The Evil Ends Its Residence

After writing and directing the first Resident Evil movie, Paul W.S. Anderson restricted himself to writing the first two sequels whilst allowing other hands to direct; for the last half of the six-movie sequence, Anderson would handle the direction himself as well as doing the writing. By this point, he and series lead Milla Jovovich had married, making it a sort of horror-action power couple franchise like Underworld ended up being. (In fact, by the end it was a family affair: due to the passage of time aging previous child actresses out of the role of the Red Queen AI, their daughter Ever got the Red Queen role in The Final Chapter.)

Over the course of the first three movies, the story had covered most of the ground of the first three games – with the original movie doing the “bad shit in a lab under a lonely mansion” angle of the first game and Apocalypse incorporating the “zombie apocalypse in a city with a big bad zombie stomping around” of 2 and 3. With Extinction, the plot of the movies pushed on into original material, which the next three films would also follow. Would The Final Chapter find this zombie saga shambling to a halt, or go out with one final headshot?

Resident Evil: Afterlife

At the end of Extinction, it seemed like Anderson had written himself into a corner – with Milla Jovovich’s character Alice not only having absurd superpowers, but also an army of clones of herself who all also had the same T-virus-invoked superpowers. It’s only natural that he starts the next movie by neutralising most of these advantages – but nicely, rather than simply retconning them away he instead allows Alice to play the hand she’s dealt and make use of these resources in a devastating attack on the Umbrella Corporation headquarters. (There’s a nice shot of a security map indicating the spread of Alice-clone incursions into the base that subtly parallels an earlier shot showing the progress of the T-virus plague around the world.)

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Opposite Poles of the Martial Arts Universe

The overlapping genres of wuxia and martial arts has broad scope, and like any sufficiently well-developed cinematic genre it has its fair share of representatives of high art and B-movie absurdity. I’ve had reviews for an example of each in the hopper for a while, and as I burn through my backlog now’s as good a time as any to unleash them.

Dragon Inn

It is 1456 by the Western calendar – the eighth year of the Jingtai Emperor’s reign. The chief eunuch, Zhao (Pai Ying), has managed to politically outmanoeuvre General Yu Qian, who is duly executed, his children sentenced to banishment in the far West of the Empire. Tsao, however, knows better than to leave them alive, and sends his agents to intercept them at Dragon Inn and assassinate them. The assassins duly head to the inn at speed, eliminate most of the staff, and take over the place.

What they don’t count on is the appearance of Xiao Shao Zi (Shih Chun), a wandering martial artist and friend of the innkeeper Wu Ning (Cho Kin) – or, for that matter, for Wu Ning, no slouch himself when it comes to combat, to come back from his business trip unexpectedly. And they really don’t expect the fiery brother-and-sister team of Chu Huei (Polly Kuan) and Chu Chi (Sit Hon), children of one of the General’s best lieutenants, to come looking for the Yu family either! Evading the assassin’s various attempts to poison, shoot, or otherwise eliminate them, Xiao, Wu, and the Chus soon end up working together to rescue the Yu family and foil Tsao’s plans.

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The Reverse Ninja Rule In Action

One of the tropes of martial arts movies is that there is essentially no such thing as “strength in numbers”; it’s an important aspect in which movies which follow this sort of concept depart from any sort of realistic combat situation, in which being outnumbered in a fight is, all else being equal, something of a disadvantage.

It comes down to the purpose of the fight in question. If the point is to establish a character as a badass without depicting them defeating an actually important character (because it isn’t the appropriate time in the story for them to do that), then having the character mow down a swathe of nameless mooks serves that purpose. If you want a showdown between a protagonist and an antagonist, you want it to be a one-on-one fight so that the spotlight is entirely on the main characters. Sometimes a movie is artful enough to set this up plausibly, sometimes it requires a bunch of trained fighters (who as part of that training presumably have been encouraged to overcome the instinct to flinch back and not take part) to stand around doing nothing whilst the hero kicks their boss’s head off.

The cheaper sort of ninja B-movie that was all the rage in the 1980s is an example of precisely this sort of thing – especially the sort of material made on the cheap by Western filmmakers who didn’t really understand the genre but wanted to ride the bandwagon. One studio which had no qualms about doing that sort of thing was the Cannon Group, particularly under the Golan-Globus era – in fact, their loosely-connected Ninja Trilogy (which, despite the name, essentially consists of three entirely disconnected movies) is often credited with starting the 1980s fad for American ninja movies, though it was predated by the Chuck Norris vehicle The Octagon.

Now, we know that the more ninjas participate in a fight, the less effective they are. Is that also true of film quality? Do movie franchises get worse the more ninjas you stuff into them? Let’s find out…

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“Death Wish” Turned Up To 11

The Death Wish movies have a lot to answer for. Brian Garfield, author of the original novel, was aghast at the extent to which the original 1974 movie seemed to endorse the sort of vigilantism his story was intended to criticise. Revisiting it later, it’s at best a movie in two minds as to whether the sort of campaign of premeditated killing on the part of Charles Bronson’s revenge-obsessed protagonist is justified.

The sequels, though… the sequels were made in the 1980s; a brighter era, an era of more simplistic moral messages, altogether a more Reagan-y era than 1974. They are vastly less ambiguous than the original; they embrace vigilantism as a 100% perfectly OK thing and are only too glad to depict Bronson slaying absurd numbers of criminals – and if those criminals happen to tend to be of particular ethnicities, all the better.

The series was much-imitated at the time, but in the long gap between 1974’s Death Wish and 1982’s Death Wish II you could see the cultural shift that made Death Wish II a viable commercial prospect happening in the public’s appetite for material like 1980’s The Exterminator, which is basically Death Wish with a flamethrower-touting Vietnam veteran protagonist for an extra dose of uncomfortable badassery.

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Taking a Note, Taking a Dive

The general public has a short memory. Many are under the impression that a substantial number of professional wrestling fans still believe the artform to represent genuine competition, rather than being an entertainment medium consisting of matches with predetermined outcomes. This isn’t the case – aside from small children who might believe in Roman Reigns the way they believe in Father Christmas, fans generally accept that the matches are worked, and derive a whole secondary level of enjoyment from analysing and debating the storytelling decisions behind match outcomes and the backstage gossip that might have fed into them.

Even among wrestling fans, there’s something of a myth that kayfabe – the pretence that it’s a real contest – was rigorously maintained until the early 1990s, when Vince McMahon famously said that WWF was in the “sport entertainment” business and promotions like ECW or WCW ran angles based largely on breaking the fourth wall and acknowledging kayfabe (usually as an attempt to persuade the viewer that things had gone “off-script” and were therefore real). In fact, major breaches of kayfabe and exposes of the business go way back, with one of the most famous such examples being Marcus Griffin’s 1937 book Fall Guys: The Barnums of Bounce.

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A Third Stupid Time Mining the Seagal Seam…

What a long, strange trip Steven Seagal has taken. As mainstream stardom has left him further and further behind, Seagal has crept deeper and deeper into the extremely dubious bosom of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. In between commissioning ghostwriters to write incoherent takedowns of Obama-era immigration policies in his name, Seagal has largely become infamous for bizarre Russian propaganda in which various Aikido students do energetic flips to trick people into thinking Seagal is tossing them about because they know if they don’t they’ll get a bullet in the back of the head. What Putin gets out of stroking the ego of this increasingly strange man with an increasingly dubious #MeToo record, I have no idea.

Similarly, I have no idea why I’m back reviewing more Seagal movies, save that there’s a certain horrible fascination in watching them these days. In my first and second articles on the man’s work, way back in Ferretbrain times, I more or less exhausted all his work which saw an actual cinematic release; this article is less systematic than those and is more of a grab-bag of some of his straight-to-DVD work. Watching these movies gently fail in front of you creates an experience which is deeply uncomfortable but also is difficult to look away from – like witnessing a slow-motion car crash, except most of these movies don’t have budgets that allow for really exciting car crashes.

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The Wild World of Matthew Reilly

One of the things I contracted during my stint writing for Ferretbrain was an appreciation for the work of Matthew Reilly. It was Sonia that put us on to the case, and I haven’t looked back since.

Reilly’s books are like candyfloss to me – a sticky, sweet treat which I know full well will have no nutritional value, and in many respects are kind of a huge mess, but which works anyway. They’re perfect Kindlegold because, though published as thick tomes (thanks to large fonts and margins), I’d argue that e-reader is the perfect format to read Reilly’s material in – slim, portable, discreet, and usually with enough power to last the whole plane ride these days.

It’s possible that, like Garth Marenghi, Matthew Reilly has written more books than he’s read.

If I had to compare Matthew Reilly to any other author, it would be to Philippe from Achewood‘s occasional attempts to write a novel, except specifically within the genre of action movies. On the Philippe side of the equation, you have this five-year-old hyperactivity, this kinetic determination to wow you with the next amazing plot twist; on the action movie side of the equation, you have more or less every action movie trope and cliche turned up to 11 and then made weird.

If Reilly wrote an an obscure and difficult-to-follow style, he’d be classified as an outsider artist, but as it stands for a “bad author” he writes remarkably well, at least in the sense that you can understand what is going on, the basic character points of any particular individual are quickly and clearly communicated (if only because you’ve seen versions of these characters in dozens of action movies before), and he often displays a distinctive visual imagination. A lot of the time he puts significant effort into helping you visualise the action, to the extent of putting actual diagrams in his books sometimes, and this is transparently because he’s desperate for someone to make an action movie of his work and he wants to illustrate with his writing just how cool the visuals would be.

Below the break, I’ll cover a quick rundown of the various Reilly offerings I’ve tried out…

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