Monday, November 29, 2021

A Slurry of Film Reviews: Resident Evil, Ghostbusters Afterlife, and Eternals

 After watching these three movies over the course of the holiday week, I feel burnt out and disillusioned - a bit - with the film industry. It's not that it hasn't had its problems, but watching these three movies in sequence really hammers home how corporate and calculating a big chunk of the film industry is these days. Call it the Disneyfication of films in general, or maybe its just the result of a craft which can't afford to misstep in today's post-pandemic box office, but none of these films were especially visionary (well, Eternals had its moments), and all three were very, very carefully calculated to pander to a certain kind of audience.

Rather than review each individually and at length, I thought I'd try to encapsulate my take on each in as succinct a manner as possible. I wish to note that of the three, only Eternals really stands out, chiefly because while it is a Marvel movie, it barely feels like one (until some line or reference is thrown in every few minutes to remind you that yes, this is taking place in the MCU). That alone makes it a better general fare than the other two films, neither of which are anything more than a desperate attempt to produce something which generate the most likes from over-dedicated fans in Reddit and Youtube (and all the rest of the social media ilk). goes...Note: Some Spoilers Ahead! 

Ghostbusters: Afterlife 

A film which reminds us that Ghostbusters 2016 was at least a movie that understood it was part of a comedy franchise, this new installment leans heavily into a Spielbergesque (or, I am told, Stranger Things-esque) revisionist take on the Ghostbusters as something to be deeply nostalgic and sentimental about. It populates the movie world with a persistent series of direct throwbacks to the original movie in the most pandering, fetishistic nostalgia-fueled manner possible, and gets people like Kevin Smith to have deeply emotional reactions to what is fundamentally a movie that feels like 1/2 "young adult novel" reinvention of the Ghostbusters concept mixed with quasi-religious reverence for all things of the original movie, aimed presumably at adults who were kids when they saw the first one and didn't get all the SNL-style humor. We probably all have movies a bit like that; for me it's Alien and The Empire Strikes Back, but it's definitely not this movie. I mildly enjoyed the artless ways in which the film reverentially, almost fetishistically, took no chances and filled its run time with artifacts, spooks and concepts all directly from the original movie, while providing a mostly neutral to unlikable cast of kids who, in the end, are entirely overshadowed by a brief series of unsurprising original cast cameos. Also, a CGI Egon, for whom I hope his family estates are properly compensated. 

Overall rating: C- but I did enjoy seeing Gozer with modern special effects. This movie is technically watchable, but clearly I am not and have never been the target audience for a "serious take" on the Ghostbusters franchise. My son loved it though, and this movie was definitely for him. But make no mistake....this film offers no vision and ends with an after-credits that threatens more of the same. Ghostbusters is no longer a comedy, apparently. That was their take-away from the failed 2016 reboot (which I think could have been notably better if it had simply not tried to be a reboot). I suggest avoid, unless you have someone who is 10 who loves Ghostbusters in your life, or someone who is spiritually 10 when it comes to this franchise (or even yourself, if you are deeply committed to the series!).

If you've never seen or cared much about Ghostbusters before, while this film is technically competent, I am not at all sure the storyline will make a lot of sense to you, or the constant, never-ending callbacks to the original movie will make much sense, but hidden within this movie is the core nugget of something that could be much better if it weren't hampered by its IP.

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City

The first 25 or so minutes of this movie felt promising, as it took some core conceits of the original games and then took its precious time to build up a bit of dread and atmosphere. Not strictly following the game plots, it still took the core conceit of the series (such as Leon being a rookie on his first day, and Claire returning home to find her brother Chris) and proceeded to make Raccoon City spooky and interesting in a promising way. Then, someone reminded the movie makers that they were supposed to make a Resident Evil movie that covers the first three games' worth of content with an hour and a half left to do it and the entire film suddenly spins into a weirdly paced yet atmospheric overdrive as it tries to jam into its remaining run time what took 30-40 hours of game play to experience. The result was....watchable, but I have to be honest, Sunday I was trying to even remember what movie we'd seen on my son's birthday a few days' prior! 

The good news is: whoever was in charge of the cinematography, the look and feel, got it down quite well. There's some stuff here which just drips with atmosphere, and there are lots of faithful replications of locations directly from the game. What was missing was any sense of pacing as related to the original games; the movie, rather than take the original Resident Evil and expand on the idea of a haunted mansion tied to a secret lab where a virus that makes zombies gets loose, instead conflates that event with the entirety of the second and third games' plotlines, almost as if the screenwriter was told to "make this movie follow the games, but do it in a short run time." The result is a mess of beats that come from certain highlighted moments in the games, but jumbled about as if someone had a puzzle but were missing most of the pieces. Or maybe they were handed a list of things that someone thought needed to be in the movie for it to be considered "authentic," possibly from a Reddit focus group.

Also, worth noting is that some of the actors really don't feel "right" here. Jill is not Jill. She doesn't even get her signature hokey lockpick line (which is on that aforementioned list), it is instead given to Claire. Leon's actor has the right face, but he is turned into an incompetent klutz and had a brief character arc which boils down to "I shot one zombie, and then I found a rocket launcher and lived" by the end. On the plus side, the actors for Chris, Claire and Wesker work fairly well. 

Overall Rating: C- but tempted to give it a C+ for at least getting the look and feel of creeping around the Spencer Mansion right (when they aren't exploding zombies). The first 20 minutes was a solid A-, however, and I wish they had run with their early instincts and made a movie that worked for its medium rather than another "by the numbers" attempt to appease Resident Evil fans with the basest clinical attempt at pandering, or even better, just made a different movie. "Look! We have that zombie who looks over his shoulder! Here's that zombie dog! Here's Wesker, being Wesker!" And the one thing that was new to the franchise (a creepy survivor of a Birkin experiment) felt out of place and utterly unaddressed in the film, only there because it felt like they needed one original idea in the film even if it was given no purpose than to hand off a bundle of keys which, of course, have unique markers that were themselves a call-back to the game even if they were not at all used for such a purpose in the movie. Yeesh.*

Side note! If you know nothing of Resident Evil and just want to see a good horror movie with zombies then I think you may enjoy this one. As a pure horror zombie film without worrying about RE lore stuff it's probably a C+ and worth a watch if you can see it on the cheap.


What happens when you get an amazing director with a vision, an obscure comic property from a guy who always thought big in his story ideas, and then let that film maker create a story that they want with the only restriction being that it must fit within your existing Cinematic Universe? The Eternals is what happens. This movie should not have been part of the MCU, but if it wasn't part of the MCU no one would likely have gone to see it, so its kind of a catch-22. The movie has some noteworthy elements, key among them being that it largely breaks tradition and is the first Marvel movie in quite a while to not follow the by now very standard formula/script of the typical Marvel film. Among other things this movie had some sense of gravity, a weight to what was going on which would have been stronger had the film not been in the MCU. If the film were its own universe then the ending would have been utterly captivating, as we the audience would wonder "how will this end?" with utter uncertainty. But because it is an MCU film we know how it will we know there will be more Marvel films after it, so the only question becomes "How does this lead in to future movies?" instead.

Despite the fact that the film reminds us every ten or fifteen minutes that its in the MCU, it resonates well as its own deal, and in so doing changes much of the landscape of the Marvel universe (sort of). It feels to me like its indirectly setting up for a future Fantastic Four film (for reasons that are not obvious unless you are familiar with the big world-ending beats that the FF regularly deal with), and its post credits appear to threaten us with a more conventional "Guardians of the Galaxy" styled sequel in the future, but all about Eternals, followed by a post-after-credits event that is so obscure your conventional Marvel fans will have to ask the real hardcore fringe fans what it is alluding to. Hint: another Disney+ TV series down the road about a character I vaguely recall being an Avenger from the 80's, and I have no idea if he's had any story development since then.

Overall Rating: B+ and this would have been a great movie to stand on its own, apart from the MCU it is locked in to, but I also suppose it would not have succeeded without that attachment. I can't decide if I am really looking forward to future Marvel movies about obscure comic characters who's books I would not have bought on the shelves, either now or back in the day, when they were actually being created and written about, but as Marvel movies go this one is surprisingly bold in its derring-do. I actually had multiple romantic interests, an actual scene suggesting some of these characters have sex at one point, and a mild gay romance which felt artfully part of the story and not a deliberate effort to pander. Most Marvel movies seem to stay far away from this, implying no one in the Marvel universe is ever allowed to have a meaningful relationship for various reasons (having to do with trying hard not to offend too many focus groups at once, I think). This one just....let the characters be human, which is ironic in a movie about Eternals. 

So I need to see some better movies to scrub my brain. Spider-Man's next movie, filled with three film franchise reboots' worth of call-backs, is coming soon, and I don't think I can take another round of this!

*Important to note that my problem here is, why make the keys look like actual keys from the game? Why do this at all? They could just have been a normal key for purposes of what the story needed. It's a needless detail that will go over the heads of people who don't know about RE lore, and an annoying detail for fans who will feel like these keys are there for recognition purposes at the expense of coherence. It's like in the earlier Ghostbusters: Afterlife film: why is the stack of books there? Why is the crunch bar there? So you can go "Hey, I remember that!" and the studio hopes that is enough to trigger your nostalgia love for the film. Please, Hollywood, stop.

Monday, November 8, 2021

The Temple of Set for Mythras

Okay, this is officially very cool: The Temple of Set, a new Mythras module for use with Classic Fantasy is out, and it's Egyptian themed! Love the cover, and the interior art is equally awesome, so far as I read through I really, really want to run this:

You can find it in PDF and POD on Drivethru here (link), or just go directly to The Design Mechanism and get it in PDF or through POD at Lulu (here). 

This is reinvigorating my interest in running Mythras. I had been working on campaign ideas earlier this year but my enormous workload prompted me to stick with easy to run stuff for a while, but time is freeing up again, so I think this module makes a great excuse to revisit what I can do with Mythras going into the Winter and 2022. 

Roll20 actually has a Mythras character sheet someone devised, which says it supports various setting books, including Classic Fantasy....I need to check this out. Although, ideally, I'd like to run it face-to-face my plan would be to start running this as soon as my Saturday group winds down on the ongoing Pathfinder 2E campaign, which has just hit level 7 and may be, depending on how much people want to do in terms of plot and exploration, about 5 sessions away from a suitable resolution (or 20 if they just want to keep going), so who knows. Maybe as a side-game on the Mothership night, to break up the grim space game with some old-world action and adventure for levity? Hmmmm.