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The ‘Resident Evil’ Films are Just Different Enough to Work

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The zombie-killing genre is a persistent force in the realm of video games. Whether they favor classic shoot ‘em ups, survival-horror, or role playing, the last decade’s list of zombie-related titles has offered something to all varieties of players. But one specific title has stood somewhat as the root of this success. A necrotic nightmare of politics, mutated fiends, and honest frights, the Resident Evil series is a familiar name for most gamers. Twenty years of survival-horror have led to the creation of associated toys, comic books, and novels. But it is the Resident Evil films which, for better or worse, have revolutionized the way that people think about the entirety of the franchise.

Film adaptations of popular video games were in no way instigated by Resident Evil, though. This cinematic category had been developing for nearly a decade before the first installment in this series was released in 2002. But this series accomplished something that few adaptations could; it launched a continuously successful existence of its own. Many will watch films such as Super Mario Bros., Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, and Street Fighter only to incur a sense of disappointment, as they see their beloved video games butchered on the big screen. But what was it that Resident Evil was able to overcome? In short, the Resident Evil films live on only because they honor their source material without fearing familiar experimentation.

Resident_Evil_1_cover

The cinematic spark of the films is not that they are live-action remakes of the games. Instead, they are inspired by playable experiences; the films are actually enhanced by their differences. The central protagonist of the movies is a woman known as Alice Abernathy, a character that is completely absent from any of the games. Yet, she embodies the classic characterization that creates an iconic Resident Evil heroine; she is a strong, often independent woman with skills and experiences that set her beyond the norm. The series would be hardly recognizable without its Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield, but it is Alice, portrayed by Milla Jovovich, who is the centerpiece for each of the theatrical posters. Only the most radical of fans will find it difficult to find the same level of fascination with Alice’s mysterious past and kick-butt attitude that they find any of their beloved characters. Objectively, some of the most under-performing on-screen characters and elements are pulled directly from the games’ list. Many will note Resident Evil: Extinction’s treatment of Albert Wesker, a villain who is notorious for posing a persistent threat to the games’ protagonists, as being disappointing in comparison to the original. Even after being re-casted and redesigned in Resident Evil: Retribution this character was not able to achieve the same popularity as in the games.
Alice RE

Even the central plot elements of the games can afford to be twisted. After the climactic finale of Resident Evil: Apocalypse the films truly begin to diverge from their source material. The remainder of the cinematic sequels are set in a post-apocalyptic world where the few humans left are only trying to survive the ever-present threat of a zombie horde. However, the large majority of the games are set during isolated incidents, in an otherwise familiar world. To be sure, there is no escape from the nightmare when Alice escapes Raccoon City as there is when Leon Kennedy completes his odyssey in Resident Evil: 4.  The complicated and situation-specific nature of each entry in the game series is not something that can easily be transferred to a film. Doing this allows for the movies to simplify the series’ plot into an action-driven narrative of bullets, zombified foes, and one-liners. It is a style that recent games, such as the infamously criticized Resident Evil 5, have adopted, meeting a mixed array of reviews in the process. But this shift in tone is exactly what an entire genre of moviegoers has been paying to watch for decades. The reason that this is acceptable is that the films do not strip the series of its essence. Regardless of setting, there exists a quality to Resident Evil that is iconic and universal: it is infamous for its ability to create an undeniably haunting thematic experience.

Surroundings in the game are hardly dull or uninteresting; even when the frights are simple, depths are developed to be complex. Many fans will remember cautiously moving their character across the ambiance of the early titles’ nearly silent, claustrophobic corridors, only to find that silence becomes violated by the piercing surprise of an unseen enemy. The films build upon this trend by delivering an environment that truly creates an experience inspired by the series, even when the scenery is unfamiliar to players. The streets of Raccoon City in Resident Evil: Apocalypse feel desperate as they are overrun by hordes of undead, militant groups, and the threats of the monstrously encroaching Nemesis, an enemy that is just as menacing in the film as it is in the titular Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. The desolate desert of Resident Evil: Extinction’s Nevada is a lonely encounter that is contrasted by deceptively progressive lab facilities, conveying a sense of solemn emptiness not unlike that seen in the hallways of Spencer Mansion during the original Resident Evil.

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Nemesis Resident eviil

Nemesis in all of its cinematic glory.

Despite varying degrees of faithfulness to the source material, the success of Resident Evil’s cinematic exploits has picked up a massive following of movie fans and longtime players of the series alike. Ultimately, the films’ commercial victory makes one thing certain: Movies and video games are two different worlds with specific criteria of their own. This is what the Resident Evil films are most aware of. They do not attempt to become literal depictions of the games; they respect familiar audiences, but they make no effort to pander to them; they are independent experiences of their own that can offer an exciting evening to anybody, regardless of brand recognition.

A fanatic of all things human, Steven spends an alarming amount of time researching untrue facts. Did you know that the Trojan horse was nicknamed “Tro-jo”? Just like you, he loves video games, movies, “the telly”, and all sorts of wacky thingamajigs. Ask him a question about anything and he’s sure to start a conversation somehow! Also he lives in that Texas part of America! Though writing about games is his current side hustle, Steven hopes to create an impactful journalism career by turning his thoughts into words, sounds, and images. You can hear him say the word lettuce a bunch of times by listening to a show he and his friends created called “Trash Babies”.

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‘Uncut Gems’ Sends Adam Sandler Through the Ringer

The Safdie Brothers have crafted a hectic, abrasive crime thriller that revels in its misery.

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Uncut Gems

The Safdie Brothers have followed up their grimy, abrasive Good Time with a film that never quite reaches those levels of tension, but is nevertheless cut from the same cloth. With Uncut Gems, the directing duo has crafted something so loud and chaotic — led by a perfectly-cast Adam Sandler — that there is no denying it’s a fun ride, even when it is not so fun to watch. Digging through the grit of loan sharks and a dog-eat-dog world, Uncut Gems is another bonafide hit by the Safdie brothers, but one that works when it piles on the misery — which it often does, rather than find a shred of happiness.

Evading debt collectors throughout New York City, Howard (Sandler) runs a jewelry shop in the Diamond District where he sells to many high-profile celebrities. When a new opal arrives at his shop from Ethiopia, he can’t help but show it off to Boston Celtics player Kevin Garnett (who stars as himself in a fun role that never feels out-of-place), who becomes obsessed with the rock and borrows it with the hope of eventually convincing Howard to let him buy it. Of course, Howard has other plans, as the rock is allegedly worth a million dollars if sold at an auction in which he has already purchased a spot. When Garnett doesn’t return the stone, everything starts going horribly awry in Howard’s life as he juggles a failing marriage, his Jewish family ties, and keeping the loan sharks at bay.

Right out of the gate, Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) hits the ground hard with a score that carries the cosmic and reverberating effects of the titular uncut gems. When Garnett stares into the opal, he sees exactly what Howard tells him he’s supposed to see: the universe. In that, Lopatin provides a sonic scape so expansive and yet violently singular in its aesthetic that it provides much of Uncut Gems with a mystical aura. Drenched in gritty camerawork that gets up close to show the blemishes of everyone, there’s no denying the film’s mean and potent intensity.

Where Uncut Gems often stumbles is in its narrative threads. While the Garnett storyline weaves in and out, providing a lot of fun as well as hectic tension, it’s a piece of stunt casting that works, while also highlighting one that very clearly doesn’t involve R&B singer The Weekend. Why he is in the movie is baffling, other than perhaps because he evokes a further sense that Howard is in a very upscale world — something we already know by his clientele, multiple properties, and the wealth he actually wears. The Weekend ends up as a weird diversion that can take viewers out of the experience, even if his presence does lead to a further escalation in problems for Howard.

That all being said, Uncut Gems also brings Adam Sandler back into the fold as an actor who can do more than the drivel he has churned out over the decades. More evocative of his performance in Punch-Drunk Love than The Meyerowitz Stories, Sandler gives a comedic and sympathetic performance to a character for whom everything suddenly goes wrong. Living a manic, fast-paced lifestyle, Howard is impatient, aggressive, and greedy, but Sandler makes it possible to get on board with his plight at least partially (there is no way to be on his side completely). His vices are many, but the performance keeps him down to Earth even when it feels like everything is flying off the hinges.

There will likely be many that can’t get past how dirty this movie feels, as it treats many criminal activities as both simply the way things are and the way they always will be. Beyond that, however, the Safdie Brothers provide a nuanced look at Jewish culture, utilizing one of Hollywood’s most prolific Jewish actors, and treat it is as matter-of-fact. Uncut Gems is a frenetic crime film from a Jewish perspective and delivers on its promise of being a wild ride with a phenomenal Sandler performance. Just don’t expect there to be much hope present, as the Safdies revel in the misery as much as humanly possible, only using hope as a torture device to make the anguish all the more painful.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 14, 2019, as part of our coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival.

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The Best Movie Trailers of 2019

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Best Movie Trailers 2019

They exist to sell a product, but there’s also something about movie trailers that inspires certain ticket buyers to get to the theater early: the promise of movie magic. Before we have a chance to be disappointed by their final products, the best trailers are constructed to show off endless potential — the suggestion that audiences are in for an amazing cinematic treat. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way, but there’s nothing better than being seduced — and for a few moments, that’s exactly what the best movie trailers of 2019 do. Below are some of my favorites from the past year.

Smarmy Murder

Knives Out

Rian Johnson’s followup to The Last Jedi seems to have found a safer home for the director’s irreverence (I’m not aware of any diehard murder-mystery fans, at least), and it’s trailers have been free to lean heavily into that twisted playfulness. If you’ve gone to a theater in the last three months, it’s been hard to avoid seeing this one a million times (including at times as an ad before the previews), but the relentlessly snappy pacing, ironic edits, and pervasive shots of actors hamming it up really drive home that Knives Out is looking to be a wickedly fun romp. Whether it succeeds or not, there’s no question that the trailer makes me want it to. 

Ready or Not

This one hits more traditional beats when it comes to unspooling its gleefully barbarous premise, and knows just how to mix the tension with the violence with the cheeky one-liners. But it’s the use of The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” that really pushes this trailer over the top, as the song works brilliantly for both magnifying the drama during the screaming moments, and providing an excellent contrast between its blatant romantic sincerity and the sarcastic amorality of this bizarre predicament. Also, Henry Czerny.

The Hunt

This one’s a bit more subtle about its dark comedy, but there’s no question that there are plenty of smirks lurking just below the surface of this premise. A cabal of elitists hunting a bunch of backwoods yokels for sport is the kind of satiric setup that has potential for real bite (enough to get the film’s release indefinitely delayed, apparently), and this trailer does a great job of playing that element up, suggesting a more brutal and sardonic version of The Hunger Games. The tired look on Betty Gilpin’s face as she moseys down train tracks or calmly drives over someone’s head showcases a low-key humor that hopefully is reflected in the final product. Fingers crossed that The Hunt eventually sees the dark of theaters.

Moody, Mysterious Spooks

Midsommar

There’s always something refreshing about a horror story that takes place in the daylight, and the trailer for Midsommar appeals perfectly to this sentiment. Plucky strings, tribal drum beats, and plenty of off-kilter camera angles help set the creepy stage for a relationship problem that is about to manifest itself in a physical problem, but one that is smartly only hinted at. The bright, lush environment and comforting tradition initially draws you in (like any good cult would hope), but exactly what’s in store for this young woman and her companions? Flashes of gore and deformity near the end are what linger, even after a sunny visual finale. Very enticing.

The Lighthouse

It’s possible that this trailer could have just consisted of nothing but the weather-worn faces of Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe staring back at the audience, punctuated by the droning bellow of the fog horn, and that might have been enough to sell people on this thing. Of course, what follows is a stark, visual feast that also does a masterful job at dropping clues as to the possible supernatural mystery, but layering them in the potential madness. Dark, ominous trappings are slathered on as thick as the sea-faring accents, giving off an old-fashioned horror vibe. Despite a deep dislike for the actual film, I could watch this trailer forever, and dream of what else could have lurked out on that lonely island.

If Only They Lost the Song

1917

Bolstered by gorgeous images courtesy of the great Roger Deakins (whose sumptuous cinematography can only help no matter what it’s in), this trailer does a masterful job at communicating to audiences just what a nail-biter this WWI story promises to be. Starting out with an innocuous shot of two soldiers lazing beneath a tree, and ending with one of them dodging explosions, the tension is meticulously built step by step, gunshot by gunshot…until a sappy, tone-deaf song called “Wayfaring Stranger” cuts in halfway through and tries to ruin everything with hammy emotional telegraphing. It’s a curious choice, as the textured, frank visuals and dialogue don’t otherwise give off a manipulative vibe. Still, there is stirring power in that imagery, enough to make me want to see more. Just…save the song for the end credits, please.

What. The. Hell.

Bird Talk

It’s generally not desirable to feel even slightly repulsed after viewing a movie trailer, but I have to confess that the bizarre images here are cut together in a way that doesn’t quite agree with me. So why is it good? Because that seems to be exactly the sort of note Xawery Zulawski’s film is trying to hit, with its disorienting fish-eye lenswork and indecipherable depictions of what seems like general depravity, even if I can’t point to exactly why. Even the special effect for that weird flaming car looks wonky and nightmarish. Not every film has to be pleasant to work, and neither does a trailer; Bird Talk looks intense and intriguing and indecipherable, and that’s good enough for me.

Pleading For Attention (and Actually Getting It)

Joker

Every year there are trailers for movies that desperately want to be taken seriously as films, and I’m not sure there was a better example of that in 2019 than Joker. With its gritty, scum-on-the-lens look, an early burst of cruelty, and use of Jimmy Durante’s “Smile” to lay the irony on thick, there’s no question of this promo distancing the final product from traditional ‘comic book’ movies. There’s also no question that the trailer does a magnificent job at showcasing the film’s best element: a writhing, tortured, smirking, dancing, on-the-edge Joaqin Phoenix. While it’s debatable whether Joker itself ultimately deserved all the attention, putting Phoenix’s performance front and center in the trailer was the best way to get it.

The Cream of the Trailer Crop

Richard Jewell

This is a fantastic example of how to communicate an overall old-fashioned approach to sharp storytelling, yet break up the standard formula with well-timed asides. The premise and protagonist are firmly established through standard trailer character development, but it’s the interspersing of those chilling interrogation scenes that really drive the point home and solidify the character as supremely sympathetic. The soft piano notes are joined by a growing orchestra, the frequency of these inserts picks up as the blatant railroading intensifies, and by the time the crescendo hits, the trailer has told a story that we want to see a resolution to — and that subtle nod suggests it’s going to be a very, very satisfying one.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Almost a mini-movie in itself, the trailer for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood spans the range of emotional beats found in the film it’s cut from, roughly (and impressively) in the same order, all while cementing the unmistakable tone of the film’s creator. What’s being sold here is exactly what audiences are going to get, and that’s a sprawling Hollywood epic filled with sharp dialogue, offbeat B-movie/TV show asides, and a undercurrent of a looming, horrific incident that will come to a head in the last reel. An aging cowboy, a loyal sidekick, a radiant princess, and a creepily smiling ogre are set in a neon fantasy land full of make believe, where dreams (and sometimes nightmares) come true. It’s a primer for a magical fairy tale, and also the most complete, all-encompassing, masterful trailer of the year.

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Of course, these are just my picks for the best trailers of 2019 — what are yours?

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70 Best Movie Posters of 2019

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Best Movie Posters of 2019

Deciding the best movie posters is no easy task…

I remember when I was younger, I used to head to the video store and rent movies I’d never heard of based solely on the movie poster art. This was, of course, a different time— sure, the internet was a thing, but we didn’t have countless websites, not to mention social media platforms, promoting new movies online with news stories, movie stills, featurettes, teasers, trailers and so on. Not to say that sort of marketing didn’t exist in the past, because it did, but it wasn’t always in your face. For better or for worse, the internet changed the way studios market movies, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the use of a poster to help build excitement and anticipation for an upcoming film. Most posters continue to be an important marketing tool for filmmakers worldwide and so once again, we’ve decided to collect images of our favourite movie posters revealed over the past twelve months. If you checked out our list of the best movie posters of 2018, you’ll remember it included posters for indie gems, thrillers, horror movies, foreign language films, Hollywood blockbusters and everything in between. This year is no different, although it should be said that some marketing campaigns were so good, we’ve decided to include more than one poster for a few select films. Also worth noting, we didn’t include any fan-made poster art below. That out of the way, here are the best movie posters of 2019.

Click on any one of the images to enlarge the posters.

The Best Movie Posters of 2019

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