Bao (Domee Shi)
We’d already seen this before Incredibles 2, but our audience must’ve missed that, and found it hilarious.

Late Afternoon (Louise Bagnall)
The obvious artistic achievement in the bunch, smoothly following patterns and colors into memory holes, a fanciful visualization of an Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother’s thoughts while her daughter is tidying up. Louise is from Ireland, worked on Song of the Sea.

Animal Behaviour (Alison Snowden & David Fine)
I don’t recall Bob & Margaret having writing this obvious, but I do recall this sort of thing being done to death in other animated shorts, including some by Snowden & Fine’s former employer Aardman. Group therapy session with different types of animals ends when a rampaging ape can’t control his anger issues.

Weekends (Trevor Jimenez)
Good editing and visual details, but it’s also the third movie in a half hour to feature dream logic while telling a story about strained relationships between parents and kids. Boy lives with his mom who is pulling her life together, spends weekends in dad’s super cool apartment. I saw the director’s noirish Key Lime Pie a decade ago.

One Small Step (Andrew Chesworth & Bobby Pontillas)
And here’s the fourth, minus the dream logic. I think someone on the academy nominating board had just lost a parent and was feeling very emotional about this subject. Katy said this one was a by-the-numbers Pixar-style story – girl is raised by her shoe repairman dad, is failing to achieve her dream of becoming an astronaut, but gives it another go after dad dies.

Wishing Box (Wenli Zhang & Nan Li)
The jokey, cartoony one – pirate recovers a seemingly empty box that contains whatever his pet monkey wants it to. The monkey finally figures out that his master wants gold coins, and pulls out enough to sink their ship, yuk yuk.

Tweet Tweet (Zhanna Bekmambetova)
Extremely Metaphorical, person walking the Tightrope of Life, growing up, falling in love, losing her husband to the war, and still trudging ever forward, attended constantly by a cutie little bird.

A great improvement on that Black Mirror with the inflatable husband-substitute… three acts of interactions with holograms programmed to behave like lost loved ones. First, Lois Smith (Minority Report, and not Almereyda’s Twister but the other one) is given a virtual version of her late husband, as his handsome younger self (Black Mirror star Jon Hamm), by their daughter Geena Davis and husband Tim Robbins. Here the word “prime” refers to the A.I. replica, not the original, as in World of Tomorrow. Already things are unsteady, since Hamm Prime is learning how to be a more accurate version of himself, and ditto Smith since her memory is becoming unreliable.

In the second part, Smith has passed away, and her prime provides little comfort for her daughter, who has committed suicide by part three, and whose prime provides little comfort for Tim Robbins. Great final scene where the three primes chat with each other, being open about topics which were forbidden to the living. Some of my favorite actors together in a room with a good script, something you’d assume would be done all the time, but which seems hard to pull off in practice. You can tell it’s based on a play, but it’s not overly stagey, with low-light and backlight effects and great unsettling string music by Mica Levi (Under the Skin).

Emily Prime, a year older than last time, is visited by an incomplete backup copy of her third generation clone, who is using time travel to visit her own inherited memories. The clone hopes to copy Emily’s consciousness over her own, a process which somewhat succeeds, after some memory tourism, personality glitches, future history lessons, and of course, philosophizing on the meaning of life and our individual place within the universe.

The computer-animated mindscapes and off-world dystopian future visions are as great as in the previous film, which I’ve been known to call the best animated short of all time. So I had absurdly high expectations, and Episode 2 met them, feeling like a perfectly natural continuation of the first film. Not as many mindblowing new ideas in this one since he set up so much previously, but the writing (based around conversations with a six-year-old) is probably better, circling back to each idea and conversation in a self-conscious loop while expanding the ideas about memories and identity.

I’m not convinced there needed to be a Blade Runner sequel, but if commercial concerns demanded one, this was probably as good as it was gonna get. You’ve got action, Harrison Ford, lots of references to the first movie but also new explorations of memory and authenticity, artificial intelligence and humanity.

New replicant-cop-who-is-himself-a-replicant Ryan Gosling, working for Robin Wright (also cool in Wonder Woman this year), kills Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) and finds Rachael’s bones. New boss of the new replicant organization is Jared Leto, who sends his enforcer Luv (Dutch Sylvia Hoeks) to steal information from the weak government. Mackenzie Davis (San Junipero) is a prostitute who follows Gosling and tries to seduce him, but unsuccessfully since his true love is a Her-like hologram named Joi (Ana de Armas of Knock Knock). Gosling dives deep within the conspiracy, finds Harrison Ford and leads him to his lost daughter, false-memory-creator Carla Juri. Also appearing: Barkhad Abdi, the security guard in Good Time. Everyone in this is great, except Leto, who acts like a magician. The music sucked, was all bwaaaamp sounds, and Geostorm was playing next door, so when my seat rumbled I could barely tell if it was my own movie or if a geostorm was hitting.


Blade Runner 2048: Nowhere to Run (Luke Scott)

A series of Blade Runner sequel/prequel shorts, introduced by Villeneuve. In this one, Dave Bautista goes to the city to sell some bottled snakes and give a girl a book, utterly destroys a street gang and accidentally attracts police attention.


Blade Runner 2036: Nexus Dawn (Luke Scott)

Magician Jared Leto faces off against government agent Benedict Wong (Black Mirror: Hated in the Nation) in a dimly-lit, delapidated office, displays the suicidal obediance of his new replicants in order to get the laws changed. Luke “son of Ridley” Scott also made the Prometheus shorts, the Alien: Covenant shorts and an episode of The Hunger TV series, and I’m sensing a pattern.


Blade Runner 2022: Black Out (Shinichiro Watanabe)

Anime short from the director of Cowboy Bebop, the one I was looking forward to, and therefore the most disappointing. Prequel shorts that fill in story gaps between major stories are fully unnecessary, and this one’s got some style (and briefly Edward James Olmos) but not enough to redeem the bad dialogue. Kung-fu replicants whup the asses of a Star Wars-helmeted security team, conspiring to cause the blackout mentioned in the sequel film. Lead girl Luci Christian has voiced a million movies and shows, including the Fullmetal Alchemist series.

Cool impressionist war sequence:

“It’s not an easy thing to meet your maker.”

I remembered noir detective Harrison Ford tracking rogue artificial humans Rutger Hauer and Daryl Hannah through a future city, but did not remember the replicants convincing childlike inventor/toymaker William Sanderson to bring them to their maker Terrell (Joe Turkel wearing stop-sign glasses). First time watching the “final cut” edition on blu-ray, and it was glorious.

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).

“Why don’t you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?”

Brilliant visual display of espionage, duplicity, politics and memory (real and false), with at least five perfect performances, but the one who towers above them all is Angela Lansbury as a power-hungry politician’s-wife.

A group of Americans is captured with help from their traitor translator Henry Silva, then Laurence Harvey (Darling, Room at the Top) is brainwashed by the Enemy and sent back to the States, but his fellow soldier Frank Sinatra starts to remember their capture and realize something is amiss. Meanwhile Sinatra falls for Vivian Leigh, Harvey kills his girlfriend (Leslie Parrish of Li’l Abner), and Harvey is being controlled by his evil mother to put his weak-willed stepfather in power, but he turns on them at the last minute.

Sinatra and his girl:

Harvey and his mother:

A movie featuring a wannabe-president supported by a foreign power who puts ketchup on his steaks. I originally planned to double-feature this with A Face in the Crowd, but maybe The Dead Zone would be more appropriate. Frankenheimer made this the same year as Birdman of Alcatraz, a couple years before the similarly paranoid Seconds.

Six more Charlie Brooker-written dystopian fictions, now streaming in our dystopian reality.


Nosedive

Not the best opening to the new series, too blunt and screamy for my tastes. A yelp/ebay/etc star-rating system gone out of control, with everyone rating everyone else over every interaction, and all social status and even home loans depending on personal ratings. Lacie (Bryce Howard of Lady in the Water) gets increasingly desperate as her plan to increase her ratings for a society wedding backfire, and she spirals down until she can’t even get picked up hitchhiking due to her short-term social media reputation. Trucker Cherry Jones gives her an inspirational speech about living outside society, then Lacie crashes the wedding. Directed by Joe Wright (Atonement), cowritten by Parks & Rec‘s Michael Schur and Rashida Jones, and featuring the best Black Mirror music ever, courtesy Max Richter, who incorporates the downvote sound effect into the music during Lacie’s death spiral.


Playtest

Cooper (Wyatt Russell, the guy who pretends to still be in college in Everybody Wants Some!!), kind of a likeable idiot, gets stranded while traveling the world, signs up to earn some quick cash playtesting a VR game. I’m a sucker for movies with dream/game layers where you can’t tell what’s real, and this was a good one. The idea behind the game is a haunted-house horror experience that uses your mind’s own fears against you, and Coop’s biggest fear is losing his mind like his Alzheimer’s-afflicted father did, which is what happens when his attempts at trade-secret espionage interfere with the equipment and it fries his brain. Director Dan Trachtenberg made 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Coop playing an early, harmless demo:


Shut Up and Dance

I don’t think this one is based on any technology that doesn’t already exist. After trying to have affairs or look at child porn or other blackmailable offenses, strangers with prankster-infected laptops get dragged around the city making deliveries and being asked to do increasingly terrible things, including bank robbery (“I saw it in a documentary. It looked easy”) and fistfighting to the death. Then their secrets get leaked to friends and family anyway, a grinning trollface sent to each of the victims. Director James Watkins made The Woman in Black and Eden Lake, lead Alex Lawther played young Turing in The Imitation Game, and his older partner in crime was Jerome Flynn of Ripper Street, not Michael Smiley like I first hoped.


San Junipero

Just what I needed after the nihilism of the previous episode, a lovely story with complicated ideas about (virtual) life and (actual) death. Opens with a Lost Boys poster and Belinda Carlisle song on the radio and Max Headroom on TVs, pushing its 1987 setting hard, but then “one week later” we’re in 1980, and “one week later” it’s 1996. Shy Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis of Always Shine) met exhuberant Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) one night in a time-hopping Matrix fantasy world but didn’t have the nerve to follow through on their relationship, and now searches for her every week during their time-limited trials, as their actual, aged bodies live in separate nursing homes. The most human-feeling Black Mirror, and also the one that ends in the most inhuman manner, a robot arm attending to its databank of disembodied consciousnesses. The director did last season’s Be Right Back, also about personal/virtual relationships.


Men Against Fire

Not my favorite episode, by director Jakob Verbruggen (Whishaw/Broadbent miniseries London Spy) who makes a hash of the action scenes, but it’s one of my favorite evil technologies – military implants that help soldiers kill the enemy without hesitation by making the enemy “roaches” look and sound inhuman. Lead soldier Stripe, whose equipment glitches so he can see the truth, is Malachi Kirby of the new Roots remake. He’s briefly allied with Ariane Labed (Alps, The Lobster) before his partner catches up with him, kills Ariane and his equipment is recalibrated to brainwash him back into blissful ignorance and conformity.


Hated in the Nation

A combination of previous ideas – rogue hacker messes with people over social media leading to their deaths, and intrusive government technology leads to dystopian horror. In this case the gov-tech is bee-drones which replace the country’s dying honeybees and happen to double as ubiquitous surveillance devices. After our hacker uses a sort of twitter poll to let the people decide whose brains the bees will burrow into through their ears, cop Kelly Macdonald (voice star of Brave) tries to protect future victims. She finally gets lead beemaker Benedict Wong (Prometheus and The Martian) to try deactivating all bugs, but instead they go after everyone who participated in the online death polls, killing hundreds of thousands. A nicely apocalyptic way to leave off. Director James Hawes made a TV remake of The 39 Steps a few years back.

I guess it’s about two people with traumatic pasts who try to track down where their lives went wrong – but as I could tell from the trailer, it’s hard to say exactly what it’s about. One thing I wasn’t expecting: it opens with Swanberg/Wingard regular Amy Seimetz being kidnapped and force-fed a mind-control worm by a patient abductor who takes her home and gets her to sign over all her home equity, which he cashes and disappears.

In her shabby new life working at a signage shop, Amy is relentlessly courted by divorced ex-junkie Shane (our writer/director/etc) who tries to help her come to terms with her life. He has his own identity problems – she tells him stories and he fashions them into his own memories and tries to re-tell them to her. During the mutual-paranoid-freakout scene in a bathtub the movie started to remind me of Bug.

Elsewhere in the world, a pig farmer is somehow involved with the worm-brainwashed abductees and possibly the harvesting of new mind-control worms. Also he seems to be a sound recordist. Amy pieces together enough details to discover his farm and kill him, upon which they find documents on all the other kidnappees, and invite them all to the pig farm.

And I haven’t even mentioned these guys:

The above is a silly description of an entrancing movie.
This was a long time coming after Carruth’s great Primer.
Co-edited by David Lowery, whose Ain’t Them Bodies Saints made waves the same year.

Cinema Scope has an excellent interview with Carruth:

From a writing perspective, I don’t want these people to wake up and have a normal resolution. That’s impossible for me because that means that I understand all of this and have a morality lesson to explain to the audience. And I don’t. All I have is an exploration. So the characters can resolve their story in their own way, but that doesn’t stop the exploration for me.