the movie. But there are worse things. And there’s a line you can cross that’s too far, and it breaks things, and if we keep functioning like this, and if we keep going in these cycles, we’re going to destroy ourselves. It’s inevitable. We need to take a step back. Losing our humanity is going to be a lot worse.

M. Halperin:

Travis’ sickness only appears after he’s seen his mother and father kill an entire family — mother, father, and child. For all we know, the disease could itself be a function of metaphor, appearing only after a character has been so fervently immersed in the deterioration of human structures. Indeed, Travis has watched as his parents, his creators and fervent shelterers, have themselves become the nightmares. (Quite literally: throughout the movie, Travis’ more surreal nightmares are shot in a different aspect ratio, and set to a different score. This brutally realistic scene, however, also occurs with these subtle flourishes.) Is his retching after this scene, and the coughing of blood, representative of a revulsion with the very stuff with which we’re made? Sure, he’s pretty undeniably sick, but the sickness is also a literal purging of blood — which metaphorically speaks to a guttural, uncontrollable desire to purge oneself of family, of an inheritance of violence.

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

Paul W.S. Anderson is beloved by Cinema Scope writers, who have grown increasingly excited since he returned to directing parts 4-6 of this series. I saw part one in theaters and thought it was quite bad, skipping the sequels even though the first ends with a killer setup for future installments. So, rewatching it now looking for glimmers of auteurist excellence, then we’ll see how many more Resident Evils I can get through. But first, let’s hear from the termite-art critics on letterboxd:

Autumn Faust:

Genuinely Romeroesque, Anderson sifts his formal preoccupations through immediate objective… and economic allegory … Anderson’s penchant for repeating shapes and patterns lends itself to depicting an environment of conformity for Milla Jovovich’s Alice to attempt to recover her identity within.

Silent Dawn:

With this first installment, Anderson is not only focused on the classicist nature of the narrative but also developing a deceiving signature, paying attention to movements within spacing while observing how the main characters are affected. However, even “character” is a strong word for Anderson’s world. Besides Alice, stock feelings and conversations are the norm, highlighting a top-down observatory creation that is constantly being manipulated, shifted, and flipped on its head. It’s an evident theme from the beginning sequence – an escaped viral infection and an AI’s deliberately inhumane attempt to control the issue – and it’s pushed further and further through each immaculate scene, an array of delicious, pulpy construction rampaging against abstract, controlled motion.

And now the reality – it’s still a pretty bad movie. The characters have almost no traits, the Prodigy-esque music and ugly CG creatures badly date the film, and the middle half is underlit action with a too-close camera and an occasional Cube-ripoff setpiece or cool-blue flashback. Plotting is weak from the start… I don’t believe for a second that a team of super-soldiers responding to an extreme emergency would take along two amnesiacs and a suspicious rookie cop. But I guess it’s faithful in spirit and visuals to the video game series, and Anderson makes his future wife Milla look rad most of the time.

Our heroes:

I like that instead of CG, they just put gore-sweaters on real dobermans:

Milla Jovovich (Fifth Element) lives in the mansion gateway to an underground Umbrella research lab with her fake husband James Purefoy (High-Rise, John Carter), wakes up with amnesia then is interrupted first by cop Eric Mabius (IMDB trivia: “Eric loves mustard and puts it on everything”) then a team of troops led by Colin Salmon (two James Bond movies in the 90’s, Alien vs. Predator). Colin gets Cube’d early on, then Michelle Rodriguez (Machete, Fast & Furious) takes over as team leader, maintaining her head-down/eyes-up badass pose long after it gets tiring. They’re investigating why the lab’s AI killed everyone – turns out this was to contain a zombie-virus unleashed by Purefoy. It also turns out Milla and Eric were working together to take down Umbrella, but given the apocalyptic wasteland that Milla finds after escaping, the company’s not their biggest problem anymore.

The commentary is great, the actors hanging out and talking shit about movies and video games and getting drunk while Anderson tries in vain to focus on what’s happening onscreen. Milla to Michelle: “Yo-va-vich! How difficult is it, for god’s sake? We made a movie together.”


Resident Evil 2: Apocalypse (2004, Alexander Witt)

When this originally opened (and I skipped it, having not enjoyed the first movie) I didn’t realize the ambition of the full series – you don’t usually use the Apocalypse subtitle in your first sequel. We’re now in the hands of director Witt, who has worked on 50 major movies, getting his start with Bergman and Fassbinder in the late 1970’s. Anderson’s still around as writer and producer, but he was off directing the detestable Alien vs. Predator. This movie looks a hundred times better than the first. There’s sometimes a low-framerate blur-cam on the zombies, making me think they’re compensating for makeup shortcomings, and fights are shot like garbage, but everything else is slick looking with less-horrendous music. Not saying I’m yet convinced of the masterpiece status of the Resident Evil series, but it’s a step in the right direction and I’m actually looking forward to the next episode. The critics disagree: “a disastrous step down”… “atrocious direction”… “mostly incomprehensible.”

Picking up right where we left off, Alice walks out into the ruins of the zombie-infested city. She meets badass supercop Valentine (Sienna Guillory of High-Rise) after Alice drives a motorcycle through a stained-glass window, blows it up in midair and kills the beasts that were terrorizing Valentine’s squad with an array of guns. So, Alice has been upgraded since the first movie, and so has her sidekick (Valentine > Michelle Rodriguez). The two of them will soon team up with Umbrella troop Carlos (Oded Fehr of the Brendan Fraser Mummy movies) and comic relief act LJ (Mike Epps, star of the Uncle Buck TV series).

Carlos and LJ:

Meanwhile, with the city overrun, Umbrella is trying to rescue lead viral scientist Dr. Ashford (Benmont in Dead Man, Lord Portley-Rind in The Boxtrolls), who refuses to comply unless they also rescue his missing daughter, so Alice, still technically an employee, is put on that task. And Umbrella is happily using the chaos to test their new mega-mutant (formerly Eric from part one, now a bazooka/chaingun-wielding guy in a rubber cenobite suit, which is a huuuge step up from the CGI in part one), having him target city police for some reason.

Very videogamey – check out the ammo count in the corner:

Dudes hide their zombie bites then turn on their friends at inopportune times – this is gonna happen in all the movies, isn’t it? We’ve got a cowboy sniper cop, a corporate baddie named Major Cain (Thomas Kretschmann of Argento’s Dracula 3D), a reporter who gets eaten by children and a nuclear blast. Milla now has super-rabbit jump skills, and once she runs straight down the side of a building – it’s cable-assisted, but still great.

The movie ends even more cynically than the first – after the company destroys the entire city to contain the outbreak, a reporter’s tape documenting the truth behind the infections gets out, but it’s dismissed as fake news. Alice is captured again in a new city/lab, might now be a clone and has obtained Scanner powers, and after her friends break her out, her eyes flash with the Umbrella logo.


Resident Evil 3: Extinction (2007, Russell Mulcahy)

So this is when the series gets good. An early action scene is shot like hot garbage, with the action shot way too close and disorienting edits, but things improve later on. The look and plot are now ripping off Mad Max since the t-virus has turned the planet into a desert shithole, while in the subterranean Umbrella labs they’re ripping off Day of the Dead, trying to domesticate captured zombies. I love how the tech in futuristic movies work – they use Ericsson flip phones and point-and-shoot cameras, but they also hologram-teleconference into meetings. I guess Anderson was busy prepping his dumb Death Race remake, so now we’ve got music-video vet Mulcahy with the first feature of his I’ve watched since Highlander 2: The Quickening.

Carlos and Claire:

A band of survivors led by Claire (Ali Larter of the Final Destination movies) and including Carlos and LJ from the previous movie (but not Valentine – the actress was in Eragon around this time) search for gasoline and survivors in a truck convoy, avoiding the zombie-filled larger cities. There’s also a cowboy sniper in the group – wasn’t there just a cowboy sniper in the last movie? In a probable reference to the video game series, whenever these guys need some item, it’s located in a creepy dark passageway full of hidden zombies. Superpsychic Alice roams alone, traveling by night to avoid Umbrella detection. When they team up, she’s visited by the AI girl from part one, making a welcome return, and the crew fights off a cloud of zombie crows. Carlos gets bit and kamikazes a zombie horde… LJ gets bit too, but he’s the guy in this movie who will hide it until too late.

Firestarter Alice, taking care of the killer crows situation:

Underground, Alice’s evil-scientist father-figure Iain Glen (Tomb Raider, Game of Thrones) is using Alice’s blood to transform other zombies, and also cloning new Alices and running them through fatal tests. When the higher-ups get tired of Glen abusing his authority (using Sneakers tactics) and murder him, he arises as a super-mutant with hentai-tentacle powers and goes on a spree until Alice breaks in and lures him into the Cube chamber. Claire and the few convoy survivors are helicoptering to the last outpost of humanity in Alaska, while Alice has got herself an empty facility, hundreds of Alice clones, and the locations of the other Umbrella bases.

Autumn again:

Eschewing the comparatively innocent side characters, the film ends by reaffirming the overarching series conflict between Alice and Umbrella, only this time, discerning the moral high ground between the two is much more complex task. If Umbrella wins, they’ll exert even more control over the new world they rebuild. If Alice wins, “the cure” isn’t found … it’s possible an organization dedicating itself to the restoration of mankind will have been destroyed by a peeved rogue.

Watched this again over a couple days… the Grindhouse version with trailers and interstitial stuff, not the extended director cuts released separately. I’m usually a nut for director’s cuts and extended versions, which is why I keep re-buying The New World and Michael Mann movies, but for some reason I’m satisfied with the theatrical edits here – maybe because the two “missing reels” are the best jokes in the movie.

Replacing my original writeup, which was pretty worthless. I didn’t know who most of these actors were at the time… going through ’em now with too many screenshots.

Machete:


Planet Terror (Robert Rodriguez)

I really enjoyed this the first time around, but conventional wisdom from critics in the intervening decade has been “Death Proof is a masterpiece, too bad it’s attached to that garbage Planet Terror.” So this time I was expecting to be disappointed in Planet Terror, to admonish my stupid youthful self for ever having loved it, but nope, still awesome.

Introduces a bunch of great characters in the first half, then brings them together at BBQ joint The Bone Shack, which gets invaded by zombies and catches fire in the missing reel, followed by the all-action showdown finale.

Pole dancer Cherry (Rose McGowan) is reunited with her ex, legendary biker El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez, “lopsidedly muscled” in Lady in the Water)… while scientist Abby (Naveen Andrews: Sense8, Lost) gets double-crossed by militia monster Bruce Willis

Scientist w/ wicked knife:

Fergie (of the Black Eyed Peas) stops at JT’s Bone Shack, talks to proprietor Jeff Fahey:

Dr. Josh Brolin and his anesthesiologist wife Marley Shelton (Sin City, Pleasantville):

Sheriff Michael Biehn (Kyle Reese in The Terminator) and Deputy Tom Savini:

Drama: Cherry loses her leg in a car crash and gets a machine gun replacement. Brolin catches his wife cheating, sticks her hands full of numbing meds, then their young son shoots himself and her Southern gentleman dad (the late Michael Parks) joins up. Willis turns into a giant mutant and his colleague Tarantino gets severe eye trauma. Most everyone dies, the survivors retreat to Mexico.

Marley with messed-up hands:

Fahey and Cherry:

QT, staked:


Werewolf Women of the SS (Rob Zombie)

This was actually kinda overlong and uninteresting and I was forgetting why I thought it was so great, and then came those magic words, “and Nicolas Cage as Fu Manchu” and suddenly I remembered.

Still love the voiceovers on Don’t (Will Arnett) and Thanksgiving (Eli Roth).


Death Proof (Quentin Tarantino)

Opens with a great replacement-title gag, then there’s some editing humor and surface noise, and another “missing reel” right when something sexy’s about to happen, but then QT chills out with the self-reflexive filmmaking gags as his movie gets darker.

Three girls are out for drinks in Austin: local DJ Jungle Julia (Sydney Poitier of last year’s Too Late and Netflix horror Clinical), Shanna (Jordan Ladd of Cabin Fever) and out-of-towner Butterfly (Vanessa Ferlito of Spider-Man 2). QT and Eli Roth are in the house, then their friend Lanna Frank (Monica Staggs, Daryl Hannah’s stunt double in Kill Bill) finally shows up and the girls take off. Meanwhile, Stuntman Mike has been stalking them, agrees to give a ride to drunken Pam (Rose McGowan again) at the bar, then kills everybody. I remembered Pam getting bounced around in his open passenger area with Mike in the protected driver’s seat, but forgot the rest – he rams the other girls’ car head-on, just destroying it, and the movie jumps back in time to show each death in detail. Except for this gruesome couple of minutes, it’s practically QT’s most wholesome movie, 80% talking and 20% car chases.

Up front: Shanna, Lanna, Jungle Julia, Butterfly:

Pam at left, with bartender QT and patrons:

Planet Terror characters cameoing in Death Proof’s hospital scene:

And about that car chase… next, a bunch more girls, and I can’t maintain much interest in the dialogue after he’s just Psycho’d his entire cast and expecting us to care about a whole new one, but here goes. This time they’re all in the film business: makeup artist Rosario Dawson, actress/model Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the girl with hair like this), and two stunt women, Kim (Tracie Thoms of Rent, Wonderfalls) and Zoë Bell (as herself, lately of The Hateful Eight). Lee is left with some redneck while the others test drive his Vanishing Point car. Kim drives while Zoë does poses on the hood, then suddenly Stuntman Mike starts running them off the road. Some of Zoë’s hood antics here are unbelievable, and the chase goes on nearly forever, then at a stop Kim shoots Mike, who drives off crying until they catch up and beat the shit out of him. Mike is one of my favorite QT creations, a super-tough, scar-faced pervert predator who becomes an absolute whiny little bitch when the tables are turned.

“Full Moon Pictures presents”

Oh God, it’s happening. I delayed for seven years, watching the occasional Dollman or Demonic Toys movie, but there are still Puppet Master sequels to watch, and eventually I must watch them.

“A Charles Band Production”

Don’t be too impressed – IMDB says Band produced 30 movies that year.

“A Joseph Tennent Film”

Since his previous Puppet Master sequel only a year earlier, director David DeCoteau had made about seven movies under various aliases.

Retro Puppetmaster

It’s so retro that Puppetmaster is one word again – a throwback to the first movie, or a misspelling due to overall franchise confusion and underpaid titles writers?

Flashbacking from 1944 to “long ago” Cairo, a sorcerer is stealing the secrets of the gods, and everyone in this temple is repeating their lines of dialogue in order to pad the scene.

Vincent Price-ish sorcerer holding scroll of forbidden secrets:

To Paris 1902, and enter flamboyant Ilsa, who is acting her heart out, and uptight Marguerite, who seems to be appearing in this movie at gunpoint and reading her lines phonetically. “Don’t go into any opium dens,” Ilsa is advised as she heads for a puppet show. She meets Young Toulon (now played by Greg Sestero, soon to become infamous in The Room) backstage when sewer-dwelling Dark City fellows hire hit men to take out a hobo after the show.

Sestero is not strangling this hobo, he’s checking for signs of life:

The prop and costume budget on this movie seems higher than the talent budget. “I understand. You’re a 3000-year-old sorcerer from Egypt and you want to teach me the secret of life.” Afzel (Jack Donner, DiCaprio’s dad in J. Edgar) shows Young Toulon how to resurrect the soul of his dead hobo friend into a mute wooden puppet with oversized arms, telling him this is the most precious power in the history of the world, which I dunno. The new wooden puppets are cool: I call them Skeletal Surgeon, Primitive Screwhead, Sergeant Cyclops and Hobo Hulk.

“It is time to act,” say the Dark City Goons, and not a moment too soon… oh, but that’s not what they meant. While Toulon is off being arrested and beaten by Ilsa’s ambassador father’s soldiers, the DCGs head to the theater and psychically murder all the puppeteers by blurring the film over their faces. Cornered, Afzel proactively blurs himself to death.

Blur-attack:

Self-blur suicide:

After all this plot and dreadful dialogue delivery, Toulon only has 30 minutes left in the movie to transfer the souls of his dead friends into the wood puppets and direct them to murder the DCGs. “We shall be avengers.” It’s actually not bad as far as origin stories go.

They set out to search the country for the Dark City Goons, but they’re standing right in the other room, so we get our first showdown straight away: the DCGs’ film-blurring powers vs. a bunch of stabby, strangley little puppets. The DCGs are dispatched by a falling chandelier, then the voice of Sutek shouts “live again,” and two of them do, with newly green-glowing hands. The remaining DCGs (their leader, the appropriately-named Stephen Blackehart, was later in Super and both Guardians of the Galaxy) decide to get to Toulon by kidnapping his girl.

Lovely Ilsa: Brigitta Dau, a voice on My Little Pony in its least-popular era:

Blackehart, probably:

Second showdown, on a train this time, where everyone talks real slow to allow the puppets time to get into position. It’s all kinda underlit and non-dramatic, so DeCoteau tries tilting the camera around to build some energy. The puppets team up on one guy and Toulon punches the other out the window. As with the rest of the Puppet Master movies, it feels like they’re desperately stretching out scenes to make a contractually-obligated runtime.

In 1944 postscript, properly aged Toulon (series fave Guy Rolfe) builds anticipation for another movie by telling his puppets that he’ll tell them what happened to the original puppets “at another time” – but it would be four long years before the clip-show Puppet Master: The Legacy, a cheap and shitty move even by this series’s standards, then came the Demonic Toys faceoff, and in the 2010s a new nazi-themed trilogy began, so I guess we’ll never know.

Perhaps I picked a strange week to finally watch Amour, having just returned from a funeral, or perhaps I picked the perfect time. After all, I hear that it’s an emotionally wrecking movie, but the experiences in the movie seem brief and merciful compared to what a couple of my relatives recently went through.

Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant are tasteful and educated, have lived together for decades in their quiet apartment where she gives piano lessons. One day she has a minor stroke, then a corrective operation doesn’t go well, and she slides further away every week while her husband watches, helping as much as he can, but desperately unable to keep her mind from deteriorating, until she’s almost completely gone and he finishes her off with a pillow. In a typically quizzical Haneke ending, their daughter Isabelle Huppert comes home at the end looking for them – we’ve seen police find the body in an opening flash-forward, but we don’t know where Jean-Louis has disappeared to.

I thought it an excellent movie despite how dismissive I’m sounding here, and it’s encouraging that Haneke seems to have learned empathy. It’s also much, much better than the last movie I watched called Love. The movie (and Haneke and Riva) won all the awards, from césars and oscars to the Cannes palme d’or, but the AARP “movies for grownups” award went to Flight instead.

Adam Cook:

The couple’s apartment, full of their memories and long collected items (paintings, books etc.), slowly shifts from a haven to a prison, both physically (the camera rarely ventures outside the confines of their flat) and in the objects that fill the cavernous rooms. Music, once the loves of their lives, becomes a painful reminder of their pasts and what will never be again. Haneke, in the use of long static shots allows the audience to soak in these all important details and help to understand who these people were before the debilitating illness systematically destroyed their world.

Ouch from C. Huber:

Haneke, meanwhile, adhered demonstratively to the world of his polite, bourgeois couple, tactful even in the “provocations,” making Amour the ultimate in art-house art: a film that comfortably ushers its dwindling target audience towards its eventual demise.

The Sea of Trees (2015, Gus Van Sant)

Just for a change of pace, let’s start with something that played in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, by a director I’ve often loved. McConaughey is searching for his missing friend Ken Watanabe, to no avail. He limps into the Japanese forest, leaving a trail of objects, while the music soars (and soars! and soars!), finally discovering not Ken but an orchid. The orchid gives him flashbacks, and he opens a package he’s been carrying for years I think, finding a children’s book, which he reads on the plane ride home to his old life in a gorgeous house, teaching undergrads about “forces of attraction” whilst remembering his dead wife. So I think Ken was a ghost in a haunted forest. Writer Chris Sparling also did Buried, which I’ve been low-key wanting to watch for six years.


Captain Fantastic (2016, Matt Ross)

This won a directing prize at Cannes and lead actor Viggo got an oscar nomination, but the Guardian says it’s terrible, so who to believe? Viggo has already lost his beard from the movie poster, has gathered his clan for the viking funeral of his wife. That’s two dead wife movies in a row! The kids play a hippie “Sweet Child o’ Mine” while their mom burns up, then her ashes are flushed down a toilet. Really glad I didn’t watch this one – thanks, The Guardian. The director is better known as an actor, in American Psycho and The Aviator.


Anthropoid (2016, Sean Ellis)

I thought Inglorious Basterds would’ve halted the nazi assassination attempt movies for a while, but nope, here’s another one based on another extraordinary true story. Looks like it’s all gone to hell and our heroes are being shot at. Well-directed scene of Jamie Dornan’s last stand. A captured ally tries to convince Cillian Murphy and his remaining buddies to surrender from their church basement hideout, but they finally get flooded and blasted, shooting themselves when all hope is lost, but not before Cillian sees the ghost of his dead wife (so that’s three in a row). At least the closing titles say they killed their target nazi, though 5000 civilians were murdered in response. Whatever the Czech Lion awards are, this movie got nominated for a hundred of them.


Equals (2015, Drake Doremus)

The movies are getting less respectable now, though this won an award in Venice for its many-layered scratch-roar music, as Nicholas Hoult pretends to wanna jump off a building. That’s four suicide-referencing movies in a row… this is what I get for watching serious festival shit instead of the usual dumb horror. Hoult has a tearful reunion with Kristen Stewart in their dark blue apartment, the whispered dialogue buried under the yelling of my suddenly-active birds. I think the idea is these are the only two people in a future universe who have emotions, and I guess at the end they get separated and she is sad – or he loses his emotions and she is sad. It depends whether this guy in the final scene is Hoult or not. I cannot ever recognize the guy. Doremus previously made Like Crazy with Anton Yenchin and Jennifer Lawrence, which Katy has probably seen.


Terminator 5: Genisys (2015, Alan Taylor)

I missed the future-set Salvation but it costs four bucks to rent, so let’s see if this alternate-timeline sequel makes any sense without it (or at all). Out of respect for a formerly-beloved series, I’m gonna give it twelve minutes. Ol’ one-eyed Arnold is back from part two, fighting another liquid metal thing. I guess Genisys is a virtual baddie with a dramatic countdown clock before he becomes Lawnmower Man all over the internet, and John Conner has turned evil. “You are nothing but a relic from a deleted timeline.” Arnold stolidly sacrifices himself yet again, and yet another big building blows up, as Jai Courtney and some fake Sarah Conner make their escape into a hopeful future, aided by new T-1000 liquid Arnold. The director did Thor 2 and lots of television, the writers did Alexander and Dracula 2000, and I can’t believe that Terminator was handed over to these bozos.


Yoga Hosers (2016, Kevin Smith)

This feels like an SNL movie or an Austin Powers sequel, since it’s all painful jokes extended past their breaking points. Hey, miniaturized nazis inside a Friday The 13thAlien costume, so maybe this is an Austin Powers sequel after all. The bad guy wants to kill art critics – that’s the only Kevin Smith-sounding thing I’m hearing. Johnny Depp’s makeup is excellent since I only realized that’s him after looking up the character name – but then, why cast Johnny Depp at all? I don’t get how terrible this looks, since I thought Red State was good. An important precedent has been set – I couldn’t bear this any longer and didn’t watch the full ten minutes. I guess the extra couple minutes for Genisys evens things out.


Antibirth (2016, Danny Perez)

AV Club gave this a C- but I almost watched it anyway because of the sweet blacklight poster. Chloe Sevigny tells Natasha Lyonne that she knew about the horror experiment from the start, so Natasha escapes with Meg “sister of Jennifer” Tilly. None of the dialogue or camerawork is good, and now villain Stephen Stills from Scott Pilgrim is driving Chloe somewhere while Natasha gives birth to a rubber demon head (which I guess is better than a CG demon head), then in some of the most incompetent strobe-light flailing I’ve seen in a movie, she gives birth to a full-size demon body that pummels Stephen Stills to death. Danny Perez also made Oddsac, which I rather loved.


Sinister (2012, Scott Derrickson)

Ethan Hawke finds the director’s cut of some ghost home movies in the attic of his haunted house, and a thrilling, poison-coffee-fueled film-splicing scene follows. Deputy James Ransone calls to say a serial killer will probably kill Ethan tonight, then Ethan calmly returns to his film screening, learning that the missing children of the murdered families did all the murders. Then I guess his own missing daughter chops him up with an axe. I think they hoped to do for small-gauge film what The Ring and V/H/S did for videotape. Derrickson made previous LTM entry Hellraiser: Inferno, and I don’t have high hopes for his Doctor Strange.


Hush (2016, Mike Flanagan)

The one about a deaf woman being stalked at home, not the one that premiered the exact same day about a blind man being stalked at home. Scared Kate Siegel emails her family a physical description of her attacker, says “died fighting,” and waits for the inevitable. But the attacker is super dumb, and tries sneaking up behind her as if she has no other senses, gets stabbed. Fight ensues and he chokes her to death. But wait no, she is alive and corkscrews him in the throat. Seems like your standard-issue murder thriller. Director and star also made Oculus and a Ouija sequel together, are working on Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game.

Daniel Kaluuya (my favorite Black Mirror actor) is dating Allison Williams (my fourth-favorite Girls actress), comes to visit her parents Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford and brother Caleb Landry Jones (Antiviral) in an aggressively white suburb. At first there’s the socially-awkward but not overtly threatening kind of racial tension: dad brags about his Obama support and all the white family’s employees are black. But things get weirder after the mom hypnotizes Kaluuya and now he can’t tell if he’s being paranoid or if there’s a conspiracy, until it’s too late and he’s tied to a chair in the basement being prepped for brain surgery, so the highest bidder (blind Stephen Root) can flee his aging white body and live fifty more years inside Kaluuya’s.

A finely crafted thriller, and I’d never in a million years guess it was from the writer of Keanu. I could tell that Peele had made a super-effective movie when the white Nebraska audience at my crowded screening erupted in cheers when Allison Williams got shot (or maybe she’s just their least-favorite Girls actress as well). Betty Gabriel (The Purge 3) and Marcus Henderson (Insidious 4) play the grandparents play-acting as servants (she’s especially good – coldly suspicious then briefly vulnerable). Keith Stanfield (Short Term 12 and Atlanta, Snoop in Straight Outta Compton) is the party guest who yells the title line at Kaluuya when a camera flash wakes him from “the sunken place.” And comedian Lil Rel Howery is Kaluuya’s buddy in the TSA who gets all the best lines.

Some of the reception has focused on whether it’s a scary/effective horror movie, which is the same kind of horror-purist bickering that lowered appreciation for Cabin in the Woods and The Witch. Come on everyone, break out of your genre holes. Peele more accurately calls it a “social thriller,” and says he’s working on four more.

Alan:

One minute in, this movie that will play every mall in America makes it viscerally clear that it’s not black guys who are scary — it’s neighborhoods packed with sheltered dopes who quake at the very thought of black guys … Get Out is searing satire, with scary/comic riffs on slavery and assimilation, but it’s also a smashing crowd-pleaser of a horror film, complete with mad science, cult-like crazies and a creep-out homage to Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin … But even as Peele brings the house down, we see the serious toll of all this horror on Chris’ face and body. Neither the movie nor anybody watching can take it all as a joke.

Reviews of the long, long-awaited new Phantasm sequel are in, and they’re all negative. The digital effects are so bad, you guys. The spheres have no sense of physical reality and move in perfect straight lines. The plot is bizarre, the sets and cameras are cheap, the trailer was better, and so on. These things are true, but I’ll gladly take this Phantasm sequel over no Phantasm sequel.

New characters: Dawn Cody is the hottie who gives Reggie a ride to her house then gets killed, showing up later under a different name. Chuck is an anti-sphere militant short enough to masquerade as one of the robed beastie creatures. Old characters: they bring back the Lady In Lavender from the graveyard in part one, of all the crazy things, and also nunchuck-totin’ Rocky from part three in a cameo. Speaking of cameos, that’s all Jody’s role amounts to – a couple minutes driving the digitally-souped-up Barracuda before it recedes into the sphere-dominated wastelands.

The movie has its fan-service showdowns, apocalyptic hellscapes and bloody sphere-killings, but it’s a proper Phantasm movie, which means it is properly unusual. I don’t think fans were clamoring to see Reggie losing his marbles in a rest home or dying peacefully in a hospital bed. At the end of part one Mike is told that there were no spheres or tall man, that Jody died naturally, and this one doubles up on the reality-questioning, with Reggie flashing between the rest home and different horror/adventure scenarios (along with The Tall Man, Reggie’s rival and/or roommate). The ball implanted in Mike’s head is referenced, Reggie and the others warp between dimensions through the usual portals, plus via mini torture-chamber mind-control portal, plus unwillingly by insanity or chance. None of this gets quite explained in a way that privileges one reality over another, and the parts are shuffled just enough to leave the series on unsteady ground, letting us write our own version of the ending. That’s all you can ask of a series as strange as this one – to take the characters on one more ride, and leave things just as mysterious as they began.