Resident Evil: Afterlife


Resident Evil: Afterlife

A triple treat for Milla Jovovich fans!

(2010) Sci-Fi Horror Action (Screen Gems) Milla Jovovich, Aly Larter, Kim Coates, Shawn Roberts, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Spencer Locke, Boris Kodjoe, Wentworth Miller, Sienna Guillory, Kacey Barnfield, Norman Yeung, Fulvio Cecere, Ray Olubuwale.  Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

The term “popcorn movies” refers to movies that are kind of lightweight, don’t require a lot of thought and are thoroughly entertaining. For some critics, popcorn movies are a dirty word. For moviegoers however, they are often the reason they go to the multiplex in the first place.

Alice (Jovovich), the superhuman T-virus recipient of the Umbrella Corporation, invades their Tokyo facility with a small army of her clones in order to take out Albert Wesker (Roberts), the malevolent CEO who unleashed the horror of undead flesh eaters on the world and effectively instituted Armageddon.

Wesker escapes but not before infecting Alice with an antidote to the T-Virus, effectively taking away all her superhuman attributes and rendering her human once again. At a crossroads, she decides to fly to Alaska to link up with the friends she sent up there to find Arcadia, the reputed safe haven for non-infected humans. Instead, she is attacked by her friend Claire Redfield (Larter) who has a strange device strapped on her. Alice manages to defeat Claire and take off the device, but Claire has lost most of her memories of what happened to her teammates that went up there with her.

They decide to follow the Arcadia signal which is now down in Los Angeles. There they find a group of survivors in a high security prison surrounded by zombies. The ragtag band is led by Luther West (Kodjoe), a former pro basketball player. Among them is Bennett (Coates), a self-centered former film producer, Yong (Yeung) his assistant, Crystal Waters (Barnfield), a former actress, Angel (Peris-Mencheta) a mechanic and incarcerated in the prison, Chris Redfield (Miller), Claire’s brother (small world, ain’t it).

Alice finds out that Arcadia is actually a tanker that has been moving up and down the West Coast, picking up survivors as it goes along. The plan is then to get themselves there and try to make it past the horde of survivors that surrounds them, among whom is the Executioner, a gigantic zombie carrying a gigantic hammer.

Chris claims to know an alternative way out. First, they would need to get a mobile infantry vehicle ready which Angel, Bennett and Yong are tasked to do. Second, they would need to reinforce the front gate to buy them more time to get ready, which is Luther and Claire’s job. Finally, they needed weapons and Chris, Crystal and Alice go to the armory to retrieve them.

However, their time is running out. Zombies are beginning to find ways into the prison through the sewers. The gates are failing. They are about to be betrayed from within. And once they make it to Arcadia, what is it that they are going to find there? New hope? Or a new betrayal?

Anderson, who directed the original Resident Evil and has written or co-written all of the movies in the franchise, returns to the director chair for the second time and takes the series, which had begun to look moribund after the last two movies, and revitalizes it. The action moves at a frenetic pace here and the opening Tokyo sequence is one of the best in the entire series in terms of mayhem.

One of the main reasons for seeing any of the Resident Evil movies is Jovovich. She is a genuine action star, as good as Linda Hamilton in her day or Angelina Jolie currently. Jovovich does most of her own stunts, but also is beautiful and charismatic onscreen. Going back to her days in The Fifth Element she has become one of the more reliable actresses when it comes to action movies. She’s also capable of dramatic acting, although she doesn’t get many of those sorts of roles these days.

I might have liked to have a bit more exposition in terms of some of the mutant zombies. The Executioner, for example, just shows up at the prison gate. How did he get so huge? What’s his backstory? Gamers might know the answer, or they might not care but a movie audience requires a bit more substance.

The movie kicks ass, which for the most part is all anybody picking up a disc or streaming it is after. Who’s gonna argue with a small group of attractive people kicking zombie and monster ass? Not me, I can tell you. The movie works the way it’s supposed to and leaves room for a sequel that brings back Jill Valentine (Guillory), reason enough to make fans of the series giddy. Although a giddy gamer can be a site far more terrifying than any flesh eating zombie.

WHY RENT THIS: High octane action and Jovovich make a lethal combination.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not a lot of character development and monsters show up without explanation other than for kick-ass value.

FAMILY VALUES: Big time violence, some fairly foul language and a few disturbing images make this one I’d think twice about showing to smaller kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the first film of the series to be released in IMAX and also the highest grossing film of the series to date.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: While there isn’t much on the DVD in terms of extras, the Blu-Ray has a trivia track as well as a picture-in-picture feature (Undead-Vision) that is one of the better of these type offered. There’s also a nice nod to the gamers who make up the core of the RE audience with a feature on them called “Pwning the Undead: Gamers of the Afterlife.”

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $296.2M on a $60M production budget; the movie was a big hit.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Captain America: The First Avenger

The Fourth Kind


 

 

The Fourth Kind

Milla Jovovich wonders if this whole thing isn't a new threat from the Umbrella Corporation.

 
 

(Universal) Milla Jovovich, Elias Koteas, Will Patton, Charlotte Milchard, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, Corey Johnson, Enzo Cilenti, Mia McKenna-Bruce, Raphael Coleman, Daphne Alexander, Alisha Seaton. Directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi

 

 According to the filmmakers, Nome, Alaska has a disproportionate number of disappearances every year, to the point where the FBI makes more visits than they do to Anchorage, a city with many times the population of Nome. Of course, according to the filmmakers, everything you see in this movie is real and is backed up with “archival” footage.

 

It isn’t until she puts them under hypnosis that the excrement hits the air conditioner. The terror of her patients becomes so insistent that they literally break their own backs to get away from the trauma of their repressed memories.

 

Abbey has some trauma of her own. Her husband Will, also a psychologist, passed away recently. Abbey believes he was murdered by an intruder who stabbed him in the heart, although Sheriff August (Patton) is just as adamant that he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Which one is right? Would you believe…both of them?  More to the point, would you believe either of them?

 

After one of her patients (Johnson) becomes so traumatized by her sessions that he visits an unthinkable tragedy on his family, August begins to regard Abbey with the stink-eye, thinking she may be somehow planting some kind of post-hypnotic suggestion in her patients. He really doesn’t have a motive, but he does have the ability to bellow quite a bit.

 

Abbey has also been seeing a therapist of her own, Dr. Campos (Koteas) who is at first skeptical about her claims until he sees things that defy explanation, like patients levitating off of beds which, sadly, are missing from the videotape due to unexplainable distortion. When a deputy witnesses a bright light coming from the sky to bathe Abbey’s home and her daughter Ashley (McKenna-Bruce) disappears shortly thereafter, Abbey really comes under scrutiny. Nobody believes it could possibly be alien abduction – nobody except Abbey, Dr. Campos and linguist Awolowa Odusami (Kae-Kazim) who identifies strange gibberish on the tapes as Sumerian, the most ancient language on Earth and one even today that we have trouble translating properly.

 

The movie is presented as “found footage” i.e. documentary footage that has been discovered by researchers or whatever. This format has been very successful in the horror genre of late, initiated by The Blair Witch Project and continuing with Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity. It can be very effective in creating an atmosphere in which the jeopardy seems real.

 

Unfortunately, the filmmakers chose to proclaim this footage as genuine a bit too loudly. It didn’t take long for enterprising researchers to discover that the characters and events are all cut from whole cloth. Now, normally I wouldn’t mind – it is a movie after all – but don’t present it as a documentary when it’s clearly not. The movie would have been far more effective had it not pressed it’s claims to be real and instead just allow you to sit back and immerse yourself in the footage, as Paranormal Activity did, rather than conduct an inner debate as to the veracity of the film’s claims.

 

I’m wondering why on earth director Osunsanmi decided to go with name actors like Jovovich, Koteas and Patton to re-enact scenes that they’re showing “archival” footage of, nearly word for word on split screen. It’s unnecessary and annoying. Osunsanmi was trying to have his cake and eat it too – he would have been better served either to simply make a movie with the star power, or preferably, with the “archival footage” which was far more effective than the “re-enactments.”

 

Jovovich is a solid action star, but she played the grieving Abbey with a lack of passion which is certainly a way to go. She winds up with a curiously detached feeling, as if you could open up a zipper on the actress’ back and discover that inside is only air. It made it hard to truly develop an emotional link to the character.

 

The suspense was well done and while I do like the premise, it eventually bogs down in its own conceit and comes off like Whitley Streiber was given a digital cam and sent off into the Maryland woods in search of the Blair Witch. I’m not saying that this is a bad movie – it has its moments and some of the footage is well-crafted – but it could have been better had the director not tried to have it both ways. Sometimes, simple is better.

 

WHY RENT THIS: The suspense aspect is very well done, and some of the scares quite effective. Jovovich is an outstanding lead actress who doesn’t get the props she deserves, and Koteas does a good job of channeling Christopher Meloni in his role.

 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The outing of the “real” footage takes away some of the film’s effectiveness which remains a catch-22.

 

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the images are exceedingly disturbing.  There is also some rough language and implied sexuality, but definitely this is not for those who might be given to nightmares.

 

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although Nome is 51% aboriginal in population, none of the characters in this movie appear to be of that ethnic background.

 

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.  

 

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $47.7M on an unreported budget; I’m thinking that the movie probably broke even or made money.

 

FINAL RATING: 6/10

 

TOMORROW: Six Days of Darkness concludes with a horror classic.

Actress Milla Jovovich (you can tell she’s an actress; she says so at the very beginning of the film) plays Abbey Tyler, a psychologist (who is also “played” by English actress Charlotte Milchard) who has noticed several of her patients who have difficulty sleeping have eerily similar stories; they all awaken at about 3am with an owl staring at them, an image that fills them with inexplicable terror.

The End of the Line


The End of the Line

The bounty of the sea isn't endless.

(New Video Group) Ted Danson (voice), Charles Clover. Directed by Rupert Murray

Fish are a staple of the diets of many regions, including ours. Accordingly, the sea has always been a source of bounty, a necessity to many of our cultures. Entire civilizations have grown around our ability to catch fish. We have always considered the ocean to be a near-limitless source of food. That belief was naïve to say the least.

This documentary, based on a book by Charles Clover, looks at the overfishing and the non-regulation of factory fishing that has brought us to the point that if things go unchecked, there will be no seafood of any kind left by the year 2048. That’s right, 38 years from now Red Lobster could be nothing more than a fond memory.

Rather than just give dire warnings, the documentary looks at things that have already happened and are happening currently. One of the first things the film examines is the disappearance of cod from Nova Scotia. In 1992, then-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney declared a moratorium on cod fishing which enraged the region’s fishermen, many of whom had relied on the industry for generations. However, it was a case of too little too late; the cod population still hasn’t returned to the Maritimes 18 years later.

The film looks at practices like bottom trawling, in which huge ships drop huge nets that dredge the bottom of the ocean (doing irreparable harm to the seabed in the process) and bring up entire schools of fish. Entire species are being decimated to sate our insatiable appetites for seafood.

The Japanese continue to hunt whales to near-extinction despite near-universal condemnation of the process. They call it a part of their culture, which is absolute crap – human sacrifice was a part of certain tribal cultures, that doesn’t make it right. Wrong is wrong.

The movie has the sad tendency to preach a little bit, and gets repetitive in its message. Still, the message is important; the ocean’s bounty isn’t limitless and like any finite resource, it is our responsibility to steward it logically and reasonably.

Fortunately, as the documentary informs us, the problem isn’t irreversible even now. Sustainable fisheries are not only possible, they are thriving. Responsible fishing practices such as those used in Alaska set reasonable quotas that if adhered to can keep the industry thriving indefinitely. Establishing marine preserves that are no-fishing zones will give the oceans a place to heal and species a place of refuge to build up their numbers again. In several Caribbean countries this practice is already paying big dividends.

Individuals can also contribute by questioning where their fish are coming from, free range sources (bad) or sustainable fisheries (good). Make sure that the tuna you’re eating isn’t bluefin tuna (an endangered species). Refuse to patronize restaurants and grocery stores that aren’t adhering to responsible and reasonable fish purchasing.

There are already encouraging signs; Wal-Mart is pledging to obtain their fish from sustainable sources and McDonalds already obtains 90% of their fish from such sources. Still, there are some disturbing and discouraging stories, such as Mitsubishi (yes, the Japanese car giant who also have their fingers in other pies) stockpiling bluefin tuna and fishing for as much as they can get their fat, greedy hands on in order to make a killing on their frozen tuna once the species disappears forever. If true, that may very well be the most reprehensible story I’ve ever heard.

One of the true tests of a documentary based on a book is whether or not it acts as a supplement to that book, or if it merely reinforces that book. Unfortunately, The End of the Line is the latter, juxtaposing Oceans-like scenes of schools of fish swimming placidly in the ocean and dolphins playing in the waves with piles of dead fish in a Tokyo fish market and pollution floating in the open ocean. The message is an important one and it deserved a better film to deliver it; most audiences would be far better reading the book, although I’ll concede that some of the images are riveting here. Either way, it is part of our responsibility as custodians of our world to sit up and take notice before once again we collectively shoot ourselves in our collective feet.

WHY RENT THIS: An important message that should be heard.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie tends to be on the preachy side and occasionally belabors their points.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the images might be a bit disturbing for the young.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The book’s author, Charles Clover, is seen in the movie trying to get Nobu, one of the world’s high-end sushi chains, to refrain from using bluefin tuna on their menu.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are six webisodes further exploring the issue, as well as three different versions of the movie of varying lengths.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Simpsons Movie


The Simpsons Movie

The Simpsons are startled by the first part of "Lights! Camera! Action!"

(20th Century Fox) Starring the voices of Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer, Albert Brooks, Pamela Hayden, Tress MacNeille, Marcia Wallace, Joe Mantegna, Tom Hanks. Directed by David Silverman.

When they made their debut 20 years ago on Tracey Ullman’s short-lived sketch show, who’d have thought The Simpsons would become national cultural barometers? That’s exactly what happened though. Just after their 18th season, America’s most dysfunctional family took a crack at the big screen.

The pollution in Lake Springfield is getting out of control. After Lisa (Smith) nags the city fathers enough, joined in by a new Irish boyfriend named Colin (MacNeille), the mayor (Castellaneta) authorizes a no-dumping zone in the lake.

In the meantime, Homer (Castellaneta again) has picked up a pig for whom he’s developing an unnatural affection for. A depressed Bart (Cartwright) finds solace in the house of Ned Flanders (Shearer), who is more of a father to him than the self-involved Homer. As the pig’s droppings begin to accumulate, Marge (Kavner) demands that Homer dispose of the waste properly. As he’s about to do that, Homer is distracted by a free doughnut giveaway – curse those free doughnuts – and as a shortcut to doughnuts, dumps the waste into Lake Springfield.

That’s enough to tip the Lake into full-blown toxicity. Mutant squirrels convince President Schwarzenegger (Shearer) and his smarmy EPA Chief Cargill (Brooks) to imprison the entire town within a dome. Nothing can get out, nothing can go in – except Maggie (Smith), who discovers a sinkhole that allows egress. Still, it’s a good thing that FEMA wasn’t in charge – the dome would have been late and full of more holes than a fishnet.

Anyway, once the good citizens of Springfield find out that Homer was responsible, the town arrives on their doorstep with torches and rope. The Simpsons barely escape, and are forced to flee to a new life in Alaska. Still, when the family discovers that the government plans to destroy Springfield, Marge is eager to get back and save the town. However, when Homer refuses, the family splits up. Homer must now find his inner Simpson, rescue his family and save Springfield. Is there time for ribs too?

The question you always have to ask in a situation like this was “why make a movie of something that is available on television?” The evaluation has to include whether a big screen is necessary for the story, and will the experience be enhanced in a movie theater as opposed to one’s own home. In the case of X-Files: Fight the Future, the criteria were met. Here, however, it’s hard for me to say unreservedly that this is a movie that cries out for the big screen.

There are some scenes that make for nice movie viewing – the Doming of Springfield, the trip to Alaska, Homer’s encounter with the Northern Lights spring to mind – but for the most part, the movie doesn’t do much more than give us a few obscene gestures and sequences that wouldn’t make it past the network censors. I agree, there are some really awesome laughs, like Homer’s scorn at the Itchy and Scratchy movie and Maggie’s barroom brawl, but the ratio of big laughs is about the same in any typical episode of the series.

I really liked Marge’s videotaped sequence – that was truly a tearjerker – but for the most part the performances were solid as always. The thing I didn’t like was the scale. It just didn’t seem so epic that they couldn’t have done it as a two-parter in the show.

It took 158 drafts to get to the script they eventually used. Plans for a Simpsons movie have been in motion for nearly 15 years now; something tells me, they could have used a little more time to get it right.

WHY RENT THIS: Hey, it’s the Simpsons. Some good laughs. Alaska, the last unspoiled wilderness.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Never delivers a compelling reason for this to be a movie and not a TV show.

FAMILY VALUES: If you feel comfortable having your kids watch the TV version, there’s nothing here that is any worse than on the broadcast edition.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: During the month of July 2007 when the movie was released, a dozen 7-11 stores throughout North America transformed themselves into Kwik-E-Marts, with several items made famous on the TV show for sale including Duff Beer and Buzz Cola.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: A parody of the “Let’s All Go to the Lobby” intermission cartoon and appearances of the Simpsons characters on live television are included.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Passengers

The Proposal


Sandra Bullock begs Ryan Reynolds to let her take her pumps off but he is unmoved

Sandra Bullock begs Ryan Reynolds to let her take her pumps off but he is unmoved

(Touchstone) Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Betty White, Craig T. Nelson, Mary Steenburgen, Malin Akerman, Denis O’Hare, Oscar Nunez, Aasif Mandvi, Michael Nouri, Michael Mosley, Dale Place, Alicia Hunt. Directed by Anne Fletcher.

Back in the day, marriages were arranged by the parents of the bride and groom. They were more or less business deals, meant to strengthen the position of each family in the community. Love didn’t enter the equation, as it rarely does in commerce.

Margaret Tate (Bullock), a.k.a. “The Devil’s Mistress” is a driven editor-in-chief at a major New York publisher. She is used to getting her way whether through pushing a reclusive author into appearing on Oprah to terrorizing her staff, particularly her put-upon, overworked assistant Andrew Paxton (Reynolds). Even those higher up the corporate ladder, like the Chairman of the Board (Nouri) are a little intimidated by her.

However, even Tate can’t intimidate the immigration bureaucracy. A native Canadian, her visa has expired and through her own inaction and her arrogance, the agency is threatening to deport her. Not only would she have to leave her comfortable West Central Park apartment, she’d have to resign her position at the firm as she couldn’t be employed at an American company.

However, Tate is nothing if not resourceful and comes up with a scheme; if her Alaska-born assistant marries her, she’ll be naturalized as a U.S. citizen. The trouble is, her assistant is not her biggest fan. However, threatened with the loss of his own position and the potential for getting the job he’s always wanted as an editor at the firm if he goes through with the scam finally elicits his reluctant agreement.

The fly in the ointment is a suspicious immigration officer named Gilbertson (O’Hare) who is quite certain the two of them are in cahoots to defraud the American government, the penalties for said crime being rather harsh. Now in up to his neck, Andrew brings his fiancée to his home in Sitka to meet the family, including his doting mother (Steenburgen) and the father (Nelson) who would have preferred that his son stay in Sitka to run the family businesses. There is a great deal of tension between father and son, which troubles free-spirited matriarch Grammy Ann (White). There is also the presence of ex-girlfriend Gertrude (Akerman) that certainly turns Andrew’s head.

The family is a bit surprised at the initial news of their prodigal son’s engagement but quickly embraces the standoffish Tate into their bosom, and then come up with a plan of their own – to see the happy couple wed on Grammy Ann’s birthday. However, the unconditional love of the Paxtons has begun to melt the polar icecap that is Margaret Tate’s heart as she realizes her scam would be far from victimless.

Director Fletcher, whose last effort was the solid 27 Dresses, is proving to have an adept hand at romantic comedies. While Pete Chiarelli’s script is formulaic and unremarkable, Fletcher did a good job at casting here. Each actor fills their role seamlessly. While the Alaska scenes were filmed in Massachusetts, she uses the setting effectively, creating the kind of small town feel that made the TV series “Northern Exposure” so charming.

Bullock has always excelled at the rom-com genre (see Practical Magic and The Lake House) and she is surprisingly good in the role of a heartless bitch, which she has rarely traversed in her career. Reynolds is slowly edging into the pantheon of actors whose presence in a film is enough incentive to get me to see it. After a winning role in Definitely, Maybe he is charismatic here, funny when he needs to be and charming throughout. Veterans Nelson, Steenburgen and White all do capable job with White doing her best work since Lake Placid. Quite frankly she about steals nearly every scene she’s in.

I’ll be the first to admit that no new ground is broken here, but quite frankly that’s okay. The question is whether the audience will be engaged enough by the couple to want them to end up together and both Bullock and Reynolds pull that off well. Their chemistry together isn’t necessarily the most scintillating but then again it shouldn’t be, given that they are supposed to be mismatched. These types of movies are older than Hollywood but there is a certain comfort in them. The Proposal is the kind of ideal date movie for warm summer nights that simply must be followed up with ice cream.

WSHY RENT THIS: Reynolds and Bullock are an attractive couple that you want to see ending up together. Supporting cast and location make the movie heartwarming. This is an ideal summer date movie, great for cuddling on the couch to watch with someone you love. Betty White is always entertaining.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The script is heavily clichéd and formulaic and really doesn’t break any new ground in the romantic comedy genre.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a couple of scenes of implied nudity and one in which a dog is threatened by a predator but otherwise suitable for all ages.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the movie, Bullock plays a Canadian threatened by deportation who escapes by marrying her American assistant. In reality, Bullock is an American and Reynolds is a Canadian.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Nothing listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Couples Retreat