The Wandering Earth 2 (2023)

The Wandering Earth 2 (2023)

Director (and co-writer): Frant Gwo

Cast: Andy Lau, Jing Wu, Zhi Wang, Yanmanzi Zhu, Xuejian Li, Ning Li, Sha Yi, Zhang Yi

Humans built huge engines on the surface of the earth to find a new home. But the road to the universe is perilous. In order to save earth, young people once again have to step forward to start a race against time for life and death. – IMDB

Following 2019’s The Wandering Earth based on novel of the same name by Cixin Li who is also involved as co-writer on the screenplay, The Wandering Earth 2 is a sequel but a prequel story as the story dials back to how the Earth started wandering and all its hoops that it had to go through giving purpose to the father character in the original film and what happened to create the separation. Dedicated to Man-Tat Ng who has unfortunately left this world (but was added in two scenes with what I expect is some computer magic) but was a huge part of The Wandering Earth, this sequel involves many layers which builds a foundation of both the history but on the many angles of science, astronomy and engineering, the world and the politics. On many levels, the concept and premise is a good angle. It definitely feels like a trend to build a story and to create a sequel that acts as a prequel. While the detail and the depth of every element of The Wandering Earth 2 is very much appreciated, the 3 hour runtime does feel like it ends up losing its footing somewhere in the middle for a little bit before going into its big finale and could have benefited from a tighter edited film.

Looking at the story as a whole, there are many elements because of its phase by phase approach in its history and recount of events that make it very memorable especially since it follows Jing Wu’s character Liu Pei Qiang from both his work and how he meets his family and how the main character of its first film comes to be. The other side is Andy Lau’s character Tu Heng Yu who is a supporter of the other project Digital Life Project because of the loss of his daughter and the desire to be able to give her a complete life but is restrained to follow with the new orders. On the other side is the political showrunner as the representative of China who is an elderly gentlemen Zhou played by Xuejian Li and his assistant Xiao Xi played by Yanmanzi Zhu who backs strongly the Moving Mountains Project despite its strong disapproval from the public including some extreme efforts to destroy what is already built in one part which is one of the best scenes as it allows Jing Wu to show off some of his martial arts. The different characters reveal a different angle of the situation and they all come together in the end in probably one of the most touching scenes when the older crew takes on the dangerous mission to defend the younger generation. The idea of the premise is definitely commendable and honestly, it does stand well and I wouldn’t even know what to edit out but perhaps some of the little moments here and there could be more condensed.

Despite the pacing suffering because of the long runtime (which in my opinion happens a lot with lengthier films), there are still a lot of well-executed elements. Much like the icy landscape in the first one which builds up its world, this future of Earth is still a rather grim place but the big operations and leaps in engineering development is another level of creativity especially with its incredibly visually stunning scenes with the space elevators. The imagination and perspective of the world building is truly astounding and its what made its first film so good since the suspension of belief and using our minds to imagine this future is really amazing even if its also conflicting. It is also supported by an engaging score and the cast is pretty decent as well.

As listed above, the cast is a group of veteran actors from Hong Kong actor Andy Lau who has done an extensive list of films of all genres. This role actually feels very good for him and fits his older and more mature self and almost in some parts becomes a rather selfish person even if he redeems himself in the end in a rather bittersweet ending. Jing Wu is best known for his role in SPL and Wandering Earth 1 and 2 has truly shed a new light of a more emotional character. However because this is a prequel, his character loses the overall surprise element as we all know he makes it out in the end or else he wouldn’t be in the first film. This is also a key issue with making prequels after their original films. While I haven’t seen Xuejian Li in anything else as Mainland China cinema is still rather new to myself, the actor is incredible as the firm political leader who has full faith in his decisions. His assistant however is an underrated actress from her previous roles in the main female lead in Unrequited Love (currently available on Netflix Canada), and the much more conflicting role in River Flows To You and here even as the assistant, she shines as her character goes through character development where as her boss gets older, her confidence also builds by the end where she can handle the political scene on her own. The character designs are all really good including Sha Yi who previously I’ve only seen in Chinese variety shows but delivers a very nice side of his story both as the mentor of Jing Wu’s character but delivers that breath of fresh air needed between the increasingly tense and dangerous situation.

Overall, The Wandering Earth 2 is pretty decent. It keeps a lot of the strengths of its first one from world building, visuals and its imagination for the future of Earth. Its a grand idea to move Earth around in the solar system and to make the elements work, its pretty thought out (at least for myself whose forte is not in engineering). The characters are pretty well-strctured and has a lot of room for development which is a benefit of the long runtime. Its only fault is the almost 3 hour runtime which makes the whole affair feels dragged out in the middle especially when things slow down to the more melodramatic moments which could have been more condensed. If you enjoyed The Wandering Earth, this one should still be a fun time.

*The Wandering Earth 2 is exclusively in theatres and IMAX since January 22nd*

*Screener provided by Well Go USA*

Project Wolf Hunting (2022)

Project Wolf Hunting (2022)

Director (and writer): Hong-Sun Kim

Cast: Seo In-Guk, Dong-Yoon Jang, Dong-Il Sung, Gwi-Hua Choi, Park Ho-San, Moon-sung Jung, Jung So-Min

Follows dangerous criminals on a cargo ship who are transported from the Philippines to South Korea, as they unleash a sinister force after an escape attempt leads to a riot.- IMDB

Premiered at the TIFF Midnight Madness as the opening film, Project Wolf Hunting is an violent action thriller that fits the term madness to a tee. Recent years (maybe even decade or more) has seen a rise of hyper violent films hit the market and create a lot of accolades and conversation especially on the film festival circuit, a good example being The Sadness (review) which is one of the most gruesome and disturbing films I have seen to date. Project Wolf Hunting does a lot right from the setting to the hyper violence but it also lacks in its overall plot and characters.

Setting a film on any marine vessel as its one setting (for the most part) is actually a rare move (although look at director Hong-Sun Kim’s filmography, one of his earlier films were also set on a ship). There are a few movies who do it but its still a fairly underused setting. Project Wolf Hunting utilizes its space very well as it moves its characters throughout the ship which poses its own issues right from the get-go. Everything comes into play and they all have their purpose. The narrow passageways and the close pipes and even the deck and different levels all add to what is hidden and how the group can use its abilities to their advantage but also leave space for more discoveries to expose a little backstory to the threat at hand.

This brings up a central issue of this 2 hour film: the story. Sure, we can argue that films like this is all about the visual element in the satisfaction of watching hyper violent scenes, the endless ways someone can be killed ruthlessly and the excessive amount of fake blood a human can actually exude with each kill until every surface is covered in blood. However, we watch this film, there’s no doubt that it all becomes rather mind-numbing especially when the plot is fairly generic in its twist of events. The first part is actually pretty clever when the actual prisoner escape attempt riot starts and not a whole lot of violence has happened at this point so it becomes impressive to see all this being a huge plan that had started even before everyone got on the ship. Even the twist and change of enemy force is expected since it was revealed early on but the enemy design is surprising at first. The deal is that there are a lot of characters, a lot of body count and just not enough cohesive backstory to keep itself engaging. It doesn’t help that while the plot takes some predictable twists that a bigger threat is brewing on the ship with a big secret that will gradually be revealed, how all this goes down feels a little unclear.

The question Project Wolf Hunting brings up for these sort of films is a key one: How do you balance plot, blood and violence? Is it enough to just cover a generic plot with blood and violence and use the shock factor? For myself, the answer is probably no as the film loses its appeal as the violence and blood loses its shock element from simply its overabundance, pounding away the purpose one kill at a time. To be fair, the film started on the right foot in the first half. The action sequences and the kills do have some creativity that works with the setting and some extremely brutal ones as well. Looking past all the violence, the prisoners grouping together to create a riot to escape is pretty clever and even if the leading prisoner character is a tad generic in its psycho-killer ways, he still had a certain extreme brutality that made him rather convincingly creepy. Even the timing for the entrance of the new enemy along with their design was sufficiently spine-chilling but what transpires from that point to the end right up to the finale and that ending that almost feels like it could work up for a possible sequel really does feel so lackluster.

For viewers who are there for simply the hyperviolence and bloodshed, Project Wolf Watching is everything it promises. There are every way possible to kill and some pretty creative deaths as well with various items and weapons. There is an over the top use of blood that would probably put Quentin Tarantino’s to shame (but then The Sadness was even more extreme in its bloodbath extremity). The sole amount of blood a head slowly being crushed can pour out from its orifices is apparently an astoundingly ridiculous amount and that’s just one very quick example. The director never forgets that the heart of the film is this element.

*Project Wolf Hunting will hit digital, Blu-ray & DVD on February 14th and available for pre-book on January 10th. Find more info HERE*

**Screener provided by Well Go USA

BITS 2022: Cult Hero (2022)

Cult Hero (2022)

Director (and co-writer): Jesse Thomas Cook

Cast: Liv Collins, Ry Barrett, Tony Burgess, Justin Bott, Jessica Vano, Charlie Baker, Jonathan Craig, Justin Darmanin, Steve Kasan

Manager-summoning control freak Kallie Jones attempts to rescue her husband from a “wellness center” with the help of a washed-up expert Cult Buster. – IMDB

Playing on the ghost hunting investigative reality show, Cult Hero isn’t about ghosts but about cult as its name implies. The film starts off with the downfall of a renowned Cult Buster, Dale whose operation goes immensely wrong when the cult ends up not only following through with the ritual that causes his show to be cancelled. Right away, it sets the tone of the film as the debunking and things going wrong ends up in some over the top silliness. This story takes place 5 years later when the chance comes to hopefully revive his character and his show when a realtor sends her husband to Hope Acres under the recommendation of their therapist in hopes to get him out of his negative mindset when a weekend turns into a permanent stay.

Taking the film from the perspective of Dale, Kallie and the inside operation of Hope Acres, it is a fun and silly viewing experience. Comedy isn’t for everybody but they have a very good balance of the silliness that is needed which makes it a very quick-paced and intriguing story as there’s always that wonder whether its just Kallie’s control freak side which is viewing Hope Acres as a cult when she asks for help but when things start to become much more dangerous, it becomes apparent that her claims are actually rather grounded and even those little things she mentioned before all seem to slide into place and makes sense in the whole spectrum of the narrative and script.

There’s no doubt that films like this are fueled by their cast. Here we have Ry Barrett who is a very familiar face in Canadian indie films of all genres like drama film Still The Water (review) or a bunch of indie horrors from Black Fawn Films and even last year’s BITS festival film The Chamber of Terror (review) who plays Dale Domazar who is the over the top character and plays the heck out of this character in such an entertaining way. He’s been a lot of films that I’ve been very impressed with so this film was already set for some fun times and it definitely delivered. The other main character Kallie Jones is played by co-writer of the film Liv Collins who played alongside Ry Barrett before in Deadsight (review) and she is almost very convincing in her role as a control freak. It feels like her character isn’t quite the same level of silliness and maybe it could have gone a little further but there is still a good balance of her character to keep things a little grounded to reality for this situation. Plus, the film does script her a fantastic big finale moment.

Overall, Cult Hero is straight forward and simple. Its all about having a silly fun time playing on the world of the exhibition of reality shows and the ridiculousness of cults. Sometimes that’s exactly what we want in cinema. To be fair, Cult Hero reminded me a lot of last year’s The Chamber of Terror as it felt the same level of fun. There’s laughs, over the top characters, some guts and gore and while its not a film for everyone as most comedies aren’t but there’s nothing wrong with a film that aims to deliver a good old fun time and it certainly did that for me.

***Cult Hero is as part of the Blood in the Snow program on November 26th at 9:30pm at the Isabel Bader Theatre***

TADFF 2022: Day Zero (2022)

Day Zero (2022)

Director: Joey De Guzman

Cast: Brandon Vera, Pepe Herrera, Mary Jean Lastimosa, Joey Marquez, Freya Fury Montierro, Yohance Levi Buie, Ricci Rivero, Jema Galanza

When society breaks down due to a violent outbreak that turns victims into undead monsters, a former elite soldier breaks out of jail to find his family. – IMDB

Having only seen one horror short film from Philippines before and nothing else, Day Zero is my first feature film to break into Philippine cinema. Day Zero is an action horror film which spends most of the viral outbreak in the apartment building where the main character Emon’s (Brandon Vera) family resides as he tries to get to them with the help of his inmate friend, Timoy (Pepe Herrera). Focused heavily on the action element, the horror element is mostly with its zombies. Zombies have been done to death at this point and yet as another film is made, we still try to figure out the nature of these zombies which creates most of the horror elements when it first is introduced with its first attack on screen in the opening scene.

Day Zero isn’t exactly a unique zombie film. In fact, both the nature of the zombies and how they move feel very familiar to other films that have been done. However, the undead can have its own frightening element. Adding to the apartment building, it revolves a lot around neighbors that the female lead as Emon’s wife Sheryl (Mary Jean Lastimosa) know and paired with taking care and eventually losing their mute daughter Jane (Freya Fury Montierro) who summons them with a bell, its where the tension builds even if you can see where the potential dangers will occur. The narrative of the film has all the elements it needs and in execution, is pretty fast-paced as well. The drama element of the film is definitely not lacking as well when there are necessary sacrifices and human nature is one of the things that come into play in the end.

If there was something to criticize more, it would be that the acting is not quite too good here. There are some highlight moments but basically no one really the supporting cast is only there as a means to an end whether to save Jane or to push forward some danger element. Looking at the main cast, Timoy is one of the more memorable characters as the script gives him a very nice and touching trajectory especially since his loyalty is one that exists when Emon helps him out without considering his consequences in prison at the beginning of the film. Being the main focus, Emon played by Brandon Vera isn’t exactly really a great actor but much like he reminds me a lot of an Asian version of Vin Diesel appearance-wise, his background in real life as an ex-MMA fighter does come in handy to create some great action scenes with bare-fist combat against zombie which obviously is risky business in the first place.

Honestly, I don’t believe that zombie films need to be complicated in plot in the first place. Day Zero knows exactly what it wants to deliver in its action horror and while the balance is a little off and the horror eventually fades away into drama by the end, the action element is done in a fast-paced and gripping way especially when it gets to the final act and the story needs to pan between three people as danger lurks closer by the minute. While its nothing too unique in terms of zombie film, my first venture into Philippine cinema is a pretty decent one.

TADFF 2022: The Lair (2022)

The Lair (2022)

Director (and co-writer): Neil Marshall

Cast: Charlotte Kirk, Jonathan Howard, Jamie Bamber, Tanji Kibong, Leon Ockenden, Mark Strepan, Hadi Khanjanpour, Troy Alexander

When Royal Air Force pilot Lt. Kate Sinclair is shot down over Afghanistan, she finds refuge in an abandoned underground bunker where deadly man-made biological weapons – half human, half alien – are awakened. – IMDB

Its been almost 20 years since The Descent and yet, its still the bar we set when we talk about Neil Marshall’s films. When his latest film The Lair, its sold as a revisit to the underground caves in this action sci-fi horror film which shows a lot of promise. If it were to be more accurate, The Lair feels a little more like a blend of Dog Soldiers and The Descent and pretty much a creature feature.

It starts off with the film being a recount of disturbing events that happened prior to it being bombed. That being said, it already sets up the story that there is going to be some kind of time sensitive situation in play right from the get-go. The film feels like a B-movie as a whole and one that probably might have that eventual cult classic sort of feeling, something like Deep Rising. There’s some pretty odd dialogue in places and the camera work has fun with some of the scenes moving quickly from one person to the next in the room. However, the film has this comedic undertone (actually, it might be a step higher than an undertone and some bits being pretty obvious). The deal is that with a film like this, it always dials down to whether its meant to be funny which I wholeheartedly believe the humor is meant to be there.

The film stars a strong female lead Sinclair (Charlotte Kirk) who doesn’t hold a lot of backstory other than a little bit on her family. She gives off a bit of Milla Jovovich’s vibe both in her outfit and the way that she delivers her lines. Her character has the most backstory from the beginning scene to her array of abilities. The film takes the direction that this group is there solely gathered to get through this situation together so all the characters are built based on how they react to it from the decisions they make. The US army group is a ragtag team of soldiers that all have their own set of issues and along the way, they end up picking up a man Kabir (Hadi Khanjanpour) who is on the enemy side but turns out to be forced into it as well and ends up teaming up with the team as well. Kabir is not exactly a main character but he gets some of the best dialogue of the entire film and there’s some really great action moments for him also.

As for the creature, I don’t want to go into detail too much. Its a bit sad that the poster that I’ve opted to not use does reveal it so its not exactly a spoiler to talk about the appearance itself. The creature basically looks a bit like Venom. The moments with this creature is where we see all the blood and gore. This is probably where the horror lies in the film even though I personally don’t think its a particularly scary film as a whole.

Overall, The Lair is an average film. It touches lightly on sci-fi and horror but delivers in spades with the action. Its tight runtime and fast-paced action does it a lot of favors as the film never slows down enough for you to reflect too much on the whole situation but just takes its audience for a ride. While there is some clunky dialogue and below average acting, the film itself does have some fun elements. Looking at it from a B-movie perspective, a lot of the elements slot into place especially with the dark humor that it carries throughout. Its far from a great film but as a B-movie creature feature, there’s some entertaining elements here.

Double Feature: Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015) & Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018)

If you haven’t seen the review for the first film, you can check it out HERE.

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015)

Director: Wes Ball

Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Giancarlo Esposito, Dexter Darden, Alexander Flores, Jacob Lofland, Rosa Salazar, Patricia Clarkson, Aidan Gillen, Lili Taylor, Barry Pepper, Alan Tudyk

After having escaped the Maze, the Gladers now face a new set of challenges on the open roads of a desolate landscape filled with unimaginable obstacles. – IMDB

The Scorch Trials picks up right after the events of the first film when they escape the maze and is flown away to a closed compound which they eventually realize has ulterior motives which takes them on the run again. With both WCKD and the new dangers in the new desert landscape in the midst, the group has changed a little but still they are working together in hopes to find a rumored safe haven.

Its no secret that I’m a big fan of The Maze Runner books so its even more exciting to see that the films do live up to the world building and atmosphere of each desolate place that Thomas and the Gladers traverse. Much like its first film, The Scorch Trials excels in creating those two elements really well. The second film has a lot more than just an empty space with an ever-changing maze, this time its a vast desert landscape but shows the deterioration of time and battles and such with its ruins scattered around. It gives a better idea of what the world has now become and the dangerous creatures called Cranks that have inhabited it which are basically zombies. They are the reason that WCKD is looking for the cure with belief that the kids are immune. While the film market is saturated with zombie films at this point, perhaps its the fact that Scorch Trials brings out the “zombies” as an unexpected element adds to the surprise element a little.

Usually, I’d complain about the runtime as this one does go over the 2 hour mark. However, The Scorch Trials keeps things action-packed and builds up on the tension of each scene, making the film very entertaining and captivating to watch for the most part as it moves from one quick-paced scene to the next from one dangerous situation and escape to the next one. These spaces where the action is taking place also range quite a bit from dilapidated buildings to sewers to vents. Even the Cranks themselves have their own evolution in having a variety of two as we can see from the film. The visuals here do add to the whole environment and setting for the film.

Despite its long runtime, character development does leave a bit to be desired. All the characters don’t really expand a lot on terms of personality. The focal characters, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) extend their storyline a little to build up their purpose and where they stand after the events of the maze. Aside from them, in my opinion the characters that felt more well-constructed through his actions is Minho (Ki Hong Lee). This film brings out a lot of where the loyalties lie. While the lack of character development was acceptable in the base movie, it feels like the supporting characters could benefit from a little more depth especially for Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) who was a fun character in the first film and while this film gives him more screen time still feels like it doesn’t quite do justice to his character completely. Breaking out of the maze also means that they now have new groups of people to deal with including one group led by Jorge, played by Giancarlo Esposito and the other led by Vince, played by Barry Pepper. Both of these creating their own dynamics.

As someone who has read the source material (review), the film does capture most of the big moments and the atmosphere up to the world-building elements. What’s good about The Maze Runner trilogy really is that even though they aren’t completely self-contained, each book starts with a new area and phase so while the other movies would help to complete the image, its not incredibly hard to follow except for the character alliances in some cases.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018)

Director: Wes Ball

Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Dexter Darden, Will Poulter, Rosa Salazar, Giancarlo Esposito, Patricia Clarkson, Aidan Gillen, Barry Pepper, Walton Goggins

Young hero Thomas embarks on a mission to find a cure for a deadly disease known as “The Flare”. – IMDB

Taking place a little while after the end of events in The Scorch Trials, mostly able to tell with the unitedness of the three crews of last once and the mid-length hair that Brenda, a new female character from the previous film, The Death Cure is a last hurrah which continues on with the quick-paced action-packed world. Attempting to keep this spoil-free, the previous film flipped a lot of things around with Minho being caught and Thomas keeping his promise to never leave him behind, Brenda bringing a little love triangle but not really while betrayal is the center of how things are the way they are with WCKD.

This film’s adventure starts off with a bang with a rather adventurous and daring rescue plan to hijack a train car which ends up leading them off to their new setting this time, the Last City aka the headquarters of WCKD and meeting the rebellion group in that area lead by Lawrence played by Walton Goggins and they see an old face, Gally who has mellowed out a little and willing to help them. The Last City is a pretty good new setting as it differs from the previous two in a metropolitan setting full of tall skyscrapers and guarded to protect from Cranks and those infected by the Flare. The contrast of the rebellion group in the outside area in their underground dark and gloomy base to the sci-fi WCKD headquarters, this movie adds a lot of scope.

The big finale brings a lot of big moments as the characters start pivoting more and having a little more screen time. The atmosphere is still captured very well from the characters in the WCKD building following orders and having a one track mind to create a cure while the other group with Thomas is planning to not only rescue but also steal the cure. The dangers gives this group another chance to navigate this cityscape maze, something we haven’t talked about is each place having its own maze. The first one being an actual maze whereas its all a maze as they navigate the unknown in the desert landscape of Scorch Trials and the cityscape and WCKD headquarters of Last City.

In some ways, the big finale does get harmed a little by the lack of character development since the ending does create quite the event. For a little comparison, the book (review) does a much better job in that scene (if I remember correctly, its been a while). However, the final film of the trilogy does achieve quite a bit with some pretty fantastic scenes especially the elaborate rescue and escape plan in Last City which creates some gripping moments.

Overall, The Maze Runner is a pretty entertaining adaptation. Its not exactly the same as the book and some of the character development leaves a little to be desired which makes the ending lack a little of the punch that it wants to deliver, however the world building and the settings along with the gripping atmosphere and the visuals really are the elements that stand out quite a lot.

TV Binge: Resident Evil (Season 1, 2022)

Resident Evil (Season 1, 2022)

Cast: Ella Balinska, Tamara Smart, Siena Agudong, Adeline Rudolph, Paola Nunez, Lance Reddick, Anthony Oseyemi, Connor Gosatti, Pedro De Tavira

Nearly three decades after the discovery of the T-virus, an outbreak reveals the Umbrella Corporation’s dark secrets. Based on the horror franchise. – IMDB

Its hard to not know what Resident Evil is at this point, whether you are a gamer or not. Of course, if you are a gamer, then you are much more familiar with the source material depending how thorough you were with the entire game franchise. After Paul W. S. Anderson’s Resident Evil film franchise (franchise overview) which really went off into its own tangent and basically only retaining the world itself and into his own writing and production (depending on the film), a handful of animated films, the reboot of the game once again with Welcome to Raccoon City (review) and last year’s Netflix animated series (review) (which honestly was more like a film split up in 4 episodes), Netflix’s Resident Evil series finally released and it takes the story into the future, decades after the outbreak at Raccoon City and writing up its own story. While I’m not sure its something that Resident Evil fans have been looking forward to, considering some of my friends would like a legit decent survivors escaping Raccoon City story which we’ve seen too many times in my opinion, regardless of whether its good or bad, for myself, the direction was a good one which if successful, will breathe some needed new life into Resident Evil to at least give it a boost into the alternate future. It all leaves the question of whether it was able to achieve that or at least, is Resident Evil still what it is if it takes out the 1998 outbreak setting.

Resident Evil series delivers a parallel storyline. This first is set in the past and an alternate present in our terms in 2022 when 14 year old fraternal twins Billie (Siena Agudong) and Jade Wesker (Tamara Smart) move to New Raccoon City, an Umbrella planned community as Albert Wesker (Lance Reddick) works on finalizing a drug called Joy for Umbrella corporation to hit the markets. Umbrella is now under new leadership under the daughter of Dr. Marcus, Evelyn (Paola Nunez) who reclaimed her father’s company. However, when the twins break into the lab, they learn some dark secrets there which ends up putting their lives in danger. The second plot runs in the series present in 2036 as it follows a grown-up Jade Wesker (Ella Balinska) who is studying the “zero”-filled world to track their evolution and mutation of the T-virus. Zeroes are what “zombies” are called in this world. As Jade tries to evade Umbrella who is hunting her down, she is helping do research for a hidden organization The University who tries to present the old world artifacts.

Looking at the story premise, the series takes a decent step forward. Its pretty ambitious considering its bound to disappoint a lot of franchise fans seeing as it revamps the entire story and only uses the Raccoon City event everyone is familiar with as a backdrop. However, pushing it to the future is a good idea and with what they have, the parallel being there retains both elements of still keeping the T-virus and its existence along with Umbrella still having dark secrets and they things they are trying to hide from their past while adding in a central character which never has been the center with Albert Wesker in the future, even if he still is top bill but more supporting than the twins. At the same time, the 2036 events is proof that whatever Umbrella was trying to do under new management wasn’t contained as the world is in its apocalyptic state with zeroes running rampant and in its own way, introducing this new world’s monsters whether the “zombies” or other mutations. In that sense, the story does try to maintain a balance. The two sides of the story do work well to complement each other and each has their redeeming qualities and tension. Of course, the 2022 events with the teen twins in their school environment adds the teen element as they try to blend in, get bullied and try to make friends. Some of that feels a little mundane in the spectrum of things but luckily, the casting for the young Jade and Billie are decent, even if their teen characters are a little frustrating a times.

Taking a quick glance at the cast, its some rather fresh faces. Adult Jade Wesker is played by Ella Balinska who was previously in the reboot of Charlie’s Angels (review) as one of the Angels. Jade is the focus of the series and she takes the role pretty well. The action sequences involving her are done pretty good and as she does get caught up a few dicey situations. Her younger self portrayed by Tamara Smart is a little more frustrating to watch as mentioned above. Billie on the other hand portrayed by Siena Agudong is done pretty well. Her character goes through a lot more in the younger sequence and puts her in constant inner struggles. The older self is portrayed by Adeline Rudolph (plays Agatha in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) which was a pretty short presence in this season. Lance Reddick’s Albert Wesker is probably not the expected choice however, the character itself is built pretty well to fit in this world. Honestly, I haven’t seen Lance Reddick other than as the hotel manager in John Wick films and his role there is fairly small but so good. Seeing as Wesker’s side of the story is rarely dived into thoroughly, there is a lot of space to build it up. Focusing on his daughters makes it all the more good as he is there but it adds a new generation to the new Raccoon City and the future of Resident Evil’s setting. Its a pretty nice touch (perhaps I’m just overthinking it as usual).

What’s Resident Evil without its villains and here, the villainous character here is Evelyn Marcus which is played relatively well by Paola Nunez. Sometimes, Evelyn is fairly annoying as most villains are but she has a dangerous edge to her that carries well enough, some parts a little overdone but there is some development. Of course, the other villains are the zeroes and the mutated creatures. In that sense, the mutated creature designs here are probably the element that I’ve always loved about the franchise and in this case, this new future brings in some giant versions of animals which are quite fun to see. If only there was more then the 3 or so types shown. This does tie in to the world building which honestly gets showcased much more in the 2036 side of the story as there’s so much more to discover in the wastelands.

In the end, your enjoyment of this series will hang heavily on asking the the initial question as to what makes Resident Evil, well, Resident Evil. While this series pushes it to the future and uses Umbrella and the T-virus as its foundation, it still doesn’t feel too different from being another zombie series, but then that is what Resident Evil is, right? Its another type of zombie franchise, except in this case, its set with a younger cast, has a bit of teen and family drama and a few other tangents. Or perhaps the 1998 events of the outbreak is what makes Resident Evil what it is or perhaps its the main cast of Chris and Claire, Jill and Leon, who obviously is not in this series so this will definitely not fit. If we look at this from solely an action horror series, then its actually not too bad as it does have a lot of action and a good bit of horror.

Double Feature: Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021) & Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021)

Director (and writer): Johannes Roberts

Cast: Kaya Scodelario, Robbie Amell, Hannah John-Kamen, Tom Hopper, Avan Jogia, Donal Logue, Neal McDonough, Lily Gao, Chad Rook, Marina Mazepa, Nathan Dales

Set in 1998, this origin story explores the secrets of the mysterious Spencer Mansion and the ill-fated Raccoon City. – IMDB

*Originally reviewed for Friday Film Club*

Adapted from the first and second game of the Capcom video game series of the same name, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City sets itself on a parallel storyline which sets itself in 1998 when the zombie outbreak starts in the small town of Raccoon City and the group of survivors try to make it out where the events take place both in the Raccoon City Police Department but also at the Spencer mansion where the outbreak was suspected to have started.

Being undeniably avid fans of Resident Evil here at Movies and Tea as we covered all the Resident Evil movies by Paul W.S. Anderson being one of our biggest episodes to work on, and an upcoming episode in the works for its animated films, Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City is a film that was announced with rather mixed sentiments, some didn’t like the casting feeling like it didn’t do the actual character design justice to its original game design however the film also did finally bring in all the favorite characters and created a story adapted from the actual games. However, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is a pretty decent alignment for a video game adaptation. Taking away the lesser role for their favorite character Leon Kennedy and dropping him to his rookie status who genuinely grows throughout the film as he encounters more, the fan faves are also all here with Claire and Chris Redfield holding down the fort on each of the locations as they move closer to each other. At the same time, the film also manages to bring in some other key characters like the well-known Albert Wesker and Jill Valentine, giving them an origin of where they come from.

This new reboot of Resident Evil, under the direction of Johannes Roberts does give it a lot more link to the story that the games are telling and the world building also deserves a lot of credit. Some scenes are almost identical to its game counterpart making it quite the treat for lovers of this gaming franchise, especially with its recent game remakes. At the same time, it still adds in a lot of eerie scenes whether being the zombie design to the mutations caused by the virus and looks into the connection of Claire and Chris Redfield’s story both when they were kids and their encounters to the present day, centering the story around them. Sure, in terms of story direction, Leon Kennedy being one of the bigger characters of the games does fall into the backseat a little and becomes more of a goofy rookie who is trying to catch up with the situation with better and more experienced cops but perhaps its a nice change to see the focus remain on one part of the story and if it does have sequel, it gives it more space to expand on the other characters’ storylines.

Overall, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is a pretty decent reboot. Its one that stays much more true to its source material and still manages to recreate these eerie atmospheres using its two key locations as their focal points. It has a little something for both fans of the games and new viewers trying to follow the story. Its pretty well-balanced film in terms of action and horror.

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)

Director: Cathy Yan

Cast: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett, Ewan McGregor, Ella Jay Basco, Chris Messina, Ali Wong

After splitting with the Joker, Harley Quinn joins superheroines Black Canary, Huntress and Renee Montoya to save a young girl from an evil crime lord. – IMDB

Superhero and comic book films have really been a bit overwhelming and not exactly on my radar regardless of Marvel or DC at this point. However, as Birds of Prey is leaving Netflix Canada and I do really like Margot Robbie, it felt like a decent film to catch up on. Surprisingly, the film was a pretty fun ride and also brought another femme fatale role for Mary Elizabeth Winstead as The Huntress which was also nice little surprise. The film overall is about these different female characters who team up against a vicious crime lord for their own personal reasons despite focusing on a post break-up with Joker Harley Quinn who ends up making some ridiculous decisions like blowing up the chemical plant and buying a hyena as her pet.

While superhero films all seem to entail the same thing and it all feels rather cookie cutter in terms of plot, making the whole situation fairly predictable, Birds of Prey is pretty fun. Perhaps its the over the top element which makes everyone from Harley Quinn to its villain feel rather cartoony and comic-like or its the fact that this film is about superheroines who find themselves teaming together for their own purpose and having their own style when it came to the big final showdown, these things all add color to the film and makes it entertaining. All the odd elements come together especially all these different ladies to make it a fun team-up.

With that said, the casting is pretty good, not only for its main ladies from Margot Robbie as the titular lady but also Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez as the cop Renee Montoya who is fed up with not being fully recognized in her efforts and Jurnee Smollett as a talented singer with a killer voice as Black Canary plus a little pickpocket girl Cassandra Cain played by Ella Jay Basco, but it also includes a rather over the top villain playing Black Mask with Ewan McGregor who was pretty decent and almost channelling the rich boy begging for recognition type of character so lashes out in extreme ways to get what he wants but also a supporting roles by Ali Wong.

Birds of Prey is a pretty fun movie overall. There’s not a whole lot to say about it but the stylistic approach and the wonderful kick-ass femme fatale casting does make for some entertaining moments. Its refreshing to see a group of superheroines band together against the villain and this film delivered the whole package pretty well.

Double Feature: Desperado (1995) & Rebecca (2020)

Desperado (1995)

Director (and writer): Robert Rodriguez

Cast: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Joaquim de Almeida, Cheech Marin, Steve Buscemi, Carlos Gomez, Tito Larriva, Danny Trejo, Quentin Tarantino

Former musician and gunslinger El Mariachi arrives at a small Mexican border town after being away for a long time. His past quickly catches up with him and he soon gets entangled with the local drug kingpin Bucho and his gang. – IMDB

Written and directed by Robert Rodriguez, Desperado is an action Western film and is the second part of his Mexico trilogy. While I can’t say how much you need to have seen the first part since I went into this pretty clueless about the existence of the trilogy and not quite a fan of Westerns in general, Desperado is a fairly fun romp despite its storyline revolving around a revenge plan, mostly because the film felt a little cheesy at times especially with the romantic interactions between the characters portrayed by Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek, both of them oozing with sex appeal from their chemistry to their appearance. Plus, Desperado does keep a relatively light-hearted tone with a lot of scenes going over the top and the tone is set right from its first scene at the bar with the whole story-telling moment describing the gunslinger.

Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek are two actor and actress that I don’t watch too much of in general. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen them in anything other than voicing Puss in Boots for both of them. While I can’t say that Desperado is the film to showcase the acting talents they possess, their roles are done pretty well as El Mariachi and Carolina respectively. El Mariachi has a pretty epic type of gunslinger action sequence for his introduction and keeps up with building up on his story as the film moves along of why he is exacting this revenge and such. His plan and course of action takes shape throughout the film but perhaps one of the best moments are when he is spending time with the young guitar player and trying to set him on the right path. It adds a lot of depth to his character overall. In contrast, Carolina’s character is a little more shallow as she does save him and has a tough edge when needed but still plays more of a love interest. Of course, the film also includes some fun cameos with Quentin Tarantino and a side character which adds to the whole bad guys plot with Danny Trejo, who doesn’t have any dialogue but because partially a threat.

Desperado isn’t exactly a film to be dissected in depth since it is mostly a fun time with a lot of action. However, that isn’t saying that the execution isn’t good. There are some weird moments like how El Mariachi and Carolina really do move very quickly through their attachment or this one escape scene where this obviously a physics issue that doesn’t seem to make sense which gives the more flair but maybe not quite so much context. There is a lot of building up a moment especially for the El Mariachi’s entrance to the big action scenes where there’s a lot of gun action going on between the two sides and everyone wondering who this El Mariachi fellow is and what his deal is overall. It does put together some stylistic action for him.

While I’m not exactly a fan of Westerns, Desperado does have its fun moments. The story itself especially for El Mariachi might not feel very deep for the film overall but surprisingly does have some pretty good moments. There are some odd transitions for the plot points but still manages to keep it rather fun and focuses enough on the action to make it even more entertaining. I’m pretty late to the party (as my husband constantly reminds me) and didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did so I think this one is winner overall.

Rebecca (2020)

Director: Ben Wheatley

Cast: Lily James, Armie Hammer, Kristin Scott Thomas, Keeley Hawes, Ann Dowd

A young newlywed arrives at her husband’s imposing family estate on a windswept English coast and finds herself battling the shadow of his first wife, Rebecca, whose legacy lives on in the house long after her death. – IMDB

Rebecca is one of those memorable book discoveries born out of complete spontaneity for a school project decades ago and yet remains one that I have been meaning to own and re-read at one point. Having watched none of the adaptations, Netflix’s Rebecca fell under the radar for myself also sparked the discovery of the Armie Hammer issues that came to light, making this a rather conflicting watch and whether to review it. However, the film itself regardless of everything, is rather disappointing overall.

Looking at the best parts of Rebecca, it has to go to the costume design, style and the setting itself. The beauty of wherever they were gave life to the scene itself especially with the color palette that it chose. Of course, the manor itself also is a big highlight as it adds the suspense with all its corridors and mystery behind doors and hidden secrets. It usually does come with the whole big manor setting especially when the point of view is through the eyes of the new and young Mrs. de Winter (Lily James) who is only learning about her husband’s first wife and getting an incredible amount of resistance from the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas).

The casting is actually not too bad. The main focus of the film from the point of the view of the new Mrs. de Winter portrayed by Lily James. This is probably one of the more complex roles that I’ve seen her in and she does do a pretty decent job. Especially faced across the housekeeper played by Kristin Scott Thomas who is a rather underrated actress overall but seems to pop up nowadays in films here and there. This role sees her being a housekeeper who has ulterior motives and trying to do many plans against the new Mrs. de Winter through manipulation and such. The strength of these two characters brings so much to the film that the Mr. de Winter character actually falls behind into this annoying and useless sort of character by the end, making the value of his role being the gentleman who sweeps his new bride off her feet and ends up sinking back into a mysterious front when he returns back to his mansion.

Overall, Rebecca is a pretty average film. It brings a bit of the suspense and mystery and visually from setting and costume design, it is quite a bit of eye candy but the film itself overall doesn’t seem to pull together a well-executed plot especially for the outstanding source material that they were working with.

Uncharted (2022)

Uncharted (2022)

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Cast: Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Antonio Banderas, Sophia Ali, Tati Gabrielle, Steven Waddington

Street-smart Nathan Drake is recruited by seasoned treasure hunter Victor “Sully” Sullivan to recover a fortune amassed by Ferdinand Magellan, and lost 500 years ago by the House of Moncada. – IMDB

Based on the Uncharted video game franchise developed by Naughty Dog, the film is set with a young Nathan Drake on his first recruit with Sully for some treasure hunting action as they try to use their wits and Drake’s know-how to finish up what his brother Sam started before his disappearance while outrunning a Moncada heir and his highly paid team. There are two ways to look at this film: the first would be in the accuracy and efficacy of its adaptation to the games itself and the other way would be for the normal movie-goer who doesn’t have any or little knowledge of the game and treats this as a straight-forward action adventure treasure hunt film. Luckily, I fall a little in between these as the game follows one of the later games which I am not as familiar with but also have a decent knowledge of these main characters, Nathan Drake and Sully so I will try to touch on both of these angles.

Looking at this from its adaptation angle, perhaps the biggest discussion amongst gamers would be whether Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg are suitably as Nathan Drake and Sully respectively. In that sense, its the biggest issue with the film perhaps as this element works better on the star power for the normal movie goer than them feeling like these two characters from the video game. Whether from the idea of appearance, even if they put Drake in the game’s outfit, or the idea that their personalities match with that of the game, some dialogue does match up but it still lacks a little something that these characters’ bring in the game, giving them a very different feeling. If there was a character that felt very similar to its video game version, that would be Chloe Frazer portrayed by Sophia Ali and still, it lacks a bit of sass. However, the film does work with a very straight-forward plot, while this might be a let-down for something expecting more, it is pretty entertaining overall and adds in certain cinematic cues and cameo that links back to the game whether its the Naughty Dog sticker on the suitcase or a Nolan North cameo appearance along with the CGI camera pan through certain puzzle elements which bring in those game parallel.

With that said, looking at this from purely an action adventure film, there is no doubt that this feels generic from a plot angle but then the point remains on how much expectation was put into it based on the trailer versus the normal context of these types of films. Uncharted is an entertaining movie experience. It has some over the top CGI which is almost reminiscent of the Fast and Furious movies (and you probably already know what scene I’m referring to) but also has the element of the banter between Drake and Sully which can be fun at times even if it revolves mostly around how much trust they can put into each other. The villain here is a bit two fold as you have Antonio Banderas as Moncada but also Tati Gabrielle as Jo Braddock who is more dangerous as she is more than just a rich man with a bunch of minions. The action pieces are pretty fun and the adventure and puzzle element is done rather well also especially when you get into the big finale with a change in setting from the big city to the vast open seas.

Overall, Uncharted might not be quite the video game adaptation that people want especially from the angle of its main characters Drake and Sully mostly since they are missing a bit of the pizzazz these video game characters however if talking about the plot itself, while generic for an action-adventure film but it actually does match up to the game well enough. Movies like these truly depend on what you expect out of them. For myself, there are some flaws in terms of casting choices from the video gamer side however as a popcorn flick, the entertainment level is still a good time.

*Uncharted is currently available on digital on April 26th and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD on May 10th*

*Screener provided by TARO PR*