Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Resident Evil: Retribution; The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo (2011); Resident Evil: Apocalypse

 Resident Evil: Retribution

Someone’s still paying to watch these films as they don’t seem to be stopping any time soon.

The fifth in the series of Paul W.S. Anderson’s video game adaptations, the films' plots have long since diverged from those of the games, with the film universe currently a world overrun by zombies infected by the Umbrella Corporation’s T Virus. In this case, the corporation is being run by the rogue AI from the first film, the Red Queen, seeking to annihilate human life using brainwashed clones as well as the monsters created by the corporation.

Our heroine Alice (Anderson’s wife Milla Jovovich) finds herself in Umbrella’s secret test centre, an old Russian submarine station deep under the icy waters of the Arctic circle. There the T virus is tested in recreated city sections, representing New York, Tokyo and Moscow, where infected clones attack the rest. These are the sets for a number of protracted action sequences as a rescue team is sent in to get Alice and double agent Ada Wong out.

Lots and lots (and lots) of CGI, mostly for crappy uses like the oversized version of the Licker monster from the games, but the opening sequence during the credits features a slow motion action sequence in reverse, showing what happened to Alice and the ship of clones from the fourth film. It’s quite an engaging opener, eventually reaching a start point where the sequence plays out in chronological order and full speed, the long sequence now over in seconds.

Really though, Resident Evil 5 is just trash, so-so fan pleasing stuff with zombie soldiers, lots of guns and explosions and a little bit of maternal angst thanks to the clones for those after a sliver of cerebral activity.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Initial thoughts on hearing of this remake were that it fell into the wide body of unnecessary Hollywood adaptations of previously successful, usually subtitled films. Along with the propensity for sequels, the number of remakes highlights the urge to limit risk in Hollywood, narrowing the chance of original stories getting out.

David Fincher as director sounded promising though, particularly as with more recent films like Social Network he has proven able to turn something that sounds dodgy - a dry tale with an unlikeable lead - into a riveting watch.

Nevertheless, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo swiftly slips into redundancy - two years after the original’s release, it’s still set in Sweden with all the players trying out Scandinavian accents of varying quality, except for our lead Daniel Craig who plays it mostly English.

Whilst his sad dog eyes help bring a gravitas to his version of lead character Mikael, he ultimately feels less vulnerable and less like a normal guy with a passions for investigative journalism - his broad shoulders give him the air of someone who spends proportionately more time at the gym than the library.
Rooney Mara conveys the spiky exterior of Lisbeth guarding a scared and vulnerable core very well, but ultimately little different to Noomi Rapace’s original version.

Worse than this is the ending that ultimately betrays Lisbeth’s character, turning it into just another hokey thriller and undermining her fierce independence. It’s hard to understand how those responsible for deciding to film this in English could change such a key theme.

Despite the odd and gratuitously music video stylings of the opening credits sequence and some pretty camera work, this sequel of an adaptation is totally pointless and worse than the original. Avoid.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse

This sequel to the original video game adaptation takes some elements of the game sequel - the zombies spread out into Racoon City and the Nemesis, a hulking, mutated man with a rocket launcher, which stalks our heroes.

Pleasantly surprised to see Jared Harris pop up here, but it was filmed in 2004 before the likes of Fringe and Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes sequel presumably brought him access to the bigger bucks.

Milla Jovovich’s Alice has been infected with the T-Virus by the Umbrella Corporation, having being abducted at the end of the first film, but it makes her stronger rather than into a zombie due to bonding with her insides or somesuch guff.
As the zombies spread throughout the city, Umbrella puts a lock down in place and Alice’s only hope is to locate Dr. Ashford (Harris)’s daughter so that he can airlift Alice and whichever rag-tag survivors make it along with her.

Ashord’s daughter is the model for the Red Queen, Umbrella’s Hive AI from the first movie and a recurring character in the series with a creepy 'homicidal little posh girl' vibe, and the Nemesis provides a couple of action-packed sequences what with his mini-gun and rocket launcher, but despite the background being more intricate than a crappy horror series needs Resident Evil: Apocalypse is only okay, better than many recent zombie flicks due to their sheer awfulness.

Ultimately there are hundreds of horror films to see before you would want to give this forgettable effort a try, but at least it’s better than the Saw sequels.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Adam & Paul; Rango; Taken 2; Skyfall

Adam & Paul

Being a tale of two Dublin junkies in 2004.
The film follows them as they look for their next fix, and concoct hapless schemes for the money to pay for it.
The uneasiness I felt watching this story of two pathetic men as they negotiate the city that barely tolerates them, old friends who no longer trust them and family who are at least wary, is a testament to the performances of the leads Mark O’Halloran and the late Tom Murphy.
It’s a naturalistic tale featuring many moments of Adam & Paul aimlessly waiting in between events in a vaguely anonymous Dublin, and the comedy inherent in scenes like the bodged shoplifting are pierced by the low-level violence and other uncomfortable moments, such as the mugging of a disabled man.

I find Adam & Paul to be a decent film that’s hard to recommend as it’s a difficult watch, though not in the way I’m used to as with the films of Haneke for example.

The balance in tone with the stereotypical cheeky chappy Irish wit with darker moods was continued in director Lenny Abrahamson’s great second film, The Garage, and I’m looking forward to the chance to catch his third, What Richard Did.


A warm and inventive animation that’s family friendly and yet still manages to riff on a chameleon version of Johnny Depp’s Hunter S. Thompson interpretation, Rango is a delight. 

Arriving at a tangent from the usual CGI animation stables, Rango is a combination of the fish out of water or awkward urbanite stuck in the country (see also Depp’s Ichabod Crane), married with the old Wild West tale of a corrupt mayor/land baron controlling resources and gunmen to keep his town in check.
Despite these generic foundations, Rango has a lot to offer with lots of quirks and twists that aren’t twee or gratuitous, and treats the audience with intelligence so that it’s suitable for all the family but without making the mistakes of Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox.

As well as the original approach to family film, the animation itself is glorious with a keen attention to detail capturing myriad textures but in a way that brings the characters to life, rather than just ticking a technical expertise box (see Monsters Inc’s Sully whose fur seems luxuriant because they wanted to show off more than anything).

Taken 2

So after Liam Neeson rescues his daughter in Taken, killing a fair chunk of human traffickers in the process, the surviving relatives are somewhat upset.
Coincidentally it seems that not only are they from some indeterminate Eastern European state, but that they are muslims too!
After Liam takes a security job in Istanbul he mistakenly invites his daughter and ex-wife (newly estranged from her last man) to join him after his job finishes, putting them at risk from the muslims!
After Liam and ex-wife are abducted, the daughter manages to escape thanks to a phone call from pops and his secreted stash of spy bits, eventually helping him escape too but not mom!
So then off he goes to get her back.

Some of the DIY escape/fighting bits are fun as Liam convincingly takes out the baddies with confidence, but ultimately it feels a little dissatisfying compared to the original, which was a guilty pleasure as it is.
What with the Bourne films and the like, Western action films have become much more competent and to stand out you need something special, or be consigned to the heap of straight to video fodder.


In comparison with the Bourne films that took the latest Bonds as a jumping off point, Skyfall shows the signs of the Bond franchise’s age.
The comparatively low speed and lack of kinetic rush in the opening chase sequence feels pedestrian compared to similar scenes from the Bourne films, whilst the incredibility of the speeding train fight sequence just stands out as odd in the context of the new ‘gritty’ Daniel Craig Bond. The prominence of the product placement of the Caterpillar brand of construction vehicles highlights how invasive product placement has become such an integral part of Bond that it is beyond parody and can only serve to break any suspension of disbelief, like the bad jokes Bond tosses out moments after reluctantly leaving a fellow agent badly wounded. The use of the Caterpillar vehicle as well shows up the absurdity of Bond, forcing a fantastical set piece into play rather than letting one evolve naturally or logically.

Thematically, a washed-up Bond who hits bottom and struggles to stay relevant as an agent in the field in this age of techno terrorism tries for an earthy weight. However, although this thread does work, it’s hard to see how Bond could hit bottom again after the turmoil of Quantum of Solace where he seeks to both avenge his lovers’ death and deal with her betrayal.

On the upside Javier Bardem’s pretty good as the big baddy, there is a nice big explosion at the climax and a few fun set pieces, however silly they are.

Not as good as it wants to be but still a fun watch.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

The Horde; 1911; Bourne Legacy

The Horde

A squad of cops attends the funeral of one of their number. It turns out he was murdered by a notorious drug gang – they plan to tool up and take down the gang’s tower-block hideout, strictly off the books.

Things quickly go wrong and the cops are killed, wounded or captured, but just as the gangsters are working out what to do with their new captives the dead start rising…
Heavily armed dirty cops, gangsters and zombies seems like a bland recipe these days as seemingly everyone with a camera and make up kit tries to cash in on the zombie buck, but in recent decades French cinema has broken out of the middle class drawing room and into thrillers and schlocky action flicks, with some decent results.
Unfortunately the Horde, whilst certainly not as bad as some zombie films made in the last few years, offers little to justify an audience.

There are a few short, brutal sequences of survivors beating up zombies hand-to-hand in a novel approach to traditional zombie apocalypse survival, but these few scenes aren’t enough to hang a film on, and a supposed comic relief character introduced in the last act is unpleasant if anything.


Jackie Chan’s career has been rooted in the martial arts genre, displaying his skills in straight action films and slapstick comedies and famous for performing his own stunts. Impressive as those skills still are, Chan’s acting wasn’t always seen as a strong point, but since 2004’s New police Story Chan has attempted to stretch that part of his repertoire, most likely as a fall back now that the fully action packed roles aren’t possible – Chan turned 59 in 2013.

1911 is another drama entry, released on the centenary of the Chinese Xinhai revolution of 1911, which overthrew thousands of years of monarchy.
Chan plays Huang Xing, the revolutionary leader and first army commander in chief of the Republic of China, and he holds his own against the rest of the cast.

Unfortunately the film is quite slow and stilted, struggling to hold the interest despite numerous battle scenes of conflict between the revolutionaries and Qing dynasty forces.
Much of the action sequences, thanks to the period detail of uniforms, rifles and trenches, feel like many other First World War films, and all of the political machinations both within China and between representatives of western nations are rather formal and sterile.
Ultimately it feels like a propaganda piece glorying in the overthrow of a decadent, out of touch ruling class by the rule of the people, and Chan has little to do outside give pained looks in reaction to the deaths of young revolutionaries.

Not bad enough for Jackie Chan completists to avoid (they will have already ground their eyeballs against the likes of The Medallion and Around the World in 80 Days) but certainly not a great advert for Chan’s abilities beyond spectacular stunts.

Bourne Legacy

Jeremy Renner was destined to be an action hero since his fantastic turn as the sniper in 28 Weeks Later. Despite this I was concerned about the first Bourne movie in franchise to trade just on the name, making it seem much more likely to be a cash-in than anything.
But! It’s good.
Renner is believable as the agent with just a little more personality than the other trained killers, but ruthless when he needs to be. The action sequences retain the improvised feel of the previous films, with a number of sequences both tense and exciting.

Director Tony Gilroy wrote the screenplays for all the Bourne films and previously directed Michael Clayton, explaining how the film retains the smarts behind the thrills, with the background and sequences of the earlier films interwoven to set up Renner as one of the few agents to avoid the cull as Treadstone is shut down. Edward Norton makes a welcome appearance as  the man responsible for terminating Renner’s Aaron Cross, and Rachel Weisz continues the Bourne films run of intelligent female roles, despite the action/thriller genre setting.