RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER. As anyone who knows me — or has been unfortunate enough to have fallen within the sound of my voice — can attest, I spent the month of January abstinent from alcohol, sugar, grains and dairy products. Hardly a prison sentence and, after the looming-apocalypse bacchanal with which I burned down 2016, 31 days of relative clarity have provided some relief and the opportunity to read a number of the books languishing on the shelf. Ideally, this window of greater acuity and curiosity could also invite a heightened enjoyment of other arts: music, for instance, or movies. And indeed it has, but with a baffling corollary. In a period of ostensible grounding and clear-headedness, I've found myself drawn to the theater to watch ridiculous action movies. It's hardly the first time and my nostalgia will likely compel me again in the future. But in this particular month, circumstances have aligned such that I must reflect on them.
January is a cinematically bi-polar month under normal circumstances, at least out here on the perimeter where we aren't gifted with the awards-contending prestige stuff until well after the new year. So it isn't unusual to white-knuckle out of the chute, prickly and paranoid, into a bunch of Important Movies. Some of these are better and more fun than others (see 2017's first four installations of this column) but as a rule they are at least thoughtful and well-executed. This cannot be said of the second group of January releases, the big-budget misfires and the misbegotten tent-poles: the dregs.
Any student of even the most recent history knows not to go into a January theater with optimism. I should know this, I've been hurt before. But this year, chemicals in absentia, perhaps searching for signs of hope, I somehow got the idea in my head that the action genre might not be in its death throes after all. Maybe one of these sequels would give voice to a new storytelling talent, or at least discover a vein of humor and excitement in the desolate slopes and rims of the winter wasteland. Not so. (No spoilers!)
The first indication of trouble in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter came before the opening credits, when star Milla Jovovich and writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson appeared together on screen to apologize (really?) for the long wait for this last installment and thank us for coming out to the theater. Alarm bells rang. And then there commenced an exercise in nonsensical stupidity that made me sad for its creators and righteously angry at the thing's existence. I am not a student of the Resident Evil franchise, which is based on a video game about a global zombification plague. There's an element of corporate intrigue, a Jonas Salk-type fallen prey to his vicious business partner, cloning, a sentient computer interface represented by a crimson-hued 10-year-old and a Very Important struggle to salvage whatever's left of humanity. From what I could gather, The Final Chapter — which states definitively in the closing moments that the story is not over — mostly rehashes plot lines and devices from the previous five installments, bringing protagonist Alice (Jovovich) back to Raccoon City, where the whole thing started. People around me in the theater seemed well versed, taking from this something I did not. To the uninitiated, the plot, though simple enough, is borderline incomprehensible. The characters, Alice included, seem little more than placeholders for action sequences that feel slapdash. The action takes place mostly at night, which, coupled with too many close-ups and needlessly break-neck editing, helps to obscure the uninspired fight choreography, staging and production at large.
Thanks partly to clean living, this may have been the worst experience I've ever had in a movie theater. PG13. 116m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
GOLD falls into a January category I should have included above: the wannabes. These are the movies with star power in front of and behind the camera, with serious financial backing and solid scripts — movies constructed by craftspeople using all the right parts but plagued by defects and destined for failure.
Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey), having watched the recession of the 1980s decimate his family's mining concern, has shuttered his offices, making Hail Mary calls with his staff from a saloon. In desperation, he seeks out one-time wunderkind Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), who made his name with a world-class copper strike. They set out to mine gold in Indonesia, striking it rich and becoming Wall Street golden boys in the process. Unsurprisingly, things are not as golden (couldn't help it) as they seem.
Stephen Gaghan (here directing someone else's material) has a pretty sturdy CV, primarily as a screenwriter. McConaughey and Ramirez both have the chops, the charisma and the screen presence to carry a movie. And the story, apparently drawn from real events, has the elements of a Great American Drama. But Gold, slow-to-plodding, under-dramatized and over-worked, doesn't live up to its pedigree. R. 121m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
— John J. Bennett
*Updated listings for the Minor and the Miniplex were not available at press time. For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
NERUDA. Luis Gneggo portrays the Nobel Prize-winning poet and communist as he's pursued by an agent of the fascist Chilean government (Gael García Bernal). R. 107m. MINIPLEX.
RINGS. The killer video strikes again and reminds us how gross human hair is. Starring Laura Wiggins and Vincent D'Onofrio. PG13. 102m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
THE SPACE BETWEEN US. A boy born on a journey to Mars finally visits Earth in his teens, where the atmosphere isn't compatible with his physiology. PG13. 121m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
20TH CENTURY WOMEN. Fine performances from Annette Bening and company but the labor of telling everybody's story overtaxes this narrative about a single mother raising a teenage son (with help from his friends) in late 1970s Santa Barbara. R. 137m. MINOR.
A DOG'S PURPOSE. Watching the dog die in any movie is the most gut-wrenching part, so let's do it over and over until we are dry husks devoid of tears. PG. 120m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
THE EAGLE HUNTRESS. Documentary about a 13-year-old Mongolian girl on a quest to become the first female in her nomadic tribe to master its tradition of hunting with a golden eagle. G. 127m. MINOR.
ELLE. French film about a video game company executive (Isabelle Huppert) hunting down her rapist, who may or may not be one of the men she knows, with revenge in mind. R. 130m. MINOR.
HIDDEN FIGURES. Indelible performances Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae and Octavia Spencer carry this compelling story about the black women whose calculations were vital to the space race. Still, it lacks style and scenes of daily racism and sexism amid the Civil Rights movement come off as mild and toothless. PG. 127m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
HUNTER GATHERER. A newly released ex-con (Andre Royo) tries to pick up his former life, including the ex who no longer wants him. NR. 90m. MINIPLEX.
LA LA LAND. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone make real movie magic in this lush, candy-colored and sublimely giddy musical about an aspiring actress and jazz-loving pianist in Los Angeles. PG13. 128m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
MONSTER TRUCKS. A teen junkyard tinkerer (Lucas Till) finds a monster and, you know, puts it in his truck. (It can't all be Moonlight, people.) PG. 104m. BROADWAY.
PATRIOTS' DAY. A brisk and focused drama centering on the Boston Marathon bombing and its aftermath. Sidestepping the political quagmire of intent, director Peter Berg focuses on the immediate human experience of those awful, chaotic days. Starring Mark Wahlberg. R. 92m. BROADWAY.
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY. This Death Star-era prequel about a young rebel and her motley crew features character complexity yet unseen in the Star Wars universe, plus a stellar cast, impeccably choreographed battle sequences, good jokes and the best droid yet. PG13. 113m. BROADWAY.
SEASONS. This nature documentary tells the history of Europe, starting with the ice age, from the perspective of animals. R. 91m. MINIPLEX.
SING. A koala trying to save his theater holds a singing competition with a menagerie of hopefuls in this animated musical. Starring Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon. PG. 108m. BROADWAY.
SPLIT. James McAvoy plays a kidnapper with multiple personalities and who is probably already dead in this M. Night Shyamalan movie. PG13. 116m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
TANNA. This Aussie film uses tribal actors to tell a love story in the shadow of a volcano on a remote island. NR. 100m. MINIPLEX.
TICKLED. A documentary about competitive tickling takes a dark turn when it reveals a big-money underworld and online blackmail. Who knew? R. 92m. MINIPLEX.
XXX: THE RETURN OF XANDER CAGE. The "plot" has something to do with controlling satellite trajectories but it's all an excuse for action sequences, of which there are too few. A low-dose sleeping pill in a Monster can. Starring Vin Diesel. PG13. 107m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill