Screen Gems

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).


Ghosts of Mars (2001, John Carpenter)

Ghost of Mars has a lot of earnestness going for it. Director Carpenter needs quite a bit his cast and he supports them even when they’re clearly not able to succeed–especially lead Natasha Henstridge. He takes the project seriously, his cast takes it seriously. Sure, it doesn’t exactly work out, but it’s not from lack of effort.

Some of the problem is the editing. Carpenter and editor Paul C. Warschilka do these crossfades, which might be an attempt to obfuscate the low budget. And Carpenter pushes with the crossfades at the start. Then he drops them once the action gets going. They’re only for the lead-up to the action, when Ghosts is more horror than action. At least in terms of strange creatures lurking in the night and Carpenter trying to disturb the viewer instead of enthrall them. In a strange turn, instead of tasking cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe with hiding the low budget and instilling mood, Carpenter relies on Warschilka.

It actually might be for the best, given the acting.

So Henstridge. While she’s not good and she’s sometimes bad, she tries hard at playing her part. She’s a badass future cop on Mars who has to save the day, teaming up with Ice Cube’s outlaw. Cube’s all right. He maybe gives the best lead performance, but he doesn’t have much competition. Jason Statham isn’t any good, though he eventually becomes likable. Clea DuVall is in a similar situation. She’s not good–her part is even worse than Statham’s–but she’s immediately likable. Thanks to the editing. Joanna Cassidy’s probably the best performance and she’s very supporting. Pam Grier sort of troopers through it. She knows how to do the material, she knows how to direct attention.

But then there’s the narrative construction. Carpenter doesn’t waste time establishing the characters as sympathetic, instead he uses a framing device to interest the viewer in the story. Again, it’s somewhat effective just because it covers Henstridge’s acting failings. It also shakes up the narrative a bit. Carpenter’s not as interested in being interesting as encouraging interest. Not just in terms of the rising action, but in the ground situation. Ghosts of Mars goes out of its way to be unique, even when it doesn’t help the narrative or the character development. The setup for the Mars society is all unnecessary filler. It distracts and just gives the actors problems.

Overall, Ghosts of Mars isn’t a success, but it’s a decent enough diversion. Carpenter and the cast put enough into it to get over the many bumps in the production. It’s more of an accomplishment, given its constraints, than anything else.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; written by Larry Sulkis and Carpenter; director of photography, Gary B. Kibbe; edited by Paul C. Warschilka; music by Carpenter; production designer, William A. Elliott; produced by Sandy King; released by Screen Gems.

Starring Natasha Henstridge (Lieutenant Melanie Ballard), Ice Cube (Desolation Williams), Jason Statham (Sgt. Jericho Butler), Pam Grier (Commander Helena Braddock), Clea DuVall (Bashira Kincaid), Liam Waite (Michael Descanso), Joanna Cassidy (Whitlock) and Rosemary Forsyth (Inquisitor).


Resident Evil: Retribution (2012, Paul W.S. Anderson)

I’m not sure what subtitle Resident Evil: Retribution should have, but it definitely shouldn’t be Retribution. The movie really doesn’t have enough story for a subtitle, actually. Unless it’s Old Friends. For the ten year anniversary of the franchise, director Anderson brings back a bunch of old faces–Sienna Guillory and Michelle Rodriguez get the two biggest parts (while Oded Fehr and Colin Salmon get the smallest). Anderson does come up with a good reason to bring them back, he just doesn’t know how to turn it into a story.

Retribution mostly alternates between good fight scenes and painful exposition scenes. Anderson’s got enough money (or CG’s less expensive) so he doesn’t do the regular exposition tricks the franchise used to do on the cheap. Instead there’re long patches of characters spouting exposition, usually either Li Bingbing or Shawn Roberts. Sadly those actors are the worst in the film.

The music, from tomandandy, occasionally compliments the action well but it’s usually just loud and annoying. Good production values though–Kevin Phipps’s production design and Glen MacPherson’s photography in particular.

Anderson opens the film with a great reverse sequence, really showcasing the effects and his vision for the picture. Unfortunately, once it’s over, he changes visions. Then he changes them again. And again. And… well, you get the idea.

He finally decides on star Milla Jovovich having a complicated relationship with an orphan (Aryana Engineer) and it works. He just decided too late.

Retribution‘s tedious, but not without good moments.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

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, Kevin Phipps; produced by Don Carmody, Jeremy Bolt and Anderson; released by Screen Gems.

Starring Milla Jovovich (Alice), Sienna Guillory (Jill Valentine), Michelle Rodriguez (Rain), Aryana Engineer (Becky), Li Bingbing (Ada Wong), Boris Kodjoe (Luther West), Johann Urb (Leon S. Kennedy), Robin Kasyanov (Sergei), Kevin Durand (Barry Burton), Ofilio Portillo (Tony), Oded Fehr (Carlos), Colin Salmon (One) and Shawn Roberts (Albert Wesker).


Armored (2009, Nimród Antal)

Antal’s composition is so strong, I would have thought Armored could get away with almost anything and still be a solid diversion. The action direction is good but not anything special–the chase sequences are boring, for example. But Antal’s composition for conversations? It’s amazing; sort of a cross between Michael Mann and seventies Steven Spielberg. It’s just stunning.

Armored‘s ending is rather weak. They close fast instead of spending forty seconds to make the resolution make sense. This incomplete ending comes after a particularly perfunctory action sequence. It’s a gimmick picture–Die Hard in an armored truck–and writer Simpson maybe has enough script for seventy-five percent of the film’s ninety minute running time. They can pad, but not enough to cover.

The acting is good–the cast is better than one would think, especially Columbus Short. Simpson’s script is just good enough Short can deliver a phenomenal performance. It’s too bad it wasn’t better though, since the role should have gotten Short some recognition. It’s not a dumb action movie, it’s a flawed heist movie with a lot of potential.

Matt Dillon and Larry Fishburne are both solid in supporting roles. These days, both are playing world weary heavies. Armored is not different. It’s interesting to see former teen heartthrobs Dillon and Skeet Ulrich in this one, playing unglamorous “regular” guys. Ulrich is fine. He’s finally learned to act.

Milo Ventimiglia is unexpectedly good. Fred Ward and Jean Reno are wasted. Amaury Nolasco barely makes an impression.

So, Armored is nearly mediocre.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Nimród Antal; written by James V. Simpson; director of photography, Andrzej Sekula; edited by Armen Minasian; music by John Murphy; production designer, Jon Gary Steele; produced by Joshua Donen, Dan Farah and Sam Raimi; released by Screen Gems.

Starring Matt Dillon (Mike Cochrane), Jean Reno (Quinn), Laurence Fishburne (Baines), Amaury Nolasco (Palmer), Fred Ward (Duncan Ashcroft), Milo Ventimiglia (Eckehart), Skeet Ulrich (Dobbs), Columbus Short (Ty Hackett) and Andre Kinney (Jimmy Hackett).


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).


Legion (2010, Scott Stewart)

So is it just a coincidence Legion came out while James Cameron was busy with Avatar‘s theatrical release and the Terminator rights were getting sold? I mean, someone’s got to be keeping an eye out for filmic plagiarism, right?

Legion is the first two Terminator movies with an Old Testament God thrown in (I actually do love how the movie, as near as I can tell, ignores Jesus and all that jazz). Well, I guess there is one big difference between the two–in Terminator, Linda Hamilton fell for the guy who moons over here. In Legion, Adrianne Palicki–who’s laughably bad in the Sarah Connor role–seems more likely to get with protecting Terminator (sorry, angel) Paul Bettany than she does the devoted Lucas Black.

Black gets a whole paragraph, by the way, because he was so good in “American Gothic” and Sling Blade. He’s kind of likable, playing a rube, but I recognized him not because I knew he was in the movie, but because he’s using the same mannerisms he had as a kid.

Good performances from Tyrese Gibson (who’s turning this whole stereotypical gang banger grown up thing into a career), Charles S. Dutton (big shock), Willa Holland and Jon Tenney. Bad performances from Kevin Durand, Kate Walsh (how much make-up can one person wear) and Palicki. Dennis Quaid needs his agent to stop with the character actor roles and get himself a TV series.

Stewart’s not a bad director, just a terrible screenwriter.

Blah.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Scott Stewart; written by Peter Schink and Stewart; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by Steven Kemper; music by John Frizzell; production designer, Jeff Higinbotham; produced by David Lancaster and Michel Litvak; released by Screen Gems.

Starring Paul Bettany (Michael), Lucas Black (Jeep Hansen), Tyrese Gibson (Kyle), Adrianne Palicki (Charlie), Charles S. Dutton (Percy Walker), Jon Tenney (Jay), Kevin Durand (Gabriel), Willa Holland (Audrey Anderson), Kate Walsh (Sandra Anderson) and Dennis Quaid (Bob Hansen).


Resident Evil: Extinction (2007, Russell Mulcahy)

I wonder how Paul W.S. Anderson writes his screenplays. Does he actually write in all the references–think The Birds here, or a tanker like in The Road Warrior or even the Statue of Liberty shot out of Planet of the Apes–or do they come up later? Resident Evil: Extinction is an amalgam of, I imagine, as many films Anderson could rip from or reference to (it’s never homage) in ninety-five minutes. But, like the earlier ones and for the same basic reasons, Extinction is a success.

The prevalent reason for success is Milla Jovovich. Jovovich is barely in movies anymore, but she’s great as the action hero. Extinction adds another element–along with malicious tentacles, Anderson cribs pyrokinesis (I can’t believe I knew that “word,” since Oxford apparently does not) from Japanese anime–giving Jovovich superpowers and a burden along with them. Anderson also gives her some character stuff, hints at romantic longing, and some comedy moments towards the end. It really works out, since she can switch from a Mad Max Road Warrior impression to vulnerable instantaneously. Every time–and it’s not often since she’s in so little–I see Jovovich, I can’t help but think Woody Allen would be able to do something great with her.

The other reason Extinction works is because Anderson is–as screenwriter and producer–once again completely comfortable making schlock. It’s well-produced schlock, whatever–oh, he steals from Undead too–but it’s absolutely unpretentious. There’s no pretending. It’s just ninety-five minutes gone.

Still, Extinction is a really hurried film. It’s supposedly the last film in the series, which is silly because the setup at the end suggests the next one would be a lot of fun, and that condition hangs over the movie. Starting out where the first film started, ending where the first film started… it’s all very neat in terms of conclusions, but the pace is terrible.

For a lot of the film, Jovovich isn’t even the main character. Instead, Anderson tracks a group of survivors (The Road Warrior rejects) lead by Ali Larter, who is awful. There’s some blah acting in the movie, but Larter’s is the only performance near ruining it. Once Jovovich is the firm center, it’s almost over. Anderson also spends a lot of time with the scientists, setting up the big ending. The script feels rushed, the movie feels rushed….

As far as the other performances go, Oded Fehr is good, Mike Epps is better than last time, and Linden Ashby is wasted as a cowboy.

Russell Mulcahy does an okay job directing. The editing is particularly good, but Extinction is short on action set-pieces, but the big one is worth the wait. The musical score, amusing, borrows a lot from the Terminator theme.

The Resident Evil movies are also of note because they aren’t particularly expensive, so they use CG and special effects in ways to enable storytelling, a trend Extinction continues.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Russell Mulcahy; written by Paul W.S. Anderson, based on the Capcom computer game series; director of photography, David Johnson; edited by Niven Howie; music by Charlie Clouser; production designer, Eugenio Caballero; produced by Bernd Eichinger, Samuel Hadida, Robert Kulzer, Jeremy Bolt and Anderson; released by Screen Gems.

Starring Milla Jovovich (Alice), Oded Fehr (Carlos Olivera), Ali Larter (Claire Redfield), Iain Glen (Dr. Isaacs), Ashanti (Betty), Christopher Egan (Mikey), Spencer Locke (K-Mart), Matthew Marsden (Slater), Linden Ashby (Chase), Jason O’Mara (Albert Wesker) and Mike Epps (L.J.).


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).


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