Resident Evil: Retribution

Fake Alice closing the door on some zombies

Resident Evil: Retribution is the latest and so far last movie in the Resident Evil franchise. It starts with about ten minutes of recap of the previous movies, after which “Alice” wakes up as a housewife with a husband and a daughter. Cue a few minutes of syrup before the zombies attack. All of which turns out to be a danger room scenario, which the series is inordinately fond off.

Alice unchained

Real Alice meanwhile has been captured and is interrogated by evil Jill Valentine, which eats up a couple more minutes, before a power shutdown, which interestingly also shutdowns Valentine, allows her to escape. Despite the deadline she takes the time to pose here. To be honest, it is a nice shot of Alice in her badass uniform, against that white, sterile Umbrella corps background. Note the change in hair colour and length here.

Alice versus the Japanese zombies

The first real Alice set piece sees her re-enacting the zombie infection of Tokyo, which we know from the last movie but which is news to her. The last zombie facing off against Alice is in fact patient zero. This shot shows off everything I like about her: calm, cool, in control.

Big Wesker is watching you

Enter Wesker, the scumbag villain from the previous movie, the one who made everything worse and is now reassuring Alice that really, honestly, he’s on the side of angels and it’s the Red Queen AI who’s been behind the Umbrella Corp’s actions. Turns out she wants to wipe out the human race, which considering their track record in the previous movies, means she must be carrying out Umbrella’s true wishes.

Leon to the rescue

Wesker has sent a team of professionals to the rescue, including floppy haired Leon, who’s a much more important character in the video games. Here he’s just another bloke with a gun.

Soviet zombies shooting up capitalist Moscow

As the series has progressed, the bullshit has increased, from zombies to super zombies and here we have zombies intelligent enough to use weaponry and jeeps, something not seen in previous movies, so why now? Because it looks cool, probably, and normal zombies aren’t much of a threat anymore.

Good and evil square off

Meanwhile, despite dying in the first movie, that bloke in the middle is Alice’s boyfriend brought back to life by the Red Queen, as are the other non-mooks there. Alice meanwhile has gotten fake Alice’s daughter. The woman in the impractical dress is Ada Wong, yet another mysterious bad ass from the games brought into what’s essentially a drawn out cameo here.

Good and evil square off again

The climax comes with an extended battle on the ice, as brainwashed Jill Valentine goes mano a mano (wait, that’s not quite right) with Alice, while Rain on the right (also killed in movie 1) goes after the rest of the team, now reduced to Ada, Leon and that rapper dude from the previous one. The one true strength of the Resident Evil movies remains that it has so many kick ass women in it: Alice, Valentine, Ada, Claire Renfield, Rain.

Alice meets Wesker again

The movie ends with Alice meeting up with Wesker again, who now is the most powerful man in the world, holed up in the White House, defended by Umbrella and US army troops, the last surviving humans in the world, the logical end result of all of Umbrella’s scheming through the previous movies. Getting stuck in the White House, not the most defensible position in the world, being a prime example.

Asking SF readers to try something new is asking for trouble

K. Tempest Bradford has a modest proposal for (science fiction) readers ot broaden our reading horizons:

The “Reading Only X Writers For A Year” a challenge is one every person who loves to read (and who loves to write) should take. You could, like Lilit Marcus, read only books by women or, like Sunili Govinnage, read only books by people of color. Or you could choose a different axis to focus on: books by trans men and women, books by people from outside the U.S. or in translation, books by people with disabilities.

Science fiction readers responded to this with the openmindedness and willingness to explore new things for which they’re kno-oh gods who am I kidding:

Recently I wrote a thing which brought all the trolls to the yard. I’m used to it, but I wondered what it would look like if I just started saving the hateful tweets people send me in one place. Hateful being attacks on me personally, name calling, threats, etc.

The repeated chorus of how racist or sexist it is to not read white male authors is followed by racist, sexist slurs is …precious. Horrifying but unsurprising to see the slurs, but do these people actualy understand “racist” and “sexist” have an actual meaning?

Sady Puppy wrangler Larry Correia contributed his own very special brand of stupid (from File 770):

But the ironic thing about that picture? Tempest is wearing a Dr. Who shirt. A TV show about a white man and his white female sidekick, created by some white men, with episodes written by… Neil Gaiman.

Never mind that the good Doctor has also had a black British sidekick, or regularly has had adventures with a lesbian lizard woman from the dawn of time and her companion, the idea that reading only writers of colour or only women for a year meaning that you swear off all white men is just so incredibly dumb that you hope Larry doesn’t believe it himself, but you fear he does.

Professional kulturkampfers like Correira of course have to oppose anything that smacks of enlightment, but is it really too much to ask from grownups to stop being so incredibly defensive and be open to new reading experiences?

Little ditty about Rob and Helen

I’m so glad I’m not the only one who tought Rob was grooming Helen for abuse in The Archers:

The only soap I follow now is The archers, the last soap which doesn’t seem to think a month is a long time for a story arc. It is currently portraying domestic violence, although I am sure some followers are unaware it is doing so. A slow, realistic story of coercive control, where Rob has slowly moulded Helen to be the stay at home mum he wants, using all the techniques of emotional and psychological manipulation that real life abusers use.

I only started listening to The Archers because it was part of Sandra’s Sunday ritual but although it’s so often ridiculous it’s also addictive to see the storylines work themselves out over weeks, months and years. It is after the longest still running soap opera in the world and has a huge history to draw from. At times it also has the unfortunate habit to want to be contemporary and edgy, which tends to come off as cackhanded or patronising. Not so for the Rob and Helen storyline though, as Rob is scarily believable as an abuser. Warning bells should’ve rung long ago for Helen, but she doesn’t hear them because she’s in love, while from the outside it must look as if Rob, who was a bit of an arsehole at first, has mellowed a lot. But that’s only because he has focused his attentions inwards, getting Helen to become a full time housewife rather than keep working, something that currently is a new source of tension as circumstances have convinced Helen to get back to work…

It’s all been done relatively subtle and realistic, as far as The Archers can be realistic and it’s utterly chilling to listen to.

All her Children Fought

Proof you can tell a science fiction story with only three actors and one, not entirely convincing special effect. Based on the story by Tobias Buckell, who has the story of how it came to be up on his blog. It’s an excellent example of how much you can convey with just a bit of subtle incluing, by working within genre expectations. I can’t be the only one to watch this and be reminded of Ender’s Game, can I?

Some comments: I wonder if the choice of accents for the three actors was deliberate or just a coincidence, but it works in contrasting the boy and his minder with the main character. I’m not sure the premisse of the movie is valid, the reason why it’s young boys/children being sent up there rather than adults, but it makes emotional sense.

A week of short short stories reviews

So I made the decision to read through this list of 98 well received short SF stories from last year, as originally posted to MetaFilter, reading roughly three stories a day. The first week of posts is now up:

  • Introduction and list of stories
  • Day One: stories by Charlie Jane Anders, Eleanor Arnason and Dale Bailey
  • Day Two: Jessica Barber and two by Elizabeth Bear.
  • Day Three and Four: Helena Bell, Holly Black, Aliette de Bodard, Richard Butner, Richard Bowes & Chaz Brenchley.
  • Day Five: Siobhan Carroll, Dario Ciriello and C. S. E. Cooney.
  • Day Six: Julio Cortázar, Tom Crosshill and Amanda C. Davis
  • Day Seven: Amal El-Mohtar, Ruthanna Emrys and K. M. Ferebee.

It’s been interesting reading these stories this way, usually done on my tablet lying on the couch with a cat on my lap. Even if a given story isn’t too my liking, it’s easy enough to push through to a better one. I don’t read enough short stories normally and this is a good challenge to get me to read more.

Resident Evil: Afterlife

The infection hits Tokyo

If the Resident Evil movie series is good at anything, it’s at providing great looking images like this, set pieces that sacrifice logic for looks. Here we supposedly have patient zero infecting Tokyo with the T-virus, the first zombie to hit Japanese shores, but you would expect that after the destruction of Raccoon City and the subsequent spread of zombies over North America, Japan would be slightly more prepared for a similar outbreak, or that Umbrella would come clean about it. But no.

Alices attacking Umbrella

At the end of the last movie Alice promised Umbrella she’s visit them in Tokyo and she’d bring some friends. This is them. Alices and clones attack, loads of mooks die, not least from friendly fire as head baddie Wexler is not choosy in who he kills. It all ends with everybody from Umbrella and all the clones dead and Alice free to persue her quest for Arcadia.

That is a lot of the walking dead attacking that prison

Which turns out to be some sort of honeytrap, as she finds a lot of planes but no people, with the exception of a brainwashed Claire Redfield. They set off by plane along America’s west coast and come across a prison, surrounded by thousands of zombies, inhabited by a motly crew of survivors, most of whom won’t make it to the end of the movie.

you got to look good even after the zombie apocalypse

What struck me this time is how well groomed all these survivors are; Alice and Claire in full make up and pretty boy over there has kept his beard neatly trimmed. The Resident Evil movies always had a sense of style, but by now style has definately won out over substance. This is btw roughly were I first came in with the franchise, one late night after the football had finished. Back then I hadn’t realised how disjointed this movie was, one sequence stitched to another, or how much it was making up on the fly.

Knock knock

Case in point. This fucker. Suddenly there’s a supersized zombie king to make things interesting, a supernatural creature not seen in any of the other movies. This is something the movies have done before, when regular zombies are no longer enough, but it feels like cheating. Here it does what the run of the mill zombies couldn’t and break down the prison walls, functioning as catalyst to trigger our heroes frantic escape.

Surprise, surprise

They escape to the Arcadia, which Alice and co had learned was actually a ship sailing past the west coast, picking up survivors. It is of course a trap and of course it’s Wesker, who died in the first twenty minutes of the movie, who’s the mastermind, having infected himself with a new strain of the virus, keeping at bay with anti-serum and willpower. Cue massive boss fight including both the Redfields, Claire’s brother Chris having been introduced in the prison; a bit late, considering he’s once again an important character from the videogames not given his due in the movie series.

Jill Valentine working for Umbrella

A happy ending? Of course not. Umbrella, for all its incompetence in actually keeping a world worthy to rule over, are very good at having plots within plots and just as everybody is freed and the Arcadia is ready to become a haven for non-infected humans, up pop their gunships again. And who should lead the Umbrella forces but Jill Valentine, proving that a turn to evil always comes with a worsening taste in clothing, as she has her tits out and wears a not very comfortable looking leotard/fishnet combo.

Resident Evil: Extinction

a trench filled with dead Alice clones

You know, three movies into the franchise and I have to seriously wonder about how seriously the Umbrella Corp takes maximising shareholder value. So far, through their manipulative evil they’ve lost their super duper high sekrit research facility under Raccoon City, then Raccoon City, first overrun by zombies, then nuked to contain the outbreak and now at the start of Resident Evil: Exctinction we’re told the entire planet has been overrun. Society has collapsed, everybody but for a handful of survivors is undead and even the wildlife has been destroyed. So what is Umbrella doing? Staging elaborate tests for their Alice clones to run through and get killed. The end result is that trench full of dead clones. You do have to wonder about their priorities.

That is a flimsy fence to keep your secret headquarters safe

That danger room scenario wastes some seven minutes of an hour and a half long movie, only establishing that the bad guys’ base is in the middle of the desert, which is apparantly all of the US by now and that it’s surrounded by zombies kept at bay only by a flimsy metal chainlink fence. You’d think that the pressed mass of the zombies would’ve been enough to pull it down, but apparantly not. It also raises the question why and when Umbrella has been establishing all those super hight tech underground headquarters. This is in the arse end of nowhere, so they would’ve needed to bring in all sort of equipment and people to build it. For those of us living in cities with years overdue, far more expensive than budgeted metro upgrades, this seems unrealistic.

would you trust a diary you found at the feet of a suicide

Twenty minutes in, the macguffin driving the plot is introduced, a diary kept by somebody at the gas station that Alice stops at to refuel, after she escaped from the clutches of a hillbilly cannibal clan by introducing them to their zombie dogs. The diary talks about a safe zone in Alaska, free from infection, but the person who made it has hung themselves. Nevertheless, Alice is intriqued.

working for Umbrella is not the best career choice

So it turns out one of the things the bad guys are attempting is to find a (partial) cure for the zombie virus, giving the victims at least some of their intelligence back, curing their craving for flesh and making them into a docile work force for the Brave New World Umbrella wants to create. Needless to say it goes wrong. Needless to say yet another Umbrella scientist will find out first hand why working for Umbrella is a bad career move. It’s the casual psychopathery of the villains that makes you wonder why their mooks keep working for them, rather than just shoot the Umbrella board and lead scientists en masse.

Alice meets up with her friends from the previous movie

Meanwhile we’ve also been following Claire Renfield and her band of survivors scavenging for supplies, which includes some of the people we met in the second movie, including Carlos here. Alice comes back into their lives as their saviour from an attack by zombified crows, who’ve been feeding on the infected flesh of the dead. It’s the first and only time we see these crow attacks. This is the main weakness of this movie: it’s a series of set pieces that are supposed to overwhelm you with their awesomeness but fall short.

zombie party in downtown Las Vegas

What plot there is, is provided by Alice’s insistence they need to go to Alaska to look for Sanctuary, while the evil Dr Isaacs has become aware of her existence and wants to capture her for study. As the survivors go to Las Vegas for supplies, he sets a trap using his new, improved zombies. This seems wasteful but it’s Umbrella’s M.O. to kill off as many civilians as possible with each of their harebrained schemes. Here the plan is therefore to murder everybody including Alice and then take a blood sample. Things do not entirely go according to plan but it does allow some of the survivors to die a nicely heroic death.

Claire Renfield looking badass

It also allows Claire Renfield/Ali Larter to show off some of her badassery, which was badly needed. In the games she’s one of the more important characters of course and only introducing her in the third movie is a bit late. Interestingly she’s the third badass woman character to tag along with Alice in the movies, after Jill Valentine in the second and Rain Ocampo (Michelle Rodrigues) in the first. Which is I think one of the main virtues of the Resident Evil series in both games and movies, that there are so many strong female characters in it, without too much of the usual nonsense surrounding them.

Alice and friends

The climax of the movie has Claire and the remaining survivors escape to Alaska in an Umbrella helicopter as Alice fights off the now infected Dr Isaacs, killing him and warning the rest of Umbrella she’ll be paying them a visit. It’s a great image to end on, but it shows the absurdity of the whole series, the obsession it has with Alice. You’d think that after the apocalypse Umbrella would’ve lost some of its arrogance, but apparantly not.

Alternate History

Alternate history:

That sometime in 1970: The Beatles fired Allen Klein and somehow came upon an agreement of how to run Apple Records, allowing the band members to separate the music from the business, the chief destruction of the band being averted; with the success of “Here Comes The Sun” and “Something” and an amazing back-catalog of unused and new songs, George successfully campaigns for an equal share of his own songs to be featured alongside the Lennon/McCartney originals (with the compromise that Linda and Yoko are allowed in the Beatles’ inner circle if need be); pleased with Phil Spector’s work remixing Let It Be, The Beatles opt to have him produce the bulk of their recordings throughout the 1970s (despite McCartney’s reluctance); John agrees but wants to elaborate on the stripped-down and live-band-sounding arrangements, as revisited in the Get Back sessions from the previous year, but at least for his own compositions written from his Primal Scream therapy sessions; Ringo was, as always, just happy to be there.

One of the things that distinguishes the serious music nerd from the serious music nerd is that the former spends a lot of time and energy not just imagining what if the Beatles hadn’t split up, or what if Syd Barrett hadn’t had his breakdown, but actually create imaginary albums from timelines in which these things did happen. I’ve only discovered this blog the other week, thanks to MeFi, but I’m seriously considering whether it would be eligible for a fan Hugo, because does seems to be the purest form of fannish alternate history making.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse

a line of sinister Umbrella cars moves into Raccoon City

Take a good look at the picture above. That’s going to be the last scenes we’ll see of Raccoon City spread out in the daylight. Soon the cars will go into the suburbs to collect the Umbrella Corporation scientists living there to evacuate them out, leaving the city behind to succumb to the zombie apocalypse. Once that happens it’s all crowded sets, claustrophobic close ups and darkness. But for now it’s still bright, sunny and empty, only those black cars moving in ominously.

Jill Valentine

Our first good look at Jill Valentine comes about seven minutes into the movie, after we’ve had the short recap of the first movie, the set up for this one, the black cars have picked up their cargo and the zombie eruption is in full process but not yet recognised. This is the first clear shot of her face, after she’s stormed the police office she used to work for and shot all the zombies being arrested there, her former co-workers still thinking they’re normal criminals. Before that we only saw her in extreme close up: feet in high heels climbing stairs, her arms as she turned on her telly and grabbing a gun when realising what’s going on, cropped shots from behind as she moves into the office and starts shooting. A much more action orientated introduction than that of Alice in the first one, naked and vulnerable waking up in the shower.

Olivera to the rescue. But she is already bitten

Resident Evil: Apocalypse is a very different movie from Resident Evil; Aliens to its Alien, a survival action story rather than a horror story. The first took its time to start the action, ratching up the tension slowly. Here it starts almost immediately. The first fifteen minutes or so of the movie is all action scenes as we get to meet the main characters and see the apocalypse starting to gather steam.

Just another prick on a wall

All of which culminates in this scene, in which Raccoon City is closed off by orders of the Umbrella Corporation. It’s a scene that neatly encapsulates both the inherent inhumany of Umbrella and its executive corps, but also its inherent incompetence and stupidity. First of all, closing off the entire city biut for one, not very big escape route isn’t going to get very many civilians out of the city, but then Umbrella is more than happy to sacrifise its own troops on the slightest pretext, which doesn’t say much for the intelligence of its goon squads. And then there’s the arrogance of the main villain to stand there in his business suit in front of an armed, angry and scared crowd telling them they’re going to die. Had I been there with a gun, that fecker would’ve been the first to die…

Like a bat out of hell, Alice makes her entrance

Alice and Jill finally meet a third into the movie, as Alice saves Jill and co from an attack by some of the super zombies. As seen in the epilogue to the previous movie and re-established here, she’s been experimented on by Umbrella and turned into a superhuman. It’s another case of Umbrella stupidity because of the way they went about it. The shock ending of Resident Evil had her and one other survivor break out of the Hive, leaving it and its zombies sealed behind them, only for the company to attack them and immediately use them to experiment with the T-virus. Had they been slightly less muhahaha evil and taken the time to debrief Alice, they’d known what was waiting for them in the Hive, they wouldn’t have let the zombies reach the surface and this whole movie would’ve been much shorter.

Alice and Jill passing the Bechdel test

One of the things the doesn’t get much credit for is how well it passes the Bechdel test. Both Jill Valentine and Alice are competent, strong heroines who work well together and the only time they clash over a man is when they disagree about whether it’s best to kill an infected team mate immediately. Even the obligatory civilian tag along, reporter Terri Morales, is competent in her own way.

Obligatory end boss fight

It of course all ends in a fight to the death on the roof of some modernist office building monstrosity, as the main villain forces Alice to fight his super zombie monster that he’d already taken for a field test in the last third of the movie. The symbolism here is …not subtle… You got the heavy, bulky, (barely) remote controlled killing machine squaring off against the woman who throughout the movie has tried to keep civilians and innocents alive, no fighting for the lives of her friends and comrades. The forces of evil seem to have all the power, but Alice’s own innate compassion wins the day in the end.

We need to defend negative reviews now?

So the Nerds of a Feathers site held a blog table on the positive value of negative reviews, because apparantly negative reviews are a problem now:

I have a real problem with the online review culture of ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all’ that seems to have emerged from some of the review/rating websites. It’s a disservice to the reader, and I think to the writer as well. It’s hard to make a judgement about a book without at least the possibility of dissenting reviews existing, while I’d argue that a writer should at least be aware that not everyone loves everything they do, even if they actually don’t read the reviews themselves. A world in which everyone agrees about everything, and every book is a five-star read and the best thing ever, is a world which is bland and in which there is no incentive to do better or to do something different.

I think a lot of fan coteries miss the fact, as they rally round their authors and go after the so-called bullies, that we all exercise critical judgements every day. Something as mundane as ‘I prefer apples to oranges’ is a critical judgement, but I’ve never noticed orange-lovers hounding apple-lovers because of it. There is a clear understanding that a preference for one fruit is not a judgement about the people who prefer another kind of fruit. And yet, these days even a slightly less than totally stellar review can have people behaving very oddly, trying to suppress reviews or silence an errant reviewer.

This whole review culture is strange to me. I’ve been keeping a bookblog since January 2001 and the only time somebody objected to a slightly negative review was when a relative of Theodore Cogswell disagreed with what I wrote about one of his short story collections. I blame Goodreads and that whole reviewing as social activity scene for that idea that reviewers should just be unpaid publicity agents for mediocre writers in return for free books.

It’s a common fandom fallacy, not just in book reviewing or science fiction, to be an enthusiast first and critical second, because we’re all in our fandom together and it’s rude to point somebody else’s flaws. The strange thing is, it’s rarely the good writers who get snippy about bad reviews: it’s the self promoters and Funky Flashmans who take offense. Or the deranged, like Anne Rice a few years ago. Most professionals know getting bad reviews is part of the job, that even if you write a good book, not everybody will necessarily like it. Or that it’s even desirable for everybody to like your novel.

Fans are different. If a novel or a series or a tv show is important enough for us, we can get really, really angry if somebody disparages it. The most poisoneous form of that is of course GamersGate, where a particularly obnoxious subset of gamers led themselves be used in a vendetta by notorious sleazeball Eron Gjoni to get back at his ex-girlfriend, all because they get really, really angry at any suggestion of sexism in videogames and the videogaming industry.

So in conclusion, objecting to negative reviews in general is insane and we should be careful in stamping that attitude out in science fiction.