Paul W.S. Anderson

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2017, Paul W.S. Anderson)

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter opens, as usual (I think), with a recap of the previous Resident Evil movies. Star Milla Jovovich narrates; even after six movies, it always seems like Jovovich is just about to have a great scene as an actor in one of these movies and it never comes to pass. It’s not her fault–writer and director Anderson either knowingly trades on his viewer’s self-awareness, ignores it, or isn’t aware of it. Either he’s lazy, mercenary, or unaware, which is why Final Chapter ends up being something of a pleasant surprise.

Sure, Anderson doesn’t turn Jovovich’s Alice character into an action movie legend, but Jovovich does a good job as a lead in a wackily paced, often outrageous action movie. She navigates script weaknesses to keep scenes together. There’s a lot of lame, predictable exposition in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. Stuff you sit and wish Anderson wouldn’t do, just because there has to be something a little less lazy.

Anderson does have a certain functional charm about his work, which is why he seems far more mercenary than anything else. He’s indifferent to his cast, whether they’re series regulars or not. Most of the film is either Jovovich getting into one ultra-violent, special effects sensation or getting out of one. While she’s incredibly successful as far as physicality goes, it’s like both she and Anderson are completely disinterested in character development. So I guess it’s a perfect combination.

Supporting cast is fine. I mean, none of there performances matter and no one really irritates besides Fraser James and William Levy. Ruby Rose is likable and memorable. Ali Larter is fine; she’s back from one of the previous entries and has almost no energy for this one. It’s like, the world’s ending… Resident Evil VI, straight-to-video or straight-to-hell. Only it works for the movie. She’s exhausted with survival.

There are some excellent action set pieces and a couple okay suspense ones and then a truly phenomenal suspense one. It’s a nice surprise–Anderson’s figured out how to make characters just sympathetic enough to get viewer investment without writing them good scenes or dialogue. It’s mercenary. And competently mercenary.

Oh. Iain Glen. It’s his best performance in the series. Except half of it is awful. He can’t do the maniacal villain, so as the story takes the villain through degrees of wackiness, Glen’s performance fluctuates. It’s a pleasant surprise on its own, as he’s usually atrocious in these things.

Good photography from Glen MacPherson, competent editing from Doobie White. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is about as good as anything called Resident Evil: The Final Chapter could be, which is sort of Anderson’s stock in trade. I mean, I’d definitely see this one again. I’ve been horrified at that thought for the last couple of them.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson; screenplay by Anderson, based on the Capcom computer game series; director of photography, Glen MacPherson; edited by Doobie White; music by Paul Haslinger; production designer, Edward Thomas; produced by Anderson, Jeremy Bolt, Samuel Hadida, and Robert Kulzer; released by Screen Gems.

Starring Milla Jovovich (Alice), Iain Glen (Dr. Isaacs), Ali Larter (Claire Redfield), Eoin Macken (Doc), Shawn Roberts (Wesker), Fraser James (Razor), Ruby Rose (Abigail), William Levy (Christian), and Ever Anderson (The Red Queen).


Mortal Kombat (1995, Paul W.S. Anderson)

I can’t think of another movie with such a dearth of acting ability. It’s another reason Mortal Kombat, specifically its financial success, is something of a milestone. Combined with the terrible CG, the movie’s box office achievement shows how little general audiences—specifically males—care about anything of quality.

I think Trevor Goddard gives the best performance. He’s supposed to be evil and dumb. I believed his character to be both.

For such a big movie, Mortal Kombat only has a handful of actors, supporting and principal. Robin Shou, Linden Ashby, Bridgette Wilson, Christopher Lambert and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa are basically the speaking cast (in addition to Goddard).

In another achievement, the film actually features a Lambert performance where he’s better than someone else. Tagawa’s exaggerated facial expressions suggest director Anderson told him to perform like a maniacal cartoon. It’s truly one of the silliest, bad performances.

The earnest attempts—from Shou and Wilson—are no better. Shou struts around with hair from an eighties band (all he needs is a hat). In fact, a hat would help, it might be able to act. Wilson’s even worse. Some of her problem is screenwriter Droney’s dialogue, but not all of it. She’s just awful. When the film follows her, it’s hard to believe Anderson and the crew were able to shoot the scene without giggling.

Ashby’s weak, also because of the script, but I suppose he’s better than Shou and Wilson.

Anderson’s got some decent setups, but Mortal Kombat’s still dreadful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson; screenplay by Kevin Droney, based on video games by Ed Boon and John Tobias; director of photography, John R. Leonetti; edited by Martin Hunter; music by George S. Clinton; production designer, Jonathan A. Carlson; produced by Lauri Apelian and Lawrence Kasanoff; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Robin Shou (Liu Kang), Linden Ashby (Johnny Cage), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Shang Tsung), Bridgette Wilson (Sonya Blade), Talisa Soto (Princess Kitana), Trevor Goddard (Kano), Chris Casamassa (Scorpion), François Petit (Sub-Zero) and Christopher Lambert (Lord Rayden).


Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010, Paul W.S. Anderson)

Anderson is clearly getting bored with the Resident Evil franchise at this point–even though he returns to direct (I imagine it was because it’s in 3D). Afterlife has three distinct beginnings, something I’m actually unfamiliar seeing. Having too many endings is one thing, but having too many beginnings… doesn’t happen a lot.

The problem is Anderson closed the previous film with a cliffhanger he seemingly never intended to resolve. Here, he resolves that cliffhanger, turns the previous entry’s ending into a mystery needing resolving and then introduces the lone band of survivors for this picture (one can easily forget Resident Evil movies are zombie movies and need their bands of survivors).

The survivors are fairly well-cast–Kim Coates has lots to do, Boris Kodjoe is good as an NBA star turned zombie hunter (Anderson clearly watched “Battlestar Galactica”). Of course, the movie’s got a big action finale and the two other beginnings, so there’s not much time with the survivors.

Here Jovovich, the franchise’s glue, has to hold the film together against Anderson’s disinterest and Shawn Roberts. Roberts plays the villain. He gives the worst performance I’ve seen in memory in a theatrical release.

The two other principle victims of Anderson’s disinterest are Ali Larter and Wentworth Miller, whose backstories highlight the film’s reliance of contrivance. Both are decent nonetheless.

Afterlife gets real bad at times, but Anderson always wakes up to pull it through.

It’s a shame he doesn’t give wife Jovovich writing worthy her considerable ability.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson; screenplay by Anderson, based on the Capcom computer game series; director of photography, Glen MacPherson; edited by Niven Howie; music by tomandandy; production designer, Arvinder Grewal; produced by Bernd Eichinger, Samuel Hadida, Don Carmody, Robert Kulzer, Jeremy Bolt and Anderson; released by Screen Gems.

Starring Milla Jovovich (Alice), Shawn Roberts (Albert Wesker), Ali Larter (Claire Redfield), Wentworth Miller (Chris Redfield), Boris Kodjoe (Luther), Kim Coates (Bennett), Sergio Peris-Mencheta (Angel), Norman Yeung (Kim Yong), Kacey Barnfield (Crystal) and Fulvio Cecere (Wendell).


Pandorum (2009, Christian Alvart)

A lot of Pandorum is the best thing producers Jeremy Bolt and Paul W.S. Anderson have ever had their names on. It falls apart, after a weak open no less, at the end. The very end. It reminded me of Outland, the exit is so stupid. It totally invalidates the trials the protagonists went through for two hours. Very disappointing.

The film takes forever to get going–I think it’s about a half hour in before we hear anyone talk besides Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster.

Foster manages to apply his acting skills to what’s either a lame action hero role or a miscast character actor role. He turns it into something special, a self-reflective protagonist. He’s excellent.

Quaid’s good too, especially considering he spends most of his time talking into a radio to Foster.

What’s so nice about Pandorum, which is really just a b sci-fi movie made with modern special effects (in Panavision), is how it manages to actually have a surprise ending. It doesn’t set it up at all, it doesn’t hint at it at all–there’s some diversion going on, but the diversion seems a lot like it’s going to be the surprise ending. It’s great. Then it goes to pot with the exit.

There are some good supporting performances–Antje Traue and Eddie Rouse in particular. The only bad performance is Cam Gigandet, who’s just godawful.

Alvart’s direction is fine, but someone like John Carpenter probably could have done wonders with the script.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Christian Alvart; screenplay by Travis Milloy, based on a story by Milloy and Alvart; director of photography, Wedigo von Schultzendorff; edited by Philipp Stahl and Yvonne Valdez; music by Michl Britsch; production designer, Richard Bridgland; produced by Paul W.S. Anderson, Jeremy Bolt, Robert Kulzer and Martin Moszkowicz; released by Overture Films.

Starring Dennis Quaid (Payton), Ben Foster (Bower), Cam Gigandet (Gallo), Antje Traue (Nadia), Cung Le (Manh), Eddie Rouse (Leland) and Norman Reedus (Shepard).


Death Race (2008, Paul W.S. Anderson)

Death Race opens with an almost too classy intro text (reminiscent of Escape from New York, intentionally I’m sure) informing the viewer in 2012, the U.S. economy collapses. Death Race opened in August 2008… is Paul W.S. Anderson now a seer? With all-powerful, insulated corporations and cops beating protesters… it’s the perfect movie for this year. It’s just too bad they were using rubber bullets instead of Tasers, so I guess Anderson isn’t always spot-on in his fortune telling.

All joking aside, Death Race has to be Anderson’s best film. He manages to fully embrace his own mediocrity, but here he infuses it with a more capable cast than usual and his action scenes are good. They aren’t exciting, but they’re masterfully executed, which is more than enough to engage the viewer. It’s the only time I’ve ever thought of Anderson in the same vein as Carpenter–but whereas Carpenter was inventive, Anderson’s simply a competent recycler of other people’s better ideas.

There isn’t a single interesting thing Anderson does in Death Race, except maybe go soft for his ending. But it’s slick and well-produced.

The key is Jason Statham. Statham can make Anderson’s dialogue sound good. There are other good performances in the movie, but only Statham’s delivery rises above the material. The secret to Statham’s solid performance–as usual for him–is his ability to appear to be an intelligent actor but never condescend the material. The more respectable actors in the cast–Joan Allen and Ian McShane–are both aware of Death Race‘s artistic import (specifically, its lack thereof). Allen seems to be slumming for fun and has a great time, while McShane is miscast. While he’s fine, he doesn’t embrace the movie’s absurdity. He isn’t having fun and all Death Race is about is fun.

Another solid performance comes from Tyrese Gibson. I’ve never seen him in anything before–wait, I guess he was in Transformers but didn’t make an impression; his performance is strong. He’s a likable antagonist. He doesn’t manage to escape all of Anderson’s lousy dialogue–in some ways, he has the worst of it–but his good moments far exceed his bad. Anderson always ends Gibson’s scenes with some exit line and the exit lines are always terrible. Some of them even look like they were added in post-production, which is unfortunate.

Death Race actually comes close–during the racing scenes, where Anderson is running a pure filmic adrenaline line–to being a good movie. Because these are the best scenes and are unrelated to the larger story, it’s obviously not going to work out. But they’re good enough to convince some magic might occur. After all, he did see the future of the economy. The ending disappoints in some ways–despite handling Allen so well, he objectifies Natalie Martinez (after spending the whole movie not treating her in that manner). I forgot about Martinez above; she’s okay, some bad scenes, some good… but better than expected. Just like the rest of the movie.

Wait, I’m wrong. Anderson does do something really interesting with Death Race. He implies Gibson’s character is gay. One scene gives Gibson the opportunity to deny it and he doesn’t. It’s a bold move for a b-movie pseudo-blockbuster….

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson; screenplay and screen story by Anderson, based on a screenplay by Robert Thom and Charles B. Griffith and a story by Ib Melchior; director of photography, Scott Kevan; edited by Niven Howie; music by Paul Haslinger; production designer, Paul D. Austerberry; produced by Anderson, Jeremy Bolt, Roger Corman and Paula Wagner; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jason Statham (Jensen Ames), Joan Allen (Hennessey), Ian McShane (Coach), Tyrese Gibson (Machine Gun Joe Mason), Natalie Martinez (Elizabeth Case), Max Ryan (Pachenko), Jacob Vargas (Gunner), Jason Clarke (Ulrich), Frederick Koehler (Lists), Justin Mader (Travis Colt), Robert LaSardo (Grimm) and Robin Shou (14K).


Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004, Alexander Witt)

Trying to figure out how to start this post was incredibly difficult. As far as sequels go, Resident Evil: Apocalypse is, tonally, a terrible sequel to the first film, but it’s still a perfectly reasonable b-movie. The first film, visually, is classy compared to this one, which has lots of quick cuts during fight scenes. The cuts aren’t distracting, since they’re about what’s expected from a movie like this one, and this stylistic difference is probably the least of all the differences between the two films. Apocalypse features, actor for actor, the worst cast in a film I’ve ever finished watching (at least in the last seven years). Besides Milla Jovovich, who’s good again but she’s not the protagonist–she runs all of her actions scenes, but none of her other ones–the cast of Apocalypse is unbelievably, almost uniformly terrible. Sienna Guillory is terrible, Razaaq Adoti is terrible, Mike Epps is actually just real bad, and Sandrine Holt is unspeakable. There’s not even an adjective for her acting prowess. The rest of the principles, besides Oded Fehr, who’s fine, are made up of European actors who stumble over their lines.

The reason Apocalypse works is because, even with the terrible actors, lots of stuff happens in different sets. More than any other film (except the monster who’s a cross between Robocop and The Toxic Avenger), it reminded me of Escape from New York. People running through a burnt-out city, battling zombies. It’s a fine way to spend ninety minutes, especially since Jovovich has some good scenes and I got to appreciate them, how shiny they were amid the rest of the film. Writer Paul W.S. Anderson, who didn’t direct and probably shouldn’t have, since the film plays to none of his “strengths,” actually makes her the only character with any depth, which makes the bad acting of the other principles so much worse. They’re caricatures of caricatures and, if the film appreciated that one, it’d probably be the best b-movie ever made.

The bad actors actually made Apocalypse a worse experience than it should have been, since most zombie movies have a watchable quality about them. Watching the film, marveling at the acting incompetence, I couldn’t believe it wasn’t a worse film, but something needs to be said for the Paul W.S. Anderson genre. He can make perfectly fine bad b-movies, which is a rare quality these days.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Alexander Witt; written by Paul W.S. Anderson, based on the Capcom computer game series; directors of photography, Derek Rogers and Christian Sebaldt; edited by Eddie Hamilton; music by Jeff Danna; production designer, Paul D. Austerberry; produced by Don Carmody, Jeremy Bolt and Anderson; released by Screen Gems.

Starring Milla Jovovich (Alice), Sienna Guillory (Jill Valentine), Oded Fehr (Carlos Olivera), Thomas Kretschmann (Major Cain), Sophie Vavasseur (Angie Ashford), Razaaq Adoti (Peyton Wells), Jared Harris (Dr. Ashford), Mike Epps (L.J.) and Sandrine Holt (Teri Morales).


Resident Evil (2002, Paul W.S. Anderson)

I have a mild affection for Paul W.S. Anderson–or, at least, I think he gets a bad rap. I’ve never been able to easy prove it before, but Resident Evil certainly helps my argument for Anderson’s effectiveness as a director. The film opens with a nine or so minute tease, establishing the situation, then goes into a disoriented and, we soon learn, amnesiac Milla Jovovich waking up in a big empty house and walking about in various states of half-dress. In these scenes–which are spooky–Anderson does a fantastic job; his composition is a nice (really, nice, nice is the word I’m using) mix of Carpenter and Kubrick. Just before the sequence ends (or, more accurately, further develops), he’s got this spooky shot of leaves twirling around. It’s beautifully done and when it turns out to be a helicopter landing, well, something about that ruse is quite good.

Unfortunately, Anderson made some bad decisions with actors. Not casting in all circumstances (all but one, really), but in forcing his mostly English cast to adopt “American” accents. Nothing really happens for the first half hour of Resident Evil, some teases at scariness and a little expository dialogue; even the first big action scene is lackluster, because it’s just churning. You can practically hear the movie spinning up… zombie movies do not have big casts and until Resident Evil gets itself manageable, it doesn’t really get going. During the twenty or so minutes, after the opening tease and before the ignition’s started, Michelle Rodriguez really manages to annoy beyond any reasonable conception of the term. She’s terrible. Awful. When, at the end of the film, her character is sympathetic, there’s the proof for Anderson as an effective action film director. I didn’t know if I could get through her “acting.” The scenes with her and Pasquale Aleardi, who has the excuse of not being a native English speaker for his terrible line-delivery, are among the more painful moments ever filmed. Also unfortunate is Colin Salmon, who fails when it comes to his American accent–fails terribly. Salmon’s usually good too and he’s an Anderson regular, so the misuse is surprising. James Purefoy is okay for most of the film, only losing the accent at the end, but I think he’s quiet for a lot of his scenes. Martin Crewes is another accent faker, but he’s good. Eric Mabius is fine, maybe even good in most of his scenes, but he’s got a silly haircut. The shock of Resident Evil is Milla Jovovich. At first, I thought her good performance was due to the amnesia… but then she kept going and being good, which was unbelievable.

Anderson’s template for Resident Evil isn’t so much any zombie movie, but instead Aliens; just imagine it towards the end when most of the cast are gone and the aliens are everywhere. There’s some really stupid stuff–it is a Paul W.S. Anderson movie after all–like the soldiers not going for head shots off the bat, none of the characters being introduced, so their names always come as a surprise–I don’t think Jovovich is ever clearly named in the film, which is kind of silly, since there’s some sort of Alice in Wonderland reference going on. The music’s annoying, but occasionally it works rather well.

When, towards the end, Anderson actually manages to wrap up his amnesia thing, his monster on the loose thing, two revelations and some other stuff–all while actually making the characters’ plight vibrate–it’s when Resident Evil works the best. Oddly, the predictable ending isn’t even annoying, instead it’s gratifying, because of the film’s self-confidence.

I’m actually not completely surprised by Resident Evil, as I figured it’d be watchable (as Anderson tends to be), but I’m at least seventy-percent surprised, since the whole thing hinges on Jovovich and she pulled it off.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson; written by Anderson, from a story by Alan McElroy and Anderson, based on the Capcom computer game series; director of photography, David Johnson; edited by Alexander Berner; music by Marco Beltrami and Marilyn Manson; production designer, Richard Bridgland; produced by Bernd Eichinger, Samuel Hadida, Jeremy Bolt and Anderson; released by Screen Gems.

Starring Milla Jovovich (Alice), Michelle Rodriguez (Rain), Eric Mabius (Matt), James Purefoy (Spence), Martin Crewes (Kaplan), Pasquale Aleardi (J.D.) and Colin Salmon (One).


Alien vs. Predator (2004, Paul W.S. Anderson), the director’s cut

Now, who exactly thought a film entitled Alien vs. Predator could be good? I mean… just from the title, it’s obvious there’s a fairly low potential for the film. As such, Alien vs. Predator is fine. It’s wholly watchable. It’s stupid and there are some enormous plot holes–not just in the established Alien or Predator canon, but in what the film itself has already established–but it’s called Alien vs. Predator. Any film with “vs.” in the title is automatically exempt from certain critical reasoning. Those plot holes in Alien vs. Predator shouldn’t bother anyone because the point of the film is not the understand it, rather to see it. I’ve seen Alien vs. Predator before (there was a review up on The Stop Button over a year ago, in the pre-archive) and when I was actually able to rent the monumental director’s cut (it adds eight minutes and I noticed maybe one new scene, but it isn’t like I had the film committed to memory).

In a few ways, Alien vs. Predator reminded me of Superman Returns, as I got to see some things I didn’t expect. Had any filmmaker of any merit made another Alien sequel or another Predator sequel, he or she would never have glazed on some of Alien vs. Predator’s enjoyable stupidity. No one with any artistic ability would ever have an Alien Queen chasing someone like a dinosaur out of Jurassic Park (or so visibly lift the opening to Jurassic Park for another über-mainstream film), but that lack of creativity is Paul W.S. Anderson’s strongest filmmaking virtue. Anderson makes a pseudo-scientific argument, which struck me as a goof on some film I can’t quite remember, some occasionally witty dialogue, a handful of lame characters (played, usually, by good actors), and let loose. The result was a film with some decent action (though the Alien and Predator fights could have been more dynamic) and some decent visuals. Anderson litters the film with references to the other Alien and Predator films, but he never really has any good money shots. It might be–this example being the only significant inconsistency I couldn’t let go–because the Predators are all short. They’re short and stocky and they don’t look right. They were designed to be lean and tall and Anderson doesn’t redesign the look in a way not to make them look like runts. Interestingly, the guy who played all the Predator roles was 7’1”, so Anderson did something wrong.

With the casting, however, Anderson did all right. Lance Henriksen is boring in his glorified cameo and Sanaa Latham is only acceptable when she’s got speaking actors to act off, but otherwise there’s some decent performances. Maybe I’m being a little rough on Latham, but she spends the last twenty minutes or so with no one to talk to and it messes up her performance, making Alien vs. Predator, for the first time, seem like something not even the actors could take seriously. Raoul Bova, Ewen Bremner, and Tommy Flanagan are all good, with Bremner and Flanagan even really acting in their scenes together.

I just realized how long this post is getting, but Alien vs. Predator is one of the more known films I’ve written up (I can always easily rant on a discussed topic). I’m unable to get over the negative response to this film. If you want a good movie, you don’t see one called Alien vs. Predator–nothing with a title like this one has any promise of being good. Unfortunately, I imagine the Alien vs. Predator movie the fans “wanted” would be even worse.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson; screenplay by Anderson, based on a story by Anderson, Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, and characters created by O’Bannon, Shusett, Jim Thomas and John Thomas; director of photography, David Johnson; edited by Alexander Berner; music by Harald Kloser; production designer, Richard Bridgland; produced by John Davis, Gordon Carroll, David Giler and Walter Hill; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sanaa Lathan (Alexa Woods), Raoul Bova (Sebastian De Rosa), Lance Henriksen (Charles Bishop Weyland), Ewen Bremner (Graeme Miller), Colin Salmon (Maxwell Stafford) and Tommy Flanagan (Mark Verheiden).


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