Cinema Review: Resident Evil: Retribution

DIR/WRI: Paul W.S. Anderson  PRO: Paul W.S. Anderson, Jeremy Bolt, Don Carmody  DOP: Glen MacPherson  ED: Niven Howie  DES: Kevin Phipps  Cast: Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Michelle Rodriguez, Aryana Engineer

Amongst numerous other problems (not least Uwe Boll), it’s shocking the casual disrespect video game adaptations have for their source material. Sure, the terminology and characters may be vaguely similar, but few directors have accurately emulated the tone and identity of the interactive originals. A handful of anime adaptations and Silent Hill (which, despite its admirable stylistic emulation of the games, still wasn’t very good) pretty much stand alone in their loyalty to their respective inspirations. Many, many others – from Mario to Final Fantasy – have been shameful bastardisations that have horrified fans and newbies alike. Imagine the Harry Potter films re-imagined Harry as a suave, trash-talking ninja. Actually, that sounds kind of awesome, but you get my general point.

Not that Resident Evil was ever particularly hallowed interactive source material, with its B-movie inspired thrills and farcically convoluted lore. But even in its more action-orientated instalments the game series has provided intense, claustrophobic survival horror experiences. The series has reliably scared the shit out of gamers such its inception in 1996. Since the first movie in 2002, however, the films have shown themselves entirely unwilling to reflect the tone and atmosphere of the game series, settling instead on derivative action sci-fi. The characters are there, the Umbrella Corporation is sufficiently evil and there are still zombies, monsters and axe-wielding giants. It’s Resident Evil alright, but not as we know it.

Despite a consistently low quality, the films’ baffling financial success has justified this fourth sequel (I had to double check what number we’re actually on). This time, series protagonist Alice (Milla Jovovich) thinks she has escaped the pursuit of the dastardly Umbrella Corporation. Inevitably, the opening credits (presented alongside a pointless reversed action scene) have barely concluded before she’s caught yet again. Darn. Locked up in a secret Arctic underwater base operated by a demented A.I., Alice’s ex-friend Jill Valentine (an hilariously awful Sienna Guillory) cruelly interrogates our heroine by playing a mildly annoying tone. But Alice is promptly released by Ada Wong (Li Bingbing) who has organised a rescue team…

Oh, who cares? The filmmakers certainly don’t have much interest in the plot, so why should we? This is a pointless, nonsensical narrative that falls apart if you have the cheek to think about it. Basically an over-extended escape sequence, the film is almost entirely inconsequential and uninteresting. I’m not joking when I say the last ninety seconds or so are the only moments that have any real bearing on the series’ dull overarching plot. This is a filler song on an already awful album. A series of noisy action scenes, unconvincing CGI / 3D, a script riddled with clichés (the phrase ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ needs to be banned from cinema, effective immediately)… This film has very little going for it indeed.
There’s a suburban zombie attack near the start that is relatively intense, and in a rare break from tradition actually somewhat reflects the visceral tone and style of the game series. Alas, it’s still almost entirely pointless, and the rest of the action consists of grizzled superhumans firing a lifetime supply of bullets at undead sponges. There’s the odd burst of kung-fu too, rendered laughable by director Paul W.S. Anderson’s (always worth noting that it’s most certainly not that other Paul Anderson) penchant for lame slow motion and dramatic posturing. Jovovich seems to spend more time landing awesomely with guns drawn than anything else.

The acting is uniformly dreadful. It’s unfair to pick one cast member out for particular criticism, but Guillory impressively cannot even convince as a brainwashed & monotone automaton. Also, it is staggering how long it takes the other characters to figure out that removing that glowing red mind control gem from Valentine’s chest might be a good idea. If the good guys in this film were playing the superb Resident Evil 4, they wouldn’t have gotten past the first boss.

So yeah: this film is offensively worthless. It’s is simply a cynical, desperate attempt to justify yet another franchise entry (the sequel crassly teased in the closing minutes). I was going to end this review by providing rough estimates of how many more interesting films could have been made by efficiently reappropriating the budget for this series to date. But that’s a fun bit of mental arithmetic to keep anyone unfortunate enough to end up in a darkened theatre watching this trash occupied.

Stephen McNeice

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
95mins

Resident Evil: Retribution is released on 28th September 2012

Resident Evil: Retribution –  Official website

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Battle: Los Angeles

Battle: Los Angeles

Dir: Jonathan Liebesman • WRI: Christopher Bertolini • PRO: Jeffrey Chernov, Ori Marmur, Neal H. Moritz • ED: Christian Wagner • DOP: Lukas Ettlin • DES: Peter Wenham • CAST: Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan

One thing that becomes blatantly obvious about half-way through watching Battle: Los Angeles; this would make an awesome video game. Playing a front line grunt trying to hold back hordes of aggressive aliens while everything around you explodes could easily describe dozens of recent console releases. And much like many of those games, the priority of this movie is making things look good, while things like character development, intelligence or a good script take a back seat.

The admittedly awesome trailers sold this movie as a midway point between Independence Day and Black Hawk Down, but there are also reference points to District 9, Assault On Precinct 13 and several more. It also casts characters directly from the Big Book Of Clichés: the sergeant on the verge of retirement (Aaron Eckhart), the guy about to get married (Ne-Yo), the tough-as-any-man female soldier (Michelle Rodriguez), the guy with a pregnant wife, the guy who may go crazy at any moment… and so on. It doesn’t help that none of these characters are given one single line of decent dialogue to work with, or any kind of character arc. They either die or they don’t, that’s it. And you can probably tell which ones will live, because you’ve seen them in other films before.

So, it’s evident that not much has gone into the substance of the movie, but what about the style? Initially the shaky-cam, Cloverfield approach to an alien invasion seems to work… until an action scene kicks in. During any kind of close up, the camera is moving so much it’s almost impossible to make out what exactly is going on. We have to wait for the film to pull back to a wide shot to understand what we’re looking at. Some of the scenes of destruction are impressive, but once you’ve seen one scenic shot of the LA skyline on fire, you’ve seen them all.

Director Jonathan Liebesman background in horror films shines through in some genuinely tense moments, and one or two of the action sequences are well executed (a massive shoot-out on a freeway overpass is a particular highlight), but the potential of this movie is both wasted by a lack of general coherence, and then destroyed by dialogue that swings wildly from cheesy patriotic to unintentionally hilarious.

Good sci-fi has to have some kind of subtext, which this film lacks, aside from ‘Explosions are bad.’ Good action has to be both exciting and fun, which this film lacks, unless you consider watching someone else play a video game to be fun and exciting.

Rory Cashin

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)

Battle: Los Angeles is released on 11th March 2011

Battle: Los Angeles – Official Website

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_pAsPPDdC8[/youtube]

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Machete

Machete

DIR: Ethan Maniquis, Robert Rodriguez • WRI: Robert Rodriguez, Álvaro Rodríguez • PRO: Elizabeth Avellan, Robert Rodriguez, Rick Schwartz • DOP: Peter Jimmy Lindsey • ED: Rebecca Rodriguez, Robert Rodriguez • DES: Christopher Stull • CAST: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba

Rodriguez’ and Tarantino’s double-hitting Grindhouse experiment was a disappointing non-event, hitting European screens devoid of double-bill, fake trailers, and bereft of that classic B-movie shlock-factor that had enticed critical salivation. Of the two, it was Rodriguez’ Planet Terror that most beguiled, following the old-style formula with zeal. It celebrated hammy acting, gory special effects, buckets of blood, and that certain disregard for moviemaking practices that can only be achieved by one who understands the process completely. Machete is the full-length feature result of the most popular of Rodriguez’ fake trailers attached to his first B-movie venture, and builds on Planet Terror’s beginnings to create a masterpiece of shlock, and a new sub-genre of kicks: the Mexploitation movie.

Much has been made of the politics in the film, with a specially-made teaser trailer released on Ain’t it Cool News condemning the recent Arizonian immigration laws. So, yes, politics are there in the movie, but buried beneath layers of violence, gore, and good old-fashioned revenge-killing nonsense. It follows the Montessori school of teaching: if they’re having fun, they won’t even know they’re learning! Rodriguez is beautifully positioned to co-create a movie of this sort – his style has always been a compendium of quick shots, action sequences, fast edits, and an overarching sense of humour. Being of Mexican heritage, and highly supportive of many projects in Texan/Mexican relations, he is also best placed to bring together a wonderfully over-the-top hyperbolic expansion of the immigration issue in America today.

Machete follows the trials and tribulations of the titular federale turned renegade, played by Danny Trejo, who illegally enters America following the murder of his wife and daughter at the hands of a Mexican drug lord Torrez, played by the king of overacting, Steven Seagal. Machete is tricked into an assassination attempt on the immigrant-hunting Senator McLaughlin, (the magnificent Robert de Niro) by Jim Fahy’s spindoctoring psychopath, Michael Booth. After a series of double-crosses, he begins a campaign of retribution and sexual encounters (often at the same time), crossing paths with Michelle Rodriguez’ freedom fighter, Lindsay Lohan’s salacious malcontent, Jessica Alba’s immigration officer and Cheech Marin’s homicidal Padre. It’s a recipe for fun, madness and shlock-indulgence.

Perhaps more than anything, Machete can be described as a guilty pleasure. We can appreciate magnificent storytelling, breathtaking cinematography, nuanced acting, devastatingly impressive 3D, and feather-light direction – but it’s best to do so with other movies. If you would like to see Robert de Niro hunting immigrants with a rifle along the Mexican border, Danny Trejo kicking ass and taking names from Mexico to Arizona, Jessica Alba simultaneously enforcing and breaking the law, and Linsday Lohan’s acting ‘skill’ finally finding a place, then this is the movie for you.

Machete is not sophisticated or complicated – it is a return to action filmmaking at its primitive modern inception, when vicarious pleasure could be drawn from high-octane fighting, ridiculously gory death scenes, nonsensical storytelling, over-acted and over-written dialogue, and most of all, lots and lots of violence. For best results, catch it at a cinema packed with people – cheer at the screen, boo the baddies, wolf-whistle the sex scenes, laugh at the cheesy music, and cover your eyes at the copious amounts of machete-induced limb removals. And when it’s all over, joyously celebrate the possibility of Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again!

Sarah Griffin


Rated 18 (see IFCO website for details)

Machete is released on 26th November 2010

Machete – Official Website

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