Tag Archives: James Cameron

“Resident Evil” week – divine “Retribution”

Evil goes virtual, more like…

So it’s come to this – the fifth movie in the now absurdly contorted narrative Gordian Knot which is the “Resident Evil” series.

“Retribution”, for that is its subtitle, pitches heroine Alice (Milla Jovovich) into possibly the most meta film in the sequence to date – to those glancing at it with disdain from the outside, this is a dumb-as-a-box-of-hammers franchise frippery, a tossed-off horror action mash-up with only nominal differences to distinguish it from the other movies in the series which they are only too happy to ignore.

To those of us in the know, this is possibly the world’s first example of cinematic downloadable content – a fan-service add-on which borrows from the business model of modern console gaming to provide cinema goers with an added value bolt-on to the series which doesn’t advance the storyline in any meaningful way save to pitch Alice into new, themed combat arenas, parachute beloved characters from the games like femme fatale Ada Wong into the film continuity and act as an amuse-bouche before the planned final entry in the franchise gets properly apocalyptic on our collective derrieres – the traditional, eye-popping final shot promises nothing more than a climactic battle to end them all.

Yes, that is a bloody ridiculous outfit. You can’t tell that these games/movies are made by horny nerds, can you?

The real issue which seems to have set the decaying, T-virus infected feline amongst the clueless avians is that apparently deliberate lack of story – whereas critics have set about previous “Resident Evil” movies for lacking purpose and eschewing plot to concentrate on high-octane fight sequences and explosions, there’s a very real sense with this entry in the series that writer/producer/director Paul W.S. Anderson has deliberately and knowingly jettisoned such niceties as narrative and characterisation to offer a curious cross-media construct which is neither game nor film – a flashy piece of entertainment which looks like a movie but has more in common with the connecting cinematic vignettes which bridge levels in contemporary video games.

For my part, as a gamer and somebody who loves movies, this latest Resi is a bold and cavalier acknowledgement that audiences experience narrative in a different way than our parents did – I find as much value and enjoyment in a brisk ten minute episode of a YouTube show as I would from slogging through 22 episodes of the latest network drama.  I know tropes, I can appreciate genre convention (and decode the subversion thereof) and I don’t need to have my entertainment framed in the kind of classical structures which many critics seem to require film makers to slavishly ape.

If nothing else, this latest instalment of the franchise fully embraces its source material (if only as a jumping off point) and is the most explicitly video game-inspired film that Paul W.S. Anderson and Jeremy Bolt have yet presented – watch this movie for more than ten minutes and you’ll be able to tick off the influences – Valve’s “Portal” and it’s test chamber structure presided over by a homicidal, female-identified A.I. is front and centre, with a hilariously prolonged ‘rugged heroes vs. soldier zombies’ gun battle in one level scene being utterly synonymous with the ‘Nazi Zombies‘ sub-games from the last few “Call of Duty” games.

It must almost have come as a relief for the film school crit-crowd to have a major plot line in the film blatantly lift the ‘Ripley/Newt’ surrogate mother riffs from James Cameron‘s “Aliens” – at least there’s something to aim their hipster scorn at which doesn’t require a degree in survival horror continuity and recent video game history to appreciate.

Yep, just your everyday tale of post-apocalyptic, V.R. training simulations and massed clone armies…

A word, if we can, on the use of 3D in this film – Anderson’s third consecutive feature to be shot using the Cameron/Pace rigs and certainly the most technically accomplished utilisation of the technology that I’ve seen outside of “Avatar”.  As this is a sci-fi/horror/action flick, there’s the requisite number of “Look! An axe flying at your head!” camera shots and mutant undead beasts leering into the front row but Anderson and Director of Photography Glen MacPherson manage to do some interesting things with perspective – Alice’s Umbrella prison cell, and the use of space in the frame are as diverting as the showier stuff and the New York level/sequence has neat perspective use to justify the price premium inherent in seeing a 3D (or IMAX 3D, for my sins) presentation.  And that’s before mentioning the stunning reverse/slo-mo/3D opening sequence – it makes arguably not a lick of sense in the great scheme of things, but it’s very pretty indeed.

Such is the full-tilt insanity of this fifth movie that it’s hard to know how Anderson could hope to top the constant barrage of action, cheap jump scares, fan-serving cameos, 3D eye-candy and zombie-punching ass-kickery that “Retribution” serves up unless he aims to abandon formal cinematic structure altogether and frames the next flick as an uninterrupted, ninety-minute long battle sequence against the undead harbingers of the apocalypse with only minimal dialogue and plot sketching to guide the uninitiated along.

That crazy disregard for convention extends to the acting – is Bingbing Li channelling her character’s voice acting from the games or is she really that wooden (I’d say not – she was perfectly fine in the Jackie Chan kids adventure, The Forbidden Kingdom)?  Returning “R.E. Apocalypse” alumnus Sienna Guillory is similarly…variable in her return to the series as Jill Valentine – she’s playing a character under mind-control, which does give her something of a pass, but her villainous turn here suggests less a ultra bad-assed warrior chick and more of homicidal sixth-form prefect who can somehow kill you with a flick of her pinky:  Dem line readings, kids – something to treasure if you see this film on DVD and Blu-Ray.

The last, apocalyptic and seemingly unending shot in the movie promises much – let’s see if Anderson can keep up his end of the bargain and deliver the movie which perhaps gives us the full-on, sense-assaulting future war epic that, say,  the “Terminator” franchise has long promised audiences but significantly failed to deliver.  Who knows?  On the evidence of this most video-game inspired entry in the series, the next “Resi” might just come with Quick-Time Event prompts on-screen and an Xbox 360 joypad free with your 3D glasses.

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From VFX to No FX? The near-death and resurrection of Digital Domain…

 

Formerly an industry leader, now just about hanging on – Digital Domain, James Cameron‘s VFX house this week staved off bankruptcy…

It’s something of a conundrum – visual effects work is the life-blood of summer blockbusters, tv shows, music videos and commercials, but the business behind it is utterly cut-throat and increasingly parlous – witness this week’s near-bankrupt Digital Domain.

Once the brainchild of Billion Dollar King of the World, James Cameron, and the late, lamented Stan Winston, the latter-day Digital Domain expanded from its core effects business to producing  a now on-hold animated feature, “The Legend of Tembo”  and just this week avoided going to the wall entirely – and it’s by no means alone.

Chances are that you’ve seen D.D.s  contributions to Cameron’s Titanic, , the J.J. Abrams “Star Trek”, the “Transformers” series, Fincher‘s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button & The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo or “Thor”.

An excellent story by Bill Desowitz, over at the always illuminating Thompson on Hollywood, relates just how tough it is to keep your head above water in the business of painting digital dreams…

 

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Team Awesome…

The internet just imploded. Yeah, that happened...

Oh, corporate synergy – when you facilitate this meeting of the minds, you can be as cynical and profit-hungry as you like.

ABC – who make ace Nathan Fillion-em-up, “Castle” – clearly got the order from corporate sibling Disney that some cross-promotion for the upcoming “Avengers” would be desirable.

And rather than go the utterly shameless route that Fox did when shoe-horning the release of “Avatar” into a 2009 episode of the Fox procedural drama, Bones (a large part of that episode took place amidst the nerdy horde queuing camping outside a movie theatre waiting for James Cameron‘s sci-fi epic to open), the good people at “Castle” elected to have Robert Downey Jnr and Nathan Fillion have a wee chat and big-up Marvel’s putative superhero blockbuster to the ABC demographic.

So, boo-hiss to evil marketing!  Evil marketing wrong! Boo!  Now that I’ve made my inner Naomi Klein happy, can we talk about how awesome Downey Jnr is, how genius Nathan Fillion is and why this blatant slice of corporate back-rubbing is actually rather charming, in fact?

I like my marketing to have at least the vaguest implication of wit, so this unobtrusive and mercifully brief synergistic pow-wow did all the right things for me.  I won’t go as far as iO9 did today and playfully infer that Downey’s presence is a coded tease for Fillion being cast as Hank Pym in a future Marvel flick – be not proud, Movie Casting Power Brokers! Make it happen! – but I will delight in it nonetheless.

Plus, that thing with the hair, yeah?  Sweet!

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China to “Titanic 3D” viewers – look, but don’t touch. On second thought, don’t look.

Image

Just check the date for me – it’s not the 1st of April, is it?

Offbeat China (via the EW magazine ‘PopWatch’ blog) reports that Chinese officials, ever vigilant for potential affronts to moral rectitude and charged with upholding national strength in the face of Western corruption have decided to make a few trims to the “Titanic3D re-release.

How do we put this?  Kate’s Winslets are no longer present within the release print in China – the fairly tame and chaste nudity in the life-drawing scene has been excised to prevent audience members from reaching out and responding publicly to the movie’s 3D make-over.

Does this kind of thing work both ways, I wonder.  If any of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 80s action flicks are going to get a 3D spit-and-polish, does this mean that his impressive pectorals will be edited out to stop similar public examples of virtual groping?  And, more to the point, has this kind of insanity happened in a cinema near you?

I’m pretty sure that the pressing problem with 3D is watching a long movie and not having your brain revolt and try to escape your cranium during the second hour of the film, so the idea that audiences are so utterly swept up in the wonder of three-dimensional film that they reach out and try to grab the screen smacks to me of our old friend censorship getting a techno make-over.

Not that something that odious would happen, right?

I’m due to take in this 3D re-revisit to Titanic on Saturday, so I’ll be able to report back on the degree to which I am overwhelmingly corrupted by Kate W’s assets in towering 3D – personally, I suspect that Billy Zane’s rug is going to be a far more terrifying sight…

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“Avatar 2” in 2016?

At this rate, James Cameron’s kids are going to be directing the projects currently brewing in the Canadian sci-fi auteur’s brain.

Long-time collaborator and regular Cameron producer Jon Landau let slip to reporters during a London visit this week that the sequel to “Avatar” is probably four years away from cinemas – with an estimated December 2016 release on the cards.

A protracted delay for the technology to catch up to the ideas taking form in Cameron’s noggin might be a good thing – if he’s going to take a while getting the screenplay together, perhaps this might lead to a more original story for the sequels (inevitably enough, the box office bonanza of “Avatar” has now yielded a trilogy) and fewer complaints of “Dances With Smurfs”-style archetypes.

We can but dream.

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“Aliens” on ice. Yes, that actually happened.

They're coming through the goddamned walls!

Via SFX magazine’s weekly round-up of spurious, sci-fi weirdness comes this self explanatory video of James Cameron’s peerless 1986 action horror masterpiece “Aliens”, rendered via the medium of ice dance.

Yes, quite.

Anything with a yellow power loader gets a free pass as far as I’m concerned and this is no exception.

Justin Bieber with a yellow power loader would be tolerable for at least ten seconds, surely?

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Yes, Michael J. Fox is still awesome. Need proof?

If they ever remake this film with some Bieber-alike, I will be hunting the responsible people down...

Via my spiritual (and no doubt blissfully unaware) blogging mentor Rob at Topless Robot comes the entirely life-affirming news that Michael J Fox is still kicking all kinds of arse despite his well-documented battles with Parkinson’s Disease.

I have history with Mr Fox, the “Back to the Future” series and the career of Robert Zemeckis and it’s arguably due to being at just the right age and in the right place to appreciate the talents all concerned and the great work that they did.  It’s probably just an inevitable by-product of getting older and thinking that everything was cooler when you were young and that everything today pales in comparison, but let me assure you – “Back to the Future” is still a bloody good slice of clever, well-constructed storytelling.

Today, the equivalent and gigantically successful summer movie which births a lucrative franchise is probably something like “Transformers” or the “Pirates” movies.

It’s hard not to feel that today’s kids are getting the spiky end of the tent pole flick and its leading lights:  Does Shia LaBeouf, in any way other than height, compare to a Michael J. Fox?  I’m going to go out on another limb and suggest to you that he doesn’t.

Maybe “Back to the Future” was one those alchemic films which managed to outwit the many-headed beast of studio interference, preview screening feedback idiocy and any number of issues which usually conspire to up-end potentially great movies and turn them into the crappy, unadventurous fare which so often clogs up the multiplex.

Certainly, Fox’s career wasn’t quite as luminescent as it was here before his health problems somewhat curtailed his acting work.  And Zemeckis went on make films like “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, “Forrest Gump”, “Cast Away” and my personal favourite, the Carl Sagan adventure “Contact” before spending much of the last decade or so toiling away on motion capture projects which didn’t really connect with audiences – his efforts with “Beowulf” and “A Christmas Carol” being arguably a few years too early to avoid the ‘Uncanny Valley’ effect that James Cameron essentially circumvented to grand style in “Avatar”.

Would it be as good if it were made today?  I’d like to think so, but I’m pretty sure that it would be the victim of a shocking 3-D post conversion, star some no-mark from a CW tv series and be directed by an easily malleable studio pawn to no great effect.

Sometimes it’s best to just focus on the great stuff that you did get and not worry too much about what Hollywood might or might not do with things that you happen to love quite a lot…

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