It turns out that there was another M. Night Shyamalan movie this year besides The [apparently horrible] Last Airbender. Devil had very little of his touch, though; only the story concept was his, with both script and direction handed out elsewhere. I honestly don’t have an opinion on whether that’s particularly good or bad, though I will say that it was less overwrought than, for example, The Happening. It was extremely religious, which is another of his hallmarks, though I suppose with a title like that it is to be expected here. The premise is simple and more than enough to determine if it will hold your interest: a group of people are on a malfunctioning elevator when suddenly bad things start to happen, including an eventual belief that one of the people trapped on the elevator is the devil, tormenting people for their sins even before they are dead.
On the one hand, I felt like a lot of what happened outside the elevator was fluff to pad out the movie and could have been cut, up to and including a last moment shock reveal that was neither shocking nor revelatory to me, despite that I had not figured out the “twist” ahead of time or anything like that. But then again, it’s an 80 minute movie, even padded. It was good enough for what it was, I guess, but I think I have to be disappointed by the fact that not nearly enough energy was spent on script and face time in the elevator itself, because, violent deviltry in an enclosed space, with no way to know who to trust? That sounds like an incredible premise to me, yet I don’t feel like it’s what I actually got.
Upon realization of the upcoming release of a new Resident Evil sequel, I cleverly hosted a movie night to catch up on the previous three movies, which had a high degree of plot and character consistency across them. I’m glad I did so not only because at least two of the three movies are genuinely good, but also because the continuity has continued onward. Afterlife begins with Alice’s assault on another (or possibly the primary?) Umbrella stronghold, and then settles back into the business of the lot of the movies: finding friends and survivors (the only difference in a world with this few remaining humans being how long you’ve known a survivor) and especially finding a place where the zombies can’t get at you. I suppose it’s much the same as the Walking Dead series, except with the addition of the evil multinational conglomerate and a heightened sense of action.
Not as well-themed as Extinction nor as campy as Apocalypse, it was nevertheless an excellent sequel, with good character and action moments aplenty. Basically, if you like anything about this series, it is continuing to deliver the goods, and if you don’t, well, sometimes people and zombie entertainment don’t get along. It happens. I guess.
So it turns out I was wrong about which was the penultimate volume of the Ex Machina series. But, since the series is now over in monthly publication form, I can definitively state that Ring out the Old is next-to-last. Superficially, it has the same structure as all the books: Mayor Hundred addresses a political issue (environmentalism!) while at the same time a piece of the puzzle of his past and the mysterious powers he’s been granted is revealed. The big difference is that Vaughan finally noticed his story was nearly over and picked up the pace on the latter portion. I can’t help but wonder whether the pacing would look right if I read the series all as a piece, but at the same time, the series has been released piecemeal (in two different formats) over the past few years, so there’s only so much credit I could give to that possibility even if it were factual. It’s not that it was a bad story, but since I’ve spent all this time wondering what was going on only to see it all finally revealed in a chunk at the end, mainly I’ll be glad it’s over. I guess I had a journey fail, here.
Oh, but the initial story in the book before all that I just mentioned, about Hundred’s biographers? That was just shameless self-indulgence.
I don’t even know where to begin. All I can tell you is that from the moment Machete started until the credits rolled (complete with promised sequels!), I had a grin on my face the size of Texas. At one point, I believe I actually whooped at the screen. There is just not enough hyperbole in the world to express how much I loved this movie, and I know I’m going overboard with the praise already, like by a lot, but I can’t stop myself. It is really comparable in plot and character development to what 2012 did with set design and special effects. In fact, if 2012 had not existed, I would call this the most over-the-top movie I’d ever seen, and I still think the fact that it goes in other directions will make anyone who loved that movie love this one without having to feel like it’s ripping anything off.
Of course, Machete is ripping something off, and that something is an entire decade of drive-in cinema, picking and choosing plot points, recurring themes, and larger than life characters at will to create the ultimate expression of 1970s badassery. Oh, and it’s ripping off limbs and heads by the cart-load, but that probably goes without saying. I don’t think there’s a single character that Danny Trejo (in the eponymous role) doesn’t fight or fuck his way through on his rampage through a slightly surreal version of Austin to take out Steven Seagal’s conniving drug lord; it’s not clear that Machete knows any other way to interact with the populace at large. Robert Rodriguez has surpassed Planet Terror in every way, and all with a movie he fleshed out from a fake trailer, apparently because modern politics reminded him of the idea? I am grateful to you, crazy Arizonan lawmakers!
I kind of wish I was watching it again, right now.
The thing about the Marvel Zombies series, or at least about these first two books’ worth that I’ve read, is that they’re not all that good objectively. Despite the fact that they have interacted with one of the two mainstream Marvel continuities and are therefore entirely valid storylines, the main purpose behind them is still to be a little bit of a laugh. There are serious moments in Marvel Zombies 2, don’t get me wrong. Early on, when Peter Parker and Luke Cage are talking about why Pete still makes jokes, after 40 years in which they have devoured an entire galaxy’s worth of sentient life, he replies that if he doesn’t, all he’ll be able to think about are the decades of horrible atrocities he has just committed. Sure, they don’t really pick that up and run with it, but it’s heavy stuff for nominal superheroes to deal with.
But my point is that, after all is said and done, it’s still a lightly comedic look at a Marvel world where things went terribly wrong and now everyone is dead and our heroes still need to eat, and whatever will they do? You can be sure it will be violent, gory, and a little bit hilarious. And that there will be four more sequels, for some reason? If I find them used, I’ll check them out, but I just don’t have the necessary hunger for the subject matter that would require me to make them appear on my doorstep in a few days.
The very best and very worst thing about Drood is how heavily invested it was in Charles Dickens. Because, and here’s the thing, I really dislike that guy! He probably wrote great stories full of interestingly-drawn characters, but the names are so twee and the plots so meandering (ah, payment by the word) that I’ve never been able to get past that to whatever it is underneath that people rave about. But this book, you see, in which Dickens and fellow author William Wilkie Collins concern themselves with a mysterious foreign priest and murderer, has narrator Collins espousing the same Dickensward distaste I have, and for some of the same reasons. So it’s nice to start off a book with someone that’s on my side.
I mislike the idea of delving very far into the plot, as Simmons is good at doling that out at his own pace; it’s only the endings that seem to fall apart. And in this case, I can truly say I don’t have that complaint. The complaints I do have are largely character-based and hard to elaborate upon other than through those spoilers I’m avoiding. Suffice it to say that for a variety of possible and overlapping reasons, our narratorial window into the world is severely compromised, making it impossible to have any confidence in unraveling the central mystery of the novel, and even worse, making one doubt that Simmons actually has any complaints about Dickens himself.
Still and all, the twists and turns are entertaining and the narrator’s personality made up quite a bit to me for his compromised perspective, so if you can live without being sure what happened, it’s a pretty fun book. Also, if you care, this is explicitly the same world as his previous The Terror, right down to the fact that Dickens and Collins wrote a play on the very topic of that missing expedition. In real history, yo!
 And I know that some people cannot…
 If you’re sure that we are told what happened and I’m just holding on to alternatives unreasonably, I am prepared to have a discussion about why that would mark pretty shoddy writing and also to bring up a pair of scenes that cast vague, formless doubt on the whole enterprise.
Here are the things you should know about The Last Exorcism before you go see it.
1) Despite having his name all over the previews and posters, Eli Roth is merely the producer. It seems like he should ought to make at least a few more movies before all the new people get to attach his name to their work a la Wes Craven.
2) It is shown documentary-style, with the inevitable moments of implausibility that this brings. People carrying cameras just won’t act like this in real life situations, and Blair Witch only got away with it by being the first. That said, I only found myself rolling my eyes at the cameraman a handful of times, which is better than average.
If you can get past those downsides, it’s not a bad little movie. The premise is just about enough to justify the price of admission all by itself: a small town exorcist in the Deep South travels around in response to peoples’ letters about crazy relatives or dead livestock, puts on a nice little show for them as a placebo effect to drive away the “demons” that are vexing them, and goes home with a nice wad of cash. Only, he’s started to feel guilty about the whole thing and is getting out of the business. Not only that, but he apparently feels badly enough about it to expose the chicanery inherent in the whole system by taking a documentary crew along on what will be his last exorcism. You can guess how that turns out, of course, but there are still twists and turns aplenty before the plot is played out to its conclusion, which you may well have a prediction about already. (At least, I’ve never seen a horror-with-camera movie that didn’t end with every single character dead or worse. Have you?)