A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

I Am Legend

May 18, 2011

I Am Legend

I’ll admit that Amanda and I had been putting off watching this movie. I love a good post apocalyptic tale, and I enjoy a Will Smith movie, but I could never bring myself to watch this. Ever since I heard that the dog prominently featured in the movie as his only living companion in the abandoned streets of New York died during the movie. Yeah, I know, spoilers, but it was that one event which prevented us from seeing this in the theaters and kept us from watching it ever since. I had heard what a powerful acting accomplishment this movie was – with Will Smith alone on screen for the vast majority of the film. I longed to watch it and see what the praise was all about, but I just couldn’t bear to watch it.

I bought it though. I had it sitting on a shelf against that day, sometime in the unknowable future, when I’d finally get around to it. Today we have my father visiting and we allowed him free reign of our collection to pick a movie to watch with us, and he chose this because none of us had seen it yet. So finally I’m getting a chance to watch it, and it’s every bit as intense as I thought it was going to be.

Will Smith is Robert Neville, the last survivor of an apocalyptic virus that has turned every other resident of New York City into an enraged zombie. They have pale skin and no hair. They have no apparent language or thought. They mostly come out at night (mostly) because they cannot stand the UV light.

I really like the way the storytelling is done in this movie. We’re introduced to Neville and his loyal dog Sam at the start of this film as they forage in the ruins of New York. The apocalypse is years in the past – the streets are overgrown and filled with wild animals. The events of the past that led to this situation are revealed slowly over the course of the film through Neville’s nightmares. I also appreciate that the movie doesn’t answer all the questions it raises. We discover over time that Robert Neville was somehow involved in the search for a cure to the super-bug back in the day, but it’s never established what exactly he had to do with things. He was in the military. He had a police escort. He has enough notoriety that other people know his name. That’s about all we get, though, which is okay because this movie is about the person he has become and not the person he was in the old world.

Not many actors could pull off this role. This is Will Smith’s movie and at least seventy-five percent of the time he’s the only human on screen. As we watch Neville’s daily routine we see his isolation, his desperation, and the way he is slowly losing his mind. By far it is this courageous and touching portrayal that makes this movie worth watching. It’s the kind of role that actors dream of. A solitary man slowly being driven insane by his own obsessive behavior and his loneliness. When he does eventually find himself in the company of humans again it is clear just how far gone he is. It’s a bold concept for a movie and it’s fascinating to watch.

I’m not a fan of the “everything’s gonna be alright” ending to the film, though. It doesn’t feel like a part of the movie (because it isn’t.) The original end of the film ties together clues from throughout that show that the zombies have some remnant of their human intelligence. We know they have because the alpha male appears to do planning. The zombies set a trap for Neville. They coordinate attacks on him. There’s also the recurring butterfly motif throughout the movie which makes no real sense with the current ending. Instead of resolution of some of these clues we have a Hollywood ending involving a grenade and a voice over explaining that the world has been saved. It’s an ending that doesn’t want you to think – which is disappointing after such an intense and cerebral movie.

The special edition we own has the original ending where the alpha male zombie is able to communicate to Neville that he only wants the woman Neville has been experimenting on back. They achieve an uneasy truce and Neville leaves New York in the hands of its new population. I really like the concept of this ending – the twist that it is Neville that is the monster, and not the zombies. It feels more in keeping with the rest of the movie, and I wish that there were a director’s cut so I could see the scene as part of the movie rather than as a bonus feature.

I’m glad that I didn’t hate this movie though. Even with its grafted on happy ending the movie is still cool, compelling and well worth watching. I enjoy it as a character study and as a thought experiment. What would it really be like to be the last man alive? This movie says in no uncertain terms that it would be hard. Perhaps cripplingly so.

May 18, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 405 – Appleseed: Ex Machina

Appleseed: Ex Machina – April 9th, 2011

After last night’s talk-fest I admit I was nervous about tonight’s movie. I didn’t have any time today to look at the books (I barely had time to breathe today, it was so busy at work) so I didn’t have that to quell my fears. Fortunately, they turned out to be unfounded. This movie is everything I wanted from the first one and didn’t get and I’m hoping that it’s a more accurate representation of the world and feel of the books on which it’s based.

The movie starts out with Deunan and Briareos on ES.W.A.T. already and we aren’t treated to endless static exposition. Instead the vital information about the city of Olympus and how it’s this bastion of hope for humanity and inhabited by engineered bioroids as well as regular humans is delivered quickly and succinctly with additional details being included in the story itself. It’s a hell of a lot more elegant and certainly more interesting to watch. Honestly, I think I could have watched this one first and gotten as much information about the world as I did last night.

One thing I really enjoy about this movie is that the emotional thread is woven into the plot right from the start and it has to do with Briareos and Deunan. Last night one of my criticisms was that the amount of plot exposition impeded the rest of the movie’s story. It ended up making the emotional impact decidedly weak and the character of Deunan unexplored. Here? We see her having some nice interaction with Briareos right from the start, so when they’re split up when Briareos is taken down in a fight I felt like it really was a big deal that ES.W.A.T. assigned Deunan a new partner. Even more so when said partner turns out to be a bioroid made with genetic material from Briareos, so he looks like Briareos did before he had to go full cyborg. That right there gives the movie some emotional tension and character dynamics that play out through the whole thing while never taking it over.

The rest of the plot focuses on the security of cyborg parts and a mad scientist’s plan for uniting the world through mind controlling bits of tech. I’ve seen this sort of plot before several times but I still like how it’s done here. Of course, both movies had a Chekhov’s Gun situation going where something seemingly innocuous was prominently introduced and mentioned so you know damn well it’ll come back later. But I can forgive that. I liked how the whole issue of control over one’s body and what makes someone human and worthwhile was all worked into the larger action plot. I liked that it figured directly into the relationships between Briareos, Deunan and the new partner, Tereus. It certainly made the movie more engaging to watch.

The action’s fun too, and a lot more involved than the first movie. It’s nothing totally new, and the final battle seemed to crib a bit from the Matrix movies, but the dynamics of the characters involved made it interesting. And it’s well done. I don’t mind some stylistic mimicry if it can be done in an engaging way, which this was. All the battles were. The fight between Briareos and his stand-in partner, Deunan facing off with a construction mech, it was all fun and I didn’t feel like it took a year of dialogue to get from scene to scene.

I feel like I’m doing a review by comparison, but I also feel it’s necessary. If you’re going to pick one or the other to watch, this would be the one I’d suggest. The story’s basic and it’s been done before but that doesn’t make it less entertaining. It’s not going into any super deep issues but it’s also not entirely shallow. There’s some nicely done world building and some excellent character interaction. The animation is smooth and visually appealing and overall it was just plain fun to watch. Of course, after it was over I immediately felt like watching some Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, but I don’t think that’s a criticism so much as an acknowledgment that this movie got it a lot more right than the first.

April 9, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Resident Evil: Extinction

March 13, 2011

Resident Evil: Extinction

As we watched tonight Amanda and I traded jokes about the pop culture influences that this movie seems to heavily rely on. I’m not sure that it was deliberately modeled on any of them (except for some references to Alice down the rabbit hole) but just about everything in this film felt comfortably familiar. “It’s The Hills Have Eyes. Oh, it’s Mad Max. No, wait, now it’s Fallout: New Vegas. Or Dune. Aha! It’s The Birds. No, no, now it’s Battlestar Galactica.” It has hints of The Prestige. It’s even got the climactic psychic battle from Dark City (in an abbreviated form.) It’s all of these things and more. What it isn’t, really, is a Resident Evil movie. Strange, that.

This movie does follow on the continuity introduced in the first two films. It clearly takes place in the same world and has some of the same characters. It does not, however, have much to do anymore with the Resident Evil games. (Although it does introduce a couple character names that will be familiar to those who have played the games.)

The action picks up five years after Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Umbrella Corp has failed to contain the outbreak of the T-Virus by nuking Raccoon City and in the years following that disaster practically the entire human race has been wiped out. Not just the humans, either. The virus has killed off all kinds of plant and animal life, leaving the planet a dusty and dying husk. What living humans remain survive by staying constantly on the move so the billions of roving zombies cannot find them. Alice is travelling on her own through the wasteland. A couple of her companions from the last movie, L.J. and Carlos, have joined a convoy of souped up vehicles that are wandering the Nevada desert in search of other survivors. This convoy is run by Claire Redfield (a name from the games, although her character has nothing whatsoever to do with Claire in the games.) Meanwhile yet another crazy scientist at Umbrella is obsessed with using Alice’s blood to create a more easily controlled race of super zombies. (He’s been using all the resources Albert Wesker (another familiar name from the games) can provide him with to clone her in search of whatever magic her mutated blood is capable of.

Eventually Alice ends up travelling with the convoy, which endangers everybody when Dr. Isaacs unleashes what appears to be a never-ending horde of super zombies on them in an attempt to capture her. This is where the movie begins to break down for me. I can accept the whole post-apocalyptic thing. It’s kind of cool to see the world after every attempt to hold back the zombie tide has failed. But there are a couple threads of the plot here that are not very well explained and feel only half thought out.

There’s an entire plot about some random scribblings that Alice came upon when searching a gas station that indicate there may be survivors in some isolated part of Alaska that no zombies have reached. The survivors in Claire’s convoy decide to go there (mostly because it’s just nice to have something to hope for) and eventually leave Alice behind to pursue this dream. This plot thread is just left dangling. Perhaps it’s resolved in the sequel (which we don’t own yet) but as it currently lies they just sort of disappear from the movie right before the climax. Which leaves the movie robbed of most of its motivation since it had been about Alice helping these people survive right up until then. Once they leave Alice has no clear motivation and the movie lacks a lot of tension. (I was hoping eagerly for a stinger after the closing credits that showed them arriving at a zombie-infested town in Alaska or something, but there’s nothing there but a quote from Alice’s climactic fight scene.

Then there’s the issue of Alice’s psychic powers. I complained yesterday that I thought Alice was becoming too powerful a badass and that it hurt the feel of the movies. She’s become super-human, which robs the movies of much of their suspense. In this movie things go even farther. She’s now a Jedi warrior capable of destroying flocks of evil crows with her mind, levitating stuff in her camp site, and shorting out a satellite overhead from the surface of the Earth. I’m just not sure where the film makers are intending to take things here. By the end of this movie she is, essentially, a more unstoppable force than the billions-strong zombie horde that has populated the entire Earth. I halfway expect the fourth movie to end with her ascending to godhood and leaving to create worlds of her own Jon Osterman style.

I’m not sure about this entire movie. It’s entertaining enough, even if I felt it was pretty derivative of other works. It has a lot of incomprehensible weirdness though. (Like, why is Dr. Isaacs “testing” his Alice clones by sending them through highlights of the previous two movies?) It’s clearly morphed from survival/horror to some kind of weird post apocalyptic sci-fi. I think I like the concept more than the execution though. It’s all getting too out there for me. I miss the straight forward zombie escape tale of the first movie. I miss Alice being an essentially human character. I’ll probably watch the fourth movie some day because I still like to watch Milla Jovovich doing what she does, but I’ve kind of stopped caring about the franchise. I feel burned out.

March 13, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie Project 377 – Resident Evil: Apocalypse

Resident Evil: Apocalypse – March 12th, 2011

Today we had to watch our movie first thing in the morning as this is our longest convention day of the weekend. And to be honest, I’m really glad we got it out of the way. It’s not the issue of nightmares, which I will get to eventually, so much as it’s the issue of time. I like having it done and over. Now, some movies I wouldn’t say that about and it sort of makes it sound like I don’t want to be watching movies. I do want to be watching movies, I swear! It’s just that some days it’s a little more difficult and some movies just aren’t that interesting. And this is one of those movies.

I would not call this a horrible movie. It has redeeming features and all. But I also wouldn’t call it a good movie. I wouldn’t call it a good movie if you paid me (no one’s paying me). It’s a stupid movie that’s very pretty. It’s got good action and fun special effects and Alice is every bit the bad ass I want her to be, and we have the bonus bad assedness of Jill Valentine. But while I enjoy seeing these ladies and the men who are with them do the immense amounts of damage that they do, there’s no point to it all. It’s an empty movie playing a vehicle for shooting and explosions. That’s all.

The plot is only barely present. There’s a pretense to a plot but it’s flimsy at best. Following on the heels of the first movie, Alice has escaped from the hospital in Raccoon City, where she’s been experimented upon. And then the movie jumps 12 hours, I think? I lost track. The timeline here is fuzzy at best and only when all the characters meet up is it clear who’s doing what, when. So scientists have been evacuated, Alice is loose, so is another creature the Umbrella folks have made, there’s a little girl named Angela – the daughter of one of Umbrella’s scientists – missing in the city, and the city has been walled in and locked up to contain the T-Virus. The scientist manages to reach Alice as well as a couple of S.T.A.R.S. soldiers (S.T.A.R.S. is straight out of the games, being the elite military taskforce that some of the PCs in the games are members of) to tell them to get his daughter from her school and he’ll help them escape. And that? That right there is the plot. It’s a rescue mission and what should be a fairly simple one at that.

Most of the movie involves two groups of survivors – Jill Valentine (a character from the games) and some folks she’s found and then a small group of S.T.A.R.S. soldiers who were left behind – running from place to place, getting attacked, and then running some more. Alice meets up with Jill’s group and helps them out and you know, that’s cool. Alice kicks ass. But lest you think that these people are actually trained and know what the hell they’re doing let me point out that during an outbreak of a virus that reanimates the dead, which can change its transmission type depending on its environment (see, last night’s movie gave info!) Alice and Jill head their group into a cemetery to rest. You can probably imagine how well that goes.

Eventually they get the girl, after some attacks in the school from a bunch of zombified grade schoolers and a lunch lady and oh yes, some doberman pinschers. Okay, I get it. The damn dogs are all over the place in the games and they’re a gigantic pain in the tush. But come on. Why are they at the school, of all places? The answer is, they’re there because it makes for a more invigorating action sequence. So, Angela saved, it’s time for our surviving leads to head off to meet the helicopter the scientist is sending. Oh wait, I mean it’s time for a boss fight with “Nemesis”. Which is what Matt from the last movie now is. Cue what I totally thought was the climactic action sequence. Except it just wouldn’t end! The movie kept reaching perfectly reasonable end points and then having another scene that would lead to another end point.

It is a thoroughly ridiculous zombie action party and while such movies have their places, I’ve got better things to do today than watch a movie that’s really just a prolonged lead-in to a boss fight. And a boss fight with a thoroughly predictable ending, at that. There was nothing surprising in this movie. Even the supposed-to-be-shocking reveal about Angela wasn’t shocking. Instead of going “Oh my god, really?!” I went “Oh. Huh. Okay.” Shock didn’t even enter into it. Which is how this whole movie was. Which is nice when it comes to my dreams, but doesn’t make for a very good zombie movie.

March 12, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Resident Evil: Apocalypse

March 12, 2011

Resident Evil: Apocalypse

Today represents our second of Alice’s adventures in Umbrella-land. The first Resident Evil movie ended with a clear lead-in to the inevitable sequel, and I’ll admit that I was curious to see where they would go with the series after its promising start. On the whole I’m a little disappointed, but I think that if you turn your expectations down low enough and can get over some casual racism then this movie can be amusing. Not that I said “if” there.

Yesterday’s movie did a good job of taking the video game world and translating it for the cinema. I talked about this some in my review of the X-Men movie. The moving picture is a different medium than video games, so you can’t just take the cut scenes and make them into a movie. (Well you can – and Resident Evil: Degeneration pretty much did just that – but it doesn’t necessarily make a great movie.) What I enjoyed about the first Resident Evil movie was that it used plot elements from the games and locations that would be familiar to game players and made them more cinematic. It also had a fairly lucid if shallow plot (whereas the games have convoluted plots involving some kind of evil cult that is using Umbrella to further some vaguely evil scheme or other.) This second movie starts out promisingly enough with Jill Valentine (a heroine from the games) kicking some ass in a police station in Raccoon City (a familiar setting from Resident Evil 2) but very quickly seems to run out of ideas.

The gist of this movie is that the T-Virus has escaped from containment in the hive and has reached the general populace of Raccoon City. Apparently Umbrella Corp has constructed a big honking wall around the city to keep the entire populace trapped inside (and just how did they do that both Amanda and I wondered. You have to assume that the wall existed before the outbreak, which makes you wonder what the general populace thought they needed protection from that they allowed the wall to be constructed int he first place.) Anyhow, everybody in the entire city is becoming corrupted by the virus and converted into ravenous killing machines. There are a very few survivors remaining. There are a couple STARS officers – Nicholai and Carlos. There is a very poorly written pimp who calls himself L.J. There’s a reporter named Terri with her hand held video camera. There’s Jill (also a member of STARS – the Special Tactical and Rescue Squad) who, unlike the swat team in yesterday’s movie, knows exactly how to put down a zombie. And there’s Alice.

One of the major flaws in this movie for me is that they’ve done with the character of Alice. I realize that it’s really Milla’s movie, and she’s what everything’s supposed to be about, but I don’t quite like where they’ve taken things. See, the “plot” of this movie (if you can call it that) is that Umbrella has been experimenting on Alice in an attempt to create a better biological super-soldier. She’s pretty much a female Captain America I suppose. She’s got super strength and speed and reflexes. Which means that there’s not much sense of peril for most of the movie because it’s very quickly shown that she can mop the floor with a pack of zombies using her bare hands now. Her very first appearance involves her dispatching not one but THREE of the hunter beasts from the end of the first movie. When your hero has leveled up to the degree that she can almost without effort wipe out three boss monsters at once then there’s something seriously wrong with your game play mechanics. I’m just saying.

Umbrella is, it is ultimately revealed, has decided that this outbreak is a great time to test the efficacy of Alice as a weapon, and of their other super-soldier creation: Nemesis. Now in the game Nemesis was a hideous experiment gone awry that acted as the final boss for RE:2 (I seem to recall) and he was bad ass. In this movie he’s a Super Mutant from the Fallout series with a mini gun and a rocket launcher. The whole purpose of the movie is to get Alice and Nemesis in a bare knuckle brawl, and the brilliant scheme the madman in charge of Umbrella has to accomplish this? Kidnap Alice’s friends and then tell her “fight him or your friends die.” Apparently the big-wigs at Umbrella are fans of no holds barred cage matches or something. It just feels like this plot would have been more suited for a Hulk Hogan movie than a sci-fi action/horror film.

My other biggest problem with the movie is the character of L.J. – the hip urban pimp. I felt so bad for Mike Epps. If you’ve ever seen the movie Hollywood Shuffle you may recall the advertisement for “black acting school” where they train young black actors how to act like pimps, servants and drug addicts. L.J. was clearly lifted from the black acting school world of racial stereotypes. He’s not excruciatingly unwatchable, but he is kind of wince inducing.

All of that having been said, well, I have to admit that on a fairly puerile level I did enjoy some of the action in this movie. I mean, I gave a mostly positive review to Ultraviolet. I enjoy watching Milla Jovovich kicking ass, and that’s pretty much all that this movie is about. She kicks ass in a church. In a graveyard. In a school. It may be a pretty one-note movie with nothing in the way of suspense or subtlety, but at least that one note is sweet.

March 12, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 376 – Resident Evil (2002)

Resident Evil (2002) – March 11th, 2011

This morning we went to the keynote speech for the convention we’re attending. In it, Jane McGonigle said many interesting things about how video games can enrich our lives and make us better people. And in large part I agree with her. It’s hard to deny some of the results of the studies she cited and effects I’ve personally experienced. However. There was one point she made that I must disagree with, at least in part. According to her, studies have shown that gamers have more lucid dreaming episodes (no argument there) and in general have fewer nightmares than non-gamers. Now, in general? Fine. But when she said that horror games don’t actually give us nightmares? Bullshit. Because Resident Evil 4 (the game) gave me horrific nightmares beyond compare. The only nightmares I have ever had that come remotely close are snake dreams, and I think my review of Snakes on a Plane made it abundantly clear how I cope, or don’t cope, with snakes.

Perhaps the nightmares from a zombie game are part of the reason I shy away from zombie movies as a genre. The constant feeling of being hunted, the tension, the suspense, when you know there’s something coming and it’s close and it’s going to pop out from behind you or in front of you or above you and oh my god where is it and when is it going to happen? That lingers with me and invades my subconscious until I am a quivering mess of nerves. So! With that in mind, I was a little wary of this weekend’s trilogy. I know the Resident Evil games. I know the universe has that mood to it that gets to me. The chainsaw in the distance from RE4 will remain with me for years, I’m sure. And so I figured if the movie managed to capture the tone of the games, I was in trouble. And, well. I might be in trouble because I was pleasantly surprised with how well the movie emulated the games, bringing a feel of the world without feeling like an extended cut scene. Of course, it helps that the movie is live action. It always feels more like a cut scene when the movie’s animation is only a step or two above (or equal to) that of the game’s scenes.

Really, though, I was impressed with the tone and while I might end up having some unpleasant dreams tonight, it’s not a sure thing because this movie managed something I hadn’t really considered possible. It balanced the tension and horror well enough that it wasn’t overwhelming. When you play a game like that, part of the experience is the tension and suspense. That’s the point. Tense running around followed by brutal action scenes. But a movie isn’t a game and a game isn’t a movie and they shouldn’t be the same experience. As movie watchers we’re stuck in a far more passive role than game players are, so we have no control over who in the party lives or dies or gets munched on by zombies. And this movie handles it all quite well. If you know the games, you can see their influence on the visuals in this movie, from the creature design to the costumes to the sets. This is no passing nod to the games. It’s the world of the games made real and I really appreciate that. Add that to the balanced horror and action elements and I’m impressed.

The story involves what all Resident Evil stories involve: An outbreak of the zombie-causing T Virus and the covering up of said outbreak by the Umbrella Corporation, which created it. In this movie, the outbreak happened inside an underground facility run by Umbrella, which caused the facility to be locked down completely. Everyone in the facility dies and then we meet our main character, Alice, who’s suffering from some mild memory loss due to a security measure that released some nerve gas into her house. Alice and her not-husband are two Umbrella agents placed in a mansion that is the entrance to the underground facility. When the facility is locked down and commandos sent to get in and find out why Alice and her not-husband go with them, along with a cop who’s just sort of shown up. Obviously things in the facility are Not Good and half the team gets killed in fairly short order. Such is the way of things.

Over the course there are all sorts of secrets about the virus and how it got loose and why the computer went into lockdown and killed everyone and what else Umbrella’s been doing down there. That’s part and parcel of the world it’s set in. But I liked how this particular movie set it all up. Oh, it’s nothing shocking or unexpected, but it’s fun and it feels appropriate to the world. The zombie reveal is one of the most obvious I’ve ever seen, but then, why bother to have a shocking reveal? It’s not like we don’t know what’s going to happen sooner or later? How many people actually saw this who didn’t know what Resident Evil was? And I liked Alice. Of course, I love Milla Jovovich and I love seeing her play a character who gets to kick a lot of ass. She’s good at these characters and I think she’s fantastic. The rest of the cast was fine, though I will give some props to Michelle Rodriguez, who plays one of the commandos, Rain Ocampo. The guys? Well, most of them are sadly difficult to tell apart. They’re all decent enough actors with short brown hair and strong facial structure. It’s the women who really shine here, getting some of the best lines and moments of action and stubborn will.

The only things I wasn’t too fond of in the movie were the corporate espionage plot, which could have been good but wasn’t given enough time, and the sort of second stage zombie creature. Now, these abomination things are nasty as all get out and they’re dangerous and have tongues they can use like whips. But they are the Chekhov’s Gun of this movie. Alice sees them in their cages and you know damn well at least one’s going to get loose and cause some fuss. And I guess while they are foreshadowed and all, they just felt tacked on to me. Like they could have been incorporated in a much more organic fashion. But honestly, those are my biggest critiques. And for a zombie movie, reviewed by me, that’s a big deal. Now I just have to hope I can get a good night’s sleep after watching it.

March 11, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Resident Evil

March 11 2011

Resident Evil

A year ago, when we were attending PAX East for the first time, Amanda and I had just started our daily movie project. It was the first real test to see if we could stick to the rigorous schedule of reviewing a movie every single day even when we had a lot of other things to do. We reviewed Stand By Me (because Wil Wheaton was the keynote speaker) and a couple video game inspired CG messes. We also laid plans back then to make this year’s PAX bigger and better in every way. This included taking more time off surrounding the convention (to allow us to prepare and decompress) getting a hotel room in the hotel connected directly to the convention center (so we could play games in the loby with other gamers after the convention hall closed) and buying the Resident Evil trilogy so we’d have video game based movies to watch. (If our project reaches into a third year I am very much affraid we may have to watch some Uwe Boll movies. Although that probably won’t happen because Amanda would never, NEVER let me pay money for a copy of Silent Hill.)

Anyhow – tonight’s movie is the first of several Resident Evil movies starring Milla Jovovich and written and directed by her husband Paul W.S. Anderson. None of which I had seen before we put this in tonight. I have to say, and this is as somebody who has played all the way through several of the early games in the series when they were re-released on the Gamecube, I was pleasantly surprised how well this movie fits with the game universe.

The Resident Evil games are the great grand daddies of the “survival horror” genre of video games. They’re also famous for putting eye candy and atmosphere before gameplay. In the first two seminal games in the series Capcom used a nifty trick which took advantage of the much higher storage capacity of CD games on the Playstation to create detailed pre-rendered backgrounds for the heroes and zombies to play on. The actual characters were simple polygon models created in real time but the backgrounds were mostly static with maybe a touch of animation here and there to give them life. The result was that all the processing power of the Playstation could be concentrated on making the player and zombies look as good as possible because the setting they appeared in was already pre-generated. In short they were the best looking games on the console. Of course the controls were awkward (Jill Valentine and company lumbered about like tanks with left and right on the controller making them rotate laboriously in place and forward and back making them stagger in a straight line) but part of the appeal was that you were in constant danger of being overtaken by shambling zombies who could barely walk – the games were more about creating a mood and looking cool than about being playable.

Which brings me (finally) to tonight’s movie. It’s all about setting a mood and looking cool. It doesn’t necessarily have much in the plot department, but it’s sure fun to watch. It even keeps several recognisable and iconic locales from the first two games. The movie starts out in a mysterious lab run by the terrifying Umbrella Corporation which is behind every sinister in all of the games. It features the mansion that is the setting for the first Resident Evil game and it ends in the burnt out husk of Raccoon City which is the setting for the second game. (I don’t think it’s a spoiler of any sort to say this since the opening crawl which introduces the world to moviegoers who might be unfamiliar with the games talks about the upcoming Raccoon City disaster.)

The movie doesn’t concern itself with being slavishly faithful to the games though. It pays homage to them but it is very much its own beast. For one thing the characters here are completely new. No Chris or Claire or Jill. The plot revolves around the original outbreak of the T-Virus which allows for the re-animation and mutation of organic matter. When mysterious terrorists bent on bringing down the Umbrella Corporation infiltrate a top secret and somewhat shady lab that’s doing work on military applications of zombies (seriously) the A.I. that runs the facility goes into lockdown and kills everybody on site. Well everybody except two agents living under the guise of a married couple in a mansion that sits atop one of the entrances to the vast underground complex. They were simply knocked out by a nerve toxin that erased their memories. One of these is our hero Alice, who wakes up with no memory in the mansion just before it is invaded by a swat team that has been sent by Umbrella to figure out what went wrong at the facility. The other is some guy named Chad, who Alice and the mercs find in the train that runs between the mansion and the facility. There’s also an interloper named Matt who is also in the mansion for some reason.

Of course all of them traipse directly into the top secret high-tech lab and attempt to shut down the supposedly haywire computer to figure out just what has gone so catastrophically wrong. And they proceed to die. At first it’s a kind of 2001 situation with them attempting to deal with the computer which is simply trying to kill anybody that interferes with its programming. Then of course they have to deal with hordes of zombies when all the deceased employees in the lab get up and start trying to eat them. (Apparently none of the mercenaries have ever seen a zombie movie in their lives because when the dead people start shambling after them they spend a ridiculous amount of ammo shooting the zombies in the torsos. There should be something in a military training handbook somewhere that clearly states that if your deceased opponent gets up and continues to walk towards you the best course of cation is to SHOOT IT IN THE HEAD!)

This movie is formulaic and predictable. The characters are stock types clearly recognisable from any number of other movies. And yet it is still entertaining and enjoyable, and I it’s all thanks to Milla Jovovich. As Alice begins to regain her lost memory she discovers that she used to be some kind of crack commando badass, and when things start to go bad she takes charge and sets out to get the survivors out alive. It’s a kick ass role and Milla fulfills it perfectly. I wouldn’t say that this movie is really survival/horror like the games it is based on. It has all those aspects, but it’s really much more sci-fi action with zombies in it. (Pretty amusingly stupid zombies for the most part too. One plot point involves them being unable to climb up a few feet to some pipes overhead that our heroes have escaped to – the zombies just stumble along beneath them reaching up hopefully for their lunch to fall down into their waiting arms.) And you know what? I don’t mind that it’s not horror. I love a kick ass female lead shooting and kicking her way through hordes of the undead. I’d watch that any day of the week. Indeed I’m pretty sure we’ll be watching exactly that again tomorrow morning before going back to the con. I’m looking forward to it.

March 11, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 375 – Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead – March 10th, 2011

Today is the start of a big weekend for us. PAX East is in town and we’re attending all three days (convenient that it’s so close to us). We did this last year when the project was brand new and we had to split one of our movies between home and hotel. Hoping to avoid that this year. But as this is a gaming convention we’ve picked some game-based movies. No, tonight isn’t one of them, but it follows along a general theme (zombies) carried over from yesterday. Andy pointed it out the other day – we really had set ourselves up for an all zombie weekend. And judging from what we both felt like after PAX last year, zombies seem pretty fitting.

Granted, this is a far different zombie movie from last night, but there are some comparisons to be made. After all, they’re both the sort of parody and homage that end up being pretty good examples of the genre they’re parodying and paying homage to. It’s just that while one goes over the top with the gore and violence (that would be last night’s Planet Terror) the other swings full into comedy, playing every zombie reveal and brutal kill for humor. And really, I’m not a zombie movie kind of gal. I’m not sure what it is, though it’s entirely possible that it’s an issue I have with tension and how it affects me and creeps into my dreams so I spend the whole night tensed up and most definitely not resting. But whatever it is, serious zombie movies just aren’t the sort of thing I generally tune into.

And that’s a problem here! It’s a real problem. Because while I totally get the parody aspect and general feel of things, I know there’s a more specific level that I’m totally missing. We hosted a guest who got in early for PAX last night and we got to talking about movies. She mentioned that her boyfriend greatly appreciates Edgar Wright as a director because he’s a fantastic craftsman. He sets up shots so carefully to mimic and pay homage to the source material he’s aping. And in Hot Fuzz I got it. Not all of it, to be sure, but there were little bits and pieces in there that I recognized immediately. And here? I simply do not have the basic knowledge to appreciate the movie for that. And I know it’s going on, because that’s how Wright works, but I won’t get it because I don’t watch zombie movies. And I feel bad, you know? I feel bad because the cleverness there is wasted on me. I hate being a bad movie viewer.

On the other hand, there’s plenty in this movie to appreciate even for me. After all, even if I’m not familiar with the specifics of various zombie movies, I do know enough about the genre to get the jokes here. Our main character is Shaun, played by Simon Pegg. Shaun works in dreary retail job, has just been dumped by his girlfriend, feels bullied by his step-father (still, even in his late 20s) and lives with two flatmates: Pete and Ed. Pete seems like a decent guy, but he cannot stand Ed, who is a total slob and who doesn’t work or do much of anything aside from play video games. But Ed (played by Nick Frost) is Shaun’s best friend. So when the people around the village start turning into zombies, Shaun is obviously going to be the unlikely hero. It’s expected, but not unwelcome. He’s not a bad guy. He’s likable. Just stuck in a rut. To be honest, he feels a lot like Run, Fatboy, Run’s Dennis.

The zombie reveal is a non-issue, which is the whole point. You see people turning into zombies in the background throughout the beginning of the movie. A woman on the bus, a guy in the park, people here and there stagger and moan. And Ed and Shaun don’t notice. Or, well, they do, at one point, but they just think the guy is drunk. It’s a total lack of tension that I adored. Once they know what’s going on, their reaction is, of course, to try and fight off the zombies. So they grab kitchen utensils and plastic flower pots and vinyl records. It is the least effective frontal assault ever and the zombies just sort of slowly shuffle towards them, posing no threat at all. Of course, the zombies do eventually gather in enough numbers to pose a real threat and Shaun and Ed have to leave their flat and go find Shaun’s mother and step-father (played by the always awesome Penelope Wilton and Bill Nighy, respectively), then Shaun’s ex-girlfriend, Liz. With Liz are her friends, Dennis and Dianne and they come along to, following Shaun and Ed to the pub where they spend most of their evenings.

What I love about this movie (aside from the cast, which is hilarious and full of people I recognize from Black Books, including a cameo from Tamsin Greig and a couple of folks who had single-episode parts in the show) is that it manages to balance the parody and action. The overall plot is great, the dialogue is snappy and the little moments, like the two groups of survivors passing and being made up of the same stock character types? Those are fantastic. They’re just the right type and level of humor without taking away from the fact that the movie still has action scenes and a bit where one character gets torn limb from limb. There’s a threat, which is made clear as character drop like flies, but then there’s not a threat at the same time, since the zombies are so slow and so easy to kill. A tricky balance, and one the movie maintains admirably. If this is simply what happens when Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg get together then I hope they work together for a good long time because it’s brilliant.

March 10, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Shaun of the Dead

March 10, 2011

Shaun of the Dead

Our zombie weekend continues today with Shaun of the Dead. We had toyed with the idea of holding off on this movie until Halloween but seeing as we’re watching three more zombie movies (at least) over the next few days we figured it made sense to get all our zombies in at one time. I’m glad we did, too, because I’ve been trying to find an excuse to watch this with Amanda for ages. It’s got a ton of familiar faces, great humor, some pathos, and even a little social commentary thrown in for good measure. On the other hand, it is a zombie movie, or at least a spoof of one, and that’s not exactly our favorite genre so if it were not for this project Amanda might never have gotten around to seeing it. (Except that it stars Simon Pegg, who Amanda always enjoys.)

It’s a fun kind of contrast watching this movie right after Planet Terror. This movie spoofs a lot of the same sort of films, but comes at it from a slightly different angle. The humor is a lot less outrageous and the gore is more restrained. In short it’s a much dryer, more subtle, eminently British zombie spoof.

Simon Pegg is Shaun, a man-child who never quite grew out of his university days and is shambling through his life aimlessly. He lives with his best mate Ed, an oafish but affable lump who never does a lick of work (except maybe sometimes selling a little weed, though he seems fairly pants at that as a job as well) and plays video games on Shaun’s couch all the time. Shaun’s girlfriend Liz is suffocated by the mind-numbing constant sameness of Sean’s life and longs for romance and adventure. There’s some kind of bad blood between him and his father-in-law and his other flatmate is an annoying professional prick who desperately wants Ed out of their lives. Liz has two flatmates, Dianne and David, who also disapprove of Shaun and his aimless ways. Liz actually dumps Shaun right before the zombie outbreak starts to take over.

There’s a lot of clever humor to this movie. The first third of the movie or so is setting up Shaun’s monotonous life and at the same time playing with typical zombie movie tropes. The zombie apocalypse happens entirely in the background with Shaun completely oblivious to what’s going on. As a viewer, knowing it is a movie about zombies, you know exactly what’s going on, but Shaun is so preoccupied with his relationship problems with Liz and his father-in-law’s demands that he treat his mother better and with how awful his menial job is that he simply doesn’t see the shambling people around him or pay any attention to the constant sirens in the background. It’s a clever gag that works on a couple different levels. On the one hand we the viewers are waiting for the penny to drop and for Shaun to realize just what’s going on. Every time a hand reaches in from out of frame or someone stumbles towards him in the background we’re sure that the real action of the movie is going to start, but it doesn’t – and director Edgar Wright does a fantastic job of stringing this tension along. At the same time there’s a sort of wry comment about modern society and how much we all behave like zombies in our lives, mindlessly moving along oblivious to the world around us. It nods to the problems of those of us in modern urban life who are surrounded by people and isolated all the time.

Of course eventually Shaun and Ed do figure out what’s going on and immediately Shaun gets it into his head to go rescue his mother and Liz and take them to the most comforting place he can think of – his local pub, The Winchester. Of course everything he tries to do backfires horribly. He ends up with a whole entourage as Dianne and David tag along and his father-in-law Philip as well. Phillip has been bitten by a zombie and is slowly turning, which threatens to drive a wedge between Shaun and his slightly absent-minded mother.

The zombies in this movie are anything but frightening. Oh, there’s a little gore here and there, and not everybody survives to the end of the movie, but the dim-witted stumbling hordes are not really much to be feared. (Although being bitten by one very much is.) Much of the humor in the film comes from the slow stumbling of the undead and the relative ease with which they can be dispatched with anything from a cricket bat to an LP record.

Another source of delight is Edgar Wright’s distinctive directorial style. Purely by coincidence Amanda and I were talking with a friend last night about Edgar Wright and she encouraged us to pay attention to his editing and obsession with minor details, so I was looking at those aspects in particular as I watched this and comparing it in my head to Hot Fuzz (which we have already reviewed.) Wright has this cool trick he uses that involves very tightly edited sort of “flash montages” of images strung together. For example there’s Shaun preparing for his work day here or his planning process as he tries to figure out how to rescue Liz and his mother. We see similar images quickly re-played with subtle changes to show us progression in characters’ lives or thought processes. It’s a cool trick and fun to watch. The movie is also absolutely packed with in jokes and references (most of which sailed past me) to other zombie movies and other Simon Pegg/Edgar Wright projects. You would have to have listened to his commentaries or followed his web sites to really appreciate just how much here is insular comedy aimed at Edgar Winter fans… which amuses me but means that I feel somewhat as though I’m missing a lot of jokes that could improve the experience for me if I were more in the know.

I had a blast watching this movie again tonight though. Absolutely every single major character in the film is a familiar face for me and it’s just fun to see all these funny people gathered together and working on a single project. From Penelope Wilton and Bill Nighy as Shaun’s mother and father-in-law to Dylan Moran and Lucy Davis as David and Dianne this movie is packed with great British comedians. It all makes me very much look forward to the mint chip flavoured third movie in the Blood and Ice Cream Pegg/Wright trilogy.

March 10, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 374 – Grindhouse: Planet Terror

Grindhouse: Planet Terror – March 9th, 2011

So we’re back to Grindhouse, and okay, while Andy did assure me that this wasn’t nearly as bad as Death Proof, I admit I was nervous. All I knew about it was that there were zombies and that Rose McGowan somehow ended up with a machine gun leg. And I’m down with the machine gun leg, but still. Nervous. Zombies aren’t my genre. I know they’re a big thing right now and have been for a couple of years but it’s just not something I enjoy. So given that this isn’t my sort of movie and it’s the follow-up to a movie I found painful and offensive, my hopes were not high.

Thankfully, this movie wasn’t at all like Monday’s. Oh sure, it’s got plenty of objectification of women and skin on display. The opening credits are over a prolonged go-go dance from Rose McGowan. But while horrible things happen, they happen in the campiest zombie horror type way. The point is the gore, not the body being gored. And it happens to everyone! Equal opportunity gore! It manages to hit the target that Death Proof missed by such a wide margin.

Of course, they’re not quite the same sort of movie. One is a stalker/serial killer sort of thing and the other is a zombie apocalypse. And neither genre is one I go for on a regular basis, so maybe it’s a thing with the former that would always piss me off. But I actually enjoyed the latter. It had a bizarre awareness of itself that goes well beyond the level of self-awareness I expected. On one level, it’s an over-the-top homage to zombie flicks. On another level it’s a not-half-bad zombie flick, homage or not. And then it dips into parody every so often, doing something so wildly hilarious that it’s practically daring you to take it at all seriously because the characters are playing it entirely straight. I appreciate that sort of subtlety. And yes, I did just use the word subtlety to describe this movie. But I swear I mean it only in reference to the layers going on. Not the plot or the action or the characters or the dialogue.

Like I said, it’s a zombie apocalypse. There’s a plot about the military and biochemical agents and how some chemist is selling this toxic stuff to Bruce Willis for some reason and then he releases it when Willis threatens him. But really? Who cares how it starts? How it starts is not the point. The point is there are zombies that start to take over the town the movie takes place in. And so we follow an ensemble of characters as they band together (or not) and fight for their survival. In amongst those characters we’ve got a mysterious badass named Wray, his ex, former stripper Cherry, a couple of bickering twin babysitters, a pair of brothers who’ve been feuding over a barbecue sauce recipe (one of whom is a cop), Dr. Dakota Block and her husband (whom she’s cheating on cause he’s creepy and she’s scared of him) and a few other assorted folks who have no lines. The go from location to location, shooting their way out and causing carnage as zombies descend upon them.

Of course everything goes horribly wrong at every turn. Dr. Block’s husband shoots her hands up with anesthetic at one point, rendering them useless so she has the manual dexterity of a cat, forced to bat at things and open doors with her feet (which cats can’t do, thank goodness). And the movie plays that up every chance it can, having Dr. Block wave her floppy hands a few times just for show. Cherry’s leg gets torn off and she clomps around with a table leg stuck on the stump until Wray gives her a machines gun and somehow rigs it so she can fire it without using her hands. That’s a neat trick. People get their heads blown off, stuff explodes, barbecue sauce gets blood in it. And Wray, the baddest of bad asses in the movie, drives a tiny little pocket bike like it’s the gnarliest of hogs. That’s where the parody comes in. Shot after shot of the zombie-fighting convoy, with Wray in the lead on his tiny clown bike. I laughed through the entire scene and I’m still chuckling now.

The whole movie plays out as bloody and hilarious as one could want. The zombie makeup is gruesome to the point of ridiculousness. Blood spatters so thick it’s like a shower of tomato soup. The characters are really caricatures. But damn if it’s not satisfying in a few key ways. A lecherous guard’s genitals rotting off before he’s stabbed in the eye by his prospective rape victim? Satisfying! Dr. Block firing syringes of sedative into the eyes of jackasses? Very satisfying! Cherry gunning down swaths of the undead with her leg gun? Extremely fucking satisfying. And not once does this movie seem to be losing its focus as a piece of homage. The negative scratches and intentional quality issues are maintained throughout. A reel is missing mid-sex scene. The credits are impossible to read. And not once did I feel like anyone responsible for the movie was trying to lecture me on anything or make a point. The only point being made here is that zombie apocalypse movies are full of gore and badassery. Any other point would just be pointless.

March 9, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment