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New “Riddick” film for September 2013

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When did David Twohy morph into Billy Bob Thornton? Did I miss a meeting?

Which is to say, the eagerly awaited (by nerds like me) new “Riddick” movie opens in the US on the 6th of September 2013 – it’s got a release date, IMAX makeover and everything!  Huzzah for monosyllabic, goggle-wearing anti-heroic bad-asses!

It’s a smart move as this date positions it in the early autumn genre slot which has been kind in recent years to the likes of the “Resident Evil” series and gets it out-of-the-way of the last of Summer’s heavy hitters – for example, the Matt Damon starring, Neill Blomkamp directed sci-fi actioner, “Elysium“, which opens in early August next year.

And, by that time, we’ll have had another slice of absurd automotive carnage with the latest entry in his other action franchise, “Fast Six” , having opened earlier in the spring, thus ensuring that Mr Diesel’s star has never been more in the ascendant.  Or so his people must be hoping – nobody wants to see more kiddie-skewing family comedies in his future, surely?  Let this man make an epic, geeky fantasy movie with a “D & D” flavour – there’s bound to be at least 5, maybe 6 other people on the planet who’d pay to see that, surely?

Trailer, please?

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Oh, The Romanity!

Erstwhile public enemy number uno for enraged Capcom fanboys and gals the world over, Paul W.S. Anderson has taken time out from his busy schedule of making feature-length cosplay reels for his good lady wife and has announced his next project – an epic romantic adventure disaster movie set amidst the chaos and spectacle of Pompeii on the day that property values went bye-bye.

“I’m not wearing skin-tight rubber jumpsuits, Paul.  End of.”

Game of Thrones favourite soulful bastard son Kit Harington is in negotiations to star and do his best Leo DiCaprio impersonation as a young, delightfully coiffed slave forced by plot contrivance 101 the undying call of true love to venture into the city and rescue his forbidden sweetie as Pompeii falls victim to the harsh vicissitudes of nature and several terabytes worth of CG angry molten death.

Who could want for more from life than the auteur who brought you “Mortal Kombat“, “Aliens Vs Predator” and those “Resident Evil” films using historical tragedy as a picturesque, gee-whiz backdrop for the juvenile leads of the piece to meet cute and get all snuggly-like?

Ahem.

As a confirmed cinematic masochist fan of Anderson’s brand of goofy genre fare, I’m already down for this doubtless 3D-assisted voyage through one of history’s darker chapters and eager to see just what somebody renowned for his visual flair and loopy action sequences is going to do with this backdrop and potential for widescreen spectacle.

Or Milla J. punching dudes in the unmentionables for two hours.  Either/or will be fine.

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“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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“Resident Evil” week – it’s a wonderful “Afterlife”…

Meet the new boss – same as the old boss.

Paul W.S. Anderson returned to the director’s chair for Resident Evil: Afterlife after being content to write and produce the previous two sequels and nudged the film further away from its video game roots towards what we now see in the on-release Resident Evil: Retribution – an increasingly, unashamed, utterly bonkers sci-fi/action/horror soap opera designed for nerds, with such a dizzying level of reinvention and revisionist, retrospective continuity that most casual viewers will be happy for the help of the ‘previously on Resident Evil’ info dump which opens “Retribution”.

Rain-soaked, 3D-enhanced, action heroine posing for the win!

But I’m getting ahead of myself – what can we say about “Afterlife”?

The film follows on directly from the end of “Resident Evil: Extinction”, with Alice and her army of Project Alice clones heading to Umbrella Corporation  HQ in Tokyo to remonstrate aggressively with evil corporate bad egg and series kingpin Albert Wesker via the medium of exploding, shooting and stabbing anything with a pulse and obliterating anybody left with a psionic shockwave that vaporizes Humvees and concrete superstructure alike.  It’s a zero tolerance of Umbrella Corporation thing – you’ve got to understand…

Given that this is the beginning of the film and Paul W.S. Anderson wouldn’t be so avant-garde as to end the film so abruptly, Alice’s best laid plan fails and Wesker manages to escape by helicopter, remotely purging the Tokyo Umbrella facility in a nuclear shock-wave via some handy Sony tablet jiggery-pokery (If you’re playing the “Resident Evil” movie drinking game, the blithe product placement should ensure that you must down a shot or two right about now).

After the kind of on-board fight that only happens in action flicks and that’s assisted greatly by autopilot, Alice is sent back to the beginning of the level outset of the classical heroine’s journey by having her previously overpowered abilities stolen by Wesker, neatly circumventing the criticism of the series and the character – that she was, by this point, so ludicrously overpowered that no bad guy or monster henchman could stand against her without being beaten down like (SPOILER!) dear old Loki in the Avengers movie.

My name is Alice – taste Katana death!  Image via Hundlund.org

Not that you’d notice that her powers have disappeared – by the time that the plot takes us to the ruined wasteland that was Los Angeles, Alice is doing quite nicely thank you very much without any extraneous super-powers, taking the smack-down to the undead and related monster cohorts in a fashion which suggests that either A) Alice is so bonded to the T-Virus that it can’t be removed from her or B) that an Alice who can’t leap up into the air and kick 12 foot tall super mutants in the face is not exactly what the fan base are crying out for and so that plot development was almost immediately forgotten about.

A brief sojourn flying around scenic British Columbia for survivors reunites Alice with Claire Redfield – last seen escaping zombie-strewn Las Vegas via helicopter – and sets her heading to California and into this instalment’s monster showdown when glorious, oblivious Andersonian plotting sees our heroines encountering a small band of archetypes who’ve holed up in the most secure building that they could find – a high security prison.

One of the incumbents?  Claire’s brother, Chris (a, shall we say, more prosperous-looking Wentworth Miller, late of TV’s “Prison Break”), who is assaying the role of mysterious inmate so dangerous that he’s locked up in a Hannibal Lecter-esque, super- max security cell.  Anybody with knowledge of the games knows that Chris is basically on the side of the angels, but this is the Anderson/Evil universe and so some temporary ambiguity is required.

Normal service is resumed when we establish that Chris is a good guy but has difficulty in convincing Claire that they’re related as she’s suffering the effects of temporary amnesia – an Umbrella mind-controlling device having robbed Redfield junior of much of her memory (see what I mean about the ‘Soap Opera for Nerds’ thing?) and making her slightly untrusting of the prison’s denizens – a motley assemblage which includes former NBA star Luther West (Boris Kodjoe) and a supremely evil Hollywood producer (the delightful, endlessly watchable Kim Coates, whose slicky, slimy villainy improves most flicks by around 10%).

It’s a poor murderous biohazard psychopath who blames his tools…

The tension inside the prison is soon thrown into relief by a zombie incursion, led by the aforementioned, hitherto (and subsequently) unmentioned Executioner – a proverbial brick-outhouse of a mutant of some ten feet in height and infinite bulk, who carries with him a battle axe-hammer the size of a compact car.  If he appears to be something of a non-sequitur amidst the ineffectual zombie shamblers which constitute the bulk of this film’s antagonists, he actually originates from the “Resident Evil 5” game, in which he takes on Chris Redfield and partner Sheva in Africa and won his big-screen appearance because Paul W.S. Anderson knows the elements comprising a showy set-piece when he sees them.

Cue the signature battle in the movie – Claire and Alice smacking down the Executioner in the Prison shower block, with broken water faucets dispensing cinematic rain and normal speed cranked down super low to make everything appear ludicrously cinematic and awesome.  Entertaining enough in 2D on Blu-Ray in hi-def, absolutely deliriously batty in 3D at the cinema, with water pouring around your head and Alice’s shotgun blasts of coin-shot (don’t ask) pinging you in the face.  Everything else in the film seems like an anti-climax after this orgy of ass-kicking, tech-worship and shamelessly iconic heroine posing.

Achievement Unlocked: Badass Super Pose Edition

Of course, things aren’t over yet.  The assembled survivors get out of the dodge when the prison is overrun by zombie hordes and make for the Arcadia – a trawler ship off the coast promising freedom from infection and shelter which has been broadcasting messages throughout the film.  With the inevitability of a zombie mode in a new “Call of Duty” game, the utopia offered by Arcadia is a sham and an Umbrella trap set by Wesker – looking surprisingly healthy despite apparently burning to death in the wreckage of the helicopter crash at the beginning of the film and now bonded with a strain of the T-Virus which makes him super-strong, possessed of mutant powers and apparently dressed by the costumers of the “Matrix” trilogy.

Cue an extended Alice/Wesker smack-down, which is really pretty goofy and honestly, just marking time until we get to the signature big reveal /final shot of the film – Alice, Claire, Chris and assorted survivors on top of the trawler looking out to sea as an endless wave of Umbrella shock troops arrive to set up the next movie.  And they’ve got a cyber-arachnid brooch-wearing, mind-controlled Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory) in charge.

Who doesn’t wear tights and a purple leotard when they’re heading into battle with a bunch of faceless shock troopers?

Gulp.

The impressive commitment to providing delicious, absurd, thrilling insanity demonstrated by the previous entries in the “Resident Evil” sequence is more than upheld by Anderson’s directorial return to the films.  Fans of the games by now should now to stay away – this is not, if it ever was, the “R.E.” that they love – it’s a sci-fi/action mash-up which uses horror tropes as punctuation, rather than as the underpinning of the film and gets by on flinging set-pieces and minimal plot-stitching to move events along.

Milla Jovovich is impressively commanding in the lead, adding some colours to the action heroine template she’s developed over four movies – there’s a convincing moment early on in her video diary where she seems to voice the opinion of many a critic, expressing weariness at the road she’s on and wondering if there’s ever going to be respite from Umbrella’s attempts to enslave her or wipe her out entirely.

New addition Wentworth Miller is fine, but he’s so unlike the video game Chris that you have to raise an eyebrow as to his casting – steroid-munching, two-sizes-too-small-t-shirt wearing frequent bromance artist he most certainly isn’t.  If his casting was an attempt to inject wholly unnecessary realism into proceedings, I’m not entirely sure that it was necessary – I really enjoyed him on TV, but he doesn’t really get a lot to do except be eclipsed by the Alice and Claire team.  Even new character Luther West seems to get more screen time.

To sum up – lots of action, bonkers plotting, slow-motion fights so prevalent that they make the work of Zack Snyder seem like an exercise in uptight cinematic formalism, frequent action posing, a villain so camp that he makes Mike Myers’ Dr Evil look like the protagonist of a Christopher Nolan flick and bountiful, gleeful 3D shot composition which justifies the format and which really looks goofy in 2D.

“Resident Evil: Afterlife” is possibly my favourite entry in the series.  Or is it..?

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“Resident Evil” week – “Extinction” Level Event.

 

Hmm…moody.

When we join the protagonists of “Resident Evil: Extinction“, the 2007 iteration of the scifi/horror/action/video game adaptation franchise, things are not looking too good for the scattered inhabitants of this blue and green cosmic marble we call Earth.

The Umbrella Corporation‘s T-Virus has spread like wildfire across the globe, turning man and beast alike into undead shambling husks.  The few people who have managed to stay alive and T-free have banded together and wander the planet struggling to acquire what few resources are left, puttering about in a post-apocalyptic environment which in no way resembles Mad Max 2(or the “Road Warrior”, if you are so inclined).

When we first meet our heroine, Alice (the always luminous and awesome Milla Jovovich), she’s been transported back to where we first met her – in the Umbrella mansion, passed out in a shower tray, wholly disoriented yet still fashion forward enough to recognize a good red frock when she sees one.  She’s not the only one who’s confused – haven’t we been down this path before?  Has Sony royally messed up and pressed me a copy of the first “Resident Evil” by mistake?

All rapidly becomes sort-of understandable when Alice steps through a door and finds herself in the Red Queen’s laser corridor from the Umbrella Hive facility in the first movie – she’s in the evil corporation‘s own version of the X-Men’s Danger Room and those body-cubing lasers are about to dice up like she’s the main ingredient in Alice stew.  Evading that trap, and a few others, Alice is eventually caught out by another hidden obstacle and dies, very bloodied in front of us.

Yep, this will end well.

What the actual frak?  Alice dead at the outset of the film?  I call shenanigans!

As it turns out, our scepticism is wholly correct and the Alice whose gut-shot body is duly disposed of by Hazmat suit wearing Umbrella functionaries and tipped into a trench with other failed clones of Project Alice, in a striking image of scientific contempt for failed meat product which also recalls the similar, nightmarish discarded failed clones of Ripley in “Alien Resurrection“.  Coinky-dink?  With this franchise’s barely disguised worship of the Fox sci-fi series and Warrant Officer Ellen R., I suspect not.

“S’up?”
“Zombies”
“Word”

If this all sounds a bit light on revisiting our established characters, you’re not all wrong – it does seem like quite a while into the brief running time of this second sequel before Alice enters the main plot and interacts with old friends and new protagonists alike.  Alice, you see, is taking the lone hero route, possessed of the knowledge that Umbrella can track her movements and so choosing to stay clear of the path of their satellite tech so that she’s the only person who could be targeted when they inevitably catch up with her.

Of course, there’s the other compelling issue at hand – Alice’s abilities are developing apace and turning her into a lethal psionic killing machine, which rather precludes having people around you too much.

Fate will out, however, and after some preliminary life-and-death dust-ups with zombie dogs and redneck cannibal rapists (I’m assuming this is their intent – it isn’t particularly well-stated), Alice finds a book detailing radio transmissions received from Alaska which promise a Z-free haven where the infection hasn’t flourished yet, which sets her on a path intersecting with survivor Claire Redfield (the impressively tough Ali Larter) and old mate Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr – still fantastic) and their convoy of kids and bound for the chomp non-combatants.

If the “Resi” flicks wear their influences on their camo sleeves at all times, it should come as no surprise at all that this section of the movie manages to mash-up Hitchcock’s “The Birds” with the aforementioned George Miller sci-fi sequel.  What does grate, slightly, is that this set-piece also finds time to bump off the convoy’s red shirts  – debuting R&B star Ashanti and survivor of Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Mike Epps are dispatched with undue haste in a move which suggests that director Russell Mulcahy and the producers were unaware of  just how popular horror cinema is amongst African-American movie-goers and that it might be nice to subvert the irritating genre trope of killing black characters and letting the suburban white kids survive more or less unscathed.

Yeah, with these films – everyone’s a critic.

Observing all of these events from his underground lair is Iain Glen, turning in glorious moustache-twirling work as geneticist/suave madman Dr Isaacs, who wants Alice and her blood back so that he can engineer some kind of master race of ass-kicking supermodels (one assumes) to reclaim the earth from the biohazard horde he and his Umbrella colleagues have bequeathed to the planet.

Somewhat peripheral in the second film, Glen really gets to crank up the low-key, deranged villainy in earnest in this sequel, pitching his bad guy as lost between genuinely believing in the horrific science that he’s responsible for, trying to find a solution to the hell his work has wrought and dead-set on vengeance against Alice, the Umbrella I.P. loose in the wild, eluding the furthest grasp of the corporation’s technological eyes in the sky.   I really enjoyed his work – he’s a despicable heel of a man who only becomes uninteresting once he gets gnawed on by a z-head and turns into the Tyrant, a gloopy, grossly self-regenerating bio-weapon from the games series.

You’ve got the idea – Alice versus monstrous tendril beast in the climax.  You know who’s going to win that fight, so it becomes less than involving.

What is kind of fun is this series’ hallmark – closing on a big final image which drags you back to see the next movie, even if logic suggests that they can’t possibly live up to the promise of that last shot.  In this go-round, we see Alice and a newly awakened clone of herself, having bested Tyrant Isaacs, about to wake up a veritable sports league worth of cloned Project Alice subjects and making ready to take the fight to Umbrella’s home territory of Japan, promising once and for all to wipe out series villain overlord Albert Wesker.

That leads us neatly to the next film in the series, “Afterlife”, which returns Anderson to the director’s chair and brings the chairman of the Umbrella Corporation fully into the fight – but I’m getting ahead of myself, that’s for the next post.

This film was a mostly enjoyable exercise in scares (there were cheap ones, but they worked), action (the scene in sand-drowned Las Vegas, with Alice slicing-and-dicing undead forces like a human food processor, all whirling blades and bad-assery) and mythos continuation.  It gets a bad rap, which I can’t quite understand, as it’s nowhere near as ropey as the second one was when I viewed it for the previous post in this series.

Director Mulcahy stages action well, works brilliantly with long time series editor Niven Howie and uses locations to considerable effect – this is a horror movie set largely in the daylight and doesn’t get to rely on dark corridors and things lurking in the shadows to unceremoniously jolt the viewer until the end of the film.

Alright lads, who wants some?

I honestly don’t get where the antipathy comes from, other than from knee-jerk horror fan boys who can’t get over the fact that Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt aren’t making the films directly to their blog-post and forum comment specifications.  A fun genre pic and fine series entry – best viewed loudly, on the biggest screen available to you.

 

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“Resident Evil” week – “Apocalypse” LOL

Yes, this scene appears nowhere in the film. Truth in advertising – how does that work?

Having inspired the ire of survival horror gamers globally by not sticking slavishly to the “R.E.” canon with his first “Resident Evil” film, writer, director and producer Paul W.S. Anderson handed off directorial duties of the sequel, “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” to Chilean-born Alexander Witt.

Witt’s long CV encompasses the likes of “The Hunt for Red October“, “Twister“, “Gladiator” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” – as a second unit director of photography.  A pretty crucial distinction, that.  Because whatever he may have picked up whilst working with Ridley Scott, John McTiernan, Steven Spielberg and Rob Cohen, storytelling wasn’t a part of it – even by the questionable standards of coherence exhibited throughout the “Resident Evil” series, this sequel is low on clarity, high on explosions and subject to some bonkers shifts in tone.

“Apocalypse” picks up where the first “Resident Evil” left off, with heroine Alice (Milla Jovovich) waking up in a Raccoon City overrun by zombies and possessed of a powerful urge to get even with the all-powerful Umbrella Corporation whose unchecked bio-weapons division are indirectly responsible for the catastrophe in the first place.  As Alice wanders the streets searching for suitably fashion-forward combat gear to replace the hospital gown she awoke in, the film series takes the opportunity to introduce another iconic character from the video games.

Oh hai there Resi Jill!

British actress Sienna Guillory plays tough-as-nails, swaggering Raccoon City cop Jill Valentine –  a quite distinct departure from games series canon, where Jill appeared in the first title and was a bad-ass member of the elite S.T.A.R.S team – and is one of the best elements of this sequel, albeit one who is inexplicably attired throughout the movie: If you found yourself abruptly quarantined within the city limits of a burg violently overrun by the recently un-deceased and needing to fight your out-of-town against hefty P.M.C. aggression, would you dress like you’ve just stepped off the set of a Warrant video?

When it’s not undoing the mostly good, almost feminist work of its previous instalment, this “Resident Evil” sequel is content to barrel along from set-piece to set-piece, merrily jettisoning logic and eschewing characterisation in a hunt for a bigger, badder bang – there’s not a great deal of ambition on display in this entry beyond finding new camera angles for unfortunate zombies to pop in from, periodically attack characters (in order of importance) and get blasted into z-burger by our tooled-up cast.

As we spend the entire film’s running time in and around Raccoon City, the plot focusses on the hunt for Umbrella Corporation’s scientist Charles Ashford (Jared Harris)’s marooned daughter, Angela (Sophie Vavasseur) due to be evacuated from the hot zone before lock down and left behind when her rescue SUV is beaned by a convenient, almost non-sequitor truck collision – it’s staged so abruptly as to boggle the mind.  I know that this is an action movie and that the genre’s not one where logic has to take centre stage, but one might hope that a truck in a recent collision with a vehicle might stop a while and see that it’s occupants are not, you know, dead and stuff.

They’re coming for you, Alice…

The big let-down, for me, with this film was the wholesale lack of coherence in the action sequences – something which really shouldn’t be an issue when a director of photography with experience of shooting just such footage is at the helm.  Rather than a compelling story which follows our rag-tag band of survivors to safety through Ground Z, we get exaggerated, ‘Dutched’ camera angles and film processing techniques employed which don’t add anything to the viewing experience other than annoyance and the distinct sense that somebody’s trying to mask the lack of a script by flinging gun-fights and periodic fights with the new Nemesis villain into the mix.

Yes, I said it – Anderson’s screenplay is perhaps the actual antagonist which besets this film, managing to insult your intelligence and barely pass muster in terms of scares, thrills or storytelling.  If you told me that it was a first draft effort and never meant to be taken to production, I’d have a hard time disagreeing with you – there’s a rushed, unfinished feeling to the piece.  It has real problems with advancing the story, being content instead to give Alice not especially well-explained super human powers which let her perform cool, wish-fulfilling bad ass feats of heroism and make her essentially invulnerable.

You don’t need me to tell you that this creates real dramatic problems, namely that there is no drama if your lead character can’t be hurt and spends half of her time on screen being cooler, more athletic, wittier and more empathetic than anybody else in the film.  If you read my review of the first film , you’ll note my use of the term ‘Mary Sue’ – here, in the second film, Alice becomes a definitive embodiment of that dubious notion.

Razaaq Adoti, Sienna Guillory and Sandrine Holt bask in Alice’s awesomeness in “Resident Evil – Apocalypse”.

It’s not all a downer – Jared Harris brings genuine class and invests a by-the-numbers role with layering, Oded Fehr pops up as Carlos Olivera and reminds us that he should have been a much bigger movie star than he is and the soundtrack’s quite good in a Fluffrick Playlist kind of way – Deftones, Lacuna Coil, Nightwish (on the Euro release), the glorious A Perfect Circle and Rammstein bang out state-of-the-art metal tunes which still have a place on my mp3 player today.

Overall, though, this is definitely the least accomplished entry in the series – crap action sequences, cardboard cut-out characters with ersatz motivations and throw-it-in-the-air-and-see-where-it-lands plotting all conspire to make this film live up to every criticism often levelled at video game to movie adaptations and make a boring zombie action movie.

It takes real talent to make an action horror movie with a ninety minute running time dull.

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“Resident Evil” week – Alice? What’s The Matter?

Milla Jovovich, as Alice the heroine of the “Resident Evil” series

Her name is Alice.  And she remembers everything.

Huzzah! There’s a new “Resident Evil” film – “Retribution” – out in the UK later this week and I, for one, can’t wait to see Milla Jovovich’s one-woman crusade against the rights of undead Americans go global and take the fight overseas (sort of).

To give advanced warning In honour of this imminent release, I’m going to be watching the previous instalments in the series and bringing you up to date with a layperson’s guide to all things  Alice, The Umbrella Corporation and Z-word related.  Expect confusion, rampant Mary Sueism and all kinds of chin-stroking retcon action to carry the day and for your humble blogger to not care a jot – I love these splendid B-movies and will be happy to tell you all about them.

Mashing the undead whilst remaining fabulous, Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez.

The initial salvo in the film series opened in spring 2002 and adapted Capcom’s enduringly popular series of survival horror video games – the latest of which, “Resident Evil 6“, comes to consoles in the first week of October –  into a cinematic horror franchise under the direction of British genre film-maker Paul W.S. Anderson (who is definitely not to be confused with serially grumpy “Boogie Nights”/“Magnolia”/“There Will Be Blood” art house fave, Paul Thomas Anderson).

Fans of the games had long campaigned for genuine Horror legend George A. Romero to occupy the director’s chair and were less than delighted by publisher Capcom rejecting Romero’s screenplay out of hand and placing the project in the cheaper, all together schlockier mitts of the “Mortal Kombat”/“Event Horizon” director.  In retrospect, it all worked out for the best, as despite critical reaction which runs the gamut from eye-rolling disdain to snarky dismissal, the film series has proved enduringly popular with audiences, financially successful and spun-off direct-to-video CG movies which are arguably more faithful to the games than the Anderson movies have ever managed to be.

The first film introduces us to a near-future world where the omnipresent Apple Umbrella Corporation quietly exert financial and political dominion in the United States by providing computing, medical technology and health care services to its populace (all the while actually turning a profit by manufacturing biological weapons and engaging in genetic research).  The catastrophic release of a sample of Umbrella’s T-Virus bio-weapon causes their underground, A.I.-controlled facility  The Hive to go into forced lock down and kill every member of staff present in order to contain the outbreak.

Cue the introduction of series heroine, Alice, as played by Milla Jovovich as a combination of bad-ass action heroine and this-close-to-losing-it “America’s Next Top Model” contestant.  When we first encounter Alice, she’s in the buff, has inconveniently misplaced her memory and is attempting to remedy that unfortunate situation when a detail of black-clad special ops dudes smash in through the windows of the plush mansion she’s woken up in.

The cast’s attempts to spam Metacritic with good reviews were doomed to failure…

In no short order she finds out that she’s a security operative for the Umbrella Corporation, living in deep cover above The Hive and that she’s going to be accompanying her rude interruptees back into the underground base in order to get to the bottom of why the A.I. system went all Jason Voorhees on everyone.  It’s not been the best of days for Alice and it soon gets worse when the T-Virus outbreak currently contained within the walls of the Umbrella facility appears to be reanimating the dead and turning them into Sheriff’s Deputy Rick Grimes’ target practice dummies of choice.

If you’re at all familiar with the games, there isn’t a great deal in that summation of the first film’s plot which indicates a relationship with the source material beyond sharing a snappy title – and you’d be right to make that judgement.  The major issue with the film series as a cross-media translation of the games is that the deliberate, tension-building horror of the Capcom series is rejected more or less wholesale and replaced with run-and-gun ass kicking inspired more or less entirely by the cinema of James Cameron – “Resident Evil” is, in essence, “Aliens” with zombies and fashionable, post-“Matrix” slow-mo, wire-fu action.

It’s like going to see “Downton Abbey – The Movie” and finding that your Dame Maggie Smith starring, “Daily Mail” world view-espousing period drama has been unceremoniously reconstituted as a racy, teen sex comedy with a Katy Perry soundtrack.  There’s a disconnect between the two, no?

To his credit, Anderson’s changes don’t fatally unbalance the movie and instead move us from the creeping dread of the games series to an action-orientated tale which finds new and gross ways to build on the zombie mythos and create memorable foes for heroine Alice to beat up on as she heads for the surface.

Alice versus a zombie Dobermann. Normally, I’d be pissed, but it’s a zombie Dobermann, people…

The writer/director’s major contribution to this film – for me – is to give it a look which is glacial, antiseptic and defiantly modern in tone.  He builds on excellent production design by Richard Bridgland, who gives us a world which is all brushed metal surfaces, reflective glass, omnipresent CCTV and reality obfuscating trans-lights, which speak to the influence of the malign, invisible Umbrella Corporation – their staff work underground, working on amoral science projects which go wrong and consume them, only for their remote masters to figuratively bury them alive and send in similarly disposable teams to recover the flawed bio-weapons for future revision.    It’s not your parent’s monster movie and it’s all the better for it, I feel.

Performances are fine – Jovovich is a spirited and unusually emotional action heroine.  She’s resolutely not the ‘dude in a skirt’ that the film could have settled for, using her waifish frame to her advantage and making the frequent dust-ups with her zombie foes seem more like a life-and-death struggle than the foregone conclusion battles that Alice would subsequently encounter in future entries in the franchise.  Similarly, Michelle Rodriguez is aptly cast as special ops bad ass Rain, her now trademarked ‘tough chick’ persona not yet forged by the likes of “Battle: Los Angeles”, “Avatar” and the “Fast & Furious” series.

“I’ll still be making these films in ten years?  Are you shizzing me?

It’s a rare film series where the male cast members essentially add up to eye candy, but that’s very much the case for Eric Mabius and James Purefoy, who get to look suitably gym-chiselled and hunky whilst having characters who don’t really add up to much.  Of the male cast, it’s only Brit Colin Salmon who makes much of an impression, gruffly barking orders as the squad C.O. before exiting the picture in one of the more memorable horror deaths of the decade.

As you can tell from this review, despite genuinely enjoying this film I can see that it has flaws – show me the movie that doesn’t drop the ball at least once and I’ll show you the opining of an eternal optimist – but those shortcomings are not serious enough to derail either the movie or the series that it inspired.  Anderson may not be an original film-maker but his taste in movies is decidedly similar to mine and I dare say that I would be paying homage to “Aliens”, “Day of the Dead”, “The Matrix”, Shaw Brothers kung-fu cinema and video game user interfaces in roughly the same fashion as he does throughout “Resident Evil”.

Come into this film expecting a visionary genre reinvention along the lines of “Rec”, “Audition” or “Martyrs” and you’ll be disappointed.  Calibrate your expectations for a popcorn horror/action/sci-fi mash-up with a singular, steely blue colour palette and the best Marco Beltrami/Marilyn Manson score ever to explode from your surround sound speakers and you’ll be in (zombie) hog heaven.

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